Rob and I had known each other several weeks and hadn’t yet started dating, when I showed him my clips. He looked over the measly little portfolio of poems published in ‘zines, literary mags, and magazines; the articles I’d written for my college newspaper column; the academic papers that had been submitted to journals and studies; the songs I’d written for/with my band; and the spoken word pieces I’d performed at venues all over the city. He took his time, his smile hovering just beyond the brink of existence, then breaking his concentration like a teaspoon to a soft-boiled egg. His laughter spilled out like gooey yolk, staining the scene, bright and clear. His praise was limited to the teasing way his averted gaze stroked my ego.
He read every piece, inspecting each as if it were a Faberge egg, so delicate and yet hefty with weight and significance. Then, when he finished sifting through the pile, he took a minute to figure out what to say.
He looked at me, and I was sure he’d stutter if he began to speak. Probably I was right, because his pregnant expression blocked off his words, and his eyes shone glossy with appreciation. Would he spout off unprecedented acclaim? Would he shower me with compliments? Would he run to the rooftop of the house and scream, “I found the person who’s going to write the next great American novel!”?
His voice was low, slight, barely audible. I thought he was still clearing out his throat, but the grit of his phlegm took the shape of familiar sounds. “That was really great,” he said. He left it at that.
I thought for certain there had to be more, that after the frog had jumped out of his throat, a fountain of comments would issue forth from his lips – but no, he was done speaking. And I was hurt. I’d offered myself to him, right there, in his mom’s living room. I’d done so even though his family might interrupt this most holy of acts. I’d made myself vulnerable and trusted that he would validate my instincts – and all I got was, “That was really great.”
It sounded so cliche, so obvious, and yet, somehow, below his lack of verbal praise, I sensed there was something he wasn’t yet ready to uncover. Maybe it was arrogance that made me feel this way, but I was certain I’d touched him, made him feel more than he let on, gave him an experience that shook his core. I knew that what we’d just shared on his mother’s couch must mean something to him, something more than just the physical act of reading. We’d had a moment. Feelings that hadn’t yet existed were transferred into us by an intensity that we’d shared. Lust had transformed into something greater. But Rob didn’t say a word more on the subject, and I was too dazed to fish for compliments.
A few weeks later, Rob and I were officially an item, and Rob began bragging about my writing to his cousins. There had been no prompt, no segway, no suitable point of entry, and yet there he was, with such pride in his voice, such respect and reverence in his baring. Through his high praise, he was elevating me to a level I’d only dreamed of, a place where Olympians and Oscar winners cavort in an endless maze of greenrooms and press junkets; a place where Oscar Wilde might unfurl his words as if they were the leashes of rabid dogs, his actions infecting casual passers-by with their learned wickedness. I’d been writing for so long, and had so many high hopes hung on the act itself, but in sharing it with Rob, I felt those desires melt away. I no longer wanted others to desire my writing and yearn for the body of my work; I wanted only Rob to appreciate it, desire it, hold it to his highest esteem. I felt that if that were the case, I’d be fulfilling every dream I’d ever had. My words, after all, were the manifestation of my soul, my heart, my love; sharing them with him meant limiting my love-making to a chosen partner; everyone else would be the audience, carefully chosen to view our literary love-making.
Weeks, months, years after that initial intimate experience with my most private of places, Rob still comments on how witty I am, how compelling and provocative, how sexy and intriguing and wise and beautiful and satisfying and inspiring and intelligent I am. It’s as if, in opening my little book of work, he’d caressed my legs until allowed inside, then stared into the very embodiment of my womanhood and personage.
Every time he reads another one of my pieces, his face lights up in a way that lets me know that, despite any of my doubts, he understands me. He gets me. He knows me. This man, I think, when I see his face, this man sees my layers; he sees my good side, he sees my bad side, he sees my very, very ugly side, and he still loves me. He still wants me. He still thinks I’m the best thing that’s ever walked this wide, green earth. I am an open book to him. He reads me and still thinks I’m beautiful. I love him for that.