At Cedar Point, while waiting in line for the Corkscrew: That’s where I had my first kiss, I tell Cal. Since my friend Polly’s husband shot himself in the head—in their bedroom, where, of course, she was the one to find him: that evening when she returned home from work—I’ve been telling my husband of twenty-three years things I never told him. In this case, about my first kiss. If I were to ask (I don’t) if Cal’s interested in learning what he doesn’t know, he would say no. He would say he doesn’t need to know everything.
I was barely thirteen, but men looked at me with a lot more interest then than they do now, I tell Cal while he empties a can of wet food into our cat’s bowl and mashes it with the back of one of the plastic-handled baby forks we kept for this express purpose.
Cal says, “I look at you with interest.” But he’s not looking at me now. His attention is on the chubby fork in his hand.
I tell him the boy was eighteen, and he was so tall that when he bent down to kiss me, his head came at me like a hammer onto a nail.
Cal purses his lips as he rinses the fork and the can.
Cal is five years older than me, too. But Cal and I didn’t meet until I was in my mid-twenties, a five-year gap no longer scandalous.
I tell him that on the one hand, I was flattered by the older boy’s attention. Yes, men often looked at me hungrily back then, but also, at the age of thirteen, it was new, this desire. Also, boys my own age didn’t pay me any attention at all. The discrepancy was confusing. It made me doubt my own perception. Until that boy kissed me, I didn’t quite believe that this was why men looked at me, that this was what they wanted.
On the other hand, I understood even back then that there was something suspect about an eighteen-year-old pursuing a thirteen-year-old. The boy was either unsuccessful with girls his own age, or he saw me as an easy conquest, or he was a pervert, perhaps all three.
“Pervert,” Cal says. He wipes his hands on a faded dish towel.
The boy pressed his lips so hard into mine that they felt like bone, like we were rubbing knees together rather than lips, I say.
I was at Cedar Point that afternoon with a girlfriend. Roberta was her name, and she was mad at me for kissing that boy, I tell Cal. He had a friend, but the friend wasn’t paying any attention to Roberta. He was chewing gum. Drumming the railing with his fists. Looking as bored and annoyed as Roberta.
Cal looks a little bored now. He’s pulling at his earlobe. Itching to get back to some sports podcast.
I never saw that boy again after that day at Cedar Point, but it wasn’t so long after that I had sex for the first time, I tell Cal. With Roberta’s brother’s friend, Nico, also eighteen. I felt like a jar whose lid he was sweating and grunting to pry off. After, I felt lidless. For years. A molding mess of something that someone carelessly left open on a counter, that someone being me.
Cal winces. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m really sorry.” What he doesn’t say, but I know he’s thinking: Why are you telling me this?
Because unlike Cal, I like turning myself upside down from time to time and shaking to see what’s there.
I can’t explain why these particular memories, just as I can’t explain why Polly’s husband, Ethan, did what he did where he did it, knowing Polly would be the one to find him. He purchased the gun only two days beforehand; Polly found the receipt in his wallet after. Is only the right word? I don’t know. Two days is a lot of minutes to elapse between taking an action like buying a gun and taking an action like killing yourself with said gun when that’s precisely why you purchased it. Two days is a lot of minutes in which he could have told Polly what he was feeling but didn’t.
I can’t say it to Polly, so I say it to Cal: I’m mad at Ethan.
Cal says, “It’s terrible.”
I say, “All those condolences on her Facebook post from people who don’t know how he died. All those words about what a great guy he was.”
Cal says nothing. He rubs my back.
Cal never did like Ethan. He didn’t say so without prompting, but I suspected as much twenty-plus years ago when Polly got engaged to Ethan—they married the same summer Cal and I did—so I prompted until Cal admitted that he thought Ethan was obnoxious, pretentious. But Cal doesn’t say this again now. I appreciate why he won’t say this now, but, also, his not saying it bugs me.
“In their fucking bedroom,” I say.
Cal nods, glances at his watch.
“Say something,” I say.
“What do you want me to say?” he says.
“What you’re thinking,” I say.
Cal says, “You know what I’m thinking before I know what I’m thinking. You tell me what I’m thinking.”
I say, “You’re thinking that you don’t much like this conversation.”
“Well,” he says.
I say, “You’re thinking that there’s no point in dredging up painful memories.”
I say, “You’re thinking, where the heck is our cat?”
Our cat comes running into the kitchen then. She ignores Cal’s beckoning fingers. Buries her face in her food. A few minutes later, she barfs on Cal’s shoe. He sighs, then quietly cleans up the mess.