Hungry Ghosts

I go to the Montessori school benefit auction with Evan and his parents. I cannot explain how this happens but I meet them just a mile down river from my house at the bed and breakfast. We drive together in their rental car to Evan’s house, and then the four of us head to town for the auction.

It is immediately clear to me that Evan and I are playing pretend boyfriend and girlfriend for the evening. Meet the parents, have wine, socialize with the community members and co-workers, sit together, etc. Evan introduces his “Pop” and stepmother to the parents of his students and I am right there in the receiving line. Making this appearance together at the auction with the family will set people talking for months to come in this small community and even smaller school. The assumption of our mere presence together next to his parents his so thick that’s it’s hard to deny we’ve had some sort of past.

“So!” my trusted colleague Mary says, “You came with Evan and his parents?!” She is grinning from ear to ear and I blush instantly. “I just had to tease you, you know.”

“ I can’t explain it,” I say, then I try to explain. “Look you know, there are times when we’re really attracted to each other and times when we don’t want to be near each other. Plus there’s the whole fact that we’re the only two single people on staff, always around each other, and kind of living in a fishbowl. It’s like everyone’s floating around waiting to see what happens.” My words feel useless but Mary listens carefully anyway, then sighs in an unsatisfied manner.

This is such bullshit, I tell myself. What are you doing here, Katey? But oh, he looks particularly handsome on those dress shoes and even complimented my appearance this evening. We laugh and get along and sit close and just all around have a good time. I know it is pretend and I curse myself for thinking otherwise. This is the kind of shit I was pulling in college. Am I not over it yet?

“I’m only going to say this once,” Mary says, “but you’re too good for him.”

I am instantly forced to stare my own self-esteem issues in the face. Why do I seek his approval? What is it that I want from him that I think I can actually get? Can’t I find it in myself instead?

She continues: “I love Evan as a person. He’s a wonderful man. But you’re not in the same place. You’re more mature than he is right now, for example. Right now, here, you’re too good for him, you deserve better.” She pats me on the shoulder, then repeats herself. “I’m only going to say it once.”

My eyes drop to the floor, not because I think I am too good for him but because I know she is right when she tells me that right now is not the time. I know Evan and I are pretending the whole evening away and even though it passes nicely, with truly interesting and genuine conversation with his parents, there is something awry. Our pretending gives us both permission to forget we’re alone for the night and even to remember the time we were so intensely attracted to each other. Yet it also makes the loneliness swell with frightening truth; it brings to life the intense wanting that goes with the territory of late-twenties-singles-all-my-friends-are-having-babies-and-getting-married complex. All of this is evidence that even in good company with wine and friends around the table, we are both still sitting there hungry in our own private hells. Hungry in a life rich with blessings, oh it seems a tragedy to be this way at times. If only it was simple to feed the soul.

After the auction Pops takes us out to dinner but it is 9:45 p.m. in a small town. We check Dixies – closed. DT’s – closed. Tokyo’s – disgusting food and not an option, especially at the end of the night when food has been out too long under heat lamps. Foxfire – closed. That new place in the hotel with the real chef – closed. The only other place is the Blue Sky pub across the county line.

We arrive and apparently crash a party for a departing Marine. Dressed to the nines for the auction, and clearly about as un-Southern as you can get, we stick out in ways beyond repair. A cover band plays Lynyrd Skynyrd and everyone, including us, is offered pieces of puffy chocolate cake. “Good luck over there,” it reads in red, white, and blue frosting. The Marine sits awkwardly at the bar and eats sloppily like a four-year-old boy. When he walks from one end of the bar to the next it is all show. He is in full fatigues and clearly unnerved.

Pops buys us dinner, which is a club sandwich for the parents, fries for Evan, and a house salad for me. Then Pops wants to take a picture with the digital. The first one comes out lousy. “You look too serious,” he says showing me the image. I agree and we try again. “There, see, yeeessss, smile.”

Evan and I lean in and I put my arm around his waist. “There we go,” shouts Pops over the music. We smile thus sealing the deal in our night of pretend. This makes no sense at all. What the Hell am I doing? But oh on the way home Evan and I sit in the backseat and I want to hold his hand so badly. When we drop him off at his place he kisses me on the cheek, “Ciao, belle,” he says, as is his way when he is most at ease.

The parents and I drive back to the bed and breakfast where my car is parked. Pops talks the most and is just so pleased with how everything turned out. They bought my photographs at the auction and compliment me genuinely on the composition of the images. “We’re just truly grateful to you,” Pops says, “for all the kindness you’ve extended to Evan.”

“Yeah, we’ve had a good time,” I say meekly – totally unsure of what I really mean or really want or what this all boils down to. A strong voice in me says to let it be and that Evan will come to me if and when he is every ready. That I don’t want him now anyway, because he’s so clearly confused about what he wants himself. That even if I did want him it would be a farce until I got my own shit together about the perpetual attraction-repulsion of my dealings with men.

I am sitting here hungry. Which means it is perhaps the most dangerous time of all to eat.

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