Door Number One

It’s auction night up at the craft school, sixty-odd students plus staff, old timers, community members, and collectors gathered on humble metal folding chairs spread across a hardwood floor to make bids and raise scholarship money for future students. All night long I eye the exit door like an old wound, something you know you must slither through as much as it hurts without looking back to assess the damage.

I’m sitting next to him, all the worlds of art and bidding and high-brow mixed with craft-brow and happy-brow surrounding us, giddy on free beer and the warmth of spring air, and what I notice is that I’m living out an old pattern but the ruts are only surface deep. Yes, the connection has been genuine. Yes, part of me wants more. No, it is not possible. No, I will not push it.

And yet, why do I sit here, next to him, the warmth of his thigh alongside mine, the deep scent of him (dried clay, sweat, playfulness, mixed with the oil of dark, dark hair), his voice like a rich talcum powder absorbing the damp heat between us? And why do I ask, even though I know it is not best, whether I should stay the night in the dorms with him, despite the fact his mother arrived today from Jerusalem (she sits on the other side of him now, as the auction carries on), despite the fact that I already know he is too busy, despite, despite, despite?

I ask because picking at our old wounds, the scabs of them, is all we know to do during a time of limbo. I am no longer the same lover I once was. Likewise, I am not yet the lover I want to become. And so I find myself wanting more but knowing it is not what ought to be, and sitting with that feeling for several hours as the auction carries on before us. We’re in the front row. He bids, I bid, his mother laughs. There is beer, wine, friendship, noise. And before the final bid is made I turn to him and say:

“I need to go. Should I go? I should go.”

He smiles. Brings a hand to his lips (does he notice this? I don’t think so). He shakes his head.

“I could stay. But I shouldn’t, right?” I say. I stumble, falter, laugh and look at the old lover as she takes over my brain, makes one final attempt.

“I’d like to but…” he says, returning his hand to his lap, putting the other hand around my shoulders.

“And you’re right,” I say. “There is too much else going on. I should go. I should just go.”

“I need to be here. I need to finish my class, my experience here. I wish we had found each other earlier…Will you come to work early tomorrow so that I can find you and say goodbye?”

I nod, tell my legs to move, and lift out of the seat to walk to the back of the auction hall. There, right there, I see four doors through which I may exit, all of them old cuts my psyche has nursed along for years. And one – I choose one – and walk on out, understanding the difference between who I used to be, and the woman I am trying to become.

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