Our brief interaction could have been scripted for the prelude of a cheap porno. A man was literally in my apartment to fix my pipes. I fought the urge to laugh while I sat on my sofa with a cup of coffee. He toiled in my laundry room, moving the washer and dryer away from the wall in order to determine the source of a leak which had almost flooded the small space.
Cheesy as it was, I couldn’t help stealing glances in his direction. I smiled to myself. This was so unlike me – these thoughts…the flushed cheeks…the checking his ring finger…the wondering if he had a girlfriend…the wishing I didn’t look like such a bum in my yoga pants and sweatshirt and knotted-up hair. What was happening to me?! My insides suddenly felt 15 years old. I liked it.
I crawled out of bed at 7:10 A.M. acknowledging I’d be able to make it to work on time if I jumped in a shower immediately. But coffee sounded too good, too tempting. I remembered checking my calendar before I left the office last week – I had no meetings on Monday…I could afford to be a little late. So I started making a pot of Peet’s medium roast. I fed my cat and stood leaning at the sink, yawning, trying to wake up – inhaling the glorious scent of ground coffee beans.
Wait a minute. What day is it? I was drawing a blank.
I rifled through the blankets on my bed in search of my cell phone. Once located, a quick click told me what I’d already figured out: it was Sunday…I don’t work on Sundays. Is there a greater earthly joy than a moment of realization such as this? If there is, I’ve never experienced it.
I can go back to sleep! I can sleep for so many more hours! This is the best day ever! Sleep is quite literally my most treasured pastime. There are very few thing I love more than sleeping. But. (ugh, the but.)
But. The coffee was already brewing. The sun was already shining. A list of tasks I hoped to accomplished lay atop my coffee table. I don’t understand people who say things like, “I woke up at 4 to go to the bathroom and just couldn’t fall back to sleep.” I do not understand what it means to be unable to fall back to sleep. No matter the time of day or night, I can (and would probably prefer to) go back to sleep.
Anyway, I decided against it. I poured myself a cup of steaming brew and drifted to the couch to gaze at my list of to-do’s, one of which read, “washer/dryer maintenance!” Last week, water seeped and pooled from underneath the machines. Great I’d thought. As a woman who lives alone, I find the idea of maintenance men entering my apartment while I’m at work sort of gross. Thanks to one particularly disturbing episode of Dateline, I imagine them pilfering my underwear drawer or rolling around in my bed and I feel icky. So I avoid it. I’ve become quite the handy-woman thanks to YouTube, Google, and contempt for stranger-men letting themselves into my sacred space when I’m not there.
But a broken washing machine, I knew, was above my skill level. I was going to have to call maintenance. But just to make sure my washer and/or dryer was really broken, I decided (like an idiot) to run a load of towels. Within 10 minutes, a puddle began spreading across the beige linoleum of my little laundry room.
The maintenance office is closed on Sundays, save for emergencies. Welp, I thought, at least this is sort of an emergency and they’ll have to fix it while I’m home.
I called the apartment’s primary telephone number and hit the necessary prompts to reach the poor on-call schmuck who was about to be disturbed at 8:00 A.M. on a Sunday. I apologized for bothering him and explained my predicament. “Don’t worry about it…let me grab my tools and I’ll be there” he replied amiably.
I’ve lived in an apartment for nearly five years and all of the maintenance men I’ve encountered can be described as: grizzly, heavyset, bearded, late middle-aged, and missing at least three teeth. So ten minutes later when I answered the knocking at my front door, I was not expecting a very tall, very cute, very solid blonde guy in his mid-twenties.
He had big, bright eyes and a sweet smile. Miraculously, I didn’t trip over my pant leg or stutter. He came inside and set his toolbox on the floor while I presented him with the mess. He set to work by moving the machines further away from the wall, detaching the front panel of my washer, and doing whatever it is handy people do when a machine is spewing liquid.
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I asked if there was anything I could do to help. And then I asked if I could get him anything. And then a few minutes later, I asked if there was anything I could do to help…again. Apparently, when you’ve been out of ‘the game’ for awhile, you forget how to forge conversations with new people. Flirting was out of the question because, as I learned quickly, I’ve lost the ability to do so. And because I looked like I’d just rolled out of bed. Mostly I just tried to sound normal. The last time I asked if I could be of assistance, he smiled, laughed a little, looked at me and said, “Really…you’re okay. Relax and enjoy your coffee.”
This struck me. The insistence that I relax was something I’ve never received from a man before and moreover, it had never occurred to me that it was a wholly sexy sentiment. The ‘no, no…you sit there while I take care of this’ caused a flicker of something inside me. Hmmm. I thought, ohhh…maybe this is how single people do it: they notice little character traits they find attractive and then seek out those characteristics in a partner.
And then I realized something was missing from the moment; a void existed where there had once been little room to breathe. That something was guilt. I wasn’t feeling guilty for sitting on my couch, sneaking looks at this cutie, chatting with him, wondering if it’d be too forward to ask if he’d like to stay for a cup of coffee. It all felt like a mini-revelation of sorts.
For two years, I carried the duty of guilt when it came to men. And guilt was, indeed, a duty – one I took very seriously. I took my ‘crime’ (cheating) and subsequent ‘punishment’ (isolation), set up camp, and lived there month after month after month. I was doing time. And I deserved it. Rare encounters with men almost always involved alcohol…a magic potion that allowed me to forget about guilt and consequences for a few hours. But the idea of liking someone, or god forbid, dating someone?! That was a direct violation of my sentence. It was a violation of the love I harbored for my ex. It was a violation of our seven year relationship, our intimacy. It spit in the face of a well-deserved punishment. No, I simply wasn’t allowed. Leaving the land of the banished and lonely wasn’t yet an option.
And yet. With the sun streaming through my windows, sober and cheery at 8:00 A.M. on a Sunday, with a sweet, cute guy working a few feet away…there was no guilt, no sense of duty. There were no prison bars or self-reproach. There was only a young woman, wishing she’d thought to apply a bit of makeup, relearning what it means to be attracted to someone…to notice the strength of a man’s arms…to let herself wonder if maybe, just maybe, she might be ready to try again.