A Walk on the Wild Side Ch. 01bycowgirlblues©
Sam was the most beautiful man I had ever laid eyes on. He had thick, dark, wavy hair, iridescent, sea green eyes and broad cheekbones straight from Rembrandt's later depictions of Christ. He wore his suffering heavily like a condemned man, the pain of his stigmata eased only by the permanent halo of whisky and cigarette smoke which surrounded him.
His body was boyishly lithe and muscular, as you would expect of a young man in his early twenties, and he moved with the grace of a lightly wounded gazelle. He was a man of few words and the first few times our paths crossed, he barely managed to make eye contact without retreating into some hidden corner of his being.
I was instantly fascinated, immediately intrigued. Who was this man? What secrets did he harbour? What had happened in his past to make him appear almost a shadow of a man, albeit a very alluring one? I couldn't put my finger on it then, as I still cannot to this day, but he had an air of the mystical about him which was impossible to ignore.
Over the course of several weeks and months, Sam and I spent an increasing amount of time together, two misfits whose paths had crossed at critical, but very different times of their lives. I was freshly out of a divorce, myself wounded but sufficiently anaesthetized so as not to be aware of the extent of my injuries. I had suddenly and unexpectedly found myself alone and adrift in middle-age without much of a clue of where I was heading, except towards a swiftly approaching precipice. I was propelled forward by my thirst for new experiences and adventure, things that had sadly been lacking in my very circumscribed adolescent years, without an adequate understanding of the dangers that befell vulnerable women in my years.
As for Sam, well, it was clear that he had not escaped trauma himself in his young life. And now he found himself in a country that was not his own, living in a dank North London basement, making music and surviving on his wits and the ministrations of those around him. He barely slept, and when he did, it was usually curled up in a foetal position on a narrow, two-seater sofa in his kitchen at dawn or when the whisky ran out. It was a lifestyle so alien to me, a driven, successful, career woman, that I couldn't help but dip my toe into it, and eventually a whole lot more.
At first my fascination was simply that: curiosity about a fellow human whose quiet company I somehow found solace in. We would sit at his makeshift kitchen table, often in semi-darkness, talking, smoking, drinking and listening to music. My initial feelings towards him seemed to me innocent in nature, the feelings of a childless, directionless woman for a lost boy yearning to be loved. It was a tender friendship which came as a surprise to me and contained no element of the lust I was accustomed to feeling for attractive men. I usually went for the aggressive alpha males who wasted no time in identifying me as their prey, homing in on me and going in for the kill, swiftly and mercilessly.
Sam was different. We discovered that we shared a love of old-school American comedy and spent many evenings together, huddled around his ailing old laptop, watching our favourite episodes until the early hours. At first, on those nights, I would make my way home on the last bus, my echoing, empty flat a mere ten minute ride away, but as we became closer, I would often stay the night on the sofa bed in his studio/living room, which he made up for me, leaving a bottle of water by my side, while he curled up in the kitchen on the small two-seater, in a position that defied gravity.
As the days and weeks floated by, my spirits buoyed by having found an unlikely companion to drink my nights away with, I suddenly found myself spending more and more time with Sam. I could hardly wait to get out of the office, go home to change and then make my way up to his studio, where he would cook me dinner, we would share a bottle or two of wine, head up to the local pub for a few pints and then back to his place again to listen to music. On one occasion, he cajoled me into playing a form of musical statues, where one person could only dance as soon as the other had stopped. That same evening ended, hilariously, with him demonstrating the art of "fake dancing", a cheat's version of breakdancing, where one person assists the "breakdancer" in that well-known manoeuvre, the backspin, by spinning him around on the floor whilst holding him by the legs. I could barely breathe, I laughed so much! Weren't 42 year old women supposed to spend their evenings listening to Radio 4 and darning their husband's socks?
The realisation that I was beginning to feel something other than friendship for Sam sneaked up on me suddenly one evening when we were at a noisy bar together, listening to live music with a group of mutual friends. The friends gradually peeled away and I was left with Sam, leaning against the railings above the sunken dance floor/makeshift stage, listening to him talk about his best friend, a woman in her early 50's who had taught him how to play the guitar as a child. It dawned on me, at that moment, at around 3 o'clock in the morning, that I had become completely infatuated with this unusual young man, a man who chose to spend time with me, a divorced woman 20 years his senior, instead of raising hell with men and women of his own age. From that moment on, I was hooked. There was no going back. Everything about him had reeled me in: his personal tragedy, his masculine beauty, his wit, his astonishing command of the English language, his imagination, his scent of sweat, tobacco and Bulgari cologne, the complete absence of rules and boundaries in his life. It was an intoxicating, combustible mix which I didn't stand a chance against.
We continued our routine into the spring, spending 3 or 4 evenings a week together, talking until the early hours of the morning, becoming comfortable in each other's company. Only now that I had woken up to reality, the pure joy of being around him and in his company was tinged with a gnawing longing for what seemed like the impossible. After we had spent the better part of 4 months in each other's company, I was beginning to give up hope of my nascent feelings for him being reciprocated. Perhaps this young man only saw me as a mother figure, someone who tended to his material needs and kept loneliness at bay, rather than as an object of desire. I had even begun to despair that, despite his physical beauty and charm, he lacked that essential erotic spark. He never showed any overt interest in me or any other women who crossed his path, as one would have expected for a man of his age and circumstances. Oh how wrong I turned out to be!
By the time summer came around, I was on the verge of giving up, resigning myself to the fact that I had formed a close bond with another lost soul which would remain forever chaste, like the intense feelings fuelling a pre-pubescent romance. Having accepted that this was the more sensible course of action and one which would keep our special friendship intact, I continued to engineer excuses to see him and spend time in his company, with little hope that anything would ever happen.
One Friday, I invited Sam around to my apartment for dinner. The pretext was that he had offered to install some blinds above my bedroom window, which meant that I would finally be able to sleep past sunrise and get rid of the dingy and utterly useless net curtains which hung there limply. He arrived promptly, with a power drill in tow and set about measuring and cutting the blinds. I watched admiringly as he climbed nimbly onto the window sill to take the relevant measurements, laid the blinds out on the living room floor and then kneeled down to cut them with my kitchen scissors. When he leaned forward, I saw the top of his blue and white striped boxer shorts peek out above the waistband of his jeans. I admonished myself for even looking and went into the kitchen to distract myself and to finish preparing his favourite dish, tagliatelle alla bolognese. By the time supper was ready, the drilling was done, the blind was installed and we sat down to eat at my awkwardly large dining room table, looking at each other somewhat uncomfortably. It was the first time he had been to my apartment and was visibly nervous.
After he had finished a second helping and we had polished off the bottle of generic Italian red, he suggested going out to the local wine bar which had become a favourite haunt of ours. He packed up the power drill into his over-the-shoulder bag and we set off up the hill. We stayed in the wine bar until closing time, although I have no recollection at all of what we talked about that night. After being turfed out of there, he suggested moving to the underground club next door. How he managed to explain the power drill to the bouncer on the door is beyond me, but we charmed our way in and stayed there drinking in a distant corner of the basement until around 4 in the morning. I remember very clearly coming out of the club and anxiously thinking about the fact that I was going to be turning right and making my own way down the hill to my apartment, while he was going to take a right turn and walk up towards his studio. At that moment, he grabbed my arm unexpectedly and shepherded me safely past a group of people standing outside the club and started walking up the hill.
"Just avoiding some trouble there," he said, or words to that effect, thereby expertly bypassing the painful moment when we would have had no excuse but to go our separate ways.
We walked the 15 or so minutes to his studio in near silence, stopping only to light cigarettes along the way. When we arrived, he unlocked the wrought iron outer gate and then the front door to the basement flat and we both went in, stumbling slightly in the dark. The light was just beginning to turn, but it was not quite yet the hour of dawn. I sat at the kitchen table while he examined the contents of his dubious-looking fridge to see what there might be left to drink. As luck would have it, there was a bottle of champagne I had left there some weeks ago, having retrieved it from a former boyfriend's apartment after an unexpected and messy break-up. If the bastard was dispatching me from his life, he damned well wasn't going to keep my bottle of Pol Roger!
Sam swiftly dispatched the cork and poured the champagne into two coffee mugs. We clinked mugs and I flinched imperceptibly at the thought of Winston Churchill's favourite champagne being drunk out of a chipped Ikea mug. We drank and smoked in the unveiling new light, the sound of Stan Getz's saxophone piercing the thick, smoky air around us.
Like a vampire fearing the inevitable, he looked anxiously at the emerging light outside and suggested going into the windowless back room, where darkness would be guaranteed. We took our mugs into the room crammed with musical instruments and recording paraphernalia and he shut the heavy sound-proof door behind him. We sat smoking in the dark for a while, listening to some Ella Fitzgerald, before he announced, suddenly and presumably out of sense of propriety, that he was going to take off his jeans and get into the double sofa bed occupying the middle of the room. He gave me a cream sweatshirt to change into and, turning my back to him, I removed all my clothes except for my panties, put on the sweatshirt and slipped under the black quilted cover on my side of the bed. He was lying under a cream duvet and remarked on the fact that we looked like a chess board. I lay back as we listened to the music and thought that if I didn't seize the moment now, I was a prize idiot who should be ashamed of herself. But rather than feeling like the experienced, older woman that I clearly was, I felt 16 again, lying next to the boy I had a huge crush on and unable to do anything about it.
The subsequent events of that night are something of a blur, but a number of words and images weave their way in and out of my memory. He asked me if there was anything that I really wanted to happen. Despite the amount of alcohol I had drunk that night, I just couldn't bring myself to answer that question truthfully. I put my arm over my face in shame and protested that I couldn't. The next thing I recall is him propped up on his elbow, leaning over to kiss me. As soon as words became redundant, I had no hesitation in giving in to the intensity of the moment, a moment I had tried, but failed, to picture in my head a thousand times. We kissed passionately, our bodies pressing into each other, for what seemed like minutes, but were probably only seconds, allowing months of pent up frustration to evaporate into the darkness.
"I kinda like you," he said spontaneously. "You're fun!"
Not exactly Lord Byron, but it was all my inner sixteen year-old needed to hear. I could feel myself beaming inside.
I somehow managed, amid all that fumbling, to unbutton his blue and white checked shirt and he to slip off my sweatshirt. I also remember sliding off his boxer shorts with my foot, a deft manoeuvre which caused him some obvious amusement, as he assisted in their removal by tugging the waistband over his now obvious obstruction.
He removed my panties with a single sweep of his hand and lowered himself to the end of the bed. As soon as I felt his lips and mouth on me, I knew that this was no ordinary young man. Either he knew exactly what he was doing, or he was possessed of an instinct that only a man who had survived on his wits for years could have known. In either case, I gave myself up completely to the ecstasy of my long delayed gratification. Once my satisfaction had been assured, he manoeuvred our bodies skilfully into a series of unlikely positions: from legs and arms entwined as if in an adult version of Twister to him lying on his back, his surprisingly muscular arms behind his head, looking up at me as we settled into position without ever coming apart.
"You're lovely!" I recall him saying. "I find you beautiful."
Words that any forty-something woman would be delighted to hear from the twenty-something man with whom she had slowly become infatuated.
I rocked my hips gently backwards and forwards, stroking his chest and bending down to kiss him on the mouth as he played with my breasts. It seemed as if we were moving as one, a perfect fit. It wasn't supposed to be this good, the first time you were with someone. Isn't that what they said? I couldn't imagine it being any better.
When the unexpectedly athletic piece of elaborate performance art finally came to an end, he collapsed with his head on my chest and we smiled at each other. I could feel his heart pounding against me as I lay there in disbelief, hoping that I wasn't going to wake up the following morning to find out it had all been but a blissful dream.