I’m Sorry

I met him at a science fiction convention, 1991 or 1992.  I was 35; he was 10 years younger.  My Trek ‘zine writing/editing/publishing partner wanted to send a big load of our work to a ‘zine-oriented con in Houston and offered to pay my way and put me up at the con hotel. It would be the first time I’d ever been to a con by myself, with a room of my own.  How could I say no?  When I arrived on Thursday afternoon, all the boxes were waiting for me in the dealers’ room at the table I was assigned.  To my great surprise, I realized I was right next to Chris, a fellow writer and now contributor to another ‘zine.  We had published a couple of her stories in our ‘zine, too, and it was great to see her.  I was thrilled that we’d be next to each other for the duration. 

She was there in the usual con style–with 6 or 7 other people.  They were all milling around the table getting everything set up for the con to open in the morning.  In the crowd of chattering women, I notice one lone male, quiet, unobtrusive.  What caught me was his long, straight coal-black hair, down to the middle of his back.  I’ve always had a “thing” for black hair and his was like liquid midnight.  On top of it, he wore an outfit that resembled  a Guardian Angels get-up, a maroon beret, soft boots and mirrored wrap-around sunglasses.  He didn’t talk much, but moved boxes as asked, didn’t try to overtake the conversation.  Eventually we were introduced. His name was Sandy.

We shook hands and I told him I was wondering what the eyes behind the glasses looked like.  He reached up and took them off. His eyes were the color of dark caramel with lashes that mascara commercials try to emulate.  In a word, he was captivating.  I thanked him for letting me behind the mask, so to speak, and went on with setting up for the next day.  Chris said that her gang was all going out for Mexican food that night and did I want to join them?  I did.

I don’t remember much about the meal, but I remember laughing a lot with Chris and I remember there being tequila. Tequila is my drink of choice at conventions.  For me, it’s not alcohol, it’s an hallucinogenic drug.  I do strange and marvelous things when I’m drinking tequila which is why I rarely drink it any more.

After the meal we all trouped back to the hotel.  The consensus was that it was time for the pool and hot tub.  My room was across the hotel from theirs, but I told them I’d run put on my suit and join them.  When I got back to the pool, everyone was crowded in the rather small hot tub.  Of course, I wanted to swim, so I did a few laps.  Then Chris hollered for me to come join them which I did.  Everyone schooched around to make room.  The laughing and giggling from dinner continued.  At some point, I became aware of Sandy moving from one woman to the next, offering neck rubs.  The hot tub was round, with a bench seat the entire circumference.  Again, he was quiet and unassuming.  He never tried to push in on a conversation or change the subject.  He seemed perfectly content to be the token male in the group.  I couldn’t quite figure out the dynamic, but hey, it wasn’t my group after all.

Eventually he got to me in his migration around the circle.  He asked me if I wanted a neck rub.  If you’ve never been to a con, neck and back rubs are sort of like shaking hands when you’re introduced–they’re just what you do.  I said sure, and I slid forward on the bench seat to allow him to sit behind me.  Chris and I were laughing about something while Sandy worked on my neck and all of a sudden, the tequila took over and under the cover of the jacuzzi bubbles, I slid my hands along the insides of his thighs all the way up.  Behind me, he jumped like he’d been tazed.  I turned around and just smiled at him.  Got his attention.  I could say with 100% certainty that none of the others had done anything like that.

We started talking.  He was from San Jose, came to the con with his girlfriend, but I never did figure out who she was amongst all the girls with Chris. He was mostly Filipino and the youngest of 5 children, 4 older sisters.  That explained his ability to be comfortable amidst a gaggle of women.  Our conversation wound around various subjects but thanks to my earlier actions, always seemed to come back to sex.  Sex is another thing that happens a lot at cons.  It’s usually fun, free-spirited and only for the duration of the weekend. Oh, and enhanced by ingestion of tequila.

During the course of the conversation, Sandy mentioned that he happened to have a pair of handcuffs.  I said I was sure he didn’t, that he was making it up.  He swore he wasn’t.  I told him I’d bet him a massage that he was.  The bet was on.  By that time, everyone was getting a bit prune-y, so the pool party broke up.  I had to go back across the hotel to get changed, but promised Sandy I’d come to claim my massage shortly.  A bit later I knocked on Chris’ door.  Someone opened it and I stepped into the usual con chaos–suitcases everywhere, clothes and bits of costumes hung where ever a hanger would go, roll-away beds and pull out couches crowding the floor space. I think there were about 8 people in that room.  It’s the norm for a convention, but I was suddenly quite happy to have my own room. 

I found Sandy in the melee and he beckoned me over to his suitcase.  With a smug little grin, he opened it and showed me the pair of handcuffs lying on top.  Looked like I lost the bet.  Then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, an impulse hit me.  I said, “Give me the keys.”  Unsuspecting of anything, he did.  Then I reached down, grabbed the cuffs, put one bracelet around his wrist, and locked the other one on mine.  Then I announced to the room in general, “I’m taking Sandy with me.  We’ll be back later.  Or not.”  And off I went, dragging him behind me.  Not that I had to drag too hard, mind you. The weekend was definitely looking up.

By the time I got him back to my room, he was, shall we say, enthralled.  He was 25 and all of his girlfriends (not many) had been in their teens.  I was 35 with experience, imagination and a libido that hadn’t been exercised in a while.  I got a lot of exercise that weekend.  It was the first time in my life I’d seen a guy, been attracted to him and just flat out went for it.  It was a complete power trip and oh, so, heady.

And he was completely and utterly beautiful.  He worked as a telephone lineman, climbing up and down power poles and riding in a cherry picker.  He had thighs to die for, along with the hair and the eyes.  And the energy of a 25 year old.  And a sweet, open way about him.  I could tell from the first minute I met him there wasn’t a mean bone in his body.  He was just a sweet, sweet guy.  Oh, and he made chain mail. Yes, he did. By hand.  He had a costume to enter into the contest.  When he modeled it for me the next day, he looked like a dark Legolas straight out of a Tolkein novel.  If I hadn’t already been under the spell of his appearance, seeing him in that costume would have made me swoon.  He even offered to make me a costume to order, but I never took him up on it.

The weekend was a blur.  I did my duty, held down the table in the dealers’ room, sold a lot of ‘zines, and was utterly grateful to Chris who offered to watch things when I needed a bathroom break.  And who told me she wanted to be me when she grew up.

And after all the duties were dispensed, Sandy and I spent every moment exploring each other.  There’s something incredibly freeing about such an encounter.  No expectations, no past, no future.  Just the moment, brilliant and breathless.  I amazed him with things that seemed quite ordinary to me, and he had stamina that I’d never seen in anyone else.  On Sunday, after the con closed and whatever merchandise I had left was boxed up and ready to send back to Atlanta, we still couldn’t keep our hands off each other.  That trip was the only time I have ever come close to missing a flight.  I slid into my seat on the plane with about 5 minutes to spare before they closed the door.  I flew home in a happy bubble, no regrets and no expectations.

After I got home, I started getting letters.  Remember, this was pre-e-mail, cell phones, texting, sexting and all that.  People still wrote letters.  We had exchanged addresses, but I never thought he would write me.  He was a guy, right?  But he wrote.  Long letters, letter full of memories and wanting more. I didn’t lead him on, but I can’t say I completely discouraged him either.  At the time, I wasn’t really seeing anyone.  But time passed.  I hit another convention, this one in Florida, just for fun, and struck up an odd conversation with a guy dressed as an astronaut.  There was no blissful weekend, but another letter-writing relationship ensued, one that I was more interested in pursuing, one that felt more realistic than a guy 10 years my junior and an entire continent away.  But Sandy kept writing.  Then he made plans to come see me.  I agreed to it, then changed my mind.  This was no weekend jaunt.  I had a daughter, worked odd hours in the hotel business, and I lived with my parents.  It wouldn’t be anything like our perfect bubble of a weekend in Houston.  I talked him out of coming, but I could tell he was completely disappointed.  The letters grew less frequent.

Cut a few years forward, 1995 or 96.  I’ve moved to Pueblo, married my online romance only to realize my husband’s true love is alcohol.  My daughter is doing her best to hasten my demise, running away from home, refusing to do any school work, experimenting with shoplifting, the usual fun adolescent things. And I’ve discovered AOL chat rooms, particularly one called “Women’s Space”.  I talk to lesbians online, I’m drawn to them, I’m comfortable with them, I even, my God, flirt with them. Could I also be one?

And woven through all this, I still get letters now and then from Sandy.  Yes, I told him I was moving, getting married, all that.  I called him out of the blue one day when I worked at the HMO and I was surprised he answered at the number and even more surprised he was willing to talk to me.  He wanted to see me again, wanted to visit, wanted to be with me.  I was two or three years into my six-year period of celibacy, so I said, screw it, why not?  Why not be with someone who wants to be with ME instead of a bottle of beer, even if it’s only for a weekend.

So, I gave in. Said, okay, come to Colorado Springs, I’ll come up and stay with you.  My daughter was god knew where at the time, doing her best to avoid me and I was exhausted trying to run all over town after her only to have her sneak out and be gone again.  I give my husband some story about a college friend and I’d be gone for the weekend and that was that.  Am I proud of cheating on my husband?  No.  I’m not.  I could give all kinds of excuses.  I won’t.  He never found out and so in the end, it was almost like it never happened.

Sandy’s plane arrived late on a Friday and he took a shuttle from the Colorado Springs airport.  I went up the next morning.  I knocked on his door, more than a little nervous and scared.  A lot had happened in four years.  I wasn’t the carefree, self-assured woman that dragged him away in handcuffs.  I felt more handcuffed to my own life.  I couldn’t for the life of me understand what this guy saw in me–or if he would even see it once I stepped through the door.

He looked the same, only without the beret.  Same amazing long hair, beautiful eyes, fit, compact body.  Same sweet smile and warm hug.  I took him to breakfast in town, but even though we danced all around the subject, we both knew what it was coming down to and eventually the road led back to the room and the two of us, alone together. 

It was brilliant and poignant.  His life had changed, too.  He was a father now.  He was with his son’s mother and they were all about to move to Texas.  I couldn’t imagine this free-spirited California boy in Texas.  I remember actually being afraid for him, for his color, his bearing.  I was scared he would get hurt, get beat up or worse.  I didn’t say any of that but I thought it.

We didn’t spend the whole weekend in bed that time.  I took him around Colorado Springs, drove up by the Broadmoor Hotel in the winding foothills at the base of Pike’s Peak.  We rounded a curve on one road and there were three deer lying in someone’s front yard.  “Hey, look!” he said, “Yard art.” Then they turned to look at the car.  “Oh, my God! They’re real!”  I had to laugh at that.

I couldn’t find the words to tell him how sad I was about how my marriage was turning out.  I didn’t have the vocabulary to let him know I thought I might be gay and probably needed to come out of the closet.  We communicated in the way we had learned the first time we met.  It was wonderful, but it wasn’t enough.  I look back now and think maybe he was so insistent about visiting me because he also needed to find out if what we had that weekend in Houston was just a fluke or if it was something worth going after.  What we discovered is that too often, perfect moments can’t be repeated.  Perhaps you shouldn’t try, but sadly, you don’t know that until you do.

Sunday afternoon came and it was time for him to go back to California.  I drove him to the airport.  The Colorado Springs airport is small, and sits way out on the prairie east of town.  There’s nothing around it but open space all the way to Kansas.  Sandy hadn’t seen that in the dark when he arrived and he said the sight of all that openness freaked him out.  I said after being out here just a couple of years, being in cities now made me claustrophobic.

I pulled up to the curb at the departure gates.  I didn’t even think about parking and walking him in or waiting with him.  I guess should have.  When I stopped the car at his airline, he turned and looked at me with such sadness.  He didn’t say it, but I could feel the question, “You aren’t coming in with me?”  I know I hurt his feelings in that moment, but I was so mixed up and bewildered myself that all I could think of was getting back home to Pueblo and trying to make some sense out of my life the best way I could.  He leaned over the center console of my car and grabbed me into a huge, hard hug.  I hugged back just as hard.  I knew I’d never see him or hear from him again.  I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the intervening years.  I’m sorry, Sandy, that I didn’t park the car and walk you into the airport.  I’m sorry I didn’t stand at security and watch you though.  I hope you’re happy where ever you are.  And I hope, one day, I’ll run into you at another con.  There won’t be any more wild weekends, but I’d be happy to give you a back rub in the dealers’ room.



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