3” (That’s Okay - Our Thing)
Maxine Mayer, 3/26/2000
[The subtitle is
taken from the album, “Marc Anthony,” from the song “That’s Okay,” by
Marc Anthony and Cory Rooney. You’ll find the entire song at the end of the
story but you really ought to listen to it with music. It’s lovely. Here are
the relevant lyrics.
“I still can’t
believe You’re leaving me
In the middle of what used
YEAR 2007 – CANADA:
I’m alone, now.
Despite Ray’s continued presence in my life, as my friend and partner in all
things save one. All things, save the one thing that pushed us to the
destruction of our love. Sex.
Sex has never been
I’d known it, of
course, from the start. That in the intimacy which is sex I would never be able
to hide how I felt about Ray from him. In every other situation I could hold on,
hold tight to some fragment of my façade. But not in bed. Not with anyone.
Certainly, not with Ray Kowalski.
I am not an
undercover agent. Particularly not under the covers.
I cannot believe
I’ve made a joke. A joke. About this.
Truly, I am unhinged.
* * *
It has been slow
going, our resumption of the old ways. Back to square one. But we have so much
history that, in fact, those six weeks in heaven seem to me to be the dream, not
the reality. This, this… stiffness and stodginess and ordinariness, seems to
be the reality.
I have no clue as to
what Ray is thinking or feeling about any of it. Now.
suspicious, of course, of anything he does and says. I will find it difficult to
accept anything he does and says at face value again. If I ever can.
He appears to be all
right with things. With me. With our relationship. Does not appear to be angry
with me any longer.
But I wonder how that
Jealousy such as he
experienced for Ray Vecchio and for the man I slept with while he was away –
that sort of jealousy doesn’t fade easily or quickly. And the anger that
accompanies it tends to linger even when it is admitted, expressed. It is
unlikely to disappear.
appears not to be angry with me.
I suppose that is a
inexplicable, but a good thing, from my point of view.
Because he has every
right to be angry with me. I’ve abused his trust and stolen his life and
frightened him and –
I’ve hurt him.
I never wanted to
hurt him. I wanted to love him, only that.
But instead, I hurt
Oh, Ray, I’m sorry.
I’m so very sorry.
* * *
“Tonight at eight,
okay, Frase?” Ray asks, his voice on the phone lighthearted, cheerful. He has
made plans for us, dinner and then darts at our favorite pub. This is the first
time since my… accident that we’re doing this. Not that I haven’t been
physically fit. We simply didn’t wish to spend so much time in public while we
were lovers. And after that, the intimacy of darts, a favorite game we’ve
played together, seemingly forever, was unacceptable.
But tonight we will
play darts and I wonder what it means, that Ray suggested it. Offered it. This
intimacy. Beer, tea, darts, Ray and me.
I can smell the
pungent odor of the bar now. In my sense memory.
The odor of our
friendship. Men, darts, beer, tea, Ray and me, dim lights, unfamiliar music
blasting from the juke box, cheery hellos from other customers, old
acquaintances, and the inevitable request that we join one or another of the
darts teams that play in “Sam’s” regularly, every Monday evening.
refused the offer to join a team. I never quite understood why but Ray refused
for both of us. Since I had no desire to be part of any team other than the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I never questioned his decision nor asked him
“Ah, Fraser, Ray!
How are you?” the bartender asks. We pass the time of day with him and then I
find my way to the back of the bar where a darts game is in full swing. I
don’t recognize the players. They aren’t regulars. I hang my jacket on the
back of a chair and wait for Ray to join me with our drinks. I search out our
own darts set from my pocket and place it on the table.
And I close my eyes,
inhale the odor of friendship, and wait for Ray.
* * *
“Didn’t know you
were so tired, Frase. Wouldn’t have come out, if I’d known.”
“I’ll still beat
you, hands down, Ray, tired or not.”
“We’ll see about
that,” he replies with a grin. “Shake, bad guys, shake, right, Fraser?”
“Indeed, Ray. Let
all comers shake, in the face of my peerless darts game.”
“Well, I been
practicing, Frase. I bet I’ll win, tonight.”
“Two out of three,
Ray?” I ask, although this is our customary gameplan, nothing different.
We toss a coin for
first up, Ray wins, and starts to throw.
The game goes first
one way, then another, until in the end, Ray wins the first round.
“I’ll get us
another drink, Ray,” I tell him. That, too, is our custom, to play for drinks.
I hesitate to say, for the honor of the sport, but in my mind, that is what I am
Ray, of course, is
playing to entertain me. We have few enough manly things in common, Ray and I.
This is something he discovered long ago, something that I enjoy and that we can
share. As if I were a regular person, like him. He jumped on it and made it part
of our life together, when we were back in Chicago. We’ve continued, through
the years. Dressed in jeans and a shirt, throwing darts, I appear to be a man
like any other, rather than a freak. From the beginning, Ray liked that. I
suppose I did, too.
At any rate, the
honor of the sport notwithstanding, I’ve lost many a game to Ray on purpose,
otherwise we could not have continued to play. And the loss of this shared time
would have hurt me worse than the loss of my integrity ever did.
Darts. Our thing….
* * *
I really am tired
tonight. Ray wins all three rounds fair and square, and he is jubilant on the
short walk back to our apartment complex. Spring is in the air. The rich smells
of the night, the velvet darkness of the sky, many stars, the faint rancid odor
of beer on Ray’s breath, his cologne…. I’m nearly overwhelmed by a feeling
of peace. Joy and peace.
Which I don’t
understand and don’t deserve and don’t worry about, simply… experience it.
I experience Ray,
talking about everything and nothing, at my side. Bouncing along beside me,
reminding me of his joy when he won that softball game, so many years ago. He
loves to win. It is such a rarity for him, in these kinds of things, and he
makes the most of it.
I nearly always win,
in every circumstance. It never gives me joy.
Not the way Ray’s
joy communicates itself to me, fills me, transforms my spirit.
I’m tempted again,
to beg him to give himself to me sexually. I miss that. It was heaven, as I knew
it would be.
I dare not. Dare not
risk this fragile peace for that undeserved heaven.
Back to square one,
where sex was never “our thing.”
My mood shifts again,
and Ray notices almost immediately. How, I’ll never understand.
“What?” he asks,
exasperated, I suppose, that my mood pulls him down. Not for the first time,
I shake my head,
telling him that it’s nothing.
nothing, Frase. I thought you were having a good time, like me.”
“I was. I am.
“I can’t help it.
Worrying, I mean. That look. I know that look on your ugly puss. It’s your
‘I’m having a good time so why do I feel like shit’ look. Your ‘Why
don’t I appreciate my good luck’ look. Last time I seen it, next thing I
know, I find you bleeding to death in a ditch.”
“It wasn’t a
ditch, Ray -”
“I do know what you
mean.” I sigh. “I – I’m all right, Ray.”
“You’re full of shit,
My heart jumps in my chest.
He called me Ben. Forgot himself, for the first time since he told me that he
didn’t love me anymore, and called me Ben.
I decide to repay in kind,
forget myself, tell the truth.
particularly… lonely tonight, Ray.”
“Lonely? Like, how?
Because you’re not alone. You got me.”
“Yes, of course, I have
you.” I pause. “In a manner of speaking.”
He eyes me. Narrows his
eyes. Shakes his head. “I can’t believe this! You’re ‘lonely’! Why
don’t you ever say what you mean, mountie? You’re not lonely. You’re
I smile small. “That,
too,” I concede.
* * *
The bounce has left his
step, now. He’s walking beside me. We reach our building. He looks up once,
looks at me, motions come on, and passes our place. He continues without
checking to see whether I’m following, but of course, I am. He takes the long
route which will bring us to the lake, then around the lake, or as far as we
wish to go. We can always turn back without making a full circle, of course.
I don’t walk as quickly
as once I did. He strides ahead, then slows down, waits until I catch up, all
the while without saying anything or looking at me. Then the process begins
again, and yet a third time. We reach the lakeshore and he sits on a large rock.
I stand nearby at parade rest, although I’m dressed in civilian clothing and
haven’t even brought my Stetson with me, it is so warm.
“I guess you’re right,
Frase. Only so long we can go without sex before one of us is gonna pick up
somebody, just to fuck.”
“Speak for yourself, Ray.
A few weeks is nothing to me, in this regard.”
He grins. “You sure?”
“Certainly, I’m sure.
You know me, Ray. I didn’t bother to go looking when I was young and virile.
I’m unlikely to start now, old man that I am.”
“You didn’t go looking
because you could look without going any place.”
“Yes, that’s true,” I
“You did without, pretty
good, though. I remember that pretty good.”
“I did without, yes.”
“And now?” I don’t
reply. “Now, you telling me you’re so horny you’ve gotta sigh and ruin
what was pretty much the best evening we’ve had in a long time?”
yes, Ray? You’re so horny, you’re gonna pick up some guy in a bar, like that
“What, you’re just
gonna… grin and bear it?” he challenges.
“No, Ray. I am not going
to grin and bear it. I’m simply going to bear it.”
“Me, then? You punishing
I’m taken aback. “No!
Of course not.”
“What, then? You’re
horny and you’re not gonna do anything about it? Except maybe jerk off?”
“So.” He gets off the
rock and circles around me for a bit. Finally, he stops in front of me, looks me
in the eye and asks, “So, you don’t want me anymore?”
I don’t reply. We have
reached the ultimate absurdity. He has informed me that he doesn’t love me any
longer, and now he believes that I don’t want him any longer.
Part of what he told me
weeks ago isn’t true. He does love me as a friend, and that is valuable to me,
nearly more valuable than anything else we might share. Except for truth, and
Along the way we’ve lost
the truth. Stopped trusting. And now we’ve lost all sense of who we are to
At last I say, “Why?”
“Why, what?” he asks,
and his tone is defensive, or so it sounds to me.
“Why do you care? If, as
you say, you no longer love me, why do you care whether I want you?” For that
matter, although I do not ask it, why do you choose to spend all your
discretionary time with me? Why do you exert thought and energy to finding ways
to entertain me? Why do you exude joy, in my company, as you did before, when
you did love me?
No, I don’t ask these
questions because I know Ray has no answers for them. What we are to each other
seems as arbitrary now as the first day we met. A whim of the gods, or destiny.
Arbitrary, yet real….
“Who says I don’t love
I stare at him without
“Okay, yeah, well, I said
it. But that doesn’t mean I still feel that way.”
“I never considered you a
frivolous man, Ray, a man changeable in love.”
“I’m not. Frivolous.
“Then, might I take it
that you lied, before, when you said you didn’t love me?” I inquire, opening
a door for him, an out.
“Yeah, I was angry,
really really angry. So I lied.” Then, after a moment, shaking his head, then
shrugging, he contradicts himself. “Well, not lied, not exactly.”
I’m encouraged by his
honesty. Between us, he was always the honest one, his finest quality.
“No. Not exaggerated. I
wasn’t exaggerating. I… I felt that way, then. And for a long time.
“I don’t feel that way
now,” he concludes slowly.
“You’re no longer angry
with me? You love me? Is that what I am to believe?”
“But is it true?”
I insist, my words following swiftly on his, with an edge that surprises me.
“It’s true,” he
says, then turns and walks a few steps away from me, stands looking at the lake,
his back to me. He seems… defeated, somehow, by his admission, and the truth
behind it. For whatever reason, he doesn’t want to love me…. If I can
believe that much – believe in his unhappiness – then the corollary is
true…. He loves me still….
“And that is why
you wonder whether I still want you? Because you love me, want me?”
He comes back to
where he’d been standing, very close to me. “You don’t want me now, do
you? I screwed up and you closed down again and that’s that, right? No more
us. Over and out. Stick it in a box marked done?”
“You believe that,
that I could do that?”
“Yeah, I think you
could. You could. Turn it off and that’s that. Yeah.”
Again, I don’t
reply. Cannot, for a moment, reply to this evidence that Ray and I have slipped
so far back in time and so far away from our partnership and friendship, it is
as if the intervening years had never happened.
And Ray waits, as if
for a blow. I do not wish to make him wait but I’m not so free as I’d been
with him. Not so trusting and not so close. It is hard for me to speak from my
heart, now. We’ve both slipped back….
But he is waiting,
hurting. I must not keep him waiting, whatever my doubts.
I touch his cheek and say, “You must know better than that,
Ray. You were there.”
There, when fate
threw us together. We’ve not been parted, since….
There, in bed with
He takes a deep
breath. Grabs my hand. Holds it against his face. Slides it down to his mouth.
Covers his mouth with my hand. Slips his tongue out and wets my palm.
can’t breathe. “Want him” doesn’t begin to describe it. Always, every
part of me, heart and soul and body, with everything I am, I want him.
So much that I
don’t think the doubts, don’t feel the fears, don’t remember the words
that broke my heart…. Cannot, in his presence, experience anything except him.
All there is now, is
Ray, and how much I want him.
I take the part of
him that is permitted to me, in this setting, in public. His mouth. Hold his
face with both my hands and kiss him. With everything I am. I kiss him until he
can’t breathe and he breaks the kiss, pulls away.
* * *
“Yes, Ray?” I
reply shakily. Surely, he cannot question now, how I feel. Surely, he knows.
When he says, “We
can’t do much of anything out here,” I think I know how he feels, as well.
“Ya wanna go home,
then?” he asks.
I decide to trust the
shyness in his voice, believe in it. I always have believed in him. We’ve
always believed in each other. Arbitrary, yes, how we’ve always felt, yet no
Of what use is it for
me to question and doubt now? We are always together. Destiny, the whim of the
gods? I don’t know why. I know only that it is so. And that it is real.
He knows it too.
Real for both of us,
I want him, I need
him, and I love him. I must trust that it is the same for Ray.
“Yes, Ray, I do wish to go home,” I say, meaning more.
Hoping his offer is in good faith. Not wanting to know, if it is not….
“Your place or
mine?” he asks with a grin, swinging my hand in his as he pulls me along with
him and we walk back towards town.
“Mine. I have the
We smile at one
It’s almost the way
it once was.
Almost the same as it
used to be.
With this new thing
Sex. Which almost
became “our thing.”
Not quite, but
I’ll make it our
Or die, trying.
That’s okay, too.
* * * * * * * * *
[Here are the lyrics
to Marc Anthony’s song, “That’s Okay.”
“I remember how it
used to be
When you said you were in
love with me
Now I’m all alone
Sitting by the phone
There’s that memory
Hangin’ over me
Oh, you were something
And now we’re nothing
I still can’t believe
You’re leaving me
In the middle of what used
And I still don’t see
A reason for you killing me
The way you did That day
I can’t shake
All that you promised me
Can’t believe I let it
Now you’re on your way
To that better day
And I’m here at home
Sitting all alone
Oh, you were something
And that’s why we’re