I once dated an honest person.
We first met at a diner he’d discovered on a lonely, winter run. He said florescent light cut the night like an Edward Hopper beacon. He found poetry in the customers’ stooped backs, the shining counter studded with vivid green stools.
On our second date, he said he was on the patch to quit smoking. Above us the leaves spoke their late-summer language. “Do you take it off when you’re sleeping?” I asked.
He said no. He didn’t mind the hallucinatory dreams.
Beneath a streetlamp on our third date, he told me he had 30 days of sobriety.
“Aren’t you supposed to wait a year?” I held my hair away from my sweaty neck. He brushed a strand behind my ear.
Four dates in, he looked everywhere but into my eyes when he told me he was on meds for bipolar, only recently diagnosed. In the squat house behind him, a light blazed to life, bathing the shabby front porch in its glow. I asked him if he’d ever attempted suicide. I asked if it was bipolar one or two.
“How do you know to ask those questions?” He reached for my hand. “You know too much. What have you got to hide?”
I didn’t want to date another addict, nor someone newly saddled with a neat name for who he’d always been. Still, his candor disarmed me. I used my other hand to point at the delicate lanterns encircling a nearby fence. “If I owned my own house,” I said, “that’s what I’d do.”
Before the honest person, I dated mostly liars. At best, like me, they were too afraid to expose their frailties; at worst, they were oblivious to their own rot.
One woman helped me squander half a decade. My first mistake was trusting who she said she was above my own perceptions. My second was shaping and reshaping myself to meet her needs. After we parted, I flitted from one false advertisement to the next. Three months out of a 17 year marriage, one man said he was over his hair stylist ex-wife. Pictures of toadstools lined his living room. In the kitchen, a toadstool calendar. On the shelf above the sink, a toadstool figurine.
“Those were my wife’s,” he said. “Getting over her was easy.” Then later, “She’s the only person I’ll ever let cut my hair.”
One woman responded to texts at neat, 12 hour intervals, her remoteness effortful. Her car smelled like a rental; citrus air freshener and carpet shampoo.
“I’m not looking for anything serious,” she told me, yet when I happened upon her blog I found an exhaustive description of our first date. At the end she’d written: “YOU GUYS! I MET THE ONE!”
In each person’s periphery, I’d smile and mirror. Puffed up with potential, I believed in our moments. But then time would shiver and accelerate: I’d find myself days into the future, lines of unanswered texts lighting my phone. Maybe my avoidance was healthy; a reaction to red-flags. Maybe I’d lost my knack for finding the future in someone else’s eyes.
The honest person made me want to be honest, so when my withdrawal began I told him.
I thought he might ask if the alcoholism or the nicotine patches or his bipolar had forced my retreat.
“What’s this called?’ He asked instead, pointing to the slice of skin visible beneath my blouse.
“It’s lovely.” He watched my hand moved to touch the V of bone.
The day after we broke up I felt giddy like I’ve only ever been while in the throes of early infatuation: A lost on familiar streets sort of excitement, my glee felt out of context, unfamiliar and strange. The night before in the honest person’s studio apartment, wide windows spilled the sunset across his bed. I knew I felt comfortable there in a way I hadn’t in the man’s toadstool kitchen, nor the woman’s pristine car. Yet I also knew I didn’t want to stay.
“I still think you have skeletons,” he’d said.
“Here’s all I’ll tell you,” I answered. “It’s easier to become what someone wants than to reveal who you actually are.”