At night, in my dreams, I am terribly unfaithful to my husband. I fall asleep thinking of him and the two cheerful monsters we’ve created. But inevitably a deep, sedative sleep washes over me — the kind that feels like three glasses of wine and a vicodin. My body settles into a sweet paralysis, while my mind and heart enter a world that may look different each night, but always has a familiar undercurrent.
Part of me knows where that undercurrent will take me, the ocean it will sweep me into. I resist, as much as one can swim when they cannot twitch a muscle. But it’s a pitiful effort because, deep down, part of me aches to surrender to those dark waters.
The dream isn’t about sex. It isn’t even about love. That would be excusable. With an open relationship, dreaming about sex isn’t even a blip of transgression. The dream that tempts me into its depths is about all-consuming desire: a sliver of longing lodged behind my breastbone, creating a pool of sweet decay that swallows my heart. It is sloshy, messy desire entrenched in guilt, leaving no room for my current life and family.
Some nights I dream of returning to the neighborhood I lived in during high school, changed and yet the same. Going by a house, waiting, hoping. Sometimes he’s home. He invites me in. We talk, but never about the things I want to talk about. The conversation is thick with tension. I want to scream for him to forgive me, but I never can.
Other times he isn’t home. Or he is, and his mother lies to me, saying he isn’t.
Sometimes the dream takes place far from that neighborhood, in another city, on another world, over the phone. But deep guilt and a thick longing are always there, stretching me to the point of tears.
The boy I dream about is my first love, the one I fell in love with the summer I was sixteen. We danced around each other, each of us dating other people while flirting with the idea of eventually being together. Through my first three boyfriends I never stopped loving him. It was my first hint that I was polyamorous, even though I didn’t know the word. My romantic, devoted love for this guy never faltered even when I began to feel layers of love for others. Then, my freshman year of college, heaven aligned: we were both single, and we hooked up while home for spring break.
We were madly hungry for each other. That summer we practically became one body, the hours we spent entwined. I had this oh-so-stupidly romantic theory that we were mystically, metaphysically attracted to each other. I thought we were destined to keep meeting each other, time and again, bouncing into each other at different points in our lives. The tender core of me felt… knew… he was mine.
But I was a highly physical girl, and I didn’t want a long distance relationship, even if it was with the boy I had been in love with for the past three years. I had barely dated in high school, and during college I wanted someone I could touch and talk to between classes. I wanted to dive into a relationship, wrap myself in it. I wanted to smell my significant other on me, wear their shirts, feel their hair between my fingers.
Loneliness and longing set in quickly when we were apart. In less than a month I was craving someone to hold me. I wanted it to be him, but we were in different states. To be perfectly honest, it hurt to watch the college life pass me by, everyone bouncing in and out of relationships, while I was tied to a guy I could only share the occasional phone call and hours of online gaming with.
Tears were shed on both sides when I told him I needed more, that I couldn’t be with him and live in another state. But honestly, I was a bit relieved when the call was over and I was free. A weight was taken off my shoulders, and I was able to mix with my peers again. And mix I did. I immediately spread my wings, or my legs, and had sex with one of my friend’s dorm mates.
The sex was terrible, partly because he was beautiful and assumed he was god’s gift to me and mostly because I really wanted my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, to be clear. That night, walking back to my dorm, I realized there was a solution we hadn’t considered: I would transfer schools to be with him.
I flew out that weekend, we made up, and we started making arrangements for me to move in with him. I never told him about the other guy, partly because we had been broken up when it happened, and partly because I was so enraptured to be with him, in his physical presence, that it never came up. When I moved down he forgot we had ever broken up. That brief week was nothing more than a fight in his mind. But it remained a sharp break in mine.
When a niggling of guilt came up, I pushed it down by reminding myself that I had done nothing wrong. We were on a break, after all. Being a teen in the late nineties, “we were on a break,” became an anthem of love during my most impressionable years. Even though I wouldn’t watch Friends until I moved in with my now-husband in 2012, I still knew the line. The intonation. The meaning behind it. Probably half of my friends in high school and college had experienced the line from one side or the other, and apparently I was no better than the rest. Perhaps if I had actually watched the show, I would have known what mess I was headed towards. The mantra would have been less comforting and more chilling.
Eighteen months later, the boy found a half-written letter cutting things off with my one-night-stand. The fact that the letter was never finished, that this guy was so meaningless he didn’t even deserve an ink on paper goodbye, meant nothing. He was certain I had cheated.
He cut his beautiful ponytail, ending our relationship with a ripping of scissor blades. We both started sleeping with the same girl while I was still staying on the couch — his couch that had become ours when I moved in a year earlier and then, suddenly, was his again. When she chose him over me and I moved out, he swallowed the Marquis de Sade, the betta fish we had bought together.
His devastation was total. His faith in me ruined. I didn’t bother trying to explain. The love, which had been so alive between us, was ashen. Gone, with a huge Do-Not-Resuscitate stamped across its limp carcass. I never even told him, “We were on a break.” It wouldn’t have mattered.
I ran off to the desert mountains, let the sun scrape my skin raw, and listened to Evanescence on repeat. Eventually I ended up in the hospital after washing down a handful of aspirin with a bottle of Bacardi.
It took me years to get over that breakup. I still felt a possessiveness towards him. I moved on. Moved away. Fucked other people. Even fell in love. But part of me still held out that we would meet each other again. He would forgive me. We would experience that golden perfection that can only be had with a first love.
With time, I got over the guilt and the hope. I realized we weren’t right for each other. I was much more liberal than him. I was polyamorous, he was not. I loved being a stripper, and the thought of me on stage gutted him. I believed love was always in motion, meant to be lived, while he had more concrete, traditional views of it.
Twelve years later, I’ve got that moment in my life under control. I no longer get heart-stopping guilt in the middle of the day. I’ve stopped writing him letters. I don’t look for him on the streets. During the day, he’s just a piece of my past.
But at night… well, I can’t control my dreams, and in my dreams I’m still looking for him. I’m desperate, searching. I beg, not for forgiveness, but for acknowledgement. He never gives it to me. He is always on the move, and I’m always left searching for him.
When I dream about him, I find it hard to wake up. I can’t pull myself out of that liquid state where I feel him again, where I am so close to understanding. I’m groggy, not well-rested. I feel my husband next to me, and I can’t help but think I’m a shit wife, unable to stop myself from wasting all this energy on a relationship that was dead years ago.