(& an Apology to a Boy)
“Andrew” was 26 and back at recovery meetings after a relapse. I was just shy of 31 and sober seven years. Andrew was part of a small group of friends I’d met in Saint Paul, Minnesota, after moving there six months earlier to be baptized in the Catholic Church.
I’d made a vow when I moved to stay single (and sex-free) for at least a year. I was easily swayed, so one of my rules was never to have a man alone in my apartment.
It was snowing like crazy when we left the recovery clubhouse after the 10 o’clock candlelight meeting. Andrew begged to come over. “Just a cup of tea,” he laughed. “I have my vow,” I said. “I know—come on,” he laughed again. We were friends and it might be nice. One cup of tea, why not?
Summit Avenue was illuminated by the snow. My place was just a couple blocks away in one of those beautiful, old brick buildings on Grand Avenue. The Mississippi River was a 15-minute walk further west and the house where F. Scott. Fitzgerald reworked This Side of Paradise—due east.
Andrew and I stamped the snow off our boots and climbed the stairs to my small apartment. I loved this place. It was the second time I’d ever lived alone and the first time I could manage the rent on my own. I drew the living room shades and put on water for tea while Andrew inspected my makeshift bookcase.
“You’ve got the coolest books,” he said, running his fingers down their spines. Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Richard Bach’s Illusions, and various others about the health benefits of yoga and meditation (which I didn’t actually practice).
“Autobiography of a Yogi changed my life,” I said, coming back into the living room.
“I’ve always wanted to read it,” said Andrew. “Maybe I could borrow it sometime.”
“Did you know there are Hindu saints who could walk on water like Jesus?”
“Let’s make love.”
“What?” I laughed.
“Let me kiss you.”
“I can’t,” I said. I knew if I kissed him I wouldn’t be able to stop.
“Let me spend the night, I could just hold you.”
“If I let you in my bedroom, I’ll never get you out,” I laughed again.
“What about here—on the floor?”
I heard the water boiling and the electric kettle clicked off.
“All right, but just for a little bit,” I said, still determined to keep my vow.
I gathered blankets off the inflatable camping mattress in my bedroom. I hadn’t bothered buying a real mattress since I wasn’t intending to stay in Saint Paul long.
We arranged the blankets on the floor and Andrew pulled me into his arms.
“We don’t have to make love, but I could…”
“Touch you and…,” he paused. “I’ll keep my clothes on.”
“But I can’t give you any more…”
Andrew worked off my shirt, jeans, and underwear like a Zen Buddhist monk immersed in the practice of Hitsuzendo (Japanese calligraphy). I’d never been in this position before—without any pressure for a certain reciprocity. And if one could ever truly be loved through the body, I felt loved.
We held each other for a long time afterward. I pulled on my underwear, jeans, and shirt and Andrew helped me up.
“It’s really late,” I said.
“It’d be better if…”
“I understand,” Andrew said and began to move toward the door. “I guess I’ll see you at the meeting tomorrow, then.”
“Wait,” I said and went over to the bookcase and found Autobiography of a Yogi. “You forgot this.”
“Hey, thanks,” Andrew smiled and took the book.
“See you tomorrow,” I said.
I quietly shut the door, went to the kitchen and put on water again for tea. I poured the hot water into my cup and imagined Andrew gliding home through the freshly fallen snow like one of those Hindu saints gliding across water. “Thank you, Andrew,” I whispered and took a sip of tea.
I lost touch with Andrew shortly before leaving Saint Paul the following fall. We never really talked about what happened that night and over the years, I’ve thought of him off and on and sometimes searched for him, without luck.
In recovery circles, it’s suggested that those with longer sobriety not get romantically or sexually involved with newcomers or those struggling to stay sober (the same reasons for not getting involved with someone who’s married).
I wasn’t thinking about that or about how my actions might have caused harm. The experience is a powerful reminder that even when we think we’re on the path, we may not be, but that our mistakes still remain some of our greatest teachers if we let them.
Originally published in slightly different form on elephant journal on January 6, 2017.