My day begins between 6:30-7 a.m. at the sound of his garage door opening. I race downstairs to catch a discreet glimpse of him from my window as stretches his calves before a run. I know he will return between 8:30-9:15 a.m. to work in the woodshop behind his house. I track his comings and goings vigilantly.
When I moved into the neighborhood 15 years ago, I was 49 and divorced. The local gossips forewarned me that Michael* was quite the ladies’ man in his day. “So many women….” After two divorces of his own, he’s told me he is "a loner.”
He is tall, with a muscular body that belies his years, a British accent and piercing hazel eyes. He has a months-long waiting list for his custom furniture and clients around the world. Given his sexy swagger even at age 70, I can see the attractive force he must have been at 30 or 40 years old.
For years, I hardly ever saw him. I commuted daily to a downtown office, often coming home late. He traveled back to the U.K. every four to six weeks for his business interests there. I lived alone but never felt lonely, entertaining myself solo with local concerts, casino trips, theater, travel. I enjoyed my single life. Dating was not on my mind.
Since the pandemic, however, we are both grounded as we shelter in place. That’s how, one day, from the perch of my second story window, I happened to spot him walking across the street, with the long strides of a gazelle, wearing aviator glasses and chatting exuberantly on his phone. He is slightly pigeon-toed, with curly gray hair. He’s got a few liver spots, but also a confident demeanor. I was smitten. Wow! He is cuute!
I now visualize being with him constantly. We chat by the mailboxes. “Hey Michael, is your business impacted by the pandemic?” “I’m going stir-crazy being here by myself. How about you?” I have invited him over for a socially-distanced cup of tea seven or eight times since the stay-at-home orders in mid-March. I use strategically engineered requests. “Hi Michael, the presidential debate is tomorrow … I could use a calming presence with me.” Or, “It was my birthday last week. Come over for leftover cake to celebrate.” I deliberately space these invitations so he doesn’t suspect my true feelings.
He always shows up, but he never reciprocates an invitation. His view is “since we’re neighbors, let’s be friends.” He has no clue that I feel anything different.
I sent him a 'happy holidays' text and he responded, 'Let’s get together next Tuesday.'
At our catch-ups, we share what we have done since the last visit. He is charming and witty while sharing the status of his new furniture commissions. Sometimes, he’ll describe an encounter with a notable or celebrity for whom he’s creating a piece. More often, he’ll extol the virtue of a particularly rare type of maple or cherry. I show him my latest efforts as an amateur photographer. He compliments my landscapes and self-portraits. “These are very impressive pictures.” “You look great in this one.” “You certainly don’t look 64 years old.” Other times, he’ll notice, “You look fit. Are you working out more?” Oh my, the way he sometimes stares at me over his mask with those extraordinary eyes gives me hope.
Early on, as a protective measure against the coronavirus, he would bring his own teacup. Now he leaves the cup with me, suggesting that he will return. I hold onto that cup for days before washing it. Often caressing the lip to remind me of our time together. I secretly wish he were leaving his toothbrush instead.
My friend Nita* says, “Girl, you should be upfront with him, tell him you like him in a more meaningful way.” But the risk is too great. If he rebuffs me, I have nothing other than this imaginary romance to help me survive isolation. As long as the relationship is in my head, it never has to end. My obsessions with him fill my days.
Knowing that we may have a meetup in a few weeks, I increase my workouts, step up the self-care routines, read more, complete projects. Hours before he comes over, I groom intensely: plucking hairs, whitening teeth, trying on outfits, applying makeup and concealer.
My giddy anticipation to see him helps to shuffle time along. The crush has clearly been a coping mechanism during these extraordinarily difficult times, a welcome break to my solitude. But there are collateral benefits. I am a better version of myself than I was before the pandemic — physically fit, productive and intellectually stimulated.
I read once that we are most attracted to people with attributes we want in ourselves. I read more news and op-eds on world affairs, politics, sports, the economy. I can now effortlessly make a newsworthy comment when we meet by chance, bumping into each other at the supermarket, for instance.
I sent him a “happy holidays” text and he responded, “Let’s get together next Tuesday.” I was ecstatic but didn’t expect him to remember the date because of the demands on his time. To my surprise, my doorbell rang at 4 on Tuesday afternoon and there he was, dressed up in a stylish sweater and fitted slacks flaunting his adorable butt. We chatted for two enjoyable hours.
The new year has ushered in a time of reflection and planning for the future. I see how the crush on Michael helped me get through 2020, so I don’t regret it. As in the words of Eddie Kendricks, the crush is “just my imagination” and I have come to grips with the fact that I deserve more than a fantasy relationship. Moving forward I will adopt Michael’s attitude of “since we are neighbors….” But I’m open to seeing where our friendship goes.
* Names and details have been changed to protect privacy.