I was 20 when I met him. I was a recent transfer to a small branch campus. I was taking one of those intro level sociology classes (the kind most undergrads get suckered into at some point or another) and commuting from home.
One day I was leaving my sociology class and as I walked out, I saw this James Dean look alike. I recognized him from class as this guy, Tommy, but I had never really noticed how attractive he was. Blond haired and blue eyed with just the right bit of stubble, he was gorgeous and looked about my age.
Smoking a cigarette with the collar on his pea coat popped, he stares me down and I feel a little bit uncomfortable under his gaze. I wasn’t used to guys who looked like that paying attention to me. My boyfriend at the time was chubby, badly dressed, and juvenile. He once threw his earwax in my face, for god’s sake. MY FACE. But that’s a story for another time.
“Are you from around here?” he asks.
“Nah, I’m from like an hour away, toward Evansdale,” I say flatly.
“Oh really? Hey, do you think you could give me a ride? I live out that way, too, and my car’s messed up right now. My brother said he’d get me, but he’s 16 and just got his license so I sort of hate to make him come out here.”
“Ummm, sorry, dude, I’m actually getting picked up by a friend today,” I lie.
Call me crazy, but I have a thing about not giving rides home to random men no matter how good looking they are. Like, is anyone NOT familiar with the Ted Bundy story? Just because your parents mixed up a good-looking DNA cocktail doesn’t mean you’re not seriously deranged.
“Oh, OK,” he says, looking disappointed.
I walk into the school and hide until I see a car pull up and I watch him get into it. As I’m leaving, I see the one friend I have in my sociology class walking out to her car.
“What are you still doing here?” she asks.
“Oh, just waiting on that guy Tommy to leave. He wanted a ride and I was like, uh, no.”
“Oh, Tommy? He’s actually really cool. I gave him a ride home last week. He’s got some shit luck -- he was in a car accident that totaled his car, and he doesn’t have money for another one. But yeah, I thought he was really nice.”
I feel really dumb.
Needless to say, the next time class meets and I see him waiting outside I look right at him and smile. I offer, “Need a ride home?”
We talk a lot on the drive home. He’s actually really smart and funny and we like a lot of the same things. He’s into folk rock and abstract movies and we bond over learning that we’ve both been to Ireland. Tommy is a risk seeker and a free spirit. He’s older than me by three years.
By the time the car ride is up, I have a giant crush on him, but I’m totally not going to act on it, because I have a boyfriend who I’ve been with since high school and though he is less than impressive, I’m usually pretty loyal to the people in my life.
In the month that follows, I continue to taxi him around after class. Sometimes we even hang out for a little bit and watch shitty TV shows in his studio apartment and talk. I help him run errands when he needs to get somewhere. At times the sexual tension is so thick you could cut it, but nothing happens, which is kind of OK because I’m still sticking fiercely to an unhappy relationship, which I often discuss with him.
Then, one day while we’re hanging out at his house, he just leans over and kisses me. It’s hard and soft at the same time, the way every girl wants to be kissed. I can’t stop kissing him, and all of a sudden clothes are everywhere and we’re on his bed and oh my god, it is amazing. My skin is on fire with sensation. The man absolutely knows what he’s doing.
We eventually lay back, exhausted and he lights up a cigarette. He sits up and angles his body away from me, pale white legs dangling over the edge of the bed. The hand holding the cigarette is shaking so intensely that ash is going everywhere.
“Look, I need to tell you something” he starts.
Oh, shit. Does he have, like, a secret wife?
“I’ve been meaning to tell you, but it’s really hard. You’re probably the second person not in my family who knows about this. I, uh, I was at this giant party when I was 18. I went to private school, so everybody knew everybody for the most part, but there was this one girl there who wanted me BAD. I had never seen her before, but she was cute. Anyway, we were flirting all night and she pulls me into this back room and we do stuff, you know, it’s not a big deal, it’s a high school party. Well, it turns out that she is friends with my principal’s daughter, and she is 14, which I didn’t find out until afterward. Principal’s daughter told my principal, who reported it. The state pressed charges on me since she was a minor and I got kicked out of my high school.”
He takes a long draw on his cigarette and in a sad voice says, “I am a registered sex offender. I totally understand if you do not want to see me ever again.”
Wow. I tell him that I don’t care, that it doesn’t matter to me, but over the next several days there is a moral battle in my head. I knew lots of senior guys in high school that had freshman girlfriends, and I don’t think that sex should necessarily be illegal if you are both still in high school. Your brain has not fully finished developing sometimes until your twenties. If you still think like a 14-year-old in many ways, why is it so wrong to sleep with one?
But still, a sex offender? One of the most loaded terms in American society, and I’m now associated with one.
Ultimately, I decide that I don’t think it was the heinous crime that the state portrayed it to be. I dump my boyfriend after telling him about Tommy. It is painful, but it is what I want.
Tommy and I begin a relationship. We are so in love at the beginning. His naturally extroverted nature makes my life one big, fun adventure. We pick up and go wherever we want whenever we want. It is the perfect relationship, except that I cannot reveal his truth to anyone. I also have some dilemmas about whether or not to have him at family events, as there is always a chance there will be children present. If he is revealed, would my family members even speak to me?
Things start getting serious after a year. I think he’s the one. Even my mom thinks he’s the one. He and I start looking at apartments together. Because of his status, any apartment must be a certain distance away from schools, which makes housing surprisingly hard to locate. We talk about getting married and having kids someday, which he really wants, but he is also afraid of because of his status. He can never be the kind of dad who coaches Little League or lets his kids have friends over.
After a while, I notice he’s staying out more and acting distant and moody. One day, I come home from work and he’s sitting tensely on the couch.
“Sit down,” he says. “You’re not going to like this, but I think that we should go our separate ways. We are both way too young to get so serious. Who knows where either of us is going to be in our lives in 10 years? I sure as hell don’t know.”
First I’m heartbroken and then I get angry -- I never tried to pressure him into a future with me. He was the one advocating for "us." I’m messed up about it for the next six months.
We eventually become friends again, occasionally calling one another or texting. I move to another city to follow my dreams and eventually meet an amazing man who doesn’t have such a checkered past.
In a way, part of me will always love him, but I realize how much better my life turned out without him. I have a successful career track and a man who really, really loves me and I love him right back. Tommy was fired from his last job when they found out about his past.
Tommy still calls me occasionally, but his presence in my life has faded to being a crazy relationship story people friends make me tell in bars, a la “Listen to the questionable decisions I made as a young woman!” I laugh with everyone else, but it’s not really funny.