Nothing sudden had ever happened to me.
I had spent most of my 25 years deliberately; I was calm, collected, lethargic, frightened. I wasn’t about to rush into anything, because it didn’t seem prudent, and it sure wouldn’t allow me the time to murderously overthink the pros and cons of my decision.
Then, on a trip to the British Isles, I suddenly met a girl.
Really very suddenly, like an independent film student trying to be hip: cut to bar across from hotel in Glasgow, cut to a bunch of Americans singing karaoke to a room of drunk Scots, cut to a girl with eyes the same color as her hair and a boy with glasses only lopsided if you stared at his face for longer than seven seconds.
Cut to boy’s roommate sleeping with one of girl’s roommates, pan to girl and boy alone in boy’s room. The clock ticks to 4:36 a.m.
Relationships had always taken months of preparation before: a winter of entertaining friends by bickering like an old married couple, a fall spent waiting for a Mormon boyfriend to go on his mission to South America. This was something new for me, quick; this was something I bemoaned not being able to do in my impressively whiny article from a few years ago. This was good.
I spent a day in Annapolis with this girl, Angela, and spent the night at a hotel. The final few days of my summer vacation, we didn’t go to bed before 4 a.m. It was easy; we got along so well, we were physically comfortable together, silences weren’t awkward. And when the time came for me to go back to the West Coast, she came out to visit me for a few days. Just up and paid for a plane ticket and flew out. Amazing.
I want you to know, that was amazing.
The summer passed, racking up cell phone bills, cards and pictures, folders in our e-mail inboxes with our names attached, burned CDs. I was in a relationship for the first time in three years with a person I liked, and who genuinely liked me — neither of which are an easy feat. It was 2,088 miles of distance, it was quick, and it was still good.
Then, while over at my friend’s house for pizza, I suddenly met Selene.
In Spokane. 2,088 miles away.
“When it rains it snows,” is a saying that I have wittily contrived. It is, in part, an homage to They Might Be Giants, but it’s also a diagnosis; in the Woznicki family, things don’t happen one at a time. We wait weeks, months with nothing to do, and then suddenly one weekend, there are five different possibilities for Friday night. Perhaps it’s because we’re more confident when already occupied, perhaps there’s a covert chess game for our attentions that we have no idea is being played. Whatever the reason, it happens.
After spending more time with Selene, it was impossible to deny the romantic tension thickening the air. Friends slowed down their movements when they were in my apartment, pushing against an unseen force. I had trouble breathing. Selene and I had an incredible connection, the sort of thing that makes you believe in reincarnation and past lives. We were honest with each other; we challenged each other.
So, still believing myself a nice guy, I wished to do things right: I called Angela, told her I had feelings for another woman (why do we say it this way, like we’re developing an illness?), and that I had to figure things out. I wanted to be up front with her. Noble. And if not chivalrous, at least honest. I told her I wanted to talk to Selene, to see how she felt.
I already knew how she felt. But, Selene and I talked again, and we agreed that nothing could happen, because of irreconcilable differences. (Fill in the blank from your own life: life differences, faith differences, one of you wanted kids, one of you was moving. One of you was allergic to hamsters.)
Angela, I said a day later, hi. Nothing is going to happen.
November 2nd marked the annual graduate creative writing program trip to Troy, Montana, (population in the hundreds) for, of all things, a poetry reading. I was there, Selene was there. Alcohol was there. At the poetry reading (held at a bar), Selene and I talked on the floor, read poems, gambled at the video poker machines next to the wood-burning furnace. Afterwards, at the place we found to dance and sing karaoke (the bar next door), we passed notes because the music was too loud. At the ending party, in someone’s motel room, we conquered the bed with two other people and played the alphabet game (A is for Antelope, B is for Basketball, C …). While there were four of us on the only bed in the room, we thought we’d be able to disperse when it came time to actually sleep.
The problem was, there was a marriage in Troy, Montana, that very same day. And towns in rural Montana (which is, I suppose, a redundant phrase) like Troy are short on motels. So there were 20-plus graduate students staying in three or four motel rooms. Our particular room, when the night was through, had six others lying on its floor in sleeping bags, with pillows and jackets supporting their heads.
The four of us stuck to the bed.
It’s hard, when four people are on a bed, to get any space to yourself. It’s also hard, when you’re lying inches from someone you’re attracted to, to sleep, or steady your breathing, or keep your bodies from touching.
We were okay for a while. Maybe an hour. But then, flanked by sleeping friends like an unwitting fortress, Selene and I kissed.
Well! Selene exclaimed in a whisper, I guess that just happened! Good night!
The right thing to do, the honest thing, would have been to go home and call Angela. But, it was okay, I told myself, take inventory of the situation. 1) We had both been drinking, 2) we were in a bed with two other people, pushed close enough that all we had to do to kiss was pucker our lips, and 3) we had agreed that nothing would happen. Several times. It was just a slip-up, a lapse in judgment. No need to tell Angela, no need to cause her unneeded stress and emotional pain. Everything will be fine.
Suffice it to say, over the next three weeks, Selene and I agreed several more times that nothing would happen after this night, after that night. And every time, I told myself: yes, that was it. Really. It’s fine, I’m such a nice guy. I deserve this, for once. I don’t get affection very often, I need to take all of it that I can.
I adore both of these women. I can adore more than one woman at a time.
Three weeks. It took me three weeks to finally tell Angela that I’d been kissing another woman. I spent most of my time that last month in Spokane with Selene, and I did so because I wanted to. I kissed Selene because I wanted to. And at some point it dawned on me: Sean Woznicki, you are not always a nice guy.
This is for Selene: the blue of your eyes still amazes me, and so does your poetry. I’m not at all clueless about what we had, either. I’m one of the ten luckiest men alive to have you in my life, and I hope you stay there for a very long time to come.
This is for Angela: I’m so sorry for what I put you through, and I’m sorry for writing off the suddenness of our connection to haste, or complex psychological neediness, or abstract notions of Wanting a Relationship, but not Wanting You. You’re the only person to ever answer the superpowers question selflessly, and spending time with you is still the most familiar and wonderful thing I’ve done.
This is for you (and me too, a little):
No matter what they tell you, everyone tries their best to be nice.
Nobody wants to be mean simply for the sake of being mean — Evil can’t lay claim to altruism anymore than Good can. The discussion of whether or not people are a sum of their experiences, or whether an inner nature — the soul, karma, methamphetamines — guides one’s actions, is another discussion for another time. The point is, as humans, we try; we really do.
It’s when we start to believe we’re infallible that things get sticky.
I don’t view meeting either of these women as a mistake, and I don’t view my romantic feelings towards either of them as a bad thing. I do adore both Angela and Selene. There isn’t an “other” woman. What’s bad here, what I’m railing against, is the way in which I handled the situation.
Being nice doesn’t give you the right to carve out your own pedestal and jump up onto its ivory top. It doesn’t allow you to mistreat people simply because you’ve seen others mistreat countless men and women, and dammit, you’ve done it far less, so just this once won’t wreck the grade curve.
You’re going to fuck up. When you do, just admit it.