EVERYONE CALLED TODD WOOD “Woody” for obvious reasons. Still, I dated him for three months while attending my junior year of college. Most of our conversations focused on food, mainly New Orleans rum bread pudding. We had our share of “no, I love food more” wars. We’d said we’d have a cook off, but it never quite materialized. Things went awry.
The first time I slept at Todd’s, on the upper east side of Manhattan, far from Columbia, it was unscheduled. A walk of shame was involved. In the middle of the night, I woke him.
“I need to leave.” I rocked him in my panic.
“Are you crazy?” He was calm.
“Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?”
“Why do you have to leave?”
“Because I’m not going home in the morning wearing heels and black lace.”
He rolled on top of me, his breath warm with sleep, and whispered, “you can stay until tomorrow night then.” And I went back to bed, on my stomach, facing away from him… because that’s how I sleep.
In the morning, I awoke to a note on his pillow: Red, stay put, I’m working on your walk of shame issues. I kissed the paper and giggled. I love creative boys. My shoes were missing.
I heard shopping bags rustle when he walked through his apartment door. Todd had purchased me an outfit including socks, underwear, and a new pair of sneakers. Not just any outfit; it was adorable. “The deal is, you can wear these clothes all day, but I’m still taking you home in those heels.” So we played tennis, drank wine, and ate until dusk. Then he took me home, and we watched a movie in my bed.
ON THE TOWN one warm pink evening weeks later, Todd invited me to meet his boss and buddies, because when you’re a guy like Todd, they’re always referred to as “buddies.” Todd was a strikingly handsome black guy who dressed in orange polo shirts, played squash and lacrosse, and wore loafers year-round. He was a huge U2 fan.
“I’m so glad you’re wearing a skirt. You have such killer legs,” he whispered to me as he held my hand on the street.
“Why so you can show them off to your friends? Maybe I should go change into jeans, you ass.” I mocked as I pulled my hand away.
“Oh for the love of god, Red, learn to take a compliment. You analyzer.” Then he kissed me on the mouth, and I shut up. Some guys like difficult women. Todd was one of these guys, and I liked that he knew how to handle me.
I wasn’t always hard. One afternoon, after we’d been exclusively dating for three months, while he was at work, he insisted I hang out at his place as long as I’d like. I felt closer to him when I spent time at his place, studying. I liked wearing his clothes. I felt loved in his bed, even when he wasn’t there.
So I decided to be nice and clean, snoop, clean. If a woman ever cleans your apartment for you, and she’s not working for some service, it’s probably just her way of moderating her guilty little inquisitive side. Besides, I wouldn’t get any studying done in his mess of a place. I’m a libra. I need peaceful pleasant surroundings. Oh blow me. It’s true.
He had matchbooks everywhere, clothes strewn about, and lots of random papers, old magazines, and outdated newspapers. I did what I do best; I sorted and organized. Anything I thought ought to be discarded, I put in a bag in the bottom of his closet. I didn’t want to accidentally piss him off by tossing the January 1995 issue of Men’s Health Magazine (which I still call Gay Men’s Health… cause it’s all half-naked guy photos). And in all that cleaning, I didn’t come upon even the smallest stash of porn. And every guy has a stash. He didn’t have an Internet connection, so there had to be something more tangible than a history folder.
There wasn’t. The boy had no porn, no photos of ex-girlfriends; there was nothing incriminating. When he came home, he was visibly thrilled. He picked me up and swung me around his apartment. I loved seeing his smile, as he discovered what I’d done. His matches in a clear vase, now, looked like a funky centerpiece on his coffee table. Wait, you could actually see his coffee table. I was spoiling him, and I loved how sweet we were to one another.
BACK TO THE AWRY BIT. We met his boss and trader colleagues from Oppenheimer Funds—really a big fraternity of cigar-smoking, grappa-drinking, lap-dances after golf kinds of guys—at Bar & Books. Each of the guys had a date, some were wives, and some were arm candy. In front of their dates, I noticed the guys flirting with the waitress. Winks, laughs, brushes against a shoulder. Todd was attentive and made me feel safe. Once the alpha male had to head home (his wife was home with the baby), talk of next stops filled the private cigar room.
“Let’s go watch the game.”
“Yeah, I want to watch the Olympics.” It was 1996; the Olympics were in Hotlanta.
“I want to dance.”
“Let’s go to Scores.”
“Do they have dancing at Scores?”
I was a worldly woman, but I assure you, I didn’t know what Scores was. I heard, “let’s watch the Olympics” from one guy, then I heard his girlfriend say she wanted to dance. Then another guy chimed in with “Scores.” Sounded like a sport’s bar to me. You know, goals, coasters, beer. A jukebox to keep the ladies happy, I thought.
“Scores?” Girlfriend asked with furrowed brows. “Well do they have dancing there?”
“Yeah, they’ve got dancing of sorts.” Ah, I thought, he’ll let her dance beside the jukebox.
“So what do you say, Steph, you up for it?” Todd asked as he looked at me smiling.
“Sure what the hell.” Okay, I thought I was being a sport, agreeing to go to a sports bar, when clearly sports bars aren’t really my thing–especially if I’ve already eaten. I can usually be coaxed to “watch a game” if ribs are involved. All the married people decided to go home.
So we were off, walking to Scores, your fiancée’s worst nightmare, but I didn’t know what was about to happen. “Steph, are you sure you’re okay with this?”
“Yeah, what’s the big deal? And don’t call me Steph.”
“Holy shite, you have to be the coolest girl I’ve ever known.” I loved that he thought I was cool.
“$20 for the guys, $10 for the ladies.” A bouncer collected money. Girlfriend whined, “when do we get to dance?” We were escorted to a banquet in the middle of the room. There were definitely TVs, but I hardly noticed anything besides breasts, G-strings, and straddles. I felt ugly and insecure. I didn’t know what to do.
The waitress’s breasts were propped up on a serving platter. It was as if we were being shown the fish before the chef would cook it. She asked if I’d like anything. I couldn’t speak. So she gathered orders from the rest of the table. Todd leaned into me, “What’s the matter, Steph, you’re not your usual talkative self.”
Nothing came out of my mouth.
The waitress was back, staring, waiting for our drink requests. Todd ordered then turned to me, “Steph, what would you like?”
“To leave.” And I got up and left.
Todd chased me out into the street. “What? What’s wrong Steph?”
“For the love of god, it’s Stephanie. And what’s wrong? Who the hell do you think I am? You have no respect for me. What the hell. How could you ever bring me here?” I was crying now.
“Calm down. I thought you knew.”
Stop play. Time-out again.
Don’t ever, ever, tell a pissed off person to calm down. Relax is worse.
“No, I didn’t fcuking know. But I know one thing. I’m not seeing you again.”
“Stephanie, I thought you knew.”
“What the hell. Do you know what my father would do to you if he knew you disrespected me like this?” I was talking, at this point, to hear myself. I didn’t care if he was listening. I was at maximum drama capacity, arms flying, tears, the whole bit.
“I thought you knew.” He kept repeating as I raised my arm into the air, trying to catch a cab. “I thought you knew.” I knew I was overreacting, that it was a misunderstanding, that he hadn’t purposefully hurt me, but I was already there, with my arm outstretched. I couldn’t take it back. Taking it back meant he’d stop apologizing, and it’s nice when men apologize and kiss your ass trying to get into your good graces again. And he did.
I tried to put the misunderstanding behind us, but It was never the same. I didn’t feel protected by him any more, and even then, back in college, when I didn’t know from Scores, I knew I needed to be with a man who made me feel safe, respected, and taken care of. That night, I left feeling dirty, disrespected, and inferior. My body would never look like one of those girls. I was jealous.