He had a work function one evening.
Academia: he and his fellows were meant to be grabbing new creative talent and sizing them up for their faculty. He had shyly asked me if I wanted to go. I didn’t, of course. He knew that well enough, but he asked me anyway.
“Of course!” I said.
He beamed at me. It wasn’t just that I would provide moral support: I knew that he wanted to show me off and I love that, truly.
And I was happy to be asked. It would be the first ‘public couple’ thing we had really done with his friends and colleagues.
It was an affair that I imagine would be typical of many university functions. Cheap wine and cheap snacks on a side table while everyone awkwardly mills about making chit chat in a cold stark room that was perhaps used for lectures or workshops or who knows what.
I put on my social face: smiled and made small talk when introduced to his colleagues, some of whom were people I knew he respected and admired. It was important to him that they like me, even though he would never have dreamt of saying so.
One of his mentors squinted up at me when we were introduced. “Come down from there!” she demanded.
I’m normally not keen on cliché jokes about my height, but I had worn heels, stood at 6’3, and she was a tiny thing who feigned her comical outrage so well that I genuinely laughed also. I almost felt his sigh of relief.
I spoke to new prospective and nervous students about ‘our’ faculty as if I had a clue. They were sweet and probably thought I was part of the welcoming team. They were at a social gathering in a room with some of their creative heroes (‘heroes’ was not too strong a term), and I was very aware that a couple looked at my boy that way, terrified to approach him because he was, well, him.
A while into the event, I was drained, exhausted, and I wandered off to a quiet spot to look out the window and pretend I was doing something other than just trying to cycle up some more resources for another round of smiling chattery.
A fine looking young man with an Italian accent came over to interrupt my private little reverie. A prospective student. We chatted. I think he may have been the first person there who asked me how I fit into ‘all this’, and I confessed that I didn’t really. He confessed that he felt he didn’t deserve to be there, that this was the only school that had sent him an offer. I bolstered him up a little. It was a sweet little exchange.
My boy wandered over as we were talking. I glanced at him as he approached and smirked when we locked eyes. I knew exactly what he was doing: He was checking out what was going on in this cosy little spot, making his presence felt, staking his claim. And he knew that I knew. He was friendly, welcoming, encouraging to the young man who was talking to me. But I could tell he was all spiky underneath, growly and snarling.
Later he said to me petulantly that the boy was odd looking and didn’t seem very bright, then gave me a defiant look that said ‘argue with me: go on…’
I laughed at his transparency. “I know, right?” I said.
He scowled at me, trying to tell if I was mocking him because his statement was so obviously untrue. I beamed at him and his little jealousy, his shoving at the ghosted feeling, it filled me with an overwhelming tenderness, a desire to claim, reassure, to show my ownership.
I really do adore a little jealousy and possessiveness.