During one of the false starts of my sad life, I worked in publishing. In three different houses. I mean publishing houses. Some of you don’t know the world of publishing. They’re called “houses.” Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Houghton Mifflin, HarperCollins, Norton. They’re “houses.” I worked at three of those mentioned, I won’t tell you which ones.
There was a man who was an editor, let’s call him “Don.” Since that was his name. None of this “not his real name” shit. His name was Don.
He was handsome–empirically handsome, movie-star handsome, with a chiseled jaw, sandy hair, piercing and icy blue eyes. He was tall. He was secretive. I thought he hated my guts.
I was the assistant to the publisher, so I dealt with him on a regular basis, but he was always distant and steely, the ideal professional. He didn’t socialize with me. Even when I saw him outside in the smoking area (because we were both smokers, I don’t even care what you think), he smoked alone. He talked to no one. Ever. Sometimes he joked with Anthony, whose office was across from his. Because Anthony was benign, a sort of leveler. But he didn’t acknowledge my presence, or anyone’s presence. Ever.
One night, in May, as one of our colleagues was leaving the publishing house, we all met at a bar, and drank and drank. The music blasting over the speakers wasn’t anything contemporary; it was big band jazz. I started to sway in my little corner—knowing a few basic tap steps—and then, out of nowhere, Don appeared, and he took my right hand, put his other hand on the small of my back, and twirled me around with a grace and masculinity I had never encountered before, and have not encountered since. I was jelly. I was in love. We danced until they closed the bar. I had never felt so pretty in my life, so small and feminine. He knew how to dance. He danced with confidence, with purity, leading me with affection, and attentiveness, and pride.
The next day, at work, and ever after, we only acknowledged each other with a polite “Hello,” both smiling, but both terrified. I was terrified, anyway, and I think he might have been terrified, too.
That December, the publishing house threw a grand holiday party at the Puck Building. I hadn’t really talked to Don, give or take numerous perfunctory exchanges. But there were lights and flowers everywhere, and the house had hired a big band. Wine was being poured and everyone was laughing. I was starving at the time, underpaid, underweight, and was stuffing mini quiches down my throat. And then: I felt a hand graze my arm, and take my hand, and I turned around, and it was Don, and he led me to the dance floor, and twirled me around like I was Ginger Rogers, his hand, again, on the small of my back, my face so close to his. He guided me and led our dances with a gentle sort of authority, and we smiled at each other sweetly while the room spun around us. We danced and danced and danced for hours. It was sex, in its most elegant form.
We never dated. We never held hands. We never kissed. But I have never felt so loved in my life, never felt so beautiful and so wanted, and so precious. Power, but not aggression; tenderness, but not weakness; I think that’s what I’m looking for.