Amsterdams club IT was exciting and new, the Love Boat on a dance floor. Shirtless men pulsed rhythmically on stages and balconies, and around 4 a.m. promoters passed out sparklers. Within seconds the whole club was ablaze with shooting fire, and inside it all, I was kissing Michel.
We were sweaty and stuck together and -- wow -- the feeling was overwhelming because at 21, I didnt kiss just anyone. Id met him only minutes before, but Michel was sexy, exotic, and remarkably well preserved for his advanced age of 30. He was a solid six-foot-four Dutch sculpture, abs outlined like a box of chocolates. It was lust at first sight.
Sex was amazing. When we woke up in my hotel, I knew we had shared something special because Michel offered to take me to his home in Rotterdam. I was backpacking across Europe at the time, so my schedule was wide open.
I got the grand tour. The Nazis had flattened Rotterdam, so after the war the Dutch bulldozed the rubble into the canals and started over from scratch. I missed the quaint Dutch colonial architecture, but Michel didnt. At his age, he understood the city was better off with its modern architecture, bridges, and ports. Nostalgia was for dreamers. The war had paved way for today. Like Grandma dying, he said bluntly. She was quite sweet, but she had to go. I didnt like to think of my grandma dying.
Michel used endearing words like quite instead of very and clever in place of smart, and I vowed to add these to my vocabulary. We went for a long run, and later he cooked dinner and told me of foreign adventures hed had when he was my age (a time when his world was wide open).
Firmly planted in Rotterdam, Michel owned a home furnishings store. Clever man! I imagined bringing him back to my capitalist home -- or maybe staying put. His place was big enough for two. I wanted to latch on. I saw myself working at his store. Wed move in together. Id sell tiles.
In the morning I was convinced Michel would ask me to stay longer; when he didnt, I reluctantly declared I was off to Brussels. Michel took me to the train station, where I promised Id write and call. Wed keep in touch.
Before my train pulled away, I figured hed do that Gary Cooper thing and run alongside my carriage to make the last-minute romantic proposal. Instead he let me get away, and I wondered what went wrong. With more time Michel would see the potential I saw in myself -- although I was yet young and unaccomplished.
But I had my pride! I couldnt return on some dubious premise, a deliberate coincidence, without a proper invitation. So I traveled farther: beyond Brussels, past Paris. Id make him miss me.
At Montpelier, I got off the train and raced to a telephone. Michel! But his voice wasnt breathless; it did not beg me back. He was actually baffled as to why I was calling so soon even though I had held out, had counted each agonizing hour without him. There had been 13.
I hung up and hated Montpelier because in Montpelier I began to understand the world I was traveling through. Weve all felt that sting. A sting is the only way for starry eyes to see. For Michel, I was a pleasant diversion. For me, our time together was dazzling, hazardous -- like the sparklers.
Since then, possibility has narrowed, and Ive mastered the obvious distinction between fun and the one. Aspects of love can be shared in an hour or less, so an overnight stay -- tour and meals included -- is a damn good deal.
Its hard to believe there was once a time when heartbreak was huge. You grab a moment, you let it go; its not so awful. Enjoy it while it lasts. Amsterdams club IT closed long ago. Grandma had to die, too. Its all part of growing up.
Sometimes, though rarely, I remember how it felt in Montpelier. Many years have passed, and the timing is different now. For a second I entertain the old fantasy of going back to Rotterdam and looking him up, but thats just silly. Michel doesnt remember me at all.