My best friend and I asked Aldo how old he was. He replied, “I’m you…” – he pointed at her – “plus you.” He pointed at me. We looked at each other and snickered, surprised our favorite manager and work companion was twice our ages.
The first time we smoked with Aldo, it was a novelty. He told us he’d brought a spliff, all he smokes, a habit he’d picked up in Europe. Me and Madelaine shared a blunt, like always. I remember the tension that night. We walked after work to a street abandoned with shops closed for the day. He was a bit paranoid, told us we couldn’t tell the others that he was smoking pot with the teenage hostesses at the front of house.
I caught him looking at me that night, when I was trying to look pretty and demure, playing with petals that had fallen on the ground.
Me and Madelaine smoked every night we worked together, taking turns hotboxing our cars on the top story of the parking garage behind the restaurant. I texted Aldo in those times, with some prodding courage from Mad, told him I wished he’d come play with us again sometime.
Mad told me she’d close for me the night he invited me to his house. We laughed, he called us a pretzel as we got wrapped up in his bed, and I left abruptly when I remembered that he is my age plus 17.
He moved into a house around the corner and started walking to work. Around closing time, he’d tell me I could go home for the night. I always asked, “Don’t you need a ride home?” And he always took me up on it. And he always invited me in.
We loved each other in almost an instant, but wouldn’t say it out loud it for six months. I fell asleep in his bed one night (“You don’t have to go, you know?”) and seemed to not leave it until school started again in the fall. I missed a few classes that finals week when I was teetering on the edge of his cliff, sleeping through my alarm to feel his warmth. He still scolds me for it.
Mad came over every night. We smoked blunt after blunt when she finally learned how to roll them herself, and Aldo made me cocktails with rum. We played cards mostly and talked about the manager we hated at work. When Mad moved to Orlando to start summer session, I stayed with Aldo, and she checked up on us to make sure we were still happy and together. A relationship has never had a more competent advocate. I didn’t work at the restaurant anymore.
When we had sex he called me “baby” and I loved it, wishing sometimes he’d be more affectionate with me, but turning my head away when he went in for a kiss. I had just left my high school boyfriend. I wasn’t ready to kiss a 35-year-old man.
In the summer we reveled in irresponsibility; I told him he wouldn’t be able to deal with a normal (read: age-appropriate) woman because of his “lifestyle.” We spent a lot of money on food, went to dinner almost every night. We bought carts full of groceries to concoct dishes from around the world (places he had traveled to and I’d only dreamt about). Once he spent $50 on five pounds of crab legs that we ate in one sitting, naked at the kitchen table we picked out on craigslist.
Sometimes his friends came over. The ones that didn’t know me complimented us on “our place” and asked how long we’d been together. We always choked. A mutual friend once explained to a stranger that we had always been together. Married three years. Divorced once but back together. Three kids.
When people came over, I showed off. I said, “Hey, look at the kitchen floor, we put down the laminate last week.” I tried to be his housewife; I offered our guests water or tea. I had my own key.
Aldo called me a kid, smiled at the immature things that would slip out of my mouth sometimes, the weak, childlike pulls for attention. I told him a story about middle school, he said, “Wasn’t that like last year for you?” I called him an old man, nagging in my old lady voice.
He liked playing house. He didn’t want to be married and settled down with a divorced single mom. Aldo will always be stuck in the past and I will always feel too grown up. He always wanted to talk about the kids at my school, the music everyone was listening to, the cool movies I watched. We planned trips and never went on them; we played indie pop loud in the kitchen we decorated from Goodwill.
We pretended we were fucked up and edgy and kinky, but realized that wasn’t us. He would fuck me bent over the couch, hurting and pulling my hair. Then he felt bad and stroked my face with his big, flat hands. We got drunk together a little, but smoked constantly. He told me he had never felt this comfortable with any of his girlfriends (a category I didn’t even yet belong to). We never shut the bathroom door, burped in each other’s faces.
When school started again, I told him he had to kick me out of his house and take his key back. He didn’t, but I moved into my dorm anyway and prayed for the willpower not to sleep at his house and skip my morning classes. A few times I went over to his house crying; we’d never shown each other that type of emotion but he always said “You know you can talk to me, right?” and knew I wouldn’t.
We started dating then, like normal people, except that I couldn’t order a beer when we went to dinner together and we still didn’t kiss. I put up the stories I wrote for the school paper on the fridge; he was the proud parent I never had.
I knew that when I was with Aldo I didn’t have to worry about anything. His physicality made me feel safe enough to revert to childhood habits and behaviors, tugging on his shirt at Walmart and asking if we can buy something new for the house. I basked in the unworry; I was content to be his spoiled child. And I satiated his urge to be back in the “good old days,” I phrase that made me shudder as he whispered it one of the only times he came to my dorm room.
Loving an older man filled up the emptiest spots in me, the spots where my own parent’s cruelty felt like the ulcer forming when I drink coffee in the morning on an empty stomach. Aldo didn’t let me get away with anything – no manipulative guilt-making, no attention-grabbing murmurs.
Maybe one day I’ll be ready to have a relationship which doesn’t resemble a parent-child dynamic, but until then, I am glad to have a companion twice my age to lead me through it. I’m his overgrown child. He took care of me during my first hangover; he brings me lunch while I do my homework in his bed – Aldo likes to be needed and boy, do I need.