mornings after you

I read this while standing on the R train to Queens. I was sandwiched between all these businessmen holding their leather laptop bags, weary on their way home. I finished reading the piece and looked up with a sudden agitated rush that made them turn towards me with questioning looks.

Aside from the specifics of coffee and cigarettes and bagels, I feel like this is the story of the trembling thoughts I’ve had every time I’ve gone home with someone. Every night I’ve fallen in lust, or love, or both, and then the mornings that I’ve woken up beside him.

I was still trembling a little inside as I got home and wrote my own version about the way I feel when I wake up next to you. Months later, and I still feel like this every evening you take me into your arms and ask me to stay the night. Months later, and I still feel like this every morning I turn over to breathe into the part of your sleeping body closest to me. There are one or two times (maybe more) that I may have covered my face to hide the accidental tears finding their way to the surface of my eyes.

You’ll ask me, and I promise I will continue to deny. You said that if I keep denying, you’ll eventually stop asking.

But my heart is content in the fact that you already know.


(I’ve only copied it here because I’ve never been able to concentrate on Adult Mag’s font and layout)

Afterward, your legs are entwined with mine and for a moment everything’s suspended, as if in amber, as if for a private eternity. It’s quiet in the spaces between our bodies. The silence pools out from there and fills the rest of the bedroom, until I get up for a glass of water. Would you like one? “And coffee,” you add. I’m up anyway, so I put on a sweatshirt and leave you there to watch the sun rise. The window is open and there’s a chill because it’s morning and it’s still dark; there’s the twinned orange flash of the lighter and the cherry, the quiet pop of your inhale.

What’s between the last kiss and the door is a pile up of inexplicable reasons and impaired solutions. I want to understand it, I want to move beyond half-measures, I want to exhale. But that can’t be all at once, and I don’t think I can safely omit what happens before we curl around each other like quotation marks.

Here’s the minefield: Appear approachable, likeable, then approach and be liked. Figure out your wants, navigate hers. Don’t think too hard, don’t force anything——there’s money for drinks and how much I’ve drunk and maybe a cab fare I can’t really afford right now okay we’ll split it no it’s fine and jesus christ why do you have to live so far away from me? could this be something?——and do this before your lips touch. Fail here and you’re doomed. Don’t forget to breathe. Don’t forget this is about connection.

In the morning we’re freed from specifics. Roll over and they’re beside you, sleeping probably, not looking how you thought they’d look, not looking out of place at all, on these sheets, this close to you. Your room performs the most mundane magic in the world: When their eyes open and they croak at you——“Morning,” they’ll whisper——they’ll seem as though they belong, a little. Like your lamp. Or that succulent on your windowsill that you’ve forgotten to water for, what, three weeks now?


You made me coffee the way I like it, strong and black, and we stood naked in your kitchen while the cats orbited our legs. We watched each other, watched each other watch. I think I said you were perfect. If I didn’t then, I breathed it into you later with my tongue and my hands.

And with you: We were friends then and still are. The timbre and architecture of us hasn’t changed. We snuggled that night and fucked when the sun came up. We exited into that cold morning with bagels on our minds.

I always went to your place, down by the subway, and I always woke up before you. Morning light from your window would play across your shoulder; after a kiss, I’d slip out for work.

The first time with you felt so right——because we’d waited for such a long time, sure, but mostly because I think we knew from the beginning how well our bodies would fit together. Afterward remains a warm blur: There was coffee, there was sex, but here my memory’s failing.

It was so cold in your room, there with you on your small bed with the black sheets. I was scared because you were a decade older. It helped, though, that we spent the rest of that day tangled together.

And you. We were in a house that wasn’t ours for the weekend. I remember sobbing after we slept together for the first time, because I was in love with someone else and I’d lost her irretrievably. We split our time between the big bedroom, the small bedroom, the Jacuzzi with the replica of Michelangelo’s David, and the cozy kitchen, foraging for drinks and for food and for each other.

One constant here is the trust I’ve placed in the sun, that I firmly believe it will rise and that it will set. Another is evolution’s essentialism; doing the thing we’re meant by nature to do. What I feel in the morning might be something else that doesn’t change, a star to navigate by: After I’ve remembered who I am, I look at you and I feel a rush, perhaps the barest outline of love.


The years and the beds pile up inescapably; things mostly stay the same, though the bodies change. There will always be the moment when we’re speaking to each other and the words between us stop making sense——they don’t matter now, because we’ve both been drawing nearer this whole time, our bodies conversing. And the first touch: My hand on your waist, both of yours tracing my back after our mouths finally find each other. This rightness, this sweetness. We go down together with the ship, wrecked on a reef of blankets and pillows.

After you’ve fucked someone for the first time you’ve got more information to go on. It’s like going from binary bit to quantum qubit: Where a bit has two states——do you want the lights on or off?——a qubit has more through superposition, its potential to be two states at once, to be of two minds about any one thing at any one time.

A friend recently told me her ritual the morning after she’d gone home with someone: Leave by 7 and find a diner to be alone in. She didn’t explain why, and so I took it on faith——we all cope with that crush of feeling differently. I picture her alone, sleep still in her eyes, a hazy halo of hair, sitting upright with a coffee and ignoring the light that gilds her. It is the most alone she’s ever felt, maybe, but she’s not lonely because she’s savoring the restoration of her personal space; she is a vibrating particle returning slowly to equilibrium.

Mine’s different. I always feel that I’m imposing, sullying someone’s space. I think it has something to do with revelation: I’ve just shared my essential self with you, and I can’t bear to see what your eyes won’t hide. So I say goodbye, hiding behind a remark that’s too glib on my way out the door, down the stairs, to the subway. It’s not relief I feel, not quite. Only that I’m armored, that I’m no longer so naked and flayed. People aren’t more tender the morning after, they’re just more vulnerable. It’s the same unguardedness you read in their faces when they’re coming; the same stuff that strangers on the subway feel rolling off of you in waves after a good tryst, the little things in the morning after the big things of night.


If, in the morning, you turn over and happen to remember the luster of those eyes and how cutely those hands held a cigarette, you might feel a sudden headrush-y clarity. Of purpose, sure, but probably also of feeling. These aren’t at odds. What I mean to say is that you’ll know, in an instant, exactly what you want from whomever’s beside you. I’ve denied that knowledge before; it’s never worked for me.

I’m in alone in bed now, an explosion of books beside me. The window is open, there is the chilled breeze, and I am happy here; my lighter is just over there, resting on my pack. There’s a lucky inside. A cigarette I’m saving for your arrival, for your lips.

– Mornings After You, Bijan Stephen, via Adult Mag

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