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Luba Ostashevsky

Luba Ostashevsky

Luba Ostashevsky is the managing editor of This View of Life, a popular science magazine. She has written for Conde Nast Traveler, the Boston Globe and Nautilus

The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Tangling with a Kidult

Two and a half years and years ago, like a door being ejected from its frame, my torso gave out during a roughhousing session with my 7 year-old son. Between the loud shrieks and choking laughter, I heard a crack, and couldn't straighten up until a few shots of cyclobenzaprine were pumped into my left hip at the emergency room. I was sent home with instructions to swim and swim. That's how I found myself bullshitting with a kidult at the local pool.

Three mornings per week I trudged up the hill to the local Y, a white shoebox where my son Zed also went to after-school care. It was winter, January giving way to February and my locker room cohorts were in their 80s but they were spry, lively, and always there by 5:45 am, waiting for the pool to open.

One morning it didn't open. I found my ladies in the hallway wearing their bathing suits, swim caps, and expressions of abandonment. The lifeguard was late and kept not showing up as we huddled in the chilled hallway. Half an hour later, I heard him trundle down the stairs, his black hair matted against his head, his backpack flying. I'd noticed but never paid him any mind. He was a young kid. The most I gave him was 22. He rumbled down the stairs with an outstretched arm, holding a key and marched straight for the door without making eye contact. The swim group let out an assorted, "Nu, there he is," and an exasperated, "Finally." They grumbled and rushed for the water.

I fumed as I swam. Who did this punk kid think he was! Making my ladies wait in the freezing hallway. I ruminated on the injustice of it in the water. I couldn't let him get away with it. Stepping out of the pool, I strategized on how I'd let him have it. It'd have to be a subtle approach. I wouldn't yell, I'd try to impress the point on him that he breached something bigger than the official hour his work started, he broke faith with the old people who seldom get a show of respect in our society. To boot, I only got 15 minutes of swim in that morning.

So I started off gingerly. How did he feel? "Deathly," he admitted. His sister was married this weekend and he drank himself into oblivion at the thought of marrying so young. Then he had stayed up late writing a college paper. He puked in the morning and was still woozy. He knew he was late. And he still wasn't done with the paper on Ancient Greek architecture. Did I know by the way whether Doric columns came after Ionic and of which there were more at the Parthenon?

I stood transfixed. Well, yes, I knew. In fact, it's funny he should mention it. I happened to have gone to Greece a decade before, and I remembered that the columns were mostly Ionic. It was great that he was challenging himself to broaden his horizons in college. At the magic word, college, I went into Jewish mother autopilot. What was his college major and what did he want to be in life?

It went on like this, in a flirtation, almost preternaturally. As I walked away, I harrumphed to myself that I was old enough to be his sister. He introduced himself as Luis. Is that Sephardic? I wondered. Seeing my quizzical expression, he volunteered, yeah, by way of San Juan.


My morning swims began to end with bullshitting like that, as he called it. He'd say, "Hey just to bullshit, I'm taking this history class, and I've got to write a paper on Federalism." And I'd stand there, the water dripping down my legs, peeling the plastic swimcap painfully off my matted hair, extemporizing on the Virginia compromise, and he'd nod in exaggerated gratitude. Numbers got exchanged. Texts came in randomly and more often. "Coffee?" and "Bullshit for 5?" struck me as familiar and endearing.

Yes, I knew he was too young. If I wasn't going to have love I could eke pleasure out of my body. He smelled the availability. I helped it along. I had a free night on Valentine's Day, and I casually let it drop at 6:30 am one morning as I was standing over his lifeguard station pulling a towel around my torso. "Oh," he said. He sat scrunched up in the chair, as though hiding something in his lap, his black curls lavishly everywhere and his eyes sparkling underneath. He gave off a feel of the muscular corpulence of an expansive plush toy. "Okay," he added. I padded to the locker room to throw on my sweats and winter coat and race home by 7 to wake up my son and begin the day.

The week proceeded as per our routine. On Saturday, as I watched my son resist the piano teacher during morning class, a text pinged on my phone. "Have idle Valentine's Day things to take care of, can't make it." I thumbed back a quick "Enjoy!" my cheeks heating up.

A few nights later, I sat in my nook. My son was finally in bed, as finally as I could tell. My little area led out to the back courtyard, where I could sit out and have my own piece of sky to gaze at, a few dingleberry stars, pale and faded by the googles of kilowatts blaring into space from living spaces around me, sometimes helped along with a lighted cigarette on my end.

I sat and did what I usually do, thinking about my life and fearing the worst—about if I'd ever meet a man, how I'd clean the snow off my car if it snowed, how I'd pay for the bed bugs that I was entirely certain were burrowing in my mattress. Luis was on my mind, jumbled together with the problems of the day. A man, a young man. Clearly taking an interest in me. I couldn't deny I wasn't enjoying his attention.

The phone gave its familiar ping, and I stood up and picked it up from the kitchen counter. Luis was still programmed in my phone as the "pool guy." "Need to see you, my girlfriend found out about us." Us? Girlfriend? I was thumbing the buttons before the realization fully clicked. "What? What gf?" I was working the handset. "Didn't know. How could you not tell me?!" "I'm in so much trouble, need to see you." "That's so slimy. How could you not tell me?!" "You knew. Don't play dumb" "didn't know, you didn't tell me." And then, more, "I don't care I mean it's your problem. I just think it's slimy" "Don't call me slimy" Silence. I was shaken, pulling the hoodie on my sweatshirt over my hair and moved away from the phone.

The phone sat there, like a little bomb, but not exploding. I let it sit, and stared nowhere. A kid, a young kid. I went in for his flirts and now he has a girlfriend. What's wrong with me! Self pity. Single at 36 and this is what you get. Snagging other ladies' men. My thighs felt heavy. The lines in my forehead did a lap around the nose and back to my cheekbones.

Another ping on the phone from him. "What now?" I didn't reply. My body was in utter consternation but also desire. Here was this kid, telling me he wanted me. One fed off the other.

Him again. "Still wanna to see you. Txt me if u wanna c me"

I went to sleep feeling like I was sleeping outside on the cold night in February. Snow fell throughout the night and by morning had accumulated enough inches to shut New York public schools down. After a solid half hour of shoveling I managed to get my car out of a spot and drove Zed to my mother's in Brooklyn, then hopped on the subway and went to work.

I sat in my office, feeling completely distracted with desire. It shot throughout my whole body, giving me a soft flush as if I had just had a cup of coffee. I did of course want to see him. In fact, I tried to spy him when I picked up Zed at after-school. I'd peek around for him. Zed would ask what I was looking for. I'd blush. Sitting was hard. Feeling my body was hard.

After a few days of thinking of him, I spontaneously pulled the phone out of my bag and texted. "Never mind all, let's enjoy each other's bodies."


I promised myself I didn't want to know about his girlfriend. That was his business. That was my state of moral decay at that point in life. I reasoned that I would just let him in once. It would be a one nighter. It wouldn't mean anything. After all, he was just the pool guy.

He was also the pool guy who taught my son's class to swim. Zed even made it into the water despite being scared. But when I managed to spy Luis at the Y coming to pick up Zed, Zed would look at him with boy-like admiration. The boys clearly looked up to him. I could see why.

The next night, I let him in after 10 pm, after Zed fell asleep. Luis said he'd been waiting outside by the little park for my text. "Must have been freezing," I said.

"No duh," he said.

He was in my room, or the half a living room that made up my room. Near that same frosted glass partition where I had my nook, and where I had shooed him off with my thumb, textually, the week before, he was running his fingers along my woolen tights toward my crotch.

"Whoah. Easy." I said. "What did you arrange with your girlfriend?"

"We broke up," he said.

Face to face to me he stood a few inches shorter, a squat plush muscular bear. His eyes held a playful zing.

"Comere bubbe," he said, and with the hug, threw me on the bed.

"uhho, I need to tell you there are bedbugs." I explained.

"No, there aren't."

"I'm telling you. I was so certain I called the exterminator in the morning. He's bringing his Chihuahua to sniff them out."

Luis surveyed the outer rims of the mattress and decided that the exterminator was extorting. He, Luis, knew from bedbugs, he explained. Growing up in the projects in Jamaica, he knew how to get rid of them with a lighter and duct tape. It was easy, he said. We peeled back the linen. With scissors, he cut squares of the tape and pasted them on the mattress. I stood in awe of his quick and light actions. "This won't cost you more than a blowjob," he chuckled. He put the tape away, put the scissors away. We put the sheet back on the bed. Then we sat on it not saying much.

Then he put his head on my shoulder, reached up and rubbed my cheek. I felt his curls rub my neck in a tickly and comforting way. We fell backwards, into the bed. Closed off from the rest of the room by a sliding partition. We fell back into the little world I carved out for myself out of everything. It was a piece of life I owned in a sea of nothing, where nothing was my own. And it was the negative space of the frantic busyness of the world from which the partition allowed me to seal myself. It was the space I could exist in. For a few minutes we existed there improbably.

His phone rang. "Gotta get it," he said.

"Babe, yeah." I heard him say softly. "I went to get a drink with Kalif. I'll be home soon. No. I'm not with her. Babe. I'll talk to you when I get home." I was getting up from the bed as he was talking, putting on the top that was in the midst of being removed.

"Go. You told me you worked it out. Out"

"I gotta go," he said redundantly.

"Go. Go, work it out. This wasn't anything." Embarrassment washed over me. What was I doing? Another woman's man, even if they were so young and so outside of my world to the point where I couldn't relate to them at all, couldn't feel sympathetic to their needs. At heart I didn't like his kind.


During down moments at work, I shut the door to the office and laid my head down. Thoughts of Luis from the other night overwhelmed me. His touch, his body, the softness of being with a boy. I walked a little lighter.

Did I realize from the start that he was a kidult? I did. I didn't know what to think except that life for me had come to an unusual dead end. It'd be easy if there were a cemetery in the equation but there wasn't. There was still my whole life, a fairly young one at that, and I didn't know what to do with it since everything I was trying was leading to irrevocable disappointment.

I had a son who was the reason for my living but he drained me. I explained to my therapist that my fantasies go so wild sometimes. Crossing the street, a thought flits through my mind of him getting hit by a car. It comes in so vividly and I try to block it. I tell my therapist that I know that this is the verbalization of my brain, the messaging that brains do as they make every attempt to rationalize the biochemical signals being fired off. "Well, hope springs eternal," he deadpanned, and so it did.


I had promised to give up Luis. I wanted to date. I had put my profile up on a dating site. I had gone for brunch. I had done so much to make the desire go away. But there I was texting him. His response was swift: "What are you, the KGB? How'd you read my mind?" He wanted to come over right away.

And so he did. Daily almost. In the evenings, after Zed went to bed. Still late winter outside, and he'd enter encased in a thawing cloud, usually blowing hot breath on his frozen fists. We'd sit down on the couch. "How was your day, bubbe?" He wanted to know, and I told him. Everything. About that morning's terrible editorial meeting, when I presented a proposal and went on explaining for far too long when I should have teased my colleagues suavely. I'd tell him about my needs, so long unfulfilled and what it's been like having to rush home from work, make sure I got to the Y at just the right time to pick up Zed, come home, make dinner, catch up on work in the evening after he went to bed, wake up, get him ready and off to school, and do it all over again.

I told him all that and he listened. Truly listened. He didn't interrupt or ask much or want to prod deeper about the reasons. He just let it be said.

He left most nights afterwards. I didn't think about him walking in the cold to the train station and waiting on the platform for the Rarely or the Never, as the R and the N trains were christened. I benefitted from his presence.

There was a night when he didn't leave. We both fell asleep and didn't wake up till I opened my eyes to see Zed staring down at us. "Mother," he whispered, "do you know how old he is?"

I pulled the blanket higher to shield our nakedness. We sputtered into awareness. Luis coming into consciousness, pulling the blanket higher still, and yelling, "holy shit," over again several times. Zed looked on quietly. Here was a guy from the pool who taught his classmates to swim in his mother's bed. Zed ran back into his room.

"Holy shit," Luis screamed, "I traumatized your kid." I was throwing clothes at him. I was pulling pajamas on myself.

Neither one of us thought to close the partitioned door that was still wide open. Zed returned a few minutes later. He was holding his big binder of Pokeman cards.

"Luis," he said, "do you want to see my Pikachu?" he sat on the bed and began to open the leaves.

"Whoa. You have those? I've been trying to land these so I can trade 'em." Luis was taking out the cards, looking them over.

"Yo, I think I can get $25 for this one. It's a rare card."

Zed's 7 year old eyes lingered on him.


I continued to swim with my 80 year old ladies, making sure that Luis got his butt in to the lifeguard's chair by 5:45 every morning. As winter rolled into spring these scenes became habitual. Trudging up to the Y together in the darkness. Some days, too, Luis would pick Zed up and they'd go get pizza. Some days I'd find them sitting together, trolling through either of their Pokemon or YuGiHo collections, exchanging and weighing seriously the trading cards.

It fulfilled something in me, watching them like that. What else did I need? You might ask.

Everything, I discovered later.


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