A was in the bathroom, brushing his teeth with a toothbrush he’d thought to bring with him before coming over last night. I was stretched out on the bed, looking up at my green ceiling and feeling more content than I thought I ever could have felt again every time I’d broken up with some other boy who never would have remembered to bring his toothbrush to my house. I rolled off the bed and landed on my feet in one smooth motion, smiling to myself and shaking my sheet out from where it had bunched up beneath the comforter last night. A’s underwear fell onto the floor so I picked them up and took a good look at them. Gray boxer-briefs; sober, practical, and comfortable. The kind of underwear worn by the smilingly regular man on the Folger’s coffee can. Exactly the kind of underwear A would like and own. Feeling smug about my ability to capture such a man in the flowered tangle of my bed sheets, I put them up to my face and sniffed.
My shriek of horror found him poking his head out from the open bathroom door into the bedroom and I was caught with a pair of boxer-briefs that smelled like they hadn’t been washed in about three days still suspiciously close to my face. “What are you doing?!” he yelled across the room, toothbrush still in his hand. I started laughing because it was so horribly obvious what I was doing that there was nothing I could say to defend either one of us. This was maybe the second time he’d slept over, not counting high school. We were not ready for this conversation. I don’t know if anyone is ever ready for this conversation.
“I guess I was… smelling your underwear.”
“I could have told you not to do that! They smell really bad!”
“Yeah… yeah, they kind of do.”
“What made you suddenly decide to smell my underwear?” he shouted, and I bit my lower lip, trying to stop myself from laughing. A’s face was eloquently stricken, eyes hot and cold at the same time under a pair of eyebrows that still did not understand how I could do this to him. Knowing that whatever I came up with would be completely insufficient by way of explanation, I said, “I guess I thought they’d smell, you know, pleasantly like your balls? But I mean… really, I have no explanation for my behavior here. I’m sorry. I have no idea why I did that. I didn’t even think about it.”
He turned around, stomped back into the bathroom, and finished brushing his teeth. Even the splat of his toothpaste when he spit it into the sink sounded pissed off. I sat on the bed feeling awful but also still laughing a little. Didn’t he shake his dick off after he peed, or had he really just been wearing them that long? You think you know someone until you violate one of those boundaries that exist for what were turning out this morning to be very good reasons.
A came back out and stood in front of me, arms folded across his chest. “The next time you feel like sniffing my underwear, can you at least warn me so I can wear clean ones?” I nodded, looking up at him. He was in no way ready for a hug. “I need to do laundry, okay?” he said. “I was going to do it last night but then I wanted to come here and see you so I didn‘t.”
“Look, if it makes you feel any better, I’m completely embarrassed that you just caught me sniffing your underwear in the first place. It‘s kind of what I deserved if they smelled bad. I mean, I think we might be even.”
He reached down, picked the underwear up off the floor, and stepped back into them, sighing. One of the things I liked about A was the way you could see everything he was thinking on his face. Even when what he was thinking was specifically unflattering to me, I could not help but be flattered that I was allowed to see it anyway. Right now, for example, I could pretty much watch the argument unfold as the A head-voices bargained with each other about the cost versus the value of staying angry with me. When it looked like they were almost finished, I held my arms out. He ignored them and sat beside me on the bed. “It doesn’t change anything,” I said, taking his hand. That worked. A’s eyebrows smoothed out and he began to breathe normally again. I love you, I thought. He kissed me. “You want some coffee? Let’s get you some coffee.” I kissed him back.
This is the story of how I came into the creepy practice of surreptitiously sniffing my own underwear every time I thought a boy might go anywhere near them. If I was capable of random and inexplicable acts of panty-sniffing, anyone could be. I knew A loved me, but how could I be sure that whoever I ended up sleeping with after he left would love me? Precautions were in order. Usually, I did a check in the bathroom after peeing, but I wasn’t above taking my underwear off in the heat of a moment and passing them casually in front of my face before depositing them wherever they ended up. If I had any doubts, I hid them somewhere the boy would never think to look.
This is an old story, and I feel like my promise not to tell it has expired. Plus, I’m fairly certain that if A can forgive me for sniffing his dirty underwear, he will forgive me for the rest of it, too. Won’t he?