Pillow Balk

BY ERASMO GUERRA | The last time Pajarito and I went out dancing on a Saturday night, the DJ spun an extended remix of “No One” by Alicia Keys. We were at the Ritz, a Hell's Kitchen bar with no dedicated dance floor, so everyone pushed the low tables aside and grooved to the soulful song of romantic endurance.

A couple of Argentine guys – or were they Spanish? – I couldn't place their accents because I wasn't paying that much attention to them, though they insisted on thrusting their hips toward me and asking me whether I came here often and where I lived.

It's those damn feathers, not the flirting, that scares me.

I tried to include Pajarito – the name I'd given to the guy I was seeing after he criticized me for wanting to buy a pet bird – but he pretended as if the other men's flirtations weren't happening, and turned to the younger college gay boys dirty dancing with their drunken straight girlfriends. When he went off to the bar to get us more Gray Goose cranberries, the guys swooped in and asked whether the guy who'd just left was my boyfriend and if I ever cheated.

Pajarito, a designer in his early 30s, whom I'd been seeing since October, had nothing to worry about. As a late 30s gay man who'd suffered enough romantic drama in his life, I wasn't interested in the complications and added time commitment of “cheating,” and though we never talked about monogamy, I felt that I didn't have to worry about the other men who might tempt Pajarito either.

I had different concerns. Like those damn pillows he held throughout the night, which he actually called his “magic fluffies.” Each morning I woke up in his bed in the East Village, there was always at least one pillow between us, sometimes two, one guarding each of his flanks like armrests. Whenever I pulled one away to cuddle in closer, Pajarito whined, his arms reaching out to snatch it back and press it to his naked chest.

In her hit single, which won a Grammy this past weekend, Keys sings about her certainty that no trash-talking, divisive people – NO ONE, thank you very much – is going to get in the way of what she's feeling for the object of her affection.

What would Keys say about meddlesome foam or down-fill that gets in the way of love? But maybe that's a tune only I could write, drafted from all of my recent dating disasters.

There was that cute, physical therapist living in the West Village, who showed me how he'd suck on the corners of his pillow, twisting them into a point, and then gently rub his palm over them until he fell asleep. Laying down to bed our first night proved to be our last.

The architecture grad student rooming in Grammercy had such grimy pillows and bed sheets that it seemed that he couldn't bear to separate from them long enough to get them laundered. I got tired of waking up each morning with a smattering of fresh pimples on my face.

The Chelsea photographer, who focused on sidewalk castoffs, had a body pillow that he'd give more post-coital attention than me. Tossing a long brown leg over it, he'd sleep with it for the rest of the night as I curled up alone on the other side of the bed.

Most recently, I'd been seeing a student graphic designer from Queens, and after a couple dates I asked him why he was taking my entire duvet during the night. He explained that he was making a “buddy” pillow for himself.

I'm still not sure everything with Pajarito is “gonna be alright.” Every now and then he lets me pull one of his “magic fluffies” away and I explain how I just want to be close. I only hope that he can feel – our bodies pressed together – what I consider “magic.”

On my birthday, at the end of January, a couple days before he was flying off to Thailand for a month-long visit back home, Pajarito presented me with a pillow of my own that he'd made from one of his old sweaters. And though he didn't know that I called him “Pajarito,” he'd stitched a little blue bird to a corner. I accepted the gift only because I knew I had to hold onto something while he was away.