I can recall being young and sassy, and knowing a girl that made me feel all watery inside. All deplorable like. I’d see her with her boyfriend, who’d casually swat her away, deny her affection, deflect her compliments, disregard her entirely. He’d sit there with his chums, casually offering her up as source material for easy ridicule, suggesting she was host to numerous absurd and rare afflictions, tropical and non. The young emboldened knight in me would be shocked at the spectacle, absorbing her defeated looks, the slight panic of realizing the confidence scheme at play. An uneasy smile is all she can muster, an effort to diffuse any permanent nature of the proceedings. If I smile, the entire ordeal is of questionable validity, or so I hope, she thinks. My blood boils, look at this good-natured angel, this innocuous bystander, as she’s presented as collateral for a few notches of easy camaraderie. What a total dick this guy is. This guy is the reason girls decide to marry the first guy who doesn’t publicly humiliate her. This is the kind of guy who is saved in the sewing circle, for when our heroine presents her case, that something is off, it’s lacking in some spectacular fashion, she’s told to accept the situation, by jealous peers who’d prefer to see others settle the way that they have, for the pain of seeing someone hold on to principals and succeed is far more painful than tolerating a lonely complainer. This guy is the source of every business that preys on the low self-esteem of the fairer sex. Then a few months after dating this girl, I found her well worthy of open ridicule.
I never really considered myself a raging romantic. I often have been told my gaze appears cold, analytical, retreated, cross-eyed, creeeeeeeeeeepy, etc.
I was the midst of a misfire of a relationship when I met her. I immediately felt a new sense of purpose and a omnipresent willing of the universe if I played things by the book and did not waver that things would work out spectacularly. This was the one that verified my previous cynicism that something wasn’t right with the world and that was about to be corrected in the highest order. When I spoke to her, I felt a tingling in my brain, a lightness in my chest, an easy laugh, a tightly engineered wit that I had only seen flashes of before was now an fully operating section of my self. A fucking assault rifle of charisma. Jokes that didn’t even make sense in hindsight, I felt an immediate responsibility to quickly and properly engineer an effort to save them, and was able to reverse decades of swimming in awkward moments and normalize them. I knew the risk of running so headstrong, but I didn’t care. I was at the poker table with forces higher than myself and when you play with those bastards you play big or go home. I hadn’t felt this physiological effect in some time, this youthfulness, this fucking virility, this slow pour of cool water on an overheating engine, and I felt no reason to halt or apologize for it.
I lamented the fact I couldn’t straight out ask for her number as I was attending a brunch of the misfiree’s dwelling. It may be true my cold analytical self was back in attendance, as I met the misfiree’s tears and frustration upon her dismissal with an icy indifference and mild, probably infuriating, confusion. I shrugged it off and used my newfound freedom to immediately friend the new girl and her roommate (as a social safety net in case the request was met with suspicion). She accepted. I scrambled to think of a not-too-labored but witty official request to go out, after several rewrites and consultations, I felt an overreaching comment was warranted given the track we were undoubtedly. She waited two agonizing days before she sent her number over.
I was at the mall with my sister, stuck in Boston during the Blizzard, when I called. Much to my surprise and shock, she picked up (who picks up on the first call? I had my voicemail message down pat). I recall making awkward but pleasant enough conversation and plans were made. Wednesday came, and I was in high spirits.
Obviously it was like I was preparing a dinner for Jesus Christ himself. All of my time on this earth was to be summed, all of my strengths to be polished and neatly folded, my frays cut and soldered, my cracks to be filled in with sand as a temporary measure so as to stop any further damage to the hull. The ship is ready to sail, this is ready to measure and evaluate. I tried to keep myself in check, I tried to retain order. But the sheer welling couldn’t be contained. Every breath crackled with electricity, every exhale a reminder that time didn’t stop. Exhaustion was a thin layer of fatigue where it usually smothered. Things are of importance now, everything is a reflection of the kind of person who gets the girl.
I only got the first date panic attack for a minute or so. I left work, and walked up to 14th Street, hoping a brisk walk would shake off any last minute insertions of nervous energy. I browsed a liquor store for a minute to occupy my mind, walked out of the liquor store, thought I saw her on the corner, and retreated right back into the store. It wasn’t her, but I was ambushed by the genuine article before I could compose a nonchalant stance on the street corner. A quick gesture of a handshake was blown off in opt of a hug, and light, panicky polite fare was passed on the entrance to the subway. I made a crack I would be the guy on the street in the denim LA gear jacket, a common first date joke I like to use as litmus test. Different types may or may not require more introductory material, and she seemed confused on why i would brag about a jacket I did not actually have. Still she had big curious eyes, easy smile, and body language that was flighty and comfortable. I remember getting to Williamsburg and taken aback that she doesn’t really ‘do’ coffee, and relayed a story in which she drank some coffee and became very jittery. It was spellbinding. I helped an old lady cross a snowbank, but denied her the same courtesy as a gentle tease, one of my trademark gestures of courtship (and beyond).
We attempted a trendy BBQ joint, but quickly abandoned those plans as the ordering/sitting process was more akin to a summer camp than a first date. We wandered around a bit and settled on the Roebling Tea Room. She dared me to flirt with the waitress, which I did, for who’s to tell me what to do anymore? The decades of anxiety were melting away for a new era of risk taking where the stakes were much lower as far as everything else was concerned. We discussed class, architecture, clothes, the city, all within the realm of peer mindfulness. I mentioned my affinity for a clothing store named Sean, and I noticed a stumble on her part, a look of alarm and confusion, which I would later find out was the name of her former husband. I ordered a bourbon, she remarked that was the only brand she preferred. This is all going too swimmingly. I had never felt prouder in my life of the company I kept. I imagined the restaurant was centered around us, the waitstaff gossiping about our presence in the kitchen. What else did they have to talk about?
We continued to a german biergarten, which I was somewhat reluctant to, as I was afraid the heavy lagers would weigh me down, or worse, make me sloppy. But I entrusted the heavy rush I was feeling would keep these usual suspects at bay. I was nervous, apologizing profusely for every inconvenience or non-spectacular joke or uninspired comment. I was cognizant this sheepishness might not be the most attractive quality I could have on display, but I hedged my bets it would be a minor blemish on my character would would fade away over time and forgotten. Despite our awkward bar stool arrangement, i motioned for her to come closer and kissed her. Effortless. No thinking required. All dopamine floodgates burst. A romanian song entitled ‘Siki Siki Baba’ was on the PA, a propulsive, melodic anthem that I had never heard the likes of before. I shazammed it for later replay, but the celebratory nature of the song beaconed to me a new stage of my life. This wonderful song was the entrance music to a new era, like a boxer approaching the ring to the fight of his life, the world championship.
Since it was a proper biergarten, she asked if there were any strudels for purchase. I asked the bartender, but since it was nearing two in the morning, the day’s batch had been disposed of. But three girls from a culinary school were celebrating the end of their tenure, complete with a tray of baked goods, strudels included. I, of course, in any other situation, would have decided against bothering them, but I was in too far to stop here. They made pleasant talk, I was able to continue the charisma parade unabated, and won some pastries for my efforts, however the three shots of Jameson ordered might have tipped the odds in my favor. I returned with my bounty, a huge smile on her face. I am now a proper hunter-gatherer providing for my partner. I felt a tinge of soreness she hadn’t seen my casual social engineering at play, but there will be plenty of opportunities to display.
We left the bar, close to Three am, and I kissed her again, she grabbed me and kissed me hard. I am not crazy. All of my assumptions and hunches verified. This is what it felt like to win and get the girl. I felt no need to document, share, illustrate or discuss this feeling. When people talk about dying, when their fears and dread wash away, and there is only peace and serenity, product of a dying brain or not, this is what I felt.
The next few days were days of incessant texting. She txted me an image of a tangled mess of a clothes rack, with a sarcastic message of the civility of her fellow shoppers. The message is irrelevant, she was inviting me into her world. She saw this clothesrack, and the mess contained, had a thought about the world, and wanted to share it with me. I find it hard to imagine anything more encouraging. I was exhausted, but did not find it nearly as disabling now that it had been decoupled from existential dread. It was a small setback, something to be ignored rather than fought. I invited her out to a New Year’s party, but she had already made plans with her roommate. This was not a slight, I assumed most people had their New Year’s planned weeks before. I encouraged her to keep in touch if she felt like meeting up.
New Year’s Eve came, and I was out with friends from Los Angeles, a college friend and his motley crew of LA production staff. She texted me shortly after midnight, ‘hi’. I was without someone to kiss at midnight, unsure about her status but couldn’t bring myself to worry about it. This night became increasingly blurry, as New Year’s tends to do, but we vacated my friend’s house party to go to the International Bar in the East Village. This bar is usually a surefire hangover, with their cheap shot and beer combos. Like I said, most of this was getting increasingly blurry, and I am unsure if we started making out before or after the LA party left. I do know I nearly completely ignored them regardless. I remember catching a cab to her place around five in the morning.
The morning was unlike any other. I remember talking, tickling, laughing, and her falling asleep on my chest. I remember thinking, Well, What Now? I remember going down on her, her cumming rather quickly, despite my dehydrated mouth and after making a stupid remark about the miniature bow on her panties before taking them off. She talked of brushing off her brunch plans, I talked of brushing off mine, content to stay in bed for an indefinite amount of time. After asking for time to recover, we slowly started to build again. Possibly reluctant to return the favor in the manner I had, she told me he had a condom. While obviously a generous offer, I would have preferred to consummate this when I wasn’t addled with a whiskey hangover. Trying to appear gentlemanly while also trying to save myself from a possibly subpar performance, I offered, “We don’t have to…”, as I imagined this was just the beginning of a long, long sexual relationship with what may very well be my last sexual partner.
As she attempted to open the condom, she shrugged: “What? This isn’t anything serious. You’re fun.”
I exhaled and put my head down for a few beats as the cognitive dissonance set in. To this day I remember this feeling as being hit in the head with a shovel, the vibrations echoing throughout my skull for weeks. I was able to mumble, “I think I will be going to that brunch after all.” This almost certainly caught her by surprise.
I clothed myself, asking her tautly for my undershirt, as if I was asking a a co-worker. I was nearly complete, her now sitting up, with a devastated expression. “i just got out of something really serious”, she said. I mumbled something about limits or parameters or definitions, trying to conjure something that would sound smart as she digested it after I left. I thanked her for a lovely evening, with a shit-eating smirk. I paced down the four floors of her Chelsea walk up, and found myself in the throngs of a massive New York walk of shame on New Year’s Day. I bought some cigarettes, my mind on absolute fire. I walked down to 14th, got on the train, took it to the Fulton Mall as the C was not running, walking through the mall with the skull violently shaking from the shovel of reality.
She texted me an earnest apology, how something was misunderstood, how she doesn’t normally do this, how she hopes we can talk someday. Against all my better judgement, I texted “happy to have been of service”, a bitchy but incisive comment if I do say so myself. She texted me back some pleasantries about being a good guy but I was near panic attack. How could I have been so absolutely horribly wrong? It was akin to celebrating the remission of terminal cancer only to learn two weeks later the wrong report had been delivered.
The door shut with a massive thud, louder than any noise previously made. To add serious injury to insult, I knew with no question it would be a long, long time before I ever felt that again. All of my emotional capital had been wiped out like a stock crash, and all I had to look forward to was a great depression.
I left her a voicemail the next day, walking around Prospect Park in a daze, sheepishly apologizing and seeking to talk. No call came back.
Days later, mutual friends invited us both to a trivia night, where I was caught by surprise. I, again, testing fate by acknowledging her in the following fashion: “Oh, YOU’RE here.” Pleasantries were made, I of course, drank too much, and asked to speak to her alone. I pleaded my case, but was met with such distance and indifference I had trouble navigating the conversation. I do remember pulling out a weighty, “Listen, I wouldn’t be even talking about this if I met girls like you every day”, only to have lobbed back, “I don’t know what that means.” We left, somehow both in a huff.
I was in a soul-draining corporate meeting days later when I received a text from her looking for a friendly hangout to explore her friend’s clothes shop. I said I would meet her. We casually discussed the clothes, she tried items on, asked me what I thought. This all still felt very date-y. We parted no less than 30 minutes after meeting up, her commenting on my condescending pats on the back during our goodbye hug. For some reason still unknown, she asked me if I was on FourSquare, and then dismissed it. She is not on FourSquare as far as I can see.
The next trivia night was very strange. We talked, joked, shared the entire night, for hours after everyone else had left. I knew enough about her line of work that she didn’t feel the need to dumb anything down, which I think she appreciated. I made jokes she enjoyed, observations she found interesting, and I felt myself slipping back into apology mode. We exited about one in the morning, we headed the same way, no awkward huffs, and I gave her a hug goodbye, sans pats. She seemed slightly taken aback my head was on her shoulder rather than directly in front of hers, as if the second half of the hug was unexpected. In response, I received a genuine longing hug. It’s a regular hug with a stiffness at the end. Hard to explain.
Days later, I went on a week long excursion up the California Pacific coast with a friend of mine, of course seeking advice and counsel from anyone who would listen on the situation. And she starts texting me two days in, hoping Im doing well, and I’m having fun, winky emoticons, the whole raw deal. Not 48 hours passes between texts. Not even my best friends text me this much. I return from the trip, and a trivia night is lined up. No one seems to go but she seems interested but reluctant to go if only I go. I act a little cold at this offense, and she feels it. The txts dwindle, I don’t go to trivia. She txts me the next morning to see if I went, and I send a curt reply informing her, no, I did not attend trivia by myself. This is two days before her housewarming party.
I show up at her house warming party to be met with a great look of surprise and a big hug. I bring a bottle of bourbon, and my friends and I polish it off. Of course, now I am too drunk. Whilst I am drinking, trying to enjoy myself meanwhile tracking the whereabouts of several bros she’s invited, and I feel people looking at me, as if I was the topic of conversation. Like “that’s the guy”. I ignore it all, and find myself flirting with the misfiree in hopes of establishing to her and her friends I am not some creepy loner weirdo. There was no effort on her part to have a conversation, but it was a large party so I wasn’t catching offense.
But I found myself one of the last men standing, devoid of the sexual tension I had imagined would be established by now. I know nothing is going to happen. I ask to speak to her outside, and plead my case again. She explains she has lots of guy friends that she texts, without me saying a word, establishing she knew full well the murkiness of her actions. She finally corners me to a point where I have to disclose I know she is recently divorced, which is met with an accusation that I “am assuming a lot”. She explains thoroughly, that even if we were soul mates, she can’t have anyone like that in her life at the moment. I say OK, leave in a huff. Perhaps this isn’t as articulate as I remember. There was a lot of bourbon.
I sent her an email, probably still addled, the next morning, apologizing and making peace, hoping we can still talk, etc. No response.
There was another trivia night, maybe a week later, the last before all parties seem to lose interest. There was a strange and tense ‘hi’, and we respectively talked amongst out friends, never crossing paths.
A few months later, her roommate has a birthday party. I enter with friends, I see her sitting at a table and she shoots me an excited ‘hi’. I wave back, and sit with my friends. She gets up and starts making the rounds, right down the line. As I find myself next in line, I tense up, get nervous, trying to act like the coolest motherfucker on the planet. As she finishes up her pleasantries with the person before me, I brace myself, and she stops. She turns around, looking blankly against the wall. She might have been chewing a fingernail. I sit there for a few minutes as she idles. I couldn’t have felt lower. I stayed for another drink, said my goodbyes, and literally had to walk in-between her and some guy she was talking to leave. I said excuse me, like gentleman.
I put a Happy Birthday on her Facebook, just those words, and while every other generic birthday wish was returned with a full personalized comment complete with well-wishings and plans to make plans, I received a lone ‘gracias!’.
And that was that.