What Happens When You Connect With Your Missed Connection

Nov. 14, 2012
Claire Mott is a reasonably attractive 20-something that loves New York… most of the time. She doesn't have a trust ...

It had been one of those infinitely long days where I did nothing but stare blank-faced at my computer screen, time crawling painfully until I conceded that I’d be doing everyone a favor by ducking out of the office early. The buzzing of electricity and humanity started getting to me from the moment I set foot inside the subway station. After boarding my first train, I brought the book in my hand closer to my face and let my hair fall down over one eye. I never should have cut those fucking bangs last year. I’m drawn out of my haircut remorse by the crackling loudspeaker announcing our arrival at 6th Avenue.

Stepping off with the rest of the after-work crowd, we slowly herded ourselves down two flights of stairs to the L. Everyone is visibly agitated, deadfaced while they shuffle up and down the line, looking for enough free space to stand comfortably apart from their neighbor.

Tycho’s ambient album blasts through the uncomfortable white earbuds that came standard with my last iPod, but I can still hear every aggravating verbal exchange around me. These headphones are so crap.

I turn the volume up, still unable to lose myself in the book inches from my face. The words swim across the page; I can’t focus long enough to transition into zoning out. All the elbowing, bag-checks and shuffling out of the way for passengers making their way to the opposite end of the track has me on edge.

The crowd is five people deep across the entire length of the platform, Brooklyn-bound, and I’m ready to snap — on someone, on anyone. A woman at the front of the pack leans forward, past the bumpy yellow marking the “danger zone” closest to the oncoming train and I envision myself kicking her ankle, sending her to an untimely death. It’s an idle fantasy I would never indulge in, but imagining shit like this is one of the few things that helps me talk myself through the borderline panic attacks the city seems to bring out in me. Today I am feeling too defeated by “The Man” — my shitty nine-to-five, my pitiful income — and the vision of her head getting lopped off as a train pulls into the station too fast brings only the slightest of smiles to my face.

The twinkling of the oncoming train’s headlamp snaps me back to the present. Surveying the depth of the crowd in front of me, I realize there’s no way I’ll be able to make it onto this train. I inch closer to the steel pillar nearest me and half-lean against it, content to be the first in line for the next train. Once the cars are filled to capacity and the doors shut, I step forward onto the yellow tiles; missing one train is fine, but two simply will not do.

When the next train pulls in, I start looking for where I’ll be scrambling to stand before the door even opens, accidentally locking eyes with a sandy-haired man inside in the process. He looked away first before abandoning his seat to stand, grasping the rail overhead while steadying the book loosely gripped in his other hand. Sardined into the car by the rush of commuters behind me, I accidentally-on-purpose find myself next to him, feigning rapt attention in my book while stealing glances at him from my periphery. Staring downward, it’s the beaten leather of his work boots that catch my eye, followed by the splatters of dust and paint running down the legs of his pants. Clearly this guy works construction. And, is, apparently, literate.

Baffled by this string of realizations, my attention shifted between the slow pace I was making through the printed paragraphs in front of me and the light scruff on this stranger’s face. It took all my focus to pretend I didn’t notice every time he looked up from his book, the weight of his gaze sending a knowing tingle up my spine. We stood next to each other through each passing L stop in Manhattan, and then well into Brooklyn, half-reading and half-studying each other as the crowd steadily thinned out. There was no way to exchange words now, too much ogling had occurred for speaking to be casual. An older man seated in front of me giggled as my new reading buddy got off the train at the stop before mine, saying something I couldn’t quite hear over the music still playing through those awful earbuds. I peered over the edge of my book at the smiling man, raising my eyebrows, the corners of my mouth turned up in a wry smile. I knew something had happened behind my back, something amusing enough to cause a stranger to smile and laugh, but didn’t turn around, opting instead to relish in the thrill of not knowing.

I got off at the next stop, the extra spring in my step still accompanied by a smirk I couldn’t wipe off my face. I had to do something — this sensation needed to last just a little bit longer.

One thing came to mind: Craigslist’s “Missed Connections.”  Fuck it, I figured, just take the plunge. Having laid the post out in my head while walking home, it effortlessly pieced itself together in the text document open before me. And it was fucking perfect.

I got on the L at 6th Ave. You were giving me the once over through the window before the doors opened so I could get on. You gave up your seat for old ladies and we stood next to each other on the way to Brooklyn. I stole sidelong glances at you; I think you stole some at me, too. You were wearing an army green t-shirt with Carhartt pants and work boots. I didn’t see what you were reading, but there was enough dirt under your nails and in hard-to-scrub crevices for me to suspect you work with your hands. You’re quite handsome, and probably not the type to read missed connections, but this is worth a shot.

The man seated in front of me started giggling when you got off at ______. Did you trip on your way out? Did you give me another good, long look? My back was turned, but I’d love to know what I missed.

Who was taller anyway, me or you?

Stopping to marvel at my handiwork, I felt the small swell of pride in my ability to turn the experience into something worth tossing into the abyss of the internet. For all I knew, he actually deserved to have nice things written about him, whether he wound up seeing them or not. But this — this was for me. The body of the post finished, I struggled with inconsequential details: should I list it as Brooklyn or Manhattan? Did it matter?

It didn’t — if he was the type to cruise Missed Connections, he presumably kept an eye on both. The title practically wrote itself: ‘To the blue-eyed man that works with his hands.”

Still gloating over my iCajones, I pasted the post’s URL in the subject line of an email, BCC’ed several friends and hit Send. It felt wise to prevent this message from becoming a round table discussion of my willingness to troll for construction workers on the Internet. My humblebragging was met with several replies, all of which praised my gutsiness before questioning my sanity. Delighted enough by my friends’ responses to be comfortable with the fact I’d likely never receive a reply from the man on the train, I spent the next hour riding the small endorphin high that accompanied my frivolous internet use — until another email arrived with a suitably short subject line: “Taller, in plaid.”

I considered leaving Pandora’s Box unopened — deleting the email in favor of savoring the mystery. But I made the first move and now, feeling obligated, opened his reply and read the few lines he’d sent me.

The email was short; not as carefully crafted as my post, but he made it clear he wanted to meet. The real gem of the whole thing wasn’t his response — but that his full name and website were included in the auto-signature. It didn’t take long to succumb to the lure of Google, drifting between the links so carefully cataloged by the internet.

I breeze past the very-private Facebook profile and cached remnants of a blog that had been recently deleted; assembling a Cliff’s Notes version of his life is not difficult. He’s a recent college graduate — an artist, it turns out. I find photos of him in classrooms and studios, all taken with the need to showcase the school’s credentials in mind. He’s handsome, broad-shouldered with several days’ worth of carefully cultivated facial scruff, hair slicked up in that messily-clean attempt at bedhead that no one actually wakes up with.

The more references to his art degree I see, the more bummed I am. I wanted him to be some kind of token; an epitome of manliness, the complete opposite of all the Weenie-Boys of Bushwick I kept seeing on the street. Their penchant for jeggings and carefully curated facial hair doesn’t do it for me. Let the mousey-faced girls with greasy hair piled in sloppy top-knots have them all — I’m looking for something like the person I thought I’d seen on the train.

Our chain of emails grows longer as I troll him. His final message includes a phone number; clearly, he’s tired of our internet peacocking and looking to get down to business. Still giddy and slightly flushed at the quickness of his response, I waste no time in sending him a text. Knowing there would be a friend staying on my couch for the next week, I told him his options were limited: either before or after their stay.

Tomorrow then. New spot I want to check out… Meet me at Pearl’s at 7.

Squealing, girlish glee begins to build in the bottom of my stomach — the kind I felt each time I got a boy’s number in high school, the anticipatory knowledge we were going to “hang out,” back when alcohol didn’t lubricate the awkwardness of first dates. The sensation moves from stomach to tailbone, stealing its way up my spine and out my mouth, the victorious “Yesssssss!” hissed into an empty room.

_____

The bar my Missed Connection suggested isn’t far from my apartment. I opt to get there early, arriving before him to ensure there’s a drink in my hand — just in case my sober, post-work eyes and subsequent internet trolling had deceived me as to his appearance. I’m standing at the bar, rocks glass in hand, watching the slow trickle of twenty-somethings on their way in, hoping I recognize him. I do; though my enthusiasm wavers when I see he’s in a navy blue polo, cut-off jean shorts and red suede Pumas. At least he’s not wearing sandals. Part of me had hoped to see him looking like he had on the train — clothes coated in debris, flecks of dust in his sandy hair.

“Oh hey!” I’m too nervous to come up with anything slick. He orders himself a Tecate and we take a seat at a small table near the window. I’m trying to avoid the inevitable route the conversation could go if the booze flowed more freely. We’re both here because we find each other attractive, but is there any other common ground for us to stand on? I’m fumbling for conversation topics — our “how was your day?” exchange is not terribly exciting, and we lapse into silence, sipping our drinks and taking in the action around us.

“So… question for you. Do you prefer to be called Rich or Richard?” His emails had been signed with the latter, but it’s always good to ask.

“Oh I just put Richard on my emails while I was in school because I thought it would make me sound more… I dunno, ‘grown up’ in the art world. But I don’t go by either one, actually.” He made those stupid little quotes in the air with his fingers, and I’m waiting for him to tell me something obnoxious — like that I should call him “Richie.” I can hear the nasal quality of the shortened name in my head, the exact way a snobby girl from the Upper West Side would say it.

“My friends just call me Dick.”

I nearly choke on a mouthful of gin, trying to suck it down and pushing it up into my sinuses instead. The darkness of the bar provides ideal cover for me to pretend to take another sip from my glass while trying to blink away the watering of my eyes, and wipe the small, painful trickle leaking out of my nostril against my wrist.

His eyebrows are settled flatly across his face. He’s not joking. My silence has made us both visibly uncomfortable and I switch topics, afraid if the conversation lingers on this point he’ll notice I’ve been thinking he’s an idiot. “Gotcha. So, can I ask another question?” He smiles and nods, though I can’t tell if he’s amused or merely amiable. “Why were your hands so dirty?”

He looks at me sheepishly. “I’m a contractor.” His tone implies manual labor is shameful; and maybe in the art school community it is, but it was the thing that drove me to seek him out.

“Construction?” I want to hear him use a workingman’s term instead of the one he whips out for his buddies. I can hear the liltingly hopeful inflection in my voice and judging by the look on his face, he does too.

“Yeah,” he chuckles, more at ease now than before, “Mostly carpentry. All that sculpting stuff finally comes in handy, I guess.” The seal now broken, we swap stories, summing up our lives pre-New York. He moved here from the U.S.’s corn capital for grad school, artist-cum-carpenter now remodeling lofts in Tribeca after spending five thankless years pursuing an art degree. I tell him I feel like that happens to a lot of people here and the bluntness with which I say it clues me in that I need to slow down. One drink has become three and I tell him that I’m going outside to smoke, not expecting him to come with.

I bum him a cigarette out front, idly commenting on the summer sunlight having long since tapered off and the dusky blue shade of the night sky. Business indoors has picked up significantly, the quiet chatter grown loud, spilling out the windows and down the street, fueled by increasing numbers of drinks. Stepping on my cigarette, I lean against the brick face of the bar and enjoy the loose feeling of my shoulders the booze has granted me.

“I didn’t expect you to see that post, really. Or respond to it… kinda surprising — that you read that stuff, I mean.” Dick went into detail about pieces of his art that have been inspired by reading them, but I’m barely listening, looking at everything but him. I’ve already heard enough artboy talk — he wasn’t supposed to be an artboy, goddamnit. Not wanting to hear another word about his creative side, I close my eyes and sigh.

Sensing that I’m losing interest, Dick abruptly changes the topic. “They weren’t Carhartt’s, by the way, just Levi’s.” I don’t know why I feel embarrassed for not knowing the difference and give him a coy smile. Looking through the bar’s open door at the crowd that’s amassed inside, he suggests it might be time to leave.

We’re halfway down the block when he offers to show me the view from the roof of his apartment. The night air is warm and I agree, waiting outside the bodega while he picks up a six-pack of Corona. His place is less than a block away and I have to admire his game plan — meeting me less than three blocks from home meant being invited over less threatening.

I take a seat on the rickety folding table that’s been hauled up by some resident of the building while he uses a lighter to pop the cap off my beer before cracking open one for himself. The conversation moves from what we were like in high school and our mutual distaste for other city dwellers that are rampant fans of NYC; the ones that can’t fathom admitting that this metropolis is, at best, inconveniently convenient.

Though there’s more than enough booze in my system, I’m nervous and chain-smoking, letting him do most of the talking as I move from the end of one Camel to a new one without thinking. “You’re quite the breath of fresh air,” I tell him as I exhale. There’s something ironic about using that phrase at this very moment, despite it not really meaning anything. The smoke spirals up into the dark, our words not holding much weight in the cooling night air. He points out the long, low rectangle of the nearby UN building, the sand-colored strip of the Long Island Expressway covered in pinhole shimmerings of distant cars coming and going from that far-flung arm of New York. As he points out more buildings, I’m struck by how much he knows about the city’s architecture, who’s building what and how it will compare to the rest of the buildings that make up this infamous skyline.

We’re interrupted when the roof access door opens and several boys step out; all dressed in variations of the same beat-up plaid shirt and tan pants. Dick is polite but reserved as they introduce themselves, their handshakes fleeting and flimsy. He waits until they bore of the small talk and wander away a few feet before mentioning there’s a small yard out back. He leads me through his apartment and into the tiny courtyard. Twenty minutes later I’m out of cigarettes and things to talk about in the dark. Inside, we walk straight past his roommates and into his bedroom.

Dick flops down on his bed, opening his MacBook as I take a seat on the floor. Leaning my head on the edge of the mattress, I stare at the strings of white and blue Christmas lights he’s strung between the suspended ballasts overhead. They’re reminiscent of the teenage bedrooms of my youth — had they been constructed of cement. The beers consumed on Dick’s roof combined with the drinks from the bar have left me warm and hazy, and the pleasant feelings multiply after taking hits off the pipe he offers me. I move from the floor to his bed, careful not to touch him as I stretch out to better enjoy the crooning of Roy Orbison.

“He had the voice of God,” Dick tells me, still scrolling through his playlists.

My vision is starting to blur around the edges but I know the words to most of these songs — they make me think of my dad and I close my eyes, telling myself not to compare anything involving my father to hanging out with guys in bed, because that’s weird. The thought leaves as quickly as it came and iTunes shuffles from Roy to Patsy. My breathing slows and my mind begins to drift — until I notice Dick’s hand is resting on my hip. He leans in close, peck-kissing my neck in a childish fashion. I might have thought he was a big strong man but he’s approaching like a very timid puppy. His lips move from neck to mouth, his kisses still light; it makes me think of the girls I kissed in elementary school when we were too bored to watch TV.

His hands find their way into my pants, fingers probing inside me but clearly unaware of how to catch just the right spot. My body does the lying for me, becoming wetter and warmer despite his unskilled touch. I fake an orgasm moments later, too buzzed to care if I’ve given a lackluster performance. He doesn’t seem to notice the difference anyway.

“I want to make you come again,” he says, lifting off the mattress. His shorts are unbuttoned and I’ve snaked my hand down to investigate what the good Lord gave him.

“Do you have any… uhh…”

He slides off his boxers before pulling down my leggings. His body’s solid — a little flabby, but every bit the physique I would expect a former high-school football captain to have. “Yeah.” He reaches over me and I hear the crinkling noises as he rips the foil wrapper.

He reaches down, battling to slide the latex over himself before liquor-dick gets the better of him. Do I really have to fake it again? Seems so. Whatever he wants to call this, it isn’t fucking — he kisses me like he means it, moving his hips at a distressingly slow pace once he’s inside me. Throughout our rutting I know I’m close but not close enough — lying again when he asks if I came. He doesn’t last long.

As I pull on my underwear before passing out, I’m with it just enough to check the time. It’s almost 3 a.m., tomorrow is Friday, and I know I will regret this in the morning.

Three hours later, I awoke to the sound of the alarm on my phone honking wildly. I hit snooze and snuggled further under the top sheet before remembering that the bed I had slept in was not my own. Dick rolled over, still asleep, placing a hand on my ass. Waiting until he rolled over again, I slipped out of his bed and into the previous night’s clothes, looking over to see he’s facing the wall. I don’t wake him up before letting myself out to walk home.

I’m still half-asleep; trying to convince myself that there was no shame in having sex with a guy I met off Craigslist as I walk by the beginnings of the morning subway rush. Do I look like I was up all night making bad decisions? Either the people I’m passing on my way home are actually staring at me or I’m projecting. I decide it’s split 50/50 and keep walking, happy to have the pair of “just in case” sunglasses I tossed in my bag the night before.

I breeze through a shower, washing off the scent of a strange man’s secretions before stepping onto the towel I’ve laid out on the tile, not bothering to dry myself off. I take my time studying my body in the mirror. The circles under my eyes are darker than they were yesterday. The vein that bisects my forehead is unusually pronounced, boldly protruding through thin skin. A hangover is starting to thrum somewhere between the back of my skull and temples. A quick check ensures I didn’t miss any visible marks that would allude to what I was up to the night before. But there were no bite marks, no bruises, no hickeys — the gentle giant having left nothing behind but the lingering reminder that appearances deceive, and that good men have no place in bed with a slut like me.

_____

The reason I agreed to a second date with Dick was simple: I wanted someone to pay attention to me. We met up at the artisan pizza place of the moment, but wound up focused more on uncomfortable silences than slices. Conversation faltered until back at his apartment: we added slugs of whiskey and Budweiser silos to the mix and that was enough for me to explain away the dullness of our evening as awkwardness instead of incompatibility. The sex was better, though it still leaned toward the low end of mediocre.

While I relished in the attention, I battled an increasing ambivalence about seeing him. The more I flaked on plans, ignored his texts, and made myself otherwise unavailable, the more frequently I heard from him.

When my friends beg me to join them for Monday night cocktails, I cave. Maybe some much-needed catching up with the girls over drinks will help me get my head on straight — or at least make me laugh at the situation enough to think it’s genuinely funny instead of downright sad.

By 1 a.m. we’ve drifted from ‘buzzed’ to simply ‘drunk’; speaking freely about men and sex in a mostly empty bar in Greenpoint. After I overcame the embarrassment of not only admitting I had posted a Missed Connection, but had already hooked up with the guy I posted it for, the girls are quick to urge me to continue seeing him. They’d spent months listening to me lament over the fact I wanted a man in my life, one who would be sweet to me. That was the word I’d used: sweet. And now that I’d ostensibly met one, I was already beginning to resent him for it.

The bartenders are keeping their distance, though clearly listening in on the conversation; which only eggs me on to describe what happened the last time I went out with Dick in graphic detail to the girls:

After dinner he took me back to his apartment, pouring me a large glass of whiskey and handing me a tall can of Budweiser — original, not light. I alternated sipping them both, quickly finding myself in a hazy state that made turning down his advances more work than it was worth. I lay on his bed afterward, my head on his stomach, wondering if this time was better or just more familiar since I had already known what to expect. I am undecided on the quality of this experience, but he doesn’t know that.

“I like you.” He says this so simply, before reaching over to tuck a piece of hair behind my ear. Using his palm, he smoothes the flyaways back from my face. I can feel him studying my hairline, the widow’s peak and “five-head” I spent years covering with blunt-cut bangs. I wonder if he’s judging the micro-zits I scrutinized in the mirror before meeting up with him. We lay quietly, breathing still heavy. I’m not sure if it’s wrong of me to take faking it to this level; pretending I am winded from pleasure when actually I’m wondering why he can’t just get it right.

I look to the girls and they insist they’ve done this before, too. I go on, taking a peek at the bartender and his accomplice where they’re standing a few feet away. They’re no longer bothering to pretend they aren’t listening, and I pick up where I left off in the re-telling of my last date with Dick:

He kisses me and I feel him getting hard against my back as he asks if I’ll use my mouth on him again. I oblige, occasionally looking up over the roundness of his belly to see the awestruck face he’s making, his mouth opening and closing silently. When he starts to make low noises in the back of his throat I marvel that it’s taken ten minutes for him to enjoy himself enough not to be self-conscious about the sounds he’s making. Dick places his hand on my shoulder, keeping me back from pushing my mouth back down over him. Rolling back onto the balls of his feet, he struggled to put on the condom and I lay back and wait, legs spread. I am praying the blowjob pays off as he leans forward, adjusting the height of his hips.

He pushes the tip of himself inside me, then, “Does that hurt?”

I try not to roll my eyes as I shift my hips; caught up in wondering if I can discreetly maneuver my way to an orgasm I don’t have to fake. I know he is trying to be considerate; to be sweet; but his gentleness is off-putting. I am a woman, I think, biting my tongue lest I say the rest out loud. This is my pussy, not fine china; it’s okay to fuck it up a little bit.

“Nope.”

“Good, because I don’t want it to hurt.” My stomach tenses, and I cringe.

“You’re not going to break anything,” I reply. It slips out before I can stop myself, and I know out of context it might sound like I’m belittling his manhood. He continues thrusting, his breathing heavy with small grunts — the pre-orgasmic spurts of undecipherable noise — before he shudders and stops moving. We lay there in silence, and he rests his face on my chest.

“Sorry I just…” He stops, raising one of his hands to make a fist. “You just… started squeezing on me so hard… down there.”

Inwardly I smirk at this expression of what it feels like when I tighten the web of inner-pelvic muscles around him. His gesture makes me think of the way people pantomime milking a cow and my lip curls up slightly. I struggle to keep the annoyed look off my face, though he’s still facedown between my breasts, panting.

“Did you come?” The pressure to lie mounts. This is an intimate moment — egos have been destroyed over things like this. “Yes.” I am being dishonest for selfish reasons, but something about the way he asked was more vulnerable than I was comfortable with — raw, even. This was not the time to try to correct what might have been years of not knowing any better.

Dick eased himself onto all fours before moving into the big spoon position behind me. “Got an ass on ya, eh?”

The heat of summer and our exertion makes our skin stick together. I’m mildly disgusted by the wet sound his palm makes when he places it flat on one ass cheek, giving it a little squeeze before moving his hand up onto my hip.

It’s not that big, I want to say. But I don’t, because I’m catching on to the fact that if I’m quiet long enough, we’ll both fall asleep without honesty going and fucking things up.

My friends are leaning forward on their stools, rapt with attention; chins cradled in their palms while they listen to me. It reminds me of all the times we met up so they could ask about Shane, giggling when I mocked him and then eagerly encouraging me to go out with him again. They don’t say anything — waiting for a punch line or maybe a one-liner — but I didn’t think to craft one before leaving the house.

“So there you have it — he took me out, we had sex and… now I dunno.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know? What’s there to know?” Even in the dark I can see the look Amy is giving me over the top of her glasses, and I feel like I have to explain myself, yet again. I’m still struggling with the fact that what I want — a very attractive boyfriend — is not something I can have.

“It’s just every time I go out, every pretty girl I see is out with some troll she clearly picked up underneath a bridge. I want a hot boyfriend!” The alcohol-infused honesty makes her laugh, but she counters with a point of her own.

“Don’t you get it? We’re all dating ugly dudes because they’re nice. Hot dudes in this town are fucking jerks.” I’m startled by how starkly she’s put it, though after spending my summer wilding out, it’s obvious that she’s right. Any attractive man who’s lived in New York for a few years is a dangerous creature; used to sleeping with women that will tolerate poor behavior and even worse post-fuck follow-up.

“I have intimacy issues. You know this.” I am trying to brush off the topic, but Amy is not letting it go so easily.

“Yeah, well mayyyybe the best way to get over them is to keep seeing this guy!”

“Yeah!” Dawn chimes in. She’s always the first to laugh when I put a guy down, and just as excited when she hears I’m off to make the same mistake again.

“You’ve only been out with him a twice!” Amy continues. “You gotta at least give this guy a chance.” Her tone is serious and I pull a face, annoyed by the implication that more dates with Dick are exactly what I need.

“He’s just…nice, you know? I don’t like nice.”

“Yeah, trust us, we know you like assholes.” She’s looking at me over her glasses again, clearly talking about Anthony. “But it’s time for that shit to end, dude. You’re a babe, you should be seeing someone that is actually NICE to you.”

I let the fact I wasn’t technically ‘seeing’ Anthony slide. My friends want me to be happy; but no part of my sleeping with Anthony was happy, and they’d spent all spring listening to me bemoan how horrible he was. They can sense I’m growing uncomfortable with where all this talk is headed, that we’re moving from friendly concern to lecturing. Dawn mentions that she’s cramping and asks if Amy has a spare tampon before skipping off to the bathroom.

I sat between them once Dawn returned, miserable in the knowledge they were both on their periods while mine was still painfully absent. It had been three months since I went off the pill without so much as the faintest signs that my body had started carrying something inside of it.

“I took another pregnancy test,” I blurt out. I had sent them photos of the one I’d taken a month before, the solitary blue line indicating that I was period-less, but not pregnant.

“Oh my god, ME TOO!” We marvel over the fact none of us has a period like clockwork while exchanging shaky smiles and breaths of relief that — at least for now — none of us will have an unwelcome visit to Planned Parenthood.

We order two plates of spicy wings to share and start singing along to the songs our bartender selects from his iPod. Between classic Boyz II Men and Justin Timberlake, Dawn remembers that her beat-to-shit songbox is at the bottom of her bag and we start rotating between devices, carefully selecting songs that any drunken idiot can mumble along with. The singing and the dancing in our chairs continues, drinks continuing to be set down in front of us before we have the chance to ask for them. “Guys, seriously — we don’t need to be blowing this much money on booze. It’s Monday!”

“Don’t worry — these are on us, party girls.” Their term of semi-endearment isn’t really that funny, but we crack up. Our giggles explode into laughter so intense my sides and stomach start to burn. By the time we’ve calmed down enough to finish the next two rounds that have been set out in front of us, the bartenders are clearly getting ready to close up shop. “Use the backdoor ladies. Uh… not in a creepy way.” We raise our eyebrows and finish what’s left in our glasses, thanking and tipping them excessively before heading out the side door. After hugging each other goodbye we part ways, them toward the G station at the end of the block and me toward the L.

I cross the street and head into McCarren Park, lighting another cigarette as I walk under the trees and toward the well-lit track; it looks more like a horror movie set. Abandoned grassy places just have that feel about them; the potential for danger might be why I stop there and lean against the metal railing surrounding one of the larger trees on the park’s perimeter. A man I don’t know approaches me, asking for a cigarette before posting up a few inches away from me. We stand like that for a while, not talking, barely acknowledging each other. I’m lost in thought, unable to shake the fact that I feel the same way after hanging out with Dick as I did after Shane. I can’t stop thinking about how Dick told me he liked me while pushing my hair away from my face in his bed the week before.

My attention returns to the quiet new friend I’ve made, to the way he’s looking at me out of the corner of his eye. Maybe he thinks I’m down to fuck or maybe he’s just the kind of drunken idiot that approaches women alone in the park at night. It doesn’t matter; I’m not afraid. And then I find myself walking out of the park toward another bar, amazed and thankful for how empty the street is. This must be why people party on Monday nights.

By the time Thursday rolled around I had made tentative plans to go out with Dick at the insistence of my girlfriends. Dawn and Amy were adamant that true affection grows on you; but I couldn’t put an end to the thought that nothing could blossom in dead earth.

Is that really what I think of myself as? Dead earth? Maybe, maybe not. That was one introspective rabbit hole I couldn’t allow myself to head down; not while sober and at the office, anyway.

Dick got in touch well before noon, indicating his eagerness. So what did you wanna do tonight? 

If he were hotter, the attention would have been flattering. But the thought of spending time with him again was exhausting; my body hadn’t forgiven or forgotten my Monday night bar crawl with the girls. I’m just not up for drinking enough to convince myself that having sex with someone I don’t even like that much is okay. No idea. Can’t stay out late. I reply.

Me neither. We should just watch a VHS or sumthin.

A man without a plan is not one I’m likely to make time for, especially when his idea of a good time is inviting me over to his house for our third date. I sighed heavily to no one in particular, placing the phone facedown on my desk, actively deciding to flake on our plans for the night.

Hours later, I begged off, feigning a need to catch up on missed sleep. This was only a small step above telling him I was staying in to wash my hair.

Ok… Ending with an ellipsis gave his one word response far more weight than it would have held on its own. Was he confused? Annoyed? He hit me up several times over the weekend to ask if I had plans, which I did, on top of no enthusiasm about seeing him. A week went by, and it turned out a little no-name film I’d read about online was playing at the Angelika. Dick was the only person around to go with — the only one texting me back about it, anyway.

We met at a bar under the pretense of having a quick drink before heading to the theater. It could be his slow, southern-Midwest accent or that he looks like the type of guy that played football through high school, but when he calls himself a cinephile I don’t find his use of the word to be pretentious at all. This trait is one of the few I would readily admit to liking about Dick: he has no interest in being perceived as ‘cool.’ In New York, and that’s actually saying something.

Our drinks nearly finished, I dug out my wallet and debated going so far as to offer to pay for his beer as well as mine when it occurs to me that I am, as always, low on cash. Holding the blue debit card between my index and middle finger, I wait for the bartender to make his way back in our direction.

“I’ve got it,” Dick offers, pulling several bills from his wallet and setting them down on the bar. “So… maybe that 10:30 show time is a bit too late? You know, since you want to call it an early night an’ all.”

The fact he waited until this late in the evening to pull this, sidestepping that the only reason I’d agreed to go out with him was to see the movie, vexes me. I excuse myself to the bathroom to regroup. Panties around my ankles, I go over the facts while I pee. It’s too late to head into Soho alone and I can’t think of a way to exit the situation gracefully; especially now that I’ve realized what I thought were the pains of a sore lower back was really the start of my period. I wad up some tissue to serve as an impromptu tampon, thank the stars for the emptiness of my womb and head back to the table, wishing this were a legitimate excuse to just call it a night.

Despite having bailed on his offer to watch movies the week before, I agree to go back to his place to eat popcorn and watch an old movie.

“Should we stop through Bourgeoisie Foods and get you some popcorn?” I’m amazed he knows the word, let alone knows how to pronounce it. Pushing my assumption of his ineptitude in commanding the English language aside, I nod and follow him inside, staying close behind him as he winds through the narrow aisles of metal bakers’ racks.

With six and a half feet of shelf space crowded by all the processed organic-vegan foodstuffs a hip Brooklynite could desire, I’m surprised by how quickly he locates an endcap loaded with an array of popcorn options. Obviously, someone is doing his shopping here on the regular. He pays too much for a box of ‘Natural White’ and we walk back to his place in relative silence.

The massive cement room that serves as kitchen, living, and storage space in Dick’s apartment is crowded with people; several of his roommates and a group of their friends. I stand uncertainly on the edge of the group; they don’t greet each other and I don’t feel the need to introduce myself. I make a beeline for Dick’s bedroom as I hear him rip the cellophane off one of the bags of popcorn. He joins me a few minutes later, bowl of fluffy white kernels in hand.

I’ve never seen any of the movies he lists, naming off whichever ones I’m assuming he thinks I’ll be impressed by from the stacks of VHS cassettes towering next to his bed. Eventually he realizes I’m not going to make a decision and decides on Raging Bull with Robert DeNiro playing some famous boxer I’ve never heard of. I don’t know shit about the history of the sport but find myself roped into the story line, watching Jake La Motta’s personal life fall apart on the old TV.

The half-finished tall cans of Bud sit on the table by the head of his bed, forgotten once Dick’s hands begin to move over my side, onto my stomach.

“I’m ummm…” I chuckle self-consciously. It’s been a long time since I had to do this; warn a guy that I’m on my period before things go too far. “We’re on the tail end of my period.” I wait for him to decline, for his hands to find their way back out of the top of my pants, but he surprises me.

“Do you still wanna have sex?” Game on, I guess.

He calls me “baby” while I blow him, followed by moaning something about loving the way my mouth feels. My hair’s fallen around my face, obscuring his view. He carefully sweeps it all into the hand he has at the back of my head, holding it out of the way without trying to steer the motion of my head. I can’t tell what’s changed but the feel of him in my mouth is different. I’m clearly not drunk enough.

We use the last condom he has and he lasts longer; it feels better than the times before. He still looks scared, as if he’s going to break me. Just as I think he’s finally starting to understand what I want, that he’s going to do this right, he groans loudly and I realize we’re at the end of his performance. We’re trying to be mature but we’re both looking at the bed after he lifts himself off me and pulls out. There’s no mess and I say as much out loud, hoping to assuage any concerns he might have about the state of the sheets beneath me.

“Yeah, there’s no wet spot like that last couple’a times.”

I feel myself pull back a bit, debating if his comment makes me feel ashamed. It doesn’t. I’m naked and even though the sex wasn’t great, maybe the passive-aggressiveness I thought I heard was just imagined — I can’t help it that I get wet; that’s just the way it is.

He looks smug, pulling the condom off with one hand before wiping himself with a towel. For the moment the nagging thought that I don’t really like him goes silent, and we lay together. This moment of false intimacy is what I’ve really been chasing, once I get past the whole sex thing.

Dick runs his hands through my hair, his fingers caught in the inevitable post-sex tangles. His fingers slide up and he moves his fingers back to the root, repeating the combing motion several times before he pauses. “Do you dye your hair?”

There was just enough regrowth from the last time I had my hair done for the roots to be visible from an overhead view. “Yeah, I do” I concede, more sheepish about him calling me out on this than having to scope his mattress for blood earlier.

“What color is it?” These questions are killing my almost-came chill vibes and reminding me of the only thing I needed to forget: that I don’t like him.

“Naturally?”

“Mhm.” His fingers are steadily making their way further down the tresses. I should bring a brush next time so he can get my 100 strokes in before bed.

“I don’t know… blond, maybe?” These statements sound like questions because I honestly don’t know the answer — I’ve been dyeing my hair forever, just like every other girl within a ten-mile radius.

He laughs a little, “You don’t know?”

“I’ve been dyeing my hair for over a decade, so I guess not.” He grumbles something like an “uh huh” and continues to brush his fingers through my hair. He pushes the hair off my forehead and this feels far more intimate than the sex we were just having. I chuckle at the realization.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing really, you just play with my hair a lot.” I don’t mention his tendency to hold my hair away from my face while I’m sucking his dick. Some things are better left unsaid, merely assumed.

“You have good hair.”

I know it’s meant to be a compliment but he’s phrased it all wrong. This is like some kind of caricature, like the shitty comedic dialogue off a primetime TV show about the relationship between a socialite and some fool from the sticks. I loathe the fact I’m thinking mean things about someone while they’re saying nice things about me. My inner monologue is dominated by taunting him until I force myself to re-route, to focus on how much darker his skin is than mine. His forearms are olive — a farmer’s tan accrued over who knows how many years. I ponder this, comparing his skin-tone to mine. My arm looks small and ghost-like next to his and I wonder how much lighter he would be once winter comes; if I’d still be paler by comparison. The thought is idle, but only serves to drag me back to the realization he won’t be around long enough for me to find out.

I don’t want to spend the night but do, leaving before he’s awake in the morning to go wash the shame off in the silence of my own bathroom. But wallowing in self-doubt about my sexual integrity while showering didn’t make me feel any better — which was why I went over to my friend Jay’s the next night. He invited me over with the intention of hashing out our romantic maladies, literally.

I took a long rip off the mini-bong Jay handed me and exhaled slowly, trying to stave off the inevitable coughing fit I could feel was about to follow. His fan is whirring at high speed, pushing the smoke up toward the loft ceiling instead of out the window like it should. I lay back on his platform bed and look up at pipe running the length of the room against the white ceiling.

“It’s not that I don’t like him. I just don’t mind him. “

“Oh yeah?” I hear the water bubble as he takes a hit and I wait for him to exhale, cough and take a drink of water before I continue. “He’s just so nice I’ve wound up feeling apathetic about the whole thing.”

“Yeah. I’ve met you.”

I’ve placed my feet on the wall above his headboard and I put enough pressure on them to bridge my back, looking backwards at him. “Oh?” This is an observation no one has even seen fit to share with me, and I’m intrigued.

“Yeah well, if a guy doesn’t drive you crazy; like — maybe make you a little mad — you kinda check out. ‘Nice’ isn’t something you respond to very well.”

“It’s not like, I dunno, I doubt his sincerity or whatever I’m just—” There’s too may pauses, too much sighing on my end. The words I’m about to say sound tired before I even get them out. “I’m just… not into it, I think? Is that bad of me?”

“Not necessarily bad; but it does explain why you’re constantly setting yourself up to be disappointed by the guys you meet.”

“If they’re going to be nice to you then you aren’t going to be crazy about them. Like, the Sad Guy or whatever. From what I could tell he was not just nice, but pretty into you — yet you were constantly trying to talk yourself out of hanging with him.”

I let this sink in, still reclined on Jay’s bed and staring at the ceiling. I hear him flipping through stacks of records; trying to find the next album for our stoney hang sesh. I don’t have to look at him to know he’s waiting for my response.

There’s nothing to say, though. He’s right. The music stops when Jay lifts the needle, the comfortable silence between us interrupted only by the sounds of him pulling his next selection from its sleeve and placing it on the turntable. A voice unknown to me starts crooning about women over a dated disco beat, and I realize: I’m still waiting for someone to win me over by making me miserable.

_____

There are a lot of people I’d expect a text from at 2 a.m. on a Saturday — Anthony inviting me to his house so he could blow my mind before inevitably making a comment that would leave me feeling like crap; a girlfriend I’d been out with all night letting me know she got home okay; a random friend living beyond the reach of the Eastern Time Zone idly saying “hello” — anyone, really, except for Dick.

Wht u up to? Based on the time and the boneheaded typo, I figure he’s under the influence and trying to ‘get it in.’

I respond, wondering if I’m doing so out of habit or boredom. Just got home. You?

I’m in midtown at Rudy’s.

We’re still in the early stages of getting to know each other, or whatever it is we’ve been playing at over the last month. There’s no reason for him to be texting me from a bar. There’s no reason for me to be responding, either — but my friends’ insistence that I should give him a “real” chance has taken root. Sounds… interesting? Conversational filler. It’s like saying “okay.”

Kind of. How long u be up?

His sentence structure is killing me. I know he doesn’t talk like this in person, just like I know it’s petty for me to be annoyed by something like grammar in a text message. It’s just late enough for anything less-than-eloquent to paint an unflattering picture — of his character, of his ability to plan ahead. This couldn’t even be classified as a booty call — it’s a not-home-yet sexual shakedown.

I dunno. A while. Why? This coquettish behavior is not me at all. I muse over the fact that back in the day, before sex was a thing I had even considered having, I would never have flirted with a boy I didn’t like. Funny how much a few years — and the loss of sexual inhibitions — has changed things.

Maybe we meet up later?

Is he fucking for real right now? I sneer. The expression feels ugly. True to pretty-twenty-something form, I look at the mirror opposite from my bed and decide this facial expression should not be repeated in the company of others. I remind myself that a drunken sex-text is one thing, but the ‘maybe’ followed by a question mark was what really got to me — it was weak.

I don’t know how to ask if that was some kind of veiled booty call without sounding accusatory. My aggressive tone shines through. But it’s late, and Dick is undeterred.

It’s not booty call. U know how I feel bout u.

The fact someone has already caught feelings is news to me, a red flag that it’s all downhill from here. I regret responding and try to backpedal: I’m home, not gussied up anymore.

Gussied up? He replies. Is this a real thing I have to explain? After I spell it out for him, he responds again. You’re a beauty without any hussy.

Two more messages pop up while I stare at the screen, half in shock. Uh… gussy. Meet me at my place?

This string of texts does not bolster my confidence that anything we do will be satisfying; that anything he says once I get to his place won’t make me wish I’d just stayed home. “This is such a bad idea,” reiterates the little voice in my head. Well, that almost made you look REAL bad. Are you drunk?

Gettin there. He says.

I know bullshit when I read it, just like I know better than to encourage ‘this.’ I’ve spent just enough time alone in my bed over the summer wishing I was emotionally attached — or at least pretending to be — to know that inferior companionship is better than none at all.

Try not to be wasted, I reply, though I know it’s too late to be making that kind of request.

I won’t. And then, after another hour: Heading your way — you up?

Though I haven’t even attempted to fall asleep, this game isn’t fun anymore. I don’t respond and give myself over to the mild drifting sensation that immediately precedes sleep.

A final text from the night before is waiting for me when I wake up: This sucks I thought I was gonna get to c u. It’s early, too early to be writing him back, but I do because I’m feeling a little vicious after our late night conversation, even though I know my responses did nothing but egg him on. Getting booty-called is not really what I’m mad about. It’s that I don’t want to have sex that I have to try to talk myself into. If he had been better, this would be different.

Sorry — fell asleep! Let me know if you’re around today.

Aside from being bored and lonely and wanting someone to tell me I’m pretty, I don’t know what my motives are behind acting like I want to hang out again when subconsciously I know I don’t. I putter around my apartment as morning fades into afternoon, just like my desire to leave my apartment as I watch the humidity and temperature rise on my weather widget.

I’m up. What’re you doing? Wanna get food?

It’s amazing how easily I can be roped into spending time with some whose company I don’t enjoy with the offer of a free meal. Sure, where were you thinking? I reply.

He doesn’t need to know that although I’m hungry, I’ll be figuring out how to eat the least caloric meal possible wherever we go. We are not in a relationship, and if there’s one thing I can’t afford it’s to let myself go.

Northeast Kingdom has brunch… it’s a little fancy.

I Google the place as I get dressed; spending too much time looking through my closet before picking out a gauzy white dress.

From the end of the block I spot Dick leaning against the brick wall out front in the shade. He looks presentable, beyond what I would have expected from someone suffering from a hangover. When we step inside it becomes painfully apparent that the two of us are on different pages about what constitutes fancy in this town. From the moment we say “hello” things are weird. The late-night exchange looms heavily; unaddressed. The mutual awkwardness growing, we both look away from each other, to the walls and the nearby tables, listening in on brunch rush conversations.

The waiter sucks and our banter lapses repeatedly. After our food arrives we settle into talking about the recent heat wave before Dick mentions his excitement about the seasons shifting again. Winter seems so far off as I feel sweat rolling down the back of my neck, beads accumulating on my chest — boots, coats and gloves hardly seem like something I should be thinking about, but he’s on a roll. I let him do the talking, chewing each bite slowly while I nod and stare at my plate.

“I’d love a pair of leather stranglers.”

It’s the first thing he’s said that’s caught my attention since we sat down. I wonder what his leather-encased fingers would feel like, squeezing my neck with just the right amount of pressure. Another slow sip of coffee, and I wait for the mental image to fade.

Our server doesn’t bother to clear our empty plates before dropping the check face-up on the end of the table. Dick looks at the white slip then up at me. He doesn’t reach for it. I was expecting him to. But unfortunately for him, this time I really don’t have any cash — and he’s stuck paying for it. At times like this, I love the fact there are still places in New York that don’t take plastic.

He leads the way on a slow walk down a nearby side street, stopping at a junk store a few blocks over just long enough for us to look at piles of overpriced broken housewares. A line of eager Brooklynites clutching cast-off glass tchotchkes to their chests take up most of the front room by the time we leave. We wander along in the shade until I realize our proximity to his apartment.

“Going home already?” I ask, assuming our outing is over, and that when I get home I’ll wonder why I even bothered brushing my hair and putting on a dress.

“You got any better ideas?” His tone is not harsh, but I wonder if he is incapable of finding his way between places without needing a destination.

“Not really. I mean, holiday weekend. Drinking aside, there probably isn’t much going on around here.”

I continue walking with him, down the half-flight of cement stairs and into the basement he shares with a handful of roommates I’ve only seen in passing. Daylight makes it impossible to ignore just how filthy the apartment really is; the lingering scent of sweat and cigarettes left behind by the bands that practice in a converted front room; undertones of mold and wet concrete in a bathroom that has surely never been cleaned.

We head to his bedroom and he arbitrarily picks out a documentary neither of us will be watching, but we lay on his bed and I rest my head on his chest because that’s what adults do when they’ve already fucked but aren’t trying to make eye contact. Our ability to touch each other is obviously forced without the aid of liquor. I force myself to zone out, listening to the dull thumping of his heartbeat, not responding once his hand begins to move from the back of my neck to my shoulder. It slides along my side slowly and he struggles to find the hem of my dress before lifting it, his palm settling on the curve of my backside.

Before long, he peels off my underwear, tossing them to the floor before pulling me into his lap. The fabric of my dress bunches around my waist and I try to focus on the fabric between us instead of the smallness of his lips when he kisses me. The idea of not stripping fully before we fuck appeals to me on some level, but he pulls away and tries to pull the dress over my head. The cotton, damp with perspiration, clings to my torso and I end up having to take it off myself.

We go through the motions — and while it verges on being good, I can’t stop thinking of all the ways it could be better. It’s hot and cold; the gentle giant routine is killing me. As usual, I lie when he asks if I came. Those must be the magic words, the ones he needs to hear to put more weight behind each thrust. He pushes himself into me hard enough that I think my pubic bone might crack. It’s those last intense minutes before he orgasms and I just roll with it, knowing it’s nearly over.

He puts another movie on and we lay in his bed for the next hour, sweaty and naked, eyes locked on the laptop screen in front of us instead of each other, not speaking.

This is all wrong; this is not a love story. This isn’t even a sex story. When the credits start to roll we both dress quickly and sit across from each other. He’s staring at his iPhone, thumb moving in a lazy scrolling motion; I plant myself on the corner of his bed to put on my shoes. I’m marveling at the conversational distance we’ve achieved, the silence after the sex. Nothing about this feels casual, and the fact we’re both silently waiting for me to leave is the elephant in the room.

“So what are your plans for the night?”

“I dunno, go get drunk with some bitches, probably.”

He doesn’t look up from his phone but I see him smirk as he continues scrolling. “Some bitches, huh?”

“Mhm.”

“I guess I’m gonna go get dinner with a friend.” He may not be trying to expedite my departure, but the lack of eye contact has me feeling as if I’ve overstayed my welcome. He walks me to the front door and we kiss before I leave.

It’s just after 1 a.m. when I text Dick. I’ve been out at the bar with the girls and now I’m looking to make my night end on a positive note. Hey what’re you doing? He doesn’t respond, but that doesn’t keep me from continuing to send messages over the next hour.

You are not sleeping. Wake up!
What? I’m so not sleeping I’m out with my girls…..
Cmonnnn

Realizing I had not only gone way overboard, but borderline nonsensical as the night went on, I decided I could salvage the situation… by blaming it on someone else.

And my friends took my phone. Sorry.

My friends hadn’t laid a finger my phone. If anything, they tried to talk me out of continuing to text him and shot me some very worried looks when I caved and sent several salacious texts to Anthony as well. After plugging in my phone for a few minutes so I could engage in a too-loud drunken call with Anthony to argue about why it was stupid for him to call me to tell me he was too tired to have sex with me that night, I left my friend’s place in Greenpoint to go home. I managed to tap out one last coherent message as I walked to the train… It is 3am and I want to get fucked. Stop being a buzzkill and wake up.

I don’t remember sending any of these texts when I wake up in the morning. I don’t even remember how I got home. Once the room stops spinning and I’m finally able to focus on my iPhone without feeling as if I’m on the verge of puking, I see the nicest possible response waiting for me: Sorry – was sleeping.

I scroll up, reviewing the messages I’d sent. “Well,” I think, horrified by my brazen attempt to score some sub-par dick the night before, “that’s the end of that.” A substantial part of me is praying I’ve finally gone too far and really fucked things up; that we’ll never talk again. I was waaaaasted. My apologies.

I don’t know why I’m writing back. Blaming it on the liquor makes it seem like I’m genuinely repentant as opposed to merely embarrassed.

Haha, no worries. He’s quick to laugh it off, and the phrase “no worries” pushes the last button necessary for me to recognize that the time has come to wash my hands of him.

Nearly two weeks pass. Maybe the silence becomes too much for him, because one day I get a simple “Heyo” out of the blue.

I’m trying to stop sleeping with men I don’t like, so I don’t respond. Several weeks later he attempts to test the water again. I’m over it; so again, I don’t respond — hoping this will help him understand just how over it I actually am.

Certain that I’ve shaken him off, I don’t give him a second thought — until he texts me yet again. This time, I’m sitting at dinner with a friend. Would u want to hang out again sumtime?

My friend and I mock him ruthlessly, though I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s the wine, or maybe it’s simply because I finally accepted that I’m not interested in him. With the end of summer in sight, the time has come for us to start really wilding out, and my deceivingly gentle giant just didn’t factor into the equation.

I don’t know why I thought finding a dude through Missed Connections would be some life-changing experience; as if the Sophie Blackall painting forming in my head could transform into a rom-com perfect ending.

The truth is this: there’s nothing different about finding some Dick off Craigslist than finding it in my neighborhood bar. TC mark

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