I’ve been putting off telling this story for a long time because a part of me didn’t want to write it. When I told this story, I knew I would have to talk about him and relive all the things he made me feel, both good and bad. When I told this story, I would have to finally let him go. Even though I’ve blocked him from every form of communication imaginable — I even hopped a time machine to go back and take out the carrier pigeon population — I wasn’t ready to give him up. This will mean he’s finally gone.
This is a story of three guys. We’ll call this one Guy #1.
Guy #1 I met three years ago in a bar. He was smaller than anyone I’ve ever pictured myself being with and the first guy I was ever interested in who was shorter than I was. We shared a first name, one of many things we had in common — some were refreshing, some creepy. I was finishing a grant project doing research on Spain’s Muslim population (obviously), and I was thinking about moving to Barcelona after I graduated. I was an aspiring Woody Allen facsimile. He’d recently gotten back from Granada and Seville and told me about the architecture and the food. He even knew what a morisco was without me explaining, which at the time I considered the ultimate panty-dropper.
He was the only guy I’d ever met I felt like might be the one. I was so sure. Every little new detail felt like serendipity — but not in that stupid Kate Beckinsale way.
Proving I should never bet on anything, he moved to Vermont less than two weeks after I met him. I remember both times we kissed that summer. Once in his car when we first met, when I begged him to drive home safe. I could taste the whiskey in his kiss. The next time I kissed him he was wearing a pink wig at his going away party. I put my hands on both of his hips, never noticing just how small his waist was. I felt like I could balance him on my finger like a plastic bird.
He promised to see me tomorrow before he left for Vermont and that he would call me. Instead of having our Elizabethtown moment, I sat on the floor of my apartment for the rest of the following day, listened to the same Robyn song on repeat and cried. If you’re annoyed with me, don’t worry. I was pretty annoyed with me, too.
The next time he called me it was three years later. He was living in Washington, D.C. now and had just broken up with his partner of two years. Because Facebook never lets us forget the ones who got away, I already knew most everything he would tell me about their relationship, why it ended and why it wasn’t right. But I didn’t need him or Facebook to tell me: I still felt like I was right after all this time. I couldn’t forget the feel of his hips or that he still looked sexy in a ridiculous pink wig. I didn’t want to forget that night we shared together, the nights that had been promised in his kiss.
We started to talk on the phone every day, and I’d wake up to text messages that reminded me he was in a distant time zone. They reminded me that, no matter how far, he was still thinking of me — sometimes as soon as he got up. He sent me CDs of one-hit wonders whose other work he swore was good — like Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Chumbawumba — and, through music, he slowly asked me to reconsider him. I had to go to Washington, D.C. that summer anyway, shopping new cities to live in after grad school finally let me leave to go be with any city I wanted, and he offered to be my guide. It was down to New York or D.C., and D.C. was looking good, because it had something New York didn’t: his mouth. We kissed in train stations, in restaurants, in bookstores and with one of my feet in a fountain. I took off my shoe to let the water run over my bare foot.
When I left, we made sure to meet again — because I couldn’t bring myself to kiss him goodbye. I went to New York on a bus the next day and cried next to the Chelsea Hotel when the telephone rang and it was him. I knew I was slowly losing my chance to be with him. I could feel it, like a door closing in the next room. The air wasn’t the same, and everything felt emptier already. When I saw him again in Cincinnati the following month — which is the city I was born in and the city I return to like a ritual — a part of me knew it would be the last time. At every moment, it was like he was telling me he wasn’t right, even though I wanted it so much. I introduced him to my mother and my best friend back home, and they accepted him like he’d always been around. When I held his hand, it was like I’d been holding it forever, my hands so comfortably slipping between his fingers. I wish that everything were so easy.
You’ve probably guessed it by now, but I never saw Guy #1 again. We talked once when he didn’t come to visit me, another time after my dad had a heart attack and I thought I needed him and a last time after he hit on my best friend over the internet. It was then that I decided he needed to be out of my life for good, and I even found his Twitter account and preemptively blocked him, just in case he figured out I was on Twitter. My friends aren’t even allowed to say his name.
I’m now convinced that I was the only person having our relationship. Whatever it was, the best parts of it took place in my head. Some people call that being an idealist or a hopeless romantic. I call it being delusional.
Around that time, I’d started seeing Guy #2, as an emotional rebound. Guy #2 is the type of guy we all date at least once. He’s sensitive and artistic but in practical terms a hot mess. He might not own important things like a couch, a roof or laundry detergent, and he eats most of his meals from a can. He wakes up after noon every day, and you can’t possibly picture what he does with his life. But you kind of like that. It’s insurance. Not being able to picture his life means you’ll never be able to picture yourself in it. All you want is someone to make bad decisions with, someone who will make you feel bad about yourself. All you want is to feel bad.
Guy #2 and I mostly made out at various bars, and I could make a Zagat guide of all the places in which we got drunk and put our faces together. I don’t pretend that this was a laudable point in my existence, and I don’t blame him. He was just a beautiful enabler. The first time we hung out, we watched Sex and the City and listened to Grimes, and he tried to prove to me why people liked her. I thought it sounded like a bad SNL impression of someone I hadn’t heard of. However, I later came to love “Genesis,” despite still finding her silly. I couldn’t figure out what Grimes was saying, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.
The second time we hung out, he asked me to have sex with him. He wasn’t usually that into sex –specifically the penetration part — but he wanted to be into it with me. I thought this might be the closest he would get to ever telling me that he liked me.
When I met up with him at an event a friend of ours was performing at, I threw myself into him, ready for him to wrap his arms around me, ready to forget some more things. I hadn’t slept in days, and I hoped he could show me how.
But next to him stood Guy #3. Guy #3 is the type of guy you only date once, the kind of guy you swear never to touch, look at or think about ever again. He’s the type of guy Alanis Morrisette writes songs about, the one everyone within a 10-mile radius warns you about ever touching, the one you’re pretty sure is going to break your heart. However, a part of you wants to find out. You need to know for sure. Guy #3 dumped me after the first time we had sex. It had been awhile for me, since I let anyone in, and it was hard. I couldn’t do it and asked him to stop. He rewarded me by ending it the next morning, right after I left his house.
I spent the next week crying and listening to “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne — seven days of nothing but power pop about unrequited preteen love. The issues with guys like Guy #3 is that they are instant romantic triggers. Whereas you can find a nice equilibrium with the disheveled artists types, the Guy #3 type is designed to ruin you. Just the very thought of them brings out the worst in you and makes you do wild things you didn’t know you were capable of. You’re another person when you’re with Guy #3, and after you break up, they become an instant emotional trigger. When you see them, it’s like a bomb goes off inside you.
The problem with the Guy #3s of the world is that no matter how many times you break up with him, you can’t help but still be attracted to them, and you hate yourself for it. When I looked at my Guy #3 again, for the first time in so many months, I couldn’t believe that he was still real and that I hadn’t made him up. Here he was, standing there like it didn’t matter. Maybe it was everything I’d been going through, but I still wanted him so much, and that’s the part that hurt the most. It wasn’t that I’d made a mistake or that he’d forced me to get to know the worst parts of myself. It’s that I knew I would do it again. Why hadn’t I learned anything?
After Guy #2 took some photos, I made him take me home and away from my putrid longings, and I could already feel something dreaded moving inside me. Maybe it was just the burrito I ate for lunch.
We sat on his porch and drank 312s — a local Chicago beer known for its ubiquity — while he played Sigur Ros and Bjork videos and made mac and cheese on the stove. With music, he was like a little kid who gets a new toy at Christmas; he had to keep showing you this thing, afraid if he let it go it might disappear. As he drank and smoked the menthols he had left over, he told me about growing up in the South, the father who left and the mother who stayed. In another universe, he could have been Guy #1, but in this one, he was my friend’s ex. Dating was off limits — which was for the best. There was only this.
We went to his bedroom, and it didn’t feel like it did with Guy #1, when meals and sentences were punctuated with unexpected kisses and ellipses could suddenly end with both of you on the floor. We weren’t against a window, looking down from his hotel room at a hometown that used to feel big. It didn’t feel like it did with Guy #3, where pleasure and pain felt like the same thing. This hurt differently. It was a new hurt. My insides hurt. My stomach hurt. I felt raw — in ways I liked and other ways I didn’t. When we finished, he held me until he went to sleep, and I could feel his body hair against me, as he huffed and puffed like the Big Bad Wolf, acquired from years of smoking his mother’s cigarettes.
He finally fell sound asleep, and my stomach still hurt — worse every time he touched it. He would rest his hand on me, and I’d slap it away, just to find it suddenly returned to its original place with an alarming amount of consistency. The worst part was that his touch was also slightly turning me on — a sensation I didn’t want to feel at the current moment. Because of the enormous pressure I felt inside me, which felt like two rhinos playing tennis, I decided to try to use the restroom to help alleviate the pain — or at least get away from his idle hands. I later found out the sharp jabs I was feeling were the early signs of an ulcer, but I didn’t know that then.
For expectant mothers and those with a heart condition, this is where you may want to consider tuning out.
If you think you’ve guessed where this goes, it’s a lot weirder.
When I go to the toilet, I met Francesca for the first time. Francesca is the ferret that lives in Guy #2’s bathroom; one of the many things that Guy #2 hasn’t purchased is a cage to contain her. Instead, the restroom is Francesca’s domain, and Guy #2 puts down potty pads to minimize the clean-up of letting a non-housebroken animal loose in his bathroom. If you haven’t guessed, that means there’s tiny ferret shit and piss all over the floor, which I couldn’t help but continue to accidentally step in.
While I got comfortable on the toilet — feeling I was in for a long stay — the bathroom ferret was distracting me from relieving myself, because it kept sniffing or nibbling my foot, like my skin was made of carrots and weaselnip. Like its passed-out owner, every time I would nudge the ferret away, Francesca would return to non-consensually thrusting herself upon my foot, which I was very glad didn’t turn into humping. I don’t know if ferrets do that — but because I didn’t want to find out, I relocated the ferret to the bathtub, where he attempted to jailbreak by flinging his tiny claws all over the tub. Clearly the bathroom ferret was no Wentworth Miller.
Because I was bored, still drunk, still aroused from the naked man in bed with me and still constipated, I decided to end my swollen sufferings one way or another. I had faced a moment of choice: shit or get off (on) the pot. I knew what I had to do. But after doing everything but attempt to fold that thing into a balloon animal, my alcohol consumption got the better of my ability to come to fruition, so I decided to let it go and just go back to bed — hoping that the situation would resolve itself.
However, the moment I curled up next to him he touched me again — arousing skillfully muffled cries of pain and, well, arousal. Thus, I had to take this situation into my own hands, and I was determined to do it. In these situations, the first thought in the back of my head is always impotence — because I can find a way to bring a life-altering ailment into any situation, just to liven up the party. Even I’m not able to get there because of a killer migraine or drinking myself half to death, the conditions don’t matter. My libido is bigger than me. This is a life or death situation. This is a matter of civic duty. If I failed my duty, the bathroom ferret would know I couldn’t complete. I was fighting for my honor here. I could just feel him judging me.
I was much drunker than I thought.
So, I would just have to go back in there and get off in front of a barely domesticated bathroom ferret — in order to prove to it I could come. Legs splayed apart like the girl in every tampon commercial, I stared at the wall, single-handedly determined not to abort the mission. When you’re in the cockpit, they say that your IQ drops twenty points due to the pressure of conflict, and like a temporarily impaired pilot, I couldn’t focus on the task at hand. I kept going forward, but my mind kept wandering to other things, like the time that Guy #1 and I went on a double date with one of my oldest friends and her boyfriend. We went to a hole-in-the-wall gay bar in D.C. to attend a bingo night run by drag queens. When I won two rounds in a row — much to the chagrin of everyone around us — he jokingly pointed to me and bragged that he was “taking that home tonight.” We both laughed, and I wanted to stay there forever. I wanted our home to be the same home someday.
I kept going forward, and I thought of the first time I saw Guy #3, when I went on a lunch date to the restaurant he used to work at. The moment my friend went to the bathroom, he sat down in front of me with his apron on — because he had to talk to me. If I weren’t interested, I would have thought he was a stalker, but I found his forward attention oddly compelling, and I knew I had to find out more about him. His face looked oddly familiar to me, and I had to figure out from here. I thought of the last time I saw him and how his mouth looked as he kissed me goodbye. I kept going forward, and I thought of his mouth. I closed my eyes, and I thought of his mouth.
I closed my eyes.
I was done, and I expected to feel a release of something — the clarity that comes after our brains aren’t muddled by desire. I didn’t feel much better or worse than I started, and I was still sore — in a different way. I knew that I couldn’t force it to go away, and all I could do was wait and find whatever comfort I could. This is what love was like. This is what love was like, and it goes out not with a bang but a whimper.
When I emerged from the bathroom — letting the ferret finally roam free again — I stepped into a cloud that billowed around me, as if I were enveloped in someone else’s dream. For a second, I wondered if I made the whole thing up, and I would awaken to tell others about the craziest dream I had, glad things like this didn’t happen in real life. But then I realized that Guy #2 had left the macaroni on the stove, and it was filling the apartment with smoke and with the stench of neglect. Five more minutes, and it might have burned his house down.
I turned the burners off and opened the windows to let the early morning autumn air in, sticking my head out the window for a gasp of air, not caring that I was still naked. After my night, it was the least of my problems. I want to say that each breathe was a revelation — like discovering what oxygen is for the first time — but it felt like the same air I had known before, the substance of the world that was waiting for me on the other side when I finally emerged from the smoke.
As the cloud moved over me, slowly making its way out, I flopped down on the couch and took in as much as I could take. I closed my eyes and finally found sleep, in the same place that I had left it. It was right there all along.