About a month ago I found myself in the apartment of a stranger with whom I was meant to engage in some consensual, no-strings-attached making out. Sex was not on the table. Or, sex was on the table but only in that way that sex is always on the table (for emergencies). It was not prominently displayed. It was not beside the salt shaker or the fruit bowl, is what I’m saying. It was underneath the napkin, maybe, just sort of peeking out a little. No, I had not had bodies on bodies in a long time. Yes, it was a kind of famine, and there were cobwebs down there, is what I’m trying to tell you. But I would definitely not be naked.
I would definitely not be a lot naked.
“What do you do?” I asked.
Stay, I thought. Just be here.
A lot had summed to that moment. I downloaded the app. I shared the pictures of myself on a mountain ‘being alive’ and laughing and drinking with my friends — so many friends, that Michael; what a happy, friendly guy on a mountain! — and I said I never did this kind of thing. What crazy, shameful people who did this kind of thing! What sad victims of the modern world, they must be, the sad people who did this sad thing that I would never do except right then, that night, I pretty much said. He pretty much said it too, and we engaged in all the witty banter. I showered and shaved and did my hair in that way where the one piece comes down over my forehead like a subdued Superman or Skeet Ulrich circa Scream (I like to think), which reminds me of Neve Campbell with a butcher’s knife, which is one of my happy places, and so this was happening. I was doing this and nothing was going to stop me.
“I work for a startup,” he said. “Have you heard of [REDACTED FOR SHAME]?”
No, I thought. NO, NO, NO.
But “Yes,” I said, quietly impressed with my composure in the face of that cruelest of things, the making personal of the purposefully anonymous.
I sipped my water and cursed my life.
“I know, I think, everyone who works there.”
“Who?” he asked, plainly frightened. “Who do you know?”
“I’m not taking my clothes off,” I said. “I mean, I wasn’t going to but now I definitely can’t.”
He laughed as if to ask, was that on the table? Who said that was on the table? I would never assume that something like that was on the table beside the salt shaker or the fruit bowl. That’s crazy. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh god.
“You have a really nice place,” I said.
How close is he to my friends, I wondered. He hasn’t disclosed this information. What if he tells them all about this tomorrow? What if he’s eating lunch and one of the people I know goes up to him and asks if he can sit down and he says ‘yes,’ and also ‘hey, do you know this guy so and so?’ and then they talk all about this and laugh? And then everyone at [REDACTED FOR SHAME] is laughing, and they all know that I was on the iPhone app where single people meet other single people, but actually it’s called GRINDR and it’s not Match.com, okay? This is not your grandfather’s online dating service. The profiles are peppered with headless, shirtless torsos, and it’s branded with an effing MONSTER SKULL. Everyone is on this thing. The whole city of San Francisco is on this thing, probably, but that is beside the point. My carefully constructed, raised-Catholic shame bubble was at risk of breach and I was losing my shit.
I was Molly Ringwald-melting down.
“Thanks,” he said. “I just moved in. It smells like paint, still.”
He shook his head. At himself, maybe. At the universe, maybe.
He sipped his water.
Everything seemed hyper real, like a dream where you wake up, and as my panic peaked, a strange, subtle vibration felt to envelop the room. I didn’t grow calm, exactly, but I could see, and simply. Not clearly, really. But plainly. There was just me. Just the couch. Just the guy.
“Life is crazy,” I said. “Ten minutes ago you were a picture. Now we’re sitting together on a couch talking about your apartment that smells like paint. It’s weird, right? This feels really weird.”
“It’s a little bit weird,” he said. “When you talk about it, I think that sort of makes it weird.”
“Jesus,” I said, and sipped my water.
Because how the hell do people do this and not think about how weird it is while they’re doing it?
“What do your parents do?” he tried, he practically pleaded.
I looked at the guy on the couch in the room. Next to me. The no-longer-strictly stranger. He had a life. He was not just a guest star in mine. He had a family and a job. He had things that he liked to do and people who he couldn’t stand. He had goals. When he was five, he thought that he’d grow up one day and be something. Just one thing. That you grew and grew and grew and then you got there, wherever that was, and you were all done. You lived for a long time but just like that. A doctor or an astronaut. There were nights he couldn’t fall asleep while his mind looped through his day at work, and what he’d rather be doing with his life. Then it was 3 a.m. Then it was 5 a.m., and he was so tired he could cry. Sometimes he did cry. There were mornings he woke up and wondered ‘what would happen if I sold everything, bought a used car, and drove and drove and drove until I couldn’t any longer?’
“They’re in special education,” I said.
And then we got to know each other. We talked about our upbringings and our jobs. He brought up politics, and we talked philosophy. We talked about what we wanted to be, and what we were afraid of becoming. We talked New York City and what it was like to be so far from the place where we were made.
He was no longer a well-lit, well-angled face pic and, as planned and then absurdly stated, my clothes remained on. We never kissed, even, and we never would. This encounter wasn’t what it was when I rang his doorbell. This was two humans being, together. Lonely, probably, was the weird root of the encounter. And so we had a conversation.
It was raining when I left, and late. I folded my arms in close to my body, and I laughed out loud. There are no strangers, I realized. There are only people you’ve yet to have an awkward not-hookup with at 1 in the morning.