Before he drove his 2012 black Ducati from the garage in the East Village to my apartment in Washington Heights our “relationship” had been completely one-sided. For six and a half years, from the tail end of college in Washington, DC to my eventual move to New York, we floated through each other’s lives on a whim.
We would go months without speaking or even texting until, on a random Tuesday in February or April or some other insignificant month, my iPhone would light up with his name, first and last, in shiny computer text. In a cab I’d go, zigzagging my way through the city night to whatever corner of Manhattan he was in, sometimes arriving only to find he had left because he got bored or was tired.
But, when I walked in to find him seated at the bar with my favorite drink on a soaked napkin it was easy to forget how late it was or how far I’d come. He’d envelop me in a tight squeeze and we’d settle in like no time had passed. “You’re my muse,” “I just know that when we get serious, it’s going to be the real thing, like marriage real thing.” “You are going to make the most amazing mother.” “The thing I love about you is that you’re so good.”
It was easy to forget about any nights I had cried waiting for a response or the pit I’d get in my stomach after finding an Instagram of him and some pretty girl. And so it went like this, me abruptly leaving a dinner party or birthday party or work event on the Upper West to traipse down to some dive a few blocks from his place just to spend an hour trying desperately to hide that I was all in.
I have to make it clear here that I knew I was the one doing all the heavy lifting. It’s not that I would deny that, even now. It’s just that I had this blinding faith that one day it would all change. Raised by two Catholics I was assured that true love wasn’t without sacrifice and nothing is an accident. And so, on the too warm to be May Sunday afternoon, when I received this text, “Let’s take a ride. I’ll come to you. Address?” I had to do no self-convincing that the scales were about to shift. After six and a half years, he was finally coming to me.
After spending the better part of my twenties waiting, he was suddenly standing on my stoop, ringing my buzzer and coming up the wooden steps that creaked in all the obvious places, only to materialize in my doorframe. “It’s hot as fuck. Jesus…Hi,” he brushed past me dropping an empty kiss on my forehead.
Stepping over the trail of my computer cord he jerked at the window and leaned against the sill, sucking in the faint breeze that filtered through the screen. His eyes scanned my tiny apartment in less time than it took for me to exhale, nervously awaiting his approval or something. “It looks good,” he smiled.
It wasn’t enough time for him to take it in, he seemed to miss every little piece of this place that mattered to me, the photograph of my dad and his five brothers as children, the blush pink peonies, the handmade bottle stoppers and a stack of coffee-table books meticulously arranged to prove I was a real person.
“Let’s go. It’s too hot in here,” he mumbled striding towards the open door. I had waited all this time for him to just be here. And then, suddenly, it was time to go.
I watched as he screwed his license plate back on after removing it so he could park in front of a chipped fire hydrant. “They can’t ticket me if they don’t have my plates,” he explained even though I didn’t ask. “Well, wouldn’t they just tow you instead?” I wondered aloud. He stared intently into the muggy sky, neglecting to respond. Awkwardly, I swung my left leg over the bike, pushed the too heavy helmet onto my damp hair and clutched the waxy canvas of his jacket.
So intensely, I wanted to be seen as a girlfriend, a potential wife. Mostly though just the perfect, exact fit, the only one he ever wanted riding along with him. The helmet didn’t fit exactly and gasps of hot wind slipped their way under the crack, rattling the contacts in my eyes.
The ride up Broadway felt too fast with groups of teenagers stepping out like thin ghosts from behind parked cars and elderly men narrowing their eyes while looking up from their game of dominoes. The shiny tar black of his motorcycle glistened in the heat and outshone all the cheap, neon street bikes we passed. He was too flashy for this neighborhood but I loved how I shone, riding behind him.
Slowing to turn down the shaded street I had directed him to, I realized I had undershot the riverside restaurant. Unable to get my bearings and without cell phone service, I slid my sticky thighs off the bike. I approached an aging Dominican man tilted against a worn granite pillar in front of an apartment building.
He half-smiled at me, quickly recognizing that we were lost, out-of-towners maybe. “Where you tryin’ to be?” he asked cautiously. “La Marina?” I responded with too much intonation, like I was unsure myself. He chuckled and began giving me old-school directions, “Turn left at the gas station at the corner, right before you can see the bridge from the highway.”
I glanced over my shoulder, hoping he was paying attention, mentally engraving this Dominican-style Washington Heights map. Rather, he was completely absorbed in his no-service phone and refused to look up.
Walking back to the bike I smiled sheepishly, trying to convey that I was sorry for the inconvenience, sorry that things had to be difficult up in my neighborhood, sorry that I didn’t look up directions before we came. Beads of sweat pooled on his cheeks. “I wish you wouldn’t talk to people like that. We would have figured it out.” He hissed through closed teeth. “God, you can be so fucking annoying.”
I slipped back on, a wilted tulip and wiped slick palms against bare skin. He started the bike and I could feel frustration seep through his hands and back as we lurched forward, leaving the Dominican man standing, covered in a thin layer of spring pollen.
In minutes we reached the restaurant where he let me buy the drinks. He spoke rapidly as he told me about his plans to quit his job in November and spend a few months traveling before making a career change that was undecided. He must have seen the way my face fell and he reached his strong hands under the table, squeezing the space just above my knees. “Relax. I’m coming back. I couldn’t leave you forever silly.”
He stepped out later to take a call and I pretended not to notice as his eyes flitted to the busty blonde as he walked back to the table. Although he dropped me off with a weighty embrace and claimed he wished he could stay, promised we’d get together soon, for the hundredth time in six and a half years my insides felt heavy with dissolved expectations.
As he drove off without so much as a wave, leaving me, a paper doll, hazy, fragile and heartbroken, I began to see that this particular scale was never going to be anything but stacked against me. With our history though, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if I get a Tuesday text in a few weeks, months or even years. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if I never do.