Tuesday, August 30, 2016

since feeling is first

There’s a scene in this year’s season of terrible trash reality show The Bachelorette where the emotionally stunted JoJo Fletcher cuts ties with the aptly named singer-songwriter James Taylor. The persona James crafted onscreen is one of a kind, loving, decent man -- the simple, marrying type. You are the total package. You'll make some girl very happy someday, JoJo tells him in too many words, her eyes wet with fake Visine tears. You're just not what I'm looking for.

You expect the cameras to cut there, or for James to maintain his dignity, maybe get angry. He looks at JoJo instead, in all his sad-sack deflation, and softly says, “The sad truth is, I hear that a lot. And I’m like.. when? When am I finally going to find her?”

This is typical reality TV fare, a standard romantic trope realized in messy, public fashion. Just because someone checks all the boxes doesn’t mean they fit into the complicated chasm of your life. But the vulnerability is legitimate. There is no faking a wound that deep -- it's as though JoJo stabbed James with a freshly sharpened machete, plunged it deep inside his chest cavity and pulled out the fleshy innards. It is too much to watch, their final embrace. It's true that The Bachelorette offers an unrealistic fairytale to both its participants and its viewership, but James Taylor's loss still stings.

A few weeks ago, I met a guy so far removed from my typical tragic type that I couldn’t remember why I’d swiped right on him in the first place. Tall, good-looking, kind, funny, smart, insightful, Australian. These are all adequate descriptors, and they are applicable to the side of him I came to know over the course of our seven-week whatever-it-was. But those adjectives fail to offer the total spectrum of what he became to me, in all his specific nuances and quirks, and they don't make a convincing case for the sorrow I've been steeped in since losing him. I am doing his character a lazy disservice.

I didn’t feel fireworks upon our initial encounter. There was no lightbulb moment, no explosive realization of compatibility, of Forever. There was, instead, total ease, comfort, warmth. Talking to him was like an overdue exhalation, like a soft hum. I felt no need to affect a more impressive version of myself that first night or the rest that followed, because -- at long last -- I was enough.

On our second date he walked me home from Manhattan, across the Williamsburg Bridge. He stopped short at one point, pulled me in and kissed me. We stayed entangled in each other for a while. His hands, tough and calloused from biking the lengths of the city, spanned the imperfections of my body, the tangled bird's nest of my hair. We were fully ensconced in the physicality of our mutual attraction, forever trying to pull the other closer. When he suggested we continue on, he put his arm around my waist and I sighed into him. It hadn't lasted long enough for me; these things never do.

Seconds later he paused again, incredulous, and said, "We're not even at the halfway point!? I stopped because I thought there was cause for celebration."

I let out one of my ugliest cackles then -- an unpleasant, grotesque noise, like a seal cracking its skull against the wall of a small tank -- and I put my hand over my mouth, embarrassed by how much space in the world I took up. It was one of a small handful of times I felt self-conscious with him. But.

"I like your laugh," he told me. "You're quite smiley for a New Yorker."

It was only true when I was around him. That was my firework moment.

"You're going to hate that bridge when you never hear from him again," my mother told me, two days later. She was right; I hope it falls.

Somehow, things continued on. Our similarly long work hours made way for late-night meet ups that lasted far longer than they should have, considering his early mornings. He sacrificed sleep to see me, but we all have different priorities.

He was funny, though his friends didn't think so. On our third date, he drew a cartoon dog on a card, slid it across the table to me and told me to keep it, joked that I should add it to the bedroom shrine I'd constructed in his honor. I admitted to having Googled him. He has virtually no Internet footprint.

In between dates I was an over-analytical mess. I will never be a detached cool-girl, my wiring is set to insecure and neurotic -- I keep track of the time between texts, the days without contact. He is not a drug dealer but owns a flip phone, which does not make for fast and constant communication, so we barely spoke between meet ups. I questioned his interest in me, I wondered how someone so good, so total, could really see me and still want to keep seeing me. 

But he did. "I like kissing you," he told me, more than once. Our physical chemistry was intoxicating, all-enveloping, at times too much. We often waited until the tail-end of the date to kiss, because once we started it was near-impossible to stop. I am sorry to those who drank near us, to anyone reading this now.

Things never quite progressed to sex, but he was hardly chaste in the way he touched me. He pulled me onto his lap at a West Village bar, put his hand up my dress, made me feel desired without having to say the words. He went down on me in the middle of West 4th Street on a self-dare, channeling a kind of recklessness he wasn't used to.

"I never do things like that," he said with surprise, each successive date later, "I still can't believe I did it."

Every time he walked me home, we'd make out in front of my building until the guy who parks his car in the lot next door would drop by to feed the stray cats around 2AM. It became a small inside joke: "I bet that guy is wondering where we are." I hope I never see him again.

Our taste in music didn't overlap, but he insisted on introducing me to the repetitive world of ambient electronic music. He made it sound poetic, appealing, meaningful. And to him, I guess it was. The fact that I -- an adult woman who has seen the now-defunct boyband One Direction live 20 times -- even attempted to understand his deep appreciation for a genre I will forever define as esoteric video game bleeps and bloops speaks volumes to how much I liked him and wanted him to like me back.

But he was right, a total of one time -- I connected with a single song, and I wrote up a short blurb about it for work. He was flattered, texted me two days later to tell me he'd sought it out on his own and re-read it. He said he loved it, that he thought I really got it.

He did this a few times, alluded to thinking about me in the interim. He said he wondered whether 'Ali' was short for a longer name and came up with two possible options, though both were wrong. He said he brought up my work site to his friend, asked if she'd heard of it. He said he'd clicked on a Kardashian story there, knowing he'd see my name next to it. He told me about the times he considered texting me but ultimately decided against it. The buttons on his phone were so small, after all.

He was attentive and present in a way I don't even expect from my closest friends. His memory was sponge-like -- he made sense of me, in all my inarticulate, scatter-brained inelegance and remembered every single thing I told him in vivid detail. I thought it was evidence of significant interest, the painstaking way he listened to my bullshit spillings over, as though he gave a flying fuck about who I was at my core. I am not used to being heard. I realize now it's more likely he has a good memory.

He showed me his parents' house on Google Earth, gave me a virtual tour of his hometown, Bendigo. It was charming and sweet, and offered some small town backstory, though he gave plenty of himself to me as it was. I told him Australia looked like South Jersey.

One night, he discovered he'd left his keys at his office back in Manhattan. I offered to reschedule but, undeterred by the possibility of a stolen bike, he insisted on seeing the evening through to its end. He warned me he'd have to leave by 11 to ride back into the city and then home again, but he stayed with me until 1 AM. I really thought he liked me.

We continued to see each other, but like a bed of sloths wading through a vat of melted tar, things progressed at a glacial pace. At one point I brought this up, said I'd like to see him more often. He said sure, we'd get together whenever we both had the time. But I felt something shift, an unease in his demeanor I mistakenly chalked up to surprise, at the time.

"Did I just fuck everything up by saying that? Did I scare you off?" I asked him.

"No, of course not. This doesn't change how I feel," he lied, like a liar. "And besides, you should never not say something in fear of scaring someone off. Never demand less than what you feel you deserve."

He did this often, spun my negatives into positives in a way that skirted the edge of condescension without ever quite landing there. He made me feel good about myself without expecting anything in return.

He reassured me with a kiss. Then he kissed me again. He ended things a week later.

I picked a bar with a pool table for what became our final date, because early on he'd told me he played in a league when he lived overseas years ago. "Get ready to be stunned," he texted back. It reads like a sad warning now.

I got to the bar first, and was immediately struck with a precognitive, weighted sadness, like every person I'd ever known and loved had dropped dead all at once. I still feel that way now.

Conversation was pleasant, as it always was -- we talked about death, nightmares, travel. He taught me how to play pool, succeeded in giving me one more pleasant memory of Us, one final thing to invoke his memory every time I see it: A pool table, present at the vast majority of average, shitty dive bars that pepper my ugly neighborhood.

He offered to walk me home after, and we paused at a real estate office to gawk at the absurdly high prices. It costs too much to live in New York City.

As an unobservant sack of shit clearly unable to read the room, I took that moment -- seemingly lighthearted and playful -- to invite him to my birthday. He will not be coming.

"I think we need to talk," he said, and everything stopped short around me.

"We're a good match," he continued, gun cocked straight at my chest. "Not a great one."

Before I continue on, let me paint a picture of the inside of my brain for you. You live in The Sadlands. The weather: perpetually 98% humidity combined with a light mist. The embarrassing spoken-word part from that one Halsey song plays on loop at all times. You do not own a pet because they begin to slowly suffocate to death upon arrival and you are forced to watch. Soylent Green is people. You have never felt happiness because you live in a trash heap filled with rat feces and dead bears and you work in an underground sewer that exposes you to lethal doses of radiation everyday. To get to work each morning you must walk down a street littered with shards of glass and withered husks of skin. Your shoes are made of felt. You always walk it alone.

One day, someone shows up and asks if he can anchor himself inside you and you agree - equal parts desperate and curious. Things quickly change; the clouds part. Your setting becomes Disneyland, New York City, the suburbs of Wyoming - whatever makes you happiest. And the best part is you're no longer alone! There is a multitude of shared happiness that fills your heart until it feels swollen, until it erupts.

And then, some time later, it bursts. Your heart has been skewered and you are bleeding out. Your lungs have been punctured; they're filling with blood; you're drowning. Your world descends into the before, but it is suddenly worse than the before, because he leaves with parts of you that you'll never get back. Your world is worse than chaos because it is still and because you're aware.

He said wonderful things to me then, as I stood there in silence, mouth agape like a dead fucking fish. It's as though his mental thesaurus had landed on the word 'special' and he applied every fitting synonym he could think of to me to compensate for breaking my heart. Rare, unique, uncommon, he called me before moving on to the banal: funny, smart, interesting, charming. Great conversations. He said I made him feel comfortable in a way that was atypical for him. That I had a calming presence. That from the moment he met me, he felt at ease. That he was shy around most people, but never around me. That he hadn't felt a connection this strong in a while. That no matter how tired he was from work, he looked forward to seeing me each week.

Everything he said he felt about me sounded like the beginning of real romantic affection. His sudden dismissal of whatever we had made no sense, though I recognize feelings seldom do.

I tried to turn on the analytical part of my brain, pinpoint his disinterest. I asked him what it was about me that was so wildly unappealing it warranted undoing the past two months we'd shared. I wanted to hate him.

"There are so many appealing things about you," he responded. "I can't think of a single unappealing one.

"I genuinely believe you're a total catch," he continued, before skewering my heart with a rusty butterknife. "Just... for someone else."

At points I tried to appear detached. But anytime I attempted coolness, cruelty ("I don't need you to touch me," I snapped, as he tried for physical comfort when his words failed to land) I immediately regretted it. None of it was his fault. None of it was mine. He just didn't want me anymore.

We talked for an hour, and it devolved into repetition: How wonderful I was, how rare, how special, how unique. Like a fucking Chupacabra. How I should call all the shots in my dating life because I am so great, so incredible. How he didn't understand why I'd ever been ghosted. How he's probably looking for something or someone who doesn't exist. How, unlike him, I'm not hopeless and will find someone deserving of my affection. He failed to understand that I had.

I chalked it up to my appearance. I am not beautiful, I cannot even fake pretty, but at least I am aware. That, I could understand. But: "I find you very attractive," he said, when I asked if the problem was my face. I wanted to stick both thumbs far into his eye sockets and press down, hard. 

Words are hollow when the proof of their validity is eternally pending. How wicked to be told several wonderful, poetic things about your character from someone who matters to you, only to have your actual self-perception — weighted with negativity and self-loathing — realized time and again, instead? To be awakened to the reality that you, in all your complicated multitudes, may never be the right fit for anyone, no matter how you may try and shrink yourself down.

He said he was tempted to keep seeing me each week, that he enjoyed our conversations and my company so much he could've kept things going for a while. But that it wouldn't be fair to me. That I would eventually realize he wasn't worth it, and by then it would be too late. It was a very elaborate excuse to get out of my birthday party.

He made declarative statements that weren't true: "You're angry." "You're upset with me." "You're pissed."

I wanted to be, and I'm sure he wanted it, too. I prefer volatility, an ignition of volcanic emotion that helps you burn faster through the sorrow. I wish I'd touched him with burning fingers, rendered him black ash. But I just wanted him to hold me, to take it all back. I wanted him to stay.

"I'm not upset with you," I told him, and I wasn't. "I'm just sad." 

He walked me the rest of the way home, insisted on holding my hand while he did it. This was his one cruelty, his refusal to let me pull away. 

Earlier he'd said he wanted to see me again, to stay friends, as though neither of us had ever wanted to fuck the other. That he didn't want to lose our specific connection. I want to believe this, because it lends significant validity to all the decent things he said about me. That I am rare, unique, special, worthy and deserving of the kind of love I'll probably never find. I feel the same way about him, he's unlike anyone I've ever met. But I have enough friends.

When we got to my door, he held me too tightly for far too long. I asked him again if he genuinely wanted to keep in painful, platonic touch and he was adamant, "Of course I do."

"I don't know if I can do that," I told him, as quietly as I could. "But I'm really going to miss you."

"Then I'll see you soon, yeah?" Probably not.

I can no longer walk around my own neighborhood without remembering everywhere he touched me. Even the waterfront, a former source of comfort for me, elicits heavy grief. We sat together there once for hours, and he was vulnerable and revealing to the point of nakedness. It felt like a significant unburdening at the time; I'm no longer sure he felt the same.

The specifics of our beginning are mostly lost on me now, nearly two months later. Part of me is sorry I didn't write any of it down. Another part begs for amnesia spanning the dates I knew him. A final part wishes I were dead. 

But toward the end of our very first date he pulled away, mid-make out, looked at me and asked softly, "What do you want?" I wasn't sure what he meant, but I surprised myself with the answer. 

"You," is what I wanted to say, "All of you." 

But it was too soon to admit that to someone I'd spent a mere five hours with, so I kissed him instead. It didn't matter in the end, because he didn't want me, anyway. Not in the way I wanted him.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I Got Ghosted and Then I Got Mono

The title of this blog post is misleading. I was technically infected with the Mononucleosis virus before I got ghosted, but its six-week incubation period caused my symptoms to remain dormant until long after the carrier ignored my last text. So it goes.

2014 was a pretty shitty year for me. I let the lack of a text message define my self-worth and then I let that happen again. And admittedly, the second time was far more spiritually debilitating than the first. I felt stuck in a dead-end job folding offensive graphic tees while avoiding human contact. I stopped eating for a while because my stomach was a knot of jumbled nerves. I hardly read.

Toward the end of the year, the giant pile of dog shit my face felt permanently shoved into finally began to dissipate. (This is my laziest blog post, that was my laziest metaphor.) I went on to land my dream job, go on vacation, had a stranger say she likes my blog.

Then on January 1, 2015, moments after midnight, I meet a real life guy at a real life party. I ask if he is the party police, because I am drunk and he is leaning against a wall. He is not the party police, so I ask, "Are you dating that girl you're with or what?" He responds, "No, she's just a friend. She is also on drugs." Three hours later, I announce that I am leaving. He asks for my number. I tell him not to bother if he has no plans to follow through.

He texts me that same night, says I am the coolest person he's met in 2015. This is funny, because it is 5AM on January 1st. I laugh, apologize for the weird things I said to him throughout the night. The truth is he is weirder. I like weird guys. I have deplorable taste in men. I reenact the following Vine in my shower later that morning.

He comes to karaoke a few days later. He records me singing Destiny's Child with a friend and Billy Joel with strangers. I think this is cute, that this will maybe contribute to an anniversary gift consisting of an amalgamation of video footage taken at the start of our relationship. He runs a video department at a Millenial click-bait site that employs mostly terrible writers, so it isn't too far out of the realm of possibility. I shut these thoughts down as soon as they register, because they are Gone-Girl-meets-CW-level crazy and I am starting to entertain the dangerous possibility of Maybe.

He adds me on Facebook at the bar. I hide my latest blog post from him, it makes me sound unhinged, I am.

We make plans to hang out again the following Friday. I am off work at 11; I use my lunch break to do my makeup. 11 comes and goes without a text. I sit in bed, I do not wash my face. This is either hope or desperation, it depends on who you ask. His response comes at 1AM -- he is sorry, he fell asleep around 8:30, says it's weird, that he never falls asleep that early. I push to meet up anyway, because he leaves for Los Angeles the next day and I depleted an entire ozone layer with the half can of Aqua Net I sprayed in my hair.

I take a cab to Brooklyn because my savings account is no longer empty. Things go well, things with this real life guy who actually texts and flirts with his hands. He likes my dress, I've never met a guy who doesn't. He takes me to Barcade where I lose spectacularly at Donkey Kong and again at MS PACMAN because I am not a nerd. This pisses me off because I am a sore loser. He takes video of me losing. Video montage, and I am crazy again.

He kisses me and we leave. He kisses me some more outside and it's fire. He pays for an Uber for me home. He texts me when I forget to reach out first, to make sure I am home safe. He says he likes me, likes making out with me, wishes we'd made out more. The next day he's in the airport, texts me about a sign of Puerto Rico. I never shut up about Puerto Rico.

Then he's on the airplane. He sends me a photo of the airline magazine, because Dave Grohl is on its cover. This has implications. It says: I listened to something you said last night. This thing I saw made me think of you, and I wanted you to know that I was thinking of you.

Days later, after I know he's landed back in New York, I ask him about his trip. He says he is tired, but he wants to see me soon. He makes no effort to hang out that weekend, and I am about to start a small fire inside a car. Then I remember we are not in a relationship, I put the matches away, I am so breezy. A week later I try to make plans, he tells me he just got sick, but let's do it. So we do.

I drag him to two bars. At the first bar, he talks about former American Idol co-host, Brian Dunkleman, wonders aloud what that guy is up to. Brian Dunkleman is someone I think about every now and then, so I answer: He wanted to pursue stand-up comedy. Leaving Idol remains the biggest regret of his life. Dunkleman resents Ryan Seacrest, but don't we all? I take this as a sign, this weirdest of subjects that we have in common. That I can answer a question normal people would never think to ask.

The second bar is our shared favorite and I am glad about it, because it sucks now. Garbage people overtake a garbage bar, let it burn. He says he doesn't understand why guys would ghost me. He holds my hands across the table. We both have evening plans away from each other and it's fine. He kisses me goodbye because I lie about having a strong immune system. I just want him to kiss me.

Days later, Winter Storm Juno hardly hits. Everyone on Twitter is mean to Bill de Blasio. I watch the following Vine on repeat.

He does not text me this entire time. I relent and text him first, ask him how the storm was. He says, "Lame cause you wernt [sic] around." I realize now he probably meant to type, "Fuck off." Autocorrect is a tricky thing these days. My phone corrects 'believe' to 'BELIEBE.'

Two days after that, I am forward. I ask some version of, "What are you up to tonight? Want to do pickelback shots and make out or something?" He responds, "Yes that sounds awesome but I'm busy tonight." He gives me a reason that I cross-reference with social media in an attempt to verify the information. He does not know I do this, but he is telling the truth.

We settle on the next day, but he is too hungover to hang out or to text me until 8:45PM. I believe this excuse, because he is 29 which is almost dead. I never hear from him again.

I break the wall of silence with a text a week later. It is tinged with desperation; I am embarrassed when he does not respond but I am not surprised. I send a final text the following day because he needs to know he needlessly led me on. It's made worse because he knows that men have disappeared on me before. I maintain that I let him off easy. I wish I had spoiled Game of Thrones for him, but I am only on season two.

For the next week, I am that scene in Gilmore Girls where Rory is drunk off the gasoline they put in the Founder's Day punch. She is vulnerable and miserable because rich-boy Logan couldn't pause his rich-boy monocle-shining for one single second to call her. She is lying on the bathroom floor, crying and desperate, saying, "Why doesn't he like me? Why doesn't he call me? What did I do?" And Lorelai strokes her hair, tells her it's alright, knows that it isn't. Because Rory is this smart, beautiful, witty girl who has every single thing going for her and yet she lets her self-worth be defined by this one stupid guy who doesn't call her. I think about my mother.

But I get over it, I move on quicker than before, I am hardened, I wasn't in love, have never been in love, may never be in love. My friend tells me he was a muppet-faced motherfucker, that I look like Marina and the Diamonds, that I was dating down. I do not believe her, but I appreciate the attempt to make me feel worthy, to put a bandaid over the bullet hole.

Weeks later, I am sick. I have the flu, but work piles on so I can't rest. The flu doesn't let up, I fall asleep while I write. I am newly insured so I go to a clinic. I get steroids, they take blood, I have mono.

There is no happy ending here, no moral of the story. Sometimes life gives you lemons and sometimes life pours lemon juice and acid into your open wounds and doesn't let up until you beg for death. Then it doesn't let you die. The acid burns brighter. This is what I have learned.

I am, effectively, over it: Over the mono, over the boy. We talked for about a month, I wasn't worth a "No thanks," he wasn't worth a 30 dollar cab ride. So it goes.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cat Cafe? More Like Crap Cafe Where Nothing Happens

If you know anything about me at all, it is that my desire to hang out with animals will always outweigh my want for human companionship. Said desire extends to dogs, cats, rodents, maybe birds. I fail to think of an animal that I do not have a natural and inexplicable affinity for, except for most reptiles but they don't count because they do not deserve love.

When I first heard about the opening of a cat cafe in New York City, I was like a 12-year-old girl at a One Direction concert. (I was like myself at a One Direction concert.) I soon found out actually experiencing the cat cafe is more like being a normal person at a Phish concert: it is never-ending and anyone obviously deriving joy from it is likely on a multitude of drugs. I feel it is safe to say that my visit to the cat cafe may be the least amount of fun I have ever had in my entire life. And I say this as someone who once attended a silent rave while listening to a dead iPod.

For those of you unaware of its beginnings, the cat cafe first originated in Taipei fifteen years ago. That means it took fifteen years to build a Hub of Disappointment in New York City that has zero relation to the MTA. If you are unsure of what a cat cafe is, sound it out. It is the most self-explanatory phrase in the world.

Cat Cafe is cats + cafe. It is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth, unless you are deathly allergic to cats -- in which case it still manages to be the happiest place on Earth if you are a piece of shit who people want dead.

New York City's cat cafe (called the 'Meow Parlour' because we are now in England) currently has a wait list that extends well into March. You would think it housed something rare and extraordinary, like the entirety of the 27 club and the half-ghosts of all its future members resurrected in an underground lair that leads to Atlantis.

Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but I figured that, at the very least, there would be cats and coffee present. Those were my minimal expectations.

Because what is the first thing you think when you hear the word 'cafe'? Coffee? Is it coffee? Maybe the word you think of is 'coffee.' Because 'cafe' literally translates to 'coffee' in at least seven million different languages. I don't need to download Rosetta Stone to believe in the veracity of that statement. So I was expecting I would be able to choke down a latte in the presence of cats. In case you do not know where this is heading: There was no coffee due to health violations.

Disclaimer: The day I rushed to the cat cafe, I was mildly hungover, unshowered, and there was a gaping wound in my knee, crusted with blood from being dragged across a sewer grate the day before. I was not in the most understanding mood for meeting with the world's most unfeeling creatures.

There was a torrential downpour that Sunday. The vast majority of New Yorkers are witches, so the cat cafe saw quite a few cancelations from people afraid of melting in the rain. Before entering the cat cafe, my friends and I were required to sign a waiver. I did not read the waiver because it was very long. Maybe there was something in it prohibiting blog posts about how much it sucked. I will find out when I get a cease and desist.

Imagine a room. Imagine cats sleeping. Now, be bored. That is it. That is the cat cafe, I have ruined the illusion, I have saved you nine dollars.

All of the cats were asleep. It was like observing the aforementioned silent rave while sober. Yet people were having fun even without any form of stimulus and I still do not understand why.

And here's the thing: those cats don't owe me anything. They do not owe me comfort or love or acknowledgement. They're rescues for fuck's sake. I am an asshole for writing this post. This is one of those things that is not about me. But my god, those cats were so absurdly dull. Interacting with them was like trying to feed a glass of milk to a cardboard cutout of Zac Efron.

I am aware that cats sleep for an average of 16 hours a day because I have had so many cats in my lifetime. I know cats are not dogs, and yet I was still vastly underwhelmed.

There was one three-legged cat which is cool if you like broken things.

To be fair, I do think the cafe is doing wonderful things for those cats, truly cares about keeping them healthy and happy and wants to adopt them out to loving homes. That does not change the fact that I would rather struggle through The Bible written entirely in Eteocretan than ever visit it again.

The moral of the story is that I wound up paying nine dollars to be silently rejected by sleeping cats for an hour. This is something that happens to me on a daily basis, but by men and for free. Do not make my mistake. Ride the subway less than four times, instead.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Am Taylor Swift in 'Blank Space'

Two weeks ago I spent an evening that transitioned seamlessly into mid-morning with a boy so unbelievably charming and stunning and smart that part of me doesn't believe he existed at all. If I hadn't woken up with my collarbone covered in bruises the next day, I would have fully subscribed to the notion that we are all merely brains in jars, subsisting in our own bodily fluids in a lab somewhere. That this world is nothing more than a hallucinatory experience we create for ourselves. Only, mine got fucked up somewhere along the way, because if experiences like this one and all the ones before it are the products of my own creation, I must have a supremely low opinion of myself and of what I believe I deserve.

pictured: a collective photo of the men I have gone out with in 2014
Fact or fiction, fantasy or reality, here I am, once more, to bitch about dating, not dating, nearly fucking, feeling too fast and then feeling like shit. All in the span of a week and a half. So it goes.

We met around 2am in a dimly lit bar, whose first Yelp review says: "I would take a date here if I were trying to get laid." The boy in question was too good-looking, too smart, too agreeable. Conversation came easy. We talked about literature and poetry -- two things I save for myself, because words about words don't come as easy for me, I keep it all too close to my heart. But I felt at ease with him; I felt challenged and I wanted to win. He was brilliant and totally alluring, ideal; he seemed honest and sincere. He was a cuter version of Andrew Garfield circa The Social Network and I am a stupid, shallow bitch.

He was the epitome of my very own James Dean daydream, and I am embarrassed that I allowed myself to be so manipulated by a boy with a pretty face and prettier words. He placed a hand on my thigh and said, "I can't help it, Ali, I'm drawn to beauty." And in any other bar, with any other boy, I would have rolled my eyes so far back into my skull that the nerves would have detached, warranting me instantly blind. Instead, I was charmed. This one knew what he was doing. (I know nothing about biology.)

After less than two hours of talking, we walked back to his place, because my need for male validation will always outweigh my natural instinct to survive.

We talked some more about books, he pointed out the four on his bookshelf he was currently reading. I was reading one of them, too. He put on some weird music I wasn't into, because I'd rather listen to that Justin Bieber/Slipknot mashup than early 20th century jazz. He slipped his hand around my waist and pressed his lips against my neck. I will spare you further detail. But I will allow myself this: I have never felt so desired, like the touch of my skin could alight inside someone like that before. I am no archetype of beauty, of goodness, of woman -- but I do believe so many decent things about myself. I am funny, I am loyal, I am smart and I am strong. But I hardly ever feel beautiful, like my aesthetic is worth a second glance, so I deflect and I poke fun at myself and I roll my eyes. This is how I build my walls.

But this boy, the one with the endlessly flourishing vocabulary, who had a way with words like the type of quirky male protagonist that exists solely in a John Green novel -- this one, he knew what to say to get my dress down around my ankles in record time.

When we paused the first time, he pulled me to his chest and we talked. It was disarmingly candid. He traced the lines of my body and I told him about the boys who never called. I made it clear that I'd been hurt, that l'd been pushed heavy into self-doubt, because people didn't even have the decency to fade away anymore. They simply weren't, one day. That there is something about me that turns people into ghosts.

He said it was clear to him the guys who came before him, the ones who disappeared, had some kind of problem that had nothing to do with me. That there was nothing wrong with me: I was gorgeous and funny and interesting and smart. And in that moment I believed it, because he was a beautiful boy and I was naked in his bed. I allowed myself vulnerability, transparency. I was a glass case when I should have been steel. 

He went on to tell me his friends have this tendency of radio-silencing a girl if she is too great. Too pretty, too charming, too much. He said that if these men, these boys, have any inkling of falling in love with her, they disappear. They stay gone. Because they aren’t willing to commit — not even in the form of a final goodbye. That the very possibility of love, even in its infancy, is a risk not worth taking. It was the opposite of every tired romantic trope I have ever read. I didn't believe him; I don't.

He said the guys who radio-silenced me were probably thinking along the same lines. And I won't lie, it’s a comforting thought. This idea that I’m so wonderful, so magnetic, so distracting in my perfectness that the only way to solve a problem like Maria is to end things -- suddenly and, well, without an end.

He told me not to derive my sense of self-worth from the absence of a phone call, and I suppose there's validity in there somewhere. But he was trying to flatter me, to fuck me, and I should have known better. I believe too much in sincerity, in the weight of one's words. It felt like an exorbitant amount of effort just to get his dick wet, so I took him for face value when he said that even if I never wanted him to fuck me, he would still want to see me again; that he actually liked what little of me he'd come to know over the course of those hours.

But maybe the fun for him was in the challenge. I didn't drink anything he handed me, so he drained half my glass of water in one gulp before insisting I finish the rest. He could tell I don't trust easy.

When we'd finished -- once he'd finished -- I stayed. He asked me to read him a poem that I loved. I said that I wouldn't, it was too personal. The reality is I was embarrassed. My hair was a mess of knots because, as Gregory Sherl says, we are desperate in our fucking. My skin was blotchy and imperfect and I believed he had no business looking at me. So when I declined, he took a book from his bookshelf: "I'll read you something, then," and he read me some Nietzsche bullshit. 

He sat at the window, his face turned toward the light, cast in that mid-morning glow, that post blow-job languor. Shirtless, he took a drag of his cigarette and every inch of him was fucking luminous, unreal. This is the worst young adult novel you have ever read. But it's true: suddenly, my 15 year-old self's wet dream was very much personified, mere inches away from me. When he finished reading he asked me what I thought. It was one of his favorite utterances, "What do you think?" As though he actually gave a flying fuck.

He looked to me expectantly, like I could blow his mind the way I'd just sucked his dick, so I chose honesty: "I don't get it." It was a half-truth, really. I had tuned out. I was too busy watching his hands, the rise and fall of his chest, the tangle of his hair and how much better wild looked on him than it looked on me. 

It all sounds grossly pretentious, and believe me, it was straight out of a scene from the type of freshman year of college experience I'd never had but had always secretly wanted. He asked me to sleep next to him, he needed a nap before work. It was nearing 10am and sleeping next to boys is something I don't do, so I declined. He offered me a magazine for the subway, some coffee before I left. He touched me while I found my clothes around his room, smiled when I showed him my newly-ripped tights. The last thing he said to me was: "Hey, Ali. Stay beautiful." That, I couldn't take. I cackled like a witch (like a bitch). I told him he was a corny motherfucker, and I left.

I sent the first text, two days later, because I have no qualms about texting first. In the past, I have sent the first text, the third text, the what the fuck JUST TEXT ME BACK text. He replied immediately and I read it in his voice. Then the texts stopped coming, they went unanswered. So it goes. Again. And it's not that I fell in love with him over the span of eight hours. It's that I have yet to learn that people refuse honesty. That no matter the anecdotes he supplies me with to assure me that he's different, the simple truth is that he isn't. That I am right not to trust. That we are born with our hearts encased in bone for a reason. 

It's almost like an absentee, passive form of gas-lighting at this point. Those things he said? That I was beautiful and smart and worthy? That he actually wanted to see me again? It was foolish of me to believe him, to believe any of them. None of it ever happened. And it's because this wasn't the first time, or the second or even the third that I have to question myself.

I am that tired old Taylor Swift joke: the common denominator in all of my failures is me.

I am embarrassed that I am writing about it now, without humor. That I cannot remember how to be funny. That I don't know how to end this.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Abundance of Cicadas

When I think of the word, “freedom,” I think of cicadas. I think of the freedom I wish to have from this life, from this planet, from this existence, when I imagine living in a heavily wooded area like Long Island where a different brood of cicadas runs rampant each year. If you run a cicada blog you should probably stop reading here, because this post will upset you. If you run a cicada blog that does not refer to the insects as, ‘abominations,’ or, ‘a plague upon this world,’ please consider burrowing into the earth along with them. WiFi is everywhere, you will survive.

In case you don’t spend your life looking up nature’s most egregious errors like I do, cicadas are hideous, winged insects that lie burrowed beneath the earth’s surface for 13-17 years, largely because even Mother Nature recognizes them as too shitty to exist on our planet 24/7. After sleeping away the best years of their lives, they emerge in a haze of molting skin and total uselessness. They shed everywhere, thick and scaly, like my forearms after a terrible sunburn.

Once the cicadas emerge from deep within the bowels of Hell where they’ve lain dormant for over a decade, they make an assload of noise for an assload of time. People call the banshee-like shrieks they emit a ‘song,’ but I’d rather listen to Skrillex on repeat until my eardrums burst. I get nauseous thinking about walking near trees and suddenly hearing that static-like, chirping noise. Because once you hear it it’s too late - if you are me, you will go into cardiac arrest and die.

Cicadas vary in size, but not in ugly: all are vile. They have these beady red eyes, just like Satan, and long, translucent wings. Someday, I hope to Eternal Sunshine the images I have seen of them from my memory. The fact that I had to save multiple photos of cicadas to my desktop in order to use them for this piece makes me want to burrow inside my own brain and pull the plug.

I have never actually seen one in real life, and I know this for a fact because I have not yet jumped into a vat of boiling acid to escape from this bullshit world. But I read enough Ranger Rick as a child to identify their buggy facade. I watch enough horror movies to recognize the face of evil when it is right in front of me. I should probably leave a disclaimer somewhere about my fear of insects because perhaps that is important. I am scared of even the most benign and adorable (ex: lady bugs and butterflies). The other night I spent an hour tearing apart my bedroom because a spider crawled behind my armoire. I almost cried after I hit it with a magazine because it was a magazine that I hadn’t read yet, and now will never read. I will be happiest living out my days in a block of cement, a coffin.

In my attempts to rectify my hatred and fear of cicadas, I took to Google. In doing so, I discovered two things – I have no gag reflex and, less importantly, that cicadas are generally harmless to humans. They are well-liked for some reason still completely unknown to me. If anyone can explain this, please do not, you have poor judgment. Cicadas are monsters. But people love to help them dig their way out of the ground. Children hold them. This guy lets them swarm all over him and there goes the neighborhood:

I had no idea cicadas were so revered. Some of the most articulate YouTube comments I have ever read deal with cicada appreciation. Entomologists cry over how wonderful and amazing they are, but entomologists are the worst because bugs are the worst, so whatever. My dad calls them, “cute,” but he has terrible taste. People all over the Internet refer to their yearly emergence as an indicator that summer has finally arrived, that they are a good sign. You know how I know summer is here? It is June, asshole. Summer begins in June. Buy a fucking calendar.

Originally written for Greasy Mag.