You take the train to Manhattan. You pick him up at the airport. You drive to his hotel in the suburbs where he waits for you beside his car. You are nervous and you take a wrong turn. You drive 90 miles and you make good time. You wear good jeans and a t-shirt that hugs your chest. You wait in the lobby with one bag at your feet. You meet him in a restaurant on the Lower East Side. He orders a margarita. A microbrew. A Diet Coke. He complains about the heat. Says he has AC back at his place. Ok, you say, sure let’s go. You take the elevator, you take the stairs. A boutique hotel, a Ramada Inn. You bring him home. You’re shaking and thrilled and way too quiet. Are you okay, he asks. We’re okay, he says. We’ll be okay.
He waits till the door closes behind you to lean in for a kiss. Your dog paws at his leg. He bends down to the dog. He ignores the dog. You’re as close as you can get. You’ve got friends waiting. So does he. You’ve got an hour, he’s got two. You’re all alone and you’ve got all day. You’ve got a week, you’ve got two nights. Lie down with me he says and peels off his pants. The TV’s off, the TV’s on. Game shows three decades old. You follow his lead – you always will. He pats the bed and you slide in. You stand making out for a good ten minutes. You put the dog on the couch and you close the bedroom door. He rubs your back beneath your shirt.
He takes you out for dim sum and you stand at the bar. You take the elevator to the top floor restaurant. A view of the Chrysler Building. You buy junk food and cheap cigars at a gas station and you smoke them heading down the coast. He buys you a scratch-off and you win nothing. Next time, he says. You open the bedroom door after three hours and the dog’s leaping at your feet. You meet his friends for drinks. You take him to the neighboring town. He’s from Atlanta, he’s from Jersey. He flew from overseas. He’s a city boy afraid of the dark. He has money, he drives a truck. He eats really strange food. He craves adventure and risk. Sorry, you say, the roads around here are shit. He relaxes at the sight of a Whole Foods. “I’ll buy you dinner,” he says, pointing at a barbeque chain.
The words come easy, you talk all night. You leave him grinning. His friends mess up, mention another dude. A gate falls down in your chest. He follows you back to the room and tries to explain. He teases your dog a little too much, but you keep holding his hand on the couch. You want to see him again. You want to run back home. You suddenly argue over a really stupid thing. He falls asleep first, you fall asleep first. He says that you snore. He’s rumpled and grumpy and you buy the pancakes. You skip the convention and stay all weekend in the room on the eighth floor. The little thing builds into a fight and he’s better at it than you. You’re stunned and ashamed, you snap and you yell. He backs away in fear. He wants to go home but his flight’s in two days. He sleeps in your bed, you sleep on the couch. You both lie awake all night.
He stays four days, he stays two nights. He hugs you beside his cab. You walk to the train, you shoulder your bag. You drop him at the curb. I got sad, he texts you, watching you walk away. He makes the most of an awkward time. What are you going to do, you say, when you go back home? He looks out the car window. Too soon to say, my friend, too soon to say. You note the word “friend.”
He texts you daily, he disappears. He calls you on the video display. Over several weeks you fall in love with his face. In your head you build a future. He makes you laugh. He really makes you laugh.
Try to stay grounded, your shrink warns. Also, how many times in person have you met? Once, you say, but we text every day?
He’s two hours, four hours, a full day by car. He’s a seven hour flight. He lives on another continent. You’re alone again in the lonesome valley and you wonder again how you got yourself stuck. You’re alone with yourself. With nothing but yourself. It’s all up to you, your happiness. You’re in your 40’s, you’re all grown up – it’s time you took the blame.
I’m not ready, he says – it’s the last time you talk. Come see me again, he says. There’s someone else, he says. I just want this with you, he says, meaning friends, meaning FaceTime, is that ok? It’s not ok but you nod that it is. Too bad you’re not closer, he says. Outside at dusk the geese overhead.
You talk every day. You look at his face. You love your new friend and he loves you, too. His calls are the blood of your day. He saves you from the quiet, he saves you from yourself. You’re gutted every time he talks about a dude. Some dude in his city stands him up. You’d slap the dude if you could. You don’t know, you’d say, you don’t know, the chance you’ve got.
Your friend sighs and says, What are we going to do about dudes? You’re busy looking at his face. Oh, you say. Oh, I don’t know.
You’re very intense, your shrink finally says. When you find something you like, you dive all the way in. It sucks, you say. Distract yourself, he says.
You know you should write. You should save yourself. You’re a dude in the country who lives all alone. Save yourself. Wish the best for your friend and let the rest go.
You write. The dog at your side on the couch. You wait for his call and you write.