“You can play games or you can end it and move on.”
Lit by twinkly string lights atop a shiny marble counter, apparently we’re not fucking around anymore. Soft pink and blue bulbs create a calm ambiance, steam rises from big porcelain mugs of herbal tea, and we are sparing no emotional expense. Play games: win, lose, flip your phone upside-down and wait two hours, three hours, reciprocate every unit of time you’ve ever waited, multiplied by three. We’re not talking about me (this time), and my advice is out of character, it’s…hopeful:
“Yeah, no, maybe just act as you normally would. Don’t do anything impulsively when you’re frustrated. You won’t get what you’re looking for, and it will make you feel worse.” I nod, take a sip of sparkling water, as a mature, well-adjusted adult does. I guess I never found it necessary to…give myself the same advice. Overthinking? I’m not familiar. The constant need to get in the last word? I’ve never heard of it.
In the winter, sufficiently settled into my new home, the sky began to darken earlier and earlier, and I started going on first dates. Many dates. How many cocktail bars are in New York City? Waves rose up and crashed, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, all booked. Reprieve of quiet for a few weeks followed, while the pack narrowed and we allowed ourselves to lean into the mortifying reality of being known, before inevitably, turning into nothing: wisps of air, almost like a ghost. But not technically ghosting,
“I didn’t technically ghost him,” I clutch a vodka soda under my arm, my focus remaining on the glowing screen before me.
“You did, and you should feel bad. Every time someone ghosts, the world becomes a worse place.” I’m being scolded at Brooklyn Bowl, surrounded by tie-dye T-shirts, she goes on, “We’re hurting each other and not thinking about it. Each time, we make it normal, and it shouldn’t be.”
I shift my focus to my vodka soda. I’ve been making excuses for myself. A wave crashes upon me and I struggle because I feel too much. But yet, after I find my footing, I continue on as though I’m still underwater. I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. I see stars in my periphery, wipe a loose piece of cheap glitter out of my eyelashes. My tab is still open at the bar. In the back of my mind I dream of telepathically closing it, from inside of the backseat of a taxi. I could bypass the crowd and go straight outside, ask the driver if it’s possible to take me back to two weeks ago, when I handled something poorly. The band starts to play. In a few hours, karma will make its way back around and I’ll be hurt the same way I hurt someone else. What would Co-Star say about this?
Which is worse: sitting down and writing about how I’m feeling in a meaningful way, or going on a first date and using self-deprecating humor as a defense mechanism, while I get drunk in the middle of the week, all in the name of pursuing monogamy? I don’t want a boyfriend, but I do want to be a writer, I’ll go on one more date. It’s a new year, but I never said what that would mean. Speak what into existence? I want whichever cocktail has gin. It comes in a jar? Sure, fine. These are pictures of my dog, these are stories about the years I traveled the world, these are brief silences. This isn’t it. We part ways after one drink, and once he crosses the street, I go back inside, have another round and give my phone number to the bartender. It’s for my writing.
Blue (sometimes green) and grey bubbles carry my mood up and down, waves roll onto the shore and retreat into the sea. You’ll have more time to focus on your life when you’re no longer checking the views on your Instagram story. We share our anecdotes and we overhear them all the same, over glasses of wine, coffee, the boys behind me in the bubble tea shop, the girls next to me on the subway. As I write these words, a girl at the counter in the cafe speaks about a guy who is a “bad texter.” My friends and I exchange knowing glances. I bite my lip. Who do you know who is a “good texter?” We tell each other “you’re too good for this,” we type it, we speak it, we scrawl it across walls that we’ve built up around ourselves. I say it confidently to the people in my life. To myself I know it to be true, but sometimes I waver and I don’t know why. I wake up in the morning to messages I sent to a friend, after walking with her to her apartment in the middle of the night,
“…You’re one of the best people I know…Please don’t sleep on the floor…”
One ghost will haunt me a little more than the rest. At low points, I’ll look for attention in the wrong places, but I won’t act on it, I don’t believe in ghosts. (But can you be afraid of something you don’t believe in?) I used to live in a flat that was haunted, on the twelfth floor of a mint green building in Hong Kong. We banned ghost talk inside the apartment because we were scared of angering her. This ghost had a feminine energy. I can’t explain it. I tell this story on a third date, in a cash-only dive bar on my block that has a name I can’t remember or maybe I’ve never learned. I can see in his eyes, he thinks that I’m naive. He’s looking down at my chest, maybe he’s not as interested in ghost stories.
We drink natural wine at a dimly lit countertop. I wore this same top on a different first date two months earlier. It snowed that earlier night, and I walked to the bar, wishing I could just glide past the adorned windows and continue to venture through the cold. I pulled a second tiny straw from behind the counter, because one tiny straw is not sufficient to absorb a gin and tonic, and he asked if I needed to drink faster to deal with being around him. This isn’t it. I drew a heart in the snow on a car window outside, spent the rest night thinking of the falafel wrap I would buy on my way home. This time, the mood is lighter. My paisley blouse is under a spring jacket, the uncharacteristically warmer weather is discombobulating. It’s still winter, and I’m still booking myself too busy. He knows more about natural wine than I do. I don’t know anything about natural wine. I make a mental note to bring my friends here, to this place; we’ll tell the same kinds of stories and I’ll remember the idea of someone sitting with me in front of the natural wine and oysters, someone who I’ll never see again. I’ve never liked oysters.
It’s all fun, until one morning, or one evening, or one moment, it’s not. How well do we really know anyone? I feel clear-headed and calm, the peace that comes from having the upper hand. I don’t play games, but I don’t want to lose. The peace descends into chaos, circles that I’ve talked my way around and around; I don’t want to spend any more time trying to figure him out, but inevitably, I will and I do. Friends I’ve known my whole life still surprise me. Everyone we know will either be there forever, in our life, or, they won’t. This will last or it will end. It’s simple. It’s simple.
Low expectations, or disappointment? Delete the number, or never save it in the first place? These things come in waves. These things are all fun and games. I feel relieved. I don’t feel anything. I feel rejected. I feel neglected. I feel foolish. I’m smiling in the back of an Uber, going over the Williamsburg Bridge. I’m crying on the street on a rainy Tuesday morning. How much of the feeling is the drama? How much do you like the attention? What have you learned about yourself?
“You’re saying you don’t?,” I ask across a small table, fingers tapping on an almost-empty bottle of beer.
He shakes his head, “I do. I said, ‘no, yeah,’ but I don’t think you heard the ‘yeah.’”