A Sort-Of Love Story


1. Oh dear diary, I met a boy
He made my dull heart light up with joy

I’m not looking for a relationship, he said. The first time we met was at a party in Long Island City, last summer.It was a dumpster pool party, a hipster reverie as ridiculous as it sounded. He was shockingly handsome, brown curls and cheekbones and a boyish smile, all-American, with one of those faces that seemed instantly familiar. We sat on the fake grass and talked, small talk. He wore clothes that made my heart skip. That seemed important. Later, we were supposed to go to a fancy costume party. Instead, he came over and we fucked, and that was better, maybe. The sort of thing that left you breathless, in disbelief. “They fucked until she was nothing more than a tremor in his arms,” like a line from Bolano’s 2666 that stopped me.

2. All I ever wanted was the world

If I’d had a checklist, he would have met every criteria. I gushed to my friends: he was well dressed, adorable, kinky, a good singer, a whiskey drinker, listened to songs I liked, charming, cocky, someday to be a doctor. He was perfect. We went to the Jazz Lawn Party on Governor’s Island. He wore red suspenders and I wore a flower in my hair. We looked the sort of couple I would have envied. We went to the bar at the top of The Standard hotel and overlooked the skyline. The subtle indents of his fingers on my back were more erotic than most sex I’d had. But then: so often, it seemed, we had nothing to talk about.

3. No I’m not the type that you like, why don’t we just pretend?

What felt awkward were the things that should have been normal. Like: the first time I went to his apartment. There must have been an excuse. Maybe I had forgotten my umbrella. His roommates were his best friends from college and they had a dog, a dumb hound that slobbered and occasionally howled. Everything in that house seemed so easy, natural, intimate. But I felt out of place, lost within the dance of social minutia. One morning he woke up and declared that he wanted pancakes. I stayed in bed, confused and unsure while he cooked. It wasn’t what you were supposed to do, in a non-relationship. After breakfast we watched a movie I was barely interested in and I felt relieved when I left. Often, I couldn’t sleep, and lay awake thinking as the morning light crept from the window.

4. I guess you could say that my life’s a mess, but I’m still looking pretty in this dress.

We went to a kinky sex party, he and I, toward the end or the beginning of the end. He wore a tuxedo with spats and carried a cane and I wore a red satin dress with a big bow. Later he unzipped the top half of the dress and paraded me around with my hands tied behind my back. We did a silly role play on stage, though when he pushed me down or kissed me, as always my body reacted, needy and desperate. Near the end of it all, we sat in a room, watching an intense scene unfold before us. There was a naked, bound Indian girl and a tall white man dominating her. There was an icy Asian woman sitting, watching, silent. He started to touch his cock, and then directed my hand there. In a while we were engrossed in a scene of our own. That was the part that thrilled me. Right then, we might have been the only people there.

5. I’ll never tell you how I feel.

This was the end, or maybe it was later, that night after the sex party. I can’t remember now. I told him to hit me, hard. He broke his belt over my skin. It was falling apart anyway, he said. That night I started to cry, lying across on his chest. Although I didn’t want him to know, I couldn’t. I tried to be silent, still. My body betrayed me, trembling. He was playing “Heart” by Stars. I’m still in love with you, the song went. He kissed my forehead. He held my hand. What are you thinking? He asked. I bit my lip and said nothing.

I was shocked at the sight of myself in the mirror in the morning, the hand prints and bruises on my chest, the state of my hair. I’d always prided myself on looking composed. I didn’t then.

6. All I really want is to be wonderful.

Don’t worry, I’m not madly in love with you. I told him this, laughing. It was one of the conversations we tried to have about our non-relationship, about what I wanted, about saying all the things that were hard to say. Feelings, the dreaded word. On one of our earliest dates, he told me he didn’t want to know about my past lovers, my history. I told him that I felt there was so much we weren’t allowed to talk about. I’ve told you something I’ve told very few other people, he said. I couldn’t remember what it was.

7. Think you’re funny, think you’re smart, think you’re gonna break my heart.

I practiced a hundred conversations with him in my head, but in real life it never turned out the way I planned.

8. Permanently at square one.

Dear John. That was the name for break up letters lovers wrote during World War II, the lovers at home who got tired of waiting for their heroes to return. It was what I wrote him. Well, I wrote him a few letters. In the pages of my diary, or on stationary, or an email — all unsent. And then finally there was the one I did send. I sent it when I shouldn’t have, in the morning after I called him to break up. I hated our stunted conversation of the day before, filled with silences in which I hid my tears. In the morning I regretted it. Nothing was wrong, I reasoned to myself. My letter was sensitive and maybe sentimental. It was a fiction of vulnerability. Or maybe it was the most honest I had ever been. If nothing else, I wrote, at least I rewrote the ending to something I wouldn’t regret.

9. I wanna drink until I ache
I wanna make a big mistake

I called him when I shouldn’t have, drunk and crying in the bathroom of an East Village karaoke bar. After the phone call, the email, the muddled texts. I sat on the sink and propped my heels on top of the toilet and I must have asked him to pretend and play the part. Not just a physical sadist but an emotional one. Those weren’t my words exactly but he must have known what I meant. No, he said. I sunk against the mirror with my bee stung eyelids and parched lips. I wept. Go home, my friends texted, called, knocked on the door. I can’t, I said.

10. Living with identities, that don’t belong to me.

I listened to Marina and the Diamonds as I walked over the Williamsburg Bridge one night. Walking had that effect, that miracle power of make believe, of possibility. Her lyrics were sharp and right. I was her character, her Electra Heart. Invulnerable. I was smart, I was empowered, and I only wanted to see him again for the ultimate scene of goodbye. I was a femme fatale and I’d show up at his door in nothing but a trench coat and heels, and maybe my set of Agent Provocateur. I’d fuck him with reckless passion and then, while he still recovered, naked, I would dress. He’d be surprised. I’d pause at the door: you were fun. I’d walk away, magnificent, never his again. Midway to Brooklyn, he texted me. It had been a long while since we’d seen one another. I thought: here was my chance to turn fantasy to reality. When I showed up at his door no one was home.

11. So hypocritical, overly cynical.

For a while, I was reading Roland Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse. In the book, Barthes dissected and displayed love in all its repeated language and signs and rites. Barthes wasn’t a masochist, but he understood agony, the introduction went. There was much talk of theory and symbolism, intellectual talk, distancing language. But a book about love could never be so academic. Every section I read I understood too well, with a giddiness and a pang recognized right then. I wasn’t thinking of the only boy I loved when I read it. I was thinking of the phone call or the text or the next date I was waiting for with the boy I was not-dating. “Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game: whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits.” I didn’t need to search for a passage for it to be true. I simply flipped to a random page.

12. And now I see, I see it for the first time,
There is no crime in being kind

I was wrong. Or I was right all along. I should have known better. Or I deluded myself. He was an asshole. Or I ignored the parts that I didn’t want to be true. I would think of him often. Or I never would again. It was nothing, meaningless. Overwrought, make believe. It was modern love exactly because it wasn’t.

I thought of telling him, once, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like we like each other. I bought him a present from a sex toy store (the only kind that would have been appropriate). It was a small, silly thing. It didn’t matter if it was for him, I reasoned, I could have given it to anyone. I waited always for the next time. I have it, still, next to my bed, gathering a blanket of dust. 

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