It’s late when I reach her apartment. She buzzes me in and the noise sounds like what you hear at a basketball game—the scorer’s table announcing a substitution. Zurita, you’re in, my imaginary dating coach tells me, and I’m simultaneously pumped and feel as if my stomach is digesting a Spalding.
But upstairs this is nothing like a game. Our back-and-forth banter is playful, sure, but we sit on her couch drinking wine and talking about our families, books, work. It feels…adult. And it takes an absurd amount of restraint on my part not to put down my glass and do adult things to her.
She reads me the strangest poems while we lay in the dark of her room. Distant city lights beaming in through a fourth-story window hardly illuminate the pages. Her voice grows louder and high-pitched for the amusing lines, gets softer and deeper for wistful ones.
My stomach growls, and, offhandedly, I say I’m hungry. She puts together a sandwich like a toddler playing with blocks for the first time. Cheese chunks of varying sizes line the inside of a baguette, and prosciutto slides out with each bite. That she made me a sandwich is strangely more gratifying than the sandwich itself.
In the morning we stroll the neighborhood and pass little girls on scooters with blue eyes like hers. It takes me too many blocks to finish the story I’m telling (always does), but she listens intently and tangles her fingers in mine and looks at me like I’m speaking at the UN General Assembly—only, my official title is Ambassador of Failed Relationships.
(I’m twenty-four years old and divorced.)
How did I wind up here? Not in New York, where I’ve been interviewing for jobs, not divorced—I’ve figured that one out—but here, in Brooklyn, now devouring the whole wheat everything bagel with turkey bacon, egg, and cheese I got for five bucks at the shop down the street.
How did I wind up here with her?
At the nearby coffee shop we sit side by side on stools. She’s wearing her Weekend Pants. They’re tight and olive green and are dubbed so because of the dark blotches on the inner thigh, which make them grungy enough so she fits in with the neighborhood women who have babies strapped to their shoulders, drool-spots on their mom-shirts.
She laces her piano fingers around her almond milk latte and sips. When she sets the cup back on the little plate she reaches for my arm, rubs it. I’m not accustomed to such affection. Then one of the baby-strapped moms comes in to chat with the barista—her babysitter?—and asks if Pant Stains would like to hold her kid, a boy whose eyes remind me of that tiny lemur from the Madagascar movies.
She, of course, accepts the future stud and bounces him on her lap. He gapes at all that is around him. This is the happiest I’ve seen her, coffee-warmed lips spreading into a huge smile as she coos at the baby, and I can’t help but picture…
Take it easy, my imaginary dating coach says. Settle down.
(I’m twenty-four years old and recently divorced.)
We avoid conversation about us and what this is while I walk her to a manicure appointment. She says her nails look “atrocious.” (Even her vocabulary is sexy.)
At the corner we stop beneath the shade of an oak to embrace and say goodbye. Neither of us wants the other to go, so we stand around like fools in the cool early-fall weather. Her eyes are darker in the shade. I want to kiss the beauty mark on her chin but know that if I start now…
It’s not until I’m crammed on a Megabus headed back to DC beside a dude twice my size—why isn’t the air conditioning working?—that she calls me and we discuss everything.
The timing is terrible, I agree. She says I need to move up and settle down in the city—“spread your slutty wings and fly.” She’s being selfless. She’s afraid of getting hurt. And now she’s trying to dissuade me from liking her: “I’m just a normal girl”—which is the equivalent of saying García Márquez was an average writer.
This feels like the last of the conversations that have consisted of similar arguments from both sides. The last because she’s right about a lot of things. (Yes, you’re always right.) I do need to move up and settle down and make new friends and struggle while I find my footing again.
I don’t want to slow down too much—just enough so we both get the space we need, enough so that she won’t forget about me. I’m being selfish, of course. But I don’t want to lose her. In a city like New York, where relationships are as fleeting as a fly’s lifespan, I don’t doubt guys flock to her.
But slow is good. Slow is better.
What’s the rush, Zurita? says my coach. Fuck, that guy is annoying.