The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self). I will be publishing the series on Fridays.
It’s early spring, late afternoon, and I’m having beers and burgers with girlfriends at The Edgewater. It’s warm enough that we can sit on the patio outside, which is a good thing because some of us haven’t remembered locks for our bikes. We lean them against the unpainted
picket fence where we can keep an eye on them while we eat and drink and talk about boys.
I’m the youngest in the group — still a few months shy of my 30th birthday and conversation turns to the challenge of finding a good man before we become old maids.
“I don’t understand why it’s so hard,” I say, “I just want someone who’s funny and charming and kind and gracious and creative and ambitious and smart. Curly hair, glasses and dimples don’t hurt either,” I add.
“I know the perfect guy for you,” Meg says, putting her beer down, resting her chin in the palm of her hand, and looking at me intently.
“You do?” I ask, “Who?”
“This guy, Drew,” she says, leaning back in her seat. “He’s everything on your list.”
“Everything?” I ask, skeptically.
“Pretty much,” she says.
“Well, why haven’t you introduced me to him yet?” I ask.
“He lives in New York,” she replies.
“Well, why would I want to meet a guy in New York?! I don’t want to meet a guy in New York.” I say.
“Weren’t you just saying that you have to be open to finding love?” she asks.
“Yeah, but like, in your own city. New York’s on the other side of the country!” I say.
“Aren’t you going there in a few weeks?” she asks.
“For a weekend,” I reply, “I’m not moving there.”
“You should meet him while you’re there.” she says in a way that suggests it’s a done deal.
“But —” I begin to protest as Meg pulls her phone out of her purse and starts dialing a number.
“Hi Drew, it’s Meg!” she says into the phone a second later. She talks to him for a minute and then hands me the phone.
“Uhm…hi.” I say. “Meg says we should meet?”
“Okay.” Drew says easily.
“But…you live in New York and I live in Chicago. What happens if we like each other?” I ask.
“I can commute,” Drew replies.
Five minutes later, I hang up the phone with plans to meet Drew for a sushi dinner later in the month when I’m visiting New York. For the next two weeks, Drew and I email back and forth every day, exchanging stories about our childhoods, friends, travels, hobbies. I’ll save these emails and will print them out eventually for safe-keeping, but for now, I don’t even know what he looks like. I just know that when I log onto my email account and see a message waiting from him, I get an excited little thrill that catches me off-guard. He makes me laugh and even though I can’t see his face, can’t hear his voice, wouldn’t recognize his handwriting, I’m getting to know him. And everything I don’t know about him — what he looks like, for example —I’ve filled in with guesses and assumptions and wishes of what I might like him to be. That he lives on the other side of the country is something I’ve pushed out of my mind. For now, I just want to enjoy the fantasy of it all.
The day comes for us to meet. It’s May 5 — my mom’s birthday. I dress carefully in a knee-length apple green corduroy skirt, a blue tank top, a brown leather belt with a green and blue belt buckle, and green wedges. I wear just a touch of eyeshadow and my glossiest lipgloss. When I’m ready, I take the subway from Astoria to the Prince stop in Soho and as I walk up the steps to street-level, I see him right away. He has his back to me, but I know it’s him. He has the curliest hair I’ve ever seen and is shorter than I imagined. He turns to me and I see him make the connection. We walk towards each other. I suddenly start panicking. What am I doing? Why am I about to have dinner with a stranger? In an unfamiliar city? How do I know he isn’t some kind of kook?
“Are you crazy?” I ask him two minutes after we meet.
There’s been an awkward silence between us since we exchanged ‘hello’s’ and now he seems lost and completely unsure where he’s going.
“What?” he asks, nervously.
“Are you crazy?” I repeat.
“Oh,” he says, “Yeah, I am.”
“I thought so,” I reply.
We’re silent for another couple of minutes while we keep crossing from one side of the street to the other, never really getting anywhere.
“Do you have any idea where we’re going?” I ask finally.
“Not really,” he says.
“Hmmm.” I say, wondering if I should just go home. I’m not even that hungry.
Somehow, by some miracle, we finally cross the right street and end up at the sushi restaurant. They’ve messed up our reservation, though, and the table we were supposed to have out in the garden is occupied by another couple. I sigh. I don’t mean to, but I’m suddenly underwhelmed by it all. Things aren’t going at all as I imagined. I meet Drew’s eyes and he looks equally unenthused. How could this happen? We had such good chemistry hundreds of miles apart. We stand in silence for another five minutes while the waitstaff clears a table in the garden for us. We sit and order white wine and some gyoza. I tell Drew about growing up in Japan and how my parents would pick up McDonalds for my sister and me before we went out for sushi.
We finish our appetizer and wine, the sun sets, he seems a little less neurotic. By the time our entree comes and before we finish our second glass of wine, he’s growing on me. I like the way he looks in the candle light, I like his smile, he has nice teeth.
“You have nice teeth,” I say, sipping my wine.
“So do you,” he replies.
The people at the table next to us are smoking a joint. They’re passing it around in a circle, clinking glasses and laughing loudly. They speak Japanese and sometimes they lean in together and say something in hushed tones and look over at us and giggle.
When we finish dinner, I find myself nodding when Drew asks if I want to get a drink.
“Sure,” I say.
“Yeah?” he asks, “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” I reply, “it’s still early.”
At the bar I tell Drew how I’m writing my masters thesis and it’s the last thing I have to do before I get my degree.
“After that,” I say, “I can pretty much do whatever. Go wherever. I mean, life’s kind of an open path, you know?”
The next day, Drew calls and asks if he can see me again before I go back to Chicago.
We have brunch together the next morning and go for a walk in Washington Square Park. We sit next to an elderly couple and watch the man sing songs to his wife (girlfriend?) and the fly on his shoe. The fly keeps leaving and coming back, leaving and coming back.
“I’ve got a friend!” the old man says in a thick New York accent, “Look at that.”
Drew and I laugh into our hands.
Later that night my friend has a performance at a club right across the street from Drew’s apartment. I tell him I’ll be there, but I don’t invite him to come along. I’m not ready yet to introduce him to anyone. After my friend performs, I get a text from Drew. He tells me he’s recording Grey’s Anatomy if I want to come over and watch it later. I’ve told him it’s one of my favorite shows. A half hour later I go over. I like being at his place. I like sitting on his couch, I like being next to him.
“I have to go now,” I say as soon as the show ends.
“Right now?” he says, disappointedly, “Right away?”
“Yeah…” I say. I’m afraid every minute longer I stay will just make it harder to leave.
I cry on the stairs on my way out. I cry the next morning in Astoria Park as I look across the river into Manhatten. And I cry on the plane later that day on my way back to Chicago.
I don’t know yet how it’s going to work out. I don’t know that we’ll spend the next year and half criss-crossing the country every two or three weeks to see each other, that we’ll rush to one another’s homes after tediously long delays in airports, and become experts in national air travel. I don’t know yet that I’ll leave Chicago and move in with Drew into his apartment in New York and spend the first 4 months of my time there unemployed and frustrated. I don’t know yet about planning a trip through China together, or how he’ll feed my cats in the morning when he wakes up before me, and about the New Year’s party we’ll throw and the confetti we’ll still find in the rugs three months later. I don’t know that we’ll get married and have a baby and make a life together.
Meg was wrong. Drew doesn’t have dimples. And he doesn’t wear glasses (that comes later). But he is “funny and charming and kind and gracious and creative and ambitious and smart.” And I still love his smile (dimple or not).