On Dating: Changes

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I’m giving something away here.

I wouldn’t call myself a romantic, not outright, but being the sort of reader who devours the weekly Vows columns in both the New York Times and the Washington Post and the sort of writer who claims, over and over again that she likes to write “about people and relationships” implies as much.

In a childish, nasally voice, I put my arms akimbo and say, “I am what I am.”

POI, who despises sentimentality, often rolls his eyes and calls me a sap.

I like to rebut, “One of us has to be.”

He is in the same camp as my father when it comes to things like tears.

“What’s their purpose,” POI says, “I don’t get it.”

But he does. More than once he’s seen me cry, and more than once he’s put his arms around me and said, “I don’t like to see you so sad.”

Even at thirteen I knew patience was a virtue. I dressed in the high-waisted khaki shorts and forest green polo shirts required by my (public!) middle school and felt like an ugly duckling. I looked ahead to sixteen.
“Sixteen,” I said to myself, “That’s likely when I’ll have my first boyfriend.”
What’s that Yiddish proverb? Man plans, God laughs.
At sixteen no such character appeared. There were boys, but I wasn’t so different from them. I started playing badminton and gained thirty pounds. I looked ahead to eighteen.
“Eighteen,” I thought, “That’ll be the year. I’ll lose the weight. My hair will be longer. That guy (or hopefully most guys) will begin to see me in a romantic light.”
Eighteen came and went. Pounds were gained and lost. Hair grew. Was cut short. Grew again. Was cut short. Again. I turned twenty-one, my next “Ah yes, this will be the year” year, but it too, passed quietly sans a kiss or a even a brushing of fingertips. I had thought, when I embraced the ice cream maker my friends bought me for my birthday in the quiet Irvine apartment I shared with my brother, that I heard the window pane rattle.
“Embrace that ice cream maker,” said a sunny whisper, “Embrace the friends who gifted it to you. Embrace the giant burrito you’re about to eat in that suburban chain Tex Mex restaurant and the laughs you’ll have. You’re a child still.”
I did. That night, I washed a Pizookie down with my first Jagerbomb at another suburban chain restaurant. I laughed a lot, to the point where I got hot and had to take off the emerald green hoodie I favored in those days. The years following, I made a lot of ice cream and embraced those friends many times over.
A few years before I was eighteen and a freshman at NYU. Despite being surrounded by people, I felt lonely. It’s a common complaint of life in the city, not just this city. I watched a lot of Law and Order: SVU and read a lot of Anne Tyler novels. In theory, I was “glad” to be in New York, a city I’d always been fascinated by and felt an indecipherable tie to. Mostly because I watched a lot of movies and TV shows that had been set here. It’s a special place, I knew this.

I lived on one side of Washington Square Park. I don’t remember which side despite having written my address down twenty, thirty times over because I wrote many letters in those days. More than I do now. In theory, I was proud of that address. I could look ahead to a more successful (and perhaps deceased) version of myself and see people walking past Goddard Hall, pointing to the second (or was it the fourth) floor.

“That’s where the writer Betty lived, during her one semester at NYU.” 

It happens like that though. You get used to some things. You develop routes and routines. When you’re lonely and unhappy it’s easy to shuffle by. I (sometimes) went to class, ate lunch, came home, watched TV or blogged or read. I went out most often at night – not to bars or clubs but to take laps around the park, always alone. I hardly ever ventured beyond 14th street or below Houston. I saw very little of the city.
One October evening I stepped out of the shower and into the hall which I shared with two other girls who were out. They were embracing the city. My roommate had left the window open and I a.) smelled the crisp fall air and b.) realized I was standing in a dorm room on the edge of Washington Square Park in New York City. I stood in front of my closet with the towel wrapped around me and was for five seconds supremely happy. I’m in New York, I thought. Everything I want, I get.
The moment passed however, and a few months later I left New York. I might have thought briefly, “I’m done with this place,” but it was one of those things I could neither write down nor say aloud.
On Sunday night, I lay in the crook of POI’s arm. I asked him if it was uncomfortable. I always do. My head gets heavy because I have a big brain.
“You’re fine,” he said. He always does.
Later in the night we’ll shift – mostly apart because POI gets hot. But for the time being I stayed on his shoulder, listening to the blood pulse through the veins in his arms. The windows were closed; there was no breeze save for the rattle of POI’s disappointing AC unit. But that crisp fall sensation I felt so many years ago in Greenwich Village revisited me. For a minute I forgot where or who or how old I was.
The moment passed, just like the one before and just like the moments that’ll come later. Moments that make you say, “Whoa.” Then pause. Then, “Oh. Everything is as it should be.”
A few months later I’ll still be here. It’s one of those things I can write down and say aloud.

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