NOTE: This part of the story took place over a month ago. I’m catching you up as fast as I can. All names have been changed, except for mine.
“You need to make out with her,” she said from behind me, her voice firm and final.
I was standing at the window, surveying the wreckage two stories below– tarps and ladders and tools, strewn across the grass like toys on a nursery floor. It was a dismal afternoon, gray and drizzling, the sky caught halfway between rain and snow and not doing either with any real commitment.
My roommate Marti was behind me, watering a row of plants that were already dead. We could rent out our living room as a movie set; a houseplant slasher flick, rows upon rows of leaves that can’t decide if they’re dying or dead, a room once green and alive, now breathless and gasping and brittle brown.
“It’s been two months,” I said, talking now about the roofers, who were still waking me at an ungodly hour with their banging. “Where did he find these guys? Craigslist?”
Marti sighed. “Well, after that OSHA guy came, I’m starting to wonder.”
“OSHA guy?” I spun to face her. “As in ‘occupational safety’ OSHA?”
Marti was hanging from the side of the stairs, watering a wayward spider plant that dangled treacherously from the ceiling. She froze mid-pour. “I didn’t tell you about that? It was a few weeks ago.” She returned to watering, leaning further, nearly losing her footing on the narrow side of the steps. I waited for her to go on.
“What I think,” she went on, peering cautiously into the pot, “is you need to get it over with. Just do it.”
“What did the OSHA guy want?”
She jumped down from the stairs with a thump. “He didn’t say. Just asked if I’d seen anyone working on the roof. I said no and he gave me his card. He said to call if they came back.”
She shook her head as she watered a drooping philodendron on the windowsill. “I felt weird about it. I just told the guys he came by and said if they had anything sketchy going on, they’d better clean it up.”
I turned back to survey the damage below. “That’s so bizarre.”
“Seriously,” she said, joining me at the window. “Who takes two months to fix a roof?”
I took the watering can and tipped it cautiously, drenching the parched soil of an African violet. Marti eyed me carefully. She’s learned not to trust me with the plants.
“Seriously, dude.” She took the can from my hand and raised her eyebrows meaningfully. “You need to make out with her.”
I hope I didn’t put you off last night with my X-treme Awkwardness. I’d like to blame my sickness, but that’s only part of it. I’m a bundle of nervous awkwardness in dating scenarios and that is definitely magnified by the fact that I’ve never dated a woman. I feel like I’m seventeen.
Hanging out with you has been super fun, but I should forewarn you that my awkwardness // need to take things slow will likely continue for a bit. I wish I’d brought this up last night in person, but I was too busy blowing my nose every three and a half minutes.
Also, just in general, life’s been pretty overwhelming lately (in almost exclusively good ways) and I’m feeling a bit feet-draggy about the idea of getting into a relationship with anyone. You seem like someone who might feel the same way due to your 5,001 hobbies/interests/pursuits, but I wanted to put that out there.
In email form.
Which is ridiculous.
p.s. Thanks for bringing the best snacks ever.
It’s a bit like having plants, I think.
It makes sense to have them, really. They’re attractive, they make cleaner air, and they go well with a tasteful throw rug. Most people I know have plants. Having plants is part of being a grown-up; it’s a rite of passage, a decorative necessity. It’s a way of showing the world: “I am capable of keeping something alive.”
The thing is: I am not capable of keeping something alive.
In my experience, plants are a lot of work. You have to nurture them, learn their special quirks, cater to their needs. You have to prune them, clean them, keep them in the light. You have to hire someone to care for them while you’re away.
And in the end, after all of that time and effort and inconvenience? They die. They die, leaving their brown, brittle leaves littered across your tasteful throw rug; a painful reminder that you are not, in fact, capable of keeping something alive.
“I just feel like my life is really full, you know?” I stabbed half-heartedly at my cole slaw, pushing it around my plate like a pile of autumn leaves, ten cents a bag. “I’m not incomplete. I don’t need someone to complete me.”
“I think you need to make out with her.” Quinn took an emphatic bite of her tuna sandwich, giving me as stern a look as she could manage while biting into a whole wheat bun.
I snuck a french fry from her plate, wishing I hadn’t opted for the cole slaw. “I get why it makes sense practically, but emotionally, it seems like more trouble than it’s worth.”
She raised her eyebrow skeptically. “Making out with her or marrying her?”
“Relationships in general.” I took another french fry.
Quinn sat for a moment, chewing thoughtfully.
“I used to hate reading,” she finally said, picking a rogue tomato out of her sandwich. “For years, I could never finish a book I picked up. I felt like a freak, like maybe I just wasn’t smart enough.” The waitress refilled our water glasses and Quinn paused to think.
“But then one day,” she went on, “I said something about it to my friend Evan. He said something kind of obvious, but it really struck me.” She gave a funny, embarrassed sort of laugh. “He said ‘Maybe you just haven’t found the right story.’ It sounds silly, but him saying that changed everything.”
I guiltily snuck one last fry. “Did you find the right story?”
“No.” She picked up her plate and dumped the rest of her fries onto mine. “But at least now I know to look.”
I took a day to respond because I wanted to think about all you said.
I’m definitely with you on the caution with respect to entering relationships. I have this funny tendency to live really far in the future. When I first start seeing someone, I fast forward to “what will it be like when we break up?” I imagine us fighting, seeing each other at a bar with other people and being uncomfortable, and I’m sad about the times we had and that it didn’t work out. That all literally goes through my head on a first date.
I’ve been working on being in the moment.
I’m not sure if this is what you’re talking about.
Anyway, you should get better this week and, if you’re up for it, come dancing Friday night. There’s a gay dance party downtown and it would be fun if you came.
As for the dating women thing and possible awkwardness surrounding it, I could go on for hours, but I’ll leave that for cocktails sometime.
I was reading this email for the third time when the lights went out. Both lamps and the overhead light, from bright to dark in an instant. I sat for a moment in the inky blackness, imagining a killer in the basement cutting the wire like a 1940’s murder mystery. My blood ran to ice and I couldn’t breathe.
After a moment, I cautiously stood from my bed, picking my way carefully across the pile of clothes and books on my floor. I fumbled for the knob in the dark and slowly opened the door. I took a deep breath and peered into the hall.
It was dark and silent as a tomb.