“It’s me, isn’t it?”
Nate didn’t respond to my question immediately. “A little bit,” he finally said, his eyes diverted to the floor of his kitchen.
I felt like I was trapped inside a stove, my body running hot from the excessive amount of alcohol I had consumed earlier. I sipped on the glass of water he provided, but the direction of our conversation supplied me with a secondary source of nausea that could not be calmed by proper hydration. I leaned forward in my chair, bracing my forehead against my hand.
When the day began, I had looked forward to seeing Nate after my work party. We usually saw each other over the weekend and on Mondays for climbing, but he was unavailable due to other unnamed commitments. Like I usually did in social settings, I drank beyond my capacity, to the point that (after telling my co-workers I loved them profusely) I stumbled out onto the streets of Jersey City, fiddling with my phone so that I could get an Uber to bring me to his apartment. When the driver, an aspiring DJ with a unionized day job in sanitation, dropped me off, I handed him ten dollars as a tip, rambling on about how he was a wonderful person with fantastic dreams and that he deserved a shitload of money for getting me to my friend’s apartment.
I wasn’t so inebriated that my judgment of the driver was independent of his actual behavior. He was amiable and talkative, asking me about my job and telling me about his own endeavors. And when I stumbled out of his backseat, clearly drunk, he called my phone to ask if I was certain this was the place. I said, Yes, of course! This is my friend’s apartment! He waited until Nate opened the door and for me to walk inside before driving away.
Oh, Nate. I love you, I thought, my drunken stupor exacerbating the feelings I had for him. I found my fuck buddy inexplicably attractive, and the way he made me laugh about the most ridiculous things provided me with memories to take into my time apart from him.
From the moment Nate and I met, we had amazing rapport. It was difficult for me to not develop feelings so quickly, especially when I had never felt a current of friendship underneath either sex or love prior to meeting him. To me, our connection was undeniable, as visible to the world as Polaris in the night sky. We were both extremely easy going and shared certain commonalities in how we came to be single. As time went on, we spent more and more of the week together, altering our normal routines to accommodate the other. On the nights he’d sleep at my apartment, we’d stay awake for hours after midnight, talking about nothing and everything, interrupting our discussions to fuck.
When I decided to move, and find a more affordable arrangement with a roommate, he helped me secure a room in one of his friend’s apartments. Through our shared activity of rock climbing, I was introduced to some of the people who were in his orbit. And our interior lives tangled more and more from there.
At the same time, he was clear that he didn’t want a relationship – not with me, or anyone. For a time, I also had this nagging feeling that I had been too frank, too honest about the events that led me to my current situation in life. Was it him, or was it me? The idea that it could be the latter was painful. As open as I was with my sexuality, ready to enjoy sex for what it was outside of any emotional attachments, I never wanted to be someone’s placeholder.
Whatever the answer, the fact that he didn’t want our connection to develop into more was hard to accept, especially as my idea of casual never included this level of familiarity. Our undefined relationship confused me, and I reflected on what I thought he was saying in between the lines instead of on his explicitly stated desire to remain single. You know how I know I like you? I was kinda jealous when I saw your profile on Bumble.
My slow and steady ascent to sobriety was accompanied by the feeling that it was me, my actual person and not any specific action executed within our time knowing each other, that ruined any shot I had with him.
“It would’ve been better for me to not to be so open,” I said. “Is that part of it?”
“Maybe,” Nate said. “I think so.”
Realistically, the explanation of his reluctance couldn’t be reduced to a single factor. Most of the time, I was certain that he just didn’t want to think about how he felt. His energy was turned towards being in the moment and staying there; any girl who looked back and forward would be both disappointed and a disappointment.
At the time, however, blaming myself was the most familiar response I had to the letdowns of life.
“I know what it’s like to be on the other side of the conversation,” I said to Nate. We walked around Montclair aimlessly, killing time before he left for a date later in the evening. “I met a guy a couple days ago. He was two years sober, and it’s all we really talked about. I felt like I understood what it was like to meet me.”
“It’s a lot, yeah,” Nate said. “But look at you. It’s commendable. You’re reevaluating your approach to dating.”
Because you made me feel like I was too much, I wanted to say, but I held my tongue. “Yeah, it was a lot.”
This was the first time we had been alone since the morning after my work party. I had texted him later that day, letting him know I couldn’t keep throwing myself against a wall. We could be friends, but I was tired of embarrassing myself. He was kind in response. Amendable, too. In reality, I wanted him to either exit my life or agree to make a commitment. I didn’t expect that he’d embrace the middle road, keeping me within the periphery of his life as a friend.
The silence between us was filled with Christmas music. It’s still November, I thought, irritated by the holidays’ approach.
“At the same time,” I said, pausing to gather my thoughts. “I get it in a way you never will. With this kind of shit, it becomes a part of your identity. It’s hard to not bring up something that guides a lot of your choices, or is just a large part of your past. It feels like you’re lying.”
“You’re right,” Nate said. “I probably don’t understand.”
I shook my head. “I don’t expect you to. But it’s one of those things where I wish people were more empathetic.”
“Dating’s a game,” he said.
“Of omission,” I said. “I’m not sure I like it.”
“I’m in recovery from bulimia,” I said.
After we got back from the movie, Nate and I spent our second date in my bedroom, eventually pursuing a third round. Exhausted, we migrated to the living room after we showered together, where I showed him a video of me squatting 195lbs. I’m only paying attention to your ass, he had said, and laughed. When he asked me for my handle, I paused. And then I said admitted the above.
“And my Instagram mentions that. I don’t want you to feel weird, reading about that kind of shit.”
“Oh,” Nate said. “That doesn’t bother me.”
“After everything else I’ve told you, I would hope not,” I said, smiling broadly. His response provided me with an overwhelming sense of relief, as I was still trying to navigate this particular disclosure. While he seemed to accept that I had been married and that my last serious relationship was sexually abusive, Bulimia Nervosa was a different matter. A mental illness, bigger and scarier than most baggage. Worse than the random facts I had mentioned on our first date, like being something of an orphan, or the rebound that I tried to settle down with immediately after I left my abuser. He took everything in stride, or so it seemed.
“I know I’m a mess,” I said.
“We’re both two people trying to figure ourselves out,” he said. “You’re pretty normal, all things considered. You could be a miserable sack of shit.”
Sometimes I am, I thought. “I just want to live apart from all of that. That’s why I like you,” I said, following my words with an aggressive kiss that he returned in kind.
He accepted me. And in a way, I loved him for that. I needed to know I wasn’t broken more than I needed a friend or a lover.
Thank you, I thought, biting his bottom lip gently.