The beginning of our relationship was all fits and starts. We almost called it about 17 times during those first few weeks. I mean, I can’t imagine why. Some business about him not really being ready to emotionally commit to someone, long term roommate something something red flag whatever whatever. Every few days, it felt like, we’d agree to “slow things down” and then Friday would be its minxy saucy self and all bets would be off. At this stage in our lives (me, him, BF, Everyone) we were all always Out. There wasn’t ever any possibility that one would call the other to be all like HeyWhereYouAt and someone would answer Nah, man, sorry, I’m in for the night. Lololol. Home. Like sane people. Right. So because of this and because of the
absurdly awful auspicious timing of this burgeoning battle royale relationship, at first, The Hipster and I never actually Made Plans. (See aforementioned Green Light near-fiasco.)
I tried to pretend I was like totally cool like super evolved whatevs I’m chill. He tried to pretend he was totally single like you are def not my gf I am toats single ok. So, we’d collectively pretend that maybe sure we’d all meet up later at some point cool yeah give me a call or like we’ll run into each other or… but the reality was, we just wanted to be together by the end of the night. So whether it was 9:30 or three (three!) in the morning, we’d weave our way toward whatever drinkery the other was at. Him: somewhere impossibly cool with models and bottles, where I totally TOTALLY fit in wearing my ripped Johnny Cash t-shirt. Me: some hepatitis den where I could drink cheap bourbon and dance my leg-warmered heart out. I lived (lived) for the nights when I’d be out with friends and all of a sudden look up to see him dancing toward me, huge smile on his face. The rest of the bar would fade away and it was just him and I in our Converse, skanking to Madness. Those moments were magic. And, so, even though, as a Unit, we made No Sense, those moments, those nights, quickly gained traction, and it was with enviable naivete, that, we Jumped.
For our First Official Date, he invited me over to his place. He wanted to cook me dinner. You may be thinking Swoon! Romance! Nope! I was having a low-grade panic attack. For a somewhat (god, ok, fiiinne: very) picky eater, this scenario is A Nightmare. The prospect of having to tell the man you just started dating, who you adore — and who you are dying to impress with your coolness — that whatever he’s making or has made makes you want to vom is just, god, no, dating horror. When he told me he was going with Italian, I exhaled slightly, because barring like tripe or scungilli (but seriously, why would you eat those) anyone can hang with Italian food. Plus there’s pretty much always red wine involved soooo we good, we good.
Thus, on a Friday evening I found myself on the 40th floor of a luxury apartment building in Murray Hill, not believing that I was actually in his kitchen, watching him pour me a glass of red wine and that we were on a Date. As he made a show of prepping things, he told me the story of how he had gone down to
the grocery store Little Italy to buy fresh pasta. Wandering the streets, looking for the perfect spot, he met a stooped old Italian nonna who didn’t exist just happened to be standing at the entry to the deli case her cold water flat. She beckoned him upstairs, where she handed him a package of Butoni just happened to have batches of fresh ravioli that she sold only to people who proved their worthiness with a story deserving of the ravioli. So he told her all about the girl he had just met who he wanted to impress; about her blue collar roots and altruistic nature and —
Lololol. Wut. Stahhppp. Just boil the water already, Scorsese.
Even in my heart-eyed-emoji state, I was not completely blind to the apocryphal nature of his story-telling. It was epic. It was what drew people to him. It was what made his eyes light up and incited that throaty chuckle to come rumbling up from his toes. It made every night seem like it had the potential to be The Best Night Ever. It was also, eventually, our undoing. But the thing was, he actually did enough crazy shit, enough of the swoony grand gesture crap, to keep you investing, wanting to believe, in the Legend. E.g.: One night, at a burger joint near his apartment, so wrapped up in the conversation was I that I didn’t realize I had slowly leaned closer and closer to him — over the table, over my dwindling plate of fries. At one point I sat back and he just looked at me and laughed: I had ketchup all over my, shall we call it, bosom. I tried to play it off and laugh, but I was mortified by my own clumsiness. He simply looked at me, still laughing, shrugged and wiped a streak of ketchup across the chest of his white shirt. In those sparkling moments, etched so clearly in my memory, the stories — the good stories — came to life. And, those moments sustained some of the truly shitastic garbage that went down.
Because, duh, it was not all Matthew McConnaughey rom-com bliss. At the beginning, things were messy. Halloween weekend we were supposed to meet up. (Kill Bill theme: I was dressed as Gogo and BF was O-Ren Ishii. We nailed it, obvs.) After not hearing from him once (ONCE) all weekend, he texted me Monday to tell me that he “forgot” his phone “at school” for the ENTIRE WEEKEND. I mean really, go eff yourself with that one. Now, lest you think I’m a total schmuck, of course — of course — I knew this was 100% Absolute Bullshit. And it wasn’t that I didn’t care or wasn’t hurt, rather, I was 22 and had yet to experience the I Can’t Unsee This kind of emotional scarring that catalyzes self-preservation. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to that one later. That’s gonna be a REAL fun one, you guys. Ugh, anyway.) So, as all people in love do at some point in their lives, I explained it away reassuring myself it was fiiiinnnneeee and it was all good, right? (RIGHT?)
Oh, but wait. Then there was the time that I’d summarize as: We all got pizza. All Hell Broke Loose. After dancing our faces off at Niagara one night, The Hipster, BF, some college friends of ours and I went next door to eat some pizza, as you do. I was amidst hostile negotiations with one lactose intolerant friend who was adamantly insisting we had not allowed her to eat pizza. While I was frantically assuring her she had already eaten her slice (seriously, she scarfed it, record time), I noticed a disturbance in the force over toward the curb — and The Hipster stalking off up Avenue A. Pulling my lactose/memory-challenged friend away from the pizzeria and toward the other two, I felt panicky. This was not an unfamiliar feeling, clearly. The first couple months of our dating I was always convinced the bubble would burst and that it would all end.
Surrounded by throngs of drunken revelers, my friends told me how a girl had walked up to them, she and The Hipster had had an awkward conversation, and upon her leaving, he turned to them, threw his pizza on the sidewalk (fucking blasphemy) and stormed off. One guess who it was. Ding, ding. Ex-Roommate. The drunken, emotional back and forth, (his apology, my martyrdom, his guilt, my reassurance, his baggage, blah blah) that followed is unnecessary to recount in granular detail. All I know is that at my heart tugged that small whisper of Knowing; that he wasn’t ready and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Still, as The Hipster and I hailed a cab (and Lactose Intolerant pushed BF into a bodega flower stand and then took off running), we committed our bourbon-soaked selves to this enterprise.
Dating for us was less about activities per se, and more just various beverages in an array of locales. Over beers, at Chumley’s, we shared stories of family. His: Indian and strict. Mine: Irish and a little crazy. We recounted high school. Him: sneaking into the city to party at Limelight. Me: s’mores and mooning over the guy who worked at Starbucks. (So, samesies, really.) Over coconut martinis, at Pravda, we made travel plans. Over bespoke cocktails, at Milk and Honey, we discussed literature. After first impressing me by pulling out the business card with the unlisted number for the members-only bar, he then tried to also impress me with his knowledge of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. As I sipped my custom drink, I remember watching him get a little annoyed that I could not only hang in a conversation about the Lost Generation, but that I could best him on a few points. I enjoyed watching him squirm, and finally he conceded that what made me simultaneously terrifying and attractive was that I just might be completely legit.
One day we found ourselves at McSorley’s, telling our September 11th stories. He hadn’t wanted to go in. Right after the attacks, he said, he had been with friends and the very blue collar, very Irish bouncers wouldn’t let him in. Staten Island native, 2nd generation Irish, daughter of a firefighter, niece of three cops, I’m sure, even though he’d never actually say it, I represented to The Hipster exactly the profile of people who might call him — had called him — “towel head” or “sand n—ger” or “camel jockey” when he walked down the street. Appearance alone couldn’t tell you he was a kid from Long Island who liked The Cure, drank like a fish and thought the only God that existed was Nabokov. (I mean those jeans were real tight though, so that really should have been some kind of tip-off.) New York City in 2003 was still very much a post-September 11th city. I think we always will be, but then it was still very palpable. The summer I moved home it had not yet been two full years since the terrorist attacks ripped our hearts out on that temperate Tuesday morning. Our commutes were still messed up, purple and black bunting still hung from firehouses — we were still scared. Our experiences of that day were very different, but there we sat over our lights and darks and found that it didn’t truly matter. We both harbored an unconditional love for this city, one that largely informed our own fledgling love affair.
My relationship with The Hipster was far from perfect, but man was it fun. It was messy and raucous, genuine and manic. We were in constant pursuit of, well, everything. Everything that love offered, everything that New York offered. And that fall while I fell in love with The Hipster, I also learned how to love this new version of my city, one that was a little broken, very scarred and gorgeously imperfect.
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