In Brooklyn, I again try and write the story of C and I.
“This is a happier story than my last,” I say, by way of beginning.
I want to write everything. It’s a love story, I want to say. It’s the story I think of every morning when I wake up, and the story I dream of every night when I go to bed. It is the only thing that matters to me.
But I can’t write these things. I know I can’t.
C could never hear them.
And I can’t write about C without being honest.
So I never write that story.
And it all remains unsaid.
Just as she wants.
She must know, I think.
But as she dances around Lisbon, invites me to come live with her in an offhand way, and then refuses to talk seriously about an us, about a future… I cannot shake the feeling that, no — she doesn’t know.
She doesn’t want to know.
Which would be fine.
If only she wasn’t texting me every single day.
I work, all the time.
This is the New York lifestyle, I tell C.
I am working lots, living frugal, not doing much. New York and I aren’t getting acquainted.
I will have 5.000 Euro saved by the end of the year, I estimate.
You could live for a year on that in Lisbon! She says, excitedly.
She is busy, getting drunk and going to concerts and exploring all around.
I found you a house, she writes to me. She writes this very sentence. Now you have to move to Lisbon!
New York starts to feel temporary.
Soon after, my bosses offer me the opportunity to work from London for the summer. Their visas are up; their startup accelerator program is up; and the VC investors are out of town. They are going back to Europe. They ask me if I would like to tag along.
I tell C I have the opportunity to come to London.
“Ohmigod,” she says in a voice message. “That would be so so so great! Please Daniel, please do it!”
I accept the offer.
A week later, I manage to beg for a week of holiday, before I start work in London.
I buy very expensive plane tickets to Lisbon.
I will be there on her birthday.
“Birthday cuddles!” she writes. “What have I ever done to deserve that?”
The next time I see my grandfather, he asks me about my apartment search.
He has lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for thirty years. He pitters, this way and that. He sees all the shows; he reads all the novels. He volunteers, as an usher at the opera, so he can hear the shows for free. Or he did, until a few years ago. At 91, his health has been failing. A little thing here, another there, he says. But still, a steady decline. His time, now, is limited. He has been asking when I’d come to New York ever since 2014, when I graduated university. When I came, in June, he was ecstatic.
I’m not settling, I have to say to him, as we sit on his balcony and gaze out at a spectacular sunset across the Hudson. I’ll be in Europe for the back half of the summer.
His poor heart lurches, I can see. He had thought I’d be around.
“I’m deeply in love with the woman in Portugal,” I confess.
He looks at me with compassion on his face. “You would like her a lot,” I rush to say. “She loves culture, and art; she knows all the old sculptors and painters and she watches great films,” I say. “When we went around Italy she knew all the art: where to go, which painters were worthwhile. She would love the Met,” I say. She would love New York, I know, if she’d give it a chance.
“I really hope you get to meet her.”
He gazes out at the sun setting over the Hudson, nods a little. Smiles a sad smile.
“What is it about this woman that speaks to you so strongly?” he asks.
I don’t have to think. “She has this child-like appreciation for things,” I say. “She’s just so excited and enthusiastic to take in life and beauty and art.”
My grandfather, a lifelong professor of literature, then tells me a story of a time he was young man in the Navy. The drunkest he ever got in his life, he said, he was stumbling around some city, so far gone he thought he was going to die. He collapses under a marvelous sculpture (he remembers the name, and the sculptor, of course — I, here, do not), lays on his back, stares up at the sky, and tells his fellow sailors: “It’s OK. At least I’ll die in art!”
They never let him live it down, he says.
But he can appreciate wonder; and an art lover is even better.
“The Italians, you know, they really are some of the better ones,” he says. “Not quite as good as the Greeks, mind you—” he puffs up with pride. “But the Italians are nice. A… welcoming people.”
“And certainly not as bad as those Turks!” he says, with a mischievous wrinkle in his nose.
We sit in silence for a few minutes. I drink my beer.
The sun continues its inexorable march down, down, down…
Working its way around the globe, I think. Towards London. And towards Lisbon.
“Well,” my grandpa says. “I’m very sorry to hear you won’t be spending the summer here.”
“I know, Papou,” I say, sadly.
Salva and I are getting drunk in the basement of a hip Brooklyn coffee shop.
Salva’s the designer at my work; a fast-talking Spanish guy who’s infatuated with the city.
He’s leaving in three days, headed back to London after a six-month stay in the States.
“Ahhhhhh don’t remind me mate!” he says, grabbing my arm. “I love New York. I was riding my bicycle across the… what is it… the East? The East River the other days, and you know, it’s like up up up…. It’s like climbing a mountain. And then you fly down! And when you are down, you are in Manhattan! Is like a totally another world from Brooklyn! And in London, you are across the Thames in like…” he checks his watch. “Two seconds. And is like: oh, mira: more London.”
“But you have your girl there,” I say to Salva.
He shrugs. “You cannot do this long distance thing for long, you know?” he says. “If I was to stay here for another six months, maybe I would get a different girlfriend. But for six months, it is ok.”
“I’ve got a girlfriend in Europe,” I say. “She just moved to Lisbon.”
“Lisboa, eh?” he says. “Is a cool city. Have you ever been?
“No,” I respond. “She’s Italian. She just moved there.”
“Ahhh, but Dan,” he says, pointedly. “You say you have a girlfriend but you have Tinder on your phone.” The eagle eyes of a designer.
“Ah it’s not an exclusive thing,” I say.
“Ah, yes” he says. “This is the only way this can work. Even still, if you are here and she is there… eventually, you will both find other people.”
“Quizas” I say, switching to Spanish. I look around the bar: we’re surrounded by beautiful women. It would be nice to talk to them.
We sit in the corner, drink our beers, and remind ourselves what’s across the sea.
“She won’t come to New York?” he asks.
“No,” I answer curtly. “She’d never do that.”
I tell C what Salva said, about finding other people.
“Well he’s optimistic, huh?” she says. “I think we have a good chance.”
But she still doesn’t want to be in a relationship.
Brooklyn hurts me.
The city pulses with cool. In Bushwick, where I am subletting, I can speak Spanish with the Puerto Ricans; although I wish it wouldn’t draw such hostility and surprise, their language coming from the mouth of a white person. In Europe, I think, people are less exclusive. The ethnic, linguistic groups: more welcoming. Still; I practice where I can. Spanish is a base for Portuguese, and I will be learning Portuguese soon.
I have few friends in New York.
I spend a lot of time on my phone.
A friend of mine from Colorado complains to me about her student loans.
Skip the country, I write to her. They can’t collect your student debts in Guatemala.
I don’t know anyone in Guatemala, she answers, sensibly.
I’d go to Guatemala with you, I say. Podemos aprender español.
That’s the problem, she says, NO HABLO ESPANOL.
Ah c’mon, I razz her. Let’s elope.
Meaghan and I are hardcore flirts. We message constantly whenever we’re in separate places; but I’ve never sealed the deal in person. That’s ok with me. I don’t mind staying as friends — the flirting, I feel, is harmless fun. We are on the same page about it. I am sure of this, because Meaghan’s probably the most emotionally honest person I know. Which is a huge part of why I’m attracted to her, I think.
I’ll think about it, she says. Although I’m not sure that’s the solution to your long distance problems.
It would be *a* solution, I say. But probably not *the* solution.
Why don’t you learn Spanish with her in Guatemala? Meaghan types. Seems like the solution to me.
The real answer, here, is that “she” doesn’t care enough to do what I want. I know this, deep in my heart. It is what’s killing me. It’s why I’m messaging Meaghan, flirting away, trying to feel wanted.
I don’t tell her that though. Instead, I say:
If only we could move people like chess pieces.
Life would be a lot simpler, eh?
But it would lack a bit of the je ne ce’est quoi.
It’s pretentious, but she lets it slide.
It doesn’t hurt to ask her!, she encourages.
And no, it shouldn’t hurt to ask her. If we were in a thoughtful situation, it wouldn’t. But it would hurt. I know exactly how much it would hurt, and why. I will never ask C to move to Guatemala and learn Spanish with me. Because she would say “no, I’ll never do that.”
And yet, with full knowledge of that, I was going to Portugal.
I’ll be in Portugal in 12 days, I write to Meaghan. We’ll see how it goes.
Send a postcard! She says. Good luck!
Only now, writing this many months later, do I realize Meaghan and I have exactly the relationship C wanted. Light, frictionless, and low-consequence.
It’s built on a bedrock of serious emotional work.
With my holiday bearing down, I am trying, desperately, to disconnect from C.
I am starting to feel used.
I send her a Washington Post article about Boulder, Colorado; my hometown.
Tl;dr, she responds.
I knew you were going to say that, I say. She reads the message. Leaves it there.
She has little interest in learning about me, I can see. Given the chance to learn to rock climb (a passion of mine) a few weeks ago, she had scheduled a job interview. Given the chance to read about my home, she says it’s too much effort.
Two hours later, a follow-up.
I’ll read it when I decide to come over.
I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, I say.
Someone’s feeling optimistic today.
You’ve just never expressed any interest, I explain.
It’s an opening, clear as day. I am practically daring her to say something.
She reads the message and doesn’t respond.
Thirty minutes later, I get: Well compared to Maria [the Italian climber] it looks like I don’t want to go haha.
Sick of her refusal to engage, I leave her on read.
An hour later, I get another message. It’s about her house in Lisbon.
It has become unbearably clear to me that I am nothing but a passatempo for her.
I post an Instagram story: street art around Brooklyn on the subject of “love”.
One mural says: ‘Love Never Gives Up’.
A second piece, stuck to the ground, exclaims: “Fuck I ❤ You!”
I caption it: “Love on the mind”
C responds to the story, asking: “whose mind?”
“Mine,” I say.
The conversation dies.
Later that day, out for a run to shed the slimy feeling of the earlier exchange, I see a common sidewalk stencil. These things are all over Brooklyn. A heart, encased in barbed wire. “Protect Yo Heart”, the stencil reads.
I add it to the story. I caption it: “A more cynical take.”
Meaghan, the Guatemala girl, responds: “NEVER!!”
“This is why we get along,” I type back, standing in the streets of Greenpoint, wearing a real-life smile.
C doesn’t comment further.
I can feel her distance in the subtext of every interchange. I stop responding as often. She starts asking me if everything is ok. No, C, everything is clearly not OK.
But I don’t say that.
I know it wouldn’t go well.
I get on Tinder.
I meet a woman. Her bio says: “Looking for my next disaster”, so I don’t feel that bad about where my head’s at. I try my absolute minimum. Nonetheless, she says you could invite me out for drinks.
I invite her out for drinks.
I shower, put product in my hair, and put on a nice shirt.
I’m living with an older gay couple; I’ve told them a bit about C. They know I’m going to Portugal to see her.
“The absolute worst case situation is this date goes well,” I say to them, 6 p.m. On a Friday night. I put on a belt, cinch it up tight. I don’t bring a condom. “Hopefully, I’ll be back early.”
The date goes perfectly well.
She is cute, she is charming, she has a nice job. The conversation flows nicely. One drink becomes two, two become three. We move to the same side of the table. She puts her hand on my thigh. I touch her shoulder. I am vibrating, pleasantly. Our faces turn towards each other, slowly, deliberately, as if we are tasting the atmosphere…
It’s nice. The feeling is good. This woman wants me. It goes from a kiss to a make-out. In a dark corner of the bar, our hands run all over each other.
It’s small: a standing-room bar, maybe three steps up, and a cozy terraced area. Maybe 40 square meters. Intimate.
I won’t take her home, I say to her.
We have a few more drinks. The bar starts to feel a little stuffy.
We go out for some air. We are in the financial district, near the river. The colossi around us seem to reach forever into the sky. A testament to American work ethic. The power of American money. I look around me, and I do feel proud. New York is a treasure.
Fuck whatever C says.
We wander the streets. It’s 2, then 3 a.m… things are fuzzy. We hop a barrier, climb up onto an elevated grassy area. The view, Brooklyn across the East River to one side, the towering skyscrapers of the financial district lit up like Christmas trees on the other, is breathtaking.
And my breath is literally gone, as her tongue parts my lips, and calls my attention back to her.
Up here, behind the barrier on the grass, there is no one else. Our hands, all over each other. Rubbing, brushing, slipping into pants and under skirts.
She drops to her knees. Undoes my belt. She takes me in her mouth under the shimmering shadows of the skyscrapers, and it feels like an all-time sexual memory.
It isn’t, of course. Because, even there, outdoors, a perfect summer night under the glittering lights of Manhattan – what should be an utterly climactic moment – I am still thinking about C.
The next morning, I am still in love with C.
Hungover, confused about what I should feel, and due in Lisbon in just over a week.
Full of dread about what is to come.
On the quest to live an interesting life.