This city is filled with boys. Fellows, lads, men. Whichever term one prefers. Boys in bands, boys with shaggy hair, boys with glasses. Bookish boys and rocker boys and BFA-holding boys.
I frequently choose outdoor seating at coffee shops and bars, ostensibly because I enjoy fresh air and sunlight. These two things are all well and good, but what I really like is watching the seemingly endless parade of males shuffling up and down the street. The assortment is incomparable. Why are they here? And why are there so many? Maybe the city is positioned just-so between the magnetic poles, and all attractive humans with only one X-chromosome are unknowingly drawn here. “Go West, young man.”
Boys on bikes and boys in a hurry. Hippie boys and hipster boys. Boys with stacks of records and boys with messenger bags.
I didn’t sleep with anyone for the first 364 days I lived here.
My body still bore the imprint of my boyfriend. The likelihood of ever again smelling his skin and tasting his breath seemed scant. I didn’t know exactly where he was. Determining his location would necessitate some sort of cosmic map. Or worse, it would
require a level of faith that I might never possess.
But I had long passed that period of hopeful self-deprivation. For the first few months I really did believe that if I never smiled or ate anything delicious, somehow he would reappear. Surely the correct proportions of missed sleep and shed tears would result in his immediate resurrection. The morning sun peeking through my bedroom blinds would reveal his peacefully sleeping presence stretched out next to me.
After extracting every last drop of salt water from my body…after a secret hunger strike left me weak and pale…and after I had forgotten how to sleep eight hours in succession…I realized that I would only see him again in the films projected on the back of eyelids. His celluloid visage grew fainter with each passing day.
I wanted to savor every last memory of each of our encounters for as long as possible. I knew that even the tiniest traces of him would disappear the moment someone new entered my body. There would be no turning back. He would be gone forever.
And so I waited.
This was not as difficult as it might seem, as I really just didn’t even seem to notice that my new home was swarming with attractive young men.
Boys with beards. Boys in Wallabees. Or cute sneakers. Maybe beetle boots
Boys with cats!
I had moved to this city with such great velocity, with little warning and even less consideration. My mind was still making sense of everything that had happened before my arrival. This was no half-baked attempt at celibacy. No politics, no ethics. I was not trying to make a statement.
I just was not ready for the future.
I was not ready to let go. It seemed unfair. I had not chosen this path. I was not consulted on the decision to say Goodbye. Farewell. Adieu.
Most of my new closest friends were male. I shared beds with them, went swimming in my underwear in front of them, and hugged them with abandon. But it was all so innocent. Oddly, all of the boys in my life seemed to accept this without question. It was my female friends that voiced their concern. They meant well with all of the attempted set-ups with nice boys and weird parties with an inordinately large percentage of male attendees. None of them could understand the necessity of my solitude.
Each night, I would go home to my quiet apartment, with only a cat for company. I can see that this would sound depressing to outside observers, but it felt so perfect to me. I fell asleep with my own arms wrapped around myself, teleporting my mind to earlier, happier times. I did not want to lose this.
And so this continued for 364 days.
But then, on the 365th day, it was my friend Angela’s birthday. I have always loved birthday parties, even when cupcakes and Musical Chairs were no longer offered. Special outfits and snazzy eye makeup are always required. I donned an asymmetrical black cocktail dress–very 60s, with a bubble skirt and a label reading “Gay Gibson”–and rode off on my bicycle.
The party was at a bar downtown. Angela was an indie rock socialite, friends with all of the late-90s rock stars that emerged from this little city in the forest. As a result, the crowd consisted solely of beautiful people. Everyone wore the best vintage clothes and had intricately styled, quasi-messy hairstyles. A local celebrity DJ–he had recently declared in the free weekly newspaper that he dated “only models”–was playing 80s records. Most of the girls were ultra-thin and dark-haired. The boys were lovely and quasi-cynical. Everyone seemed to know everyone else.
These oh-so-hip situations tend to give me crippling social anxiety. So I drank three whiskey sours in rapid succession.
A dark-haired fellow with Buddy Holly glasses walked up to me. Not very tall, but definitely cute in that tousled, wearing-a-plaid-shirt way. He struck up some sort of predictable conversation, probably along the lines of “What kind of music do you like?” I probably listed a few sad bastard indie rockers and then threw in the Wu-Tang for good measure. He declared his approval of my musical taste by buying me a greyhound. This is, of course, when the evening began to get blurry. My body cannot handle vodka in a respectable way. A few minutes later, after we goaded one another into downing shots of tequila, I decided to sleep with him. It was just that simple.
We wandered over to the oldest strip club in the city. A truly classy establishment. Supposedly both Courtney Love and Kathleen Hanna had worked there in the 90s. The woman on stage seemed bored as she sauntered around the stage in thigh high bondage boots. There were a lot of flannel shirts in the audience. When I walked to the bathroom, every guy in the place watched me.
Somewhere around the time “Funky Cold Medina” played, my brown-haired companion grabbed my hand. He whispered into my ear “Let’s go back to my house and listen to records.” My tab was closed and my bike unlocked in a blur. I was definitely too drunk for bicycling, so we walked across the Burnside bridge.
We arrived at his apartment in a blur. It as a surprisingly tidy studio, with black and white photos covering every square inch of the walls. It did not smell like a boy lived there. Maybe it belonged to a girlfriend. An ex-girlfriend. A sister. I was not curious.
I immediately took off my dress. The look on my face asked him “so are you in?” And that was that.
Afterwards he whispered, “You are so fun.”
I feigned unconsciousness until I knew he was definitely asleep. It’s all about monitoring the breathing. A quick brush of the arm can reveal the necessary muscle relaxation.
I slid out of bed with the silence of a ghost.
I examined his records while I got dressed. Not bad.
I left a note:
“You really do have a great record collection. XO.” I did not include my phone number.
I stopped at a convenience store for orange juice. I was surprised by how blank I felt. Maybe not blank, just calm. Calmness is not a common state for me.
I lost my virginity when I was 15. I just felt like I should just do it, because I had the feeling that holding on to this supposedly important commodity would only lead to disappointment. So I picked the coolest boy I knew–he was in to black-and-white photography and Bob Dylan, practically a hipster by my teenage standards. I went over to his house at 2 pm. We listened to an R.E.M. record. I took off my jeans. And then at 2:30 pm I got back on my bike and rode to the store for a celebratory ice cream sandwich. I felt like a true go-getter.
It wasn’t clinical. But then again, it wasn’t flowery or romantic. There were no declarations of love and undying devotion. It was just this thing.
That’s how I felt on that 366th day.
I had finally rid myself of this mark, this imprint. As soon as I felt it disappear, I realized how silly I had been, waiting for someone to return to me. Waiting to be touched by a person who would never, ever be there again. Imagine the disappointment to be earned by holding on to this faintest glimmer for years?
As I was unlocking my bike, I heard someone call my name. I looked up, hoping that my disheveled state would not betray my previous activities. A little boy–maybe 7 or 8–coasted by on a green bicycle. He moved so slowly, I could see his face clearly. Sandy brown hair and wide framed glasses. Green eyes. Him as a child. His mother had given me a bunch of old family photos after the funeral. They lived in the drawer in my bedside table.
No, no, no.
I rubbed my eyes. When I looked up again, the boy was gone.
I heard my name again, coming from a different direction. I turned around.
My friend Mike was walking out of the store.
“What are you doing all alone and so dressed up at this hour?”
I laughed, relieved to see him. He was real. “Well, I kinda hooked up with this guy I met at Angela’s birthday party.”
He gave me a high five. I guess I had earned it.