Start here if this is all new to you.
My new phone did not recognize the 773 number and I couldn’t imagine who could be calling me from Chicago. In fact, I couldn’t imagine who was calling me in the first place since my phone generally didn’t ring for weeks at a time.
“Hey. Heyyyyy. It’s Patrick. A little birdie…or maybe it was big birdie with a PhD…whatever…told me that you moved to New York and now you have a fancy big girl job. Anywho, call me back because I had a dream about you.”
Okay, yes, I had moved back across the country without mentioning it to Patrick. And somehow along the way, months had slipped by. There were times I had thought about calling him, to explain how easy it was to be a lonely person in New York City. One could eat dinner alone, go to the movies alone, and even sit at a bar alone. And it never aroused any suspicion. Being alone was such a normal activity here, that no one assumed that your state of solitude was the result of a fatal flaw, like being a junkie or a cheat or an all-around asshole. No one cared.
And I liked it here, maybe even loved it. In my limited experience, there were two routes to falling in love. The first was this written-in-the-stars, instantaneous attraction. Maybe it would take a few months to admit to yourself and others that you were truly, OMG completely in love, but the feelings were there from that first moment. You were doomed. I had felt that way about my husband and Portland. And Patrick, too, I guess. The second path was more insidious. This was love that developed out of repeated exposure. One might expect to develop some sort of immunity in that situation, but that was rare. In fact, if I slept with someone more than say, ten times, emotional escape was no longer possible. I cursed the chemicals that tricked my brain, all part of my sappy co-dependent vagina’s plan to couple me off. But I was falling into the same brand of love with NYC. Learning to love it little by little, but constantly planning other, steamier affairs in my head. LA, Tokyo, London. I could not be monogamous to this place.
More than six months ago I had flown back from Chicago, drunk on the success of my grand gestures. A day later, a male acquaintance yelled Be prepared from across a busy street. He was referring to my Boy Scout button up, purloined from a high school boyfriend. I jaywalked over to him and within moments, we were planning to have dinner. We were inseparable for weeks. I supposed I was in love. But just as rapidly as we had collided, we broke up. A woman from the past had appeared in the bookstore where he worked. He had to explore that.
I was sad. I had forgotten that feeling of rejection and the ensuing self-loathing. Would it have worked out if I was thinner? If I did a better job of shaving my legs? Maybe it’s my hideously asymmetrical face. And so on. I performed a monologue of self-recriminations all night long. I would feel better if I could just cry, but somehow my body had lost that ability. I suffered in silence.
And I worried so much about my dignity. I wanted so badly to act crazy, to make late night phone calls, to stop into his work, to make him sorry…but I didn’t. I turned off my phone and put it in the crisper drawer. I tried to shut off my brain by drinking and drinking and drinking some more. I didn’t call Patrick because I knew he would hate the whole story. And I worried that my friends would stop liking me if they knew how sad I was. So I began going out by myself.
One night I was at the bar down the block from my apartment, staying busy with pinball and bourbon. I was moments away from a new high score, when I heard my name. Evangeline? Evangeline! I turned around, expecting a friend but seeing only a vaguely familiar face. A former coworker? Someone I met at a party? A college classmate?
He was pissed. You don’t even remember who I am, do you?
I pretended that I knew.
He shook his head. And then he slapped me right across my face.
For the briefest moment I was stunned. I would never hit a woman but you, you are no woman. You are a cold fucking bitch. Do you know how you made me feel?
My mouth tasted like metal. Funny how easily you recognize the flavor of blood. I touched my lip and saw the red stain spreading across my finger.
The guy–still unfamiliar to me–was still talking but I couldn’t hear him. All I could do was consider the absurdity of this moment. I was a grown fucking woman and I had just been slapped by another grown adult in front of an Elvira pinball game. I’m the asshole that never returns calls. Men wait by their own phones, waiting for me. FOR ME! I was a grown woman wearing a nightgown as a dress and somehow I was making other grown adults feel crazy. I wanted to take this situation seriously, but the laughter just started bubbling up from the pit of stomach. It was pushing its way up through my ribs. Holding it in was painful. And so there I was, blood dripping down my chin, just full-on belly laughing. Har har har. Ha ha ha. He stormed off.
I asked the bartender for a pack of American Spirits and a shot of tequila. He handed me a towel to mop off my face. Some ex-boyfriend of yours, Evangeline? I shrugged my shoulders. It’s hard to say. My vagina gets forgetful.
The next day I was offered a job 3000 miles away. I knew it was time to go.
And now I was sprawled out on the kitchen floor of my tiny apartment, still wearing my coat and hat, replaying this voicemail. His voice sounds weird. Fake cheerful. Game show host-y. I analyzed it as if I might be called as an expert witness to testify in a court of law about just how strange he sounded. I replayed it even as my phone pleadingly whispered the little beep warning me that the battery was running low. I replayed it long after my phone gave up and shut down. I stayed on the floor, listening to it over and over and over again until I realized that the rest of the city had gone to sleep.
Business travel–especially the international variety–seems so glamorous when you still have no business that requires going anywhere other than a desk or a cash register or a cardboard dumpster. And of course that first business trip makes you feel like you’ve really done something with your life. The excitement fades exponentially with each trip afterwards. And so now, thirty? Forty? Fifty trips into my thrilling career, I am tired and bored.
We begin the descent into Los Angeles, my latest home. I love this place. I’m in a permanent state of feverish hot-and-bothered. Yet this city is synonymous with loneliness. The omnipresent sunshine seems to make everyone forget how sad that really is. And right now, that sun was setting on the left side of the plane. Everyone around me is suspended in pink-orange jello, hastily choking down the rest of their $10 cocktails before the flight attendants confiscate the cups for landing. I already know what the rest of my night holds.
First I will wait in line to get my passport stamped. Then I will wait to retrieve my suitcase, ensuring that my luggage is actually mine since most bags tend to look alike. A disembodied voice above the baggage carousel will repeat this warning over and over, until it becomes the chorus of a familiar song. Next I will hand in my customs form. No, I haven’t brought back any fruits and/or vegetables. I will wait for the airplane shuttle for much longer than I have planned. And eventually I will be dropped off at my house in the east side of the city.
There will be no one awaiting me with a sign bearing my name at the airport. No one is going to hug me excitedly. There will be no one at home either, although surely my cat will be somewhat delighted to see me. It is doubtful that I have any missed calls. Or important social engagements for the next day.
This is the life I have built for myself using no blueprints. But I am happy with it. Everything is mine. My place, my furniture, the books, the records, and most importantly, my time. I am a Thirty-five-Year-Old Success.
When I’m finally home and in my bed, I will probably call Patrick. We’ll drink bourbon while I tell him about my trip, pretending that we aren’t 2000 miles apart. We won’t talk about music because we hate one another’s taste. We’ll never mention that he hasn’t ever left Chicago. We certainly won’t broach my inability to stay in one city for too long.
Along the way, he will start to get tipsy and soft. How is that you are still the prettiest girl I’ve ever known? And I will tell him to stop being such a sap. If we talk long enough, he’ll bring up his next favorite topic I’m sorry that I never called you when we first started hanging out all those years ago because I liked you too much and now my cowardice has ruined our lives. Somehow I will stay cool, even through that conversation because I can’t let my brain fall down that wormhole.
Most importantly I won’t mention the latest development in my life. Probably because I’m afraid to believe in it. A guy I barely knew visited me here. While I waited for him outside my office, I wondered if we would have anything in common. I had only talked to him one time in the past and only because he was cute. But now he was here in LA. As he walked down the street towards me, I looked at him and I thought I want to be this guy. This was a thing. This was going to be a thing. Because maybe things are still possible.