How am I? How am I? I don’t even know where to start. For one thing, I’m on a Southwest flight, flying in the wrong direction, and I’m sitting next to this ancient, tiny Midwestern woman who probably says “pahp” instead of “soda,” and she keeps giving my blue hair disapproving looks, and she keeps jabbing me with her elbow as she crotchets, and sitting next to her is her equally ancient husband asleep with his mouth agape while his giant, uncovered knees take up all the room in the row so I can’t get up from my seat and go the bathroom without causing a chain reaction of ugly looks from these Kung fu masters of passive aggression, but I really need to pee from all the ginger ale I just drank and stand up and stretch and maybe even scream just a little, but mostly I need to hear your advice but I can’t because this flight doesn’t have WiFi so I just sit here with my tailbone throbbing and my mind reeling until I can get to Tucson and fill my lungs with mentholated smoke. So, uh yeah, I’m pretty fucking zen.
There’s almost too much to say and I don’t know where to start but I’ll bring you up to date. This trip to NYC was amazing and terrible all at the same time. There’s gotta be some crazy German word for that, right?
Ok, so it’s actually my second trip out there this year. The last time I did it was in June to see a band at Madison Square Garden. But it was also kinda/maybe to see a boy in the Meatpacking District.
I’d met him back in Tucson and chased him across the country. But cool girls don’t travel 2,000 miles to see a guy they barely know, do they? That’s for sweet co-eds with curly mermaid locks in 90’s CW television pilots. So, if anyone asks, I went to see a band.
The guy is a half-Jewish tech CEO playboy named Dan. I fell for him after a single night of knowing him. I think I needed a little saving from Grim Matt. He’s the hipster, know-it-all philosophy grad student with a penchant for bourbon and post-coital confessions of ways he screwed over previous girlfriends before passing out in my bed for entire days. Yeah, that guy.
So when Dan came into my life in April, it felt refreshing. He wore glasses to see. Not to look cool. He liked discussing Harry Potter and Warren Buffet and we discovered that we probably crossed paths in a dorm corridor at Columbia in 1997. Oh, and he pulled me off the bed and spanked me within maybe an hour of knowing me. It wasn’t weird. It was…cute. Well, cute and sexy. Cuxy? I don’t know.
That’s a lie. I do know. I knew the moment he messaged me. He was all business. It scared me. I didn’t want to meet him at some extended stay hotel in Marana. I like my kidneys very much, thank you. I didn’t want to wake up in a tub filled with ice and two slits down my back where my vital organs used to be. But when he touched me, I felt owned. This skinny nerd who I could break over my knee was very much in control. I’ve never felt so possessed by someone else. I just wanted more.
He asked me to spend the night with him after we had sex, and I did. Only I didn’t have my meds, so I couldn’t sleep. It was so incredibly awkward trying to lie still in bed while a virtual stranger slept quietly next to me. So I just wrote on my phone. And at 3 a.m. I got a message. It was Grim Matt asking what I was up to. For the first time ever, I didn’t respond.
In the morning, when Dan woke up, we made “loose plans” to meet up again that night for dinner. You know how I feel about plans. Eins zwei. Eins zwei. I plan like a goddamned Prussian. “Loose plans” is not a phrase in my vocabulary. But cool girls are casual and lighthearted.
I texted Marge when I woke up later at home and told her how unexpected Dan had been and how stupid I’d felt for meeting him in a Star Wars T-shirt and no makeup. This guy was supposed to have been a blip. A dating app hook up that I could work out frustration on and never see again. He wasn’t supposed to a sophisticated, suit-wearing, cheek-kissing-hello-and-goodbye, kind of guy. I worried that I might have blown it.
She told me to relax. “He puts his pants on like the rest of us. One leg at a time.”
“Yeah, but when he puts his pants on, he’s a fucking boss.”
“Play it cool, Vene. You can’t control everything. You’ve gotta learn that planning out your future until oblivion won’t guarantee that your heart won’t get broken again.” Leave it to my baby sister to pull the maturity card. When did she get so grown up? I still remember her razor cut emo hairdo from when she worked in a call center in Nogales. But alas.
I also texted Hector and told him I might be in love with a kid whose dorm room was above his, 20 years before back in college. “What do I doooooooo?” I typed while jumping up and down in my kitchen.
“Simple,” he wrote back. “Poke a hole in the condom.”
But by seven o’clock that night I still hadn’t heard from Dan and I started to worry. I was pretty sure he’d found the only supermodel in Tucson and run back to NYC with her. I texted him and asked if we were still meeting up so I could jump in the shower. He told me he needed a nap and asked if we could get dinner at nine.
“Sure, that’ll give me enough time to get ready. But Tucson closes early. You might want to make it a quick nap.” And I texted him the address to Obon, telling him I’d try to be on time. You know, like a cool girl…even though I was already showered and dressed and made up and downtown, outside the restaurant I’d be meeting him at in two hours. Most definitely not like a cool girl.
It was my first real grown up date, like ever. He challenged me intellectually and made me laugh with abandon. There was no pretense. I don’t think either of us were playing games. We left the restaurant and the Uber driver we’d matched with called him to tell us to meet him down the block. I let Dan walk in front, as I always do. He reached back with his hand and I just stared at it.
“Aren’t you going to hold my hand?” he asked. I could tell he knew I was uncomfortable with the idea. But I did. And I saw stars.
He held my hand on the way to the Uber and all the way back to his hotel, a half hour away. And when we woke up at three in the morning so he could make his flight, I opted to accompany him to the airport instead of keeping the room. My heart sank a bit as the car pulled up to the arrivals gate. So soon? He kissed me goodbye in the back seat of the car and got out to retrieve his bag from the trunk. I touched the back of my hand to my lips and fell into a kind of melancholic reverie, but the moment was cut short when my door suddenly opened and he grabbed my face and kissed me again.
“Damn, that was some trip!” he said, grinning ear to ear. And then kissed me again and closed the door.
There’s this Henry Rollins quote that I read a while back:
“I want a soul mate who can sit me down, shut me up, tell me ten things I don’t already know, and make me laugh. I don’t care what you look like, just turn me on. And if you can do that, I will follow you on bloody stumps through the snow. I will nibble your mukluks with my own teeth. I will do your windows. I will care about your feelings. Just have something in there.”
So, when Dan texted me the next week with a link to an article on index fund and hedge fund performance rates, I swooned. I booked a trip to NYC so I could figuratively drag my bloody stumps to see him again.
I had tickets to Madison Square Garden to see The 1975, which made a perfect cover for being in town. I checked with Dan over text. He said yes. For one night though. You see, Dan is busy. Between his traveling for his company and racing cars, he doesn’t have much time. And it wasn’t like we knew each other that well that I could just pull rank. Also, cool girls don’t ask for more than they’re given. They have no fucks to give.
I got an AirBNB in Hell’s Kitchen. I Tinder swiped until my finger hurt. I whittled down 300 some matches to a few musts, a few maybes, and a few benchwarmers. And then there I was in NYC in Dan’s apartment.
You know how I read real estate the way some people read tea leaves? This was a good one. Door man, elevator, high ceilings, dishwasher, good air conditioning, huuuuge bedroom. The date with Dan was nice, only it wasn’t really anything worth writing home about. I don’t know if I built it up too much in my head or if I was just too nervous. But there you have it. You can’t recreate lighting in a bottle. Also, I was in really great makeup and he made a comment about how men like women better when they’re natural looking.
There was this one thing, though. On our way to dinner, a fire truck came racing around the corner, lights ablaze and sirens blaring. I closed my eyes and covered my ears instinctually and started rocking back and forth. You can take the girl out of Tucson, but you can’t take the autism out of the girl. Dan wasn’t weirded out, though. To the contrary, he took his hands and put them over mine until the noise was gone. It was kinda sweet.
It actually ended up being this unassuming benchwarmer who really made my trip. Just some half Jewish/half Cuban, nerdy, Stanford-educated doctor in Chelsea named Samy. From the word ‘go’ this kid was a riot. Within half an hour of meeting at his place, we were kissing on his rooftop between sips of Prosecco. Within an hour, he was cross-dressing for me…he’s a professional roller dancer with more costumes than actual clothing. It was hot. I didn’t even know I had a whole thing with androgynous Jewish guys with long hair who are into kink. But now I do.
I’ve never tried heroin, but Samy is the closest I’ve ever come to it. There’s good sex and there’s great sex and then there is Samy sex. For four days and four nights, we spent our time between sunning on the Highline grass, going to concerts, eating at a Cuban diner, drinking Gose beers and having marathon sex sessions on his black satin sheets.
I ask you, how in the name of all that is good and holy was I was supposed to get on a plane and go back to Tucson after that? To guys like Grim Matt? Seriously, how?
I think I waited all of two weeks before buying tickets back to NYC this August. I waivered on whether to tell Dan. But in the end, I figured it couldn’t hurt. Dan was on board. Samy was on board. Dee, the woman with the AirBNB room, was on board.
As the months passed, Dan and I talked a lot. And by now I’d realized Dan is not the type to shoot the shit. He’s busy all the time. So if he’s giving you his time, it’s because he values what you’re giving in return. There were no tricks. No wondering if he’d ghosted you or thinking of someone else. And he seemed to be really into me.
So did Samy, for that matter. Unexpectedly, he sent me a picture of his butt taken in a plane lavatory on a trip to Barcelona. I probably laughed for five minutes. I informed Dan that I was receiving butt pictures from Samy and inquired whether he wanted to add to my collection. Within five minutes, I’d parlayed one butt pic into two.
This time around I had absolutely no legitimate reason to travel to NYC other than pure, unadulterated sex so I made up some bullshit writer reasons. When I told friends I was headed back, I kept getting the same response: “Your life is just like Sex and the City! You’re Carrie!”
Ok, bear with me for just a second, but I’ve gotta say this. I apologize in advance if I’ve already made this rant. Here’s the thing: my life is nothing like some repressed TV show from a million years ago. When I was in law school back in the aughts, the girls liked to discuss which character they were most like. They aaaaaaaaall thought they were Carrie. But really, they were aaaaaaall Charlottes, if you catch my drift.
Not that I was much better. If forced to choose, my cynical, eye-rolling nature could have at best been described as Miranda at the time. That’s who I was back then. But since, I’ve become at most a Samantha. She’s the only one who has a remotely healthy relationship with sex. How does a Miranda become a Samantha? Time and pressure, my friend. Just like a diamond.
Ok. On the surface, Carrie is glamorous, wears cool clothes, and is always having amazing adventures around the city. But how did Carrie even get a job as a sex columnist when she’s such a fucking prude? And why is she always walking around the city, having these epiphanies when encountering something unexpected? Who even does that? That’s so cheesy and unrealistic. But I digress.
So, flash forward to this week. I was back in NYC. This time Dee, my host, invited me out with her friend, Alice. Dee is a tiny Jamaican from London and Alice is a blonde from Sydney. They’re both ridiculously gorgeous. They’re both high level strippers with sugar daddies they found on special apps. And they wanted me to party with them. I had a minute to kill before meeting Dan, so we went to the swanky boutique hotel called The James and up to the Jimmy…a rooftop bar.
It was a landscape of the young and beautiful yuppies in Summer. Douche bags in pork pie hats and ditzes in Lily Pulitzer shifts and cardigans. Meanwhile, I was in blue hair and red lipstick, a black jumper and four-inch jellie platform heels. I was so out of my dirtbag element.
It made for good people watching though. At least it did until this potato-faced white guy in Italian shoes, a Ramones’ t-shirt and a blazer started talking to me. I only half listened for a minute until I excused myself to go smoke downstairs just to get away from him. The blue hair, while true to my nature, invites an unwanted element, I’ve found. Might have to 86 it.
But goddamn it if this dude didn’t follow me downstairs on the elevator. He asked for a cigarette so I gave him one. And then he started bragging about his yacht party up in the Hamptons that weekend and would I like to go? I told him I’d think about it. So he doubled down and told me how unique my look was and how I would be a breath of fresh air on his yacht. Yeah, he mentioned it again. Do people really fall for that? What’s the novelty in a yacht? I feel like everyone in Mexico has them. It’s, like, totally required for Insta pictures. And totally the reason why I was never interested in dating Mexican dudes.
Just then my phone buzzed. It was Dan telling me to come through (‘come through’ is one of those weird phrases I never heard until a few months ago in NYC and it feels so strange to me). So I excused myself. But before I left, the guy asked if he could put his name in my phone. He said he ran a company that could get me front row seats to anything, anytime. “It’s how all the cool millennials get VIP access.” I gave him my phone just to shut him up and then walked a block away and called a Via.
Safe in the backseat of the Via, I looked at the phone entry. “Billy McFarland” it read. I Googled this guy and found out he was under indictment for fraud for some giant music festival scandal in the Bahamas. It sounded about right. He sent me a text within a couple minutes with an address in Bridgehampton. Sure bud, I thought. I’ll be right there.
Maybe shaking off that slimy dude worked out the dating jitters because that night with Dan was freaking phenomenal. It just felt so good to see him. It felt like…I don’t know…familiar, I guess? Like we’d rehearsed these dance steps a million times, hand in hand, and knew each other of old. But not in a way that was tired or predictable. More like déjà vu. I just wanted to linger in his gaze forever as we stood in his dark bedroom. “Get that off,” was all he said, meaning my clothes. Lighting bolts…all up and down my body.
The next morning, after Dan had hit the snooze button on his phone four times, he groaned and got out of bed. “This eclipse better be worth it.”
“In Oregon. Well, it’s supposed to be best from viewed from Oregon.”
“So how are you gonna see it in NYC?”
“I’m not. I’m leaving for Portland in a few hours. My buddy and I are camping somewhere out in the woods.” I didn’t say anything, trying to figure out what would be the most aloof thing to say. But the longer I stayed silent, the more awkward the silence became. Finally he asked if something was wrong.
“Nothing. It’s just that I’m not in town for very long.”
“When do you go home?”
“In three days.”
“Great. I should be back for your last night then.”
“Great.” I didn’t complain. I didn’t argue. I didn’t beg him not to go. Cool girls give no fucks, I told myself.
I spent the next night with Samy. Only Samy was taciturn as fuck for some reason. I didn’t even sleep at his place. After smashing, I just left around 2 a.m when Samy started bullshitting me about having to get up early. After all his talk over the months of how much he loved me, he certainly had some way of showing it. In the Uber back to the AirBNB, I wondered to myself if the men of NYC thought Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” was some kind of playbook. I decided that Samy was in time out for the foreseeable futre.
The next night, I was 2,000 miles from home, broke, with no plans at all. No men. Bubkis. So I just headed to a bar by the AirBNB. Ernesto, a Mexican bartender from Puebla, poured free drinks, and I got to swiping on Tinder. Around 11, I walked a block down and a block over to meet some Iranian lawyer. Only when I got there…out on the street…I took one look at that schmendrik and bounced. And again, I was without plans.
Only it ended up being the best night of my life. With nowhere to go, I walked back up the street and into a trattoria that seemed to have good live music. I ended up singing with the girl at the piano, who was in town for a convention. For our labors, we were each given a bottle of tempranillo from the owner—an old Argentinean Italian. When I looked at the label there was a picture of him dressed as Elvis on it.
Back on 8th Avenue, I found myself dancing with a bunch of Caribbean dudes and smoking weed on the street and ended up in Greenpoint at 3 am drinking tempranillo with a hipster musician from Spain I’d met on Tinder. I’d manage to have a good night without plans. I felt like what Neolithic Man must have felt like when he discovered fire.
Dan got back from Portland, delayed by the commotion caused by one of Trump’s Aryan Nation rallies in Phoenix. He called me at 2:30 a.m. when he landed in Newark to tell me to meet him. I went straight away to his place after taking my meds. When I got there we went to bed and he held me through the night.
Yesterday was one of those beautiful days that just break your fucking heart. I woke up rested, after sleeping on the most comfortable bed ever with Dan’s arms around me. The diffused light that filtered in the room betrayed the late hour and I knew this moment was about to end. But I didn’t stir, if only to prolong Dan’s slumber for just a second longer.
When he did rouse, we went to run errands. That feeling, the one of déjà vu, kept returning. I knew the way. We traversed the neighborhood, hand in hand, from the laundry to the post office and the deli. I’ve never felt such joy doing such mundane things in my life. When we got back to his place, he checked the mail. I watched as he opened letter after letter stuffed with checks for obscene amounts.
“Is that how your business gets paid?”
“No,” he said like I was an idiot. “This is chump change. The big amounts get wired into my corporate account.” I’m not gonna lie. It was hot.
I needed more time. In the elevator, I asked him what he thought about me postponing my flight for a day. He smiled and said, “Sure. Get your things from your place while I work. You can stay with me.”
We each worked in his apartment through the afternoon and into the evening. He made high-powered calls while I wrote on the sofa next to his desk. I kept catching myself smiling.
Around 7:30, I decided to take a smoke break. I took his extra set of keys and went downstairs. Instead of turning left, as we had every other time, I turned right. I walked down a few blocks until I was past the West Side Highway and on pier 45.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a thing of beauty like that pier. There were families eating at tables and laying on the grass with picnic baskets. Lithe joggers passed me by on a bleached boardwalk. And as I made my way to the end of the pier, I could hear tango music get louder and louder. Couples danced in an illuminated pavilion.
I leaned on a rail facing the river and watched the sun set over Jersey. There was this moment when the Hudson lit up like it was lava. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I reflected on the whole trip and how it was all so unexpected. So unplanned. I wasn’t constantly worried about what was supposed to happen next. I thought of all the people just living their lives here, in this place I never knew existed. I felt alive…I felt free.
And goddamnit if I wasn’t having my Carrie Bradshaw epiphany moment. I know. I’m gonna have to apologize to Sarah Jessica Parker someday.
That night, I told Dan about my epiphany over Indian delivery and a Netflix stand up comedy show. He seemed to be amused that I, of Arizona sunset fame, would be impressed with the sun setting over Jersey. We ended up watching a couple of shows, laying on the couch with legs entwined. There was no rushed petting or eroticism. Just the enjoyment of shared laughs and shared company. Still stunned by the feeling that had overcome me earlier, I marveled at where I was. I kvelled. I kvelled big time.
I had to leave for real this afternoon, and on waking up this morning, I felt this sense of urgency to hold Dan a little tighter. As if to will time to stop. But as I had no magical powers, I reluctantly let go. We got breakfast and coffee and then worked ‘til two, when I had to make my way to LaGuardia.
Dan kissed me goodbye. We took a selfie. And Dan asked if he could help with my luggage.
“No. It’s not that much. Thanks.”
“Are you sure you don’t need help?”
“Yeah. It’s not a big deal.”
“Are you sure you’re sure?”
I looked at him, trying to get the joke. “Why do you keep insisting?”
“Just a habit I picked up in Japan. Um, I’m gonna be racing out your way soon. Do you…drive?”
“Are you asking me to join your racing team?”
He laughed. “No, I was just wondering if you’d meet me in Scottsdale. I’ll be racing out there soon with friends.”
“I’d meet you on the moon if you asked, Dan. And, you know, you could just tell your friends that I’m your friend, or whatever.”
“What if I wanted to call you…” He paused. I swear to God my heart was beating out of my chest as I waited for him to finish his sentence. “Something else?”
Before I could think, I just blurted out, “No. It’s ok.” I smiled and made my best attempt to hold back tears. Cool girls don’t cry in front of boys, do they? “Friends is perfect.”
I picked up my suitcase and walked down the long hallway to the elevator, down to the lobby and out the automatic doors onto the street and completely lost it on the sidewalk. Lucky for me, my driver was a Bangladeshi who liked Mexican music. He played mariachi music for me the whole way to the airport and got me laughing and singing songs of broken hearts.
So now I’m on this plane going west and willing it to get to Midway as fast as it will go so you can tell me I wasn’t wrong. Why, sweet Jesus, why? Why did I tell him “No?”
I know why. Because he broke my heart and didn’t even know it. Earlier today, when Dan was in the shower as I leaned against the sink in the bathroom, he confessed to me that he had been in love once with a food blogger in Tokyo. He told me that he would have married her but didn’t think she was ambitious enough. When he was back stateside, though, he realized he made a mistake. Only now, she was the one who didn’t want to be with him. And the heartbreak was bad enough that he didn’t think he could ever be in love again.
It took every ounce of will to tell him “No” to being more than friends. I know profound fucking heartbreak and I don’t think I could handle it six months down the road if he couldn’t love me. I did the right thing, right? So why do I feel so awful?
I can’t deny that I’m in love. Not with Dan so much, but with the city. I love NYC the way Baby Boomers love that Carpool Karaoke episode with Paul McCartney.
So here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna make a plan. I know…enough with the plans…but hear me out. I’m gonna get back on another one of these flying tin cans headed to NYC. Again and again and again, if necessary. Not for the boy, though I don’t think our story is over yet. But because I write about my life. And there, my life is on fire. I’m an impressionist who paints with light. And I want to capture that place before inertia captures me for all time.
That much I know. But I need you. You taught me everything there was to know about being a cool girl. Is it all going to be alright, my cool girl? Well, is it?
The cool girl affect: a manifestation born of profound fear of rejection, cruelty or indifference. Upon being broken, one takes on the affect as armor. The affect creates space for one to maneuver in a situation without actually feeling the pain she believes she will feel. Any sense of earnestness or naïveté are stuffed so far down that she begins to believe the cool girl role rather that feel anything.
The cool girl affect is a patronus. It is a healing card in the game of Magic. It is a safety blanket. It is not a permanent state of being, but rather a stage one goes through to regain confidence. It is not a sign of immaturity, but rather a temporary time out until the compass can be reset and safety for feelings is reestablished. The cool affect, if left unchecked may leave one emotionally unavailable and unable to distinguish truth from fiction. Overuse may result in numbness or resentment. Consult your doctor if symptoms last more than six weeks.