The Softboy Apology

Art by Rebecca Porter

He looked exactly like my high school prom date with a better haircut, so it didn’t take me much time to imagine the sun shining out of his ass. His dark chocolate brown hair curled down over his soft caramel eyes, and he wore enough layers to be trendy and probably sweaty in the dark Hollywood bar.

I leaned over to my best friend, who has requested to be called Petunia, and asked, “Who’s that guy?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “But he’s going to be in love with one of us. It’s just a matter of which one.”

We laughed, half-believing her words. We were both insecure twenty-nothings who’d recently had an ego-boosting string of good luck with dating, but I’d become fed up with my current hook up after he said, mid-blow job, “Sarah, if you just do this I will rock your world…tomorrow morning.”

“So who’s your next target?” Petunia had asked me at lunch earlier that day.

“Some random Los Angeles man.” I’d decided.

And there he was, the very same day. A random Los Angeles man who was walking towards us.

He introduced himself and Petunia slipped away when she saw my eyes light up. As we talked, he listed off red flags: only child, actor, majored in acting, twenty-three, moved here with his now ex-girlfriend, and a little too comfortable with cocaine. But I swear this dude looked exactly like my prom date, so I didn’t really hear what he was saying. I couldn’t even remember his name.

As the clock struck 2am, the bouncer ran around us like an Australian sheep dog, ushering us out so the bartenders could go home. We stumbled past Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, completely deserted at this point.

“I really gotta pee,” he announced. “How far is this Denny’s? I might just pee on Davey Wayne’s.”

“It’s not far,” I told him. “But if you pee on Davey Wayne’s I’ll think you’re really cool,” I joked.

He stopped abruptly and unzipped his pants. I squealed and ran off towards the group when I heard his stream hitting the wall.

Everyone else squeezed into a booth, but we sat at the end of the table, chugging water and trying to figure out the ingredients in a hush puppy. I was convinced they could be made with real puppies. When the waitress came over, he ordered for us.

“We’re going to split the French toast and the tropical hush puppies.”

“That’s so cute,” the waitress said.

He smiled. “Yeah, it is cute.”

I smiled back at him.

Petunia leaned over and bit me. “I’ve been saying your name for like a full minute,” she said. I hadn’t noticed. Normally we’d be the ones splitting French toast and making googly eyes at each other.

I offered to drive him home afterwards, and he invited me up, but it was almost 3am, and I had to be a fresh-faced receptionist in the morning. So we made out in my car as a Taylor Swift song came on the radio. He went in for a boob grope and knocked my car cactus over with his knee. Another red flag I didn’t catch.

As he left he said, “You should text me.”

I reminded him, “Actually, you have my number.”

A few days later, he texted me to tell me he was out of town, but when he got back he’d text me. “So head’s up.” His last name in my phone was still the bar where we’d met.

“WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?” I asked my coworker.

“It means he wants to ask you out, but can’t at the moment,” she said.

I’d never received anything like that before. How thoughtful.

A week or so later he took me out for dinner. Afterwards we sat in his living room working up the courage to make a move. I said, “Michael Gambon plays Dumbledore. Richard Harris is Dumbledore.” He whooped victoriously and dove across the white Ikea sofa to make out with my face.

I was parked on Hollywood Boulevard and had to move my car before 3am. So at 2:55, I slid back into my clothing, made a joke about perfect timing, and ducked out.

We hung out once or twice a week for two months. Sometimes it was planned a week in advance, other times it was “Hey, what are you up to tonight?” We went to see Jurassic World, although I’d never seen Jurassic Park. We ate out at hip restaurants in Silver Lake and Echo Park that he probably used to go to with his ex-girlfriend of three years. We watched Silence of the Lambs in his apartment that she also lived in for a year, with their dog. He tried to talk me into watching The Babadook, but after we watched the trailer I had nightmares. Sometimes, when we’d chill in his apartment, he’d get up and grab a beer and forget to offer me one too. But I swear he even sounded like my high school prom date. It was uncanny.

I wanted him to be like Jamie Wellerstein in The Last Five Years before he becomes a dick, so in my mind, he was. One night, I was lying naked in his bed, and he walked towards the collection of string instruments in the corner of his room.

“Are you finally going to play the banjo for me?” I asked, barely joking. I’d be lying if I said Troy and Gabriella dancing around the greenhouse didn’t cross my mind.

He picked it up and explained that people used to strum the banjo until Earl Scruggs came along and popularized the three-finger picking method that we associate with the banjo now. He talked a lot, usually reciting facts I’d probably forget by morning. He’d never traditionally complimented me, except once, saying, “you seem well-read.” He strummed the banjo for a bit, sitting on the edge of his bed in his black boxer briefs, but soon swapped it out for his mandolin.

He sang a song about love, and his eyebrows knit together in a way that I knew was coming from the pain of his ex-girlfriend leaving. We’d only been seeing each other for two months. The suffering in his face was too deep to be caused by any sort of feelings for me. But he looked like my prom date, who I was secretly in love with for six years, and sang to me the way I’d always wanted the prom date to sing to me, and it’s easier to fall in love with ideas than it is to fall in love with people.

“I like you,” I told him one night as we were drifting off to sleep.

“I like you too, Sarah,” he said. And then he added “Sarah Porter” with this groovy inflection that made it sound like he was in awe that the girl in his bed was into him too.

The next morning, before I snuck out for work, I unplugged my phone from his charger and plugged in his phone, because he’d once done that for me and I thought it was the most romantic gesture of modern love. The screen lit up with two texts from his ex-girlfriend.

Okay. He said they were trying to be friends. But I’d done most of the initiating for our dates, so I figured I’d let it breathe for a little bit and give him a chance to reach out. He’d leant me a book, after all. It was Burning Chrome by William Gibson and not my style. He’d text me every week or so to see if I’d read it yet, but every time I opened it, I fell asleep. He didn’t try to see me.

One day during The Silence, I opened up Venmo to split the WiFi bill with my roommate, and spent a second looking at the creative explanations my friends used for their payments. I scrolled through “freedom,” “unfortunately jimmy schmidt,” and “living life to the balls.” And then I saw a couple back and forth payments between him and his ex-girlfriend. I realized they were hanging out again.

I finally finished Burning Chrome just to have an excuse to text him. I was hoping he’d ask to meet for coffee, so he could explain he was back together with his ex and to retrieve his book. I majored in Literature — if I were in his shoes, I’d lead him on until I got my book back and then I’d break things off. I cherish my paperback best friends.

After a few weeks of no word from him and a handful of mean nicknames bestowed by my girlfriends, I’d been hit on by enough non-actors to get over him. Then, one night, while drinking bourbon-spiked milkshakes on Ventura Boulevard with my roommate, I received a double text from him. It had been two months since we last saw each other.

“Sarah. I am a total, complete asshole. Just want to start with that. I just straight up ghosted on you, so disrespectful, and I am so, so sorry. I clearly still had a lot of shit to work out regarding my ex girlfriend, and I had no real idea of what I wanted from you or with you, and instead of just being honest and telling you how I felt, I sort of backed away quietly, which is basically like the most chicken-shit option available. You obviously don’t have to respond to this, or even waste any time THINKING about this idiocy, I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry, you’re fucking cool, I’m not.”

And then he sent me the article, “Have You Encountered the Softboy,” which I’d read weeks ago with him in mind. “This is incredible,” he wrote. “Blew me away. I am officially a walking meme, and suck.”

My first reaction was to thank him for reaching out, but I waited and sent a screenshot of the message to Petunia to steer me in the right direction. She didn’t like him from the start.

“He doesn’t sparkle,” she always said.

She started off with “Wow.” And “Ew, he sucks,” which lead her into, “I seriously hate that he’s so self-indulgent and vain that he would fucking send you that article. It’s ALL about him too. The whole apology is about him and how he feels and what he came across as, to you, and now he’s trying to pick up the pieces for his image and make himself feel better. Don’t even respond. He doesn’t deserve it.”

I re-read the article and then his apology. I wondered if he knew he clinched his Softboy Status in that text message. He was self-aware enough to see similarities between himself and The Softboy, and he was ashamed. But in his apology he included only “I” statements. In an argument, I fully support the “I” statement, but a decent apology, or one of that length, should have something a little more personal than “you’re fucking cool, I’m not.” Even a cliché like, “you deserve better” would’ve cooled the fiery winds of narcissism he blew my way in his search for comforting words to assuage his bruised pride.

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