A Feeling That Tempts

A few weeks before they met in person, she had posted two ads on Craigslist ~~ that is, back when Craigslist was still used for these types of things ~~ each seeking a different guy. The first ad was for a male cycling partner, someone to keep her company on the way up north along the Hudson River, over the rolls of River Road heading toward Nyack, and beyond (all of which they talked about the first time they spoke, since the colors of fall were coming and she wanted to show him).

She had been riding on her own for over a year by this point, and she desired the pulse of masculinity to sharpen the luster that shone from everywhere, especially on days with perfect weather, beginning where the George Washington Bridge meets the Palisades across from the City. She wanted someone to share the air with.

The second ad was for a fuck buddy, more or less. She’d given up on finding a boyfriend, but she did want to have sex every so often, after all, she’d waited a long time until she finally could.

Ideally fate would have combined the cycling partner and fuck buddy into one person. Ever since she had toppled into the heap over 30, however, the part of her where convictions formed knew that New York had won for good, and that the time had come to let go of hopes that had buoyed her until now. The sex ratio had tipped, and the imbalance would only worsen.

Resignation might have seemed incompatible with her personality, which had thrived on fantasy ever since she was young. All those afternoons spent daydreaming and wandering the worlds of imagination as a child had molded her into an adult whose utility tethered itself to ambition.

But, in the course of accepting her lot in life, she now resorted to sadness, extracting solace from the death of a part of her that she denied acknowledging altogether: life was over before it began, and, goddammit, right when she was getting started. The dejection lay in having lost the very passion that she may have learned to curb, yet had never stopped craving.

It turned out that the sex partner she found was also a cyclist and wanted to spend time riding with her, while the cycling partner wanted to bring her toes to a curl and fall in love.

The sex-partner-turned-cyclist was a Latin guy whose name is forgotten because he nuzzled against her a few times but the feeling of him was sort of like a squid; he couldn’t keep up on the bike ride he insisted they take together; and she wasn’t crazy about the polenta he raved over and introduced her to before he slipped away and she stopped hearing from him, except for the random text here and there, when he found himself wanting to cuddle.

The cyclist-turned-love-affair was another Latin guy, let’s call him Aureliano, and she had a feeling something might happen as soon as she opened his picture from that first e-mail. His features were dark, just like her last boyfriend’s (Yigal the Persian Jew), and all the more so his eyebrows, the bushiness of which pronounced certainty from behind the edges of his Ray-Bans (the same pair that he’d give her to see the world with down in Mexico, upon which she’d exclaim that she totally needed polarized lenses, too). The photo showed his bicycle on the rack atop his old tan Volvo station wagon, with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

Oh no, she sighed, as her eyelids drooped for no one to notice in the solitude of her hobbit-like apartment in the East Village, which she’d bought the year before. He’s attractive.

There abides the commencement of attraction in the essence of essences, assuming a quality that is without color or form, yet remains visible to the mind. The intelligence of Divinity, nurtured on the knowledge of our spirits combined together, will rejoice at beholding reality, replenished once more through a revolution of the universe, as we yearn, we desire, we extrapolate the intricacies we wish to perceive, in a cycle that we hope to repeat, until enough time has passed and we find ourselves again in the same spot where we began and again are begun.

Any single moment holds eternity like two mirrors facing each other and reflecting justice and temperance and other such absolutes ~~ if not in their manifestation or relation to anything else, then in perfect knowledge of existence itself, the very assumption from which this particular love affair arises in the first place.

Meeting these truths, and feasting on them just as the heavens partake of their own grandeur in revolution, she will, in the end, pass down into their interior and return home to the body here on earth that she left so long ago.

But that homecoming must wait until her soul is birthed, just like yours and mine, except only that hers will, with the manner of the ever-aspiring, be forever frozen in time. She is destined to be, in contrast to you and me, a figment of our imagination.

Yet, at the same time, that very interplay between fantasy and vitality ~~ the consortium of feelings that come into being for no reason other than to be shared, a purpose on which they depend ~~ is precisely what renders her real.

She is desire itself, quelled with thirsting.

By the time she and Aureliano, the prospective cycling partner with bushy eyebrows, finally met in person, she had all but written him off as yet another apparition that would flicker short of materialization. What saved their connection from the graveyard of her interactions with men was the degree to which so many others calloused her against caring. Had she still fostered even a modicum of hope, she might not have tolerated the couple of cancellations he started out with ~~ initially because he fell sick, next because he had to travel to Austin to inspect a factory or whatever (or maybe it was the other way around… the Austin trip first and then the illness), or maybe he’d even cancelled three times already, she couldn’t remember.

It was a Sunday afternoon verging on dusk.

Her plan all weekend had been to check out the Russian & Turkish Baths on East 10th Street. (She would have been surprised to learn, if you went back and told her, that so much of her life to follow for the next five years would revolve around the Baths: their dingy, throbbing steam rooms and saunas that, even at street level, felt like forgotten caves underground ~~ but surprised only because, even if dreams of romance and chance had relinquished their hold, serendipity stayed dormant inside her.)

She was dressed to head out the door when her phone rang.

Did she recognize his number? It doesn’t matter.

“I was literally on my way there for the first time ever,” she told him when he said that he was standing on the stoop of the Baths, yes, the same ones she was going to visit after having walked by almost daily in college, when she’d head home to her little apartment on 11th Street between Avenues B and C, taking 10th Street eastward because there was a bodega on 10th and B (across from Life Café), where she’d get a blondie every night, oh, my, in those days she really ate a bunch of crap, no wonder she was always so depressed and up and down.

Night had just fallen, but it was October, so she was not cold.

She strolled down 7th Street to 2nd Avenue, where they were going to meet at Atlas, a vegan and non-vegan hole-in-the-wall that smelled entirely of cake. The café was so small and non-descript that she could never remember the cross-street, 5th or 4th or maybe even 3rd, whatever she’d said on the phone just moments ago, half hoping that he wouldn’t be able to find it, or that she’d manage to drive him away by being so nonchalant, if he even intended to show up at all.

Of course he intended to show up. He’d called her, hadn’t he?

He wanted to meet her, sure he did.

Plus, he was really cute.

Those eyebrows.

She picked up the pace with a bounce in her step. No longer was she trudging toward misery and the certainty of an emotional abyss ~~ she was going to meet a man.

A man!!

She felt very lucky, happy even.

Maybe this one would be different. Maybe he’d turn out to be real and someone she could ride bikes with.

Or maybe she’d just have a nice time this evening, eyeliner and all.

And so her heart dipped and she felt a touch of disappointment ~~ or was it anger? ~~ when she arrived and he wasn’t there.

Of course he wasn’t. He was like all the others, waiting to hurt her.

Whatever, she’d brought a swimsuit (the trusty fluorescent orange bikini) in her bag just in case, so she could cut her losses and head to the Baths, as she’d originally planned.

Which is why she was startled, really and truly almost shocked, when she spun around, her hair following through the air onto her shoulder, and he was right there in front of the phone booth she’d passed a second ago.

That feeling of dread catalyzing in the backseat of her heart ~~ the one that she knew could rear up and cause her to crash at any time ~~ was very much what attracted her to him in that moment: the first one from this story that might tempt you.

This piece is excerpted from my book To Whom I Could Have Been: A True Love Story ~~ with subsequent installments to follow.

Photograph of River Road by me.

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