Illustrated by: Kayla Marie
This is the fourth story in the series Becoming. To start at the beginning of the series, click here.
Names in this nonfiction story have been changed as a courtesy to the people involved.
← Previous story | Next story Ø
When I woke up the next morning I was freezing to a degree in which no amount of description could possibly do justice. It was about fourteen degrees below absolute zero and it was as much as I could do to not die from it in the night.
“Where on Earth is it that cold?” you might ask.
I was at Jason’s apartment in Brooklyn — a borough of New York City where most people have never heard the words “central” and “air conditioning” put together in the same sentence. In Brooklyn, the concept of cooling an entire apartment with one machine is filed away under “Myth and Superstition.” It’s a fairytale that sweaty parents tell their overheating children as they crowd around a rotating fan and pray for winter.
Here’s where you ask: “if there wasn’t central air conditioning, then why were you so cold?”
Well, instead of central air conditioning, people in Brooklyn use window-unit air conditioners and have to actively choose which room in their apartment they want cooled.
Jason chose his bedroom.
And before he and I crawled into bed, he told me he couldn’t relax without “a little white noise in the background.” He walked over to my side of the bed and turned the dial of a newly purchased air conditioner to full-motherfucking-blast.
He smiled while he did it.
“Is this okay?” I remember him asking.
“Of course it is,” I said back to him. I crawled into his bed and pulled the comforter up to my eyeballs. When Jason came in to join me, I remember clinging to him like he was a radiator.
So let’s fast-forward — I woke up in Jason’s apartment tightly wrapped in a cocoon I had constructed out of his sheets and deceivingly thin comforter.
I’m sure in my dreams I died atop some mountain in an arctic tundra, because I remember waking up a little startled.
I opened my eyes into darkness and pushed the comforter off my face. I fully expected to see Jason on the other side of the bed, frozen into some perfectly rectangular ice cube; but no. Instead, I unwrapped myself from the multiple layers of stolen sheets to find him sprawled out on top of the mattress as if to escape some unbearable heat.
Jason looked like Jack Skellington if Jack Skellington had grown up in Portland, Oregon. He had curly hair styled to make him look as unintimidating as possible, a face that was designed to wear glasses, and a jaw that was just big enough to fit his large, frustratingly perfect teeth. He barely fit onto his own bed and from the way he was sleeping I could tell he had unsuccessfully tried to take off his Parks and Recreation t-shirt during the night.
I re-wrapped myself in the comforter again, only this time I fashioned two eyeholes to stare at him through. Like any hopeless romantic or serial killer would, I stared at him and his curly hair, watching his chest move up and down with every breath.
I know that when I am dying and looking back on my life, that morning in Jason’s apartment will definitely be something I remember. I’m not going to remember his room, what he looked like, or what I was doing before or after I was there. I won’t remember what we said to each other, what we ate, and — to be honest — I probably won’t even remember it was cold.
The only thing I’m going to remember is how I felt in that moment. Oddly enough, it feels more real in hindsight than it did in the moment.
In the moment, I was a wannabe-writer who — in less than two months — moved to New York, became a digital producer to one of the largest television shows in America, was somewhere in Northern Brooklyn, wrapped up next to a beautiful boy, who was a television producer at HBO, who believed in me, who kissed me like he meant it, and who slept with me when the day was over.
Everything felt crisp and perfect. In my mind it wasn’t vague or open to interpretation: I was happy. There wasn’t any waiting, no practice or sacrifice leading up to some kind of arbitrarily earned pay-off — it was here.
I was on my own and I had succeeded to the greatest degree in which one could. Everything had fallen perfectly into place and I believed I deserved it. It was validation for all the times I was told I was going to be very successful but felt like I was just being buttered up with empty words.
And — while we’re on the subject of things I won’t remember, I probably also won’t remember the gunshot I heard outside Jason’s window that startled me so badly it made me jump a little bit under the sheets. Actually, there were multiple gunshots and, without even thinking, I lifted my head and looked out the window at what could have been a very ugly scene.
Jason lived in Bedstuy, which is a wonderful neighborhood for people whose major in college was Keeping Your Head Down and/or Fighting Entire Groups Of People.
As you might have guessed, Jason didn’t major in either of those things. He was a skinny, white, nerd-boy from NYU with the body composition of the stick-bug from A Bug’s Life, so when he first told me he lived in Bedstuy, I was more than a little confused about his ability to make rational choices — until I walked into his apartment.
“Wow,” I said, looking around. “This is bigger than I expected.”
Jason shut the door behind me and I set my bag down by the door. Jason’s living room was big enough to fit a good-sized coffee table and television on a chest of drawers behind it. There were queer little flower arrangements, mostly purple, scattered across across the apartment and up against walls which were covered with paintings that I can only assume he picked up from Ikea. There were two bedrooms connected to the living room, a long hallway, and a dining room with a table that hadn’t been constructed yet. There was even a chandelier that would someday float above that unconstructed table, waiting patiently on the ceiling.
I walked through his apartment, admiring everything I came in contact with.
“Wow,” I said to one thing. “Oh look,” I said to another.
This went on for some time until I walked a little further into the dining room and was stopped by a blockade.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to an archway which had been blocked off by a cardboard box tightly wedged between it.
“Um — well that,” Jason said, scratching his head. “Okay — that’s the kitchen…”
I laughed a little bit. “Why do you say it like that?”
“All right. Well — yeah, I guess I’ll tell you. You’re new to New York though, so promise you won’t freak out. It’s a semi-normal thing here but I’m working on it.”
Rats, I thought to myself. He’s going to tell me he found a rat.
“There was a rat,” Jason said. “Well — three rats. I was in the kitchen and I heard something under the refrigerator. When I moved it, they ran out from the bottom near my feet.”
Jason said it very calmly but in my head I imagined him jumping onto the counter in a hysterical panic, screaming at the top of his lungs, and knocking over pots and pans on his way to a broom on the other side of the counter. I imagine he threw that too.
“Again,” Jason said, “I’m working on it. I think I caught them all but I don’t want to take any chances.”
I started laughing again and he tried his hardest to change the subject.
“So anyway,” he continued. “Are you hungry? Did I ask you that already.”
“Okay, good. So I was looking at places.” He plopped down on the couch and opened his laptop. “I found this fancy sushi place that delivers. They sell a four-roll-combo-thing. I was going to get that and dumplings. What do you think?”
It told him it sounded great and I sat next to him on the couch. I can’t really remember what he was wearing, but I certainly remember what I was wearing: a pair of Adidas running pants and blue shirt with “ESPN” slapped on the front of it. I had gone to Jason’s apartment directly from the gym.
“Do you mind if I change?” I asked.
Jason looked up from his computer. “Not at all. My room is the one at the end of the hallway. Besides — this website isn’t working. I think I’m going to call the restaurant.”
Jason pulled out his phone and I grabbed my bag on my way into his bedroom.
“Hello,” I heard him say over the phone. His voice got fainter and fainter. “I’d like to make an order for delivery. No, Delivery.” he repeated. “No, delivery.”
I shut the door to his bedroom and I turned on a light. His bedroom was exactly what I would have expected. In fact, if someone had given me a pencil and paper after our first date I would have been able to draw Jason’s room with psychic-like accuracy.
His room was a bed and a dresser.
As a minimalist writer I am often criticised for not providing enough details so — let me rephrase the description of his room by saying:
His room was a large square containing a pristinely white, newly purchased, Tempur-Pedic rectangle covered in fluffy sheets. It was sitting opposite a basic Ikea dresser, the same one you’ve probably seen a hundred different times, in a hundred different positions, in a hundred different homes, all the time, always.
The only thing that gave the room any Jason-ness at all were three pairs of identical brown-leather shoes that I bet came complimentary in his hipster starter-pack. They were each lined up in a row beside his dresser.
That, and the smell of a masculine, well-hygiened boy, with a heavy dependence on sunscreen.
I reached in my bag and pulled out the only thing inside it.
For an entire month, my favorite thing to wear out of the gym was a pair of insanely short denim shorts that Heather had made for me by cutting the legs off my skinny jeans. I partly liked them because I get really hot after the gym, partly because I’m in New York and pretty much anything goes here, but mostly because I live for a good laugh, and there was a solid month when there was nothing funnier to me than seeing the confused looks on people’s faces as my hairy, man-legs came strolling down Ninth Street in jean shorts J-Lo wore in the 90’s.
I didn’t even hesitate. I squeezed into those suckers and threw on a white t-shirt.
When I walked back into the living room Jason was sitting with his feet on the coffee table. He took one look at me and started chuckling. “So there they are,” he said. “What did you call those?”
“My hoochie-mama shorts,” I said, sitting down. The two of us exchanged a look and broke out laughing.
For the greater portion of an hour, Jason and I talked about Film. And by “talked about film,” I mean I basically forced him to watch a short film he didn’t want to watch and for a second or two I demanded we watch some of the HBO show he produced; he turned me down pretty forcefully and repetitively.
“I love the show,” he said, “but no thanks. I don’t want to think about work. It’ll stress me out.”
There was a brief moment of silence and, at first, I didn’t know what to say.
“So — career wise — where do you have to go from here?” I asked. “Are you somebody that wants to keep producing television or do you have your targets set on something bigger? What does somebody who produces television at twenty-one want to do when he grows up?”
“I think just want to be a somebody in general,” he said. He laughed a little when he said it. “I’m so jealous of those Vine stars. That’s the life I want. I want to get money for just existing.”
“I hate to break it to you, Jason, but you already are a somebody. People would kill to be where you are. I have friends that have done television production since they were fourteen and they can’t even get interviews for some of the places you’ve worked.”
“I know,” he said. “I know. I’m grateful. I just — I wish I was doing something more creative. I want to be somebody who creates television shows — like a writer or something.”
“I know,” he said. He rolled his eyes and grit his teeth like he regret saying it. “It’s embarrassing. I feel like everyone wants to be a writer — but I have so many cool ideas. I just can’t get them onto paper. Or — I can but — it’s complicated…” He adjusted his legs and put his arm on the top of the couch. “If I just knew how to put my name out there as a writer I’d really be a somebody; writers make so much money.”
I didn’t even know how to begin to address that, so I think I just changed the subject. Probably to kissing.
I don’t remember who kissed who first, but I remember him crawling on top of me and trying to position his legs on the couch so that he wasn’t dangling off of it. He never succeeded in that effort.
And I know this won’t mean anything to anyone, but Jason was a bisexual and he kissed like one. He was commandingly delicate, and he kissed me as though I were cotton candy that melt if I was kissed to hard.
And, hell, maybe I was.
When Jason woke up, he stared at the ceiling for a little bit. He rolled over towards me and I pretended like I had just woken up too.
“Good morning,” he said. He kissed me and I opened one eye.
“Good morning,” I said back. “I slept so well.”
He stretched and groaned. “You better have. This bed was expensive.”
When he got out of bed he walked over to my side so that he was standing in front of the air conditioner. He took of his shirt and let out a big sigh of relief.
“Sorry it’s so hot in here.”
“Hot in here? It’s freezing in here!”
“Ha!” he said. “You’re funny.”
Jason walked over to his dresser and checked his phone. “Okay. Time to get moving. I’ve got brunch with a friend in an hour.”
“Oh. Do you want me to come? I guess I could but I don’t really have a legitimate change of clothes…”
“No — it’s cool.” He went into the bathroom and I heard the shower turn on. He came back out and took off his clothes. “We’ll meet up another time.”
I sat up in his bed and checked my phone. I had a million messages. A few were from my roommate asking me to freeze the bananas on top of the fridge so she could use them for smoothies when she got home. There were couple from my mom asking me if I had heard anything back from “my big interview at The Wizard of Oz show.” And there were about a hundred thousand or so messages from Heather, telling me to meet her later for drinks and drag.
“Rupaul’s Drag Race is on tonight,” Heather wrote. “Or did your bitch-ass forget?”
She went on.
“Are you working yet? Come get drinks. A bunch of people are going to Boots and Saddle. Wanna go? Come on, loser!”
Jason was in the bathroom, yelling from the shower. “Are you doing anything tonight?”
I peeled myself out of the comforter and into the freezing cold room. I was so cold and pale that I could see my bright blue veins bulging out of my skin. “I think so!” I yelled. “Do you want to come with me to a drag show… in the West Village?”
I heard the shower turn off and after a few seconds Jason exploded out of the bathroom in a burst of steam.
“Maybe,” he said, scrambling to find the shirt he wanted. “I’ll let you know.”
We left his apartment at the same time, kissed, and walked in opposite directions. I took the train. He took a taxi.
Later that night, I walked down one of the side streets in the West Village on my way to Boots and Saddle. It was nearing the end of summer and the West Village looked like all of the pictures I had seen of New York growing up. There were rustic looking brownstones with yellow bikes and tall green trees out in front. Couples in suits walked past me over and over again on their way to their luxury apartments in Soho, where I’m sure they giggled to each other over a vintage red wine that was older and more expensive than me.
I just trudged on, looking down at my phone every once in awhile, reading the same text message from Jason.
It read: “I can’t come tonight. Sorry.”
I didn’t say anything back and when I got to Boots and Saddle, I showed the doorman my ID and walked down the stairs on my way to the bar. It was about as dark and loud as any other bar, only there was a drag queen doing cartwheels in the middle of the room and giant glowing balls on the ceiling.
Heather and her friends were sitting inside a small sectioned-off area with two tables and far too many people crowded around it. Some people tapped her on the shoulder and Heather turned around and locked eyes with mine.
“Seth!” she shouted. She ran over towards me and walked me towards the table. “Ah! I’m so excited to see you! So this is the crew… ”
She introduced me to her roommates, Sabrina and Michelle, their two friends, and the friends of theirs. Sitting in the middle of everybody was somebody named Issac, who I know Heather had wanted me to meet for some time.
“He’s such a free spirit,” Heather had told me once in passing. “I think you two would get along. He’s an artsy character. I can see you two picking apart each other’s minds.”
Issac was skinny — very skinny — with a boyish body and a crop-top made out of a loosely woven mesh that didn’t even try to cover up his nipples. He was sitting on the other side of a round table with his legs crossed and his back facing a significantly older, gray-haired man, who was rubbing it gently.
Heather found a seat immediately but I couldn’t find one, so I started circling around and around like a dog trying to get comfortable.
“Are there stools?” I said, tripping over somebody’s legs. I stumbled and tried centering my balance, only to trip on someone else’s legs. “I don’t see any place to sit.”
Several people started moaning and shifting over so I didn’t step on them.
“Wait,” Issac said, moving his legs. “Wait–w–wait!”
He grabbed the sides of my legs to stop me from moving. He turned to face the man rubbing his back and he whispered something into his ear. The man sat at a different table a little further from us. I still don’t really know what that was about.
Regardless, I sat down where the older man had been sitting and ordered a margarita.
The conversation at the table was as refreshing as it was different. For a long stretch of time, nobody talked about their jobs or career goals. There wasn’t any word about train delays or construction. I thought it was going swimmingly, until:
“So what do you do?” Isaac said to me. Everyone turned to face me and I felt like I had just been thrown on stage with a microphone.
“Me?” I asked. “I — um — well I was interviewing for a producing role at the Wizard of Oz show. I was supposed to hear back last week but I haven’t heard anything.”
I could hear someone stirring their drink.
“But you just moved here, right?”
“About two months ago, yeah.”
“Well Heather already told me you were taken so I guess you move really fast.”
“Taken?” I asked. “I don’t know about taken.”
“An open relationship, then?”
“No, not even that. We see each other but — he’s just busy a lot. He’s got a demanding job and I don’t want to get in his way…”
Literally everyone at the table exchanged sideways glances as though they were clinking their glasses after a toast. Afterwards, Isaac and Heather went off to tip the drag queen and Heather’s roommates broke off in side conversation. I pushed my head onto the back of the booth and sipped on my margarita.
I would call the events that followed: The Period of Waiting.
For the greater portion of three weeks I did nothing but wait. Most of my time was spent laying on the couch “waiting for my muscles to recover.” I had been putting in a lot of hours at the gym, waiting for an email telling me I was a television producer. And while I was at the gym I kept checking my phone, waiting for a text from Jason telling me he was free.
Texts from Jason never came. And in my anticipation, I would send him texts first.
And while I waited for his bittersweet response, I looked for something to occupy my time. I would wait for my roommate to get home and in the hours she was gone I would wait for a text from Heather telling me I had to be somewhere. On the couch I waited for drag night. On drag night I waited for my margarita. And while I was drinking my margarita I was waiting to get drunk so that I could forget that I was just waiting.
Waiting and hemorrhaging money.
And in the morning I waited for my hangover to go away before I started it all over again.
It was drag night three weeks later. Heather and I sat in a big, padded booth on the side of the stage. Our knees were touching and she was stirring some drink I could only assume was whiskey ginger. A drag queen ten feet away from us climbed on someone’s table and started whipping her hair around, knocking over drinks.
“So,” Heather said. She spoke to me without looking at me. “Whatever happened with Jason?”
Part of me was surprised by the question. I didn’t think she had been actually listening when I told her about him.
“He’s good,” I said. “I haven’t seen him since — well — it’s been a while.”
“Is he avoiding you?”
“I don’t think so. He’s just really busy with work and all.”
Heather wiped the side of her drink to keep it from dripping on her. She looked over at me and for a brief moment I could see her break character. She looked stern, as if she was about to give me business advice. She turned to me and said:
“If somebody wants to see you, they will.”
She didn’t harp on it or make it a spectacle like I would have expected her to. She just said it, set down her drink, and walked over to the bar to get a new one.
I sat alone in the booth for a while, watching men in suits file into the bar and hug their friends after a long day of work.
A week later, Jason sent me a text out of the blue. My heart literally jumped when I saw it. It was like one of those heartbeats you have after a good run. I could hear the pulse inside my ears. I had been walking towards Times Square on my way to my roommate’s improv show but I stopped in the street to read his text message.
Maybe he was free and wanted to hang out. The trains were still running express so I could probably get to his apartment in forty minutes. It had been a while since I saw him. I’m sure my roommate would understand.
I opened the message.
“I kind of wanted to talk about us for a second. I know you were just saying that I don’t seem like I get stressed out easily, which is true, but I’m realizing (as this job goes on) that my time is becoming super squeezed and it doesn’t really seem fair to you to toy you along for when I DO have free time. So, I’m thinking maybe we put a pause on dates and stuff so I figure out really what my schedule is before anything goes any further. Is that okay with you?”
I told him I agreed — because I did — and I took the nearest train home.
No offense to Heather, but if you had told me in high school that she would be a person to continuously offer me sage advice in adulthood, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
But the truth is, she has given me a lot of sensible advice — this being the first of many.
If somebody wants to see you, they will.
That goes for everyone. And it stings and it sucks and find yourself analyzing all the authentic parts of yourself you could have lied about or blurred in order to create a fantasy and chase a feeling that didn’t even feel like it was real in the moment.
And I promise I am not lying or using any kind of literary technique when I say I looked up from the floor of my subway car and saw an advertisement for The Wizard of Oz show lit up in the corner. There were two of them, actually. One with just the name of the show and another with The Wizard standing in front of the logo with his arms crossed. At the bottom it read something about “made in New York” and Bill de Blasio.
It felt like the end of a very short, very beautiful chapter in my life where things had almost worked out perfectly.
But, to anyone out there who feels like they are just sitting around and waiting, let me just say there is something to be said about belief without evidence — it’s making conversation with cardboard cutouts and pouring imaginary tea for no one.
And — maybe I did get the job at The Wizard Of Oz show and there was an email coming for me down the pike. And maybe Jason really did want to be with me. And maybe all my problems were about to be solved. And maybe I was on the track to becoming somebody very, very important — but I wasn’t going to wait anymore.
And until those things presented themselves, I was just somebody.
And I needed to act like it.
“So,” my interviewer said. Her name was Linda and she ran her hand over two printed resumes. “What makes you want to work at Big Name Retail?”
I was in the offices of a fancy building in Herald Square, somewhere on the seventh floor, in a room with heavy fluorescent lighting, sitting at the corner of a very long wooden desk. There was a girl sitting beside me (seventeen or so) who was borderline shaking. Her voice cracked with every word.
“I just — I just love fashion,” she stuttered. You could her shallow breaths between words. “I’m always reading magazines. And people. I mean — not reading people — I’m a people person. And I love Big Name Retail! I just like helping people and seeing smiles on their faces. Like, you know, when you really helped them or you give them what they need.” She ran her fingers through her hair and sipped on a caffeinated beverage she clearly didn’t need.
The interviewer shot a poker face in her direction and wrote something down. She seemed completely and totally unimpressed.
“And you, Seth?” The woman turned in my direction. “Why do you want to work at Big Name Retail?”
As I often do, I had to think about whether it was an appropriate time to make a joke. And as I often do, I went for it.
“Look, Linda” I snapped. “I’m at my wit’s end here. I checked my email this morning and it looks like I’m still not an Emmy award winning television producer. Can you believe it? After all that work I didn't do? That email is coming though, I can feel it. Hey — you can hire me if you want but once I get that email I’m dropping you guys like a sack of potatoes…”
There was a moment of silence and then she started to chuckle.
“You’re a funny guy,” she said, laughing progressively harder. She held a knuckle up to her eye and caught a tear. “Oh my goodness — you caught me off guard.” She laughed so hard she started coughing and fanning herself. “Lord, it’s too early. Man. That was good… I think that’s the most ridiculous answer I’ve ever gotten.”
← Previous story | Next story Ø