A Suburban Romance(ish)
I was about to turn nineteen years old, having just finished my freshman year at NYU, and I was still a virgin. A big stinking blubbering virg, if you will, and I fretted over it constantly. I imagine the frequency with which I toiled over the subject was aligned with the stereotype of an ever-horny, try-hard teenage boy. But it was true — after living a deeply tragic, drama club-fueled high school love life, I had spent my time at school writing self-indulgent, ultra-confessional plays instead of mingling with guys. And besides, it’s not like NYU is exactly teeming with eligible straight men, unless you’re into beanies being worn indoors.
But let me be clear: I didn’t have any lofty dreams or expectations surrounding losing my virginity. I didn’t want the bed to be adorned with rose petals, or to be in love, or even necessarily to be that close to the person. I just wanted the crushing anxiety surrounding my complete lack of sexual experience to be gone. Ideally, I’d like to do it with someone who wouldn’t care about whether I was good or not: someone at least a little disposable, so any major mistakes I made would hopefully be an element of the past just as fast at the guy would be.
And lucky, lucky me, I found just the appropriate person. Upon returning to my hometown of Solon, Ohio for the summer, I got a job hosting at a restaurant. This is where I met Justin. Justin was undeniably the token hot-guy server at this restaurant, which was a culinary staple of my town. He was the sort of guy whose thick neck somehow made a shell necklace seem like a natural extension of his being, his wholly stereotypical surfer-dude tone of voice in an utterly Midwestern setting intensely alluring. There was a somewhat significant age difference between us — I was turning nineteen in July and he had turned twenty-six in May, but it wasn’t relevant anyway, because he had a girlfriend back home in California regardless of my infatuation with his unchallenging, yet attractive presence.
He would vaguely flirt with me on the days where we were slated to work together, the sight of our names parallel to each other’s on the schedule setting my heart aflutter. It started innocent, just with drawing angular “=]”s on my table map, to the time he approached me while I was scrubbing the floor and said “you look good on your knees.” He was a keeper. He was a charmer. He was just what I had been looking for.
It was apparent he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but it didn’t matter. When he coyly slid me his number on a take-out order form one fateful evening, I was over the moon. I sprinted to my car and blasted the Heathers: The Musical soundtrack, specifically the part about finally being beautiful after being made over by the popular girls — because that’s how I finally felt. For once, I was the special one. I was being pursued by the cool older brother, the hottest guy in school. It felt unreal. He invited me to hang out after work that weekend over the phone and I immediately said yes. I was born ready.
It’s also important for me to mention that throughout this whole process, this whole hunt, my entire hometown social circle was updated on almost every move I made towards my acquisition. Girls whose romantic and sexual conquests I’d been jealous of all throughout high school (even if those flings only existed within the confines of a show choir field trip) suddenly seemed impressed, and maybe even a little envious, of what I had cookin’. It was an addictive feeling. Everyone I thought I was finding love, which was highly untrue, but I didn’t mind having people think that just maybe I, Hannah Leach, was finally having a young-adult-novel-worthy summer.
As I drove over to his house, I had no idea what to expect. I knew these facts: he was currently living with his dad and his stepmom, and that it was temporary. Hey, I wasn’t one to judge, I was the most financially dependent person on the planet. This wasn’t a red flag to me. But as he opened the front door, shamelessly wearing a Big Bang Theory “BAZINGA!” tee-shirt, I realized that he might’ve been slightly less on-brand Hot Older Brother than I had hoped. I also realized I had never seen him dressed in anything other than his serving uniform. Rookie move.
He invited me in and offered me an obnoxiously-Cleveland Great Lakes Craft Beer, which I accepted. He then proceeded to whip out his semi-ancient MacBook Pro in order to play me his “music”, which I quickly found out were, in fact, original raps. It took everything in me not to laugh at lines such as “let me turn on my charm out in the barn” and one song’s particularly catchy hook: “Giiiirl I, waaaant you, iiiin my, bedroom- TONIGHT!” He was so proud. I was horrified, but more amused than anything else.
While watching a movie he insisted upon, Cabin In The Woods (which he refused to believe included even a trace of irony, by the way), he finally made a move and started making out with me. That’s when he asked me “why I was wearing jeans? I normally wore dresses to work — did I wear them just because I knew I was hanging out with him after?” I laughed it off a little awkwardly. We continued making out as he sort of halfway led me to stand up, then he PICKED ME UP in that The Notebook way, but I was so not in love and the passion was so not there.
“Haha, I win,” he said (inexplicably), as he held me in this terrible, forced pose, mid-air. It was at that point that I told him that I had to be home soon (it was 2:30 AM and I did live in my parents’ house). I literally had to physically remove myself from his clutches, but I somehow got back into my Honda CR-V and drove away, practically hyperventilating from the pure embarrassment the evening had submerged me in. Oh, shit, Hannah, you’ve really gotten yourself into something now, I thought to myself, as I manically drove home through long empty suburban streets and winding developments.
Welp, so much for a young-adult-novel-worthy summer. I clearly had a decision to make: this guy was clearly not fully conscious as a human, but did I care? What was I looking for in a sexual partner? Not intellect. I’d dealt with quite enough of that at school. Morals that were perfectly aligned with my own? I didn’t really care. Justin was dumb, hot, and non-threatening: just what I was looking for. I was going to see this through, no matter how much cringe-worthy Garageband-engineered rap I was going to have to listen to.
We went to Arby’s together a few days later, where I found out how much he wanted his “fat bitch” stepmom to die. Just ignore it, just ignore it, Hannah. We went to a park a few nights later, where I found out about his open relationship — he earnestly told me that his girlfriend, Kayla, had some disorder (which I’m deducing is endometriosis, in retrospect) where her menstrual cramps were so bad that she blacked out behind the wheel, straight-up drove off the side of a mountain near their hometown in California, and lived. How that could even happen baffled me, but that’s apparently why Justin was allowed to see other people in Ohio. And in general.
I, on the other hand, still adamant in my journey towards being deflowered, never told him anything of substance about my personal life. I never had to — he practically never stopped spouting details about his. Despite our age difference, it became obvious that I might not have been the one that, in spite of any stereotypes surrounding my then-adolescence and female-ness, was searching for validation — Justin clearly needed it more. While he was the kind of person that believed that catcalling happens because women reject men too frequently, and that the majority of college campus rape cases were the result of false reports, his complete willingness to open up his rancid psyche to me was still somehow moving — or at least, just flattering enough to keep me around. His beliefs were revolting and his conviction to them borderline disturbing, but he still somehow had me believing he wasn’t a bad guy deep down. I don’t know why. (Bear in mind, this was pre-Trump.)
When we finally did the deed, he proclaimed that he “couldn’t believe I felt this close to him.” I didn’t, I just wanted it to happen and stop. Which it did, pretty quickly. After I refused to shower with him (because honestly what the fuck?), I asked him to show me out. He did, reluctantly. As he walked me to the car, all the while adjusting his “Drunk? Blow Here”-emblazoned belt buckle, he turned to me and said, “Now you can go find someone really special,” and shut my car with a weird brand of finality.
We had one of these truly rapturous liaisons one more time before I left for New York City again, the very last night I was in Ohio. When we left his house he insisted we go see his high school friends at a barbeque (which turned out to be at the Veterans Hall, which was almost as surprising as the fact that most of his friends were lesbians???). I felt super weird there and begged him to drop me off at home, until I realized that I didn’t have a house key, so he had to drop me off like used goods at the McDonald’s my little sister was at.
“So, when will I see you next?” he asked from the driver’s seat, his hazel eyes, the color almost reminiscent of days-old nacho cheese dip, filled with…was it genuine emotion? Was it sadness? Was it relief? Was it rage? Would he tell this story and describe me as a fat bitch that he also wanted to die?
“Um…well, I come home in October,” I suggested meekly, knowing full well that I’d be ignoring his calls from now on.
“I’ll come visit you!” he declared brightly. I knew he would try, but I knew it wouldn’t happen. And thank god.
On the eight-hour minivan drive to the city the next day, I didn’t really reflect on my actions. I thought about classes, I thought about how excited I was to move in with my best friend. The fact that Justin was back at the restaurant, polishing silverware and perhaps even enchanting a table of ladies over an order of crumbly-crust mac and cheese didn’t even cross my mind. I had used him: that was a fact, in spite of what I wanted it to look like on paper. In my Lana Del Rey imagery and ideology-polluted mind, getting it on with a dumb, trashy older guy was something glamorous and dangerous and would read exactly how I wanted on paper: Hannah loses v-card in a salacious sling, seduced by Solon’s hottest ne’er-do-well. In actuality, the story turned out…well, exactly like all of the above.
As my sophomore year of college began, he called me almost on a daily basis, keeping me updated on the politics of our formerly shared workplace, who had been arrested since I left, etcetera. Until one day, I stopped calling him back. He had no use to me anymore, so there was no point of being a sounding board to his degenerate thoughts anymore. But this didn’t stop me from stalking his Facebook constantly. What weird triple-filtered meme would he share next? It was a never-ending source of entertainment. Until one day, he was tagged in a photo with a toddler, a pretty little girl with dark hair and an eerily similar facial structure to his own…
I grabbed my roommate, Angela, and had her assess the photo with me. I, ever the conspiracy theorist, was ready to believe the little girl to be his. Angela, ever the realist, told me that they didn’t even look similar. I disagreed, but attempted to keep it in, trying to not seem crazy. More and more photos of Justin with this kid were posted until one day, fatefully, someone commented, “she looks just like her daddy!”
Equally shocked and thrilled at my hunch being proven correct, I stared at the photo on my screen. Suddenly, there were no more secrets. Was this Facebook discovery meant to tell me that I hadn’t been given the keys to his soul as thoroughly as I thought?
I was so convinced that Justin had shared with me every detail of his crummy life. From his longtime girlfriend’s endometriosis to his preference in bougie craft beers, I thought I knew all there was to know. But I didn’t. I didn’t even know who the kid’s mom was, and truly, I had no right. We weren’t on that level, regardless of what we may have done in his under-furnished suburban bedroom. The power I felt in withholding my true self from him whilst he poured out his (presumably entire) greasy soul to me was something I had never experienced before, and I relished it — or, at least, relished what I thought was the phenomenon of knowing everything about a complete stranger while they just knew me as the hot, easy girl from work.
I texted him a few months after I put the pieces of his paternity together in a moment of weakness and curiosity: Hey, this is random, but do you have a daughter lol? How apt. He read the message at 4:28 AM and never responded. We haven’t spoken since.
To this day, I still get sneakily-captured Snapchats from my friends of the back of his head, and I still receive texts from high school acquaintances whenever they have him as their server. I text back, OMG never again, as if it’d been some grave mistake that haunts me to this day. In the end, was I the lecherous part of the pair? Who won? Who had the upper hand? I still do not know. And while I’ve let Justin devolve into nothing but a meme in my life, I can’t help but wonder if he ever sits on his (surely secondhand) couch, arms around his zoologist girlfriend, reminiscing about the summer he totally convinced that nineteen year old hostess to give it up.