Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Please

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story / Diana Bruk

On Valentine’s Day, 2013, I was sitting alone in an Indian restaurant, the glittering lights of the overly decorated room and the oversized portions of Chicken Tikka Masala mocking my hopelessly single fate. Suddenly, my friend Zoe called me, asking if I wanted to join her at some writing group on the Upper West Side, and, with nothing better to do, I agreed.
In the elevator on the way up to a very opulent building, it occurred to me to ask how she found out about this place. “Oh, from craigslist” she responded casually.
I asked to see the invitation, which included the words “Bring wine and chocolate. Things might get a little…silly,” typed in the sleek and insidious signature of New Courier Black.
“Zoe, this is an orgy,” I said, as the elevator doors opened.
It was not an orgy (yet), but an apartment whose walls were covered corner to corner with pages from porn magazines, and whose entire living room floor was laced in a princely deluge of pillows. Within the crowd, I did not yet notice the man who I was there to meet, even when he read out scenes from a play with another girl in the group, a play about a couple who has a wonderful relationship that ultimately fizzles out.
Once the writing and critiquing portion was over, and only eight of us remained, Zoe proposed we play a game of truth or dare. Warning: never play truth or dare with writers, you will be there until 6 in the morning, the dares will be creative feats, and the truths will be profound confessions. There were many bizarre actions that took place that night, the most memorable of which was Jerry (the man in question) stripping to circus music, and an existential game called “Genitals or Insults” (this began with Jerry daring Zach to go around the room dolling out an insult to each person. This was vetoed because it was too mean. Then Jerry suggested that Zach go around pressing his genitals against everyone’s faces. This was vetoed because it seemed too gross. So then we settled on him coming up to everyone and giving them a choice between genitals or insults. This seemed fair. Oddly enough, after the first two people, most everyone chose both, and Zach would very tenderly press his flaccid penis against people’s faces, cradling their heads like a magi, and gently offer characteristics to improve).
At one point, Jerry was asked to make out with anyone of his choice in the room, and he chose me. After that, he was reluctant to let me go, hugging me from behind and squeezing me and breathing deeply into my hair in the way that I so very much love. He was, on the surface, so very different from the kind of guys I usually dated. Thirty-four. Kind of chubby, hairy, and stubble-faced, he looked like a real, proper adult male. He was American, having grown up in Maine. When I asked him why he chose to move to NY, he propped his elbow up on the pillows (the unique decoration in this room was definitely designed to create a strong immediate sense of intimacy), and told me about how, when he was eight, he came to NY with his parents, and there was a car on fire in the middle of the street, and dozens of people just idly running by it, and he looked at the scene and thought, “Wow, I want my life to be that cool, that I don’t even notice a car on fire in the street.”
When I left that night, he didn’t ask for my number, but he did appear at the next meeting. Walking me to the train station with his umbrella in the mid-March downpour, he shyly requested my number, and then launched into an adorable speech about why he hadn’t asked for it before, how he had sat in the cab that night thinking why didn’t I get it, so stupid…
We exchanged incredibly sweet text messages, and when Zoe texted me asking how things were going, I sent her a screenshot of the cutest of our messages, only to realize once it was too late that I had sent the screenshot to him instead of her. His reaction only made me like him more. “This is funny. Please don’t worry about it. And I think this is a good time to be honest with you. I’m sorry I’m so busy this week and I’m really looking forward to seeing you when you get back from your trip and getting to know you better. And you can tell Zoe that too.”
Our first date was at The Olive Tree. We talked about Woody Allen, first loves, alcoholic deadbeat dads, the importance of humor, the future of the workplace, modern economic trends, and foods we don’t like but wish we did (his are mushrooms). We walked around Washington Sqaure Park, breathing in the smell of winter turning into spring, and each other’s presence. We kissed for almost half an hour by the train stop, to the howls and applauds of drunk street hooligans, heartily approving of our amorous activities.
We saw each other very regularly for the next few weeks. We closed out noodle shops on the Lower East Side and sipped martinis in jazz clubs on the Upper West Side. We made out furiously in cabs on the West Side Highway, him always murmuring at some stage, with tender, drunken zeal, “I’m so lucky, I feel like I’ve won the lottery.” We went back to his apartment in Inwood, past the NYPL, past the Dominican car wash, past the furniture store that displayed an uncanny amount of leopard print couches and looked as though it had been “Just Opened” for years. We had sex on his squeaky aerobed. We staged ridiculous morning dialogues such as the following:
JERRY: You stole my toothpaste last time you were here.
DIANA: No I didn’t. Why would I do that? You think I steal the toothpaste of every guy I sleep with and just keep them as some creepy tokens stashed in a box at home?
JERRY: You might, you never know.
DIANA: Yea, well, you steal toothbrushes. I can’t find mine and you have, like, six, none of which are mine.
JERRY: I do not.
JERRY: Oh my God, you’re right. And I have four more new ones in my chest of drawers as well. I’m a sick toothbrush hoarder.
DIANA: Well, this is good, apparently I steal toothpaste, and you steal toothbrushes-
JERRY: And we found each other in this cold, cruel world.
On Saturday afternoons, we would just lounge around, listening to jazz, me writing articles, him making us a steak and egg breakfast, reading newspapers and watching sitcoms, and fooling around, totally unaware of time. And we were very happy.
This was on Saturday, two days before our untimely demise.
On Monday, we went to go see a Hitchcock movie at the Film Forum in 3D. Afterwards, we had a lovely time drinking martinis in a lounge in the Village. On the A train, somewhere underground in Harlem, Jerry suddenly informs me that he is worried that he’s leading me on and that I’m more invested in the relationship than he is. I wonder where this is coming from. He says it’s from some comment I had made, regarding whether or not his spending the summer in Maine means that our relationship has a definitive end date, or whether he’s open to seeing where things are going. I’m not really sure how it all happened, but by the time we transferred trains and made the cold walk back to his apartment, it was over. He sat on the couch where he had once, with such tender relish, first taken off my stockings, and now said in a grave voice, “Maybe we should just be friends.”
Time of death: Wednesday, 2:32 am.
The worst thing about my last few breakups is that they’ve taken place in the middle of the night, when we both had to wake up early the next day, and have therefore consisted of roughly the same procedure of me having to watch my heartbreaker sleep soundly as I softly sob into my pillow. Have to endure him wrapping his arms around me and hold me tightly all night, knowing it would be for the last time. Have to lie there awake, listening to the wind outside wheeze like a woman constantly gasping for air. And have to periodically look at the clock to count how many hours are left until we are dismembered from one another’s bodies forever: three hours, two hours, one…
And then the long train ride in the morning, the A train, which I was so happy to take, just so I could live out the famous jazz melody. Standing at the corner, leaning on the sliding doors, which is the designated spot for lovers breaking up to speak in hushed tones (seriously, next time you’re in a train car, stand clear of all the sad faces by the closing doors). And then to the tunnel where our paths divide, where we had once planted contented kisses and tender cries of “see you later” and “have a good day,” and where we were now, reluctantly, saying goodbye, he moving on to 7 train, and I taking the long tunnel to get back to the N.

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