“I’ll be the last to say, don’t follow your heart, but there’s more to what it takes to be a man.”
There were others before her, but she was the first. I found her on MySpace. She liked taking pictures; she was an early adopter of digital photography. Specialized in self-portraits- different angles, tight zoom.
You thought she was beautiful. A carbon copy of every girl-next-door you ever wanted in high school. This was your moment. You spent a year in the gym- miles on the treadmill, throwing around dumbbells- training for this like Rocky Balboa looking for a comeback. You had girlfriends before- but this was your moment; experience, swagger, and fitness- you finally felt like a complete package. If out-of-shape guys date average girls, then fit guys have their pick; it’s a logically valid equation.
It had been a year since Kasie- and there wasn’t anything terribly wrong with her outside of her being terribly average. Friends teased about dating a chubby girl; fishnet stockings squeezing thighs with a maybe too-short plaid skirt. She’d have meltdowns when she drank too much. There was one night at a club that anyone close to her nuclear epicenter will never forget- even fifteen years later.
But that wasn’t the problem- you just thought you could do better.
People don’t marry young anymore- before us lay a world where our value could be tested; refined and maximized. We had time- we didn’t need to settle.
You thought she was crazy for showing up to your door the way she did. You thought she was fat. A modest waistline met with a big ass stuffed in maybe too-tight jeans. The prior decade’s aesthetic of thin-with-large-breasts still hung in the air as ideal and Nikki existed as the polar opposite. You didn’t know if she was intentionally deceptive with her pictures or if you were fool enough to deceive yourself.
She wanted sex, and we watched a movie. She was sweet. We’d keep in touch- just friends, because I was fit, and charming, and swagger, and all that shit. I was too good to stick it in a fat girl- our values did not coalesce; our lines on the graph did not intersect. And even if I hadn’t been with anyone since Kasie, a fat girl certainly wasn’t going to be my starting point.
After a few months of nothing, I sent her a text. Since we weren’t ever gonna be a thing, she loosened the veil- I was the only one she’d met who didn’t fuck her. This shocked me- what desperate losers she must be meeting! Poor girl.
Kathryn wasn’t ideal, but she was available and younger than Nikki- straight out of college and with an English literature degree. I worked with her father, which was something she loved, getting off on the vaguely scandalous overtones of it all. Only a few years older but to her it was dating the teacher. Kathryn was average and Kathryn was boring, but meeting Kelly wasn’t.
Kathryn introduced me to Kelly on a night at the pool hall. Recently dumped and needing to get out of the house, she tagged along. When Kathryn hit the bar for another dogshit cocktail, I joked with Kelly that we were all gonna end up in the backseat of my car- a physical impossibility that didn’t seem to bother her when she told me that she’d be down but Kathryn would never.
Which was probably true- so we didn’t bother asking. Kelly scribbled her address on a tiny piece of paper and snuck it into my hand as we said our goodbyes with the words “fifteen minutes” written above. Twenty minutes later we were in my backseat.
Kelly had a charming spunk to her. She was going to school to be a librarian and told me that her grandmother would buy her a new winter coat if she managed to lose twenty pounds. Seeing her was exciting at first but had diminishing returns as we drifted from forbidden to routine.
We couldn’t date because Kathryn’s father was a colleague in my English department, and even if Kathryn and I fizzled amicably, it would still be detrimental to date her best friend- is what I told Kelly. But I didn’t want to be tied down; long term relationships leave post-traumatic scars. Three years in the clink. Like getting home from war and thinking you should re-enlist. Even if it makes sense, your body won’t let you– is what I told myself.
I didn’t date Kelly because I thought I could do better- and I wasn’t gonna wait around for her to get a new coat.
The gambler doubles down because he thinks the win streak will never end. Ace Frehley never stopped spending- why, when there’s always another hit record? There isn’t room to lose when you know how to win. So, the long months of nothing will be confusing at first- an adjustment period. Quiet reflection. You try to get used to rejection, but you never quite get there, like stepping into a cold shower- Wolverine and the claws coming out, puncturing his knuckles, blood on his hands; it hurts every time. You text Nikki and get no answer.
You become the hungry coyote hoping to eat out of a dumpster. Lou Bloom stealing manhole covers to sell at thirty-cents per pound. Your next meal isn’t guaranteed- entirely possible you’ll never eat again.
I met Lizzy a few months before she skipped town- a pallete swap in place of something truly new; a different cast of characters but the same old problems. Instead of the purple-and-black ninja, now they’re red-and-blue; she wanted a husband, but only met wolves- well fed, but when is anything ever enough?
Women are more pragmatic than men. They understand value. They’ll cash-in for a good enough deal. Left to their own devices, men get caught-up at the blackjack table- drunk on the possibility for more. Female charm is an evolutionary strategy to get men away from the casino- take the needle out of their fucking arm. Left to their own devices, men will run this lifestyle into the ground- and this is why we have women.
She lucked out when she met a big fat motherfucker who invented [REDACTED] and was filthy rich. Suddenly, her way of talking about relationships changed entirely. No longer framing things in terms of passion and chemistry, Lizzy had now “found her best friend,” and “discovered what love really was,” which I supposed sounded better than “he’s fucking disgusting, but he’s a multi-millionaire.”
It was around this time that I met Marisa. I wasn’t rich, and she wasn’t Lindsay Lohan, but a close enough approximation- the budget version- made it a love story. She was smart enough to get her claws in, like the raccoon who manages to open up the old pizza box while the others just stare. She got what she deserved. We both did.
It didn’t work out with the fat motherfucker- maybe was a little too good to be true; maybe he was just another wolf, but one who had come up with his own way to get it. Back to the drawing board; ground zero- she started reading books on being brave, just in case.
Years later, she managed to meet someone in-between hungry coyote and master wolf; tall and weathered, overweight with high school sports achievements close-enough in the rearview for a few stories on a Friday night. If things were different, this is who she’d have married out of high school- two kids, a two-car garage; yard work, soccer practice, kung-foo classes, and all that shit.
She took the long way around, but she didn’t time the market right. She had to catch a falling knife, and this is where she ended up- knuckles punctured, hands bloody. For Valentine’s Day, he bought her designer shoes with a note attached: “a reminder to never settle for anything less than what you’re worth …”
As if she didn’t already know.