My first summer in New York was sickeningly hot–I remember it as one long heatwave, the air shimmering above the concrete. Every night I’d get out of work at a vegan restaurant in the East Village and walk to the train over sidewalk graffiti that read “do you feel it? yes” in loopy pink script, and I did feel it. The whole delicious night ahead of me, that specific smell of New York summer in the air–hot garbage and car exhaust and the scent of stale beer coming from bars with doors thrown open, but also the breeze fingering its way into the city from the river, the green of the trees above you, sun-baked asphalt.
Summer in New York is really a three-month-long hallucination with bonus outdoor drinking. The thick Northeastern heat and the days that are light until 8 pm and the rooftops at night and everyone in tank tops and sundresses–how can you not lose your mind?
I had just turned 21, and had just broken up with a handsome PhD student from Boston who made the mistake of wanting to move to New York for me. I don’t remember the first date with the boy I rebounded with, though I’m sure we went to a crappy bar, drank a bit too much, and made out on the street. He was a few years older than me and told me he was a freelance writer, which I later discovered was an optimistic rephrasing of the word “intern.”
It’s odd that I don’t remember, because I know we instantly pair-bonded in the way that only happens when someone is truly awful for you, or maybe when it’s 90 degrees out in May and you’ve lost your mind, or both. Heatwave madness, I said to my friends later. The whole city like a ripe fruit. How could anyone think straight? After that first, lost date he was always around–picking me up from work, spending the night at my apartment, texting me all day, sending me screencaps of the things he instant messaged his friends about me: “I met a girl. I actually really like her.”
One afternoon I told him I’d never been to the Rockaways so he marched me straight to the A train and we walked along the beach while the sun set, drinking bottles of Coke with whiskey poured in, and I got a sunburn at 6pm. A few days later I saw a bag of prescription painkillers on his nightstand and talked him into taking them all that night with me, which marks the only time I enjoyed sleeping with him.
What I liked about him, I see now, was how much he liked me, how clear his ardor was. And it turned out that in those sticky days of early summer it was easy to reflect that back, to mimic him, to get swept up in it and then convince myself it was true and go home the next morning with a sunburn and dirty hair. I wanted the summer fling so badly that I conjured it from the humid air; maybe we both did. I noticed but didn’t much care that he lived in Bushwick’s most notorious loft building in a cubbyhole that only had sheets for walls, or that he was clearly in love with his roommate who was an actress and looked like a prettier, taller version of me, or that he wore loafers without socks in the summer.
One Saturday we were hanging out at his next door neighbor’s’ place–a pack of South American street artists who managed to not speak a single word to me. Their apartment was a cavernous loft full of very poor art, including one memorable canvas of what could only have been a Mario Kart turtle. I said hi to their big gray pit bull as I walked in, and then perched on a stool, drank a beer, sweated and wished I was somewhere else. Hours later we finally left, and as I walked toward their door I felt a sharp, deep pain in my upper thigh, right below the ragged hem of my tiny jean shorts. I spun around and the dog was attached to my leg like a hungry shark that’s come across a surfer. I yelled and swatted her and she scampered off to one of the South Americans, who looked at me and said “Huh. She’s never done that before.” I spent weeks with an enormous bruise purpling half of my thigh, forced to tell people that I had been bitten by a pit bull at McKibbin, which is perfect shorthand for all the poor decisions I made as an early 20-something in Brooklyn.
Despite that glaring warning sign from the universe, I brought him to meet my friends at a tiny, now-defunct music venue in the basement of a bar in Soho. We mostly ignored everyone, drank shitty cocktails in plastic cups and then made out aggressively on the dancefloor. Still, we socialized enough that over the course of the next day my friends texted me one by one to tell me this guy was awful. He was annoying and disingenuous and clearly a liar, and they had no idea what I saw in him.
Sitting in an air-conditioned room, dead sober, my thigh tender from a dog bite as a half-dozen of my friends told me I was dating a human nightmare, I snapped out of it. My friends have always been saint-like in their acceptance of the questionable dudes I attach myself to. For them to insist I drop someone meant that I had truly lost my senses. As soon as they said it, I realized I didn’t even like this guy. I liked being the object of his attention, and I liked having an excuse to run around Brooklyn in the summer all fucked up by oxytocin like a half-drunk maniac in jorts. But I certainly didn’t like him, and so I dumped him pronto (he got nasty, to no one’s surprise) and got on with my life.
Even years later, his name is the punchline to every shitty date I go on–well, at least he’s not Bob!* But a few weeks ago I was on the rooftop of that apartment, thinking about all the boys I’d kissed up there before it overlooked an Equinox and a WeWork, and remembered sitting up there cross-legged with Bob. Knees touching, drinking huge gin and tonics out of empty pasta sauce jars, laughing about something surely very stupid, and I almost felt fond of him for a second.