SEVEN CIRCLES OF CELL
By Meera Subramanian
The New York Times
November 27, 2005
City Section - New York Observed
I MET the man with the thick dark hair at my favorite East Village bar last year, as fiddles and guitars filled the room with tender Irish tunes. The Red Sox had just lost Game 2 in their playoff with the Yankees. He was from Boston and I always root for the underdog, and we mourned the continuation of the Curse. Our connection was easy and instantaneous, and we exchanged phone numbers at the end of the night.
Over the course of the next week, we got closer, cheering over beers and banter as the Red Sox rose from an 0-3 deficit to nab the pennant. A month later, he disappeared from my life, leaving without incident one morning with a kiss and murmurs about a movie later in the week. My casual phone messages went unreturned.
I'm learning the ropes of the doomed thing they call dating in this city of 1.1 million eligible but seemingly reticent bachelors. Phone was our sole means of communication, and I left a reasonable two messages over the course of a week. He didn't have my e-mail address, although I knew his. But I'd never used it, and I wasn't about to start now. It was a matter of dignity. The third and final phone call was for my sake, not his, so I could tell him that I hadn't taken him for the type to just disappear and stop calling. It was true. He seemed a gracious man, straightforward enough, and he was an accomplished media art director.
But I'm a journalist. I wanted answers, not this infuriating silence. I entered the country of wild internal speculation, a dangerous land filled with demons and a terrifying creativity I can't seem to find in any other realm in my life. Here, I could become a novelist of the greatest tragedies.
But really, I'm just a practical woman who, before undertaking this writing business, had spent the last 10 years working in nonprofit organizations, enacting policies and being an administrator. I decided that what dating needed was an exit interview. No matter how awkward, an ex-couple could sit down and get answers to the pressing question: What happened?
Was it my worn jeans to his pressed shirts? Or that I had finally given up on the losing battle to pick up the tab every now and again? Was it my running around the apartment naked to his sheet-around-the-waist modesty? Did he pick up on my habit of scanning the garbage for hidden treasures as we walked arm in arm through the streets of SoHo on our way to buy him a $600 suit?
After three weeks of nothingness came a slow emotional recovery that involved the construction of a small but solid barricade around my heart. Then I arrived home late one night to find an oversize envelope tucked into the edge of the bank of buzzers in the lobby of my apartment, my name written neatly in block letters. I took the envelope upstairs and sat down with a sigh to read what was surely a Dear Jane letter, belated, but now here, unopened in my hands.
Instead, it was a plea for contact, desperate and hopeful. He'd lost his phone, he claimed, and with it the only place he had my number. Although he had visited my apartment, he had always simply followed my lead up the stairs and didn't know which apartment was mine. And since my place was a typical New York illegal sublet (of an illegal sublet), my name certainly wasn't listed on the buzzer.
He had also swung by the bar where we'd met, but he hadn't seen me. He had no idea what my e-mail address was. "If you got my previous notes," he wrote, "this might be a waste of time." Previous notes? I thought, what previous notes?
It struck me that despite that first month of endless conversations over candlelight dinners and bottles of wine, despite the pillow talk and the mornings lingering over the Sunday paper, our communication connection was tenuous at best. A lost phone and it evaporated like the lingering scent of his Aveda hair products from my pillow.
Is it all this fragile? Can it slip away so easily? The letter lay in my lap as I wondered about all this. I couldn't shake the feelings I'd developed over the last three weeks and my belief that this man had done me wrong. Could he be forgiven? Did I believe him? My girlfriends shook their heads and told me bluntly, "He's fired."
But even if he was fired, there was still that exit interview to attend to. I sent him an e-mail message, curt and to the point, giving him my information - phone, e-mail, apartment number and blood type (passionate) - and waited. And waited. Twenty-four hours later, about to leave town for a week, I still hadn't heard from him. I decided to head to the place where we'd met, still my favorite watering hole, with or without him, to rest my elbows on the worn wooden bar and ponder matters over a glass of wine. I stepped out of my building. I passed two men talking in Russian. I passed the homeless man who'd taken to sleeping on the low brick wall. I passed the corner coffee shop. And when I rounded the corner onto First Avenue, I found him standing there.
Stopping, I cocked my head to assess the look on his face. It strongly resembled delight and surprise, and he gave me a hug that I reluctantly returned.
"I just went by your apartment looking for you," he stammered. I narrowed my eyes. "There were two guys sitting outside, speaking Russian."
O.K., he had me, sort of. But I made him look me in the eye and promise that if this wasn't working for him, for any reason, he would just tell me, and we headed to the bar to get that glass of wine together and mull over the events of our lives.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company