It's a rite of passage for New Yorkers. Everyone I know (especially all my gay male friends) has had at least one missed connection. Mine happened on the F train two summers ago. It was a summer that I looked hot. I was at my thinnest and making a ton of money from collecting unemployment and working an under-the-table bartending job. I spent all my dough on gingham hot pants and matching crop tops. I had a tan and I felt sexy. Also, I decided I really loved Jennifer Egan's writing and I bought every book she ever wrote from BookCourt in Cobble Hill. I was working my through each of them in chronological order and was in the middle of her oeuvre with the novel, Look At Me.
I was reading Look At Me on the F train coming home from work. At the last stop in Manhattan before heading into Brooklyn from the Lower East Side, a tall and lanky, dark-haired man jumped on the train. I say "jumped" because there was a buoyancy in his steps that radiated bubbly-ness. This guy seemed genuinely happy, like he had just gotten a job promotion or something. He plopped down next to me and said, “I'm reading an amazing book. It looks like you are too. Yours was a finalist for the National Book Award.” He reached over and outlined the gold circle on the book with his finger.
Most of the time when people engage in conversation with me on public transportation, they are emotionally unstable anarchists who want to rant about the patriarchy and then try to borrow some money. This guy, however, was wearing vintage wire frames and expensive desert boots. He looked like would be getting out at the York stop, trotting over to his advertising job in DUMBO, where he probably specialized in Ikea commercials. He looked clever, hip, and rich.
I asked him about his book.
We talked about what we were reading for the next four stops, neither of us actually getting back to the books we had in hand. I completely forgot about Jennifer Egan, and how I had been savoring my subway rides because it meant I had an excuse to get back to pleasure-reading. Instead, I was happy to be talking to this stranger.
He was getting out at the Bergen stop, one away from mine. We practically lived in the same neighborhood. I've always wanted a neighborhood boyfriend. Someone that lived so close you could walk over to his apartment and it wouldn't matter if you forgot your contact lenses or started your period early because your own apartment with all your necessities was just down the street.
I really wanted him to ask for my number. He didn't. He said goodbye and got off the train. I turned my head to watch him go and lo and behold he turned back.
The turn back move is single handedly one of the most important romantic signals there is. The moment someone turns back to look at you and you're both caught pinning after each other is movie magic. It can also be tragic when you're staring at the back of someone's head willing them to turn around and they never do. How can you tell if he loves you so? It's not in his kiss, it's in the turnaround.
When he turned around on the subway platform and caught my eye, I added a wink.
I got home and told my roommate, Johnson, all about the experience. He was a practiced missed connections journeyman, and immediately said we had to check Craigslist. I was doubtful about the whole thing, but there it was:
9pm, F Train to Brooklyn.
“With no expectations, I wanted to say that was the nicest wink I've ever received. I hope you continue to enjoy your award winning book.”
Holding my breath, I emailed the link and set up a coffee date. When we met he was just as charming and cultured as before, except our conversation lasted three hours instead of twenty minutes. We had fancy coffees at Cafe Pedlar, walked around the tiny park on Clinton Street and ended with dinner at my favorite French seafood restaurant. This place has only four tables, is BYOB and has a giant sculpture of a pregnant naked woman that looks exactly like a John Currin painting.
He laughed at all my jokes, teased me right back when I was biting, and asked me about my family. I started to think, “I want to date this guy.”
He poured me the last glass of wine from our bottle and grabbed my hand. “I think I like you,” he said. “I mean I really like-like you.” We both laughed. “But I have to tell you something. I'm married. It's not going anywhere and I think we're going to separate soon. She's in Canada visiting her parents and I'm not sure if or when she's coming back. I felt I had to tell you because I honestly don't want this date to end. But I couldn't go any further without saying anything.”
I was devastated. I just kept thinking, “Well, he said they might separate and that's the same as being divorced, right?” I didn't want to believe he was married. It meant that, best-case scenario, I was the other woman, and we all know how she makes out in the end of the story.
I excused myself to go to the bathroom. I could go home with him, but I would have to have no expectations. Instantly, I was reminded of the first line from his missed connections post, “With no expectations...” I could sleep with him but I had to be realistic that I was never going to be his girlfriend. He wasn't ever going to leave his wife for me. Or, would he? I washed my hands and went back to the table.
He smiled when I sat down and asked, “Do you wanna come up for a nightcap?”
We were in his apartment. Their apartment. There were pictures of them together everywhere. She was pretty—small and pixieish with white-blond hair. I wondered if he secretly had a thing for brunettes. I wondered if she hated sex and cried when he tried to touch her. I wondered if he'd turn to me and tell me how much more he loved being with a woman who was open and sexy and could understand the giving and taking of pleasure. He opened another bottle of wine and went to use the bathroom in the back of his bedroom.
He owned a one bedroom. If we fell in love I could move in and leave all my roommates behind. I could read all my favorite books on his Eames chair, and he'd fuck me on the zebra rug in the living room. That is, unless the zebra rug was hers and she took it when she left.
I just couldn't go through with it. I liked him. Pretending that he was available or that I was emotionally callous enough not to care wasn't going to work. I knew I would end up being the one who was hurt. Ignoring the fact that he was married wasn't going to make him any less so. He didn't wear a wedding ring, but when he grabbed my hand at the table I noticed there had been a faint tan line on his left finger. I heard the faucet turn on and I grabbed my bag to leave.
“Lacy,” he called out as I reached the door.
“I gotta go,” I said. “I'm chicken.”
He pulled the end of my ponytail. It was a gesture I wanted so badly to be a private joke between us for the next few years. “Ok," he said. "I understand. At least we'll always have Paris.”
Follow Lacy Warner on twitter @laceoface