On Thursday night I went to Russia House with a girl I met recently. I tried out some dark Russian beer, and chatted about life. Before I left, I saw my ex-girlfriend downstairs sitting with a group of people at a table. When I saw her, her face was animated and she was obviously talking about something of importance. It looked like she was at the tail-end of a campaign speech, or in the middle of proving a major point. Either way, I walked over, and waved at her. In her peripheral vision, she noticed me, but she looked shocked. Actually she looked exposed, but I don’t know why.
“What are you doing here?” she said.
“I can’t even tell you right now.” I said with a smile.
“We’ll talk later.” She said somewhat abruptly.
I left, and ended up partying in Dupont for the rest of the night. But the next day, her statement knocked around my skull like a loose screw in a car engine. We don’t talk. We don’t even gchat. I’ve probably received one unsolicited call from her in the last two years. Why would she talk to me after running into me at the Russia house? Her expression weirded me out a bit. She almost seemed frightened to see me.
This made me think about the nature of things people say, and what they mean. We are so tied up with the way we communicate; people act weird around people they like, most women are afraid of the men they love, but an interesting stranger is always a good bet eh?
This is on my mind for a little bit on Friday night as well. Its cold and I don’t want to stay home. Staying home alone on a Friday night reminds me of too many past relationships. Too many winters were I had someone warm to keep me happy as bitter cold raged outside.
Earlier in the evening, I had another awkward moment.
I was near Howard University, eating a chicken sandwich. For most of the day I’ve felt light-headed, and the sandwich isn’t helping. I’m sitting there, watching a re-run of Smart Guy on a flat screen a few feet away, and my phone buzzes. It’s a text message from a girl I know, Q.
We were supposed to go to a bar for some early drinks, but I guess the cold killed that plan. The text reads:
Why don’t you come to my house. I have Gin, but no Tonic.
.This request seems reasonable, because its God awful cold outside. But moments after I arrive at the house, I realize a few things were off. The first thing she asked me was if I’d been to the house before. I said no (her roommate is a friend of mine). The second thing that happened was said roommate, D, came home roughly eight minutes after I arrived. When he saw me in the kitchen drinking a gin and ginger ale with his roommate, I could see he didn’t expect me to be there.
As time passed, I didn’t even feel like I was there. They talked amongst themselves about little things; a missing sponge, some smoky chicken that was cooked a few days back; getting drunk on a Thursday, typical stuff.
It was almost voyeuristic, watching the cute yet intimate interaction of roommates on a Friday evening. Occasionally I tried to say a few things, but I didn’t think I had much to contribute. I started to wonder if I was intruding in some way. Even though I was invited into the house I felt as if I had strolled in of my own accord, loud and insistent, violating space.
My social intuition told me to leave (by now I’m sure D assumed I was trying to hookup with his roommate, but later I’d find out he didn’t even care) but the cold kept me inside. I popped out my laptop at some point and diddled on the internet.
D started watching the Jim Lehrer news hour and Q started using her laptop. I was a few feet away, sitting in the kitchen. Then I also realized I’d never seen Q in a calm social setting before. I had only seen her at wild parties, where we gave each other drunken hellos and sprinkled random statements over the moment like beer foam.
The evening progressed into a strange dialogue that made me feel as if I was spiraling into and old yet familiar place. Even though we chatted about normal things; something wasn’t clicking. Whatever good intentions had brought me to the house, it was backfiring fast. Conversation lagged, and I tried a little harder to make things work. This didn’t work;she look bored and a little frustrated. With all my life experience, for a little while I fell back into a childish naiveté. I wanted to know where the dark cloud came from, what was happening and why the early evening was quickly slipping into darkness. This didn’t happen, and I sensed it was time to leave.
“I have to meet someone else pretty soon.” she said.
I nodded. I felt this was an indirect (albeit polite) way to say it was time for me to go. This didn’t bother me. As adults when we are in socially awkward situations, we don’t have to talk about them, we just nicely tell the person to leave. Problem solved.
I started putting my winter gear on. I was still curious about what happened. I paused in the doorway for a moment as I headed out. (Like I said, childish naiveté). Like a young psychologist, I wanted to know what was happening. Was it bad energy? Body language? Something else? I asked her. So I said, “I feel awkward. Is something wrong? If so, please tell me. I’m very curious.”
She stood up for a moment, and sighed.
“You are a cool and interesting and all that, but maybe I’m just not a nice person.” She replied. I paused for a second. I would have scratched my head but I had my gloves and a hat on.
I didn’t really know what this meant. I’m not sure if anyone has ever told me something like that. I thought she was cool, the statement made things a little more fuzzy. I thought she was a nice person. We were supposed to hang out at a bar. I think it was the house. Something about being there made things weird. Bloody cold weather!
As I turned to leave, I felt slightly worried. I wondered if my friend thought I was trying to hook up with his roommate, and what the subsequent fallout would be. As I walked down some cold dark steps towards the street I heard her voice behind me. “ Have a good night.” She said.
I walked towards Georgia avenue, heading back home. In my mind I wondered, “what just happened?”
I wasn’t upset, because I know that some groups of people just can’t communicate. They are like fire and ice. Oil and water. We must have been like that.
I thought about how happily D and Q had chatted to each other. It was like watching a sitcom, minus the Prague laughter. I thought of my living situation. My house is quiet, and my roommates are all but invisible. There is no happy morning greeting, no laughs about a missing sponge or a smoky pot, no outings on a Friday night. The house like many in DC; large, empty and cold. Every now and then I might hear laughter upstairs, or the sound of a television from a room downstairs. Sometimes, there are breaks in the silent moments. I might play some music, or I’ll hear the blare of a siren outside. If it’s windy, the shutters will rustle. My space heater hums. When my micro fridge resets itself, I hear a little clink. That’s about it.
Maybe at D’s house I had stepped into that little comfort space that people normally don’t see. That intimate side of people who live together, only seen by the clock on the wall. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to see it. Maybe that caused the cloud.
* * *
I go home and drop asleep for a few hours. When I wake up, there is a text message on my phone.
Its from a friend, Liz. My roommates and I are going to Wonderland, the text reads. I see it as a good sign. I head to wonderland, doing a light jog in the freezing weather to the metro station. I have a six minute wait at the train station. When I reach the bar, as usual its packed. I go upstairs and grab a drink. I’m still mulling over a few things in my head. I’m worried that I’ve somehow put a dark smear on my relationship with two people I thought were cool, and I keep thinking about what my ex-girlfriend said at Russia House.
.Its possible she saw the girl behind me and felt awkward, or maybe one of the guys at the table was her boyfriend and she didn’t want him to see me, I dunno. But something about what she said seemed rushed, and dismissive. I wondered why she looked so surprised to see me. I do live in DC after all.
.I grab a beer and stand watching the crowd. Tonight is not a night for dancing. The makeup of the crowd is a little odd. Mostly guys and girls with short hair cuts dressed like guys. It dawns on me that it’s a gay night.
The lesbian couples are semi-obvious. For the most part there is one girl dressed like a guy, then a cute (more “standard looking”) girl dancing with her. On nights like these, I feel as if I’m doing something fundamentally wrong. These women are happily making out, hooking up and going out. A girl who dresses like a man can get laid, but a guy who is simply a guy has to fight and cajole and twist things around to even get a half decent hello.
I feel like leaving, but Liz sends me a text. (They actually went to Local 16 on U street). We are coming to the Wonderland now.
I chill for a bit and the music gets better. Somewhere on stage, a person hits the light switch, and the entire dancing area is cast into shadow. On cue, people start making out. A tall mocha-looking guy is making out with a short brunette beside me. On stage, a girl dressed like Andre 3000 is making out with another girl while they dance. More girls are kissing girls, and couples are kissing each other. I feel empty watching these people embrace. I would leave, but it’s so cold outside, and all I have is my quiet room to go to.
The DJ starts playing some reggae music, and I amuse myself by singing along. A scruffy looking guy comes over and hands me a flyer. “This is my party, we’ll be playing a lot of 70’s reggae music. You should check it out.” He says. I smile and say “Respect.” But I can’t bear to tell him I don’t really like 70’s reggae music. I find it depressing.
Liz and her two roommates arrive. They are both gay. It fits the theme of the night. They dance energetically to the music and disappear into the folds of the crowd. I see a girl come upstairs. I recognize her as Anna. There was a night last year she was all over me then gave me her number. I saw her the next day at a house party and she pretended not to know me. She is with her boyfriend. He looks like John Heder.
Guys in the bar are working hard to get laid, but I see that most of them will go home alone. We are such awkward creatures; we go to tiny spaces to consume chemicals that dull our senses, then stand in close proximity to other people to get a sense of community.
At some point, someone touches me. It’s a girl I recognize. She says a quick hello and disappears. A part of me wants to dance with Liz, but she’s betrothed to someone else, so I leave her alone. Her roommate is dancing very intimately with her, but he’s gay, so that’s cool.
After standing by the water cooler for ten minutes, I decide to bounce. I tell Liz goodbye and head downstairs. I see my friend. “I could really use a cup of tea.” I say to her. She lives a block away. “I have a long walk ahead.”She opens her mouth and makes the sound you hear when someone is feeling sad on 70’s Tv: “Whaap, whaap, whaaaaap.”
“You don’t have any tea?” I ask her. She nods no. “No coffee?” she nods no again.
I realize she thinks I’m asking her to come over to her place using tea as a bogus excuse. “Hey its not like that, I’m just cold.” I say to her.
“Whaap whaap whaaap.” She says again. “I’m going to find my friend upstairs.” She says, and walks away without saying goodbye.
Whatever, I tell myself.
These things don’t sting me anymore. I don’t think people are inherently mean, confused or bad. I just think that as you grow older you care a lot less about things. Everyday you hear that people die, get shot, are raped, murdered, starving, bankrupt, homeless and ill. Can you really spend time caring about a negative statement? A random run-in? Or even think about someone you once loved? Probably not.
All you want on a cold night is someone to snuggle with. Someone to wake up naked with and smile at in the morning while you make tea and eat waffles after morning sex.
I walk back home, and surprisingly its not as cold. The wind has stopped and the blocks go by in a blur. A few weeks ago on a night like this I would feel as if I wanted to escape, as if the events around me were a representation of who I was, but I know this isn’t true. Its just one of those Friday nights, when you have a few drinks, listen to a little music, and think about life.
Then you go home, crawl into bed and sleep.