Seymour the Cyborg
Even though I swear to only date disabled guys from now on, I still have active profiles on a bunch of regular dating sites. I try to do keyword searches for words like wheelchair but nothing ever turns up.
Then one day a deaf guy messages me on OkCupid. I can hardly believe my luck. HE messages ME. It's like it's meant to be. I don't have to feel like the creepy stalker devotee, I won't have to hear "we have nothing in common" or "you're only dating me because of my disability" because he's the one who contacted me first.
His first message to me is titled, "Our bookshelves have books in common." The body of the message is just as bland. "Hello, I see that you listed the Necronomicon as the book you have read most recently. I have also read that recently and found it interesting. Your profile is interesting. My name is Seymour. Please email me at seymour__@___.com if you would like to get to know me."
As introductions go, it's lukewarm at best. And honestly that line my profile about the Necronomicon is over a year old at this point. I read it to impress William but now I realize it's pretentious, sexist crap, just a masturbatory fantasy for male nerds. But most guys online rarely write more than "hey" in their first message and obviously never even read anything I write in my profile, so I haven't bothered to update what I wrote. Seymour is the first guy in a long time to respond to more than my photo.
I check out Seymour's profile. His photo is a professional black and white portrait, a far cry from the usual bathroom selfie or party photo with ex-girlfriend inexpertly photoshopped out. He gazes soulfully into the camera, his mouth twisted in an uncertain half-smile.
He's only two years older than I am, well-educated, with thoughtful, literate answers to all the prompts. But who am I kidding, all I needed to see is that he is deaf. Suddenly he's all I can think about.
I email him right away, he writes back, a long, erudite, charming message. Pretty soon we're exchanging emails multiple times a day, getting to know each other. He works in an insurance office but his dream is to become a full time professional blogger. That sounds like bullshit to me, but he spins it as a kind of cutting-edge high-tech version of freelance writing. He directs me to his blog and I kind of lose myself in it, reading all the back entries.
The blog is all about his experience with deafness. He was born hard of hearing, but it wasn't discovered until he was three years old and not saying more than a few words. He writes vividly about receiving his first hearing aids, and learning language at last, how it transformed his world from a confusing jumble of disconnected images to order and predictability. I'm moved by what he writes, but not surprised. His description of learning language is similar to other things I've read about congenital deafness. We think of language as reflecting our thoughts but really it's the opposite, without language we can't think. It's language that gives us inner life.
Because Seymour could hear well enough with hearing aids, he never learned sign language and was mainstreamed in regular public schools. This means that he is small d deaf, because he has hearing loss, but not big D Deaf, because he doesn't know American Sign Language and isn't part of the ASL-using Deaf community. He writes at length about his parents making the decision to go with "oralism" meaning spoken language only, not sign language. As a dev, I've read a lot about this debate: supposedly the idea is that sign language is a crutch, and if you teach a deaf kid sign, that's all they will ever use and they won't make the effort to learn to speak or read lips. But some people in the Deaf community advocate for ASL or an integrated approach, and personally, I agree with them. Why is it that bilingualism is considered good for hearing kids but bad for deaf kids? If ASL is what feels natural and useful for kids to learn, why would you deny them that? The argument for oralism strikes me as nothing but ableism, based on what seems normal and right to hearing people only. But hey, who am I to argue with Seymour's parents, about a decision they made thirty years ago? I keep my opinions on this to myself.
Anyway oralism seems to have worked out for him. He graduated college and got a job but in his twenties his hearing slowly deteriorated further, to the point where hearing aids were not enough. He describes getting to the point where he could only communicate at work by writing notes, and how frightening and disorienting it was to be cut off from language again. So he got a cochlear implant, which is really what the blog is all about.
The blog is called Confessions of a Cyborg, because he says having this technology implanted in his head makes him a real life cyborg. He writes about having the surgery, how the implant went right into his ears, destroying any residual hearing he had left, followed by the days of total silence during recovery. Then he describes what it was like to have it turned on, how it sounded like nothing but static at first, until it was calibrated and his brain started making sense of the new information, and gradually he started to understand speech again. He kept going back for fine-tuning, until everything sounded mostly ok except for music, which still wasn't quite right, but the doctor was like, hey, it's not magic. There's still a limit to the technology.
I love this idea he has about being a cyborg. I send him a long email about how pop culture is full of sci fi stories of enhancing bodies to make people stronger, faster, have superhuman abilities, but we never think about how the first applications of these technologies in the real world will be for people with disabilities. So if you lose your hearing and get an implant that gives you superhuman hearing, are you still disabled? Isn't the Six Million Dollar Man just a disabled person with adaptive equipment?
Seymour likes the way I think about these things, but I don't reveal to him that I'm a devotee. Somehow I just get the feeling he wouldn't like it. He's so serious and doesn't seem to have any experience with the world of kink. Instead, I just mention that I have known other people with various disabilities, but I don't say why.
I tell him that my time in Seoul and Taipei gave me a sense of how frustrating it can be when you can't communicate clearly, when no one can understand you, when you're only picking up a tiny fraction of what people are saying to you. I realized that you can only ask people to repeat themselves three times, any more and the conversation is stopped dead, and you can forget about whatever idea they were trying to get across. If I didn't get something after three tries, I either had to pretend to understand when I didn't, or just shrug and give up. Seymour agrees that he's had the same experience as well.
After emailing back and forth for quite a while, we finally agree to meet for dinner. I suggest a Turkish restaurant a few blocks from my apartment. I give him directions to my place, and he ends up parking in front of Sarah's apartment building, because that's the only block with open spots and no time limit. I go around the corner to meet him, and we shake hands in front of his car.
Seymour is a really small. I mean, I'm only five foot three so most guys are taller than I am, and I don't usually think much about their height. But Seymour is even shorter than I am by about an inch, and slight. He's mid-thirties like I am, but his colorless hair, nervous expression and very conservative clothes all make him seem substantially older. Something about him reminds me very strongly of Bob the amputee. Their faces are strangely similar, kind of mousy and shy. That is definitely not a good sign, but I thrust those thoughts out of my mind. I shouldn't be making snap judgments like that, based on someone I met once years ago.
As we're meeting for dinner, it's already fully dark and the moon hangs low in the sky, strangely reddish and large, just above the darkened silhouettes of the trees. We stand there and gaze at it for a few minutes, and as we're lingering there by his car, Sarah comes out of the gate of her apartment.
She waves, and I briefly introduce her to Seymour.
"Are you watching the eclipse?" she asks us.
She rolls her eyes. "There's a lunar eclipse tonight. That's why the moon looks like that. It's going to reach totality in less than an hour."
"Uh...cool, I guess." I can't get that excited about a lunar eclipse. I'm way too focused on my date with Seymour. We say goodbye to Sarah, who is going up to the observatory to watch it with her ex (ugh, of course).
"Do you want to watch the eclipse or get dinner?" I ask Seymour as he locks up his car.
He shrugs. "Whatever you prefer."
I definitely prefer dinner. Eclipses come and go, but this is my first ever date with a deaf person and I am beyond excited. If anything, the eclipse seems like a bad omen, not something to seek out. I turn away from the red moon and we walk to the restaurant together, not saying much because it's dark and he can't easily see my face.
Once we're sitting across from each other in a more brightly lit setting, we can start to have a proper conversation.
"Just talk normally," he instructs me. "Don't raise your voice, because it distorts the sound and I actually hear it less."
His voice is clear and easy to understand, but there's a slightly nasal, muffled quality, a kind of roughness around the edges. His mouth moves in a deliberate, studied way as he talks, and when he makes an o sound, somehow his lips make nearly a square shape rather than round. The traces of years of hard work to be able to speak so well are clearly visible. I'm captivated just watching him talk.
So far, all my devotee experiences have been with blind guys and SCI guys, but deafness is pretty high up on my list of preferences. Like blindness, deafness is a different way of being in the world, a different way of relating to people. I want to know everything about him, about his experiences, what he thinks and feels.
When I speak, he stares at my mouth with laser-like intensity. I've never had someone give me such unblinking attention. It's unbelievably sexy. I do my best to speak normally, without over-enunciating, but it's hard to relax when I can practically feel his gaze caressing my lips.
The server brings us menus and Seymour flips through his uneasily.
"I've never had Turkish food before," he admits. "I don't know what any of this is."
"I haven't eaten here before either but it's pretty similar to Middle Eastern food, which is what I grew up eating. It's like comfort food to me."
"It's like what?"
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Comfort food. You know, like food that you eat a lot as a kid."
He turns his gaze back to the menu. "I don't know what any of this is," he repeats unhappily. "Is it spicy? I don't like anything spicy."
I try to recommend pide, which is essentially a cheese pie, but Seymour ignores me and orders a vegetable soup. When it arrives, though, he's not pleased. Evidently it isn't what he was expecting.
"What is all this?" he asks irritably, searching through the bowl with a soup spoon.
"I think that's a green bean."
He sighs. "I really prefer regular food. I don't ever eat stuff like this."
I'm getting flashbacks to my regrettable relationship with Rollerboy, who refused to eat anything other than burgers and pizza. But I'm enjoying myself too much on this date to let it get to me, so I do my best to ignore Seymour's complaining, and instead lead by example.
"My stuffed eggplant is delicious! Do you want to try it?"
He declines, and spends the rest of dinner picking at his food, but luckily the conversation turns to better topics. We chat away about cyborgs, accessibility, language.
"Do you know that scientists now think language was invented by children?" he asks.
I did not.
"There's been new research recently of an emerging sign language in Nicaragua," he continues. "It's children who are leading innovation in creating new signs and grammatical complexity. It was probably the same when spoken human language first started to emerge in the evolutionary past."
"Wow, I had no idea, but that makes sense, since children's brains are so much more elastic."
"Yeah, play isn't just play, it's how our culture is formed."
But even though Seymour shares this anecdote, he is not enthusiastic about sign language or a global community of signers.
"So you never learned ASL at all?" I ask carefully.
"No, it's a waste of time." He waves a hand dismissively. "ASL and all other sign languages will be gone within a generation. Once everyone gets cochlear implants, no one will bother with it anymore."
"Really? I've heard the Deaf community is pretty attached to ASL."
"It's pathetic," he sneers. "The Deaf community is just clinging to an insular little world but their so-called 'culture' is dying, and good riddance. With cochlear implants there's no reason anymore for a special separate culture for deaf people."
I just sort of nod without really saying anything. I'm a bit stunned at the level of vitriol he expresses. Personally, I think ASL and Deaf culture are really cool. I know the manual alphabet and a few signs but I wish I had taken classes in ASL. Recently I was in a pizza restaurant and saw two young women conversing in ASL. One of them in particular had this amazing rhythm and flow to her signs, her whole body swaying elegantly as her hands moved. It was mesmerizing.
To be honest, I'm a tiny bit disappointed that Seymour not only doesn't know any ASL but is actively hostile to the Deaf community. In my dev imagination, I would have preferred a Deaf guy who is proficient in ASL. But that's not who Seymour is, and I feel guilty holding him to some imagined ideal. Who am I to refute his lived experience? What kind of monster would reject him just because his disability isn't exactly the same as my fantasies?
I remind myself to tread very, very carefully around this. Plus there's the fact that I still haven't told him that I'm a devotee, and I'm starting to wonder how I'll ever be able to. I kind of get the sense he wouldn't take it well.
After I have a piece of dense, syrupy baklava for dessert, we split the bill and walk back to my place. I let him in the gate and we walk around the main house to my apartment in the back yard. He pauses at my front door, and we face each other under the flood light at the back of the house.
"Thanks, um, I had a really nice time," he says awkwardly.
"Yeah, me too. Sorry you didn't like the restaurant so much."
"No, it was fine. I really like talking to you."
We stare at each other for a beat, then I lean in and kiss him, right on the mouth, a long, lingering, passionate kiss. I feel like fireworks are going off around us. I mean, like real actual fireworks. It's like scene in a romantic movie where the camera is spinning around and around the couple as they kiss. I've hardly ever been this excited about a new guy before.
After a few moments, he pulls away and gives me a heavy-lidded, besotted look.
"We definitely have to do this again," he says huskily.
For the next few days, I'm walking on air. Seymour and I continue to email back and forth. I feel so turned on just thinking of how he watched my lips while I spoke, of the deliberate way he moved his mouth when he spoke. And the fact that he has a college degree and is gainfully employed puts him far ahead of Rollerboy, K, The Mantis, so many of the guys I have dated. Maybe this could really go somewhere.
The response from my friends is not what I might have hoped, though. When I tell Sarah that I'm dating the guy she saw me with the night of the eclipse, she stares at me in disbelief.
"Him?" She wrinkles up her brow in distaste.
"What's wrong with him?" I reply defensively.
"Ugh, come on! You know!"
"No I don't! He's a nice guy."
She sighs and rolls her eyes. "Whatever."
I don't know exactly what her problem with him is but continuing this conversation would violate my policy of not engaging when Sarah gets all judgy on me, so I just roll my eyes and change the subject. I think it's just her prejudice against short guys. Whatever.
When I tell Lulu that I'm dating a deaf guy, she laughs and says, "Does he taaaaalk laaaaaaiiigg thiiiiiiiiis?"
"No! Oh my god, what is wrong with you?"
"Sorry," she says, not looking very sorry at all. "But does he talk funny?"
"No he doesn't!"
Ok, so I also cross Lulu off the list of people I want to talk to about Seymour. I've told Lulu so much about being a devotee, and I thought she really understood me. She even tells me when she sees a cute young guy in a wheelchair out in public, how it makes her think of me, and she notices those guys more than she used to. It's disappointing to hear her be so casually prejudiced.
As much as I want to see him again, it's a few weeks before Seymour and I find time for a second date. He has to travel for his work, and I'm getting busy again with rehearsals for the next opera. This time around, we're doing I Puritani, which I really don't know or care for. Learning all the new music is such a drag, but at least it's fun to go to rehearsals with my friends. I've started carpooling with Suzanna since she lives nearby, and she at least listens to me talk about Seymour without judgment.
Once Seymour and I finally have a weekend free, we make a date for Saturday night. He asks where I want to go, and I mention a new Chinese place not far from my apartment. He says sure. Despite the way he complained before, I think of this as a safe bet. Everyone likes Chinese food, right? Even Rollerboy once let me take him to a Chinese place.
Seymour picks me up and I give him directions to the restaurant. It's a chilly, rainy night. We run clutching umbrellas from the car to the restaurant, glowing warmly with red neon lights. The whole front wall of the restaurant is glass, now fogged over and dripping with condensation.
We sit down and I flip through the menu with a sinking feeling. This is northern Chinese food, very authentic. I don't recognize anything. There certainly are not any of the Americanized familiar dishes.
Then as soon as the waitress hands us the menus, Seymour turns to her and says, "I'm allergic to sesame. What do you recommend?"
She looks at us blankly as he repeats the question several times, then she retreats to the kitchen to check with the cook.
"I didn't know you have a sesame allergy," I say, trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice. "Why didn't you say anything when I asked if you want Chinese?"
"I assume there isn't sesame in everything on the menu," he replies somewhat defensively.
"Yeah, probably not," I agree, although inwardly I'm not so sure. There's probably sesame oil in every single dish. "Do you want to go somewhere else?" I ask tentatively, because I really want to try this place.
"No, it's ok."
The waitress comes back and points to an orange chicken dish. "You have this one," she barks.
"Is that the only dish that doesn't have sesame?" I confirm.
"Yes, this one!" She stabs the menu with a finger. So we place our orders.
After the waitress leaves, Seymour pulls out a tiny black microphone from his pocket. "I'm going to use this in here, because it's so noisy," he explains as he clips the microphone to a small plate and places it at the edge of the table between us. "The wire goes right into my implant, so I can hear you better."
"Ok, cool." I eye the empty plate nervously. I can just imagine the distracted waitress clearing it away. The wire goes right into his body. How horrible if she were to yank on it, not knowing what it is. The rest of the evening, I keep an eye out for the waitress and impulsively put my hand on the plate whenever she comes near.
The food comes out quickly. The potstickers I ordered are amazing, but I don't share them because of the sesame oil. Seymour takes a big bite of his orange chicken, then immediately spits it back onto his plate.
"Ugh! What is that!"
I examine his plate more closely. In among the morsels of boneless chicken are big slices of orange peel, toasted to give a caramelized flavor. I take a bite of the chicken. It's delicious, sweet and sour but in a smoky, complex way.
"You're not supposed to eat the orange peel," I say, marveling at bit that I even have to explain this to an adult.
Seymour pulls an aggrieved face. "What! Why would they serve something you can't eat?!"
"It's just for flavoring." I can think of many, many other instances of being served food where you don't eat the whole thing. Bone-in meat. Any fruit in a thick peel, like banana. Lemongrass, but I'm sure he's never tried Thai food. "It's like a bay leaf," I say, grasping at the most common equivalent I can come up with on the spot.
"A bay leaf."
"A. Bay. Leaf."
"Why would you put a leaf in your food?"
Now I am feeling slightly annoyed by his attitude. I gave him a chance to choose a different restaurant and he didn't take it. I think the food here is terrific but it's hard to enjoy my meal with him across the table picking at his plate like a child.
This is not a productive line of discussion, so I change the subject. We chat about work, and he boasts about how many readers his blog is getting, how it's leading to requests to write articles for print magazines.
The conversation circles around to our dating history. He admits that he's hardly dated at all. Even though he's almost forty, he's only had two girlfriends in the past, and only one of those relationships lasted more than a few weeks. He complains about being socially ostracized in high school and even college, which, you know, I get it. People suck. The height thing isn't doing him any favors either.
"I've tried going out with women who are taller than me, but I just feel like a chihuahua running with a greyhound," he admits. It's an unfortunate image.
In an attempt to put him at ease, I tell him that my dating history is not a happy one either, and that even though I'm thirty-two, my longest relationship has only been two years long and I've never lived with a partner. This is all true, but I leave out the many, many hookups, one night stands, and friends with benefits or other ambiguous relationships. I also leave out the BDSM and being a devotee. There's no way this sheltered, inexperienced guy will understand. I still don't have a long-term plan for how to roll this information out but it doesn't have to be the first thing he learns about me. Maybe after a few months, once we get to know each other better.
I finish all my food while he leaves his plate mostly untouched. We split the bill and get ready to leave. My wet umbrella is under the table, and when I bend down to pick it up, I see a pile of chewed food on the floor next to his chair. What the hell? Apparently he spit the orange peel onto the floor, and not a little bit either. I never saw him do it.
I don't say anything. What do you even say in a situation like this? Honey, please don't spit your food on the floor of a restaurant when you are on a date, or really at any other time? He's already walking toward the door, so I just head out after him. At least the rain has stopped.
When we arrive back at my place, I invite him in, because I still really want to make this work, and he's got me on a dev high that won't quit. He nods approvingly of the décor in my tiny living room: the Persian carpet, the Pre-Raphaelite prints on the walls, the many bookcases crammed with books.
The one downside of my antique apartment is that the heating unit also seems to be of the same 1940s vintage as the house itself. I crank up the heat as soon as we walk in, but it still feels damp and chilly.
Seymour sits nervously on my narrow couch, while I sit next to him, trying to cultivate an air of both flirtation and reassurance.
"I, uh, haven't really done this very often," he says.
"Relax," I tell him, leaning over to kiss him, running my hands over his chest on top of his clothes. He's dressed like my dad at the office: wingtip shoes with black dress socks, pressed pleated pants, button down shirt with singlet and a sweater vest. I don't think I have ever seen someone my own age dress quite like that.
We kiss some more, and he seems to unwind a bit and get into it. He leans over until he is lying down with me straddling him, his head resting against the arm of the sofa. But in that position, every time he moves his head, it dislodges the receiver of his cochlear implant. He sits up again.
"That feels so weird, like the sound just fades then comes back," he says. He shows me how the small round receiver sits against the back of his head on the left, held in place by a magnet under his scalp. A wire snakes down into a box on his belt. I know he normally takes it off when he sleeps, but I guess it doesn't usually come off by accident.
We start kissing again, but when he rubs his head against the back of the sofa, the receiver slips out of place again. He snaps it back in place with an embarrassed smile. I think it's kind of cool and frankly sexy to think of the sound fading out and in again but I can see how it would be annoying, and I don't want him to be even more self-conscious.
To try to make things easier, I switch places with him, so that I'm the one laying back on the sofa and he's the one on top. It would probably make more sense if we just went straight to my bed, but somehow it feels too soon for that, besides, I'm just enjoying the moment, not really thinking ahead.
He pulls up my shirt and sweater, revealing my stomach and bra. I let him caress me as we continue to kiss, but when he pulls back to readjust his position, I pull my sweater back down again, because it's still cold in here.
All of a sudden, he sits bolt upright. "What are you doing?" he shouts. "I thought you were interested in me!"
"You're putting your shirt back on! I thought you wanted to do it! If you don't you have to tell me!"
"I just pulled my shirt back down because I'm cold..." I try to explain, but he's not listening.
"You know blue balls is a real thing," he continues, his voice dropping down to an angry hiss. "It's cruel of you to tease me and lead me on like that." He works back up to a crescendo, his face turning dark red as he reaches top volume. "I NEED TO KNOW WHEN WE'RE GOING TO HAVE SEX RIGHT NOW!!"
I stare at him open-mouthed, stunned into silence. After a few moments I repeat, "I just pulled my shirt down because I'm cold."
"I'm going to walk around the block to clear my head," he announces through gritted teeth. I watch wordlessly as he laces up his wingtips and marches out the door.
Shakily, I creep into the kitchen and make myself some herbal tea, my stomach churning. What is happening? One second I'm having a great time, enjoying that new relationship euphoria, the next I'm in the middle of the kind of horrible, protracted fight that usually only comes months later. I can't make sense of him or how I should react. All I keep thinking is that I can't change gears that quickly. It's like emotional whiplash. I still really like him and want things to work out somehow.
When he walks back in fifteen minutes later, I'm focused on being conciliatory and understanding. I offer him some tea in a coffee mug, which he accepts but drinks standing up in my tiny kitchen. He's still kind of steaming.
"Um, what was that all about?" I ask as he blows on his tea. "Like I tried to tell you, I was just cold. Pulling my shirt down had nothing to do with how I feel about you. I'm just the kind of person who's always cold, and the heater doesn't work very well..." For some reason I really want him to believe me on this, but even though he's looking straight at my face as I'm talking, he doesn't seem to be taking it in. His eyes are slightly unfocused, not that laser-like intensity from before.
Without responding to my protestations, he asks if I've read a book by someone I've never heard of. I don't even catch the name.
"It's an autobiography about growing up deaf," he explains. "He describes the anger of deaf people as like a flash of lightning."
"What?" I have no idea where he's going with this.
"There's something about the experience of growing up with hearing loss, it just makes you so angry sometimes. And that anger just explodes. It's like a flash of lightning, just like he says. I like, literally see a flash, and I just kind of lose it for a moment."
Well. I know how it is to have a hot temper, because I sure do. But I'm a little taken aback that he's using his deafness as an excuse for his anger issues. I mean, wasn't he just telling me he's not really deaf anymore because of his cybernetic implants? But maybe I'm being too judgmental. Who am I to tell him how to be deaf? If he says flashes of rage are a deaf thing, maybe I should just go along with it.
"Mmm hmmm." I nod noncommittally. This seems to be his entire apology.
"Look, I really like you, but I just, I don't want to be toyed with," he says.
"Who's toying with you?" I burst out defensively. "I told you, I was cold!" We're going in circles, like a couple fighting months into a relationship, not the second date. I suddenly feel acutely how late it's getting, and I'm freaking exhausted, but also slightly panicky at the thought of losing him already. I can't change gears that fast.
"I'm sorry I made you feel disrespected," I continue in a gentler tone. "That wasn't my intention at all. I really like you too. I think we just need to spend more time together to get used to each other."
His expression finally softens. "Ok, I'd like that too. Can I take you out to dinner again?"
I smile. "Yeah, I'd love to."
"But no food with sesame this time, ok?"
"Of course." At the reminder of the fiasco in the restaurant I can't help but needle him a little bit. "But I love sesame, I eat it all the time. Hummus, halvah, gomashio, you name it."
He frowns. "I'm going to have to ask you to make sure you don't kiss me after you've eaten sesame."
"Ok, sure, I promise," I say, trying very hard not to roll my eyes. Ok, I get it, allergies are serious but why does he have to be so goddamn humorless about everything?
By the time he finally leaves, it's nearly midnight and I feel wrung out like a dishtowel. But we promise to get together again soon.
I continue to email daily with Seymour the cyborg but our third date keeps getting postponed. He's traveling for work again, then I'm off on a long-planned trip to see my friends Kara and Nam in College Town. It's actually a kind of informal reunion.
I'm visiting them over Halloween and Election Day, with parties and dinners planned every night I'm there. I see my mad artist friend Borek again, who sets up the twelve foot high statue of Chthulu on the front lawn for the trick-or-treaters.
It's a little weird seeing such good friends while this whole thing with Seymour is hanging over me. I want to tell them all about him, after all, they all know I'm a devotee. But on the other hand, I'm starting to think this relationship might not be going anywhere, and I don't want talk about him to take up the whole trip. I only see them once every few years. If Seymour does end up being no more than a blip in my life, I don't want the idea of him crowding out everything else while I'm here. Anyway Nam has said he isn't even going to bother learning the names of the guys I date until the relationship lasts longer than six months.
So I tell Kara and Nam the bare minimum and resist talking about him more, but he's so much on my mind that it still feels awkward. I don't want to talk about him but I can't stop thinking about him. Do I like him or not? I can't even tell anymore.
On the night before Election Day, I go with Kara and Nam to a big noisy party at Borek's house, but it's not about politics. Everyone is drinking homemade absinthe, playing Dungeons and Dragons and doing some low-key post-Halloween LARPing. In short, a nerd party. Kara and I dress like little Victorian goth girls.
The whole time I've been here I've been trying to keep in touch with Seymour but it's tricky because he's off in Ohio ringing doorbells for John Kerry. We've been sending emails and leaving voice messages but just missing each other. Suddenly, in the middle of the party, he calls me. I rush to a back room to try to find a quieter place to talk to him.
"Hey, how are you?" I resist the urge to shout into the phone, since it distorts the sound. "I'm so glad you called!"
"Oh, um, that's good. I'm having a good time with my friends too. Actually I'm at a party right now."
"We're SO CLOSE," he enthuses. "We're going to turn this thing around! We CAN DO IT."
"Um, ok, good?"
"We just need to knock on a few more doors. I gotta keep up the energy and keep pounding the pavement!"
I try to engage him in a conversation, tell him what I've been doing, but all I get from him are obvious verbatim quotes from whatever pep rally the Democratic party has been throwing for volunteers. I wish him luck and hang up, feeling deeply unsatisfied.
I sit for a little while longer in the quiet room by myself, not wanting to go back to the party. Something about that whole exchange leaves me with a bad feeling, but I'm not sure why. I'm frustrated that Seymour wouldn't talk to me, and I hate that our relationship feels so unsettled. But more than that, I find his whole way of talking profoundly irritating, although I'm slightly embarrassed to admit it. After all, I already voted for Kerry by absentee ballot before my trip, and I really want him to win. But I've been watching the news, and I have a sinking feeling that it's a lost cause. I'm glad Seymour is out there knocking on doors. I probably should be too. But his zealous recitation of canned lines seems deluded and pathetic.
The next evening, Kara, Nam and I crowd around their tiny second hand TV to watch the election returns, and boo loudly when the networks all start calling it for Bush. But even in the midst of my disappointment over a bad election result, I can't stop thinking about Seymour. I kind of hate how silly he sounded on the phone, but I also kind of hate myself for being so petty. I guess if more people like me had gone knocking on doors like he did maybe the election would have gone differently.
As part of this mini reunion, I also meet up with Leonard, aka the guy I briefly dated in my sophomore year of college, before I met K. Leonard dumped me for someone else when I went for study abroad, then regretted it and tried very hard to get me back when I returned. But it was too late, I had already met K and barely even recognized that Leonard existed. He moped around for a year, sometimes showing up at the house I shared with Kara and Nam, but I was totally oblivious to him. He gave me a draft of the novel he wrote, which sat unread outside my bedroom door, collecting dust.
Kara and I threw a graduation party and invited everyone we knew, including Leonard. At the party he met a friend of mine. They got married and had two kids.
Kara and Nam drive me out to the suburbs to visit them at home. Their house is surprisingly fancy considering he dropped out of grad school and is now a freelancer. I'm glad to see he's doing so well.
I'm shocked by his appearance. In college, Leonard was rail thin, but now he's fat, with a receding hairline. His wife still looks the same though, with her round cheerful face. They are both happy to see us, and we spend a few hours chatting about old times. Mostly just him though, his wife goes to take care of the kids.
I try not to let it show, but I'm burning with jealousy. This is what I want: married, kids, nice house. If I weren't a devotee, I could have had this with him, this very guy. He was clearly ready to settle down, and if I hadn't been with K, I probably would have said yes to Leonard.
As the conversation goes on, I get the feeling that while for me, he's just The Other Guy, for him, I'm The One That Got Away. Maybe? Not exactly that, more like I'm a relic of his wild college days, the crazy, weird one he dated before settling down with his normal, ordinary wife. And here I am, still living the bohemian lifestyle ten years later. Could it be that he's a tiny bit jealous of me, living the free single life with no kids?
I don't say any of this to him directly, but in the car on the way home I mention some of it to Kara. "Why can't I have that life?" I sigh, staring out the backseat window.
"You don't really want that," she replies tartly.
"What are you talking about! Yes I do!"
"If you did, you would have made it happen already," she reasons in that infuriatingly logical way she has. "You have other things you want also."
"I hate being a devotee! Why does it have to make life so complicated?"
"You would never have been happy with Leonard no matter what. Don't even waste time thinking about it," Kara advises wisely.
I fly back to Raser City feeling more confused than ever about Seymour. On the plane ride home I pick up some horrible cold virus that morphs into a sinus infection, forcing me to postpone seeing him in person again even longer.
We keep emailing but the tone is getting increasingly hostile. I say something I think is a joke and he takes offense, then won't let it go even after I apologize over and over. This happens more than once.
After the email exchange gets more heated, he calls me one afternoon.
"Look, I don't want to argue with you," he says testily.
"Good, me neither. Please stop arguing."
"I'm not the kind of person who has to be right all the time. Not like you. I could be right 30% of the time and let you have 70%. Would that satisfy you?"
Where does he come up with this shit? "I have no idea what you're talking about. It's not a contest. And I don't have to be right all the time. I never said that," I insist.
"You know, I went back and looked at your profile again," he says, his voice rising in anger. "It says, 'Strong is sexy, weak is sexier.' I know what you mean by that." His tone is sarcastic, insinuating.
That's where I finally lose it and start yelling.
"What the fuck do you think I mean by that? What are you implying?"
"What am I what?"
"Implying," I hiss into the phone, trying my hardest not to shout.
"I told you it distorts the sound if you do that. Can you please just talk normally?"
I have a sudden inspiration, one I should have thought of weeks ago.
"Can we use IM instead?" We both use the same free email client, so instant message is already set up.
"Sure, ok. Bye."
While I start up my computer, log into my email and wait for him to come online, I have time to get good and angry about what he said.
Among the many prompts in an OkCupid profile is a fill-in-the-blank that says, "____ is sexy, _____ is sexier." In my mind, filling in the strong/weak thing is a nod to my devness. It's also an SM thing, and I figured that even if no one got the dev reference, they might at least recognize it as a kind of dom/sub dynamic. Also who cares what you write in your profile because no one ever even reads it. Most guys only look at the photos. I can't believe Seymour is taking this as some sort of key to my supposedly defective personality.
By the time he finally comes online, I'm fuming, but he's totally distracted by the technology.
>Oh hey this really takes me back. I used to IM all the time but I haven't done it in almost 10 years, he types.
What is he even talking about? This is the most obvious, frictionless form of long distance communication for him and he isn't even using it.
>We use to use all kinds of abbreviations like "brb" for "be right back" or putting a word inside an asterisk like this for *emphasis*, he continues.
>Yes I know, people still do that. My god, it's like texting with someone's grandmother. I'm ready to reach through the lines and throttle him.
>Can we please get back to what we were just talking about?
>Yes, you were saying something that sounded like "--puty."
>No. I was trying to say that you are jumping to conclusions about who you think I am based on one line in an online dating profile, which you are misinterpreting.
>Ok, so explain it to me then
I start to type something about how if he had looked elsewhere in my profile he would have noticed I mention being into BDSM, but before I can finish the sentence, another line from him pops up.
>but I still think it's pretty indefensible.
I furiously delete what I have written and instead reply, >Why should I even bother if you've made up your mind already?
>You think of me as weak, he writes.
>That's not true! I can't believe you're basing all this on one throwaway gag line on OkCupid rather than what you have seen of me in real life.
>You thought you could take advantage of me.
>You're the one who wrote to me first! I didn't seek you out, you sought me out.
We go around and around like this for nearly an hour, me trying to defend myself and him not listening. It's frustrating to be silently typing away when I really feel like yelling and gesturing dramatically. At least this way I don't have to keep repeating words, but the instant message system doesn't indicate when the other person is still typing, so we keep writing replies to messages several lines up in the conversation, because we keep typing over each other. After a while my rage subsides into exhaustion. I sure as hell am not going to tell him about being a devotee now.
>Wow, it really is true that nice guys finish last, he writes.
Oh man, now I have really had it with him.
>What are you even talking about?
>I'm a nice guy but it's clear you don't appreciate being treated nicely. You want someone you can argue with all the time.
>This is pointless, I type. If you've already made up your mind that I'm a terrible person, there's no reason to continue this conversation.
>I guess you're right, he concedes.
I sit in front of the computer for an hour, scrolling through the whole stupid argument and wondering how the hell I even got here. What a fucking waste of my time. I keep seeing his red, angry face as he yelled, "I NEED TO KNOW WHEN WE'RE GOING TO HAVE SEX RIGHT NOW!!"
How I wish I had replied, "Ok, never! If you had kept your mouth shut, you could have gotten some, but now you will never, ever have sex with me!"
I should have locked the door when he went to walk around the block and never seen him again. Why did it take me weeks to finally break it off?
No, I should have broken it off after that childish performance in the restaurant. No more whiny manchild bullshit, I vow. Not eating like a grownup is a huge red flag.
No, I should have never even gone on that first date. All the red flags were in his blog: how he grew up socially isolated, how much he is deluding himself about his social skills now. I flash back to so many entries in his blog about communication difficulties with his co-workers. He frames it as examples of how much better his hearing is with the implant, but even with it, he's still not getting every word even in a one on one conversation. He said the cochlear implant isn't magic, but he acts like it is. The implant doesn't make him not deaf. It's just a more advanced variety of hearing aid.
I'm sorry his parents fed him a line of ableist bullshit and he internalized it, cutting him off from a community of people who could have helped him deal with his "deaf anger" and cope with his disability better, but it's not my problem to solve.
I delete the text conversation, then go through my email and delete all his messages and his number from my phone. It's like a switch has finally flipped, and all the anger and resentment I should have been feeling weeks ago finally comes flooding out. I'm angry at him, but also at myself for letting this go on so long, for letting my dev desires get the better of me again, for getting involved with this guy in the first place.
The truth is, I had seen his profile before he ever messaged me, and decided not to contact him. I could just tell that he wouldn't be open to dating a dev, that our personalities are too different. When he messaged me, I thought it was a sign that maybe things would work out anyhow. I should have gone with my first instinct. Never again, I vow. I'm going to let any guy in the future know that I'm a dev, and if he can't handle it, then we shouldn't be together anyway.