“Where have you been all day?”
My own best friend Amy has gotten really whiny lately. Apparently, she’s been texting me all day, but I never knew because I had my phone charging in the bedroom while John was over. A year ago, Amy wouldn’t have cared. But she’s taken my engagement incredibly personally. She says that after I get married, she will be the last single girl in our circle of friends, and moreover, in the entire tristate area. It’s not true, but in Amy’s head, it’s really true.
Anyway, I called her as soon as I saw the slew of messages she left on my phone. She’s working on a doctorate in microbiology, and things are not going well with her project right now. According to her latest text, both her love life and her career are disasters.
“I had company,” I tell her.
“Is Ted in town?”
“Not Ted,” I say, slightly offended that she thinks the only person I’d be spending time with would be either Ted or her. Even though lately, it’s sort of true. As I’ve gotten older, I feel like I socialize less and less. “I actually had his best man over. We watched a movie.”
Well, two movies.
“Best man?” Amy asks. I can hear her ears perking up. “Is he local?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Lives in Jersey City. His name is John.”
Amy is quiet for a minute. “Is he… available?”
Here’s the thing about Amy: sometimes she gets all hopeful and starts going out with guys, and other times she goes into this cocoon where she won’t go on a date for like six months. If she’s asking about a guy, maybe she’s in her hopeful dating phase.
And you know what? Maybe John and Amy is not a ridiculous idea. I can see how their personalities might mesh well. Maybe I can play Cupid.
“Actually,” I say. “He is available.”
Although technically, I don’t know that. I know that his get-together night was platonic and he never mentioned a girlfriend to me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s available. But I’m pretty sure he is. I mean, come on.
Okay, that sounded bad. No wonder John was all pissed off at me.
“Is he cute?” Amy asks. “I mean, he doesn’t have to be gorgeous, but is he at least passably cute? Actually, he doesn’t even have to be that. Is he, like, not horribly ugly? No facial deformities? At least, no gross facial deformities?”
My best friend’s standards are just getting higher and higher.
“He’s actually pretty cute,” I say.
“Oh,” Amy says. I’m not sure if she sounds disappointed or not. She’s ranted to me before about the problems with cute guys. Ugly guys are preferable, she concluded. The fatter the better, as long as they can still squeeze through the door.
“There is one thing though,” I add. “He’s sort of… um… disabled.”
Amy is quiet for a minute. “Mentally or physically?”
Well, at least she didn’t shut me down immediately.
“And what do you mean by ‘sort of’ disabled?”
By “sort of,” I meant “very.”
“He uses a wheelchair,” I explain.
“Oh,” Amy breathes. “Geez.”
“But he’s super nice,” I say quickly. Well, not really. “And really cute. Plus he’s half-Asian… didn’t you say you were into that?”
“I guess,” Amy murmurs. She sighs. “Would it make me a horrible person if I said I wasn’t really interested?”
“No,” I admit grudgingly. “It wouldn’t.”
“That’s just… too much,” Amy says. “Anyway, right now I shouldn’t be dating any guy I wouldn’t consider marrying, and there’s just no way I could ever see myself marrying a guy in a wheelchair. That would just be crazy.”
“Yeah,” I say.
I can’t help but feel a little bit sad for John. I mean, Amy is the least picky girl in the world—her major stimulation is that the guy shouldn’t have any gross deformities—and she wasn’t even willing to give him a chance. And that’s without even knowing his upper body limitations. If she saw the way he fed himself, she probably wouldn’t have even hesitated.
Note to self: Never date a woman you work with.
It’s good advice—wish I had taken it years ago. Instead, I’ve two minutes away from a meeting with Rebecca Hanson, the girl I dated for over two years. She works at the same company as I do—thankfully she’s upstairs, so I rarely see her aside from occasional meetings and awkward elevator encounters.
They say that living well is the best revenge. Not that I want to get revenge on Becky exactly, although I sort of do. Either way, I don’t thinking I’m winning in that respect. Becky and I broke up nearly three years ago, and I haven’t had a serious relationship since then. Whereas she’s now married. She’s fucking married.
And today she comes into the meeting visibly pregnant.
“Becky!” my boss Delilah cries out. “Congratulations! I had no idea! When is the baby due?”
Am I an asshole for wishing maybe she’d respond she wasn’t really pregnant and had just gotten fat? Fine then. I’m an asshole.
Anyway, it turns out she really is pregnant. And she’s due in June. It’s a girl! So exciting. We’ll have to throw her a shower at our next meeting. So fucking exciting.
Nobody makes eye contact with me while they’re fussing over Becky. It’s no secret that the two of us used to date. But at least nobody knows that I had asked her to marry me.
“Hi, John,” Becky says quietly as she slips into a seat not too close to mine.
“Hi,” I say. I swallow a big lump in my throat and force myself to say, “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” she says stiffly. “Um. How are you doing?”
How the hell am I supposed to answer that? I’m exactly the same as I was when she broke up with me.
“Fine,” I mumble.
I can’t believe it’s only ten in the morning. Christ, I need a drink.
One of the hardest things about working in a bakery is how early I need to get up. I never was a fan of waking up at the crack of dawn, but that’s what you need to do in order to have fresh baked goods for the morning customers. But on weekdays, we close at three o’clock in the afternoon, which means I get to go home and take a nap. So that’s how I manage to make it work so that I don’t have to go to bed at eight o’clock every night like an old person.
Still, it’s five in the morning and while I roll out dough, I feel like I’m in a bit of a fog. My aunt Minnie is mixing muffin batter next to me and humming to herself. I don’t understand how Minnie can be so bright and peppy this early in the morning. If I didn’t love her, I might hate her a little bit right now.
I yawn dramatically and Minnie laughs. She’s got flour in her hair so that you can’t tell what’s gray and what’s flour. “Late night last night?”
“Not really,” I say. “Was just hanging out watching movies.”
“Ted isn’t in town, is he?”
Minnie always pulls a bit of a face when she brings up Ted. She isn’t the biggest Ted fan in the world. It’s not that she dislikes Ted per se, but she doesn’t approve of the fact that we got engaged after only a year of a long distance relationship. You hardly even know him!
It’s a little hard not having Minnie’s complete support on this. My mom, Minnie’s sister, died of pancreatic cancer during my last year of college, and Minnie’s sort of become my surrogate mother. Minnie has two sons but no daughters, and she’s reveled in hearing every detail of my dating exploits—I can tell her things that I’d have felt embarrassed saying to my mother. She was skeptical about the long distance thing from the start, and now that Ted and I are engaged, it’s no better.
“No, he’s not,” I say. “I was actually hanging out with his best man.”
“Guy or girl?”
Minnie’s eyes widen as she starts whipping the batter with more vigor. “Oh…”
“It’s not like that,” I say quickly. “He’s… I mean, he’s a total jerk. I’m just trying to be friendly for Ted’s sake.”
“What movie did you watch?”
“The Cable Guy,” I tell her. “And Serial Mom.”
Minnie snorts. “How did you rope him into watching those horrible movies?”
“They’re not horrible!” I insist. Nobody gets me. “Anyway, it was his idea. He loves both those movies.”
“Is that so?” She raises her eyebrows, which are slightly flecked with flour. “Sounds like this best man could be your soulmate. Maybe you should dump Teddy and marry him instead.”
I roll my eyes at Minnie. She’s being completely ridiculous. Although I have to say, until things got weird at the end, I had a really great time watching those movies with John. He and I really just connected somehow. It’s just too bad he’s such a jerk.
So I get this email in my inbox saying that someone has messaged me about my dating profile. I thought I took down all of those ages ago, but I guess I left the free accounts active. It’s not worth paying for rejection, but I guess I’ll take it as a free service.
I try to remember which profile I put up on that site. I’ve got three versions of my profile:
The first contains a headshot of me looking my usual average-looking self. It says nowhere in the profile that I use a wheelchair or am disabled. I used to get plenty of hits from that profile, but the interest usually fizzled fast when I revealed that I’d be showing up on four wheels. Did I say usually? I meant always. It was fucking depressing.
The second contained my version of a full frontal. Meaning the photo was of me in my wheelchair, looking… well, accurate. I got zero hits from that version.
The third had the benign headshot but I did mention the fact that I’m disabled in the profile. Vaguely. But it was there. Nobody was going to get blindsided.
I’ve gotten a handful of responses from the third version of my profile, some of which have even led to dates. Unsuccessful dates, yeah. But you only need one to work out, right?
It’s a relief to find out that the private message is in response to the third version of my profile. So she knows I’m disabled. That’s a start—a possibility. Her name is Allison and she’s a few years older than me, but decently attractive in her picture. She writes: “Hi, John! What’s up?”
I agonize a lot before I message her back. Should I? Shouldn’t I?
The cons are the usual: She’s probably not going to be interested once she knows my whole situation. There’s no way she’ll be interested. These dates never work out. It’s going to be painful and awkward. She’s probably ten years older than she looks in her photo.
I mean, this is why I gave up on dating and decided to just be okay with being single. Except when I lay my eyes on a woman like Kirby, it makes me realize maybe I’m not as okay with it as I thought.
So then I think about the pros: Maybe she’ll really like me. Maybe we’ll hit it off. I’m lonely. I haven’t kissed a girl in years. Holy fuck, I want to kiss a girl.
Then I get wrapped up in a kissing spiral and I realize that I’m definitely messaging this girl.
I keep it chill. I write back: “Doing good. Whassup with you?”
Whassup? Why did I write that? Am I thirteen? Christ, it’s been too long since I’ve dated. I’m getting weird.
It seems like Allison is online, because she writes back right away: “I’m good too. Liked your profile! Love a guy with a sense of humor.”
I read over my profile, trying to figure out what gave her the idea that I have a good sense of humor. I can’t figure it out, which is probably a bad sign. I write back: “I liked yours too.”
Wow, I’m rusty.
I expect her next question to be about my disability, but it isn’t. And neither are the rest of our back-and-forths. I’m worried maybe she didn’t notice it in my profile. It’s not like I put it in bold capital letters. I should probably say something. I don’t want her to show up at a restaurant to meet me and get surprised. I did that to a girl once and it wasn’t pretty.
But she seems to really like me and we’ve got a flirtatious banter going—an actual banter. Nothing ruins a flirty banter like saying, “Hey, guess what? I’m a quadriplegic!”
Two days after our initial exchange, I give her my phone number and she calls me. I’m ridiculously excited about it. Especially when I hear her raspy voice on the other line. I’m sure that means she’s a smoker, which I hate, but I don’t care. Her voice is fucking sexy as hell.
“Hi, John,” she says. “So I finally get to confirm you’re not an eight-year-old boy.”
“Nope,” I say. “I haven’t been eight in at least two years.”
Allison laughs throatily. “You have a cute voice, John.”
We end up talking for the better part of an hour. Then she suggests drinks. Part of me wants to see her this instant and part of me never wants to see her. Correction: never wants her to see me.
“Listen,” I say carefully. “I just… I should mention… I mean, it’s in my profile, but… I’m disabled.”
Not too much information. Not right away.
“Yeah, I saw that,” Allison says real casual. “So am I.”
I suck in a breath. What? Okay, that’s a twist. A cute disabled girl—that could be a good thing. “You are?”
“Oh yeah,” she says. “For, like, three years now. How about you?”
“Nine years,” I say.
Allison lets out a low whistle. “Wow, you got started young. I was working at the supermarket and I was lifting this crate, and bam, I blew three discs in my back. Haven’t been able to work since.” She lowers her voice. “On bad days, I have to use a cane.”
Aw crap. She doesn’t have any clue. “Oh,” is all I can come up with.
“How about you?” she asks.
“I, uh…” I have to tell her. I don’t want to, but I have to. “Actually, I still work. But… I do use a wheelchair.” Then, for reasons that I can’t entirely explain, I quickly add, “Sometimes.”
“Oh, wow…” Allison sounds properly impressed. “You got it worse than me then. Although there are some days when I’d love a wheelchair.”
If I weren’t so horny and desperate, I’d probably be personally affronted by that statement. There are no days when I love my wheelchair. There are no days when I wouldn’t give anything just to be able to walk again, even just a little. A few steps would be incredible.
“So what about Saturday night?” Allison suggests.
I glance at the calendar on my phone and I realize: “Saturday is Valentine’s Day.”
“Yeah, well.” I can almost hear Allison shrug. “It’s just a day like any other, right? And it’s not like either of us have any other romantic plans if we’re on a dating website.”
“Okay,” I breathe, although I’m not entirely sure it’s okay. Our first date on Valentine’s Day—this could be a story we’ll tell our children someday. But I suspect that more like, it’s going to make what’s usually a painful day for me even worse.
As we solidify our plans, I get this nagging feeling that I really need to be more straight with her about my disability. I should just be entirely honest with her. But it’s not like I didn’t tell her about the chair. I told her. She won’t be taken off guard when I show up in it. This is going to be fine. True love. All that crap.
To be continued....