ESSAY: Mandatory Date Night by Molly Laich
It was October in Seattle and I had a date in the university district with a man from the internet. He was a writer and we agreed to meet in a bar to “talk about writing” and more to the point, see if we wanted to fuck. For me, though, it was either that or sleep in my car, so I’d already made up my mind.
He said he’d text me the name of the bar we were meeting at “around 9,” so I killed the time by driving around cramped college streets, smoking bowl after bowl of brown, dry marijuana I’d bought from a kid in front of McDonalds.
Just when the drugs had finally done their job and I was beginning to feel okay, even thrilled about an evening spent curled up alone in the back seat of my car, Jared finally came through with the text. He said, “Sorry, I got distracted drinking beers with my neighbor,” and I felt glad, because a drunk person wouldn’t have the wits to see me coming.
He walked up and I knew it was him by the DIY haircut and lost expression. “Do you want to go inside?” I wondered, but he wanted to buy a cigarette from one of the many sidewalk bums first, all of whom he seemed to know by name. We stood together unhappily outside the bar for several minutes, and he was so sullen that I wondered why he had wanted to go out with me in the first place.
Finally he said, “Sorry if I’m being weird. I got drunk.”
He was mean and had showed up to our first date smashed. “It’s cool,” I said. “I smoked the rest of my weed while I was waiting for you.”
“Thanks for not smoking it with me,” he said. Sarcastically.
It was a date, so I did that thing where you get the fella talking until he falls in love with himself and maybe throws you a bone in the glow. He’d moved here from somewhere in the Midwest ten years ago and never wanted to go back. He was all “Fuck paying for the bus,” and “Fuck going to college when you can learn everything yourself.”
“Your apartment,” I asked him. “Is it close by?”
“I’m working on a chapbook,” he said. He told me all the writers in Seattle were bullshit. He loved Charles Bukowski and the feeling of dirt under his fingernails. He didn’t ask what I liked to write about and I didn’t want to tell him. I told good jokes he didn’t laugh at. Once he looked at me hard and said, “Was that supposed to be funny?”
I turned my stool around and touched my knee against his. “My life is sort of complicated right now,” I said.
Jared picked up my drink and spit into it, set the glass down and then grinned at me. “You see that?” the action seemed to say. “This is what I think of women.”
In a flash, I realized what was happening. He was the belligerent asshole in my short story and I was the disappointing woman in his.
“I was going to finish that,” I said.
He said, “Let’s go back to my place. I have whiskey, we can drink for free.”
It was dark and raining. The streets were nothing but lights and wet blocks, but I felt good. I felt like my life was an adventure and here I was living it. He told me his apartment was only $400 a month and I said without thinking, “Give me the name of your landlord, I’m homeless.”
He took me up to the fourth floor and opened the door into a room the size of a utility closet with nothing inside but a typewriter, a pile of clothes and the half gone bottle of whiskey.
“You’re too drunk to drive home now,” he said. This was the part of his story where he tricked the girl into staying over. I imagined him so pleased with himself while he banged out the scene on his typewriter. He pulled me down onto the carpet and stuck his tongue in my mouth. We drank the whiskey. He said, “Let’s scrape your bowl for resin and go sit on the roof and smoke it.” We climbed onto the roof from his window. It was cold and wet. He lifted up my dress, pulled my underwear down and licked between my legs. It was clumsy and erotic. He seemed sweet for the first time and we fell asleep together on the hard floor with no penetration.
I woke up at dawn with a stiff back and didn’t recognize the boy lying next to me. He looked younger and crazier in the light of day. I saw his beer belly and it made me feel good.
The truth is that I had a boyfriend named Daniel, but we’d had a fight and I didn’t know if we were still together. He’d texted a wilted apology in the night — enough of one anyway that I decided it would be okay to come in through the broken side door early that morning and wait for him in his apartment.
Daniel was an older, shorter man with a good job and a nice wardrobe he hung meticulously on hangers: all of it gray, gray, gray. He loved himself a lot and thought other people were really nice. He wouldn’t let me move in and he didn’t care where I slept at night. There was so much not to like, but to be without him, I don’t know. I felt like the world might end.
I climbed into his bed with nothing but my dress on, my bra and underwear still balled up in my purse, and I slept under that sweet Egyptian cotton until he turned on the light and found me. We made up, with the understanding that I would still find my own place and not move in with him the way I’d been angling to.
“Blah blah blah,” he said. “We’ve only been dating for two months, after all.” Daniel crept his hand under my whore dress and slipped his cock inside of me before I had a chance to take a shower and wash the Jared off.
The next day I took the bus back to the U. District to look for apartments, but then I looked out the bus’s window and saw Jared standing on a street corner. I cursed my heart’s sick psychic gift for honing in on men who are better left lost. It didn’t stop me from getting off the bus and running after him.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said. He really was very mean.
“I texted you for your landlord’s number. You didn’t answer back.”
“Right,” he said. Then he thought of something that seemed to make him really happy. “Look at this,” he said, and pulled away his sweater at the neck to reveal a series of red welts along his collarbone. They looked like nerves painted on the skin with red dots. The welts made my heart beat fast. He said, “My building has bedbugs.” He showed me more bites on his belly and under his ribcage. He seemed super proud of them, and I couldn’t help but agree that it was a rich detail for our respective stories.
“You’re probably going to want to wash everything that came into contact with my place in scalding hot water,” he said. “Twice.”
I knew it was good advice but I didn’t want to do it. Daniel and I slept in the dirty sheets all week. I felt their tiny legs crawling up and down my skin, but when I touched them they were gone. A week later, I moved into a shitty basement studio where I slept next to the refrigerator on a mattress on the floor. There was no place for anything. My stuff piled on top of me like a bad dream; it was an impossible place to be happy. Not long after that, Daniel said my sadness weighed him down and we broke up for good.
The thing about bedbugs is, they don’t hibernate in pillows or burrow under your skin in waiting. They don’t do your bidding and they don’t mean anything. I had to face the facts: If the bugs hadn’t gotten Daniel yet, they never would.