As promised—a Thursday night. I stop by her place after work. She lives just a couple of blocks up the street from the bookstore. I’ve passed by this house I don’t know how many times yet I never knew this was the place where coffeeshop girl ceases to be coffeeshop girl. I knock on the door. When I stop, my heart is still knocking. Did I ever knock? I’m not sure. I knock again.
Then footsteps. Then the door, opening.
Her caramel hair is down, I’ve never seen it down before. At work it’s always tied up into a French braid, loose strands making thin shadows before her eyes. Tonight it is down and I feel I’m seeing something I shouldn’t be seeing. This is a sight not meant for her customers. Tonight I am not a customer, not a bookstore clerk who works in the same building.
“Hey,” I say.
She smells like lady showers. Her jeans fit her tight and so does her sweater the color of mustard. Shower water dampens the cotton, she only just got out. It’s Spring but the wind still feels like Winter. A light scarf loops around her neck.
“Shall we?” I offer her my elbow.
She refuses with her smile and a playful push. That smile. My elbow goes weak at the crook. She locks the door behind her.
Together we walk, side by side, to the Thai restaurant around the corner and I imagine we’re holding hands. We’re not holding hands though because that would be weird. Weird for her, not for me. My hand is a fist, gripping itself.
Somehow the air inside is colder. A black piano sits in the corner but no one plays it. Late 90s, early 00s music streams from speakers. Makes you think Thailand is a land of the past. Eight years for the music to get there, eight years for it to get back. Right now it’s “Drops of Jupiter” by Train. It sounds just like it did back then. Uncanny.
…she acts like summer and walks like rain… reminds me that there’s time to change…
It’s just us and the waiter here. I wonder if he’s also the cook. And it’s now that I should tell you, reader, that the name of the coffeeshop girl is KyAnne (pronounced like the pepper but spelled in a way a hippie would spell it if they were to name their child after a pepper). KyAnne was named after a pepper and her parents were hippies. I think one of them still is. Alive, I mean.
She orders a glass of Merlot and I order a beer and she says to me, “I thought you didn’t drink.”
I tell her I don’t, that the beer is for her.
“I’m getting wine,” she says.
She stares at me, her perpetual smile. “So the beer?”
I chase down the waiter and try to explain to him in the simplest English I can that I don’t need beer after all and that the beer was never for me, it was for the coffeeshop girl named KyAnne—“that’s her, that’s KyAnne,” I say as I’m pointing to KyAnne—and now she doesn’t want the beer because she ordered wine and I don’t drink and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry—
I’m on the verge of tears now, or long past the verge of tears and simply crying and I tell him, “I swear I’m not trying to get her drunk. I’m not. I’m not a rapist.”
He stares at me through his glasses and says in perfect English, “No beer?”
I nod, relieved that he understands, that I’m an understandable kind of guy, and that so is he. We bonded just then, we became something more.
I sit back down. KyAnne asks me, “we good?”
I tell her we’re good. Our waiter, my friend, brings us the wine and water and although he doesn’t physically wink at me, I know he winks at me mentally, because we’re soul brothers now, we’ve crossed cultural divides and found ourselves one.
Enter a lone viola, soul wrenching. What sounds like an Irish funeral dirge. A soft, slow piano like rhythmic drops. A voice like God—
When I am down, and oh my soul so weary… When troubles come and my heart burdened be… Then I am still and wait here in the silence… Until you come and sit awhile with me…
The next verse wakes me to the truth. This is not God, this is Josh Groban. You raise me up so I can stand on mountains… YOU RAISE ME UP to walk on stormy seas…
I watch KyAnne sip at her wine. I watch her eye the emptiness that surrounds us, listen to the vastness that Josh Groban’s voice fills. Most of the dinner we eat in silence. I don’t remember what I eat because I can barely eat. KyAnne has the yellow curry. She finishes it no problem. Every now and again I point out a song I haven’t heard in some time. Every now and again she asks me about Tinder. There isn’t much to say.
“Another glass of wine?”
“No,” she says, “one is enough.” Her gold cheeks are flooded pink. “I only need the one.”
We get separate checks but I tell the waiter I’ll pay for the wine. He winks at me again without winking.
Walking back to her place I again imagine we’re holding hands. We’re not holding hands though. That would be weird.
I lay my satchel down on the carpet. KyAnne is in the kitchen while my eyes roam the walls. Everything surprisingly bare, under decorated, a carpet torn and frayed. It’s quiet because the weird stuff is about to begin. Because I asked her to rejoin Tinder, for “research.” Because I wanted her alone.
KyAnne peeks out from the kitchen and asks me what kind of tea I’d like.
“Do you have Lemongrass Jasmine Green? But the decaf kind.”
—A short pause— “no.”
“What do you have?”
“Green, black, and chamomile.”
“I’ll take the chamomile.”
“Actually, I’m out of chamomile.” She shakes an empty box at me.
“Green is fine.” The realization hits that I won’t be getting any sleep tonight.
A kettle shrieks. KyAnne brings out a tray with a pot, steaming, and two empty cups. She places the tray on the floor and sits down beside me.
“So,” she says.
“So,” I say.
“We’re doing this.”
“Yes.” Though I forget what this is. I’m about to lean in to kiss her when she takes out her phone, activates her Tinder account. I forgot how easy it is, how quick it is to make yourself known to the world.
We scroll through her Facebook photos looking for the perfect Tinder bait, though really I’m just nodding, saying yes to all, because really I’d swipe right any one of them. My God, that smile. In the end she chooses photos of her rock climbing, snowboarding, shaping clay into something more. Then there is the picture of her with her roommates, and she’s wearing this little black dress I’ve never seen before. Her hair is down in the same forbidden way it’s down now. She’s about to let anyone see.
I tell her not to worry about a bio. She won’t need one.
It stuns me to see the men that fly across her screen. I feel like we just built a boat together and now it’s sprung a leak. Now we’re drowning in men. And I’m talking about real men with real men bodies. Looking at these men I realize that no, I’m not a man at all—I don’t know what I am. I’m talking men with chainsaws and hatchets and you know… abs. I’ve never held a chainsaw in my life and wonder what it’d feel like to start now. What’s even more disturbing is that she swipes most of these men LEFT, just a ridiculous onslaught of lefts. We’re drowning in men but she does what the drowning do best, sloshing pail after pail of men back into the sea. Eventually though, her fingers loosen up and find their rhythm and even a few right swipes. Her match success rate is somewhere between 85% and 97% though I’m no mathematician. The amount of matches she gets in a single hour destroys me, but this is what I wanted wasn’t it? To witness this flood of matches, to see what happens on the other side. She’s in the boat, I’m in the sea.
The way her eyes light up, I know she’ll swipe right even before she does. She swipes right for snow, she swipes right for mountains, she swipes right for adventure. For red hair. I watch as my competition builds up in her phone though I’m quick to realize they’re not my competition at all. These men are playing rugby and climbing K-9s and I’m masturbating in showers and playing frisbee golf alone.
I take out my phone because it’s all too much. I hope that if I start my own swiping I might make her jealous, but I see I’m not even on her radar—she’s in it now, I’ve reintroduced a Tinder addict back into the world of real men and musk. My Degree “Men” deodorant doesn’t even register. I get no matches that night (excluding the pity match that KyAnne gives me when I come across her phone) all the while KyAnne gets 23—make that 26—while being far more selective than I could ever be. Also, she gets four Super Likes in a matter of minutes. What have I done.
This wasn’t really supposed to be for research, KyAnne. I thought I was more transparent than that.
Her roommate walks in the front door and when she sees us there, on the couch together, she exclaims “OH!” as if she’s interrupting and quickly retreats to her room. And I picture how the two of us must have looked just then, and even now, the two of us side by side on the couch, our knees turned toward each other, centimeters from touching, both of us hunched over our phones—two halves of a broken heart, slowly, steadily, mending back together. I realize now that none of these men have the advantage that I have. I can smell her, I can feel her warm wine breath. Carefully I inch toward her, or maybe I just oscillate and don’t really move at all. I put down my phone and look into her eyes that reflect the men sprinting and doing pushups across her screen.
“Hey,” I say. “Hey.”
She looks up from her phone, faded eyes.
“You’ve been down there awhile,” I say as my arm crawls along the back of the couch behind her.
“You’re right,” she says looking back down at her phone, but for the time. “Yeah it’s probably time for bed. You should probably go.”
“Right,” I say (my arm retreats back toward me). “I should probably go.”
I don’t go though, at least not right away. We sit there drinking the cold tea we’ve forgotten about and when both of us have emptied our cups, caffeinated at all the wrong hours, she says— “yeah, you should go.”
And this time I do, but not before she stops me at the door. “There was one more thing you promised me though,” she says.
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Suddenly I’m confident in my lips’ ability to kiss.
“You said you’d let me read the rough draft of your first post.”
“Right,” I say, because at this time I haven’t posted anything yet, still processing the disaster that is Tinder. From my satchel I pull out five pages of dribble and hand it to her, full well knowing that I mention my obsession with the coffeeshop girl at the end of it. She’ll know she is said coffeeshop girl. It is that transparent, this here is my confession.
“Don’t think poorly of me,” I say, also fully aware I mention in it my habit of masturbating in cold showers. “Don’t think ill of me.”
She folds the pages and tucks them in her back pocket. “You really have nothing to worry about,” she says. She says it with that smile.
On the drive home, Train comes back on the radio. It’s one of their newer, more poppy tunes that sounds great but leaves you cold. I don’t know the name, I don’t listen to the lyrics. Because I miss the days when there really were drops of Jupiter in her hair, the songs that never change reminding you only of the things that do.
🎶…can you imagine no first dance, freeze dried romance, five-hour phone conversation, the best soy latte that you ever had and me... and tell me, did you fall from a shooting star, one without a permanent scar, and did you miss me while you were looking for yourself…🎶
“NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NAA NA NAAA,” I sing into the night over a song that’s not the song I’m singing. But maybe that’s love for you, we love someone else over the person we love now. Tonight I’m listening to KyAnne’s tune, polished and beautiful and lovely, but I’m singing someone else’s, raw and lonely.
join man next week for journal #13 (in which said man has yet to come up with a title, but it involves coffeeshop girl and a dead man on a mountain)