I’m on the train going to see Him after work on a Wednesday. It’s one of the new BART trains with shiny seats that seem somewhat harder to stain and a polite voice that announces the stops. When the polite voice says, “19th St. Oakland,” I’ll get off.
But my phone buzzes. He asks me to meet Him in the city. He seems confused that we would plan to meet at His house (the only place we have ever met since we first hooked up; before that, we went to bars where He bought me rye manhattans). I know He is drunk already, feel it in my bones like joint ache when there’s a threat of rain, but the polite voice says “Montgomery” and I oblige.
It’s not even seven o’clock on Market St. I slump toward Salesforce Tower, where He says He thinks He is. He’s standing outside the building when I get there, six foot something in a baseball cap, sweatshirt, and wool overcoat. I cross the street and walk right up to Him but He doesn’t recognize me at first. I see it from under his cap: the street is a blur, everything is a blur, and there’s a girl approaching who kind of looks like the girl He sleeps with, but He isn’t sure so best not to say anything and offend a stranger.
When His eyes adjust to the dark and familiarity sets in, He gives me a hug. He says He wants to go inside because there is a bar at Salesforce Tower and His boss is there and will I just come say hello before we leave?
I say sure. We walk in and take the elevator while He explains that He can’t possibly drink any more tonight. I’m watching His eyes like a forensic pathologist assessing a body for rigor mortis, searching for some indication of how truly absent He is. They dart and spasm; an arm shaking without the consciousness to justify it.
The elevator opens and He guides me past the bar to the outdoor terrace dotted with well-dressed professionals and first dates. It’s very quiet. We stop at one and The Boss introduces himself to me, wiping his hands on a collared shirt so mired with sweat that his palms are wetter for it. The Boss suggests we order a bottle of wine and He says yes, definitely we should.
The waiter brings the bottle and a new check. He and The Boss pretend to fight about it, but He pays in the end and pours our glasses to the brim . They both start yelling about hitting sales targets and GETTING MONEY and BITCHES and WINNING.
The Boss is so over stimulated by these ideas that he pounds the table and stands up. People stare. I slump into my chair and sip as quickly as possible because the only sure thing I know is that we won’t leave until the wine is finished. It’s a cabernet sauvignon. It tastes like the last bottle of any night.
When we leave, I stand up first and feel a zap twang on my side. He laughs and hollers to The Boss, “I just bit her!” There’s a part of me that wants to push back, but it doesn’t even know where to start the process of proving that I’m whole and dimensional and not just the Wednesday night girl. After all, what’s the standard operating procedure when someone bites you in a bar? Is it less bad if you know them?
As we walk back through the terrace, The Boss leans over a table of young women and asks through squinty teeth if they want to smoke a joint with him. I pull this man I don’t know off of these women I know even less and push him toward the door.
San Francisco chill wraps its arms around us on the street and says time to go home. The Boss orders his own car and leaves. I suggest He and I take BART, but He says no, absolutely not, we must take an Uber—but His phone is on 1% so I have to call it and He will pay me back.
It arrives a few minutes later. I cross the street and get in, only to see Him standing in the middle of Mission St. waving His arms toward some inexplicable face in the sky He’s angry at. Then He stumbles over and opens the door and says fuck off to the driver, who asks me if I know this man.
The driver tries to kick Him out of the car, and I jump in to broker a fragile peace between them. As soon as the accelerator sparks alive, He slumps into my arms, baby-scared and tired. He says He drinks too much. He says He has a problem. I don’t say anything; I know I’m not supposed to.
We speed across the Bay Bridge violently, as though the car is too low to the ground and can’t help scraping against the concrete. He leers over toward me in the backseat, pushing my shoulders into the leather and biting my neck hard enough to leave a 3-day mark that I will treat in the field with drugstore cover-up tomorrow. I push Him off and wonder what it’s about; If He feels like He owns something if He can bite it, that because consumption is finite and permanent, no one else can ever have it again. I stare moony at the lights.
When we pull up to his apartment, He can’t figure out how to type in the key code for the outside gate. His hands, clumsy and swollen with booze, punch collateral buttons with each downswing. An attempted 2 manifests as a 2-4-5-1-7.
In His room, He’s mad. He says I’ve hurt His feelings, that I’m just using Him and don’t care about Him. He says I’m the only person he trusts this side of the Rockies and offers me His social security number, which I decline.
I don’t quite know why, but I apologize. He hears that He is right, and I am wrong and that’s all He will hear from anything else I say. But it really doesn’t matter that it’s me who’s standing here and not someone else. This is not a dialogue; I’m just the warm-bodied witness. He continues ranting and I should leave but I don’t. Instead, I grasp onto the fireplace by the door and listen to Him rip me apart for the way that He has treated me.
His behavior has clearly shown He wants to date me—carefully planned evenings full of pressure to go back to his place, when I show up and he’s living unconscious, and don’t even consider suggesting dinner since I’ve never seen this man eat anything except Doritos in a bathrobe—how could I be so cold as to ignore those cues? I shrug desperately. I don’t know how I could be so cold! I’m sorry!
Tomorrow He will text me and say He’s sorry for blacking out but not anything more specific because He simply won’t remember the things He said or the bites he inflicted. And then He will want to move on and He will call me every Friday and Saturday at one o’clock in the morning asking me to come over but I will still, will always be the one who was selfish, the one who wanted to use Him when all He wanted was to be loved and not have to love back.
Elsa Givan has written and contributed on nonfiction pieces published in Salon and Playboy. She recently completed a speechwriting internship and this is her first foray into publishing personal essays.