I’m running — panting, jumping over piles of shit and abandoned bags of clothes — but my heart’s not in it. I want the world to open up. Something major to happen. My knees hurt and I want them to hurt more.
I have only a vague idea of a destination and my day is wide open. My weekend wide open. I see it unfolding as I drown without dying until Monday when work pulls me out of the water for 8 hours, before I plunge back in.
It’s 10 am and the San Francisco sky is blue, a perfect 72 degree day like always. I’m alone but surrounded by humans and their garbage. Men sitting on the ground yell at me, men standing in groups yell at me, stuff about my ass mostly. I ignore them, pretend I am flying by instead of chugging slowly. I don’t even hear it, really. It’s a low hum that isn’t related to me, an alternate dimension placed on top of mine.
It’s like bullet proof plexi glass separates me from the shit and the men, but it’s comforting to know they are there, just on the other side. I’m not scared of them. It’s nice to have company.
I’m wearing grass green workout leggings. A song comes on that I don’t like as I run towards Harrison and, looking for an excuse to stop, I slow down to a walk and pull my phone out to change the song.
Someone from the other side of the glass is urgently trying to get my attention.
“Hey! Stop! Can I ask you something?”
It’s an average looking white guy, shorter than me, in sunglasses. He’s wearing expensive looking jeans and a button up shirt. He’s blonde.
A tourist, I think. Just lost. I pull out my earbuds.
“Yeah? Can I help you?” I ask.
“Hey!” he says. He’s swaying a little. “Want to hang out with me?”
I start laughing.
“No,” I say. “I’m running.”
“Come on!” he says. “I just left the bar. I’m here from Santa Cruz and I want to hang out with someone.”
I laugh again. He’s gay, I assume without thinking about why, not interested in my ass. He’s standing up but like he’s standing up on a canoe. Like he should probably sit down.
Just two weeks ago, a few blocks away, I’d been waiting for a bus on Folsom when I met another guy. He told me he had missed his bus to the North Bay and it only came once an hour. He had tears in his eyes.
We started talking and I offered to buy him a drink, so he took me to a leather bar on Folsom Street. I bought him the drink and then he disappeared into the sea of sweaty men in harnesses and chaps. I walked out in the center of it, jostled and accidentally touched but totally invisible. I could smell them and feel the spit coming off their lips when they spoke. Tough guys, keyed up and drunk. It was like having a superpower — like emerging unscathed from a tank full of hungry sharks.
Later, I walked home, streetlights illuminating the fog, the mist cooling my face.
“I can’t hang out with you dude,” I say to the boy on the street. “That’s insane.”
“Come on!” he says. “It’ll be fun! I just finished partying and I want to get breakfast!”
I could eat. What, after all, am I planning to do with this wide open day?
“I guess I could go eat breakfast with you somewhere,” I say.
I put my headphones in my fanny pack and we walk down Harrison. He tells me his name, and then starts talking about his dad.
He ducks down an alley to pee against the side of a building.
When he comes back, he tears up, goes back into his mundane story about his dad who doesn’t love him enough.
“Where should we go?” I ask, trying to direct what feels like aimless wandering.
“Let’s just go back to my hotel room,” he says.
It’s been only like five minutes but I feel like I know this guy. A young gay man, drunk in the morning. He’s still wearing sunglasses. He’s a character in a movie. Maybe so am I.
“How old are you?” I ask him.
“30,” he says.
I laugh again, and say I don’t believe it. I’m 30 and he seems younger. But he pulls down his sunglasses so I can see his eyes for just a few seconds and I take a quick breath. They are blue and empty, lines coming out from the edges, deep, bruised grey underneath.
I stop for a second, consider bounding away, but then he pushes his glasses back up and I let myself fill with a giddy sense of possibility. This guy could be a new friend. This breakfast could be free.
We walk to his hotel and he stops at the lobby store to buy some beer. I don’t want beer, I say, so I put a kombucha next to his beer and he pays for it too.
I’m testing what I can get away with. This hotel is nice and he pointed out his car in valet, with surfboards he’s in town selling on top.
I make a note of his room number, because it just seems like what another person would do in this situation, and we walk in.
He puts trance-y music on a iPod speaker in the room and then opens a beer for himself.
“Take your shoes off,” he says, then, “Want a beer?”
“No, I’m fine,” I say. My shoes are still on and I am sitting on the edge of one of two queen beds. He opens a second beer and brings it to me.
“Just have this beer. I don’t want to drink alone.”
He disappears into the bathroom and I pull out my phone. The room is hazy and dark and my reckless feeling is re-calibrating itself, like a slight change in the temperature.
I text a friend, “Hey I am in this hotel room with a guy. I am 90 percent sure he’s gay but if he isn’t, he is a rapist.”
As soon as I hit send, I relax. Now that I’ve said it, joked about it, it can’t be true. I take my shoes off and lean back against the headboard, listening to the music.
He comes out from the bathroom and his sunglasses are off. I don’t look directly at him. I don’t want to see his eyes again.
Instead of going to the other bed, he sits down next to me.
“Why aren’t you drinking your beer?” he asks, picking it up and weighing it in his hand.
“I’m on a run,” I remind him and as I do, his hand snakes around my shoulder and he tries to pull me toward him.
“Oh shit!” I say. He pulls back but only a little.
When I was 22 years old, I was drunk walking across the Burnside Bridge in Portland at 3 am, after my college graduation party, and a car pulled up beside me. I figured at first it was a friend so I ran up to the car. It was a stranger and he offered me a ride and my feet hurt so I got in.
The man asked if I wanted to get a drink and I said sure, but then he said he has a fifth of something in his trunk, let’s just go to my place. And I said sure again.
He parked in the lot behind my apartment building and I unlocked the door. We walked up the stairs and I remember the ornate pattern of the rug, gold and maroon, too fancy for this shabby old building, and I knew something was wrong, I was taking this too far, doing a dangerous thing, not a daring thing. When I got to my door, I unlocked it, slipped in and spun around, slamming the door in his face and locking it quickly.
He knocked for a while but then he left.
“I thought you were…,” I struggle with something to say in the hotel room. His arm is still around my should. “I thought you were into boys?”
He laughs and gets up again.
“Hey, dude,” he says, “I’m not but no pressure! Don’t worry!”
He goes back to the bathroom and I text the friend again, who hasn’t responded to the first text. “What are you doing? This guy isn’t gay.”
I know I need to leave so I swing my feet around, off the bed and am about to start tying my laces when he comes back.
“Hey!” he says. “I’m sorry. Don’t leave.”
“I just think I should go probably,” I say and then he’s next to me again, his arm around me again.
He’s drunk or on drugs, I can’t tell, and not very big but I don’t want to push him.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says, removing his arm.
My shoes still aren’t tied and he gets up, spins around the room. I watch him.
And then he’s back next to me. “Hey, hey,” he says. “Let’s just make out a little.”
I pull away, lean down to tie my shoes.
“I can’t make out with you,” I say.
“Just, come on, let’s make out!” he says. “Making out is basically nothing.”
“Dude,” I say, “If I make out with you, you’ll want to sleep with me and I don’t want to have sex with you.”
“No,” he says, “We don’t have to have sex if you don’t want to. I swear.”
“I really thought you liked me,” he says. “Do you not like me?”
“I just met you,” I say. “I can’t just have sex with you. I am on a run.”
I stand up and he stands up.
“Just a little,” he says. He’s standing in the way of the door. His eyes are slits and his voice is sweet.
“Let me give you my number and you can call me later if you’re serious and we can go to Dolores Park and make out there,” I say, lying.
He puts his hands on my shoulders and pushes me a little, back towards the bed.
“Come on,” he says, less cajoling than before. His eyes are blurry but hard behind.
“I have to go,” I say, trying to walk around him.
Now, somehow, he is standing in the doorway.
“Just one kiss,” he says.
“Let’s go smoke a cigarette,” I say. “One cigarette and we can talk about it.”
But he doesn’t move.
“We don’t have to have sex. Just make out, just a little bit.” There’s a note in his voice that I don’t remember hearing before, anywhere.
“To tell you the truth,” he says, “I’m lonely.”
He doesn’t sound lonely. That isn’t what it is. He believes I owe him him this and he will take it if he needs to.
“I’m lonely too,” I tell him, pretending I believe him. “Let’s just smoke a cigarette. Let’s go out there together and when we come back, we can make out.”
He’s leaning against the door jamb, arm barred across the door.
He’s smaller than me, I think. He’s fucked up. It feels like hands are holding my ankles. I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I will have to smash something to get out of this room.
I don’t know him. He could be strong. He could have a weapon. All I have is these cigarettes. My friend hasn’t answered my texts. No one knows where I am.
“I’m not going to let you leave until you kiss me,” his voice is icy now.
“Oh come on!” I am the sweet one now. “Let’s just go smoke and then come back. I’ll make out with you after a cigarette.”
“No you won’t,” he says. “You are going to leave. Kiss me and prove you aren’t going to leave.”
It feels like he’s has done this before.
I need to get out. I know I need to get out of the room immediately or I might never leave. So I lean in and kiss him and he shoves his tongue between my lips and as he does, he moves a little and I pull away and open the door, slip out and quickly go down the hall and into the elevator. He follows me. The walls of the elevator close around me as he holds my limp hand.
And then we walk across the street and I take out my cigarettes and I light one for him and one for me. I take two drags and when he puts my number in his phone, I give him my real number because I am shaking a little, thinking he might call it right there. And then I say, “Hey, I gotta go,” and I take off down the street, suddenly feeling the adrenaline flooding my body. The pavement propels me forward and I running like I am flying now, for real.