Monday, February 27, 2017

Jake


I've had your hair caught between my teeth all day.

It's a single, wiry hair lodged between my two front teeth — the size and texture of a price tag fastener.

Rest assured it's not from your crotch. It's from your beard, which I used to like [but now I hate].

Last night, when you called, I was almost asleep.

"Are you home?" you asked. I could barely hear you over the noises in the background. Girls and rap music. "Can I come over?" You sounded like me on a bad day, but I’d wanted to sleep with you since we matched on Tinder. "Sure," I said. "Come over." 

When you finally showed up, you were inexplicably wearing a Christmas sweater with red velvet sweatpants. But somehow, I still found you painfully attractive.

We made out, you said you couldn’t get hard, and then you excused yourself to the balcony for a smoke. 

Alone in my room, I grazed the tip of my tongue against the backs of my teeth and felt your hair between my lower central incisors.

When you returned, I suggested we reschedule for another time. "I’m not really feeling it tonight. Plus, you’re a lot drunker than I thought you were." You stared at me, vacantly. "But I Ubered here," you said. "I know," I sighed. "And I’ll pay for your Uber home. I’m sorry." There was a full half-minute of silence between us. Then finally, you said, "I hate the fact that you’re circumcised. Plus, you should do some squats."

I must’ve looked stunned, because I was.

I felt my mouth fall open and my eyebrows rise to mid-forehead.

Then, without saying a word, you pulled on your sweater, grabbed your keys and stormed out of the apartment — slamming the door behind you.

This morning, I am sitting at a café on Magazine called Mojo.

I am sipping a caramel latte from an oversized mug and watching a pair of red-haired women split a muffin.

And I am flicking my tongue against the single, springy hair that’s wedged between my teeth.

A ribbon wrapped around my finger — reminding me to get my flat ass to the gym later.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Life’s Work


My first relationship began when I was 15, and lasted more than three years. Kourtney was a whip-smart, plucky blond who was an objective catch. She pitched softball and earned the nickname “Rocket” for her cannon of an arm. She sang “Unbreak My Heart” at a school talent show and moved people to tears. She was valedictorian of her class, an honor she worked tirelessly towards every day I knew her. After dating for a year and a half, we lost our virginities to one another in my bedroom on a Saturday night while “Linger” by The Cranberries played in the background. When high school ended, we went to different colleges, but continued dating. I was standing on the balcony of my friend Matt’s dorm when Kourtney called and told me she’d met someone else. She hung up the phone, and I dropped to my knees and cried for a solid 30 minutes. I genuinely loved her, but I knew the end was inevitable. In my heart, I was gay (or at least bisexual) and I desperately needed to explore this uncultivated side of me. So the next day, in October 2006, I kissed a man for the very first time.

When summer came, I moved back to New Orleans from Lafayette and got a job waiting tables at a Mexican restaurant called Cuco’s. One night after closing, I went to a gay bar in the French Quarter with my friend Lesly. From the balcony above the dance floor, I noticed an incredibly cute boy in a blue polo who was fending off a shirtless dude in acid-washed jeans. I bolted down the stairs and pushed my way through the crowd to find him. “Do you need some help?” I yelled above the music. “Yes please,” he said. “Pretend to be my boyfriend.” Then three days later, I asked Chad to be my real-life boyfriend. Chad was the first guy with whom I had sex, and for me, nothing had ever felt more right. I was definitely gay, and truly in love with this person. But when Chad stopped taking his anti-depressants, he decided he didn’t want to be with me anymore. The week Chad dumped me, my parents and siblings were at the beach and I was home in New Orleans, being looked over by my godmother. She could tell I was devastated about something, so she phoned my mom and told her something was wrong. So my family cut their vacation abruptly short and drove back to New Orleans immediately. That night, I told them I was gay. It was my nineteenth birthday.

In the fall of 2007, I moved back to Lafayette and met a guy named Jason through mutual friends. Jason was working on his Master’s Degree at Texas A&M, which put 300 miles between us. Even though he was a few years my senior, Jason was a virgin, which surprised me because he was very good looking albeit woefully idiosyncratic. I can admit this now, but at the age of 19, I was not ready to be in an exclusive, long distance relationship with anyone. And over the course of several months, I cheated on Jason with a number of other guys. Then, Jason moved back to Lafayette in early June 2008 and I broke up with him almost instantly. I believed I couldn’t take the pressure of having my older, successful, loving boyfriend move to the town where I’d slept with other men behind his back. Of course, he found out about everything and it took years to earn back his trust and friendship. I’m proud to still have him in my life.

During that summer, my best friend Trey and I worked every freshman orientation. Trey was an orientation leader and I hosted pep rallies on behalf of the University Program Council. We had a weekly tradition of going out on the night of orientation to The Keg, a hotspot for underclassmen to get obliteration, and picking up freshly orientated homosexuals. One night, only days after I ended things with Jason, this guy walks through the door of The Keg and I turn to Trey and say, “That is, without a doubt, the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in my life. Too bad he’s straight.” Trey looks at me like I’m crazy. “He’s not straight,” he says bluntly. “He was in my group today. C’mon, I’ll introduce you.” His name was Barrett and we dated for three years.

Even though our relationship spanned a sizable chunk of time, I’m not going to say too much about him. We were a toxic pairing, and with him, I learned firsthand about the human capacity to hurt and be hurt. I also learned about our capacity to be so madly in love that you can’t think straight.

The day we broke up, I went to a going-out-of-business party at a downtown gay bar. It was here that I met Ronald Eyer, mere hours after my three-year relationship came to an end. Ronnie drove in from Lake Charles for our first date and we had sex before dinner. A few days later, I woke up to use the bathroom and felt an intense burning sensation emanating from the tip of my dick. I called Ronnie and screamed at him through tears. “I liked you a lot!” I yelled. “And you gave me an STD!” A trip to the ER revealed a simple UTI, so I immediately called Ronnie to apologize. He soon after dropped out of McNeese and moved out of his fraternity house — just to be with me, his first boyfriend, in Lafayette. Ronnie moved into a studio apartment near mine and I got him a job waiting tables with me at Johnny Carino’s, a casual Italian restaurant that served dishes like “Spicy Shrimp & Chicken” and “Sicilian Firesticks.” We worked together, ate every meal together, and had sex as often as possible. He was nothing like anyone I’d ever dated before — tan, rail-thin, simple, and country — but I loved his East Texas accent and the way he filtered the word through his infinite sense of wonder and amazement. It lasted eight months before his mother suggested he move back home. I was heartbroken when he told me, and demanded we break up immediately. So he left my apartment and then left for Hitchcock, Texas a couple days later. A week after that, I received an envelope in the mail with a Hitchcock return address. When I opened it, a silver ring slid out and fell into my palm. When I held it up to the light, I noticed that it was engraved with the words, “The First, The Last.” He was going to ask me to marry him.

In Ronnie’s wake, I finally started taking stock of my dating life. Since I was a sophomore in high school, I pretty much always had a partner. And in the pockets between boyfriends, I’d managed to continue casually dating and fucking. Ronnie was the nineteenth person with whom I’d had sex and my fervent opportunism didn’t suggest he’d be the last. But in terms of serious relationships, I felt like the first era was behind me. I started to see each relationship as an episode, with a definitive beginning and ending. Though Barrett and I would continue having sex after Ronnie left, he was still a character from an earlier season. A few years ago, when Jason and I spent an entire Saturday night walking the streets of New Orleans and snuggling on a bench overlooking the Mississippi, it felt like a guest starring role on a very special episode.

I started my blog, ExboyfriendMaterial.com, and wrote essays about where and how these relationships began and ended. I never saw the point in kicking anything into the long grass, so I kept everything. People think true beauty is in nuance, but sometimes, beauty is obvious. It’s a wide-angle shot of an endless landscape. So that’s the way I started seeing myself with other men; it was the moments in bed just before he wakes up and [at the exact same time], it was days folding into months, folding into years.

This morning, waking from a dream, I realized I am single. I’ve been single before, but the difference between then and now is the palpable intuition that something else is right around the corner — beckoning me into some new, doomed union. But I don’t feel that. I don’t feel anything at all.

While most people compartmentalize the past in years, I define personal history by my relationship status. Since Ronnie, I’ve had seven serious relationships: Kyle, Cody, Nick, Jacob, James, Andy, and Jeffrey. If you’ve been keeping track, that’s 12 boyfriends and one girlfriend — spanning 13 years. Each relationship can be spun into an infinite narrative and reduced to a single sentence. And for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m standing on the last period of an ellipsis. 

Half of me wonders who will love me next, but the other half thinks I’m being selfish. I’ve made love my life’s work, and I’m not unsatisfied with what I’ve got to show for it. I’ve got all these photographs and totems and memories. A bottomless ocean of memories in which I often find myself at night, when I’m alone in bed, sinking. Drowning.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Kidnapped And Taken Somewhere Familiar


My office closed between Christmas and New Years, so I flew to Seattle with my best friend Joey to escape the blistering South Louisiana winter. In the month leading up to our trip, I struck up a relationship with a skinny, tattooed aspiring rocker and gainfully employed stockboy named Pete.

We'd known each other for years, but finally started to take our potential seriously. He convinced me to open up and be vulnerable with him, so I became comfortable and sincere. I sent him pictures from the top of the Space Needle and Snapchats of Dim Sum from Chinatown. In pockets of downtime, we'd have long, meaningful discussions about our insecurities and how we liked to fuck.

Then, the day before I returned to New Orleans, he ghosted. No response for more than 36 hours until this: "Hey. Been really busy. My bad." Joey and I were having dinner at the Airport Marriott bar when he sent his apology text. I read it and reread it. Then I excused myself, marched directly to our room, and vomited — learning immediately that clam chowder tastes exactly the same on the way up.

A few hours earlier, Joey and I were sitting on the waterfront eating the chowder I'd later projectile against the back of the toilet bowl. "What's one thing you've learned?" asked Joey. "Like if you had once piece of wisdom to impart on the world, what would it be?" The breeze off the sound picked up, so I pulled the piping hot bowl around my nose and mouth. "I don't know anything," I said. "Except that everyone has conflicting desires and everyone is capable of anything." A guy and a girl walked by and together we ogled the guy's ass until he was out of sight. I don't remember asking Joey what he'd learned.

After wiping the toilet rim clean, I draw a bath — cranking the gauge to scalding hot. Then I put on the new Run The Jewels album and wedge in my earbuds. I slide down so the steaming water rises around my throat.

When I wake, there's no music because I've cycled through the entire album. I can hear the TV in the other room, which means Joey must've returned from the bar. I ruffle through the pile of towels on the floor and locate my phone. Then I text the words "fuck you" and swipe the thread clean. No evidence.

Everyone is capable of anything and that leaves hearts, even the strongest hearts, open to bruises and breaks. Even worse, your heart registers disappointment before the rest of you, which means it gets a double-barrel shotgun blast of anger and hopelessness. It doesn't matter how many times the muscle in my chest tears apart and mends itself back together, I can still find myself here. It's like being kidnapped and taken somewhere familiar.

I towel off and slip on a robe. Then I crawl into bed next to Joey and together we watch the lights flicker on and off in the buildings that cluster into the Seattle skyline.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Chex After Sex


Some people like a cigarette after sex, but I prefer cereal.

I like to stand in the kitchen [wearing either briefs, a T-shirt, or nothing], and shotgun one bowl of cereal after another until I feel fulfilled by grain and dairy in ways a man cannot facilitate.

To me, it's fascinating how someone can achieve orgasm and immediately, impulsively crave something else. Isn't that the whole point of sex? To scratch an itch? To satisfy an impulse? And yet here I am, hunched over a bowl of cereal with one hand gripping my spoon and the other reaching for the box, ready to pour another bowl.

More than anything, it's about savoring texture; dry, crunchy cereal mixing with thick, ice-cold 2% milk. When it comes to category preference, I don't like the sugary stuff. I like the bland stuff: Corn Flakes, Kix, Rice Krispies, and most of all, Chex. Eating Chex is a truly remarkable culinary experience: the structural fragility, how it retains milk in the cross-stitching, the way each crispy pillow breaks between the tip of my tongue and the roof of my mouth. A mouthful of Chex is a well-earned reward that makes sex all the more enjoyable.

This afternoon, I received a text from a guy with whom I haven't had sex in more than five years. His name is Trey and we often see each other at the bars, though we rarely chitchat or even nod in the other's direction. He asked me if I wanted to hang out, and since I'd spent my entire Sunday rewatching episodes of Bojack Horseman and washing piles of dirty laundry with no intention of actually hanging anything up, I said yes. We drank beers at his kitchen table (Bud Lite by the can), and then he asked if I wanted to watch TV in his bed. "I don't have cable or Netflix or anything," he added while leading me down a hallway. I felt myself frown.

When it was over, he walked me all the way downstairs and right up to front gate, which I thought was nice because I wouldn't have even left the bed, had the hosting duties been reversed. If we were at my apartment, it's highly likely I'd say something like, "So you know how to get out of here, right?" without moving a muscle or putting on underwear. I didn't read into his small act of gentlemanly kindness, but I noted it for future reference; how it made me feel like a douche because I wouldn't have done the same for him.

On the way home, I listened to "My Favorite Murder" and thought about my fully stocked pantry. I'd gone to the grocery the day before in a futile effort to keep myself away from restaurants. I don't cook, which means virtually every meal is delivered by server or driver or Subway Sandwich Artist. But at the moment, there were tons of food at my house, including two brand-new boxes of Chex.

I'm more aware of my emotional shortcomings and physical imperfections when I'm having sex [even within someone I love, especially with someone I love]. But for just a few minutes after engaging in something that makes me feel alive and enriched and disappointed and self-aware and moved and drained and excited and conflicted, I can have a bowl of cereal and feel like a kid again.

Sex is such an adult thing and cereal is the opposite; uncomplicated and easy to manage. There are no apps involved or issues of tone to be misunderstood. No friend zones or bios to write about yourself. No stakes. No shame. Just the simple joys of childhood, best enjoyed with cartoons.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Claudia


I have to use Uber's GPS locator because I don't really know where I am.

So many New Orleans neighborhoods look exactly like this one. Potholes shotgun-blasted across gravelly streets, lined with shotgun homes painted in dull pastels. The app says I'm in Riverbend, just a few blocks from South Carrollton. I request a ride and settle onto a porch, finally becoming aware of my appearance. My camera shows me what I look like; the beginning of a daylong recovery. Uber says my driver's name is Claudia and she drives a Hyundai Santa Fe.

Here she is now.

"Hey there, good morning," Claudia says cheerfully as I heave my body into the backseat. "Hi," I say. "I feel like shit. Please don't look at me." She laughs. "Rough night?" she asks my reflection in the rearview. "Rough life," I say. "I got hammered in the Quarter and went home with some guy.”

Outside, the endless ribbon of houses cuts away and we're on Carrollton.

In age, Claudia hovers someone between my mom and my grandma. She has all the trappings of a young mother from her top bun to her stylish warm-up jacket, but the lines around her mouth and eyes give her away. "Was he cute?" she asks. “Didn’t get a good look,” I say, squinting into the sunlight.

Gay men have an inborn talent to disarm women. This can be used selfishly to gain the favor of a bitchy female hostess or a busy female flight attendant. But most of the time, it just helps break the threat barrier. I am gay and I am not going to hurt you. Let’s grab brunch.

“Well I’m seeing a really cute guy myself,” says Claudia. I wave my hand in the air next to her head. “Show me pics!” I say, gesturing for her phone. “Oh,” she says. “He’s not on Facebook.” She smiles at me in the mirror. “Good for him,” I say. “How’d you meet?” I drop my hand into my lap and stare out the window. Up here on I-10, the New Orleans skyline is so close I can almost touch it. I’ve rounded the Superdome on this same stretch of overpass for 28 years, but I still take a moment to marvel at it when I swoop past. People often say the Superdome looks like a spaceship, but to me, it looks like a megachurch. I think the Saints would appreciate that sentiment.

“We work together,” she says. “When I’m not driving Uber, I work in the Philanthropy Department at a big hospital in town. Matthew’s our IT guy. That’s his name, by the way. Matthew.” She lights up when she says his name. I can hear her grinning from ear to ear. “Girl, good for you!” I say with exaggerated gay inflections. She’s opening up because she likes me and she feels comfortable, and suddenly I want to know more about her.

There’s a branded Ochsner Hospital badge hanging from her visor that reads, “Claudia” and no last name. I pull out my phone and go straight for the Ochsner website and search the name “Claudia.” Her employee bio appears with the same headshot from her badge. With her last name in-hand, I head to Facebook and search “Claudia Caulder.” There she is. I stare down at her profile picture and then I glance up and catch her looking back at me in the mirror. She winks and I smile. I pull my phone to my chest for extra measure, even though there’s absolutely no way she can see what I’m looking at: Claudia Caulder’s Facebook account, emblazoned with a photograph of her family.

In the picture, everyone is wearing shades of blue and standing on a beach in (what I’m guessing is) Destin or Santa Rosa or somewhere in the Florida panhandle. Backlit by the setting sun, Claudia stares lovingly at her husband while two ginger-haired girls cheese it up for the camera. They look exactly like their dad. I press the home button and Facebook shrinks away.

Even though I smoked all night and my tongue is dried out like a welcome mat, the craving for a cigarette makes my mouth water. Then I hear myself ask, “Do you have any kids?” She looks back at me, and this time, she isn’t smiling. “Yes,” she said, flatly. “Two girls.” I nod. “Have they met the new guy yet?” I grapple with my boldness and wonder why I’m fucking with this woman. But in my carefree hungover state, I can’t help myself. “No,” she says, throwing her response away through the hollow tunnel between us.

We glide in silence through the Lower Garden District and I think about last night. I lied to Claudia when I told her I didn’t get a good look at the guy. His name was Cody and he was incredibly handsome. We’re in the same kickball league and after ogling him for an entire season, I built up the courage to ask him out and he said yes. Last night, when he kissed me, I wanted him to like it — my head buzzing with hyper awareness of my own body. This morning, when he walked me to the door, I took a picture of him from behind and sent it to a few friends. I feel bad about doing that but not bad enough to delete it. Then I send it to a few more people.

We pull into the horseshoe of my apartment complex and Claudia turns down the music. “I lied to you earlier,” I say, suddenly. “I actually like the guy I slept with last night. I hope he texts me. He’s really cute and he’s very sweet.” Claudia turns and looks me directly in the eyes. The lines around her mouth and eyes soften and she looks instantly looks 10 years younger. “I’m having an affair with the IT guy,” she says. “And every day I feel like I’m losing the woman I was.” I look back at her and bite my bottom lip as a gesture of sympathy. “The woman I am,” she corrects herself. “There’s nothing sexy about this,” she continues. “I walk around the office scared shitless that one of my co-workers knows. And every afternoon, on my drive home, I have to remember to delete his text thread. Sometimes we have dinner at the Applebee’s in Algiers because it’s 45 minutes away from my house.” She blinks hard to suppress the tears, but it doesn’t work. “And I fucking hate Applebee’s!”

I look down and realize I’m holding her hand. On the corner, at a coffee shop, a man opens the door for his female companion and I decide that he’s a gentleman and that they should get married if they haven’t already. I want to ask Claudia what she’s going to do about this, but I don’t. Instead, I tell her that I’ve never been married and I’m not going to pretend to know what that’s like. “It’s really hard to keep a secret, especially from the people you love,” I say. Then I don’t say anything at all. We sit together in wordless solitude while New Orleans wakes up around us.

I yank my shirtsleeve over my hand and wipe away Claudia’s runny mascara. “I hope that boy calls you, sweetheart,” she says, turning around and running her fingers over her face in the mirror. “If you ever feel like doing this again,” I say. “You know where I live.” She laughs and winks at me in the mirror while I open the door and step outside.

The fall weather is unseasonably warm, even for New Orleans. I decide that as soon as I get inside, I’m taking the longest shower of my life and tossing this entire outfit in the washer. “I hope you have a great day,” I say, actually meaning it. “Take care, sweetheart,” she says. Then, Claudia closes the door and pulls away, out of the horseshoe and onto Annunciation and out of sight.

Anyway, Uber, this was one of the most emotionally draining rides I’ve ever experienced. I’m not looking for anything, but I just thought you should know that one of your drivers is going through a tough time. Obviously, I rated her five stars, but frankly, she was a lot to deal with. As an advertising professional, I don’t want consumers believing that Uber aligns itself with adulterers who discuss their infidelities with passengers. Please keep an eye on Claudia for the sake of the brand.

Sincerely,
Ryan Rogers

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

SECOND ENDING


The hardest part about breaking up with Jeffrey was not the actual break-up. It was four days later, when I noticed his toothbrush.

I’m not sure how I missed it, but today, I stepped out the shower and there it was. This might sound stupid, but I always liked seeing our toothbrushes leaning together in the highball glass, next to the sink. His toothbrush was certainly not the first to share occupancy with mine, but this particular union charmed me — maybe because they were both hot pink.

---

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released last week. I figured I’d grab a pair of tickets to the earliest screening on opening night, and then have dinner at Chipotle. Jeffery’s a picky eater, but he loves Chipotle. So I texted him and asked if he wanted to go. He responded immediately, “I think we need to talk tonight.” Without panicking, I suggested we meet at my apartment around eight, to which he agreed. Then, I spent the afternoon compulsively checking my phone and sitting with my face in my hands.

On the drive home, I changed my mind and asked him to call me, two hours and thirty-nine minutes before he was supposed to show up. “Let’s just chat now,” I said. Chat, I thought to myself. Like we’re going to enjoy this.

The chat lasted 14 minutes and was, all things considered, pleasant. We spoke in level voices and shared supportive sentiments and related to one another. At the end, I asked if there was anything else he’d like to say before we hung up. “I love you,” he said. “Always will.” And then I hung up and hurried out the door to make my yoga class on time.

I didn’t think about it much the next day — except for the occasional phantom impulse to text him. Waiting in line at Subway, I typed, “Getting lunch. What are you eating?” before realizing I didn’t have to do that anymore.

After work, I got a haircut from Paul, my barber. I stared blankly at my reflection and asked, “Do people sometimes cry in your chair?”
“Sometimes,” he said. Sure.”
I nodded. “Do guys cry in your chair?”
His eyes met mine in the mirror. “Do you need to cry, man? Go ahead. It’s all good.”
I blew a freshly cut curl off my forehead. “No,” I lied. “I’m okay.”

A break-up happens and you want to be angry about everything you wasted: the time, the money, the headspace. All those songs you memorized because they reminded you of him. All the effort you spent learning the names of his siblings and their kids and how the nuances of his family factor into his personality. All the social media real estate you share. So many pictures together. All those nights you stayed home with him when you could’ve been out there in the world, living life. All the times you conceded an argument [when you were absolutely right], because it was easier to say “You’re right. I’m sorry.” You hate yourself for compromising so much. You hate yourself for not standing on your principles. Now, you’re standing in a ruin with nothing but a body you’re unhappy with and prospect of dating new people looming in the distance.

---

This morning, when I saw his toothbrush, I tossed it into the trash and placed the highball glass in the dishwasher. I laid my own toothbrush on the edge of the sink because I thought it would look sad standing upright, alone in another glass.

I’m bound to find more little relics of our relationship here and there; gym shorts and handwritten cards and memories that I’ll romanticize with filters and soundtracks. But right now, I won’t go looking for them.

Instead, I’ll wait for them to find me again. And there, I’ll savor the opportunity to be angry, resigned, and close to him for just a moment.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Way David Eats Pizza

Exboyfriend Material

It’s three a.m. on the 27th floor of an apartment building on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen, and I am sitting across from David Lafuente, watching him eat pizza.

I arrived in Manhattan two days ago and caught an Uber straight to David’s apartment. He greeted me at the door and ushered me inside. Upon entering, my eyes were drawn across the living room to the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the city beyond 37th Street, framing a breathtaking landscape of towers. Standing there, looking out over Midtown West, I wished for a dry erase marker. The view begged for contextual labels: arrows addressing the names of buildings and dividing lines along neighborhood borders. Now, days later, the world behind the glass feels less dioramatic and more like flat wallpaper. The New York skyline has become a vinyl cling from Urban Outfitters, in front of which David and me eat pizza.

Earlier this evening, we were walking home from a bar when David nodded to a bright red awning several blocks away. “You wanted some really good pizza, no?” David always punctuates his questions with a firmly inflected “no,” which I find charmingly European, even though he’s Mexican. I was still stuffed from dinner, but I was also drunk, which means I was starving. David launches into Spanish with the man behind the counter and I allow my mind to drift while he takes care of business. I bend at the waist to inspect the giant display pizzas. Each one is pale and unappetizing, which makes me feel sad for the slices that don't get to reanimate in the oven. My pizza grief takes an upswing when David shoves a warm cardboard box into my hands and says, “Let’s go home.”

Back at the apartment, the living room is dense with pot. When David opens a window, the faraway noises of New York travel on cool air and reach me at the coffee table. He walks into the kitchen then returns with plates, silverware, napkins, stemware, and wine. He sets places for the two of us and settles in.

I’ve never seen anyone eat pizza the way David eats pizza. First, he uses a knife and fork to remove all the toppings — rolling and piling pepperoni, Italian sausage, and gobs of cheese into a meaty queso fundido. This heap sits alongside the flat triangle crust, which, for lack of a better euphemism, appears skinned alive. He spins his plate around and saws off a small segment of the crust. Then, with knife and fork, he rolls the half-inch of crust in the molten cheese mixture and pops it into his mouth. He repeats this process over and over with elegant precision — coating bite-size morsels of crust with mozzarella and huge pieces of meat. He does not eat the body of the pizza (the wide, doughy triangle lacquered with marinara), but instead, he sets it aside and moves on the next slice. I can only stare in rapt bewilderment while I attempt to shotgun my entire slice.

It’s funny how uncovering a small quirk — a little oddity just under the surface — can completely change the way you see a person. It’s why I don’t discuss porn with my best friends. And now, here I am, re-framing the way I think about David Lafuente while he meticulous scrapes the toppings off his second slice of pizza before chopping up the crust.

I used to think he was incredibly handsome, back when we met in Playa del Carmen. During sex, I would stare at his face, studying his strong chin and dark chocolate eyes. I liked the way he told stories about growing up in Mexico City and about running a restaurant in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I stood with him on our balcony and watched the star-scattered sky over Playa del Carmen before kissing his lips and falling into his arms. When he left the next morning, I cried because I never thought I’d see him again.

Over the years, I remembered our time together romantically. We fell out of touch, but regularly liked pictures on Instagram and posts on Facebook, small gestures to remind the other of his existence. Months ago, when an opportunity to visit New York popped up, he was the first person that came to mind.

Lately, my boyfriend and I haven't been getting along.

In fact, we got in a very serious argument before I boarded the plane.

I try calling him every few minutes and he doesn't pick up. In his texts, he says it's over.

So earlier this evening, I decided to get fucked up and have sex with David, just to spite my boyfriend. I got obliterated at dinner and then continued to pound one vodka tonic after another at the gay bar. My flirting was shameless and obvious, but I didn't have anything to lose, so I didn't care how it looked. Finally, I suggested we head home because his bed was the only place in Manhattan I wanted to be. And on the way back, we stopped for pizza.

Everything was going according to plan, until he started this weird, mystifying ritual with his food. I want to ask him why he's doing this, but I bet his response will annoy me.

Right now, he's watching me cram a second slice down my throat and I can see a tinge of horror in his face. He thinks I'm gross and I think he's an asshole for dismembering perfectly fine pizza. "It's good, no?" he says. Suddenly, I don't find the way he punctuates his questions with a firmly inflected “no" charmingly European. I find it ridiculous. "It's fucking great!" I say, only it sounds completely muffled because I have a whole slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza lodged into my mouth like an oversized duffle bag in an overhead compartment. His eyebrows furrow and the mood changes dramatically. We are both wading in a river of wine, vodka, marinara sauce, and sudden contempt for one another.

When we finish, he clears the dishes and I curl up on the couch with a brand new joint. "Are you coming to bed?" he asks from the doorway of his room. "Nah," I say, lighting the joint and inhaling deeply. "I'll crash here tonight." He almost looks relieved. "Sweet," he says. "Night!" And just like that, he closes the door and leaves me alone in the living room.

A cool breeze turns the pages of an open book on the coffee table. Through the window, I can see an army of giants stalking me; a million glowing eyes watching the loneliest man in New York.

Tomorrow, I will call my boyfriend again.

I will call him over and over.

And when I get back to New Orleans that evening, I will try to work this out because he is the real man of my dreams.

I will ask him to meet me at my apartment in the heart of the Lower Garden District.

When he gets there, I will have his favorite pizza waiting for him.

Then, we will sit on my bed, across from one another, and eat each slice from tip to crust, like two normal people who also happen to be in love.