James Kennedy is lighting his cigarette outside of the glass doors of some awful bar in the West Village filled with aspirational investment bankers fresh out of college and their equally droll female counterparts. “I saw Wes the other day,” he starts, and I, immediately thinking he’s brought this up because he found out I went out with Wes the other weekend, preemptively interject with a self-aware coyness and thinly guised maliciousness. “Oh, I saw him, too,” I offer. There is an obvious wink in my voice that annoys even me, something you start pulling when you’re in elementary school and you realize what it means to be a girl. “Oh, yeah?” James Kennedy says, casually, inhaling his cigarette and not getting it yet. “No, I mean, we, like, went out.”
This is the point that I’m sure James Kennedy is going to burn my eyeballs out with the hot end of his cigarette, though I’m not sure I expected anything less. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was this reaction exactly that I wanted when I said yes to going on a date with James’ longtime friend three weeks ago, because, inevitably, James was going to find out. I just hadn’t necessarily planned on outing myself unnecessarily. “You’re disgusting,” he tells me. Alright, maybe I wasn’t going for exactly that.
The situation is complicated for approximately three reasons, give or take nine. One: James Kennedy and I have had an on-and-off nothing of a relationship since 2011. Two: That relationship never expanded into the territories of what I would consider dating. Three: One year ago I met a highly intoxicated, highly offensive version of Wes in a cab with James and subsequently wrote a rather inflammatory account of the evening that James Kennedy has read himself. Something he points out right… about… now…
“How could you go on a date with someone you were so disgusted by? Don’t you have any self-respect?”
Self-respect, I think. What’s that word? It didn’t come in my New York City Dating Dictionary, which is, on the other hand, rife with words like “disappointment” and “opportunistic” and “tears.”
“Oh, come on. You know how fucked up guys like you have made me?” I uselessly volley at James, who has turned into the emotional equivalent of a chain-smoking brick wall, eyes staring up at a starless city sky. James won’t get it, because although he’s read a little essay about Wes Abbott circa 2013, he hasn’t read that thing I wrote about sitting at the table of an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles two years ago, crying under a pair of sunglasses after reading a text message from him saying something to the effect of “I think you have the wrong idea.” No, right now all James Kennedy cares about is the fact I’ve laid the groundwork for potentially sleeping with his friend.
“We never even technically dated!” That’s my second grasping attempt to get him to look at me. I’m recalling a scene from First Wives Club, where three old broads sashay through a hallway singing Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”—which was, in my opinion, the precursor to Beyonce’s “Put a Ring On It.”
Not helping the situation is James’ actor’s flourish and a penchant for the dramatic. Combined with my inability to take conflict seriously and a tendency to laugh when things get heated, the conversation is going nowhere good. By the time his poor friend steps out of the doors to join us, it looks like a real proper scene—that New York cliché of two people fighting on the sidewalk. Some drunk girl keeps interrupting, telling James he has a nice voice. “Is that your girlfriend?” she asks. “God, no.” Smoke fills the closed cavity of his mouth, pausing to exaggerate exasperation. Fucking actors.
We start walking down the street. Me, James, James’ innocent friend. Rounding corners of the West Village, James keeps using his cigarette as a dramatic device, giving him purpose and focus while I dance around him like an idiot, like someone who’s stepped on the back of the Queen Mum’s royal gown. Ever so sorry, miss! Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks. James is having none of my charm. We are both too aware of the other’s act, doomed to live forever in some queer friendship purgatory, knowing far too much about one another, mutual caring wrapped in some complicated combination of repulsion and earnestness. Siblings. Only, like, not at all. Unless you live in Appalachia.
He’s walking the wrong direction to his own apartment but I don’t say anything. I’m just thinking about the map and the territory when it comes to relationships, how far the ownership extends. You can’t just piss on a tree on a trip through the woods and get mad when a more interested logger comes around and wants to pull down the whole thing. If you want the wood, you bring out the axe. But, in true James fashion, he pulls out a knife instead. “So do you live with anyone?” his friend asks me, desperately trying to change the subject. And James, taking one last massive drag, practically spits, “You think a person like that could live with someone else?”
And I turn on my heel and walk in the correct direction of my own house, hopefully to make some wise revisions to the aforementioned dating dictionary. Or, you know, move cities or something.
Note: Names have been changed because I’m not an idiot.