• Joe Nasta

Crushed: on being young, dumb, and full of romantic obsessions for strangers

I pin straight sit on the edge, flinch away from the leather of the burgundy couch. In another cafe on another first date, my tongue still presses up into my incisors and my right foot taps itself on the lacquered wooden panels of the floor. I keep looking at my phone. We haven’t texted. Did he forget? Should I text him now? I did hurry from that guy’s place in Park Slope to take a sink bath at Think Coffee in order to make it here on time! I’m caring too much. A sharp inhale rips my nostrils open. The expansion in my lungs gives the butterflies more room to rip my insides up. Ugh, the way I talk inside my head is too romantic. I know when I turn twenty-two in December I’ll stop acting this way.

I hold it in, the breath.

My lips smirk. My right canine digs into the corner of my mouth. I met Andrew on OkCupid a month ago, when we talked for two minutes about nothing in particular. I filled myself with that instant of him. He was so adorable in his photos.

My left hand vibrates and the screen illuminates, “I’m here.”

I let it out, the breath tumbling up my windpipe. My chest collapses and crushes whatever was within me just seconds ago.

Lol, am I nervous? I’m only looking for two things: to feel good, now. I want my cravings smothered, the confidence boost of a stranger’s attention without the self-doubt of struggling towards a real relationship. I won’t say I’m the voice of my generation (only a voice of a generation, haha) but thank god in 2015 we have the perfect solutions.

I meet all the guys I date on OkCupid, Scruff, Tinder, Grindr. Easy, instant, a star, woof, match, message. Marina Keegan got it right in “Cold Pastoral,” her short story about a college girl whose boyfriend died reflecting on the sheer convenience of him. Before the funeral she found his journals and realized he had used her, too. She was shocked, sure, but at the end of the story she still clings to a stranger on a fire escape. We all long to be filled in a moment.

I imagine dating Andrew. I imagine him dying. I imagine not caring for longer than thirty-five seconds. I imagine kissing Andrew’s friend the next day on a fire escape.

I walk up to the front where the coffee bar is. He’s standing there, waiting and I recognize him from behind.

He’s just as cute in person. We make some small talk, normal first date material, just “Wow, where in Massachusetts are you from? Your whole life? You didn’t like it?” sort of stuff. This is unimportant. I’ve learned from my favorite poet’s tweets that I’m supposed to hate small talk.

Andrew is younger than me but has some hair growing on top of his mouth and chin, a little connecting it. His eyes are so brown, deep, full that I can’t look away from them. I put my right cheek in my palm and sigh. There should be smoke in my mouth. I’m expecting a fire to start inside my chest. My mouth curls up into a smile. Still I taste no smoke, only a fluffy sweetness like marshmallows or cotton candy.

When Karen O released Crush Songs last September I was infatuated, listening to the entire album at least five times every day. Back then, four months ago, I didn’t understand why I liked it so much. Her words and raw acoustic sound ignited that emotion that both lifts me in energizing rays of sun and holds me under soothing tides. Only thirty minutes long with no track extending past two, the album forced me into such strong rapture that I was sent to that other side of reality. A crush.

An obsession. All of me begins to burn for some guy. Even if that guy doesn’t want me back, even if he barely knows I exist, the crush always fools me into believing that he does. I feel it now. My body trembles.

I feel the rustling again. There is no crackling flame beneath my lungs. There is a warm and fuzzy gerbil. Or is it a rat?

Wait, what is Andrew talking about? I forgot to keep listening.

It’s already five thirty. I want to stay here with him but he has to go. When we get off the stools I want to look him up and down but my eyes can’t stray from his face. My grin flashes to meet his as I lead the way out onto the sidewalk. His heat follows a few feet behind.

The light of day hits us, his pupils constrict, and his hair moves when the breeze hits it. I imagine the last time I see him before he dies.

“Are you taking the subway uptown, or…?”

“Actually, I was going to go home first and drop my bag off.”

“Oh, Okay.” I can see that his bottom teeth are a little bit crooked and I really, really like it. I like it enough to excuse this last bit of small talk. His teeth show, smiling. In my periphery I am very conscious of his mouth and I almost lean in to kiss it.

I don’t.

We embrace in an awkward, end-of-the-first-date hug before he walks south on Avenue B while I walk north. I don’t look to get another glimpse of him because I know we won’t see each other again. It’s fine though, honestly. An instant is all I wanted. A little crush is more than enough.

I’m two blocks away when I unlock my phone. I think I’ll get a stick and poke tattoo of the moon to remind myself to stop being so fucking dramatic.

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