Photo by Terry Bain
I was supposed to meet Christopher, but not the way I met him. The circumstances were of the sort that makes people believe in a higher power, which wasn’t exactly my thing. I’m not saying it is now, but I’m not saying it isn’t.
It was early December, and I was two months into grieving the loss of my dog, Gabby, when I started getting desperate mass e-mails from Doug, the head of an animal-rescue group. I had found Gabby through Doug who was now pleading for someone to take in Tigger the pit-bull mix over the holidays. The photos yanked at my heart, but I didn’t reply until finally, he e-mailed me personally: The current foster-dad was going to California, all the boarders were filled—it would only be for two weeks. Okay, I said. I figured this was the push I needed to get over the hump of despair.
Then, two days before I was supposed to get Tigger, Doug tells me that a friend of the foster-dad decided to step up. I’m off the hook…and unexpectedly disappointed. I told myself it was a money saver, not having an animal. Which is stupid, because Gabs had improved my life so much that frugal me hardly cared about the scary chunk of cash I’d spent on the end of hers. Still, Doug had been a little concerned that Tigger might be too big and energetic for me to handle, so I told myself it wasn’t meant to be—and in doing so had apparently turned into one of those people: the ones who think there’s some kind of supremely directed order to the universe.
My recent career shift into steady unsteadiness and the perpetual elusiveness of anything resembling true love resulted in the meltdown of my practical Capricorn brain—which caused my fingers to type “my practical Capricorn brain.” What? Astrology over empiricism? No. I wanted to make sense of things, not nonsense.
On New Year’s Eve eve, I met a friend for drinks on the Upper West Side, my old neighborhood. We weren’t far from Dive 75, which is down the street from my then-apartment and happens to be where my roommate Jen met her eventual husband. It was our favorite bar, and Stephen was our favorite bartender. I decided, once my friend went home, to find out if he still worked there.
As I approached, I became a little apprehensive. Did I really need to be doing this? I’m older now, my tolerance for alcohol—and a lot of other things—is lower than it was six years ago, and I was starting to second-guess my all-good memories of the place. But then I heard “Hey Ya” blaring from inside and took it as my invitation. First of all, the title alone was literally calling me, and second, that song always gets my endorphins on the dance floor—“Put it on the jukebox, instant party,” an acquaintance once said—so it seemed wrong to resist.
I found a stool immediately because someone was just leaving, and I felt my serendipitous, boozy glow brighten. I ordered a beer and asked the bartender if Stephen’s still on the payroll. “Yup, he’ll be here at 8.” Kismet!
Hours later, after Stephen and I had caught up and I’d engaged in a little underwhelming rapport with some onetime frat boys, two guys park themselves to my right. It’s not long before I’m talking to the one closest to me. He’s not bad. Bearded. I find myself wondering who the last person I kissed with so much facial hair was. His friend is texting someone. I ask who, and he tells me his ex-wife.
“And do you have an ex-wife?” I uninhibitedly inquire of Lumberjack Face. No, he says with a chuckle. “Not even a current one or a girlfriend!” his wingman helpfully adds. I introduce myself. The divorced one is Sam. Lumberjack shakes my hand and says, “Christopher.”
Within 45 seconds, Christopher, with his head turned slightly toward Sam, says, “I gotta walk Tig.”
My spine snaps me vertical. “Tigger?” I ask.
“Is Tigger your dog?”
“Yes.” His eyes are alive now. “Well, sort of.”
“You’re fostering him, aren’t you?” I’m calm, but my insides aren’t.
“Yes. Oh my God, wait. You’re Leah? THIS Leah?” he says, and takes out his phone to show me a message from Doug that says, “Do you think Tig will be too much for Leah?”
I jab the screen with my finger repeatedly and confirm, “THAT Leah! Wait! Why aren’t you in California?” (A fine blend of malted barley, hops, and adrenaline prevented me from hearing his answer.) “Sam, are you the one who was gonna watch him?” Sam said yes. And I said I wanted to meet Tigger. Right now.
We’re off. I’m dumbfounded. Doug lives in Chelsea, I live in Brooklyn, Christopher lives on the Upper West Side, and there’s no logical reason I can think of that’s bringing us all together like this. I considered the F word. Yeah, that one: fate.
Christopher and I head upstairs to get Tig, who is, of course, beautiful. We take him to the dog park down the street, also beautiful thanks to the blizzard a few days prior. It’s 4 a.m. We run around with Tig, throwing snow at him, at each other, and I feel like a kid, loving the secret night I’m having in the endless mass of freezing white stuff in the place I used to live and have good times with lots of people when I was younger and full of hope. I’m so happy, I kiss Christopher.
We go back to the apartment, climb up into his ridiculous loft bed that only teenage boys should have and that thirtysomething women should not have to scale, and have sex so unremarkable that he actually didn’t remember having it. In the living room the next morning, Christopher asks me what I do. I tell him and repeat the question.
“I sell drugs.”
“Pharmaceuticals?” I say, somehow knowing the answer would be more like…
“Ah.” And I focus for the first time on the ashtray full of smoked-down roaches on the coffee table inches from my bare feet. “But I have a website…,” which he qualifies as a legitimate living, according to the IRS. I’m hoping his career is the reason his memory of our naked time failed, because at this moment, learning that I’m a total loser in the sack is beyond my management capabilities. But I sure loved watching his love-fest with Tigger. A man and not-even-his dog. Sweet. Therefore, hot.
“What do we tell Doug?” he asks me as I’m putting my boots on. Was that panic I heard?
“Uh, how about nothing?”
“Yeah, OK. I guess we can just say we met at a bar and leave it at that.”
“If it even comes up,” I point out.
Downstairs on the sidewalk, he initiates the awkward goodbye: “So I guess our paths will probably cross again,” to which I reply, “Sure, probably.” We give the obligatory pecks that mean “See you never,” and we let 72nd Street move us away from each other in opposite directions.
I go home. I sleep on my dogless, manless couch. I wake up, look for life lessons, and don’t find any short of “Maybe don’t hop into bed with drug dealers.” I consider purchasing “Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time” by Michael Sherman (foreword by Stephen Jay Gould). I think about whether I am ready to adopt a new dog—and whether my horoscope would have the answer. I’m still thinking. And given this tug-of-war that faith and science are having in the recesses of my gray matter, I imagine I will be for a while.
Leah Zibulsky copyedits magazines and writes stories about her love life. This is the first one she’s published, so it can’t be the reason she’s still single.