The Non-A**hole



E 84th St & 1st Ave, New York, NY 10028

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

Seventy-five degrees, August, Sunday evening, Manhattan, yet no one is out on the street except for your neighbor and his geriatric Maltese. On nights like these you can’t help but wonder if you’re missing something; maybe everyone you want to be with is just around the corner jammed into a block of bars, restaurants, delis, while you sit on a concrete planter outside your apartment smoking cigarettes and reading short stories.

When you are not outside you are inside, waiting for a phone call from a man with whom you slept for the first time three nights ago, the same night you finally kissed for hours after a week of false starts, just like in high school. You kissed like teenagers, and then, like adults, exhibited the minimum amount of courage sufficient to do the rest. “Should I get a…” You choke on the word “condom” because it sets an unfortunate chain of associations in motion (for some reason it sounds to you like “worm”). Climbing down a ladder naked is not pretty, no matter who you are, especially that final splatty jump from the bottom rung to the wooden floor. On the ascent to the loft bed, you wanted to be cute and bold, say, “It’s just like summer camp. Only you’ve got a hot girl between the sheets.” Instead you squeaked and made a little gesture that said, “Up you go, you.” You think you’re experienced during the day but then realize very quickly on these nights that you might as well be seventeen again, afraid of touching or being touched, causing pain or feeling it, and then it is over, he slides his arm around you and your last thoughts before you go to sleep are . . . Optimistic.

Now you are waiting for a phone call and a reason to be disappointed. A secret girlfriend. HIV. A criminal record. Coldness. Senses are heightened; silence is easier to hear. The next morning you visit the East River to enjoy the weather and not sit by the phone. You bring your cell with you anyway. No new messages, but you are hopeful today because months ago you were not. Months ago you were thinking of calling your ex because you were just that lonely and therefore slowly going insane. But then you learned of his infidelities and you were no longer as lonely. Instead, you were much, much more drunk.

Minutes later, you have one new message: a hang-up. You figure it is a solicitor but pretend it is the man you slept with who maybe just doesn’t like the way his voice sounds on answering machines. You feel the East River sun crisping your skin and heating the blood beneath it. Breezes cool the sweat behind your knees and nothing else. You feel like swimming. The passengers on the Circle Line wave to the people on shore. You don’t wave back.

Later that afternoon you act against your better judgement and call the man who hasn’t called you. He is obviously busy. OK: It turns out he left the hang-up message and you wonder if he would have tried to reach you ever again. He rushes off the phone having given you the impression that he will be swamped at work for what you guess is probably the rest of his life. You immediately exile him from your fantasies and replace him with the faceless “someone else.” You begin to sense loneliness creeping back into the apartment . . . Under the checkered sheet that you threw across the couch this morning so people wouldn’t see the dirt stains, loneliness waits for you, grinning, like a troll under a bridge.

When he does call you back two days later, you remember your hasty efforts to expunge him from your thoughts and you burn with shame. You listen to him talk about his work woes with half an ear: No one could orchestrate a rejection so perfectly and still put his arm around you in bed.


You voice your concerns to him.

“I’m not an asshole,” he says.

Of course! That’s it! Not an asshole! You tell him to call you again when he has another minute free from chaos, and hear genuine appreciation on the other end. You wonder if you can muster up the energy to like him all over again. He called, but it is equally true that he also may never have called. You scold and commend yourself at the same time for the same behavior, your overzealous cynicism.

You wish he were an asshole . . . It would make life so much simpler.

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§ One Response to “The Non-A**hole”

  • Thomas R. Pryor says:

    “You don’t wave back.” Perfect sentence capturing the inside of the writer’s head. Life ain’t simple. Great story.

§ Leave a Reply

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