When Romeo and I split, we promised to check in after a couple months, to get dinner, catch up, and make a concerted effort to stay friends. I’ve said this before, but after a breakup, I’d hate to think I ever spent so much time with someone that we couldn’t root for one another, support each other, and build a new platonic relationship, especially after sharing such a high level of intimacy. The timing of our eventual dinner was hard for me, as I found myself hoping I could fall back into the rhythm of happily complacent dates at his apartment, wanting desperately to escape the hell I was living in Fort Greene. He told me he had been seeing someone for a month now, and that it had the makings for a long-term relationship. I didn’t press him for details, and instead felt excited and happy for him. I played down my own anxiety, trying to seem strong, to let him know I was doing really well at work, with friends—though bummed about Ben and Justin moving—and that the bed bugs were already under control: “They’re an annoying hiccup. We’re getting over it just fine.” (Lies!) And my own dating life, well…I wasn’t trying to force anything, I told him. Just casual dating, looking for something lasting, though. I didn’t want to seem as brokedown as I felt. As far as he could tell, things were neither here nor there, very steady, very normal. If you panned across the scene, things weren’t very normal, though: There we were in public, relaxed, joking, lacking any paranoia. Two friends, none too concerned for who might spot us together. While part of me wished this could have been our reality as a couple, most of me was just grateful for the assurance that I had this friend, that I could forever love this person I had loved. Our history was rich—dating back to our joint affairs with Tolliver—and now our future could be, too.
In late April, I woke to a calendar alert on my phone: It was Buckminster’s birthday. Since I don’t have Facebook, I am in the habit of plugging people’s birthdays into my calendar, so that I can text them on their respective mornings. I hadn’t forgotten Buckminster’s to begin with, but I had forgotten in our cold-turkey goodbyes to remove this particular notice from my phone. I decided, though, to send him a text anyway, seeing as it had been nearly a year since his final email to me, and just under a year since we had broken up. His birthday carried with it the sad reminder of our demise, too: It was then that he proposed being boyfriends, and when I shut off emotionally. I digress…I sent him a text: “Happy birthday! Hope you’ve had a great year and that you have fun plans to celebrate.” Ten minutes later, his reply: “Sorry, who is this?” Oh brother. OK, play it cool: “Lol. It’s Adam Hurly.” // “OOF. Nice to hear from you. Looks like I gave my phone a bit of a cleanse after we ended things.” // “I take no offense. Kind of hilarious. Have a good bday :)” // “Or completely catty. Thanks for the note. Very sweet. I’ll be back in the city in July for work. Let’s grab coffee and catch up.” // “Sounds great! I would like that a lot. Maybe save my number.” // “Deal.” I’d soon see Buckminster again, and so looked forward to that summer coffee.
Another text exchange brought another ex back from the dead: Cold Hands reached out to say hello, to see if I wanted to get dinner and catch up. It was weird to me that each of these exes surfaced back to back, but I’m superstitious and saw it as an opportunity to iron out my past year of ruffled dating, to plan for a more practical, have-my-shit-together 30th year. Perhaps by revisiting each one, I could prevent another false start, another failed launch. It had been nearly three months since Cold Hands abruptly halted our blossoming romance without any warning; I was well over the spurning but still had unanswered questions. It was curious to me that he would even want to be friends, but given the opportunity, it seemed worth entertaining, as I cared very deeply for him in our month together. So, as is my habit, I accepted the invitation, and promised to elicit from him an explanation for the abandonment—without any resentment.
Cold Hands and I met for dinner at Fette Sau in Brooklyn. Admittedly, I felt the same attraction as I had in winter, and realized this was a bad idea. We covered the standard bases: travels, work, dating. (The last one is always loaded when there’s a romantic history.) In his update, though, he spoke of a long-term, somewhat unhealthy pursuit he had had with a very unavailable man, something that had been going on for many months and that he hoped would soon end. He admitted it had overlapped his and my dating in January, and did in fact play a part in his diversion from me. This and a few other factors had also led to him going on anti-depressants, which put him in no place to preserve any kindle. He didn’t seem proud of himself, and said he felt stuck. That confession moved us quickly from ex-lovers to confidants, and any confusion turned into empathy. It was an opportunity for me to tell him about Romeo, and what I had similarly endured in that relationship. I told the full story, though: that Cold Hands pulled me out of the dead-end affair, and that I had liked him enough to finally identify what it was I needed in a significant other. So, yes, I was fairly let down when he disappeared, but at least it got me calibrated again. I was proud of both of us for being so transparent. After dinner, we walked up the Williamsburg pier together—as friends—and I realized that, finally, we had spent an evening together without any storm at our back.
I got back to my disgusting apartment feeling optimistic, which I needed. With home life in such disarray, camaraderie from any angle was appreciated. I had told Cold Hands about my bed bugs too, but in the same way I had Romeo: All was looking up, all tension was past. Still, my reality was that we were nearing the end of the second attempt at ousting the bugs, and I didn’t have much faith that we would win this time, either. Luckily, we hadn’t seen any or been bitten in a couple weeks, which was a good sign. It meant we had no major threats to them reproducing or having survived, and that the final assurance spray would put us in the clear. I placed my belongings in the freezer (remember, this was practice at our home during the infestation), and tiptoed into the bathroom to shower before bed. I stared at myself in the mirror, probably noticing how old and stressed and always exhausted I appeared, but glad that the day was over, and that I was one closer to mental clarity, to pushing my bed back against the wall, to unpacking my life from tied-up bags, to not feeling like a leper despite paying exorbitant New York City rent. As I turned the shower on and waited for warm water, I grabbed my toothbrush and looked down at the sink. Something caught my eye: a little red critter, crawling across the bowl. Upon closer examination: a fully grown, reproductive adult bed bug. In the bathroom. On porcelain. Not on fabric. Not on wood. Not on a bed. In the tiled, cold bathroom, one of the places that is supposed to provide refuge. The bigger concern was that our assurance spray wouldn’t give us relief after all: The adult bugs were still here, and in places we hadn’t even suspected. I didn’t know what to do, so I started serenading the pest with a pathetic, heartbroken rendition of Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here.” Then, I smashed it with my thumb, washed it away, and slinked down against the wall, and onto the floor. I couldn’t believe this was my nearly 29-year-old life. I couldn’t live here any more. But I had no plan, and no money for a quick fix. So I took out my phone, and summoned the help of my dearest friends.
My desperation email: “Hi everyone. I apologize up front, as this is a bit of an SOS. Most of you know I have bed bugs in my apartment. I have not been embarrassed nor ashamed to talk about it. But it has been a debilitating reality and, despite the exterminators coming once more this last week, I continue to find adult bugs. They keep popping up long after they’re supposed to be dead, and in every room of the house. The lease is up June 1 on my apartment. My roommates are thinking about staying. I’m subletting and have the complete freedom to leave. After working til 1130 tonight and coming home to an adult bug on my bathroom sink, I feel at a breaking point. I’m ready to get rid of 90% of my belongings and start over. Start completely over. My bed, my desk. My dresser. Most of my clothes. Everything. I asked a few of you recently to house me short term. Now I’m reaching out for a bigger favor. Is there any window of time in the next few months where you’ll be gone and your apartment or room will sit empty? I don’t have much money saved. Not enough to move and start over immediately. So my thought is to spare myself rent for two months if I can, and live out of a couple duffel bags (new ones!) while I pick up extra writing assignments and build up a couple thousand extra dollars to get a new apartment, and hopefully some peace of mind. I really do apologize. I’ve drafted this email three or four times in the past couple weeks and keep telling myself not to hit send, that it would be weak and shameful. Admittedly, I am embarrassed to finally hit send, at 1:15 in the morning. I just want my sanity back. I want to start over and rid myself of all these things. The thought of it makes me so relieved. Please let me know. I’m going to try to piece a schedule together and I’ll do any and every favor you need in the while. I know work will be especially flexible with me as I sort things out. THANK GOD I have that security covered. Feel free to chuckle at this too. It really is kind of funny. And it’ll be funnier yet when it’s past tense. Help me make it funnier yet? Love you all. Adam.”