There are men of a certain age and disposition whom I am inclined to address as kiddo. Broken was one of them. I had lined up a date with him as an antidote to a work-related holiday party, a joyless function of baked cheese and that white-elephant game where everyone tries not cry. I park my ass near the door, make talk of the small variety, and text Broken. In his online profile, he is cute, but his head looks really small.
After being parked in one relationship for a decade, I’m finding that texting is one of the strangest things about dating. It’s not a real interaction, but it’s enough of a fix that I have developed a Pavlovian response to the double vibration sound of incoming. Also, texts are really easy to misconstrue. After telling me he would be coming from a holiday party of his own, and thus wearing a holiday sweater, he texts the following set of symbols: :o) To which I ask, is that a Rudolph emoticon? I mean it in a sweet, jokey sort of way, but then my train goes underground, with no further communication from me, so it ends up sounding more like a lip-curled bit of snark. Is that a RUDOLPH emoticon? Followed by utter radio silence.
I try to atone by promising him that hugs and cookies await him in Sunnyside. He texts back: Yay! I love people who are not afraid to bust out with a yay.
He arrives at the bar in the promised holiday sweater, and I deliver on the hug and the cookies, which my roommate made but I shamelessly take credit for. They are good cookies. Over cranberry juice, I learn that he is homeless, is struggling with some physical disabilities, and is still devastated over his last break-up. He hasn’t been having much luck with the online dating. “Girls don’t care if you’re a good person,” he says, and I try to convince myself that I am good person, even as I sneak a look at the time. He tells me about his passion for pro-wrestling, while I psychically flag down the waitress.
He doesn’t have the $5 to cover his juice. I drag out my wallet and walk him to the subway, to make sure he gets there safely. We will not text each other again, but I hope he’s OK, because I am broken too, and I get it; I hope he’s found someone who has him now, safely ensconced on her couch, WWF on the television, cookies of her own in the oven.