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I’m at my kitchen table. I can hear the shower running, pouring hot water. I’m so in love.  Humming drifts out of the bathroom on the steam and I’ve got to wonder if he knows how apathetic I am. Sitting here in his t-shirt, with the cold feeling of vinyl fused to my legs. The cold feelings of discontent fused to my heart, whatever that is.

I twist and fold today’s newspaper to expose the wanted section. With a big red, felt-tip marker I cross out some lines and draw arrows to connect others. Sometimes I leave ads alone, the ones that are too boring, but sometimes you can just hear these two people crying out to be together. This SWF is seeking a BHM, and, of course, she means big and handsome, but she’ll be crawling with bald-headed men in no time. That Southern girl is looking for someone to eat her fried chicken. There are men in their 60s looking to be a sugar daddy for some “VGL 20YO.” An “X SWM” is just dying for a diving partner in case of a cage malfunction, and you can’t go wrong with that kind of logic. How can these people believe in this mess?

I’ve never been able to understand dating ads. The abbreviations annoy me. If you can’t pay for the two extra letters to spell out “you”, then you can’t pay for a date. I’ve never liked the diction either. They always use the word “seeking”, like they’ve reached a level of desperation where they’re seeking, inquiring, begging for information on someone, anyone who will love them. Why would you want to end up like that? 160 characters pressed in black and white; a caricature of words that really add up to nothing, if you ask me. I’ve circled ads for wanted jobs, ads for selling cars, ads for deals on canned food, but never have I ever circled an ad seeking love.

It’s like you have to summarize yourself in too little space, in too shallow depth. How are you supposed to find a man you can tolerate, much less the man of your dreams, when you can know nothing about him? And where’s the old-fashioned courtship? Where are the winks and nods in passing? Where are the awkward moments when neither potential lover has the courage to speak? Where is the joy of waiting for a man to call? Now there’s this. There’s just writing on a wall, just a plain-Jane, look-at-me mentality. Loving out of bland necessity.

And so I’m sitting there Frankensteining these love stories together, placing body parts where they don’t belong. With my fat red needle, I’m suturing an animal lover to a taxidermist. She can keep her beloved animals forever; he can have a life long supply of fresh skins to stuff. True love. With Xs I’m denying someone the right to “seek” a SWF; someone else no longer deserves to be a sous chef. All with this marker, I’m saying: no, you didn’t work hard to get there. I’m saying: no, you can’t be who you are.

I can just see myself calling some of them up. I mean, they say ACA. Maybe with a napkin over the phone, pushing my voice down a few octaves. I could hear them, hear their excitement as I pretend to be a brain surgeon from New York, steady hands, good with a pair of tweezers. All so I can help this basket case of a woman whose hobby is building model houses. I can see her big, frizzy hair falling over the phone as she writes down my fake name and the place I’ve picked for our first date. I can practically smell her fingers, sticky from glue, and see the tiny window that fits in a to-scale ranch, and you know she’s got to be dying inside. I almost feel bad, because just in my daydream, I’ve broken this middle-aged maid’s heart. Then I see her pushing her coke-bottle glasses up over her forehead with one hand and wiping away tears with the other. She’s sitting alone in a coffee shop, where the tables are high and the storefront is a big plate of glass so she can see everyone walking by on the street, and everyone who happens to look in can see her crying. Her true love never showed up. I never show up. I should find a brain surgeon.

And what gives me the right? Well, these people, these animals, these blind seeking more blindness- they’re asking for it. They threw this out there, chumming the waters. They were begging for attention, and for just these three minutes, just these few hundred seconds, they have mine.

I’m crossing and uncrossing my legs, clicking my tongue against the roof of my mouth. Full, black lashes lead lids that blink and blink over my eyes. All while I’m scrolling through this paper with my dots, dashes, Xs, and arrows. This god-awful word soup is just starting to look hilarious, just starting to look as pathetic as these poor souls, when something unexpected happens. Suddenly, my pen is making a circle. And it looks so out of place on this black, and white, and red-all-over paper. It’s almost funny… because in all of this mess, all of this tragedy, and all of this longing, there’s this one in the middle. And you know it’s almost funny because… this one doesn’t look so bad.

So after all of this the shower stops and the curtain get pulled back along the metal rod and I can hear the rings scraping. At the same time, my curtain goes up. Show time.

I force tears out of my ducts and they grow fat, full, and black with mascara. Crocodile tears, and damn, I’m good. It’s like it’s my first time all over again. Like I’ve never seen a newspaper or a red marker. Like I’ve never used my phone to call up some loser who needs love. Just when I’m really getting into this, my bathroom door opens and I’m in the company of Michael. And looking at his face. I almost have to laugh, because he’s really eating this up. You can tell he just wants to hold me, kiss me, whatever me, to make me stop crying. And there’s only one way this conversation goes. Badly, for him, I mean. In my experience, and trust me I have it, they’ll do anything to stay. He’s only been here a week and you’d think I’m his soul mate. It’s a shame I can’t feel it.

God, you should have seen him on that first date. Actually, I could tell he was going to be the next one just by his voice on the phone. So excited. We met in this little coffee shop, that I told him was too cliché. The light was dim, and we sat at a small table with chairs that looked like they were made of twisted wire. I’m sure he could see all of this happening with some pink romantic glow, like we were on a Jumbo-Tron kiss cam. He looked nice, I had to admit, in a brown sweater with lightly faded jeans. He’s the kind of guy who might laugh too loud, just so other people know he’s having fun; or he might squeeze my hand too tight, just to make me look at him. He tried to be funny, so I pretended to laugh. He tried to be charming, so I pretended to be wooed.

I’m remembering all of this, as I watch him drag his heels down my hallway. His white t-shirt stretching and collapsing against his shoulder blades as little sobs escape him. And as I’m standing in the open doorway, I’m chewing the inside of my lip. Tasting blood just so I can look upset, nauseated. I’ve got to keep myself from putting my foot in his ass, so I’m shifting my weight from right to left. And he’s just this red-faced exaggeration of pain. I’ve got to be some sort of extension of his insecurities so you would think that he could just take his stuff and get the fuck out of my hallway. I’m standing here choking on my words, which at this point are too sharp to eat. Just marveling at how much this chew toy can take, when he hits the button for the elevator and I close my door.

After the lock clicks in place there’s this expanse of silence as the apartment is mine again. I just stand there thinking about all the shit I have to do, when the folded paper with the glaring red circle reminds me: I have someone to meet in an hour. Maybe he’ll be another Michael, or maybe he’ll just be another add too boring to paste together with mine.

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