This is the second half of an essay. For the first half, click here.
Zed was shy, and a dead ringer for Gael Garcia Bernal. He was so good looking that it was a little strange he was hitting on me. I kept thinking to myself that once we were in better lighting, or he’d seen me at a different angle, he would realize his mistake and mumble himself away. After dancing for a little while, he wanted to see my bike. There was absolutely nothing cool about my bike, unless you’re turned on by ergonomics. Then he wanted to show me his bike. By his excitement, I understood I was looking at something wonderful, but all I saw was a matte, gray frame stripped of all non-essentials. Even brakes, which I’d always seen as essential, were missing.
We left the party and rode our bikes around the deserted city. I struggled to keep up with him, and he struggled to stop with me. He seemed increasingly annoyed whenever I slowed down at a red light. Safety first! With my brand name hybrid and my propensity to follow traffic laws, my only saving grace with the hipster Zed was my mini skirt and knee-high riding boots. We rode to a park in the middle of a roundabout and laid down in the damp grass. I couldn’t quite place Zed’s age. I knew he was younger than me, but wasn’t sure by how much.
I have to say something about myself here. I tend to go along with things just to see what will happen, especially if it’s a situation I’ve not been in before, or there is an edge being pushed farther than I’ve seen it go. So even though it might not have been the most respectable or even sensible thing to do, I ended up having oral sex with Zed at 3am in the middle of a traffic circle. And I can’t say that a few cars didn’t go by. But there is a certain magic that happens in the hours before dawn, when you have been riding around a city with a gorgeous stranger who can’t stop his bike, and your adrenaline is still racing from flashing your breasts at hundreds of people. If you haven’t experienced it, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
When we were shivering significantly from the damp grass, we got up to go. Zed mentioned that his house was far away, and that he was tired. I was reluctant to take him to my house because I lived with my sister and her daughter. So I suggested a 24-hour pancake house instead. Zed showed me a secret path that led us over train tracks and through holes in chain link fences, the kind of path I traveled on when I was a teenager. I didn’t know that side of Portland and was glad to see it. At the pancake house, Zed didn’t have any money, of course, and so I bought us breakfast and coffee. We sat next to each other in the booth and he fell asleep on my shoulder. I felt a strong urge to mother him. Uh-oh, not where I wanted this to go.
The sun came up, and it felt safer to go back to my house. Plus I was exhausted but didn’t want to let him go. So we snuck quietly in through the garage and I made us a bed in the basement. Zed was a marvelous oddity on my hunt for a baby daddy. More baby than daddy. When he left later that morning, I called my best friend to tell her the hilarious story and then took a shower and went to bed. I fully didn’t expect to see him again. A week later, we were having a small party to celebrate my sister graduating from her master’s program. My best friend was there, and we had moved on (mostly) from her merciless teasing of me and Zed. So that day, who knows what we were talking about when she nudged me and motioned to the sidewalk, where Zed was just coming up the walk with his bike. He was a zillion times better looking than I’d remembered. He was also very uncomfortable crashing a party. After a few introductions, he settled into a corner of the lawn with a well worn copy of Finnegan’s Wake that he pulled from his messenger’s bag.
The details of the next couple weeks are not that exciting, really. Zed didn’t have a phone, so I couldn’t have his number. I gave him mine but he never once called or texted. He would just show up. I never knew where he lived, though I did learn that he worked at the Subway near my house. He could magically turn every single conversation to fixed gear bikes or Finnegan’s Wake, the two subjects he seemed to care or know anything about. I learned that he would come sit on my lawn with his laptop and use my wifi when I wasn’t home (that’s how he came to be remembered as Lawnboy, the only name my friends remember him by; this is a cautionary tale). He was also very concerned about my orgasms, or lack thereof. I tried to assure him that they were very rare and it wasn’t likely he would elicit one from my body. This seemed to frustrate him, and he worked harder and harder at it every time we were together.
One evening, sitting on the front stoop of my apartment, our conversation moving between fixed gear bikes and Finnegan’s Wake, I mentioned something about turning 30. “Wait, how old are you?” he asked. I replied that I was 31. “But you said you were 21!” he exclaimed. And I had said that, as a joke, on the first night we met. It was the morning after we met, actually, when we were lying in the basement, relaxing post-sex in the morning sun. I had laughed and said I was 21. Why? Because he had just told me he was 21 and I thought it was funny that I was so obviously older than him. I didn’t think much of it. My answer had meant that I was much older than 21, duh, so we didn’t need to talk about it. I never thought he would believe me! Then he told me that he had lied about his age, too, and was actually only 20.
That was our last night together. Zed tried to get me to orgasm like Sir Edmund Hillary’s sherpa tried to get him to the peak, but with less success. And then, when I walked with him down to the garage so I could close the door behind him after he biked away, a spontaneous make out session led to spontaneous garage sex which led, hallelujah, to an orgasm. I watched Zed bike away, zooming through stop signs, Finnegan’s Wake bulging out of his bag (is that Finnegan’s Wake in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?), not knowing that I would never hear from him again. To this day I don’t know if he didn’t return because he’d finally helped me summit the peak, or because he’d realized I was 11 years older than him. Or maybe he just found better free wifi.
Zed gave me a new confidence with men. After a long unrequited crush on my best friend and a run of dating older men who were basically soured to romance, I had begun to wonder at my own attractiveness. But Zed thought I was beautiful. He liked to sigh and run his fingers through my hair, exclaiming that I looked like a Renaissance painting. So when my friend Amy, from the naked bike ride, asked if I would join an online dating site with her, I remembered Zed and I lugging our bikes through the train yard on our way to the pancake house just before sunrise, and decided that I could use more adventure in my life. When I was filling out my first online profile, I remembered Zed dancing towards me in his pink tutu and I opened my age bracket up to guys in their twenties. Which is the only reason Edward, who was 29, contacted me and became my husband and father to my daughter. So thanks, Zed.
When I first joined the world of online dating, I didn’t think I would find anything serious. I wanted more train yards and pink tutus. I thought a husband would eventually come about through some traditional channel, like a good friend of a good friend. But, as my father would point out, j’ai un coeur d’artichaut. I have an artichoke heart, which means that I fall in love as easily as leaves are plucked from an artichoke, which means that online dating sites are dangerous places for me. Are they more dangerous than offline dating? Yes. But only because I can have more manipulation and control, thereby extending what should be fleeting crushes into flings, and flings into relationships. I don’t think I make substantial connections online any more frequently than off, I just think I make loads more insubstantial connections. Which I settle for over being alone. It’s like eating frozen and dried berries in the winter while I wait for the fresh berries to come into season. Some might snub their noses and refuse to settle for the frozen and dried, but I think they’re fine and taste pretty good. The real danger comes when I let the fresh berries pass by because I’ve become attached to the frozen. And, can we just all acknowledge that one person’s frozen berries are another person’s fresh? And also acknowledge that this metaphor has gone as far as it can.