I Look For A Lover
At Art Week in Mexico City
Hello! I usually only write about my romantic life for my paid subscribers. Today, I’m offering a story for everyone, to give you a taste of what’s behind the paywall. All my stories are true, as I remember them, but I have changed some details to protect people’s privacy; as my writing teacher, Ann Randolph, tells me, “A story told twice is fiction”. So, consider subscribing to read more stories with all the juicy details.
I’m also going to enable to chat feature in Substack so you can tell me about the times you’ve looked for a lover also…
I lay on my couch last night. It was a Thursday, and my mood was sour. It had been a long week, almost a month since my breakup. I frowned in the low light of the early evening. I felt apathetic, yet restless. I wanted to dip into the distraction of my phone. It was like I was becoming a crotchety old lady. Like the one in London who used to shout down at us from her balcony when I was a kid, when we filled the bird bath with twigs and stones.
I grumbled to myself. Why was my bed so empty? When was the last time someone had given me a hug? Images of couples walking down my street holding hands, or stealing a kiss, surfaced in my mind. I could have smelt the sickening sweetness rolling off their shoulders. How come they? Why not me? When will I?
I hugged my navy blue couch cushion tighter. I nestled my nose against the warm skin of my own shoulder, imagining that it was someone’s chest. Open. Warm. And that he was cradling me in his arms.
I had spent most of that week hopping between galleries at Zonamaco, or Art Week in Mexico City. I had descended upon the stained-glass, art-deco facades of trendy, candlelit bars in Juarez and Roma Norte and Condesa. I had tried to admire some of the art, at least. But these events had been far more about the people than the paintings or the portraits; the city’s hottest Bright Young Things were there, only a century after Evelyn Waugh.
I had tried to flirt with a guy in a crisp, lime-green suit, wearing thick rectangular sunglasses indoors. I had tried to chat to a bearded man in all black, a turtleneck and a long, leather coat. Like he had been picked up from some underground rave in Bushwick and plonked into the middle of this cavernous room of bizarre, contorted statues and screens for the NFTs. I had tried to get the attention of a man with dark ginger hair, wearing a mosaic of necklaces and embroidered shirts. He had smelled like incense, and said he ran a boutique mushroom chocolate business. But as we had exchanged phone numbers, and I had glanced hopefully up into the warmth of his green eyes, I knew he would never silently shut the door of my apartment behind us. He would never lie down on my couch. He would never assume the exact position where I was at that moment, with my navy blue couch cushion and my own shoulder there, trying to comfort myself.
As I rolled over and considered taking a nap, suddenly my phone screen flashed through the darkness. My friend had texted me. An invitation to a piano bar nearby. Suddenly I felt the deep silence of my apartment. The stillness was haunting me. I texted my friend to tell her I would be there. I waited to see if she would text back. As I lingered for a moment, I decided I couldn’t sit in the emptiness anymore. I wanted something. I wanted somebody. I wanted someone to fill the silence.
I got up off my couch. I did my makeup. I put on a tight, long, pleather brown dress with a white turtleneck underneath. I locked my front door and left the darkness of my apartment behind me. I ate duck tacos at a restaurant on my own, unable to fully appreciate the delicious plum sauce.
As I paid the bill, my phone screen lit up again. My friend had cancelled on me. I would go to the piano bar alone. I walked down the street there alone also. At a crosswalk, I caught a glimpse of a man, one of the well-dressed bearded ones with nice cheekbones. But a car pulled up, and he got into it, and we drifted apart, like two suns spreading away in the vastness of an expanding universe.
I turned the corner and reached the piano bar. Just then, I saw a couple smoking cigarettes outside. I don’t quite know how to tell you this. Maybe there’s no other way to say it. But she stood out to me. She had short brown hair, and styled bangs. She was wearing a strapless, black top. Her cleavage was deep, and so were her curves. A tall man with glasses and long, blonde hair stood next to her. I remember she was smiling. I remember she was smiling at me.
“Are you guys going to the piano bar too?” I found myself saying.
“Wait, what?” she replied. She was American, undoubtedly. And then, as if we had known each other for ages, she said, “We’re drinking with friends in the wine place downstairs. You can come sit down with us if you want.”
“I don’t want to interrupt,” I said, looking at the tall man then back to her again, “How do you guys know each other?”
“We met on the internet,” she said.
“Cool,” I said, probing further. The tall man said nothing.
Her name was Alessia, she told me, though she wasn’t Italian. She was from D.C., but technically the Maryland part. She was half-American, half-Ecuadorian. And she was an artist. And she had a dog. I looked at the dark purple stone pendant hanging around her neck.
“I’ve been wanting to get a giant lizard tattoo on my arm for like 10 years,” she told me, “I finally booked my session on Valentine’s Day. I’m going to do it!”
“That’s awesome,” I said, noticing another long, rectangular tattoo with an inscription on her arm. I thought back to my ex, and the tattoos he had on his arm. And how much I loved them. And how colourful they were. And I thought about how edgy, and how sexy, she was going to look with her new tattoo.
“I like your dress. And your haircut. You won’t be single for long,” she said to me.
I smirked, but I felt myself stiffening. I folded my arms. My insides squirmed. On Feeld, the mother of all quirky dating apps, I had put my sexuality as “heteroflexible”. Was that what this was about? Was this a moment of pure fun? Or a moment of shame and weakness? I suddenly resented Alessia for telling me all about the cool art parties she was hosting. I felt like we had clicked, and now I wanted to unclick from her. And ignore whatever had happened. And continue on to find some swanky man with glasses in a suit at the bar. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
A couple days earlier, I had texted my gay friend.
“My great-grandmother’s brother was gay,” I messaged him, “Do they know if sexuality is genetic?”
“I think they discovered a ‘gay gene’,” he messaged back, “But it was debunked. Anyway, I think it’s socially constructed. Like no one can even grapple with just how thoroughly they’ve been taught to be straight.”
His words now felt like a tap at my shoulder. And then a slightly bigger slap round the head. Alessia brought us inside, and we went through the motions. We had a glass of wine with her friends. We got the check. Her friends left, and we went up to the piano bar afterwards, the tall man following quietly behind us. But all the while, my thoughts and my feelings were nagging me. I had barely had any encounters with women. Yet in those few cases, I found myself mystified. I was so nervous even though I was trying to play it cool. I had been to pride parades. I remembered when the White House lit up with rainbow flags the day that gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court. I had plenty of friends that were gay.
“…no one can even grapple with just how thoroughly they’ve been taught to be straight…”
We sat down in the corner behind the piano at the back of the bar. I wanted to sit next to her, but instead I sat next to her date (apparently I wasn’t crashing whatever they were doing). I made small talk with him. It turned out he was cycling from Alaska to Argentina, or something as insane and adventurous as that.
Alessia leant over him, towards me. She handed me her shot of mezcal. She wanted me to share it with her, she said. Was her hand lingering there a little longer, so I might hold it? I felt myself sinking down into my chair. I tried to laugh and sing along with the songs. Hey Jude. Love by Nat King Cole. Like a Virgin. I looked away from her, then I looked back at her, then I looked away again. I felt stupid. Like a tween going to their first bop. How do you flirt with a woman? And what if she wasn’t into women? She thought I was cool enough already. Maybe if I let on, she wouldn’t think I was cool anymore.
I know what men do. I know what kind of men I like. I know how I like to be with men. But with a woman? What? I found myself, all of a sudden, wanting to be the man in the relationship. Wanting to take her out for dinner. Wanting to figure out what her love language was. Wanting to make her happy. She was an artist. She seemed cool. She seemed hip. Where was the line between a really good, deep female friendship, and something that crossed into other territory?
In the blur of the singing and the clunking rhythm on the piano, I saw Alessia’s phone lying face down on the table, between the shot glasses of mezcal. Some kind of black and white figures were painted on the case. I picked it up. I looked at it more closely. They were drawings of women. With simple, thick-lined curves of their bodies, and jagged black triangles of pubic hair under their armpits and between their legs. On a phone case. I mean, I consider myself a feminist, but ,naked women? I didn’t have any of those tacked up on my walls.
I raised an eyebrow as I glanced at her. Alessia caught my eye. She grinned, winking at me. I felt my tongue tie itself in my mouth. Was that a sign? Did she…was she…flirting with me? At least, I thought, I would give it a try. I had to.
I hadn’t considered the possibility that she might like me back.