A decade ago, age twenty-three, I found myself single and looking for a boyfriend. I was at a loss as to how and where to find one, when one otherwise uneventful afternoon, it came to my attention c/o an “Empty Nest” re-run that a good way to get a boyfriend was to hang out in a dog park. Apparently, dogs are conversation starters, and women who own dogs and go the length of engaging with them are, by and large, considered attractive.
I didn’t own a dog, however. But! There’s no there’s no law against the dog-less at a dog-run, so I packed a bag of Pepperidge Farm goldfish, threw on a pair of wedge-sandals, and headed to the closest one. The heels, of course, were to elongate my disproportionately short legs, and the goldfish, to solicit canine attention. I hoped to present myself as a younger, more comely Bird Woman from “Mary Poppins,” but with dogs instead of pigeons, goldfish instead of birdseed. I would gain the dogs’ attention, then trick him into thinking that I cared.
So I sat on a bench and started throwing goldfish. When the dogs did not respond, I started eating them myself, and was just in the middle of considering the merits of cheesy carbohydrates when Charlie arrived. A stranger at the time, I knew his name was Charlie because he had a nametag pinned to his oversized polo-shirt.
“Charlie,” it read. “T-Mobile representative.”
“Dogs…” said Charlie. “Right?”
“Right,” I answered. “Dogs. They’re… so friendly. They… make such good companions.”
Charlie nodded. “That’s what I think too.”
Charlie and I founded a three-month-long romance on this, the fact we both thought dogs made good companions. We shared the requisite attraction too, of course. Charlie had that attractive urban swagger of someone always in oversized polo-shirts and mid-butt-slung jeans. He lived on Long Island with his parents, and for our first date, he suggested meeting at his local Papa John’s. “We could meet there, grab a pie, and head back to my parents’,” he’d said. “I know it sounds lame, but the thing is, I’ve got the basement all to myself. It’s big down there. There’s a mini-fridge, and also a couch and a treadmill.”
Charlie and I, once established as a couple, ate Papa Johns incessantly. People like routines, and this was ours: Charlie would finish work at T-Mobile, and we’d meet at Penn Station to catch the Long Island Rail Road to his parents’ house in Glen Cove. We’d order Papa John’s, eat it in the basement, have sex, and go to sleep. It surely shocks you to learn I gained weight. I owned this pair of jeans at the time that, with every passing day, fit more like denim leggings.
Charlie, conversely, did not gain weight. His body responded to our couples’ routine by falling asleep during sex. The habit took a month to gain momentum, but once it did, look out: It did not stop. There were two weeks over the course of which we engaged in a smattering of intercourse, and Charlie stayed entirely awake for none of it. It was annoying at first, but then I kind of liked it. I liked the chance to pee or watch TV.
Still, Charlie was ashamed. “It’s really embarrassing,” he said.
“It’s fine,” I said.
“It’s not,” he said. “So I’m taking you out. You deserve a night out.”
Charlie put his hand in his pockets, and pulled out two tickets.
“Are we going to a show?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” he said. “We’re going out for hot wings.”
Charlie had purchased tickets for an all-you-can-eat buffet serving an assortment of hot wings, part of a “Hot Wing Festival” taking place at his local neighborhood bar. Not only that, he’d bought us two tablets of ecstasy for dessert.
“We’ll eat lots of hot wings, then go to this park that’s nearby.” Charlie leaned closer in. He rested his mouth against my ear. “And then we’ll take our tablets, babe. And then I’ll stay awake… to do you.”
Later that week, Charlie and I attended the Hot Wing Festival in Glen Cove, Long Island, and while the first hour was pretty good, we got thrown out in the second. Charlie got belligerent on promotional vodka samples, and when the overweight bartender cut him off and told him it was time to leave, he’d screamed, “You’re a *BLEEPING* *BLEEP*, you know that? You’re really *BLEEPING* *BLEEP*.”
I’ll let you, dear reader, fill in the blanks. Suffice it to say, though, it was bad. I hated hearing him talk this way. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not a fan of rage directed at the overweight. Nevertheless, I joined Charlie on the walk to the nearby park to do our ecstasy. I was too uncomfortable to put any real effort into confrontation, for one thing. And for another, I was too excited for the drug. I imagined I’d take it and wind up doing some sexy, crazy thing. In the sand, under the stars, I’d twirl Stevie Nicks-like before the inevitable onslaught of an overwhelming sex drive to facilitate rousing, conscious sex between my boyfriend and myself.
Minutes later, Charlie and I arrived at the park. It contained a playground at the center of which was a slide (for babies) with a tree house (for babies) attached to its top. In an effort to stay out of view of passersby, Charlie and I climbed up the slide and into the tree house. The dimensions were such we couldn’t stand upright. So we sat Indian-style. Charlie took his ecstasy, then fed me my ecstasy, which, as a process felt rather like living inside a poorly staged version of the musical, “Hair.” He told me to “sit back and relax,” then, and I tried – I swear – to do as instructed. But it’s really hard, I think, to sit back and relax when your body is overcome in rapid-fire succession with feelings of nausea and sexual longing. So even though I lacked the space to stand upright, even though Charlie himself was lying on his back now, rigid and wide-eyed, I slid toward him on my stomach. I reached him, straddled him, made a polite request for sex.
“Would you like to have sex?” I asked.
“I’m a bad person,” he answered.
“You’re not a bad person,” I said.
“I am,” he said. “I called that woman a *BLEEPING* *BLEEP*. I told her she was fat.”
“Which wasn’t great,” I said. “But it’s okay. Would you like to have sex?”
“I can’t. I’m awful. I live in a basement.”
I reminded Charlie that it was in this very basement that he had space for a treadmill, a TV and a mini-fridge. I stroked his hair until he fell asleep.
By this point, I’d been straddling Charlie for a good thirty minutes, and my hip sockets felt overstretched. So I dismounted, massaged my hip sockets, and decided to slide down the slide. I took off my pants before doing so, for I had Spanx on underneath, and figured sliding down a slide in Spanx would facilitate a swifter, more adventurous descent. However, I was now a larger lady on a baby slide, and traveled mere inches before getting stuck. Nothing a little elbow grease couldn’t fix, of course, but I’d been wiped out by my hip massage. I decided to stay where I was, and fell asleep.
I awoke the following morning, and Charlie, also awake, dislodged me from the baby slide. We walked to the train, said our goodbyes. An hour later I was back in my apartment. I’d hoped to spend the day reading, eating, maybe tweezing different things, but was sad to find my abilities now limited to sobbing and lying on my mattress. The draining endorphins had me hysterical for days. I knew a shower might help or a casual jaunt on a treadmill, but instead I just listened to Jewel. This was not a bad choice as it happened, since when Charlie called several days later to suggest another night at Papa Johns’, I had a script from which to work for breaking up with him.
“These foolish games,” I said, “are tearing me apart.”
Sara Barron is the author of People Are Unappealing and the forthcoming Eating While Peeing: and other adventures.