It was the best date I’d ever had, the best date I could ever imagine having. I’d met him in the dark of downtown Tucson, surrounded by ghouls and demons and massive paper machè heads with unblinking eyes. The Day of the Dead celebration had stopped in a vacant lot to burn this huge ball of everyone’s dreams and demons from the year, and people milled about everywhere, faces glowing in the half-light, skulls peeking from behind hoods and children’s heads and T-shirts. I found the highest point, as I usually do, watching the lights of the city behind this pagan ancient celebration, being celebrated by soccer moms and random white people, but feeling the authenticity of it, the real, something bigger than the participants. The pulse of it, behind my eyes and pounding in my chest, and I welcomed all the passed souls back to earth. Off to my right, then, I felt him. Standing there, looking out over the crowd from the dirt dike, maybe 20 feet away. He looked out from the brim of his ball cap, shoulders hunched over, grey sweatshirt. His friend was more my usual type, brawny and Hispanic, but I barely saw him. He felt me look at him, and turned, his head ducking in embarrassment as he caught me catching him. His friend elbowed him, stating the obvious.
I didn’t wait long, I put my camera back in its bag and strolled up to him, while he pretended he didn’t see me coming. The brawny Hispanic guy grinned at me over his head. Up close, I could see I was almost taller than he was. In heels I would loom. “Hi,” I said.
He smiled, and my heart caught. Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous smile. Blue eyes, short-cropped hair, the neck of a boxer. His shoulders swelled under the sweatshirt, and I could see he was built like a smaller version of his friend. Older than I’d thought from a distance, with his ball-cap and college-dude clothes. “I’m Zac,” he said. Zac, I said in my mind. Zac. It sounded perfect.
He was perfect. He picked me up that Saturday in his big shiny black Ford, his hands full of roses and his cologne the perfect scent, clean and manly. So that’s what swooning felt like. I couldn’t say I’d ever swooned before. Butterflies trapped in my chest beat their wings, my head felt light. I smoothed my little black dress down, I touched my hair, I practically purred. He took me to dinner at the nicest Mexican place in town, the one with four-course meals pre-planned by the chef, the one with walls hung in modern art and tables inlayed with mosaics by some talented white guy. He held my hand, he met my eyes. The conversation was easy. Because I was there to be easy. I forget what the food was like, but I imagine it was perfect. He told me about his work. He owned a boxing gym, of course he did! He trained daily. He was 12 years older than me. I told him about my single life, about the heavy bag hanging behind my apartment and my love of martial arts, hoping I didn’t sound full of shit. I did love to spar, I loved the classes, I loved the power I could feel growing in my body with training. The smell of sweat, the movements like a dance. Telling this guy, though, it sounded like I was trying to be what he wanted and I hated that. Though I wanted to be anything he wanted. I wanted to take anything he could give me.
Looking out the window, he told me about a guy he’d punched in the face outside this very restaurant, some night a while back. How he hurried away before the cops showed up, how it had been to protect some girl whose boyfriend was being rough with her. I relaxed then, he was trying to impress me too. It was silly and juvenile, what he did, and how I felt about it. If I’d had a dick it would have been hard as a rock right then.
“We’d better hurry, we’re going to a show,” he said, grinning that perfect white grin and pulling me close to him. I’d let him plan it all, I hadn’t asked a single question. He complimented my dress, he told me I was beautiful. Coming from him it sounded so special, so unlike the myriad empty compliments the myriad empty guys before had given. I knew that this was a fantasy I was playing out, that somehow it wasn’t all real, but I needed it at this point in my life and so I let myself fall hard into the playing of this game.
In his truck, smelling of leather and cologne and roses, the margaritas I’d had with dinner made his touch on my hand light my nerves. I could feel where our skin merged, I felt the pulse of some fate-like pull between us. I kissed him in the parking lot, and it was perfect. The perfect length, the smell of him making my desire grow, his lips soft and inviting. He hadn’t bought tickets to the show, but as we floated up in this pretend glowing aura of new love (because that’s what it was, it had been love at first sight and I let it take me) someone had a pair of tickets for us, extra tickets no problem! Couples behind and before us in line looked at us enviously as we wrapped our arms around each other and gazed at each other with stupid cow grins. Old couples nodded knowingly and squeezed their partners’ hands. This, this was obviously real new love. How could it not be?
The seats were right up in front, because of course they were. I’d never felt so high without assistance. I shut my mind away in an iron box and let my body and soul free. John Legend came on stage and sang just to me as I loved the man beside me without knowing him at all. We swayed to the music of the endless night, our bodies merged at hip and chest. I closed my eyes and smiled so hard I thought my face would break.
A week later, after I’d called his empty home a bachelor pad and he angrily said it wasn’t, as he had been married, he lit candles anyway to lead me to his bedroom. After, he turned over and pretended I wasn’t there. A text message the next day let me know he was done with me. My little dream came falling from the sky, slowly like snow, white as ash from the burning. I brushed it off my upturned face, because I still loved him, and instead of turning that emotion to hate I carried that little perfect imaginary world with me in my pocket. It was ok. I didn’t have to understand why. I took what he gave me, and I forgave what he took.