I’m pretty sure this whole story began with my mom rolling her eyes behind my back. I mean, I wouldn’t know for sure – my back was turned. But it was indeed my mom who pointed out that Max, a fellow guest at an elegantly sweet New England wedding, had taken a shining to me. An it was indeed me who said, “Wait, really?” just as he came up from behind me, asking me to dance.
Max and I hung out without the watchful eyes of my mom at the after-party, which was chock full of the usual beer, bravado, and belly-laughter you’d expect from a group of 30 thirty-somethings. We stayed up til just before dawn, goofing off (him) and snoring (me) and kissing (both of us). Unabashedly, Max joined my mom and I brunch, and even more boldly knocked on our hotel room door moments before heading to the airport to say goodbye – and invite me to visit him in Austin.
An hour later, I texted him: Are you serious about Austin?
Max: Absolutely. My bed and body are yours.
Well, with an invitation like that…Fear of flying be damned.
A day later, I had a plane ticket. Three days later, Max had sent a long email detailing what we might do, fun things of all genres (stand-up paddleboarding, hiking, music, bars, a motorcycle ride), and included screen shots of maps. For the next few weeks, we texted casually about our days, sending photos of what we were up to, making plans to volunteer one day I was there, picking a show to go to, flirting.
Me: Should I bring anything specific from California?
Max: Hmmm. Nothing comes to mind. Just don’t forget underwear.
Me: Wait, no one said anything about underwear. I need to repack.
On the Friday after a stressful workweek – the kind that had left me sitting ramrod straight at my desk in a near panic – I drank a margarita at lunch and my mom picked me up. We talked dating and boys during the smooth ride to the airport. “You’re going to find someone wonderful,” she told me in a motherly reassuring way as I hugged her goodbye. The silent finish to that sentence was, “…and maybe it’s Max.” My mom isn’t known for sentiments like this out loud, and that thought stuck with me as I clutched Wilbur at an airport bar while reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
I was scared of getting on that airplane; but I was more scared of missing out on the rest of my life. I popped an anxiety pill, curled up in a ball, listened to This American Life, and thought about my future.
Upon landing in Austin, I realized I was missing one key piece of the seeing-Max-again puzzle: fresh breath. I stopped by a group of Australian men who had gotten off the same plane as me and asked if any of them happened to have gum.
“Planning on kissing someone?” the man in a white-polo shirt asked me, sliding me a foil wrapped stick.
“Planning on more than that,” I said. The men dissolved into laughter, and I walked into the warm Austin air feeling sassy beyond all reason.
Max pulled up moments later, both of us players in the well-timed dance that is texting from a landed airplane and leaving the cell-phone waiting lot. Boldly shy hellos and hugs were exchanged, bags were placed in the back of an SUV, and then we were on our way to a vegan Mexican food truck at a location so quintessentially Austin, I’m hesitant to describe it. Seriously, if you think of the most stereotypically Austin scene you can imagine, you have it right: a huge outdoor bar patio covered in Christmas lights, an indie-band performing, food trucks, and in the back, a tattoo parlor. People were perched on repurposed chairs, dogs were everywhere, waitresses were half dressed to beat the heat, and Max and I were in the middle of it all, sharing two different vegan burritos and starting on our second beers.
“Rue loves to cuddle,” he was saying about his dog. Which is when, for the first time in the hour since he had picked me up, I moved our text flirtation to real life.
“So the three of us will be sharing your bed, then?”
Max paused. He looked at his beer like he was looking into a crystal ball. He glanced at me, back at the beer, and finally back at me. The process probably took a second, but it felt like two minutes passed.
“You didn’t come to Austin just to see me, did you?” he asked.
It was my turn to beer-stare. After a beat, I said, “Well…yes.” I considered looking around us for backup. Why else would I have faced my biggest fear, flown halfway across the country, taken three days of vacation, and be sitting in front of him?
“Damn. I sort of had told myself maybe you just wanted to see the city.” I didn’t know what to say in response, so I waited.
“See,” he continued, “I sort of met someone. This week.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said and was out of my seat faster than you could say Mary Poppins. For the first time in all of women’s history, there was no line for the bathroom. I burst into tiny room, stared at the mirror, then texted my best friend, another friend who had helped me make the choice to take a chance, and my mom. Sitting on the toilet, I waited, praying one of them would say something useful as to what the hell I was supposed to do.
All I got was exclamations that, to paraphrase, said “What the actual fuck?” It seemed I was on my own for a few minutes until their shock wore down.
It was too late to try and hop a flight home. I was too anxiety-medded up to have many thoughts. And I was too taken aback to act. I returned to the table and gulped my beer.
“So, do I need to find a hotel?” I asked Max.
“No, no – you can still stay with me. I’ll still hang out with you. Just…this is a friends thing.”
“Okay,” I said. “But you’re paying for all the beer this weekend.” He didn’t dispute it.
We finished our beers and stopped at his house. Putting my stuff down, I noticed he had exactly the same Mickey Mouse blanket from the late 80’s that I still had on my own bed. In another universe, this was a sign. In this universe, it was a slap in the face of how foolish I felt.
That foolishness was what led me to have another beer as we walked to a bar to meet Max’s friends. I slapped a smile on my face while we all started playing pool, Max handing me another beer. Then four giggling girls showed up – some were Max’s roommates, and I wondered if one was the other girl.
Casting my cue aside I managed a tight smile as I went to the bathroom. For the second time in all of women history, there was no line. I walked into the tiny room, locked the door and finally began crying. The humiliation I felt was unreal. I knew everyone I’d just shaken hands with knew that I’d flown in to this news. I cried for my pride. And then, I cried for a future I never really had with Max, cursing my expectations.
“Alicia?” came a voice from beyond the door. I knew I’d only been in the bathroom about sixty seconds (as any good bathroom crier knows, you have to limit your time so as to not raise suspicion, and to keep from getting blotchy in the face).
“Yeah?” I called back, failing at keeping the waver from my voice.
“It’s Mel,” said the girl. “Are you…okay?”
I paused, then opened the door. Mel, Amy, and Lea stood at the threshold. “Could you hear me crying?” I asked.
“No,” said Mel. “We just had a feeling this was a rough moment for you. And what Max did…”
“…was completed messed up,” concluded Amy.
“So we’re going to get you fucked up,” said Lea.
“I just…I don’t understand,” I said, still weepy.
“None of us do,” said Lea. “He was really excited to see you. And then, this.”
“Forget it,” said Amy.
“Yep,” said Mel. “Stick with us. Weren’t you going to pull weeds tomorrow for that volunteer thing? Yeah. Don’t do that. Come on, we need Fireball.”
Two shots and another beer later, I was obliterated. Max walked me back to his place (though I found out later he actually tried to leave without me and got a lecture from someone) and got me into bed. I got myself out of bed and fell asleep on the bathroom floor. Mel and Amy got me back to bed. I returned to the bathroom to throw up, returned to bed, and was hungover until midnight the next night.
Max and I were cordial – borderline friendly, even. He showed me around, taking me hiking and swimming, Rue snuggling me and being excited to have me around. I pretended like I didn’t give a shit about what Max had done. I did, though. A lot. And I made fast and furious phone calls from bathrooms to try and change my plane ticket home, learning it would cost almost $500 to do it.
“Guess I’m stuck here,” I said to Rue, who put his head on my shoulder and nudged my face with his wet nose.
I was wrong again. I was rescued by a white knight with more airplane miles than you can imagine. After hearing what had happened, a friend who transitioned to dear friend bought me a ticket home, one day early.
“Let’s get you out of there,” he said. Asking for nothing in return, he had me on a plane 12 hours later.
Max drove me to the airport. I said goodbye – but I sure as hell didn’t say thank you.