A Less Than Butterflies Column
The morning after the 2017 Houston LGBT Pride Celebration, there’s more clean-up work to be done. Unloading the liquor, Stephen, another chair, and I found glasses in which to pour ourselves morning cocktails. Just behind me, I heard gravel crunching beneath someone’s feet as they approached, but I didn’t turn.
“Omigod,” Stephen muttered. “What is he doing here?”
Finally, I spun around, only to find Ezra approaching us at the U-Haul with something in hand.
“Well, good morning,” I said with a look on my face caught somewhere between a smile and confusion. Stephen reached down into the cooler, from which he pulled a bottle of some kind of of pre-mixed Ketel One concoction. He then poured a bit into each of our wine glasses and handed one to me.
Ezra raised his hand to reveal a tiny metal object.
“I accidentally stole a box-cutter last night,” he said with an awkward chuckle.
Stephen raised his wine glass to his lips, one side of his mouth curled upward and said, “Uh-huh.”
That night, I drove from the Hyatt Regency where I’d been staying through downtown. I was heading to Rich’s, where our team was meeting to celebrate the end of another successful event. Taking the long way round, I passed the Alley Theater where the marquee boasted a production of Freaky Friday: A New Musical. At the red light at Texas Ave. and Louisiana St., I snapped a blurry photo of the marquee before heading to Midtown
Single or dating, everyone in the club was drinking and dancing, making the most out of the evening while I opined about Ezra to my friends. I was certain that they were sick of hearing it. Over-and-over again, Stephen did his best to steer the conversation back to business, but it was the last thing any of us wanted to discuss. We were there to celebrate. Well, they were. I was there to be obsessive about a boy.
The number of times I found myself checking my Tinder to see if Ezra had messaged me was bordering ridiculous. It only became more frequent as I continued to drink, as did my kvetching. Stephen insisted that I ask him on a date, but my nerves couldn’t handle the idea of rejection that often accompanies the notion of dating. Instead, Stephen and I took selfies with our friend Lauren. Everyone danced upstairs. I smoked too many cigarettes. All the while, shots of Fireball were being taken. And the more shots that I took and the more vodka-cranberries I slurped down, the less Stephen’s idea to ask out Ezra seemed frightening. Hell, I was attractive and smart and talented and funny. Sure I may have had the face of a 6 and the body of a circus freak, but my winning personality was at least an 8.
The fear returned the moment I hit send. Nothing had ever been so sobering.
“Fuck!” I screamed. “What do I do?” I asked Stephen and Lauren as I stared down at the text message I sent. The picture of the marquee for Freaky Friday stared back at me in a message to Ezra, the caption reading, “Wanna go?”
“I’m not really sure that that message constitutes asking him on a date,” Lauren told me as she handed me another Fireball shot. “Calm down. You’re freaking out over nothing. Just be more clear that you’re talking about dating and not a friendship.”
“That’s . . . a terrible idea,” I muttered.
The longer that it took for him to text me back, the worse the neurosis became. I checked the timestamp over-and-over again. 11:58 pm. But just after one in the morning, my battery at 2%, my phone finally dinged from my pocket with a confirmation from Ezra.
Relieved, I sat there on the patio of Rich’s. One wave of neurosis having passed, a new tide of it rolled in thanks to Lauren which began to kill my buzz.
Was Lauren right? Should I clarify? Was it worth it?
We began our evening at Merida—a Mexican restaurant just a hop, skip, and a jump outside of Fifth Ward that I’m nearly certain Ezra only knew of by Googling “Mexican restaurants Houston not Pappasitos.” Despite both our initial desire to eat something, we spent our time drinking margaritas until we’d both lost track of time in our conversation. True, I was a bit overzealous in the conversation. It’s a habit of mine, especially when dining with someone I think is cute. These are basic rules of wanting someone to like you.
- Have an interesting subject to discuss.
- Don’t talk too much about yourself.
- Ask questions—not too personal.
- Don’t let the conversation trail off.
- Use one topic to lead into the next.
I may have broken rule #2 more than once, but I did my best to balance each instance out by asking a question about Ezra. While I knew I wouldn’t completely grow to know him in that hour-long conversation, I did learn enough about him to keep myself afloat for later. For one, his sister was at the time in rehab; he was from Arkansas (to which I responded by informing him that nothing good happens in the A states, and that I was glad he’d made it out); he and his family weren’t particularly close; and in the years since he’d moved to Houston, I was pretty much the first friend he’d made.
Friend. I heard it as soon as he said it. Nevertheless, I persisted.
Unfortunately, just as the slight sinking feeling in my stomach had eased, I learned something about him that sink-holed my insides.
“I hate Houston,” Ezra remarked as I nearly spit out my margarita.
“What?!” How could he possibly hate Houston? I’ve lived here my entire life and can’t imagine that anywhere else in the world even exists, at times. I understand the opposite end of the argument, however. Houston is hot most of the year. It’s too spread out. The city is poorly planned. It exists in a red state. But the bad, for me, has never outweighed the good.
“So where do you see yourself?” I asked timidly, a margarita straw hanging out of my mouth as to keep my face from any sort of expression.
“I’m thinking about Denver. I need snow in my life. I’m actually going up there in a few months to see if I really would like to move there.”
I entertained the subject a little bit longer, even going so far as to tell him how great Denver really was and that I was sure he’d love it.
Had it not been for the good omen the universe delivered in the form of an elderly man at the next table having a heart attack, I may never have been relinquished from the awkwardness of feigning enthusiasm. It was only then that either of us looked at the time to realize that we were running late for Freaky Friday.
We made our way to the Alley Theatre, where we were joined by two friends, Courtney—another chair at the nonprofit—and the girl she’d just begun dating, Jennifer. Throughout the entirety of the show, there was equal intrigue and delight that both Ezra and I took in the music and story. Mine may have been a bit more enthusiastic than his—nothing gives me quite the same kind of thrill as live theatre—but his was certainly a close second. At intermission, the two of us drank vodka from a flask I’d snuck in, and when it finally started to settle on top of the tequila during act two, the pep only increased. Once or twice glances were exchanged (nervous on my part, socially awkward on his). But when the show was over, it was decided that the four of us would meet Lauren in Montrose for drinks.
Not even that drunk, I’d lost my car in the underground parking lot. Courtney and Jennifer were to ride back with me, as they’d Ubered to the theatre, but found their way into Ezra’s car when mine came up missing. I searched high and low for that car for roughly fifteen minutes before a pair of headlights shone upon me. Pulling up in a tiny Mini Cooper was Ezra, rolling down the window and telling me to get in, where I found Courtney and Jennifer in the backseat.
It was then that the thought crossed my mind, just a few hours into this not-date, I had already accidentally played my damsel-in-distress card and had to be rescued. Amateur mistake.
La Grange was just like any other gentrified straight bar on Westheimer. The drinks were overpriced, the food was rubbery, the bartenders thought they were cultured because they somewhat racistly knew the difference between Gloria Estefan and Selena, and it was full of hipsters without a cause. Lauren asked us to regale her with how the night had gone thus far, making sure to mention that she hadn’t been invited to the musical.
“Well, this motherfucker took me to a restaurant on the outskirts of Fifth Ward. So I’d say things have been . . . dangerous,” I teased
Ezra laughed as a round of Fireball shots hit the bar for the three of us. Courtney and Jennifer had wandered off with some of their hipster friends.
“Well, you can pick the restaurant next time,” Ezra said to his own defense as we downed the shots.
It shouldn’t have, but that tiny statement stuck in my head for the remainder of the night. It wasn’t as though he was saying that we would hang out or see one another again, but he’d definitely left the door open to the possibility.
Soon, it was time to go; so Lauren, Ezra, and I piled into my car to ride back to the Montrose Center where they’d parked their own. Exiting the vehicle, Lauren jumped into her car, while Ezra and I stood around awkwardly, waiting for the other to be the first to say goodbye. There were no goodnight kisses or follow-up plans made further than that one previous, subliminal suggestion. Even without asking the question Lauren implored me to ask of Ezra, I had my answer. Certainly we both had a nice time. It may have even been the nicest first not-date I’d ever had.
Although, at the end of it all, I knew it was nothing more than that: not a first date.
I won’t lie: underneath the fun I had and the fact that I was happy to have had it, there was a thick layer of disappointment. It was comprised of a few things, just the least of which were his plans to someday move away. But more over, it was disappointment in myself. It wasn’t as though I’d gone and fallen in love with this boy. Jesus, we’d only just met. Still, what I’d learned about him in just the short time since we’d met certainly had made him a contender in my mind.
Alas, my Millennial mindset flourished in a dating world that existed near-completely in the realm of Tinder. Because of that, I’d been robbed of the courage or ability to ask to see him again. I couldn’t even bring myself to ask for a second not-date, despite the fact that we had matched on Tinder to begin with.
What Tinder hadn’t robbed me of, however, was my meet-cute. My accidental run-in at the bookstore, so to speak. It hadn’t taken away a fun, insightful story to tell my adopted Syrian children someday, even if Ezra wasn’t going to be their other father. Sure, Ezra and I were not dating and may never, but I still got my meet-cute. And while I’ve never been terribly certain that I buy into God or the fates or the Universe, something along those lines had at least aligned so that Ezra and I could get to here.
As we stood there, making small talk that was killing me, I knew that I hadn’t seen the last of Ezra Rochester.
Still, in knowing I’d see him again at some point, as he got into his car and drove away, I couldn’t help but wonder what was to come. Could something come of the awkward, but nonetheless fulfilling series of events that had transpired that night?
Thus far, dating in Houston had yet to work in my favor. Somehow, a not-date with one of the five million strangers in this city was far more comfortable than an actual date. That alone sparked a sort of fear in me, though. That fear drove me to wonder—with all thanks to the Tinder gods—if I might end up falling for this boy by mistake somewhere down the line.
Back to Part I