A recent accident, which we're still piecing together, left me with my jaw and cheekbones broken, two teeth removed, a metal plate in my chin and my jaw wired shut. I can't eat. I can't talk. But I sure as hell can date.
It's not until I fully rise out of bed that I'm able to feel the heaviness of my own face. I trudge into the bathroom and close the medicine cabinet, whereupon I'm confronted by my own swollen visage. I laugh to myself, a nod to both my self-effacing sense of humor and the narcissistic way in which I walk through life, as though a camera is broadcasting each moment to my enthralled audience.
I prop myself against the wall using my right hand, staring into the toilet below. My body's consumed only chicken broth and Ensure the past two days, and has neither liquid nor solid to spare.
I've spent the last 48-hours grooming my OKCupid and Tindr profiles to convey the state I'm in and what dating will look like for me moving forward. And I've been overwhelmed by the positive response.
I can't drink alcohol, I can't speak beyond a mumble, and I have little energy to leave my own home. If I do leave the house, I must carry a pair of medical scissors with me at all times. If I should throw up for any reason, I have to use the scissors to cut my wires loose, or else I'll choke on my own vomit.
Tonight, I have my first date with a woman we'll call Courtney. Having a woman I've never met come directly to my house for an OKC date is rare, but the nature of my injury leaves few other options open.
Whether or not we like to admit it, dating is about sex. Whether it's sex on the first date or sex when we're married, for most of us sex is inexorably a piece of the dating puzzle. And the manner in which we date tends to reflect our own sexual patterns: We typically date at night, over alcohol and when we know we'll have time to dedicate to our partners.
For me, it's always seemed like every date was a given set of paces removed from the bedroom. Depending on how well the date was going, each leg of it is was either making its journey closer to, or further from, where we woke up that morning.
Tonight, Courtney and I have decided that we'll be watching Netflix at my place: Removing many steps typically involved in that march.
She texts me she's outside. I walk downstairs, so painfully swollen that I'm almost beyond the point of being self-conscious. I look like I'm in a sick person's costume: My hoodie and pajama pants adorn me as if to say "I probably didn't shower today, and if you touch any part of me I might die."
I open the door.
"Hi!" She shouts with exuberance, and immediately leans in to hug me, paying no heed to my delicate pajamaed state.
"Aye." I muffle through teeth and spit. "Zo zis iz zie owth."
She laughs. "You poor man. I don't want you to talk! It sounds painful."
We enter my apartment. I offer her something to drink from my limited booze selection, which is sandwiched between pasta, beef jerky and other things I know I won't be consuming in the coming weeks. She pulls a half-drunk bottle of wine from her purse.
"I'll just take a glass."
This woman has been in my apartment all of two minutes, but I'm immediately forced to hammer the awkwardness of my situation even further into reality. We don't have a television in my apartment, and our only options for viewing Netflix come by way of world's-most-uncomfortable-futon, or going into my room and propping up my laptop on my bed.
"Wherever you're most comfortable," she insists.
We make our way into my modest (even by Chicago standards) bedroom. Nearly three months after moving here I'm still living out of a suitcase; my room can't accommodate a dresser as I wouldn't have enough space to open the drawers unless I did so while still in bed.
We slink into my covers. The night cold seeps into my room -- with each gust of wind my curtain flutters, punctuating the need to seek refuge underneath my down comforter.
Netflix is probably the worst movie-going experience when it comes to a first date. Generally you have a few movies in mind -- those you meant to see but missed in the theater -- which inevitably Netflix doesn't offer on streaming. So then you and your date spend 10 minutes trying to decide on a mutually agreeable genre (critically acclaimed cerebral romance thriller?) at which point you spend the next 30 minutes scrolling through movies you've never heard of until you finally settle on a Korean horror movie about yoga.
Tonight, however, the streaming gods have blessed us. We decide on An Idiot Abroad, the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant produced travel show, which throws uncomprehending philosopher, Karl Pilkington into a series of absurd situations while traveling to some of the world's most exotic locations.
It hurts every time I laugh, the inside of my lips retracting back and scraping against the wires, which are embedded into my gums. This show has me laughing a lot.
As the episode progresses, Courtney's head finds its way down into the inevitable nook between my arm and chest. I rest my hand on her back, where my fingers slowly begin to drag against her bare skin. We've now made skin-to-skin contact -- but without the typical date night's pretext leading up to this moment, I can't help but wonder if it's just a friendly gesture.
The episode ends and I panic, as there's no longer any auditory through line to fill the awkward gaps of silence. I leap out of bed and light the vanilla scented candle on the nightstand next to me. After many occasions of googling "which scents are the best aphrodisiacs" while standing in the candle aisle at Walgreens, vanilla's come out on top. I turn back to my computer, and start the Air station on Pandora.
As we puzzle-piece ourselves back together, it dawns on me that I won't be able to kiss this girl. And as I learned when I lost my virginity, nothing happens before the kiss. It's fascinating being unable to speak. Every interaction becomes completely reliant on non-verbal communication. Every touch, every facial twitch seems imbued with meaning.
Just when I've resigned myself to falling asleep, her hand moves in small circular movements across my lower stomach, the tips of her fingers catching the inside of my waistband. I fucking love that.
Hands explore further, and eventually all manner of things that can be done without my mouth are. I'm a naturally sensual person, but in this moment I'm literally unable to reciprocate her advances, and with my mouth wired shut, the affair is void of speaking, leaving it in a crescendo of animalistic authenticity.
She falls back into bed, a grin running across her face. I blow out the candle.
Next week: Part four in my "Dating Without a Voice" series, in which I have six women cancel on me within 36 hours, Courtney turns out to be a bit obsessed and I attend a BDSM play party.
Follow Eric Barry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ericbarry