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. (Read Part 1 of the series here.)
I text Sunny and Ken from the hospital, depleting what little battery life I left in my cellphone. Since my move to Chicago, they've been de facto parental figures, serving as guides as I navigate both the logistical and social hurdles of moving across the country. They're coming to pick me up and take me back to my apartment, but not before stopping off to make sure I'm fully stocked with Ensure, chicken broth, and of the magical healing properties of bunny ears.
Back at home, I prop my two pillows together and rest myself against them as best as possible. I'm in relatively little pain, blissfully ignorant of what the coming days will bring when my lips and jaw continue to swell from the surgery I've undergone.
I flip open my Macbook and anxiously await those few seconds as my laptop attempts to find a Wi-Fi connection. I'm the first in a generation that never knew what it meant to not be connected. To be plugged in. When we can't communicate electronically, a deep sense of loneliness and dread fills us, only able to broadcast our thoughts to each other through caged teeth. Full signal! And I'm part of the world again.
I check my OKCupid account. Twelve hours earlier I had changed my profile picture to a rather jarring picture of me baring my teeth at the camera, in part to advertise the nature of what I looked like and was going through, and in part to see who the hell would respond to such an ad.
And to my delight, I was indeed getting messages. Unsolicited messages -- a rarity to a straight male on OKC.
"Yikes!!!! What on earth happened to you?"
"I laughed when I saw it and thought maybe it was a costume or something. Then I felt bad for giggling... You poor man."
"Sorry to hear about your jaw fracture, that is serious! St. Patty's in Chicago gets real. You aren't in San Fran anymore, my friend! You are a beautiful writer, by the way."
Was I attracting women with some sort of "broken wing syndrome"? Was the novelty of my situation, the idea of going on an entire date with a man who couldn't even talk just too good to pass up? Am I really a beautiful writer? I didn't know, and for the most part I didn't care.
I start sending out messages left and right. Fifty percent were responded to -- a substantially higher rate than I'd ever experienced. Perhaps women felt bad for me. Sweet.
I set up my first date for Wednesday, just two days later, and drift off to sleep surrounded by paper towels, drinking cups, spitting cups, and a variety of spoons for a variety of medicines.
I liked Elise. A lot. Maybe we weren't perfect for each other, but considering how tough it is for me to find a mental and personal connection with those I'm romantic with, she was pretty darn good. But when she learned of my accident, visiting me in the hospital or otherwise seemed to be of no priority. She alluded to vague obligations which precluded her from spending time with me until much further in the week.
So I was a bit taken aback when Tuesday evening she informed me that she had the evening off with nothing to do, and was simply "fixing" her calendar and doing laundry. It was clear I was nowhere on her agenda.
Then, without prompt, she offers this: "I really want for you to be not sad."
And I was sad about her. Dating new people is great and all, but it's steeped in nothing but potential. The potential for an evening you'll never forget, the potential for incredible sex, the potential to meet a complete lunatic. In a time of vulnerability, I didn't want potential, I wanted certainty. Elise and I had certainty.
I ask her if she has a moment to talk. I share my feelings with her. I'm the type for whom it's an immense struggle to do anything but. She admits, rather dully and laconic that indeed, her behavior has been less than ideal. She says that she cares for me, but my injury made her "pull away" from me. As inquiry after emotional inquiry is met with terse and untimely responses, my introspection takes over and I finally break.
I assert that I believe she's used this moment in order to push away from me because she was unsatisfied with something else in the relationship, and this was just the catalyst she needed for truly assessing her relationship with me, and what she was able to offer emotionally. That by me being physically and vocally without means, it provided a convenient time for her to jump ship, with little to no recourse at my disposal. That while she was using this moment to frame us romantically, any decent human being who actually cared about someone wouldn't let "romantic compatibility" factor into whether or not their friend who almost died might need a helping hand.
"Yep. The timing is really bad," she responded.
All my conjecture had been spot on. And with that confirmation my mind spins further. Knowing the extent of my injuries -- knowing that my face was swollen, my teeth missing, my voice gone -- was I no longer desirable? Was this nothing more than a fair-weather relationship? Was this what our two months had built up to? A moment of trial when she could simply say, "Seems like this might take some work, and you know, that's just really not my thing," leaving the me hurt and confused in a new city?
When everything was great, everything seems great.
"The timing is selfish. The method is deplorable."
I block her on Facebook. I tell her first, as I think is common courtesy to do. But it's been clear that she has nothing she is willing to offer me, and my only use to her now is to assuage her guilt in what's transpired, taking solace in the photos and updates of my progress in which she had no hand.
Tomorrow's my first date. Onward and upward.
Next week: Part three in my "Dating Without a Voice" series, in which I have my first date with my jaw wired shut, I learn that people want to avoid talking to someone with metal wires in their mouth, and I discover the wonder of blended Indian food.