My friend had planned a secret trip. Am I invited?

by Danielle F. Winter

When my grandmother died five years ago, my mother asked my oldest brother, Marc, to invite his friend to the wake. Not because the man knew my grandmother (he didn’t), but because my mother saw him as a love opportunity for me. He’s a doctor who, according to my mother, “looked up at me” at Marc’s wedding. She also saw him as bait to lure me back home to Michigan.

Marc, who works in the financial world, didn’t need my plea to get rid of the idea. But my mother had a point. She’d also made it a few months earlier when she emailed my Maltipoo, Benedict, a turquoise handkerchief with white text, “My mom is single.”

planned a secret tripShe knew my status. I was enchanted by someone, a man who was 16 years older than me and who often lived in a different zip code during the years we dated here and there. Back then, Jack called Myanmar home for half the year. I lived in Hollywood. Most of our conversations took place over Gmail.

I marked the time through his visits. Once, when I knew he was about to stay with me on New Year’s Eve, I made a PowerPoint and saved it as “Attractions Upcoming.” I included pictures of Benedict playing chess and Yai (his favorite Thai restaurant). The last slide featured a photo of me paired with a side note, “Clothing optional.”

The summer before my grandmother died, he stayed with me in Franklin Village for a few days. He worked on crossword puzzles while we sipped Bulleit in bed. We walked to Griffith Park with Benedict, as always. Jack cooked dinner. Then he did something new. He had a return ticket to Los Angeles for December. He left some of his belongings in a plastic bag on my living room’s treasure chest table. I danced.

I swore to respect his privacy until my mother visited weeks later. Side by side, we sat on my couch and stared at the table. She ordered me to investigate. After all, I was a journalist. We also had wine, so I broke open the box and took out the bag. It had ordinary things: a couple of shirts, one with ruffles. Then my mother saw the tickets. Greyhound tickets continued to unfold in her hands and spread across my living room floor. He returned to me only a few days before he set off on a bus-stop-packed journey across the US. She laughed. I cackled. I would later cry in the corner of my bathroom.

When I first met him in my twenties, I lacked an education in having a conventional boyfriend. Over the years, attending events like New Year’s Eve alone and dealing with roaches dancing above my oven has been too easy. (My bright pink Dyson vacuum swallowed them up; my cries drowned out the vacuum cleaner sounds, but my walls are thick.) I can do things like that: fall for someone who lives about 17 hours by plane without obligation.

When Benedict collapsed on my floor, I put on his leash and drove him in the wrong direction to the vet. But we made it there. I take out my waste myself and have done so for years. Often without a garbage bag. On a windy day in Santa Ana, I threw trash down the building chute. Cotton swabs and toilet paper plunged three floors, and the wings of a Stayfree period pad touched my cheek before closing the line.

Certain signs were too obvious. I turned on Hinge, something I had resisted for years because I believed I only interacted with a man who lived in Yangon.

I ran into the wrong guy for my first date at my local bar in Franklin Village. The real date, who saw me approach someone else, was unimpressed. We had a drink and said goodbye.

I swipe right again, and in 2019, I met Chris. In my Hinge profile, I said I would know I met the one when he sent me meatballs at a bar. So when Chris wrote, “How’s the meatball availability in the next few days?” I smiled. I picked a time and chose Musso & Frank, a Hollywood joint where Fitzgerald and Hemingway used to hang out.

We sat at the bar. It was easy chatter about martinis and meatballs. He had just moved out of Orange County for a job and had an apartment within a few miles of me. Over the next few months, Chris would plan movies, restaurants, and New Year’s. It often felt like too much of an obligation for someone not used to anything. I asked several friends if he was a good match. Then Chris’s employer started sending him to China. Often.

I bought Sugarfish for us when he officially canceled us in February 2020. He didn’t eat it. Later I would eat only sushi.

Something my grandmother said to my mother when she was dying: “Tell her to be tough.” She meant me.

When we were urged to begin isolation the following month due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I donned a makeshift mask and stepped outside with Benedict. We walked past the Church of Scientology, the Oaks Gourmet, Gelson’s, and a dead end. He barked at passersby. I wore his handkerchief around my nose and mouth, the cloth that reads, “My mother is single.”

LA Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious manifestations in the LA area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay—email [email protected]. The guidelines for submitting applications can be found here. Previous columns can be found here.

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