He was mysterious.
I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean it in a literal way. In his first message, he asked me out. I asked him to tell me something about himself. He said no. I said I wouldn’t go out with him. He said what kind of thing. I said, anything. What are you doing right now, do you prefer guacamole or salsa, what do you do for a living. He said he was buying ingredients for guacamole but couldn’t find a lemon. I asked what store he was in. He told me. He asked me out. I said, what do you do for a living. He said, I majored in philosophy. I recognized the dodge but let it go. He asked if Thursday worked, and why couldn’t we have this conversation in person. I said, I need to know a little about a person before I meet them. He said ok and told me he was an engineer and liked to build things. I said ok and picked my favorite bar.
He looked like his pictures, but less friendly. He already had a drink in front of him when I sat down. He ordered food and pushed me to order something so he wouldn’t eat alone. I ordered dessert but I didn’t want it but I was glad when it came; it gave me something to do.
I asked, what kind of engineering?
He said, I’m only sort of an engineer.
I said, what does the sort of mean?
He said, I just ended up being good at building things. I don’t have a degree or anything in it.
I said, What sort of things do you build?
He said, Anything.
I said, Who do you work for?
He said, I can’t really say.
I said, You can’t say?
He said, I build refrigerators.
I said, Oh? What kind?
He said, It’s sort of this nonprofit thing.
I said, I work with nonprofits. Which one?
He said, Well it’s sort of contract.
I said, Ok, sure. So do you work for yourself?
He said, Not really.
I said, Who do you work for? Why can’t you say? Is it covered by an NDA?
He said, No, not really. I can’t really explain. What do you do?
And on. He lived in a downtown loft. I pictured an open space filled with neon and tools and refrigerators, all humming quietly, until he blew the space and sound open with music and the screech of power tools on steel. He said he’d been in Seattle 20 years and it was home. I asked where he was before that and he said lots of places. He said he loved swimming and he’d never been swimming in any of the lakes. I started to wonder if he’d really lived here 20 years. He said he loved Colman Pool, and I had to admit I’d never been there. Perhaps there was no proof I’d lived here.
I found myself dodging his questions, not wanting to give up my stories to this man who played his cards so close to his chest. His secrecy seemed suspicious to me; it made me wonder if there was something secret lurking. He seemed nice. He smiled more as the evening went on. He asked for a bite of my brownie. He was nice to the bartender. I dragged pieces of information out of him and offered bits of my own and kept my smile on my face even as I wondered.
He said I should take him swimming in the lakes, and I smiled and didn’t answer.
We finished our drinks and went outside. I was tired. I wondered if it was tiring being that guarded all the time. I started to say goodnight when he told me he needed a walk before he could get on his bike. There was a motorcycle sitting in front of us, something black and metal and powerful and loud-looking. He’d had two drinks. I felt obligated to walk with him to keep him off the machine sitting at the curb that already looked like death to me. We walked down to the park.
Even in the semi-dark, the ease of walking side by side and released from having to make conversation in the way you have to in a bar, he didn’t relax. Or maybe he was relaxed, but he didn’t feel relaxed to me. I reminded myself that I could relax. I thought about all the interesting things he’d told me: the refrigerators and having spent summers in Alaska and philosophy and the loft and other things he’d built and what he thought of electricity and art. He was smart, and engaged. I just had no idea who he was.
I thought about how I’d explained that I prefer to meet people, too, not have drawn-out conversations online, but that you’d be surprised how many red flags could go up in just a few messages. He’d been understanding of this, agreeing with the premise and disagreeing gently with the importance, talking about how much more you know of a person when you can see their face. It’s hard to deny. And despite the dodging of the questions, the guardedness, I wasn’t worried as long as I remembered that I didn’t have to get on the motorcycle. When I thought of it, when I thought of it sitting at the curb and the excuse it had provided for the walk, I felt restless, uneasy.
He seemed to like me. I felt like he was someone I wanted to be kind to. Not in a pitying way. In a kind way. In a feeling that he was interesting way, and there was probably some reason for the guardedness, but not anything that posed any threat or danger to me. I felt like he’d probably already lived a couple of lives. I wanted to know what they were. I knew that if I didn’t already know, if I hadn’t already lived them too, he wouldn’t tell me.
I asked if he’d gone on online dates before. Yes, he said, once. In China. With a Canadian.
Why were you in China? I said.
Working, he said.
We had turned from the park and headed back up the hill to where the motorcycle waited for him and not for me.
On refrigerators? I said.
Something else, he said.
How was the date? I asked.
Sort of weird, he said. The ex-pat world is sort of weird there.
How so? I said.
I don’t know, he said.
How was China? I said.
I ate a lot of yogurt, he said.
Yogurt? I said.
Yeah, he said. You should take me swimming in the lake sometime, he said.
Maybe, I said, thinking that swimming was an intimate second date, especially with a man I couldn’t get an answer out of. I wondered if he had tattoos, and what they were of, and what it would take to get him to tell the stories behind them. I wondered if I wanted to try.
He heard it for what it was: a no, and he said goodbye and turned away.