That night, I took a tour of Craigslist, clicking at its blue links until they all turned purple. I read all of his ads. He did more than "hang out."
I was one year out of college and already felt stuck in the repeating playlist of my early adulthood—everything is possible, nothing ever happens. One Saturday night, I gathered all of my change, walked 500 feet from my apartment, and joined my most committed drinking buddy at a Miller High Life happy hour where drinks started at a quarter and climbed 25 cents every half-hour, a new game to help us all get drunk again.
By the time the bottles snuck out of my price range—$2, maybe—my eyes had fixed permanently on the curly-haired new barback circulating the bar, hooking, twirling, and stacking glasses as he went. My mind easily translated those skills to alternate situations. My friend told him I thought he was cute. When he went outside for a cigarette break, he signed his phone number to me through the pane of glass.
This was, in my limited dating experience, the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for me. It had been more than a year since I broke up with my college boyfriend. At least, that’s what I called him—he preferred me wordlessly following him up to his bedroom at the end of the evening and never touching him in front of his roommates to official “labels.” I had tried my hardest to steer our hangouts out of the drunken hookup zone and into a real adult relationship—I cooked him a steak, went down on him while he watched sports, and finally demanded that he treat me better or stop sleeping with me. He chose the latter. We remained friends.
Now, he was nesting with a pre-law student whose existence he acknowledged in public. Meanwhile, my personal life consisted of making out with guys who wore cut-off jorts, nodding into PBRs at my friends’ little music shows, and ingesting substances that would finally bury my childhood dream of applying to the FBI. Once in a while, I’d chat my ex-boyfriend to fill him in on what a craaaaazy time I was having out there on my own, my last bid to keep him close.
I called the barback when he was still outside. We eyed each other through the window as we made plans for later in the week. When we met late at another bar down the road, he quickly threw back a series of weird dad beers while I sipped Budweiser and fed dollars to the jukebox. He was charming, silly, broke, and—three drinks deep—intense. I had spent the entirety of my adult life writing made-up stories about down-and-out female protagonists with daddy issues and trying to figure out what I really wanted to dooooo for a living. He was a dropout with a broken attitude who kept moving to new cities until he scraped together enough money to move out to the next one. We had located each other at some tiny little point on the social Venn diagram where we listened to the same bands and liked the same drugs, and not much else.
When we ended up cross-legged on my tiny patch of bedroom floor, nursing a half-spent jug of wine he’d plucked from my kitchen, I assumed we’d make out. He wanted to talk. You know when you're so drunk that the connective tissue of normal human conversation begins to dissolve? Out of nowhere, he announced that he was the type of person who would do anything for money. Like have sex with a lonely older woman he picked up on Craigslist, or, theoretically, kill someone. Actually, he told me, he was bringing in some pretty good money hanging out with gay men in their hotel rooms, watching their televisions and chatting with his clothes on. One hour, $250, no sex—he wasn’t gay. This was not the type of drunk-on-a-floor convo I had envisioned, the one where we slowly inch closer together until our mouths are touching. He stumbled out my front door and made me promise not to tell.
The next morning, I opened my laptop and pinged my ex-boyfriend. “I went out with a male prostitute last night,” was my opener. “Tell me,” he shot back. I told him I met a boy who had sex with old women and not with old men, and that I wondered what they were actually paying for him to do in those hotels. “Amanda,” my ex responded, “he has sex with these men.” I conceded that murder was a red flag. My ex called him a “manwhore” and pressed me for details.
That night, I took a tour of Craigslist m4m, clicking at its blue links until they all turned purple. I found my barback’s ads and pored over each one—same age, same neighborhood, str8 boi, clean, small, fit, cute, free all day until his 8 o’clock bar shift. He did more than hang out. His services expanded desperately as his posts neared the first of the month. No sex. Only oral. Only on top. Anything goes.
Sitting there on my carpet, it was easy for him to insist and me to nod and us both to pretend that he was living how he really wanted. Seeing his reality spelled out for anyone to read made me sad and, unexpectedly, repulsed. I could feel my mind knocking on the door of its dark basement, the place where I push my most unacceptable thoughts and lock them in tight to keep them from creeping in to my clear, open mind. My irrational hatred of my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend bottomed out there, along with my deepest personal anxieties and all the residual shame drilled into me from years of Arizona sex ed. It was important not to spend time down there.
Then again, my ex-boyfriend had expressed real interest in my life for the first time in months. I cracked open the door. I copied the links to the ads and sent them to him, one after another. We spent a full hour batting our gleeful disgust back and forth.
When I saw the barback again, working at the bar like the night we first met, he looked different. His hair seemed longer, his face older, V-neck deeper, eyes crazy, not cute. My father once came across a man splayed out in a parking lot and helped administer CPR for several minutes before he realized that the man was a friend. They’d played a round of golf just an hour before. My dad told me that our features transform when the life goes out of us. This was different. I’d pushed this boy down so far in my mind that he turned under the weight of my judgment. It made it easier to look away.