We had talked for a bit on an app, messages back and forth for about a week. He was coming into town for a conference, and I assumed he was simply looking for some fun while he was away from home. Anonymous lays in unfamiliar territory—I am willing to give little, but I am willing to be that kind of notch, willing for that kind of commitment.
We planned to have lunch. And then I canceled. And then we planned to have brunch the next day. And then, the day before, I biked for most of the afternoon and evening and subsequently went out with friends. The next morning I kept our appointment for brunch but mentioned I had a headache, a leg ache, and neck ache, a back ache. He said, “Come to my hotel. I’ll give you a massage.” I am rarely willing to accept massages from professionals, which he was not. I agreed, though, to his “massage,” since it had been a while since I’d had sex.
He says he is thirty-two, but as he walks up to me in the hotel lobby, I realize he looks much younger, younger than me, and I am years away from thirty-two. And as I enter his room, I unlace my boots, unzip my jacket, unbutton my shirt, unbuckle my belt. I have been around this block. I am procedural.
He takes off his shoes. Takes off his socks. Takes off his shirt. He sits on the bed, his back against the headboard and places a pillow in his lap. He motions for me to lie on my back, head in his pillowlap. “I like to touch people,” he says as he gestures. “It’s not sexual.” A pause. “It’s usually not sexual. But you are so attractive.”
I lay my head on the pillow as he readies his hands with lotion, and he begins massaging my face. Gently, his fingers run across my skin, tracing my eyebrows, circling my cheekbones, unfurrowing my brow, unlocking my jaw, uncluttering my head. For an hour, he rubs along my face, my neck, my shoulders, my chest. He says he is from Texas, an Asian boy who lived his adolescence around black girls, a brother and guardian for his siblings, a failed and admittedly poor playwright, a child of a broken home, an artist, a performer, a critic of spoken word spoken by undergraduates who have not experienced much, a transplant first in Houston and then in California who has ended up in Champaign, Illinois but cannot stay. For an hour, I sit and listen and talk. I say I am from Wisconsin, a lover of the kind of anonymity that only large cities can give, a cynic, an reciter of poetry that is not my own, a son who admittedly may be too close to his mother, a hopeful writer in academia, a naif, an individual who did not realize the way my race would affect me until well after I should have. He massages my hand, works out its kinks, rubs the flesh and traces the lines of my palm. He holds up my hand to the light from the window and reads the lines slowly, methodically. In between anecdotes about himself, he notifies me that my love line is one of the most complicated he has seen, that I generally have the hands of someone older. I joke that my circulation is worse than my grandmothers’. Both my grandmothers are dead. As he touches me, I grip his wrists, his forearms, his biceps. I want to feel him feel me. He rubs my chest and says he feels energy and tightness there. “You do not know the half of it.” For an hour, we talk and touch. I look up at the stucco ceiling and speak, rarely seeing his face, connected to him through his fingers, through my grip, through his voice. His speech is quick but articulate, his thoughts quick, his voice lower than I had expected from his photos.