My company for the evening hands me a Greek diner menu. “They’re the only place that delivers this late,” he tells me at a few minutes past 6 a.m. He means this early, but we have not yet gone to sleep. Hard partying followed by emotionally overwrought conversations have let another Friday slip seamlessly into a Saturday, blurring the edges of what “yesterday” means.
The diner offers a nearly impossible variety of cuisines, from standard breakfast sandwiches and pancakes to seemingly elaborate steak and lamb entrees. I joke that I want the veal, and he declares that I shouldn’t trust veal from a diner. I settle on an egg-and-cheese sandwich while he gets a BLT.
Our food arrives within the half-hour and we eat it from our circular metallic trays in his bed looking straight ahead. I occasionally cock my head from side to side as I eat, as if contemplating a view, though the only thing in my sight line is his closet. The night before I met his handsome but awkward older brother at the gathering of friends with whom we typically start nights like this. When I point out that his brother is good looking later that night, he makes a point of rattling off his brother’s psychiatric problems.
We punctuate the next three years with morning encounters like these. We would never hesitate to end the night together in public and in full sight of peers. But we would both sooner die than start the night in the same way.
I wake up in a cluttered but well-appointed railroad apartment in Carroll Gardens the morning after Barack Obama is elected president. I recall initially meeting the man now asleep next to me from an election night party at a nearby venue, the Bell House. The remainder of the party and whatever accelerated courtship we engaged in is hazy but I’m relieved to recall our mutual insistence on safe sex despite our drunkenness. We resume our affection once he wakes up and he calls in late to work to spend the morning in bed with me. The fleeting thrill of Obama’s election is dulled by news that Proposition 8, barring same-sex marriages, passed in California the same night. He scrolls through this news on his iPhone, the ownership of which is still impressive only a year and change out since the first was released. That he has the new 3G model seems downright decadent. I learn that he owns the apartment and is a solid 14 years my senior.
We leave his apartment around 11 a.m. and stop into a cafe on Henry Street where he and the woman at the counter greet each other by name. He pulls a six-dollar orange juice from the refrigerator and insists that I order whatever I want. I am giddy that he does not give a thought to appearing with me in a familiar place. I am half-starved and want to select something from the mountain of pastries behind the glass at the counter but opt for a Dannon yogurt to give the impression of light eating. And despite his insistence on paying and his ownership of property and gadgets that signal wealth, I am in the habit of not wanting to appear to expect too much from men in the hopes of having my affection returned.
We walk together to the subway station where we’ll be going in opposite directions, him finishing off his orange juice within moments of leaving the cafe and me taking small mouthfuls of yogurt in an effort not to betray my ravenous appetite. He asks for my number as we part ways, asking how to spell “Alana.” He asks if I’m going to take his, and I fumble for my phone with the hand not holding the world’s most disappointing yogurt. “And how do you spell…,” I ask, hoping he will start to spell his name before I am forced to hesitate. “You don’t remember my name, do you?” I grit my teeth and suck in air. He laughs and tells me his name and number. We toss the plastic containers from our impromptu breakfast and hug our good-byes.
I text him three days later. I spend the remainder of the Bush administration and several months of the Obama one waiting for him to reply. He never does.
It is just after dawn and a man I kicked out of my life the year prior is asleep in my bed in my studio apartment. The last time we saw each other, I said I wanted him to be my boyfriend and he declined but then pushed me into a wall and pinned me against it when I refused to say, “I love you.” Within an hour of arriving, he expresses a sincere expectation that I will apologize for acting irrationally the year before when I threw his clothes out the door when he refused to leave. I am baffled but have sex with him anyway, pausing occasionally to take swigs of Corona Light during the act. He laughs and says that alcohol is my boyfriend.
I eat a bowl of Cheerios in the kitchen vestibule with the lights out the next morning. I regret allowing him in but will not give the satisfaction of kicking him out again. He wakes up an hour later, grinning from ear to ear as he walks into the kitchen. He clasps his hands together and says, “So what’s for breakfast? Eggs? Bacon? What have you got for me, Lonnie?” He declines my offer of Cheerios and departs, saying he will see me again soon. He begins texting regularly again. I never reply.
Three months into my first monogamous relationship since seventh grade, I have plans to spend Christmas at my boyfriend’s mother’s home. The combination of my first Christmas away from my own family and events just a week prior that had almost caused us to break up make me regret the decision as we drive from New Haven to central New Jersey. But the onslaught of familiar affection from his mother, sisters, and extended family is reassuring.
On the first morning we emerge from our basement bedroom arrangements, his mother offers me every kind of breakfast beverage under the sun.I choose coffee because that’s what everyone else is already drinking. His younger sister is busy making pumpkin pancakes. Though she is clearly a skilled cook and has been for some time, her older sister dutifully teases her every move in the kitchen. As we eat our pancakes, my boyfriend’s mother gently inquires about my satisfaction several times, offering refills and additional food in a way I’d come to learn long ago is primary way of signaling care. Her three grown children dutifully tease her in turn. Around a small kitchen table a day before Christmas, I fall in a second kind of love.
I move into his apartment in June, the first cohabitating experience for both of us. I ask for a blender for my 26th birthday and we put it to daily use almost immediately. We conduct successful experiments with avocados and peanut butter, respectively. Our refrigerator is stuffed with bags of frozen strawberries and we must replenish our banana supply every few days to accommodate our breakfast-smoothie habit. We are determined to cook healthy meals at home to save money for moving to New York. He looks for a second place to wait tables as summer has brought business to a screeching halt in New Haven. We drink them together and congratulate our healthy, responsible lifestyle.
The blender’s motor breaks in July. He’s out of money and insists against paying to have it fixed. He starts to insist against most of my suggestions. I begin to rely on peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches instead while he starts to sleep through breakfast. These habits are boring but they’re also pretty hard to break.
We venture to what is considered one of the last authentic Polish restaurants in Greenpoint after months of walking past it and promising ourselves to go one of these days. The waitress looks at us as if we are lost and never fully adjusts to the idea that we are there on purpose. The food descriptions in English are brief, almost curt. We are completely alone in the restaurant and keep our voices low as we try to make sense of the menu before arbitrarily choosing from several sausage options. Though we feel out of place, the newness of the experience is welcome after spending the last few years dining out at mostly predictable brunch spots. Food arrives quickly, still sizzling and dripping with hot grease that the proprietors of any other brunch option on the block would sooner die than serve. I bite into a sausage and hit a pocket full of oil and involuntarily grimace and panic at the cholesterol flood in my mouth. My boyfriend must cover half his reddening face to stifle a good-natured laugh at my plight. I wonder how dependent falling in love is on witnessing how a new person experiences everyday things and being roused to affection by it. I wonder how dependent staying in love is on witnessing how a familiar person experiences new things and having affection renewed by it.
After relying primarily on egg sandwiches ordered at the delis near our respective homes for three months, the first man I’ve loved since my breakup in late 2012 suggests going out to breakfast one morning. We have had plenty of breakfasts in front of other people on weekend getaways to our mutual friend’s property in the woods of the Hudson Valley but this marks the first time we will eat together in public in Brooklyn where we live. I suggest the Farm on Cortelyou Road, where we would run the risk of being seen by people we know if either of us had friends in my neighborhood. We order bloody marys to start. He is unnecessarily aggressive toward our waiter. I order an egg-and-cheese sandwich; he orders a burger and asks for bacon on it. The waiter explains apologetically that the burger is served as is, according to the vision of the chef, but that he could add bacon on the side. My date is stone-faced and unimpressed. The waiter weakly promises to ask if they can make an exception before taking the order to the kitchen. This time the waiter is mercifully out of earshot when he shakes his head and mutters, “Un-fuckin’-believable. You know, if I went in there and put a fuckin’ gun to the guy’s head and asked to put bacon on it, it’d be the easiest fuckin’ thing he ever did.” I laugh nervously and nod my head in agreement, alarmed at how easy it is to get a mental picture of him actually doing that.
Our food arrives. It appears that no exceptions will be made this day by the discerning, mysterious chef as the bacon arrives on a separate plate from the burger. He remarks that mine looks like a pretty good $9 egg-and-cheese sandwich as he does the undignified task of placing bacon on his own burger himself. As expected, we do not run into anyone we know. Everyone is spared.
I follow up a traumatic end to my last relationship too quickly and begin seeing a DJ in his 30s who looks 19. He doesn’t want a girlfriend because he insists he is bad at being a boyfriend, to which I want to reply, “Lol, try me,” but refrain. He often insists on making me breakfast at his apartment, eggs usually. He watches me eat closely, concerned that I finish more than he is fascinated by the process. The breakup had rendered me my thinnest ever. He scolds his two cats when they approach my food by saying their names and drawing out the vowels. He loves them dearly. It gives me something like hope that men who make shitty boyfriends might one day be good fathers.
I run into a man in line at my local coffee shop whom I dated during my 2014 Tinder binge after five months without contact. He insists casually that we sit together, him with his bagel and I with my coffee. He congratulates me on recent writing successes. I ask how his bagel is. He replies that it is about what I’d expect and I said that I don’t eat bagels. “Yeah, but don’t you also, like, not really eat?” he replies with such impressive nonchalance that I can’t even feign shock. “I don’t eat bagels,” I repeat. I notice how refreshing it is to have a conversation in which no one lies.
There is much to say about the man I am in love with and about sharing morning meals with him. But love in the present is something already too big to behold in one heart. I am superstitious about speaking too much or too soon about it, that it might shrivel under the inadequacy of whatever anecdote I use to illustrate it. So I will speak not of a meal but of a culinary demonstration he gave me. Upon learning that I did not know how to fry an egg, he walked me through the process, devoting time to even the most seemingly inconsequential steps. It was precisely these steps that I’ve missed for years in my failed attempts. He asks if I am following along, and I am. We look at each other instead of straight ahead. He still fries the eggs when we’re together but now I can make them on my own when he isn’t around. But I hope that he always is.