He had one of those cars where you’re afraid to touch anything inside of it, the knobs and buttons, the suede upholstry. It was immaculately clean and reminded me of John’s Audi. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like riding in stranger’s cars. It feels spooky.
He wasn’t very talkative, which confused me. If he was paying me to hang out and be professional girlfriend, he should be chattering on self-importantly about his job or bragging or complaining about his wife or maybe even asking me about myself, who knows? Clients will talk about anything! Anything!
He was pretty quiet…and not because he was nervous. I did not detect first-date jitters.
What I detected, insofar as I was able through my own anxiety, was tension.
The AC was on full blast but I did not feel comfortable asking him to turn it down. I sat there covered in goosebumps while the fan blew arctic air in my face and made loose strands of hair fly all around. We made a little small talk about the town, which was picturesque and, to my eye, artificial.
After hunting for a parking space, we went to the Farmer’s Market and browsed. He didn’t buy much–only some strawberries. I did not get the impression that he shopped for groceries or made his own food.
He wanted to hold my hand. His hand was a bear paw and it swallowed mine completely. This man must have been able to palm a basketball. I was not really comfortable with it, but I let him, and I tried to keep smiling. It was challenging because he wasn’t giving me feedback about whether or not he was enjoying himself (or me).
At one point I moved to put sunglasses on because it was so bright out, and he told me not to wear them.
“Why not?” I asked, confused.
“The dress looks better without it.”
“Well, okay.” Your dime, buddy, I thought.
“Ready for ice cream?” He asked.
Oh fuck, I thought.
Oh hell no I wasn’t ready for ice cream, I hadn’t eaten ice cream in two years. No candy, no sweets, no burgers, no fries, no junk, el zilcho. I had completely cut out all the junk from my diet, aside from the whiskey I was soaking my brain in every night after class, of course. My eating disorder was almost as close to as bad as it was going to get.
There was no way that I could eat ice cream. No way, no way, no fucking way. I would have a panic attack.
I had to get out of it…but how?
“You know, I had a burger at Shake Shack and a milkshake right before I got on the train. I think I’m at maximum ice cream saturation. Maybe a Diet Coke?”
“But I want to buy you ice cream,” he said. He did not let go of my hand.
I was starting to feel freaked out. He was pressuring me and I was in a weird town and all my stuff was back at his house and I didn’t want there to be any problems or hard feelings. He was also paying me $800 to be submissive to him for two hours, most of which was in public and not requiring any significant work or sacrifice on my part (or, at least, that is how I understood it at the time, when I was mostly new…I had yet to learn that emotional labor is often the hardest part of the job). Until a few clients molested me or ripped me off for my fee, I felt very honor-bound to live up to my end of the deal.
What could I do?
“That’s better,” he said, brightening. He patted my hand. “Off we go!”
Then he bought me a ginormous chocolate ice cream cone from a shop by the street. We had to wait in a line full of parents and screaming, laughing children. I couldn’t take my eyes off the huge tubs of ice cream doom. I felt like I was awaiting my execution.
“Now be careful not to get that on your dress, sweetie,” he told me, and passed it over.
Now…you might think this is a funny situation. Oh, look, silly girl is afraid of an ice cream cone! Ha! She’s going to have to eat it anyway! Look at her freak out over ice cream!
Let me tell you: if you have an eating disorder, there is nothing funny about this. I have been in therapy groups where highly intelligent, accomplished young women start to cry because they were forced to eat half of a pop tart.
But he was standing there, staring at me expectantly like a dad who might get angry at any moment…so, yes, I ate the ice cream, and it was so sweet that I thought I was going to throw it up at first.
He smiled again, relaxed, and started to lead me around by the hand. I was looking around desperately to see if there was some opportunity to chuck the ice cream–a garbage can I could drop some of it into, a handy Golden Retriever, anything.
Just drop it on the ground and ruin it, I thought.
I looked up at my companion and decided that I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to do that at all.
I continued to eat.
I ate that entire fuckin ice cream cone.
He seemed like he was in a good mood now. We were approaching a field that had a play area for the kids. It had one of those big inflatable plastic castles with balls on the floor for swimming and splashing around.
We watched the kids romp around for a minute. For some reason, it was making me feel guilty, probably because it reminded me of doing stuff like that with my mom, and also because I felt like I was doing something I shouldn’t be doing in front of children…even though I was just standing there with a guy.
“It’s too bad you’re too big for the rides now,” he said, more to himself than to me.
And with that, I finally understood.
About time. It’d taken me over an hour.
I looked down at my dress. At the cloth-covered buttons up the front. At the dainty little sleeves.
The dress looked weird because it was the style of dress a little girl would wear to a nice birthday party or to church.
It wouldn’t look out of place on a doll.
It was time to drive back to his house.