One in 110,000
I met John in Manhattan while I was there to perform in a standup show. It was my first show located in a New York borough that was not Long Island. My friends and family were coming in from all over to visit and see me perform. I made my way to Grand Central Terminal to meet my friend Amanda, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. It was freezing that night and thanks to my Southern California sensibility I was wearing a pointless unwarm scarf, along with thin skinny jeans. When she finally arrived, we went to the nearest gay piano bar to Grand Central, called Charlie’s. We were full of joy and stories as we ponied up to the bar and ordered drinks. It was a Wednesday night and the bar was quiet with pockets of regulars spaced around the room.
Amanda and I laughed and took a dozen selfies. All the while I kept catching eyes with a guy across the bar in one of those pockets of regulars. He was wearing an outfit right out of a catalog I could not afford. He had on a white t-shirt and cardigan that were expensive and pristine. He also had on Timberland boots that almost seemed out of place without the fur laces. He had a loud New York personality, and as he moved through the bar it was clear everyone was warmed by his presence.
As Amanda and I continued to take pictures to celebrate our reunion he approached us and started talking. We became friendly and he let us know he was EXCELLENT at photo filtering and would help us take the perfect one. After taking some photos he asked me to text them to him so he could fix them and send them back. He put his number in my phone and we exchanged a flirting look. This was not about pictures; it was about getting my number. We sat at the bar and he added some filters to our pictures. He showed us our pictures on social media and asked a lot of questions. He had a lot of opinions on how I came off in some of them. He had some compliments, some complaints on my “grandma” sweater in one, but I loved it most when I got a “MEOW!”
At this point I had abandoned paying attention to Amanda and was focused on talking to John. He was loud, funny, smart, and had already given me 4 nicknames in the course of a couple hours. Without realizing it, last call was upon us. We had been talking for six hours straight. I had a show the next night and had to head back to our New Jersey Airbnb. He had to get home and let his dog out.
I have met men at bars before, given out my number before, and even taken them home before (sorry mom). This time, I was filled with a panic at the thought of never seeing him again. We leaned on our bar stools and kissed. It was the kind of kiss that you can feel in your entire body. I noticed his body as he leaned in. He wrapped his hand slowly around the back of my neck. It was intense and wonderful. The three of us were the last in the bar and exited to the street to get in our Lyfts. We drove and my drunken little heart ached not knowing if I would see him again.
The next morning, I woke up to him having texted me several times about my upcoming show that night. He couldn’t find tickets, and he said the venue Broadway Comedy Club was a “shithole that smelled terrible.” His words, not mine, sorry about it, Broadway Comedy Club. He sent sexy morning pictures and told me he was eating a salad and having a chardonnay for breakfast. LET ME REPEAT. HE WAS HAVING WHITE WINE AND SALAD FOR BREAKFAST. If you know me then you know learning this information was a lightning bolt of a sign of his clear perfection.
As my show was sold out (hair flip), we met up after back at the bar we met the previous night, Charlie’s. This time I had a group of friends with me that had come to the show. We spent the entire time talking and once again stayed until closing time. That night he would be coming back with me to the New Jersey Airbnb. He left a little before last call to go home for his dog and overnight supplies.
As the bar patrons poured out onto the street, I was waiting for him to come back when I saw him walking toward us. He was a sight that I will forever remember. It was like a scene from Casablanca. He was under a streetlight, the silhouette of him in his fur coat, carry-on luggage, and a small dog coming toward me. He smiled as he held up a mostly full bottle of wine. He took my breath away.
We stayed up talking well into the morning. We talked about our families, past relationships, our not so good pasts and our brag-worthy moments. It was real, it was romantic, and I hope my friends were sleeping soundly in the other room. Once again, sorry mom. I woke up holding him in my arms with his dog sleeping on a pillow above both our heads. He saw me off to the train station and we kissed goodbye in front of that giant Grand Central clock like we were in another movie. He said he would text me tomorrow, and I felt that same fear that he really wouldn’t. He didn’t wait until the next day, though. He texted me as soon as I got on the train and said, “you were snuggles.” He texted me goodnight that night and said he would text me the next day. This time I believed him.
I was heading to Arkansas and he remained in New York. I was afraid this insane connection would fade. Over the months our friendship only got stronger. We texted daily and had Facetime calls. I set up a couple shows in New York and planned on returning monthly.
When the pandemic happened, our calls became more frequent, our friendship grew, our messages turned into ways to cheer each other up. Sometimes he would call me crying. He was lonely without his friends and family. I would do bits from my stand up and try and make him laugh, or just listen to him cry. We did more laughing than crying. His 40th birthday came in April and he was so sad about missing it. He had planned to have a party at the Russian Tea Room full of friends, vodka, and caviar.
The morning of his birthday arrived and when he got back to his apartment the door man had his package of vodka and caviar. He said he knew right away it was from me. We had a Zoom party and both got drunk and talked about the first time we met, our lips, and future plans. I fell asleep on the phone like a teenager, but this time I was half on/half off the couch in my living room with a hangover.
I headed back to Arkansas to be around for my father who was sick. John texted me every day to check in. I returned home, and it had been about a week since we talked. It had been even longer since he posted on social media. I called and texted a couple times, saying I was a little worried. Wednesday after receiving no answer to a text reading “don’t make me come up there” I had a feeling in my stomach that something was wrong. I went to his Facebook page and saw the post. John had died the week before. He had coronavirus. He didn’t know or have any symptoms. He took all the precautions. He just died. I can’t bring myself to ask any more questions. I can’t imagine him alone in his apartment unable to breath then just alone.
Our last text from the week before I told him I missed him and the very last thing he said to me was “you are snuggles.” Our story ended just as intensely as it started. I feel cheated out of a friend. I feel cheated for his family and friends who were so close. I feel cheated out of a goodbye. I feel cheated out of a future oh knowing this person.
In a city of millions of people, I met one person who I was so afraid of losing. In a pandemic affecting millions, I lost that person.
Now I am sitting with my old friend grief again like I have so many times. He is never welcome, and always stays longer than I would like him to. Every time I think about John, I see him walking toward me on that street. His smiling face, so full of life under that New York streetlamp.
Over 110,000 people have died of COVID-19 so far in the US. Every time I see these numbers, I know each number represents countless stories and loves lost. Most of all I see that just 1 represents so much to me.