By Eliza Amos
Zane kicked off every date by pounding a protein shake in my kitchen. He’d chug it, placing the cardboard drink box to his plum, telenovela-star lips, and gulping so his Adam’s apple would rise and fall beneath tawny skin. Then he’d carefully log the drink in the calorie app on his iPhone.
“I just want to be the best that I can be!” he’d exclaim without a trace of irony, entering the data. I couldn’t disparage him. At 25, he was discovering the strength of his body. At 40, I was discovering the strength of his body, too.
In no time, we’d be in bed, where health consciousness would give way to hedonism. “I need a Slurpee,” he’d say, recovering, “and a cigarette.” With that, he’d slip on his black skinny jeans and we’d head across the street to the 7-11. It was like that with Zane and me. We tried so hard to be good, but in the end, surrendered to vice.
Early on, though, we had so much hope. At least, Zane did.
Is hope the kind of thing that drains over time, that atrophies like some all-important muscle? Mine had done just that, after a long run with a married man. I needed Zane’s boundless positivity like an emergency infusion.
We talked on the phone for hours at a time. He gave me silly greeting cards. Where other guys might bring flowers, he brought licorice and M & M’s. (He liked my hips curvy, he said, and wanted to keep them that way). He did generous favors, like helping me move, or shuttling me to the airport at 4 a.m. He whisked me down country roads to watch the sun set. “Will you be my girlfriend?” he asked, a little bluntly and a little soon for my tastes. I avoided the question for months, not wanting to step into that cougar cliche, but soon caved. He was just so earnest.
We’d been dating for 8 months—a damn good run, considering the odds—when I introduced Zane to my other, make-believe boyfriend, Lloyd Dobler. Showing my man a favorite flick from my youth was a whim. It was a Netflix and chill kind of night, and I picked Say Anything. I never expected the two guys to click the way Zane and Lloyd did. In hindsight, I see the kinship.
Lloyd is a kickboxer; Zane is a wrestler. Both play early 90s alt-rock. (Zane leaned more toward death metal). Lloyd was utterly relentless in his pursuit of Diane Cort, while Zane had been known to call me five times on the same night. (Sure, that was weird, but charming, too.) Neither guy wanted a real day job—to “sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career.” (Zane worked as a pipefitter, and would’ve made decent money if he hadn’t spent every paycheck on sneakers and guitar amps.) Both love their sisters. Both love hard, period.
Zane couldn’t give me a love quite as pure and unabashed as Lloyd’s. He was too intimidated, too unsure. If I am honest with myself, he was probably saving his best love for someone who fit into his life more readily—someone younger. Meanwhile, he gave our affair his most valiant effort.
As the movie flickered on my MacBook, Zane and I curled close. I had been afraid he’d dismiss the flick as irrelevant, outdated—and maybe, somehow, that he would regard me that way, too. Instead, he laughed freely at all the right parts. He empathized with Cory’s broken heart. When Lloyd escorted Diane across a pile of broken glass in the parking lot of a 7-11, he squeezed me tight. “That’s our place,” he murmured. Watching the movie, Zane cheered for love.
Our demise was inevitable. Come Christmas, he chose to spend the holidays away from me, knowing I’d be alone. Hurt and angry, I sought comfort in an old flame. We lasted a few months more, but everything had changed. It was almost as though I’d traded him my cynicism for his hope. Warranted or not, I’d given him a proverbial pen.
Say Anything ends with Lloyd and Diane on a plane together, en route to Europe. Their future is full of possibility and uncertainty. When the “fasten seatbelt” light dings, we know they’ll be okay.
As for Zane and me? We’re traveling separately now. I’m on another journey, but fueled by his fiery affection. The glimmer of hope he gave me lights my way. That seatbelt light may never ding; it seems the trip is never really safe. I’m just happy to have had a trail buddy for a while.
By day, Eliza Amos works as a luxury travel professional. By night, she writes, fueled by canned wine and beef jerky. She’s over her thing for younger men—but still keeps a flame for Lloyd.