I met Corey six years ago at a bus stop. I am not usually one to meet people at bus stops. I am more likely to have my headphones on, some sort of reading material, and my bus stop face, just focused on getting where I’m going and getting the heck out as painlessly as possible (i.e. bus stop face = don’t mess). It was the day after New Year’s. I had recently moved into a new apartment and there were some things I needed to get my place in order. It was a new year, and I resolved to get it done! I discovered there was a Home Goods store just outside Manhattan.
Port Authority bus terminal is a dismal hole of a place, favorited by shady characters milling around asking if you “need help” (I’m good, thanks!) I tried to avoid it if I didn’t absolutely have to but it was the easiest route and only a 15-minute bus ride to the store. So I put my blinders on and power walked through the station to get in line for the bus. I arrived early, and Corey and his friend, Jeff, got in line behind me. They were young and cute and were chatting excitedly about something.
Jeff was dark, good-looking, and the more outgoing of the two. Corey was tall and thin with light blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair. He had an easy smile and was boyishly handsome. I especially remember how he was dressed. He had on a trench coat, black cap, and skinny jeans. Underneath he wore a white button-down shirt with a black tie, cardigan, and a beautiful watch. He looked like a dapper, rock-and-roll pageboy, I thought…it made me smile.
I had my nose in a magazine, trying to mind my business, but then 15 minutes went by, then 20, and then 40. I turned to ask if they knew what was going on with the bus but they were equally perplexed. We commiserated over our absent bus and the crappy terminal that is Port Authority. And when the bus finally did show, an hour late, I’d learned that Corey was in New York on vacation with his family and his bus companion, Jeff. They were from California and were staying in a hotel near the Home Goods. They asked if I’d like to meet up after shopping, perhaps to take the bus back to the city later on. We exchanged information once we arrived, and went our separate ways.
Home Goods was a mecca of decorating gems and I quickly got lost in the aisles of lamps, and vases, and knickknacks. As I was perusing the sheets section, I received a text from Corey.
Hello, love! Wonderful to meet you.
Hope your shopping is going well and you’re finding all you’re looking for, my dear…
We decided to stay local tonight. Would you like to join us this evening for an early dinner?
I wondered what a white boy from Bakersfield, California, was doing calling me “love” and “my dear” after knowing me for all of half a second.
I took my time processing this before answering him back. Should I really hang out with two young strangers I just met at a bus stop? On the one hand, they seemed normal and friendly enough. But my New York skepticism and Catholic girl upbringing were imploring me to finish my business and get right back on that bus home! So, naturally, I answered:
I’d love to!
A few hours later, a little poorer, and several cheeky, vaguely flirty text messages exchanged, I arrived at the local Outback Steakhouse. It’s the kind of place that spoiled New York City food snobs (not unlike myself) wouldn’t be caught dead at. But we were in Assville, New Jersey, and there wasn’t much else to choose from. Besides, I grew up on Long Island (many moons ago) where this kind of place constituted a big night on the town. So I remembered where I came from and sucked it up. I arrived weighed down with no less than an oversized lamp, a giant picture frame, two new sets of sheets, and various kitchen gadgets. Corey and Jeff—amused at the spectacle of the bag lady coming towards them—seemed right at home at a corner booth.
“Hey! We didn’t think you’d show up,” said Corey.
They greeted me warmly and thanked me for agreeing to join them for dinner. We chatted about their trip so far and what they’d seen in New York. They were pleasant and easygoing. I began to feel relaxed and happy that I’d decided to meet up with them.
They were curious about my life in New York and asked questions about what it was like to live here. It was the first time either had been to New York and Corey was particularly smitten. He said he felt like he’d found his place—as if he was meant to be here all along. I knew the feeling, having grown up in the suburbs, only an hour away, but what might well have been another planet. The energy of New York and the feeling that all was possible here was something that spoke to me deeply. I could see the same in Corey.
We talked some more, and then decided it was time to order. I was in a festive mood by then and wanted to celebrate my shopping finds, getting my apartment in order, and my newfound friends—I was going to go all out and order a rib-eye-freaking-steak and piña colada. You can’t stop me!
“What are you guys getting?” I asked, pleased with my rock star menu selections.
They rattled off some steak, hamburger, fry combinations…
“And to drink?”
Corey and Jeff looked at each other.
“A beer,” Jeff said.
“I don’t know,” said Corey. “You think they’ll card us?”
“Did you guys forget your IDs?” I asked.
“We’re not 21.”
I suppose I knew they were young, but not-legal-drinking-age-young? I suddenly felt as if I was on an episode of “To Catch a Predator,” and Chris Hansen was about to come flying out of the kitchen with his camera crew in tow, interrogating me about why I was having dinner in a far-flung restaurant with two out-of-state, underage boys who I was encouraging to order alcoholic drinks.
They were both 20. Corey would be 21 in February, but still.
I was already feeling mildly disturbed when they asked:
“Why, how old are you?”
“Uh…36” I blurted.
They looked at me in disbelief—and, what may have been mild amusement at having “landed” an older woman.
I’ve often been mistaken for a lot younger than my age, which usually works out in my favor. However, I wasn’t so sure this was one of those instances.
“We thought you were like, in your mid-20s,” Jeff said.
“I get that a lot,” I said, stupidly.
Instead of feeling flattered, I felt deflated, and a bit sleazy.
Corey, sensing my unease, was quick to add, “Well you look great and I hope having dinner with us is not cramping your style.”
It helped to break the tension and we all kind of laughed despite ourselves.
The waitress came by then, and I ordered first. Corey followed with his entrée, and very confidently tacked on, “And I’ll have a Stella.”
Our waitress, who was probably no older than my dinner companions, scribbled down the order unfazed, followed by Jeff, who ordered the same.
Despite the awkward start, the rest of the night went fairly smoothly. My steak was surprisingly good and the piña colada hit the spot. We talked about movies, and music, and New York, and their hometown of Bakersfield—I go to Los Angeles often to visit my sister, which is only about two hours south of Bakersfield, but according to them, it may have been a world away.
“It’s like the armpit of California,” said Corey.
“Corey hates Bakersfield,” Jeff clarified. “He wants to move to New York.”
“Really?” I said. “That’s great!”
I’ve always been an ambassador for New York City and a cheerleader for anyone who wants to come here. I’ve taken many a visitor under my wing, and I’ve made it my mission to show them every nook and cranny that makes this city great. And if they haven’t already fallen in love with it, they usually will when I’m through with them.
We were enjoying each other’s company, and ordered another round of drinks. Any age-related awkwardness from earlier on was forgotten. Although, if anything, I soon realized the guys acted more like jealous/competitive brothers than friends—and it seemed to bring out the real age in us all. There was a lot of ribbing and bickering and a few good licks. It was entertaining to watch…
“Come on Grace…me or him…if you had to choose?” Jeff wanted to know.
I took a sip of my drink. “Um, you both seem to have your individual charms,” I said, trying to stay neutral, but amused at the same time.
They proceeded to try and outdo one another on who was smarter, funnier, hotter, more talented…
…Are you kidding me?…I could run circles around you…You have, like, zero talent!…Really? That’s not what your mother said last night…
I giggled—perhaps a bit too loudly.
Fortunately (or not) I am a sucker for grade school humor and after two drinks, I was feeling fine.
By the end of the night I was reluctant to leave. They encouraged me to stay for another round but I needed to catch the bus home. Despite the jealous-brothers act and grade school rank-outs, they made sure I got to the bus stop and waited with me in the frigid cold until I was safely aboard, all of my crap in tow. I gave them both a warm hug and thanked them for the invite and the “lively” company. We promised to keep in touch, but in the end it was Corey who did. He’d often text me:
Hello love, how’s your day?
Thinking of you. How’s New York? Do you miss me yet? 😉
I got to know him through text. He was smart, and engaging, and charming. We’d have long discussions about life, and love, and dreams—all painstakingly typed out on tiny keyboards. I knew it was a generational thing to cultivate a full-blown friendship with someone virtually, but it felt tedious and inauthentic to me, and I soon grew tired of it. After a few months of this I suggested we talk on the phone. He agreed but I remember it being a big deal for us both. The safety of distance and ease of hiding behind a keyboard was suddenly threatened by the realness and hard work of actually having to speak to one another.
I was surprisingly nervous to call him that first time after so many months of texts, and I sensed he was too. His voice was much deeper than I remembered. So much so that I would often tease him about it, as if it was “put on.” There were a lot of things about Corey that felt “put on.” And it wasn’t just the way he spoke, it was the things he said…all the “hello loves” and “darlings” and “my dears.” He was also a fan of big words, and liked that I was a journalism major and could appreciate it—although I’m not so sure I would call it that, at least in the beginning, when I didn’t know him as well. It seemed like a carefully crafted persona—very British in it’s formality and over-the-top manner. Apparently, Corey did have some British relatives, but he was also a huge movie buff, and it seemed more like something he had picked up from some of his favorites. He even admitted to me once that he had become enamored with The Thomas Crown Affair movies, and vintage Steve McQueen. He read magazines and blogs religiously and developed a vast knowledge and love of men’s fashion, fine watches, and luxury cars.
In fact, the first thing anyone might say about Corey is that he always looked impeccable, except that much like his not fitting in in Bakersfield, his dress was often out of place, too. In fact, overdressing was pretty normal for him. He’d often show up at the local bar with his friends in a suit and tie—a quirky, yet debonair enigma with a pint in his hand. It seemed out of place for such a young guy in a suburban town, where the peer dress code usually consisted of jeans and a tee shirt. It was befuddling to some, inappropriate on many occasions, yet, besides the feeling that you were chronically underdressed whenever you were with him, it was mostly harmless. He was also confident and unapologetic in his style and I think everyone just learned to smile and live with it. Besides, it was a conversation starter with the ladies and he seemed to relish in the attention.
And, after my initial skepticism and the seeming absurdity of it all, I would also come to find this was all very much a part of Corey’s charm, and, somehow, it quickly became endearing.
The next Christmas I went to see my sister in Los Angeles. Corey invited me to come visit him for the weekend in Bakersfield. We were both excited to see one another, and I suppose a little anxious. First, we had cultivated a good friendship, but there was also this lingering, unspoken potential for something more, despite our age difference.
My sister dropped me off at the bus station and I purchased my ticket. I texted Corey my arrival time.
You’ll be there to pick me up, right?
Don’t come, he answered.
You’re joking, right? I’m here at the bus station. I’ll be there in two hours. Can you pick me up or not?
The main road to get here is icy and dangerous. I don’t want you coming.
Umm…I think Greyhound is well aware of any dangerous conditions on their routes so I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.
I really don’t think it’s a good idea. Don’t get on that bus.
Corey, are you serious?? I already bought my ticket. I am here, ready to board. What the hell??
Please don’t get on that bus.
I stood there with my weekend bag and ticket in hand. My sister had dropped me off and was long gone. I was stranded and incredulous.
Icy conditions? WTF.
Was he having some weird premonition? Or, was he just freaking out about seeing me in person, as opposed to me just being a voice or a bunch of words on the screen of his phone? Was it too much to handle? But why, after weeks of planning and acting so excited to finally see me, now he wanted to bail? It all sounded so lame and insincere.
They were calling for final boarding to Bakersfield. I wondered, what if I just got on the bus and arrived—then he’d be forced to come pick me up, right?
But would he? Would I spend two hours on a bus only to be stranded in the armpit of California—as opposed to, the armpit of Los Angeles Greyhound—with no one to call but Corey? Who may very well not answer?
Instead, I called my sister:
“Hey, I’m not going. Can you come pick me up?”
I didn’t know myself and I didn’t really want to discuss it. I felt dejected and confused.
I didn’t hear from Corey again until weeks later.
I’m a loser. I’m sorry.
[So it wasn’t about icy conditions?]
Corey, whatever you have going on is fine. I just wish you were honest with me and didn’t leave me stranded at the damn bus stop at the last minute, dumb-dumb. I miss you and I hope you’re well.
I know, I suck. I miss you too. What’s new? It’s been forever…
And just like that we picked up where we left off. He never really told me what happened and I guess I just chalked it up to cold feet. But I knew he felt badly, and more importantly, I knew he had a good heart. I had grown fond of him by then and I found it hard not to forgive him for the stupid shit he did (and there would be much more where that came from).
Corey always talked about moving to New York but he didn’t think he could pull it off. He didn’t go to college and he worried about finding a job. He also worried it would mean he’d have to give up his music. He had been in a local band and was a gifted guitarist, drummer, and piano player, despite ever haven taken a lesson. I tried to convince him that people come to New York everyday, and they get a job in retail or sales somewhere and find a bunch of roommates and they make it work.
“You can do it!” I’d say.
He wasn’t totally convinced, but he felt like he was wasting away in Bakersfield. You can’t chose where you are born, but if Corey had any say in it he’d likely have chosen Mars over Bakersfield, California. It was the kind of place where you grew up, married your high school sweetheart, and maybe had a bunch of kids…which was fine for some, but Corey had bigger dreams and he was itching to get out.
In the end, that vacation to New York where I met him at the bus stop, changed everything for him, and any doubts he may have had didn’t prove strong enough against the pull of having found his place in the world. After two years and countless phone calls and words of encouragement, he finally did it. He packed up his things and drove cross-country with a childhood friend. I helped him research neighborhoods and look for apartments. He found a small place in Brooklyn, and arrived the day before Christmas.
We were both beside ourselves with excitement. First, I was genuinely thrilled for him and the new life he would be starting in New York…I remember what it felt like to move to New York, stars in my eyes, from a place not unlike Bakersfield. Second, we had become good friends over the past two years, and we couldn’t wait to finally hang out together.
He settled into life in New York easily. And whatever fears he had about finding work were allayed when he quickly found a job in sales at a garment manufacturer; a perfect fit for his personality and his love of fashion. He retained a small-town friendliness too, which was disarming in a city full of distrustful New Yorkers. We were inseparable those first few months.
Once he was here we found there was indeed an undeniable chemistry between us. It took us both by surprise to finally realize it, but I suppose after all those months—two years, really—of getting to know one another long-distance, we had developed a real affection. We discussed it many times, but in the end we decided we didn’t want to ruin what had become a great friendship. So we did what friends did: we hung out, we talked, we laughed, we had sleepovers…and hardly so much as hugged. Whatever we may have suppressed for the good of our friendship, we turned into a running joke that we allowed to run rampant.
THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID
We spent one Super Bowl Sunday together (even though neither of us cared less about sports) laying around my couch, eating chicken wings and enjoying the commercials and halftime show.
“Is it chilly in here?” I asked.
“No, it’s fine” he said.
“Oh good, ‘cause I was just about to get things heated up in here.”
He’d throw his head back, wide-mouthed, blue eyes glistening, and let out this kind of delirious, silent laughter as if he had never heard anything so funny. I mean, I am pretty fucking funny, but Corey made me feel like I was the most hysterical person on earth.
It helped that we had the same sense of humor—we mostly favored innuendos and anything considered inappropriate in proper company.
And speaking of inappropriate, we were early adopters of “That’s What She Said” one-upmanship. I had some zingers, but Corey was a true master—as much as it pained me to admit.
Innocent conversation became a minefield.
Making an after-work plan: “What time do you get off?”
Running late: “When are you coming?”
Moving furniture: “Wish I could give you a hand.”
How’s work: “Harder than you think.”
And this doozy, when we were riding in his car one winter night with the heat blasting…
“Can you turn that down a little?” I asked.
“I thought you were cold,” he said.
“I am, I just don’t like it in my face.”
Before it even had time to register, he shot me a look—by this time in our relationship, it was all that was needed.
We laughed so hard that night we almost got in an accident.
There were a lot of cougar jokes too—par for the course with our age difference—even though it was never really a problem between us, and it didn’t factor much in our day to day. If anything, I was more bothered by it…although I think it was more the idea of how it looked rather than anything else.
Corey couldn’t have cared less; in fact, he actually enjoyed the idea of hanging out with someone more “mature.” I’d often say that I was old enough to be his teen mom. It was all in good fun, but there were times it made me uncomfortable.
Once when we were discussing a movie, he mentioned it came out in 1989, “The year I was born.”
“Umm…I was 16, for the record.” It sounded awful, I thought.
“It’s okay, don’t feel badly. It’s really not a big deal,” he said, and I knew he meant it.
But I couldn’t let it go:
“16, Corey! I was like, smoking cigarettes and hanging around in cars with boys. And you were like…a newborn!”
But he would just laugh and brush it off.
And even though age may have been just a number, it sure didn’t feel that way when he met Hannah. She was a dancer; not some two-bit pole dancer at a “lounge,” but a fine arts dancer we went to see at a small venue at Lincoln Center. She lived upstairs from him. They had become friendly and she invited him and some friends to see her perform. It was that contemporary kind of dance: a little strange, didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but contained moments of beauty.
Hannah had dark hair and fair skin. Very much the girl next-door, which Corey was a sucker for—I could easily pick them out of a crowd and know he was gaga. She was not tall and lithe like most dancers. She was shorter and more curvy, and her lines were maybe not as graceful. But she was committed and passionate, and the fact that she was a dancer in a troupe, at a small venue at Lincoln Center was enough convincing for him. She was the first girl he really loved (not the first girl he was ever with) but she was a “game changer” as he put it.
Oh, and she was his age.
He fell hard, and not long after we saw her perform, they moved in together. He had been slowly pulling away from me by then, until one day he made it very clear: Hannah came first and I would no longer be his “number one”—these were his actual words. It was his way of “breaking up” with me, even though we weren’t in a relationship, per se. But I did consider him my best friend so understandably, I was devastated, and hurt, and angry that he could so easily cast me aside. I suppose there was some jealousy on my part too. I tried to be the bigger person and suggest that if we were true friends, we could all hang out together. But I knew things wouldn’t be the same, and either way, Corey wasn’t interested. She fulfilled his every desire for friend and lover, and my services would no longer be required: it stung.
We didn’t speak for over a year after that. And then, one day out of the blue, I received a text from him that he was moving back to California. Things had fallen apart with Hannah and he was devastated.
What??? I couldn’t believe it.
Moving to California? For good?? I asked.
For now, he said.
As shocked as I was about the move, the breakup didn’t surprise me at all. It was his first true love and he had put every fiber of his being into it, including dropping all his friends—that, I knew, all too intimately—was often not a recipe for lasting love. But, leave New York? The place he fought so hard to arrive? He was just giving up and moving back to Bakersfield??
I sensed there was a lot more to the story than he was revealing.
Are you okay? I asked.
No, I’m not, he said.
But when I pressed him further, he didn’t want to talk about it.
There were a lot of things Corey didn’t want to talk about. And even though I felt I had known him so well, I always sensed he lived some outside life that I knew nothing about. We could have the deepest conversations about our lives, and our goals, and our futures, but his here and now was always a bit fuzzy. There was no denying that he was a generous friend—he was always willing to treat, or offer money when someone was in a bind, even if he didn’t have it. He could be kind, open, and vulnerable. But there were equal times he could be cold, closed off, and dismissive. It wasn’t just about Hannah, or about uninviting me to come visit him as I was about to board a bus to Bakersfield…
We would hang out continuously, and then out of nowhere, he would disappear for days on end. We would make plans to have dinner, or see a movie, or just talk on the phone, and he would simply not call, or follow up, or show up. To me—someone who likes my dance card filled and confirmed way in advance—it was insufferable. I would call him out on it, but any attempt at explaining, or “schooling,” or plain bitching, didn’t make a damn’s worth of difference. He’d act like I was making a big deal over nothing, or even better, like he had no idea what I was talking about:
“What do you mean?” he’d often say.
It was his default response to any sort of confrontation, and it drove me nuts. At first, I’d explain as calmly and directly as I could, even though it was clear as day to us both that he was just being a dick. It was a game he liked to play, but I found it cocky and arrogant of him to put me through it every time. And when he couldn’t bring himself to take responsibility or apologize, I’d tell him to fuck off and I’d run away. It became an unfortunate pattern between us; one that left large gaps in our friendship where we didn’t speak.
But inevitably he would come around again—usually when things fell apart, or he was feeling lonely, he would come find me. I knew this and I told him so. He didn’t argue—he knew it was the truth. Sometimes it was weeks, or even months later. He would apologize and say he was a jerk, and that he missed me terribly, and he didn’t know why he did whatever shitty thing it was he did to begin with. I took him back every time. The truth was, I too, missed him terribly and I didn’t want to run away. Even though he was a flake, and could be wildly inconsistent and unreliable, I saw the goodness in him. I knew that beyond all the “stuff” he projected, he had a heart of gold, and that’s all I needed to know.
We had been on one such hiatus last winter, when I took a job as a coat check in a high-end Italian restaurant. It paid well around the holidays, when alcohol-fueled parties were abundant and big tippers were out in force. Corey had come around after months of not having heard from him. He had moved back to New York and was living in a new apartment in Brooklyn. He had gone through another breakup by then, and he was feeling lonely. Her name was Chandra. He met her when he was back in Bakersfield. They fell in love and he convinced her to come back to New York and live with him. It lasted a few months but they broke up and she moved out.
“Hannah? Chandra?? What are you dating the cheerleading squad?” I asked.
But Corey was not amused. It was a sore subject for him, and I knew better…I was in the same boat, having gone through a particularly bad breakup myself.
I needed help in the coat check and he was looking to make some extra cash, so I invited him to work with me on busy nights. I almost didn’t recognize him that first night he showed up at the restaurant—even though I always thought he was good looking, he looked incredible. I had only known him as thin, but he had started working out and had bulked up considerably. His hair was longer and slicked back and he had scruff on his face. He looked manly and super handsome. And as always, he was dressed impeccably. I remembered how sharp he looked the day I met him at the bus stop, with his hip skinny jeans and trench coat. Back then, he sported a more vintage/thrift store look, but his New York style had evolved and was much more sophisticated. He was working for a custom suit manufacturer by that time, and all of his clothes were tailor-made. It was good to reconnect with him, but this time felt different. We were both feeling vulnerable, and we started to once again flirt with the idea of becoming romantically involved.
One frigid night after our shift was over, we went downtown for drinks at a cozy bar with a fireplace. It was after midnight and we both knew where this was going—we had been dancing around it for weeks. I invited him to sleep over, but as the night wore on I started to lose my nerve.
“How about if you come over and we just cuddle?” I asked.
I hated to sound like a prude, but he was as relieved as I was. It was a big step—and we had so carefully crafted our friendship up until that point, we were reluctant to ruin things. With the pressure off, we relaxed a bit and finished our drinks. And although we had the best of intentions, the alcohol had loosened our resolve and we were soon making out like teenagers in the backseat of the taxi home. By the time we arrived at my apartment, we were like two animals let loose from a cage. It had been five long years of repressed affections, innuendos, and “doing the right thing.” And it was lovely—all I could have imagined. I made him breakfast the next day and we couldn’t stop grinning at each other.
For the first time in many months, I felt joyful again. It had been a miserable year after a devastating breakup and an ongoing struggle to find my purpose after a layoff from work. I had been hiding out in the coat closet, but I no longer felt like hiding. I laughed more and I felt light. I started wearing my red lipstick again. Corey had brought me back to myself in a way. He made me feel hopeful and I started to take an interest in my life again.
It was Thanksgiving and I was going to my sister’s in Los Angeles for a few days. I asked Corey if he would cover for me in the coat check while I was away—he said he would be happy to. My friends in California commented on how happy I looked and a few suspected I had someone new in my life. Was it that obvious? I told Corey about it. I said that for the first time in a long time I felt happy, and I didn’t obsess over my ex-boyfriend and the uncertainty of my life. He seemed flattered but not entirely convinced I was being sincere.
While I was away he sent me a text:
I just read your blog post.
He had been asking me questions about what had happened between my boyfriend and me, and, not wanting to rehash it all, I kept telling him to read my post.
I am so sorry. I had no idea you went through all that. GUYS SUCK, he said, with more than a hint of irony.
Ha, you’re telling me, I said.
I cried, he said.
You did ?
A lot of people told me they cried when they read it, but it surprised me to hear it from Corey. I had never seen him cry before and it pained me to picture him sitting in the coatroom reading my blog and crying because of my shitty breakup. And, I suspected, because he was reflecting on his own crappy behavior and not-so-stellar treatment of me.
I spoke to him a few more times after that and he assured me everything was fine. But a few days into my trip, he stopped returning my calls. When I came home, I found out he had only shown up for work one day.
I was dumbfounded. He had lied to me, even jeopardized my relationship at work. I called him and let him have it.
“I am so sick of your fucking bullshit and your evasive, shitty behavior. I have been nothing but good to you and I don’t deserve this!”
He had been eluding to the fact that there was a good reason for it all—not just this time, but all the time’s past that he fucked up, but he could never bring himself to tell me what it was.
“If you have something to tell me you had better say it now or I am fucking gone. This is it, Corey—I’m done!”
I was so angry with him I could barely think straight. He could sense the seriousness in my voice and he began talking in a very calm, even tone. He told me that when he was 17 years old, he was at a friend’s party. There was a girl there he had seen around school, but didn’t know too well. They were all drinking and partying and they wound up hooking up. Month’s later she came around saying she was pregnant and wanted money. He wasn’t convinced it was his, but a paternity test proved otherwise. The mother didn’t turn out to be the most upstanding character, and Corey truly felt she might have targeted him because of his family—while they were not necessarily well-off, they owned a business and were comfortable financially. And although he didn’t have much contact with his daughter, he had been paying child support since he was 17. The entire process had gone through the court system and it was an arduous and bitter ordeal.
I knew this was a difficult thing for him to open up to me about, and I could feel his pain. But what in the hell did it have to do with him not showing up for work???
“I was so ashamed. I knew it was a dumb thing to do, but I never thought I would get caught up in something like that. I was a good kid. I started drinking after that—heavily. The day I started working for you, I bumped into Chandra. We had a screaming match on the street. It was awful. I went home and holed up for the next few days. I couldn’t face going back to work.”
I sat on the other line for a moment, taking it all in. I thought about all the times I confessed stuff about my life to him. I was an open book—he knew everything about me and I had no problem revealing it all while he sat silently, nodding his head and trying to be supportive. And all the while he carried this deep, shameful secret around with him.
Did I believe him? Yes. Did I believe it all happened in that order and it was the reason he didn’t show up for work? Not entirely. But if it somehow gave him reason to open up to me about his life, I’d take it. What he didn’t seem to understand was that nothing he could have told me would have made me not like him. If anything, knowing these things gave me some relief and allowed me to better understand where he was coming from and why he behaved the way he did sometimes. I knew he drank, but I had only seen him drunk maybe once in the time I’d known him.
I tried to reassure him there was nothing to be ashamed of, and that I loved him no matter what—it was the first time I’d said it.
“I love you too,” he said.
I didn’t run that time, even though everything in my being was telling me to flee. It took all that I had, but I didn’t. I stayed because I knew he needed someone he could count on, and I wanted to be that for him. He had healed me and brought me back to life. I hoped I had healed him too, in some small way.
I didn’t see Corey much after that. He left for Bakersfield soon after I returned home from Los Angeles—his sister was getting married right before Christmas and he decided he would spend a few weeks up until then at home. He told me that he had RSVP’d with a guest for the wedding—Chandra—but since they were no longer together, he invited me to go. I thought about it for a while but decided I couldn’t—I had just gotten home from California, plus, my sister was coming to visit me in New York for Christmas.
We talked and texted all the time in the weeks to come.
Corey: What are you up to? Are you home?
Me: No, I’m in the cave…it’s so dead.
[“The cave” was the name we used for the coatroom.]
Corey: Aw, boring as shiz?
Me: Pretty much. What are you doing?
Corey: I just walked out to the spa in a towel. Freeeezzzzzing out! But makes the water feel that much nicer.
Me: My heart bleeds for you.
[His parents had a Jacuzzi at their house, he often texted me from there late at night while I was at work.]
Corey: Ha! The spa is brilliant in the rain 😉
Me: Shut up.
Me: What I wouldn’t give to be in there with you right now instead of sitting here waiting for someone to throw me a damn dollar.
Corey: Rough night?
Me: Dealing with drunken Christmas party fools…disgraceful! Or, what is it that you say? Rubbish? LMAO.
Corey: Ha. You making fun of me?
Me: No, I like your little British-isms 🙂
Corey: Michael Buble’s Christmas in NY is on. Missing home and you.
Me: Miss you too.
Me: Do you wanna chat when I get home?
Me: Okay, I’ll call you in an hour.
[An hour later…no answer.]
Me: I’m home. Are you there?
Me: Hello!? WTF?? You there???
Me: Going to bed.
[The next day…]
Me: So what happened last night?
Me: Oh, I see…you’re ignoring me.
Me: I hate when you do this, Corey. It’s so old and unnecessary.
Me: Just hope you’re not dead in a ditch.
[The next day…]
Corey: What do you mean?
Me: Do you realize you ask that exact question every single time you’re being evasive? Well if you don’t, allow me to bring it to your attention.
Corey: LOL, sorry.
Me: Do me a favor and don’t ask it.
Corey: Sorry, my phone went for a swim in the spa.
Corey: Yes, really.
Me: Where to? Was it swimming when it called me in the middle of the night? Is that why it wasn’t saying anything to me?
Corey: IDK what you mean.
Me: You called me and just sat there on the phone and wouldn’t talk, so I hung up.
Corey: What time?
Me: Like 3 AM.
Corey: I don’t remember that.
Me: K, whatever.
Me: Have fun at your sister’s wedding.
[After the wedding…]
Me: How was it?
Corey: Brilliant. And a shitshow, haha.
Me: Yeah? Did like fights break out, like those gypsy weddings on T.V.?
Corey: LOL, no. Just crazy drunks. One guy got arrested.
Me: Who, you?
Corey: LMAO, no.
[The next day…]
Corey: You know who you sort of remind me of?
Me: Um, no.
Corey: Julia Roberts.
Me: Oh, like her little finger?
Corey: LOL, what?
Me: That’s so random.
Corey: I was watching Notting Hill. I was reminded of you.
Me: Which part?
Corey: Her laugh and smile. And sarcasm. Plus you have similar jaw structure and shit.
Me: Wow, okay. I’ll take that as a (big) compliment. It’s nice when Corey’s back 🙂
Corey: How do you mean?
Me: You’re just full of love today. Must have been all that wedding stuff.
Me: It’s like you’re hot and cold. I hear from you, you’re all sweet and lovey…then I don’t hear from you…you don’t want to talk…you’re cranky. I never know what I’m going to get with you.
Corey: Basically, I suck? LOL.
Corey: I miss you.
Me: Miss you too.
Corey: How much?
Me: This much [pinched thumb and forefinger emoji]
Corey: Ha, meany.
Me: Yes, I miss you. It’s a nostalgic time of year, you know…a little sad, a little lonely, a little sweet, a little chilly…would be nice to have you here.
Corey: Yes, would be very nice.
Me: Plus I like you. We get each other. Sort of.
Corey: Yes, I like us.
Me: You make me laugh. It’s easy with you…that is, when you’re not being douchey.
Me:…and pissing me off, LOL.
Corey: LOL. I’m glad. I want to be good to you.
Me: I know you do Corey. You’re a good person. I always thought that. Which is why it makes me crazy when you’re not good to me…I know it’s not who you are.
Corey: I know, I’m sorry.
Corey: Maybe we’ll end up getting together for realz.
Me: Ha, you think?
Corey: Yes, I think.
[Corey was big into selfies.]
Corey: Send me a pic.
Corey: Did I say something wrong?
Me: No, I’m just trying to get a selfie that doesn’t have hangers in the pic.
Corey: Hahaha, you’re so cute.
Corey: Is it crazy?
Me: Is what crazy?
Corey: The restaurant.
Me: Oh, not really. Comes in spurts.
Corey: That’s what she said.
Me: Hahahahahahahahahaha!! Jackass.
Corey: Happy Christmas, love.
Me: Happy Christmas 🙂
Corey: I love you.
Me: I love you back.
Me: What are you up to today?
[Corey and his niece, Rilynn]
Me: Aw, so sweet 🙂
Corey: Watching Christmas movies all day, then going to my grandma’s for a bit. Die Hard is on right now, kind of a Christmas movie.
Me: Wish I was snuggling with you watching bad movies, LOL.
Corey: Phone call tonight?
Me: I’d like to but I’m working all day and might do something with my sister late night since it won’t be much of a Christmas in the cave.
Corey: Okay, no stress.
Me: Would like to chat though.
Corey: Then try. If it doesn’t work, no worries.
[Later that night…]
Corey: So what are your plans tonight with your sis?
Me: We’re going to Bemelman’s in the Carlyle Hotel. I figure we should go all out, being it’s Christmas and it’s been the worst day. All tourists, all shitty tippers.
Corey: Aww babe, I’m sorry.
Me: People are showing up for their coats and I’m just shoving my face with pie. I don’t have any fucks left to give at this point.
Corey: Ha, that’s my GIRLLLL!!! So you end up being free for a chat tonight?
Me: I think it might be too late. But if not, we’ll talk tomorrow.
Corey: Are you okay?
Corey: Can you chat?
Me: No hon. I’m just leaving to go home. It’s late and I’m spent.
Corey: Okay, I understand. I wish I could at least hear your voice to say goodnight.
But I didn’t answer. I went home and went to bed. It was fine—he’d blown me off a thousand times. We’d talk tomorrow.
The next morning I ran around with my sister doing errands. She had rented a car while she was in town but had to return it by noon. At the car rental place I received a text from an unknown caller.
Hi Grace. This is Corey’s sister. Please call me.
Hi, is he okay?
Oh no. I’m sorry, I’m not somewhere I can talk right now. As soon as I can I will call you.
Oh Corey, what have you done?
Whatever it was I thought it was a good sign that his family was reaching out to me. Maybe it was the intervention he needed, and whatever it was that he was hiding would finally come to light. I was glad, at least, that they thought I was important enough in his life to contact me, and I was genuinely happy to help in any way I could. I loved him, and whatever it was, it would be okay. I would help him get through it. The mystery that is Corey would finally be solved!
Okay, just didn’t want to send a blatant text, she said.
I understand. I’m sorry. I’m worried now.
I’m sorry too. I can text you if you want.
[I didn’t want to get into a deep conversation in the middle of Enterprise Rent-A-Car.]
I probably won’t get a chance to call until later so if you’d like to text me, that’s okay too.
Corey was found by my other sister this morning in the spa. We think he was drinking and passed out, and slipped below the water line.
OMG, is he okay???
A flash of lightning in my brain. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. I can’t breathe. I am staring at my phone in a panic. And then, anger…why the fuck would she say such a thing? It had to be a mistake. Maybe he slipped under the water but he’s in the hospital and he’s under heavy sedation, and they just think he’s dead. Maybe he’s in a coma…or he’s just sleeping…or he’s just messing with everyone.
I AM SUPPOSED TO CALL HIM TODAY, HE CAN’T BE FUCKING DEAD!
I am fumbling with my phone and trying to call her but I can’t get my fingers to figure out how the fuck to dial her number from a text message. I am panicked and the clock is ticking—as if Corey’s life depends on me getting this fucking phone call through to his sister. I refuse to believe the words I just read on my emotionless smartphone. I need to hear it for myself. But I never do hear the words in the end.
I make the call. She answers. I can’t remember her name, but hearing her, I know. She is sobbing on the other line, and I am too. I can’t speak. There are no words. I just keep saying over and over in my head, “This can’t be happening. This can’t be real.”
I want her to say something—to say it isn’t so, but she just continues to cry into the phone. It is the sister who got married just a few days earlier—Courtney. I think of his other sister—Cristin—who found him that morning. And Cristin’s daughter, Rilynn, who adored her Uncle Coco. I think of his own daughter, who would never know him. And then I think of his mother and step-dad—oh my God, his mother—and I cry harder. We stay like that for a few minutes.
The only thing I can finally think of to say is, “I’m so sorry. Please let me know when the funeral service is”…I cannot believe I am saying these words. And then I hang up the phone.
I didn’t go to the funeral or, the “Celebration of Life” as it was called. It was in California, in Corey’s hometown of Bakersfield. The place I’d been invited to once, then uninvited, then invited again for a wedding…and then a funeral. The place that was too small to hold big dreamers. The armpit of California. Besides, the one person I wanted to see would not be there. Ever.
Corey passed away last year on the day after Christmas. His birthday was a few weeks ago. He would have been 27 years old.
I have been writing this post on and off now for a year. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I wanted to get it right, to do him proud. I wanted to make sure people knew the person he was. That he had a big heart and a good soul. That he was funny as hell. Yes, there were ups and downs, and he had flaws, but don’t we all? I know he would have been happy that I wrote about him.
Still, it is hard to believe he is not here anymore. That he didn’t just go off and do something moronic to piss me off and make me not want to talk to him again. For days and months after his death, I kept expecting a text message from him that he was okay and that this was all just some monumental misunderstanding. The abruptness of his death felt violent—as if he was ripped from this world without reason.
He had been drinking heavily the night he died, and that, coupled with the heat from the Jacuzzi caused him to pass out. I don’t blame myself for what happened, but I do wonder if the outcome might have been different if I had come to his sister’s wedding. Maybe I would have been there in the Jacuzzi with him that night? Or, if I had spoken to him on the phone like he asked…just maybe. But then I think, even though his death was an accident, if it wasn’t that day, it may very well have been another.
I learned later on that his family was well aware of his drinking and they were careful to hide any liquor when he came home to visit. They would even take away the car keys. No one knows for sure where he got the alcohol that night—there were no empty bottles or containers found. I felt awful that I had no idea of the extent of his drinking—or that his family even knew—even though he had admitted it to me.
But what I didn’t know made sense—Corey was a master at concealing. It took him five years to tell me about the child he fathered—five years! All the while I was spilling my most intimate secrets to him at the drop of a hat. Outwardly, he had constructed this perfect veneer—his beautiful dress, eloquent speech, and colossal charm. In the meantime, he was struggling just to cope with life. I also found out later that he had lost his job, as well as his apartment a while back. He was renting a small room in someone’s place in Brooklyn. He often told me how he hated to be home, but he said it was because it was the apartment he had shared with Chandra, and it was difficult to live with the memories. It’s no wonder he never wanted me over to “his place.”
His family told me that after his death they began grief counseling. They learned that many of the symptoms Corey exhibited were in line with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. The alcohol may have been a way of self-medicating—of alleviating the highs and lows and trying to numb the feelings of shame. I thought of all the broken plans and all the times he blew me off, with no explanation. Of all the times he talked about starting some new business venture. And of all the times he would disappear for days. A psychic told me that it was the end of a long and tiring struggle of what he viewed as the tediousness of his life. I felt closer to him after he revealed the secret about his child. I knew how difficult it was for him to talk about. I knew it had been a painful, and bitter experience that had a dramatic impact on his life. But I didn’t know how much he was suffering—although I must have sensed it on some level, because I didn’t run from him after that.
I learned tolerance from him, and to love unconditionally. And that even if someone is troubled and unpredictable does not mean they are unworthy of kindness, and at the very least, understanding—as difficult as that may be at times. He did the best he could, but in the end it was bigger than he—or anyone—could have managed on their own.
There would be no more hiding, or deception, or loneliness, or extraordinary lengths to maintain a sunny facade to the world. He is at peace now. His “sins” have been forgiven. He will always be young, handsome, smiling, and perfect in his imperfection—Saint Corey.
I know he is around. He sends me signs, as loved ones who have passed on often do. Whenever I have been in the throes of writing this, there’d be an ad on TV for “Taco Tuesday.” He’d always text me on a Tuesday before he moved to New York, “Hey babe, whatcha doing for Taco Tuesday?” Or I’d be walking down the street and stop at a crosswalk and see “What do you mean?” etched on the ground in the middle of Forty-Fucking-Seventh Street.
I think of him every time I pass the Outback Steakhouse on 23rd Street. The first year he moved to New York, I said I would treat him to dinner for his birthday anywhere he wanted to go. He chose Outback Steakhouse—he thought it would be sweet to go to the place where we first met. Anytime I see a beautiful suit or pass a well-dressed man on the street, I think of him. Or when the person next to me at yoga, talking about how difficult it is to make it to the gym says: “It’s so hard to get it in sometimes.”
I just look up to the sky and smile.