The feral animal’s instinct to survive is one of its most remarkable attributes. If caught, say, in a spring trap, beasts of the past have demonstrated that there’s still dignity in hobbling away with a gnawed-off leg. Of course none of this dawned on me while sitting on a barstool, sidled up to the woman from Pensacola, Florida.
She had the endearing charm of a librarian with mesmerizing eyes and retro glasses. Compared to her online photos, there was little misrepresentation. But when I met her at 9 p.m., Pensacola had apparently been drinking for several hours. Her mouth was a hissing cauldron of cigarettes and Jameson. And she started kissing my face within the first 5 minutes of meeting her.
Let me back up a sec: An hour before meeting Pensacola, I was setting up a work station at my kitchen table for the evening to build a paper model from the Hayao Miyazaki film Howl’s Moving Castle. I’m a geek. And on sober nights like these I tend to build Legos or sew my constellation blanket while watching Battlestar Galactica. But then I was messaged on OkCupid by a lady from Florida. She was visiting my city, and considering a move. After pinging her back, she asked if I could recommend a neighborhood for her apartment-hunting. A couple minutes later, we decided to meet up for a nightcap to discuss her future relocation plans.
I met her at a nearby bar close to her friend’s house where she was staying. I was expecting a casual, get-to-know-you conversation. Instead, this was a spring trap.
“Hey hey,” I started. “How’s it going? Find the place all right?”
Aaaand … nothing. Pensacola sat and stared at me smiling with an inebriated yet intense gaze, propping her head up with her hand—arm bent like an easel on the bar top. “Soooo,” I began again, “have you done anything exciting yet in town?”
She deeply inhaled and continued to stare back at me, her smile unfaltering. The bartender came up to us. I ordered a Yeti stout. She got Jameson on the rocks. Pensacola returned back to staring at me. “You have a really beautiful face,” she said.
“Hah, right, fuck me,” I laughed nervously, my eyes darting around. “It’s an okay one, I guess. It’s been fine.” Suddenly she shifted her leg off the stool and draped it over my thigh. “Hey, er, all right…”
“Oh, sorry, am I getting too close?” she said retracting her leg off mine.
“No, no,” I stammered, “that’s, uh, okay.” This was now minute two of the date.
“I really like how your eyebrows move around,” she said. “I can’t do that.” Now Pensacola was rolling her eyes upwards to watch herself move her brows individually. Her head tilted in the process, and I took a heavy swig of beer while she was distracted. She returned back to our uncomfortable stare down and hung her arm on my shoulder, feeling my neck and then rummaging her hand under the back of my shirt.
“Uh, yeah, I’m actually pretty hairy, too,” I said. (Whatever. I’m half Egyptian.) “I made a novelty hairy chest calendar a couple years back,” I said grasping at straws. “I’d say it was pretty tasteful.”
Pensacola leaned in and started rubbing her cheek and lips against my face. This was now minute five of the date. She was already taking my hand and interlocking our fingers. I couldn’t help but notice her gnashed fingernails—nervous habits that correlated to her, as her online profile stated—intense working habits. Pensacola pecked my lips, and exhaled cigarette exhaust.
“So, you’re a photographer, right?” I asked buying time to slam down my drink.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m sorry, I don’t like questions. I’m bad with interviews.”
“Sorry,” I told her, “journalistic habit.”
My drink all finished, I excused myself to the bathroom where I searched how you contract oral herpes. I’m not a complete hypochondriac, but when a hot mess you’ve known for only ten minutes starts kissing on you, you panic. My phone brought up images of insane flared boils, and assured me how I’d probably be fine.
A few minutes later, the hot mess next talked about writing and proceeded to show me her poems. I nodded along trying to think of how the fuck I’d get out of here. In her erratic and unsurprising way, she then demanded that we sing karaoke. This was my opportunity!
I mentioned how I’d have to wake up early in the morning for work.
“Why? Where do you work?” she said offended.
“Er, from home. I just … have to finish a lot of stuff before, um, a meeting at 4 o’clock.” Disclaimer: I am probably the worst person at lying. But, I said we could share an Uber that could drop me off on the way to the karaoke bar. She again leaned in and awkwardly nuzzled me. I shuttered like a shelter dog. It reminded of that scene in Alien 3 when Ripley has the xenomorph in her face. (I half-expected a tiny chomping alien tongue to poke out.) Pensacola then handed me her credit card to pay while she went out for a cigarette.
I joined her out in the snow, counting down the very long minutes for the Uber to arrive. She twirled around, fumbling and cackling. She fell into my arms, and she started to forcefully wheeze as she guffawed at my frightened expression. I could hear the rasp of each bronchiole in her lungs.
Finally the car came, and during the drive she nibbled my cheek and came in for a kiss. Oh, god! Oh, god! Oh, GOD! I smashed my face back to avoid it, our glasses clumsily smacking each other. And she breathed into my ear, “You just embarrassed me.”
The trap was ensnaring me. I needed to break free! I pointed to the corner where the driver could drop me off, and told Pensacola to have a good night. In my haste of speed-walking through the snow storm a couple blocks away from my actual destination, I felt a pop! in the calf of my left leg. I must have pivoted poorly while looking back to make sure Pensacola was gone. The pain flooded my leg, and I began to hobble the last block to my apartment complex. But, alas, the Florida woman was on her way to the drunkard’s looney bin, aka karaoke bar.
I limped through my doorway. In total I’d be gone for less than an hour. A Google search later told me I had a “grade one” strained muscle that may take a month to heal. But like the feral beasts who chew off their limbs to survive, a sore calf is, comparatively, a favorable outcome.