The night the ground shook
Last night was interesting. I felt my first earthquake and I found out everything I needed to know about Payam.
For weeks Payam and I played “date tag.“ We would set up a date (a nightclub, a movie night, a dinner) and then he’d call the day before and say he couldn’t make it. Or he’d call asking if I was free Saturday night … on Saturday morning. Then finals week hit both of us. So we didn’t see each other for a few weeks.
In any case, I knew – from his on-again, off-again behavior – that he just wasn’t “that into me.” Frankly, weeks ago I had made peace with the fact that we’d be friends.
But I still had one question: Was he gay? It may have seemed like a silly question to ask (and as they say, if you have to ask …) but I still wanted to know. That would explain his reticence to get close to me, even though he was clearly pursuing me (always making the phone calls or sending emails). Also, he’s Persian and even though he’s not religious I couldn’t help but feel that the culture he had grown up in had, at the very least, made him feel restricted. There is a long history of homosexuality being repressed or ignored in Muslim society, even now.
So we set up and finally met a date: A movie at my place. He brought over some popcorn and we watched The Invention of Lying (Payam had requested a comedy). He smelled like spicy nutmeg, and I was tempted to kiss him to test out my hypothesis. But we sat, as we had in our first movie together, arms at our side, lightly leaning against each other and … that was it.
So I tried to steer the conversation to sex and relationships. The movie (which stunk) had brought up some interesting ideas about relationships and faith and he started to punctuate the conversation with statements like “I can’t believe people have sex on a first date.” And just as I was about to push the conversation into deeper waters ….
… the couch started to move. “Move” isn’t the right word. More like a gentle swaying motion, as if we were in a giant cradle, being rocked to sleep.
Payam and I looked at each other. The couch was still moving gently. I asked him, “Do you think this is an earthquake?” “I think so,” he responded. At which point we both screamed delightedly.
“That was the first earthquake I’ve felt here!” I said. “I know, me too!” he replied, and we practically jumped for joy.
The next few minutes were spent looking up the news. The earthquake was 5.7 (!!) and had happened hundreds of miles south, on the Mexican border. We called our friends and family in San Diego to see if they were all right. And then we left the apartment to return the movie.
On the way to the store, however, we finally talked. He started: “So, how many boyfriends have you had in the last few years?” When I told him I had had two long-term relationships (two years and then, four years) he responded, “I think I’m a relationship phobe.” OK…. I probed some more. Turns out he had had two girlfriends who he had briefly dated, one in Iran and one here, a Vietnamese-American girl he had met in salsa dance classes. But he had broken up with both of them very quickly. The more we talked, the brighter the lightbulb went off in my head and I finally asked him, “Payam, have you ever had sex?” His response: An unsurprising “no.”
Payam, my 24-year-old Persian guy, is a virgin.
Now I had the choice of either backing off entirely (an excellent choice, if you ask me) or to pursue this like the delicious dangling carrot it is. But not so fast!
Payam was in his most honest form that night. He started to tell me about how much he had been attracted to me when he first met me at a wine party two months ago (“I saw the blonde hair and knew I had to dance with you”) and as he continued, I waited for the “but.” Sure enough:
“… but I really tried to feel something between us and I just don’t know if I feel it.”
Wait. Was I just back-handedly rejected by a 24-year-old virgin? Huh, that’s got to be a first.
We tied up the evening with the usual nonsense about being friends. And that was that. We hugged goodbye – he still smelled like nutmeg – and went our merry ways. I returned home with a silly grin on my face. I felt like I had breached some inner level of secrecy.
And then I remembered the earthquake. And grinned even more widely.