It’s difficult to explain why I thought disappearing to China for five months with a girl I barely knew was a good idea—if I even thought it was, and I’m not convinced I did. It’s unclear what I thought: Maybe it’s that we were in love, that I had a feeling and had to go with it. Maybe it had to do with a more selfish idea I had about adventure. Or maybe I just thought it was a strange and funny thing to do, at least before any sense of reality kicked in. And the more questions people asked, the less plausible the whole thing seemed.
“Well, how did you meet her?” they’d say.
“Oh, you know, the Internet,” I’d reply.
Then, depending on how well I knew the person—or how well I didn’t know them—I might confess:
“It was a sex date.”
That usually made people’s ears perk up.
I would explain that she had just been passing through New York when I met her. She’d been traveling around India and southeast Asia for most of the previous year and had only come back to the U.S. briefly while making plans to move to China.
No, she’s not Asian herself, I’d sometimes have to clarify—she’s from Florida, an American and a creep like me. I don’t think either of us even thought it was that weird to meet a stranger for sex—or to move halfway around the world with them.
I’d been meeting women this way for about two years. Specifically, self-identified submissive women who wanted to be tied up, slapped around, choked, chained to a radiator, etc. It turns out there is no shortage of these women in New York.
As exciting and bizarre as these adventures were, my lust for new partners and new sex toys is apparently not unlimited, and I found myself wanting something more.
Her name on OKCupid was “monkeys123.” Mine was “beardonyourbush.” We exchanged numbers quickly, but it took a bit of persistence via text message to convince her to come meet me. She was staying with a friend up in Harlem and couldn’t decide if she wanted to come “all the way downtown” just to have kinky sex with a stranger. Also, she wouldn’t tell me her name.
“But I do feel like I want to be dominated tonight,” she admitted, in an electrifyingly matter-of-fact text.
I met her at Astor Place. She had short, curly hair and glasses, and she smiled a lot. She was an extremely pretty girl, but also vaguely awkward, which I liked. We were both feeling manic and overexcited, talking too fast and divulging way too much information. I suggested we go to a bar, have a drink and relax, even though I was three years sober at the time (I would just have a ginger ale). There was something powerful and magnetic between us. I felt certain of it immediately, and I didn’t want her to change her mind about me.
At the bar, we had a fairly abstract conversation about how difficult we both found it to relate other people—or perhaps more accurately, how rare it was to feel like other people were actually relating to us.
She talked about her restlessness, how she drifted from place to place without ever feeling like she belonged anywhere; how she did a similar thing with men, meeting them, sleeping with them out of perverse curiosity, then discarding them. This made perfect sense to me. I told her I thought we were the same.
Half an hour later, as we ascended the stairs to my apartment, I got my first look at how fantastic her ass looked in her jeans. I’d gotten an impression of it from her OKCupid pictures, but the reality was something else entirely, and I felt insanely impatient to see what she looked like naked.
“Just don’t murder me, OK?” she said, laughing. I promised that I wouldn’t.
Usually when I have a strange woman in my apartment, I go out of my way to make her feel as comfortable as possible—assuring her, for instance, that I won’t handcuff her the first time, because it’s too dangerous to let someone you just met do that to you. But “monkeys123” was reckless—for her, the risk seemed to be a major part of the appeal—so I held nothing back.
Afterward, when she got up to leave, I told her that I wanted her to stay.
I can’t remember if she told me her name that night, or if it was the next time she came over, two days later. I was standing behind her in the bathroom as she washed her face, and she made eye contact with me in the mirror and said: “Christina.”
As we were drifting off to sleep, she turned to me and said, “I told you I’m married, right?” as if she had just remembered.
Her husband was a bisexual Englishman, a boxer, who she had married when they were 18 so that he could get a Greencard. Now he was living back in England and had been relegated to the role of her “best friend.” Her other “best friend” was “a sociopath with one nut” who lived in Florida. She had loved him, she said. She had been the one who discovered the tumor on his testicle, and the one who had kept him company as he recovered from the surgery. But he couldn’t reciprocate her feelings. He wasn’t capable of it. She had dozens of stories like this, about people she’d known, places she’d gone, bizarre things she’d done—how she had crashed a motorbike in Indonesia and nearly died, how she had fucked some guy in the ass with a strap-on in Singapore, how she had let her boyfriend in high school fuck her with a gun to her head.
I tried to keep up, revealing my own stories of sexual/existential wanderlust. I’d been to India—but no, I hadn’t dropped acid in the desert like she had. I told her about the time I’d gone to a gangbang in a midtown Manhattan hotel room. She countered with a story about blowing two of her friends in a bathroom at a bar in Florida.
All of these confessions just came tumbling out, partially as a way of one-upping each other, perhaps, but also because neither of us flinched at the other’s sordid tales. That would only happen later, on the other side of the world, when we were utterly dependent on each other, once the situation had become too real. Those sudden fits of jealousy would catch me totally off guard.
At that moment, however, confined together in the small world of my apartment, we were smitten. She postponed her flight back to Florida and stayed with me for a week. She was leaving for China at the end of the month.
“You should come visit me,” she said one morning over breakfast.
In the weeks that followed, especially after she arrived at her new home in Guangzhou, our plans kept escalating—one month turned into two, then three, then five.
We were Skyping all the time, telling each other things like, “I think I love you,” then just admitting it outright. When I finally left New York, I imagined I might never come back, even as I tried to assure skeptical friends that I would.
I still remember those months in China so clearly: The way Christina said, “It almost feels wrong to have sex without a condom,” that first night at the apartment in Taojin; Sitting on various balconies smoking cigarettes every hour of the night and day; The long walks and endless bus trips across the sprawling city of Guangzhou; My first beer in three years, at an African restaurant in Xiaobei, and the way the waiter smiled at me and said, “Your wife is very beautiful,” when Christina disappeared to the bathroom.
But I also remember the constant anxiety we both felt—about ourselves, each other, our relationship, and trying to make a life together in a foreign country—and the way we seemed to exacerbate each other’s fears, rather than soothe them. There was a terrible fight in Hong Kong, when we said things to each other that I hope we were both too drunk to remember, then a worse fight in Guangzhou, when I said and did things that I do remember but would rather not repeat. There was the pain of trying to come to terms with the fact that our impulsive love affair wasn’t working and that neither of us could make it work just because we wanted it to. As I helped Christina find a new apartment in the Liwan District, where she would live without me, then buy a kitten and pick out furniture, I felt crushed by the sheer futility of it all …
That was a year ago. Now I’m back in New York, and Christina remains on the other side of the world. To hear her tell it, she’s more stable than she’s ever been.
Some days it seems impossible that this is something I actually did, that I was so overwhelmed by my emotions that I moved halfway around the world. But there are moments I remember so intensely, it has to have been me. Like walking down Second Avenue, a few days after we met, this strange and exciting girl on my arm. It was a cold winter morning. The sun was shining so brilliantly, and I was so giddy, that I felt like I could barely see or walk or do anything. Christina was clutching my arm and looking down the avenue, which felt oddly empty—in fact, in my mind now, it feels like we were the only two people in the city.
The vividness of that moment, the beauty we both felt, and how sad it makes me feel to recall it now, is both because of everything that came before it—the tawdry circumstances under which we met—and everything that came after it—all of the absurd ups and downs in China. I ask myself, if I had to do it all over again, would I?
Of course I would.
Rob Williams is a writer and editor who lives above a meat market in the East Village in New York City. Read more of his stories at itmustbebobby.com.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.