Love. I don’t know. But there was this French guy from Lyon once. Once there was this French guy from Lyon.
His name was Adrien and he lived with my brother and me for a month during a winter in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We met him through Hospitality Club, a website where travelers can stay with other travelers for free. I didn’t meet him upon arrival because I’d been out late and he was asleep when I got in.
I was accustomed to waking up and stepping over strangers in the apartment. My brother and I had been actively hosting travelers since the fall. But he was the one who organized it. I was just along for the ride. And I liked it. Liked the foreign objects left behind by travelers: Vegemite, chartreuse, AHOJ candy to drink with vodka. Liked the things they taught me: to mix sprite with beer, to wear my scarf a certain way, expressions in their language. Mostly though, I loved seeing New York’s magic through their eyes. I was used to the bathroom being occupied, used to suitcases flung around the living room, used to waking up to a Mongolian, German, Spaniard or Californian in the apartment.
When I walked into the kitchen that morning, Adrien was at the table in a red T-shirt. It was New Year’s Eve. He was writing on an index card with such flourish and I was amused. He ended his sentence with a dramatic stab to the paper like he’d just finished the great American masterpiece and he looked up at me.
That night, my brother and I were having a New Year’s Eve party, cramming close to one hundred people into our tiny railroad apartment. Close to midnight most people started leaving to go to bars. Adrien and I were somehow left behind and found ourselves walking together down North Sixth Street. We walked to the waterfront and we found an old grandfather clock and we kissed. We brought the grandfather clock home.
The night was long. At some point I tried to sleep but woke up because he was putting something under my pillow. Something he wrote on the typewriter:
you are so exciting
and go outside
It seemed to be the most romantic thing to ever happen to me.
We went on the fire escape to smoke pot and then into the bathroom where he pushed me against the wall and kissed me. I wore a blue T-shirt from American Apparel. I was stealing clothes from there often, and that T-shirt was my current favorite. I straddled him on the toilet and he told me he loved my breasts. I never realized how beautiful mouths could be until him.
In the morning, he was up listening to jazz and rolling joints and cooking for everyone that had slept over. He was wearing a necklace made of wood that belonged to my mother. I sat down at the table. He was whistling. He was explaining something to me and put his arm around my shoulder in a joking, cliché, overacted sort of way, and then laughed and said, “You think I am very strange man?”
On my way out the door into the snow to the bodega, he slipped an index card in my trench coat, on which was scrawled:
Last night I touch a girl after midnight and she moaned of a god who I hope was me.
He would walk around my room, putting on my stuff and putting my stuff in his pockets. I didn’t care. We were walking to brunch one morning and he held his arms out to show me. Gold rings, beaded bracelets, rubber bands, pins on his sleeves.
I ended up giving him that wooden necklace of my mother’s even though I’d had to beg her to let me borrow it, even though it wasn’t mine to give away, even though it had a lot of history and even though I loved it, because I am the type of person who will give anything to anyone I feel I could love.
When I wasn’t around, Adrien would use our Polaroid camera to take pictures of himself and hide them around the apartment. I came home from work one night and went to the bathroom to pee, to find that the he had positioned a photo of himself wearing nothing but a bright orange scarf on the typewriter. On the bottom of the Polaroid he had written:
I like sex. With flowers, with painting. I have no definition of my sex feeling.
I’d never experienced that kind of laughter before. I almost died. I am still laughing.
because every time i see someone dulce
i take the person in my arms... rimes come with rhythms
at midnight I will come in your bed
And at midnight he came in my bed. And at midnight each night for the rest of January he came in my bed. My twin bed that my father made that took up the entire room because that’s how small the room was. We fucked every night with just bookshelves separating us from my brother’s room.
“You are the first blonde I’ve slept with,” he told me some time in the night.
I didn’t reciprocate, so he said, “Am I the first Frenchman you have slept with?”
Awkward laughter in the dark.
One morning we brought him to a store called Junk, which sold exactly what you’d think it would. Adrien came up to me and asked me if he thought it would be okay if he stole something. I said it would probably be fine. My brother walked up to us mid-conversation.
“I do not know how to say in English? But…I am a thief?” And he pulled out a psychedelic patterned neon neck warmer from under his shirt.
One of my most romantic memories of living in New York City happened with Adrien. We went to see the movie Manhattan. I had never seen it. We got stoned and then stood in line for half an hour in the freezing cold. He fingered me and touched me and kissed me through the movie.
“There were two funnies,” he said, “that only you and me laughed at.”
I had noticed it too. There was a part where Woody Allen is breaking up with Mariel Hemmingway and blows on the harmonica out of the blue. Adrien and I both laughed loudly while the rest of the theatre was silent. The other part was when Woody is shaking someone’s hand and he says to him, “It’s been a pleasure and a sincere sensation.”
I caught him shoving condoms into my underwear drawer morning. French condoms called Intimy. “For when you are in love,” he said, and I told him that he sounded like my mom.
The morning he left, he wanted me to take him to Beacon’s Closet, a huge and trendy, used clothing store. He wanted to steal knee socks. We kissed goodbye on the corner and we hugged and then we shook hands and he told me I was a sincere sensation and we laughed. I walked him to the L train and then I called my mom and told her I’d found love.
I felt bleak for weeks afterward. I had my blue American Apparel T-shirt, still unwashed, still smelling of him, and slept with it against my bare skin most nights.
The last letter he sent to me read:
i write you today because it's a good day, so much sun,
a city to discover. i'm loving that.
yesterday i buy a new necklace, one from india
it is ok to steal nothing, i have values
if you could understand some things,
yes to be in love is scaring
but we always find possibilities
to look for some sincere feelings anyway
you are sincere sensation with smart character
I so enjoy your stupid sensibility
hope you cant understand
with the sun who go to dream
i hope you remember how to
follow the birds
and me, i was dreaming this night, i was walking on a forest, alone,
and find a little dead sheep i saw a tent, a bear was sleeping inside
i just run very fast after that
i am with my dad today and I cant smoke weed in front of my dad its pity
when you come in france ?
your fucked friend from lyon.
Chloe Caldwell’s Legs Get Led Astray is forthcoming from Future Tense.