1.) Ada is beautiful from any angle. The proof is in her OkCupid photos. My favorite: an aerial-view headshot, half of her face is obstructed by the edge of the photograph. A soft gaze. Smooth features. Her lips are pressed together. Is she being coy? Expressing apathy? Her eyes say, “Keep guessing.” There’s another photograph I like: Ada is sitting, leaning forward, laughing. Her long, dark hair is in a bun. Her lips shine, freshly-glossed. Her teeth are straight. I imagine she’s giggling at a joke I’ve just made. The one about the primary difference between blondes and airplanes. You know, not everybody’s been on an airplane.
2.) She’s picky. After having thoroughly read through her OkCupid profile, my first message to Ada is this: You’re a librarian and a burlesque dancer? How are you single? She doesn’t respond. Internally, I defend her silence: Well, that was a stupid question. So I follow my inquiry up with an observation. I write: Well, that was a stupid question. Sorry. She writes back: I’m picky. At the end of her two-word response, a little winking emoticon.
3.) Ada and I are messaging each other every day. Multiple times a day. We ask each other questions: What are you reading? What’s your favorite font? What do you miss most about your hometown? It’s interrogative momentum. Ada misses watching thunderstorms rise over Lake Michigan. Remember her answers, I think. It’s important that you listen and remember this time.
4.) I send Ada a message: I should be honest and tell you I’m in early sobriety. She is neither alarmed nor is she perturbed. In fact, she congratulates me on being clean and sober. Then she informs me that she’s never touched drugs or alcohol; that several members of her family are addicts who, growing up, subjected her to frightening, inebriated debacles. I write back: You’re kidding. You’ve seriously never tried drugs or alcohol? She responds with an exclamatory one-word reply: No! A few moments pass. I’m sure I’ve offended her with my disbelief. I’m about to write her again to see if she’s mad when, suddenly, a new message: What’s your opinion of the Oxford Comma? At the end of her question, a little winking emoticon.
5.) We finally meet up. The first thing I notice: her lips. They’re pressed together in a smile. Her eyes say, “Hello.”
6.) Ada considers a lot of things in her life to be “brilliant”: I’m working on a new dance number and it’s going to be brilliant and I put together this great costume and it’s going to look brilliant. She also likes to brag about the various things at which she excels: vegan cooking, playing computer games, and organizing friends’ homes, to name a few. I message her: Well, I used to be good at taking pills and drinking a lot. She doesn’t respond. So I write again: And I’m learning to cook. Sort of. I’m learning to have an interest in cooking, at least. Maybe I’ll make you vegan cupcakes. She writes back to tell me that vegan cooking is not hard; it’s best to start with the simple dishes first.
7.) Ada is bragging to me about how fast she can read. I write back: Well, I make decent quesadillas. She tells me she cooked several dishes for a potluck earlier and everyone loved her food; in fact, they couldn’t get enough of it. I congratulate her and type: I have a completely flawless driving record. Every time Ada boasts, I respond by pointing out something exceptional about myself. This is not typical of me.
8.) Ada scrunches up her nose to keep her glasses from sliding down. We’re on our second “date.” She’s taken a train up to see me and another friend of hers here in town. All week, I’ve been reintroducing myself to manners: opening doors for people, smiling, giving up my seat for little old ladies on the bus. I even went on a “practice date” with a friend who, once the bill arrived, reminded me to say, “Please, please, let me get this.” I‘m taking Ada to a restaurant known for its brilliant vegan food. I open the front door for her and, as she walks through, she scrunches up her nose. Then we sit down. She looks over a menu and scrunches up her nose. I can hardly stand it. This makes me want to kiss her. Right when her lips get pouty and twisted. But I don’t do it. Not at the restaurant, I think. Wait until later. At the train station. Right now, make sure she orders first.
9.) At the train station, Ada hugs me goodbye. She scrunches up her nose. I want to kiss her. Right when her lips get pouty and twisted. But I don’t.
10.) Ada walks off into the train station. I screech out of the parking lot, hoping she doesn’t hear my dramatic departure. I’m so mad at myself. This is typical of me. When I get home, I run upstairs, flip open my laptop, and type: I wanted to kiss you tonight but I didn’t. This all so new to me, now that I’m sober. I hope this doesn’t make you uncomfortable.
11.) Ada isn’t sure how she feels about my forfeited kissing endeavor. That’s what she says, at least. But she adds that her reaction to a kiss from me would probably not have been a negative one. Then: winking emoticon.
12.) Now, Ada is my muse.
13.) Ada is going to be busy at work. She’s just giving me a heads up in case I don’t hear from her for a while. Her hectic schedule hasn’t interfered with our correspondences before, so, in all likelihood, it won’t now. I send her a message: What have you got to brag about today? I add a winking emoticon. She doesn’t respond. An hour later, I write: Are you there? Hello? Another winking emoticon. Three hours later: Hey, did I upset you? Have I done something wrong? Nothing. Five hours. Where are you? I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings somehow. Seven hours. I wish you would tell me what I’ve done wrong. Nine hours. Ada finally writes back: I told you I’m busy at work. I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I typically don’t respond well to non-stop, badgering emails like this.
I am standing outside of the rehab facility I visit once a week. I look around, panicked. Is this what I’m really like?
14.) Ada and I make plans to see a movie but, because I’m so humiliated by the badgering email debacle, I back out a few days beforehand. I tell her I shouldn’t be spending money on the train ride. I tell her I’m still too early in sobriety to be dating. All of this is true, but I’m also afraid to be near her. What if she scrunches up her nose and it makes me want to kiss her and, when I try, she says no? And what if I can’t stop myself from trying to kiss her until she gets angry and shouts, “By the way, I don’t respond well to sexual harassment!”
15.) I deactivate my OkCupid profile. I want to message Ada: You see, I’m brilliant at pretending I don’t care. I even get involved with someone else. Every once in a while, Ada and I message each other: How’s your day? What’s new? Interrogative courtesy.
16.) I miss Ada. I should tell her that, I think. But I don’t.
17.) It’s like I am on one shore of a lake, Ada is on the other. When I finally decide I really want to paddle across this time, it’s too late. She messages to tell me she’s met someone; it’s very serious. I am standing outside of rehab again. I’m panicked. I cry a little and start calling my friends, telling them I need their help. I’m in pain, I say. I’m being imperative. This is not typical of me. My sponsor says that it’s progress.
18.) I know that Ada misses watching thunderstorms rise over Lake Michigan.