By Erin Gunther
I was relieved when I got into the taxi. He picked me up in front of the Hilton at 2 a.m. to take me home. I opened the door of the purple van and told him the address again. I had originally dialed the pre-programmed number on my way down the elevator in the hotel. Secure walls and a warm bed seemed like a distant dream at this hour of the night. It was a strangely lonely time, especially after the bustling nightlife messily dissipated as the bars reached closing time. It was even lonelier standing on the street in front of the hotel, pacing up and down the sidewalk, no cars and only the streetlights for company. The plush seat of the van and the promise of an end to the night offered some comfort.
A man that had been standing outside of the hotel talked to the taxi driver for a moment, but he was waiting for another taxi to Elmira. I wondered where he was going at this hour, if maybe he had to go to the airport for an early flight, but we didn’t speak to each other. He had a sense of urgency about him. The taxi driver was not fazed by the man’s agitation and closed the van door and took off.
His face was not familiar. His eyes were frosted with that early-morning glaze. He asked me if I was going to pay in cash. I only have five dollars in my wallet, I said. I hope I can do credit. Otherwise it’s going to be an I-owe-you. I promise I’m good for it. I can see him smile in the driver’s seat. Some crazy white girl with five dollars making I-owe-you promises. It’s OK, he said. You can come up front if you want to. That’s another thing about the early-morning hours: the taxi drivers are less like strangers. We had nothing else better to do than fill the silence by exchanging pieces of our lives.
I took him up on the offer and tried to gracefully make my way to the passenger’s seat without bumping anything. He asked about what I do, where I am originally from. I go to Ithaca College, I responded. I’m originally from Owego, just half an hour away. I am a writing major. I would really like to go to grad school and teach. I wondered what he thought of me in my present condition, getting picked up in front of the Hilton in my tank top and harem pants at that hour of the night. Sure you’re going to do that, I imagine he thought. I don’t expect to be taken seriously, but there is no pressure to impress here. I imagine his Saturday night and Sunday morning had consisted of driving drunk college-aged kids back to their apartments and dorms. If the faces and names of the people who piled in and out of the taxi in a night meant anything to him, I wondered what strange stories he might tell.
Instead he talked about himself. He said he was from Brooklyn, so I asked why he came to Ithaca. He said his parents took him here as a kid, that they didn’t want him to grow up in a rough neighborhood. I told him I wanted to go to grad school in the city. We hit common ground, so he talked a little more about his childhood in the city.
He was the most interesting person I talked to all night. I didn’t tell him this. He suggested places to go and things to do in New York that I forgot by morning. He asked about my night, and I wondered how much to divulge. I was tired and still buzzing a little, but I enjoyed that I could be shamelessly honest with him. I probably wouldn’t see him again.
I thought back to the bar and the man who bought me a drink. He was married, I said to the taxi driver. I went on to say something about what assholes the men in Ithaca could be, and he laughed. I told him it was not the first time a married guy had approached me in Ithaca. This guy was 35 and the other had been younger, a graduate student from Cornell. Supposedly this guy was from Boston, I said. Not that it mattered where he was from. But I wondered how many young women this guy had tried to seduce while on his travels. The thought made me ill, and I hoped that if there was any justice to be had, his wife was fucking some guy in their bed. I refrained from verbalizing these thoughts, staring out the window as we drove across the barren, partially lit Cornell campus.
I told him nothing happened because nothing did. I didn’t expect the taxi man to believe me, but I still had to make the effort to save face. I knew the story reflected poorly on me, but it happened and for some reason I felt like telling it to him. It came across like a confession. I confessed as though the taxi man would offer some kind of consolation, or perhaps I did it just to tell someone. This was not a story I imagined telling people outside of the taxi cab.
I didn’t explain to the taxi driver my inexplicable motivation to leave the bar with this man. I didn’t explain that I never had any intentions of going to his room with him. Had I planned on merely walking him to the hotel just to see him off there? Why had I not gotten a taxi straight from the bar? I think some part of me was waiting for the man to tell me to go home. Even after we had danced together, after we had kissed, after he had gotten me the drink. Out at the bar, there were no risks or consequences. It was just fun. But that was where it needed to end.
And yet still I managed to go to the hotel with him, went up to his room, and sat on the edge of his bed as he laid back on the pillows like he scored some kind of prize. He looked like a young 35. It was clear that he was taken care of, in-shape, that life had been good to him.
Perhaps too good, I thought. Maybe that had been the problem. I went into the bathroom to catch one good look at myself as though the reflection might be another person, perhaps someone more reasonable that might tell me how to leave. When I walked back out, I could see that he had pulled the curtains. His dress shirt was pulled out sloppily from his khakis and his shoes were at the bottom of the bed. I didn’t make a move closer, but he sat at the edge of the bed, sizing me up.
He demanded that I go down to the lobby to get a condom. I had hoped he might pass out when he got to his room, but instead he confirmed disappointment. I knew he was drunk when we had left together. He had even forgotten what hotel he was staying at initially. I still wasn’t sure why I had come with him, but it wasn’t for the reason he wanted. I left the room, with him under the pretense that I would come back. Even in his drunken state, he managed to throw a room key at me.
I would have tried to explain these details to the taxi man, but it wouldn’t have come out right. Maybe I did it because I was tired, tired of men, tired of being a young, stupid blonde college girl. Because I was tired of being good for nothing but a body and tired of men thinking that they could do whatever they wanted to that body. I realized that going out to the bars was a game for cheap thrills, but something about older married men getting their kicks off of significantly younger women soured my stomach. Usually, a hookup was relatively harmless: just a college boy with no commitments. But this man cast a shadow on the innocence of our college town hookup culture.
I had waved to the security man as I walked through the lobby of the hotel and threw the keycard into a potted plant outside of the main doors. But to the taxi man, I simply said, Nothing happened with the other married guy either. I shrugged my shoulders, with no sinful secrets to confess. Once again, I didn’t expect him to believe me. He was silent, listening to me bantering about my Ithaca nightlife experiences with married men. I thought perhaps he would tell me, Oh, that’s just all men sweetheart, or What exactly did you expect going out like that? But he didn’t. He just listened.
At least the married ones buy you drinks, I said. He laughed, and I was glad that I provided someone with amusement for the night. His response to my disgust is relieving. A laugh, and at that point I was laughing about it as well. What could I do but cry if I didn’t laugh? Even if he didn’t believe me, I knew that it wouldn’t matter by morning anyway.