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The regular at my bar who has herpes on his genitals and is trying to find love visited a few days ago after a one month hiatus. When Joe arrived, he immediately told the bartender working that he wanted to speak to me, because I like to listen, so she called me on the phone while I was upstairs in the office slamming my head against a printer. Give me a minute, there’s blood everywhere, I’ll be right down.

Joe found a girl! Can you fucking believe it? Love! Intoxicating, enthralling, ethereal love! The clouds have cleared! The dawn is here! Get this man with a venereal disease a beer!

“But wait,” Joe said, “Something really bad happened this past weekend. I-”

“Hold your warts right there, cowboy. Start from the beginning.”

About a month ago, Joe was feeling depressed after a string of failed dates. The women he was meeting through his herpes website weren’t setting him on fire like the outbreaks on his crouch were 2-3 times a year. One night, a friend asked him if he wanted to go out to bars and meet women.  “You know I can’t do that,” Joe replied. “I can only meet woman through the herpes website.”
“Then just be my wingman. I know you like to drink.”
“Okay, I guess.”

Joe went out with no intention of finding a woman. Isn’t that how it often happens? You go out just to have a good time and an eager person of the opposite sex just appears? Well, that’s exactly what happened. While at the bar, a cute blond, 22 years old, approached Joe and they began talking. Joe is a generically handsome guy. Despite being 32 he has a babyish face with baby blue eyes, slightly chiseled jaw, slight scruff, crew cut, tan, lean, and in shape. He has good genes in the appearance department, which is why I’ve asked him to set me up with his sister (I’ve seen pictures). This means he’s had numerous girls approach him in the past and initiate the courting process, something I can’t imagine. If a girl ever approaches me in bar, I’m gonna assume she’s playing a prank. Anyway, this new girl, Diana, took the reins. She had extra tickets to a comedy show nearby. Would Joe like to join her after this drink?
“Yes.”

Everything clicked. They had a swell time. The comedians were insulting everyone in the small theatre (it was a Monday night and there were only a few people in the audience) except Diana and Joe. “Look how happy and good looking this couple is, we can’t make fun of them!” said one comedian. “That guy is so handsome,” another flamboyant comedian added, “I bet you he has a big dick!” The world was conspiring on their behalf. They left the show holding hands and took an Uber back to Diana’s apartment…

Kiss in the Camry. Arrive at the apartment. The clothes come off. Oh no. Are they gonna fuck? Should Joe drop the herpes bomb now? What’s he gonna do?

While kissing, Diana pushes Joe back.
“I have to tell you something.”
“Yes?”
“I don’t want to have sex just yet.”
“That’s fine. I understand. But why?”
“I…I…was sexually assaulted a few weeks ago, and I don’t think I’m ready.”
“Okay.”

For the next three weeks they waited to have sex and went on many dates. They started to fall in love. They went apple picking, to the movies, to a Broadway show, barcade, an art museum, and the park. While telling me these things I told Joe,
“You were given a gift! A chance! A woman who wants to develop intimacy before sex! Before you have to drop the herpes bomb!”
“I know, but wait.” He showed me text messages. Diana was saying how she hadn’t felt like this with someone before. She couldn’t believe she liked him so much so fast. She was even fine with him having two kids, an ex wife, and a broken past! She accepted the fact that he had been in psychiatric hospital on suicide watch for a week and in rehab for alcohol for a month.”
“All of these dates and confessions happened in 3 weeks?” I asked.
“Yes. We did things practically every day. She’s in school and skipped classes.”
“How did you find the time to go on so many dates?”
“You know how I’m a chef in the coast guard now, right?”
“Yes.”
“Well, after training, they don’t really have anything for me to do at the moment. So I’m just getting paid to hang out and wait.

During these 3 weeks, Joe was also the perfect gentleman. He told me that he held doors open for her, frequently asked how she was, and even gave her flowers.
“No one’s ever given me flowers before,” she said.

I think some people, when dating, oscillate between extremes. Girls go back and forth between the asshole and the nice guy. Guys go back and forth between a bitch and a nice girl. Perhaps Diana, after the sexual assault, naturally gravitated towards Joe, someone on the other side of the kindness spectrum: a push-over, nice guy.

Then it happened: the night of sex. Diana told Joe that she was ready. He put on a condom and they…

“What!” I exclaimed. “You didn’t tell her that you had the herpes before sex?!”
“No, I-”
“You fucking idiot!”
“I know I know, but let me explain.”
“You had a chance, Joe. A chance!”
“But wait, I wore a condom and was very careful.”
“Doesn’t matter.”
“My ex-wife and I had sex for A YEAR without a condom before she got it. I figured I could keep getting closer to Diana before I told her.”

That’s it: Joe got greedy. I’m guessing the heat of passion might have had something to do with it too.

“I’m sorry to say this, Joe, but you don’t have that luxury anymore. You gotta tell the girl BEFORE you have sex about your disease.”
“I know, you’re right. When I did tell Diana a few days later, she did exactly what you did, she blew up.”
“Rightfully so.”
“She said I betrayed her. That it was worse than the sexual assault. Even though I explained everything about my ex-wife.”
“Doesn’t matter.”
“She said she couldn’t trust me anymore. She scheduled a doctor’s appointment to get tested and said that she was feeling horrible anxiety before the appointment.”
“But you stayed in touch?”
“Yes. She said she still had feelings for me, but didn’t know what to do. Last Saturday she called me drunk and said that she still really liked me a lot. But that she needs time to think about it.”
“Hmmm. And that’s it?”
“No, so this past Monday I went to a hockey game, and she was there too.”
“You didn’t go with her?”
“No, she didn’t want to go with me after what happened. It was her favorite team and her friend had already purchased the tickets. But I had already bought 2 tickets for her and I as well. So I went with my roommate.”

“So while I’m there, Diana and I are texting. I’m also getting stupid drunk. I ask her where her seats are. At halftime, my roommate and I surprise her. But when I walk up to her, she immediately says,
‘Wow. This is creepy.’ We stand there not saying anything and it’s awkward. Then she says, ‘Don’t you think this is a little aggressive?’ I couldn’t believe it. I got pissed. She had called two nights before and said how much she liked me.”
“But she was drunk.”
“Yes, but we had been texting during the game.”
“So?”
“Anyway, I lost it. I told her we were finished. Done. No more.”
“Hmm.”
“But get this, while my roommate and I are leaving the stadium, we run into her again! I wasn’t even looking for her! And there she was! We practically bumped into each other.”
“What happened?”
“She basically told me to get away.” So my roommate and I continued walking. But I figured this run-in, this coincidence, was a sign. Like, our destiny or something. It was like the movies. So I ran back to her.”
“Oh Jesus.”
“Then she basically told me off again. She told me to just leave her alone.”

“And that’s where you both stand now?”
“No. It gets worse. You know how I almost killed myself after all the shit with my ex-wife?”
“Yes.”
“Well, I felt myself going into that dark place again. That night, after the hockey game, I started texting her some bad stuff. Basically hinting that I was going to kill myself. And my roommate was texting her similar things. Making her feel guilty.”
I sighed and shook my head . “C’mon Joe. That’s not right.”
“I know, I know, it was dumb. The next day I apologized. Here’s the last message she sent me.”

While reading this girl’s text essay, I realized what a detrimental thing a desire for pity can be in a burgeoning relationship. Joe was finished.

And this poor girl. First she was sexually assaulted, then she meets a promising man. Within a week, she discovers that the man has herpes, then he threatens to kill himself.

“What do you think I should I do now?” asked Joe. “You should do what Diana said in her text message,” I replied. “Wait. Let her see the test results. Let her sort it all out.”

Joe sighed. “I really screwed it all up, didn’t I?”
“You did.”
“Now I know to always tell a girl about my herpes before sex.”
“Yes. Now you know.”
“Do you think I’ll ever have a chance with a girl like that again?”
“Maybe.” I said.

For a moment, I was tempted to tell Joe a story about a woman I had started to fall in love with this past summer. It was the first time I felt the fire since my ex. She came to my bar with a black book of poems and sipped cider daintily from a straw. She lived on Staten Island and was a bartender in the city. She had been working in restaurants for the past ten years. She failed the math regents five times, had dyslexia, and was a die-hard fan of Joe Budden. I liked the freckles on the border her face and that she often cooked dinners for her mother who was battling cancer. We would ride the late-night ferry together. One night I fell asleep next to her, drooling a little bit on my dress shirt, inches from her shoulder, and had a ridiculous dream that she owned a bakery where she could sell her signature apple pie cookies. Twice, when I was going on a surprise visit to her bar, we coincidentally ran into each other in the terminal. It was like the movies. I’d sit down next to her, start reading my book, pretending like we were strangers, and wait until she noticed me and laughed. She had a great laugh. She’d drive me home occasionally and would always speed, whipping around the dark curves of the neighborhood streets, even though the love of her life died in a drunk driving accident when they were both 19, after they had been dating for 2 years. His name was tattooed on the back of her neck. I never asked her to come in to my apartment. Should I have asked her to come in to my apartment? I bought her two books and inscribed them. I couldn’t sleep at night for a week after we met and went through two notebooks filled with silly hopes and juvenile obsessions. But in my attempt to gradually develop intimacy, to take things slow, I believe I waited too long and came on too strong, clearly I came on too strong, and she had enough of my nervous, stuttering conversations, inadequate expressions, and moved on to someone else. I would probably have done the same. I was simultaneously too late and too much. It’s a mistake I plan on never making again. But I didn’t tell Joe because people are usually more interested to tell you their stories than to hear yours.

“Hey, quit daydreaming.” I blinked my eyes a few times, shook my head, and came back to reality. “Can I get another beer?” Joe asked.
“Yes,” I said. “You can.” I mechanically poured the beer from the tap, noticed that my hand was trembling, and placed the glass in front of him.
“And anymore advice, bartender?” I had already started walking back to the office.
“Live and learn.”

 

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