Being with the Scotsman was driving in a car to Glasgow and listening to The Stone Roses. It was eating that unique brand of Indian food that only the U.K. can furnish. It was trying to get in on the wrong side of the car and feeling a little stupid for it. It was only really understanding what he said half the time. But most of all, it was, for once, actually looking tanner than someone else.
“What are we doin’ in Edinburgh, fuckin’ each other,” he inquired incredulously.
“Life is a series of random events,” I offered.
This was the morning after, of course, when he had put his jeans and black long sleeve shirt back on. Or rather, it was the afternoon, because neither of us wanted to get out of bed. What was the point? It was fucking freezing and it was Edinburgh, not exactly the wondrous world of beauty everyone makes it out to be when you’re there in the winter. I didn’t like Owen at first. Thought he was too thin and rather annoying in that sort of way one without a little brother imagines a little brother to be. But over time, I found him to be somewhat charming, and it had to be because of the accent. That’s all people from the United Kingdom have going for them. Yet, at the same time, it’s extremely difficult to take someone seriously when they talk like that. Even so, I was starting to take him seriously. Got lured in by his yarn. Men are all expert spinners at their core. And my, did Owen spin me well when we first met one another on a West Village street in New York, sort of like out of a movie. He was coming toward me in his languid, no-rush manner while I was, for the first time in a while, actually hurrying to get to a job with a few minutes to spare. It was some inane date entry position I had finagled through a temp agency. It wasn’t going to last more than two months. Much like myself if I continued to subsist on this budget of mine. So I was clacking away along the sidewalk in my “smart” pumps and “vintage” Marshall’s skirt suit when Owen, in his torpor, couldn’t be bothered to move his guitar case out of my way as I attempted to breeze past him. So it was that it toppled out of his hands, crashing to the concrete and dumping out the already beaten up guitar with bombast. The neck of the guitar broke on contact.
Enraged, Owen looked from the guitar to me and exclaimed, “Look what you’ve done, you numpty!” Having no idea what he was talking about, I wanted nothing more than to continue on my way. Yet something kept me frozen in place, as though to help him would be to disprove the foreigner’s perspective about Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular being assholes. So I ruined my chance at a consistent paycheck for the next two months by offering to take Owen out for a coffee. I couldn’t pay for his guitar, I didn’t really feel it was my fault, for one thing. For another, even if it was, I certainly didn’t have the funds to assist him in literally repairing his musical aspirations.
After he calmed down a bit with the consumption of a spot of tea–apparently coffee was too much for his delicate stomach–he suddenly became extremely apologetic. “I don’t know why I got so angry with you. It’s not you, really. I’ve just had a bit of a bad week, and you were the last straw. I know you didn’t mean any harm. It was an accident, could have happened to anyone I was passing.”
“Well, it didn’t help that you wouldn’t move out of the goddamn way,” I said, finally permitted to be my true cunt rag of a self now that he wasn’t so emotional.
He smiled. “You’re rather combative, aren’t you?”
I took a sip of my coffee, now the perfect tepid temperature. “And you’re rather self-involved, aren’t you? You haven’t asked me a single question about myself since we’ve sat down.”
“Maybe I’ve just been trying to fill the silence so I can ignore how attracted I am to you.”
Lines like these always affected my gag reflex. But also secretly appealed to my inner belief that I was starring in my own Julia Roberts-esque film (before she started doing roles tailored to her age like Isabel Pullman in Wonder). So I allowed him to admire me over the next few months as we platonically went to films, museums and restaurants together. Not being one for making the first move, I never dared to encourage any sort of sexual advance for fear that I might somehow be misinterpreting the signs and flatteries. I lived in fear of rejection, and romantic rejection was by far the worst kind of all. So I treated him as a friend. And one day, when the notion struck me to go to Edinburgh purely because there was a cheap flight deal beckoning to me from my inbox, I didn’t think to tell him. With no job and no money, going for about two weeks felt right, so I booked it for February, mainly because I hate being in New York on Valentine’s Day–or for any holiday, really. I had no idea that in the time from November to then, Owen would turn suddenly reclusive, declining my invitations in favor of staying at home and working on his compositions. I had the distinct feeling he was financially backed like most artists without a job. It was thusly that he was allowed the luxury of an erratic schedule, paired with the ability to even pursue such a quaint dream at all. But he never delved too deeply into his familial background, instead preferring to attempt schooling me on the movies and music I should be consuming. It was an attempt pointless in nature, for he could never one-up me with his knowledge. Part of why I couldn’t finagle a boyfriend was that none of them were well-versed enough in pop culture to not feel threatened by my predilection for being pedantic. Inevitably, my encyclopedic brain would always vex them. They preferred that I simply turn over and let them fuck me rather than continue hearing another word about Smithereens or Nights of Cabiria (the former of which was directly influenced by the latter).
So I did, until I didn’t. Making a vow to myself never to have sex again with someone who treated me like shit. Maybe that was what this solo journey was really about. Recalibrating after the conclusion of my latest long-term (long-term being a year by New York standards) relationship failed, and seeking to understand how to be alone again. I had told Owen I was going a few weeks before, but he never responded to my text.
When I touched down in Edinburgh on February 11th, I turned on my phone to immediately hear the ding of a WhatsApp message from him. “I know who you can meet in Scotland.” I replied, “Is it a dodgy character?” “Very dodgy,” he said, adding, “Did Scottish customs show you how to treat human beings?” Our text exchange continued roundaboutly throughout the day.
“So what will you do tonight?”
“[shrug emoji]. I’m staying on West Montgomery if that means anything.”
“You’re staying in Trainspotting. Leith.”
“I didn’t even realize.”
“Mental. What will you do there tonight?”
I should have guessed something suspicious was going on when seeing that he asked me for a second time what I was doing.
“Idk. You got any recommendations? I feel I should got the museum or some such.”
“There’s a great McDonald’s on Princes Street. Big Macs are great over here.”
Before I could say anything, he felt the need to give himself away in a contrived manner by saying, “Shit I gave it away. I’m home.”
Shocked that the stars could align to bring Owen and I together in his hometown, I proceeded to learn that the reason for his return was due to depression and an inability to stay away from weed whilst in America. He also claimed to be less inspired in New York, a complaint I’ve heard from many who leave it only to find renewed zeal for their art form.
“I know you want to see Edinburgh, but I could take you to some beautiful places if you wanted to see the land.”
And he did, because I did. It was the following day that he came to pick me up at West Montgomery, site of where I tried to get into his car from the wrong side. He smirked at me, seemingly satisfied that I was at last the one to be in the position of foreigner. It was a typically grey day, but I couldn’t deny that he was right about the “beautiful places” in between Edinburgh and Glasgow, where he was driving us so that I could see the other major hub of Scotland. He let me play my music in between The Stone Roses and Ian Brown’s solo work. I chose, among others like Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes,” “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” I told him I was sorry, but that a drive as epic as this needed a song equally as dramatic. He made me like him all the more by pshawing at my apology and touting the merit of Celine Dion.
We arrived as darkness was falling, adding to the empty and industrial feel of Glasgow. It wasn’t much, as far as I was concerned, and couldn’t really understand why concerts and festivals were always scheduled here as opposed to Edinburgh. Owen admitted I was right, that it did leave something to be desired. And with nothing open except a few bars and an imminently closing Indian restaurant, we entered the latter. Owen didn’t drink, but I needed something to take the edge off of the tension between us. It was clear to me that we were going to go back to my Airbnb and be one of the last to engage in straight sex.
But I wanted to savor this dinner before everything changed. Because I knew that after it happened, Owen would treat me differently. Possibly ignore me the way all males do after banging a female friend. And then there was the fact that his mental breakdown could take months or years to recover from, that he wouldn’t ever return to New York. So yes Scotland was a milieu rife with drama for me not just because of the landscape.
It took a few Netflix viewings for us to finally disrobe. It was all very cautious, and surprisingly tender. That’s what made it all the more bittersweet for me.
But, just as I predicted, Owen pulled away from me after that afternoon we awakened to an altered rapport. I walked him outside, where he had gotten a parking ticket. It somehow made me think of myself as being whorish since he had to pay for his night with me. He hugged me and said goodbye. Soon after, I left Edinburgh. Owen didn’t return to New York. I still drunk dial him now and again. There’s no answer. Can never be an answer to explain the magic of a tryst in a foreign land, when none of the worries about “what happens next?” apply until you’ve left.