By Jamie Fouty
I had never attended an event like this before; I didn’t know so many people were looking for love. There were 200 people in a room with a capacity of half that. The smell of sweat mixed with bleach burned my nostrils. The frenetic energy and collective voices felt like a low, threatening rumble of thunder. The ceiling fans made buzzing sounds with little progress. Confusion and excitement painted everyone’s faces. Where other setups at least select matches for you based on certain criteria, this was a free-for-all. Upon first glance, there were a few I could see living with, but my hesitation caused them to make faster connections with those more outgoing.
One wore a hat that wouldn’t stay on and a vest too tight, making him uncomfortable and hot; whenever he moved, the vest inched up his belly revealing bare skin. Another was limping around in a cast that had partially frayed. He tugged at the string; successfully tearing it off, he quickly ate it, looking around to see if anyone noticed. I needed to be smart about this choice and not choose simply based on how our society conditions us: appearances. Some weren’t much to look at, but neither was I. A round face and protruding nose gave me the appearance of extra weight. Wearing oversized clothing, albeit comfortable, looked sloppy and did nothing to hide my slouching. Anxiety set in: was my perfect match even here? Were they just like me, timid and unsure, or the exact opposite, the bold one that would come up and choose me?
With so many all vying for attention, there should at least be a questionnaire or some sort of structured process, not that I would’ve trusted it. Comparing myself to everyone else, I contemplated, do they have more money? Do they have children that need to be added into the equation? Surely my situation was less complicated, and being a decent cook who smells nice should count for something. I could offer a safe and loving existence; perhaps that was enough.
Admirers swarmed the popular ones. I refused to compete; I didn’t want to seem desperate, even though I was lonely and had been solitary for a while now. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there is no rush; there were opportunities to meet the right one. I had to be patient.
I started giving up hope until I saw him. He was older and chubby with unkempt, greying hair, yet his smile was contagious. My heart immediately belonged to him. Everyone was avoiding him; they wouldn’t even make eye contact. He had soulful eyes, once proud and dignified, now broken. I doubt this was his first time here. He was aware they chose to ignore, but he persisted, with advances unreturned. Feigning courage, I stood up straight and strode towards him. After a few steps, I was intercepted by the activity’s organizer who said, “First time can be overwhelming. I’m Courtney if you need anything.” She was beautiful, young with perfect bone structure, glistening white teeth, and flowing blonde hair that seemed to glow in the sunlight even though we were indoors. I politely declined and moved past her. She continued once she saw who I was interested in. She tried diverting my attention to another that wasn’t as advanced or ailing in health, which only boosted my resolve that I’d chosen perfectly. Where everyone saw a down-trodden soul, I recognized resilience, the kind that only comes from a strong character with life experience. Courtney wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be overlooked, purposefully dismissed in your own presence.
As I approached, it was obvious he was getting discouraged and took a break from interaction. He was sitting down until I spoke softly, “Hello, love.” He stood up unsteadily and scratched his side. I thought, if he could handle my neuroses, I could help him with his dry skin.
The person standing next to him asked, “Do you know his story?”
“I don’t even know his name,” I replied.
“Troy,” she said, “and I’m Abigail.” Hair was curling around her face where sweat had gathered.
“I’m Emile. What happened there?” I asked pointing to a scar.
“We’ll never know exactly what happened, but he’s a survivor, and the most gentle soul you’ve ever met,” she said.
If Troy stood upright, we’d be eye level, but instead I crouched down and leaned in closer. He opened his mouth and his breath was warm and smelled faintly of bacon. His nose was slightly discolored, likely from being out in the sun too much, and he had thinning hair in places. Scabs and blisters dotted his body; it was clear his life hadn’t been easy and I understood that. My scars weren’t as visible, but they were there. His cloudy, amber eyes offered wisdom and comfort others here couldn’t provide. He suffered the cruelty of the world and was still optimistic.
That’s when I noticed Abigail’s shirt that read, “Humanizing them is unfair because they are better than us.” It was evident she cared deeply for Troy and wanted the best for him. His trust was beyond my understanding. I vowed to make his life as amazing as he deserved.
I blurted out, “He’s the one. How do we make this official?”
Leaving the adoption event with my new, four-legged best friend, Troy, he listened intently with ears perked up as I explained everything we would do, our own bucket list. I didn’t know how much time he had left, but no one ever does, so we started immediately.
Abigail was invited, too.