I decided I wanted to stay in New York for a few weeks before heading to Berlin. Ernan was kind enough to join for the first few days to ease me into this new way of life. He got us a hotel in Chelsea, a final taste of normalcy before my stint of travel and squalor. We were having a wonderful time exploring the city together, but I kept thinking that this would soon become my life: drifting through cities in the US and Europe like I’d always wanted. It was exciting and terrifying.
It wasn’t until our final morning together that Ernan acknowledged I was going away. He turned to me in bed and whispered, “I’m going to miss you.” My hand was resting on his crotch, and I stared at him from across the sheets. I’d underestimated his love for far too long; I was only now realizing how unconditional it was.
I watched our time together fly by — we were suddenly outside the hotel waiting for his cab to take him to LaGuardia. “I’m excited for you,” he said. “This is what you need to do. You’re going to your new apartment with this roommate and start an adventure.”
“I just hope he’s not weird,” I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a roommate who wasn’t weird.”
He laughed and kissed me as his cab pulled up. “You’re weird. I gotta go.”
“Love you,” I said, as though I’d be seeing him tomorrow. We promised each other that’s how we’d leave. I watched his cab weave through traffic, and I was left alone with my suitcase and duffel bag. He was the last thing I had left of my previous life, and now he was gone.
My new apartment was on Avenue C in the Lower East Side. I’d booked the place through Airbnb from a Thom Peters, who apparently was a schoolteacher out in Williamsburg — or so his posting read. I tried to find him on Facebook to get a better sense of who he was, but nothing came up. When he gave me his phone number, I tried using that to find him on social media. It turned out his name was actually Nathaniel Peters, not Thom. Why would he lie about his name? I’d thought.
I searched “Nathaniel Peters New York” online and found out that he was, in fact, a photographer who documented poverty in urban centers across the country. It was an effort to highlight class divides in America. He’d had solo shows all over the city, including one at the MoMa last year. The New York Times even gave one of his shows a great review, calling his work “innovative.”
How fascinating, I thought. Perhaps he just doesn’t want people to know.
When I arrived at the apartment, Nathaniel invited me in. He was soft-spoken and serious, with a smile that was somehow distant, like he didn’t want me to get too close. He took me to the room, which was much smaller than I thought it would be. There was a loft-style twin bed that filled the entire space; there were only a couple of inches around it. There was also a wooden desk under the bed, but when I took a closer look, I noticed that it was a kid’s sized desk, which would’ve made the room appear to be bigger in the photos. Luckily, there was a window that looked out onto a wonderful brick wall.
He showed me around the rest of the tenement, which was made up of a small kitchen and bathroom — there was no living area to speak of. “I’m not here during the day so you’ll have the place to yourself,” he said. “I take care of other Airbnbs for a living.”
“Right, right. Sounds good.”
As I was trying to fall asleep that night I managed to convince myself that I was going to suffocate in my room, as if New York City was going to cave in on me. I craved my old space back in Toronto, but I tried not to think about that.
The next morning, I sat in bed and scrolled through messages on Scruff. I’d deleted all the hook-up apps off my phone some months ago, but I figured they might be a good way to meet new people. I got a message from this one guy named Spinner. He was sporting a cyclist cap in his photo, making it difficult to see his face. We exchanged a few messaged before he finally unlocked his photos, allowing me to browse through them. Among the cock shots were pictures of his face. I couldn’t believe it: it was Nathaniel . . .