By Rachel Ann Brickner
I asked him out the day Prince died, thinking this one would be different. My parents saw Purple Rain on one of their first dates, after all. We met the night before at a work event, during which I drank beer while checking people’s names off a reservation list as they entered. He was the only staff member working that night—the space a stylish alternative work space people rented each month, filled with tweed couches and wooden benches, jars filled with black pencils with “Work beautifully” etched in white on the sides.
My heart beat a little faster, and my face flushed when he smiled, welcoming me. I recognized him immediately, but I couldn’t quite place him. Moments later, I realized I’d matched with him during a stint on Tinder months before, but we never talked. I wasn’t especially attracted to him in his photos, but in person, there was something I liked about the way his eyes stayed fixed on me.
He stood close to me during the event, looking at his phone, then at me, while I looked at my phone, then at him, while he wasn’t looking at me. I turned my back towards him once I was bored with the game, knowing he’d never catch my gaze.
Moments later, he touched my arm. “Excuse me,” he said, squeezing his small body past mine.
When he walked towards the door to leave, I felt the urge to run after him, to tell him who I was and ask if he recognized me from Tinder those months before.
“Hey,” he said, turning around. “Let me give you my number.”
“Okay,” I said, feeling my heart drop into my stomach.
“In case you need anything.” He smiled. “I’ll be back later.”
I watched his thin, brown fingers and perfectly trimmed nails as he wrote his information down slowly in all caps. We smiled at each other once more before he left.
I thought about him the rest of the night: his thick, crystal glasses; his small, sinewy body; his moustache and perfect, white teeth—both uncannily similar to Prince’s in Purple Rain.
He’d written his full name in addition to his number, so I Googled him on my walk home and found photos of his college track days from years before, his body nothing but muscle, his moustache perfectly groomed. In only a few minutes, I discovered that in addition to English, he also spoke Urdu and French fluently and completed a Master’s in Public Policy only a few years before. Yet, he also grew up in a steel town and was a first-generation college student, just like me.
I texted two of my friends about the scenario—one of them always hopeful about love, the other more cynical—and I asked them what I should do. After my last long-term relationship ended, I’d become accustomed to seeking assurance from friends.
“Text him!” they said. “He’s clearly into you!”
The next day my friends asked if I’d messaged him, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d been on a date several weeks before, a better than average first date, after which he texted me, “You’re so great. I can’t wait to see you again,” only to disappear after going out of town for a few days. I told myself I didn’t care, that I wasn’t surprised, but in truth, I was hurt. What happened in the days after the first date that made him change his mind about me? Or was it not really about me at all?
I texted my friends back, saying I hadn’t messaged him yet, and I knew I probably wouldn’t. They both sent me sad-faced emojis in response.
When I got to work the following morning, I read that Prince died, and I was shocked. He was only 57. I’d already seen him three times in concert, but I never thought the third would be the last. Throughout the day, I received texts from family and friends, half-jokingly apologizing for my loss. “When I think of Prince, I always think of you,” they said. I knew they were thinking of how I dug through thrift stores and record shops for his records as a teenager and of my constant retelling of how my parents’ early Purple Rain date led to my conception.
As silly as the family lore was, I grew up believing I owed Prince my life. And as I got older—after my father left us and my heart was broken by a great love for the first time—his music became a reminder that love and desire are still worth pursuing, despite the drama and disappointment.
After work that day, I sat on the kitchen counter and stared at the piece of paper with his number in my hands. When I texted him, I confessed to recognizing him from Tinder, and I asked him out. “Prince died today so I figure there’s no better day than today to be brazen,” I said.
I prepared myself for the hours I thought it would take for him to respond, if he ever responded at all. Within minutes, he replied, “Prince might be dead, but I’m always down to dance.”
“Oh my god,” I said aloud, smiling. I immediately texted my friends his response.
“I’m glad you reached out,” he said. “I thought you were really cute, but I had no idea where I recognized you from.”
He sent me a kissy emoji, and I sent him one back. Two days later, we went on our first date.
Before our date, I’d imagined riding my bike with my sunglasses on, ringing my bell when I saw him on the sidewalk walking towards the bar—as cool as Prince on his motorcycle riding up to the First Avenue nightclub—and that’s exactly what happened.
“This place is old and smoky,” he said as we walked up maroon carpeted stairs, the light diminishing as we approached the bar. “I hope that’s okay.”
We talked about everything you talk about on great first dates—our families, where we’d traveled and wanted to travel, where we grew up, goofy childhood stories, how terrible dating is—and we talked about it all for hours before I noticed the time. After my second gin and tonic, he put his hand on my knee, looked at me until I smiled, and he kissed me.
I slept with him that night even though I told myself I wouldn’t. I wanted the casual, often regrettable sex of my early-twenties to be behind me. I thought I was looking for love. I slept with him anyways because being with him that night was the happiest I’d been in months, and kissing him felt like something finally clicked into place that I’d been waiting for during the entirety of my last short-lived relationship. But mostly, I slept with him because I wanted to and he wanted to, and when I asked if he was only interested in hooking-up, he said, no. He wanted to keep talking to me and that’s what I wanted, too.
The days leading up to our next date passed slowly, and I became progressively more anxious about seeing him again, our first date feeling increasingly more like a strange dream. Friends told me to trust myself, to enjoy being excited. Not everything turns out to be a disappointment, they reassured me. Prince would want me to be hopeful, I told myself.
We met outside a dive bar across the street from a church and former convent turned into apartments. The convent happened to be where, years before, I lived with the only real love of my life. I felt sad and sick when I saw him get out of his car and walk towards me. Something felt different already, but I didn’t know why. We sat at the bar and stared at one another while making polite, awkward conversation. He pointed out that he’d shaved off his moustache and was wearing different glasses.
“Oh, that’s what’s different,” I said, taking a swig of my beer.
In the bathroom, I texted my friends, “This is only going okay? I’m kind of relieved?” Maybe I wasn’t ready for love after all, I thought.
I tried not to be disappointed that he wasn’t quite how I remembered him from our first date, telling myself that eventually the veil of excitement would lift anyways as I got to know him. But, in this instance, my excitement vanished along with his moustache and who I’d hoped he could become—someone who might one day know and appreciate the details of my life more than most.
We left an hour later, and I showed him where I used to live across the street, but I didn’t tell him about who I’d loved there or all the ways we disappointed one another. I didn’t tell him how badly I wanted to believe in romantic love again, despite the dissolution of my parents’ twenty-year marriage and the end of my decade long, on and off again love. I only told him about the nuns and the cheap rent. When I was done, he kissed me, but it wasn’t like before. This time, it felt like any other kiss from anyone else, and that made me feel free of any feeling for him, good or bad.
As I walked away, I thought I’d never hear from him again, but I was wrong. He texted me the next day, “Good seeing ya last night,” and we planned our third date. He’d let me know when he was back in town after a few days away, he said. A week later, I hadn’t heard from him.
I texted him, “Is your moustache back yet?” I said this partly as a joke and partly because I longed to be hopeful.
A day later, he apologized for ghosting me. “I’m not really interested in getting too serious in the dating scene right now,” he said, an angel emoji following.
I told him thanks, I appreciate the response, take care, but later I wished I would have told him what Prince once sang: I never wanted to be your weekend lover. I only wanted to be some kind of friend. But I knew he wouldn’t get it, so I read all of his messages one last time, and then I pressed delete.
Rachel Ann Brickner is a writer and multimedia storyteller from Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Joyland, PANK, Anastamos, among others. Her essay "Another Year Older and Deeper In Debt" appears this year in the revised edition of Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class. Currently, Rachel's at work on her first novel and several projects about debt. You can see more of her work at rachelannbrickner.com.