I was 18, freshly graduated from high school and hanging out in Melbourne, Australia, while all of my friends sat in science class at university and spent their weekends going to frat parties.
His name was Dan. He was my boss and was seven years older than me.
It all began with some random global fundraiser job I got when I was living in Melbourne. I took a train to their office and sat in a room full of international backpackers who were just looking for easy money to pay their way around the Land Down Under. For a short week or two I worked for this “fundraising” company.
Essentially, we met in this mornings and were given a motivational speech. Words of encouragement to get us through the day. They were always the same. Full of Shit.
Then, we got into groups and took trains around to different shopping malls and tried to get people to sponsor starving children in Africa. This was the job. It went a little something like this.
Step One: Spot someone that looks like an easy target.
Step Two: Say something charming, or pay them a compliment, like, “I love your shirt!” or “Dude, those are some kickass shoes!” Essentially, lie, and act like they’re your best friend.
Step Three: Go on a three minute rant about the company(whose name I have already forgotten) and tell them how for only five dollars a month, the small “cost of a latte,” they could sponsor a helpless child in Africa. They’d get their own paper child in the mail, name and picture included, and know that they were doing at least one good thing in their life. “You can even write your sponsor kid letters!” we would tell them.
Step Four: Close the deal. Get that spineless mall-goer to sponsor a little African child and tell them how good of a person they were and how grateful we were for their donation.
Step Five: Send them on their way, which usually didn’t take much effort because they were typically already running in the opposite direction, and begin to look for your next victim.
The company tried to make it seem like it was all good, but really, it was all a bit skeezy. The whole job was commission based. So, while you tried to convince helpless people who just came to the mall to get their friend a birthday present that they should become a “distant parent” to a starving child, you were also trying to make money off of each person that you got to sign up.
I think they paid around $100 per person, or something like that.
It made me feel like a shitty person, and honestly, I hate shopping malls. Sitting for six hours in a man-made space, lit with bright fluorescents and smelling of donuts and soggy Chinese food was enough to provoke thoughts of jumping off cliffs and drowning myself in the toilet.
I sucked at this job, because I just couldn’t justify what we were doing. My boss would pull me aside, and essentially give me tips on how to manipulate people. “Just be outgoing and make the sale,” they would say. “Use that charm of yours, or we might not be able to keep you on our team.”
I quit after a week or two. But there was one perk to this job.
His name was Dan.
He was 25, and grew up in the English countryside. He had a charming accent and crazy brown hair that stuck up in every direction. His blue eyes sparkled like the silver ring that sat on his lip.
One night, the “fundraising team” went out, and Dan and I had a long drunken conversation in the back of the bar, where I let him babble on about his success at selling people African children and nodded empathetically as he talked about his ex-girlfriend of five years named Gretta, who he met on a website for people who like pot.
I was so attracted to his wild ways and confident demeanor.
Next thing you know, Dan is texting me and we’re going out to dinner. By dinner I mean one of those burrito places like Chipotle where you eat really quickly and then leave. I didn’t realize this at the time, but Dan was pulling an “eat and run” on me. Next thing you know, we were at the liquor store and headed back to his apartment to “hang out.”
When I walked into his living room, he introduced me to his couch fort, which he used for playing video games and, apparently, having sex with barely legal women. Basically, his couch was flipped to the side to create a wall, and his mattress sat in front of it, surrounded by pillows.
He had a huge movie collection. We watched some stupid movie, drank some wine, and next thing you know, Dan is kissing me and I am biting his lip ring and asking him about his poetic tattoos with deep meanings. I couldn’t comprehend them because they were so fucking stupid, but I just looked into the ocean of his eyes and let him ramble on.
He taught me all sorts of tricks.
I gave it up to Dan on the first night, the night he took me for 5-minute burritos and poured me cheap wine. It was all too exciting to question, and I let him lead the way.
We hooked up a few times. I listened to him talk about how he used to be addicted to heroin. I felt like I was really helping him, letting him talk to me about his troubled past.
One night, I cooked him tacos while he sat on his computer, probably chatting away with some girl from Amsterdam. I couldn’t help but notice as he left his office that his screensaver was a girl posing on a beach in a bikini with big, fake boobs.
On our way back from the liquor store one time, we saw a man getting beat up on the sidewalk. Dan ran over to try and remedy the situation.
“How brave of him,” I thought.
It was all very dangerous and intriguing.
After hanging out with him a couple times, though, I realized how much I hated him.
But, I had the perfect solution. “Have a few drinks,” I would tell myself. “It’s all going to be ok. You’re learning so much. You’re so rebellious.”
The last time I saw him he kissed me goodbye outside the bus stop and I convinced myself that I was going to miss him. On the bus ride home I sent him a resentful, post-virgin text.
“I left my earrings on your bedside table. Maybe you should give them to the next girl you bring home.”
He took something from me that I’m never going to get back.
But I threw it at him proudly.
It wasn’t traumatic, or regretful, just really, really stupid.
I let some ex-heroin junkie fuck me on his couch fort and didn’t even ask him if he had been tested. I could have easily gotten herpes from all the needles he was sharing just a few months earlier.
It was dumb, and exciting. But I’m really lucky; lucky that I made it out of that situation untramatized and disease free.
I think the next time I let someone flip me upside down in a couch fort, I’m going to love them first.