Friday, October 30, 2009

Why coming clean has never felt so good

Bless me Internet, for I have sinned. It has been three days since my last confession. Internet, I have been holding out on you. Things have happened and I have been sitting on that information, waiting for...what, I don't know. Well, I do know. First, I was trying to finish up that damned never-ending saga. (Slave drivers, you!) Second, I have become acutely conscious of who reads this blog, or who might read this blog, and the ramifications thereof. That and the fact that I tend to get very, hmm, how you say, loose-lipped when I drink, which, given my state of under-employment and overall lack of responsibility, is more often than not. (Do I like to write? Yeah, sure, I love to write! What do I write? Well, actually, I, umm, I have a blog. Oh, ha, no, actually, you can't read it. No, seriously...you can't. [Shut up, Rachel, shut up, shut up!]) But I need to come clean. Or at least, mostly. And so, in tried and true two truths and a lie format, this is what I've been hiding from you. (Or is it...?)

1. Married Guy broke down and confessed his crush on me.
2. I hooked up (Doritos style) last weekend with a new guy, previously unmentioned on this blog.
3. I went out on a date last weekend with a guy (who may or may not have already been mentioned on this blog) and- surprise, surprise- managed to spectacularly humiliate myself.

Ok, Internet, now it's up to you. Which is the truth, and which is a blatant, bald-faced lie? Cast your vote now!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why I wouldn't want to be nineteen again, part five and final (oh my god)

Three times this story should have ended already, and hasn't. (Click for parts one, two, three, and four.) Three times I had the chance to gracefully bow out of the game, as it were, accept defeat, and exit with my dignity intact. But I didn't. Instead I pestered, antagonized, sent ridiculous poems, and inadvertently mocked his father's chosen profession. But for some reason that wasn't enough. I had to take it to the next, penultimate level. I know now what people mean when they say they they hit rock bottom. I hit bottom, and in a way I'm thankful, because now I can see those boulders coming from a mile away, and I make sure that I bail out long before I get there.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
After the poem incident, I felt bad. I wanted him to know I was sorry. What's more, I wanted him to accept my apology. And then, when that didn't happen, I just wanted him to acknowledge my existence. I would see him online from time to time. "Hi," I would write. "Hi, hey. Hi." But he never responded. After first I figured I deserved this. But then a couple months went by, and I tried again. "Hey, hi. What's going on? Hi." Still nothing. Now I started to get angry. How can I apologize to him if he doesn't even acknowledge my existence? I fumed. I know he's not that busy. I know he's there, ignoring me. One night things came to a head. I sat in front of my computer, once again rebuffed, and livid about it. There he was, ignoring me, acting like I wasn't a human fucking being with feelings, I mean god. And then all of a sudden, I had an idea. It was a brilliant, awful, genius, terrible idea. In one brief second the entire plan laid itself out before me from start to finish, and I may have cackled in perverse delight. The plan was elegant in its simplicity and would fulfill two very important functions: Information Gathering (aka getting to the bottom of what actually happened the night he kicked me out of his kitchen), and Revenge. So, I had this idea, or actually, the idea pretty much had me, and basically it went: Well if he won't talk to me, maybe he'll talk to someone else... Throw in some creepily tented fingers and witch-like cackling and you pretty much get the picture. Mwah ha ha ha ha...

Within the hour I had an invented screen name with accompanying profile information. But on top of that, I had created a whole new identity, complete with background, career aspirations, likes and dislikes, and family history. Her name was Alicia4084 (pronounced Aleesha), and I made sure that she would be just Jeff's type. To wit: he was a biology major at UMD. Alicia, conveniently enough, was a biology major at UMBC (far enough away for him not to know much about it, but close enough to elicit secret hope for an eventual meeting). Alicia had just broken up with her boyfriend, who was sort of a jerk, and was wondering where all the nice guys were. Jeff often bitterly lamented the fact that women "always choose jerks over nice guys," and conveniently enough fancied himself one of the "nice guys." They also shared quite similar tastes in music, books, and food. In fact, it was almost uncanny how much they had in common. (Mwah ha ha ha...)

Now I was ready to put the plan into action. I went through it in my head, and it seemed nearly fool-proof: First, the introduction. Create a pretext for finding his instant messenger profile online and wanting to chat with him. Next, establish a rapport, discover how much you have in common. Build trust. Talk past relationships. Share Alicia's story and get him to share his. Get him to admit that the reason he freaked out and and ran was because he liked me too much (the only possible reason, in my mind). Then, when he thinks he's discovered the woman of his dreams and absolutely must meet her as soon as possible, Alicia disappears forever, never to be heard from again. (Perhaps not the most satisfying form of revenge, but the best I could do at the moment.) That was the way the plan went in my mind, but I knew that anytime your plans depend on the unpredictable reactions of another human being, things were bound to go wrong. What if he didn't respond to Alicia's first message? What if he responded but didn't want to talk? What if he talked but didn't want to talk about past relationships? What if he didn't fall wildly head over heels for her? There were just so many variables.

I planned for every possible contingency, and then one December evening, home at my parents' house for the holidays, I put the plan into action. To my absolute astonishment, it went off without a hitch. Like, it went better than I could ever have possibly imagined. I hadn't anticipated how eagerly Jeff would accept Alicia as a trusted confidante and start spilling his guts. Then I realized I had inadvertantly hit upon the magic formula: take a lonely guy, give him an attentive audience, ask him about himself, and then just try to get him to stop talking. Rapport? Established. Trust? Built. Did he fall for it? Hook, line and sinker. What's more, he fell for her, Alicia. "You know, you're really pretty cool," he started out saying. A couple days later and he said that talking to her had been his best Christmas present of all. She was just so easy to talk to, after all. And they had so much in common. And then, that was when things started to go unexpectedly...awry.

Alicia mentioned her ex-boyfriend, the jerk. "Well, the last girl I dated turned out to be a total psycho," Jeff said, "but you seem pretty normal, so far." My stomach lurched. He was talking about me, I knew it! But...a psycho?! Maybe some of my actions had been ill-advised, unfortunate, even, but clearly I wasn't a psycho. I was just...misunderstood. Right?

"A psycho?" Alicia said. "That sounds like a story. Do tell..."

And tell he did, and this is where the whole thing starts to unravel in a tangled, gnarly mess. It was at this point that I started to realize why you should never listen in on phone conversations or press your ear against doors in an effort to hear what people say about you behind your back. Because sometimes you probably really do not want to know. But not having the luxury of hindsight at this point, I forged on ahead, growing more humiliated with each new revelation.

"Well, we worked together, and she asked me out one day. And she was ok I guess, but she wasn't really that pretty. My last girlfriend, at U Conn, she was actually really pretty." My confidence dipped down past my stomach and landed near my knees; my reaction wavered between horrified nausea and indignant outrage. Me, not pretty enough for him? Oh really? "Anyway, it was fun for a while but I wasn't into it and she kept pushing it. Plus, kissing her was like kissing a wall." The last dregs of my former self-assurance rushed out of my toes, leaving me simultaneously jelly-legged and brimming with anger. A wall? Me?! What I really wanted to do more than anything was retort, "Me?! Are you kidding? You, you were like kissing a wall. You were the one who didn't know how to kiss, not me!" But I knew I had gone much too far for that. There was no coming clean now; I mean, if he thought I was a psycho before... I shuddered to think what would happen if he ever found out. And so I kept up the pretense, and as it turns out, Alicia was very interested in what he meant by that wall comment. Would he care to elaborate? "Well," he said, "there was just no feeling in it. With my last girlfriend it was like we were trying to go down each others' throats all the time." Alicia hoped that this was just a metaphor, but kept quiet, this time. Jeff told Alicia about the e-mails, the poem, the clinging. Alicia said that yes, she could see how that could have been annoying, but it sounds like this girl might have just been trying to be friendly, and perhaps her actions had been misunderstood. "Yeah, maybe," he said noncommittally. Alicia finished the conversation and made up an excuse to get away as quickly as possible. She logged off for the last time, and I started to cry. Then I printed out the entire pages long transcipt of our conversation for future reference. (No use letting all that emotional barbed wire go to waste, when I could very handily torture myself with it over the weeks and months to come.) I tongued my wounds over and over again, refusing to let them close and heal. His words echoed and reverberated off each other in my head. "Psycho." "Not that pretty." "Like kissing a wall." "Psycho." "Not that pretty." "Like kissing a wall."

Soon, though, once again my grief and humililation turned to indignant fury. I wasn't pretty enough for him??? Who did he think he was? Him! Jeff! The pale-haired, pink-skinned, cantankerous, prudish, bespectacled, tee-totaling dork! I raged. And then, bit by bit, I finally did what I should have done so many times before: I let it go.

I learned my lesson the hard way, and I learned it without the benefit of self-help books or romantic comedies, but I finally learned it. And it goes, Sometimes He's Just Not That Into You. And you know what? That's ok. Because there are much (much) better guys out there, and some of them will be into you. And they will think that you're not only pretty, but beautiful; fucking hot, even. And they will not only enjoy your kissing but it will make them weak in the knees and mush-brained, and you will make them lose all power of rationality and intelligible speech until all they can do is softly whimper, "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god..."

I may sometimes complain about getting older, but I wouldn't be nineteen again for the world.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why I wouldn't want to be nineteen again, part four

I waited a full three days after he kicked me out of his kitchen to call him. Finally, my heart in my throat, I dialed. "Hey, I haven't heard from you lately," I said. "What's up?"

"Nothing," he said defensively, "just been busy is all." But when I prodded, "Oh that," he said. "Yeah, I just don't think it's going to work out." I took a breath and sputtered "but buts" like a lawnmower starting.

"But why?" I finally got out.

"You're leaving for school in a couple weeks," he said, "and I'm not looking for a long distance relationship."

"But it's only 45 minutes away," I said, believing that at this point I could still change his mind, that the game was still winnable, if only I could come up with the right arguments.

"I know, but I want a girl who lives close to me, who I can hang out with on a weeknight or whenever, who's just...there."

"So you're telling me you want a girlfriend who lives on your street?" I ask. "Anyway, I live 45 minutes away now, and we hang out on weeknights. I don't understand..."

"And plus you're starting over at a new school, you're going to meet lots of new people..."

"I won't!" I insisted.

"You will, and you don't want to be held back by a guy like me."

"But, what if I do?"

"Look, it was fun, ok, but... anyway, I have to go. It's my dad's birthday and we have like a million people coming over. I don't have time for this."

I hung up the phone in disbelief. That had not gone at all according to plan. But underneath it all, underneath the hurt and the outrage, something was becoming clear to me: he was scared. Yes, that was it, he was scared of his feelings for me! I had seen enough sappy movies by now to know how this worked. Guy meets girl, guy freaks out and pushes her away. Now it was up to me to gently reel him back in. With a little bit of time, I knew, he would realize his mistake, realize I was the best thing that had ever happened to him. Where was he going to find someone better than me? Him? Puh-lease!

I somehow made it through those next two awkward weeks at work and then left to start my sophomore year at a new school, where I did not suddenly develop a new, bubbly personality and meet "lots of people," as predicted. I was lonely and homesick, and I reached out and sent him an e-mail. And he...didn't answer. I fumed. I was obviously going to have to try harder here. I sent him another e-mail, not so subtley guilting him and goading him into responding. Something along the lines of, I am here (sniff!), all alone (sniff!), and you can't even take five minutes to write back to me! And then, he did write back. And it was...not good. He was pissed.

I had knee surgery and I'm on pain pills, I'm still working at the pool and I'm in school full time, and every spare minute I have I'm studying chemistry, because school doesn't come easy for me like it does for some people, he said. I will not be guilted into responding to you. If you can't handle it, that's your problem. That was the gist of it, anyway. But now I was pissed. How dare he speak to me like that! I sent an indignant retort saying that I wasn't aware that he had had knee surgery and I hoped he felt better soon, and that I didn't think I had done anything wrong except want to be his friend, and he wouldn't be hearing from me anymore, good day sir. And oh, if only I had left it at that. If only...

How are you guys feeling about a part five to this story? No? God, fine. You guys are like slave drivers. Don't you know how hard this is for me to write about? Don't you know it is late here and I need to go to bed? No? Fine.

So, fortunately or unfortunately, however you want to look at it, it turned out at this juncture that I discovered a portal into Jeff's mind. Sort of like that John Malkovich movie, except instead of a hidden doorway my portal was a young lifeguard named Mary who worked at the pool with Jeff, and who also happened to be good friends with my sister. Mary became Jeff's sidekick and confidante, and he would tell her things, things about me, that she would then tell my sister, who would in turn tell me. Things like, for instance, he felt really bad about the mean e-mail he sent me. He was on a lot of painkillers at the time and well, he regretted what he said.

Well now, this is an interesting turn of events, I said. Or thought to myself. Or said out loud to myself. What? I had a lot of alone time, ok? Anyway, rather than take it for what it was, I decided that, even though he didn't know that I knew that he was sorry, I should let him know that all was forgiven and there were no hard feelings. I wanted to wave a white flag, submit a peace offering of some kind, as it were. But how? And suddenly, I knew. And it was brilliant. (And here is where I start to cringe...) I decided to e-mail him a poem. A poem I had written in high school. About my foot. It had actually gone over really well in our social studies class when our teacher had for some reason instructed us to write a Shakespearean sonnet for homework. I decided to show him what I thought of his assignment and wrote an ode. An Ode to My Foot. It, perhaps not surprisingly, got a lot of laughs, at the time. (Some excerpts from the opening lines: "My foot is a very dear friend/It has been with me always, it will be with me 'til the end," and the closing lines: "And every time I wear a sock, shoe, or clog/I thank god that I am not a frog.") So, Jeff's dad was a podiatrist. I started the e-mail saying that I had actually gone to a podiatrist myself recently (I left out the part about the nasty toenail fungus that occasioned the visit) and that it had got me to thinking about him, because I knew his dad (who I had never actually met) was a podiatrist, and hey, did he want to hear a poem I wrote about my foot? Well, say no more! I closed with what I thought to be a very Seinfeld-ian "Hey, what's the deal with podiatrists anyway? You go to med school for all those years, you pick one part of the body to focus on in minute, excruciating detail for the rest of your life, and it's the foot? Well, it could be worse, he could be a proctologist, hardy har har!"

I'm cringing right now thinking about it. I mean, obviously. Obviously this was a horrible idea. If I had asked anyone, anyone before sending it... Anyone would have told me it was a terrible, horrible idea. But you have to remember- I had no friends. I was on my own, and so I sent it, and the absolute worst part was, I honestly thought that it couldn't fail. I never had that oh shit moment after sending it; I thought it was golden. I mean, this was my white flag, waving. And then he replied. And then... oh shit.

He said what anyone could have predicted he would say, what I should have been able to predict if I had stopped for a half a second to think about it. He said he was proud of his dad and grateful for all he had been able to do for him, sending him to college and all, by being a podiatrist. Oh, and also? His dad had had colon cancer, and if it wasn't for proctologists he might not be alive, so he was pretty damn grateful for proctologists too. He never mentioned the poem.

I briefly considered dying of shame and humiliation, but when that didn't work out I sent a very short e-mail basically saying, I'm sorry.

And, again, that should have been that, except that it wasn't. Oh no, it's still not over yet, folks. Seriously.

And really, I'm sorry to do this but... stay tuned for part five and my brilliantly humiliating downfall. Really this time. This story must end!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why can't it be me?

This is not the story I promised you. This is a different story altogether. I am sorry. I am all over the place. But while you are waiting for the end of the Jeff saga, you might as well read this. Starting...now.


It is six weeks after I first searched his hand for a missing wedding ring. He is wearing it now, and I am at his house. His wife is out of town, and the small house is full of six of his freshmen students, there for dinner, his two dogs, and me. He gives the kids root beer and pops open a microbrew, for me. I feel strange drinking in front of the kids when they can’t, but I don’t want to bring more attention to it by saying something, so I sip quietly and try to hide the label. “This is Rachel,” he introduced me when they came in. “She teaches French,” but they seem confused, and I can see them trying to figure us out.
Is she the wife? I ask questions and bumble around his kitchen, making it clear that I am a visitor here, as well, and I can feel everyone relax slightly, now that everyone’s role is clear. One student arrives late and it starts all over again. “Where do you guys keep your trash can?” she asks, and instead of saying that it’s not my trash can, I just point. He talks, dropping “my wife” this and “my wife” thats, and the new arrival looks back and forth between us in confusion. I keep my face neutral, and I can see the wheels turning. A few more seconds, and her face registers the exact moment she realizes that he is talking about someone else.

A simple dinner of pizza and salad turns into an arduous process; these kids don’t know what they’re doing in the kitchen, and everything takes three times longer than it should. But we sit back and let them at it. He reaches out and touches my arm as he walks by. “Come sit with me in the living room,” he says, “it’s too hot in here.” And we do, drinking our beer on the couch, and they are the kids, and we are the grown-ups.

Finally we eat, and they all go stand in the drizzle outside over a fire making s’mores. I stay inside and clean up. He comes in to hand me a s’more. “Where do you guys keep your plastic wrap?” I ask him. Homemade pizza, salad picked from the garden, s’mores over a fire, root beer. He gets two guitars out. It is all so wholesome.

And finally, they are gone, piling into cars and backing down the long, windy, country drive, waving goodbye. “Can you stay and talk a few minutes?” he asks.

I sit down on the couch, and he flops safely on the floor. I don’t want to be disappointed, but I am. The dogs are cute and in our faces, and they’re dachshunds. Of course they’re dachshunds. Because I have always said that one day I would have a dog, and that dog would be a dachshund. Maybe I would even get two dachshunds, I have always said. His are black and brown, male and female, small and smaller. They are named after two tempestuous Mexican artists and lovers. “Here Frieda,” I say. “Here Diego.” They love me and jump on me, give me kisses. “If I get two dogs, maybe I’ll call them Ted and Sylvia,” I say.

“Didn’t she put her head in an oven?” he says.

“Dogs can't open ovens,” I say. "I think it will be fine."

His name is James. Because of course it is. Of course.

The phone rings and he ignores it. He cuddles with the dogs and gives them treats. The phone rings again. “Do you need to get that?” I ask.

“It’s probably my wife,” he says, getting up.

“Hi, honey,” I hear him say. He comes back in and sits down, gives me a look that says, “This will just be a minute.” It also says, "shhh." “If I tell you something, will you promise not to get mad at me?” he says. “I had some of my students over for dinner. Yeah, Nick came over to help me, but he just left. I’m just hanging out with the dogs now.” He looks at me, mouthes “I’m sorry.” I raise my eyebrows and look away. She doesn’t seem happy that he had people over without telling her, and he gets up and takes the phone into the bedroom. He’s in there for a while.

“Sorry if that made you feel awkward,” he says, joining me again.

“Well, yeah,” I say.

“It’s just that she would freak out,” he says. “But it’s only because she doesn’t know you. If she had met you she would be fine.” Somehow I don’t think this is true. I haven’t met her because she never comes out with all of us to the bar, to happy hour, to trivia. “She doesn’t like to go out,” he says. “She prefers to stay home.” He tells me about how they met. They got married at twenty-three, and had been together since they were nineteen. “I just figured it was time,” he says. "Do you want to get married one day?" he asks, and I feel like punching something.

Now he is yawning, and I take the hint, saying I should go. It is barely 11:00. “I’m so tired,” he says. “I’m not usually up this late,” and I know he is telling the truth. He stands, pulls me in for a hug. It is lovely and excruciating.

“Thanks so much for helping out tonight,” he says. “I owe you, big.”

“It’s nothing,” I say.

I get in my car, drive down his long, windy, country driveway, and wonder how it is that someone else ended up with my perfect life.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Mythaca is gorges

Attention, please: We interrupt this long, drawn out saga to bring you Mythaca: The Colors of Fall.





My parents were here this weekend, which is why I was out freezing my ass off and appreciating nature's splendor instead of being tucked warm and snug in my bed recovering from post-alcohol-induced exhaustion (consumed after my parents were already tucked warm and snug into their own bed). Highlights of the weekend include:
-wining and cheesing it up at vineyards and creameries; scratching goats on their adorable, nubby little heads
-having an amazing bar conversation all while gazing into the laughing blue eyes of quite possibly the hottest Irish guy in the state of New York (sorry, Tal)
-backing over a metal well head in someone's yard with my parents' Buick while they were in the back seat, hearing the sickening sound of metal crunching against metal

My parents actually came to trade cars with me, and after three months of previously incident-free driving, this happened on the very last day I was driving this car, and while my parents were there to bear horrified witness. Of course. (This after having completed a Craigslist purchase at some guy's house. Me: "Um, do you think that guy's well thingy is ok?" My dad: "Just drive, go go go.")

Next up on Diary of Why: The saga of Jeff the pool guy continues. And, spoiler alert, it turns out I don't handle rejection all that well! See what twisted forms my bitter rage will take! See how it all backfires in my face!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why I wouldn't want to be nineteen again, part three

The last time we talked, I had taken fate in my own hands, risking rejection and abject humiliation, and asked a boy out. And he said yes. And then I ever so cruelly cut you off with a to be continued, right when it was getting good. And I hear you, loud and clear- you do not like to be continueds! So I am going to go ahead and warn you ahead of time, right now- this entry will probably end up to be continued too. But only because I want you to get the real-time feel of the story by drawing it out painfully over a series of weeks. There, now you feel like you're there! Also because, even ten years later, I have only a limited tolerance for recounting my teenage awkwardness, and after a few paragraphs or so I have to go breathe deeply into a paper bag until I remember that I'm twenty-nine, and much less stupid now. And also, I have better taste in guys. So there.

So, I asked him out, Jeff, my boss and pool manager, and after a painfully long hesitating moment, he said yes. And so we went to the movies, one of those cramped, multi-plex theaters that were just starting to be torn down in favor of hulking mega-plexes with valet parking and nose bleed-inducing stadium seating. After intending to see Star Wars, once the previews finally ended we realized within the first few seconds that unless George Lucas had decided to take things in a drastically different artistic direction, what were were watching was not in fact Star Wars, but rather a much inferior film called Wild, Wild West. You see, I had thought I was following him into the theater, and he had thought he was following me, a subject that caused quite a bit of contention and thinly-veiled finger-pointing, considering it was only our first date and we were technically supposed to still be polite to each other. But we decided to let bygones be bygones and afterwards took a walk around the man-made lake outside. We lapped around a second and then a third time, talking about life, our travels, and everything in between. Then, when we headed back to the parking lot he said, "Let's get one thing straight." My heart sank. Here it comes, I thought. The shoe falling. The speech: "This was fun, but we work together. We can't see each other again, or if we do it has to be a secret. We can't tell anyone about this."

But instead he said adamantly, like a drill seargeant barking out orders - "We're going to see another movie." I hadn't realized I was holding my breath, but suddenly it all came rushing out in a relieved sigh. "And we're sitting in comfortable seats."

"Ok," I said, giddily happy. "Ok!"

In the weeks that followed we went to another movie and then to an Orioles game, where he told me about a game he had come to with his uncle as a child. "And I remember we sat right over there- Your eyes really are pretty, you know- and I almost caught a foul ball." I glowed, replaying the moment over and over during the next few days. That compliment! And the way he slipped it right in there almost unnoticed- it was so like him. So blasé, so curmudgeonly. So adorable.

Next he said he would make me dinner. He was a really good cook, he said. And so I went with him to his parents' house one night after work. He rushed me from the front door to his bedroom and left me there while he did recon on his parents. "Do you want me to come with you?" I asked, thinking I should introduce myself. I didn't hear whether he said yeah or nah, and so I followed him cautiously down the hall where I saw him standing in the doorway, talking to someone in the kitchen. Without turning his head, he waved me quickly back to his room where I went, tail between my legs. He left me in his room again to take a shower, and I looked around at his books and his swimming trophies, trying to make sense of this bizarre little man. I immediately noticed a small notebook next to his bed, and I'll admit, I felt not the slightest bit of guilt picking it up and thumbing through it. His journal. Jackpot. I flipped to the last page. It said, "I've always said I would be happier if I had a girl. I may currently be testing that theory." I flipped back further: that was it, the one and only mention of me. The rest was filled with scribbled diagrams and sciencey ponderings: Einstein, light-years, and galaxies far, far away. But it was good enough for me. That's me! I thought. I'm "the girl!" He is testing his theory on me! He came back and we spent the rest of the night skirting around his parents as he made us a basic but serviceable dinner: broccoli, an overcooked chicken breast each doused in teriyaki, and Rice-a-roni. He seemed to think it was terribly good. "Oh yes," I nodded enthusiastically. "Delicious!"

The few times I returned to his house, I never once did see either of his parents, though they were always there, somewhere. But if they were in the family room, Jeff made sure we were in the kitchen. If they were upstairs, we were down. My only awareness of their existence was via a muffled, Peanut-esque wah waaah from the other room. That was pretty much fine with me, though, and was certainly preferable to the times we were at my house, my mother poking her head in my bedroom door to frown at us ever more insistently, and then "suggesting" that perhaps it was "getting late." And oh, that awkward return of adolescence when you come home after spending a year on your own at college, when you are clearly an adult, god, and not in need of baby-sitting. I narrowed my eyes and sent her my best "I hate you, die" glare, to no avail. If there was anyone less pleased than me, though, it was Jeff. "That was really not cool," he said.

"Er, yeah, I know. Sorry," I said, mortified.

The worst part was that we weren't even doing anything. After all the movies, and the Orioles game, and hours upon hours of late-night t.v.-watching, we still had yet to make physical contact of any kind. Not a hug. Not a shoulder punch, knee nudge or innocent arm brush. Not a thing. Every night as the news changed over to Leno and Letterman, I would wait in sweaty anxiety, hoping that tonight would be the night. Then I realized something: If I had waited for him to ask me out, I might have waited forever. Maybe he was just really, really shy. I had already done the near-impossible and asked him out. I would just have to make the first move here, too. And so I made my first, tentative, awkward overture. "So do you have something against being touched?" I asked him. (Smoooooth.)

"What?"

"Well, you said before, in the movie theater when that guy bumped into you, that you don't like being touched by other people. Does that mean you don't like being touched by...girls?"

"Well," he said, "I've been sitting here on a girl's bed watching t.v. for hours. I guess I'm kind of looking to get touched," he said with an uncustomary chuckle.

"Oh," I said. "Oh." No one moved. "So... should we hold hands?" I asked.

"Ok," he said. I waited. Nothing happened. Seriously, like pulling teeth, I thought, and grabbed his hand. And then we sat there. Well, here we are, holding hands, I thought. Tum ti tum... I looked down and noticed his hands for the first time. Like a child's, I thought. Our thumbs lay alongside each other, and mine was easily twice his in length. I suddenly felt awkward, and also strangely maternal. We sat like that, sweatily, for an uncomfortably long time. Something had to give. "I'm going to get a drink of water," I said.

"Ok," he said. But I didn't move. "I thought you were going to get a drink of water," he said.

"Kiss me before I go," I said. (Kiss me before I go, I said!)

He let out a short, barking laugh. "Is this a sign?" he said to someone, not me, positioned somewhere near the ceiling. "I think this is a sign." And after all that arm-twisting and tooth-pulling, finally, we did, and it was, how to put it- not good. Bearing in mind I had only ever kissed one guy before and so didn't have much in the way of comparison, but this much I knew- it was not good. It could be described as hesitant, tentative, and half-hearted, but definitely not good. We stopped and I went to get that glass of water after all.

We cycled between each other's houses a couple more times, sharing more tentative, though not at all improved late-night kisses. And then all of a sudden, something shifted. We were sitting in his kitchen, eating ice cream sandwiches, watching Leno, and then just like that, it was over. He was thoughtful, contemplative. "What's wrong?" I asked. He shook his head as if physically shaking the pieces of a mind-puzzle into place.

"Nothing," he said. "I think it's getting late." I sat there un-moving for several more minutes. "I think you should go," he said.

"Really?" I said. He nodded.

Up until this point, the only person to suggest that someone should leave had been my mother. This was not a good sign. I said goodbye and left knowing that things were somehow different, but not knowing why. I went home and waited for him to call, but he didn't. Not the next day, or the next, or the next. Our schedules at work strangely didn't overlap, and I didn't see him or hear from him for three days. At the end of three days I couldn't take anymore, and so, with my heart in my throat, I called him.

To be continued... (with ominous dun dun dunnnnn overtones...)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why I wouldn't want to be nineteen again, part two

"Rachel," she said, looking me right in the eyes, "I really want to stay and close with Jeff."

"Sherry," I said in a hushed, confessional tone, "I really want to stay, too."

There was a pause as we looked at each other. Then we both burst out laughing. It escalated into knee-slapping, hiccuping gales of laughter as I gasped out, "Really? You too?"

"I thought I was the only one!"

"I know, I know!"

"I mean, he's so..."

"I know!"

"God, we're idiots."

"We really are."

In the end we decided we both would stay. "You guys are weird," Jeff said when we told him our decision. "Look, it doesn't take three people to close." Then he sent Sherry home. I counted the money. Then he counted the money. We walked out to the parking lot together.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We talked about books, sometimes, while he ate his lunch. He told me about a book he was reading about Einstein, about stars, and how when we look at the sky, what we are seeing is light the stars emitted millions of years ago. We talked about ourselves. We had so many things in common sometimes it seemed eerie. He had gone to U Conn. for one year, hated it, and then transferred to University of MD. I had completed one year at St. Mary's College, hated it, and was about to transfer to Western Maryland College. One day he brought cantaloupe in his lunch. "Oh my god!" I exclaimed. "I brought cantaloupe in my lunch too!" One day the conversation turned to relationships. He said he used to have a girlfriend at U Conn. I said I had recently broken up with my boyfriend. "There is someone I'm interested in," he said, "but I'm way too scared to ask her out." For a second, time stopped. I tried to nod sympathetically and retain a neutral expression while in my head gears started turning and hamster wheels spun frantically, rendering me incapable of completing one coherent thought.

Ohmygod. Me? Not me? Maybe me, right? Maybe someone else. That's just so obvious, though. Why would he say something so obvious? He seems like a subtle guy. So maybe it's not obvious. Should I do something? Say something? Well you have to say something, this is a conversation. Ok, this pause is getting awkward. Just say something. Say what? Say anything that will end this silence. But what? Oh dear lord, this is the longest anyone has not spoken, ever, just say something, anything, now now now!

"Yeah, me too," I mumbled, and turned a tell-tale shade of red.

Laying in bed that night, I replayed our conversation over and over. So what does this mean? Should I hint back that he shouldn't be scared and should ask me out? Should I ask him out? But what if he wasn't talking about me? That would be too humiliating. By his own admission he had said that whoever the girl was, he probably would never ask her out. Maybe he was talking about me or maybe he wasn't, but if I didn't take action I would never find out. There was only one thing to do. I would just have to ask him out.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The next day at work I swapped the size XXL turquoise polo shirt we were technically supposed to wear for a more form-fitting black sleeveless shirt, and took extra care with my hair and (admittedly minimalist) makeup. "Whoa," Jeff said when he saw me. "You got a hot date or something?"

I don't know, what are you doing tonight? I thought. "Laundry," I mumbled. He left and I kicked myself. That line would have been perfect. A bit forward, perhaps, but otherwise perfect. All day long I quaked in anticipation of what I was about to do. It was today or never. Though I was nineteen I had only ever kissed one guy before, and I had certainly never asked anyone out before. This was virgin territory, quite literally. This new attitude ran completely counter to my shy girl persona, and it felt intoxicating. I was sick of waiting for something to happen to me. From now on if I wanted something to happen, I would have to make it happen, I decided. This is good, I thought. I am strong, I am confident, and I am...ok, so I'm not beautiful, per se. But two out of three's not bad. It's ok. I can do this.

That night after we had finished counting the money, with my heart pounding and my hands suddenly turned to ice, I took a deep breath, and I asked him. "Hey, I was wondering if maybe you would want to go see a movie sometime." And then there was a pause. For one second, two seconds, three, he hesitated, and everything hung in the balance. I waited for him to answer, and it was excruciating. For one second, two seconds, three, I was sure I had made a horrible mistake. What was I doing? He was my boss. He may only have been two years older than me, but he was still my boss. There were probably rules against this kind of thing. I was sure I had made a horrible mistake. Then he answered.

"When?"

"Oh, I don't know. Tomorrow, maybe?"

"What movie?"

"Oh, I don't know. Whatever."

"So this is obviously a well thought out plan, then?"

"Um, heh. I don't care, we can see whatever you want."

"Well...ok. Do you want to see Star Wars?"

(Not really.) "Sure!"

"I don't work tomorrow though."

"Oh... ok."

"But I'll come in."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I'll come in and we can go after work."

"Great!"

I floated home on a cloud of endorphins. Everything had gone according to plan! And if I hadn't asked him this never would have happened. He's just shy, I thought, even shyer than me. And he likes me, I know it! He just needs a little convincing. Just a little nudge.

The thing is, though, that a nudge easily turns into a push, and a push is soon the gateway into a level of crazy that can only be cured by a good wallop on the head with a hardback copy of He's Just Not That Into You (Idiot) (its alternate title), if only it had come out a decade earlier. Not having the benefit of this genre of well-duh self-help, some of us Generation X-ers had to learn this lesson the hard way, through misplaced self-confidence, misguided persistence, and subsequent abject humiliation. I could have written this book, is what I am saying (and now I'm kind of pissed that I didn't).

To be continued...

Thoughts? Predictions? Postulations? How will I manage to humiliate myself this time? (And please tell me I'm not alone.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why I wouldn't want to be nineteen again

It was the summer of 1999 and I had a job working at the public pool. I wasn't a lifeguard, nothing as glamorous as that. I wasn't cut out for that line of work, and in fact I couldn't decide which was a more terrifying prospect: wearing a bathing suit to work every day or being contractually obligated to haul potentially limp and lifeless bodies out of the water. Either one sounded much too stressful for the $7 an hour they were offering, and so I took the easy way out, sitting in an air conditioned booth drinking iced coffee and collecting admission fees. The easy way out turned out to be anything but, I soon discovered, as I had to deal with increasingly hot and cranky patrons who found a way to complain about everything: this line is too long, how dare you ask me for identification to prove county residency, what do you mean I can't bring my noodle, I don't understand why my baby has to have a swim diaper when we have this waterproof diaper cover that works just as well, god, and also I don't see why I should have to pay when I'm not even going to swim. Seriously, I'm just going to sit there reading a magazine while my children swim, and yes, of course I will be supervising them, just from farther away. I really don't see what the big deal is because my children know how to swim, and besides, that's what lifeguards are for, right? This is an outrage and I demand to speak to a manger!

The worst part was that all these conversations had to be shouted through a plate of glass. The useless metal grate used to speak through had been removed to facilitate communication, leaving a perfectly round hole in the window about five inches in diameter. My biggest pet peeve was when, instead of asking me to speak up, people would take it upon themselves to insert their ear through the hole in an effort to hear better. The ear in its normal context is inoffensive enough, but when all you see is a disembodied ear coming at you through a hole, it becomes freakish and grotesque. These were the same people that would attempt to put their mouth through the hole to answer back. Talk about a violation of personal space. I quickly lost all sense of humor. One day a group of young punk asses swaggered up to the window, one of them smoking a cigarette like he thought he was the shit, and blowing smoke all through my hole. I, to put it mildly, was not impressed.

"How old are you," I asked the first one in the flat, lifeless tone normally reserved for toll booth operators and diner waitresses, the words indicating that you are asking a question, but the tone saying you don't give a shit about the answer.

"Seventeen."

"That'll be $2.50."

Repeat for the second one. Also seventeen. Also $2.50. Then came the cigarette smoker and smoke blower.

"How old are you," I repeated, my head propped on my hand.

The punk ass puffed himself up a little bit. "Eighteen," he boasted.

"That'll be $4.75."

"Wait, what?! No, they just got in for $2.50."

"They're seventeen. Eighteen is an adult. That's $4.75."

"Naw, naw, I was just kidding, I'm really only seventeen."

"Sorry, you already said eighteen."

"Naw, for real, I lied before, I'm seventeen."

"I'll need to see some ID."

"I don't have any ID."

"$4.75."

At this point his punk ass friends jumped in to help. "Naw, for real, he was just trying to impress you before. He's only seventeen." The punk ass nodded vigorously while blowing another lungful of smoke through the window.

"You're seventeen?" I asked.

"Yeah, yeah."

"So why are you smoking, then?" I said, enunciating my words like you would to a small child, while his friends erupted into a chorus of guffaws and Oh, snaps. He looked mildly chagrined and put out the cigarette. "Just give me $2.50 and get out of here," I said wearily.

Word of the event spread around the office: the shy girl turned hard ass. "That was awesome!" exclaimed a couple of the lifeguards who had witnessed it.

"So you're really against smoking, I hear?" asked the manager, Jeff, later, pulling up a chair in the front office to eat his sandwich in peace.

"Not really," I said. "I just didn't like the kid."

Jeff was an unlikely suspect as far as crushes go, small and bookwormy with thick glasses, pale blond hair and pinkish skin. His saving grace was an acerbic sense of humor and a really nice set of shoulders. He was sort of an acquired taste, and the first time I saw him I remember thinking I wouldn't like him at all. It was at a staff orientation meeting, and when the speaker was unable to get everyone's attention, Jeff leaned in, grabbed the microphone, and yelled "Ok now everybody SHUT UP!!!!!" God, what a dick, I remember thinking. And then, for whatever reason, my brain followed that thought up with, I would never like him, which caused some confusion to my inner monologue. Well of course I would never like him, that's a given, I mean ew. Why would you specifically bring that up, brain? Weirdo. So no one was more surprised than me when I found myself actually looking forward to the times when he brought his lunch into the office and sat with me for a bit. I also found myself doing strange things, like watching for his reflection in the glass, so I could check his whereabouts while it looked like I was nonchalantly looking out the window. I would try to park my car right next to his, just in case we both ended up walking out together after work. But the absolute best was when we would close together, just him and me. Usually swim team practice would screw that up, because he would have to stay, but every once in a blue moon the stars would align. I would count the money, then he would count the money. We would lock up and walk out to the parking lot together. Heaven. One night Sherry and I were both working in the office. "One of you can go home," he said. "There's no need for both of you to be here."

"Oh, I don't mind staying," Sherry said. "You can go home, Rachel."

"Oh, well I actually don't mind staying either," I said. "It's not a problem. Go ahead."

"No, really," she said. "I can stay."

"But no no," I said, "I insist. Don't worry about it."

She looked at me. I looked at her. We looked at Jeff. "Look," he said, "I don't care who stays, just work it out." We waited for him to leave the room.

Once the door closed, "Rachel," she said, looking me straight in the eyes this time, "I really want to stay..."

To be continued...

Ok, so place your bets now. What do you think will happen in the next installment of Chlorine-Scented Love?

a) Sherry gets the man. They live happily ever after.
b) I get the man. We have a brief but intense summer fling.
c) I get the man but still manage to all kinds of screw it up.

Care to take a wager?