Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why sometimes you need a second chance, part three

If you're going to be in the neighborhood, you should come over for dinner. I'm going to grill up some tuna steaks with garlic lemon butter, texted the man who broke my heart.

I hesitated; I fidgeted; I weighed the pros, and then the cons. And then, finally, I made up a very small lie. I need to go to Target at some point anyway, so I could probably stop by, I said. Though I never did make it to Target, I managed to arrive at his apartment just late enough that he was sure I wasn't coming (he later told me). Dinner was ready when I got there. "Make the salad dressing?" he asked me, and with that, I fell into my old familiar role of maker of the vinaigrette. I reached for the ingredients--the dijon mustard I had bought for just such an occasion was still there, in the fridge--and silently dressed the salad. We didn't talk much, at first, and when he passed by me in the small kitchen I sensed, rather than saw, his hands instinctively reach out to caress me, and then just as quickly pull back.

As we ate I started up a stream of chatter, filling him in on the highs and mostly lows of my job search, and of my impending departure from Mythaca, to parts, at that time, still unknown. He said he still wanted to move out west, was trying to move to Colorado, hopefully in September. He had gone to visit a friend out there, and described four feet of snow and eighty degree weather, and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. He said it was amazing. After dinner we retired to his balcony, overlooking scenic views of the Norwood parking lot and its accompanying bank of garages. I shivered briefly. "Cold?" he asked, reaching out a finger and hesitantly touching my arm. "No, I'm ok," I said. 

"I was just going to watch a movie tonight and go to bed," he said. "Do you want to watch a movie?" 

"Ok," I said. 

We started the movie at opposite ends of his couch, with miles of space between us. But when he leaned down and laid his head in my lap, it felt right; so right that my fingers immediately went to his hair. "Your stomach is gurgly," he said, a few minutes later. 

"It's probably because you're pushing on it," I said. 

"Here," he said, turning me and then nestling himself around me--two spoons watching tv--and that also felt right. Then, when he kissed me, that felt right too. "Stay with me tonight," he whispered.

"I should go home," I said.

"Please, just stay with me."


"Because...I want to talk to you."

"About what?"

"About...things. About us."

"Ok," I said. "Start talking." 

He sighed. "I', here's the thing. I don't fall for girls, ok? That's just...that's not what I do. But...I fell for you. And now exactly what I was afraid of is happening, and you're leaving in a month. And I don't know what to do." I didn't know either. There wasn't an answer, and so we both were silent. 

"And I was drinking a lot then," he continued. "Too much. But I've stopped, and I'm even going to the gym almost every day, now. And...I'm sorry. I'm sorry for hurting you."

"Don't flatter yourself," I replied automatically, because I wasn't ready to make myself vulnerable to him.

"Oh, uh, no, I mean...of course not," he replied, flustered. I had thrown him. Good. "But still," he continued, "I am. I'm sorry for pushing you away."

I sat with that knowledge for a few minutes. "Why didn't you call me?" I asked.

"I did. I left you a voicemail and I sent you texts. You never replied."

"You called me in the middle of the night," I said.

"It was 12:30," he said.

"It was 1:30," I said. "Anyway, you called once and sent two texts, and one was a throwaway."

"A throwaway?" 

"'I have your earrings?' What am I supposed to do with that? Anyway, if you had called just once when it wasn't the middle of the night, I would have answered."

"You would have?"

"Yeah. It just seems didn't try very hard."

"Well, I thought you hated me."

"That's true," I said nodding, "I did. I really did."

"So, why did you call me yesterday?" he asked.

"Oh, um, because I needed your lease renewal," I said with a hint of a smile. Busted.

"You could have called Kevin."

"Oh, that? Simple alphabetical order," I said slyly. "You were just first on the list." 

"Well, I was really happy to hear from you," he said.

"I guess, really...I was tired of being angry. All of a sudden I kept seeing you everywhere, and I hated that it felt so awful. I just wanted to be able to look back and not be angry, you know?"

"That makes sense, I guess," he said. 

"When you guys came in my office a week ago, I felt ambushed. I don't know if you could tell, but I was really flustered, and the whole thing was so awkward and terrible. I mean, I don't know what you must have thought when you left. You must have thought I was a complete bitch."

"No, not at all. Actually," he said, grinning now, "all I said to Kevin when we left was, 'Damn, she looked good in that skirt.'"

I laughed and silently thanked the gods of long legs for their powers of distraction in the face of bad hair days. 

"You know, my sister hates you," I told him. "She really hates you. She doesn't tend to give second chances."

"There's probably quite a few people who read your blog who aren't very fond of me either, huh?" he added.

"Oh, yeah," I said, just then remembering that that I had at one point mentioned to him the existence of a blog (and of his presence on it), though without giving away any identifying details. "Yeah, that's true too."

And that was pretty much it. We talked, we kissed, we finished watching the movie, we went to bed. And as I tossed and turned, as usual mostly sleepless in a strange bed, whenever I accidentally woke him up, he would sleepily mumble, "Hi babe," each time sounding surprised and happy to find me there. A dozen times that night, whenever our moments of consciousness overlapped, "Hi babe," he would say, each time sounding as delighted to see me as the first. 

"I'm really glad you came over last night," he told me in the morning.

"I am too," I said, and I meant it. 

And here is where we are: something seems different this time around, if only the fact that I know I am leaving Mythaca in a month, and he is probably leaving a couple months after that, and there is nothing to be done about any of it. Maybe if we didn't have the timeline I would be more hesitant, more vulnerable to getting hurt again, but as it stands, I am in no danger of emotional slaughter, this time. I am good. I am content. I will also probably be increasingly sad, the closer I get to leaving, but this time it will be the bittersweet sadness of unrealized potential, constrained by geographical forces largely beyond our control, rather than the bitterness of a broken heart fueled by gnawing pangs of "What if?" I have been asking myself "what if?" for months now, and now I finally have an answer: it still won't work out. And that's ok. In another world, another time, another place, I think, maybe, I could love him. I think maybe he could love me. Or, it's equally likely that we would find out we're completely incompatible and every little thing about him would drive me insane. In another world we might have had the time and the space to figure these things out. But in this world, all we have is right now.  

"About those earrings," I said to him in the morning. "Do you still have them?"

"They're in there, somewhere," he said, motioning to his nightstand, but making no move to retrieve them. "But anyway, it will give me a good excuse to see you again. That is, if you want to see me again," he said, almost shyly. I nodded. "Ok," I said.

And that's where I am. I am ok. At best I feel good about it, at worst I feel neutral. I definitely don't feel bad about what happened, and you shouldn't either. And I won't be made to feel bad about it, so if that's what you had in mind, you can just forget about it.

Basically, what I'm saying is, I am good. How are you?    

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why sometimes you need a second chance, part two

My heart pounding, I dialed Luke's number and prayed for voicemail. It rang once, twice, three times, and just when I thought I was home free, "This is Luke." Crap.

"Hi Luke, this is Rachel. From Norwood Apartments," I added to establish that this was a call undertaken in a professional capacity. 

Suddenly, his tone of voice changed from curt and businesslike to soft and almost tender. "Hi Rachel," he said, sounding genuinely happy to hear from me. Just as quickly, I found myself softening, too. "Hi Luke."

"How are you?" he asked, and somehow it didn't sound like a throwaway formality but like an actual question.

"Good," I replied. "How have you been?"

"Good," he said. "So what can I do for you?"

"I was just calling to remind you and Kevin to bring back your signed lease renewal when you have a chance," I said, just like I had practiced, and if I sounded utterly unnatural and robotic, at least I wasn't stuttering and stumbling over my words, I told myself. 

"Oh, right. Kevin's been MIA this last week so we haven't had a chance to sign it, but I've got him here right now, so we can sign it and bring it over tonight," he said. 

"Ok, great, thanks," I said, and as we said our goodbyes, I thought, we? Surely he wouldn't bring Kevin with him just to drop off a piece of paper, would he? It wasn't that I had any expectations for our meeting, or that I anticipated any kind of conversation at all beyond the marginally awkward hi and how are you that we had already practiced on the phone, but whatever happened, I definitely hadn't pictured Kevin being there. Maybe he would figure it out, I thought. But, not fifteen minutes later, in he walked with Kevin, as promised. "Here you go," he said, handing me their lease document. 

"Great, thanks," I said, looking it over. "Would you like a copy of it now, or do you want to wait until my manager signs it?" 

"You can just e-mail us a copy," he said. 

"Um, well I can't really e-mail a signed document..." I said.

His whole demeanor had changed since a week earlier, when he had sat quietly and seriously, not saying a word. Now he was leaning casually over me on the desk and smiling. 

"Oryoucanjustdropitinourmailboxorwhatever," he might have said, though I couldn't be sure.

"Um, what?" I said.

But when he repeated the exact same seemingly nonsensical syllables at exactly the same rapid-fire pace, I wondered, Is he nervous too?

Rather than ask him to repeat himself again, I simply agreed. "Ok," I said.

And that was that. The whole exchange had taken less than a minute, and as they left I felt strangely empty. Like I said, I had no pre-conceived notions about our meeting, and yet it felt sadly lacking. In the end though, I decided that I had gotten what I wanted--I had seen him again on my terms, and that had to be good enough. And if secretly I thought that maybe he would text me later that night, I was wrong. 

He waited until the next day.

Though I had long since removed his name from my contacts list, I recognized the number right away. 

How much are the garages at Norwood? he asked.

It was the first text I had received from him in over two months, having let his last two texts to me after our fallout go unanswered, after which he took the hint and gave up. I knew this text wasn't really about garages; he was testing the metaphorical waters to see if I would respond to him, and he probably thought he had a better chance if he played upon our professional relationship. $95 a month, I replied.

Can it go month to month or does it have to coincide with the lease? he asked.

Has to coincide with lease, I said.

Are you working tonight? he said.

Not tonight, I said.

I was gonna say, if you were going to be in the neighborhood you should come over for dinner. I'm going to grill some tuna steaks with some garlic lemon butter

I paused. Was this a peace offering, a white flag waving, or was it just more of the same? In any case, he knew exactly what angle to take, playing off of my love of good food cooked by someone other than myself. I had no idea what to do. Everything hinged upon whatever it was I would say next. I stared at my phone blankly, snapping it shut, and then opening it again a few minutes later. Finally, I started tapping out a response, and it said...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why sometimes you need a second chance

At work a couple weeks ago, I glanced at the calendar and suddenly my stomach flip-flopped. Under Monday's date someone had taken down an appointment: "Kevin and Luke to sign lease renewal." As if it wasn't bad enough that I have to drive by his apartment every time I come to work and then leave work, unable to stop myself from looking for his car in the parking lot every time, now I had this reminder of his continued existence without me. There was a time when he and Kevin had "coincidentally" scheduled all their office visits on Thursday evenings; I flattered myself into thinking it was because of me. And now they were coming in on a Monday, when I wouldn't be there, and I didn't know whether to feel hurt or relieved. But it was for the best, I decided. The only way I had been able to continue on so far was because I didn't have to see him, and by consoling myself with the thought that soon enough I would be leaving Mythaca forever, and he would be but part of a hazy and vaguely distasteful memory of my time here. 

And so, you can see how I was not at all expecting to see them, both of them, Luke and Kevin, formerly known as tall and cute, walk through my office door on Thursday evening. "Hi Rachel," Kevin said, coming in first. "Hi," I replied automatically while glancing up from my desk, and then did a quick double take as my heart leapt and pure adrenaline began coursing through my veins. One word echoed over and over in my head--ambush. I was not at all prepared for this. "We're here to sign our lease renewal," Kevin said. "We were supposed to come in on Monday but we didn't make it."

"Sure," I attempted to reply casually, all business. "Let me just see if it's ready." It wasn't. Of course it wasn't. Meaning..."Well," I said grudgingly, "I could just type it up for you now, if you have a few minutes." While you both watch me type and this awkward tension grows even more. As I spoke, I addressed only Kevin, utterly incapable of making eye contact with Luke for fear of losing my cool completely. Then, afraid that obviously ignoring him would appear not only unprofessional, but also contradictory to the cool nonchalance I hoped to project, I glanced over at him every once in a while, but was unable to hold my gaze any longer than a half a second at a time. What I saw unnerved me. He was serious, oh so serious, and his dark eyes bore into mine. His hair was longer than when I had seen him last, and curling a bit in the front. He was cute, goddammit. And why had I called them the cute one and the tall one when obviously I should have been calling them the cute one and the tall and cute one? As I spoke I concentrated on keeping the tremor I felt in the pit of my stomach (and beginning to radiate to every part of my body) out of my voice. I was doing pretty well (I assured myself) until it came time to type. As soon as I raised my hands to the keys, a clattering sound arose as my violently shaking hands hit apparently every key all at once. This was...not good. I took a breath and tried again, but it was too late. My hands were shaking like a ninety-year-old alcoholic with the DT's after her twelfth espresso of the day. 

"Maybe they didn't notice," my friend Eric suggested sympathetically when I recounted it to him later. "People don't notice as much as you think." But as much as I would have liked to think this was true, "They noticed," I said. They were sitting right in front of me, staring at me. I mean, there was nowhere else to look."

"Don't worry," my sister said helpfully when I talked to her later, "they probably just thought you needed to be medicated." (She followed this up with an equally helpful "mwahaha.")

So, yes, things were a bit...shaky at this juncture. Luckily, just then someone entered the office looking for information on our apartments, and providing me with a welcome distraction. "Should I come back...?" she asked, looking around hesitantly, perhaps picking up on the tension in the air.

"Oh, no," I replied, "I can help you if you just want to wait for a few minutes." Knowing then that I would never be able to type an entire lease renewal form under these circumstances, and with the added pressure of another spectator, now, I suddenly had an idea. 

"You know what?" I said to the guys. "Why don't I just type this up and drop it by your apartment later?" It was a perfect plan. I and my shaking hands would be able to type the document in peace, and dropping it off later would provide me with time to recover myself and present the cool, calm, friendly yet professional image I hoped to project. Not to mention the time to fix my hair and apply lip gloss, because gah. It would be a second chance. The only problem was, when I knocked on their door at the end of my shift half an hour later, freshly primped and primed, they weren't there. I tucked the envelope into the door and sighed. So that was it. That was the last impression he would have of me. Flustered, aloof, and on a bad hair day to boot. Luckily I had worn a skirt, but still.

So that was it, then. And yet...after two months of seeing him nowhere, I suddenly began to see him everywhere. A few days later, sitting outside a restaurant with a glass of wine and my French meet-up group, watching the world drive by, whose all too familiar and oft looked for blue Audi pulled up to the stoplight? His window down, it was all too definitely him, though he didn't notice me looking. Then, two days after that, forced to park several streets away from my hair salon, I hiked a steep hill back to my car after my appointment, and again saw a familiar navy blue Audi negotiating the downgrade, coming directly towards me. Through my sunglasses I tried to see the driver through the windshield (all while appearing to not be looking), but there was too much glare on the glass. But he works in the area, and it was around lunchtime. I was fairly sure it was him. It was all too much. I had to do something.    

The following week I went into work ready, hoping that they hadn't yet returned the signed lease renewal. I changed my outfit three times before I left the house, finally settling on a navy blue dress made out of t-shirt material, a thin metallic leather belt, and sandals. My hair was freshly cut and styled, and I put extra attention into my makeup. No more ambushes. If this was going to be the last time I saw him, I wanted it to be on my terms. At the office, I found that I was correct, and that the boys hadn't yet brought back their renewal document. Feeling an all too familiar shakiness returning, I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and dialed Luke's number, praying I would reach his voicemail. Though I had rehearsed what I planned to say, I wasn't sure how it would go if he actually picked up, and I had to go off-script. It was ringing now: once, twice, three times...

To be continued... 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why maybe I should give comic books another chance

Speaking of the games some women feel the need to play in order to convince men to seal the deal, so to speak, here's one I hadn't considered before. Apparently all I need to do is learn how to speak geek. Who knew it was just that easy?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Why can't men be happy with good enough?

Walking out onto the commons after yoga class last week with Mythaca Fest in full swing, everywhere I looked I saw faces I recognized. Seemingly every one of my former high school students was there (most of whom studiously avoided eye contact, or maybe just didn't recognize me in ponytail, sunglasses and yoga attire), and then, standing watching a band play, I saw S. I hadn't seen much of him since he, James and I used to hang out together (which, thankfully, seems like a million years ago now). I tapped him on the shoulder, and he was surprised, and then happy to see me, immediately spreading his arms for a hug. Reminded by the chance encounter of each other's continued existence, we exchanged information and met for a drink to catch up soon after. And as it does whenever two single people start talking, the conversation soon moved to the difficulties of dating, particularly when one is over the age of thirty and lives in a small town, where the pickings are slim and everyone knows everyone. His last relationship ended, he said, ("Ok, I ended it," he said), because the woman he was dating was too agreeable. She was willing to just go along with anything he said, and he needed someone... "Feistier?" I suggested. Yeah, he agreed. "Plus, she was older than me," he said. "I tried not to let it get to me, but..." 

I sighed. Been there. I have been the perfectly nice, slightly older woman, hotly pursued and then rejected time and again for...who knows what? A certain, undefinable something, always either lacking or in excess, and the feeling that perhaps there is something, someone, better, or at least somehow more desirable out there. Someone new to pursue and then throw away. 

"Carol," I remembered. "I liked her." 

"I did too," S. replied almost wistfully. "The worst part was that one of my good friends was also friends with her. After I ended it with Carol, my friend bitched me out." I started to express sympathy, but, "No," S. said, "I deserved it." 

It reminded me of my friend Eric, who recently met and fell deeply in crush with a slightly (by three years) older woman; a townie. They were instantly attracted to each other and spent a whirl-wind week or two hanging out together, but then almost as quickly Eric just...stopped. Suddenly, everything she did started to annoy him and became just another "reason" on a long list of reasons why she didn't deserve his attention. "Look, she's texting me again," he said, holding his phone up in disgust, when just days earlier he had been thrilled to spend hours texting back and forth with her, and she, not knowing, or perhaps just starting to sense that something was now different, was simply carrying on as usual. Having been on the receiving end of a very similar scenario, I told him he needed to be clear, unambiguous, and honest with her. "And please," I begged him, "please be nice." He yeah-yeah-yeah-ed me and proceeded to do the exact opposite, prompting a long and expletive-laden text message from the girl in question a few days later, which, honestly, he fully deserved. 

It got me thinking. Here was a beautiful, fun girl who, while she may have had more baggage and more crazy than most, still had a lot to offer, and certainly didn't deserve the treatment she got. It was a conversation I had had several times with my friend Pete, who--hold on. Can we pause for a brief aside, here? The long-time bachelor has now, according to Facebook, entered into an actual relationship, a side effect of which is that he seems to have now cut me out completely, all of my attempts at congratulations and/or communication ending up in a virtual dead letter box somewhere. It wouldn't be so annoying if he hadn't spent the last two months detailing his attempts to seduce this, at first, seemingly unwilling girl, to me in agonizing detail. Once or twice weekly he would call asking my advice on one plan of attack or another, or updating me on their most recent communication, repeating her words verbatim and then asking me, "But what do you think it means?" I am happy that he seems to have finally, against all odds, gotten the girl, but, you know, disappointed that it apparently means the end of our (admittedly screwed up) friendship. And without even a word of goodbye. So, congratulations Pete. You jerk. (End of aside.)

One of Pete's qualities that I always appreciated (even if it wasn't one that I always particularly liked) was his brutally honest explanation of the male psyche. "If they think there's even the slightest chance that they can do better in some way," he would say about men, "then they're going to take it. If they think that if they keep looking they might find someone just a little bit younger, or a little bit better looking, then they're going to keep looking." He admitted that a lot of the time these guys were probably delusional. "Let's face it, chances are, Jessica Alba's not going to come along," he said, citing his perpetually baby-faced sex symbol of choice. So the problem, then, is that these men--S., Eric, Luke, Andrew, and countless others even now ripping some poor girl's heart to shreds--what they say is that they don't want to settle down, but what they actually mean is that they don't want to settle

And why should this be a bad thing? Aren't we forever hearing, women particularly, how we shouldn't settle for just some guy? How this is the worst thing we could do, undoubtedly leading to a lifetime of misery and regret? I'm not so sure...

While I would never "settle" for a guy I didn't like, I think there is a case to be made for settling. Several of the guys I have dated over the last few years have been nice enough, interesting enough, and physically attractive enough that I would have been happy sticking it out with any of them. In other words, I was willing to "settle" for good enough. I wasn't holding out for a male model or a millionaire; in fact, if one had come along, I probably would have turned him down anyway, because I was happy with what I had, with who I had in that moment. And it makes me sad to know that every time I have dated a guy, while I was finding reasons to like him more, he was looking for reasons to like me less. And unfortunately, it's the least delusional males of the species who tend to get married right away, leaving us with, well, the rest. And so the cycle continues. 

Countless books have been written on the subject, promising to help women quietly convince men that actually, they can't do better, and if you only follow this set of rules, you will soon have the most die-hard of commitment-phobes begging you to marry him. "Create a sense of urgency," they always tell you in sales, and in the apartment rental business, I hear it from my boss all the time. "I don't care how many apartments we have, there is always only one left." Convince the man that if he doesn't snap you up, and soon, someone else surely will. The thing is, I am a terrible salesperson, in apartments and in life. I hate convincing someone of my inherent value, and with my tendency towards self-deprecation, I am much more likely to do the opposite. 

So what to do? I don't think I have it in me to play the kinds of games that seem to be necessary in order to enter into any kind of long-term relationship these days. All I can do is keep hoping that there's a man out there who's also tired of the games. A man who decides that, even though I'm not perfect, and I'm certainly no Jessica Alba, I just might be good enough.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why we are the walking wounded

When a normally perky, upbeat, and optimistic dating blogger (in short, the anti-me) posts something like this, I pay attention.

She details her dating history, the rise and fall of each failed relationship--who she trusted, who she shouldn't have, what she lost: Mark, David, Jack, John, Chris. I have my own Mark/David/Jack/John/Chris--I suppose we all do--only mine are named David, Jason, James, Andrew, Luke. Each one taking something vital, leaving less and less. Each time wondering how it's possible to do it all again. And yet we do, taking that flying leap, only each time with a little less gusto, each time with a little bit more of a backward glance. Is it any surprise, then, when we land on our ass?

Then, in a straw/camel's back denouement: "I'm broken," she concludes. "They broke me." Not just one, but all of them, cumulatively, the hurt slowly building until she broke. Comments were closed, but I wanted to say, "Yeah, me too. I'm broken too." 

Then, not even an hour after reading that, I settled in for a dose of Ally, and yikes:

I have some strange synchronicity with Ally McBeal re-runs, always managing to land on an episode that speaks to me at that moment. But yeah, "one gigantic stress fracture" sounds about right to me.

Hit over the head with this double whammy of emotional introspection, first in blog form and then through the t.v., I wonder, how many of us are walking around broken? Will we be alright again? Can everyone be fixed? Will I be? 

When I started the Diary of Why four years and a couple weeks ago (missed my blog's birthday, damn), I wrote this in the very first entry: 
Some things never change, it seems. Some things do change, of course; in my experience, mainly the good stuff. But the shit? It sure is hard to get rid of some shit. The shit, it sticks.

That broken blogger I mentioned? Turns out that post was one of a three-part series. Part two reveals that she's met someone, a "good man," her "life raft." So, maybe good things can happen, after all. Maybe we are fixable.

Or maybe some people eventually hit the jackpot while the rest of us keep playing the wrong numbers, over and over again. I just don't know. I'm still holding out for part three.