August 27th, 2009 was the night I stopped believing in the whole happily ever after thing.
It was a Thursday night and it was raining pretty good when I called her up. She’d left a series of manic texts to which I refused to respond, because I hated feeding into her drama almost as much as I hate arguing in text. Our phone conversation wasn’t so much a lover’s spat as it was a natural disaster. Our two and a half year association had been spiraling into a forgettable ending for months, but somehow you never see the end until you’re busy making it.
Her presence in my life had possessed all the qualities of a dream. There was the hazy glow of a perfect place happening all over me; as if my veins were pumping incandescent light. Still, I always carried a sense of foreboding; the kind of invisible weight that tugs at the back of your brain when you’re cognizant of the fact that you’re swimming through a dream- a finite proposition whose answer is light.
The light of recognition began in flashpoints. A tiff here, a full blown argument there. We never reconciled the matters of little consequence so much as we placated them; as if fearful of the well we were borrowing from, full of old wounds that had never truly healed. We were both damaged and I think we both knew the risks we incurred by living separate lives in separate places when so much wrong was courting our steps into some future semblance of together.
I first came to know her through a story she’d written. She possessed a barbed wire prose that tore at the hem of my deepest, darkest places after which she spilled them into the kind of trouble only a great writer ever gets to claim. And I knew, from the very first thing I ever read of hers, that I was swimming in the deep- both as a writer and as a man.
When we split, I took the phone off the hook, emotionally speaking. It took weeks before I could cry about it, a little longer than that before I completely lost it. I called up a friend and it was somewhere inside a rambling mess of words that I declared my moratorium on the whole happily ever after thing.
His reply was predictable for someone who was working on no sleep and who probably needed a few shots of something friendly just to deal with my shit. He told me it was just the breakup talking. He assured me there would come a day when a different girl from a different place would talk me into a different idea of what tomorrow was going to look like. I knew this was bullshit, so I thanked him for his time and I hung up and I took absolutely nothing from his thoughtful advice.
With a little time came a new thing. Something that made all the sense in the world. For me. She was beautiful, smart, accomplished and most importantly of all she had her own life going on. She wasn’t looking for happily ever after, she was just looking for happy.
For six years, she was my disco lemonade. She rallied me, she made me see the error of my jaded belief that a love thing should come with sedatives and a match. Her style was Marilyn Monroe meets Irish gangster meets hippie chick, and our meetings in the middle of it all were the kind of sexy goodness that convinced my spirit to figure out the peaceful easy feeling and yanno, dispense with the bitching.
And then May came along and before it ended, so had we. It wasn’t contentious, it wasn’t August 27th, 2009. She had effectively exorcised those demons for me.Our six years worth of together had saved me from myself, and I didn’t even know it was happening until we ended things. Which is why I wouldn’t change a thing from that beginning, that middle or that end.
The only moratorium I considered this time around was to forego any female companionship of the horizontal variety. For the entire summer. I thought it a good idea to abstain from perfume and curls in order to reflect on the last six years. And umm, mission accomplished.
With my Labor Day whites packed in mothballs, perfume and curls rang my bell. Jen is a thirty something girl with the spirit of a twenty something, the experiences of a forty something and the body of a stripper. See? I am a hopeless romantic, as long as you keep the two separated.
She texted me last weekend to ask what my week was looking like and I hit her back with the mundane particulars. Then she asked if I wouldn’t mind helping her move the rest of her things up to her new place in Wilmington. As a man, I’m blessed with the innate ability to find the prospects of sex in the most obscure, pointless exchanges. It’s called having a penis, and really . . I don’t recommend it. So I placed a phone call to confirm things.
“What’s up with your car?”
“I’m gonna load it up, but it’s pretty small. Yours can take the rest.”
“Jen, I have a Volvo . . not a moving van.”
“It’s just the small shit, no biggie.”
“So your offer is this. I help you pack up both our cars . .”
“Yours, mine’ll be packed up.”
“So I get to pack my car . . .”
“With your shit?”
“And then I follow you to Wilmington. On my day off . . .”
“Yup, and I got dinner.”
Of course, I was in before she offered to buy me dinner. I figured it was going to do me a lot of good to get out and do something with a woman. Never mind that moving is right up there with painting the house and having a vasectomy as far as un-sexy activities go. I’m not discriminating, more like pathetic.
We talked on the phone for most of the hour long trek in our separate rides, and it’s where I detected the slightest, sweetest of changes in her tone. Gone was the stubborn residual of a Minnesota upbringing, replaced with this amazing lilt straight out of every single Carly Simon song I’ve ever heard. Her laughter carried fire and her verbs shimmied and her pauses dripped with honey. That’s what three months without curls and perfume does to your imagination.
Moving her stuff proved to be less painful than I had anticipated, but that’s only because Jen is a hot chica. It took exactly one back and forth before she attracted the attention of a couple of middle school aged boys.
“Need some help?”
“Oh, you guys are so sweet.” She giggled.
She had them blushing like first graders and working like mules, because that’s how a hot chica gets things done. They helped cut our workload in half and after we thanked them on their way, we toasted with a couple of frosty Coronas before heading out.
We held court at Ulysses American Gastropub, a new age public house that lives inside a strip center. We ordered drinks- she went with a pint of Dogfish Head and I tabbed a Brooklyn Porter. It was somewhere between the drinks and our entrees that we figured out what the rest of the evening was going to look like. This is called Christmas Eve for grownups- that gloriously indefinable moment when two people realize their vertically directed rejoinders are plotting a horizontal culmination.
I began drinking her in as we moved through the rest of our meal. The way her caramel eyes danced whenever she broke into laughter. The way her lips moved in silky waves of heaven and hell. And that dirty blonde wisp that fell across her face with more fury than a lightning strike and fuck . . did I happen to mention it had been three months?
Seriously, I gave up a lot of shit after my blood pressure started reading like a Golden State Warriors box score back in June. I gave up bourbon, I gave up smokes and snacking. I cut back on my beer consumption to such an extent that I have become the very person I used to make fun of. I’ve become a responsible drinker. And while losing the gut was a nice perk, still . . the no curls and perfume thing was beginning to feel a tad excessive. Or is it moronic? Both.
Before I could argue myself out of another round, she pulled the ultimate hot chica move and teased my mouth open with a bite of her filet. This is a term of endearment to which I have no defense. So as I swigged down the last of my Porter, I began looking for the waitress to fetch me another drink.
I ordered coffee. Jen made it two.
All this time and I never considered the idea that moderation and sex could co-exist. Who knew? I mean, I’ve successfully gone rogue on my rogue. Hemingway would be ashamed of me, if he hadn’t shot himself in the head. So, there’s that.
We ended up back at her place where she fired up some tunes and we got down to the Yada Yada of things. Tomorrow wasn’t a part of the negotiations because she’s got her new life to be getting to and I really do like sleeping alone, if only because I’m a pillow hog. Listen, I get it. I’m a lousy salesman as far as this happily ever after thing goes. Maybe there’s no cure for what’s ailing me, and maybe I don’t care in the blessed least.
Alls I know is that I couldn’t help feeling as if August 28th was finally making the scene.