It was three years ago today, our first Valentine's Day together, and to say I was excited would have been putting it mildly. Because I am a girl, I put great importance upon holidays of the romantic persuasion; Namely Valentine's Day and any anniversaries that arise. So I woke up on Valentine's Day, prepared to be wooed.
All day long I waited for the flowers he was sure to send to my work. Three of my coworkers were recipients of roses and/or balloons. And every time the man from Myer the Florist came through our doors, I was sure it was my turn. But I was wrong. Three times he came in, and three times he went to somebody other than me. Toward the end of my day, when I had all but given up hope, Tom sauntered in, roses in hand. Ahhh, I thought. I was right. He didn't disappoint me. He sat down at my desk, setting the flowers next to my computer. "Happy Valentine's Day," he said. We shared a small kiss over my files and paperwork, and set to the task of planning our evening.
"Well," he began, "I have this thing I have to do..."
I knew I was in trouble. Tom was always squeezing his work into our dates. Whenever he delicately informed me that he had something to do, I knew a car was involved.
"See, there's this Jeep in Monticello..."
He trailed off, I presume so that I could fill in the blank for him, by saying something along the lines of "sure honey, why don't we go test drive it?" But what I said was:
"So, it's a really great price, and I need to test drive it tonight because I think I might want to buy it. I don't want someone else to get there first." His voice was pleading with me Please don't make a huge deal out of this: I just want to test drive a car. Can't you do that for me?
I just kept looking at him, waiting for the finish....
"And, so, I thought we could go through Monticello, test drive the car, then head over to Middletown for dinner."
I didn't want to make any waves, thereby ruining a perfectly fine Valentine's Day, so I agreed, unaware of what awaited me that evening.
He picked me up late, as usual, and we headed to Monticello. Certainly no metropolis, Monticello is quiet to say the least. Businesses are separated by seemingly endless stretches of vacant land; Houses are even farther apart, each with its own just-about-a-mile-long driveway, adding even more privacy to an otherwise already secluded residence. We pulled up to the home advertising Jeep For Sale in their front yard, and Tom hopped out of the car for a test drive. And he left me in the car. I don't mean to say that I would've liked to drive the jeep with him. But I do mean to say that I hated being in that car alone. Not only because one of my fears is being in the woods alone. Especially at night. It's creepy. You hear strange sounds, you can't see anything, you never know where you are. I hate it. It doesn't matter if my feet are actually standing on pine-needles in the forest, or if I'm in a house in the woods, or in a car in the woods, it terrifies me. But because it was Valentine's Day, and there I was, smoking Marlboro Light after Marlboro Light, listening to sappy love songs the DJ was playing, and praying he would hurry back. I sat there while he test drove the car, while he looked over the body, and then while he talked to the owner about God knows what. I was fuming. I just wanted to get on with my date. With my Valentine's Day date. So when he finally returned to the car, I did my best to hide the fact that it felt like molten lava had replaced the blood in my veins.
Shania Twain had just started to sing about love from this moment on when he hopped in the car, put it in drive and informed me that he didn't like the car: The color was weird. But he test drove it anyway because "well, you never know."
"Oh," was all I could manage as we drove on towards dinner.
"So, where do you want to go?" We were a few minutes from Middletown, and, I thought, dinner, when he posed this all important question.
"Well, I don't know," I responded. "Didn't you make reservation someplace?"
"No. I figured we'd wing it." Tom was a big fan of "winging it."
"Tom, it's Valentine's Day. Everybody and their mother is eating dinner out tonight. We'll never get a table."
"Oh, we'll be fine," he assured me as he pulled into Outback Steakhouse.
The romance was astounding. Fake Australian accents and Foster's Beer labels greeted me as we walked in. So did about thirty other couples, combination beeper/light machine/vibrators in their hands to notify them their tables were ready. We put our name on the list, and took our seat among the rest of the ill-prepared.
"This place has good food," he said as we sat down, as though Outback Steakhouse is some exotic well-kept secret. We plopped down on a hard wooden bench beneath an "authentic" canoe. "Nicole and I came here a few times."
Nicole. Nicole was Tom's ex-girlfriend. She was German. She spoke two languages. She had an accent. I knew this because she had called his house while I was there, naked and wrapped in his comforter, and left a message on the machine. "Tom. Zis is Nicole. I vas vondering how yew vere doink, so I zought I'd call. Vell, call me back. You know ze number. Bye." I always wanted an accent. She intimidated the hell out of me, and I'd never so much as seen her picture. But I also knew that he had failed to tell her that he was dating me ("I can't tell her, Laurie. She's in love with me."), and I never quite understood why.
I saw his mention of Nicole as proof that the night was officially o-v-e-r. Any and all romance had slipped from my clutches, and I was now filled with anger. There was no saving my mood. So I suggested we go to the bar.
We took our seats at the bar, ordered our drinks, and I attempted to salvage the night. I began to recall our first days together, our sweet, quiet and tender moments. I wanted to share them with him again, mostly to remind myself that I liked him. But he was enthralled with the hockey game on the big screen TV just over my shoulder.
Two beers later, we were informed that the bar area was smoking, and therefore first come-first serve seating for dinner. We began to watch couples who looked like they were finishing their meals. We waited. We stalked. We willed them to leave. And finally, all of our scheming paid off. We beat another couple to a recently vacated booth, so newly empty that the vinyl seats were still warm from the previous occupants' derrières.
Our server, a cute young woman in the required safari gear uniform, greeted us almost immediately. "Hi guys! Welcome to Outback! Can I start you out with some drinks?!" She was looking at Tom, not at me. At all.
I ordered a Dr. Pepper.
She didn't look up from her pad, just muttered "Mmm-hmm."
"And what I can I get for you?" she purred at Tom. Making full-on eye contact with him, she listened to his order for iced tea with completely uncalled-for intensity. "Iced Tea. Sure. No problem. I'll be right back." She smiled at him as she left, forgetting once again to acknowledge me.
"Well she's nice," Tom said, his eyes scanning the menu for his dinner selection.
"Yeah. To you."
"You're just too sensitive."
Tom was always accusing me of being too sensitive. But I saw it. I saw the way she looked at him, and the way he didn't shoot her down. I noticed that my hand wasn't being held, that the only conversation we were having was about their food selection. I felt the absence of heat between us, and I was "too sensitive."
"You guys ready to order?" our waitress asked Tom.
"I think so," he replied, offering her his beautiful smile.
Once our order was placed, we chose to look around the restaurant rather than talk. We were surrounded by couples, and even though we were in Outback Steakhouse, I could see romance at almost all of the tables. All but my own.
"So," I started, eager to do anything but look at happy couples, "our year anniversary is coming up in May..."
"Are you surprised we've made it this long?"
I was. I had broken up with my fiancée to pursue the way I felt about Tom. Even though my fiancée was a wonderful man, willing to give me the world if I'd only ask for it. Even though Tom was 12 years older than me. Even though he told me on our first date "I don't think I'll ever get married: It's like waking up every day and eating cornflakes for breakfast." Even though we had completely different goals in life. Even though I felt like I was always chasing him. Even though all of my friends said it would never work out. I was shocked, and thrilled, we'd made it to the nine-month mark.
He reached across the table and held my hand. "I'm happy," he told me.
"But I want more," I countered.
He let go of my hand. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, this is fine for now, the whole boyfriend-girlfriend thing, but I'm going to want more. I just want to make sure you know that. I'm going to want to be married."
He looked at me, appalled. "Well, this is a great time to have this conversation."
"It's just that...Well, you never talk about our future or wanting to get married..."
"We've been dating for nine months."
"I know. But you say you love me, right? You tell me you never want to be without me...And that's all wonderful, but I just need to know that, you know, we want the same thing."
"I don't know, Laurie. I don't think we should talk about this now."
"But why not? It's as good a time as any."
"Because...Because I don't think marriage makes any sense. I don't think I want to get married."
We were interrupted by our waitress. "Here you go," she cooed to my boyfriend, setting his plate in front of him. The smile all but fell from her face. "And yours," she said to me.
I pushed around the pasta on my plate, no longer hungry, feeling like I was to blame for the sour turn the evening had taken. The logical side of my brain argued with the romantic side: You deserve to know if you want the same things! But you don't have to ask him RIGHT NOW! But I can't take it! I feel like I'll explode if I don't know! But you WON'T explode. Just wait! But why should I waste my time? It's still so early! Don't push him! I want it now! But he doesn't! Just give him time! I can't.
"This food is terrible," was what came out of my mouth the next time I spoke. I lifted a forkful of soggy pasta and watery alfredo sauce and let it plop back into the mush that was supposed to be my dinner.
"Mine, too." He wrinkled his nose as he attempted to cut through an overcooked and tough chicken breast. "It really is awful." He flagged down our waitress.
"Is there something you needed, hon?"
"Yeah," he began, lubing her with his most apologetic grin. "You see - God, I never do this - well, our food is really terrible." Another smile. "And, I know it's not your fault...But it really is inedible..." If he were a woman, he'd be batting his eyelashes. "And, I hate to do this, but is it possible to get something else? I'm so sorry."
"Of course it's possible! What would you like?"
He picked something else from the menu. I opted for a cup of coffee instead of dinner. I was mentally kicking myself for bringing up marriage on Valentine's Day. God, I thought, you are ridiculous. Why are you pushing him? He's never going to want you if you keep pressuring him. He'll want to marry you. Just give it time. But in the meantime, you've ruined Valentine's Day.
We spent the entire time it took for his new dinner to come out drowning in silence. And the less we spoke, the angrier I got. Wait a second. I have every right to know where this is going. I didn't ruin today...HE did. He brought me flowers from the grocery store. He test drove a fucking car. He didn't make any plans. We're at Outback-fucking-Steakhouse, where he's allowing the waitress to flirt with him. Now he's telling me he's not sure he wants to get married. Today's problems are not my fault.
"So, Tom, explain to me the reasoning behind your distaste for marriage."
"It's just a piece of paper, Lar. That's all it is. And I don't need it. I don't want it."
"Because it's ridiculous. A piece of paper, Laurie. A piece of paper that binds us together. Why do we need that?"
"Why don't you want to be bound together? What's so wrong with it?"
"I just don't like the idea of some certificate telling me what I can and can't do."
"What? Marriage makes it harder to leave?"
"Well, kind of."
"So you're already thinking of the easiest way to get out? You're already concerned with whether or not we'd have to divide property? You don't want to share anything with me, do you? You don't want to share your last name, you don't want to share you life...." Shit. There wasn't even any room in his closet for me. I shouldn't have been surprised that there wasn't any room in his life for me, either.
"That's not it. I do love you. We can live together."
"Let's just make sure we're clear on this, Tom: I will not be your lifelong girlfriend or your common law wife."
"Can I get you guys anything else?" She stuck her face right in the middle of our heated conversation.
"No. I don't think so." I said, looking at Tom instead of her.
"Okay. Well, I'll leave your check right here."
His voice was cold when he addressed me. "Well. I don't know what to tell you, Laurie. I just don't think I want it." He was furious with me, I could tell. It was the way he looked at me, like he didn't care what I thought. It was the way he was doing his best to not spare my feelings. And I felt like I'd been punched in the chest.
"Then why do you tell me you love me, if you don't want to spend your life with me?" I couldn't understand why one man, less than a year ago, wanted nothing more in this whole world than to put a wedding band on my finger, give me his last name, and keep me forever...And this man, right in front of me, was telling me he wasn't sure it would last forever, so he didn't want to commit to forever. I wanted him to love me. To tell me that he'd do anything to have me forever. To tell me that he wanted me to carry little babies with my eyes and his nose. All he could tell me was:
"I do love you. I'm not saying I don't. I'm just saying I don't want to get married."
There it was. I should've taken it. I should've seen it for what it was instead of thinking well, he just doesn't know yet. He'll want to marry me. I just have to be patient.
The bill was $4.00. We were charged only for my coffee and a soda.
"Hey, Lar. I'm sorry tonight turned out like it did."
"I'm sorry it turned out like this too."
"But, hey...I only have a credit card. I don't want to put a $4.00 bill on my credit card. Do you have a twenty?"
Not only did love make me blind enough to give him the twenty, but I stayed with him for two and half more years.