Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Talk About Rain on the Parade

Tonight, on my way out the door, my roommate Joe stopped me. The expression on his face was pained.

"Laurie? You got a second?"

I turned to face him. "Sure, Joe." My keys jingled in my hand as I waited for him to speak. I wasn't expecting the bomb that he dropped.

"Uuuhhhh," he began, "the movers will be here...Friday."


Yes, Friday. As in three days from now. Which means I have to pack up all of my earthly possessions by Thursday night in order to move into my new place.


Well, on the bright side, at least I'll have a place to live that doesn't involve a move to Florida.

But still, though. Friday? That's fucked up. My shoes alone could take a week to move.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Meet My Man

Since Victoria asked, it's only fair that I answer.

His name is Billy.

He's a lean six feet-four inches tall.

He has longish curly hair and an amazing smile.

His hands are beautiful.

He's 33. And when he came into the bank this week, my coworkers asked if he was younger than me. I think he looks young, but not that young. But he loves that they thought he was my junior.

He has a job that keeps him working for well over ten hours a day.

But, really, he's an artist. An amazing artist.

He's traveled all over the world.

He's incredibly smart, and uses bigger words than I do.

The first time I met him was well over four years ago. We were both working with a local caterer at a wealthy man's party. We shared cigarettes on the back porch of the venue and I instantly cultivated a crush on him. But I was nineteen and engaged. And I never saw him again until early this year.

But before I met him again, I met his ex-girlfriend. I also met his family - his aunt and uncle, specifically - and began to hang out with them on a regular basis. Through a series of stories fed to me by his ex, I began to piece together an unsavory opinion of him without having met him. My questionable informational sources forced me into believing that he was a commitment-phobe, a charmer, an asshole, a tramp.

Our second encounter ever was at one of my favorite bars. Well after closing time, Pollo, Chuck and I remained in the bar with the owner and his two friends. Billy was one of the friends. He leaned over to Pollo and I, extended his hand and introduced himself. I knew who he was without him having to tell me, my impression of him standing in my way of being friendly. I shook his hand, gave my name and promptly turned away. He tells me now that he thought I was a huge bitch.

Months later, I was invited to basketball night at his aunt & uncle's house. Not a basketball player myself, it was more of an excuse to sit around a fully stocked bar with the ladies while the boys ran around on the court. Billy was there. After only a few evenings, his aunt and uncle had the bright idea that we should date. An idea, by the way, that I vehemently protested.

"I don't think so," I said, rolling my eyes. "I'm a relationship girl. He's a slut."

"No he's not. And you guys would be great together," they argued. "And, anyway, it just takes the right girl."

"Please," I'd respond, "do not feed into my girlish notion that 'the right girl' can tame the bad boy. I don't need that fallacy being reinforced."

I went almost out of my way to not talk to him, even though there was no doubt that I was attracted to him. I knew he was full of charm and character, and from the conversations I'd overheard, I could glean that he was intelligent. But the last thing I needed, I reasoned, was to become another victim of his Venus Fly Trap of smooth talk.

This was about him.

I was wrong.

Something happened. He made me laugh. And I mean really laugh. Repeatedly. And we started talking. Tidbits of conversation within larger conversations eventually gave way to exclusive chats between the two of us. All that I'd heard and assumed about him fell away and I began to judge him based on the impression that he made on me, rather than the impression others made on his behalf. I liked the way he kept me on my toes, challenged me, didn't let me win silly bouts of words. I liked the way he really listened, the width of his smile, the depth of his laugh. The crush I'd just toyed with years ago sprouted again.

His aunt and uncle and my friends Nancy and Alex began to talk about an evening where the six of us would all go out. I was elated to find that Billy and I were being pushed together in a situation outside of basketball night. I was even more thrilled when I found out he'd been playing a part in planning the evening. Because it was obvious that I hated being out of the loop, he teased me with the details of the night, telling me that I'd be filled in, but not until three days prior to the actual outing.

But well before the three-day window approached, he got my number from someone and called. The "reason" behind the call was discuss our triple-date. But near the end of our flirtatious conversation, he asked me if I was free for dinner that weekend. Sitting across the dinner table from my dear friend Laura, my eyes lit up and I grinned from ear to ear, trying to keep my voice calm and unaffected. While we agreed on a date, time and place, my excitement was unparalleled.

I furiously shopped for the right outfit.

I had a great time.

And ever since that date, we've been together.

He is actually a gentleman.

He smokes, too. We smoke the same brand.

He calls me "Baby," "Hot Stuff," and "Sexy." Normally, I hate monikers like that. But for some reason, coming from him, they're endearing.

He tells me I deserve to be treated well.

We take coffee to one another at work. He buys cigarettes for me when he thinks I'm running low. He always asks me if I need anything, if I'm hungry, thirsty, hot or cold. If any of those apply, he takes care of it.

I said, long ago, that I am not an affectionate person, but somehow that doesn't apply to him. Sure, we hold hands, but there's more than that: We're in constant contact. We watch movies and fall asleep wrapped around one another. ("Why is it that all I want to do is lay with you and cuddle?" he said in mock disgust other night. "What is wrong with me!?") Our hands are on one another at almost all times. We are that couple that I hated months ago.

He tells me I fascinate him. But it's me who's fascinated.

His family was right. We are a good match.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

What a Difference a Post Makes

He picked me up Thursday night to attend his family dinner. Turning onto Harford Street and heading toward I-84, he reached over and took my hand. "Tell me about your day," he instructed.

"I was in our Lord's Valley branch today. And I was booooored." I stretched out the word for emphasis. "I had two - TWO! - customers all day. I played a lot of Free Cell on the computer."

"Must be nice to play computer games when the rest of us are slaving away at work," he jabbed. "So what else did you do? You can't possibly have played cards for eight hours."

"I obsessively checked the comments on my blog. I put up a post the other day, and I'm getting some good feedback."

"Oh yeah? What did you write about?"

I hate admitting when I've written about him. Begrudgingly, I fessed up. "You."

"Me? Again?" His smile was huge. "I must rate, huh?"

"Yes," I said through an exaggerated sigh. "You rate."

"Well, what did you say?"

I wasn't eager to discuss my most recent post with him just yet. He has my blog address, so I knew it was a possibility that he would see it for himself. But face to face, three weeks into a new romance seemed too much, too soon. "You know. Stuff," I said with a shrug.

"Stuff like what?"

I didn't want to tell him I'd been pondering our status online. I didn't even want him to know the girlfriend/boyfriend question had crossed my mind. But I couldn't lie. So I tried to be vague. "Stuff like labels."

"What kind of labels?"

"Oh, you know...labels...like..." I spoke slowly and looked out of the window, desperate to figure out how I could either tell him about the post without sounding like an adolescent, or avoid telling him altogether. But I knew he would press until I relented. "...like what people call each other. Labels like that."

"Uh-huh. And...?"

"And...it was about you, which you know already..." He nodded as if to say go on, and I felt stuck. So I regurgitated most of the post for him, the my speech accelerating to dangerous speeds in an effort to get it over with more quickly. "...And I got a bunch of comments today, which is awesome. And so I read the comments and then I read the blogs of the people who commented." My words began to resume their normal pace. "It sucks, though," I concluded, desperate to get his mind off of my post's topic, "because I can't comment on the blogs I read when I'm at work."

He focused on my topic anyway. "So, what did the comments say? About the girlfriend/boyfriend thing?"

"They said titles don't matter, things like that. Oh! And they say you sound great."

"I do?"

"Yeah, you're a big hit on the internet. But that's because they don't know you."

He laughed and I attempted to change the subject. I yammered on about my roommate and the move we're about to make while he sat and listened. After I had exhausted all of my conversation topics, silence filled the car.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked, breaking the quiet and withdrawing his hand from mine to rub his chin. "Am I your boyfriend?"

I was shocked. I expected both of us to just sort of skim over it. I figured it was too early for this. Considering his question, I wanted desperately to say "I hope so," but I didn't want him to think I was being pushy or clingy.

And when in the face of insecurity and my neuroses, I get non-committal, non-chalant and sarcastic.

"I don't know." I shrugged awkwardly. "We're dating." I re-evaluated what I'd said. I didn't want him to think I didn't want him as a boyfriend. "I guess?" My hands were out, palms up. I gave up. "I don't know." I dropped my hands, defeated and clueless, into my lap.

"Do you want me to be your boyfriend?"

I fidgeted in my seat. For whatever reason, direct questions make me uneasy. Maybe I don't like making my mind up one way or another because I don't want to be held accountable for it later. Maybe because I don't want to make any proclamations without knowing for sure that I won't be making a fool of myself - I'd rather know first that the feelings are mutual. I don't know. So I said it: "Yes, I want you to be my boyfriend. " but I said it obnoxiously - almost like I was being forced at gun point to speak - and rolled my eyes at the ceiling.

"You can't roll your eyes," he grinned. But getting to me to say it seriously was like pulling teeth. I looked at him, pleading with my facial expression for him to let me off the hook. You know the answer. Please don't make me say it. "Can't you be even a little vulnerable?" he teased.

And then I thought: If the situation were reversed, if I was the one asking the questions and he was the one squirming inside of it, I'd feel like shit. You always think you know what the other person feels, but it's always better to hear it from their mouths. So I turned to face him, maneuvering my body in the Saab's leather seats. "Yes," I said, my tone as honest as I could get it. "I want you to be my boyfriend."

He smiled. "Good," he said. "Because I want you to be my girlfriend." He took my hand.

We laughed at each other, at the formality of the words.

"I have a girlfriend," he said to his windshield.

I am a girlfriend.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


There's a question that's been plaguing me for about a week now. It's a harmless question, but it carries a lot of weight for a twenty-four year old girl with a great new guy in her life.

"So, is he your boyfriend?"


My boss, who is divorced and over fifty, has been dating the same woman for well over a year now. They are crazy about one another, and I would even go so far as to say they are in love. They spend every weekend together, and most weeknights. The two of them have gone on vacation and they've begun to discuss living together. They're clearly a couple, yet, when it comes to introductions, it's tricky. "This is Christine," my boss will say, gesturing to his other half when introducing her to a crowd of strangers. Just Christine. "My lady friend and I..." he'll say to customers of ours when he refers to what he did with his weekend. Lady friend? "It's tough, Laurie," he says to me when I inquire about his word choice. "Once you pass a certain age, it's stupid to say girlfriend." I agree, it does sound awfully junior-high. And you can't say partner because people assume you're gay. And you can't say friend because it's a drastic understatement. So he's left with terms that fall short of what she really is. Companion? Lover? The Future Missus? It's either too much information or not nearly enough. "But what's the difference, really?" he says, when I force him to defend himself for leaving girlfriend out of an introduction. "We both know how we feel about each other. Neither of us is dating anybody else. What difference does it make if I call her my girlfriend or not?"

My current interest and I have been "dating" for a couple of weeks. And by "dating," I mean seeing each other on a daily basis. Going out to dinner, shopping, going out to the movies, staying in to watch movies at his house...Since our first date, we've been together. So, of course, when I'm asked what I did with my weekend or a random week night, I respond that I've been with him. And, in one form or another, the question follows: Is he my boyfriend?

I always say no; that I have yet to slap a title on our budding romance, that we are still in the dating phase. It stands to reason, since we've been together pretty much every second that neither of us were working, that neither of us is seeing anyone else. That makes it pretty much exclusive, I guess. But do I feel it prudent to refer to him as my boyfriend yet? No.

This weekend I donned the beautiful baby blue dress he got me and we braved our first true social function together: A wedding. This particular wedding was the ideal coming-out party because we both knew people in the wedding, as well as those in attendance. But, of course, because he works with the groom, he knew more people there than I did. And so I stood by his side as he talked shop, and perked up when he said, "...and this is Laurie." Just Laurie. He didn't assign me a title, but he claimed me with his arm around my waist, his palm on my back, his had wrapped around mine. He made me feel beautiful and told me I looked "ravishing," even though I dribbled grease from a scallop swaddled in bacon less than twenty minutes into the reception. I'll admit, part of me was listening, paying special attention, to his introduction of me based on a conversation I'd had with Pollo the day before the wedding.

"So, is he your boyfriend?" She asked, taking a bite of her chicken Caesar salad.

"Nah. We're just dating."

"But you're together every day, Chimi."

"I know. But it's not like we sat down and said 'Okay, I'm your girlfriend and you're my boyfriend.' It's just dating right now."

"So you're just dating?"

"Yeah, I guess." I shrugged and took a sip of water. "Besides, it doesn't matter anyway. We're together all the time, we enjoy each other's company. What I call him doesn't really factor into it. What more do I need?"

"Why don't you ask him?"

"Ask him what?"

"Ask him, 'hey, am I your girlfriend or what?'"

"Yeah, nothing like a little pressure on the situation."

"Well, maybe it's just my Ecuadorian mind...But I would ask."

I paused, considered her advice. Suddenly, I felt like I was in grade school again. Do you like me? Check yes or no. Back then, it was important to know exactly where you stood, even though "going out" meant little more than shared snacks at recess and perhaps some discreet hand-holding. Being boyfriend and girlfriend was really for the benefit of being able to point at a boy on the swingset and say "Yeah, we're going out." It was simple. And it was long before the we understood the complications and intricacies of adult relationships; weekend trips, social gatherings, sex. Being in a relationship ties you to so much more now than it did when you rode the bus to school. So why use the same labels?

"I'm not going to ask," I ripped off a section of the wrapper from my straw and rolled it into a little ball. "I'm fine with the way things are. I mean, sure I'll want to be able to say my boyfriend eventually. But right now, just using his name is fine."

She thought for a second. "Yeah, don't listen to me, Chimi," she said sincerely. "I mean, what you guys should do is just enjoy this."

I shot her a confused look and flicked the ball of paper I'd been rolling between my fingers into the ashtray. "But you just told me to ask him."

"I know. But that's just me. And anyway, you're happy. And I think you should just be happy. Don't worry about all of us asking you if he's your boyfriend yet. It's the same as all those people telling you to be careful. You didn't want to hear that either."

And it's true. I was obsessed with whether or not to date him in the first place because of everyone's two cents being perpetually tossed at me. I hated it. And I got over it. And I don't want to obsess over titling us now.

He signed the card to the Bride and Groom with both of our names. We take coffee to one another at work. As soon as our time is free, we spend it on each other. Seriously, what more do I need?

For now, using his name is just fine.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Week Ago Tonight...

...The new man and I were at a bar about an hour away from home with a group of friends.

The eight of us took a limo to the packed restaurant. We toasted one another while we sat in buttery seats and moved along I-84 to Newburgh, NY. We shared stories, we laughed, and before we knew it, we had arrived.

We skipped the line of people outside waiting to get in, and moved into the thick heat of a crowded restaurant thumping with music.

Our cocktail waitress for the evening greeted us and supplied us with all the drinks we could manage, before moving us to our own table that sat outside, overlooking the Hudson River. Our view of the River was only obstructed by the mass of bodies that crowded around us. Hundreds of young and old men and women gathered on the long patio that served as the outdoor bar to the trendy restaurant. The atmosphere had a heartbeat. And it was rapid.

Although there was no official dancefloor, we couldn't help ourselves. We danced all night, fueled by champagne and Vodka mixed with Red Bull.

Get Low, Nancy. Get Low... Posted by Picasa

I danced with Nancy and the other ladies with whom we shared the evening, before my date and I sequestered ourselves on the floor. Tucked into a semi-private corner of our area, we moved to hearty R&B beats; slow and steady alternating with fast and rough. The air was syrupy with humidity, making my face glisten and my long and thin white shirt stick to my body. It was scrumptious.

After hours and hours of dancing, drinks and laughter, we called the amazing night to end. Exhausted, we piled into the waiting white car that had carried us there and headed home.

I don't remember the last time I had that much fun.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

This is Why I Haven't Been Posting...

"That dress really does look great on you," he said to me as I picked at my dinner.

I couldn't help the smile that spread across my face. I was so full of joy that I thought I might burst. "Well thank you," I bowed my head and hoped I wasn't blushing. "I want you to think I look good in it."

"Well, I do," he smiled, leaned over and kissed me.

The dress to which he was referring was hanging in my car. Light blue, strapless, knee-length and trimmed in black, it was encased in the store's bag, waiting to be worn. I cut another piece of chicken and thought about the shoes I'd wear. It was all too much.

He had asked me weeks ago to a wedding taking place this weekend. "The dress code is formal," he'd said as we were standing in line at the Turkey Hill, waiting to buy our coffee. "Sultry and formal. Like, wedding formal."

I thought for a moment. "I have two dresses. Both are black, but one is long, one is short..."

"Or," he shrugged his shoulders, "we could go buy you one."

I laughed. "Or I'll just show you the two I have, and you can tell me if they're appropriate."

"Or we can just go shopping."

"Okay," I said, unsure of whether or not to take him seriously. I don't remember the last time a man suggested shopping.

I figured it was just something to say, or that he meant he would accompany me to the mall to assist me in picking out the frock for the evening. But a week later, I got a message on my phone. "I just checked that wedding invitation," his deep voice informed my voicemail, "and, as it turns out, the wedding isn't two weeks away. It's ONE week away. So we have to get you a dress. Soon." I smiled as I listened, but didn't put much faith in him trekking through the mall with me.

But then, there we were two nights ago, standing in a department store, looking through dresses. He pointed to dresses that he thought would suit me. He was dead on. Long lines, classically simple, flattering, clingy. We both tried to stay away from black, scouring the racks for something dressy but not too formal. I saw the light blue dress on the far wall when we walked into the last department store. It was exactly what I was looking for. I grabbed my size and we headed to the fitting room. He sat outside, positioned in the same chairs where most men surrender to shopping fatigue, grateful for the chance to sit while ladies wriggle in and out of clothing inside. I slid out of my clothes and into the smooth satin dress. I pranced out of the room and submitted the dress for his approval.

"You look beautiful," he leaned forward when I emerged. "You really do. That's the dress."

"Are you just saying that because you want to go home?" I grinned.

"Not at all. Here, ask her." He pointed to the saleslady meandering through our section. "Doesn't that dress look amazing on her?" He addressed her and nudged his chin in my direction.

"It looks beautiful," she agreed, nodding her head in approval. "Blue is your color."

"See?" He looked at me, eyes wide. "That's the one." I smiled, checked myself in the mirror. "Nice legs." He winked at me.

So I carried the dress up to the cashier, set it on the counter. She announced the total, and I reached into my purse.

"What are you doing?" he sauntered over to my side, pulled his money clip out of his pocket.

"I'm paying for my dress."

"No, I told you I was buying you a dress."

"But it's too much. I'm buying it," I began to pry my credit card from its tight pocket in my wallet.

"Oh, come on," he said, and shoved my wallet back into my purse. "You're my date to this wedding, and you needed a dress. I'm buying it." He slid his plastic across the counter.

I was stunned into silence. No one had ever done that for me before. "Thank you." It came out quiet and almost sheepish. I leaned into him and rested my head on his shoulder.

"You're welcome." He punctuated his sentence with a kiss on my head.

We walked toward the exit, the hanger hooked on my finger, the dress draped over my shoulder.

"Thank you," I said again.

"It's no big deal," he told me, fingering an orange tie in the men's department.

But it was a big deal. To me.

And it wasn't about buying the dress, the cost of it. It was about the thought behind it, his involvement in my wardrobe choice. It was how he wanted to do that for me. It was the way he told me I looked sexy. It was completely unexpected. It was unbelievably wonderful and I didn't know how to thank him enough. I was still in awe as we sat at dinner.

I didn't want to make a spectacle of how thankful I was, for fear that it may make him uncomfortable. But I wanted him to know how splendid it was of him, that I wasn't expecting him to buy me the dress, that I was truly grateful.

So I grabbed the bill for dinner when the waitress set it before us.

"Really," he said, extending his hand, palm up, fingers open, "c'mon, give that to me. You don't have to pay."

I slid my credit card into the black folder holding the check without looking at the total. "I know. But I want to." I closed the folder, card inside, and set it back on the table. "Consider it a thank you for that dress in the car." I felt the gesture fell painfully short of expressing my gratitude, but at least it was a start.

After protesting, his hand fell into his lap as he smiled. "Well, thank you." He kissed my forehead. "You look gorgeous in it. But then, I guess I'm the wrong person to ask. I think you look good in anything you put on."

"You'd better stop being so nice to me," I warned. "I could get used to it." He laughed. "Really, you make me feel like a million bucks."

"But you are like a million bucks."

My cheeks hurt from smiling so much lately.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Dating Games

Be careful.

I've heard these words, or some variation thereof, countless times in the past week.

When I said we had a date planned, and that I was excited about it;
When the date was over and I was reeling from how well it went;
When I mentioned that we had date #2 planned;
Ditto for date #3;
When I said, out loud, that I like him;
When I mentioned that we have plans for Friday and Saturday nights this weekend.

Whatever my comment, the response is the same: Be careful.

Be careful. Instead of Wow, that's great! Enjoy yourself! It's about time! or You deserve it.

While trying to saturate in the giddiness that a new suitor brings, I'm being bogged down by warnings. Cautionary words fall from the lips of my friends and his family, sucking the wind right out of my possibly over-inflated sails. I don't want to bring up this name for fear that I'll get another reminder to stay guarded. I don't want to talk about what we did or what we have planned for the same reason. But I'm too excited to keep my mouth shut. And the price I pay for vocalizing the thrill I've been feeling is having to bow to constant counsel:

Be careful.

But I understand why they worry. Many of my friends and my whole family witnessed the aftermath of my last relationship. They saw me cry, and then they heard me bitch and moan about being single. So I know what they're worried about: They're worried I'll latch onto the first decent candidate. That I'll be crushed, that I'm jumping right into the deep end of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and my date was only looking to run through the sprinklers. I know they have my best interests at heart. They see me all googly-eyed over a tall and dashing man, who happens also to be smart and funny and makes me feel just delightful, and they worry.

Of course they do. I wouldn't love them if they didn't.

But I'm not in love. I'm not filling up blank notebook pages practicing my signature with my first name and his last, and wondering when he's going to pop the question. I'm not sitting at my desk during the day, staring into space and willing the phone to ring. I'm not even looking beyond August yet. Because I know myself. I know how much I love to swim in the deep end. I know it's easy for me to get ahead of myself. So I'm watching it. I am being careful.

But the fervor with which those around me demand caution implies that I should have mile-high walls built around me, that everything he says should be discarded as a very loose interpretation of the truth. Their incessant instructions to be careful seem to mandate that I keep myself closed-off, that I lay low, that I "make him want" me. And I wish I were hard enough to do that. I wish that my broken engagement and my mind-fuck of a last relationship would've made me weary enough of love and dating and relationships to make me keep everyone at arm's length. But it just hasn't.

And since it hasn't, I'm advised to play games. To lie and say that I'm busy when he asks if I'm free, to let the phone go unanswered when he calls, even if I do happen to be right there, to "forget" to call him back. And I think, why bother? Why. Fucking. Bother? Why waste my time figuring out the delicate balance between aloof and uninterested? Why not just come out with it: I like you, you like me. Why bow and curtsey and ring-around-the-rosie and plot and plan and make my moves based on moves I think he's making?

"You move too fast - Three dates in one weekend? Slow down, get to know him first. Get to know what he wants out of life." Oh yeah? But how am I supposed to do that when I'm busy NOT calling him back because I want to give the impression that I could care less? How am I supposed to get to know him - or let him get to know me - when I'm wrapped up in NOT being myself? Because not returning calls, not going out because I don't want to seem "desperate" is not me. I've tried to play that game before, and I can't. I can't even play it when I don't like someone - I'm too nice for that.

And what it comes down to is that I have too many people involved. This is why I don't talk about my life of the goings-on therein. Because my ears overflow with advice. It's almost as if I'm not allowed to be happy in the moment: No, Laurie, don't enjoy yourself - Plan for the fallout. Live your life like you're terrified of being hurt. Try to trick him into liking you by acting like you don't like him. Men love that. Don't dance like no one's watching, dance like you're on a live fucking national broadcast.

But all I want to do is enjoy this, however long it may last. I want to enjoy the smile I can't help when his name illuminates my cell phone. I want to enjoy looking forward to his call. I want to enjoy hearing him laugh at something I've said. I want to enjoy when he kisses me for no reason whatsoever. I want to enjoy hand holding and shared dinners and compliments. And I don't want to read into any of it.

And it's quite possible that I will look back later and think "I should've listened," or "maybe I should've played those games." But I'd rather be looking back thinking I should've been more careful than thinking I wish I would've enjoyed it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Side Effects

I walked out into the foyer of my bank to catch the tail end of their conversation.

"...I wouldn't get remarried," Myra said, shaking her head.

"Me neither," said Terri.

"Are you talking about divorce or death?" I asked, leaning against the wall and waiting for my coworker to put in her security code so we could leave.

"Death," they replied in unison.

"And you wouldn't get remarried because you'd miss your husbands so much, or because it's just a lot of work?" I fished my sunglasses out of my purse, resting the big black frames on top of my head in preparation for going outside.

"I just wouldn't do it," Myra elaborated. "Too much work."

Terri piped up. "I don't want to get to know someone all over again,"

"Or have someone get to know me," Myra shooed away the notion with her left hand, her wedding band big and gold against her narrow fingers. "I don't have that kind of time."

"If my husband died, I'd have to fill this new guy in on all the details of my life. And that's already - ahem - forty some years. That's a lot of details." Terri glanced inside the bank to make sure everything was okay. Our coworker rushed out of the building, hurrying to beat the set alarm.

"I might date," Myra added, "but not seriously. I just really can't even stand the thought of somebody getting to know me again." The door opened behind her and Betty emerged. The alarm was set and we were free to go.

We filed out of the air conditioning and into the thick five o'clock heat. "But you don't know that," I said, holding open the door for them. "It could be great."

"Yeeaaahhh...No. I don't think so," Terri said. "I'm tired just thinking about introducing myself and all my baggage."

"But that's what I thought a few months ago," I offered, lowering my sunglasses over my eyes. "I remember coming home from one of my horrible blind dates and saying 'I'm so tired of telling these people all about me, introducing them to the cast of characters in my life. I don't have the energy.' But it was just that I was going out with the wrong people; of those guys I dated, I didn't want any of them to know me."

And it's true. I was sick of wasting my breath telling these people about myself when I knew I'd probably never see them again.

But then I went on a good date.

Three good dates, actually, with the same man.

And, suddenly, the idea of telling someone all about me didn't seem so strange.

I've been on five or six blind dates. Two of them went well. But the rest of them were just exercises in futility. I had grown weary of walking into a restaurant not knowing who it is I was meeting, of making and collecting first impressions over the clicks and clangs of other diners, of trading life stories in front of bartenders. And I had exhausted a well-rehearsed speech about myself. I was raised in Las Vegas, I didn't finish college, my dad is a retired Army Major, I'm an administrative assistant. But when there's no chemistry between you and the stranger across from you, it's hard to get excited about what you're saying or what you're hearing.

At the end of the night, I'd leave feeling frustrated. Full from dinner, but empty from the date. I'd phone my mother the next day to give her a full report, unable to work up any enthusiasm. "It was alright," I'd say. "He was nice. But there was nothing there."

And, over time, I'd forgotten what happens when you go on a good date.

The anticipation.

The foreign bundle of nerves in the pit of my stomach as the moment of his arrival drew near.

An uncharacteristic shyness creeping over me.

Acting coy.

The what-happens-now feeling when the date is over.

The first sweet, slow kiss.

The intoxication that comes from an unexpected flesh-on-flesh encounter: forearm grazing forearm, fingertips on my accidentally exposed hip.

The first time our hands embrace palm to palm, fingers entwined.

The weight of a strong hand on the small of my back.

A quick kiss out of the blue.

Feeling giddy.

Catching myself smiling for no reason at all.

Excellent side effects, indeed.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Open Wounds

I came home tonight to find her sitting, in the dark, on our back porch; the same place she's been sitting since she moved in two weeks ago. From the bright kitchen, I could only see her legs, and a small fraction of her face as she inhaled drag after drag of her Marlboro Red. I dropped my purse on the counter, retrieved my own pack of Lights and headed out to chat with her before bed.

I slid the heavy glass door between us open, let my eyes adjust to the darkness she was draped in. I heard her talking before I saw the cell phone clutched in her frail hand. She murmured into the mouthpiece and I began to slide the door closed again. She lifted her soggy eyes to me and softly said goodbye to the person on the other end of the phone conversation.

"Laurie," she said, so quiet she could barely be heard. "It's really over." She leaned forward into a square of light seeping out from the kitchen. Her face crumpled and gave way to the tears she had obviously been shedding for hours. Her mocha cheeks were covered in tears, her eyes swollen from sobbing. She pursed her lips to keep from wailing, then covered her face in her hands. "It's really. Fucking. Over." I didn't really feel like she was speaking to me, more like she was telling herself things she didn't want to hear.

I rushed over to her and wrapped my arms around her. I could feel her ribs, her shoulder blades, her bare bones beneath her thin skin. She hugged me back with more strength than I thought her capable of.

"I'm so sorry," I whispered into her hair, holding onto her until she backed away first, letting her control the amount of affection she received.

"Fourteen years," her words were sodden, wet with tears. "Fourteen years and he's already moved on." Her whole body was pleading. Please tell me something to make it better.

But there was nothing I could say; there were no words I could offer that would come close to solace for her. Very rarely does a good vocabulary salve heartbreak.

Lisa moved in with Joe and me when she and her boyfriend called an end to their tumultuous fourteen year relationship. She moved into a spare bedroom, filling the closet with clothes to cover her petite frame, lining the walls with shoes to fit her tiny feet. But that was all she brought - No car, no furniture, not even a bed; only her clothing, her cell phone, and a steady stream of tears.

Lisa lived with Darren for fourteen years. They raised two children together. They shared a life, but never shared a last name. They built and sold a house together and were just beginning to build their dream home when the axe dropped.

"I don't get a penny," she told me in one of our first conversations. "Not one fucking penny. He sold our house - our house, Laurie. Our house - for Three Hundred Thousand dollars, and I get nothing. I don't even have enough to buy food. Fuck. Him." She took a drag of her Marlboro, stretched her skinny legs out on the patio, examining her red toenail polish. "Just don't ever do what I did," she said, punctuating the syllables of her sentence by flicking her cigarette over our ashtray. She pointed at me with a manicured finger. "If you're gonna live with someone, have bills in your name, keep your own checking account. Make sure you're on the deed. Don't ever let a man have complete control. Because he will always fuck you in the end." She took a defiant drag of her cigarette and looked hard at me. "Always." She stubbed out the butt in the teeming ashtray.

I tried to recall the strong Lisa I met that day when I looked at her tonight, but it was nearly impossible. She was crushed. Defeated. Broken. She had curled in on herself, her legs and arms braided in front of her torso, her forehead resting on her bony knees. Her shoulders shook from crying, and I sat beside her, waiting, just in case she felt like talking.

"What do I do now?" she whimpered. "I'm forty-three years old, and I have nothing." Her last word came out as a whisper. "Nothing," she said again, louder, to be sure I understood. "I don't have my house, I don't have my car, and I don't have my man." Her Puerto Rican accent leaked out into her speech; her face twitched the threat of more tears. She shook her head, wiped her eyes with her palms.

I had nothing to offer except more "I'm sorry"s. And they weren't enough. Not hardly. So, instead, I just listened.

"I begged him, Laurie." She was looking for her cigarettes; found one and lit it with a shaky hand. "I begged him to take me back. You don't even know..." she trailed off for a second, lost in thought. "I begged him to let me come back home, begged him to still love me. You would've been so ashamed of me," she shook her head slowly in disbelief or embarrassment, dropped her cigarette ash just shy of the full glass ashtray before her. Despite the fact that their relationship was laced with abuse and mistreatment, she desperately wants him back. "And he...said...no." She gave in to the tears bubbling to the surface. And I just sat there. There was nothing that I could do.

When you see someone that shattered, that raw, it's all you can do to not break down with them. It's terrifying to peer directly into the face of love gone wrong. It makes you want to run screaming from even the prospect of a future with someone. Because you never plan for the fallout. You only think of the highs, the benchmarks, the anniversaries, the picket fences and side-by-side rocking chairs. And seeing the bloody mess that love can leave behind reminds you that the romances you read about were, in fact, fiction.

But we've all felt that way before, if we were lucky. Devastation that complete can only come after some type of utter fulfillment. And the tidy bow is, most times, worth the unraveling. No amount of potential tears would ever stop me from diving straight into the deep end if I thought it was worth it. Even though I'm terrified of the aftermath.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Last Night, In Brief

A tall, handsome gentleman? Check.

Surprisingly sweet? Check.

A good conversation over a delicious meal? Check.

Nerves - the good kind? Check.

Moved from one restaurant to another in an effort to stretch out the date? Check.

Arrived at home well after one in the morning? Check.

Plans to meet again tonight? Check.

Yeah, you could say it went well.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

What Not To Wear

Tonight, I went to the mall and left about a million slinky shirts in my wake. They are all of the same variety - soft fabrics, cut low - but none of them were right.

The sales girl in the final store I visited, bless her heart, did her best to supply me with what she thought I would like: "I'm looking for something simple, classy...A little sexy, but not too dressy or, you know, va-va-voom," was what I'd told her. And she listened. She brought me creamy satins sheaths that tied in the middle of my back, lacy spaghetti-strapped numbers, silky halter tops cut to reveal just enough cleavage. But none of them seemed to fit what I was going for. They all screamed either Stuffy! or Slutty!; Desperate! or Back off! None of them whispered sophisticated, or sultry. And, more important than that, none of them said "I'm the kind of girl you want to date, not the kind of girl you want to bang." So I left the mall, three hours after walking in, with a really great pair of pants and two mediocre shirts. (The pants I love, but the shirts I bought hoping that maybe they'd look better once I got them home and tried them on with the right bra. And, honestly, I felt like I had to buy something, since the girl had been so nice.) And after all that trying on, I'm still not satisfied. I'm stressing myself out over a shirt.

But here's the thing: I know I'm making a huge deal out of nothing. I know that no shirt is going to say more than I will. I could probably show up in a t-shirt and ratty jeans and be either liked or loathed depending on what I say. But I can't help myself...

I'm going on a date. With a boy that I actually picked out myself.

And I am excited. And, honestly, a little nervous.

And when I get nervous, I fret over what to wear. Fret is probably the wrong word. Obsess. That's more like it.

So know this: Tomorrow, while I'm "working," I will really be running through a mental fashion show of every single, solitary shirt in my closet. And I will continue doing that until I have to choice but to wear something, anything and go.

Wish me luck.

Excuse me?

"Are you following me?" I said over my shoulder to my coworker. She had been walking behind me since I walked through the bank's teller line, through the door, through a gate and to the door leading into the back room. Banana in hand, I was headed into the break room to chop it up for an afternoon snack.

As she walked through the door to the employee lounge right behind me, she said "Yeah, I am."

"I know," I let out a mock sigh of helplessness as she closed herself in the ladies' room. "Me and my banana are irresistible."

The door opened back up quickly. "What did you just say?" she asked, her head poking out behind the sign that read "Women."

"I said, 'me and my banana are irresistible.'"

"Oh!" Her voice was relieved and full of the beginnings of laughter. "I thought you said 'me and my banana are having a festival.'"

"I'm not that lonely, Luann!" I yelped.

And we both erupted in laughter.

Ah, the joys of misinterpretation.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My Pot-Bellied Stallion

My mom's best friend's name is Roland.

He became her best friend when she started working at West Point five years ago. And, during that time, he became a very, very close friend of mine too.

He was in his sixties, and he was amazing. He was fun and loud and hilarious and boisterous. He was active and lively and full of laughter. He was just phenomenal.

He and I would talk on the phone and trade salacious emails where we'd pretend that we were having an illicit affair.

I called him my Pot-Bellied Stallion and he called me his Slut Puppy.

He adored my mother. He was deeply religious. But he had a foul mouth and a dirty mind. He told raunchy jokes. He smoked cigarettes.

I loved being around him.

Then, suddenly, he fell ill.

He had been complaining of stomach pains for a while, but he was a military vet, and the Army docs just kept telling him it was an ulcer. After his hundredth second opinion in early September of 2004, they finally determined that he had prostate cancer.

They transferred him to another VA hospital, and after about two weeks there, we found out he had prostate cancer,
liver cancer,
an enlarged heart,
lung cancer,
stomach cancer,
and failing kidneys.

He had been in one hospital or another for only four weeks when he was moved into intensive care. A day later, it was clear that it was time to say our goodbyes.

He was on life support, but it was agreed that they were only keeping him alive until his family could get there to say their own goodbyes.

My mom and I went to see him there, an early October afternoon, and he was like a caricature of who he used to be. In what I guess was a coma, he looked like a grotesque puppet, with all the tubes stretching from his body into the machines around him, and the line holding the breathing tube in his empty mouth. It was horrible.

But while we were in his room, talking to him, stroking his hand and telling his closed eyes that we loved him, he sprang awake. And he looked right at my mom, he clawed at her arm, and he tried in vain to speak. We were shocked, and clamored to be seen one last time by his eyes. We told him we loved him, yelled it in the quiet halls of the sterile ICU, and asked if he could hear us. He nodded "yes" furiously.

And then he passed back out.

He never woke up again. He was gone, but the imposing machines around him kept his heart beating, his lungs breathing.

It was, at once, the most horrible and beautiful moment of my life.

Because I will always think of that shell of a man when I think of Roland now; I have to struggle to see the face of the man I actually knew. But I will also always think that I got to see the moment his soul left this earth, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.

Sometimes I wish I hadn't seen that part of his passing, because, most times, it's all I can see when I think of him. But just because it's the most easily recalled, doesn't mean there isn't beauty to be found in it. Because for the horrifying time thereafter, when my mom and I struggled with the reality of his absence - his name and number in my cell phone that I would never use again, my mom confronted by his empty office, his coffee mug, his limp lab coat hanging in its usual place in the clinic - I can still think of that and feel warm.

That memory reminds me how much I love him. And it's easy to forget the little things - The lilt of his Boston accent, his skinny legs, his throaty laugh, the way he pronounced my name, the way he hugged my mother, the wrinkles around his eyes when he smiled - but that memory will never leave me.

And even if it's the only memory I ever keep of him, it's strong enough to last forever.

We passed out the yellow Livestrong bracelets when he was laid to rest, because he wore one. Not quite a year later, I'm still wearing mine. To think of him.

So when people point to my wrist and say "Why do you wear that?" my answer is simple:

For my Pot-Bellied Stallion.

Monday, August 01, 2005


I took the day off of work today - A much needed vacation day that I planned to spend sitting by my pool with a book in one hand and a frosty drink of some sort in the other.

But things don't always go as planned.

The pool is green, due to a faulty filter and a lazy vacuum, and the sun is a little harsh on my pale skin. I finished my latest book a few days ago, and I don't feel like picking up an already-read novel. And the only thing left to drink in this house is Diet Coke, and that's not nearly as tropical as I would've liked.

So, instead, I slept till noon. I got dressed and left the house by one, at which point I drove a half hour to Middletown, NY to return a shirt I'd purchased this weekend. I bought two new books. I ate a late lunch on my porch. I went to the gym. I had dinner with my parents.

There's just something about doing mundane things on a day when you're supposed to be working that feels decadent. Walking into the mall when I know I should be sitting at my desk, typing furiously at my computer was so strange, and somehow liberating. Spending so much time alone leaves me cleansed. And comfort food from my mom, Chicken Paprikash with egg noodles and lima beans, followed by a laughter-filled conversation with a friend, was the perfect ending to the day.

It was just what the doctor ordered; I feel fabulous.