We gathered at Ed & Scott’s house for a long overdue dinner. Nancy and Alex and I showed up within minutes of each other, taking seats at the bar Ed and Scott had lined with chips and dip and Cosmopolitans.
One would think that the fact that we all either live or work within one mile of each other, there would be no catching up to be done. But your days tend to get away from you when you’re wrapped up in work, your love life, family. So the time that had elapsed since the five of us shared the same space was months, at least.
So we recounted our recent days, and gossiped about mutual acquaintances while we crunched chips we’d smothered in black bean dip. We toasted one another. We laughed, loud and long.
I caught them up on my life of late. Tom’s decision to show up at work, my trip to Florida with Billy, how great Billy is, how happy I am, how well things seem to be going for me right now.
“Where is Billy tonight?” Scott asked, looking at me over the thin black frame of his glasses.
“Working,” I replied, reaching for another chip.
“It must be nice to say that and have it actually be the truth,” Alex interjected. We all giggled.
The four of them had been around through most of my relationship with Tom. And more than once, when I showed up alone for yet another social event, they asked why he always refused to come with me. He has to work, he’s tired, or he doesn’t want to leave Puck alone or something along that vein was always my reply; even though he was his own boss and could choose to work and sleep whenever he wanted. Eventually, they started answering their own questions for me. “Lemme guess: Puck didn’t want him to go out?” “Oh, right, he had to go dig up the driveway,” or “Let’s see…The cat and dog were fighting at home and Tom didn’t want to leave them alone?” It was all in jest, but it still smarted. I didn’t like making excuses for the fact that my boyfriend didn’t want to be with me. It felt like shit.
We talked about it all the time, how I was always flying solo. I was sitting with Alex and Nancy on their porch one night, drinks in hand and looking over the Delaware, when Nancy spoke up.
“Where is he right now, Laurie?” She flung her arms out wide to demonstrate his absence.
I started to answer her, to offer yet another story about his fatigue or his work schedule, but she interrupted me.
“No. Seriously. Where. The. Fuck. Is. He? Because if you were my girlfriend, I’d be with you all the time. I wouldn’t let you go out all alone all the time. I would want to be with you.”
And I thought of that moment just a few days ago, when I asked Billy if he’d like to join me Thursday night for dinner at Ed and Scott’s. He wasn’t sure if he’d have to work, but if he didn’t, he said, he wasn’t exactly sure he’d want to go.
All I could picture was me, again, making excuses. Apologizing for my boyfriend’s absence had been my specialty for a long, long time, and I was altogether uninterested in resurrecting that expertise. And even though the logical side of me knew it was silly to even connect one episode to the other, I couldn’t help it; I was disappointed. But Billy’s work schedule is crazy, and sometimes – like this week – he works for a week straight, no days off, no holidays, no weekends. Thursday may have been his first day off in nine days. If he happened to get it off, he reiterated, he’d kind of prefer to stay at home and do nothing. And deep down, I understood. I can’t imagine working straight through a whole week like that. And I knew it wasn’t about not spending time with me, because with the exception of the time it takes him to drive to and from work, every second he’s not working, he’s with me. But I couldn’t help it; my autonomous reaction was discontent, picturing myself making another round of excuses, continuing to function as a single woman, even though I was part of a couple. But I told him it was okay and focused on my fingernails.
I could feel his eyes on me. “But let me say something before we drop it,” he told me. “I’m not that guy…”
“Are you going to say that every time I’m disappointed or upset? Because, you know, not everything relates to my ex…”
He looked at me in a way that told me he saw right through me. “Laurie, I know for a fact that he never went out with you, that he always made you go out alone.” As he spoke, I tried to remember when I’d told him that. I don’t recall ever lamenting to him about always being alone… “But I also know that he didn’t spend a whole lot of time with you, and you can’t say that about me. My not wanting to go – if I happen to get time off of work – has nothing to do with not wanting to spend time with you, or your friends. And it doesn’t have anything to do with not wanting to be a part of your life outside of my house - Because you know I always want to be with you. It’s just that if I have time off, I really want to just relax. Lounge. And I prefer that you be there with me. But if you have plans, I don’t want you to not keep them. I want you to go. But I just want you to understand that I’ll be at home, in bed watching a movie, probably with a drink, waiting for you when you’re ready to come home.”
As it turned out, he did have to work. All of the discussion was for naught. And I’ll admit it felt much more comfortable saying that he had to work, and knowing it was actually a valid reason to not be with me. But even if he didn’t, I don’t think I would’ve felt lonely.
Because sitting there, once again the quintessential fifth wheel, I felt fine. I knew, even if my boyfriend wasn’t with me, that he wanted to be with me. And I knew that even if I didn’t have a boyfriend, I have four wonderful friends who always make me feel loved.
And, finally, that’s enough.