Wednesday, April 29, 2009

 

In Which We Have A Little Faith...


Oh, lucky readers, sometimes I think you don't know what a good friend I am to you.

After yesterday's disastrous revelation--that in the midst of our first big vacation together, I had somehow been bamboozled into dropping Her Lovely Self off with an old boyfriend (Popeye, the old boyfriend she still seemed to have feelings for) while I went to a wedding of some college friends--you had only to agonize (as I always like to assume you do) for a day about what would happen next.

I had to agonize for two weeks.

And the throes of that agony twisted me every whichaway. I wanted to blow off my friends' wedding and keep Her Lovely Self to myself. I wanted to forbid! (which I later amended to "ask" and then to "beg") her, tell her I wanted her to go anywhere else, do anything else. I even contemplated doing something sneaky--of which I am, sadly, all too capable--like sabotage my own car, or somehow pretend that it had broken down. Nothing permanent (or God forbid, expensive), just enough to put us a day behind schedule, forcing us to cut the whole Connecticut part of our trip out of the itinerary.

In the event, I did none of these things. I had decided to be patient, as I had with so many other of Her Lovely Self's boyfriends. Patience, I'd decided, was the path to trust and faith, things I sensed I would need if I was to have any future with the woman I loved. As I've mentioned, being patient was not a natural state for me. It was a decision, really, a hard one. In fact, I look back at my 23-year-old self with a kind of quiet, slightly head-shaking pride. The decision to be patient was probably one of the first truly adult decisions of my life (what am I saying? It was THE adult decision of my life.) And like so many adult decisions, while I sensed that this decision was the right way to proceed--or at least lay in the general direction of the right way--it made me a little miserable.

Although it must be said, I had a lot of help when it came to feeling miserable. This is because I made the mistake of telling everything to Greg and Bill, my good pals and true from my Chicago days. I called them after the events of yesterday's post and we convened almost immediately for an emergency session at our favorite bar. At first, they just couldn't grasp the stupidity of what I'd agreed to do. "So, in the middle of your first big mess-up-the-motel-sheets-in-nine-states getaway with your little honey, you're going to take a break from that and drop your girlfriend off. At this other boyfriend's place. For a whole day," Greg said, very slowly, to make sure he understood.

Alas, Bill knew me slightly better than Greg, and understood only too well the kind of awful predicaments I was capable of getting myself into. "Jesus!" he cried. "I thought you were smart. What the hell are you thinking?"

"Well, the whole thing snowballed on me," I whined. "She insisted I just drop her off at Popeye's and I couldn't think of a way to stop her. I mean, what am I gonna do, leave her at a rest area for a few hours while I go to the wedding?"

"It's an option," Greg said. "Anything's better than delivering her to his doorstep like the freakin' pizza man. You think he's gonna tip you? No. He's gonna bonk her."

"No, that's not what's going to happen!" I cried.

"Actually," Bill said. "It sounds like that's exactly what's going to happen."

"I bet Popeye's strong to the finish, too," Greg mused.

"Would you STOP? What are you, Satan?" I cried. "Are you two helping me? At all? You know HLS! She's a good person. I love her and I'm supposed to trust her and be patient and have faith in her. And you guys are supposed to be the angels of my better nature and remind me of that, not wind me up!"

Bill gave me a I-don't-understand-the-words-coming-out-of-your-mouth look. Greg just shrugged. "It's not our fault you're fixing your girlfriend up with her old boyfriend." Bill just nodded. I tell you, I never had friends before or after like the ones I had when I lived in Chicago. Thank God.

So now, here Her Lovely Self and I suddenly were. Two weeks later, Chicago just a faint skyline behind us, we were on our way east in my old Toyota, planning to stop somewhere in the middle of Ohio for the night. In the morning, the fateful morning in which we were planning to make it all the way to Connecticut, so I could be there in time for the wedding the next morning--and to do that other thing--I started the car and noticed a light come on that I had never seen come on in my car before, but it was red and looked dire.

I got excited for a moment--God had stretched out his finger and stilled my car at a crucial time! But no. Directly across from the motel--and I mean 20 feet from where I had parked--was a garage with a big Toyota sign hanging on it. The guy was opening for business as I coasted across the street and, wouldn't you know it, his morning schedule was open too. It turned out my alternator was shot. I couldn't afford a new one--not without spending a massive chunk of vacation money. Why, we'd probably have to just skip Connecticut and one or two other stop and just head on up to New Hampshire and stay in my parents' old trailer or something. Anything sounded better to me than what I was scheduled to do that day. But as I was broaching this scenario to Her Lovely Self, the mechanic came out from a storeroom holding what turned out to be a rebuilt alternator--the only one he had in stock--and it worked only on my precise year and model of car. Seventy-five dollars and 45 minutes later, we were back on the road.

"Wow, that was a lucky break," Her Lovely Self said, although she sounded a bit strange when she said it.

"Mmm," I said.

"I can't believe how well that worked out. I mean, I really thought we were going to miss--well, you know, really going to have to change our plans," she said, in that same voice.

"Hmm," I said.

The next 12 hours were 12 hours I could stand to have erased from my life. It was easily the longest time I've spent in a rolling metal capsule with someone I loved and not said anything. Or rather, said lots of things, lots of useless small talk ("Look at that." "Do you need to stop?" "Mmm." "Hmm."), but not address the great big elephant in the back seat. And the front seat. We stopped for the night just outside of Springfield, Massachusetts, almost within sight of the Connecticut state line. I had driven almost the whole way and I was utterly, physically and emotionally exhausted.

"Are you all right?" Her Lovely Self asked me when we were finally settled in. There was a tone in her voice that made me think she wanted to talk, and I meant to turn and talk to her. But instead I fell asleep. We didn't mess up any sheets that night. I had fevered dreams about Greg singing "Popeye the Sailor Man" and the mechanic from earlier in the day, coming out of his storeroom with something in his hands. The mechanic had horns on his head. And in lieu of an alternator, he was holding my beating heart.

In the morning, I threw on slacks, a jacket and tie. Although the wedding wasn't til after lunch, I wasn't really going to have a chance to change. We had a hasty and rather silent breakfast and then drove on into Connecticut, down through Hartford, on our way to Groton, where I would drop Her Lovely Self off before heading back to New London for the wedding.

As we got closer, I was feeling a kind of atmospheric pressure building up inside me. Whatever odd and unhelpful compulsion--the one that had kept me from saying anything to Her Lovely Self concerning the day we were about to spend apart--was finally wearing off. I started to say something, but literally as I opened my mouth, Her Lovely Self suddenly cut across me.

"We're going to be there in about 15 minutes," she said, staring at a map.

"Mmm," I said.

There was a pause of a lot longer than 15 minutes. Of about 15 years, I think. Then she said, a trifle hotly, "And you don't have anything to say to me?"

"Hmm?" I said. "I mean--"

I closed my mouth. I was frozen. Suddenly there were a hundred things I wanted to say. "Don't go! Come with me! Let's get out of Connecticut! Forget this wedding, let's have one of our own!"

I opened my mouth again and for one awful second, I thought my friend Greg's voice was going to come out of my mouth, shouting, "Don't bonk him!" or something. Instead, I sputtered. "What--I don't--" I took a breath. "What did you want me to do? Forbid you from seeing this guy, like some caveman? A caveman driving you to Connecticut?" I don't know why I added that.

Her Lovely Self gave me a Look. It was early in our relationship, so I didn't realize it was a Look, until she said, "What are you talking about?" Then I realized what that particular Look meant (she thinks you've lost your mind) and filed it away for future reference.

I was so busy storing this information that HLS forged ahead. "I don't know what you're--what do you mean 'forbid'--" she took a breath. "I was talking about this wedding thing you're going to."

I stared at her for so long, I almost drove off the bridge and into the water between New London and Groton. "What?" I asked, totally confused.

"You're just going to go to this wedding and not say anything or, I don't know, promise me you'll behave or whatever?" she asked, her voice rising.

Now I was ready to just turn the wheel and steer us straight off the bridge.

"What?" I asked. It was the only word I could muster.

Then she gave me another Look and I had no trouble figuring this one out. She was mad. "Look. I'm not stupid. This is a wedding where all your college friends are going to be there, right?"

I nodded dumbly, thinking Please God, bail my poor ass out of this. I have no fucking clue where this is going.

"So," she said. "So your old girlfriend's going to be there, right? The one you almost shacked up with?"

"Gretchen?" I asked, in utter astonishment. It honestly hadn't occurred to me to think about Gretchen. Hadn't thought about her in, literally, a year, probably two. But now that I did, I was worried. Because, yeah, Gretchen would almost certainly be there. And the last time I saw her, she was furious with me. I had, after all, just told her I wanted to see other people (specifically, other women). I broke her heart. It was not my finest hour--certainly not one you'll find on the blog, not in great detail, anyway. What was more, Gretchen was a brown belt in karate. She swore that if she ever saw me again, she'd kick my ass. Suddenly, I wanted to drop me off at a rest area, or ask if I could tag along with Her Lovely Self and Popeye.

Her Lovely Self, not quite used to reading my face either, mistook my look of shock as one of guilty shamefacedness. "I knew it!" she cried.

There was a sound in my head of gears grinding as my brain reversed course and tried to take this in. Are you kidding me? I thought. Is my life SUCH a sit-com that we've both just wasted hours and days--and a really nice motel bed last night--each worrying that one was stupidly letting the other go off to a tryst with an old flame? I tell you, some day--a very long time from now--I will be dead. And the first person I want to see when I cross over is not either of my parents, nor any of my dead friends or relatives. The first person I want to see is the guy who wrote my life while I was living in Chicago. And I'm going to make him explain WHY exactly he felt the need to put me through such unnecessary emotional calisthenics.

But meanwhile, I was continuing not to say anything and this was driving Her Lovely Self up the wall. "God, I'm so stupid! I wondered why you were so eager to dump me with [Popeye]--I mean, what boyfriend does that? But then I realized why!" I tell you, we were hitting a lot of firsts on this road trip. Aside from getting exposure to some new Looks, I was discovering that Her Lovely Self was just as capable of crazy as the craziest women I'd ever gone out with. She was working up a real head of steam. It got scary there for a few minutes, I'm here to tell you.

"Listen--" I began.

Her Lovely Self was studying her directions. "We have to go up Route 12. [Popeye's] apartment building is a few miles north," she announced, as if she hadn't heard me at all.

Knowing a little about whoever was writing my life at this point, I realized I had just a couple of minutes to pull this one out of the fire, otherwise, the big plot twist of this episode was going to be at my expense. The way things were going, Her Lovely Self would end up with Popeye just to spite me, not realizing that I was heading off to a meeting with an ex-girlfriend where the only physical contact I was likely to get would be a round kick that sent my teeth through the back of my head.

"Okay," I said. "First of all, nothing is going to happen with Gretchen, I can assure you. Yes, she will probably be there, no doubt with the guy she's currently 'shacked up with.' And I sincerely hope she doesn't see me, because if she does, there's a good chance she'll reach down my throat and turn me inside out, anus to esophagus." Unfortunately, that amused me, saying the end of that sentence. I often amuse myself like that--it's actually quite fatuous of me. Especially at this moment, because I let out the smallest laugh. It was bad.

"You always think everything's a joke," she muttered, and I realized I hadn't said the thing she needed to hear, which was that I had no interest in my former girlfriend and that even if she begged me, I'd just turn my head and politely but firmly decline all amorous overtures. I started to add this, but she interrupted me with terse instructions--"Turn here"--and I saw that we were at Popeye's apartment complex.

"Listen," I tried again. "It's just, I'm relieved," I lied. Actually, I was feeling dizzy and nauseous at the thought of what stupid ideas we'd been laboring under. I pulled us into a parking space that was far from the apartments, and then I just spilled my guts, told her everything I'd worried about the last two weeks, how hard it had been to resist the urge to say anything to keep her from doing something she might regret (well, anything that I might regret). How I was trying to be all grown-up and patient about these kinds of things.

Her Lovely Self seemed to be coming back from crazy, but not entirely. Finally, she said, "Why didn't you say any of this before? I don't know any man, [Popeye] included, who would just drop me off at the door of another man without being a little jealous. What were you thinking?"

"Honestly? You said it was something you wanted to do, instead of going to the wedding. I want to give you what you want," I said. "I want to let you do what you want to do. Even if it's something I'd just as soon not have you do. In this case, I figured I'd just have to trust you."

"Oh," Her Lovely Self said, looking kind of stunned herself.

"But if you'd rather," I added, "we could just make a little pact: I'm happy to promise not to bonk Gretchen at the wedding if you promise not to bonk Popeye."

She laughed at this. Evidently, "bonk" amused her in a way that "anus to esophagus" did not. "No," she said. "I liked your first answer better." And then she kissed me, which was fantastic for two reasons. One, just on general principle, because my girlfriend was such a great kisser (almost as good as my wife). And two, I suddenly understood that we were going to be fine, and in that moment all the agonizing I'd done the past two weeks seemed almost worth it just to get to this moment. I guess sometimes the guy who wrote my life back then actually knew what he was doing.

Also, I lied. The kiss was fantastic for a third reason: Her Lovely Self planted it on me just as a certain sailor man was peering in through the back window, scowling at me as though I'd just stolen his favorite can of spinach. Which I like to think I did.

And that was that.

I went on to my friends' wedding. And yes, Gretchen was there, but my digestive tract remained in its original configuration (it turned out she was actually not too mad at me anymore. But I still didn't bonk her.)

Her Lovely Self spent an uneventful, if sadly awkward day with her old flame. I guess he tried pretty hard to get her to dump me and stay with him. He made so many disparaging remarks about me that she quickly kicked the shim out from under the door she's had propped open in her heart for him all those years. She may have also made some comparisons about petty boys versus grown-up men, as well as a few remarks about the abiding virtue of trusting your woman and having a little faith, instead of resorting to jealousy and possessiveness. In short, Popeye pretty much hanged himself, ruining whatever chance he might have had with Her Lovely Self.

At least, that's what she told me when I picked her up late in the day and we continued our vacation back into Massachusetts and on northward to the next motel. After we got back, I told my friends Greg and Bill what happened. They just crowed at me, told me I was gullible and naïve.

But I knew what I knew. And what I didn't know--particularly where she was concerned--I was just going to have to trust, to take on faith.

That strategy has worked pretty well ever since.

At least, I think it has.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Was I really the first one of your readers to see this piece today and have a chance to comment on it? If so, WOW! I loved the second part of this story. If only more people would practice the patience, trust, faith thing with each other, within other relationships too, think of what a huge difference that could have on society as a whole! Curb that jealousy factor early on, nip it in the bud as it can really wreak lots and lots of havoc. Even though we all knew the outcome of this from the get-go -that you would end up winning HLS's heart, it was still a really interesting tale filled with all kinds of stuff, including your own bits of humor too. Personally, I liked the "anus to esophagus" line.
Now, a change of subject for a second -how's the job search going? You still want any unemployment related stories from your readers?
 
"I bet Popeye's strong to the finish, too," Greg mused.

Cracked me up. I will never watch a Popeye cartoon again without thinking of sex, though.

Good ending.
 
Well you did it. I knew the ending yet you had me tense, worried and smiling thru out.
Now all is well again. Thank you for a lovely emotional workout.
Live and love a long together.
 
My favorite part of this whole thing is the dream-image of Greg singing Popeye the Sailor Man.
 
Awwwww. Thanks for the story, MM.
 
This reminded me of the Book of Job. Not that you were covered with boils or anything, but the way you had such good "friends" giving you such non-helpful help. Of course, your story was MUCH funnier :-)
 
Great story, MM. I'll have to remember your answers if I'm ever in a similar situation.
 
lol - "coming back from crazy" is an awesome line. i'm totally stealing it. :-)

yay for happy endings!
 
yup, yup, you guys were meant to be. poor Popeye never stood half a chance. the "guy writing the story" had already selected you for HLS. thanks for getting the sequel online ASAP. : )
 
What a great story :D Your life would make a good sitcom. Maybe you should start writing some scripts? ;)

I enjoyed "anus to esophagus" but my favorite line has to be "I bet Popeye's strong to the finish, too." That slayed me :D
 
like magic.

Thats what you do.

magic.

You make me want to drop everything that at work and go home and hug my wife.

Thank you for reminding me yet again why I come here so often.

Your Merlin to me.
My hero.

** Idolizing eyes staring stupidly at the notebook in Starbucks **

Verification Code: creench
 
Pre-marriage.. old flames... bonking... Your story had it all :)

I know this may sound crazy but last night I saw a show about a man in Canada who grows Mary Jane and puts out a magazine~ I know you don't partake but I immediately thought of you and all your creative talents. I mean if you can make "normal" people laugh, and go hummm, just think what you could do for a bunch of potheads :) They would LOVE YOU! just as we all do.

It was just a thought as you and your lovely family are always in them... and meant as a compliment :)
 
I reread this. It's still funny and still sweet. Glad you got it worked out!
 
OK, this was a great story... now where are you, MM? don't wait so long, 'cause we're all out here staring at the screen, longing for the next MM spoutings.

: )
 
excellent! I lived with(and left) a super jealous husband, and found a completely trusting one. I love how they both were thinking alike but didn't understand the other was just being "trusting"..is it really so rare?

breeze
 
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