Thursday, October 27, 2005


In Which I Get the Break-Up Speech...

After the phone conversation in which I told Her Lovely Self I had taken a job in Washington without, um, really talking to her about it, she refused to come to the phone any of the 14 times I called at her parents' house over that weekend. Which is excessive, if you ask me (the not-coming-to-the-phone part, I mean).

She didn't return any of the messages that I left at her apartment, either (not that she would, because I left most of them while she was at her parents' house, but still!). When I got back to Chicago, I waited around with her roommate til very late Sunday night, before I called her parents again, waking her mother up, who informed me that Her Lovely Self had decided to take an extra day off and wouldn't be back in the city til late Monday. But in the mean time, I should stop calling.

So I waited.

And waited.

Monday night, after my phone had failed to ring all day, I finally called her apartment one more time. To my surprise, she answered.

"Hi," I said.

"Hi," she replied.

"I've-- you-- Quick question for you... Did you get my message? Messages?"

"I just got in," she said, sounding exhausted. "I'm going to bed."

"Wait! Can I come over? Can we talk?"

"No," she said simply, and I thought, finally. "I'm way too tired. It would be a bad idea to talk now. I have a lot to say to you and I want to make sure I say it right."

Uh-oh. That didn't sound so good.

"So--?" I began.

"I've got a press conference to cover in the morning and a bunch of things to catch up on. We can go have dinner tomorrow night and get this over with," she said, her voice hard and dead.

Oh crap, I thought.

"Okay. Tomorrow night," I said, and she hung up on me.

My roommate looked in sheepishly from the kitchen. "Boy, she's really pissed, huh?"

"I'll say," I replied. "In fact, she sounds like she's finished with me."

My roommate patted me on the shoulder as he walked by and headed for bed. "Well good luck," he said. "I hope you get the chance to propose to her before she breaks up with you."

In the end, it was a very near thing.

After the work day on Tuesday--which lasted about 300 hours, by the way--I raced home and took a shower, hoping to wash the funk of the Worst Day Ever off my body. Few things, I decided, were more agonizing than working in the same building as your girlfriend, especially if your girlfriend was pissed at you. Indeed, perhaps the only thing worse might be accepting a job offer more than 1,000 miles away without consulting your girlfriend first, thus getting her supremely pissed at you, all two weeks before you had been planning to propose to her.

Indeed, the only bright spot in the day was the arrival of the box. The box that had been clutched in my clammy hand all day. The box that contained the engagement ring that I'd bought a month ago and sent to New Hampshire where I was going to give it to her, only to blow it and have to ask my Dad to FEDEX it back to me. That box.

I had had this dead romantic proposal planned. After attending a wedding in Massachusetts, we were going to New Hampshire to hike up to the Ledge, the overlook at the top of the 120 acres of timberland my parents owned. Legend had it that the first member of our family in the New World--Great Grandpa Nicholas--had been granted whatever land he could see from the Ledge. And indeed, when you stood on the Ledge, you could see the entirety of the hill my parents owned, the pasture and farmhouse beyond, the shoreline around the lake, and a far green hill on the other side of the meadow. All of it had been part of the family farm at one time. Now, my aunt and uncle owned the shoreline, my other uncle owned the farmhouse and my dad owned the last undeveloped acreage, unspoiled since the time of Great Grandpa Nicholas. Here, we were going to have a picnic, enjoy some early spring weather and talk in that way that couples in love did, finishing each other's sentences and using each other's pet phrases. Eventually, if the black flies weren't too thick and didn't drive us from the ledge, I'd get down on bended knee and there, on my homeland, in the presence of the spirit of my ancestors, I'd ask Her Lovely Self to become part of my family. And she would say "Abso-friggin-lutely!"

Only now I had totally fucked it up.

I raced around the apartment, looking for clean underwear and, failing that, settling for a semi-clean shirt and pants. I briefly wore a pair of mismatched shoes, corrected the error, then brushed my teeth with my finger (having accidentally knocked my toothbrush into the toilet in my rushing around) and bolted out the door. Came back, grabbed the box, checked to make sure the ring was inside, stuffed it in my pocket, raced out the door again.

Boy, was Her Lovely Self pissed. I'd never seen anyone be consistently mad for four days straight, but she had managed it. After her brief, weak, weepy moment, during which she professed her undying love for me (she'd professed it to her parents, alas. I had to find out third-hand, and weeks later), she had poured some kind of quick-drying shell of anger around her and it had hardened to bulletproof thickness. When I skiddered to a stop in front of her apartment, she wasn't waiting on the steps like she usually did. I had to ring the bell, then watch through her window as she laconically finished a phone call she was on, hang up, come back, feed the cat, disappear again, then finally emerge at the door.

I went in for the kiss, knowing it would be icily brushed off, but also knowing that if I didn’t attempt the kiss and give her the opportunity for the icy brush-off that she'd be even angrier with me than she already was. She stiffly got into the car and I joined her.

"So..." I said, "Where do you want to go for dinner?"

"Doesn't matter," she said, staring straight ahead. "Wherever you want."

"How about that place over by the university?"

"I said it didn't matter."

"Okay, then let's go to Byron's."

"No, the place by the university is fine."

So off we drove. I got onto Lakeshore Drive, attempting to engage her in conversation throughout the drive. But I kept stalling. Finally I stopped saying anything. For several seconds, the silence was deafening.

"Golly," I said. "Can’t get a pause in edgewise."

She eyed me through narrowed lids. "You always have to be funny."

"I have a feeling the alternative isn't so good right now. Listen, I'm sorry. I am. I put the 'so' in 'sorry.' I abso-friggin-lutely should not have believed you when you said you'd move to Washington--"

Giant tongues of flame leapt out of her eyes.

"Okay, let me put it another way. We should have talked first. I was just so excited to get the offer and get out of that job, and I thought--"

"No you didn't! You didn't think at all! But I've been thinking. A lot." She said.

I could almost hear the dramatic chord in the instrumental soundtrack that runs constantly in the background of my life.

"Oh?" I said, as the car piloted itself through the busy Chicago traffic.

"I told you when we first started going out that I wasn't ready to be in a serious relationship again. I get too dependent on people. That's what happened here. I got too used to having you around. I started needing you and now your leaving made me realize it was a mistake. And it's a good thing you're going. Because I won't have to be dependent on anyone anymore."

Oh shit, I thought. She's doing the break-up speech. These are the opening remarks. I looked around wildly. Lake on one side. Apartment buildings on the other. This was no good.

"Anyway, you made a decision, and I made one this weekend too," she said, folding her arms.

"Wait!" I said wildly, running a seriously yellow light. Up ahead I saw as good a spot as any. "I know what you're going to say and I think you're going to feel really stupid later if you say it now."

"I can't feel any stupider than I felt this weekend when I knew you didn't care enough about me to talk about our future," She replied, crossing her arms.

I almost drove up on the curb and into the lobby of an office building at that. "What?!? Our future? You're the one who never wanted to talk--" I caught my breath. "Never mind. Hold on." I veered across two lanes of traffic and parked at an awful angle in an open parking space. "Get out," I said, as she steadied herself.


"Come on. Don't break up with me in the car. Let's go over here." I jumped out and gestured over to the tree-lined path near Buckingham Fountain.

But she wasn't looking at the fountain. Now, she was finally looking at me, the bullet-proof veneer broken when I had said "break up." Then her eyes hardened again. "That's what you want, isn't it? So you can be free to go off and screw around Washington."

I laughed then, a mix of nerves and I don't know what. But it was a dumb thing to do. She almost pushed me into the path of an onrushing car. Instead, we made it across the street to the path by the fountain (she refused to hold my hand, of course).

Suddenly, it was quiet and peaceful. The constant rush of the traffic had been replaced by the constant rush of water from the fountain. It was a cool night and there under the canopy of trees, I could see every bead of moisture on the leaves, on the new blades of green grass, and in the eyes of Her Lovely Self.

"Listen," she said, her voice quavering now. "This is really hard for me. I'm glad you got a job you're happy with, but I thought we were happy too. I thought you wanted to be with me."

"I do," I said seriously as we walked on under the trees, hoping that would not be the last time I got to say those two words to her.

"Then you should have talked to me first. I'm not ready to leave Chicago. I have a job here and friends and I'm close to my family." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "And I don't want you to go."

This sounded better. "You don't?"

"Don’t be stupid. I want you to stay. But if you go, then I'd want to go with you. But I don't think I'm ready. I don't know what to do and--" here she began punching me in the arm and chest "--I'm so-mad-at-you-for-screwing-it-up!" She paused, caught her breath. "I hate you. I don't know what to do now."

I looked around. Women never gave me as good an opening as I wanted. This would have to do.

"Well, I know you're mad, and I know you want to break up with me..." I said, patting around my pockets. Oh shit, where was it?

"What? What are you doing?" she asked impatiently. "Why are you stopping?"

I looked at her now and for a moment, I was scared to death. What if I had misjudged everything?

Well, then it becomes another good story, I thought. Just one I won't feel like telling for a while.

"I have a secret to tell you," I said. "When you're not around, I call you by another name."

She stared at me blankly. "What--?"

"I don't call you by the name your parents gave you. I call you 'Her Lovely Self.' It's how I refer to you in letters to friends. I almost never use your real name, even in my mind. It's how I think of you, this ideal woman I aspire to be with."

She snorted. "I'm hardly ideal."

"Then I guess that makes two of us. So as long as we've got some common ground now..."

I'd like to tell you an amazing anecdote about what happened next.

I'd like to tell you about some well-choreographed event incorporating the fountain and helicopters and a brass band and Frank Sinatra and ninjas, with a parade and confetti and a news crew thrown in for good measure. I'd like to say I burst into song and swung my skinny ass around lampposts like Gene Kelly on crack.

But in the end, all I did was make the world stop for a moment, as I knelt down in the wet grass and looked up into her eyes.

She wasn't looking at me, though.

She was looking at the open box in my hand.

"Quick question for you..." I said.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

I have a theory about the lack of confetti, cameramen and helicopters: the lead-up to the proposal had all the makings of a romantic comedy that both men and women would enjoy seeing. If the clouds had parted and doves flew around you as an orchestra played in the background, it would have become a stereotypical 'chick flick'. Which not only would have changed the entire genre of your movie, but wouldn't have been very MM and HLS.

Unless, of course, one of the doves flew into one of you and caused injury...or if it started pouring rain...or if the orchestra played the elevator version of a death metal song.
Even though I know this story has a happy ending, I'm still nervous reading it. I thought you said that would end today! Dammit MM, I need closure! I'm sure you get some perverse joy from knowing this is driving us nuts! (Admittedly it's a fun ride.)
I'm pretty sure that is the end, aquilegia (MM signed it this time). And I thought it was pretty nicely done. After all, we all KNOW what the 'quick question' was and what he answer was. MM what you leave out of your stories makes them just as great as what you leave in.

Could be wrong I guess. I mean, HLS might have said NO at first. :-) --McD
Not quite the romance and panache we have come to expect from MM, but a good conclusion none the less. Keep the stories coming, I can't wait to read more.
She does say "I do" the first time, doesn't she?

Of course she does.

Right? RIGHTT??
Aww, that was cute. :)
This is a story of a screw-up, how? Fantastic save. Beyond redeeming. You just have a good heart--or at least write yourself that way--and having a good heart at the center of a screw up is sweeter than all the choreographed grace, composure, and perfection in the world.
I knew it was the end but I just wanted to be spoon fed every last detail, like what HLS said next. I can't get over how much drama you have in your life MM! (Luckily for us readers though.) I'm also intrigued that you call HLS HLS not just in your blog but elsewhere in your life. Do you not like her real name? Is it Gertrude? (No offense to all other Gertie's, it's even my grandmother's name.)
Atta boy! Our superhero swoops in and saves the day.....again.

"Bridge, ya know, I mean, what I always thought was that there was this one, one perfect person for everybody in the world, you know, and when you found that person, uh, the rest of the world just kinda magically faded away and... and you know, the two of you would just be inside this kind of protective bubble. But there is no bubble, or if there is, we have to make it. I just think life is more than a series of moments, you know, it's... it's... we can make choices and we can choose to protect the people we love and that's what makes us who we are, and those are the real miracles! Stop me when it becomes glaringly obvious that I have no idea what I am talking about... "

You made your own bubble.
Total chills! You sure know how to turn things around once you screw them up!
Alright I caught up on the latest saga! I feel like i'm watching Star Wars Episode III. I know what's going to happen, but I want to see how it unfolds. I hope none of you went to the Darkside and start wearing a creepy black mask.

Hmm..maybe if I ever propose, after popping the question I'll quote old Vader:

"It is useless to resist."
Ugh, I really felt for you in this one. I sure as hell wouldn't have wanted to be in that car with HLS as angry as she was! But the best part was the OBVIOUS fact that she so did not want to break up with you. We women pull some stupid shit when our hearts hurt. I love this love love it.
Well, even sans fanfare, confetti, and god forbid the ninjas, you still have every other man beat. Bravo. Great story.
Oh my, you tell a good story.
damn you --- there's mascara all over my face now and it's not even 9:30 a.m.!!!!!!!!!!!!
I've got it figured write for soap operas :-)
That was one HELL of a save, and a great engagement story.
Really- a mere bulletproof shell is no match for your charm and powers of goodness.
Yay MM!
Oh MM:

I think you secretly inspired me today.

No, I didn't propose. But I did say words that needed to be said for a long time.

Your jaunt to the fountain triggered it.

Thanks dude.
So here is the script version of my reaction to this'n:

Sink abruptly into the back of my chair, my hand placed on my chest, and an weakly exclaimed, "oh my God...!"

Yep...that's it.

Nice work.
Please ignore any comments alluding to the fact that this is the end of the story...

We want to be spoon-fed!!! Spoooooooon-fed!!!!
Great story :)

I want to add that thanks to you I dreamt that I said "Abso-friggin-lutely!" to someone with a goofy grin on my face. That should REALLY show the power of your words, because I utterly HATE the word "friggin".
You are a total rat stopping at that point.

You Abso-friggin-lutely lovely rat!

More, I want the ending NOW!
no way in hell am I going to be able to beat that.

I mean ... "Get out" ...

"Your not going to break up with me in the car."

lines in which will be engrave on your tombstone and my book of "useful" lines.
awww... Man! you write abso-freakin-lutely good!
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