Saturday, December 31, 2005

Misery Loves Misery (and Lightfoot), Part I

I know this message has already been conveyed by numerous Lite FM songs, but I’ll say it again: break-ups hurt worst at night. Until sundown Thursday, I resembled one of those Oprah “Explore Your Spirit” segments. “Honestly, I’m just so glad that I made a friend in Charlottesville,” I told HTS. “And I’m feeling better each day.” At the time, I wasn’t lying. Twenty-four hours prior, I had treated HTS to a voicemail straight from Ch. 8 Nicholas Sparks -- before tearfulness and angst channels into rain-soaked passion. “I’m sitting in an out-of-order massage chair, and I’m miserable,” I sighed.

More generally, I was in the middle of a Huntsville, Alabama mall -- Mom and I had gone south to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I’d fled to the wonky massage chair after Zen tear-suppression techniques failed. I liked the fact that the chair couldn’t keep its chakras centered either.

Post-mall, post-Mexican dinner, as my family dreamed of margaritas,“Awake in Alabama” (how’s that for a Tom Hanks movie?) pieced together a montage of Boyfriendish memories. No smiling walks through the park or holding hands over the popcorn bucket....nothing you’d pay $7.50 to see on the big screen. I lay awake thinking about that afternoon when Boyfriendish played a White Stripes MP3 three times, so I could appreciate how the drum riff “sounds just like Animal from the Muppets.” Or how he recounted the entirety of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair on our first date (could’ve been an ominous sign, but wasn’t).

(I realize this all sounds a bit gooey, particularly for a romance that didn’t last as long as some of my better highlighting jobs. The fact is, I could easily charm/sicken you with details about Ex Who Shall Not Be Named. He fried up the best hashbrowns I’ve ever eaten: lots of garlic, dashes of cumin and dill. He also looked great in cowboy boots. But these idiosyncracies don’t tug on me at 2 a.m. I say time has a lot to do with it, though my ex-therapist might claim otherwise. Maybe relationships are sedimentary -– some layers get pushed down in order for others to spread out. Maybe my two and a half months with Boyfriendish will sink and settle into a thin, flat nothing. Still, he sure could kiss.)

Thursday morning, I mustered some of that fish-bicycle Wellesley spirit and got my car halfway unpacked. After my chat with HTS, I called Boyfriendish. No agenda, I promise....can’t a girl phone a good friend? Boyfriendish was in his car, en route to NYC where he’s spending New Year’s Eve with old college buddies. We talked for 45 minutes, not a single “baby,” “sweetie,” or “honey.” After we hung up, I texted him: “It’s nice hearing your voice.” Sweet sentiment, good for a “You too, dear.” I needed something. One message received: “I like your voice too.” My chakras shifted dangerously.

See, I know Boyfriendish likes my voice. Once in a while, I even Scarletted it up for his benefit. “Darlin,’ ahhh can’t find mahhh umbrella anywheah. And I do declah, I think it might ra-yun.” Perhaps I’m overanalyzing just a hair, but I believe liking someone’s voice is altogether different from liking to hear that voice.

My lip trembled, and the neuroses knocked on my brain: let us out.

I immediately called my friend Courtney. Courtney is a former high-school chum and the only person I know in Murfreesboro –- she went to college here, and she never left town after. She hates her job. Also, she tends to go on unsatisfying dates. In sum, this all means that Courtney is usually up for lots and lots of drinks.

We arranged to meet at around 9 p.m., local sports bar. Courtney had dinner plans with her neighbors –- she’d call when she left their place. At 8:00 I showered, turned on Beyonce, turned off Beyonce, and listened to Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” twice. If I was going to wallow, I wanted to do it right. “At Seventeen” is the saddest song I know (“I learned the truth at seventeen / That love was meant for beauty queens...”). Gordon Lightfoot will also work, in a pinch. One of my closer friends (W.) has requested a blog post about the cathartic benefits of bad ‘60s/’70s ballads. I caught her on IM at 8:30, and we discussed Gordon (by way of Jessica Simpson, naturally):

W: Why is Jessica Simpson famous?
J: because she has lots of blonde hair and a very small waist and very big boobs.
W: Oh, God bless America then
J: Jessica Simpson probably isn't consoling herself with Gordon Lightfoot right now.
W: Because the lyrics are over her head
J: I bet she'll be "reading that book again" in less than a month.
W: she may have already read that book
J: several times
W: so the rumors go

And on and on....until 9:00. No call from Courtney.

J: well, I'm going to call her...
W: ok
J: no answer
J: frustrating
W: argh
W: time to turn on the telly
J: I want to get in my pajamas, but as soon as I do she'll call

(Isn’t that the way it always goes?)

At 10:00 I mixed myself a drink –- SoCo and cranberry juice. At 10:15, I added more SoCo, not as much juice. At 10:30, Courtney called. “We’re all here! Come on over!” We? “Just me and a few friends from work.” Friends from work? What happened to gloom, cynicism, straight-up vodkas?

( gets better/worse, but I’m off to Sewanee in celebration of Mom’s birthday. See you in ‘06! TBC.)

Monday, December 26, 2005

Tidings of Comfort and Total Meltdown

"I promise I'm not crazy." As promises go, this is not one you'd care to hear from a significant other. Insincere vows are certainly nothing new in romance. Honesty, fidelity, endless passion, lawn maintenance -- often sworn, too often forgotten. But at least these promises seem, well, promising. My oath, though spoken in earnest, had the shelf life of trojans in Vegas. What was the use, really? Imagine a friend who promises, "I'm nosshht drunk," after downing five shots of tequila and throwing up on your futon.

My boyfriend(ish) paused, nodded, and backed...slowly...away.

Moments earlier, sanity had been within my clammy grasp. If I hadn't given such credit to my parking skills...If I hadn't attempted to squeeze my sedan in the crawlspace between two SUVs...If I hadn't perched so long on the bumper of the right-side SUV. In three or four moves, I could have saved two or three K of auto damage.

By my rep for mental health, still totaled (assuming I had one in the first place), because of what happened afterwards. "I can't find a place to park," I told Boyfriendish on the cell. Twisted metal? What twisted metal? "Is it okay if I leave my car at your apartment for awhile?"

You could argue for the craziness of this request, but I don't think it was entirely unreasonable. Boyfriendish lived less than three miles from my apartment complex, and he had happily (by appearances) fetched and deposited me for most of our dates. I walked to class. During my three-month stint in Charlottesville, I refilled my gas tank twice. Point being: I didn't need the car. And perhaps Boyfriendish could use it as a portable storage shed.

"Oh, I'm sure you can find a spot, honey. Look down some of the side streets." We'd been dating two months, and Boyfriendish knew I could be a tad...insecure. What he hadn't experienced was my strong disgust and fear of automotive maneuvers. If he'd witnessed the screeching, grinding disaster only a few moments past...But that's another "if."

I did cruise the block around my apartment twice. Maybe once. In the end, I wound up right next to Boyfriendish's dent-free Camry. Shifted into "park," took the key from the ignition, climbed the steps to his door, and...stood there.

In retrospect, the choice was obvious: "not crazy" beats "not a bad driver" in the character-trait contest. I'm not sure how I planned to hide my vehicular trauma -- the SUV bumper had imprinted my Acura like a gas-guzzling cookie cutter.

"Where are you?" Boyfriendish text-messaged (never would he text "Where r u?" - one reason I liked him so much). "On your front porch," I replied. "Take me back?"

A more stable girlfriend (Andrea from "90210"?) could've answered these questions: how long have you been standing out here? why didn't you knock? what happened to your car? Unfortunately, I was rapidly moving into Brenda Walsh territory. Here's what I didn't do: offer any explanation, or, in fact, speak at all. My preferred m.o.: laugh like a maniac, burst into tears, refuse to talk on the 8-minute trip home. When we pulled up not far from the dastardly SUVs, I grabbed my purse and leapt out of Boyfriendish's car, slamming the door behind me. Drama much? Add a DUI record and a behind-dumpsters coke snorting scene, and it might have landed Spelling.

The desperate assertion of sanity came minutes later, after I realized that a broken relationship, in addition to a broken side-view mirror, could make for a really bad day.

"Boyfriend" did not become "Boyfriendish" as a result of this episode. Not directly, anyway. Boyfriendish apparently has a high tolerance for nutso behavior, maybe because he is so thoroughly sane -- the type of guy who checks sodium content on spaghetti sauce labels. The "ish" is my doing. I knew baseless promises of not-craziness weren't enough, so I decided to make the ultimate gesture of rational thinking: nothing says "neuroses-free" like candlelit rejection.

Over dinner in Richmond, I advised Boyfriendish to cancel his plans for a New Orleans visit. "We're headed in such different directions," I explained. (Look! Look! No twitching!) As a neat little bonus, this line could be interpreted both literally and metaphorically. Boyfriendish had just mailed applications for teaching jobs farther north. No one in my family makes a habit of crossing the Mason-Dixon Line. I congratulated myself on a masterful display of logic, then waited for Boyfriendish to throw down his fork, jump on the table, and profess undying affection, Tom Cruise style. In short (bad Cruise pun), I waited for Boyfriendish to act crazy.

Of course, he didn't. "Okay," he sighed (quietly, not dramatically). "I understand."

I had enough sense not to make the split "official," whatever that means...thus, the "ish." Boyfriendish has phoned every day since I arrived in Tennnessee, but the "honeys" and "babys" are being phased out. As I'm not totally delusional, I doubt much time will pass before Boyfriendish becomes Friend, The End. The geographic gap between Charlottesville and New Orleans is matched only by the leap from Arcade Fire (him) to the Black-Eyed Peas (me) -- a distance we never quite managed to bridge.

I wish I could say I left both my heart and my neuroses in Virginia. Au contraire. My second tearful outburst came just two days ago, one day after my TN homecoming. I had accompanied Mom and Dad to a Christmas Eve wine-and-cheese. The wine wasn't boxed, and the cheese wasn't Kraft. This was an Old Murfreesboro, historic district affair. My presence brought the average age down by about 20 years.

Fifteen minutes into the soiree, I wasn't faring all that well -- Boyfriendish was much on my mind -- but I wasn't doing too poorly. Cocktail party chatter has become considerably easier for me since Katrina. My apartment? "Minimal water damage, from what I hear." My program? "Still running, though the administration is making pretty big cuts." My advisor? "Just had a baby last month. Beautiful kid!" No doubt I was breezing through one of these Q&As, modestly sipping Cabernet, when the front door opened again, and our elderly hostess trotted up to greet another guest: Ex Who Shall Not Be Named.

"Oh, look at the time! Better get home to bed before Santa comes! Thanks for a lovely party!" As my mental faculties are more-or-less restored, I can today construct the appropriate graceful exit. At the moment, I went with my tried-and-true: I just stood there. Ex Who Shall Not Be Named nodded. My parents nodded. My grandmother frowned. I squealed, "Ohhhhh! How are youuuuu?" Mickey Mouse-meets-Donna Reed.

"Oh, look at the time!" my mother announced. "We better get home and have dinner before Santa comes!"

Insanity must not be genetic. There's hope for my kids, yet.

Safe at home, I reached the bathroom before projectile sobbing. Someone had to see the cosmic unfairness of the situation: as Boyfriendish faded from 500-plus miles away, Ex Who Shall Not Be Named popped up a block from my neighborhood. Adding insult: this was nearly the one-year anniversary of "the incident" -- the one that caused temporary bruising and rather long-lasting emotional wreckage. I had to spread the insanity around, so I called HTS.

I'll spare you the details of our chat, only because you can probably guess how it went. Lots of wailing, moaning, tooth-gnashing on my part; lots of "there-thereing" and "it's okaying" on her end. The stuff of which James Taylor songs are made. (Wasn't JT in an institution for awhile?) When my sentences became more coherent (e.g. not ""), HTS returned to cocktail hour with her in-laws, and I washed my face, wiped my nose, and unchained myself from the lavatory.

A couple hours later, HTS called to check my status, or, I suppose, talk me away from the medicine/liquor/firearms cabinet. By this time, I had found the solace of comfort food (mashed potatoes) and Southern Comfort. Though I wasn't exactly comfortable, I wasn't hyperventilating. I assured HTS as much. "Good," she said. "When you called, I thought something really, really awful had happened. I mean, I thought someone in your family had died."

And that is why everyone needs good friends: not to assure us we're "not crazy," but to inform us that, yes, we've temporarily veered off the road to sanity. I plan to stay on this road in '06 -- that is, once my car gets out of the shop.