Back Home Again

Indiana is flat.

Flat, like, the flattest table you’ve ever seen kind of flat. You could put a pencil down and it wouldn’t move for centuries, but for the wind that blows straight on through because there’s nothing to stop it.

Flat as this map.

I spent 15 years in the midwest, but now that I’ve been “back east” for 10, I’m always surprised when I see just how flat it is there. When the plane approaches the airport in my former homes of Columbus or Indianapolis, the downtown buildings stand up like Lego structures on a plywood board covered with that green stuff that’s supposed to look like grass in architectural models.

You can see to Kansas from these places. You can smell a dinner that’s cooking the next town over.

I went to Indy to visit my godson. And his parents, who are still obligated to live with him, since he’s not quite two and a half. His father and I went to high school together. Happily, we are friends who have changed toward each other instead of away from each other since we left the halls of our Catholic (but impressively forward-thinking) school. By this I mean that most of our beloved friends got more conservative, more religiously indoctrinated, less likely to explore the world beyond Indiana’s borders. Matt and Jeannie thought differently, believed differently (though no more or less deeply) and eloped to Canada. They’re something other than Republican. If all my friends are the incomparable John Mellencamp (except I’ve just compared him to my friends), Matt and Jeannie are Springsteen. Humble roots, happy to claim the small town, but born to run.

And they’re raising this dynamite little guy. I call him Boy Wonder, because Jeannie had a lot of reproductive issues and all understandings were that children weren’t possible. She was 39 when she found out she was 20 weeks pregnant, and that kid doesn’t have a single problem except that he has no butt to hold up his pants. Also, he’s a damned genius. Which actually might be a problem – his mother and I are debating that. At just shy of two and a half, the child can hold an entire conversation without once misunderstanding so much as an idiom. Verbal? Verbal doesn’t begin to describe it. The lisp is the only thing that makes one realize he’s not walking around with a grown-up brain in his little head.

We figure that’s down to Jeannie, because Matt frankly is more of the Grunt and Stomp method of communication. He frequently speaks Cave Man to drive that point home.

Also? Boy Wonder never throws fits.

Ever.

Matt and Jeannie think he’s melting down if he gets a teensy bit whiny. And by “a teensy bit,” I mean it lasts about a sentence, they speak to him and he immediately becomes completely amenable to whatever they suggest.

It made my 48 hours at their house much, much easier than it would be if he were a normal toddler.

And I really like the little town they’re in, outside of the state capital. It has a charming “downtown” full of old brick buildings. There’s a fantastic coffee shop Jeannie frequents where they know her and Boy Wonder intimately and their photos are on the walls. There are trunk sales at the little shops and the owners tell Jeannie to come early. They know their neighbors, and, more than that, they know the folks who live three streets over and a block down. And everyone lives in fantastic old Victorians with wrap-around porches – not showy, just well-kept. Nothing cookie-cutter, and few of the squat, bland ranchers I find so depressing, which are so prevalent in that part of the country.

I think there’s something very sweet about what I find to be a very simple life. It’s unflaggingly virtuous and honest and unassuming and unpretentious. It’s about home and family and staying close to where you came from. It seems people are happy, or at least not so unctuous as to complain.

But it’s not for me.

I found myself wondering, as I stared out their kitchen window on a typical Indiana morning, who I would have become if I had not left the midwest. If I had not moved back east with my family for my senior year of high school, I might not have chosen my career path, which has been anything but boring. If I had not moved back east after six years in Ohio for college and work, I might still be there, looking out across an unbroken plain under rolling gray skies and wondering where it met its edge. I might be married with three children, trying to keep up a home while my husband drove a truck or surveyed roads or worked at the corporate bank office. I might be plump on the steady midwestern diet that’s heavy on carbs, turning my words with a bit of a twang and never even thinking of the things that occupy my mind in my place in the world.

Or I might be restless, frustrated by something I understood within myself just enough to know that I did not belong in this place, that I should find the spot far away and perhaps beyond my imagining where I could more naturally grow to be who I was meant to be.

Oh, how I have changed. Of all our friends from all those years ago, I have changed the most. Ten years ago, I was much more like them, but my life led me to different places, different experiences, a hometown I made for myself rather than stayed in, unquestioning, since childhood. And while I love all those friends, and I smile at their happiness and content life, I know I could not live it. As much as I had grown to love the midwest after all those years, and as hard as it was to leave at 17, I believe I was meant to go.

As my plane approached the East Coast city I call my home, the endless patchwork of unvaried land had given way to a topography that felt warm and lush. I saw my place in the world laid out below me with hills and valleys and waterways and dense woods, changes in light and inconsistencies in terrain. It occured to me that my plane left a land of steady people whose lives never waver and traveled home to a land where the people move in jagged lines and the earth throws curves.

With warm memories of a former, more constant life, I touched down where I belong.

The Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas, I woke up feeling like the holiday had never even happened, like I was still anticipating it. Except I did absolutely nothing productive for the first time in a month. And I liked it. The always-comical visit to Art the Indistinguishably Asian Massage Therapist (“What you been doeeeng? Yoah IT band tiiight.”) was the only thing that motivated me to even take a shower before 5pm. I ignored the nagging voice in my head that said, “Your home is still a God-forsaken mess. Do something about it” with a counter-argument that this was my do-nothing day, cleaning and laundry would ruin the physical therapy, and I would do it today instead. I won the argument.

In the evening, I headed out to meet up for dinner and drinks with my friend John. We had agreed on a funky little neighborhood in the city that we, I realized as I parked, tend to flock to pretty consistently this time of year. It’s full of a great combination of kitschy shops and antique stores, approachable restaurants with appealing menus and wacky decor, and houses with I mean ridiculous amounts of lights and decorations on their postage-stamp yards. In any other place, I find this amount of decoration tacky and trashy. Any other place but here.

I smiled as I walked the two blocks from my parking spot to the restaurant, passing toasty (from drink, not layers of clothing) people in Santa hats out for a holiday stroll. I love it when a community doesn’t end Christmas at midnight on the 25th. It gives us all a chance to enjoy the vibe when the craziness of the holiday is done. In my long red zip-up hooded fleece from my Crazy Aunt (the fourth zip-up fleece I’ve received in a row now), I looked like Little Red Riding Hood reflected in the storefront windows. The air was cold and clear. The people on the street were happy and pink-faced, walking in clouds of breath-fueled vapor. It felt like Christmas.

The restaurant was just the right kind of full, so John and I opted to sit at the bar rather than wait 15 minutes for a table (not that we thought 15 minutes was long). We met about eight years ago through Jack, but we hadn’t seen each other in months, so we toasted the season with our beverages and set about the catching up. John is one of the most naturally interesting people I know. It’s not that he’s got an amazing life or anything; it’s just that he’s so easy to talk to while being very, very smart. He’s 53, but the only giveaway is the ratio of salt to pepper in his hair. He’s handsome without being obvious, 6’3″ without being imposing. He’s got a great laugh. And he’s an idea guy. His brain works in really fun ways without being crazy. In a past life, he worked for an investment firm, but now he’s a renaissance man, and not the annoying kind who only says that’s what he is while wearing a pinky ring and a dickie. He’s developing several nonfiction TV series right now, two that are in some stage of greenlight or another. Which is sort of crazy considering he lives in our humble city in a tiny house (with a stupidly high property tax rate). He’s got brilliant, audience-ready concepts out the wazoo, but presently precious little income. “I’m thinking if my plans for prosperity in 2012 don’t work out, I might put myself up for adoption,” he deadpanned. Then he picked up my tab.

He’s the kind of friend that makes you feel cooler just by being your friend.

Alight on our stools, me with a quesadilla and he with a po’boy sandwich, we updated each other on our lives, our jobs (well, our work – he’s a renaissance man, he don’ work for nobody), our families and how we spent the holiday. He got the bartender to pour me another glass of wine when I felt certain I’d done something to make him hate and therefore ignore me. (I had turned down his suggestion of French dressing on my salad…might that have done it?) Other than the unaware bartender, the world faded away as two friends spent an evening in warm and comfortable conversation, and vowed (as we always do) to do it again soon.

On the fourth day of Christmas, I soaked up the joy of city living and easy friendship.

Not By the Hair On My Chinny-Chin-Chin

Do you think it’s possible that a hag hair could be trying to control my life?

My sisters and I share this habit of feeling up our necks and jawlines while we drive. We do it because we’re trying to seek and destroy any stubbly little hairs – or shockingly long ones – that may have cropped up unnoticed.

Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, ladies. Everything seems clear and then all of a sudden you find a two-inch black thing sticking straight out of the middle of your neck. How does that happen? Nobody knows. It’s not an old lady thing. I’m too young for that, and my sisters are younger than me. It just happens.

Since I have an hour-long drive each way for work, I do a fair amount of mining for these suckers. I was doing it when I got a text from Jack.

“Out of the basement?” (aka my workplace… which is, in fact, a basement)

Jack and I had touched base earlier in the evening, when he told me he was meeting up with another friend of ours and invited me to join them if I got done with work early enough. But at 10pm, I knew their meet-up had ended, so these four little words carried a fair amount of weight. In most cases, I would readily respond (yes, while driving – deal with it). But since I’m apparently in the A Girl’s Gotta Find A Way To Move On Phase (for maybe the fourth time in nine years), I knew what that message probably meant. I haven’t seen Jack in three weeks, and I was only away for less than one week of that. He was going to invite me over.

Let me say this flat-out right now: Jack and I are not sleeping together. I don’t sleep with men I’m not dating. But we do have a deep and powerful relationship and there have been occasions on which that has manifested itself in some physical ways. For the overwhelming majority of our acquaintance, we have fought it like hell, but once in a while we give in. And several of those occasions have happened in the last couple of months. And I just wasn’t sure I was mentally up for it tonight.

I had a hag hair, you see. And I couldn’t get a hold of it.

Jack once recounted a tale, years ago, as we sat outside with other friends on a summer night, about a girl he knew years before that, and his extreme discomfort when he discovered that she had a rather long black hair in what he believed to have been an inappropriate place.

Ever since then, I’ve made grooming before I see him a very serious priority.

Don’t ask the question you’re thinking of. I’m not answering it. The hair I’m talking about right now was right in the middle of my neck, about two inches below my chin. It was short and prickly, and I found myself cursing the fact that I’d forgotten my “Always carry tweezers” rule. Apparently, my feeling was that if I could get a hold of that damned hair and yank it, I’d respond to Jack’s message and accept an invitation if it was extended. If not… nope.

Yes, I was aware of how ludicrous that deciding factor was.

So I drove on through the night, picking and angling and trying to get at that hair. All of my efforts for naught. And I was okay with not answering Jack’s message right then. I’d answer him when I got home… but I wanted a reason not to go to his place. I was happy enough knowing he might want to see me. I debated whether I should go; I do miss him, and it’s been too long since we saw each other; I hate it when it’s that long, regardless of the reason. We’re extraordinary friends. But I couldn’t really navigate our waters right then.

Plus I was wearing kind of crappy clothes. (Sunday at work after vacation? Yeah, I’m not trying to impress anybody.)

So the message went unanswered while I thought about what any outsider would have to say about our relationship. And as I pulled up to my place, son of a gun, I swear to whatever higher power you want me to swear to, that’s when I finally got that damned hair.

You gotta be kiddin’ me.

I didn’t ignore Jack all night, by the way. I did answer him. Shortly after I walked in the door and discovered my piano keyboard turned on and playing a sample all by itself.

Maybe a ghost was trying to tell me something, too.

Exes, Sex and the Single Woman

You know what’s awesome? Coming back from a vacation and running into the somewhat crazy ex-boyfriend you have deliberately not seen nor spoken to in four years, and then having dinner with a different former flame on purpose, even though you haven’t seen him in a year and a half.

Oh, wait. That’s not awesome. That’s sort of madness-inducing. I got confused.

Can I please go back to the middle of the ocean?

The funny thing about being single in one’s mid-30s is that one tends to get tired of one’s own relationship stories. Regular readers may have gleaned by now that Jack is a complicated story, which, if we’re being totally honest, is probably pretty cut and dried to any outsider. But it’s also valuable, meaningful and beautiful, and impossible to completely understand. And also sort of exasperating.

Most of my love life has been complicated, impossible to completely understand and sort of exasperating. And when you’re at this point in your life, that just makes you roll your eyes and slouch. You’ve done analysis to death. You’ve tried to figure it all out. You’ve figured it must be you who’s the problem, since you’re the common denominator in the relationship stories. But you can’t figure out what the problem is, exactly, and nobody ever tells you that you’re the problem. Even your shrink thought you were fabulous. Or at least he said he did.

You’ve had about 20 years of “It’s not you, it’s me.” Paired with a pretty hefty dose of very frustrating paralysis by analysis. (The internal kind. Not the kind you pay people for. At least, not anymore.) You’re surrounded by people who found it not at all difficult to meet their mate, fall in love and get married. They don’t understand your deal at all.

So in those moments when you’re tempted to try to figure it all out once again, you wind up getting halfway through a thought, and then you suddenly feel overcome with exhaustion and the need to sit down.

Wednesday at 3:30pm, I decided I really needed to get to the post office to pick up my mail, and go to the grocery store to get food, since I didn’t have any. I hadn’t had a shower in about 18 hours, but since it’s been 100 degrees for the last four weeks straight, I figured I could get away with some deodorant, a sundress and a ponytail to run these errands. Who was I going to see? It was the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Everyone’s sweating anyway. On the way to the post office, I stopped at a convenience store to get a bottle of water and a nosh so I wouldn’t be hungry at the grocery store. I was hunting around for a peanut butter Twix when suddenly there came a voice behind me:

“Hey there, stranger.”

I whirled around, got hit in the face with my greasy ponytail, and found my ex-boyfriend Mitch standing there.

Aw, hell.

We broke up about four years ago in a very ugly way after about a year together. I hated that it was ugly, but since it was finally over, I’ve always been sure that ending it was the right decision. Long story short (because telling the story will make me roll my eyes and slouch): he did a Jekyll/Hyde thing literally overnight and I stuck around way too long, trying to figure out what happened. He cheated, he lied about cheating, he turned arguments around, he didn’t care if I was hurt and he didn’t generally care about anything or anyone but himself and what he wanted. He said horrible things that I knew he didn’t mean, and that meant he was the kind of person who said things just to be hurtful, which I can’t abide. Two years after it ended, he tried to get in contact several times via email. He even left an unsigned Christmas card outside my place. (Which I thought was actually from someone else: Bob, who had disappeared inexplicably just a couple of weeks before. I mean, how dare Mitch think he was the only jackass in my life?)

Then, a short time later, he was IMing Jack’s co-worker on Jack’s business’s Facebook page, of which Mitch had become a “fan.” He knows Jack from years before I met either of them. When Mitch and I were together, he always felt threatened by Jack. He had never met Jack’s co-worker, but still, he was telling her via IM about how Jack’s best friend (a label that’s never been used, even if it may be true) was his ex-girlfriend, so Jack probably hates him, but he got a bad rap on that. The co-worker told Jack, Jack told me.

Mitch, what are you doing?!

But since I moved last summer, I’ve known I was bound to run into him sooner or later. I live in the same relatively small zip code now. I figured I’d see him at the post office, or Starbucks. But no. It was the convenience store. Hair greasy, Lunchable in hand, craving a peanut butter Twix and still fighting the floating sensation that comes with having been on a boat.

In typical fashion, he complimented how I was “keeping my figure” and then immediately followed that comment by telling me I shouldn’t eat that Lunchable. He started telling me all the things he’s doing these days, and how he has a roommate now so he can keep his house since the income wasn’t guaranteed when he started his business two years ago, but how she’s almost never there and she helps out by feeding the cat and watering the flowers (he has a beautiful backyard), but she’s really almost never there. He asked if I ever got the Christmas card.

I played dumb, made him squirm a little, and then said, “Oh, that was you? You didn’t sign the card. I thought it was from someone else.”

“Oh, so some other guy got the credit for that, huh?”

Credit? This is the thing about relationships and their endings: there’s a fine line between romance and horror. Mitch’s card veered pretty far toward the latter.

After a bit more small talk, he said what I feared he would say. “Well, I’ll ask… would you like to get together some time? Coffee or something?”

Sure! Can you run me over in the parking lot first?

There’s no good way to navigate this with Mitch, because he doesn’t take hints. The normal person would say, “Oh, yeah, we should!” and then just never seem to be able to find the time. The other person would get the hint. Mitch doesn’t work that way. If I had said, “Oh, yeah, we should!” he would have hunted me down, and if I then performed evasive action or otherwise declined, he would have gotten nasty. So I had to say something definitive, right there in the middle of the little store.

“Umm…” I stalled, scrunching up my face and feeling really awkward. “… let’s skip it.”

“Let’s skip it?” I said “Let’s skip it?” Who says that?

“Really?” he said, kind of scrunching up his own face.

“Yeah,” I said, attempting to be apologetic.

And then we parted ways.

Alright, well, that’s done. Bound to happen eventually. There it was. Roll my eyes. Slouch.

And bollocks, he’s still as handsome as ever. Too bad he’s an ass.

Then, just a few hours later, I was chatting on Facebook with Bob – who eventually did reappear, although our relationship, we agreed, was probably done. During our chat, he mentioned that he and his girlfriend had broken up about six weeks ago.

Oh dear.

Oh dear dear dear.

When I had found out he was seeing her, I was truly happy for him because he seemed so happy, finally. And I found myself wondering if he is a happier person now than he was when we were together. I was a little jealous, maybe. And I have wondered about him from time to time. And we have stayed in touch on a very friendly and casual basis, which I like, but then suddenly we were chatting and he asked if I wanted to get together for dinner. The next day.

Oh, dear dear dear dear dear.

But you know what? I’ve wondered about him, and I haven’t seen Jack in two and a half weeks and haven’t really heard from him much since I got back from the trip. I’m not actually seeing anyone– what would be the harm? So I went. I had spent all day looking forward to it, not because I wanted to date Bob again (I don’t know what I want in that regard, honestly), but because it would be nice to see him and get a new sense of how he is and who he is these days.

Sitting across from him, though, I found myself uncomfortable.

It wasn’t him. It was me.

I have some very lovely memories of us, if you know what I mean, and I do think of that sometimes (fine, including all day before dinner), and now here I’m sitting across from him and I don’t actually want to relive the memories and I’m not at all sure what I’m doing or why I’m doing it.

That’s crap. Yes, I do. I just don’t know if it’s the right thing. Because it was good to see him, but when I left, all I wanted was Jack. The trick is, I can’t have Jack. Not really. So a girl’s gotta find a way to move on. I just don’t know if rewinding is the right way to do it. And the idea of… ugh, dating… makes me feel the need to sit down.

Roll eyes. Slouch.

——-
Featured image is not of me. It only feels like it. It’s actually someone from lumiere.sopheava.com.

If You’re Not the Doctor, You Don’t Need To Know

Thank God my friends did not tweet the birth of their child.

Brad and I have been super-close for a decade. I wrote a whole ode to our friendship in a post back in April. We’ve seen each other through all kinds of drama: work, family and relationship-oriented. We’ve spent countless hours on the phone. We Facebook IM every day before I go to work and email each other once I get there. There’s absolutely nothing romantic between us; we’re just lucky to have each other as friends.

Yesterday, Brad became a daddy for the first time. His wife Carrie delivered baby Max after about 24 hours of quasi-labor followed by the real thing.

And not a word of it transmitted on the internet, until after little Maxwell arrived.

I knew Brad and Carrie would never go for the social network method of childbirthing, because neither one of them have the stomachs for that. Neither do I. A coworker has told me more than once about the person she had to nix from her online life because he was offering up regular transmissions about his wife’s dilation, effacement and station. The fact that he did this made my co-worker pretty sure he had some other significant character flaws.

Nobody wants to know that stuff.

Seriously.

Or at least, so I thought.

I spent Tuesday night with minimal sleep, waiting for a message on my phone (I had been promised a direct message, as opposed to learning about the child’s birth via Facebook, which I would have tried to be a big person about, but would have definitely hurt my feelings). I had dreams about it. When I got up in the morning I had to check the phone to make sure that Brad hadn’t actually called me and told me they were worried that the baby was breech, and that I had lost track of reality in some fuzzy sub-alert state (indeed, it was just a dream). Hours and hours and hours went by. Brad had told me around midnight that the doctors were going to induce Carrie because her contractions weren’t regular enough, and by noon I was wondering if they had done it right away or let her sleep for a while and then did it, or what. It could be hours and hours, I told myself.

I had flashbacks to when my sister was in labor with my nephew. That was hours and hours, though not as many as Carrie. The whole time, I was resisting the urge to pick up the phone and send a text: “Update???” Read: “Um, yo, bro-in-law, that’s my sister you’ve got there trying to squeeze that kid out, so if you wouldn’t mind letting us know if she’s still alive, that’d be great. Thanks.” But I didn’t do that. Delivering a child is sort of a hurry up and wait situation and no anxious father-to-be and exhausted, pained mother-to-be need to be bothered in the process. It’s an experience that’s between them. Much like the conception. They’ll tell you when the kid is here. Leave them alone.

So I left Brad alone, which I had promised I would do; he was already in a high state of agita with his in-laws and his mother at his house. They drive him crazy on a totally normal day.

It’s this “Leave Them Alone” philosophy that resulted in my tremendous annoyance when, hours and hours into this whole delivery effort, I found that some other people – mutual friends – did not share my viewpoint. I had decided it wouldn’t hurt if I checked out Carrie’s Facebook page to see if anything had been posted that I missed. I wouldn’t post anything, of course; I just wanted to see if there was an update. She and Brad had posted nothing, but a small cadre of friends had.

“What, no update in the middle of labor? We’re waiting!”

“Yeah, we’re waiting!”

“You should be keeping us posted!”

“Get the drugs!”

People. Are you kidding me with this?

First of all, there’s a reason neither Carrie nor Brad had posted anything on their respective pages about Carrie being in labor. There was no mention of it on the pages at all until our friend and former co-worker posted that first one. But he goes and posts it and now everybody sees that Carrie’s in labor. Which means everybody chimes in, sends messages, sends texts, whatever. Because people think it’s all about them. And they apparently never think of the possibility that something may have gone wrong, that something tragic may have happened. It didn’t, thank God, but it always could, and then they’d feel like total jerks. And they would be right.

I mean, who posts on a laboring woman’s Facebook page that they want an update? Basically all you’re doing is broadcasting personal information to hundreds of people she didn’t want to be informed. She’s not going to see the page until at least the next day. She doesn’t exactly have her laptop in the delivery room, or her smartphone in her hand. She’s sort of preoccupied with trying to deliver a child and then trying to wrap her head around the fact that this little bundle is here and needs her for everything and all of a sudden she needs him for everything, too, and the nature of her marriage and her life has just completely changed. She’s got some stuff to digest. So she maybe doesn’t want to be answering Facebook messages right now.

As for Brad, maybe there aren’t many of us who truly know how he is in major life-changing situations. His anxiety level is high on a regular basis, but he’s really good at hiding it, so maybe the circle of those who know not to make this crazy life-changing situation any more manic is fairly small. But as one of the people who does know this, I feel the urge to protect him from the mindless people who don’t.

I found myself drumming my fingers on the keyboard, dying to post something snarky under all these people’s idiotic musings, something zingy and pithy, directed at them, in hopes that they would get how stupid and thoughtless they were being.

But… I took a deep breath and employed the Thumper Rule instead. If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say anything at all.

Brad was going to be annoyed enough at them later, though he’d let it go because he’d be holding his newborn son when he read the messages.

We could talk about them after.

Finally, at 4:30 or so yesterday afternoon, I got a text informing me that one of my dearest friends in the world was now the father of a healthy, 8 lb 12 oz boy named Maxwell. I yayed out loud at work. Which was awkward, because at the time, I was on the phone with a co-worker friend who was telling me about how his neighbor’s home had been robbed.

“So these kids just came in in the middle of the day, broke a window and got in–”

“OH YAY!!!”

“…Yeah, I’m gonna assume that’s not in response to the robbery.”

Oops.

I spent the rest of the day checking to see if pictures had been posted… and they were, here and there. I won’t post them in this entry because he’s not my kid and I don’t have the copyrights to him. But he’s beautiful, and he’s got his eyes wide open most of the time, it seems. Much like his father, he appears to need entertainment.

This morning, while I was still practicing the Leave Them Alone, This Is Family Time philosophy, Brad sent me a text and a picture of little Max, wide awake and ready for action. “This is one alert dude,” Brad told me.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Good. I cried for about 20 minutes,” he said.

I loved that text. It told me so much about our friendship and his life in those few words. It made me cry to read it.

We exchanged a few more messages – everything went really smoothly, Carrie’s hurting but doing okay, they’ll go home tomorrow (the hospital has a minimum two-day stay at $750 a night – and I think that’s just the room rate). I know we’ll talk soon, and I can’t wait to meet the little guy.

But I’m so glad the whole cyber-universe didn’t have to read about Carrie’s cervix.

Well done, Brad and Carrie.

————
Featured image from gawker.com

The Age of Bighair-ius

I don’t know what’s going on in the universe, but an awful lot of my friends are posting horrific high school era pictures on Facebook these days. And tagging me in them.

Make it stop.

First there was the picture from 8th grade graduation. I was old for my age, and we didn’t do the cap and gown thing at my school, so I was wearing a pastel, floral dress with a gathered waist and pouffy short sleeves. It was tea-length. I had a perm (which was required of me from 2nd grade – yes, 2nd grade, thanks Mom – until I was in college). In addition to the perm, there were the curled and feathered bangs.

Hideous.

I showed the picture to a co-worker. She laughed hysterically.

Yet, somehow, some of my classmates looked worse. There was this one guy I went to school with, Joe. Poor Joe, at the age of 14, couldn’t say his Rs. He wore heavy-framed squarish glasses in a particularly unattractive shade of brown. He was wearing a sportcoat at our 8th grade graduation. He looked like a 45-year-old nerd at the age of 14. Sad.

He’s my Facebook friend now, married with two children, and I often wonder if he ever learned to say his Rs, but I can’t, like, ask. (I have searched for videos of him, in case I could hear him speaking. Nada.)

The 8th grade graduation photo sparked a flurry of old-schoolmate comments. Fortunately, we were all equally mortified. Except probably for that brat Emily, who was always pretty and looks just sweet and unblemished as can be in that picture. I hope she’s fat and big-nosed now.

Not really.

Oh, who am I kidding? Yes, really.

Then someone posted a picture from what I think was my junior year of high school. It’s my school choir. It was an all-girl choir. You can imagine the hair. There have got to be 40 girls in this picture, all white, all wearing that horrible choir dress, and all with big, curly, mall-bang hair. It’s a wonder we all fit in the picture with our ‘dos.

I showed that picture to the same co-worker and challenged her to find me in it. She couldn’t. When I pointed myself out, she denied that it could possibly be me.

At my voice lesson today, my teacher was talking about a choir reunion her high school is having. She had debated going (for which she would have had to fly back to a town where no one in her family lives anymore), but got out of it when she realized one of her other vocal students is getting married, and the events conflict. Carol is 10 years older than me, but she’s still just as bitter as she ever was about the politics of high school, and the girls she hated then and still hates now. Aside from that brat Emily, I think I’m pretty much over all the issues from back then. One of the things I found myself glad of was the fact that we were all making fun of ourselves in our FB comments. Even the guys in the 8th grade picture were mocking their own outfits, heights (apparently the short guys are still short)… they were wishing aloud that they still had that much hair, or that they were still that thin.

Being a grown-up is sometimes so much better than being a kid. As kids, we mocked others out loud and secretly hated everything about ourselves. As grown-ups, we’ve accepted a lot about ourselves. We mock ourselves out loud and secretly hate other people. Like Emily.

I applied for my passport on Monday. Of course, they had to take a photo. (Of course, they had to charge me $15 for it.) Passport photos are just one step above driver’s license photos, and probably only because the fact that it’s for international travel makes it seem more glamorous. But mine is a mug shot.

No, really. If I die suddenly, go missing, or am accused of a horrific crime, this is the picture that’s going to be on the news. My eyes look funny (which is probably a product of me trying not to cross them; I sometimes think that if a camera is too close to me and I’m actually “posing” for the photo, I come out looking slightly cross-eyed, even though I’m not) and my mouth looks funny (because I was trying not to smile like a doofus). Thank God I remembered to wear something with some color, because that’s the only saving grace. The post office guy who took the picture said it was the best one he’d taken all day. But it was only 11:30am. So.

My hair was pulled back into a ponytail, which, in the photo, is lying limply across one shoulder.

What do I have to do to my hair? Geez.

———
Having to do with nothing at all: today is my grandfather’s 93rd birthday. I realize that I’m very lucky, at 34, to still have a grandparent. He’s the only one I’ve got, and I don’t get to see him much. About a year and a half ago, he had an “episode” (undiagnosed despite a month of trying) – something like a tiny stroke that had no effect except that of paralyzing his epiglottis. That’s the thing what keeps you from choking when you eat and drink. Which means he can’t eat and drink anymore. He’s fed through a tube in his stomach, and for the first time in his life, he looks his age. He sent me a note the other day: “Please don’t send me a gift for my birthday or Father’s Day. I have gifts in my bedroom that I might never use. Please send me cash instead.” I laughed out loud; in my family, flat-out asking for cash is gauche. But you know what, Pop? You were born into poverty. You were given away to someone else to be raised. You served four years overseas in a war. You buried a child. You raised three more. You sent a son to Vietnam (and, fortunately, got him back). You worked every day until retirement. You watched two of your children’s marriages fail, and you couldn’t understand why. You cared for a wife with Alzheimer’s Disease and never broke your promise not to put her in a home, even though we all thought you should. Ten years ago, you buried her. And today, you’re 93, and you don’t want a gift because you know that, frankly, you might die before you get to use it. You can’t even drink an Old Fashioned to toast your years. Today, Pop, you can have anything you want. Check’s in the mail, along with all my love and respect. Happy birthday.

 

 

Wisdom of the Olives

Jack and I have these kind of amazing conversations once in a while. It’s usually really late at night and it’s usually after a drink or two, when our natural protections are a bit on the wobbly side. (For we are both mad protective of our emotional selves. Promoters of logic are we.) And sometimes, they occur via text message, since getting together in person often requires him not having to work in the morning (he has two full-time jobs, not because he needs them, but because he wants them) and men are usually not phone talkers.

Apparently, I am at my very wisest between 1:00 and 2:00am, after a martini. The garlic-stuffed olives may or may not contribute. Are olives brain food?

I blame you. (pic from foodsubs.com)

Last night’s exchange began just before 1am when he finished up his second job (later than usual due to a baseball game going stupid long). It had been predated by his message earlier in the evening saying he wished he could blow off work and hang out with me and have a cocktail. So, when he checked in at 1am, I confessed to my buzz, which was caused by a mishap with the Dirty in my dirty martini, which had to be evened out with more vodka so I wouldn’t swell up like a balloon and die of a heart attack in my sleep from sodium intake. It was my Friday, and I was okay with it. It was only his Wednesday (as it was for most normal people), but he told me he was tending to his mental health with a shot of whiskey and a beer back. Normally I would let this go, but as I was buzzed, I went in for the analysis and asked if he had something on his mind.

“Nah. Feel I’m doing too much work – consumed by obligation. Self-created. Need to breathe. Smell the roses, as we say. :-)”

Which means “I have stuff on my mind.” In promoter-of-logic speak.

The next message brought a “by the way” that carried quite a bit of significance in Jack’s language: “My dad’s 75th bday is today, and it’s the 25th anniv of my college graduation.”

Aha. I think I know where this is going. But aware that we haven’t gotten there yet, I wished his dad (whom I’ve never met, and who lives a thousand miles from us) a happy birthday and congratulated Jack on all the things he has to be proud of since he graduated. And I meant that. But I was waiting.

Next message revealed that he’d been doing a lot of reflection. “I get caught up in milestones. Guilty.”

I see… we’re struggling a bit with the emotion vs. logic tonight, are we, love? Emboldened, I invited him to tell me more, at which time he said that his father was 50 when Jack graduated from college, the second of five kids to do so, after his mother died of cancer. Jack is 47 and has no kids. No regrets.

We’ve talked about this many times before. Despite our age difference (which we barely notice most of the time), Jack and I are in much the same place in our lives; amazed by what our parents had done with their families by the time they reached our respective ages, with no real desire to do those things ourselves… but kind of a niggling, if only curious, voice in our heads saying maybe we should have in the grand scheme of spiritual things. We admit to this niggling voice only in the most logical of conversations: we know we might have our regrets later, but we also know neither of us wants kids now. This is truly how we feel; we’re not sugar-coating or whitewashing it.

These are the conversations single people have in their 30s and 40s.

But then, the real thing that was on his mind came out. It had been a year since his break-up with a longtime on-and-off girlfriend. He wonders if he should have a new girlfriend by now, and whether work has prohibited that.

Well, I can tell you the answer to the second question is “Duh…” But he lets his work get in the way on purpose. Occasionally he admits to this. Sometimes he doesn’t. Depends on how vulnerable he’s feeling. The real 800 pound pink elephant-gorilla hybrid in the room here is that Jack and I, by all outsider perceptions and most insider account, should be together. But we’re not, and never have been.

Promoters of logic are we.

I’ve learned to live with this state of being. I’ve learned that it’s possible to love more than one person at a time. I’ve had other boyfriends since I met Jack. I don’t wait, and I don’t hold out hope. I also can’t quit him, despite my best efforts. Truth is, he makes me a better person and his friendship is so valuable, without being difficult to maintain, that I can’t imagine not having him as part of my life. And in case you’re wondering: yes, I can keep it in the proper box when there’s another man in the picture. I am aware of the reality: that despite the depth of our connection and confessed feelings and attractions, he is for whatever reason unwilling or uninterested in us being more than what we are, and that translates to  “He’s just not that into you.” So I know the deal, and I choose to stay connected to him because I believe God put us in each other’s lives for a reason. And that’s not BS. God and I have talked it over.

Jack’s only had the one longtime (and sometimes long-distance) girlfriend, and probably a series of attachments of necessity if you know what I’m saying, since we met and began this impossible-to-label relationship. But apparently he’s begun to wonder if it might be unhealthy for him to be this way. Not the first time. He usually quashed it with logic. Last night, though, he felt that he could share it with me.

We know what this means. Sometimes a valuable friendship is a real bitch.

Enter the Wisdom of 1:30am, With Martini. And Olives.

I told him only the heart can answer his questions about whether he should have a girlfriend by now and whether work has gotten in the way. Sometimes the head muddies the waters.

He said the woman who cuts his hair said the same thing today.

What? You’re talking to your hairdresser about this? Are you a girl?

Vodka urged me on, ignoring the hairdresser (wtf?). “you have a good head and a good heart. you have chosen to lead with your head, in my perception. maybe you have reasons for that.”

(Here comes the kind of brilliant part, if I do say so myself.)

“hearts often lead us to heartache. but i find heads never lead us to joy.. only practicality. there’s value there… but usually it’s not enough. :-)”

Damn, that was good. I had no idea I had all that figured out. 

(By the way, the emoticon at the end of my text was  a knowing smiley face. As in, “I know you know this… and you hate admitting it… but this is where you are right now and I’m calling you on it. Gently.”)

Buzz-buzz-buzz went my phone. “Thats what we discussed,” came back. Him and the hairdresser. “the rare opp to speak fr the heart and how the heart is real and head is safe. Im safe.”

No shit, Sherlock. Nine years, I’ve known this about you. We’re having this conversation via text message, for God’s sake.

I plunged in, telling him he has a big heart that he hides behind his head, and while both sides of him are amazing, I think he worries he’s cheating himself.

Buzz-buzz-buzz. “That’s deep and possibly accurate. Why I appreciate u!”

Ahhh… we’re girding our loins now. She’s getting too close.

Vodka thought about it, and then went for the jugular. “are you scared? (no shame in that)”

Buzz-buzz-buzz. “U can say scared or safe. Not a risk taker. My loss- I know the score.”

Oh, you suck, you know that? Shutting down and going back to your corner. Fine. I’m ignoring that. Brace yourself, baby. Here comes more.

“we all have fears of the heart, often legit and formidable. the key is to be safe with your heart open. not easy to find… but worth it, i think. or hope. :-)”

I believe that. So does Jane Seymour. She’s built a whole jewelry collection around it. Since I sometimes have trouble letting myself lead with my heart for fear that it’s going to get ripped out and danced on like a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo, I’ve wondered if I should treat myself to one of those pieces of jewelry as a reminder.

pic from jared.com

Then I decide that’s kind of gross and move on with my day.

Buzz-buzz-buzz. “I like the way you think/hope, babe. V much. :-)” 

V=very.

You have no idea, pal.

“sometimes i have to take a deep breath and close my eyes first. :-)” I sent.

(Have you noticed that the emoticons came out when I started trying to lead with my heart even though I know it’s going to get danced on?)

This about sums it up.

Buzz-buzz-buzz. “Good advice! I will do that as I go to sleep. Xox! Ur the best babe.”

Yeah. I’m the best. I’m swell.

I might be going jewelry shopping today.

Time With An Old Friend

One of my dearest college friends came to visit me this weekend. He is part of what we have collectively dubbed The Ohio 5… three straight women and two gay men who went to school in suburban Columbus and have been friends through thick and thin for 16 or 17 years now. We’ve scattered to the four winds, and the other two girls have families now, but we keep in close touch. Rarely do we get to see each other, so any time any combination of the five of us can get together, it’s an event.

The second Joey stepped off the bus looking like Michael Stipe in a felt and feathered fedora and a faux corduroy jacket, however, I knew nothing but our ages had changed. He was going to wear me out.

I’m still relatively low-energy, compared to him.

One of my missions is to let my visitors see a side of my town that they wouldn’t imagine exists, so I’m always happy to take them to one or two of the dozens of amazing locally-owned restaurants we have and whisk them through charming neighborhoods full of old homes and reconstruct their image of the place. I got to work straight away, and we enjoyed a delicious dinner at an Afghan restaurant known well to local foodies, but not tourists. We chatted about his work as a playwright and his (paying) work as an executive assistant in Manhattan, his impending move to Brooklyn (which he would have railed against in our younger years and is now happy to make for the sake of the relative quiet) and our plans to see a Sondheim show the next night. We caught up in person and laughed and teased each other and niggled each other’s quirks.

He’s still unbelievably, inappropriately loud. All the time. Which one rather expects from a guy in a felt and feathered fedora. I’m just not sure the Afghans loved it.

We stayed up late watching “For Colored Girls,” which is addressed to neither of us and is a very intense and gut-wrenching film. When it was over, we treated it with serious analysis, then we cracked inappropriate jokes, and after I showed him where the coffee and sweetener and mugs are, and where he could hang his towel in the morning if he got up before me (even though I knew I’d never sleep later than a guest), we went to bed.

I’m still persnickety about hosting.

We had a lovely, leisurely morning with coffee and chat, despite my general avoidance of morning chat. I’m quiet; he starts right in. He probably woke my neighbors with his voice alone, but I learned long ago that shushing him is pointless. I didn’t nag. We just enjoyed the time sharing the space without pressure of schedule or the need to impress. We had a plan, but it was a rough one. He kept ping-ponging about exactly what he wanted to do.

He’s still a little flaky and hard to pin down.

Our plans worked out beautifully without a carefully constructed schedule (though I did plan for time around public transportation schedules so we could avoid worrying about being late to the theater). We brunched at another local gem that I knew he would love, and he unabashedly chatted up the women seated next to us, after he grilled the server about whether he could substitute this for that and get the other thing on the side and could they possibly also do this? I’d forgotten what it was like to dine out with Joey. It’s like Meg Ryan’s character in “When Harry Met Sally.” I am not making it up when I tell you he orders exactly like she did. “I’d like the chef salad, please, with the oil and vinegar on the side, and the apple pie a la mode. But I’d like the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side. And I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of the can, then nothing.”

Really.

On the way down to our destination for the day, I played a recording he had sworn he wanted to hear, of my choir singing some Sondheim songs. Rather than listening, he loudly sang along. I smiled as I remembered he’s always done this.

I still have trouble letting him just be that way.

We traipsed around town, doing the things visitors do, walking a lot. I pointed out fascinating bits of history and connections through time, which he thought was “amazing” and “stunning” and “lovely” for three seconds and then was on to something else. We’ve always been different that way; he glosses over things I find deeply interesting and assigns grandiose words to his minimal reactions; I, by contrast, understate. We had dinner at a place I didn’t know, just because it was convenient, and he kept his menu alterations to a minimum: two changes to the dish.

We saw a show that we both really enjoyed, though he was in heaven because it was Sondheim and it starred legends of the stage, and I know little about the work. I took in what he could teach me about the show and the characters and the evolution of the production since it debuted. We both soaked up the evening of theater. Afterward, though we were both tired, I showed him some sights at night that I feel are not to be missed. He loved almost all the same things I do.

Then he started talking about how badly he wanted ice cream, and I was dying for a bottle of cold water and a caffeine-free Diet Coke. I mentioned my thirst (which I find more urgent that a craving for ice cream – not being an ice cream person, myself) maybe three times. He would not stop talking about the ice cream. For an hour, it was all he could think of. Mint chocolate chip ice cream. It went from “I’m going to get me some ice cream!” said jauntily, in a manner befitting his hat, to “I need ice cream! I really need ice cream! We need to find a place where I can get ice cream.”

Finally, I gestured widely. “Joey, look around honey. It’s midnight. Do you see any place, anywhere near here, that might sell ice cream?”

“No… but maybe we could stop?” he said hopefully.

He’s still like a five-year-old in this regard: when he wants something you find frivolous, he will not let it go until he wears you down. He whines. And stomps.

I’m still like a mother: I hate fits and I rarely give in to them.

We stopped at four different places before our hour-long drive back to my place. My drinks were easier to find than his ice cream. I found my drinks at the first stop. The other three places were just for him, now at 12:30am, desperate for mint chocolate chip ice cream. And it couldn’t be Breyer’s or some generic brand. It had to be high-end.

After the fourth disappointment, he looked ready to cry. Exhaustion was beginning to take its toll on both of us, but I softened for a moment. “I know what it’s like to crave something and not be able to have it,” I said as we got back in the car. “I’m sorry we can’t find it, and I don’t have any at home, and there are no 24-hour places near me. I have strawberries and grapes, if that helps. I have yogurt…”

“No!” he whined. “It won’t. It won’t do. I need ice cream!”

“I understand what that’s like,” I laughed, pulling out onto the street. “But I really am going to need you to stop whining.”

“I’m noooot!” he whined.

“Yes.” I said firmly. “You are. Stop.”

He gave me a look. I gave him a look.

Joey's "Precious." He neeeeeds it. (image stolen from the avant garde designer's blog on blogspot.com)

He fell asleep on the ride home and ate strawberries and grapes when we got there and said that was exactly what he needed.

We slept in, and had our coffee, and he journaled while I paid some bills. We each got our showers, he repacking while I freshened up; I checking on the restaurant I wanted to go to for brunch while he got dressed. He loved the place, of course. The wait was long and the wait for the food was equally long, and my exhaustion was carried over from the night before and bleeding into a bit of anxiety about being late for work. But I dismissed it; it was Saturday and all would be well. He did his thing with asking for a special preparation instead of the menu item, and was shot down. But this time he barely protested. I was quieter than usual because I was so tired, and he just stared at me and smiled. I didn’t nag about his ordering. He didn’t bug me about not talking.

We know each other.

When we finished our meal, we headed for the bus stop so he could go home. Bags were retrieved from the trunk. Big hugs and lots of thank-yous for theater tickets and hospitality were exchanged, and he said he’d text when he arrived. Then kisses on cheeks, and off he went, and I headed to work.

Both of us pleased to have spent good time with a great old friend.

Occasional hissing. The odd scratch here and there. But mostly... warm and fuzzy. (pic from farm6.static.flickr.com)

Crap. I suck.

I am a terrible, selfish person.

Ugh. I was afraid of this.

The lead-up: a guy that I dated a year and a half ago, who remained basically out of the game since we broke up, is now dating someone. And it’s bothering me.

Wait, no, don’t click off. I’m not going to cry or anything. I know this is incredibly dumb. We liked each other plenty, but he bailed without a word. I was quite surprised by the disappearing act. A month later, he sent me an email (that’s how it goes these days) offering a heartfelt apology that included words like “I was a cosmic idiot” – no, really, he said that –  and asking for another chance.

I did require an in-person conversation, which did happen, but ultimately I like to give people second chances, so I did. (Admittedly, sometimes this is less about the virtue of understanding someone’s struggles as it is about me being a total sucker.)

In record time (read: four days), he bailed again. I saw him one night, and then I went to work the next morning, and then a snowstorm hit, and then I was stuck at work, an hour away, in a friggin’ blizzard, schlepping on-foot to a hotel for three days instead of driving home because Eisenhower’s highway system was a shambles, and Bob doesn’t so much as call to make sure I haven’t been buried in a snowbank by a plow. (My car, yes. Me, no.) I did worry for a night that he had been buried in a snowbank by a plow, because even when you think of 15 possible reasons for someone to give you the cold shoulder and you finally decide they’re just being jerks, you then find out there was a 16th reason you hadn’t thought of and then you’re the jerk. But I figured the odds were against that.

Now, before you get the wrong impression, Bob is not a jerk. Quite the opposite. Bob’s thing is that he has nearly zero self-esteem and a lot of leftover angst from his divorce from a woman who was really not very nice to him. He has a very hard time with the winter holidays because they’re so family-oriented and he has no family, and this was all happening right before Christmas. Life and love are hurtful things sometimes, and I understood where he was coming from. But after the second bailing, even though he was sorry and self-loathing about it all over again, I basically decided we would be friends, and that was it. In a totally non-angry way (because I wasn’t angry), I told him he obviously didn’t really want that second chance anyway, and it was okay. He said he really did want it, but…

That was it. “But…” Just, you know, hanging there.

Okay.

So we’re friends, albeit the kind that hasn’t seen each other since The Bailing, but we keep in touch and keep up with each other’s lives, and it’s really nice. I’ve had a boyfriend since, and a few other dates. He’s had a few dates that didn’t go well. Not terribly long ago, after telling me about a woman he’d been out with maybe three times who suddenly shared that he was not her type at all and she couldn’t see any reason to go out with him again (ouch!), he asked if he could see me. I thought lunch would be really nice, but I actually said no because I was a little concerned that his natural self-loathing and his regrets about how things had ended with me would lead to a little awkwardness. I didn’t want to date him again; he’s a great person, but I had realized that we handle life’s craziness differently enough that it would cause tension, and he really doesn’t (or didn’t) like himself very much, and that’s a turn-off for me.

But now, I’ve learned from that ever-present announcer of things, Facebook, that he’s seeing someone. I didn’t go all creepy and try to find this out on my own: Bob and I are candid enough that we can ask each other if there’s anyone new on the scene. He asked me other things about my last boyfriend, which I refused to answer. It’s that kind of friendship. But he hadn’t mentioned Kate, and suddenly there’s a photo. It’s after the Boston Marathon (which they both ran), and he looks very relaxed and happy, which is kind of unusual, so I commented on how nice it was to see him smiling. He sent me a message telling me that she makes him smile. Aha! C’est l’amour! Another brief exchange revealed that they’ve been dating for about three months. And I’m happy for him. I really am. He has seemed more positive lately, more “up,” and that’s a much better way to feel, and I’m glad he’s in that place.

But there’s this little tiny voice in my head that says, “Oh. So… you’re not pining over me anymore?”

Total. Selfish. Bee-atch.

I suck.

But here’s the thing, I think: I sort of want to know what Bob is like when he’s happy and feeling secure. He never got there with me, despite my efforts to support and encourage him without making him feel like that’s what I was trying to do. I can’t help but be curious, and I can’t help but wonder if we would have been better together if he had been happier with himself. Ah, but he wasn’t, and that’s that.

But…

Ode To A Neurotic Friend

Have  you ever had a friend that you once thought was going to be more than a friend, and then they weren’t, but they sort of still were, and then some stuff happened and you thought it was all going to change, but it didn’t, and then other stuff happened and you thought now it would definitely change, but it really didn’t, but then some MORE stuff happened and you were pretty much convinced that time?

Me too.

Brad and I met on my first day of work in my previous job. I don’t really remember what was said. I just remember standing in the hallway, meeting him, thinking, “He’s going to be my friend.” Like it was first grade or something.

Two weeks later, the planes hit the Towers and the Pentagon. Brad’s uncle and grandfather both worked in the Towers, and his mom, he knew, was going to New York, but he couldn’t remember if it was that week or the week after. He couldn’t get a hold of anyone and he spent the whole day just watching the news. When he left, he sent me his phone number via instant message and told me to call him later. I wasn’t sure what was happening, because we had been chatting a lot, and I was new, and it seemed like he liked me, and I was 24 years old so that sort of means something. (I had progressed to sixth grade at this point.) But I knew he was worried and the whole country was scared, so of course, I called.

We had like a 30 minute conversation with me wondering whether I should ask about his various family members, and he was about to end the call, so I finally asked, cautiously.

 “Oh! Yeah, they’re fine,” he said.

Little did I know that that phone conversation was the first of about a bazillion we would have over the years.

Brad lived right across the street from me; he in his apartment complex and I in mine. Sometimes we went out after work, or on a weekend. He took me to the first bar I went to since moving to town for the job. We hung out sometimes and watched a movie and ordered Chinese. When he had parties (which usually involved some sort of savage brutality masquerading as a sport on pay-per-view), I was the designated First Person To Come, because I was usually bringing something necessary (like cups), and also because I was the only person who was allowed to know how neurotic he was before the party started.

“Oh my God, nobody’s coming,” he would say.

“They’ll come,” I would say. “We have an hour before they’re supposed to show up.”

“Ugh, what if they don’t come?” would be his reply.

“They’ll come.”

“Oh my God.” (He’s Woody Allen, this guy.)

We had late night phone calls that lasted two, three hours. This, after spending all day in the same building at work. He is the rare male mammal that actually likes talking on the phone. We hashed out each other’s days, we told stories, we unraveled the mysteries of the opposite sex with each other. (I was his woman-explainer; he was my man-explainer. Turns out, apparently every guy I’ve ever dated in life is a jerk, no matter how good the relationship was while it lasted. So saith Brad.) We quickly realized that we were total basketcases on our own, but with the other person, we were completely level-headed and reasonable. There wasn’t a problem we couldn’t work through for each other.

When my ovary decided to explode and try to kill me, guess who spent the whole night in the ER with me while I slowly died of internal hemorrhaging and the idiocy of a B-grade medical crew on a Saturday night? Yup. Brad. He yelled at the doctor – twice – because I was clearly in agony, there was one other patient in the ER, and I was being ignored. He got there at midnight and left at 7am, 30 minutes before I went into surgery, and about an hour after my parents had arrived. At 9am, he went to work. At 10pm, he came back to visit me. Having had some trouble getting in after visiting hours, he apparently had to work a little magic on the front desk. He was declarative when he entered my tiny room.

“We’re engaged,” he said.

“Oh,” I replied weakly, in a post-op painkiller-and-anesthesia-cocktail haze and feeling really awful. “Where’s my ring?”

Between the sweetness and the thoughtfulness, he found time to crack wise with the nurses and mock me while I lay in anguish.

One night, when my first (and longtime) love drove ten and a half hours from his home and showed up at my door to ask me for another chance on a  night when all I wanted to do was watch American Idol, Brad called me. Ryan had finally left and I was on the phone with my sister at the time, drinking the bottle of wine Ryan had brought (which I waited all of five minutes to uncork after an anguished, heart-rending hour of awfulness). Brad’s call came through and I clicked over.

“Hi.”

“OHmigod I have to talk to you.” This is how he starts all phone conversations. Never “hello.” Always straight to the neurosis du jour.

“Well, I have to talk to you too, but I’m on the other line with my sister right now.”

“But this is, like, huge.”

“Mine’s pretty huge.”

“Nnnnope, I’m pretty sure mine’s bigger.”

“Nnnnooo, I’m thinkin’ mine is.”

“Amanda (girl he was seeing) had a kid in her class that has tuberculosis and now I’ve been exposed.”

“Yeah, um, Ryan drove halfway across the country, showed up at my door with a bottle of wine and a white rose, and asked me for another chance.”

“Yeah, you win. Call me back.”

“Yep.”

I was heartbroken when he told me he’d found a girl he really, really liked, but I give him credit; he called and asked me to come over because he needed to talk to me. Not many guys you’re not even dating would do that.  But I thought we were in trouble then. I thought our friendship would fade. I cried as much over that as I did over him falling for someone else.

But we stayed close. I got over the idea of him and me, and we still had those marathon phone conversations. Brad dated Lila for two years, and man, was there drama. I’m the one he talked to about how to deal with it.

Then he met Carrie.

Carrie was a force of nature. She worked with us, all gusto and go-getterness, fresh from a place somewhere in Virginia. He couldn’t shake her, and he didn’t want to. She was the reason he ended it with Lila, ultimately (even though I was on the phone telling him he couldn’t start anything with Carrie until he broke up with Lila. Sometimes I yelled that at him. Just to make sure he understood.) After two months with Carrie, he called one night all worked up because she had made a list of expectations. Wow, I thought. She has no idea who she’s dealing with. He was worried this was a harbinger of things to come.

It was.

Brad got a job in New York. The idea of him leaving town was sad and scary for me. I thought for sure we’d lose each other in the distance, that we could never stay as connected as we had been for five years. On his last day at work, he came over to me to say goodbye (which irritated me; didn’t I deserve more than a workplace adieu?) and I burst into tears. I had to run into the ladies’ room. I tried to calm down, but I couldn’t.

When I gave up on getting it together, I flung the bathroom door open, and there he was, in the hallway, waiting for me. “This isn’t working,” I sobbed into his shoulder when he wrapped me up in a hug. “I can’t stop crying. It’s your stupid fault.”

He just hugged me tighter.

But still we stayed close. We emailed each other as though we were using the instant messaging system at work. All day long, one- or two-line emails volleyed back and forth between our respective servers. Little, stupid stuff. Stuff that didn’t mean anything. Just the stuff of days passing. But with the emails and the text messages (and the less frequent phone calls), we kept up our friendship, same as ever.

One day, at 1pm, he emailed me. “I have to tell you something.”

“What?”

Nothing for 30 minutes.

Then: “Yeah, we’ll talk.”

“Ugh. You’re annoying.”

It went on like this for three and a half hours. Finally, at 4:30pm, he sent The Email.

“I bought a ring.” 

For Carrie.

I had gotten to a point where the idea of Brad and me together made me laugh, so I wasn’t jealous about him loving her. But still, when I read those words, I stopped breathing. A ring?! What?!

“What. Kind. Of. Ring.” Send.

“The kind with a diamond” came back.

Holy crap! How did I not know this was coming?! How did he not talk to me for, like, hours about this? How did he manage to make this decision without me?! I hadn’t realized it, but the drama that surrounded Carrie’s list of expectations two months into their relationship was the only drama he ever had with her. My little Brad was growing up. He didn’t need me to be a part of his major decisions. It was happening. We were drifting.

I lambasted him via electronic device. “I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU ARE TELLING ME THIS AT 4:30 IN THE AFTERNOON!  Three and a half hours, you made me wait, and now I have a Thing, and you tell me this NOW?! Ugh. There will be a phone call. Oh yes. A phone call will be made.”

I had to keep The Ring a secret for a month, even though I still worked with Carrie. I knew for a month that he was going to pop the question, and I couldn’t say a word. I’m good at keeping secrets, but I spent the entire week before she left to meet him for vacation with a mantra in my head: “Don’t say ‘ring,’ don’t say ‘ring…'” and trying not to look at her left hand.

Several months later, she got a job in New York and moved up. A few months after that, I stood on a beach and watched him marry her. I wondered what would happen to our friendship now.

Two years after that, while we were Facebook-chatting one morning, as per our usual routine, he sent me a message: “ANSWER YOUR PHONE!”

“Oh, that’s you!” I replied, getting my phone.

“Hi.”

“Okay, good. Now. Read this.” I heard a click as he hit ENTER on his keyboard.

“Carrie is pregnant” popped up on my screen.

“AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!” I cried.

“Okay, back to the computer,” he said, and hung up. We had the rest of the conversation via Facebook chat. Their parents knew; that was it. Another secret for me to keep for a month. Carrie didn’t even know I knew. I’m forbidden from telling her how far in advance I had been informed.

Throughout Carrie’s pregnancy, he’s shared his anxieties (of which he has several). His mother, her mother, the Jewish vs. Methodist thing (he’s Jewish, Carrie is the daughter of a Methodist minister, his mother makes him insane, she’s very close to hers), furniture, dogs, new apartments in New York (this is where I get to remind him that he lives, in point of fact, in New Jersey, which he blindly refuses to admit, despite driver’s licenses, license plates, mailing addresses and various other things that confirm his actual state of residence).

Last week, at seven months along, Carrie fell and had to spend a night in the hospital.

I was on vacation, and he hadn’t tried to call or text or Facebook chat with me while I was away. He didn’t tell me about it for days.

When he finally did, via text while I stood on the jetway for a flight, I responded, “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this.”

This is it, I thought. Now that he’s going to have a kid, everything’s going to change. Including our friendship.

“Eh, everything’s fine,” he replied. And then I remembered: his very first text to me that night was, “Are you back yet? You go away for too long!”

Somebody missed me.

“I told you I had my laptop, and my phone. You could have texted, emailed, called or Facebooked,” I replied.

“yeah I don’t really like texting these days” was the response.

Yeah… we’ll be alright.