(This fictional contribution comes to us from a TTAC reader. We’d like to see your contributions too: send them using the E-mail addresses on the right side of the page — JB)
“Do you know what I hate about you?”
It was an odd question, considering the circumstances.
We had just finished the third round of love-making for the evening-well, not love making. It’s hard to call it love making when there’s clearly nothing like love involved, isn’t it?
“Tell me, “ I said, casually.
“You love things too much.” Ah, yes. The familiar refrain, echoing around her one-bedroom apartment. The walls were decorated with her own abstract paintings and signed album covers from her alternative heroes that nobody over the age of thirty had even heard of. It was quite a contrast from the home I had just built in the Ballantyne area of Charlotte. My four thousand square feet was stark and sterile. Her six hundred square feet was alive.
Sitting on the nightstand was a book of poetry that she had shown me just once. We’d been sitting on her couch, watching the documentary on assisted suicide in Oregon that she’d insisted I watch. She had come out of the bedroom, sat down next to me, and wordlessly handed me the tattered green journal, opened to a very specific page. The poetry written on the faded paper was terrible, but it revealed a tortured, damaged, and beautiful soul. I knew it was about me, especially the part about my Porsche and the wastefulness of it. My Porsche. My wasteful, seflish, thing. My Porsche. She loved to go on about my Porsche.
I had a Corvette Grand Sport.
The Grand Sport was the realization of my childhood Corvette dreams. I could barely afford it. In fact, I probably really couldn’t. Every time I wrote the check, well, clicked on the button to pay it, it drained my account to nearly nothing. And it was totally worth it, every time.
“Well, when one gets to be an old man like I am,” I replied, “one realizes that things matter.” She turned from her perch at the end of the mattress and glared at me. Her flawless skin was covered by nothing but a pair of my gray boxer briefs.
“Fuck you. Things don’t fucking mean anything. Why don’t you leave and go back to your fucking things, just like you always do.” She got up and walked out of the room, slamming the door behind her. I couldn’t help but admire everything about her at that moment-her body (of course), her long, dark, curly hair, and, most of all, her faith in the possibilities of life.
Naturally, on cue, my phone rang. Had to pick it up.
“Hey, honey. Yeah, I’d love to say goodnight to the kids but the hotel wi-fi isn’t working, so I can’t use FaceTime. We’ll do it tomorrow night, okay? Give them a kiss for me. Love you. Good night.”
I heard an audible snort from the living room.
“Your entire life is a big lie, you realize that?” she snarled. “Do you even remember what Truth is?” The particleboard bedroom door didn’t muffle her contempt for me.
That was right before one of the many times we broke up over the best six months I had ever known.
And now it had been nearly six months. I had begun inventing reasons to come to town-being a frequent work traveler with an unlimited budget made it easy. She had quit the company months before-her new job was a chance to really be somebody, she said. Her job title didn’t have the word “administrative” anywhere in it. “You need to quit this company and your precious job title and do something that makes a difference,” she always told me.
I moved meetings that could easily have been held in Memphis or Charlotte all the way to her hometown of Tampa. I rolled out new products, new programs, new trainings… all in Tampa. My frequency of arrival at the Tampa airport had increased from once every six months to eleven times in the past four. Each time I came to town, she had said I couldn’t stay at her apartment, that this had to end. Each time, my room at the Embassy Suites would up going completely unused. I couldn’t believe that nobody had noticed.
Well, maybe somebody had. Or maybe not. Either way, I didn’t survive the fifth round of layoffs that my suddenly troubled tech company rolled out that year. At least my boss had the courtesy to fly out from headquarters to Tampa to tell me in person. There would be a good severance package, plus they still needed me to finish up a couple of projects that I was heading up. But there would be no more trips to Tampa.
After leaving that final meeting, severance folder in hand, there was nothing else for me to do but get in my Grand Caravan rental van and drive over to her apartment. She was still asleep when I walked into her bedroom, her skin displaying the wrinkles of the sheets that she never changed between my visits. She said that she loved the smell of me when I was gone.
“Hey, baby,” she murmured as I kicked off my shoes and climbed back into bed next to her.
“I got fired,” I said, by way of response.
She shot up, jumped out of bed. “NO! NO! They can’t do that! They can’t do that to me!”
“To you?” I laughed. “Honey, I got fired. Not you.”
“Of course that’s what you think, you fucking selfish prick. They fired us!” She crumpled in a nude heap, sobbing uncontrollably. She looked like a Renoir, pale, soft, curvaceous, and incredibly fragile.
Bizarrely, I found myself, the soon-to-be-unemployed junior executive, consoling her. “Don’t worry. It’s going to be okay. I’m not going to stop coming to see you.”
“Yes, you are. Because I won’t let you come here anymore. It’s over.”
I realized then what I should have known all along. As long as there was some possible reason for me to be in Tampa that wasn’t her, she had tricked herself into believing that this was all, somehow, okay. As soon as that illusion was broken, so was our…well, what the hell was it? A relationship? An affair?
I shook her, looked her right in the eye. “This is not the last time I will see you.”
She laughed, grimly. “You really believe that, don’t you? God, you’re so naïve. You think that this means something, don’t you? It doesn’t mean anything. Go home. Go home to your wife. Go home to your kids. Go home to your fucking car.” And just like that, the crying stopped. She got out of bed, showered, and came out of the bathroom fully dressed in a t-shirt and capris.
“Come on. Let’s go somewhere. You’ve got six hours before your flight.”
We walked, mostly silently, up and down the beach. It was October. The locals were the only people there. All the restaurants were closed for the season. I carried my socks and shoes in my hands, the pants of my suit rolled up to my knees, my toes sinking into the wet sand. She became suddenly playful, dancing, spinning in the water as the tide rose up onto the beach.
“I grew up here, you know. “ She squatted down with the grace of a ballet dancer, picking up and examining the fragments of a shell. “Mom shipped me to stay with Grandma and Grandpa while she bounced around from boyfriend to boyfriend. This beach was my escape from the real world.”
I stared intently at her face. She was still just twenty-six, but her eyes appeared much older as she stared into the horizon. “It started happening around thirteen. Maybe fourteen. I developed a lot earlier than the other girls.” She looked down at her body in a combination of amusement and disgust. “I didn’t really know how to deal with it. Modesty became really important to me.”
It could have been moments. It could have been hours. Somehow our hands found each other, and we locked them together and listened to the waves crash, over and over.
“Race ya to the pier!” she shouted, jumped up, and took off running. Before I even knew what was happening, I was in full stride, running next to her. My nearly thirty-five years seemed to disappear with each step as the sprinter’s speed of my youth reappeared from nowhere, and I quickly caught up to her. Without a thought as to why, I tackled her, bringing her down into the sand. “We should have had sex one more time,” she said, almost matter-of-factly, as she brushed sand from her face.
“Let’s do it. Right here.”
“No. You have a plane to catch.” And she was right. Six hours, in a few shared heartbeats.
“I don’t care. I want to stay here.”
I hated her for being right. I didn’t belong in a twenty-six year old’s life. She didn’t belong in mine. Too many years of living the life I had been expected to lead had ensured that.
We said nothing as she drove us back to her apartment. When I tried to break the silence, she responded by turning up the Pontiac’s plastic volume knob. In turn, Rachael Yamagata, Sia, and Fiona Apple stood in her place, speaking the words she couldn’t frame or express.
There wasn’t much to say as gave her a quick hug, got into my Caravan and left. If she stood there, if she watched me, if she waited for me to turn around and come back into her future, I didn’t see it, because I didn’t look.
As I sat in first class on the MD-88 that US Airways uses for all of its medium-range flights, my BlackBerry buzzed. “This is it. Don’t contact me again.” She always said that, but this time I was fairly sure she meant it.
I wrote back, aware of the tears that were now streaming down my face, blurring the screen. “Please don’t do this. Not today. I’m crying on the plane.”
“Don’t worry. Lots of people cry on planes.” The boarding door closed, the
announcement to turn off all electronic devices was made, and all I could do was power down.
At ten thousand feet, I plugged my headphones into my phone and turned on my music. Maybe some mindless, senseless pop drivel. Katy Perry was made for such occasions. I scrolled through the options. Fiona Apple. Rachael Yamagata. Sia. The woman we’re missing here, I thought, is Joni. “Turn this crazy bird around,” she once sang. Turn this crazy bird around. I shouldn’t have gotten on this flight tonight. Turn around. Turnaround.
Luckily, I had the next best option waiting for me at Charlotte Douglas International. My Grand Sport. 430 horsepower would get me back to Tampa in seven or eight hours, tops. For once, she’d welcome the sight of that thing. I ran from my gate, ran all the way down the concourse, ran all the way to the valet stand.
It was so romantic. I was going to drive all night, just like Celine Dion, bust down her door, declare my unending love for her, and never go home again. We would make it work. Sure, I’d lose everything-the house, the kids. Didn’t matter. I loved her, and I knew it right then and there. Hell, I’d even give up the thing.
The Grand Sport. I had searched for months to find it. Flew to a tiny dealership in Cleveland, Tennessee. Drove it all the way home to Charlotte. Even got to do the “Corvette wave” a few times along I-40. That car meant that I had made it. I had worked every shitty retail job imaginable to get it. Worked my way up from sales rep to assistant manager to manager to district manager and finally, finally a regional manager making six figures. I told everybody who would listen how the Grand Sport was really the Vette to have. “Much more nimble than the Z06. More aggressive stance, you know. Better gearing.” And now I was taking that aggressive stance, that better gearing, back to Tampa.
She always used to tell me that she would never even be seen in “that car.” It represented everything that she thought was complete bullshit. I laughed as I thought of her reaction to seeing it pull up to her apartment door, sitting there amongst all the G6s and Malibus and Civics.
I got on Billy Graham Highway, dodging and weaving through traffic. I had about six hundred miles ahead of me. I could see her face, full of intelligence and character. I practiced the words I would say. Maybe I should bring flowers? No, too cliché. Tickets to that Feist concert in Atlanta that she’d been talking about. That would be perfect. That would prove that I got her. She would curse me, tell me how stupid I was, and then she’d laugh and we’d make love. Really make love. For the first time.
For what might have been the first time, that car wasn’t fast enough. I merged onto 77 South, put my foot to the floor, and blasted past all the $399 a month Bavarian Cockroaches that were littered about the road. This was what being a man was supposed to be. Making a decision, and implementing that decision with maximum aggression. Fuck those losers and their iPhones and their conference calls. I was going to see my baby.
Three and a half miles later, I panic-braked the Grand Sport out of the left lane, grabbed third, and exited on I-485 E. Five minutes later, I was in my garage. Two minutes after that, I was bending down to receive hugs and kisses from my three little boys. “Welcome home, honey,” my wife said, barely looking up from her laptop.
I checked my BlackBerry. No messages. Not that I expected any. God damn it. She’d been right about me, after all.