Open & Honest – Part IX
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you angry,” she had told me.
If she were here now, she would. I’m glad she isn’t here. I’m glad she can’t see this. Tomorrow, or maybe the next day, I’ll have formulated my words, dealt with the anger, worked it out. And then I’ll be back in this strange limbo.
For the first time in weeks, I’m going to see her.
“Good morning!” I text. “I look forward to seeing you tomorrow at German Two’s birthday. I hope it’s cause you’re joining us, not working. Any idea of your schedule this week?”
“Haaaa yeah I’m working a double that day…” she replies. “And closing. But I’m insisting y’all be in my section so we can hang out.”
It’s not the response I was hoping for. No info on her schedule. Not even a direct pronoun for me. I stifle the disappointment, the sense that I don’t matter, that she’s trying to push me into the group and out of the singular. I’m probably just overreacting, overthinking.
“You are a workaholic! Come out after. You can crash at my place. It’s actually clean and moved in!”
“That sounds pretty wonderful, where were y’all going after?”
I know she’s a Southerner. I know it’s in her lexicon, but she did it again. It’s not me that matters; it’s the group.
It doesn’t make sense to me. Only two weeks ago, my role in her life was at least somewhat significant. Now, I’m a tertiary player and I feel like even the merest text is a burden.
I set the sensation aside and we banter about the evening ahead, almost normally, almost like nothing’s wrong. But it doesn’t feel right. I feel like I’m forcing it. I feel like I’m full of rage and fear and I’m trying so hard to keep it from her. We’re subtexting, each of saying one thing with hidden messages deep beneath the surface.
When I join the table, she’s nowhere to be seen. When I do finally see her, she looks like she’s at the end of her rope. As she approaches the table, she puts on her happy waitress face. She goes around collecting orders.
When she gets to me, it’s cordial, professional. I expect nothing less. She sometimes smiles and chats, but not with me.
“May I walk with you?” I ask.
“I have to go in there,” she says, turning and fleeing into an employees only area.
“Ok, maybe later,” I say.
As the night there winds down and we begin to move to another venue, I watch as she hugs the birthday boy and several others. When I try to chase her down to say bye and see if she’ll join us later, she’s conspicuously absent.
I wander through the restaurant looking for her, finding her someplace I can’t go. She’s scrubbing hard, her back turned toward me. I wait patiently for several minutes, finally waving down a coworker to tap her on the shoulder.
She turns and walks toward me. She stops out of reach.
“Are you ok?”
“No.” Her eyes are slightly watery.
“Will you let me know when you’re off? I’d like to see you tonight.”
“I’ll let you know. I think I need to go home and decide if I’m coming back at all tomorrow.”
“Just let me know,” I say. I want to step in and hug her, but she’s already turning away. I feel cold as I turn and follow the group.
I don’t drink at the next stop. Every few minutes, my phone is sneaking out of my pocket to check the time, to check for texts.
“You look paranoid,” a friend remarks with a smile.
“I am paranoid,” I joke back, trying to cover up my unease. “Something’s going to happen somewhere! I don’t know what, but it’s coming, I can feel it!” She laughs at my melodrama.
I laugh back, but I don’t feel happy.
I can’t stop seeing the pain in her eyes. I can’t figure out why she won’t let me be there, listen, help. There’s probably nothing I can do, but I feel like she owes me more than the cold, detached response she’s given me.
Three glasses of water later and I’m tired of waiting for her. She’s the only reason I stayed here this long. I say my goodbyes and slide toward the door.
“I think I’m done here. I’d like to see you and you seemed like you need to vent,” I text.
The lights of her restaurant’s sign are off and employees are congregated at the bar as I stroll by. I look in the window and wonder if she’s among them. I wonder if she’s having a drink and trying to decompress or if she already left and simply didn’t tell me.
I’m around the corner and halfway down the block when I get the reply.
“I’m going home,” it reads simply.
I sigh. I hate this. I need to talk about us, about her treatment of me, about the way she’s shut me out. But now is not the time.
“I’m worried about you,” I respond. “I’d like to be there for you. I’d like the chance to do so. I hope you feel better.”
And then I turn off my phone and march into the night.
I wonder if this is how schizophrenics feel; a thousand voices scream on the top of their lungs inside my head. It’s a cacophonous uproar that permeates every inch of my being. I’m literally shaking with every step.
I want to corner her at work. I want to swear. I want to punch walls. I want her to know.
I want her there with me, in my arms. I want to soothe her. I want to hold her and tell her it will be alright, and then I want to make it alright.
I want to ask her why, why now, what changed? I want to explain that she’s not even treating me as a friend, that I feel so incredibly unwanted and unloved, more than even just telling me to fuck off would make me feel.
I want to push her against a wall, flexing my strength, staring into her eyes, dominating her and proving my masculinity. And then I want to smirk and walk away, proving that I am not a beast, no matter how angry I am.
I want to write a long letter. I want to tell her how much I miss her. I want to tell her how hypocritical it is that she opened this relationship by proving how important honesty and openness is no matter how difficult and that she’s closing it by not ever giving me that.
I want, just for a moment, for her to know that this is what it’s like when I’m angry.
The morning brings perspective. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Regardless, I need to see her.
“Good morning,” I text. “I hope you’re feeling better today. Have you decided what you’re doing? Will you be working tonight?”
I form plans as I wait for a response. If she is working, I will go and wait til she’s off. I will walk her to her car and talk on the way. If she’s not, I will find her in the mountains. I’ll give her the choice of joining me in town or I will show up at her door.
If she doesn’t respond, all is lost. I’ll be left with Facebook or email or a letter. Real mail would be more my style. Then again, she never checks regularly. She still hasn’t seen the postcard from San Francisco, the last love note I may ever write her.
I’m anxious all morning. Every time there’s a chance at work, I’m sliding my phone out and looking for that text.
We’re in the middle of a technical loop, bouncing down rocks at high speed, making little maneuvers to avoid crashing, when my phone dings. It’s ten minutes before we reach a good stopping point. I can’t tell if my heart is pounding from the ride or because she might have responded.
When I flip open the phone, it’s from her. “I am,” she explains. “Last night was shitty but I’m not the type of person to just not show up to a job. I am calling another place today though.”
“You should,” I tell her in my response. “I think you’d be happier there. I like it when you’re happy. Can I catch up with you after work tonight, even if it’s just to walk you to your car?”
“I would love that.” I’m literally stunned. This is not what I expected. “I’ll probably be getting out somewhere between 10:30 and 11,” the message continues, “and I can meet you at your house.”
I don’t know whether I want to jump for joy and click my heels together or continue to draft speeches. I don’t know whether I want to greet her with a kiss, if she’ll have it, or if I want to coldly open the door and jump into a serious talk.
I tell her about my other evening plans, shopping, jamming with a friend and cooking dinner. “Should I make extra for you?” I ask.
“Sure, that sounds great.”
And like that, we’re having the most normal conversation I’ve had with her in weeks. It feels oddly comfortable, like I can ignore the sea of emotion playing me in the background.
Everything, that is, but the fear of what’s to come.
The afternoon doesn’t go as planned: my friend bails and I get caught in light hail and heavy rain on the way home. I’m soaked, sore, and tired by the time I arrive. All of that is barely noticeable beyond the dissatisfied tenor of my inner voice, carefully thinking about the three things I want to address with her and the order I want to do it.
- You’re the best thing to happen to me in a long time. I’m happy when you’re here. You don’t even need to do anything. I want to make you even half as happy as you make me.
- Where have you been? Why have we gone from talking or texting pretty much daily to not being able to get the time of day from you? I want to spend more time with you. I don’t need to spend more time with you, but I do need you to be better about staying in touch, telling me what’s going on. If you’re too busy or have other things fine, just please tell me.
- Why were you so cold last night? Is this over? Is it something I did? What happened that created this sudden distance? Are you ok? I’m worried about you. Are we ok? I’m worried about us. I want to be able to help. If you want me around, let me in.
I rework the words over and over. I think about them as I shower, cleaning the sweat, rain and sunscreen from my aching body. I slide into a nap to make sure I’ll have the energy to do this. I wake up and prep for dinner. I have time to spare, so I walk to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine. Her favorite kind is on sale, so I grab a couple of bottles, though I wonder why I’m bothering as I do so. I dig through my stored kitchen stuff for my nice corkscrew when I get home, remembering how we had to use my ancient Swiss army knife at the old house because it was full of this-is-why-we-can’t-have-nice-things.
As the hour approaches, I begin cooking, losing myself in the routine. I love it. It’s cathartic. I plan a kale and red chard stir fry, served beside quinoa and bean medley with cilantro and tomatoes. My phone rings as I pull the last part off the stove.
“I can’t remember which unit is yours.”
“Hold on. I’ll come find you.” I hit the start button on the microwave for the sauce and turn for the door.
“Nevermind,” she says as I walk past the windows, “I see you.”
I open the door and run back to the kitchen. I can’t decide if it’s hiding or if I wanted to get the sauce out of the microwave so it would seem a little classier.
When I walk back into the entry, she’s taking off her shoes. I stop dead in my tracks, unsure how to begin.
“Hi,” I say as my voice returns.
“Hi,” she says, looking up. “Oh my god,” she says, eyes going wide and smile crossing her face. “That shirt is so cute.” I suddenly remember I’m wearing a shirt featuring a giant airbrushed kitten face. It’s the first time I’ve worn the shirt.
“Yeah,” I say. I smile back, unable to help myself. “It was a gift from a friend.”
We move closer. Our eyes meet. And without thinking about it, I’m leaning in and kissing her. All the voices, the rage, the uncertainty, are silent. It’s only a moment, and then the words come flooding back into my head. My back is tense as I hold them back, unable to launch into them yet.
“Food is ready,” I say as I lead her into the dining area.
“It smells wonderful,” she says.
“Can I get you something to drink?” I list the options.
“What kind of wine do you have?”
I tell her. Her eyes narrow as she approaches the bottle. “You know that’s my favorite. Did you get that because of me?” she asks.
“Yes,” I state. She smiles as I pull it down and hand her the corkscrew.
She pops the bottle open. I collapse in a chair and begin.
“So where have you been? I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“Well,” she starts. “I haven’t had many off days. I mean, I have. The festival was like a week off, what with the drive there and back. And then my next day off was that other show.” I sit back and go to take a sip of the wine as she takes a seat across from me. I stop before the glass reaches my lips. Our eyes meet as I readjust. We clink our glasses, though it seems almost perfunctory in the moment. “I’ve been playing drums a lot. I want to take lessons again. But since I work nights, if I don’t wake up next to my drum kit, I don’t get to play.”
They’re arguments that makes sense. Suddenly, I know I’ve been reading too much into everything. I feel silly and guilty for being angry. I feel like my mind has taken off with the empty space of the last few weeks.
“Thank you for coming tonight,” I say. “I’m glad I was able to see you.”
“Me too. Thanks for dinner.”
We eat, chatting. She tells me about her trips. She tells me how happy she is, how summer has taken over. She tells me about her plans going forward. “I’m still trying to get ready for the next spontaneous thing,” she says. “This may be the healthiest thing I’ve eaten in weeks,” she tells me with a smile.
We refill our wine glasses. We talk about our separate lives.
“Can I ask something of you?” I ask during a lull.
“Can you try to be better about being in touch? I feel like it’s been really hard to get a hold of you the last few weeks. And last night was perhaps the coldest you’ve ever been to me.”
She looks up, surprised. Clearly, it was not intentional. I can’t be angry about it, just sad about it.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “Was it really obvious I was having a rough time?”
“No,” I tell her. “You were really good about covering up how bad a night you were having when you were interacting. But I could see it when you walked by to somewhere else. And when I tried to approach you, you were kind of cold. I didn’t get a hug. I barely got a word. And when I came to say bye and check up on you, you kept your distance, brushed me off and went back to work.”
“I’m sorry,” she says again.
“It’s ok,” I say. I can’t tell if it’s honest or if I’m just saying it. It feels somewhat ok. “Just try to be better about staying in touch.”
“I will,” she says. “I’m sorry.”
She watches me for a moment. I’m unsure if she can see the pain or not. I don’t really care.
“Will you be staying here tonight or heading home?” I ask.
“I was thinking about kicking it,” she says with a smirk, “if that’s ok.”
“Can I offer you dessert?”
“There’s dessert?!” she says.
And with the mention of sweets, the serious portion of the evening comes to a close.
I’m woken up by a phone call. I grab the phone and bolt from the room still naked. One of my employees, the one who’s supposed to open, is calling out sick. Gone is my relaxing morning.
I make coffee and cook breakfast: pancakes with chocolate chips, blueberries and strawberries. I leave hers arranged on a plate beneath a paper towel. She stirs in bed as I close up the windows to keep the heat out of the house.
“I’ve got to run,” I whisper. I lean down and kiss her. “But there’s breakfast and coffee in the kitchen for you. Feel free to take your time.”
“Have a good day,” she says as I disappear out the door.
Midway through my morning, I get a text from her. “Thanks so much for breakfast. Hope you’re having a wonderful day. :)”
I’m in limbo once more. And I don’t want to be anywhere else.