Here’s Part 4 of the Great Untitled Fiction Piece (the GUFP). Parts 1-3, if you missed them and are interested to catch up, is located here.
Do I start on first or do I start on second? Every once in a while when I dream I get them muddled. Am I married to Joseph, or am I still married to Matthew? (Once, after Mexican food and a half a bottle of wine, I dreamt I was married to them both. This involved far more vacuuming than sex, in the spirit of most of my newly overly pragmatic fantasies. Once upon a time never involved dusting.)
I am married to Joseph now. I was married to Matthew first. So where to start?
There are moments, less so now but almost constant in the first moths, years and milestones after Matthew and I separated, that it felt like my real life was running parallel to the one I was living. As if I had somehow simply accidentally skipped tracks, and the life I was supposed to be living was running adjacent to the one I had inadvertently slipped into, somehow more real, more substantial, waiting to be righted like a radio station waited to be properly tuned in.
For a time, every significant event – deciding to date Joseph exclusively, deciding to move in together, when our kids needed to move schools, when Ri moved from elementary school to middle school – triggered a wave of grief for the life that was no more. I had never planned on getting divorced, I had never planned on splitting my children’s home and life in two. Every thing that sealed that deal, even when it was something that I wanted, even when I was so in love I couldn’t see straight, carried with it the afterimages of hurt and loss. Every step that led me further away from the life I had once known stung my feet even while the visions of my future compelled me forward. It was years before this feeling went away.
So do I start with Joseph or Matthew?
Joseph is my now, I will start with him.
While dating, Joseph simultaneously aroused and intimidated me with provocative letters and emails. This approach/avoidance behavior had never been typical of me. I either wanted or I didn’t, I had no schemata for wanting while hiding. I felt like a brazen antelope, or a cowardly hyena. Which animal I identified with more was typically determined by about five pounds.
Joseph is one of those wonderful men who can be so capable at their job that supervisors are going out of their way to pat them on the back, while simultaneously not being able to remember where we keep the peanut butter (in the pantry, second shelf down). The man can tell me the name of every investment banking firm he has ever run a contract for, tell me the rates for the package he negotiated, tell me where the market closed in Europe on the day he had to wire funds, but get my birthday wrong four times out of five. (His defense, he claims, is that he has my birthday in his PDA and he gets alerts to remind him. He’s never actually missed it).
Joseph gazed at me in rapt attention as I described local newspaper editing and I could see Gloria Steinem (what is it with men and lesbians?) reflected in his eyes while he listened. He told me in whispered adoration what a difference I was making in the world with my impact on the media. I was so entranced and enamored that my inner eye truly saw me as a female Woodward (definitely not Bernstein), and I was able to develop selective amnesia about my copy editor, about cramming in the local open market announcement, about asking the grieving family for the extra fee for the column inches dedicated to their dearly departed loved one’s penchant for sponge cake and crocheted tea cozies and see myself as a future Sketchers wearing Pulitzer Prize Winning Contributor To Society.
That took over Once Upon a Time for a while.
I am running late, I don’t have the kids, but I did have a forgotten deadline, and I am supposed to meet my closest – also newly divorced – friend for a cocktail because we have in our minds that now that we are single, despite the fact that we are in our late thirties and each have two children, that we’re supposed to do hip “Sex-in-the-City-esque” things, like go out for cocktails. I have had to stop at home to don my slinkiest high-heels as testament to my newly single self. And I truly believe that somehow the addition of dangerous footwear enhances my femininity along with my height, and that my 30-something face will appear closer to 20-something simply by virtue of being further from the ground.
So the stop for the shoes has made me late. And Evie is waiting perched on a barstool already, I am sure, with her own ridiculously clad feet tapping impatiently on the rail. So, in violation of many city and state ordinances, I text her from the car.
This is what I text: “Came home, be there in ten minutes.”
Well, that’s what I intended to text. But the word predictor function sometimes makes decisions for me that I fail to notice.
And it turns out that 4-7-7-3 will spell out other things before it will spell out “home.”
And it also turns out that there is another reason beyond safety for not using your cell phone while you’re driving. Not only are you a hazard, but you markedly decrease your ability to dial phone numbers correctly.
A minute later my phone chirps, and I pull up the text, thinking that I will see “Damn you for being late!” or some other empty scolding. What I see is: “I’m happy to participate, but do you know where I live?”
I cannot make heads or tails of that, and 10th grade Drivers’ Ed is preventing me from completely abandoning my view of the road for the sake of deciphering what is clearly some bizarre message, perhaps secret launch codes meant for un unassuming local spy.
At the next red light, I click the display back on to read again, thinking that I have somehow misread Evie’s response to my ETA. Nope, the nonsensical words are still there, “I’m happy to participate, but do you know where I live?”
My first thought is that I approve of the long version of the words. I don’t text in abbreviations, I like to have vowels when I read. But despite the kudos I’m handing out for texting “you” instead of “U,” I still don’t know what I’m reading. I scroll down the message to see if I’ve missed anything, and there, below the mystery words, is my original text, which reads, “Came good, be there in ten minutes.”
I show the message to Evie when I get to the bar, and she cracks up in a way that communicates clearly that she is not laughing with me, but laughing at me.
My phone sits on the bar, making friends with empty glasses that once held lemon drops. And cosmopolitans. And appletinis. Our philosophy is, if it’s a silly chick drink, we’ll have one, and we certainly don’t want the cell phone to be lonely.
It takes three cocktails before Evie’s relentless teasing spurs me to respond. Evie has loosened my defenses by illustrating how diligent the unknown texter has been about spelling and grammar. The owner of the other cell phone is courteous, she says, look how promptly they responded. They are accommodating, she says, look how pleased they are to have received my invitation.
I note that she is being very careful to speak in gender neutral (and grammatically inaccurate) pronouns and that it is entirely possible that I have inadvertently propositioned a woman.
Nonsense, says Evie. Women ignore suggestive text messages. Only a man would respond.
Even without three cocktails, I think she is probably right about that.
He could be old, I say.
True, says Evie. But you won’t know if you don’t answer.
He could be bald, I say.
Bald men are virile, says Evie.
He could be married, I say.
Then you can be angry that he responded, she replies, and threaten to keep calling until his wife answers.
Finally I say simply, I don’t know what to say.
Have another cocktail, is Evie’s answer.
One more lemon drop later, I am trying to think my cleverest thoughts to respond to the text that is now two hours old. I must send a text that sums up how smart, sexy, sophisticated, sassy and all other desirable ‘S’ words I am. I must communicate that I made a typing error and sent to the wrong number, but still seem capable. I must express that I am available but not desperate, it must be clear that my response to his text is principally to apologize for the mistake and that I just happened to find it intriguing enough to reply to, so as to avoid any suggestion that I send random obscene messages out into the ether as a means to troll for dates. And I must do all of this within my 250 character limit.
I’m so embarrassed… No.
What’s a text like you…No.
I must have left your address at the office, along with my ability to text and key in numbers while driving. Please forgive me for standing you up, especially if you were, in fact, standing.
Perfect, although it takes me six minutes to get all the commas in the right places.
I set the phone back on the bar. He’s probably busy now, I say, and he’ll probably never answer.
Evie sips her fuzzy navel.
The phone chirps. We lean forward. I press the green button.
I was always taught to stand for a lady, and you are clearly a lady worth standing for, in all senses of the word.
And I was hooked.
He told me later that he gambled with his answer, but he thought it was best to find out right away if he was about to start a hot and heavy text correspondence with a gay man.