Writer’s Wednesday

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.

-4-

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.”

Oy.

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.

My bad…No.

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.

25 comments

  1. I can’t believe that’s how you met!

    Kidding…I’m not usually stupid enough to make the same mistake twice. We just trust you, is all. Being your faithful readers and whatnot.

    I think it’s an incredible story.

    But I’m biased. I already knew I liked your writing before I started the GUFP. Which is a perfect name for this, by the way. If I read that on some shelf in borders, I’d pick it up.

    1. Ok, don’t mess with me like that!

      You are very funny.

      And “The GUFP?” Really? In my head it sounds like what the cast called “Waiting For Guffman” for short.

  2. Love it!

    To think what texting has done for literati. it’s given you all a whole new way of constructing a storyline or dialogue :)

    Very fun!

  3. I loved this one! Warning: I keep reading your life into your fiction.

    Secret? My ex writes fiction, and the wife character is always shrewish. Thank God he doesn’t have the initiative that it takes to get published (or even to start a blog).

    After reading Himself’s piece here, I keep trying to get my ex to write on for my blog. I would love a he said, she said moment. He keeps demurring, and says maybe later.

    1. I think my voice is quite strong in the fiction piece, and the fact that it’s about a divorce and blended family doesn’t help.

      About 1/4 of what’s in is an actual experience, about 1/2 is inspired by actual experience, and 1/4 is pure fiction.

      And I hope he does write. I’d like to read it!

  4. Somehow I missed 2 and 3, so I got to read three parts all at once. I’m so GLAD I missed 2 and 3, because reading everything at once was soooo good.

    You’ve got talent, lady. I’m hooked.

    I wanted to mention, especially, that you’ve a fantastic way with conversation. I really, really loved the part where she was talking to the kids while looking in the fridge. Genius. Really put me “there.”

    More dialogue!

  5. Know why I like this? Because of the fact that I was mad…YES MAD…that I have to read it in parts.

    Loved it, good reading….

    I keep thinking it’s you. ANd not fiction.

    1. I’m getting that a lot, “I keep thinking it’s you!”

      Which is good and bad, I suppose.

      The fact that it’s “my voice” makes the story easy to tell. I get to focus on character and dialogue and plot and not worry that the voice is meandering off into inappropriate places.

      But I can see how separating blog from fiction would be difficult.

  6. My husband is working in Afghanistan right now as the bodyguard for the man who administers all of the Afghani police. Super important stuff.

    But to get there? Over the course of four months? He had to issue a request for his birth certificate THREE times, as he kept losing it before he had the opportunity to submit his papers to the passport office.

    Seriously.

  7. First, I LOVE the third paragraph. Second, the accidental text introduction is PERFECT for our techie world. (I saw today that 1 in 8 couples that get married this year met online.)

    Also, I too, think of “Waiting for Guffman” when I see GUFP – ha!

    If you are struggling with “too much” dialogue – have you considered writing a screenplay? I have a story I’m mulling around (BTW, not sure I told you, but you’ve inspired me to return to creative writing), and the thing is, it really needs to be told visually. I’m considering writing my first-ever screenplay, though I’m not sure how to go about doing it so it makes sense to anyone other than me. Keep up the good work!

    1. I’ve tossed screenplay idea around because I write dialogue so seamlessly, I guess I stopped bothering to think about it because it seems to me that unless it comes to life, there’s not as much reward in it.

      I can have a few people read this piece and enjoy it and it makes me SOOO happy.

      But most people find reading screenplays a little awkward feeling, and I can’t imagine anyone ever performing a screenplay that I’d write.

      What do you think about it?

      And I LOVE LOVE in huge ways (hence the caps!) that I inspired you to write! That is one of the bestest compliments ever!

      1. I agree, reading them is weird. Maybe more like a play, sort of Shakespearean in the sense that you’d have a setting listed under the scene, but then no other mention of the backdrop. Reading Shakespeare isn’t awkward, as far as the flow goes. Obviously the language and iambic pentameter are a different story, but you know what I mean. Even though you know it’s a play, it reads like a story.

        And, no, thank YOU, for showing me that I can do more with my blog than just summarize the daily grind. :)

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