I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me.
I lived a few weeks while you loved me.
~ Humphrey Bogart
“My whole life changed the day I told my long deceased father to go F- himself.”
On an unusually hot, even sweltering day in May, I was propped up against the deli counter of my local Stop and Shop. It felt good to bask in the cool air. I was awaiting the wonders of sliced turkey that someone else had cooked and prepared. A wonder in itself. Noodling around with the notion of completely redoing our kitchen, counters and all, my mind was off in Italian ceramic-tile-land.
However, this statement snapped me back and I chuckled to myself. The mousy woman nearby had spoken in hushed, yet proud tones to her friend. I shifted a little to my right, hoping to hear more.
At that moment a voice hollered out, “Number 42, number 42!”
Damn. It was certainly the first time waiting for anything that I didn’t want my number to be called. As I collected my order and thanked the guy at the counter, I stole a quick glance at the two women, now collecting their own deli goodies. Unfortunately, I was never going to know the rest of the story.
As I headed for home, AC and Keith Urban blasting, I decided that the woman must have been talking about her therapy. The therapist had suggested she imagine her father sitting in a chair opposite her, and she should tell him how she truly felt. Yes, that was it. Having undergone therapy at various intervals throughout my life, I was relatively familiar with the tricks of the trade.
On the other hand, maybe she’d been to a medium, her father had appeared to her in some fashion, and she had let him have it. Well, good for her! I guess…
I pressed the remote on the car visor, pulled into my garage and hopped out. As I turned to grab the groceries, I could hear the phone ringing inside the townhouse, but I knew in this heat I couldn’t (or just damn well wouldn’t) hurtle up the stairs to get it before the machine clicked on. Besides, anyone I wanted to talk to had my cell phone number.
Climbing up the stairs with more bags than I could easily carry (and hoping that bang against the stair rail was not bad news for the eggs), I heard a voice leaving a message. It was a woman, so it wasn’t Kurt. Due home from Maryland in a couple of hours, I thought he might be letting me know where he was. He loathed the infamous New Jersey turnpike, but I’d given him the incentive to endure it: his favorite mushroom omelet with feta cheese for lunch.
I carefully put the bags down on the kitchen counter, peeked to see the eggs were still intact, and punched the voice message playback.
“Hi, Mr. Phillips, this is Stacey from Mahoney Movers. I hope the move went well for you. Uh, we have a little problem here. Could you give me a call as soon as possible, please? The credit card we have had on file for you for your storage costs is now not clearing for the move. It has expired and I need your new info. Please give me a call. Thanks. Bye now.”
You know how when you hear something shocking, there can be a sort of time delay, where your brain rushes through all the denial statements, the “there must be some mistake” and the “what the hell is she talking about” responses, while the whole time there is a rush of knowing, of understanding, because you suddenly get it. You get it. It all suddenly comes together. How distant he had been on the phone for each of the four days he had been down in Maryland seeing his folks and his grown kids. How he’d stayed two days longer than he originally told you he’d planned to stay. The fact that you’d seen a couple of his emails several months ago from a rental agency about a townhouse near his family in Fulton. But, when you asked him about it, he said he was looking for his son, who was too busy to look for himself. You had bought it. Hook, line, and stinker. Trusted that what he said was the truth. Why wouldn’t it be? His son had been looking for a new place.
I grabbed the phone and redialed the last number.
“Stacey, please.” This was in my best chirpy fashion, still praying there was some dreadful mistake. As I waited for her to pick up her extension, I felt the cold goose bumps come up on my arms. I don’t keep the house that cool; it wasn’t the AC. I nearly slammed down the phone, suddenly not wanting to know. Absolutely not wanting to know.
“Hi Stacey, Laura Phillips, here, do you remember me? You guys moved Kurt and me to Connecticut last year?”
“Hey, Laura, sure, nice to hear from you, how are you?”
“Great, thanks. I just got your message. Kurt won’t be back for a couple of hours, can I help?
She explained the problem, but asked very kindly again whether the move had gone well. I said that it had, and asked if she had the correct address there in front of her, for future correspondence with us.
I couldn’t believe how clearly I was thinking, how friendly and efficient I was on the phone with this woman, who was the harbinger of complete disaster, of complete heartbreak. Who was about to give me information that would either settle my heart. Or break it.
I quickly scribbled down the address in Fulton, near Baltimore, that she gave me, and responded. Yes, of course, that was right. I couldn’t let her know this was the first time I’d ever heard of it. Couldn’t have dealt with questions.
Oh yes, we are settling in fine. What? No, doesn’t look like any damage, thanks. Still smiling and operating in autopilot stupor, I managed to tell her I didn’t have the updated credit card info on me, but Kurt would call her in a couple of hours.
With a thundering in my ears, I somehow got through the nice parting noises you are supposed to make, and hung up the phone.
Then slithered down to the floor, in a pile, right there on the kitchen floor.
I couldn’t breathe.
He’d moved. We’d been married for seven years, and half our stuff had been in storage. We’d moved to Connecticut 18 months ago and had decided to rent while we looked for the right house to buy. But, he’d decided to move back to the Baltimore area, where he grew up, without talking it over with me. He’d looked for a house, signed a lease, and had all our stored furniture moved there. And hid it from me. Only a week ago, we’d driven all over Fairfield County looking at houses for sale. He was looking at houses with me in Connecticut, while he had already signed a lease on a house for himself in Maryland.
I just sat there. I don’t know how long. My handbag had spilled out all over the kitchen floor, and I stared at the little roll of Lifesavers, now lodged under the fridge. All I could get my brain to think was that I must collect those mints. They were Lifesavers, after all. Appropriate. The only other thing that registered was that the porcelain tile beneath my bare legs felt nice and cool. So nice and cool.
I sat there. Time didn’t hold any meaning. Suddenly, something cold and wet hit my shoulder, and I jumped. I looked up to see that the frozen yogurt from a shopping bag had rolled out, fallen on its side, and the lid had come off. Now it was melting away sadly and dripping down on me. Organic vanilla frozen yogurt. Blop. Blop.
I heaved myself off the floor, suddenly an aged person, and stumbled into the living room, one leg completely asleep. I felt as if I were peering at my surroundings through the wrong end of a telescope. I felt removed from everything, nothing looked right. I shivered. I sank into the couch at the far end of the room and waited. I didn’t think. I just waited.
The front door jiggled, keys turned, the door burst open, and I heard his voice.
“Hey beautiful, I’m home!”
“Hello…” I called out weakly, my heart pounding so hard I thought he’d hear it over my greeting.
“Hey, where are you?” He headed towards me, but stopped short. He must have seen my face.
Much later, when I looked in a mirror, I saw the different woman I had become in that horrid couple of hours. Haggard, face streaked with tears and eye makeup, pale, eyes wide and shocked. A different face.
“Oh my God, are you OK?” He hurried towards me. I held up my hand to stop him, to keep him at a distance. I couldn’t bear for him to get near me.
“The movers called, Kurt. They need your new credit card info.”
He stared at me. There was a long, sickening silence. I felt as though I were viewing this sorry situation from outside of my own body. My spirit remained detached, protecting itself, disassociated from the pain of the woman in denial on that couch.
“Tell me the truth, Kurt, for God’s sake. Just tell me the truth.” I was cold. And still.
“How much do you know?”
This was his response?
“How much do I know? Seriously? How much do I know?”
The moment snapped. I was thrust painfully and furiously to life. I dragged it out of him.
I’m not going to share all the gory details. He had moved out, in effect he had left me. Just like that. He was just back to try to figure out how to tell me. I cried, I wailed, and I screamed. The next three hours were full of “how dare you,” “how could you,” and “but we looked at all those houses last weekend…”
He said, at one point in this hell, “I’m so sorry, Laura, but I stayed two years longer than I wanted to…”
“Big of you. Get out.”
I had to climb straight back into my car and drive to Massachusetts to take my mom to get her passport renewed, for her upcoming trip to see her sister in England. Because when the sky has fallen, your house burns down, or your heart is broken, you still have to go pick up your 76-year-old mother and take her to Boston to get her passport renewed.
Like nothing on earth had happened.
Back In the Saddle Again ♫
The Man with the Minus Touch
“If you kiss on the first date and it’s not right, then there will be no second date.”
~ Jennifer Lopez
Meeting a guy for coffee. Ok, here I go, I thought. I can do this. I was trying to get back in the game. I had decided to dip my toe back into the endless pool of available men on online dating sites. Back in the “game.” Does it have to be a “game?”
It was warm, still summer-muggy, and good old I-95 was jammed, as usual. It is a parking lot more often than a freeway. It was mid-afternoon, and I realized getting back to my place, north of Fairfield, at five or six o’clock would be a pig. The Merritt Parkway would be even worse; Kurt used to say he didn’t know what Connecticut had done to God, but the Merritt Parkway was His retribution. I hadn’t thought about that when I suggested four o’clock at a coffee place in Stamford. Ah well, too late, now.
I was driving carefully, so as not to mess up my newly painted fingernails. I had taken pains to look great for this first trek out into the world again, and that certainly included drop-dead red fingernails. I’d curled my long dark hair just enough to give it that soft wave that looked natural. Like you woke up like that. Yeah, right. There was no way I’d open the window; even a little breeze would mess with the effort I’d made to look like I’d done nothing.
I was wearing my favorite pair of stretchy jeans with blingy sandals, a red knit tank top that was just snug enough, if you know what I mean. Casual, with just a soupçon of glamour and sexiness. (Bigger than a smidge and smaller than a bucket load. I had to look it up).
You go for it, babe.
It had been a terrible few months. I could relate to that scene in Something’s Gotta Give where Diane Keaton weeps and wails her heart out over Jack Nicolson. That was me. It just didn’t seem as funny as it had in the movie.
There were times when I just had to creep into the closet, sit under his remaining jackets and shirts, and hide, feeling like a little wounded animal. There were times when I woke in the middle of the night and wondered, for a very brief moment, what the grim feeling circling my solar plexus was. That strange there’s-a-vulture-somewhere feeling. Then reality would hit. A physical punch in the stomach that literally knocked the breath out of me and left me doubled over and gasping.
And, the worst moment, I think, was when I had a dream about Kurt, where I was begging him, with all the strength of my being, not to leave me. Things you’d never do in your waking life are acted out in all their fierce intensity in your dreams. You feel it, smell it, and see it in glorious Technicolor, with all sensation turned up to maximum power.
I managed to keep body and soul relatively together during this time. I worked at the clinic – I’m a naturopath – and fed my little velvety black cat, Pusskin. Most days, I even managed to keep one foot plodding in front of the other on my nightly walk/jog around my townhouse complex. I felt hollowed out inside. I was surprised that with the lightest breeze, I didn’t just blow away.
It’s funny, though, how the habits and routine of existence kick in to make the hours go by, food go down, smiles at strangers happen, just like you were fine, normal, part of the human family. But, I was removed. Part of me had died.
I spent three or four dreadful months crying, writing poetry or song lyrics, and trying to overcome denial, shock, and grief. Then, I hesitantly crept onto Match.com, some weird site called “Plenty of Fish,” and a couple of other online dating sites.
My friend, Francesca, had been nudging me for several weeks to “get back on the horse,” which felt to me more like an ass, and try it again. She wanted me to “be in the company of a nice man,” as she put it. She wanted me to find someone who would be very, very good to me. Yeah, right. The problem with that notion? I couldn’t believe there was any male left on earth who would be good to me. I felt that all men were hateful, lying scumbags.
That having been said, there I was on my way to meet someone (poor guy) for a first cup of coffee. Was I ready for this? Well, hell, I figured you have to start somewhere. Some poor man had to be my first foray into the world of being “out there,” as it was so succinctly put in When Harry Met Sally.
The first man I was meeting was a gem distributor, Jim, was his name. (I kept thinking of him as Jim-Gem, to help me remember his name…). Attractive, if not handsome, we exchanged a couple of emails before he did the gentlemanly thing and gave me a phone number. We had a short chat on the phone, then picked a time to meet, and there I was, headed to meet him in a cute little coffee shop I knew of in Stamford.
I arrived before him, and found a table next to the window. I checked my hair and lipstick in my compact, then played with my phone to look busy, looking up surreptitiously from time to time to check who was coming through the door. I only waited a minute or two, then saw a man at the door who might be him. He was gazing around, for me, obviously. I raised my hand and he spotted me.
My first impression of Jim-Gem didn’t knock my socks off, but something inside told me that after the hurt Kurt had caused, my socks were firmly and permanently glued to my feet.
My date turned out to be an average guy: average looks, average height, average weight, and rather average (read boring) personality. In fact, everything about him was average, except his ego, which was enormous. Especially about his business. The man bought and sold jewels for crying out loud. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds… What’s not to like about that? Bringing your work home, dear? Sure, hang it around my neck! I could feel my socks loosening a tiny bit… until he started to talk. And talk. And talk. Gems, facets, carets, blah blah blah. Zzzzzzz. If I wanted to yawn, I could have stayed home.
He could grind the Crown Jewels into a bag of dust with his voice alone.
I sat there. I realized this was not going to work. There was no “meeting of the minds.” No spark. In fact, I feared I was losing consciousness.
Oh, for a roll of duct tape.
Just in time, he altered the course of the conversation. What did he alter it to? A rigorous grilling, by him of me: what did I want, did I have kids, did I like kids, was I happy in this area, would I consider moving (he lived an hour away), was I a morning person? Was I night person? Did I have any moles that might be cancerous?
Did I say it was a conversation? For him, maybe. But, for me it felt a little like an interview. A lot like an interview. I guess it was, in some ways. He was looking for someone to fill the position of pandering to his ego.
I should have gone to the ladies room and climbed out the window.
Instead, I hung in there, thinking I must not judge so quickly or so harshly, and must give people a chance. After all, I was a sophisticated grown up. I even justified it to myself that it was good to have an airing of desires, wishes, lifestyle comparisons, and such, so as not to waste time.
Nope. Sorry. This Jim could have been Diamond Jim Brady for all I cared. I wanted to go home, gather Pusskin onto my lap, get feet up in my big leather chair, and stare at the tube.
I stole a glance at my watch. If I could wind this down, see this bozo in my rear view mirror, I could get home in time for Grantchester or curl up with a Nora Roberts novel. If I couldn’t find any passion or romance in my own life, I’d damn well get some vicarious thrills there.
Just as I was preparing my leaving excuses, his son joined us, who had just completed some errands in town. Nice enough kid, about 17, who was polite but clearly not interested. He’d seen it all before. Dad doing his thing.
Jim-Gem helped me on with my jacket.
“So, Laura, where did you park, can we drive you to your car?”
“I’m a couple of blocks down, on a meter – that would be great, thanks.”
He told me his car was right outside. It was raining lightly, and since I didn’t think he and his son were the rapist-team type, I felt OK about accepting the short lift.
He helped me into his brand new, blue, late-model Mercedes sedan. Leather seats and a spacecraft dashboard. And ah, that new car smell. Comes in a can for the rest of us poor shmucks.
“Gorgeous,” I said with enthusiasm.
“Just picked it up today,” he replied. So proud he was, like a new dad.
He drove me to my little eight-year-old Honda CRV, where his son hopped out, having spied some friends of his on the sidewalk.
As I turned back towards him to say my thanks and good-byes, he suddenly grabbed me, and kissed me. Hard. He pushed his tongue into my mouth, which had only opened in complete shock. I didn’t fight back; it all happened too quickly, and afterwards I remembered I didn’t want to offend him by pulling away. What? Who the hell was offensive here? After his quick, hard, dipstick “kiss,” he pulled back, and nodded briefly. For a second, I thought he was going to offer to check my tires and clean my windshield.
“Good,” he said. “That works.” Gee, I guess I passed inspection. Oh, yay me.
I politely (yes, I was still polite) said my good-byes, jumped out, hopped in my car and tore away as quickly as possible.
Future messages were left unanswered. I didn’t feel I owed him anything at all.
Let him interview and tongue-check some other poor fool.
Gem distributor… oh well.
He turned out to be the man with the minus touch.