It is so hot here. Why do people put cities in the desert? Don’t they realize that the heat and spiky plants are the universe’s way of telling people to go home, don’t build a resort community here?
To make matters worse, I still feel pretty awkward. I mean, it’s been a nice day, but I feel like every conversation is a balancing act of sarcasm and saccharine. I am human sweet and sour pork. Or at the very least, conversational sweet and sour pork. What am I doing here.
He asks where I want to eat. I scan the approaching horizon for signs of decent food. Keep scanning, keep scanning. He offers up options, Mc Donald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s. Tired of all the games, I finally say it flat out, “no where that has a drive through, please”. So we settle on Sizzler. I vaguely remember going to a Sizzler when I was about 7 years old. We were on the way home from a wedding, and I was sick, and my mom and I spent about 35 minutes in the bathroom trying to get me to swallow an aspirin or a Tylenol or something. I think, how bad can it be? Plus, I feel like a princess and a whiner for turning down perfectly pleasant dinning establishments like Jack in The Box in favor of “real food”.
So we walk in, order of the giant menu posted on the wall and they both sneak off to the bathroom to wash our hands. Apparently you now pay before you sit at Sizzler, so when I come out of the bathroom first ( he is such a girl, always takes longer in the bathroom than me), the girl looks at me like I’m a little dim. Part of me, the sweaty tired, I could be having a beer or at least wearing shorts part of me, wants to snark at her that I haven’t had a job that requires a name tag since becoming old enough to buy beer, but the other part of my smiles apologetically and whips out my debit card to pay the thirty dollars for what I presume will be rubbery meat and greasy, fat soaked sides. Did you know Sizzler doesn’t have much of a vegetarian menu? I go to sit down as he comes out, confused. So I explain what just happened and he scoffs. Why did you do that? I was going to pay! You just wasted your money! He calls me stupid, which is what he does when he thinks he’s right and I’m wrong, and for some reason, something in me snaps, and I turn my head so he can’t tell that I’m suddenly holding back tears. In Sizzler. In the middle of the desert. Surrounded by early-bird special with a side of diabetes types. I tell him he needs to not call me stupid anymore, and he falls back, suddenly realizing I’m not enjoying the repartee anymore. I don’t mean it like that, he says. That’s just what I say. English is my third language, you know. I know. I tell him to forget it and go get a salad from the salad bar, which also contains nacho cheese, naturally.
As I sit down, he says, see? This is why we’ll never work in the long run.
I know. We’re just too different. I think we can be great friends, and we connect in other ways, but I don’t think we’re meant to be together.
I didn’t expect this all to happen so soon. I thought he was pulling away, but I really didn’t think we’d have this conversations this way, so I say my peace into my napkin, eyes down and feigning any strength I don’t have handy to be as adult in this as he is. It’s cool, I knew it would happen eventually. Then I look up.
His eyes are wide. I have never seen this look before. He looks…wounded.
I was joking. Are you serious? Oh my god, you’re serious.
Oh shit. What do you say to that? What do I say to that? There’s no way to back away quietly; this is like asking a fat chick when she’s due, you can’t back up and pull your foot out of your mouth, you have to just fall head first into the pile of shit you laid out for yourself.
So I say something about how much I care about him, but how I don’t see us ending up together. I have never seen him like this. I will probably never see him this vulnerable again. This thought haunts me.
Do you think I won’t be a good father?
No! Of course not! I know you will be a fabulous father.
How long have you felt like this?
All I keep thinking is, don’t say a couple of weeks, you asshole. Don’t say since we fought over fingernails and you told me we were done and then waited for my call. Fight the melodrama because I think you are doing something very bad here. Okay, I don’t actually think it. I feel it as I stare at my chicken breast soaking in its “lemon herb sauce”.
A couple of days.
I don’t know.
HOURS OF SILENCE PASS.
Maybe longer than a couple of days.
Yeah, I guess so.
Now my heart is breaking. He starts talking about how he was getting closer, he was about to open up. He wanted to come to thanksgiving, meet my family, have me meet his. He thought we were moving to the next level.
I have to move. I can’t do this across a sticky Formica table with the surf and turf special and my crappy chicken on it. I sit next to him. I want to hold him. I start to cry. I tell him I care about him, but I thought he was getting tired of me. I thought he was sick of me.
He doesn’t seem to believe that, he keeps asking for more reasons why. He also wants to know why I’m crying; I’m the one getting dumped, he says.
I’m not dumping you!
Whatever you want to call it.
But I still care about you, I still want to spend time with you…
This is so bad, it’s clearly going nowhere. I would not have believed it possible, but my chicken now looks even less appetizing. This is the second time in my entire life a man has made me lose my appetite. That is not a good sign. What if I am screwing everything up, and he is the one? How could I know, why couldn't I see that he was getting serious? How did I ignore the jokes about playing house and having a family this morning, and focus on the joke about paying for lunch? What the hell is wrong with me?
I swear, if the waitress comes by one more time to ask us how everything is, I am going to shove my barely-serrated steak knife down her perky little throat.
He tells her we’re fine, charming as always. Then he turns to me and tells me he doesn’t think he likes Sizzler anymore. I actually think the words, “well, at least we were eating somewhere shitty when this happened. At least I didn’t ruin his favorite sushi place”. I think this may make me even more of an asshole. I may be the world's biggest ass hole. Ever. I feel so shitty, and it’s all my own doing. I want to hug him and hold him and cry and have him hit me to get some of his frustrations out, but I know that only one of those things is likely to happen. Me crying. Later. Alone in my car as I spend the one hour drive thinking about what I’ve done.
We talk more on the way back to Palm Springs. He tries to keep it light, after a while, talking about architecture and pointing things out to me. Already, he’s regaining his calm, his composure. He’s building himself back up, filling in any holes I may have made faster than I can count the holes I’m suddenly find erupting in me. How did this even happen? This can’t be real. I try to make sense of it, talking to him, but different words seem to convey the same things over and over and he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.
I get it. There are still holes he’ll need to fill in before he can look at me again. He has to rebuild the façade, pull back from the surface, and begin treating me like everyone else. I realize then how much I am going to miss seeing him, his soft, underneath parts. I can’t believe how much I took for granted.
I notice he is quickly shifting the radio from station to station. Why are all songs invariably about love? It’s like an ongoing joke the happy play on the miserable. Passive aggressive bastards.
I want to make him stay with me in the house. I want to talk, to make it go away. I want him to never cover up the person I saw staring at me, wide eyed and crushed, and I want to kiss it and make it better and hold him until we fall asleep together, tear soaked, red eyed, and puffy. I want to take it all back, make it better, start over, start from here.
I also want to kick him and myself for not understanding each other. I thought he was growing disdainful, and he was falling in love. What the fuck is up with that.
This is the stuff of black comedies. If my life were a movie, Julia Roberts would not even cameo as the friend. I would be played by the chick from “In Her Shoes”, or Shannyn Sossamon. He would be played by Colin Farrel, and eventually fall in love with a blonde pair of legs with perfect hair, nails, and skin. She would be smart, but not too smart, and would always laugh at his jokes and know confidently that they were a good match. When he looked in the mirror with her and said, “we make a good looking couple”, she would smile knowingly, and then kiss him softly on the check in a way that enticed him to kiss her back. Cut to love making scene. Actually, the movie would be about him, and I would be played by Molly Shannon in a hilarious build-up to the real love story. This isn’t even my story.
God, could I feel any more sorry for myself? Pity is so easy to wear, but it’s really incredibly unflattering. Pity is the sweat pants I’ve had since high school, covered with hair dye and paint and full of holes. Not meant for the public.
He doesn’t let me stay, he says he has to leave, go back to work, and he doesn’t want to talk anymore. He says he doesn’t know what else he might say.
I feel that strange, dirty mix of fear and excitement and the idea of him showing anger towards me. But mostly I’m just sad. We hug. Hard. Long. Sweet. It’s a goodbye hug, there is no other way to interpret it. I have had many goodbye hugs in my life, I know them. I am a pro at good-bye hugs. I try to make it memorable.
I now realize I can’t imagine not going to sleep at his house in two or three nights. How will I sleep?
We get into separate cars. I don’t know whether to wave or not. How do you wave at a moment like this? But I don’t want to leave. I want to roll down the window and say something smart, sassy, perfect, that will erase everything else I’ve said today. Erase all the moodiness I’ve carried over the last two weeks. Because nothing cures broken hearts and dreams like a knock knock joke told at a stop sign in the desert between two cars.
It is truly a miracle anyone sleeps with me ever, let alone considers being in a relationship with me.
As soon as I pull on to the freeway, the loud, ugly, howling cry comes out. I’d like to say it slipped out, because I wasn’t expecting it, but things that big and loud don’t slip. It comes tumbling out of my mouth like a Saint Bernard running down stairs.
What have I done?