They had met the usual way.
M was at this party hosted by D’s ex-roomie, and since they were about the only two guests non-Irish-white-catholic-blue-eyed, they naturally gravitated to each other. D was funny and had lived life. M needed a life. They discovered they lived two streets apart, so he followed her home that night—for purposes of safety.
Pretty soon he became her hip attachment. Eating, shopping, gyming together became sort of…a habit. It wasn’t by device, it just happened. He kept turning up, and she wasn’t the type to say no. She was used to collecting strays, and he liked being someone’s in case of emergency person.
Once after way too many jellybeans and popcorn on movie night, M developed a tummy ache like nobody’s business. D rubbed his stomach all night, and he whimpered in her cuddle like a newborn puppy. Subsequently, he started finding excuses not to go home at night. He didn’t really have any specific designs, but it was just nice to have someone to spoon on winter nights. Retro-Radical!
That changed. Not immediately, rather imperceptibly. The shift was comfortable, sweet, nothing intense, nothing heartbreaking, just steady. D was unsure how she felt about him, but she loved the routine they had. M found her hard to fathom, but her mysteries became the focal point of his day-to-day. Neither of them talked about the transition, but they doted on each other, and it seemed to be enough.
One evening D asked M to take her dancing, to that eighties club down by Canal Street. There is only so much you can bop to Wake Me Up, Before You Go Go without getting hungry.
They popped in next door to share a dessert. D, uncharacteristically, barely scraped in nibbles of the tiramisu.
“What’s wrong, Lady Bug?”
“What makes you think anything is wrong?”
“Well for one you answered my question with another question.”
“No, nothing, really.”
He leaned forward to push a strand of hair out of her eyes, she startled at the gesture, flinching in misunderstanding. You’d think he was about to hit her or something. M wanted to ask her again what was up, but something forbade him.
That night she begged a headache and sent him home. Had to be a lie, she loved his head-massages. But he didn’t push her. He tossed and turned all night, wanting to call, but doomful trepidation wouldn’t let him hit 2 on the speed-dial.
He missed her in unmanly ways. That emasculating thought got him a grip. It was just ONE Saturday, there will be others! He popped a leftover hydro-codeine from his last dental appointment, and went to sleep.
The phone rang in the vicinity of 4 am.
“Gremlin, you up?”
“No. Sweet Jesus! I miss your hair.”
“My hair or Hesoos’? Gremy, did you pop a pill?
“Hours ago…no residuals currently. I promise occifer!”
“Gremy, listen I need to come over.”
“Please! Please! Please!”
“Will you be lucid?”
“Enough to ask, come there me instead want you?”
“No, Yoda, let me do the heavy-lifting for a change.”
“Buggie, come soon.”
He phased between slumber and consciousness, fitfully anticipating her arrival. She needs to just move in with him. What on earth was the point of paying two rents when they spent all their time together. Plus its not like she could ever sleep without him, tonight was just a case in point.
The doorbell rang. He st/fumbled his way to the door.
“Why didn’t you use your key?”
“I needed you out of bed Gremy.”
“Why? The bed is so much warmer…”
“I…listen, can we just sit down?”
“… What’s up? You ok Lady Bug?…”
“I…I just need your teddy bear hugs.”
He obliged, but the act was laced with the sudden sobriety of drunk-driver’s first hit and run. The panic got worse when he felt the shuddered heaves of her weeping. His shirtfront seeped her tears onto his chest, just inches of human-tissue away from his currently arrhythmic ticker. He tried to run a gamut of dates in his head. Did he forget her birthday? Was it her father’s death anniversary? He was at loss. The only thing to do was stroke her hair, wait for her to speak.
Suddenly, he didn’t want to know.
And then there it was. The bombshell his sixth sense had been foreshadowing all evening like the campy theme music of a slasher B movie.
She’d met someone. He was the perfect candidate on paper. Age-appropriate, right-religioned, dialect-compatible, geographically-akin, career-symbiosised, and lifepathvision-aligned. She needed to give it a try. She owed it to herself, and her family, to do the right thing for a change.
“The right thing…?”
“Gremy, this is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, it’s breaking my heart.”
“It’s breaking your heart…?”
“You are the most important part of my life!”
“You are my life…”
“Gremy, please don’t make it harder then it has to be…”
“I am not doing anything.”
He tried to pull away at that point, but she wont let him. She gnawed at his arms with her nails as if drawing blood might take the attention off the real issue. He couldn’t break down right now, not in front of her, not like this. He stayed rigid in her thorny embrace, easing only when she fell asleep. Still in his arms, still half-sobbing. He didn’t have the heart to push her aside. She, childlike, impervious of the clumsy havoc she had just wreaked.
D was still wearing the pearl earrings he’d gotten her for her last birthday. She had laughed and clapped her hands in ecstasy when she had seen them. Such happiness, M never thought he could make anyone smile like that. He thought he saw love in her eyes that day. Maybe it was just joy at the realization she had trained him perfectly in tune to her tastes.
Such bitter thoughts.
None of it made any sense.
What the hell was age-appropriate? Religion? The only ism she followed was hedon! In fact she had laughed at the cave-man tendencies of the men in her particular monotheistic cult. And life path? Seriously! How much more configuration did she need then the monkey-see-monkey-do routine he was always willing to commit to, just to keep safe the warm cocoon of their life together.
And when the hell did she find time with this person, she was ALWAYS with him.
Sleep eventually unhooked her nails from his flesh, but he stayed tethered to her.
Even Job was probably less fond of reintroducing flesh-eating larvae into his wounds, just because God intended it so.
In the morning she stubbornly persisted in their rituals as if it was just another Sunday. He didn’t say much while she made her world-famous omelets, and urged him to put the coffee on. When he brushed past her in the kitchen, she reached out and caressed his cheek. He cringed at the contact. She grabbed him and held on like a man-overboard to a float.
Possibly nothing had changed?
He kissed her, he couldn’t help it. This was his girl, she’d always be his girl. She didn’t back down when his lips gathered more urgency, letting him slip a hand inside her shirt, jumping up, wrapping her legs around him, her unspoken signal of consent.
He took her into the bedroom.
They spent hours there.
He fell asleep, his face smothered in her breasts, thinking maybe he had just conjured up last night. A bad case of indigestion induced nightmares. His sub-conscience feigned much needed bliss.
He woke up to her cell phone ringing, and subdued mumblings.
“Yes, hey, yes, I know. I’ll call you in 20 OK? OK. N-no, not today. Look let me call you. This isn’t the best time. No it wasn’t easy. No, OK, let me just call you, OK? OK. Bye.” Pause. “No I haven’t changed my mind…Ditto.”
He saw her through hooded eyes, slink out of bed, and come to his side, and caress his cheek.
“Gremy, I have to get home.”
“Stay the night.”
“No I really…I really do have to go.”
“I love you, D?”
“Gremy…I…its…I don’t know what to say.”
You know what to say D. He just looked at her, all the longing of the past year straining in his eyes.
“I love you, Lady Bug.”
“I have to go baby. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, OK?”
He let her go, he had no choice. It could still be just another Sunday…it could…it could…
The next two months were odd periods of adjustments.
He’d wait for her outside of work, only to realize she wasn’t coming down. When he called she wouldn’t always answer the phone. There was suddenly no one to spot him at the gym. When he did see her, and it was often enough, she acted like she always did. Caressing his cheeks, knowing his exact order at their sushi place, buying that extra loaf of bread for him, if she went to the grocery store.
But she disappeared on the weekends.
And those times were awful. He felt an intense pain in his innards at not knowing where she was, what she was doing, who she was touching…
His friends jokingly nicknamed him Moliver after the famous Twist, because he moped about like he’d lost his anchor.
His sister suggested he cut D out completely, but unless he moved from the neighborhood, that was going to be next to impossible. And truth be told he didn’t want to escape her. Who the hell tells a junkie to go cold turkey and expect it to work anyway!
Then one day she called him, it was a Friday, about 1 am. He was out with some friends at a club, trying half-heartedly to get his game on. She was bawling hysterically. So many hiccups, he couldn’t make out a word of what she said.
“D, where are you? Where? No just stay there, I will be there in twenty minutes. Please don’t cry. OK no, I’ll stay on the phone. Just please, don’t cry.”
He stayed on the phone throughout the cab ride to the lounge she had been abandoned at, and then held her tight while she cried in his arms the whole 30 minutes ride to his place.
The story unfurled in sniveling spasms. They were finishing up dinner at a little Thai dive near St. Mark’s Place, when they ran into D’s sister. When the seldom-thinking-ever-welcoming D invited her along for the rest of the evening, “The Other Man” became convinced it was no accident. He wasn’t ready to meet family, but D fervently assured M, she hadn’t intended it that way. “The Other Man” spurned her the entire evening, until a disconcerted D sent her sister home to try to placate him. Without an audience or ally from her family, he took anger to unprecedented heights. People on the street witnessed the scene, the abuse, the humiliations. Someone offered to call the cops. She was just so embarrassed. She kept saying she felt like a weevil, a crushed weevil.
What the hell is a weevil?
He carried her up the two flights of stairs, snuggled her up in his blankets and attempted to get some water. She wouldn’t let him go, wailing at the idea of being without him for even a second. Apparently her life depended on nestling in his armpits…through the night.
“Gremy, why does this always happen to me? Why do I always get burnt?”
“D, did I ever hurt you like this?”
She caressed his cheek: “You are my angel.”
They fell asleep in each other’s arms.
He tripped on figments of angel food cake.
Delightful Ignorance, YUM!
It was still dark when her kisses arouse him, fingers sneaking to places he’d ached for them to be in the last two months.
“You sure, D?”
She responded by guiding his hands to liberties he desperately wanted to take. No one could say no to that, least of all a lovesick weevil. Its OK he rationalized, she had to try out “the right on paper” candidate. She had to do it for her uber-fundo-conservative family’s sake. She was with him now. All was harmonious in the universe. And in the morning…in the morning he’ll tell her what he’d been thinking about all along. In the morning he’d tell her about the ring he’d picked out. The inscription he’d thought of etching on it. In the morning…
In the morning, she was gone. A post-it note left on his pillow, in her signature unpretentious scrawl:
What was wrong with her head, that it needed sorting out? What the hell just happened? Didn’t she just make love to him? Didn’t she initiate? Didn’t she say she was sure? What the hell does she mean by her own way? Where the hell did she go!
He picked up his phone to call, but decided against it, he’ll go see her. He ran out, one shoe on, one slipped on and laced up while running down the stairs. He almost lost his glasses in the process.
At her apartment, still flustered, he automatically reached for his key, and turned the lock.
…He should have rung the bell…
There she was, lying in all her majesty on his favorite piece of furniture, the burgundy chaise lounge, with “The Other Man”—lets just call him TOM for posterity’s sake—on his knees, begging some sort of half-assed forgiveness, and her teasing him with unacceptance. Her smile had a coquette he missed from his nights.
Seeing M she scampered to her feet, visibly tizzy.
TOM turned around, and M had to admit, he was a bit of an Adonis. I guess that’s what D meant by “age-appropriate”.
“I am sorry, I didn’t know you had company.”
She bungled introductions. TOM steeled M with a piercing gaze, his handshake nothing short of a warning, the hissed hello a challenge to duel. M realized TOM knew exactly who he was, but before M could stake his claim, he saw the look on D’s face. Her silent beseech was enough to make him forego any thought of self, ego, id, and adopt the burden of superman. He didn’t have it in him to be superman, but what else could he do?
He exchanged pleasantries, made excuses, and then tried to be on to his way, when TOM called out, “Perhaps you should leave D’s keys, to avoid further embarrassment.”
M wanted to punch him, but poor little D hated drama, and didn’t deserve to be in the middle of a pissing contest. Did she…? No! No, she didn’t. He wished D would say something, but her face was a pale cloud, devoid of all but fear and trembling. M took her hand, and before TOM could protest, he put the key in it, folded her fingers on top, kissed the back of it and left.
He heard it, but he also heard TOM murmur a “Let it go, its better this way.”
He didn’t hear her come after him.
He didn’t hear from her at all for months.
Once he got a text: “Sometimes Gremy, sometimes…”
He knew he shouldn’t respond, but: “Always Buggie, always…”
She let him stew in silence after that, unfairly devoid of response.
One Thursday evening, M saw them walking hand in hand at what had been their favorite pier. He couldn’t believe she’d bring him to their spots, but what are you going to do, it’s a bloody free country. He saw her dangle a bracelet, looked like some thing Tiffany’s would sell, and kiss the heart hanging from it. He ran before he could witness any more endearments.
This was torture.
He started looking for a new apartment in a different neighborhood. The hunting in the evenings kept his mind off of things. The weevil had a mission, and nothing beats the road to recovery for the lovesick, then finding a purpose.
The next time he saw her was at another party his friends Chivas and Regal (yes really) had thrown. Apparently no one had sent them the memo that M&D were no longer an item.
He assumed she wouldn’t be there.
But she was.
Of course she was.
It would never occur to her not to be.
TOM wasn’t there.
Bailed on her apparently.
“He didn’t think it suitable to be present at a party thrown by your friends Gremy. He said it was too Melrose Place. Can you get more provincial!”
How could M tell D that he actually thought TOM was right, without TOM becoming more of a man in his eyes than M was willing to give him credit for. So he agreed with D instead.
“He wont meet any of my friends Gremy, and he won’t introduce me to his. Well the bastard really doesn’t have any. Except that one girl, but he wont introduce me to her, or his family.”
“What’s the rush, D?”
“Its not about the rush, its just, why the hell do we have to be such a hidden thing… Does he think I am not good enough?”
“D, you are better than good enough. You are smart, you are a fighter, you are beautiful. You are…”
“Its just not the same with him, not like it was with you. You and I integrated. With him, I am a date on the weekends, when he isn’t traveling for work…I get so lonely…”
She bambi-eyed him with that last statement.
Against his better judgment: “I am always there for you D, you know that.”
She caressed his cheek and laid her head on his shoulder. By the end of the evening she was in his lap, repeatedly informing him his heart sounded like a ticking bomb.
The hell she knew!
It was time to leave, but it was too late in the night to let her brave the subway on her own. He insisted on dropping her home. She insisted he come upstairs.
“Its your reward,” she tinkled.
He hated her in that moment. She was fully cognizant of the power she had over him, and that his desire for her made him un-able/willing to resist her seductions. Expectedly, he followed her upstairs, strung along by innuendo and false promises, hating himself every step of the way.
She toyed with him.
But wouldn’t let him touch her.
“Because you let me.”
By the wee hours, he lay exhausted in a pile at her feet. Unable to take any more of her, unwilling to leave without more of her. She clustered him in her arms and let him sleep there. No more. He was grateful for the miniscule mercy.
In the morning there was another note.
He felt like Samson after a visit to the barber.
What the hell is wrong with you! You are doing goddamned well for someone your age. You have a fantastic job, you are working on your start-up, you have two degrees, enough money to buy the latest generation of every gadget, not a bad looker, almost in shape. That Venezuelan girl last night was totally hitting on you! And here you are at the foot of your ex-girlfriend’s bed, where she is going to sleep with another man tonight, while you twiddle your thumbs in the hopes she gives you enough mental gymnastics to last another month of wet dreams.
SNAP OUT OF IT!
He slapped himself on the cheeks. HARD. Twice.
Then he left her place, anti-instructions, leaving the door unlocked.
“Goddamnit, I hope someone robs her!”
His next weeks were a mixed bag of intense anger, jealousy, hatred, morbidity, and the headlining act: RAGE. Rage at the realization that his place in D’s world was that of a lab-rat in a maze that she tormented occasionally to skew results in her own favor.
His brother came up one weekend and left extremely worried. This was not the happy-go-lucky, not-even-hurt-a-fly, Gandhiesque-in-his-pacifism, sibling they all adored. This was Whitney&Bobby-on-crack-withdrawal. He told their mother M needed her, and she should consider spending a couple of months with him. A family conference call was arranged, and despite M’s protestations, plans were made for Mom to fly out.
The day his mother was supposed to land, D’s best friend called.
“M you need to get to the hospital ASAP!”
“M, she was pregnant. He beat her black and blue. It’s a miracle she survived!”
He didn’t wait to hear the rest. He ran to the hospital. Who’s child was it? He kept wondering. Could easily have been his. Whose was it? Obviously she didn’t think it was. But it could…should have been…
When he saw her bloodied face, her bruised arms, her stoic resistance to tears, the angst around his heart shattered into a million pieces. D needed him, that’s all that mattered. He made arrangements for his mother to be picked up, and then he was D’s, never once leaving her side.
He held her through the stitches, through the bone-setting, through the grimacing.
He held her while the doctors explained they might have to do a D&C to make sure none of the remains of the fetus stayed to rot her insides.
He held her through the police report in which she obdurately refused to press charges.
He even held her through the three painful times she tried to contact TOM, and each time it went to voicemail—and her heartbreak the one time he did pick up, because she called from M ’s phone instead.
He chocked it up to the whole anger-denial, etc process. D had to go through the steps to be rid of demons.
He came everyday. Fed her, washed her hair, told her shaggy dog stories.
The afternoon she was to be discharged, he took her in his arms, his lips quivered.
“D, I was supposed to be your protector…I let you down.”
“Gremy, you are my angel.”
“No, just listen to me. I wont ever forgive myself if I let this happen again. Look, I know I didn’t say it soon enough, but I loved you the minute I laid eyes on you. Just be mine, D. Marry me. Enough of this nonsense.”
She looked at him with battle-weary eyes.
“Look, you don’t have to answer right now. Lets just go home. Mom is waiting for us. We can talk about this later.”
“D, I was a mess when you were gone. Mom came to stay. I’ve talked to her and the rest of the family about us. They know how much you mean to me. They are OK with whatever demands you may have. Religion, geography, career, life path, whatever. They just want to see me happy.”
“Shhh…just relax right now, you’ve been through hell.”
She stayed at his place the next few days, till she was ready to be on her own. His mother tended to her like kin. After all D made her son so very happy, and she loved whomever her son loved.
The night D moved back home, M forewarned his mother, he may stay there in case D wasn’t well. When they got to D’s place, she asked him to come up for a bit.
M grinned, “Of course, my Lady Bug.”
She sat him down on the couch, and went into her bedroom telling him she would be right back. She took some time returning. Then sidled up to him with a tattered smile, and held his hand.
He noticed she was now wearing that heart-dangling-Tiffany’s bracelet…wait didn’t TOM…
Then she handed him back the pearl earrings he’d given her.
All she said was:
“I have no demands Gremy.”