Back before the introduction of affordable home alarm systems, before motion detectors, blaring horns and lawn signs warning thieves to take their crowbars elsewhere, there were nails. It was a trick my dad had learned from his father. Shortly after moving into our house, he worked his way through the first floor, drilling holes into the left and right corners of the windows where the top overlapped with the bottom. Then he went back through and tapped thin stems of steel into place, protecting us from unwanted intruders.
The few times we needed to open a downstairs window, like when the exterior trim was getting a touch up or the broiler smoked the kitchen, my dad would ask me to retrieve one of two magnets from the cupboard in the breakfast room. Both were brassy metal discs that resembled hockey pucks, their strength easily releasing the nails from their cocoons. Sometimes I’d pull the magnets out just for the sake of playing with them. As my mom seared meat and boiled potatoes, I placed one down on the weathered oak table and then hovered the other above. My intention was to either suction them together or push them apart. I learned a simple two part lesson from this idle entertainment: opposites attract and like charges repel. With age I came to apply this conclusion to more than magnets.
“That dinner was awesome, Paigie,” Ex swooned as he leaned against the sofa back and rested his open palm on his stomach.
“Thanks. How about since I slaved in the kitchen you do the dishes?” I suggested as I dropped down next to him, pulling his arm around my back and curling against his chest.
“I don’t like doing the dishes,” he explained with a crinkled nose while combing his fingers through my hair.
“Then next time you make dinner and I’ll do the dishes,” I bartered.
“You know I don’t like to cook. Plus, I thought you liked taking care of me.”
And there it was – my magnet theory in action.
Yes, I’m a giver. My mother blames it on my dad. That tending to a sick father is the reason I so readily step up as the caretaker in my relationships with men. She also blames his health for my unmarried status so I’m not sure how accurate her belief is what with all this damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Anyway, I’ve preferred to bypass analyzing why I act the way I do and instead simply embrace it. I’d rather be accused of giving too much than taking too much any day of the week.
“You know, eventually we’re going to have to have a date somewhere other than Princeton,” Trader noted on our second outting.
“I know,” I admitted, my neck tensing as the conversation continued.
“I would have been happy to drive to Philadelphia for this one.”
“Yeah, well, that would have left me feeling guilty. I’m not so good at letting others do for me,” I readily confessed.
“I struggle with the same thing. Which is why I was so uncomfortable that our first date was in New York. You made all of the effort.”
“That’s not true,” I argued.
“It took me twenty minutes to get home and it took you two hours.”
“Sure but I was already in the city to a see a friend. No offense but you were scheduled around other plans.”
“Huh,” I muttered as we stood at the corner of Naussa and Witherspoon, waiting for the light to change.
Four hours later and we were finally winding down our date. One museum tour and various culinary samplings later, we were draining the last sips of Cabernet. With a slight buzz leaving me with a fuzzy and uncensored tongue, I leaned forward and shared my magnet hypothesis. I rested my left hand on his right knee and edged closer to shorten the gap between us. I reached up to my face and tucked my bangs behind my ear. Then I presented my theory that two givers can’t end up together because like charges repel.
“I’m on to something with this, right? Just look at how the two of us jocky to be the giver,” I said as I leaned back against the barstool, convinced my presentation was perfect.
“Actually,” he started before lifting the goblet to his mouth, tilting his head back and letting the last bit of wine slide down his throat. “I really find it refreshing. Sure, it’s definitely different but I’m enjoying it a lot.”
I had nothing, absolutely nothing. When he refused my offer to dutch the bill, I admittedly felt awkward, slinking into a shyness to hide my concern that he hadn’t gotten all he had paid for. When he walked me back to my car, lingering in the garage to make sure my car started without a hitch, I tensed at the sentiment that he went three blocks out of his way for no good reason. All of his simple doting, the kind that I envy in other couples and truly want for myself, was in reality troubling. It felt like an itch I couldn’t scratch. One that I tried to ignore but instead fixated on to the point it became unbearably magnified.
I’ve played that date over in my head a few times and I always interrupt it with silent images of me pushing the magnets across the breakfast room table. There is either a popping sound as the metal collides or a dull scratch as the one on the wood edges away. So I know my theory of opposites attracting works with magnets. I just wonder if I’ve embraced it so deeply that I’ve made it come true, regardless of it being scientifically accurate.