Friday, April 27, 2012

Leading With My Heart

For the most part, if I am not traveling for work, I am spending the night with E.

"You have another date?!?!?" Olivia asked as I came down the stairs with my tote on my shoulder.  "You never have dinner with us any more."

It was totally true.  Typically around six o'clock, I will wind down what I am doing (constructing Ikea tables, responding to work emails, furiously rifling through my unorganized piles on Leslie's dining room table in search of a receipt I don't have but desperately need in order to file my expense report).  I meet E at his place and from there we start our night.  Twice I have cooked dinner.  Otherwise we have headed out for a bite to eat.

"It's okay if you want a night off," E said earlier this week.

"Why would I want that?"

"To have time to yourself or to do something with Leslie."

It has been over a decade since I dated someone locally. And that guy turned out to be gay.  But I digress.  My point is that I would go days without seeing Ex and months without seeing Alaska.  Suddenly, here I was tangling myself up with a boy residing in a neighboring zip code.  It requires less than ten traffic lights to get to his place. Even more curious, I am enjoying his close proximity.

A few times a week, Leslie asks me if I am falling in love.  She asks when we're sprawled out in the upstairs hallway folding laundry and when we're in the kitchen searching for a late afternoon snack.  It's a fair question seeing how much time we spend together.

"No. But I know it could happen."

When we're lying in bed, both of us turned on our sides and facing one another, there is a warmth that coats my skin.  When I feel his chest pressed against mine, I can't help but exhale.  And the way he smiles at me knots my tummy in a good way.  This is all on top of him insisting, INSISTING, I take the best bite when sampling the food on his plate.

Last night, before going to sleep, the topic of exes came up. We swapped stories, turned on the computer and shared photographs.  He thought Ex was better looking than Alaska, though both tied for first place on the jerk front.  I marveled at how his former girlfriends all hailed from other continents, their faces young and smiles so innocent. After he set the computer on the bedside table, I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

At five o'clock in the morning, or so I assumed based on the darkness still filling the bedroom, I awoke in a panic.  I glanced over at E sleeping peacefully and then set my gaze on the ceiling.  My jaw clenched as I replayed conversations we have had.  My body tensed with fear that I could have said the wrong thing in the present or shared an unforgivable misstep from my past.  I rolled onto my side and ran my fingertips across E's shoulder, the gesture offering a brief moment of comfort. 

When he woke, he asked me what was wrong, why I was so tense.

"This," I said as I gently tapped my head, "is trying to control this." I moved my hand to my chest and rested an open palm atop my heart.

I don't recall what he said.  I have no recollection of the words he offered.  I just remember feeling relieved. There in his presence, I had every reason in the world to turn off my head and lead with my heart.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Some Things Never Change

I have always associated Richmond, VA with college senior week.  A few days after finishing finals, a group of Smith girls piled into two cars and headed south.  We stopped in Philadelphia for the night. With my parents out of town, their house was the perfect place to rest up before a long drive.  Early the next morning, we got back on the road and drove straight through to Hilton Head, stopping only to eat, pee, and refuel.

One of our earlier pitstops was Richmond.  Just after the large cigarette towers flanking I-95, we pulled off for a quick break. Everything about Richmond was gray: the people, the air, the sentiment. So it came as no surprise that the McDonalds we stopped at was filthy. The bathrooms smelled of urine.  The food was stale and cold. We were back in the car in record time.

There were a lot of fun times that trip.  When we finally pulled into the plantation where our rental was located, there was no one there to hand off the keys.  One night, as a few of us roamed the aisles of the nearby Blockbuster, we spotted Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid also searching for a movie.  During the daytime, we sprawled out on the sand until our flesh was bright pink.  At night, we squealed in harmony at the gigantic Palmetto bug one of us trapped under a large drinking glass.

On the last day, we unanimously agreed to enjoy what was left of our vacation, delaying our departure until three o'clock.  With salty skin and sandy feet, we piled back into our two cars and made our way north.  We stopped along the way, but this time there was little excitement about the adventures.  South of the Border never holds the same allure the second time around.

We drove straight through the night, crossing the Tappan Zee bridge as the sun inched above the horizon.

"I think I'm going to be sick," I said as I clutched the steering wheel, my eyes bleary and my stomach aching with pain.

A girl familiar with the area led us off the highway to a Dunkin Donuts where, upon exiting the bathroom, I handed over the keys for the first time the entire trip.  We finally pulled into the quad at Smith a little shy of seven o'clock in the morning.

As I write this post, I'm sitting at the Richmond International Raceway.  I'm here for work, hosting a booth at the Southern Women's Expo, hoping to interact with patients who could use my support.  Across from me is a booth for Stella & Dot.  To my left is a quirky foot-massaging detox vendor. If I get bored, I just might dip my toes into one of his tubs. After I buy a cute necklace, of course.

"I hear the firemen aren't going to strip at this show," the representative for Vitamist noted as she strolled past.  "They did last week in Nashville.  I grabbed one by the suspenders and told him he was coming with me."  Even her girly giggle had a rural southern twang.

When she walked away, I reached for my Egg McMuffin and orange juice.  As I neared the venue earlier, I pulled into a McDonalds for some morning sustenance.  The rest of the day I will be relying on  Kashi granola bars, grapes and gum.  I peeled back the wrapper of the breakfast sandwich and hunted for the best first bite. With my mouth wide, I went in for the kill.  The muffin wasn't toasted; the texture felt gummy.  Even the cheese was unusually plasticky.  Fifteen years later and nothing about Richmond has changed.  But at least the last time around I had some damn fine company.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

No Place Like Home

I used to think Ex was a gentleman because for the first few months we dated, he made a point to open my door.  During our long distance relationship, he also repeatedly drove to Philadelphia and even extended his stays so we could spend more time together.  This was all undone when he made a stink about helping me paint my condo, about vacationing someplace other than Vermont and Florida, about loving me as-is because he felt I'd be more attractive if I shed twenty-five pounds. 

I used to think Alaska could openly speak with me.  On our third date, after the caviar appetizer but before the vacheron dessert, he told me things about his father that unquestionably altered his family's trajectory.  It was the kind of confession that was raw and honest.  Then, a few months later, he rang me at 6am to tell me he didn't love me, then he forgot my birthday with ease and without apology, and then he lied to me about where he was going because the truth involved another woman. 

Then there was the boyfriend who lived in New York City and worked in the film industry.  The one time he met me at Penn Station, an act solely in response to my request, he arrived sweaty and gross. "This was a good idea. I decided to run down here so I could get in some exercise."  Under the sign identifying which train was arriving on what track, he beamed with pride at his ingenious idea of still making it all about him.  I was nothing more than a guest in his home.

"I got these for you," E said the other night as he presented a bunch of bright pink tulips.

"They're beautiful!" The fuchsia hued petals glowed bright against the crisp green stems.

"But that's not the surprise.  Wait, I'll be right back," he said before ducking into his bedroom and returning with a box.

I glanced at the gift and then back at E. His smile, so warm and bright, made me smile too. I released the tape holding the top together. There, neatly tucked within properly pressed tissue paper, was a lovely glass vase. Its shape was tall with a gentle widening at one side.  While I prepared dinner, he filled the vase with water, set the tulips inside, and placed it on the table.

Later that night, I turned to E and said, "Being with you feels like home."  He cocked his head a little the the side and admitted he didn't fully understand what I was saying.  I paused, then tried to explain it better. "Being with you is safe and warm, welcoming and comfortable." He now grasped what I was saying, even though I left out the fact that it's the kind of home one never really wants to leave.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Let's Hope This Goes Better Than It Did for Demi Moore

A few weeks before I moved south, I changed my residence status on eHarmony from Philly to Atlanta. It didn't make much sense to target a meat market I was departing. And to those of you itching to point out my past relationship with a man based in Alaska, I say, Suck it.

My inbox started to fill up with boys from Macon to Memphis. One by one, I worked my way through the potential suitors. Some were totally not my type. Others tickled my fancy.

"I just got matched with a twenty-five-year-old and he wants to communicate," I said to Leslie as we sprawled out on her bed, Olivia and Anders both on the floor with their eyes glued to the television.

"Let me see," she said as she tilted my laptop in her direction. "Oh, wow, he even looks twenty-five."

I have dated down. After college, I tangled myself up with an eighteen-year-old. He acted older than his actual age, the likely result of a rumored side-gig as a drug dealer. Don't ask. In recent years, I've dated up. Alaska had ten years on me. Ex was eight years older. Having realized in the last few months that the best results come from just letting things unfold, I set aside hesitation and agreed to open communication.

Truth be told, the more I got to know him, the more interested I became. So, when he suggested we meet this past Saturday at 5pm, I accepted. I blew my hair straight, applied mascara, and set off for the designated meeting spot.

He was there when I arrived, beating me by five minutes to ensure he was present when I showed. Most men I know won't even hold the door for me. Then he insisted I order my coffee first and proceeded to casually block my access to the register. I once had a date say he'd pay for my wine and then rescind the offer when he saw my one glass cost $18. Anyway, with our drinks in hand, we headed outside to find a table on the patio. We sat down and started talking. An hour and a half later, we were still at it.

"So, how did it go?" Leslie asked when I got home.

"Really well! I mean this guy has more ambition than most men my own age. Like, his five-year plan includes getting an MBA and completing the Kona IronMan. Seriously, I've watched that race while horizontal on my sofa as I stuffed bonbons in my face. That goal alone makes him a pimp."

"Yeah, no, that's impressive."

Sunday night he rang to say hello and see how the rest of my weekend had turned out. In the midst of the conversation, he made me laugh more than a few times. Suddenly I stopped defining him by his age and instead focused on the whole of him. In the midst of it, I was simply having a really nice time. So it should come as no surprise that I accepted his invitation to have a second date Wednesday night.