Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Same Time Next Year - Part 1

Well, it's probably time to talk about the Writer (who will no doubt get a kick out of it as he has been known to lurk here on occasion). Warning. This is a long 'un.

I met the Writer oh, almost four years ago now. My book club had read his first novel, which was beautiful. When I heard he'd be in town, doing a reading from said novel, I had to go. I dragged along two of the girls from the club. The reading wasn't terribly well-attended, but the Writer was fascinating. During the Q & A he was well-spoken, witty, and self-deprecating. Charming.

After the reading, I took my copy of his book up to him to sign. I had mentioned, during the Q & A, that I was originally from the town where he lived, and he casually said that if I was ever back in town, we should go for coffee. I wrote down my email for him, which he appeared to recognize (to this day, I don't know if that was a line or not). I stammered something about my email being the same as my blog address, but that he couldn't possibly have read my blog. He gave me his email. I floated out of the reading totally smitten.

The next day at work, I sat at my computer, trying to think up ways that I could contact the Writer that would be appropriate. I wanted to talk to him about writing. I wanted to talk to him about him. I wanted to talk to him about me. In the end I concluded, any way I framed it, that getting in touch would be inappropriate. The Writer, you see, was married. I knew this. He mentioned it in the reading. His book was beautifully dedicated to his wife. I sighed, looked at the card on which he'd scrawled his email, and put it in a drawer.

A few hours later, I burst out of my office with a stupid grin on my face, and raced into my BFF Ginger's office.

"He emailed," I shrieked! "The Writer emailed!" I walked around delirious for the rest of the day.

And so it began. A casual email correspondence turned into a not-so-casual email correspondence. Email correspondence turned into all-day MSN sessions. MSN sessions turned into phone calls. And soon, I found myself proclaiming to the Girlfriend Jury that I was hopelessly, hopelessly in love. Which I was. I was obsessed. I could do nothing but think of the Writer, every moment of every day.

At the same time, I was plagued with insecurities and doubts. The Writer did not fit my picture of a Raincoast Hero. 10 years older than me, married, a father? No. How could I explain this to my parents? How could I live with myself if the Writer actually left his wife for me (which he sometimes hinted at doing)? Also, why did the Writer seem to like me so damn much? The more insecure and petty I showed myself to be, the more he seemed to like me. I couldn't understand it, not liking myself very much at that time.

It all culminated on the day that I left my apartment on the Rain Coast forever, soon to relocate across the Atlantic to the Rain City. I was deeply saddened by the sight of my empty apartment in the June sunshine, and somehow, the Writer was there to hold me in his arms, as I shook a little when I closed the door for the last time. And then we were speeding in a cab across town to Ginger's apartment, where I was house-sitting, and we were kissing, and then we were making love, and it felt strange and alien and also exactly right, so right that it completely and utterly terrified and mystified me.

And I ran for the hills. Well, for Europe. And the Rain City. Away from the Writer, and from his texts, and his emails. I amputated us, excised his particular corner of my heart, and left it behind.

But it wasn't a clean incision, you see, and so there was always something growing there, quietly, stealthily. I couldn't stay out of touch. And gradually, we struck up a carefully casual correspondence again. I was relieved, but also immeasurably saddened, when the Writer appeared to move on - first with another woman, then reconciling with his wife. That's that, then, I thought. He's figured out I'm not really so special. Now I don't have to suffer the pain of watching him find that out in front of me.

When I moved back to the Rain Coast, the Writer became a sort of confidante at a distance, someone I could speak to in my lowest moments. I could show him the face I couldn't show anyone else - the one that wasn't strong, determined and confident. His marriage dissolved - I was relieved to be only a witness to that, rather than a cause.

A few times the Writer asked if I wanted to meet - "for a drink - just a drink" - he always said. But I always refused. I couldn't bear to disappoint him, or myself, by finding out that our magic was gone. I was so sure that it was, you see. A few times, when home for the holidays, I walked into his place of work, just to see him. Every year but one, the first year I came back, I missed him. But that first year, I saw him. And I froze. And I couldn't go to him. I was rooted with fear to the spot. I wheeled and raced out of there as fast as my high heels could carry me.

Fast forward to this past December. I'm a much happier, wiser, gal, and the Writer is a much more contented, less angsty guy - separated, and happily involved with someone else. We still talk - well, I talk, he listens - and I think of him daily. He is still the dear void into which I pour my deepest, darkest thoughts and insecurities. And yet - there is always this tension between us, this forced separation, for - what, really? Safety? Yes, safety. At least on my part. If I stay away, I can't fall again (more). I can't be rejected. I can't be hurt.

So I really don't know what possessed me this year to make my annual pilgrimage to his workplace to see him. Enough time has passed, I thought. He loves someone else - he told me so. Indeed he had. Had told me that he wouldn't trade the calm waves of love he felt for this woman for anything, certainly not our I-will-die-if-I-can't-touch-you kind of love. I resolved this time to say hello, to be friends, to go for the drink.

I missed him. Again. And so I texted him. We made plans to meet, on Christmas Eve, for a drink. And we did.

The immediate feeling on seeing the Writer again? Relief. Comfort. I felt like I could breathe again. We sat in front of the fire, we drank, we talked. I curled up with my head in his lap, content to just be near him, to hear him talk. I was safe, I figured, knowing how much he mentioned his new girlfriend to me. We were friends.

And then we got on the subject of us, and as we rehashed old feelings and long-ago conversations, I suppose the old feelings started to return. We joked we were the "Same Time Next Year" couple, who meet once a year for a secret rendezvous for, well, their whole lives. We both knew we were tiptoeing into dangerous territory - for me, the danger of being vulnerable. For the Writer, the danger of jeopardizing what he has now. I don't know how we resolved this (we were well into the gin, and the vodka at this point), but the Writer resolved to "have a cigarette, kiss me, and go home." I agreed. And before we even left the house we were kissing in my kitchen, and for me, it was a tidal wave. We shared a cigarette, kissed under the porch light. And as much as I told him he should go home, that there was no rush, that this, whatever this was, would keep, I wanted him to stay. I wanted to actually spend the night with the Writer, for once, just once. I wanted to wake up to him. The minute he left, I wanted him to come back, and texted him immediately to come back. I even put on my robe and slippers and resolved to chase him down the street. I really did. He agreed to come back, and I left the front door unlocked, went to bed, and waited.

He never arrived. I awoke groggily early in the morning to realize he wasn't there.

The next day, he texted me, apologetic. He had been tired and drunk and sick, which I understood. What was I doing tonight, he asked. I said he should come back, tonight. In fact, I commanded it.

"I'm hoping to," he said. I immediately knew he wasn't going to come. He didn't say "I will." He didn't say "Wild horses couldn't stop me." When a man is saying maybe 12 hours before the fact - well, it means no. All day, as I stood in the kitchen preparing Christmas dinner, I felt sick with hope, hope that he would actually come back. But sure enough, later that evening, he texted me his excuses. And his apologies. He said he was sorry. And I believe he was. Sorry not just for not making it, but sorry for choosing not to. Sorry that the timing was wrong, again. And I understood. We had a friendly goodbye the next day before I left town, and he went to spend time with his girlfriend. But I was devastated.

Devastated because of one tiny, simple thing the Writer had said to me, that Christmas Eve. "RCC," he said. "You never understood. I didn't love you in spite of your flaws. I loved you because of them."

The Working Relationship.

A few months ago I met Jack online. We went on one of the zillion coffee dates I've been on in past months. To my surprise, we had a delightful time. There was an awkward moment when I walked into the coffee shop Jack had chosen and smack into an ex, the subject of this post, who I haven't seen in years - since he unceremoniously dumped me after I dared to bring up the subject of commitment. Jack instantly won points when I whispered to him that the man sitting behind us, who I had greeted so awkwardly, was my ex, and he promptly took off his watch, tossed it on the floor, and casually bent down to pick it up, stealing a glance at the ex as he did so.

Jack was charming and fun and we seemed to have great conversational chemistry - much more so than I'd had with anyone in a long time. I left the coffee shop with butterflies in my stomach, the long-forgotten pangs of a developing crush. Almost immediately, we made plans to see each other again. This time, we went for sushi, and Jack was again charming, and take-charge, ordering various plates he thought I'd like, keeping up the stream of interesting and intelligent conversation the whole way.

After that, Jack had to go out of town for a few weeks. We stayed in sporadic text contact while he was gone, and the day he landed back in the city, he texted me to make plans. Date 3, I thought excitedly! This is it! Jack hadn't kissed me yet, nor had I kissed him - although we had both come close. I invited Jack to my house. I said I'd cook dinner.

The evening in question arrived. The house was immaculate. I was immaculate, for that matter. Casual but cute in my favourite cherry-print dress. Asian-inspired menu because I knew Jack had a preference for Asian food. Carefully selected playlist on the iPod. Clean sheets on the bed.

Jack arrived promptly, and looked a little ill at ease, so I told him I needed help in the kitchen, to give him something to do other than sit there and look awkward. He very obligingly took off his watch, rolled up his sleeves, and went to work. Our witty banter was there, as usual, but Jack seemed...distant. Uncomfortable. The food was good, we ate sitting on the couch, talking. We each told a few funny relationship stories, we talked about his recent trip. Nothing unusual. Jack also did a few magic tricks that were quite amazing, actually. We talked at length about his new business, and he casually mentioned that he might want to hire me (in my capacity as a freelancer) to assist him. I looked a little confused, and said something vague, like, "Yeah, sure, that would be cool."

And then, the clock struck 10 p.m. Jack started gazing anxiously at the clock on the wall as I was talking. I finally interrupted him. "Are you watching the clock?"

"Yeah," he said. "I should go. I should get to bed."

I was a little surprised.

"Uh, OK," I stammered. He got up quickly, and headed for the door, and was out the door without so much as a peck on the cheek.

The next day, a thank you email. A cute word about Rain City Kitty, and then again - the mention about hiring me as a freelancer.

A few days passed, and then Jack really started to talk to me in earnest about work stuff. So much so, in fact, that I decided he really wasn't interested in me at all, other than in my professional capacity. So I started to restrict our communication to work topics. I did some work for him, and he sent me an email asking if I wanted to meet up to talk about it, over dim sum. I said sure, as I would to any other client.

On the day, I arrived in full work mode, with my hair done, briefcase in hand.

"Don't you look all dolled up," he said admiringly.

"Well, it is a work day," I said.

"It's not a work date," he replied, mishearing me (deliberately or not, I don't know).

And just like that, charming flirty Jack was back, who wanted to hear all about me and my adventures. Not a single mention of his work, which was languishing in my briefcase. I was once again won over, so much so, in fact, that I asked him out to dinner and a theatre opening with me. He readily agreed.

On the night in question, I wore a fabulous dress. Jack was once again charming and polite during dinner. But when we got to the theatre, where we mingled with people I knew but he didn't, he shut down. He actually went and sat in a corner with his laptop, and did work, before the show and during intermission. All of the sparkle of earlier in the evening seem to have faded, and he seemed weary, and bored.

After that final little disaster, I decided to write Jack off. He was destined to be my client, not my lover, I guess, although I couldn't understand why he became so withdrawn and disinterested after such a promising start. And so, that's where we stand now - the man I met on a dating site is now my client, without us ever really speaking about how that evolution occurred.

The line is always blurry. We'll trade emails about work. He'll occasionally ask if we can meet to discuss the work, which we will, and occasionally he'll make a personal comment like, "Did you get your hair done? It looks great" or "Love the dress." But gradually, any personal conversation, at least from him, has receded into the background. Even if I try to move the conversation to a personal topic, asking how his holidays were, for example, he avoids the question. He's such a frustrating person to read, which I said to him one day.

"What do you mean," he said, laughing a little at me.

"I can't read you at all," I exclaimed. "You keep all your cards close to your chest. I never know what you're thinking."

"Then it's working," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "I can't understand why you're so bothered by it."

I didn't know what to reply to that.

And so it continues. Today we met to discuss work, and he made some flip comment which I didn't respond to.

"Oh, we're not playful today?" he asked. "No jokes for RCC today?"

I didn't know what to say. Why joke when we're talking on a purely professional level, client to contractor?

Ah well. If he won't warm my bed, at least he'll pay my rent.