February 17, 2009

You're a nice girl, but...

The other day, Mike was driving me to the airport for a business trip. I felt uncharacteristically calm as my usual MO is anxiety before a trip. You know the free floating kind that sometimes erupts into misdirected anger…generally at Mike. Yet, he continues to taxi me to the airport for these trips.  He has the patience of a saint and is easily the most forgiving man I have ever met.


We were tooling along the highway and he started telling me a story. It is a story I have heard many times before, but after so many years you run out of new material and you just tell each other the same story over and over again. I imagine when we are in our 70s sitting in an assisted living facility our son will visit us and think we are old and senile because we tell each other the same stories over and over again when in reality, we do that now and it is not the result of dementia.


This particular story he was telling is a good one. He and some friend whose name I can’t remember met a couple of girls while on vacation in Florida. He and this friend, let’s call him Peabody (all of Mike’s childhood friends have odd names and I have learned not to question this because someone did once confirm the existence of a friend named Eebazabba) were around 18 at the time and the girls, who were from Alabama, were on vacation with their families. Mike and Peabody took such a liking to these girls that they actually went to visit them. Mike’s Dad rented a Dodge Colt for them to drive to Montgomery or Mobile or someplace like that, so they could once again see the girls they liked.


Like all stories Mike tells, there was more to the story like how there was a gas crisis and the girl’s father had to siphon gas out of his Cadillac so they could actually drive. No doubt, he gladly did this to get these boys away from his little Princess, but Mike argues that point insisting he, at least, was a perfect gentleman. There was also an offshoot about Peabody punching the hood of the rented Colt and Mike then punching Peabody because he knew his Dad was going to be pissed.


My first reaction to hearing this story for the 50th time was to mock Mike for not only his silly little crush, but for still romanticizing it some 30 years later. Yes, I am that kind of wife. My husband patiently drives his irrationally angry and anxiety-ridden wife to the airport and she responds by ridiculing him. But, for some reason, on this particular trip down memory lane, I kept my mouth shut and instead of teasing him for being kind and lovingly human, I decided to be the same and share a story with him that I never shared before.


When I was 14 I went to Navarre Beach with a girlfriend and her family. They gave us remarkable freedom and we met a couple of boys one night on the beach. They boy I ended up talking to was a kid named Cal. He too was from Alabama and he was a nice boy. I was, looking back, a pretty young girl, but my self-esteem was somewhere near the floor and the fact that this boy was paying attention to me and was nice to me was mind boggling. When it was time to leave Florida, I was crushed. I wanted to exchange addresses and numbers with Cal so we could keep in touch, but he logically noted that we lived 2 states apart and would likely never see each other again.


Still, I was crushed. For the entire 5 hour car ride back to New Orleans, I quietly wept into my sweatshirt sleeve. No doubt the family I was with thought I was deranged or possessed, but they politely declined to comment on my weepiness. I just couldn’t stand that I had connected with this boy and was never going to see him again.


This next part gets a little weird. When I got back home I still could not stop thinking about this boy so I walked a ½ a mile to the pay phone at the Schwegmann’s Grocery Store, called information and got the phone number and address of Cal in Alabama. I can’t remember why I didn’t call. I suppose fear of verbal rejection or not enough quarters for a long distance call, but I did write him a letter. I am sure I tried to sound like it was the most normal thing in the world to stalk him from 2 states away before the invention of the internet and perhaps I even dotted the “i” in my name with a heart. The amazing this is that he actually wrote me back. I think this letter was something like a nervous, “wow, how did you find my address?” and “you are a nice girl, but…”


I had really forgotten about this incident and my inability to let go of this boy and how he made me feel. My heart healed quickly and no doubt I moved on to the next cute boy as young girls do, but telling the story again to Mike made me realize something about myself that I had forgotten. I like people. I like to hold the people I meet in my heart and keep them near. I don’t like to lose the people I meet. Over the years, as I have “matured,” I have learned to feign indifference about people I care about who either move away or don’t care as much about me. I have taken that heart I so carelessly wore on my sleeve and tucked it away. I have compartmentalized my emotions and learned the socially appropriate amount of care and concern I am supposed to show.


And, I have gotten so good at it that I almost made fun of my husband for not being indifferent. You see, if I had met my husband in Florida when I was 14, he would have rented a car and driven to see me. He would have given me his number and his address and been inappropriately expressive and possessive. He would have shown genuine interest in me and my feelings. He would have never forgotten me and would be telling stories about me 30 years later.


In my pained and pointed efforts to not seem like a clingy stalker, I almost forgot that sometimes, I just want to openly and honestly love my fellow human beings. I want to hug too long and cry when people move away. I want to put it all out there and not fear being mocked. I want to be like Mike. Or, at the very least, openly admire him for having the courage to do what I have forgotten how.

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