Monday morning comes, still without word from Brian. My laptop slept next to me in my queen-sized bed in lieu of a companion, and my inbox was the first action of the day, beyond silencing my alarm. With no message from Brian, my day starts off at an all-time low. It is a chore for me to extract my body from the comfort of my bed and ready myself for school. Getting ready feels like the strain of a marathon and as I look in the mirror, my eyes are dull, and a frown settles on my face. It’s not just Brian, but my mother’s memories and the thought that once again, I’m not sure how to handle the curve balls of my life. I opt to forgo the eye make-up today. I can’t be sure it won’t run down my face as I’m likely to weep through the day.
When I get to work, I am fully centered on Brian and whether I should have been so upfront about the tragedy of my life. Thinking and overthinking has me preoccupied, and I act edgy with the kids. I’ve made up a million scenarios about why he hasn’t written back yet, and none of them are good. He doesn’t want to get involved with a girl with baggage, or he met someone better online last night, or I scared him away like I knew I would.
Fine, I don’t need him anyway. Although I know, it’s a lie. Even though we’ve only had a couple of exchanges, I’ve begun to like the company. And after getting the story of my mom and Sunny out in the open, I felt like maybe I could start to open up even more. That is if he hasn’t shut the door on me already.
Today, I’m glad I have a video planned for my students because I’m not in the mood to teach anything new. I put in the DVD and head back to my desk and computer. I want to avoid opening my email at work, and I already turned off the automatic alert on my smartphone. I will not let this dating thing distract me from my day. I need to focus fully on the things I do—work, workout, spend time with friends. I don’t want my mind wandering. But as I sit there watching the video, I am distracted by my efforts to be undistractable.
It’s a quiet drive to the gym for my usual afternoon workout followed by dinner for one and a solo night on the couch watching my favorite TV show. I’m starting to see how there could be something to this relationship thing. What if I had the guts to see Brian in person? I imagine us in the kitchen, on a cold winter night, cooking up a pot of stew and fresh biscuits. The kitchen would fill with the scent of comfort foods, and we would feel the closeness of creating something together. We’d take our bowls to the living room floor, spread out a blanket in front of the fire, and have a picnic as we share stories from our childhoods—laughing at the good ol’ days. We’d clean up together and cuddle on the couch to watch movies. I can imagine the warmth of him spooning me and letting the very shape of my body mold into his. I haven’t been held that close in so long, I don’t even remember what it feels like to experience such intimacy and the ability to let go and be oneself. Please, I beg silently to the universe or whomever else might be listening, let Brian be that special someone. Don’t let me have scared him away.
My self-pity is interrupted by my cell phone ringing. It’s Natalie.
“Hi.” I answer the phone in an exasperated monotone.
“Geez, what’s up with you, Ms. Grouchy-Pants?”
“I told Brian about Mom and Sunny and haven’t heard back from him. I knew this wouldn’t work. My life is tragic. No one wants to be swallowed up in my baggage.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! How long ago did you send that message?”
“Don’t you think you could be overreacting a bit? That is a lot to dump on someone you don’t even know. How many messages have you traded so far? Two, three, four? Give it time. I know you’re not the most patient person, but really. Take. A. Deep. Breath.”
“You’re right. I know. It’s just … I see Gabe. The face he made when he saw me for the first time. It’s like the image is seared in my brain. I went from seeing stars in his eyes to looking into the black hole of his pupils where I felt he couldn’t or didn’t want to see me at all.”
“You were both fourteen! Give Brian a break. He’s a grown man and men need time to process. And it never happens on a woman’s timeline. That much I know. Go easy on yourself and go easy on him. If it’s meant to happen, it will.”
“Yeah, I know. Sorry to dump my insecurities on you. I’ll give it more time. But for now, I’ve got to try to get some sleep. I have work tomorrow.”
“Okay. Text me when you hear from him.”
“Will do. Goodnight, friend.”
It’s nine o’clock when I hang up with Natalie, and I realize if I don’t get to bed, morning is going to come much sooner than I want, so I lock up, turn off the lights, and head to my bedroom. On the way there, I divert to the guest room, which I have turned into my office. This is my favorite room in my house because it’s the one where I throw all rules of conservative (proper) decoration out the window. With a combination of tangerine orange and bold pink walls, it’s both cheerful and whimsical. Most of the décor are the brightest pieces I have collected from my trips around the globe—figurines, wall art, and other accessories. They dot the room with the colors of turquoise, light greens, and pale purple. A white desk sits in the back of the room, with a photo of our four-person family framed in just the way I want to remember us, wearing black t-shirts and jeans, sprawled out on a beach blanket in front of the clear blue ocean. My mom, Sunny and I, all with fresh tans and long, blonde hair blowing in the breeze. My dad sits in the middle, proud and protective of his “girls.” It’s so stellar, so perfect. One might have thought Annie Liebovitz took it for an issue of Vanity Fair.
Nothing about my office feels ordinary. I wanted it that way; to create the impression that living outside the lines was an okay way to live. It’s how I feel about the way my life has been handed to me. Nothing about it says inside the box. But sometimes, I think maybe it’s too different for others even to understand me. Perhaps I’m too far out of Brian’s comfort zone. Humph, and we were just getting started. I conveniently pass my computer desk and decide to give my messages one more check. Braced for the worst, I am relieved when up pops a message from Brian85.
I’m sorry I haven’t responded to your last message. I feel badly to have left you waiting, not one, but two days. I wanted to write, but I simply didn’t feel I had the proper words to say. I can’t say I know how you feel, or relate on any level, and that made me feel … well … helpless. And if you know men at all, you know dealing with that emotion is not our forte. Regardless, I’m glad you opened up to me. It made me feel a connection to you, and I am honored you felt like you could expose the real you and be unguarded with what you had to say. It takes courage and strength, which I admire. It also helps me understand you better and your fears of opening your heart to someone. I can imagine with a loss like that. It’s easy to stay distant.
It’s also frustrating to me that, while we can share words, we are still so new to each other it’s hard for me to know how best to show you I am sympathetic to your loss. That I am a real, live, breathing, feeling person on the other end of this computer, thinking about you and wishing I could offer a condolence with which you could feel my sincerity and how I genuinely care. That might be something to wait until we meet in person.
With that said, your assumption is right. Your email did take the words out of my mouth and gave me quite a pause. I am sorry to hear you’ve experienced such a tragedy. What I am not sorry about is asking you about your mom because May, I want to get to know you. And how else can you get to know someone if you’re not willing to ask and answer the hard questions? The strength you showed in sharing it at all exposes your vulnerability. And honestly like that is what makes relationships work. If we hold back all vulnerability, we can’t truly connect. And I don’t know what it is, but I already have a feeling about you; a feeling you are someone with whom I could relate and appreciate. You make me smile, and you make me think. You’re genuine and passionate. I can’t put my finger on it, but I like you. You make me feel like a sponge, and I want to soak in everything there is to know about you. So how about telling me about your dad?
And since you’ve lain so much out there, it must be my turn. But do you have to go straight to the jugular and ask me, a man, about my fears? Aren’t you aware, fear is a four-letter word and to admit I have one (or multiple), by definition robs me of my masculinity? Men aren’t supposed to be fearful; we’re supposed to be invincible. We’re supposed to be strong, and stoic, and be able to fix things. But you, you’re not one to beat around the bush, are you? Trying to steal my man card the first time out. For the sake of getting to know each other, and because I get a hunch I might like you, I’ll tell you.
My biggest fear is not being good enough. I’ve always felt, in my family, I have big shoes to fill. My father is a talented and sought-after surgeon. My older brothers have successful careers in scientific research and software development. I might be way out of line because I look up to them, being the youngest, but I have always felt I didn’t quite fit in. It seems like everyone in my family has achieved recognition in his pursuits, and I feel like I’m still finding my way. I’ve always been the dreamy kid, artsy in a world of left-brainers. I’m in right field by myself. I love art, writing, and finding the next great feature story. Suffice it to say, my greatest fear is letting people down. Letting myself down. I’m a perfectionist, at least in my work, and it makes for a difficult existence. I try to relax, but it’s hard. I’ve pushed myself a lot. I love what I do, but I always wonder what other people think. Do I measure up? I’m not even sure how to tell. Is it a feeling or does someone tell you when you’ve gotten there? How do you know what there truly means and when you’ve arrived at success? If you have the answer, I’d love to hear it.
I must sign off for now because I’m headed out to play a late-night pickup basketball game with the guys. I’m looking forward to meeting you and hope it won’t be much longer!
I read his message and can only think he’s genuine and transparent—he’s passing all the right tests.
I pull out my phone and text Natalie.
He wrote! (I follow it with seventeen smiley face icons)
I knew he would, Rainey. You just need to relax.
I know, but I can’t! I’m in serious ‘like.’
She returns with a string of hearts. Now don’t seem too eager. Give it the night and write him back tomorrow.
The voice of reason has spoken. And I promptly ignore it.