Don’t Mistake My Listening To You For Caring About You

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My disposition after another failed date.

The white webbing between his fingers stretched to transparency; his  knuckles, flattened into the hard flex.

His eyes were fishbowl large, his gaze, intense. The tightness around them signal extreme vulnerability, loneliness, fear of abandonment.

My eyes returned to his hands bracing his dinner plate. Pleading hands, but not for me.

For her.

For her to come back to him.

His meal is getting cold, but he hasn’t broke a beat yet. I smile a feint of solidarity.

Again with this shit??

Vishnu is laughing his blue ass off…

In the last few weeks, I’ve been on three dates; lady, guy, guy – 20s, 30s, over 55. And every. Single. One of them. All about the ex/maybe ex/whatever the situation. Mind you, the pretext was “we should hang out” “I want to get to know you better” “we haven’t had a chance to talk with everyone else around” so I was under the silly assumption that the date person wanted to, um, get to know me. Nope! Apparently I’m shaped as a dumping ground for relationship baggage, and here comes the frontloader with a hefty pile of bullshit.

I shouldn’t say that. It’s not bullshit. Each displayed sincere emotions towards the person that has “wronged” them. Unfortunately, I lack empathy, and while I know how to deploy it, I just don’t feel like exerting that level of energy on someone’s one-sided, unjustified boo hoo moment.

Girl date engaged me because I came off as strong and someone who can solve problems. One of the guys noted he could be himself around me. The other liked that I am an excellent listener.

Of course I’m an excellent listener. When you have representatives from the Department of Transportation sitting across from you explaining why a route expansion in a disenfranchised neighborhood would be a “difficult endeavor,” you become a skilled listener.

When a political profiteering group disguised as a non-profit organization pleads their case to earn a large grant that you’re tasked to distribute, you become a skilled listener.

When you’re eavesdropping on the two highest ranking officials operating a large campaign in your district, you become a skilled listener.

While I never will qualify to be a relationship expert, I seem to be an emotional intelligence expert. Every person who engages in a committed relationship with another person is going to experience emotional challenges. As the years progress, changes in values, ideology, philosophy will occur individually, and that may cause some fissures in the relationship. But once those values, ideals, etc. start veering away from the foundation of the relationship, well, it’s natural to feel you’re grasping for the ledge, as the fissures now widen to chasms, separating the two entities from each other, compromising the foundation to near collapse.

In other words, time influences commitment status.

Lemme dare to quantify it: for every 3 years into a commitment, vulnerability exponentiates by 2. So a committed relationship of 3 years won’t have so much of a vulnerability, but a relationship of 15 years would be heavy on emotional vulnerability.

Back to the dates…relationship length equals 3 years in, 6 years in, 14 years in, relatively. Me? Neither of them asked about my relationship status at all. And why would they? I could’ve been wearing a huge blood diamond on my left hand, dressed in a wedding gown, neither of them would’ve gave a shit. They were so into their problems, they didn’t realize there was an opportunity sitting across the table. A wee part of my insides bitched, this is so unfair.

The insecure person’s constant fonting is a popular method of clubbing the earfucked victim into submitting to pity sex. I don’t do handouts! So for each, the evening ended with their expression of appreciation for my listening, then a predictable offer I immediately refuse, followed by me going home, to my bed, alone…

 

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Tulsa in 19

[WRITING PROMPT: Three times last week, Tulsa OK came up in conversation. This is a timed 15-minute based on the phenomenon]
 

“Tulsa? Why Tulsa?”

“Because that’s where I’ll be…”

Immediately I’m hearing George Strait singing, ‘Amarillo By Morning.’ This jackass. The balls on her, really.

“Did you hang up on me?”

“Thinking about it.”

“Don’t be so sore, dammit. I can hear you grinding your teeth; stop that already.”

She used to listen to me grind my teeth in my sleep. Denise, Deneser, or just Neeser to our crew, would wrap an arm around me and talk into my ear to stop me from destroying my dental work under stress. Neeser, the way she smelled, her skin seemed to bloom springtime with every laugh, every shimmy, every quake I gave her in bed. I missed her so damn much, but I couldn’t let the fact she left me for HIM, go. So I slap her with it.

“And what about Bernard?” I overemphasize his name, in case she wasn’t sure I was being sarcastic.

Her antagonized sigh carries over the phone and hangs between us, a rope bridge joining two steep cliffs, neither one of us trying to cross first. I hate that I’m being an asshole, but how else is she going to know she hurt me?

“It was over a while ago, babe. Went to Cali, came back to Lawton, and shit just…” Neeser’s breath indicates a painful, maybe volatile break up. Now I really feel like an asshole.

I hate to hear her hurt. I can do something about it, maybe. “So. Tulsa?”

Neeser’s voice lights up. “Yeah. Come see me.”

I open another tab on the browser and search the distance from Macdill AFB to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“Tulsa in 19…”

She makes a weird whimper into the phone. You wouldn’t think an Air Force officer would make such childish noises. But it excites me, it makes me feel she cares, and that’s all I wanted. She and I fit so well, but we let the world get in the way. Life’s too short for the bullshit, right? But…wait. What if I’m jumping the gun here? What if I’m making all the effort and it’s just a flash in the night for her? Here I am, trying to rekindle something magical, something true and real. But what’s in it for Denise? A conquering? A, ‘I-told-you-so’?

As she talks to her parents on the other line jaws on about her parents in Tulsa, I look at the map for the impending road trip to my long lost love. Through Tampa, hit Tallahassee, Montgomery, Birmingham…

“My parents want to see you when you get here,” she says mockingly. Her parents, so sweet and naïve, letting two young women share a bed in their home like that wasn’t gonna lead to anything.

“Sure, sure.”

“So you’re coming? Please say you’re coming. I dyed my hair red; you’re gonna love it! When are you coming? My leave starts Thursday afternoon…”

My fingers stop moving at Memphis.

“Oh.”

“Oh, what? Why do you sound all serious now?”

I flub my lips, lean back in my chair, and cross an arm over my chest. Memphis. If I go through Memphis, I’m gonna have to stop. To rest.

To see him.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Brians

[Writing Prompt: Revisit a famous book title, time = 30 minutes]

NOTE: I actually got choked up writing this. Dayumn.

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The tea shop seemed the ideal place to have Brian meet me. After all, it’s where he was Skyping me from all afternoon two weeks ago. I sat, legs pressed together tightly, with two chai teas, one for him, one for me.

And hark, along comes Brian.

This time around I’m going to approach the opportunity for a relationship thusly: don’t be too abrasive up front, let him drive the conversation, and, by all means, don’t roll out the ultimatums before the check is paid. He smiled his shy smile of relief, and I complimented him back with my appreciative, wide grin.

Brian proceeded to chastise me, accusing me of avoiding him these past few weeks. Although I tried to defend with thoughtful retaliations, his peaked eyebrow of disbelief suggested I give it up. He reached across the table, motioning for one of the teas, when he stopped and asked which one was his. I flirtatiously suggested he check for the lipstick smudge. Brian sneered at my sarcasm. I like that he likes that about me.

He knows what I do for a living, he’s read my blog. We haven’t talked much about him, other than where he lives and what his plans were for the holidays. So now, I ask him, what do you do? Surprisingly, he doesn’t give the straightjacket answer of his employment, but offers a sigh, then, “I like to drive the Carolina coasts, go camping, fishing. Sometimes, just hang out in the woods for hours on end. Oh wait, you asked me what I do? Like, for work? I’m a truck driver.”

The first part of the answer was the answer.

The next day, same tea shop, different Brian. Why I parsed out these dates like this, I don’t know. Zealot for ironic entertainment, I suppose. And entertainment for Christine, the tea shop owner. She’s happy to see me not only up and about, but courting the boys. Christine, no children of her own, dotes on me like a child. I love her for it.

This one walks in the place like he owns it. Brian’s tie has flitted over his left shoulder due to the gust he passed through. We met in an old school fashion; he saw me loading my car with groceries, stopped to compliment me, and in a classy, keeping-it-together fashion, handed me his business card, suggested I call whenever I can, shook my hand, and walked off. High school hunk cool.

I won’t get into comparing the two. Physically already, they differ greatly. I’m trying to stick to the ol’ Dr. King adage, judge a person not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character. Seated in the same corner, same table, I motion to leave my seat and meet him at the counter. Brian bellows across the small shop for me to keep my seat, and asks what I want to drink. Dealer’s choice is my response, and he offers a crooked smile as he retrieves a leather wallet from his suit jacket.

Same tea shop, same table, same question. Brian launches into his resume: undergraduate degree from THE Ohio State University, graduate degree from Stanford, been in banking since he graduated, member of such and such fraternity, such and such business society, and is considering running for local council. I attempt to be playful and ask, “But what do you do, Brian?”

He looks as if he saw a ghost. I’m forced to explain it was a joke. The laugh he offers in response is as stiff as his starched buttoned-down shirt. I sip my honeyed green tea to fill the awkward silence.

The first Brian noticed me across the room at our mutual friend Gary’s house party. He observed someone cool, collected, happy where they were in life, but also, lonely. That he saw my loneliness from across the room made me think twice about my own perception of comfort. When was the last time I engaged anyone for other than a feature or a human interest piece? I realized I was keeping the possibility of a relationship at a strong arm’s length.

The second Brian saw me in that parking lot, then again in the downtown Tampa commercial building pretending not to be looking for him. He’s very present, that Brian, very hard to avoid his energy. He smells of power and vigor. Brian is very much in control. Yet he sends me the wackiest, soft-hearted text messages throughout the day, sometimes just a, thinking of you. I imagine he’s sitting in a meeting somewhere on the upteenth floor texting me when he should be paying attention. This Brian brings out my insecurities. What does he want from little ol’ me?

Both tea dates were very successful, and so I call for a second round with each. This is no dating show, but this is the first time in years I’ve had more than one suitor, and, let’s face it, I’m no spring chicken. If there is such a thing as a possible commitment out of one of these Brians, we’re going to figure it out now.

Second Brian goes on about his recent weekend on South Beach, making sure to cut in a, so wish you could’ve came with us! every few sentences. My local coverage doesn’t allow much distance travel, but I enjoy listening to him talk with an air of relief. He’s got a high-stress job, it’s a rare moment when he gets to leave the building, let alone the county, for more than one day. Even with his effort to include me, I get the sense he’s trying too hard. As if, he’s only doing this for show, until he’s certain I’m willing to be his and his alone. The possessiveness sneaks out in just these tea shop interludes: the way he orders for me, the way he calls over the other patrons to have Christine service us, the way he frowns when I take a quick call from my editor. Makes me wonder; what’s it like with Brian when there’s no audience, behind closed doors?

First Brian meets me at the tea shop an hour before closing. I’m nervous because I want to decide between these two wonderful men today. I’ve already ordered our teas, but he motions towards the counter case and picks a coffee cake for us to split. Christine asks if he wants it warmed, and he charms her with his silky, Southern-drawled, yes ma’am. I shake my head as I watch the old bird gesture a 20s era swoon. First Brian is filthy, and he notices me noticing his appearance. He enters into a rapid apology, explaining he spent the day helping his landlord repair a step on her patio. I am endeared, but keep my frown.

Here goes nothing, I think as I kick out, pull up my jeans, and show Brian my prostetic legs and matter-of-factly explain how I lost both when our Humvee rolled over an IED in Iraq.

When I did the same move to Second Brian, he gasped and said, “I’m so sorry, Kenneth. I didn’t notice you were crippled.”

First Brian stared a bit, then asked, “That’s not gonna stop you from going hiking with me, ain’t it?”