Sunday, August 31, 2008

Last Weekend

Several semesters ago I took a class called Creative Non-Fiction. The objective of the class was to write stories about my real life and make them interesting. Below is a story I wrote for one of my final submissions. It's called Last Weekend

Lighting is a funny thing. It’s an incredibly important element of movies and dating. Most of the time I approach dating as if things will eventually turn out like they do in the movies, but it never works that way. On this particular date, the shaded porch light blends with the flickering candle as the moon sitting low in the sky shines down through the palm fronds. The veranda is surrounded by palms and flowers which cast jagged shadows across my date Lacey’s face.
As she speaks I concentrate on not screwing things up like I had done in the past.

First there was Evelyn whom my parents liked very much. I’m not so sure I did though. From a physical perspective she was like most of the girls I tend to date. She had dark brown hair that stopped a little past her shoulders, light brown eyes that some would call honey, and a smile that could light a room. In personality she was everything I didn’t want: starving for attention, intent on having the events in her life play out in a methodical manner, and overly emotional about most things. Perhaps I only dated her to get my parents approval on my dating choices. She was from Chile and didn’t speak much English. My parents, both fluent in Spanish, love anybody who speaks Spanish. I thought she really liked me. After we broke up I found out that she really just had a particular affinity for any American boy. It was a bad fit from the start and my sister-in-law, Angelica tried to tell me as much. I should have listened.

Authentic Puerto Rican music fills the air and I listen to the harmony of the cuatro meld with the intricate rhythms of the guiro, maracas and panderetas. The music takes me to the familiar places I’ve never been in the Caribbean. The waiter dressed in a black guayabera and slacks brings my Malta. I allow Lacey to try the first sip. Her already small mouth puckers even smaller as the fizzy burnt malt soda passes her lips. As our appetizer of deep fried tostones arrives, I explain how they are made and what goes into the mojo dipping sauce.
A myriad of thoughts race nervously through my head in a matter of mere seconds. I remind myself of the detailed pages of preparation I have written in the past two weeks in my black moleskine bound journal. Five pages of rules have been set and I will not forsake them. I need to follow the rules exactly to save me from myself. My mind strays so that without warning I am caught up in the thought process that promulgated the journal rules of dating. I know I am a very good person, but I’m not a very good dater. All of my relationships that have made it past the first few dates have imploded like a lit match in a near empty gas can. I have always placed the blame elsewhere for all the disastrous experiences that have transformed my mind from the analytical machinery I have so frequently relied on to an emotional mush that inspires verses of really bad emo music. Six months after the fireworks I realize that a great deal of what goes wrong is controllable and I accept much of the blame for allowing all the heartache.

Carla is someone for whom I tried way too hard. I even almost went out and bought an internal frame hiking and camping backpack because she loved to go backpacking. I hate camping. But there are always good reasons for doing what you hate. When I met Carla I was certain that she was the girl of my dreams. I just needed to convince her of that fact. We connected on every level, but for some reason I got the idea that she just wasn’t into me. One weekend I had decided to visit my family in Utah and get Carla out of my head. When I coincidentally bumped into her, I decided that I was supposed to continue to pursue the relationship. Why else did I run into the girl I had been trying to avoid over 600 miles away from home? It was like something that only happened in the movies. It had to be fate. She came around eventually and after four months of our casual dating really started to reciprocate my affection.

She brought up the idea of marriage one Friday afternoon. We both agreed that it was something that we should prayerfully pursue after a few more months. She then told me that a few more months to her meant going to China for six months to teach English. The following Sunday, she came over to my house for dinner. I was excited to show off my cooking skills and was very careful to include menu items without meat to accommodate her vegetarian diet. Vegetable kabobs, twice baked potatoes, tossed salad and ├ęclairs rounded out the menu in the hopes that my culinary skills would be sufficient to convince her to stay. She was acting strangely the whole night and after dinner she dropped the bomb on me that she didn’t want to see me again before she left to China. She left abruptly without much more explanation. Five minutes after her departure, she called. I was too devastated to answer, but when I got the courage to check my voicemail, the news was even worse. All I remember from her long drawn out message was the conclusion, “I never want to see you again.” I should have never believed in fate. The only fate is the one we make for ourselves and I set myself up for a broken heart.

It seems to me that maybe, It pretty much always means no So don't tell me you might just let it go.

These words from Jack Johnson’s “Flake” embodied all the build up and let down that went along with my relationship with Carla.

At the thought of Carla I remember the most important rule under the subsection of emotional stability: “Forget everything you know about Carla and the flakiness that embodied that relationship. Not all girls are flakes.” This rule is there to help me have a short term memory about the things that have gone bad and the remembrance of this rule is a life preserver as I drown in the tempestuous crashing waves of my own negativity. I grab hold of it and begin to remember all the rest of the rules that will bring me to the shores of normality and spare me and Lacey from what I have come to know as the perfect storm. The date conduct subsection pulls me closer to shore and I remember to maintain eye contact. I look up. I make sure our eyes meet and I flash her half a smile. She smiles back and my fears melt into complete insignificance.
I remember my rule to keep the conversation focused on her. 70% her to about 30% me is about right. Work is on the list of acceptable conversation topics, so I go for it.

“So I’ve been meaning to ask you, when you cut my hair at the salon and I pay you, what do you do with the money?”
“I bank it,” she replies.
“And then what, do you have to pay some sort of rent to the owner of the place?”
“Yep, that’s how it works.”
Why did I gamble on this one? I think to myself. If this doesn’t go well, I’m going to have to find a new place to get my hair cut. As if she can read my thoughts she says, “You know, your hairstylist is more important than your doctor.”
“How so?” I reply.
“Well for one, you don’t see your doctor every three to four weeks.”

At this response I realize just how right she is. This could either turn into finding a new place to get my hair cut or it could mean free haircuts down the road.

The night air is cool as we drive home on the side streets with the windows down. My iPod is playing on shuffle and although Lacey doesn’t know any of the artists in the play list I’ve put together, she hums along to the music. As the sounds of The Polyphonic Spree’s “Reach for the Sun” come to an abrupt end, Rascal Flatts’ barely audible intro to “Take Me There” begins to play. I get a shot of adrenaline in anticipation to her reaction and she nearly jumps out of her seat.
“I love this song. Did you know Rascal Flatts is my favorite band?” she asks,
“Yeah, you told me.”
“I have this song as my ringtone.”
“Well I downloaded this song on iTunes earlier today so that if you didn’t like Puerto Rican food and didn’t like me, at least you could listen to a song that you liked.”
She laughs at this idiosyncratic tendency of mine to try too hard sometimes.
We stop at the grocery store on the way home because I realize that although I’ve come up with the best post dinner date activity ever of carving pumpkins for Halloween, I don’t have any suitable carving knives or pumpkins at my house. My thoughtful preparation is almost always accompanied by a mild touch of absentmindedness.

Kathy was a pretty good example of this thoughtful but absentminded approach. I broke one of my cardinal rules of dating that has been in existence since long before the five pages of rules in my moleskine. I wrote and played her a song on our first date. The problem with writing songs for girls is that they fall in love with the music, not the musician.

Such was the case with Kathy and although I thought nothing could be better than dating a girl who looked like a 19 year old cross between Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock, I realized otherwise when I went to pick up my girlfriend at the airport. I was certainly confused when I saw the stranger with salt and pepper black hair and a dozen roses propose to her in front of everybody. It reminded me of something out of a really bad movie. I ran to my car and remembered the demonstration at the Saturn dealership for the dent resistant panels on the doors. If the salesman could kick the door without it denting, so could I. I kicked until enough of the anger had subsided. On the way home I began to second guess myself. If I had never written her that song, then perhaps things wouldn’t have made it past the first date. That would have been preferable.

Enough about Kathy, I need to focus on the task at hand. As we stand in the checkout line with pumpkins in hand, the lady in front of us in line jokingly asks, “Are you going to carve them or throw them?”
“A little bit of both, actually.” I reply.
This draws laughs from the woman asking the question, the cashier and most importantly, Lacey.

I remember the rule under date etiquette that states, “Go to her door to pick her up, open her door, drop her off at her door and follow general door rules.” I know it’s sad that this is included in my rules, but I’ve been guilty of not following these rules once or twice when I was much younger, and I’ve decided that if things work out, I could expand on my rules and write a book to rival the consultative skills of Will Smith in that movie Hitch. I open her door to let her in the car and go around to my door. Like a good date, she has unlocked my door from the inside.
As I open the door and begin to step inside, a man approaches from across the parking lot. “Hi, can I talk to you?” he asks. He is mid height with a broad flat nose and a gap toothed smile. He doesn’t seem to pose too much of a threat, so I decide that I can take a few moments.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“My name is Brian,” he says with an outstretched hand.
“How ya doing Brian? I’m Spencer.” I shake his hand because despite my mild touch of germophobia, I’m more interested in being human than avoiding germs. Besides, I can wash my hands later.
“Well, I’m in a bad way. You see I’m out here on the streets and life is hard. I just need something to eat.”
“Sure. I think Panda Express and Quiznos are closed for the night, but if you want to go inside the store, I’d be glad to buy you some groceries.”
“Well there’s a McDonald’s down the street.”
“Oh, you want to go to McDonald’s?” I repeat.
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
I reflect at how different it is to have a homeless person ask me for food instead of money. I’m never sure if they ask for money.
“Sure, get in and I’ll take you there.”

I get in my car and immediately I become uncomfortably aware of Lacey and Brian in the car at the same time. We drop him off at McDonald’s with cash in hand. He parts with a “God bless”, enters the restaurant, and we are on our way.

“It’s so refreshing to have a homeless person ask for food and not money, don’t you think?”
The purpose of my question isn’t so much to gain an agreement, but more of a means to gauge a reaction based on her response. At this I remember my rules about analyzing conversation. “Don’t analyze anything she says. You overanalyze everything. Just let things happen on the first date. She won’t even let you know that she likes you until four to six dates.” Her response includes something about her dad being a cop but she trusted me to do the right thing.
While I haven’t had to find a new hairstylist, I don’t get free haircuts either. I asked her out a second time and her response was just that she was busy. I guess I should have included a rule about not letting homeless people in the car on the date.

1 comment:

Tisha and Mark said...

Spencer! Wow! It has been too long- your blog is forever long but entertaining enough to keep reading...once the kid makes her debut we should for sure go out...have you been to The La Grande Orange?