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Hello Cleveland!

I donned a gray suit, slathered in Dippity-Do to cement every hair straight up, and ran a wire through the tie around my neck, training it to reach for the sky.  I got laughs at the Halloween party explaining myself as a bankrupt stockbroker executing his final business decision.  I impressed Erika, who came disguised as a kitty and giggled at all of my jokes.  She had aquamarine eyes and a short bob of chestnut hair.  Her outfit sported pointy ears, a tail, and black tights that clung to a slender, athletic frame.  White grease paint covered her face and contrasted with black whiskers and a muzzle carefully drawn about her mouth and nose.  She was adorable.  Returning from the restroom I noticed her waiting on the patio only a few feet from where we’d chatted.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  We refilled our cups at the keg and celebrated honest, self-effacing conversation inspired by free beer and silly costumes.

We compared notes and faces.  The party’s hostess invited Erika, and I came at the invitation of the hostess’ ex-girlfriend.  We couldn’t stop snickering that likely we were the only breeders at a party of wild, boozy lesbians.  I calculated the probability of a more intimate exchange with my acquaintance and liked my chances.  Soon Erika volunteered us to retrieve Jell-O shots for the rabble.  In a shadowy corner of the garage she opened the fridge to reveal half a dozen trays bearing row after row of Dixie cups, each containing a red cube of gelatin laced with vodka.  Silhouetted in the Kenmore’s forty-watt glow, we toasted our new friendship, slurped rubbery cubes to the distant throb of “I will survive,” and shared our first kiss.  Soft and insistent, her rhythmic smooching made me want more.  We lost track of time.  Suddenly our hostess barreled through the kitchen door, storming the garage with curses and commands for missing party favors.  Approaching the icebox she froze, unable to finish her obscenity.  Covering her mouth she stifled a snort, and then howled with laughter while pointing at our heads.   We looked at each other and saw the punch line.  We had mashed our faces into a smear of black and white paint.  Erika and I planned a date for the following week.

We met for dinner at her apartment on Ohio Street.  After a few beers Erika confessed confusion for a boyfriend she’d left behind months earlier in her hometown of Cleveland.   Secretly I felt sorry for the devoted slob then cautioned my Juliet on the failure rate of long distance relationships.  “Yes Ma’am, a clean break is the only way to show respect for a partner unwilling to let go,” I soothed.  We complained about our families, ignored the TV, and spent a couple steamy hours on the couch.  That night I went home at bedtime convinced I’d made progress.  By the next dinner date Erika had resolved the boyfriend question.  I responded in a gravely sympathetic tone, congratulating her on a tough but compassionate choice.  Later we clawed our way through a night of profanity and sweat.  I decided to fall in love.

My toothbrush moved in first, followed by my deodorant.  Naturally I needed shorts and T-shirts when I arrived after work.  And I hung dress clothes in Erika’s closet to avoid trips to my place before commuting downtown in the morning.  The first six weeks passed in a blur of Cabernet and midnight declarations. I decided to take Erika on a tour of my peer group.   Married pals invited us to dinner, and came to visit.  The wives insisted on dissecting my feelings, while the husbands seemed content to slap me on the back or wink.  The singles, both sexes, pried me for every wicked detail my indiscretion would allow.  I decided Erika had no friends because of her escape from Midwest tundra.  And selfishly, I enjoyed having her all to myself.

Occasionally the gang and I migrated downtown on Friday nights to the Princess of Whales Pub where we’d pad our bellies with fish and chips before drowning the twilight in alcohol.  Erika had just finished her shift at a Fashion Valley boutique specializing in professional attire, and arrived in a black pantsuit whose smart design looked tailored.  She made a splash in her social debut with the herd.  Seated at the bar she talked about fashion, pop culture, and exchanged raunchy jokes with the girls.  I stood near the dartboard and admired Erika from across the pub, bathing my throat with Guinness while the guys wondered aloud how I could have landed such a catch.  I shared their amazement.  Sure, my lover and I burned rubber with our blazing start, but this lass had education, impish charm, and slinky curves that turned heads. I felt so proud.  And yes, it sounds naïve now, but I thought I could marry this woman—you know, eventually.  Oh hell, it sounded naïve then but the enchantment had lasted several months and I couldn’t imagine anything powerful enough to break its spell.

Within the hour we all crowded round a table near the entrance of the pub, ordered entrees, and plotted our course for the evening.  While telling a joke Erika gestured wildly and elbowed her pint off the table.  We laughed at the explosion of glass and pilsner, affectionately scolding our friend for a lightweight.  I expected vulgarity, insults, or worse, an apology, but Erika said nothing.  Tiny lines appeared about her eyes, jaw muscles tightened, and the corners of her mouth curved upward to bolster an icy smile.  Unanimously the tribe clamored to dispel bad juju by heading down India Street to the Waterfront Bar & Grill.  Its seedy atmosphere boasted the city’s oldest liquor license, pool tables, spicy fare, and plenty of elbow room.  While chatting up my peeps and challenging them to pool in the buttery light, Erika again became bubbly and winsome.   We drank our fill and sucked the marrow out of Friday.  Festivities continued as I babbled endlessly with one of the single women in our clan.  We’d been friends for years so I felt comfortable gushing about my budding relationship and its shiny prospects.

Erika approached eventually and announced our need to retire.  “After all you’ve had too much already,” she insisted.  I couldn’t deny the truth but felt uneasy about the return of that icy smile.  I waved goodbye to the gang and followed my paramour out to the car.  Angrily she demanded my keys, which seemed dramatic but made sense.  Behind the wheel of my sedan Erika’s voice rose loud and shrill.  She was hammering the steering wheel repeatedly with her fists by the time she shrieked “that woman!”  Where had this crazy person come from?  The outburst scared me but I couldn’t help enjoying the jealousy.  Instantly I remembered the last woman I incited to screams and violence.  Short and very round, my mother moved surprisingly fast.  Adrenaline saved my hide from pain that day of my wayward youth when Ma broke a broom across my back.

While my heart thumped against its cage I summoned the wisdom born of a failed marriage, and calmly suggested Erika consider anger management.  Such measured words prompted more B-movie theatrics.  That night I locked the front door as Erika howled from her bedroom, “Don’t leave me!”  Driving home I recalled my lover’s casual references to Attention Deficit Disorder and how she compared it to seeing reality through windshield wipers in a rainstorm.   She coped with the condition through a rigid itinerary and some kind of time piece on almost every wall of her apartment.  She had dropped hints about shrinks, drugs, and therapy in Cleveland but found no need for them in San Diego.

In the weeks that followed Erika gained weight rapidly on a steady diet of frozen pizzas and ice cream, then complained of the need a for local shrink to prescribe her Dexedrine.  She’d used the drug before to reduce the mental flubber of ADD, but hyped the pills as appetite suppressants.  Soon every group activity ended with me starring as Snidely Whiplash in another melodrama.  My blood raced during these performances but I responded with Zen-like tranquility.  After much reading, I began to see Erika’s mood swings, and overeating as part of a medical disorder she desperately wanted to ignore.  Folks with ADD battle their own minds for sustained focus, and sometimes feel they lack control over things they see and hear since their gray matter has a tendency to “zone out.”  ADD often combines this struggle to concentrate with a lack of follow through, and undermines control over emotional impulses, generating constant frustration.  Fortunately, shrinks have state-of-the-art medications, which they couple with effective behavioral strategies to bring about permanent change.   Still my woman proclaimed, “I don’t need therapy.”

Regularly I played the villain as Erika fabricated new offenses and turned her back to fall fast asleep on her side of the bed.  Cross and alone, I lay awake, resenting her Dark Arts skill for slumbering peacefully through unresolved conflict.  I couldn’t abandon my girlfriend, but remained anxious as untreated symptoms grew muscle.  I questioned my own sanity in suffering a stubborn woman who denied healing.  On such nights my own bed offered more comfort.  One Sunday morning Erika phoned my place from work and declared she could face the stress of our relationship no longer.  Carefully she chronicled blunders which forced her hand in the classic brush-off:  “It’s not me, it’s you.  In the middle of Erika’s living room stood a tall stack of retail cardboard storage boxes.  Every hanger, sock, toiletry, and silly gift I dragged through her front door had been packed like a closed account destined for archive.  I’d need time to recover but found solace in my release from the rubber room.

A year later we bumped into each other at the mall.  Skinny and vivacious, Erika again resembled the woman who drove me mad with adoration. I invited her to my place for drinks.  Wistfully she shared the saga of falling madly for a man twenty years her senior.  Tragically, his selfish children forced dad to break the engagement.  The suitor’s offspring harbored some ridiculous prejudice against a prospective stepmom who still had to show ID at the bar.  I filled her glass with Cabernet as she spoke excitedly of family and Cleveland.  Apparently the devoted slob whom Erika dumped for me had recently volunteered to fly out to San Diego, rent a U-Haul and truck her worldly possessions back to Ohio.  Oh, and would I help her pack?  “Of course, he’s just doing this as an old friend.  He doesn’t want anything,” she reassured.  “Of course,” I repeated, nodding sympathetically.  I sensed an invitation, which only dead men cease to calculate, and poured red wine until I convinced Erika to stay the night.  Expecting a passionate sendoff from my lost Juliet, I imagined hours of mutual struggle toward breathless abandon.  Instead I endured the kind of backseat frustration which every teenage boy lies about.  I suppose my ex had decided the devoted slob flying to her rescue deserved real loyalty this time around. Some fools never learn.

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