Mar 4, 2010

A Martini by any other name...

There was an awkwardness about him when I walked into the bar, which I didn't expect. It couldn't be because of anything I'd said or done. All my thoughts about his disingenuous behavior had been kept to myself. I hadn't even turned snarky toward him. I've simply laid low over the last month, kept to myself, and noticed in the time being that there was never a query into my whereabouts or how I was doing. Not even an attempt at idle online conversation. Nothing had really changed for him, I was sure. Not out in the open, at least., but I was rejected ... or, at least, I felt rejected by him, although nothing was ever said.

In truth, I didn't want to acknowledge him with any more familiarity than a customer does a bartender. Upon walking in and looking around for the friends I was meeting, I was dismayed to find the only people in the room I knew were him and the door guy/bouncer, Ethan*. Only one table was occupied with ladies drinking colorful cocktails, so he sat with Ethan at the corner of the bar playing rummy. I came to stand between them, greeted them both, but hugged only Ethan. He asked me to join them in a game. I dismissively remarked that I hadn't played rummy in years, and continued looking throughout the room, wondering if I'd missed someone in the dark recesses. Surely I wasn't to endure this alone. He wanted to know what was the matter with me, because I looked so somber. I replied that I was supposed to be meeting people when I looked over my shoulder and felt great relief at seeing them all come through the door. Ahhh., saved. Now I could go back to my plan of treating him as simply a bartender.

It took him long enough to wait on me, getting everyone else's order first, although he should have been able to guess mine automatically. I was simultaneously doing my best NOT to look at him or call his attention, which probably didn't help the matter. But I was clearly in there to drink! Why didn't he ask?!!! Not only that, but after the friends came in and asked why I was just standing there, I had made the joking remark that I was waiting for Bartender to get off his butt and make me a drink, which promptly spurred him to get behind the bar. I anxiously waited for him to get to me, knowing we had a deadline to get to a movie that night, and that I was ordering a very strong drink that I typically like to nurse, but I waited patiently as he served all of the friends in my group, knowing that we were all on the same deadline to see the same movie. However, when there was no one left in the group to serve save me, he went to a lady down the bar who hadn't approached until after all of us were seated.

"Hey, do I get a drink?" I exclaimed when I saw him moving toward her with an ear inclined for her order.
This time I didn't feel so successful at keeping the sharpness out of my voice and making it a joke, but he took it in stride and did eventually make me an excellent martini.

The vodka loosened me up so I was shortly able to include him in my general conversation. He had seen the movie and gave his impressions, which weren't very favorable. I wanted to know more. What was wrong with it? His answers were ambiguous and unconvincing. Finally I asked, "Were you still thinking about it after you left the theater?" to which he replied that he was. "That means it was a good movie," I declared. No more discussion needed.

Now the ice was broken, and I was able to treat him in the manner I always had, only with reservation. I would not flirt with him as I once had. I found that slope far too slippery. That's what made it odd to discover him looking at me. I refused to hold his gaze, but when I looked again, it was still there. Then, a little later in the conversation, he seemed to be giving me a sly, knowing look, which I dismissed. I'd obviously read into his looks before. Then Sheila*, sitting next to me, asked him why he was looking at her like that, to which he replied that he wasn't looking at her, and his expression broadened as his gaze remained on me, as if sharing an inside joke. Yes, he was looking at me, not her. I got that part of it, but I still didn't know why. The topic of conversation escapes me now, but I was unable to make any connection between it and myself. Whatever joke he was trying to share with me went right over my head, and, to be honest, I was a little offended that he even tried.

Time came to leave for the movie. A couple of our party had already gone. Sheila and I said our goodbyes. I again hugged Ethan when he reached out an arm, but I ignored Bartender. He wanted to know if I was coming back after the movie. I tried blowing it off by saying it depended on Sheila, but she was quick to deny the option for her poor dog was awaiting release at home. He asked me at least twice more. Truth was, at that moment, I wanted to return. My keen enjoyment of chilled out conversation was being cut short. I wanted more, but I shook my head and kept saying, "I don't think so." He looked disappointed, leaving me to feel very confused ... and curious. What did he care?

I was proud that I did not feel the need to return after the movie. Part of me wanted to only for the sake of telling him how wrong he was about the movie. Many people walked away saying it wasn't for them, but I found it compelling and just plain good, old-fashioned story-telling. I didn't, though. My car was parked directly across from the theater, so I drove directly home. I'm still left wondering, however, about those quizzical looks, and what strange impression he'll leave me with the next time I venture forth for a cocktail and good conversation.

* = Names have been changed

Sep 13, 2006

A Change in Weather

It doesn’t take much when the world is falling apart all around us to make us believe that it is by our fault. I suppose that’s because the world falling apart is the one of our own making and the only one we know.

But then you rebuild. And in the rebuilding, realize that it isn’t the only world possible. In fact, although it was a world of your own creation, the destruction of which you resisted and have deeply grieved, you realize it wasn’t a world you even wanted.

A storm came and my world changed.

It had been changing for over a year, but this time a wind swept in so mighty, I was forced to take account of all that I once had versus all I now possessed and to weigh the difference. I found it not to be as great as I had once believed, and my rebuilding began.

Beerfest, that long honored tradition among my friends … one which began for us as the SoHB’s birthday celebration 4 years earlier … had come around again. As with any event which had become a tradition with the SoHB, I anticipated seeing him there, with or without the girlfriend, and endeavored to brace myself for anything that might come. I was intrigued and a bit relieved to learn he would be staying home that evening. I didn’t know the reason for his absence, but I was free to enjoy the event without hindrance. He wouldn’t interfere, and neither would the hurricane churning in the gulf. Beerfest would go on as planned for all of us.

And it was a fun time, even if it lacked the luster of the glory days before my Great Sadness. I was amazed to find myself carrying on intense conversation with the normally taciturn Big Red on several occasions, even started suspecting he might fancy me in some way.

Beerfest is always over before anyone is ready to call it a night. While sitting in Hayley’s, glibly chatting away with our dwindled group, The Flirt started trying to coax Rachel* into flashing him a breast. She teasingly denied him, but he continued pressing for her to do it just as she had done before. I was lightly amused, and not a bit surprised. I could easily recall one drunken excursion in the same bar long ago when Rachel, indeed, flashed him. But when The Flirt commented that she could do it again just like she had the other night while out on the boat, my breath caught in my throat as my suspicions rose. I’d only heard reference to going “out on the boat” once before, and it was on a boat belonging to the SoHB’s brother. Could it be…? Could my good friend and confidante, Rachel, have been partying with the SoHB behind my back?

Big Red asked the question I was afraid to speak. He was apparently as much in the dark as I about their shared experience.

“What boat?” he asked casually.

The Flirt explained that they had been celebrating the SoHB’s birthday out on his brother’s boat where Rachel apparently became so intoxicated, she started flashing her breasts.

I stared at Rachel, but she would not look me in the eye. A cat had been let out of the bag … one that could change my opinion of her.

Later in the night as I sat alone, and she approached me.

“Are you feeling okay?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Are you mad?”

I nodded.

“What are you mad about?”

“I think you know.”

“Is it because I went to the SoHB’s birthday party?”

I nodded again. “Not really because you went so much, but that you didn’t tell me.”

“I know. I’m sorry,” she said right away, but I knew better than to believe she really understood.

The drive home was an animated exchange between us about how betrayed I felt over her keeping this from me while she claimed that she and Alley* (who had also gone to the party) had only wanted to spare my feelings, knowing I would get upset over it. She apologized again and again, explaining that, although Michele was giving the party, Alley* had been invited by Jeri*, a good friend of both her and the SoHB, and had in turn invited Rachel along for company. By the time we reached my home and I stood on my front stoop looking down into her plaintive face, I felt better for having spoken my peace, even if I didn’t have complete confidence in her apology. I walked into my home and greeted my dog feeling lighthearted and fairly certain our friendship would continue unfazed by this setback. I guess she felt the same way.

Then came the storm.

to be continued...

* = Names have been changed

May 11, 2006

Interim (Picking at a Scab)

Knowing better, I’ve kept my distance. Attempts to reason with him fell on deaf ears. Attempts to start over were met with implied interest, but minimal cooperation. Attempts to be understood were dismissed.

Knowing better I’ve kept my distance, save for a nudge here or there …

- An impersonal e-card on his birthday, nearly two months after the last conversation. Meant to evoke guilt as he remembered not recognizing my birthday, but only with the most innocuous greeting. It elicited an equally impersonal, “Thank you, Kwirki.” I doubt it had much affect on him at all.

- Months later, an imprudently e-mailed invitation to an unrealized bowling night. Sent in a wave of bitterness an intention to coldly retract it a day later, my senses returned in time so that I let it stand out of a commitment to stop playing games. The day of the intended bowling night, 2 days after it was sent, I received overly gracious regrets, saying basically that he wished he could come, he appreciated the invitation, and he hoped I had a good turnout.

- A gift sent by mail a week after Christmas. Given in the spirit of sharing something inspirational from my life – a book that effected significant change during not only the crisis of losing his friendship, but in overcoming a disabling depression long ago – it was sent with no card or note, only the inscription, “Because you deserve to believe in yourself, –K,” with my return address boldly printed on the envelope (sans my name in case she retrieved his mail). It was never acknowledged.

- An IM conversation over three months ago. Driven to surrender my role in the conflict by accepting accountability, I approached him to apologize for actions I chose that were surely perceived as attacks. I asked him not to respond during the conversation, that he knew how to reach me if he had anything to say and I wanted the confidence that it came from his heart, not out of obligation. He honored my wish.

- Finally, two quick IM conversations where I asked for Jeri’s* birthdate. No goal in mind aside from getting the information. True to form, he didn’t know it, saying he would have to ask Michael*, but I simultaneously realized I could ask him myself and told him to forget it. A couple of days later, I messaged him with concern that I hadn’t heard back from Michael, fearing his company’s firewall may have blocked me. He told me Michael was out of town and volunteered that he was picking him up at the airport that night, but this time he didn’t volunteer to ask for me. I eventually heard from Michael, but there was no follow-up from the SoHB.

Knowing better, I’ve kept my distance, save these small occurrences which allowed me to connect with him while expecting nothing in return. Although I hoped, as I always do, I required no response, no attention from him. I’ve stopped trying to control his point of view.

But while keeping my distance, I’ve also refused to hide. From Beerfest to Rachel’s* Halloween party, from the unsuccessful bowling night to the Chili Cook-off, from a former co-worker’s sendoff party to Big Red’s poker parties, I have seen and been seen, but the SoHB has not been seen.

It was suspicious that he missed Beerfest, something I’ve never known him to do; It was perplexing when event after event passed without an appearance; It was downright strange that he wasn’t at Chili Cook-Off or the following traditional wind-down at his favorite bar, Hayley’s. After nine months without a single sighting, I am fairly convinced. I’m being avoided.

Rather than be offended, I have felt a little honored. Who am I to be avoided? If his relationship is secure and truly important to him, what harm could I do? If he has moved on, how significant can I be?

But most of all, I am intrigued.

In the year following his betrayal I gave him the silent treatment, railed at him, poured a drink on him, sent vicious e-mails, sent pleading e-mails, and overturned my own offers for fresh starts with blind rage, but never did he cut me off. Never did I feel avoided.

Even when he carefully sidestepped our little group at last year’s Cook-Off, he didn’t run away and hide afterwards as we all wandered into Hayley’s.

So what was so different this time?

I’ve looked for the precursor of this long dry spell and only one thing stands out as significantly different from the rest…

This time I threatened to expose him. This time, I spoke to the girlfriend.

But out of sight apparently doesn’t mean out of mind.

After his birthday in August, I learned of the birthday party his girlfriend threw for him and that he had asked Rachel keep it secret from me. Based on my attempt to talk to Michele, he was afraid I might try showing up. I remembered the veiled accusation during our last conversation when he asked if I’d gone into the restroom that night to talk to Michele, but I was still incredulous he would have such a disproportionate fear, since I had never showed up at anything he’d arranged and hadn’t gone out of my way to be around him at all.

The irony that the thing he feared me doing was something he had done was lost on me until much later. The real question I’d missed for so long while distracted by my own self-condemnation wasn’t whether I had purposely tracked his girlfriend down to talk to her that night as he’d implied, but why were they even there in the first place? They were across town and out on the river when The Flirt spoke with him before the show, and the very event itself should have suggested the outing was by my design, but his telling comment when we coincidentally ran into them on the street was that they were on their way to join us.

Knowing I was there and suspecting the evening to be my arrangement, why did he show up? Why would he want to?

Certainly he was afraid I wouldn’t be above crashing his party! … because apparently he wasn’t above crashing mine.

Then, in November (one month after the failed bowling night; one month before the unacknowledged Christmas gift), my nephew casually mentioned that he’d seen my friend – well, he guessed he wasn’t my friend anymore – during one of his solo gigs downtown. I presumed he was out with his girlfriend, but no, he was out with a group of guys. Then my nephew told me that he asked about me … asked how I was doing. And after my nephew gave him the obligatory answer that I was well, he said, “I don’t think she likes me much anymore,” to which my nephew didn’t know how to respond since I hadn’t shared any of my drama with him. My nephew recalled that he was pretty sloshed, of which I didn’t need to be told. With the SoHB and any night out in a bar, it’s a given.

It was comforting to hear of his inquiry about me, and his words also seemed indicative of an interest in how I felt towards him, offering assurance that the feelings which influenced our strong bond hadn’t been eradicated, but it was still a cowardly means of connection. Would he have even approached my nephew had his girlfriend been with him? And if he wanted to know how I was, why not approach me? If he wanted to know how I felt about him, why not ask me himself? Why fish for information through my nephew like an awkward middle school kid?

Once upon a time I would have seen this show of interest as an indication of openness and an invitation to communicate. Not this time. Even though I still care about him, I’m not interested in gaining access to his life at all cost. I admit to hoping he might recognize my Christmas gift, but it was given because I wanted him to have it, not because I wanted recognition for giving it. And I hoped he might feel both comforted and inspired enough by my apology to approach me with his own, but my true purpose was to release myself from the role of accuser and from misguided feelings of responsibility for any of his hurtful choices, like avoiding me or asserting defensive justifications. The door has been open for a while and should be obvious by now, but he refuses to walk through it. It doesn’t seem to be disinterest that keeps him distant, but fear. I’m no longer concerned with assuaging those fears or making it easier for him to do what needs to be done in resolving this conflict.

I’ve stopped feeling sorry for all of his inadequacies.

But the pain, although diminished, is still very real, and I can’t seem to help but periodically pick at the scab. I found Patch’s* LiveJournal site and combed through entries going back a year in search of any reference to the SoHB or his girlfriend. Then, I accidentally came across Michele’s MySpace page and couldn’t resist pouring over it in search of a glimpse into their relationship. The pain may have diminished, but the sense of betrayal is still very keen. I walk away feeling shaken and nearly helpless every time, but I’ve done it because what I want now is the very thing the SoHB and his girlfriend work against. I want exposure to the truth. I want to see things for what they are rather than hide from what I fear they might be. So, if I fear he’s being rewarded for his betrayal with a genuinely loving relationship, I want to know whether it’s true or not so I can stop being afraid and start dealing with it if it is, or get my validation if it isn’t.

In reality, the truth we fear isn’t nearly as painful as the fear itself, and exposure to it, or the exposure of it, really does set us free.

* = Names have been changed to protect those whom I like.