Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Ghost of 94

"Pay attention to me. I'm inconsolable."
--30 Rock

I don't  talk a lot about 1994, because, well, it's still a little too fresh. Too raw. That January dumped a couple feet of snow; a week of below zero temps; and the season wrapped up with an ice storm where I lost power for 7 days.

Somewhere in between the snowstorm and the ice storm was The Worst Breakup of My Life. Sometimes it just takes a cloud in the sky to bring it all back.

Now, here's the thing, it wasn't a very big or long or especially significant relationship -- but The Breakup? -- THAT is the stuff Legends are made of. The Governor even applied for Federal Disaster Relief (and to this day, no one thinks it was because of the snow or the ice.) Looking back, I can only blame some odd once-in-a-lifetime alignment of the Weather and Cabin Fever. It was so bad that everyone who knew me then (or read about it subsequently) is exquisitely finely tuned to any ripple I've ever experienced in any and every relationship since. I picture their ears collectively perking up in the universal Scooby Doo distress signal for "Ruuuur?" And then I think it's just like that Ayyy-OOOO-ga sound on a submarine right before it dives; the lights flash red; an alert sounds; and they all go running for their battlestations.

It's a unique combination of art and science, but at the first sign things are headed for the same latitude things always head for: South (like the Sadness, or its more serious sequel, The Badness), I can almost (but not quite) hear their tom-toms beating (it's inaudible at a normal frequency, but not quite imperceptible). Smoke signals are initiated. (Because of 1994, I think they're reluctant to rely completely on the fickle fates of technology.) Cell numbers are apparently exchanged, a phone tree is formed (by now, they might be using Facebook -- I don't know, because I'm not privy to this NORAD-level of coordination -- I just see the after-effects), and schedules are traded to ensure I am not to be left alone or unfed for more than 38 seconds at a time. People materialize. Food materializes. Two fridges are stocked. My house is mysteriously cleaned. (JD insists she doesn't do this; she explains it more like...  "I don't think I got a callous or anything! Lord have mercy, people will think I show up on the swing shift in my miner's carbide lamp to clean your GUTTERS! (And I hate for anyone to be misled that way, because it was really just a flashlight duct-taped to my bicycle helmet. Nothing fancy.)" I think she might be the one who left the emergency flares in the driveway. Or it's possible that was Rachel when she dropped me off, along with a homemade pie.

Part of the magnitude of 94 directly correlated to the precise insignificance of the relationship. I don't typically go-to-pieces. I typically pick myself up and dust myself off and remain reasonably sanguine. My attitude is much like that of my niece's Mom when their last horse kept getting repeatedly, expensively sick. Eventually,  Linda felt compelled to point out, "there's a LOT of horses out there, Sunshine" -- the well-taken implication being, everything's replaceable. Well, yeah. Exactly. Sunshine's a good horse, but there'll be plenty more good horses. They're not Unicorns for chrissake; they're not exactly rare. So, The Breakup of 1994 caught everyone off-guard (including me). They were UnPrepared. It was almost like they expected a Light Dusting, and they somehow ended up with a Blizzard. Without so much as a crust of bread in the house.

Don't get me wrong, he was an ok guy -- but most definitely not The One For Me. (Obviously, I think that whole concept of The One is silly anyway; see also: Sunshine The Horse.)  For example, he didn't like it when I slept in his t-shirts. And here's why. He had an endless array of concert t-shirts. I just didn't know that there was an equally endless array of categories for them. So when I innocently pulled a Flatlanders t-shirt off a hanger at bedtime, I didn't realize it was "a dress shirt" and that I should've gone with a less-formal Lyle Lovett from a drawer. He also couldn't cook. But worse than that, he liked Fast Food. He also smoked. (Honestly, I didn't much care, but I started pointing it out once I noticed it made an entire percentage of people judge him harshly for it.)

That being said, even though he wasn't necessarily good for me (my number two criteria for any relationship), he was most definitely good to me (which is my number One requirement). I didn't have an SUV at the time, so I can't begin to express the love I felt everytime he shoveled my car out of the driveway, or hauled the snowed-in Herbie to the curb. And while he didn't cook, he was happy to walk a mile in the snow and haul back groceries that I would then transform into food. He was a Do-er. Not a Thinker. Not a Talker. I can respect that. When we met up for Pizza Night (every Thursday at Susan and Lucas's), he wouldn't just go out and clear off and warm up my car, he took everybody's keys and went out and cleared off the car of every woman there. We had identical CD collections (remember, this was before iPods, when you went to a store and handed over money for these shiny cases that contained music...if you can imagine) and very similar libraries (before Kindles). As Power Couples go, our split was mostly a tough thing when we had to divide up the music scene and decided who got custody of which bands.

The worst part was that he was fairly integrated into the social circle, a mistake I wasn't much given to, before or since. For obvious reasons. It's just too hard on them. No one else was ever invited to Pizza Night, that's for sure. In fact, we had to stop having Pizza Night for awhile because it was too upsetting. Also, Inconvenient, because when I say I took to my bed in the aftermath of The BreakUp, that isn't exactly accurate. I took to Susan and Lucas's bed. For weeks, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep -- and when I say now that I don't cry, I mean it, because I think I ran out of tears during that BreakUp. I cried so copiously and so constantly, my eyes swelled shut. And that is not hyperbole. I lost so much weight that everyone justifiably feared for my health. A lot of words were tossed around (in hushed tones) like "hydration" and "nourishment" and  "IVs." Greg says he recalls me propped up on the pillows of Susan's bed -- wanly accepting callers -- huddled under my Shawl. (I don't even have a Shawl, but his image is now exactly how I recall those days also.)

Eventually, there came a day when I left The Bed.

One afternoon, I called out to Susan, "Sooooooz, Sooooooz," and when she came running (because I hadn't spoken much for quite some time) what I said was (or, at least, this is how she and I jointly remember it): "I believe, today..... today.... I might take some broth."

She and Luc immediately went to work in the kitchen. Nothing was too good for their Patient. If I could dream it up, they would make it. Was I up to company? Maybe a little lipstick would make me feel better? Could Linda drop by? A bit of pasta was set to boil, and Luc began the assembly of fresh, homemade sauce. It smelled wonderful. They are two of the best cooks I know.

I pulled a quilt around me and shuffled out to a kitchen chair, where I collapsed, exhausted -- but satisfied I had made the effort. They were both very proud. About that time we heard a commotion at the door. Linda had arrived and the dogs had rushed out to greet her. She came into the kitchen all dewy and fresh-faced from the snow, and put some grocery bags on the counter. I was happy to see her -- glad for a little more human contact among those I loved.

And then, well, then she betrayed me. She reached into one of those bags and...she pulled out a Mountain Dew. She blithely put it on the table in front of me, "For you!"

My lip began to quiver. That familiar sobbing ache, briefly at bay, suddenly returned to my left jaw. My swollen eyes immediately filled with tears.

You could see the slow dawning of recognition spread across Susan's face. "LINDA!" she exploded, turning on our friend, "How COULD you?" Lucas (the nicest, most laid back, easy-going husband you ever met) shook his head in grimly disappointed resignation, "We just got her calm, and now you pull this...?" This ... stunt was obviously what he was thinking.

Linda, being Linda (Linda, the erstwhile owner of poor Sunshine), just looked around, genuinely mystified and confused. "What? What'd I do?"

"Mountain...Dew...?" I managed to half-croak, half-gasp, in a tone that called into question how we had ever become friends in the first place. "You know [Insert Boyfriend's Name Here] drank... Mountain ...Dew."

And then I wrapped the quilt (or the shawl, if you prefer Greg's account) back around me, and shuffled back to The Bed. Where I stayed til Groundhog Day. Or maybe it was March Madness.

So that's the Story. The Long Story of the Storm of 94. It's why I'm reluctant to allow boyfriends into my inner circle. Integration is hard, but the subsequent segregation can almost kill you. My mother didn't take that long to separate from my Dad, and they were married over 20 years. So I can't explain how or why things played out the way they did. There have been plenty of breakups since that one (and two real, genuine, honest-to-god heartbreaks, that came on the heels of two longterm, serious relationships -- one with a guy I should've married, and one with a guy I should have crossed the street to avoid). There haven't been any repeats of that scenario, but you can't be too careful. I don't want to take any chances. No one does. They remember. I remember.

It's why, for 15 years or so, you would never see a boy's CD anywhere near my stereo, much less a book on a nightstand, or a spare toothbrush in my bathroom. It isn't personal, or specific to the degree of affection, or lack thereof, for the boy or boys involved. It's because I developed a Pavlovian aversion.

The thought of packing up another boy's clothes -- and separating his formalwear t-shirts from his casual-wear t-shirts? -- well, I just don't think I could put Rachel and JD through that.

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