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I am...a New Yorker
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Tuesday, September 17, 2002
Extricated
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The sidebar wishes this was a photographic entry.

I am...relieved, in a strange way, to have gotten out of an increasingly odd situation.

Over the weekend, things with Rafe devolved in a way even I could never have forseen. After last weekend, it reached the point where I was going to need some sort of clarification of our status imminently.

I wasn't looking for anything serious, but things seemed to take a turn in that direction. His calls and emails went from a few times a week, to everyday and then some. We went from seeing each other twice in three weeks, to three times in one weekend.

I knew he was under a lot of stress due to his uncertain work situation, but with his talent and background, I also knew he had the tools to resolve it. Instead, he couldn't see options or solutions, even when I pointed them out. Now I understand how frustrated my friends get when I can't see the solutions that are obvious to everyone else.

After weeks of this, he made himself sick. He called me on Saturday from the hospital; he asked me to visit that afternoon. It was a bit overwhelming to see him like that. On top of everything, his "friend," let's call her "Veruca," was there. He'd mentioned her a few times, but as a friend (who had a boyfriend), so I didn't think much of it. At first.

I brought him a book and picked up a journal and a pen for him on the way. After all, what's a writer without pen and paper?

I sat there, mostly in silence because I didn't know what to say. Also, I realize, I've only been with Rafe around other people (either of us knows, strangers in the park not getting involved in our conversations) once; no matter what, it would have been odd. Veruca tried to make small talk, between cooing all the right-Oprahisms at him.

She asked how I met Rafe but, before I had a chance to respond, he jumped in to lie. He said we met through friends of friends.

When Veruca went out to buy Rafe magazines and a New York Times, he explained that she thought the online dating thing was weird. A lot of people do still lie about how they met, but somehow that excuse fell flat.

It was the only time he touched me, one of those things I realized only in hindsight. He held my hand and told me that he didn't realize I cared until he skimmed my email to him Friday afternoon, urging him to take care of himself, just as his boss was calling an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

Veruca returned. As time went on, I felt more and more like a third wheel -- like I wasn't wanted there. That's ironic, since he'd asked me to come, but she only found out because his roommate answered his phone while gathering clothes and toiletries to take to the hospital. As they say, the lord works in mysterious ways.

I kept telling myself it was just unfounded, petty jealousy. My gut, by contrast, is far wiser in these situations than my brain. It said there was something in the way he turned ever-so-slightly away from me and toward her, like a flower to the sun; the way her hand went from his hand, to his shoulder, massaged his neck and then his knee; the way he responded to this. It wasn't just comforting a sick friend.

In fairness, we hadn't had that talk yet and I was doing well about not expecting anything. It's not like I wasn't dating other men, though he was starting to stand out, while they faded into the background. But there were certain tender intimacies that I don't often share. (And no, not sex, we'd agreed to take it slowly).

Certainly Rafe didn't expect such a crisis, let alone for it to bring different parts of his life crashing together (or perhaps he did orchestrate the entire drama, but I'm not that cyniccal). Mostly it was just awkward. And sad. Not only was I feeling cast aside, but then there was seeing Rafe sick. My brain had trouble negotiating all these competing feelings.

It's impossible for me to see someone in a hospital gown and not think of them as weakened, hurt, teetering on some precipice. He looked thinner than I'd noticed before. So little of the light was left in his once gleaming ebony eyes; they'd gone from glossy to matte in a matter of days.

When visiting hours were over, I turned away while they said their goodbyes, because I felt like a voyeur. He said he'd call her at 10.

Then he hugged me goodbye in a most detached fashion, not holding hands, kissing even on the cheek or any of those tender, little intimacies that had become so quickly customary over the preceeding weeks.

He explained again her objections to online dating. I knew then I should have asked if she knew we were dating, period. I avoided the dramatic, "Are you fucking her?!" moment as well. I'm too old for that kind of shit. Moreover, the two big shocks were a bit much at once. My brain has a tendancy to shut down when there is just too much to deal with at any one time.

Veruca and I left the hospital together. She wasted no time in bad-mouthing him and invited me to stop in a cafe and do it some more. I don't know why I just go along with such things, dazed. Call it morbid curiosity.

She offered to buy my drink, but the cafe wouldn't take a credit card for less than $5, natch. Guess who paid for the whole thing? Gawd, I'm a sucker. I figure the story is worth the two bucks.

We sat atop tall, awkward, artsy stools while Veruca explained how she felt responsible. She'd been avoiding Rafe, she said, because all his problems were a drag. She preferred to be around "confident" people and he was just too insecure.

"What a great friend," I thought. In the hospital he was so wise, wonderful, beautiful and full of light, she said. A great investment of her money, even -- she figured giving him her "nest egg" would mature before her IRA. I ain't betting on that one.

I sat there, listening, incredulous, angry on so many levels, yet unable to respond. Perhaps I was just wise enough, for once, to keep my trap shut. Simultaneously, I rebuffed her attempts to ply me for information. She asked again how Rafe and I met; I should've told her the truth. It's moments like that at which I curse my honor. She wanted to know if I'd seen it coming, which struck me as oddly funny, because she'd been blowing him off, what did she care? I was still only getting to know him -- how could I know?

We left the cafe and I deliberately walked past my street and toward the subway with her. She hugged me and it could not feel less sincere if she was a white supremacist. (Note for the reading comprehension-challenged, I'm not saying she is a white supremacist, it's a simile comparing her to someone who'd be equally unlikely to hug me).

. . .

On Sunday morning the phone rang and I knew immediately it was Rafe. He asked me, haltingly, if I could visit at 3, instead of 2. He and Veruca needed to "catch up."

"Do you want me to come at all?"

"No."

Fair enough. I said I would come only long enough to pick up the book I'd loaned him. Rafe began to rattle off a litany of excuses. My favorite was "We have nothing in common (besides journalism school, Indiana, dreaming our entire lives of moving to New York, web design, web logging and finding refuge in words)." Other than those mere trifles, nada, zip, zilch. Why I don't know how we made it through a single date!

Wasn't it just last week, Rafe and I marvelled at how much we had in common?

He said all we talked about were his problems. That wasn't true initially, but increasingly it was a subject he couldn't get off of. I was starting to think that it just wasn't going to get resolved, that he was going to let the worst case scenario happen, while he did nothing. I told him that -- on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He'd started to go from telling me "thank you for being there for me" to "you should really bail on me." I should've listened, but I just didn't realize how severe his problems were.

I couldn't get caught up in that, just as I'm cleaning up a decade of my own mistakes. It was too bad, too, because there was so much that made sense about him. I'd actually picked him over the others because we got along and did have so much in common. It seemed the choice going away from drama. Ironic, I know.

While he explained why "it's not meant to be," I snickered as I thought how lucky he was not to have given me the password to update his site with an explanation for his lack of updates.*

About an hour after we hung up, I got angry at the very thought of him telling me when to come, after dumping me. It's like my boss telling me to come in before 1 when he'd fired me (not to mention waking me up at 7:30 to do so). I don't take orders from ex-bosses or ex-unboyfriends, or from much of anyone, for that matter.

I'd spent most of Friday and all of Saturday worried about him and cancelled my other plans as a result. All I'd planned for the weekend was to go to the movies and ask Rafe's help using Moveable Type. I'll be damned if I was going to wait around all day Sunday, to make things more convenient for him and to accomodate Veruca's work schedule (she's in theater, but, surprisingly, she is not an actress).

I walked in at 2 and asked him to get my book, "I don't want to waste any more of today on you, like I did yesterday."

When he left to retrieve the book, Veruca's big, blue eyes practically bugged out of her head. She gave me a sympathetic head tilt and asked what was wrong.

"Nothing. He called to break it off with me this morning, everything is fine."

"Awwwwwww..." and so on with the head tilting.

While she hugged me again, I stared, fascinated at the poster of corn on the wall behind her, marvelling at all the different colors, shapes, varieties.

"But you look so good, so much better than yesterday...your clothes...your hair."

"Yesterday I was worried about a friend, not how I looked," I shrugged. "Today, I have one less thing to worry about."

Rafe returned with my book. I still hadn't looked at him.

"He's your problem now," I said, turned on my heel and strode out.

I didn't look back.

*Rafe isn't his real name, but a nickname, and hers certainly isn't Veruca. I've left out most identifying information (like links to his sites) and embarrassing details. I honestly don't crave revenge; I asked for clarification and got it in spades. Leaving the two of them to each other is a more fitting end than I could ever write.

[Next entry: "Relieved"]
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