Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding.
- Diane Arbus
They met in an empty parking lot, embracing for many moments atop the black tar lot surface, their combined shadows cast across the space like one hunching spectre. She had gotten lost traveling to the city where she had ironically lived for four years while attending college. He had given up on her until he received a panicked call from a strange cell number.
“Oh thank god!” It was her and she was whispering frantically. “I am at some bar on the Strip, I have no idea where I am. I forgot my cell at home and had to try a dozen numbers before I got you.” Her voice is almost childlike, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed for sure… he thinks to himself, what else might be the same?
He’s slightly pissed off and drops his face into his free hand, runs it through his hair, takes a deep breath. After listening to her blather on for a few moments and then talking to one pissed off bartender, he pin points her location.
"Drive to the gas station on the next corner on the left side from you, it’s beside a Dunkin Donuts. Park there and wait, it will take me a little while to get there.” He takes on a stern tone, forgetting that he is the single man; she’s the mother of three. Three kids that aren’t his, what is he doing?
She’s crying, “I’m so sorry! I had no idea how to get to you.”
Her tears assuage any impatience he was feeling, it’s replaced with an inexplicable need to touch her face. He remembers flashes of feeling her skin, soft and pale, reddening under his fingers. He’s embarrassed for a minute. They were young kids then, it’s sad he remembers it so well. Now his pride and years of her silence have masked any affection he had for her. So why is he meeting her? He ponders this on the drive, still thinking about touching her when he pulls into the gas station.
She’s standing outside of her minivan as he arrives. When he first met her ten years prior she was sitting on the hood of a friend’s baby blue Honda. Tonight it’s a giant soccer mom minivan, how cliché. A tight beanie is pulled down over her wavy thick hair, hair he had once loved to touch. Her head is down, a tattered paperbook in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He watches her blow bubbles with her gum for a minute, smoke leaking slowly like gas from the orbs, licking the gum off of her fat lips, his second favorite thing about her face.
“Erin.” He has spoken more quietly than he had thought; the nearby traffic has drowned at his first attempt at getting her attention. He just stands there, the two versions of her in his minds eye crossing in a frustrating blur and meeting in front of him.
“ERIN.” This time she looks up, casts the book on top of the minivan’s hood and starts towards him. Her cheeks are flushed, her face lit up with excitement. She was always so infectious, regardless of his mood. He finds himself smiling at her but can’t move towards her. As all pretense of nonchalant emotions drops, she folds herself into his half outstretched, half unrelenting arms.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love,
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh, no! It’s an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests..and is never shaken.
She has a feeling that she may be lost, navigating aimlessly down and up city block after city block. A neighborhood of the city she spent her college years in, a neighborhood she has completely forgotten. After an hour or more of meandering around the streets, looking for some familiar sign, the angst and anxiousness of the evening’s impending meeting plus the embarrassment at being hopelessly lost has begun to well up in her chest. She feels nauseous and overwhelmed, slipping her beanie on and off of her head, not caring that her thick hair is now in serious disarray.
She parks, cursing herself for the millionth time of the night for forgetting her cell at home. She finds a not so scary bar and now near tears tries to convince the greasy haired, scowling biker chick bartender to let her use the payphone, which is oddly stationed behind the bar.
“I don’t have a cell and I’m lost! Can I please use the phone?” She is generally used to getting what she wants, so the interlude with the bartender is perplexing her to excess. The whining, bratty routine doesn’t work on the greasy barkeep but does work on the only patron of the bar, a greatly intoxicated young man with spiky hair and a rumpled cream suit, tie lying in a knotted ball on the bar in front of him.
“Hey schweetheart, I hear ya. You can use my cell…” His head is bobbing up and down while he offers up his phone to her, dropping it on the stool next to him with a clatter. He folds his arms on his chest as his head slumps down into his chest.
Phone in hand, she is relieved but only for a second as she realizes she doesn’t know his number by heart. Sadness sweeps over her body and the nausea comes back. She had to practically beg him to meet her and he had originally outright told her no. After a week of getting over the fact he never wanted to see her again, he called and had set up this meeting. Tonight’s date, the first time they would see each other after 7 years. Although she knows he’s harboring ill feelings towards her from the last decade, she can’t help but be excited to see him.
Spurred on by this excitement, the number forms in her mind's eye and she gets him on the phone. After a pretty tense exchange and an equally cross conversation with the bartender, he tells her where to meet him.
She drives to the gas station where he told her to park and wait for him. She lights a cigarette and stuffs two giant pieces of cherry burst bubblegum into her mouth, feeling guilty about both. Cigarettes were for a quick late night smoke after a horrible day with a colicky baby, she did not consider herself a day-time smoker. She reached into her minivan and pulled out a paperback she hadn’t touched in a year. She pages through, barely looking at the words, thinking back upon the last time she saw him.
She was eating lunch with a friend a hot summer day one week after the end of her first year of college. They were laughing, hamming it up and planning a night reconnecting with high school friends in their hometown. Over her friend's shoulder she saw him at a table across the restaurant, in deep conversation with a man, presumably his father.
“Mindi, holy freaking hell! Jeremiah is sitting over there.” She swore a few more times to add to the seriousness of the situation.
“Are you sure it’s him!? I thought he was in California or Kentucky or something like that.” It’s obvious she doubts my sanity, especially in regard to this particular boy.
“Yes I’m sure it’s him! What the hell!? Should I go and say hi?” The tips of her fat fingers immediately go into her mouth. Gnawing, she sighs deeply as if realizing a terrible fate. “Forget it, there’s no way he’s going to talk to me.”
Later they walk past his table while leaving. She has a burst of bravery and looks right into his face. He’s momentarily startled but does not greet her or return the wary smile. He puts his head down and continues his conversation in gruff tones, low and obviously not for her to hear.
She’s thinking of this moment in time when she hears her name.
“Erin.” His voice cracks slightly.
She knows it’s him and that he’s finally standing in the same space as her but she can’t bring herself to respond. Cruelly she pretends she can’t hear him. A few moments pass and the grinding in her stomach finally stops and melts away. He might leave if she doesn’t acknowledge him.
“ERIN.” No cracking voice this time, perfect, loud and clear. She tosses the book aside and nearly skips to him. A smile matching her painfully large one starts to grow across his face like an unruly, uneven vine. He’s still on guard as she forces herself into his arms but relents soon after the initial contact. He presses his face into her neck, then leans in further against her ear and sighs.
Not a perfect ending, she thinks to herself as he holds her tighter, but better than groping each other in my parent’s basement.