I've waited ten years to fall in love with him. Standing by, watching and listening from a distance of two feet or two years, it never mattered how long the time that passed, the same burgeoning attraction would fill me when I heard his voice, saw his face. Oh, he treated me like he did all of the women he worked with: pleasant, courteous, casual hugs, and passing compliments that always felt special. But he never saw me. His profile for attractive women ran the gamut of all I am not. Blonde, bright and sparky, blue-eyed and cheerleader-popular; the opposite of my dark intensity. What a fool he was and I knew it, but how could I tell him so? I've always believed one passionate person should find another, or all of their passion becomes an intangible source of agony. So when he brought his third wife into the Acute Care Unit where I worked, and I heard his southern drawl behind me, "I'd like you to meet my wife," my levels of disdain for him and hatred for her frigidity and inadequacy in the passion department were equal. Especially as I watched her blinking blue eyes, the snapping white teeth and the attitude of possession, I prophesied doom.
He had turned me down six months before, those ten years ago; when through a mutual friend I asked if he would meet me for dinner. He said he was too busy even for a hamburger. But the truth was I am much younger than him and I had a small daughter he didn't want to raise. But still after that he would come by my desk, touch me, ask me how I was doing in his naturally caring way. I learned to put my guard up; watch for him and get out of his path. To be touched by him and feel the manifestation of my powerful attraction to him, like I did when he put just one finger on me, was a million times worse than watching the pain in his eyes when I avoided him.
Now he is a casualty of war. Number Three cost him; cost him money, cost him time, pride, made a prisoner of his joy, stole his manhood then sold it back to him. I watched; I knew when it was over. Because I invested thought into his happiness, when his marriage ended I mourned too, just for him and the pain that bled out of him like vapor. I never said "I told you so," but I was terribly, and temporarily, happy in my self-righteousness.
In one short evening these six years after he last tried to love a woman, when after a summer of noticing each other he asked me to dinner, I learned that history is a living thing with breath, eyes, teeth and grasping hands. History is loaded with ammunition, it fights to be known; it's full and turgid, and recounting it makes it impossible to ignore the feelings those memories manufacture both for the speaker and the listener. Personal living history can never adequately be written in grandma's Bible and stored in the cedar chest for the next generation to rediscover. We have choices. All of our past truths and untruths can be kept alive with traditions, rituals and stories, or we can silently scratch them into our skin like venomous tattoos. We can wrap our hearts into history like those rubber band balls they sell at Staples—one after another we wind an experience over the last and some are thick and exposed to the elements for years, with tinier bands lacerating their heaviness—still our hearts are able to spring and jump just as they always did, maybe for different reasons each decade, but the tight squeeze of the bound ball leaves little room for anything to leak out, dissolve, disintegrate to the nothingness which brings peace.
His history came with him on our dinner date; it showed in the lines running from his temple to his jaw, his beautiful blue eyes like shuttered stars, long fingers on restless hands gracing our table with sorrow, dark hair streaked silver and the Bacall gap of his lower teeth. He was tired and afraid, but he looked into me. He was anxious and he needed to be caressed, but there was not to be any touching. He has just begun to let me exist for him, and my presence, my warm availability, can now peek into his life. He wants to know more. He wants to try again with love in spite of an overwhelming fear of failure. Although all my instincts about him were confirmed Friday night—it feels just and pure and right to be with him—my challenge will be competing with the enemies, four long gone women, and occluding their latent presence with my own vibrancy.
Not all of the relationships with other women were bad because the woman was a tarantula. But the one who loved him back died after just two years of marriage. How can I ever replace her? He opens her tomb frequently. The others will go from "us" with some target practice. Mostly, I believe accepting his past as he tells it is the best method. Let him talk. Then start a new history.
A new page was printed when he gave me dating instructions as we drove in his car, in the pink, balmy, hot-grass scented August evening, me trying to stay in my space, him tight against his side of the vehicle:
1. No calling each other and talking on the phone every day—we could talk every day but that would cause everything to go too fast.
Okay, I said.
2. Nothing regular at all, nothing regular like twice-weekly dates is going to happen; we are going to take it slow.
Okay, I said.
3. If it goes too fast I will pull back, way back.
Okay, I said.
4. I don't know when I will call, but I will call you. I will call you some time.
Okay, I said.
5. I want to see you again. Do you want to see me again?
Yes, I do, I said.
Then, I guess I wanted to stand out as different, as superior to the others who were like leeches on his soul, so I announced that I've been an independent woman since I was twelve; I don't call men, they call me; I won't be calling him, he can call me when it's a natural urge for him; I tend to be distant not clingy in relationships; I might ignore him if I see him at work. This time, he said okay.
I know all the dating rules stand for fear. Maybe I will remake his past like revisionists do with U.S. presidents in order to make them acceptable for the oval office and politically correct. Or, most likely I will give him time to tell his story as many times as he likes and in all the versions and sequels he chooses. He will love me as I love him if I take everything he has and put it in me so we merge. When I know everything about him, and he knows everything about me, we can write a remake; the story of us.