Thursday, November 11, 2004

Stephie's choice

Thursday, November 4.

I haven't spoken to Steph since Tuesday the 2nd. Paul was supposed to be flying in, and rearranging his whole career for her, and going on Viagra, and basically playing Extreme Makeover to make himself into a worthy boyfriend.

I am very angry and disappointed about what is happening. I really do like Steph and the start we've gotten off to. Yeah, I knew what I was getting into. I knew she had a boyfriend. And I didn't think anything would come of it. But something did.

I can't stand that she's even thinking of staying with him.

I've never met Paul, but I know him. He commits not one, but many cardinal sins for the male gender: He's cheap. He hates sex. He cries like a pussy in front of his girlfriend.

What's more, he appears to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. We all know how it works: Treat a girl like shit, and she will want you more. Ignore her, and she will chase after you. And technically, he is treating her like shit, by not calling, and not buying her things, and not screwing her. But I always thought you had to be more of a dickhead about it, not a mousey, introverted little wuss. I guess I learned something today. Someone call Dan Johnson!

I get angry about Paul. His status as an FBI agent seems to awake this reverence in everyone. "He's FBI," they all say, in a hoarse whisper, as if it were too important to say out loud. He's given a wide berth by everyone, Steph included, because "He's FBI". He's allowed not to call her, and to have an inability to get a hard-on, and to spend $9.98 on her Christmas gift, because "He's FBI". None of her friends or family seem to object to her relationship, at least not that I've heard of. He's FBI, after all!

I admit it, this struggle brings out the competitiveness in me, and I find myself wondering how I can get the upper hand, how I can win.

But it's about more than winning. Lila wasn't right for me, I now know, but my relationship with her showed me that I am capable of real commitment. I DO want to settle down at some point. I DO want to have a family. And I would want my wife to be smart, and successful, and beautiful, and well-adjusted, and strong. Stephanie is all those things.

We haven't been together that long at all. It takes time for a girl to grow on me, months and months of unwavering dedication and putting up with my shit, before I will even consider allowing myself to get attached to her. And even then, it's not a strong attachment. The whole thing always feels weak, like a 12-year-old kid's tree house: A wobbly, unsteady structure of rotted plywood sheets and rusty nails that will collapse in a loud, dusty mess with the first stiff breeze that blows by.

Why am I bothering, then? I'm not head over heels in love with Stephanie. I don't wake up in the morning sniffing my pillow for traces of her perfume. I don't adorn my monitor with snapshots of us from a photo booth, or send her lovey-dovey e-mails from work. I don't buy her little trinkets from the Hallmark store just because "I was thinking of her". I don't find her name sneaking into my daily conversations or use her birthday for my voice mail password.

But at the same time, I know that things are different with Steph. She is probably the most mature girl I've ever been with. She.... calms me down when I need it. She makes me laugh. That's not easy. Yeah, I think I could fall in love with her. But am I just saying that because she might be leaving?

I want to call her. I want to plead my case. I want to remind her of how good we are together. I just want to talk to her, about The Brady Bunch, or bad movies, or how Van Halen was so much better with David Lee Roth. I want to sit in front of the TV with her for hours watching re-runs. I want to hear about how stressed she is with school, and make her feel better with a sympathetic ear and a comforting shoulder. I want her to do the same for me. I just want things to be like they used to.

I can't call her. I shouldn't. When she is ready, she will call. And besides, what if she is with him, giving his brand-new hard-on a test drive? Calling her now would be a show of weakness. Wouldn't it? Wouldn't I look like a lost puppy, chasing her around?

Maybe it is time for me to follow my heart, like I always tell everyone else to do. Maybe it is time for me to take a chance, and to put myself out there, make myself vulnerable. Maybe it's time to show her how I really feel, and take the risk of getting hurt.

But I hate losing. I hate the idea of letting on that losing her would hurt me, because it might actually happen. My strong facade would crumble. She would know that I'm not as impervious to pain as I might look. The bubble of toughness around me would be punctured, and she would see that I am just a little boy underneath.

Deep down inside I know it is the right thing to do. If things don't work out, I will always wonder what would have happened if I had come clean.

Maybe the strongest thing of all is for me to show weakness.

I call Steph. She answers.

"Hi," I say.


"Steph, we need to talk."

"I know."

"I just want you to know, and this is really hard for me..."


"You mean a lot to me. I would hate to lose you. I care about you a lot."


"When I'm with you, I don't want to be anywhere else. It doesn't matter what we're doing."


"I can talk to you about anything. I can tell you what's on my mind and it feels good knowing that you don't judge me."


"Are you gonna say something?"


"He's there, isn't he?"

"Yeah! Uh-huh." She's playing it off like I'm one of her study partners or something.

It's time to lay it on thick.

"Steph. PLEASE don't leave me."

"I'll call you tomorrow, ok?" her voice is shaking.

"Yeah, you do that," I say.