Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Ari Fleischer, eat your heart out

Friday, March 4, 2005, 3:00pm
Stephanie's school - lounge

My stomach gurgles and burns as we pay for our coffee. I know that, in just a minute, we'll sit on one of the couches that are scattered around the room, and I'll find out if I still have a girlfriend or not.

She doesn't even sip her coffee; she just sits there, staring at the floor, for what seems like an hour.

"First of all, I want you to know I really appreciate you being honest with me. I know that's what we said we would do."

I nod.

"But of course, that doesn't excuse what you did."

"I know."

"I don't understand, Steve. I really don't. How could you?" she asks, her eyes tearing up.

"I was stupid."

"No, you weren't. You aren't stupid. You're not a stupid person! That's why part of me wants to think that you.... wanted this somehow. Or that you're sabotaging us intentionally."

"Sabotaging us?"

"Yeah! Like, you don't feel you're ready, or part of you doesn't want this, and you're trying to... sabotage it."

"No! Of course not!"

"I get so confused with you, Steve. I mean, you can be the sweetest guy I have ever met, and then you can be... a monster."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you can do what you did for me on Christmas, or on Valentine's Day, and those were some of the sweetest things that anyone has ever done for me, ever. And then you can do what you did to that guy at work, where you made him sweat it out for a full day before you talked to him-"

"Steph! That's work! It's not personal!"

"I know, but I can't even believe that you would be capable of that. How could you DO such a thing?"

I don't answer.

"How could you cheat on someone you love? How could you sleep with so many different women?"

Oh, that's easy. You just douse yourself in cologne, and then you walk around like an arrogant son of a bitch...

"Steph, the first time, the girl at corporate, we weren't exclusive, and the second time-"

"Just the fact that you have a first time and a second time ought to tell you something. You've got a long history. That's very intimidating."

"And the fact that you cheated on your boyfriend with me the first night? That's not intimidating?"

"You were with someone too. I haven't been with anyone since. You have; three times."

Touche. I should have known I wasn't going to get away with that one.

"The sweet person who gave me all those flowers couldn't do what you did. I just don't understand how you can be one person one minute, and another person the next minute."

"It's not as cut and dry as you are making it sound, Steph."

"Yes it IS!"

"It ISN'T! I'm making big changes in my life. I didn't get this way overnight, and it wasn't going to change overnight."

"That's my whole problem. Steve, I love you dearly, but how do I know this won't happen again? That's the real question. How do I know?"

I pause. She's hit it right on the head, of course. How CAN she trust me now?

"I just feel like... that's not a fair question."

"Not FAIR?"

"Not because you don't deserve to know, Steph. You totally deserve to know. But it's like asking me to prove that it's not going to rain tomorrow. I can go out and find 10 different forecasts calling for sunshine. But a forecast is just a guess, right? So I haven't really PROVEN that it's not going to rain."

"And it's proving the negative," she says, quietly.

"Which is impossible."

You know what? I think that round went to your old pal Stevo!

"No matter what happens, Steph, thank you for spending so much time with me, and thank you for helping me through some tough times. I just want you to know that I take responsibility for what I did, and I don't blame you in any way. This isn't your fault; it's all mine."

"But there must be something wrong, something that made you-"

"No. You've been the best girlfriend that a guy could ask for. If there's any problem, it's probably that deep down inside I don't feel like I deserve you."

She blinks longingly, searching my face, like she always does, and it occurs to me that after today, I may never see her do that again.

"I just want you to know that I learned something about myself. And you learned something too."

"I did?"

I nod. "I learned that ... I have a conscience. I have a sense of right and wrong now. After what happened, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. It bothered me. That may not sound like a big deal to you at all. But for me, that is huge. I've never felt that way before, never. I'm just sorry I had to find out the way I did. And it makes me happy to know that I have grown that way, but it scares me, too."

"Why does it scare you?"

"Because letting your guard down means you can get hurt."

"I know that," she says, rolling her eyes.

"And YOU learned something too."


"You learned that no matter what happens, I am going to be totally honest with you. If there was any doubt, it should be gone now."

"But that's not a guarantee that you won't do something cruel. Again."

Hey! Are we back on this point?

"Sweetheart. There's no such THING as a guarantee like that," I say.

"There's no such thing as a cure for cancer. But a lot of people still need one desperately."

I pause for a long time and ponder those words. If I ever write a book, I'm gonna work that in somehow. Truly profound.

So much for Steve winning one.

"Steph, I KNOW we can do this. Don't throw away what we have. I LOVE you!"

She closes her eyes and sighs visibly, as if steeling herself for something painful. It's like my words are affecting her against her will.

"I'm gonna need time, Steve. I would understand if you told me that - that was unacceptable to you."

The first impulse you get when you hear something like that is to ask, "how long?" But don't ever do it! You don't CARE how long she thinks she needs; your job is to make it as brief as possible.

"Can I call you tomorrow?"


"Just to say goodnight?"

"Call me at home at 9:30."

She'll be at study group at 9:30. If I call her at home, I'll get her machine.

I guess it's better than nothing.