Maybe There's a Tenth

Mickey went home last night. The first time we met she asked me to stay over, the wine as an excuse to avoid the drive, so long as we both agreed to keep hormones at bay. We did. It felt right. When I walked to my car the next morning, dress shirt slung over my shoulder, I swore there was an invisible force-field blocking all negative rays.

Last week she had me for dinner on a Wednesday and I didn't leave until Friday. She offered the invitation for Night 2 before lunch Thursday morning to alleviate the confusion of wondering, generous soul that she is. But last night, after a trip to the theater to see the cinematic telling of the most poignant pining novel of love, loss, redemption, and more loss, she gathered her things and left.

"I need space," was her rebuttal to the silent agony on my face. "Take as much time as necessary," I lied. When a man like me feels rejected he builds walls around his heart. I don't want time to do that. The risk here is too great. If only I hadn't asked her that presumptuous question two nights ago. If only I'd kept my suffering my own. Movie film is not the only thing projected. Try as we might, we carry our pasts.

It's been a hell of a morning: rolling in the sheets I changed before her arrival, wishing she'd left her scent in them, trying not to think of what this backward trend means, begging the cardiac masons inside my chest to stall as long as possible. The phone rang once between my dreams of the George Washington Bridge and my first car accident. It was a coworker, probably inviting me to a barbecue since today is one of those summertime holidays reserved for empty calories and socially acceptable alcoholism. I didn't answer.

I turned my phone on Silent Mode to avoid any further disturbances. I'd slept with the volume raised in case she changed her mind. Never turn it off, you'll seem unavailable. A lot is said by the status of a cell phone. "Here I am," or "I'm not here," or "Look at how pathetic I've become." The answers to all never matter. Only a prisoner of his own skull would dig that deep for meaning. I'm a writer by trade, a builder of rooftops to pay the bills. A man who tries to sell words as his own has to do his share of excavation in the mundane. Mickey loves that about me. Now, however, she's seeing its danger-- or she would be, if she'd felt comfortable enough to stay last night.

"The total package," her friend called me once during a conversation that spilled its way into ours in that gracious way reserved for winning affection through disclosure. Mickey was describing her newfound beau to her lifelong friend and confidante, suddenly teary-eyed, when the compliment came. What they often forget to acknowledge, however, is that these "total packages" tend to come with baggage. How can one expect it all without the addition of some caveats? The wheat is not so separate from the chaff. Character's built through fire, but it tends to leave some scars. Mine pop out at the worst possible moments-- like three in the morning, lying in bed with a tongue loosened by alcohol, a truth too honest to tell as the culprit.

I fight the urge to call her as best I can for a few hours. It's a tragic battle between What's Right For Me and What's Right For Us. That's what they don't say in the handbook: the transition from self-preservation to nurturing a bond is as bloody as birth and not as successful. Finally, and with heavy hands, my destiny can't wait. Her phone rings four times and I'm about to abort before the voicemail recording, but then her tired rasp greets me hesitantly.

"Good morning, Dave."

"Good morning, Mickey."

There wasn't enough time between dialing and speaking to compose more of an approach. I stare at the left half of my bed where she should be right now and go all in. My words can't penetrate that rare skull thicker than mine so I aim for the ribcage instead.

"The cat's dead."


"That's why I called. I found him this morning, and..."

"Oh my God. Honey, I'm so sorry. I'll be right over."

"Are you sure?" I ask, faking humble reservation. "I know you said you needed some time."

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm a woman with rules, but I'm not cruel. You sound terrible."

She's not inaccurate. I do sound terrible, though not because of the alleged death of any pets. I sound terrible because of her, because of her absence, because of what I've equated that to in my mind after years of being abandoned by the ones who've mattered in my life. Mostly, I sound terrible because I am. And I'm not going to make a liar out of either of us.

"See you in a bit, babe," she assures me.

"OK," I say before she hangs up.

It takes only a small amount of convincing to rouse myself from the sheets in search of the cat. It never liked me anyway. It's probably hiding under the couch as usual. A jacket and gloves will protect me from the scratches. My illness will distance me from the shame. Nothing, short of God, will protect its fragile neck from the beckoning of my need for love.

We learned more in kindergarten than the sum of what came after.

Some kids pissed their pants for attention.

I used to sit there and not say a word.

Teachers call home for the latter.

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