By Susan Cohen.
While the rest of the world was making love (so it seems), I went grave-digging this Valentines Day. I kicked at the ground around some of my dead romances wondering if The One For Me was ever right in front of me and I just hadn’t recognized him. Maybe I’d been too picky. Had I discarded him carelessly like a candy wrapper in anticipation of the good stuff? I peeked into the beginnings and lingered a little in the middles but the ends, I concluded, always came because of three little words. No now, not those three.
At 19 a boyfriend took me to the movies for our first date. Wintertime in Chicago, and though the theatre had a parking garage and heated catwalk, he resourcefully found a spot 4 blocks away and held my hand as we navigated mounds of snow and ice. The ticket booth lady snuck me a pitying glance when he reached for his wallet and exclaimed, “Seven Dollars?! Geez!” 5 seconds passed as I considered buying my own way in, but by the 6th I’d decided That was it for Him.
He called constantly that next week, before stalking got it’s shameful reputation and was still known as pursuit, but his timing was bad and I’d always just left or not yet returned and then one day he appeared on the front porch holding a hand-written poem. It was an acrostic of my name where he stacked and rhymed all of my qualities that had him hooked. As he recited it I leaned against the railing and viewed him from a different angle. Poetic trumped miserly then, as frozen toes are a small sacrifice for a warm heart. So what if he was cautious about money? I told myself he might just be my perfect match considering how fast and free I am with my wallet. We’d balance each other. It could be good.
Then in the spring we went to my cousin’s wedding. Since they were young and she was pregnant they made it quiet and quick at the Fireman’s Dining Hall. No DJ, just a boom box. He watched me dance and I’d catch him across the small room, surveying the gift table. Our ending came swiftly on the drive home that night as he praised my cousin’s brilliance for having apparently made a profit on the event. “I mean did you see that stack of envelopes?” His verbal applause went on like that for miles but it became the background music because in my mind “seven dollars geez” had taken the main stage. I imagined for the ride a future spent calculating every special occasion, removing all of the joy from every single one. Then I subtracted him.
A few years forward I batted my eyelashes at shallowness and as if perfectly cast came the hot one. His aunt and uncle owned a cabin in Traverse City, Michigan and we went there for a weekend to ski. On the hills he offered little tips on things. Lots of them. How to clamp my boots, when to bend my knees, where to shift my weight. He chose a hat for me that he knew would keep me the warmest without breaking my speed. I kept to myself that I knew how to ski and had even taken some lessons because he seemed to like giving me tips almost as much as he liked looking at himself. I couldn’t blame him, I liked looking at him too. He was someone to look at and everywhere we went everybody else apparently agreed.
He came to my parents house that Christmas and I’m positive my Gram tipped her Harvey’s Bristol Creme in his direction. My mom flitted around room whispering to my relatives, “I think this could be the one”. During this period my father had started getting anxious about me and impatient for grandchildren. If I’m remembering right, this was the man he cornered that Christmas and tried to bribe with an all-expenses paid Hawaiian honeymoon. I stood too far from them to eavesdrop accurately, but swear I heard him say “Please” and “don’t worry, you’ll get used to her”.
The gift circle and all eyes were on us. He placed a square box in my lap. Too large for jewelry, too symmetrical for a sweater, maybe a vase for all the future flowers he’d be surprising me with?
I unwrapped an auto-drip coffee maker, a recent model with a hefty packet of unbleached paper filters, colorless and stiff. “Ohhhh” sang my mother while beside me he sat beaming like it was the Hope Diamond.
“Um…thanks” and then I braved “but I don’t drink coffee. Have you ever seen me drink coffee? I don’t like it”
“But I do”
And there they were, all three of them, the nails in his coffin. Later, I let him take me home to my apartment where he cleared a space on the counter and plugged it in proudly. Afterward, he got the appliance and plugged that in as well.
“Here” he said “let me show you how to use it”.
But he never did because I couldn’t learn how to stand in front of someone without being seen, as much as he had tried to teach me. So he took his coffee to-go.
At the tip of this triangle, like an upside-down heart, was the one who would have made it had our watches been in sync. Everything else between us was. Magic and mystery made it that way from the first time we met. We were co-workers, salespeople who along with a territory shared months and moments I’ll never forget. I’d think a thought and he’d say it out loud. An invisible rope stretched between and pulled us into each other. 2-hour lunches trading stories and secrets became our routine. We’d travel to our clients together and always we’d take the longest route back. When he was going out and I was staying in, he’d stop at my desk and say softly “Come with me” like a question, as a plea. Into early evening when the office echoed he’d ask if I was hungry and then he’d say it again. I loved those little words, trustworthy and faithful they came to me each day and often nights, with weekends as well.
Disaster loomed; mismanaged funds and dishonest dealings catapulted the company toward a rapid demise. He told me he was leaving before he had no other choice, he’d found something better that he would be a part of building up from the beginning. It was without structure or history and entailed a tremendous risk, a daring plunge into creating a thing without knowing for certain how much it might demand. He said them then. “Come with me” and I almost did, tiptoeing right up to the edge until fear pulled me back to a place that felt safe. I decided I’d wait, hang around for a bit and see what might happen, maybe something better was ahead.
And then he left.
So each partner from the past has three parts all their own; beginning, middle and end, and they’re all in the middle of everyone else’s. That’s enough to make life whole. If you’re paying attention, three words will tell you a lot about a person, maybe all you need to know. I’m relieved to discover that I didn’t miss something or someone, that everything belongs exactly where it is because it’s all a part of the unfinished story.
Susan Cohen is a writer who has disguised herself for 30+ years as a waitress, cab driver, ad salesperson and observer of the mundane and extraordinary. Passionate about writing, meditating and exploring each experience for the lessons and love within.
Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station. She’s leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is NYC in March followed by Dallas, Seattle and London.