by Kathleen M. Crane
It was our first date.
We sat on a bench near the river at Bishop Park, exchanging thoughts with each other.
“The best thing is, I don’t have to worry about telling you I’m crazy. You already know,” said Trent.
I didn’t know if that was the best thing–maybe his clear blue eyes were better. But it was true, we had met at a support group for the chronically depressed, the “crazy” ones.
“You know, Julia, you’re really quite pretty. Have to say I didn’t see that right away. But you really are.”
I’d spent a lot of time getting ready. I wore my favorite white linen top with beading around the neckline, and had carefully applied makeup and straightened my red hair.
“Look at those clouds–the way they’re just drifting over the setting sun–incredible, aren’t they?”
I liked that he noticed.
He reached for my hand, and I let him hold it for the first time.
“You know, it’s a great night for a little music. I have my guitar in the trunk–would you like to hear a few tunes?”
“Sure, that would be great,” I said with false enthusiasm. There was a ninety-nine point nine chance that he’d be terrible, and would ruin the romantic evening. I had no idea that he played guitar–he was a psychologist for God’s sake.
Trent was back within minutes, sitting next to me, tuning his guitar.
“I’m being followed by a moon shadow. . . .”
Hmm. He really wasn’t bad at all. In fact, he sounded pretty good.
He played a few more, then asked if I’d like to hear one of his originals.
I braced myself, and said, “Of course!”
“I dreamed a dream of wind and rain, and that I had you with me again. . . .”
The song was very nice. So was he.
A week later, we had our second date. He took me to a nearby Italian bistro for dinner.
He seemed on edge.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“I’ve written a song for you. Would you like to read the lyrics?”
“Sure,” I took the crumpled sheet of paper from him.
“My dream it built on whispers and sighs, your shapely hands, your moon-dark eyes. . . .”
It was beautiful. No one had ever written a song for me.
When he dropped me at my apartment, he leaned forward to kiss me the first time. It was a good kiss. He enjoyed it too. I could tell.
He called the next day, and we went to the river again. I listened as he played the song he’d written for me, then other originals.
After awhile, I wanted a coffee–so I told him I would walk up to The Grind cafe. I asked if he wanted anything.
“Only you,” he said, looking into my eyes.
As I waited in line for the rest room at The Grind, I dreamily reflected on the evening and on Trent. Everything was so perfect. He was tall, distinguished, talented–and writing beautiful songs for me. What more could I want?
I headed back towards the park with my latte. As I crossed the street, a car honked, startling me. I turned, and saw Trent as he pulled up in his car beside me.
“Hey, why are you in the car? I thought–”
“Never mind what you thought. Get in. I’m taking you home.”
“What? What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
“Yes, something happened–you left me sitting alone like an idiot for almost an hour,” he snarled.
“There was a line! And it’s only been twenty minutes,” I said, looking at my wristwatch. “I came back as quickly as I could!”
“Get in. I’m taking you home. The night is over.”
I got in. I was in shock. How could everything have changed from being so perfect and romantic to this?
I rolled down the window and threw my latte out. “To hell with it,” I said.
“Now you’ve gone and littered! That was unecessary,” he said.
I felt like a wayward child as he turned the car around and got out and picked up the cup.
“Look, Trent, I’m sorry it took so long. But there was really nothing I could do. Can’t you forgive me?”
He pulled up to my house.
“You had the time to buy that latte, instead of just a regular coffee. I thought you were on a fixed income? Lattes? What’d it cost–three, four dollars?”
“Three. It doesn’t matter, Trent. Let’s just forget this ever happened. Why don’t you come in? Forgive me, please?”
He forgave me and more. Much more.
Afterwards, Trent got up to use the bathroom and returned with a frown on his face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“You’ve really got to do something about that blow dryer and curling iron you have lying in the corner of the bathroom. Someone could trip! You need to do some rearranging.”
“Yes, boss,” I thought to myself.
“I’ll move them the next time I’m in there,” I said, stretching.
“What about now? There’s no time like the present.”
Irritably I got out of the warm bed and went and put the dryer and curling iron in the cabinet.
“They’re put away now,” I said, getting back into bed.
“You’re ravishing. You know that?” he said, pulling me close.
* * * *
The summer passed quickly, a pleasant medley of music by the river, sunning on the beach, concerts, films, and live theater.
Once autumn arrived, Trent came down with a bad case of flu, and I called to ask if there was anything he needed.
“Jules, could you get me some strawberry ice cream? That might make me feel better.”
“Sure. I’ll be by in an hour,” I said.
I stopped by the local market for the ice cream–but they only had cherry, vanilla, or chocolate. I called Trent to see if the cherry would be okay.
“Just forget it. I don’t need it”.
“Are you sure?”
“Okay. Love you!”
We closed every conversation with this assurance. Trent insisted on it.
But this time, he just hung up.
I arrived at his apartment shortly after, and found him lying on the couch under a blanket, staring at the TV. He didn’t acknowledge my arrival.
“Hi! How are you feeling?”
“You know– if it had been me, I would have gone to the ends of the earth to find that strawberry ice cream for you. ”
“You’re kidding, right? You’re acting like a four year old.”
“But that’s just who you are. Self centered. You’ll never change, that’s obvious.”
“I’m leaving. I don’t need this.”
I turned and walked out, expecting him to stop me. He didn’t.
He did send an email later elaborating on my selfishness.
I wanted to excuse him, because when it was good– it was very good. I could drown in those eyes that seemed to penetrate my soul. And the beautiful poems and songs he wrote for me– I was hooked.
I called him and apologized for being such a bitch. I decided to make peace and stopped by the supermarket to buy strawberry ice cream.
I spent the night, and the one after that. We went for daily walks through the park, drinking in the changing colors, holding hands, and stopping to kiss.
“Trent? Look–our shadows are merging into each other.”
“That’s because we’re one. I love you so much.”
I had never felt so comfortable with my appearance. I stopped blow-drying my hair– because Trent preferred my natural waves.
“I love your Irish curls,” he said.
I’d also stopped wearing make up.
“You’re a natural beauty, with lovely skin– why cover your face in paint?” he asked.
When I spent the night, in the morning we’d pray and meditate before breakfast. First, Trent would read some poetry–perhaps some Hafiz, Rumi, or Tagor. Then, we would pray aloud, expressing our hopes or fears for that day.
Then one of us would prepare breakfast– usually eggs, toast, and a fruit salad.
“We live well, don’t we? Simply, but well,” he said. “I am so happy with you.”
Later that summer, his daughter from his first marriage, Tricia, came to town to visit from New York. I was nervous about making a good impression. I shouldn’t have been, I liked her immediately. She was easy-going and friendly. I took pictures of the two of them clowning around together. I liked her boyfriend Brian too.
Trent had bought tickets for the four of us to attend a Tigers baseball game downtown the evening after they arrived. He spent a lot of time online securing the best seats possible. I looked forward to the summer ballgame.
That afternoon, Tricia looked wan and pale.
“What’s wrong?” I asked Brian.
“She has the flu. She didn’t want to let her Dad down,” he whispered.
“But that’s ridiculous. He’d understand,” I said.
Brian shook his head and put one finger over his lips to silence me.
It was nearly one hundred degrees out when we arrived at Comerica Park. Tricia leaned on Brian in the heat.
“Trent, she’s really not feeling well,” I said. “Maybe we should turn around and head home.”
“Trish? How you feeling, kiddo?” he asked.
“I–I’ll be fine Dad. Don’t worry about me.”
A little while later we stood in line, waiting to enter the stadium. Tricia clutched her stomach. “I’m going to be sick!”
Brian rushed her to a trash bin. She vomited violently.
“Trent! We have got to get her home! My God!” I said.
“How you feeling now, kid? Better now, I bet. Are you?”
“Yeah, Dad, I’m feeling a little better, now, I think,” she said weakly.
“My kid’s no wimp! She wouldn’t miss the game!”
I looked at him in disbelief.
Later, we sat in our box seats, baking in the summer sun. Trent commented loudly on every pitch, every play.
I was keeping an eye on Tricia, who was sitting with her head nodded forward, eyes closed.
“Let’s get a picture!” said Trent.
“Trent, I don’t think Tricia’s up for a picture right now,” I said.
“Sure she is! Tricia– smile!” Tricia snapped her head up and forced her mouth into a smile.
“Tricia? Would you like to come with me to the ladies room?” I asked.
“Yes, that would be great,” she said.
As soon as we were out of the park, and near the restrooms, she leaned on me heavily. I put my arm around her.
“Tricia, I know you don’t want to let your father down, but I think it’s foolish for you to be sitting in the heat in your condition. Why don’t we sit over here, in the shade? I’ll get you some water.”
“Here you are. Now, you listen to me. I want you to stay right here. I’m going to get your dad and Brian. It’s time to go home.”
“But he’ll be disappointed–but okay. . . .” she said, closing her eyes and laying her head on the table.
Later, Tricia lay in her father’s bedroom.
I went home disgusted. How could I continue in a relationship with someone so obviously self-centered? A monster, almost. Beyond self-centered, I thought.
But I did continue.
It was easy to forget his selfishness when Christmas came and I unwrapped an expensive sparkling fire opal ring, my birthstone. It was set in an exquisite sterling silver and surrounded by tiny diamonds.
“Oh Trent, it’s beautiful!”
Later, exhausted after a holiday get together at my Mom’s, I prepared for bed. Trent pressed his body into mine.
“Trent, I’m really tired. Exhausted. I’m just not in the mood,” I said.
“Oh, come on! ” he said.
“No, really– I’m exhausted.”
He let go of me.
“But I’ve already taken a pill,” he said, referring to the Viagra he took frequently.
“Well, you wasted one then. Sorry.”
“Has it come to that? Where we don’t have sex if you’re not in the mood?”
Was that unreasonable? Shouldn’t we both be in the mood?
“Yes–I guess it has come to that. I’m not always in the mood! Am I supposed to just service you?”
“If you love me, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
I was getting really irritated.
He walked to the bedroom, took off his clothes, and climbed into bed.
“Good night!” I called, turning on my heel and heading out the door.
I felt good about standing up for myself until the next morning, when Trent didn’t call as usual. I started to doubt . Should I have given in? Maybe when you’re in a relationship, you have to make sacrifices? But why couldn’t he make the sacrifice, then? Surely it wouldn’t have killed him?
He had already booked our getaway to Sanibel Island. I hadn’t been to Florida in years, and never to Sanibel, and was really looking forward to it.
I knew he was very stubborn, and would never apologize.
I reluctantly picked up the phone.
“Hi–it’s me. Just wanted to say I was selfish last night–can I make it up to you?”
In June we left for Sanibel. I couldn’t get over the pure beauty of the place. The West Wind Inn was right on the ocean. Palm trees and flowering vines lined the walkways. Every morning I would wake to the sound of gulls flying over the blue-green ocean. I would rise early, around five, walking soundlessly to the balcony to meditate.
I would sit on the simple wooden balcony, overlooking the ocean, listening to the waves washing over the smooth white sand. The sea breeze ruffled my hair as I breathed the fresh, salty morning air. I watched the red-orange sun come up over the ocean while Trent slept peacefully.
I had never felt so content.
I read a few Hafiz poems, then closed my eyes to meditate. After awhile, the glass door slid open.
“Morning, sweetheart,” said Trent, kissing me lightly. “You look beautiful.”
“I love it here, Trent. This is the best, most relaxing vacation I’ve ever had.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Did you want to go to breakfast? Over Easy should be open.”
“Sounds perfect. Let me take a quick shower, and we can go.”
A little while later, we sat in a booth at Over Easy, Trent reading the Sanibel morning papers, and me reading Hemingway.
“What did you want to do today, sweetheart?”
“Oh, I don’t know. It looks like another perfect day for the beach. Let’s just sunbathe and swim. Sound good?”
The waitress brought my poached eggs and toast, with bacon. I sipped my cold orange juice.
“Bacon? I thought you were dieting?”
“I’m on vacation! But I’d like to get down another ten pounds by my birthday.”
“Ten? I thought we said thirty?”
“Trent! If I lose that much, I’ll look terminal! And my face would look saggy.”
“Well, don’t worry about your face. I’ll pay for a facelift if you lose the weight.”
“But you love me exactly as I am, right?”
“That’s a cop out. You are always looking for the easy way out.”
Not wanting to argue, I sipped my coffee as Trent snapped pictures of me sitting against the red and yellow walls of Over Easy.
“‘Before’ pictures,” he said, smiling grimly.
Later that morning, we walked down the winding path from the hotel to the beach, carrying our towels and folding chairs.
“It’s going to be another beautiful day, Trent.”
“We are blessed. I love you.”
I removed my cover up and adjusted the straps of my white bathing suit.
“Do you want me to put some sunscreen on your back? I don’t want you getting burned, sweetheart.”
He rubbed lotion on my back with his strong hands.
“Here, I’ll get your back too, Trent.”
We stretched out on our beach towels with our books, baking in the sun. The ocean was a beautiful silver blue, the color of Trent’s eyes, waves foaming on the white sand.
“I think I’m going to go for a swim,” he said.
“I’ll join you in a minute.”
He kissed me, and headed for the water.
I watched his arms cut through the waves as he swam.
I returned to my book. After a bit, I got up and waded into the water. It felt wonderful, like bath water, so clear I could see the white and grey pebbles on the bottom. When the water reached my shoulders, I took a deep breath and dove in, swimming towards Trent.
Later at the hotel, we lay on the white sheets, napping. He reached over, and held my hand.
“Marry me,” he whispered. “Be with me always.”
I turned and kissed him. “Yes,” I said.
When we returned to Michigan, we began to look at condos. None of them suited us. Eventually, we decided to move into a larger apartment in his current complex.
“It’s quiet, affordable, and it will be an easy transition,” he said.
“I think we should live together awhile first, before we marry,” I said.
“It sounds like you’re not sure,” he said.
“I am sure. Are you?”
Early one morning I was meditating, when Trent walked in and sat down next to me.
“Good morning,” I said.
“Morning. So, what was your weight this morning?”
“I haven’t weighed myself yet,” I said.
“The scale doesn’t lie. Why don’t you weigh yourself now? I’m down two pounds this morning.”
“Down two pounds? But Trent, you really don’t need to lose any weight at all. You’ll be too thin if you lose any more.” His cheeks were looking a bit sunken.
He was silent.
“Okay, okay, I’ll weigh myself,” I said.
I came back into the room. “The same. Haven’t lost, haven’t gained.”
“I don’t see how you haven’t lost if you’re eating what you say you are. Are you sure you’re not eating junk food behind my back? I found an empty box of raisins in the trash this morning– did you have them in the middle of the night?”
“Yes, Sherlock. But you would love me no matter what, anyway, right? Regardless if I lose or not?”
“There you go– the underachiever in you talking again. You’ll never lose that extra forty pounds you lug around talking like that.”
“What did you say? Extra forty pounds I lug around? I never thought you looked at me like that!”
His eyes were like chips of ice.
“You’re not really trying.”
“I’m leaving. I can’t believe you see me that way.”
“Suit yourself. But if you leave, don’t come back.”
I couldn’t believe it. I had paraded around in my white swimsuit in Sanibel, feeling gorgeous. All that time, he’d only been thinking of the “extra forty pounds” I was lugging around, and how he was going to get me to lose them.
And, if I were to lose forty pounds– I would weigh one hundred and ten! Surely that was far too thin for my frame– I was five foot eight, after all.
Had it all been an illusion? The entire idyllic time in Sanibel? Wishful thinking? I sat in my apartment, musing over the past few weeks– all of the time with an ear stretched towards the phone.
It didn’t ring.
Days passed, then weeks. He meant it, obviously. Either lose forty pounds, or forget it. Well, then forget it, I thought.
Depression crept back. I started to beat myself up mentally.
“You’re too fat for anyone to really love you.”
“You’ll never find anyone else. You’re too old.”
Then one particularly dark Sunday afternoon, the phone rang.
“Sweetheart? It’s me. Look– I think you misunderstood what I was saying. Of course I think you’re beautiful just the way you are. But, you would be even more ravishing if you dropped the weight– that’s all I was saying. I love you. Come back .”
I got my car keys and went back.
“Do you forgive me?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
Later, while he showered, I retrieved my clothing. That’s when I saw a bright, shiny, red something peeking out from behind his guitar, propped up in the corner.
My heart sinking, I bent over and uncovered a skimpy pair of red satin panties. Not mine. Much too large to be mine.
Too fucking large? After all his bitching about my weight?
Somehow, that galled me more than his having obviously slept with someone else. He walked into the room, grinning.
He won’t be grinning for long, I thought.
“Trent! Look what I found! A pair of red panties!”
“You must have left them here?” he said hopefully, smile fading.
“No, Trent–they’re much too large for me. I guess you prefer larger women after all?”
“Oh! Uh–um, this is really embarrassing–but the panties are–uh– mine. It’s a kind of thing I have–you know–wearing women’s panties.”
There was silence, then I grinned. Then I laughed. I could not stop laughing.
Either way– whether they were his, or hers, it was over.
“Sweetheart? Are you alright?”
“Never been better,” I said, walking out the door, still laughing.
Kathleen M. Crane is Contributing Editor at New Pop Lit.