Saturday, December 8, 2007

There Are Some Days When I Think, "I Should Invite Her Over for a Cocktail or Eighty."

The Wily Republican called yesterday. He wanted to tell me about some really stupid criminals he's arrested in the last few weeks, and I like those stories, so I listened as he filled me with tales of drug addicts and parole violators.

"Sounds fun," I said. "I don't know how you do it, Wily."

He didn't answer right away. He was distracted by something. "Oh," he finally said. He sounded glum. "My girlfriend is calling."

"I'll let you go," I said.

"No, no," he said. "I'm not going to answer. She's just calling to tell me she's on her way home, and that means I have to hide my medication."

I was confused. "Wait a second," I said. "You're hiding medication from your girlfriend? What is going on?"

Turns out that the Wily had developed a particularly nagging, phlegmy cough, and his girlfriend--who is studying in the medical field--told him he had bronchitis. She suggested he go to the doctor and get some antibiotics to clear up that cough. This idea rankled the Wily Republican. After all, in his world, doctors are for pussies. Sissies. Wusses. The Wily Republican does not think he is any of those things. Pussies and sissies and wusses show weakness, and the WR isn't fond of showing he is anything but steel and grit, strong and unflappable.

The only emotion the WR likes to show is anger. The very first night he and I went out, he almost got into three separate fights. He and his friends puffed out their chests and barked foul words at other groups of guys who were giving them evil eyes. In those moments, the WR and his friends would step in front of me and the other girls and case us out, block us from what was going to happen next. I was the only girl saying, "Come on. No. Stop it. It's okay. It's fine. Let's just go."

There was a part of me that was terrified, another part that was wary, and a final part that was exhilarated and thrilled to be seeing this kind of thing that I thought only happened in movies. There was an ugly side of me that was thinking, Yeah, yeah. Hit them. Fight them. I should have recognized no good could come from this, from following this type of boy around and wishing he would just love me, but I did not. I certainly did not.

The closest I came to seeing the WR expose himself to a raw emotion that did not have its foundation in rage was the night the girl he loved in the way I loved him--blindly, hopelessly--told him to forget it, that she was never going to love him. He came over to my apartment and sat on my couch. He stared straight ahead and would not let me ask him questions about what had happened. I sat in the chair and stared at him. He stared at the wall.

I thought he was going to cry. I thought this was it, this was certainly it, and he was going to break into some real side of himself and let me tell him it was going to be okay, that the girl was a fool, that she was awful and wrong for him. If he cried, I would get up and go to him. I would sit next to him and let our shoulders touch for a moment, just so he could get used to the feeling of me next to him. Then I would turn him toward me, and he would cry into my shoulder until he felt better. But he didn't cry. He just stared. And I knew enough to keep quiet for the next thirty minutes, until he stood up and looked toward the door, toward his escape.

And he is still refusing to acknowledge any kind of weakness. When his girlfriend told him it sounded like he had bronchitis, he said no, he was okay, he was going to be fine. When his girlfriend told him to get some antibiotics to clear up his cough, he said no, he was okay, he was going to kick this on his own. He told her people these days are too quick to jump all over antibiotics at the first tickle in their throats, the first rumbling in their lungs. He told her whatever it was would come and go on its own, and his immune system would be better for it in the end.

I understand the frustration she likely felt when she was having that conversation. I have had many of those conversations with the Wily in the five years I've known him now, and those conversations have done nothing except make me want to kill him. The fact that she lives in the same house with him and has yet to murder him and bury his body in the backyard is a testament to her patience and strength. She will make a fine doctor.

Anyway, after they had this conversation, the Wily Republican realized that his cough was not getting better. In fact, it was getting worse, and he felt horrible, so he made a secret doctor's appointment, was diagnosed with bronchitis, and went to the pharmacy to fill his prescription for antibiotics. Antibiotics he was now hiding from his girlfriend.

"That's just unreasonable," I said. "She was right, Wily. She was right, and she was smart about it, and you're bending over backward trying to prove that she's wrong and stupid. You're doing this to the woman you love. Doesn't that sound wrong to you?"

"It's my own form of punishment," he said. "She's on my nerves right now." And then he told me about a stupid argument they'd had--a regular couple-type fight that involved schedules getting crossed and parties they had to attend for the upcoming holiday season. She'd made him so angry, he was now hiding pills and waiting for his cough to clear up so he could say to her, "See? I was right, and you were wrong. The cough cleared up on its own."

I was so angry with him I thought my heart was going to explode. I was appalled that he was going to do that to his girlfriend, that he was going to manipulate the situation in a way that told her she was just a silly, stupid girl who didn't know anything, a girl who should keep her mouth shut unless she was told to open it.

After throwing a couple angry barbs his way--which he deflected easily because he was practically shining with righteousness--I told him I didn't think he had a very healthy relationship. My motivations behind this statement were stunningly different than they were last year. Yesterday I had no interest in trying to convince him he was in a relationship that was not at all as good and fun as our non-relationship had been; instead, my interest was with his girlfriend. I wanted to reach through the phone and strangle him for her. I wanted to tell him he should just let her go, let her leave so she could start over and find someone who would actually treat her like he loved her. I've never met the Wily's girlfriend, and she might be a wretched girl, but I doubt that. I'm sure she is pretty and nice and funny--all things I used to fear. But now I just feel kinship with her. Now I just want to find her phone number and tell her what is really going on. "You won't ever have heard of me," I would tell her, "but I know exactly what this all feels like." And then I would invite her to come to Maine for a couple stiff drinks. We could paint our toenails and talk about all the awful things the WR has done to us. And maybe by the end I would have saved her from a lifetime of being pushed down, of being reduced to something small and sad.

I say all of this even though I still like the Wily Republican. Not like that, not in the ways I used to, but in new ways, different ways, less destructive ways. I like it when the WR calls me up to tell me about hijinks from his job and about his friends that I used to like. I like the predictable pattern he and I have established. But I do not like what he's doing to his girlfriend. Not at all.

So I guess yesterday I felt very thankful for the small mercy I'd been awarded when the Wily Republican did not love me back. If he had--if he'd ever decided he really liked me--I don't know if I would've been strong enough to recognize that living with him would be the death of me. I would like to think I would've been strong enough to get out while the gettin' was good, but what about me is different than his girlfriend? She sounds reasonable, smart, logical, and yet there she is, living in the same house with a man who will go to great lengths to make her feel ridiculous. If that's not the opposite of real love, I don't know what is.

And so I am thankful. I am thankful for my life, for the fact that the WR didn't look at me and feel something stir in his heart. I am thankful for my boyfriend, the bearded but glorious Boy from Work, and the fact that he will never, ever, ever do those things, that those things aren't even thoughts that would cross his mind. I am thankful, but that doesn't make me feel any better for the WR's girlfriend, and it doesn't keep me from thinking, If only I could just write her a letter, give her a call, tell her to give him a good pat on the back and say, "Thank you for teaching me some of life's most important lessons. I'm leaving." Maybe then he would learn some things for himself, but I doubt it. I really do.


Casey Sween said...

Not to worry. I would have been by your side, telling you why this was a bad, bad idea.

And I really don't like boys like that. Boys that drink and start fights. Boys that lie to their girlfriends. Boys that make girls feel bad.

Jess said...

Inviting her over is a bad idea? No doubt.

You two share a name, you know. That's the only reason I used to be able to not vomit when he first started calling her by name.