Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bye Bye, Big Head

"I've got a question," Keith says when he calls. "It's a tough one, okay?"

Keith is my ex-boyfriend. I've been fielding tough questions from him since I was seventeen years old, since our second date, where we sat in his truck at the bottom of the ski slopes at Kissing Bridge, watching the last runs of the evening come down the lighted hill.

"Okay," I say.

"What would a girl see in me?" he asks.

"Oh, please," I say. Except for his snoring--which is homicide-inspiring--I can't think of one thing a girl could ever say she hated about him. Keith is a nice guy. He is smart, funny, witty, and handy with a deck of cards. He is generous and sweet. In a certain mood, he'll even write poetry--silly, frivolous, rhyming things that start like this: My girl is a writer/she likes when I bite her. He is also a good drunk: the kind that will get up on a table, sing a song, do a hokey dance that is all elbows and awkward angles.

Sometimes he doesn't know when to quit, and sometimes he can be the world's biggest pain in the ass, but I only get that side of him now, years after our relationship ended. When we were together, he was attentive and sweet in his own casual, playful way. I imagine he's a different sort of boyfriend now--like I am a different sort of girlfriend--but I have known him for almost ten years, and I know he is a fundamentally good guy--one I have no problem endorsing to any girl who's thinking of taking a run at him.

So I tell him this.

"Okay," he says, but he doesn't sound convinced.

"What's your problem?" I ask.

He sighs. "There's this girl at work."

Ever since Keith started his new job, there have been plenty of reasons to talk about the girls at work. The girls at this place love him. They love that he will pass snarky notes with them during training sessions, that he will go to karaoke with them, that he will choose to sing Baby Got Back and let them push their butts up against him while he raps the words my Anaconda don't want none unless you've got buns, hun!

Keith is friends with every girl at work. And some of them have been giving him some good, hard looks, maybe considering him for themselves or for a friend of theirs. He's already been out with a friend of a girl at work because this work friend loved Keith, thought he could solve all her friend's problems.

All of this is good for Keith. Over the summer, in the midst of my being oh so subtly courted by the Boy From Work, Keith was being broken up with. He'd been with his girlfriend--the Big Head--for years, and they'd spent the months prior to the breakup scouring local jewelry stores for engagement rings. But suddenly the Big Head was no longer interested in an engagement ring. She told Keith he could hold off, it could wait. She said there was no rush, that they didn't need to be engaged right that second.

Keith was relieved. All that wedding talk had made him itchy, and he was more than happy to tap the breaks and slow things down. They were living together, after all. What was the big rush?

Still, that whole escapade made me suspicious. I didn't trust the Big Head's motivations or reasons, and I felt like maybe there was something else going on. After all, what kind of girl spearheads the search for her engagement ring--a search that takes months--and then decides to nix it completely?

I didn't trust the Big Head as far as I could throw her--and with a head as big as hers, I wouldn't have been able to give her an ample toss. In fact, I hadn't trusted or liked her for a long time. My feelings for her were similar to the feelings Keith had developed for the Wily Republican during my stay in Minnesota. Keith thought the Wily was no good for me. He thought the Wily was slowly sucking all the hope and goodness out of me, that he was going to stomp on my heart until I was just a broken girl gasping for air and reason. I felt similar things for the Big Head. I thought she was sly, tricky, mean. I thought she would smile and say sweet things to your face and then turn around and tell the whole world what a horrible human being you were.

The Big Head never liked me, and I never liked her. We met the first summer I came home from graduate school. I had taken up with the Wily that spring semester, which had upset Keith because there was a small arc of time where he hoped we would get back together. But that summer, after he'd seen how I was so, so lost in the Wily's world, he sort of gave up. That didn't stop us from running around together while I was home for a quick stay. During that stay he took me to the bar his step-mother and her friends liked to haunt. It was a crusty, stale bar populated with old men. It smelled a little like urine. There were peanuts in bowls, Genny on tap, and horse races on the television. Most importantly, there were bar-top video games in the corner.

That's where Keith and I ended up. We played round after round after round of Naked Lady Picture Find (traditionally known as Erotic Photo Hunt)--a game I'd gotten remarkably good at, thanks to my studies at grad school--and we laughed and told old stories.

The whole time we were doing this, I could feel a pair of eyes burning into my back. Those eyes belonged to the Big Head. She was the daughter of a friend of her father's, and she had a thing for Keith. He didn't know it back then, and I guess I didn't either, but I did know something wasn't right. She was suspicious about me, that much was clear. She kept an eye trained on me at all times. A few months later, Keith and the Big Head got together and that past summer night and the prickly heat of her glare made complete sense.

I think the Big Head disliked me because of that night. I think she saw us having fun and thought, Well, that could be trouble. But she didn't understand that the time for me and Keith to be trouble together was long past. We'd given it our go. We'd even dragged it through the muck after he left me for another girl and then came back. We had almost a two-year run, and then a second two-year run before I left for grad school. We exhausted all possibilities of it ever working.

But the damage was done, and the Big Head decided I was no good. And for the next few years, whenever we happened to be in the same room the Big Head took care to cut me down whenever she could. She made fun of me, of how I looked or what I said. She even made fun of my friends and their boyfriends. She went so far as to tell me that one of my friend's boyfriend was just so clearly unfaithful, that he was going to cheat and break her heart, that he was a no-good bastard--and she knew this in the first ten seconds after she met him. The Big Head did not know her place. The Big Head did not know when to shut up. On the nights when she talked like that, I wanted to pour beer on her or tell her she had ridiculous eyebrows--anything that would make her stop talking.

I liked her even less after the breakup. Turns out she was the one who was a cheat, the kind of girl who broke hearts, a no-good bitch. She'd suddenly decided she wanted to give it a go with her best friend, a guy who'd been sniffing around for years. She told Keith to pack up his things and get out of her house. Immediately.

I liked her even less after Keith told me what she was really like behind closed doors. She yelled. She screamed. She called him a pig, a fat loser. She told him he was never going to amount to anything. She told him he was a waste of space.

I'm glad I didn't find this out until after she was far removed from his life. I don't think I would've been able to hold myself back. I would have wanted to storm her house, rip through her rooms, destroy all the things she loved the best. I would have made her take it all back. And then I would have yanked out all the hair on her big, big head. No one talks like that about my friends. No one.

But the Big Head is now safely behind us. They had a few busy months disentangling their lives and sorting through all the things they shared (a gym membership, season tickets for the Bills), but all of that is over.

And now there is a girl at Keith's work, and that girl has been giving him The Eye. And that girl's friend has been telling Keith that the girl likes him and wishes he'd get on with it and ask her out.

And apparently that girl is quite attractive.

"Smokin' body," Keith says. "She's got a ridiculous body." Telling me this brings him around to his main point, his real reason for calling. He is concerned. He is nervous. He is unsure.

"About what?" I say. "It seems like she's giving you the green light."

"Well, that's the thing," Keith says. "I've never dated someone that hot."

I sigh. "Thanks," I say.

Keith realizes his mistake. "Come on now," he says. "I'm serious. SHE IS FUCKING HOT. What can she possibly see in me? I don't get it."

And so I go through it all again. I list his good qualities. I neglect to mention his snoring. I keep it positive.

"I don't know," he says. "I just don't know about any of this."

But I do. I know he will do well. I know he will smile and tell his stories, and she will tell hers, and the two of them will go just like they should, just like we all do during the first steps of something new. It pleases me to think that he will be stumbling into something fresh and good. Just as it pleases me to know that with every step he will be walking farther away from the Big Head and all the hurt she tried to press into him. If I ran into her on the street tomorrow, I wouldn't hesitate to tell her how she made all of our dreams come true when she told Keith to get out--because now he can get back to being the boy he is, the boy he was always meant to be. I would be delighted to say those things, to finally even the score, finally erase some of the hateful things she said about Keith, about me, about our friends. I would be delighted. It would be my pleasure to finally tell her the truth.

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