Monday, October 25, 2010

In which Ted takes me to meet his parents and then tells me we can't date

One night, when Ted was working late at the hospital near my apartment, a week or two after we had returned from the class reunion, he called me. Finally! He had to pick up something from home, he said. Would I like to ride with him?

That was a date, right? Sure, he was calling me ten minutes before the event rather than the Wednesday before, but as the prosecutor explained to us when I was on jury duty, premeditation for murder doesn't have to mean that you planned for weeks in advance. It simply means that the thought, "I'm going to kill that SOB" has to cross your mind before you pull the trigger, even if it's only seconds between the thought and the deed. Premeditation means that you thought about the act and then did it, as opposed to an accident or in self defense.

By that standard, I would guess that Mary Winkler did willfully and knowingly kill her sleeping husband by shooting him in the back, because it's not like a sleeping person causes an instinctive self-protective reaction, especially when one would think that an instinctive, not premeditated action would have led to the calling of 911 after one saw the bleeding body on the bed rather than the unplugging of the phone, the loading of the van with the children, and the fleeing to Alabama.

But I digress.

It was a date. He called and invited me to do something and then he picked me up. That is a date.

We drove to his house, aka his mom and dad's house, aka pathetic for a grown man to be living with his parents and why why why didn't I see that?

Oh but he had just divorced! Was finishing school! So much more practical to live with mom and dad!

Maybe. But sheesh. At that age, have some self respect and get your own place.

He showed me around the basement, his living quarters. He wanted me to know him. To see how he lived. Progress.

He introduced me to his mom and dad, who said, "So you're the one Ted has been talking about!"

He told his parents about me? Remember the grad school jerk, whom I had been dating for a few months when his parents came to visit and not only did I not get to meet them but I learned that they did not even know I existed? If someone told his parents about me, he must be serious. Oh deepening crush.

A few days later, he called me again. Could he take me to lunch?

Definitely a date! Definitely!

We went to a small Vietnamese place near my house. I was starving and ordered a big bowl of pho tai. Before I started to eat, Ted told me what he had been trying to tell me for a while.

He said, "I cannot start a relationship right now. I'm afraid that if I do, I will kill it. I am trying to sort a lot of stuff out from my divorce and I know I am not emotionally ready for a new relationship. But I like you a lot and see a lot of potential with you. I would like us to be just friends for now. Later, when I am through this, and if you are not seeing anyone, I would like to have a dating relationship with you."

I lost my appetite. "I've never had anyone break up with me even before he started dating me," I joked weakly.

He took my hands in his. "I'm not breaking up with you," he said earnestly. "But I can't do this right now. It wouldn't be fair to you. I've just got so much stuff. I'm going to a counselor to try to work these things out. But once I'm through it..."

I sniffed and a few tears rolled down my cheeks. He leaned over and wiped them away. "I'm sorry that I've been giving you mixed signals. It's not that I'm not attracted to you -- I am. But Big Southern City was a mistake. I let my emotions take over." I thought to myself that this is not such a terrible thing -- that if your emotions tell you to kiss someone, that that's what you should do (well, if you are both single, etc.).

We continued to talk, leaning in closer and closer until our knees were touching. I held his hands in mine as he told me about the divorce. At one point, I brushed my lips against his fingers. He closed his eyes and took a sharp breath. I kissed his finger. "That feels wonderful," he whispered.

On the way out to the car, he put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close. In the car, he rested his hand on my thigh. When we got back to my house, he gave me a hug, then kissed me once. I leaned into him and he threw up his hands and stepped back. "No," he said. "No. I am not starting this." When he left, I am confused. His words and his deeds didn't match.

The next day he called me twice. I asked him more about this 'just friends' thing. "Define the difference between being 'just friends' and dating," I said.

"With friends, you don't have the emotional or the physical involvement," he told me.

"Does that mean we can't hug?" I asked.

He thought about it. "No, hugging is OK."

I thought this could work. You can't rule your heart. It's not such a bad idea to limit the physical stuff and if he spends time with me as 'friends' or dating, it's the same thing to the heart. If he was going to fall in love with me, it would happen whether he wants it or not.

I was so naive.

A few days later, he called four times, wondering where I was, leaving messages: "Out with some other guy, I suppose." The next night, he called twice. I was planning to meet Leigh and Megan at the Wednesday night wine tasting. Ted said that he might show up. When I got to the restaurant, they told me that the tasting had been canceled that week. While I was waiting for Leigh and Megan, another wine taster showed up. He had his own wine with him and asked if I would like to share. As he was asking, Megan walked in. We decided to sit with this guy and drink his wine while we waited for Leigh.

Ted didn't show up until late. His friend Richard had intercepted him in the parking lot and told him that the tasting was canceled. When I got home later, I found a series of messages from him telling me that the tasting had been canceled, that I could find him at the restaurant, that he had his cell phone with him (he usually left it in the car) and that I should call him.

So Leigh and Megan and I talked to this guy. Ted and Richard joined us for a while, then left together. I stayed -- we are just friends, after all, so I was not going to follow him to the parking lot. I left shortly after he did and the phone rang as soon as I got home. It was Ted. "I'm housesitting for my sister," he said. "She lives a few blocks from you. It's really cold over here. Why don't I come over and sleep with you instead?"

"I'll lend you some blankets," I told him.

"But it's late! Why don't I just stay there?"

"You may sleep in the spare room," I told him.

"But I'd rather sleep with you!" he answered.

"I don't sleep with 'just friends,'" I said.

"Well, if you don't sleep with friends, who do you sleep with?"

"Significant others," I answered.

"And I'm not significant to you?"

"Hey. This whole 'just friends' thing was your stupid idea, not mine. You live by the sword, you die by the sword."

He laughed and said goodnight.

Months later, after it was all over, when I was seeing the therapist, she told me that he had indeed been courting me hard. My head was spinning from all the mixed messages from Ted: I want to spend hours talking to you! I like kissing you! Meet my parents! But no - STOP! NO DATING! FRIENDS ONLY! I didn't know if I had read everything wrong or if he had been messing with my head.

The therapist assured me I was not mis-reading things but that I should not be involved with Ted now or in the future because he was toxic.

I should have told him to go to heck, or, more nicely, just stuck with my assertion that I did not want to be just friends and if that's all he wanted, he could stop calling me thankyouverymuch.

Instead, I agreed to his terms because half a Ted is better than none.

Yeah. Not so much.

In which Ted calls me every night while I'm out of town at a trade show and then we see each other at our class reunion and neck in my rental car

The week after my birthday, I had to go to California for a stupid trade show. Of course it was on a weekend. My industry always had trade shows over the weekend so nobody would have to miss any work. Heaven forbid we actually spend a weekday discussing the company's products with customers and prospects. That's Saturday work! Or Sunday!

Ted called me every night I was gone. At the hotel. I was at the show for three days. Wait. Maybe he called only once. I remember that for sure, because we talked for about two hours. Still, though, even once on a three-day trip is good, I thought.

On my way back into town, I ran into him in the airport. I was arriving in Springfield from California, he was leaving, on his way to Big Southern City for the reunion. We stood, almost nose to nose, breathing in each other's air. Noted lightly that we would see each other in Big Southern City. (He went early to visit friends.)

When I got to the Saturday night reunion party, I scanned the room. I didn't see him. Rats.

Suddenly, he was standing next to me.

"You look gorgeous," he said.

Well, I did. But to hear him say it - my knees weakened. He didn't look too bad himself.

We sat together at supper.

We sat at the same table with Sam and his wife, Sam being Primo's best friend and a friend of mine from our college days working at the faculty club and eating the "badly cut and not worthy of being served to a professor" piece of pecan pie inch by inch as we went in and out of the faculty club kitchen.

According to Primo, he was at the table as well.

I don't remember him.

Probably because 1. I was in lust with Ted and 2. Primo was still married at the time. Ring on the finger meant invisible to me. I don't mess with married men. I did that once (kissed one who had been flirting with me by phone for months and didn't bother to tell me he was married until we started kissing, which was in person, naturally, but he was so mortified and ashamed that I suspect he never did anything like that again) and vowed to avoid such in the future. I didn't want to be That Woman.

Which is a (small) shame, because Primo was already trying to figure out how to leave Isabel and maybe if he'd had a little nudge (not kissing, but maybe some light flirtation? an awareness of what was out there and what he was missing? except he probably knew that already and actually, yes he did, because the decision to finally leave Isabel came when he realized he was about to have an affair and he didn't want to be That Man), he might have moved more quickly and we wouldn't have gone through all that divorce drama. But then I would have felt guilty for breaking up a marriage and I sure wouldn't want that on my conscience. I have enough there already.

Ted and I talked almost exclusively to each other. When I got up to leave, he said he would walk me to my car. We stood outside the car until he finally kissed me. We kissed and kissed and kissed, then moved to the back seat of the car, where we kissed some more.

No clothes were removed in this endeavor and fortunately, the campus police did not come by with a flashlight, because even if you are fully clothed, having the campus police shine a flashlight in the back seat when you are 37 years old would be a bit embarrassing.

Kiss, talk, kiss, talk. He Opened Up To Me (women love that) and told me about his Bad Childhood and his parents' Bad Marriage and how he didn't want (another - he was divorced) marriage like that and how he Just Wasn't Heard as a child.

"What did you want to say?" I asked, genuinely puzzled, for I had not been through therapy yet (thanks to Ted, though, I would have my chance) and did not know the language.

Just To Be Heard, he insisted.

He finally returned to the party and I left, swooning.

A few days later, Sam emailed me. "What's going on with the chaplain?" he asked. "He sure took a long time to walk you to your car."

"Oh nothing," I answered airily.

And nothing seemed to be the proper answer, for I did not hear from Ted again for a while. But I was not going to call him. I had learned that lesson. I was vigilant! I would wait for him. Oh would that I had stuck with that.

In which Ted surprises me with a chocolate-raspberry terrine on my birthday

Ted and I had been talking and talking and talking. He would call me as he drove from work back home (living with his parents! red flag! red flag!) or out to make house calls. He told me he had gone over his minutes talking to me the first month. Talk talk talk talk talk.

Once or twice, he had met up with me and my friends Leigh and Megan at the weekly wine tasting at a restaurant near my apartment. Not officially a date, but at least we were in the same place at the same time.

It was the night before my birthday. Ted called me at work. "Will Leigh be at the wine tasting tonight?" he asked.

Crap. Why should I be surprised that he was interested in Leigh? What man wasn't interested in Leigh was more the question. She is funny, smart, nice and as cute as can be. Men fall to do her bidding.

I sighed. "Yes," I answered curtly. "She'll be there."

Why had he bothered to call me all this time? Why was he asking me about Leigh? Couldn't he just call her directly? No wonder he hadn't asked me out. I was the person to talk about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Q documents with. She was the one to date. (Not that Leigh couldn't have talked about these things, but she had a lot more work to do at her job. I could goof off a lot and waste time on personal phone calls.)

Fine. I was still going to the wine tasting to see my friends and sulk.

I got to the restaurant. Leigh and Megan were there. Ted was there. We talked and talked and talked and I lusted and lusted and lusted. But still, he would not ask me out. At least here, though, I could lust in person.

It was late. A work night. I finally said, "I need to go home."

He said, "Wait."

Leigh smiled and squirmed with excitement.

Wait? Why?

He went into the restaurant kitchen and returned with a roasting pan. Leigh ran behind him and brought out plates and forks.

He placed the roasting pan in front of me and removed the lid. Lifted the contents out of the pan.

It was a chocolate terrine. He pulled out a container of raspberry sauce. "This goes on top," he said.

My jaw dropped. I had no idea what to say.

He started to sing "Happy birthday" and my friends joined in.

"Cut it!" Leigh urged.

"I don't have a knife," I said.

Ted reached into his pocket. "I brought this," he said as he handed me a box of mint dental floss. Dental floss is the right tool for cutting cinnamon rolls and for delicate cakes.

Remember how I was unhappy about how Calvin would forget my birthday? Up until a later boyfriend's cool gifts, including a belt sander, this was the best thing anyone outside my family had ever done for my birthday.

We ate our cake, which was delicious. Ted repacked everything into the roasting pan, including the layer of ice on which the terrine had rested, and carried it out to my car for me. "I spent some time in Home Depot figuring out how to engineer this," he said. "It had to stay cool and it couldn't get bumped."

He had 1. remembered my birthday even though I had mentioned it only casually in passing, 2. thought about my birthday and what I might like, and 3. gone through a lot of effort to execute the plan, including involving/invoking Leigh to make sure I would be there.

Tell me you wouldn't be seriously crushing on this.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In which I become disastrously involved with the clergyman I meet at an alumni event

I have waited to write about Ted because I am still mortified that I didn't see the red flags that were so big and so wavy that they covered my face and almost smothered me. By the age of 37, I certainly should have known better. It's not as if I hadn't been through Red Flag relationships already.

Some of the flags were of my own creation, which makes it even worse. Am I the person he accused me of being? A strumpet who seduces men against their will? The blood is draining from my face as I even think about it.

And then there is the fact that Ted is someone Primo knows from college. Primo did not know the Ted story. It's been five years that Primo and I have known each other and I've been too embarrassed to tell him about Ted. What would he think of me? But worse than not telling Primo would be for him to read the Ted story here, so I spilled my guts a few weeks ago. Actually, right before we went to our 25 year college reunion. The last thing I wanted was to run into Ted there and end up at the same table at supper with him and his wife and Primo.

To his credit, after hearing the story, Primo said that he had no idea Ted was such a jerk and we should avoid him at the reunion, hey?

I love Primo. He is the best.

Back to Ted. I had moved to Springfield and was plotting ways to meet men. Alumni associations are good for that, right? Common biography, instant bond.

I organized an event. Ted showed up. Whoa! Instant, oozing hotness!

You'd think by that point - post grad-school jerk, post former Marine who had jumped out of helicopters behind enemy lines but couldn't be bothered to tell me he didn't want to see me any more after I made the dumb mistake of sleeping with him AND HE WASN'T EVEN ANY GOOD IN BED and yes, his purple bikini underwear LOOKED DUMB - I would have been very suspicious of instant chemistry and of charm. But I wasn't.

Part of the reason I wasn't suspicious was because he was a hospital chaplain in his last year of divinity school. If you can't trust a clergyman, who can you trust?

I know. That's rhetorical. Please don't answer that.

Ted and I talked and talked and talked. He was so smart. So smooth. We were the last ones to leave the event.

He called me at work the next day. We talked forever. He was on his cell, but stopped at Wal-Mart to use the pay phone there so he wouldn't use all his minutes. He called the next day. He emailed. We spoke ALL THE TIME.

Yet he wouldn't ask me out.

Yes, I know that is a huge red flag, but I believed him when he said he was still getting over his divorce and was trying to take things slow.

I was still convinced he really liked me, though. He revealed deep secrets: that he had a child with a woman he had met when he was working on a kibbutz after college but he had never seen the kid because he (the son) lived in Italy. Ted claimed that the mother had just wanted to trap him into marriage and a move to the U.S.

What a bitch! I thought.

This is where you may figuratively slap me because I took Ted's side instead of the mother's.

Yeah. Horrible woman. Gets pregnant from a guy she meets at a kibbutz and it's all her fault that he wants nothing to do with her and their baby.

Another red flag.

Then Mary Linda, one of my fairy godmothers, called me one day.

"I heard you've been seeing Ted," she said.

There were no secrets in Springfield. Plus she and Ted's parents went to the same church.

"I've known him and his family since he was a little boy. He is bad news," she told me. "Do you know about him?"

"Oh sure," I told her. "He's told me everything."

She paused. "Are you sure? Ever since he was a little kid, nothing has been his fault. He always finds a way to blame someone else."

I waved away her concerns. What did she know?

Turns out she knew plenty, as I found out a few months later, after he had accused me of forcing him into bed against his desires and then did not speak to me again for nine months, when he called me out of the blue to tell me that the house next to his grandmother's house, half a mile from my then-apartment, was for sale and hadn't I been looking for a house to buy?

By then I had been through nine months of therapy, so I knew he was full of crap. But I had to go through some drama to get to that point.

And I will tell you all about it.