Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Strong_and_smart would like to chat. Do you accept?

The cursor blinked at me in the chat window. I clicked on his profile. Seemed reasonably intelligent. Military. Army Reserves. Also a student.

I clicked “yes”

A few clicks and giggles later, he asked if it was all right to call me. I agreed. We talked easily and I laughed, and agreed to talk again at a more reasonable hour, when we would consider meeting.

He called me the next day, when I got home from work.

“So let’s meet,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.

“You can come over to my place, if you want. Watch a movie or something.”

Whoa. Whoa. Hold on there cowboy. Did he really think I would just agree to go to his apartment? For all I knew, he could be a serial killer. And even if that wasn’t the case, I had to be able to make a swift getaway if I needed to.

“How about if we meet for coffee?” I ventured.

Coffee. Nice. Safe. Public.

“Sure,” he said. “But it would really help me if you could come out my way. I have a lot of work to do.”

We agreed on a time and a place.

When I arrived at the coffee shop, he was already at the counter. He was taller than I had thought, and cuter. He was wearing a cream-colored turtleneck sweater and jeans, and his blond hair was cropped close to his head in true military fashion.


I smiled. “You must be Tony.”

He returned the smile. “You’re even prettier in person.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Your pictures don’t do you justice, either.”

We sat and talked for nearly two hours. Writing and science, physics and poetry. Our pasts and our futures. We talked easily and freely, and when it came time to leave, neither of us was quite ready to part ways.

”I’m not ready to go home yet. How about you?” he said.

“Not really,” I smiled. “What should we do?”

He shrugged. “Let’s get in the car and see what catches our attention.”

He unlocked—and opened—the car door for me. And we drove. A flashing neon sign proclaiming “Everything 99 Cent” grabbed him.

“Do you mind?” he said. “I need a broom.”

“Not at all.” What can I say? I’m easily amused.

We started up the first aisle, where all the cheap plastic toys were located, and Tony picked up a megaphone.

“Attention K-Mart shoppers.” He laughed. I did, too, in spite of myself.

“What are you doing?” I giggled. “Put that down.”

He obliged, until he found his next plaything. It was kind of like shopping with a hyperactive child, except that I found it sort of endearing.

We left, and before we got in the car, Tony asked me to dance in the parking lot.

“But there’s no music,” I said.

He grabbed me around the waist, clasped my hand, and pulled me to him.

"Siiiiiiingin' in the rain, just siiiiiiingin’ in the rain" he crooned.

“It’s not raining,” I protested.

“So what?”

When he dropped me off back at my car, he hugged me, but sort of picked me up, swung me around and dropped me at my door.

“Thank you for a wonderful evening.” He kissed my cheek. “You really are beautiful.”

I drove home, giddy

Oh Lord...what am I doing?


I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I knew it was crazy. It was too soon. It was way too soon. But I couldn’t deny it. Yes, I was attracted to Tony, but it was more than that. I liked him. He made me laugh.

The second time I saw him, I did go to his apartment. We went to the video store and decided on ? When we got back, he showed me around the apartment. We sat down on the couch and talked for a little while.

“Can I get you something to drink,” he offered.

“Sure. Just some water would be fine,” I said.

He went to the kitchen, and I surveyed the room. Typical bachelor apartment. I got up and walked over to the entertainment center and checked out the DVD collection.

“See anything good?”

He walked over to me and handed me the water I’d requested.

“Thanks. Are they yours?”

“Most of them.”

“Good stuff here. Spaceballs. Say Anything. A Few Good Men. I approve.”

“Good.” He smiled, took my hand, and led me back to the couch. “Want to put the movie in?”


I sat patiently on the edge of the couch, waiting for him to get the movie ready. When it had started playing, he laid down on the couch and gently pulled me down beside him. I nestled my back into his front in the spoon position, and he wrapped his arm around me.

Strong arms. I closed my eyes, inhaled, and let myself relax into him.

All through the movie, he gently rubbed my arm and shoulder with his free hand.

That was all. No groping, no pawing. He was a perfect gentleman. Maybe a little too perfect, in fact.

“I should probably get going,” I said. “I have to work in the morning.”

“Okay. I’ll walk you out.”

We stood in front of his building, saying our goodnight. He leaned in to kiss me, and I stood on tiptoes, my face tilted toward his. Our lips met in the sweetest, softest kiss I could have possibly imagined.

I closed my eyes and savored the moment. His taste. His smell. His touch.

He pulled away, and I opened my eyes, breathless. I caught myself just before I lost my balance, and lowered my heels back to the ground.

“Goodnight, beautiful Katie.”

“Goodnight,” I sighed. He stood there and watched me get into my car and drive away. I smiled, gave a little wave, and thought of that kiss until I fell asleep that night.


“Em, I’m in trouble. Big trouble.” I’d waited until the next day to call her. We went to (Greek Restaurant) for French fries. They made the best fries in the city. I fiddled with my straw paper, tying it into a knot and pulling. Someone told me once that if you pulled it apart without the knot, someone was thinking of you. I’d nearly perfected the art of pulling it apart without the knot.

“What do you mean?”

I crumbled the paper between my fingers, rolling it into a ball. I tossed it aside and started working on my napkin. “I like him. I can’t like him. It’s too soon.”

“Would you stop it?” Emily rolled her eyes. “It’s not like you have to marry the guy. You like him. Have fun.”

Have fun. As if it were that easy. I’ve never been very good at dating. The casual kind anyway. I was always worrying. What was I thinking? What was he thinking? Was it serious? Did I want it to be? Did he?

I’ve never understood how people do it. And I’m a little bit wary of people who seem to enjoy it too much.
The waitress brought our platter of fries and I started munching on one.

“Do you need anything else?”

I started to shake my head, but Emily jumped in. “Just my ranch dressing, please.”

Em was a bona-fide ranch addict. She ate it on everything. The waitress nodded and walked back toward the kitchen.

“So what do I do?”

“You go out with him again and stop worrying.”

Yeah. Easy for her to say.


A few days later, Friday morning, I woke up with the overwhelming urge to vomit. I crawled to the bathroom and lay on the floor for a while. There was no way I was getting to work.

I pulled on some clothes, bundled up, and dragged myself to the mini mart for saltines and ginger ale. Getting sick is never fun, but it really sucks when you live by yourself. It kind of makes you long for your mommy…someone to tuck you in and bring you medicine and food that won’t make you puke.

I really miss my mommy sometimes.

I trudged back to my apartment, called the secretary’s voice mail and expressed my sincerest apologies. Then I fell back into bed.

The ringing of the phone at around noon dragged me back into the world of the living. I picked it up, fully expecting it to be Emily.

“Katie? This is Ann. I didn’t expect you to be there.”

Ann. Alex’s mom.

“Oh. Yeah. I’m home sick today.”

This wasn’t awkward at all.

“Well, I just wanted to thank you for sending the book.”

“Oh, you’re welcome.”

We chatted politely for a few minutes. She asked me how teaching was going, and if I had any prospects for a full-time position. I answered her questions, and refrained from making any rude comments about her asshole son.

I hung up the phone, feeling a sharp pang of sadness. I realized that I didn’t just miss him. I missed them. I’d never had a boyfriend’s family be so welcoming before. They really made me feel like I was part of the family.

I didn’t just lose Alex. I lost all of them.

I forced down a cup-o-soup and some saltines, which I washed down with a glass of ginger ale, then crawled back into bed.

(this section needs a lot of fleshing out...and probaby will be moved around and inserted elsewhere)

Tony sent me an email with a poem attached, one that he apparently wrote. Incredibly sweet. But I have to wonder, is it too much? Is it stalkeresque? Or is it just a guy who is genuinely open about his feelings?

Tony has another strike against him…the National Guard thing. He's in the officer training program, and there’s a very real possibility that he could end up getting shipped overseas. (His company is going in December. He's not. They can’t send him until he goes for his training. Is this something I even want to allow myself to get involved with?


I slept away most of Saturday. Sleep is a good thing. The fever broke sometime in the middle of the afternoon, leaving me with just congestion, a mild cough, and some achiness.

Tony called and offered to bring me chicken soup, but I declined. I've only seen him 3 times. I didn’t know if I could handle letting him see me at my disgusting, unshowered, feverish, sweaty worst. It was sweet of him to offer, though.

I still wasn’t entirely sure where I wanted it to go. Do I need to be sure where I want this to go, or can I just enjoy it for what it is right now...a nice guy who seems to like me, who makes me laugh, and just so happens to be a good kisser? Part of me was feeling like I needed to have a talk with him, but was that too much? Maybe he would think I was a complete freak

Hmmm. Why does life have to be so complicated? Or is it? Do I make it more complicated than it has to be??


I pulled out from the curb, and heard an odd crunching sound. Snow stuck to the tires, I figured. I kept going, but when I reached the highway it was apparent that the problem was more than snow. I pulled off the side of the road at the first opportunity and got out. My right driver’s side tire was completely flat. Actually, it was utterly destroyed. It looked like it had exploded.

I called for roadside assistance, which wass supposed to have been included with my extended warranty. The man on the phone says I don't. They can't get a hold of the dealership as it is 7:45 a.m. Distraught, I offer my credit card number. A tow truck is supposedly on its way.

While waiting for help, four (count 'em, four) Buffalo police officers stop to see if I need help. I turned on the radio.

“Watch out for a disabled vehicle at the … ramp onto the outbound 33,” the morning traffic reporter warned.

A few minutes later, a tow truck passed by me, then stopped and backed up. The driver got out and walked toward my car. I rolled down the window.

“Need a tow?” he asks.

“Someone’s supposed to be coming for me,” I said. I check the clock. I’ve been waiting for over an hour.

“Are you sure? I’ve got a deal with Firestone. They pay for the tow if I bring the business to them.

I hesitated. Was he on the level? I looked at the clock again and agreed. I called Emily and asked her to meet me there.

She picked me up , and we headed to the café at the bookstore to wait.

“I can’t believe this. I’m such a loser,” I moaned. “I had to call in to work again, after I was just sick last week.

Several hours and phone calls later, Firestone called, trying to get me to buy four new tires and get an alignment. Whatever. I said no, and asked them to just replace the exploded tire right now, thank you. Crooks.

“If I was a man, this crap wouldn’t happen,” I said.

“Yeah,” Emily agreed.

“Or if I had a man, this crap wouldn’t happen.”

It’s true. Sometimes I think we young people of the female persuasion have signs plastered on our foreheads that say “Go ahead! Take advantage of me!”

“I know. Being single really sucks sometimes.”

I called Tony, and his first repsonse was "You could have called me."

Really? I mean, the thought crossed my mind, but I wasn’t sure if that was too much of a “girlfriendy” thing to do.


I dragged Emily into the boutique with me to see the dress. I needed something new to wear to my cousin April’s fake wedding, which was under two weeks away.

The family hadn’t been entirely thrilled with April’s engagement to begin with. It happened fast. Very fast. And she was still in college. I, of course, cited all the appropriate reasons for being upset about April’s engagement, but the truth was, I was jealous.

I had been waiting, very patiently, I thought, for Alex to pop the question. Every engagement, every shower, every wedding I was forced to face without a ring of my own I took as further confirmation that it was, in fact, never going to happen.

So there I was, rapidly approaching “old maid” status, and bam! After barely six months, Jake presents my 22-year-old cousin April a ring. Fabulous. My only consolation?

He proposed at Red Lobster.

Oh, yeah, and then there was the fact that it wasn’t even a real wedding. “Not real” in the sense that they had already run off and eloped a year before. Apparently, they just couldn’t wait. They weren’t going to tell anyone, but of course word got back to my aunt and uncle. No one could believe they were still going through with the whole deal.

Needless to say, I was determined to look amazing at April’s wedding.

I pulled out the dress I wanted to show Emily. It was black satin, strapless, with a wide ivory ribbon at the waist. It was adorable.

It was also, I feared, “too much.”

“What do you mean ‘too much,’” Emily wondered.

“Em, you haven’t seen where this wedding is going to be. It’s not exactly the Hyatt.”

It was, in fact, the (Town Name) Community Building. Essentially, it was a gymnasium. A good portion of Jake’s side of the family, I was quite sure, was going to show up in jeans and pointy-toed cowboy boots. It would be what my photographer friend semi-affectionately termed “a hog rassle.”

“So what? It’s cute. You like it. Buy it and wear it with pride, baby.”

So I did.

“Are you going to ask Tony?”

I had thought about asking Tony, for a fleeting moment, but I thought it was way too soon for something like that. A family wedding in my hometown? Fortunately, before I got too deep into worrying about it, I learned that it was scheduled on his one weekend a month. No Tony.

Two weeks later, I was putting on my best fake smile along with my adorable black dress and heading to the church.

I’d been prepared to be a teary mess during the ceremony, but I was actually fine, mostly, until we reached the Prayers of the Faithful. They offered a prayer for our grandma, and I lost it. So did the rest of my family...

I caught sight of one particularly skanky looking woman, who turned out to be Jake’s sister-in-law. Her hair was bleached blonde, and she wore a tight black skirt with fishnet stockings and tall leather boots. The neckline of her top plunged deeply, revealing far more cleavage than was appropriate in a house of God.

Oh yeah. High class.

“Okay, let's go drink." I mumbled to my brother, who was also attending dateless. I had finished two drinks and started on a third before the wedding party arrived.

The bride and groom made their entrance on a snowmobile. I’d known it was coming, but somehow the image of it really happening was far more overwhelming than I could possibly imagine. The engine roared, and the hall filled with exhaust fumes, which mixed nicely with the cigarette smoke cloud forming over Jake’s family.

A few drinks later, the best man asked me to dance. His jacket and tie were gone, and he was wearing a tuxedo shirt with the arms torn off, exposing a couple of large tattoos.

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you since I saw you at the church,” he slurred. “You are the hottest girl here. You’re super hot.”

Super hot. I couldn’t help but giggle when I thought of that old cheer I used to do in pee-wee football. “Our team is fire! We’re super hot…”

He pulled me close and sang loudly into my ear. The music pounded in the background, and my mind swam as Rob and I swayed on the dance floor. The song ended, and we parted. I stumbled away, and April grabbed me.

“Katie, be careful.”

“What are you talking about?”

“With Rob. He only wants one thing.” With ‘one thing’ she waggled her finger at me. Clearly April had been enjoying the bar a bit as well.

I laughed. “What? You think I would actually do anything with him?”

I may have been drunk, but I wasn’t stupid. I was eating up the attention, but it wasn’t like I would go home with him.

April threw her arms around me. “Okay. Just checkin’. Let’s dance.”

And dance, we did, into the wee hours. We did it all. The electric slide. The chicken dance. The Pennsylvania Polka.

On the way out the door, I noticed the bridesmaids cleaning up the shots from the dollar dance, getting ready to throw them away. I stopped my cousin Melanie.

“What are you doing? That’s alcohol abuse!”

“You want one?”

Jack. I picked one up, sniffed it, and tossed it back. Melanie laughed. I took another one.

“To April and Jake!” I shouted.

My parents dragged my exhausted drunk ass home. I changed my clothes and flopped onto my mom’s bed. She began gently inquiring about my dating life since Alex and I had split up.

“I don’t get it, mom. Why is April married and I’m not? What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing is wrong with you, Katie.”

“Something must be. Men seem to run screaming at the idea of spending the rest of their lives with me.” I buried my face in the pillow. I didn’t understand. I’d survived the wedding. Why was I turning into a whiny mess now?

Mom put her arms around me. “You know that’s not true. You just haven’t found the right one yet.”

“I’m tired of it, mom. I’m tired of dating. I don’t want to do it anymore.”

I was beginning to think that maybe arranged marriages weren’t so bad. Maybe there was a nice boy in Italy who wanted to come to the states and marry a nice Italian-American girl.

My mom stroked my hair. “I know, baby. I know.”

I know my family thought that I just wanted to be married, that nothing else was important to me, but that wasn’t exactly it.

I mean, of course I do. I want someone to love. I want someone to love me back. I want to be happy, put down roots, have a family. I just seem to have a hard time believing that I will have those things when there isn't someone in my life.

I mean, what was I doing with these guys? With Tony? It felt good to have someone’s arms around me, to be told I was beautiful. As long as I had that, I could close my eyes and pretend it was something more.

I could pretend I didn’t miss Alex.


I went back knowing that I had to end whatever it was I was doing with Tony. I didn’t see a future with him. I’d had some fun with him, but it wasn’t going to go anywhere. And I had no desire to pursue a purely physical relationship with him. It just wasn’t that good.

Tony was one of those guys who thought he was way better than he really was. And then there was the singing. Oh, God, the singing. In bed.

At first it was almost cute, but then it got to be completely insufferable.

He started off with classic stuff. The Beatles. Michele.

“I don’t like that song,” I said. “Sing something else.”

“All right. We talk all night, try to make it right, believe me shit was tight. It was the wrong way.”

He’d sing that line, then giggle like a 12-year-old.

“You know that song?”


He was like a hyperactive child, and he would just not. Shut. Up. Ever.

“That’s it,” I told Emily. “I have to tell him.”

“What are you going to say?”

“I don’t know,” I sighed.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to think too long about it. He called me later that night and told me he was being sent for his officer training earlier than he thought.

“When?” I asked.

“Early January.” He seemed nervous, preoccupied. He told me he was worried about school. He didn’t know when he’d finish his degree. He didn’t know what would happen. There was a very real chance he’d get sent to Iraq when his training was finished.

“I think it might be best if we just end this now, be friends.”

“Okay?” I said.

“I mean, it’s going to happen anyway. There’s no sense in us getting closer when I’m going to be leaving, right?”

“Right,” I agreed.

“And it’s not like I’d expect you to wait for me. I mean, maybe if neither one of us is seeing anyone when I come back, we could give it a shot.”

“Sure,” I said.

We said goodbye, and I hung up the phone. I was inexplicably sad. Did I just miss the idea of having someone around, or was I really going to miss Tony?

I liked him. I did. It was just the wrong way.


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