"You're an asshole!" F. said. Which was true.
"A complete fucking assshole." Which wasn't true, at least not completely.
I wasn't upset, because she wasn't the first woman to characterize me as such, and probably wouldn't be the last. "I can't believe you just asked me that." she continued, which was perplexing to me because we had known each other since we were five years old. At this point, that made almost thirty years and even if you've only known me for twenty minutes, you could probably guess that I would in fact have asked the question in question. She stood up and leaned across the table, one of the few in this particular corner of the Starbucks where we were sitting.
"I came to you, because I needed somebody to talk to, somebody to be there for me, not somebody to tell me that it's somehow all my fault." She was almost in tears now and also almost yelling, which was causing the other patrons to turn their heads in our direction. "That's not what I said" I interjected, "That's exactly what you meant!" she said. "No" I interrupted, "I didn't say it was all your fault", "My point was that you might have some responsibility for what happened". "So, it's my fault then right?" she was livid now. "Never mind that he lied to me, cheated on me and was verbally and physically abusive. because evidently it was all my own doing."
"That's not what I said and you know it's not what I meant" I said, as calmly as possible. You know what?"she hissed, "Fuck you. Fuck you and the little technical-ass horse you rode in on." Which was, I had to admit, an apropos insult. "Goodbye Joel" She snatched her purse off the back of the chair, slammed the chair into the table and turned away. She was premierely pissed off and anything I said at this point was probably just going to make things worse. She was mad, real mad, but I wasn't too worried about that. The line of people whom I had severely angered at one time or another could probably stretch from here to Borneo. It's always been a special talent of mine, to piss people off to the highest levels of pissitivity. One that just comes naturally, without much real effort on my part.
Mostly it's because, unlike most people, I seem to lack any filter between my brain and my mouth. Or alternately, as more than one of my exes has pointed out, I appear to not care what people are going to think about what I say before I say it. I don't know if it's true or not, but if you hear something enough times . . . I did feel bad though, a little at least. F. and I had grown up together in Pittsburgh and had both eventually found our separate ways to DC. Me in the USAF and her because she had a job with an airlines that had relocated her. Over the years we had stayed in touch and whenever she had relationship problems I was a good friend that she could call and get a male perspective from.
Her current relationship had ended much the same way that both of her marriages had, with her boyfriend cheating on her and then him getting abusive when she confronted him with evidence of his infidelity. She had called me and asked me to meet up so we could talk. I played poker almost every day in a little park in the middle of Dupont Circle in NW DC and it was easily accessible by the Metro, so we agreed to meet there a little after lunch time. Lunch for her that is, because most days I didn't get up until around 11AM. I would wake around 5:30 AM to help my girlfriend dress and feed our son before she headed to drop him off at Daycare on her way to work, then I would crash back in the bed and get the rest of my snores in.
She looked to be in relatively good spirits when she arrived, she was, as always, fashionably dressed, not that I knew much about fashion. We ordered drinks, coffee for her, Earl Grey for me and caught up quickly on each other's families. Then she got into the messy details of her latest breakup. I had as always, listened closely, held her hand and consoled her. Until about halfway through, she said "Why does this always happen to me?" I asked her if it was a rhetorical question? "No" she said, "Why me? why do I always end up with the fucked up assholes?" I leaned back a little in my chair, "If you really want me to" I said "I can answer that for you." Which I could.
"No, never mind" she said, "You're just going to repeat the same old stuff my mother and sisters have been saying to me all my life." "No, actually I wasn't." I said. And I wasn't, I wasn't even going to say the same old things that I had been saying to her all these years. "What? What Joel?" "What can you say that's different, or even helpful?" she asked. So, I answered her. My point, was fairly simple. F. like many very pretty women was only attracted to men that she found ultra-dominant, which was fine, because that's true of many beautiful women.
The problem was that she wasn't satisfied with a man who was capable of dominating her, she only wanted what she thought was the cream of the crop, a man who completely dominated her. On one level this makes sense, if he wasn't able to dominate with her how was he going to be able to deal with anybody else? The problem, as I pointed out to her, was that any man who was willing to completely dominate a woman like her, would only do so because on some level, he didn't respect her. "That's not true" she said, shaking her head. "Of course it is." I said. "I don't deal with men who don't treat me with respect." she said. Which was true, but had nothing to do with what I had just said. "I'm not saying that they don't respect you at all" I said, "I'm saying that on some level they don't respect you, which is different. It's a necessary condition for complete dominance." "At first that domination makes your little panties moist. But after few months of electric sex, the initial attraction wears off and you finding yourself waking up next to a guy who treats you like shit."
"I don't know" she said, "It sounds like some theoretical bullshit you read in a book to me." "Well, you asked me what I thought." I said. "If you insist on only jumping into pools with a shark in it, it doesn't matter how fast or well you swim; how cute you look in your bathing suit; or even how well you keep the shark fed, at some point the shark is going to bite you. Because that is what sharks do. There comes a time where it doesn't make sense to blame only the shark."
"Oh, I see" she said, "it's all my fault." "I'm not saying that" I said, "But what about guys like that dude Robert that used to like you, or Derek, who went to Carrick with us who was crazy about you?" 'Robert was cute and a nice guy, but I wasn't attracted to him like that." she said. "But, that's my point." I said. "Initial attraction is just one kind of attraction, it's got the sizzle that sells all the Romance novels and romantic comedies and all the hit songs, but sometimes attraction can build over time." She gave me that look. "If I'm not attracted to a guy" she said "Then I'm not going out with him." "I understand" I said "But the dirty little secret of successful long-term loving relationships is that the people are just really good friends who also happen to be having sex with each other."
"If I'm not attracted to a guy" she repeated "Then, I'm not dating him. Period." You're grown." I said "That's your prerogative, but how exactly, has that worked out for you?" She jerked back in her chair like I had just poured hot coffee in her lap and started dropping the A-bomb on me. I let her leave without saying another word, picked up my tea, which was only about half-finished and took a long sip. By my calculations I had just enough time to catch a matinee at the theater across the Circle before the evening card game started up.
The months went by without me hearing from her or calling her and piled up until they turned into a couple of years. In the meantime, I broke up with my son's mother after a five year relationship and moved back into the house in Bloomingdale where I had lived previously. Single again, I fell back into my old routine of hanging out in the Borders on 18th and L streets downtown every afternoon before heading up to the Circle to play cards. In fact, I spent so much time there that eventually the store manager would offer me a job. One afternoon around 3 pm, I found myself sitting downstairs in one of the overstuffed chairs they had spaced out around the store, reading a Dan Brown novel, when a guy walked past who looked like an older, heavier, grayer version of someone I had gone to high school with. I am pretty good about remembering faces and names too.
"Derek?" I said "Derek Robinson?" He stopped and turned around with a quizzical look on his face. "Yeah", he said. "Yo" I said "Long time no see" "Do I know you?" he asked. "Yeah" I said, "We went to high school together for two years, I'm Joel, Joel Dias-Porter, well, I just went by Porter then." There was no change in his face. "You probably don't recognize me." I said, "Because I was six inches shorter and seventy pounds lighter then. I used to be mad skinny" Still, nothing, not even a glimmer of recognition. "The last time you saw me, I was probably setting up a movie projector before one of your classes? You might remember my mother." I said "She used to drive the van for Bethany House, Mrs. Porter." "Yeah" he said, "I kinda remember her, she used to take us to the baseball games when were little."
Just then F. walked up from behind him. "Oh my God." she said with a tiny smile on her face, "They let any old homeless person wander in here and hang out." "Yeah, they do." I said "I was just about to call security, on myself." We both laughed. She slid her hand into Derek's and leaned her head against his shoulder, "Sweetie" she said "Do you remember Joel?" "Nah" he said. "He looks vaguely familiar, but I don't quite remember him." She laughed "He the skinny little asshole who use to live down on Bonifay Street, always thought he knew every damn thing . . . "
And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)