Monday, July 12, 2004

More In The Pond

He was telling me the story of the last days of his marriage. They had grown apart to the point that they were still sleeping in the same bed, but any intimacy had become a distant memory. There was an icy chasm between their bodies every night, one that no words or touches could bridge, because the chasm had grown slowly and stealthily over a period of months, maybe years.

We were sitting next to one another, awkwardly, on the concrete bank of the man-made tiny waterfall in the park. I was staring down into the waterfall as he spoke, since he was looking away from me without any attempt at eye contact. Every once in a while, while staring intently at the bubbling water, a fish could be seen actually jumping up the waterfall, to get up into the pond above. I focused on the fish while he spoke, doing my best to listen for the reason he was still so focused on their crumbled marriage. How sad it must be, I remarked to him, to be with someone, and yet feel so alone.

He turned and looked straight into my eyes, his face melting with the relief of being understood. I felt such hope right then, like perhaps we had turned a corner. Maybe, after all of my support and patience and friendship, he could finally see me, instead of the ghost of his ex-wife. But the relief was tinged with anger, too, because I was losing patience. Why had he been able to move past his divorce and have a relationship with that other one, the one he told me he had a passionate affair with, and yet we were still spending all this completely platonic time together?

At that moment,I wasn't being understanding about the pain from the distance between him and his ex-wife. I was coming to see my own pain, and the chasm still between us. I had consoled myself that the gap was closing each time we saw each other, sharing confidences and laughter. He had even taken me into his confidence about a private joke he and his wife had shared, regarding a small stuffed animal that he would make talk, and it became a private joke between us, as well. It was a small, delicious thrill, having a funny little secret joke, something to whisper and laugh with him about, a step closer over the chasm.

It wasn't until he surprised me with the news that he had been dating someone for two months that I realized that any idea of our relationship moving beyond friendship was dashed on the rocks. How stupid I had been, to spend so much time being a bendable ear for him, only to find that while my services as a counselor were much in demand, my services as a girlfriend would not be required. I was crushed and felt such tremendous embarrassment, that the tears splashed down my cheeks the moment I was safely in my car and away from his view. Soon afterwards, I refused his phone calls and letters, as I felt that I would not be able to bear his company, knowing that the relationship I worked so hard to have with him was given away to another woman for free.

Years later, I saw him at a party thrown by a mutual friend. He was alone, as I was, and although I thought about avoiding him all night, it seemed childish, especially since I felt absolutely none of the old infatuation when I saw him. Eventually we said hello and made small talk about our current lives. He told me about a new project he was excited about, one that made sense to me, knowing his old interests and how they would dovetail with his new idea. The seed of his new project, interestingly enough, seemed to have been born from the joke about his talking stuffed animal. I commented that I could see the thread between the talking stuffed animal and his new project.

His head shot up, and he looked at me with raised eyebrows and his mouth open in surprise. He leaned toward me ever so slightly, and in a somewhat more hushed tone asked, "I told you about that?". A surprisingly sharp bolt of shock ran through me, and I realized that he was clearly not remembering the part of our friendship and the part of our bonding that I had felt was so huge and special at the time.

I was aghast, but did my utmost to reign it in, as I mumbled, "Uh, yes, you had." It was then that I finally knew that I had wasted all of the time time spent with him, but the lesson of not spending so much time coddling men who were not ready or interested in a relationship with me was finally learned. And I wondered, like Sally in "When Harry Met Sally", how I could have ever found his blabbering on remotely interesting in the first place.

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