Eleven Miles From Home, Part 1

 

Richard

Confession #1

 

Rachel and I stopped getting along a few months ago. I think it happened suddenly—our shift toward mutual dislike—but I’m not sure offhand how or when. I do have a theory, but I’d need to give it some thought. Kind of a dumb reason to fight, actually, if that’s what caused it. But I could be wrong. I just know the first spark of our disagreement didn’t ignite over television or pizza or anything. If I’m not mistaken. Again, without a thorough investigation, I can base my assumptions only on assumptions, which boils my idea down to a circular argument. Those are fun to untangle, aren’t they?

I suppose the actual catalyst that brought us to our new paradigm could’ve been introduced through other catalysts. Maybe nothing is really as simple as the surface view might suggest. I mean, who’d guess just by looking at the naked ocean that it’s seven miles deep in some places? The weight that must be pressing against the bottom right now, and all the junk that must be floating in between—

In truth, the signs that we were about to clash were ambivalent at best, and they could’ve begun long before the actual incident that caused our rupture. But the important thing is that we did hit the wall. And regardless which road we were taking back then, we’ve certainly found our way onto a broken one now.

Normally, the fact that we don’t get along wouldn’t be an issue. People don’t have to get along. We usually do fine with our conflicts whenever they arise because we find ways to handle them. Sometimes we fake our feelings with a smile. Sometimes we just open a fight and declare a winner when the dust settles. My favorite solution: We avoid each other when need be, and that need-be situation comes along often. But our current situation makes that difficult. At the moment, the fact that we can’t stand each other is a pretty big freaking deal. Unlike my favorite approach for dealing with our tension, we can’t run from this reality. Going for the default solution would just cause bigger problems.

I know there’s an origin to our simmering war, and if I think about it long enough, I’m sure I can figure out what really started it, and why it’s been allowed to continue, and whether or not it can, or should, ever be fixed. And it’s not like I’m on some time limit to pinpoint the infection source because, frankly, Rachel and I aren’t going anywhere. We can place blame on who’s at fault for that later. For now, we have to live with the results: We’re stuck on the side of the road, Rachel’s cellphone is out of service thanks to our position in the dead zone, and there aren’t many people passing through to give us a lift back to town. If we ever are going to deal with it, today’s the day. But I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth it. There’s a reason we don’t get along anymore.

I suppose for that detail to resonate, I need to explain our relationship. So, where do I begin?

Relationships are like paperweights: they’re useful but heavy. Ours began as something useful. But like paperweights, relationships can also look like anything, and be made of anything. This makes it hard to differentiate between a paperweight, and say, a coffee cup serving as a paperweight. Is there coffee in the cup? Will the fan blow all the papers around if someone drinks the coffee in the cup? Are they thinking about the fan when they pick up the cup? Is it still a paperweight when the person is drinking out of the cup?

Perhaps our state of opposition appeared on the horizon the day we met, or maybe it snuck up on me, but that inevitable moment arrived at a time when I wasn’t paying attention, and now, well, here we are, stranded in the middle of nowhere, not getting along. Our friction is a condition I’ve yet to figure out because we’re into the same things—on that fact alone we should, in theory, get along just fine. But sometimes two people with similar interests are less than kindred spirits, like the clown and the mime who went to school together; and the clown bullied him, or, more likely, the other way around. I’m pretty sure our relationship is a lot like that. Useful, but it became heavy.

I’m no psychologist, though. My line of work does not encourage me to think or to evaluate people. I’m not sure I’m qualified to understand Rachel or her buttons, or what would drive her to hate me. But I do have a brain, so it’s worth a try. I think. I’ve got to do something smart here. I already kinda blew it once today.

Maybe there’s some negative aura thing that makes us friends to dysfunction. Then again, I’m not really the type who believes in auras and stuff like that. Rachel doesn’t either. Perhaps that’s the heart of our similarity: a connection that we find everything weird yet understandable in the context of noun use because the word aura sounds pretty cool. But that’s conjecture. I’ve never heard anyone but literature snobs fighting over the meanings of words, and those people probably need some adrenaline in their lives anyway, so more power to them. Honestly, it’s a semantics issue, and who really cares about that? The semantics of words is just another way to get innocent people in trouble. I don’t think having a difference of opinion about nouns and weird things is what got us disliking other. We agree on that. So, that couldn’t have been the spark.

We also tend to agree that fast-food is awesome, dogs are too loud, and the past is worth forgetting, especially when we can’t let it go. None of those things would have sparked our conflict, either.

Least surprising, we agree that jet skiing is cool. It’s the water sport that brought us to this place along the side of the road in the first place. Convenient, right? There’s another interesting word for dictionary types—an adjective this time. Convenient.

Sorry, I know all of that sounds like fishing. I really want to believe we fell apart over something stupid. Coming to the conclusion that we slammed the brakes on our appreciation for each other and pushed the gear into reverse in response to something like my thinking a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is better than bologna and her getting pissed about it would justify my anger over the whole thing. Sometimes I wonder if the truth robs me of that justification, though. Truth is, we both agree peanut butter and jelly is better than bologna. Together and separately.

Eh, the truth. Maybe I should just ditch the conjecture and own up to the facts. Fine, if we’re stuck here for a while, I may as well talk about what I do know.

I guess I should back up a few feet and explain our history, not that history matters anymore because here we are now secretly wanting to strangle each other’s throats—not out of malice of course, but because that’s just what we do. Anyway, here’s the general scoop: We used to date, a lot. Again, not out of malice, but because we actually liked each other.

In some reverse psychological way, that mutual infatuation is what screwed us. Yes, it began as something pleasant, satisfying, and, well, fine. But everything in life degrades in time, and our relationship was no different. Our favoritism toward each other transformed into disagreement, then disillusionment, then disappointment, then disgust. We still haven’t hit the fifth stage of deterioration, distance—something we need plenty of from each other but can’t get thanks to the current situation—but after today, we might just get there.

I suppose that still doesn’t answer the big question.

So, the big question: How do two people go from liking each other, to not, to standing by the side of a road eleven miles from home? Well, there’s the jet skiing thing. But obviously it goes deeper than that. I suppose to adequately explore the origin of our emotional destruction, I would have to tell the story of how our relationship began. It began with the other girlfriend.

Her name was Abby. Not really the nicest girl in the world and certainly not the prettiest, but she smelled really good. I’d describe her neck like a scent of shampoo dipped in flowers. It was the kind that made me forget about the horse-like face she had. Yeah, I know, comparing her to a horse is a bit extreme, but she’d never make it to the runways—not then, and probably not now—it’s just one of those painful facts of life. I didn’t mind, though, because she never expected me to kiss her. Her only demand was that I held her during movies every once in a while. The whole setup was favorable because I could smell her neck without ever having to look at her. It was the perfect relationship.

But as irony had it, Rachel had to show up and ruin all of that.

I realize I haven’t mentioned anything pertinent to the situation. But I guess that describes life. Nothing significant ever happens, yet, it all comes together in strange ways and places two contentious people along the side of the road for reasons neither understand. The fact that nothing ever happened with Abby and then, BAM, Rachel comes along and screws everything up, undoubtedly reinforces that theory. I guess deep down I’m still upset that she disturbed the order of my life. I mean, the low expectations and the great-scent thing were really awesome. The fact that both characteristics of my relationship with Abby demanded absolutely nothing in the realm of change had made it even better. But when Rachel invaded my life, she introduced a whole new factor of excitement that I’d never found in Abby, and thus brought into my life an unnecessary shift in nothing. That, of course, was my newfound love for Jet Skis.

One day Abby and I headed off to the park to watch the lake ripple. There was no reason for it; there was just nothing worth watching on TV. As usual, we sat on the bench, put our arms around each other’s waist and said absolutely nothing for as long as the situation allowed. The lake undulated, we watched it with gaping mouths, and I savored the fact that her hair was up my nose. But then it happened: Some girl on a Jet Ski flew by. My gaping mouth hit my knees. The machine looked amazing and I felt fuzzy, and the girl looked pretty nice, too. In retrospect, the discovery was a terrible one.

To this day I don’t know how Abby reacted. Since I made a point to never look directly into her eyes, I just focused my attention on the Jet Ski and assumed she was equally mesmerized. She didn’t speak of it, but deep down I figured she dreamed of riding it. I mean, the machine was unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Literally. We lived in a backwater town that believed lakes were meant for fishing, not fun.

When the skier docked her machine, I felt the compulsion to talk to her and discover more about this crazy device. So that’s what I did. I didn’t wait for Abby to follow; I just assumed she’d find her way. Apparently, I was wrong. Looking back, I think maybe she was being shy. After all, she was a shy person when it came to meeting strangers and their strange toys. It didn’t matter, though. She had a right to support her quirks.

Anyway, I started talking to the skier girl and immediately got hooked on the topic. It became all I harped on for twenty minutes straight. The girl seemed interested in my interest. So after my excitement dwindled down, she invited me to give it a ride. That floored me. I went for it.

And I loved it. The adrenaline was more intense than riding a lawnmower. It was a rush in a can, a Red Bull on the water. By the end of the day, when I finally docked and called it quits, the skier congratulated me for making it through my first session in one piece. I shouted my joy at the treetops.

It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I realized Abby was gone the whole time I was out there.

To confirm the obvious, Rachel was the girl on the Jet Ski and I never saw Abby again. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to find her later that month and was even willing to apologize—I really didn’t want to lose her awesome scent. But I couldn’t. I don’t know why, but sometimes I think she just dug a hole next to that bench, jumped in, and covered herself up. That was the only logical explanation.

To get back to the point of the current problem, Rachel and I started dating that very night. We hit it off pretty well: talking about jet skiing, how much we thought weird people should keep their thoughts to themselves, penguins, and more jet skiing. Eventually, we made special trips to Jet Ski camps, which meant spending entire weekends in ecstasy. Of course, that meant I had to buy my own Jet Ski, which was naturally the greatest investment of my life, if not a little pricey. To compensate for the financial hit, I ate cheaply for a long, long time. I’d gained weight in the process—the price for fun is often expensive. But, Rachel liked hanging out with me anyway. She was cool like that.

But as the order of nothing became something, things started to change. I realized we were in an actual relationship: not a small movie-watching, bench-sitting, jet-skiing thing, but something that involved talking to and looking at each other. Sure, we got to spend a lot of time on the water, but we also had to pay attention to each other’s words and pretend we cared what was on the other’s mind. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.

I don’t know, somewhere along the line what became something started becoming too much. Rachel always asked why I didn’t care, even though I said I did, even though I really didn’t and she’d accuse me of lying. I’d buy her flowers on the advice of friends, hoping to prove that I could’ve cared, but she’d always get picky saying that plastic flowers from the dime store was not an appropriate make-up gift. After watching a few of her tears fall, and getting frustrated that I wasted twenty-five cents on the stupid flowers, I’d walk away to see if there was anything good on TV. That, of course, was when she’d come to my side, apologize for being so rude and tell me she loved me. That, of course, pissed me off. What did she really think she was going to accomplish by saying that? Abby never said the word love the whole time I knew her. The girl was obviously loony.

It’s not that love bothers me. I mean, let’s be real; I love jet skiing. There’s no reason to think it’s a dirty word. The problem I had, however, was that this girl thought she was going to get me to marry her or something. Obviously, that’s the only reason she’d ever say it. Truth was, I didn’t want to be involved like that. So, I called it quits. That’s when the fireworks exploded.

So, as much as I wish we’d fought over peanut butter, bologna, and loud dogs, the truth is, that was the trigger. Most likely. With Rachel it’s hard to tell sometimes. But I’m pretty sure it had a lot to do with the fact that I’d broken up with her.

When I use the term “fireworks,” I should probably mention that they began as small firecrackers, rather than a full array of M80s. Even though the tension resembled a cloud that could be spotted from miles away, Rachel never chose to yell at me. In fact, I’m not sure she ever yelled a day in her life. Her big thing was passive-aggressiveness, to be polite when she blatantly insulted me and then shed a few tears for emphasis. She was a dirty player, certainly, and that’s how the dislike for each other escalated. The more she turned her anger into words, the more I’d flip them back at her. Our exchanges became cold war matches to see who’d get madder at the other without intensifying it with volume. In the end, she was better at the game than I was. It usually took three insults to break my patience. Of course, my eminent yelling always brought her to the point of flinging her arms upward and turning her back on me, to which she’d finish off with a sob-fest. We eventually got tired of fighting and acknowledged that “quits” meant no contact of any kind. That’s when we agreed to end the tension and avoid each other completely.

So how does one go from dating, to hating, to going jet skiing together? It’s a complicated situation to the untrained mind. The bottom line is that we both love to jet ski, and neither of us know of another soul who shares our passion, so we bear the burden of sacrifice for our one true love, the one that doesn’t degrade over time.

In retrospect, this may seem too insane for truth. But believe me, it’s all true. It’s what I like to call Jetskius Magnetismo, which, translated into layman’s terms, means the attraction to aquatic adrenaline. I guess the best way to describe it is to compare it to a Vin Diesel movie, where the story sucks but the action is amazing. When one has a deep love for jet skiing, he or she is willing to experience that love with anyone, regardless of feelings or having to watch a terrible story unfold. And that’s precisely what Rachel and I possess. Frankly, I think it’s beautiful.

To the minds that don’t understand our relationship or the love of Jet Skis we share—shame on all of them—this whole setup probably seems like lunacy. It’s true that our depth of substance might have difficulty sinking a gerbil, but that’s all it took to bring us together in the first place. And maybe it’s true that if what brought us together is still strong in our lives today then, hypothetically, we should still be together. But life doesn’t always work that way.

To make sense of our relationship, let’s examine this concept for a moment. Pretend a girl is sitting by herself in the park listening to the radio. For the sake of hypothesis, let’s pretend this girl is Abby. Now Abby has an easy-listening station tuned in, which, if I remember correctly, was her favorite kind of music. Imagine if Dude X came walking by, whistling some Neil Diamond, or Frank Sinatra, or some other popular old rich guy song. The tune wouldn’t be that interesting because who really listens to easy-listening? But think about it. If Abby is uninteresting enough to listen to that kind of music, and if Dude X is really known as Dork X, then maybe some kind of connection will take place. Hence, a version of Jetskius Magnetismo occurs.

It can be a beautiful thing. Maybe not so much in Abby’s case, but for the most part it can be a beautiful thing.

But that beauty doesn’t help Rachel and me anymore. The problem is that this section of road is nowhere near a lake and that means Rachel and I are separated from our only real connecting point. And trust me, when the link between a man’s and woman’s heart is severed, it sucks. Not only does it suck that we have to find another way to make due with our situation, but it sucks because we can’t have fun doing it. The truth is, we stopped having fun when the ride ended, and this forsaken highway isn’t the object that’s meant to restore our passion. The only fires lit in our hearts are the ones that left me craving a turkey sandwich and her giving me the silent treatment. As far as I know, those fires aren’t even strong enough to brown a marshmallow.

So that more or less brings us to the present, or at least the recent past. I know it doesn’t explain how in the world we ended up here, but it does explain how we ended up here together. Of course, if knowing how we got here is important at all, then I suppose this would be the best time to discuss that. After all, neither Rachel nor I have anything else to do but to sit alongside this craggy road, trying to figure out why we felt the urge to take this jet skiing trip, reflecting on whether or not it was worth our becoming stranded together.

 

Read Part 2

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The stuff that keeps me awake at night.

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