Eleven Miles from Home, Part 4

 

Rachel

Confession #2

 

As I said before, I just wanted to spend a nice day on the lake. I had no intention of meeting some uncultured stranger along the shoreline. Maybe girls that never bleed like to be noticed, but I was through with it. I couldn’t take another round of heartbreak, or regret, or anything of the like. Yet, something inside of me forced out a smile when Richard jogged up to the shore to greet me.

I think I was just surprised. Most of the guys I’d met prior to Richard found me on a park bench while I was shedding tears or wiping my nose after they’d dried. There might have been a few exceptions—okay, many where the desperate horndog saw me at a grocery store and thought I’d make for a good rockin’. But most of them introduced themselves for the sake of playing upon my vulnerability, as if that would validate their own sense of manliness. Richard, unlike the rest, really wasn’t looking for me. He just wanted to get onto my Jet Ski.

I’ll admit that I was shocked by his intrusion. When he ran up and asked me about my personal watercraft, I assumed he was acting interested only to get in good with me. So I felt cold toward him. But when he kept going on and on about the Jet Ski and how he had never seen anything quite so amazing, all of a sudden I felt jealous. I should’ve been relieved, considering the problems I’d dealt with before that day, but his lack of interest in me left me silently grumpy.

I suppose there was no good reason for me to feel that way. I wanted to be happy that a guy was interested in a part of me that didn’t involve screwing with my heart. I wasn’t, though. I wanted to be the more important body on that shoreline.

After about twenty minutes, I finally decided that maybe his lust for my Jet Ski would’ve ended if I’d let him ride it. It turned out I had made the right decision. Maybe it was my silent vengeance against the men of my past kicking in, but I laughed as I watched the beginner wipeout every other minute. Seeing the waves mix with that splash of falling orange—it was like an artist’s masterpiece coming to life—but on the set of Benny Hill. When he finally brought it back to the shoreline a short while later, it took all my strength to stifle my laughter. The water dripping over his goofy smile was priceless. Fortunately, I kept my composure. And sure enough, he started talking about the ride with full passion—okay, he raved over it—the second his feet touched dry land. That’s when I decided to invite him to dinner. I had to know that I was exciting, too.

I think a sensible woman would’ve remained cautious throughout the entire encounter, both initially and thereafter. I knew the pains I’d felt before—pains that resurfaced time and again. But I managed to forget every time. A new guy would show up, often under the same conditions, and I’d fall into the same trap. It got so bad that I eventually had to move out of my apartment just to escape the madness.

Someone once told me that the definition of insanity is to live by the same routine and go through the same experiences repeatedly, expecting a different result each time. And I knew what the word meant when I broke up with the guy who followed Harry. But I kept putting myself in ridiculous situations because my learning curve was straighter than a yardstick. When Richard came along, I should’ve just let him ride my Jet Ski, then push him out of my life forever. But I didn’t because I thought he was different than the rest. Looking back, I don’t know if the difference was any better.

It turned out that my plan to wrestle his attention away from the Jet Ski worked swimmingly. Even though we still volleyed words back and forth about the watercraft for much of the night, as I should’ve expected, we managed to slip a few other subjects in as well, including topics that centered on our personal lives. We enjoyed the time together and decided that the moment we shared was something that needed to be shared more. And though I knew I was taking a monster’s chance by even thinking about letting him into my life, I thought this time it would’ve been different—that maybe I wouldn’t have to cry again.

Something sick happens, though, when a person convinces herself that the person she’s with is in fact the one who will never screw her around, or break her heart, or make her feel like the eternal fool. That sick thing is the psychological dysfunction of “falling into deep smit,” or “falling in love” as some people call it. Somehow I managed to sucker myself into that gladiator’s arena when I turned off my judgment and looked at Richard through a dreamer’s eyes. I guess I thought he’d become the prince that guys past failed to be.

But somewhere along the line I could no longer deceive myself. The curtain displaying my portrait of fantasy finally rose, revealing the putrid wasteland of reality stretching for miles behind it. Richard refused to love me the way I thought I loved him. He walked away every time I tried to get close to him. He tossed up his arms and called me hopeless whenever my tears fell. And he failed to realize that the only reason I cried was because he wouldn’t take the time to cherish me. I mean, I was his girlfriend for crying out loud.

Of course, my therapist said the girlfriend thing was only my interpretation of myself.

I don’t know. I think in a perfect world, Richard would’ve taken the chance. There wouldn’t have been any emotional fear held against me and his involvement wouldn’t have been just about my Jet Ski. But, as they say, this isn’t a perfect world and the truth about life is that it’s heartbreaking.

So I guess the big question now is why do I still put myself in such an awkward place? The circumstances never change between us—whenever we share the same space, he cringes and hides his face from me. And the intelligible conversations, as few as they were in our dating months, cease completely nowadays. In the end, we have nothing but our Jet Skis to keep us together. And thanks to our side trip to the gas station, now we don’t even have that.

I’m not sure I really understand it. There I am each weekend gliding along the water’s surface, hopping over Richard’s waves, and it’s completely absurd. We go there together, return to town together, and we spend the whole day together in between. Our relationship had all but died a while ago, and yet we still find ourselves in that same place. Each week. And it eats me up inside because I never know why I’m there. It’s not even fun for me anymore.

Ironically, the last couple of hours have awakened me. The harsh reality is that we don’t have a thing binding us together. And yet, we still sit side by side, expecting something to happen—something good to come from all of this. Sure, we could sit on opposite sides of the road, or camp about a mile-and-a-half away from each other. But we don’t. We sit side by side, staring at the fields, hoping for anything to bring us out of this mess. For what, I don’t know.

For a moment I wonder if anything will ever be spoken. We haven’t said a word since sitting along the road’s shoulder. I know our thoughts have been running rampant: thoughts about why our thumbs don’t seem to be working; thoughts about why the few cars that do drive by pretend they don’t see us, or care; thoughts about why we don’t just walk the eleven miles back to town and spare ourselves this misery. But our mouths have remained quiet since the last time we saw our private way home.

Deep down I think Richard has been silently destroying himself over this. And I’d argue that he has every right to torture himself. But it concerns me that after two hours he can’t turn the accusation around on me; not even one word about it being my fault. Makes me wonder what he’s been thinking about this whole time.

I really hoped our relationship would’ve been better than it was, but I think, in retrospect, it never had the right tracks. The fact remains that we came together at a vulnerable time in our lives. He had a girl in his life. I wasn’t over Harry. I still cried nearly every night since watching that golden ring fall out of his pocket. No man had what it took to bring me out of that.

In the end, I just wasn’t ready.

There have been a few moments when it looked like Richard wanted to say something—his eyes drifted and he opened his mouth slightly as a soft breath escaped. But he stopped and closed his lips each time. Every attempt to speak was followed with a quick shift and a frustrated brushing over his hair. In the past, these actions dictated something very personal on his mind, something with which he knew he needed to say but for some reason didn’t know how. It was usually in these moments when I needed to help him by asking the questions necessary to get him talking. But this time I don’t know what to ask. This time I feel like I’ve done enough.

It’s funny the things that happen when we’re far away from home: things that could’ve been avoided had we just started walking to town rather than plopping down where we are; things that impress the point that we have nothing left to say to each other or emotions to force between us; things that make obvious the fact that we have nothing else to share or any desire to find something new to discover; things that smack us hard in the head to remind us that our relationship never really existed, but only looked real in my mind. And, in the end, it’s funny how much we realize that in all things considered, emotions are deceptive and we really aren’t that bright after all.

Maybe if I had been on stronger ground, I wouldn’t have brought this upon us. If I had just let him go after that first afternoon on the lake, then we never would’ve had to deal with this. And if I had just stuck to my original plan and allowed time to heal my ridiculous wounds, then maybe I wouldn’t have needed Richard in my life, period.

If I had just let go from the start I’d probably be sitting on my couch right now with a book in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other.

 

***

 

Time seems to tick slowly as we watch the sun fade into the horizon. Neither of us had ever liked the idea of being stuck in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night, so this is uncomfortable. I know that getting a motel room together is completely out of the question—partly because most of the motels nearby are also miles away from here. But we can’t stay at the gas station, either. If we had family in town, we could call them. Or if we had friends that weren’t chronically away from home, we could call them. Or if my phone was actually working, we could call a cab. But, as it stands, we’re in a tough spot.

Richard opens his mouth again and says nothing. But then, he does something unusual. Instead of brushing his hair back in frustration, he simply puts his arm around my shoulder. He says nothing, but he gives me what feels like a comforting pat, assisted with a smile. My body quivers from this action because I don’t know what he’s trying to say. So I simply return his action by removing his hand and placing it back to his side. And it hurts because I’ve longed to feel that touch for a long time now. But all I can do is to get up and walk to the middle of the road, where I just stand and stare into the distance. I realize we’ve been together long enough. It really is time to go.

Moments later, a pair of headlights shine in the horizon. I wait between the two lanes as the lights draw closer. Within a minute, the approaching vehicle comes so close that it’s dangerous for me to stand there. Richard speaks to me, finally, telling me to get out of the road. But I don’t do it, even though I know I should. I just stand there, watching the vehicle, waiting to see what it does. I stick out my thumb as the headlights blind me and the horn nearly deafens me.

Finally, the vehicle, a pickup truck, screeches. I sidestep the truck as it skids right past me, a small boat trailer jackknifing behind it. I leap to the side of the road to avoid that, too.

As I hear the driver side door slam and the driver cursing “you dumb blonde” at me, I look up to see a single, white Kawasaki two-rider Jet Ski sport fixed to the trailer. I get up from the ground to take a closer look. The driver approaches me and demands to know if I’m crazy. All I can do, however, is to stare at the Jet Ski. It looks dirty and a bit damaged, but I make out the Kawasaki logo on the front of the hull and a racing stripe along the side. I also discover a small flower insignia just below the brand name and the letters “RDF” just below that. A tear escapes my eye as Richard steps up beside me and asks if I’m okay.

Richard and I explain our situation to the driver, and, after he calms down, he empathetically agrees to give us a ride home. But something unusual happens along the way. The driver explains that the Jet Ski he has in the trailer was damaged when he crashed it into a dock a few weeks ago and that he has been trying to sell it to anyone interested. He drove far and wide trying to nail down a buyer, but everyone wanted a Jet Ski in good condition only, so naturally he had returned to town with it each time. But because our story seems to strike an emotional chord with him, he decides to offer the Jet Ski to me for free to replace the one that was stolen.

At first, I’m speechless by the incredibly generous offer, but then a thought occurs to me. As much fun as I’ve had with my Jet Skis in the past, I think the truth to my heart is that I need to start my life fresh again. I’ve lived in pain day after day and would really like to just relax.

I’m not sure if I make the right decision to turn down the man’s offer, but I just can’t keep going down the same road repeatedly. There has to be other ways to get through life and enjoy it. So I ask that he consider giving it to Richard instead. I think deep down I would much rather that he have it for himself. He really loved my Jet Ski.

 

~~~~~

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The stuff that keeps me awake at night.

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