Two short love stories for a summer day:
That’s him, the big burley politician sharing his views on the late night news show. She hasn’t seen him in years and never in this context. His smile still has that sweet edge, his intelligent humor and passionate convictions, like his presence, have grown larger.
Twenty-five years, she supposes… It was that first year in Manhattan that he and his wife had taken her under their wings. She was new to the city, juggling grad school with babysitting, waitressing, and in this case, dog-walking. She met them on the corner of Seventy-fifth and Broadway where, while they were waiting for the light to change, she observed that Tessa, their bulldog, had stepped off the curb and into the street. They were neighbors, as in they lived on the same block on the Upper West Side. And this man and his wife were two people in the big crazy apple that were sane.
The wife went out of town on business sometimes, and had encouraged her to dine with him. He gets lonely, she said Keep him company, out of trouble… So it became almost regular that he and his pal would take her and her roommate to dinner. They’d have Caesar salads and steaks with baked potatoes and sour cream and red wine and would sit at the neighborhood spot by the fireplace and it was very cozy and safe and there was no sex between any of them ever and who knows what they talked about, but it surely wasn’t politics. Sometimes her roomie wasn’t available, so both of the guys would take her out, and sometimes it was just the two of them.
So why then did it come as a surprise when one evening while his wife was out of town, she answered the phone to the sound of his panicked voice? He was calling from a pay phone and he needed to see her, he needed to see her now. Was she alone? Yes, she said, Are you okay? I’m running over, he said.
When she opened the door, he was panting.
Are you okay? she asked him. What happened?
I need to tell you something, he said. You’re alone?
Yes, she said.
He was sweating. Come here, he said to her, and he bypassed her into the living area (it was a studio apartment) and lay down on the carpet. Come here, he said, and he patted the floor next to him.
And she did. She went to him and she sat on the floor right next to him. And there was no part of her that was afraid. She was concerned.
I need to tell you something.
Okay, okay, she said, what is it?
He was still breathing heavily, his face flushed. I’m in love with a girl who is not my wife, he blurted out. I’m in love with a girl that’s not…Sarah.
She didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing.
I see her sometimes, he said, in my building…
Oh, she said. She could see he was in a fix. She could feel his torment and it pained her.
I see her, and when I’m not with her I see her, too. Do you know what I mean?
No. Really, Do you know what I mean?
He and his wife were older than she. Looking back, they were probably thirty to her early twenties. They were older.
I see her when I go to bed at night. I see her when I go to bed with my… with…
He lay on his back now and put his hand to his heart. I love her. I am in love with her.
She thought about his wife who was her role model, her employer and her friend. She thought about how they had been like parents to her since she moved here, like a big sister and brother.
Do you think if she came to my apartment or if I went to hers, when Sarah was out of town, if she just…took off her clothes and let me… watch…
I don’t think you should be talking to me about this, you shouldn’t be flirting like that with a girl in your building, doesn’t she know you’re married?
I’m in love with her! I’m not flirting! I won’t even touch her! That wouldn’t be cheating, would it? If we both just…
She sat up then. She stood up.
I can’t get her out of my mind! He was distraught.
I think you should go, she said. I’m really sorry, but I think you should go.
You don’t even get it, do you? he said. He was still there on the floor, lying on his back.
She walked to the door and when she got there she waited for him. He met her there, and she said Sarah is my friend. You love her. You do.
The girl is you, he said to her. Then, shaking his head he said You don’t even know that it’s you…
Looking back on the scene now, she remembers the discomfort and the strangeness after he said this. And she opened the door and he walked out and he looked back at her as she closed it.
Months later, while returning the dog leash to its peg, she squeezed by her friend and neighbor, his now pregnant wife, talking on the phone. I know he does it, she heard her say to the someone on the other end, and seemingly unconcerned with being overheard, Yes, he strays, I know that. But he always comes back to me. He always comes back.
Nothing really changed after that. Or at least, she doesn’t remember things changing… They didn’t do dinners anymore, she now supposes. Once, when she was dining with her new boyfriend, she ran out of the restaurant to say hello to him. She asked him to come in to meet her new love, but he said no. She kept walking Tessa for them, right up until they were all packed up to move across town.
And this is why she so wistfully watches him now, as he talks about gun control and the failures of the Obama administration, on late night TV.
The first one’s says “Always in my heart”, and second one’s is going to say “However far apart”. Or it could be read the other way around and that’s the beauty of it. They had Googled Best Friends Forever Tattoos Feet. One picture jumped out at them both. They have that picture now on both of their phones and this is their visual for Big Bobby: two feet, two different people’s feet, the bottoms of them meeting so that the ball of one foot curves into the instep of the other. The words, in cursive, curve along the bottom rim of one’s left, continue along the bottom rim of the other, so one can read the phrase in an endless loop. The bare feet meeting this way look like two naked bodies, facing each other.
So the one who is getting “Always in my heart” is the one getting married and moving to outside of New Orleans. And the one with “…However far apart…” is staying here, where they grew up. She won’t move to Louisiana- can’t take the heat.
“Who knows where life will take you,” Big Bobby says as he starts on the H of However, “you might both end up in Omaha…” “Ha! Omaha!” The first one says, “Omaha, Nebraska!” And the BFFs find this very funny. “Easy,” he says, “easy…” The second one says “Colorado”. And the first one agrees, “Now Colorado, I can see…” He adds, “Not too hot, not too cold, just right.” And the second one, the one who is now getting the H for However, is tearing up now.
The second one, the one who’s not getting married, asks for her water. She’s starting to sweat. It’s not coming as easily for her as it did for the first. “S’mores with our kids,” she says to her friend, “Auntie and Auntie”. “Like cousins,” says the other.
Cynicism is not part of his job description, and he’s also been doing this for twenty-two years, and he knows what he sees and he sees what he knows. He wonders for how long will the married one’s husband take before he asks her to remove it? Before he asks her to remove herself? Before he follows her request and removes himself? How many times must he go down to see “…Always in my heart…” before he realizes, before he’s threatened; how many times will she pull on a heel, paint her nails, before she sees? The obvious?
It’s a big joke he’s called Big Bobby, because anyone can see he’s not that big. “Just the parts that count, just the parts that count” he always says… “I give you girls twenty years,” he says out loud. “Colorado. I can see it.” He does. “Check back with me then,” he says.
If you are inspired, please leave a comment on my website. I would love to hear from you. Thanks, Jeannie