“Let me share a secret with you." I said, into the dark room. I was in the mood to let it fly.
“No one believes your show anymore," I shout-whispered at him, leaning down. "The charming, funny guy who danced on tables at parties in college? It’s over. I hate to break it to you, but everyone knows you're a dick.”
I sighed, exhausted. “You’re a dick and I’m an idiot,” I said. At this point, I knew I was only talking to myself.
A few minutes before this last hurrah, as I was rehashing our latest go-round, he’d simply looked at me, turned off the lamp next to his bed and climbed under the covers, pulling his pillow over his head as a final insult. I should have known the conversation was over then, obviously, but for some reason I just kept talking,
We met five years prior. It was young love--for me at least; probably not so much for him. Do adolescent men and women always view first love through wildly different lenses? If I’d realized that earlier in my life, I wouldn’t be here now, bewildered by a dysfunctional yet highly predictable break up. I slowly shook off my amazement at how this conversation had ended and wondered how I could still be surprised.
I started the walk out of his bedroom, through his apartment and out of his life. It was a walk that ended short, with my hand on the knob to his front door, stopping before making my final exit. A flicker of an idea bounced into my head.
When we were younger, in college, he bought me a pumpkin for Halloween. We were meeting for lunch at one of the cafeterias on campus and he brought it with him when he came. It was heavy, but I proudly carried it back to my house, daring anyone to ask me where I got that beautiful pumpkin. And, that Christmas, he bought be a sweater from the Express. After that, as time went on and I was less of a novelty to him, the gifts didn’t come as often. But, I never stopped giving.
Most recently, for his birthday, I gave him a waffle iron. We were now living in a big city, making meals for ourselves. I put it in a backpack with all of the best ingredients—Bisquick, milk, cheap syrup and powdered sugar. It was September and it was all waffles all the time from that point on. Waffles for breakfast, waffles for dinner and waffles for anyone who happened to come to his apartment. It was a good time and the calm before the next and final storm in our relationship.
The thought of my gift to him paralyzed me at the door, the waffle iron suddenly a symbol of all of time times I was short-changed by his carelessness. Somehow I knew that that this time, when I walked out the door, it would be for good. Before I was truly conscious of my body making a move, I was crouching in front of his low kitchen cabinet, stealing the waffle iron, which was now well worn and tarnished by burnt-on residue.
When I finally left his apartment, it was raining. I caught a cab and my tears started, mixing easily with the downpour. I didn’t realize I was crying out loud until the cab driver looked over his shoulder at me.
“OK miss?” he asked hesitantly, as if he wished he didn’t have to.
“No, I’m not OK,” I quietly told him.
“What happened miss? What is happening?” he asked a little more urgently.
I registered surprise that he was actually worried about me as cab drivers didn’t usually notice what was happening in the back seat. I could only imagine how confusing it would be to see a girl crying, clutching a waffle iron. What could it possibly mean?
I don’t know what I said to him. Maybe it was something like, “I finally broke up with my stupid boyfriend.” I just know that the conversation ended there. What a mundane, hackneyed, old-hat reason to cry. Though his eyes were kind, the cab driver didn’t say anything else to me on the ride to my apartment. He pulled up in front of my door and I got out.
My roommate let me in and asked, “Is it done? For good this time?” I nodded yes.
Life went on and the break up was, in fact, for good this time. I tried not to listen for news of his goings-on. While he was a crummy boyfriend, thinking about his indifference to me was nonetheless painful. It was almost a year later that I finally bumped into him on the subway. He looked good. He was tall, something I'd always loved that about him. Thank God, I was wearing the good-looking business casual that was still required by offices in the 90s.
As the train got rolling, he broke the ice. “I told my grandma what you did."
His smile wry as he leaned in and said it, as if he had a good bit of gossip to tell me that he didn’t want the people around us to hear, not that other people would notice or care about this overdue reunion.
I was stock still as moments from our relationship raced through my brain. I was needy. I was dramatic. If I had been more, he would have been more. To which of my failures was he referring? What did his grandma know?
“I told her that you stole my waffle iron. She bought me a new one for Christmas.”
There was only the briefest pause before I laughed in his face, quickly looking around to see if anyone had, in fact, heard what he said. As I did, he started laughing with me, unable to deny my well-earned delight. We laughed at the ridiculousness of what had just come out of this mouth. And, there it was for a moment. The connection that fueled the good times and made me forget about the bad ones. But, it was gone as quickly as it came. I am not sure what we talked about for the rest of the ride home. Hopefully, he apologized to me for being a crummy boyfriend.
We never saw each other again after that, save for perhaps a quick sighting at a college football game. I could go on--about what happened to me next, about the gifts I got from other, more evolved people over time. But, I won’t do that.
I read somewhere that first love is nothing more than a one-time chemical reaction that cannot be repeated and should not be believed. If that true, it squares with my ending. The razor-thin depth of a relationship that ended thus, in a cloud of Bisquick and laugh among strangers.