as it George Strait who crooned,
All My Exes Live in Texas
? I think so. It’s certainly one of those country western singers. I’m envious of George. Truly. He only has one state to worry about. All my exes reside in varying parts of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona, and since I have no desire to leave the great state of California myself, I’m constantly surrounded by them. Worse, they all live on and on in my mind. The Ex-Files—currently weighing in at seven—take up way too much of my brain matter. I’ve got to find a way to expunge them. I swear, it’s the only answer to the funk I find myself in these days. Past romances really put the pressure on my relationship with Nate the Nearly Normal, lover and roommate. In fact, I had this worrisome, itchy feeling that Nate was about to become Ex-File Number 8.
Let me back up ... .
I have this penchant for nicknames. I can’t help myself. As soon as I learn someone’s name—especially if that someone could be a potential boyfriend—my brain starts churning out rhymes and allusions and ironic twists. It’s like I go into a zone until I’ve come up with some clever name. I blame my mother. It’s the curse she wrought when she had the lunacy to name me Virginia November Bluebell. Could I make a whole lotta names outta that one! As it is I’ve shortened “Virginia” to “Ginny” and my close friends call me “Blue.” I asked Mom once, “Why November?” and she answered, “Because I love the sound of it.” The look on my face must’ve reflected my desperation to understand, so she added, “And November 11th is Veteran’s Day,” as if that explained it all. Since my deadbeat father had never been a veteran and no one in my family seemed attached to this particular holiday, this made even less sense. My mother is nothing if not obscure. However, she’s one hell of a real estate agent and I love her dearly. Lorraine Bluebell could sell ice cubes to Eskimos and probably does on the side.
Anyway, I woke up this particular morning with Nate the Nearly Normal’s arm wrapped possessively around my stomach and realized I couldn’t stand his flesh touching mine another nanosecond. This feeling of repulsion had been coming on for a while; a niggling thought I’d kept buried way down deep. Nate was the proverbial nice guy and there had been so few of them during the past few dating years that I had hung onto him for dear life. I’d made myself believe I liked—loved—him, as much as I could love—like—anyone. I told myself I was happy in the relationship.
And there were benefits to being with Nate. He didn’t completely embarrass me in public by doing any of those disgusting male things that seem to be tacitly okayed by other males, such as scratching his ass, farting, or adjusting his balls. And whenever I peered out at the competition, I literally shuddered. Conclusion: It was easier to stay in my current position as Nate the Nearly Normal’s girlfriend than to throw myself into the dating pit again.
But this particular morning was different. As I plucked his arm from around my waist, sliding cautiously from our bed, cringing at the movement, afraid even the slightest quiver of the mattress might wake him, I knew it was time to get out while the getting was good. I dropped one foot to the hardwood floor and Nate’s breathing kind of stuttered and stopped for a moment. I froze. He expelled air in a long, morning-breath sigh, then started up again, more lightly. I waited in this immobile limbo, counting my heartbeats. Finally I slipped out of the bed and tiptoed to the bathroom.
In a rush of joy I did a little dance of freedom on the other side of the door. I actually had the audacity to turn the lock. Privacy. Aloneness. I craved them like chocolate in the midst of a particularly heavy period. With my own exhalation of breath—a deep sigh of contentment—I stepped into the shower and turned the taps.
The door knob rattled. “Ginny? Gin? You taking a shower?”
Nate: Master of stating the obvious. I turned my face to the hot spray and pretended to be deaf.
How had this happened? How come all his traits suddenly bothered me so much? What had once been endearing were flat-out irritating, and what had once been irritating now was beyond bearing. The thought of him turning over in bed and kissing me was flat-out repellent, yet it hadn’t been that many months ago that I’d looked forward to our lovemaking, had daydreamed about it while on the job, had planned for it, yearned for it, lived for it.
I must have made some sound because he called through the panels, “Did you say something, honey?”
“Can’t hear you!” I hollered back, then scrubbed at my hair with masochistic energy and force. Mentally, I listed all the reasons that Nate had to get out of my life. First and foremost, he liked to cuddle. Now, I know many women find this behavior something to put in the plus column, but for me it was like being surrounded by a boa constrictor whose radiant heat sent my internal temperature into thermonuclear levels. I’d wake up only to find myself ready to pass out again from the suffocating BTUs. Who would have guessed such a seemingly mild-mannered man could turn me into a device able to melt the polar ice cap?
Okay, to be truthful, this cuddling thing had once been lodged in the “endearing” column. But after six months—oh, God, was it almost seven?—I’d had to shift it into “beyond bearing.”
But his body temperature was only part of the problem. There were just so many things about him that bothered me, I marveled that we’d ever gotten together in the first place. Let me elucidate:
I don’t like the food he eats. Too healthy. Enough alfalfa sprouts and tofu to open a southern California bistro. There are just those days I crave an Oki dog as if it were life-giving elixir. Oki dogs are from that little spot on Fairfax of the same name. It’s a hot dog, sliced flat and smothered in sauces and onions and all kinds of stuff guaranteed to make your heart seize up but good. It smells and tastes so fabulous you want to roll up in fetal position and moan. Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the wrong generation. I know I’m definitely in the wrong decade. I like red meat with nitrates and potato chips—the real kind, none of that no-fat shit—and gravy and angel food cake. Yes, I can get off on lattes and macchiatos, too, and sure, I like salads with radicchio and walnuts, so I’m not completely out of it yet. But Nate is sooooo early-twenty-first-century Californian it makes me want to scream. And he flirts with vegetarianism. He really does. If he goes over to the other side once and for all, let me tell you: it’s over for good.
What am I saying? It’s already over. No one can suffer these feelings without recognizing that it’s over.
I closed my eyes and shuddered. There had been a time that we’d talked about the “M” word, at least jokingly. Marriage, though somewhere in the distant future, had been a perceived, possible goal. Our relationship had changed from gentle interest, to friendship, to romance, to thinking about a future together, to ... disenchantment. Did Nate feel it? I wondered. At all? Or, was he as blissfully happy as he’d been at the beginning?
I soaped my hair for the third time and stuck my head under the shower head. The hot water was not quite as hot as it had been. If I stayed here long enough I’d use it up completely and then Nate would be faced with a cold shower.
Not only am I heartless, I’m mean,
I thought. Unable to believe myself that low, I turned off the taps.
It’s because he’s a native Californian, I decided suddenly. That would explain it. I’m an Oregonian, and we have this basic snobbery about our neighbors to the south. They’re too self-indulgent, too flaky, too shallow, too politically correct (not that we aren’t, too, but I’m just saying ... ). There are also about a billion of them compared to us. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But statistically there are something like ten million people in Los Angeles alone and only three million in the entire state of Oregon, so hey, if we’ve got a bit of an inferiority complex we come by it naturally. Oregonians and Californians don’t mix. They can’t. It’s a law of nature, or something.
Okay, okay ... I know everything I’ve said is a total crock. My problems with Nate had nothing to do with where I’m from versus where he’s from. I was just. Done With. The. Relationship. It had come to this and now I had to address it and I really didn’t want to.
Sighing, I stood dripping for a few moments in the shower, not quite ready to step into my morning world. Nate the Nearly Normal ... Mr. Wonderful ... ideal husband and sweet lover. When I first met him I thought his only flaw was that he worked in finance as some kind of low-level manager who oversaw clients’ pension plans or IRAs or whatever. I knew next to nothing about what he did, and it was just as well, because anytime he talked about it I began to yawn. This wasn’t intentional on my part, but it was an equal and opposite reaction to his business talk. It couldn’t be helped.
“When our clients lost faith in stocks and even mutual funds, we transferred a lot of money into bonds,” he said the other morning over breakfast. I was grabbing a piece of peanut-butter toast and listening with half an ear. “I did some of that myself, but the market’s come back. I’m not really sure I like the percentages of my own investment portfolio. I never like to ‘overweight’ any one kind of investment.”
What I heard was “overweight.” I’ve never had a serious weight problem and at 5 feet 9 inches I can hide a lot of bad nutritional decisions. But I was feeling at my top end, scale-wise, and the word ran around my skull like the ball in a spinning roulette wheel. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said as I dropped the toast crusts into the disposal as if they were hot coals. Then, I yawned. I could feel the droop of my eyelids mixed with an anxious churning deep inside my gut that reminded me I’d eaten three mini-Snickers bars from the bag of Halloween candy we were saving for trick-or-treaters.
This was two nights ago and I’d steered clear of those little bastards ever since. A very difficult task since as my interest in Nate waned, my interest in chocolate waxed. Snickers bars were a perennial favorite no matter what man was in my life. Sometimes I consider them a breakfast food.
Rubbing my face, I finger-combed my hair and unsnapped the shower door.
“Hey! You locked the door!” Nate called from the bedroom.
“Oh ... sorry.”
Wrapping one towel around my wet hair and another around my torso, I took a breath and turned the knob. The lock opened with a distinctive
. Nate pushed the door inward and looked at me with a furrowed brow.
“You okay?” he asked, sounding slightly wounded.
He took that on face value and squeezed past me, dropping his dark green boxers along the way as he stepped into the shower. I stared down at them and listened to the taps turn on. I had to stifle the urge to slingshot the underwear over the top of the shower door.
I’m a bitch. I am. There’s no way I should be feeling this way about Nate.
“Jesus!” he hollered. “Did you have to use all the hot water?”
I closed the bathroom door behind me and beelined for the closet. Nate the Nearly Normal. I’d labeled him fairly early on, giddily thrilled that yes, I’d finally met someone nice and yes, he was nearly normal. My mother—who refuses to take any kind of blame herself—says my penchant for giving all my boyfriends nicknames is my way of distancing myself from both them and the invariably ugly breakup that will relegate them to the “Ex-Files.” This is undoubtedly true. Besides Nate there are, in my steadily growing Ex-Files: Don the Devout, Hairy Larry, Black Mark, Brad Knowles-It-All, and I suppose, Dr. Dick, if you count my shrink as an ex, which he isn’t, but he ought to be, to name just a few. There are several others I’d prefer to just forget.
Sinking onto the end of the bed, I thought,
I’ve hit the relationship quagmire. That yawning pit surrounding my feet where men fall into the abyss and are never heard or seen again ... thank God
Thinking about my mother had me gnawing on my fingernails before I could stop myself. My mother thinks my problems all stem from one man, Jackson Wright, with whom she caught me in bed at a very early age. Actually nothing was going on between us. Well, nothing serious, anyway. A little bit of early high school exploration was all, but it nearly sent my mother around the bend. She does have that streak of white hair now, but I like to think that’s an affectation, a nod to style and fashion, though it did first appear shortly after the incident. I tell her it’s becoming and she has a tendency to respond to this buttering-up with a Bronx cheer. Once or twice she’s even whacked me on the backside with one of her big-ass purses. This is affection, not abuse.
But she’s right about Jackson Wright in one regard: he blighted my youth. Though I try not to think about him—I mean, seriously, a high school affair?—he definitely contributed to my cautiousness and distrust when it comes to men. Oh, and let’s not forget my father’s contributions in that area. He managed about ten months of child support before disappearing completely. Bully for Dad. He almost helped pay my keep for a year. My mother supported me my entire life.
But I digress ...
Cradling my chin in my hands, I sighed and thought about Jackson. I didn’t know if he really even counted as a boyfriend, ergo, how could he really be an ex? We never officially dated. We just sort of always knew each other and so our relationship fell somewhere between acquaintanceship and friendship. He moved to SoCal about the same time I did and he works peripherally in the entertainment biz, as I do. Jackson’s a financial manager to the rich and famous, and an investor in projects and productions. I recognize him when I see him and he recognizes me. I’m not sure if he feels that same little jolt of remembrance that I do, but we are certainly courteous to one another. I suppose it’s telling that I don’t have a nickname for Jackson, but then, as I said, he’s doesn’t truly belong in the Ex-Files.