Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whatsername

Back when I lived in Cleveland, I was in the most tumultuous relationship I’ve ever endured.  It lasted from we met in 1987 until we finally split up for good in 1988.  In between, we got together and broke up 4 different times.  (Just for giggles, I used the Synonyms function in Word on “tumultuous” and it yielded: turbulent, confused, chaotic, disorderly, riotous and noisy.  All were apt adjectives to describe our time together.) 

It got to where I couldn’t even say her name any more.  I took to calling her “Whatsername,” which was a tactic I learned from my brother… a retaliatory denial of their personhood and identity.  In fact, I haven’t spoken her actual name since long before the last breakup.  Even when people have asked me what her name was, I’d usually tell them it was the same name as a particular television character and let them figure it out.  (And, no, don’t ask now.  I’m not telling.)

I was around 26 and managing a mall record store in the Cleveland suburbs.  My boss wanted to transfer me across town to a larger, free-standing store, so he sent me a new manager trainee.  We hit it off immediately.  We especially hit it off late one night after we were up until the wee hours doing a store inventory.  We were going to go out for drinks afterwards, but I forgot that every place would be closed.  So we went back to my apartment instead.  And so it began.

She was a divorced mother of a small boy and had been having a rough go of it.  She’d been through a shit-storm in her life up until then and I was determined to fix all that.  I was going to be her White Knight.

The complications started immediately.  I soon found out that she had been dating this other guy who she had known for 12 years.  I didn’t immediately realize how much trouble that would cause.  Plus, there was this other old boyfriend who had somehow gotten my phone number and had taken to calling at all hours and hanging up.  It got to the point where I’d just answer the phone, “Hi Dickhead.”  (This was a gamble, of course.  In 1987, no one had caller ID.  Luckily my Grandma didn’t call very often.)

Anyway, after a couple months of dating, she called me up to break up with me.  She was going back to the old boyfriend.  After all, she’d “just met me and she’d known him for 12 years!

I was gob-smacked.  I mean, what kind of reason is that?  All she’d done for our 3 months together was complain about him!  I didn’t get it.  I’d been wonderful to her, trying to undo all the harm done to her in the past.

Unfortunately, I was not exactly a model of grace and decorum in the aftermath and I reacted very poorly.  When she came by to pick up her shit, I included a piece of the I-Heart-You mug she’d given me, which I had smashed for the occasion.  (Like I could ever drink out of THAT again…)  I also included the booklet of “Love Coupons” that she’d given me for Valentine’s Day.

You can use these on that other slob,” I told her.  As she walked out, I slammed the door, which echoed throughout the apartment building hallways to amplify her Walk of Shame.”

I don’t know what it’s like now in the retail world, but back then we had kind of a built in support system of store managers within our district.  Many of us had worked with each other before and had often started out in the same stores.  So it wasn’t long before my other manager friends learned what happened.  They lent their comforting ears as I vented about the unjustness of it all, until eventually, I started to get over her.  It was uncomfortable whenever we had to deal with each other on store business, but I was getting through it.

But before too long, she called me again.  The Slob wasn’t treating her well and she missed how I made her feel.  I was extremely hesitant, especially because she wanted to see us both.  That was a deal-breaker for me.  There are some things that I just will not share.

But she always seemed to catch me at my weakest times.  When you’re sitting at home drinking wine and watching TV alone, and your old girlfriend calls you up and says she wants to be with you, it’s pretty damned hard to say no.  You look around, knowing you have no other prospects and zero irons in the fire, and go “What the hell else do I have to do?  I can either sit around here and be lonely and miserable, or I can go over there and get nose-deep in some hot monkey love.

So we got together again and dated exclusively again for another couple of months.  At least I thought it was exclusive.  I should have wised up the time that we were on our way to see Eric Clapton in concert and she told me she wanted to see The Slob, but still wanted to see me too. 

I was like, “Fine… feel free to see him.  But I’m out.  I can’t share a woman I love.” I didn’t realize until much later that what she wanted was for me to fight for her.  To me, it was much simpler… “Either you want me, or you want him.  Not complicated.” 

So it shouldn’t have been so surprising when she broke it off again, for the same reasons.  “I’m going back to him… after all, I’ve known him for 12 years!

She also had a new angle this time; a 2-pronged attack.  On one hand, she felt I would not be able to support her on the money I made (which was the same money she was making, I might add).  On the other hand, she felt she was becoming too dependent on me.

I questioned the obvious self-contradiction contained in those statements, but to no avail.  She was going back to The Slob and their “12 years!”  And I went back to being steaming mad and acting all pissed off.  I ducked her calls at work.  If she needed a supply of a particular hot record, I told her I didn’t have any to spare.  (This was actually true, but I enjoyed shooting her down.)  I was generally rude and hostile and would often hang up on her without saying goodbye.

One time when our DM was at my store, I picked up the phone and it was her, looking for him.  I didn’t say anything to her, I just said to the DM, within easy range of the phone receiver, “Here, it’s Whatsername.”  He knew who I meant.

It wasn’t that I was trying to be a dick… (OK, maybe a little), but just hearing her voice would set my heart beating fast and I’d get that sick feeling in my stomach.  It’s so hard to be around someone that dumped you. 

Note to anyone considering an office relationship: let this be a warning.  Don’t do it.  It’s not worth it.  This damn near killed me and we didn’t even work in the same place.

She came into my store one afternoon, seeking some product she needed.  I gave her the freeze, as usual, speaking only when necessary and then, in 1-word answers.  That’s when she said it: “You always make me feel so bad when I come in here!

I was incredulous.  I make HER feel bad??   She tears my heart into fuckin’ pieces over and over again and I make HER feel bad?  I was so mad, I couldn’t even see straight.  That night, I went home and wrote her a letter.  (1988, people, there was no email and I never would have been able to say what I needed to say, out loud.)  I wrote her a 3-page letter on legal paper and carboned it into my journal.  It was my masterpiece… it was like a coiled snake that laid back and then struck, recoiled and struck again, over and over.  I got everything off my chest about what she’d done to me and how I felt about it.  It was really quite therapeutic.  If she didn’t realize what she’d done to me before, she sure would now.

Oh, did it ever work.  It caused precisely the kind of damage I’d hoped it would.  She thought it was going to be all warm and fuzzy and conciliatory, because that’s how it started, and then POW.  Bomb after bomb.  See, she told me all about it a couple of months later when we got back together again.

She wouldn't break my heart again, would she?  Or could it be that I was really a slow learner?

The saga will continue in the next post…

26 comments:

  1. All you had to say was "Cleveland" and I knew it was not going to end well.

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  2. Trash,
    Well, my options were somewhat limited in that respect. Had to play ball in the field I was in...

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  3. Mark and I had an office romance and kept it quiet for a long time. I was so worried about it not working and screwing up everything. Good thing he turned out to be a keeper.

    Hate those relationships that are self-mutilating. :/

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  4. Jessica,
    You're so lucky that you found one of the good resolutions to the interoffice relationship. Not many of those end in marriage...

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  5. Your relationship stories are the BEST. Keep 'em comin', Bluz!

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  6. Great story. Looking forward to part 2!

    I can appreciate the letter idea. I dated a guy for close to two years back in the early '90s (we met at our college dining hall). When we broke up, I did the same thing with the carbon paper. My letter, however, was at least 12 pages (I guess I have always been long-winded). I have that journal somewhere...

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  7. Ah, hopeful dreams run deep, even when we know we should run away...

    I'll bet she still has that letter. And reads this blog.

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  8. Mrs. Bachelor Girl,
    And this one’s only partway through… But even between both parts, there is so much material there that decorum (and good taste) prevents me from discussing… I could go on all month about this that in my life.

    I’ll tell you though; it’s a lot easier to write about this stuff after 20-some years. I was not nearly so eloquent in my journals. Someday I should burrow back in there and transcribe some stuff to post…

    Facie,
    Carbon paper: Under-rated Idea of the Ages! All it takes is a little forethought.

    Old journals are a hoot to read. They’re like a time capsule of your own life. And at the time, we didn’t have that many outlets if we wanted to write. You were either a published author, worked for a newspaper or magazine, or wrote lots of letters.

    So I used to journal, which was a habit I picked up from my mother. I just needed someplace to dump my brain at the end of the day. I used to love to take my notepad to my favorite bar at the end of a long day. Some beer, a few hot wings and a few odd notions scribbled on a legal pad. Plus, I was hoping I’d appear mysterious.

    I always hoped that some hot chick would come over and ask, “Whatcha working on, Shakespeare?” Never happened though.

    Mary Ann,
    Yes, I’m sure you’d have been thrilled if I’d decided to quit my job, pull up my stakes and follow some rocker chick all around the world.

    Sherry,
    I would be amazed if she still had that letter. Why would one keep a letter that tore them apart? And risk having one’s husband or kids find it? I can’t see it. But then you ladies work in mysterious ways.

    I remember shortly after I moved to Baltimore, I made an off-hand remark in an email to my ex-wife, which she took completely the wrong way. The next week, I got a 3-page typed letter, tearing me a new asshole and blaming me for pretty much everything that went wrong. I could have written back and debated point by point, but rather than pour gas on the fire, (as is my custom) I called her up right away to straighten things out. But I kept the letter, thinking it would be a hoot to hang onto, to show any prospective girlfriend just what it was that I had to deal with.

    But in rereading it a couple years later, I tossed it. There was really nothing funny there at all. It was just sad. And who wants to be reminded of their perceived faults?

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  9. I've never broken up with someone and then gotten back together again. Never! I feel like that's pretty abnormal. It must be great for someone who likes to really tie up loose ends and get everything off his or her chest, though. If you don't get it all out there the first time, make up some notecards and keep them around for the second, third, and fourth go.

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  10. Mundane,
    Well, that was the last time I ever did that. There will be more about that in part two, as well as more on The Letter.

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  11. I have this beat, no matter what. I always play it this way: "Who's the last guy, both literally & figuratively, who could steal away your girl on the course to matrimony?" After the first couple of guesses, hints follow. Gah!
    Z.

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  12. Literally? I'd say, the limo driver.

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  13. I hate relationships like that. All mine have been tumultuous and all those other synonyms too. Finally I just gave up on dating and have been single for like 5 years. I've never been happier. Maybe someday I'll throw my hat in the ring again, but for now I'm good.

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  14. I had two work relationships. One was full of midnight calls that made me feel like a cheap whore and the other ended in marriage.

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  15. Limo driver? Come on, stepping out of the limo is early on in the program. But, you are on the right track! Imagine the walk down the aisle...
    Z.

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  16. Raven,
    It certainly makes things easier, doesn’t it? Complete autonomy… never have to seek input or permission. Of course, you still have to deal with your “drunken midgets.” I’m not so encumbered. No battles over what to eat, what to do, where to set the thermostat, or what to watch on TV.

    Cassie,
    The actual “having” of the relationship at work isn’t the problem… it’s when it ends. That’s when the soap opera breaks out. You didn’t say what happened with the first one, but the other one obviously worked out.

    Oh, side note… I hope everyone is OK over at Chateau Cassie, now that our hockey season has come to an abrupt end. Tell poor little Claire that the experience builds character, and will make later Cups all the sweeter.

    Anon,
    Closer? Then that leaves the Father of the Bride, the Best Man (if he pushes the groom out of the way, or the church official. Or the organist, which would be an appropriate title.

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  17. If by 'church official', you mean the priest turned pastor because he believed premarital flings were okay, bingo. Imagine sending my fiancee' to this dude's church as a sort of religious compromise - while I lived out of state. "What? You're going out for beers with Pastor Mark again? He what? Gave you more highlighted self help psych books to peruse?? Says you're what? Fun and vivacious? So how's the ceremony planning going?"...
    Swore off 'high church' after that. And I thought she was pure & innocent. Messed me up for a decade...
    Z.

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  18. Dude, that is f'd up, right there. You have my sympathies.

    And you've given me yet another reason to distrust organized religion.

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  19. Claire said just today to the daycare lady, "Yup. The season's over. But it starts back up by my birthday! That's so cool!"

    I think she's OK. Surprisingly, so is my hubby.

    The first one ended, but by that time, he had quit and worked across the street (at my other bartending job) and at least the new restaurant didn't know us.

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  20. Plus, he always tried to get me naked in the beer fridge. It just didn't turn me on like it should. Thenagain, I'm not a man.

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  21. Cassie,
    Your baby is worldly beyond her years.

    And I can see how getting you naked in the beer fridge might be a laudable goal. You naked, surrounded by beer? Only thing missing is a football game on TV and you have Guy Heaven.

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  22. Bluz, no way did she deserve someone as wonderful as you are!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  23. Tom and I started out as a work romance, too, and I'm really glad we risked it. :)

    I used to journal like crazy, too. I still have a bunch of it, huge spiral notebooks filled with varyingly-messy handwriting, depending on how quickly I was trying to get my thoughts down.

    It's so interesting to get these peeks into a man's mind. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  24. Cristy,
    I’m glad yours worked out. No risk, no reward.

    Old journals are such a hoot to go through, the older the better. Lots of cringe-worthy stuff… I know it’s that way with mine.

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  25. Bluz,
    This sounds just a bit too familiar. Has every guy dated a single mom when they were in their early-mid twenties?

    Shit!

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  26. Guy,
    I think so. She was my first and I had absolutely no frame of reference to deal with it. Little did I know that future similar endeavors would be even tougher.

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