Basket Case

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(This is a short story that I wrote, that is not from my perspective but is instead told by a male narrator that isn’t me.)

Her name was Eve. I met her two years ago in a Panera. I was standing with my chicken noodle soup, about to take a seat when she came up to the counter demanding the end piece of bread to dip in her broccoli cheddar and I offered her mine. I was fairly neutral about which portion of a baguette I received, and she insisted on only eating the end. She was feisty and brutal and sexy and the antithesis of my mother and I loved her.

My dopey charms and extensive Pez-dispenser collection won her over, and she was mine. No, not mine. I didn’t own her and we have equal rights and I respect her as a person and- but we did date and she did seem happy with me. Two years of adventurous dates, weekends in cottages, and Christmases with all four of our parents. Two years of being forced to eat spicy foods, reading Mary Wollstonecraft aloud to her as she smoked in my home, and two years of being dumbly fascinated and infatuated with this obvious vixen of a character in the greater scheme of my story.

And the worst part? I knew she was wrong for me a long time ago- your girlfriend shouldn’t be the villain in your nightmares I’ve come to find- but didn’t do a thing about it. I just waited for her to break up with me and now that she finally has, I find myself missing her.

So here I am; home from my Panera break up, laying in my bed looking at a photo album and eating cookie dough ice-cream out of the carton. I don’t care what anyone says, it always feels better to do this extremely girl-like approach to the post-break-up blues. And I was fairly certain that my manhood was very much in check until- oh God- I felt it welling. I fought the urge to let my lip tremble, and shoved my finger in my eye-socket to warn off the water, and it was all very, very futile because I knew it was coming. Tears. I’m crying over a girl that made me sign a paper promising I’d vote for Hillary. I practically hated her but losing her has me crying into my ice-cream and I keep telling myself “You’re just sensitive, man. You’re just a sensitive man. Girls love sensitive guys and you will love again. So what if Eve dumped you and mocked your sensitivity? So what if she called you a pre-teen girl? She’s a bitch and I’m done letting her walk all over me and mock my music taste.” I pull myself together enough to put up the ice-cream, grab a roll of toilet paper to deal with the leak in my eyes, and crawl into bed.

__________________________

“You did what?” exclaimed my best friend Paul over subs the next day.

“Don’t make me repeat it, man. Just knock some sense into me, punch me or something.”

I called Paul first thing this morning. Paul’s a guys-guy if there ever was one. He’s worked on and off in construction for years, and fought a guy in a bar once, and builds his own furniture and I’m sure hasn’t cried since he was three years old. If ever.

“I might have to,” he said as he leaned closer to make sure no one else heard. “You really cried over her? James, my friend, you’re not supposed to be sad when Satan leaves your side. You’re supposed to rejoice and be glad or something. Not cry.”

“I know, I know. And what’s worse is that I’m a cliche. I’m a woman’s cliche. Ya know I fell asleep crying? I cried myself to sleep last night,” I said as a new wave of shame washed over me.

“Woof,” is all Paul can offer me as he shakes his head.

“I know, Paul. I know.”

“Do you even have any man cards left to give?” I glanced at him warningly. We’d made a deal that there was to be no questioning my manhood here. “Sorry, sorry. I gotta ask though- how did it feel? The whole, crying yourself to sleep bit? Was it as bad as your first period?”

I felt my eyes squint as they do when I’m trying to piece sentences together. “If I’m completely honest with you- it felt kind of good.”

“What?”

“I mean, last night it sucked. The whole wallowing in rejection and self-loathing thing. But I slept really well, ya know? I woke up feeling really well-rested and refreshed. It was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.”

“Well, I’d imagine it’s easier to get some rest when Voldemort isn’t laying next to you.”

I knew meeting with Paul was a good idea, he always improves my mood.

___________________

What happened that night was not, by any means, intentional. I happened to be flipping through the channels and I saw “The Notebook.” I’d never seen it before and my little sister loves it, so I thought I’d give it a chance. I honestly didn’t like it. I kind of wanted the girl to pick James Marsden’s character- he was nice and wealthy and I think if the story was more realistic she would have gone with that option. I’m sitting there watching a movie that I barely like, but when that old woman forgets the love of her life and the old man cries- I welled up with him.

For the second night in a row I fell asleep with tears in my eyes, and woke up the next morning feeling great and it hit me- this works. I’m sleeping better than I ever have, and there’s no sound reason to fight it. I sleep better when I cry myself to slumber. There’s no shame in it, unless anyone else ever finds out. I rented “Titanic” the next night, looked at old pictures of my deceased grandmother and I the following night, and watched the last episode of “Boy Meets World” online the night after that.

It was addictive. Later in the week I tried falling asleep without jerking any tears out and I couldn’t. Thank God “Rudy” was on AMC.

_________________

After a week’s worth of tears I was running out of crying material and knew I needed to acquire some more. I was tempted to order off of Amazon and avoid the embarrassment of buying sob-fest movies in public, but I don’t trust Amazon and I knew Blockbuster has those five movies for twenty dollars deals and I couldn’t pass that up. I went in the middle of the day, certain that no one does that and who should I run into but the soul-crushing, heart-stomping, life-ruining Eve.

“James?” she said sweetly like I didn’t know her true form.

Why do people feel the need to communicate after they break up with you? I think if you dislike me enough to break-up with me in the same place we met and say things like “I know I deserve better than you” you probably dislike me enough to avoid me in Movie Rental Shops.

“Feel free to keep on walking, I won’t think you’re rude,” I said under my breath.

“Hm?”

“I said- Eve! Hey you!”

“You look great, James” she said as if that would minimize the sting of last week’s “I’ve slowly realized that I’m out of your league,” comment.

“Really? Awesome. Good thing singledom agrees with me, eh? Here’s looking at fifty more years of it!”

She sighed. But in a way that I could tell she didn’t feel sorry for me, she felt sorry for herself that she was talking to me.

“Kidding, sorry,” I said because I felt like it was what people say in these excruciatingly awkward moments.

“No, it’s fine. It’s not your fault.” Duh. “I should probably get going though, it was stupid of me to think this would be a cordial moment.” She paused. Was it my turn to say some sort of pleasantry? I felt fresh out after two years.

“Yeah,” was about all I could muster.

“You do look great though, James.” Another pause, I hope I’m not supposed to say she looks great too. All I see when I look at her now is a Disney Villain- like that octopus in “The Little Mermaid”. “I expected you to look a lot more haggard and exasperated- like you weren’t sleeping or bathing. But you’re obviously doing both. So, good. Really- keep up whatever you’re doing.”

Awesome.

__________________

I’d purchased “Good Will Hunting,” “Brian’s Song,” “Dead Poet’s Society,” “E.T.” and “Saving Private Ryan,” and all of them had done the trick. It was around the time that the kids seized the day after Robin Williams got the boot that it hit me- this is the happiest I’ve felt in a long time. I wasn’t pretending that I cared even a little bit about feminism, or that I watched the WNBA for a girlfriend. And I wasn’t acting like the outcome of the World Cup affected me in anyway, or that I thought the “Girls Next Door” were anything more than absolute air-heads. I was just being me- and I well up in “Home Alone” when the mom walks through the door and I’m sick of pretending that I don’t.

On Saturday I went to pick up my weekend flicks and just as I was reaching out to grab Bambi I noticed another hand going for it too.

“Oh, sorry!” laughed the girl, nay- woman, as her gorgeous blue eyes sparkled at me while simultaneously her beautiful smile shined in my direction reminding me that there aren’t enough synonyms for the word “perfect”.

“It’s okay, don’t worry about it! It’s all yours.” Was that me talking? How did I manage words other than ‘My God, you’re stunning’?

She laughed again, a simple, easy-going laugh and said “I’d feel terrible if I robbed you the right to watch Bambi! What kind of sick human would do such a thing to a nice guy like you? I insist you take it!”

Was this flirting? Was this how normal people flirt? Eve didn’t flirt. She says flirting is just a nice word for setting the Women’s Movement back a hundred years. She says the same of Ally McBeal. What do men do in situations like this? I want to watch it with her. I want to go back to my place and watch Bambi with this woman but I don’t know how to say that without seeming creepy. But what if I actually am creepy? There’s so many questions I haven’t addressed about myself.

“I-I wouldn’t feel right doing that. I mean, you should- you should take it,” I muttered.

“Really, it’s okay. If I watch it, I’m just gonna end up balling my eyes out for the eightieth time.”

Then without thinking I blurted “yeah, me too.”

I said it. I really said it. I just told a girl that I’m trying to impress that a story about an animated deer makes me cry. I need an exit strategy.

She smiled at me like an angel and responded, “really? I love that you’re able to admit that. Most guys would pretend they don’t cry during movies.”

What was happening and how did I become a part of it?

“Not me, I guess.” I had the butterflies. Do grown men still get the butterflies? “Here’s a thought,” I started after being hit with an impulse and apparently not looking back, suddenly capable of talking to a girl. “How about we both skip the crying for now, save Bambi for later, and go get some coffee?”

“Make that dinner and I’m in,” she replied with ease and that smile that I wanted to become familiar to me but to never lose its’ luster.

Her name was Gloria and after dinner that night we decided to go see a more current movie. Though I’m most definitely a grown man, she thought it was “precious” that I had intended to watch “Bambi” and decided that it would be “adorable” to go see “Toy Story 3” together. I was not used to words like this, and I was so thrown off by them that I agreed to gamble on an animated flick that wasn’t the classic “Bambi.”

I purchased our tickets and a tub of popcorn to share and was almost flabbergasted when she allowed me to do such a thing. Eve was very adamant about us splitting all date expenses, and it was weird being around a girl that expected me to not only pay her way, but to hold the door for her. We headed into the practically empty theatre- I think one of those vampire movies may have just opened or something- and took our seats.

Maybe I was feeling especially ballsy, or perhaps had just completely lost myself in my weeks worth of tears, but I went for it- I reached for Gloria’s hand and it was well-recieved with a glance and that ridiculously sweet smile. I settled into this cozy little position, and prepared myself for a good ol’ fun-filled Pixar film.

We’re a good portion into the movie when suddenly Gloria lets go of my hand and when I glance over to see why, all I see is her wiping away tears with the back of her hand. What the hell? Surely she must, she MUST, be wearing contacts or suffers from a rare condition that entails her eyes watering after extended periods of physical contact because there’s just no way this girl is crying over these toys. I mean it’s Tom Hanks as a cowboy doll. Hasn’t she ever seen “Forrest Gump”? Now there’s a Tom Hanks movie to cry in, but not this. These aren’t just fictional characters, not just fictional animated characters, but these are fictional, animated, TOY, characters. So there’s just no way that I’m on a date with a woman who’s gonna cry over a slinky-dog.

I’m very distracted. I get like this and I’m aware that I’m fidgeting with my jacket zipper instead of watching the final scenes. Gloria shifts a little and rests her head on my shoulder. I’m a shoulder to cry on. In under two weeks I’ve gone from being Eve’s punching bag, to being Gloria’s shoulder to cry on. I have no idea what to do in this type of situation. I’ve never been around a crying woman before. Eve didn’t even cry when her family dog of fifteen years passed away, and now Gloria is openly weeping on me because the Cowboy and the Space-Ranger are being separated into different boxes.

After I awkwardly patted her on the head and actually whispered “there, there,” she grew uncomfortable and sat up straight through the rest of the movie, which apparently got much, much sadder. We started making our way to our cars in silence when I suggested ice cream and she shot me a very, very pained expression as if I’d offended her in ways unimaginable. I survived two years of Eve looking at me like I was a cockroach on the bottom of her shoe, but it was Gloria’s sad puppy-dog in the window eyes that really stung.

“Ice cream?! How can you be thinking about ice cream right now?” she exploded.

“Um. I don’t know, I guess. It’s just- well- it’s hot outside and we’re walking by an ice-cream shop and I generally enjoy ice-cream. But if you’re more of a cake fan or maybe just don’t like desserts in general it’s really no big deal.”

Why was she looking at me like I’d suggested to go beat up a box of kittens?

“Can’t you tell that I’m upset?”

I was baffled. “Well, yeah. I mean tears often suggest that emotion…” I started.

“Well what are you going to do about it?”

“I offered you ice-cream!”

She erupted with a sigh and I can honestly say I have no idea what the hell is going on here.

“I’m not talking about ice-cream,” she started. “I’m talking about taking care of me in my emotional state! We need to discuss why I’m upset. I mean that movie broke my heart into a thousand pieces and I’m positive that some strawberry ice-cream isn’t going to put it back together again! I need you to walk me through what I’m feeling and why, and what we, as a team, can do to help me feel better again!”

Crazy. Yep. I definitely picked up a crazy broad.

I don’t have words. I’m not even sure if there are words after a mere stranger is hysterically crying in front of you, and suggesting that you’re part of some team that’s been hired to piece her life back together. I decide that since words are rarely my friend anyway, I will offer her what I have and I open up my arms and invite her in for an embrace.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m offering you a hug.”

Her eyes begin to well up. Again.

“I don’t want a hug, you freak! I want some understanding!”

Bingo-bango.

“No, no. You’re right! You’re totally right! Understanding would be great. We’re clearly just not on the same page and I’d love to be! So. Why are you so upset?”

She tossed her hands up in the air in exasperation. “Why aren’t you upset?! Were we in the same movie theatre?”

“I mean we were. But- I don’t know. I just didn’t think that movie was sad. Don’t get me wrong- it was good, just not much worth crying about.” I immediately regret the words.

“Nothing worth crying about?! That boy had to leave all his toys behind- symbols of his childhood- and grow up. It’s a heart-wrenching tale about that terrible feeling as you transition into adulthood and leave everything else in the past.”

This is one of the many moments in my life that I’ve asked myself- “How did I get here?”, and more importantly “How do I get out of here?”

“I don’t really know what to say. I guess I’m just too jaded to cry in a kids-”

“Then you lied to me!” she accused.

“When? When did I lie to you?”

“You said that you cry in Bambi!”

Is this really happening? Am I really defending myself for not crying in a movie?

“I do cry in Bambi…because Bambi is actually sad. There’s tragedy in Bambi, not a kid going to college. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t strike a chord with me.”

She puts her head in her hands for a moment and takes a deep breath. She wipes away her drooping eye make-up and looks me dead in the eye.

“I’m sorry, James. You seemed like a nice guy, but your heart is made of stone and I can’t be with someone like that. You have this whole tough-guy thing going on and it just does nothing for me. I’m more into the sensitive type, and you’re just…you’re not that guy. And I deserve better than that. I’m sorry.”

And with that, she walked away. Into the ice-cream shop, of all places.

I’m stunned. First Eve breaks up with me because I’m too much of a softy, and then Gloria dumps me mid-date because I’m apparently hard as nails from her perspective. The only constant? Apparently they both deserve better than me.

I respectfully disagree with the both of them as I head towards Blockbuster to rent “Field of Dreams” and call it a night.

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