When Lauren* and I got together for half-price sushi, she asked me how things were going. Of course, when women ask one another how things are, what they really mean is Are you happier than I am? “Really great.” It was suddenly absurd as soon as I heard myself say it. It was like using the word “nice” to describe something. “How are things with you and Dylan?” I was being polite.
“Stephanie, he is so incredible. You know how I’ve always dated jerks, well, he’s like the first guy who really treats me right. I mean, I know we have our share of differences and all, but for the first time I have found someone who puts me first. I sound queer don’t I?”
I thought about how when Gabe was younger, he brought his pillow outside with him to cool it on his balcony in the middle of the night. Lauren sipped at her green tea, thumbed her pink napkin and divulged Dylan’s aversion to reproduction. All I could think was that I love Gabe because he appreciates cold sheets.
At times I wish I could have really known him when he was that young. I wish I could have been at his soccer and baseball games. I can’t help think about all the time we’ve been connected, in one form or another. Whether we were down the hall from one another at Northside School with our small bodies sprawled out on the cold green tiled floors drawing the solar system or the human nervous system or when we were connected through our sisters. From those few times when he dropped his sister Jolene off at our house to the time when he invited me to some party, that never happened, at his house in California. Then, the fated Spanish trip, where I remember our flirting. It was never mentioned; we continued separately. Then, when Papoo died, my family stayed in his house. I slept in his empty bed. Finally, the day arrived when I blew off Jeff for a ride with Gabe and his girlfriend out to the Hampton’s the day after the family barbecue. I figure that the chance of my ending up with anyone from my childhood is none, not even slim to none, just none, and the fact that I was connected to Gabe, somehow, all this time serves as a very distant second to knowing him in his youth.
When I go home to Long Island and I lie on the green leather couch, I stare out the side window. I see the tree I used to climb when I was younger. I remember looking at that same tree when I was really young, ten years old, and even back then, I thought about how amazing it would be if there was someone out there who was maybe thinking about having someone thinking about a future with him. Now, granted, I was always a bit of a romantic, even from the ripe age of ten. Who would have thought that Gabe was there all along?
Sometimes I watch him when he doesn’t know that I am. I watch his reflection in the bathroom mirror when he is shaving, and I think about how alike we are. All that time I spent in the mirror growing up, playing dress-up, and practicing monologues, and now Gabe tries to perfect his one-eyebrow-raise. When we’re in his car, with the windows down and the radio blaring, and he lets me give him singing lessons, I think, “My God, this is it. This is really it. I want to be with this man for the rest of my life.” That’s why I feel inadequate when Lauren asks me how things are. Anything I can offer in way of an explanation will fall flat because I love him for myriad reasons.
I love him because when I am sad he surprises me with Baskin’ Robins’ Mint Chocolate Chip. He corrects my spelling and lets me correct his grammar. I love him because when we’re getting into a car, he opens my door for me. He crouches down on my kitchen floor, sits beside me and rubs my leg when he sees me sitting there sad. He likes naps. He carries my bags for me, makes my bed (even does the pillows right), and he sends me cards even though he sees me every day. He uses Silk Groom with me, and as much as he loves it, he is willing to stop for a while to ensure that my red allergic bumps disappear. He doesn’t drink coffee in the morning, and doesn’t mind that I nag him about his addiction to Coca-Cola products. I love that he will stay in on a Saturday night—even when I make him watch “My Fair Lady.” I love that if I told anyone that, he’d roll his eyes, smile, jokingly deny it, and pull me to him and whisper to me that he is going to kill me. I find his use of the words tremendous and ludicrous indispensable. I adore that he tries to tempt me with Chicken Selects. I love walking into a room with him holding his hand. When I am ill, from drinking too much, he stays up late with me so I don’t have to be sick alone. He calls me his girl.
I love that he looks up grammar rules like lay/lie and even goes as far to research the past tense—lain. He loves horseradish, q tipping, Williams—Sonoma gadgets, and high fives at the table. He thinks farts are funny. As great as he is for buying me tampons—which is immense—and video cord with a two-way splitter, I revere him because he told me that if I ever feel lonely, I am always included in whatever he does. For no reason at all he brought me Beluga Caviar and champagne. My god, he could do nothing else, but he does. He roams around in a sweltering museum in search of the perfect animal to draw. He is patient with me when I get upset. He rolls his eyes at Debra, and he makes jokes about her toaster. He rented Drunks for me three nights in a row. He reassures me that I don’t ever have to be alone again if I don’t want to. He brings me sweaters when I am cold and undresses me when I am too warm. He has a framed picture of Kramer on his wall. Enough said. More than any other reason, and all the reasons combined, I love him because he is my very best friend.
*Lauren isn’t her real name. And this "Lauren" is friend #3. Friend #2 turned into husband #1, Gabe, who was ultimately a person I cut out of my life, for good. Straight Up and Dirty, my first memoir, explores, in much greater detail WHY I cut him out of my life. And of course, I wrote this post many years ago, hence, the whole "past tense" category. I chose to post this now because when we’re this far removed, and once we really have moved on, it’s amazing how we forget that once upon a time we had a completely different life, with different characters, and we were just as in love. Gabe, was, as hard as it is for me to believe, my best friend at one point, and in remembering all the friends who are no longer in my life, it would be an error not to include him, despite the fact that our "exes" aren’t really in the same category as our ex-friends.