I have no idea how it happened. We weren’t eager to ride together. I didn’t like her and she didn’t like me. Yet somehow we found ourselves traveling in my SUV, hitching a small trailer with our solo Jet Skis attached, heading back to town—because we were stupid.
Now, we weren’t stupid because we’d spent the day jet-skiing together. Realistically, we’d jet-ski with Hitler if he were alive and knew how to operate one. We were stupid for leaving the lake. Sure, the decision had to come eventually. But it forced us to enter a situation that required us to talk to each other. And if we weren’t required to talk, then we were required to sit in silence, or worst of all, spend several miles on the road alone with each other.
When two people share no common interests other than aquatic adventure and a few stupid things, trying to make do with a measly road trip would be like licking the fires of hell without a glass of lemonade on hand. For anyone who has sensory deprivation, I should probably clarify that that’s an awful thing.
Now, I’m no masochist; I didn’t place myself in this vehicle with this woman to punish myself. After all, it’s my vehicle. But I bit the bullet with her because I didn’t want to jet-ski alone. To this day I’ve never ridden solo and I have no intention to start. Therefore, I had to invite the only girl I knew who shares my passion because that was the only thing that made sense to me.
I should’ve known that opening the door for her would’ve caused major problems down the road. I did it anyway because I’m the moron and because I’d hate to leave my Jet Ski alone on the trailer without the company of another Jet Ski. Most guys in my situation would’ve called me a patriot. I love my Jet Ski—so much, in fact, that I park it inside the house every night to protect it. To let go of my selfishness, to let the woman into the vehicle, and to return to town with her was my visual labor of love for my watercraft. And what kind of man would neglect the one he loves?
Of course, all I’ve done here was to talk about my SUV and my Jet Ski. I realize that doesn’t paint things in the proper context, so, once again, let me clarify. Our real issues began inside the vehicle—inside with Rachel. It all started as soon as we pulled out of the lake’s parking lot.
We filled the drive with silence for a while. I had nothing to say to her, and she had nothing to say to me, so we said nothing, initially. But something happened, and Rachel asked me a question. Normally, I’d humor her and answer whatever she asked, but this time I just didn’t feel like it. So she asked again. I ignored her. This went on for a few cycles. Finally, I got sick of listening to her, so I drove to a nearby gas station to pick up a turkey sandwich.
In retrospect, I probably deserved what happened next.
I’ll admit I could’ve respected her questions and opinions a little more. In fact, if I were to dive into deeper retrospect, I probably could’ve treated her better as a person. The effort would’ve demanded sacrifice, because I really got sick of all her constant crying. But . . . the problem was . . .
Look, there was no way I could’ve put up with her crying for the rest of my life. Every time she cried, I felt like I was responsible. I can’t speak for every man, but I hate feeling accountable to a woman’s tears. Rachel’s or anyone’s. The fact that she cried a lot pissed me off because much of it was on my behalf. She expected more from me than I wanted to give. All I expected from her was some breathing room. Neither of us delivered our mutual desires, so we crumbled at the foundation.
And our Jet Skis couldn’t save us. We were doomed as a couple.
And I was content with that.
I was seriously content with that. Because . . .
Well, it’s like . . .
I know what I want to say; it’s just . . .
Bloody hell . . . .
Never mind. I’ll think of what kept me content later. To make the long story short, when Rachel and I went to buy our late-afternoon snacks, some dude ripped off my SUV. With both Jet Skis attached. I felt responsible for that.
In my defense, I didn’t think leaving my keys in the ignition while parked in the middle of nowhere would’ve been that bad of an idea. I mean, if no one’s around . . .
I don’t even know why I’m talking about this. I know I was right. Right?
Look, I realize my decisions look bad. I sensed it in Rachel’s mannerisms, the way she glared at me when I insisted on leaving the keys in the ignition. But I wanted to shave a few extra seconds off the clock, reduce the time we had to spend together by any means necessary. I wasn’t wrong. I’m sure of that.
Even if someone did come along and steal the whole shebang.
I know my decision looks foolish.
Okay, the more I think about it, the more I realize all of this did fall entirely on my shoulders. Blame placed. Fair enough. I don’t like her anymore, and I paraded that feeling. But tracing my reasons back to their origin brought everything full circle into my lap. I don’t like her because she cries too much. She cries too much because I don’t want an attachment to her. I don’t want an attachment because . . . well because . . . um . . .
Okay, truthfully I don’t know the answer to that last one. She stuck with me—even when Jet Skis weren’t part of the agenda. She used to console me when my days were bad—even when she didn’t believe her own words. She took bottles of alcohol out of my hand to keep me straight—even when her eyes lusted after the drink herself. Rachel did all that . . . and I didn’t want her to.
Truth: I didn’t trust her. She was too interested in me—cared too much. She’d actually massage the tension out of my shoulders when I was stiff. She’d actually kiss me on the cheek when I had a bad hair day. She’d actually say positive things about me when I’d fall flat on my face. And she’d actually say that seriously twisted word called love to me whenever I felt like a reject. I didn’t trust her at all. Who the hell treats anyone with respect anymore?
And now my SUV is gone. And now my Jet Ski is gone. And, for crying out loud, now Rachel’s Jet Ski is gone. All because I didn’t trust her.
It’s almost laughable.
Sometimes I wish I weren’t such a prick. Yeah, I know; I’m not blind—I know exactly what I am. Once upon a time, I gawked at people like me, back when I hung out with the band geeks. Somewhere along the line I found out about culture shock, and popularity, and biker bars, and it changed the way I interpreted life. Sitting here with Rachel along the side of the road eleven miles from home, watching her cry, really makes me wish I could return to the band geek days, look for that poor little kid who assumed he was cool when he really wasn’t, lock him up in a closet for the next ten years, and let him out only when he figures out how to treat a woman right. Maybe that kid would’ve put a smile on this girl’s face.
No introspection in the world will give me the power to time travel, though. This is my reality now. I’d forgotten how to be that kid.
It’s funny, really; funny how things work. I grew up without any major conflicts weighing me down, yet I still took this road. Some relational scholars would call me an idiot, a moron, a retard, a dimwit, or a crackhead. I know the empty spot on the road where our Jet Skis should be would prove all of that. It’s no secret that I’m brain-damaged. I mean, for gosh sakes, how did I lose our Jet Skis? Most guys don’t sit around expecting good things to come to an unlocked SUV with its keys in the ignition. Some guys don’t veer off into a gas station just to avoid answering his ex-girlfriend’s questions. Yet I managed to do both. And yet this girl can still find an excuse to sit by me. Is she an idiot, too?
Sure, the redness in her face reveals those discernible shades of anger, but I suppose the tears helped in her discoloration, so I’m still the moron. All she wanted was to give me a chance. After all the hassles she had with other guys, including some dude who was already married, she really wasn’t in the mood to talk that day all those months ago. But I had to be curious about that love machine of hers—the Jet Ski for those with short-term memories—and find out all I could about it. So I was the moron back then, too. I still had Abby and our silent nights on the couch in front of the television, but that day at the park gave me the chance to have a new life of excitement and a decent girl to enjoy it with. And the girl loved me. Abby never said “love” the entire time I knew her. Rachel, on the other hand, said it and probably meant it. These were the things that the band geek kid in me had once dreamed about all those years ago.
Deep down, however, hearing those words triggered a feeling too intense to handle, and it helped me sabotage Rachel’s chances at happiness. Therefore, those relational scholars would’ve made an accurate assumption about me.
I actually remember the first night she said it. We were driving home from the lake, as one might expect, when she asked me to stop along the side of the road. I can’t tell from the lack of landmarks, but I think it was close to the spot where we’re sitting now. There was an exposed stretch of road that ran through an expansive parched field, with a few foothills in the distance and a small block of woods far behind us. As the sun neared the horizon, and the mosquitoes made their way into the rift of our spatial circumference, the crickets chirped and the breeze that blew through the area faded.
There wasn’t any reason for us to stop other than to talk face to face. And Rachel knew I was uncomfortable talking to any woman face to face, but she asked me to pull off to the side anyway. And sure enough, she wanted to talk face to face.
When she opened the door and stepped onto the grass, I assumed I was off the hook. I figured she just needed to take a leak and wanted me to stop so she could get out and dig a hole. But then I remembered that girls don’t pee on the side of roads like guys do and that Rachel wasn’t so well-disposed around me, so I was confused.
She stood silently by the open door for a good twenty seconds before walking around to the front and leaning against the hood. I remained seated for a few minutes before getting out to see what in the world she was doing—I thought maybe she was reflecting on the recreational day we had. She took my hand and smiled when I leaned up next to her.
And that’s when she said it—the word love—to me. The very first time. Yeah, she said it a bunch of times since, but that was the first.
I released her hand and returned to my seat. That was the moment that changed everything. And all the stinking mosquitoes were biting me.
I’d say that at least two months passed before I made my big snap at her. Maybe three. To be honest, once those words started leaving her loose lips, all my days started blending together. It was grating on my nerves—not because I disliked her, but because I wasn’t ready to accept her feelings. My true ambition was to have fun zipping across the water. And I thought that’s all she wanted, too. She had been in one bad relationship after the next for at least two years; I figured the last thing she wanted was to stick herself in another one. So I had no desire to bring our relationship closer than what our Jet Skis allowed. To even mention the word love would’ve only complicated such contentment, becoming dangerous for both of us.
She broke our unwritten boundary when she brought it up. And then she continued to break it when she started sneaking me kisses and such. Although the kisses were within reason, because who really hates being kissed by a pretty girl, everything else spelling love and romance and deep relationship with her just seemed like too much.
I arrived at the point where I couldn’t handle the direction she was steering us. The last thing I wanted was to cause more relational tears, so I forced myself to hate her, just so I would be the one to break up and spare her the agony of going through the same crap that she’d gone through with everyone else. I didn’t want our days of jet-skiing to take the road of sacrifice, but our dating relationship had to end.
Of course, that ultimately introduced us to a new set of problems. Our casual dating fights escalated into ex-boyfriend/girlfriend flame wars. When those transformed into insult matches, I could no longer stand the idea of being anywhere in the same proximity with her—except for those times when we were on the lake.
Eminent disaster fell at last.
And yet here we are staring at the fields, sitting side by side, waiting for a passerby to notice us, wondering what to say to each other should no one mount our rescue. It’s painfully obvious that I’m the one to blame for our stranded state. And though I’m sure I could fabricate some excuse about how it’s really all Rachel’s fault, I just don’t feel like it anymore. I suppose that’s a step forward.
* * *
We’ve been here waiting for a while now. There’s still a couple hours of daylight left, but the sooner someone comes driving through here, the better. Neither of us wants to be stuck here during the night. We need this light to last as long as possible. I occasionally stand in the road, flashing the rare passing motorist my tattooed chest, hoping to get his attention, but he keeps driving. My hope for rescue fades by the minute.
To be honest, I miss the good times Rachel and I had together. Sometimes I think it would’ve been nice for us to share a few more moments in the sun. Even when her feelings intensified, we still had our laughs after experiencing our spills. I guess to hear the four-letter L-word every once in a while could’ve been a nice bonus. I suppose there was even enough room in me to reciprocate it, had I just been a little more open to the seriousness of it. That, more than likely, would’ve erased a few of her tears.
I’m not sure how things would’ve been different had I just given a little more of myself—if I had been nicer to her. I’ll admit the questions stir in my mind, questions that ask how she’d react to me if I hadn’t fallen into a spiral of “coolness.” Sometimes it’s hard for me to care about the future because she pisses me off so much and I cannot always fathom how long I’m willing to live with that. But I suppose a lot of that is just my interpretation of who she should be. My friends used to try convincing me she was a great girl, despite her occasional sadness, and I just needed to see it. They accused me of not wanting to. Of course, they had their blind sides, too, but their comments got me contemplating her from time to time. Deep down, I would’ve liked to have seen her smile more without having to fake it—Jet Ski or not. Sometimes I hope that maybe she would be truly happy at least once, and that I might be part of the reason for it.
I guess it’s funny that on an afternoon like this, I wonder if it’s too late to give her what she’d once desired. As I glance at the side of her face, watching her contemplate her own life and situation, I see something that looks like resolve. As much as I resist the thought, I find it confident, and somewhat attractive.
It might be worth it to give her, and us, another chance. After all I’ve put her through, and after all that she was willing to endure today and every day since we’d met, I think she deserves some happiness. I wonder if she’d hate me for bringing it up, though, especially after what I had done to our Jet Skis, and to our relationship.
I guess there’s only one way to find out.