As I said before, I just wanted to spend a pleasant day on the lake. I had no intention of meeting some uncultured stranger along the shoreline. Maybe those girls who never bruise want attention, but I wasn’t interested. I couldn’t take another round of heartbreak, or regret, or anything of the type. Yet something inside of me forced a smile when Richard jogged up to the shore to greet me.
I think I was just surprised. Most of the guys I’d met before Richard had found me on a park bench while I was shedding tears or wiping my nose after they’d dried. There might have been a few exceptions—okay, many where the desperate horndog saw me at a grocery store and thought I’d make for a good rockin’. But most of them introduced themselves when they could play upon my vulnerability, as if that would validate their own sense of manliness. Richard, unlike the rest, wasn’t looking for me. He just wanted to get onto my Jet Ski.
I’ll admit his intrusion shocked me. When he ran up and asked me about my personal watercraft, I assumed he was acting interested only to get in good with me. So I was cold toward him. But when he kept babbling about the Jet Ski and how he’d never seen anything so amazing, I suddenly felt jealous. His disinterest in me should’ve relieved me, considering the problems I’d dealt with before that day, but it left me grumpy.
I suppose there was no good reason to feel that way. A guy was interested in a part of me that didn’t involve screwing with my heart, and that should’ve made me happy. It didn’t, though. To my own surprise, I wanted to be the more important body on that shoreline. At one point, I even jutted my hip toward him to catch his eyes. But they never wavered from the watercraft.
After about twenty minutes, I decided that maybe his lust for my Jet Ski would end if I’d just let him ride it. It turned out I had made the right decision. Maybe my internal vengeance against my exes was kicking in, but I laughed as I watched the beginner wipe out every other minute. Seeing the waves mix with that splash of falling orange—it was like an artist’s masterpiece coming to life—but on the set of Benny Hill. Once he finally brought it back to the shoreline, it took all my strength to stifle my laughter. The water dripping over his goofy smile was priceless. Fortunately, I kept my composure. And sure enough, he started talking about the ride with full passion—okay, he raved over it—the second his feet touched dry land. That’s when I invited him to dinner. I had to know I was exciting, too.
A sensible woman would’ve remained cautious throughout the entire encounter, both initially and thereafter. I knew the pains I’d felt before—pains that resurfaced time and again. But I managed to forget every occurrence. A new guy would show up, often under the same conditions, and I’d fall into the same trap. It had gotten so bad that I had to move out of my apartment just to escape the madness.
Someone once told me the definition of insanity is to live the same routines and experiences repeatedly, expecting a different result each time. And I knew what the word meant when I broke up with the guy who followed Harry. But I kept putting myself in ridiculous situations because my learning curve was straighter than a yardstick. When Richard came along, I should’ve just let him ride my Jet Ski, then push him out of my life forever. But I didn’t because I thought he was different from the rest. Looking back, I don’t know if the difference was better.
It turned out that my plan to wrestle his attention away from the Jet Ski worked. Even though we still volleyed words back and forth about the watercraft for much of the night, as I should’ve expected, we slipped a few other subjects in as well, including topics that centered on our personal lives. We enjoyed the time together and decided that the moment we shared was something that needed more sharing. And though I knew I was taking a monster’s chance by even thinking about letting him into my life, I thought this time it would’ve been different—that maybe I wouldn’t have to cry again.
Something sick happens, though, when a woman convinces herself that the man she’s with is, in fact, the one who will never screw her around, or break her heart, or make her feel like the eternal fool. That sick thing is the psychological dysfunction of “falling into deep smit,” or “falling in love” as some people call it. Somehow I suckered myself into that gladiator’s arena when I turned off my judgment and looked at Richard through a dreamer’s eyes. I guess I expected he’d become the prince that guys past never were.
But somewhere along the line I could no longer deceive myself. The curtain displaying my portrait of fantasy finally rose, revealing the putrid wasteland of reality stretching for miles behind it. Richard refused to love me the way I thought I loved him. He walked away every time I tried to get close to him. He tossed up his arms and called me hopeless whenever my tears fell. And he failed to realize that the only reason I cried was because he wouldn’t take a moment to cherish me. I mean, I was his girlfriend for crying out loud.
Of course, my therapist said the girlfriend thing was only my interpretation of myself.
I don’t know. I think in a perfect world, Richard would’ve taken the chance. There wouldn’t have been any emotional fear held against me, and his involvement wouldn’t have been just about my Jet Ski. But, as they say, this isn’t a perfect world, and the truth about life is that it’s heartbreaking.
So I guess the big question is why do I still put myself in such an awkward place? The circumstances never change between us—whenever we share the same space, he cringes and hides his face from me. And the intelligible conversations, as few as they were in our dating months, cease completely nowadays. In the end, we have nothing but our Jet Skis to keep us together. And thanks to our side trip to the gas station, now we don’t even have that.
I’m not sure I understand it. There I am each weekend gliding along the water’s surface, hopping over Richard’s waves, and it’s completely absurd. We go there together, return to town together, and we spend the entire day together in between. Our relationship had all but died a while ago, yet we still find ourselves in that same place. Each week. And it eats me up inside because I never know why I’m there. It’s not even fun for me anymore.
Ironically, the last couple of hours have awakened me. The harsh reality is that we don’t have a thing binding us together. Yet we still sit side by side, expecting something to happen—something good to come from all of this. Sure, we could sit on opposite sides of the road or camp about a mile-and-a-half away from each other. But we don’t. We sit side by side, staring at the fields, hoping for anything to bring us out of this mess. For what, I don’t know.
For a moment, I wonder if we’ll ever speak a word. We haven’t said anything since taking our respective positions along the road’s shoulder. I know our thoughts have been running rampant: thoughts about why our thumbs don’t seem to be working; thoughts about why the few cars that drive by pretend they don’t see us, or care; thoughts about why we don’t just walk the eleven miles back to town and spare ourselves this misery. But our mouths have remained quiet since the last time we saw our private way home.
I think Richard has been silently destroying himself over this. And I’d argue that he has every right to torture himself. But it concerns me that after two hours he can’t turn the accusation around on me; not even one word about it being my fault. Makes me wonder what he’s been thinking about this whole time.
I really hoped our relationship could’ve gotten better in time, but I doubt it ever had the right tracks. The fact remains that we came together at a vulnerable period in our lives. He had a girl in his life. I wasn’t over Harry. I still cried nearly every night since watching that golden ring fall out of his pocket. No man had what it took to bring me out of that.
In the end, I just wasn’t ready.
There have been a few moments when it looked like Richard wanted to say something—his eyes drifted, and he parted his mouth a quarter-inch as a soft breath escaped. But he stopped and closed his lips each time. He followed every attempt to speak with a quick shift to the side and a frustrated brushing over his hair. In the past, these actions dictated something very personal on his mind, something he knew he needed to say but, for whatever reason, didn’t know how. It was in these moments when I needed to help him by asking the questions necessary to get him talking. But this time I’m not sure what to ask. This time I feel like I’ve done enough.
It’s funny the things that happen when we’re far away from home: things that we could’ve avoided had we just started walking to town rather than plopping down where we are; things that impress the point that we have nothing left to say to each other or emotions to force between us; things that make obvious the fact that we have nothing else to share or any desire to find something new to discover; things that smack us hard in the head to remind us that our relationship never fully existed, but only looked real in my mind. And, in the end, it’s funny how much we realize that in all things considered, emotions are deceptive and we really aren’t that bright after all.
Maybe if I had been on stronger ground, I wouldn’t have brought this upon us. If I had let him go after that first afternoon on the lake, then we never would’ve had to deal with this. And if I had stuck to my original plan and allowed time to heal my ridiculous wounds, then maybe I wouldn’t have needed Richard in my life, period.
If I had let go from the start, I’d probably be sitting on my couch right now with a book in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other.
* * *
Time seems to crawl as we watch the sun fade into the horizon. Neither of us like being stuck in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night, so this is uncomfortable. I know that getting a motel room together is out of the question—partly because most of the motels nearby are miles away from here. But we can’t stay at the gas station, either. If we had family in town, we could call them. Or if we had friends that weren’t away from home, we could call them. Or if my phone was working, we could call a cab. But, as it stands, we’re in a tough spot.
Richard opens his mouth again and says nothing. But then, he does something unusual. Instead of brushing his hair back in frustration, he puts his arm around my shoulder. He says nothing, but he gives me what feels like a comforting pat, assisted with a smile. My body quivers because I don’t know what he’s trying to say. So I return his action by removing his hand and placing it back to his side. And it hurts because I’ve longed to feel that touch for a long while now. But I get up and walk to the middle of the road, where I stand and stare into the distance. I realize we’ve been together long enough. It really is time to go.
Moments later, a pair of headlights shine in the horizon. I wait between the two lanes as the lights draw closer. Within a minute, the approaching vehicle comes so close that it’s dangerous for me to stand there. Richard speaks to me, finally, telling me to get out of the road. But I don’t do it, even though I should. I just stay there, watching the vehicle, waiting to see what it does. I stick out my thumb as the headlights blind me and the horn nearly deafens me.
Finally, the vehicle, a pickup truck, screeches. I sidestep the truck as it skids right past me, a small boat trailer jackknifing behind it. I leap to the side of the road to avoid that, too.
As I hear the driver side door slam and the driver cursing “you dumb blonde” at me, I look up to see a single, white Kawasaki two-rider Jet Ski sport fixed to the trailer. I get up from the ground for a closer look. The driver approaches me and demands to know if I’m crazy. All I can do, however, is to stare at the Jet Ski. It looks dirty and a bit damaged, but I make out the Kawasaki logo on the front of the hull and a racing stripe along the side. I also discover a small flower insignia just below the brand name and the letters “RDF” just below that. A tear escapes my eye as Richard steps up beside me and asks if I’m okay.
Richard and I explain our situation to the driver, and after he calms down, he agrees to give us a ride home. But something unusual happens along the way. The driver explains that the Jet Ski in his trailer was damaged when he crashed it into a dock a few weeks ago and that he has been trying to sell it to anyone interested. He drove far and wide looking to nail down a buyer, but everyone wanted a Jet Ski in excellent condition only, so he had returned to town with it each time. But because our story seems to strike an emotional chord with him, he offers the Jet Ski to me for free to replace the one that was stolen.
At first, I’m speechless by the incredibly generous gift, but a realization occurs to me. As much fun as I’ve had with my Jet Skis in the past, the truth is I need to start my life fresh again. I’ve lived in pain day after day and would really like to relax.
I’m not sure if I make the right decision to turn down his offer, but I can’t keep going down the same road I always travel. There has to be other ways to get through life and enjoy it. So I ask that he consider giving it to Richard instead. I think, deep down, I would much rather he has it than me.
He really loved my Jet Ski.