Tuesday, January 31, 2012
AWKWARD (Times Three)
cover photo: Diane Zagoren Taub
Awkward (Times Three)
Edwin Forrest Ward
When I first spy Jessica on the stage in the auditorium among the group of newly hired teachers, I am cruelly smitten, awash in a flush of lust and testosterone, turned on and, in the long run, doomed. She’s wearing a stack of bracelets on her left arm, some gold, some turquoise, some ebony, that jangle with the motion of her locomotion, as she raises her arm to waive Hello to her fellow teachers. When she is introduced as Ms Jessica Golden, I take heart: at least there is, at present, no Mr. Golden standing between me and any chance I might have of her becoming Mrs. Ward, as, after all, at this point in my life, I’m looking for a mate as much as I would settle for getting laid. All I know is that Jessica’s got the goods that have seduced me: an educated brain (Elmira and Columbia culminating with a Teacher’s Certificate and a Masters in Modern Lit), a very comfortable Rubens-esque sashay to her walk (as if she knows what she wants), flirts for eyes, a face and figure that will prompt married men to doff their wedding ring, an unsatisfied hunger for passion to be straddled, and a consciousness on the other side of her mahogany eyes that I already knew I’d never own. Love counts on each lover to be slightly beyond the other’s control, the other’s ken, and so we are.
Well, it isn’t easy wooing Jessica – I mean: I am spread pretty thin - temporally, physically, sexually and emotionally - what with the women in my life, including (One) my soon-to-be ex-wife issuing terms of our separation and divorce through a major Philadelphia law firm and revenge sleeping with my now ex-best friend – a cruel kind of awkward; (TWO) my summer fling secret lover in Manhattan, and (THREE) my ex mistress-girlfriend, CCee - who as a student teacher I supervised and with whom I had the affair that ended my marriage – CCee now teaching in the classroom right door next to mine – still, I somehow successfully manage to woo Jessica and become her lover, this despite the fact she had been presently already involved with a successful lawyer who years later will become her husband, later divorced, and the father of her son.
I sweep and sweet talk Jessica off her feet – as only a curly haired Irish lover can, with twinkling blue and emerald eyes, decent Scotch, rock poetry, Bob Dylan-isms, and a very hip and groovy lifestyle of after school Kools, 4:20 weed, and sex to die for, hmm, sex to li e for. Somehow, I am so into the eros of me and Jessica, so blind to the differences in our ingrained cultures, I fail to realize that the spell we live under for a year is primarily of my solo making: her multiple o’s, her anxieties stoned, her depressions intoxicated, her dreams acted on. But this tale is not about our love and its loss; this is about things awkward.
Now, although Ms Golden does not have a husband, she does come with a family. Her father died suddenly during her final semester at Columbia last year, and her mother, sister and brother have moved from a gated suburb of Boston to a wealthy Northern New Jersey enclave within sight of Manhattan, where siblings of her mother Isabel and her grandmother live. Her younger sister Rebecca now attends Beaver College outside Philly; and her older brother Josh, a well medicated paranoid schizophrenic, lives at home with Isabel, a woman with whom I only ever have but two conversations, both of which are exceedingly awkward.
The first occurs at the door of Isabel’s home; the second, in a parking lot in Boston.
A phone call from her drama queen sister Rebecca interrupts Jessica and I in our late Friday afternoon, start-the-weekend-right, Scotch-ed and stoned sex-capade. O’Becky, as I call her, is sick, has been for days with some kind of flu. Her dorm mates have left for the weekend and she wants company. She is so sick and weak that she is afraid to be alone. Thus, Jessica and I do a madcap drive from our Jersey apartment in Wenona through Philadelphia rush hour traffic to find her sister almost delirious with fever and dehydration in her Beaver College dorm room. After a call to Jessica’s mother, our plan becomes to drive Rebecca home to Isabel for some chicken soup and mother’s care, a far better idea than Jessica and I nursing her here in a dorm room.
I do the hundred-mile drive from Glenside PA to Ridgeway NJ in my Datsun B-210 in just under two hours and prepare to meet, for the very first time, my lover’s mother and her troubled brother. Beyond the beveled glass of an impressive front door, Josh stands gazing forlornly and thorazine-ed aside Isabel who looks unashamedly grief stricken as she unlatches the door. I’m hoping that her disapproving worried expression is because of the shock of seeing the sickly pale and fever wracked Rebecca, not a result of Isabel’s first sight of me, her oldest daughter’s lover. Sadly, it is the latter, as her comments to Jessica - which she voices as if I’m not standing there - affirm. “Who and what is this Eddie that you would bring in to my house? Is he a Negro?” condescending questions asked as an elitist of any ilk or a racist would: to mock, to bait, to provoke, to dismiss, to put in place, as if my genealogy were an excuse for incivility, prejudice and rudeness.
There is a protracted awkward silence, as is easily imagined. My possible retorts are as numerous as the miles between here and home, beginning with “Am Irish” and ending with “Why, thank you!” the latter of which I choose to voice, as those three words served well the first major outsider and righteous connection in my life, the hippie-long-haired and Fu Manchu-ed Ronnie K. When ignorant and petty people tried to put him down because of his appearance, with such digs as “You look like a girl” or “You look like Charles Manson,” he simply replied “Why, thank you!” and Ronnie meant it, being as he was, quite fond of the dark and feminine side of himself.
“Why thank you,” I say to Isabel without a trace of the resentment roiling in my gut, as Jessica gives her mother a look I will not see again until a parking lot in Boston. Thankfully the Columbian cheba cheba we partake of on the drive home to Wenona neutralizes the acid of my anger at my lover’s mother.
Some months later, the dedication of a plaque honoring Jessica’s father’s bequeathed generosity to his synagogue, is to take place in Boston. She and I do the six hour drive via the yet to be completed I-95 corridor in a little under seven white knuckle hours with late Friday afternoon rush hour stop and go through Trenton, New York City, Bridgeport, New Haven and Boston. It’s especially tricky finding her family’s suburban synagogue as Jessica, princess that she’s always been, had not learned to drive until her senior at Elmira and had never actually driven a car where she grew up and, consequently, was not much help at co-piloting the winding traffic-circled roads outside Boston. But after numerous false starts down poorly lit oak lined roads, countless wrong turns and illegal u-turns, and repetitious back-tracking we drive into the parking lot of Temple Emanuel some ten minutes prior to the start of the service to honor Jessica’s father on the anniversary of his passing.
Bitter Isabel, the struggle that is Josh and drama queen O'Becky are standing outside the doors to the synagogue anxiously awaiting our arrival. I’m quite done in by the huge effort of the drive, but proud and pleased as hell that we made it, as could be sung, “to the church on time.” If truth be told, I’m actually feeling heroic and mythically lucky, given the number of speeding tickets I did not receive that I surely qualified for over the course of the last seven hours. To mask the odor of cheba cheba that clings to our clothing, Jessica mists us with a spray of Canoe Cologne for Men, before we join her very emotional family, none of whom I’ve seen since the night of Becky’s illness. But all the perfume in the world cannot conceal the rank stink of what Isabel barks at me as Jessica and I approach. “Eddie, you are not welcome here. Simply said, you are not Jewish. Do not set foot in our Temple.” To say there was yet another awkward silence would fail to imply the accurate weight of the lead balloon that floated above our heads in that Boston parking lot. So it would not crash down and crush us all I simply said, “Isabel, why thank you” and walked back to my Datsun B-210 and fired up a joint.
A year later in Denver, after abandoning the East Coast, as it has turned out for me, for good, there was not a bit of awkward silence when Jessica (whose dream it had been to move out West) announced that she missed her family, especially her mother, and her culture, and she was leaving. This time, without a trace of sarcasm or acrimony, I, like Ronnie K, really mean it when I say, “Why, thank you,” as she packs her things and lies, “I never loved you.”