Not What It Seems

googSquareC

“Ethan, it’s Delilah.”

“Hi Delilah. I’m almost there.  Are you?” I ask as I walk briskly through the cold winter night.

“I’m gonna be late.  Don’t worry my friend Rachel will be there.”

“I thought it would be an evening of just you and me.” I reply.

“Ha ha.”  She emphasizes each syllable.

Delilah and I have been roommates for almost two years.  Although she has not been in a steady relationship since her divorce five years ago, I occasionally snuggle up to her, remind her how much we adore each other, and try to convince her that getting involved would be so natural. Maybe she rebuffs me to hold out again for someone who is much younger. I accept that and move on, but I almost never bring girlfriends to the house.

Delilah continues, “I forgot I told her I’d meet her and I didn’t want to cancel. I know you haven’t met her but she’ll be easy to spot. She’s much older than both of us, red hair, pudgy.”

“Oh, all right. I thought I knew most of your friends. Who is she?”

“Ethan, she’s cool. We just go to concerts together. I know she’s involved in some sort of emotional truth/new age group but she doesn’t tell me and I don’t ask.”

“Ok, let her know I’ll be looking for her and I’ll get a table for the three of us. See you when you get there.”

The venue is a good sized, informal Asian restaurant where the tables are not close together and the lighting is a warm, red-purple. One corner has windows on two sides, amplifiers, an acoustic box drum, and sax and a guitar. I don’t see Delilah’s friend so I sit close to the front.  After two minutes, a statuesque woman with strawberry blond hair, a tight fitting soft leather jacket and a youthful face stands about two feet in front of me. I raise my chin to her.

“Ethan?” she asks.

“Rachel?” Not what Delilah described. I jump to my feet. She smiles broadly and extends her hand. Her warm and sparkling eyes have me smiling immediately. I motion to an empty table in the back. Rachel settles into the seat bench facing the room as I sit opposite her. If I don’t see the room, I usually feel anxious, but my delight with Rachel calms me. As we peel off our coats, our connection builds.

“Has Delilah ever been late meeting you before?” Using our common ground to build a bond.

“Are you kidding me?  I always expect her to be late. That way I’m never disappointed.” She laughs.

We laugh about our friend’s many quirks. Whenever the conversation sputters, one of us mentions yet another quirk, and we cackle all over again. Rachel abruptly changes the conversation to the types of music she likes. I hear Delilah over my right shoulder, whom I then see remove her coat, sit next to Rachel, and proffer reasons for her delay. Rachel and I exchange knowing glances. The band starts and I turn to watch for the entire set.

During the long break, Rachel and I discuss music, art, and food.

After some time, Delilah says in a monotone while rolling her eyes, “Don’t let me interrupt your date.” I take that comment as encouragement to continue enjoying my new friend.

After the evening band finishes, we walk outside to the curb. I feel I should go back with Delilah, so I begrudgingly say goodbye to Rachel. I hug her politely and to my surprise, she gives me a warm kiss on the corner of my mouth.  During the walk back, I feel as if I am on a caffeine high.  My thoughts are rushing; my face warm in the cold night and my fingertips shooting sparks.

When we arrive, Delilah seems distracted. I resolve not to mention tonight and she doesn’t either. We have been friends through many relationships, always supporting each other.  But since Delilah has been without one for a while, maybe she needs every close friend to fill the occasional void.

I have to ask her, “Are you upset that Rachel and I talked to each other so much?”

“No…Not at all…She had a rather dramatic break up with a guitar player and I think she’s not ready for someone new. Ya know?” She searches into my eyes looking for a consent.

We sit quietly in the kitchen over some Sleepytime tea.  Finally I slip away and go off to bed.

Using my phone to go on Facebook, I go to Delilah’s page and find Rachel as her friend. I immediately send a message.

“Hi Rachel.  Great time!  Might I interest you in dinner next Tuesday? -Ethan”
I fall asleep on my back, feeling fulfilled.

Most of the next day, I help Delilah with her household shopping. She has difficulty choosing among even the most mundane products. Pink or yellow tissue. Single or two-ply.  Last night is not mentioned. How I will navigate this new connection without Delilah’s support?

After a late lunch, I want a quiet place alone to look at my phone to see if Rachel replied. I say, “Delilah, I’ve got to do some of my own errands. I’ll catch ya later. OK?”

“Ok, thanks for your help, Ethan. Bye”

I run to the park, sit on the first free bench and read. “Hi Ethan, Time went fast last night! We’re on for Tuesday, 8pm at Falphies? R.”

I reply, “C U then, -Ethan”

I slog through the next few days until Tuesday night. My senses are on high alert as I enter Falphies, a Middle Eastern, dimly lit maze. I spot Rachel leaning against a bar stool and stride up to her. We hug with big smiles and are immediately led to a section with no other tables.

As we sit, I feel we’re already establishing our own planet. We order the same food and begin nursing our drinks.

“Ethan, did I say how Delilah described you that night?” I shake my head.

“ She said you dressed shabbily and looked beaten down. You were the complete opposite! Give me a break.”

I replied, “Well, you don’t want to know how badly she described you. I guess she really didn’t want us to like each other.”

We used the large gaps between courses to explore the usual getting acquainted terrain—where and with whom we grew up, one or two dramatic lifetime events, a significant relationship, and when the conversation slows, we chew on some Delilah fodder.

After dessert, Rachel sips her tea and asks after a thoughtful pause, “I know this might be a little strange to ask, but have you ever been truly transformed in your life?”

“Gradually over time. For example, I have much less anxiety now. But that has taken years of killing off the responsible brain cells.”

“I don’t mean due to physiological causes, Ethan. I’m talking about an event that changes you emotionally. An epiphany. Something that has you seeing life with a new paradigm.” I feel she’s looking through my eyes to the back of my skull.

“Well, I’ve never had a near death experience or some other traumatic or euphoric event, if that’s what you mean.” I say that fishing for what she is fishing for.

“No, not that kind of thing.” She says, “Have you ever heard of the Emota-Intel Program?”

“Nope”

“It’s a program that increases your emotional intelligence while becoming in tune with the Universal Pulsating Presence.”

I wonder how I can be caught up in my emotions while being in tune with some subtle cosmic vibration. So I say, “Sounds contradictory to me.” Rachel stares at me for a few seconds probably to determine if I’m being hostile.  Apparently, my sarcasm is not welcome.

“Ethan, I’ve spent a good part of the last two years transforming myself through this wonderful program and organization. I do not see why you need to judge me or what I believe as frivolous and shallow. I cannot abide that. You tell me right here and now, are you open to a dose of reality, or must you continue hiding in your shell of habitual thinking and sad emotional armor?”

Usually it takes many get-togethers before I enter the backcountry of someone’s personality. But now I must struggle to get oriented, leaving behind the champagne of flirtation. Is Rachel that easily abraded or is she in control and just testing me? She clearly doesn’t like what she sees inside my skull

I stand, “Let’s just say we’re not made for each other though it feels so right. I will not join your program; I will not increase my emotional intelligence to pulsate to your presence.” I kiss her on the side of her mouth, leave money on the table, turn my back to her, and stride away.

I’ve never done that before, I feel like I’m in control of my life like never before. I’d say that’s an epiphany.

3 thoughts on “Not What It Seems”

  1. This is a playfully sly exploration of possibilities with an unexpectedly sobering result. A great twist. I really like Ethan’s acceptance, control and calm resolution.

  2. A wonderful compact sketch of a developing relationship. I really like the imaginative use of a few words to describe huge areas of unexplored territory, “establishing our own planet” and “backcountry of someone’s personality.”
    It covers so much territory with just a few words.

    (I think I might have pulsated.) 😉

    –GG

  3. Adding to the above comments, “fingertips shooting sparks” and “champagne of flirtation” also caught my eye. We all know the triangle of relationship, Jeff depicts seamlessly. I like how you open up the first relationship effortlessly so we can all get a closer look inside and the group dynamic when an attractive “three” is added. It’s colorful, tight and clever twist at the end. Nice piece, Jeff, much enjoyed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *