The Hurricane by One of the Guys
It felt as if the rain wouldn’t stop. Endless gray clouds had parked themselves over the Boston area during my first spring on the east coast, and I began to wonder what on earth had compelled me to leave my life in Ohio, a place where the days were longer and the people warmer. The winter had actually been kind of mild and I initially thought that Boston weather was a nice change from the frigid winters of the midwestern snow belt. That is, until the spring skies began spitting out icy rain that somehow managed to penetrate my new waterproof gortex shell, even though the nice sales person swore it would keep me toasty and dry.
The one warm piece of my existence was a nice girl I had recently met through my teaching gig. I didn’t initially picture a carriage ride into the sunset, but as we spent more and more time together my thinking began to shift. We had lots in common. Our taste in music. Political leanings. Religious views. We both loved raunchy humor. We discussed, debated, and laughed a lot. But I think it was food that changed my thinking about her and our relationship.
I never thought much of the saying, A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but it’s probably because I had never been with someone who could cook the way this girl could cook. She’d visit me at the apartment I shared with a few other guys and bring a picnic basket for us to eat in my room, which was pretty much the only room that was sanitary enough to eat in, including the kitchen—especially the kitchen. We’d spread a blanket down and eat right on the floor. Maybe the furnishings weren’t very high-class, but the food was top-notch, grub you’d eat in some fancy five-star restaurant, where they wouldn’t call it grub, something more along the lines of haute cuisine. I had never been so satisfied after eating a meal, and I could tell she put a lot of love in that food, which got me thinking that maybe it wasn’t the food after all, but the company that made me so content.
I was seeing her every few weeks and for a while the arrangement was perfect for both of us. I was focused on my teaching career. And when I wasn’t preparing classroom lesson plans I was practicing piano for a few upcoming jazz gigs I had booked. Being a few years younger than me, she was still in college trying to finish up her degree, and she spent most nights studying until midnight. She would take a short break every night around 10pm and we would chat for a bit before it was time for me to hit the sack and for her to hit the books yet again.
As the months passed, surprising feelings began percolating inside me. She had hinted that maybe she’d like to see me more, but each time she casually brought up the topic I casually changed the subject. I didn’t want to be in a serious relationship, did I? Man. I had plans. I had goals. I had things to do. I was worried that a serious relationship might derail my aspirations. Not because she would derail them, but because I knew myself in relationships. In the past, as soon as I became entwined with someone, I would lose myself in the relationship and give up everything to make the other person happy. Pretty pathetic, but true. Up until that point I had convinced myself that the best course of action was to keep things exactly as they were. But the more we hung out, the less compelling my argument felt. I started thinking that maybe I might not be so pathetic this time around.
The next time she casually brought up the topic, I casually told her that I felt the same. You should have seen the relief in her smile. It was as if she was sitting in an examination room waiting for the results of a recent biopsy, fearing the worst, but receiving the best possible news. After a long hug, we talked for some time. I expressed some of my concerns and she told me not to worry. The last thing she wanted was for me to change for her. It would be a long time before she’d be ready to settle down herself, since she wanted to finish school and then go to grad school.
Okay, I could get on board with this. Maybe this would be my first mature relationship. Interesting that it would happen with someone younger than me.
Our next visit was two weeks away, but in the interim we started talking about us. The schools she was interested in. The cities best suited for my budding music career. Whether we liked the city or country. The kind of house we might want. Jeez, we even talked about kids, if we wanted them, and how many. The sweet high of burgeoning possibility captivated us, so much so, that we were both were having a difficult time containing ourselves until our next scheduled get together.
Two days before her visit I was sitting in my apartment daydreaming about the future when I heard on the news that a Category 3 hurricane was going to hit the area over the weekend. Are you serious? I thought. She and I were scheduled for a get together on Saturday and I wondered if she would still be coming. She had been housesitting in Connecticut and would be coming directly from her friend’s house. That was a long drive, especially with an approaching storm.
“What do you think?” I said to her on the phone.
“I really want to see you, but I don’t know. It’s possible that the weather’s going to be rough on Saturday afternoon. I don’t want you driving through the storm.” There was silence on the other end.
Then she said, “Don’t be silly. Of course I’m coming. I really want to see you. I’m not afraid of a little storm. And it’s not supposed to get bad until late on Saturday, so I should be able to get there in plenty of time.”
“Okay. Great. I can’t wait.”
I know, I know. I should have been the one driving through the storm to see her, but we’d fallen into a pattern. I never went to her place. I’m not exactly sure why, but that was just the way we did it up until that point. And I’ll be honest, I think we both liked it that way. I loved the anticipation of the visit and I think she liked making the journey.
By noon on Saturday it already looked like dusk outside, as cloudy fumes hovered threateningly in the near horizon. I looked down from my third floor window to see if she had arrived, but I jumped back quickly, surprised by a barrage of sand, blown up from the street, pelting the window like hail. The storm was approaching fast and darkness had preceded its arrival. I watched the trees and power lines swaying, and the garbage, previously hidden by a light cover of snow, doing flips and somersaults in the wind. Her car pulled up and I watched her get out, holding fast to her stylish beret with one hand, and shielding her eyes from the sand with the other. As usual, she was dressed to the nines, picnic basket in hand. She looked up and I waved. I was so excited to see her, hold her.
“You look great,” I said to her, as she walked up the stairs. We embraced.
Two hours later, the sky had turned from mule-gray to chestnut brown, well on its way to stallion-black. Even so, the worst part of the storm was still a few hours away. We listened to the weather report together and she smiled.
“You were right. I’m glad I made it here when I did.”
“I am too.”
“This is amazing. We finally get to spend some quality time together. Can you believe it? Two days and nights together. Wow. How perfect.”
“I know. Perfect.”
I managed a twisted smile, but something was wrong. When she stated the obvious, that we’d be together for the next 48 hours I started getting nervous. Had I made a mistake? Maybe this was all a bit premature?
“So how about we eat?” I said, trying to distract her while I dealt with a quickly brewing internal conflict that made no sense to me. “I can’t wait to see what you brought today.”
She opened up her basket and started pulling out its contents. A bottle of wine. Two glasses. Two plates. Forks. Knives. For the main dish she had prepared Chicken Paprikash, and for the sides, Cucumber Salad and Garlic Sweet Potato. Normally I would have devoured the food, but I had this distasteful backwash in my mouth, spoiling everything. All I wanted to do was get rid of the contaminant that was quickly spreading through my body.
“Are you feeling okay?” she said after she saw me picking at my food instead of shoveling it in like I normally did.
“Oh. Yeah. I’m fine. The food is delicious. It’s just my stomach. It’s a little off right now.”
“Oh. I’m sorry sweetie. We can eat later if you’d like.”
“No, that’s okay. I’ll just have some wine. You go ahead. I know you’re starving.”
If I had been in love, the way I had thought I was, the situation would have been ideal. The storm would have been a perfect test for us to see if we could take the relationship to the next level. We were stuck, just the two of us, with nothing to distract us, nowhere to go, nothing to do, but be together. We had both said we wanted this, but now I wasn’t so sure. Just the way she kept looking at me, eyes wide and questioning, made me uneasy. As much as I tried to fake it, I knew she could tell something was up.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“Nothing,” I said. But I knew she knew that was total bull.
“Seriously. Tell me now. Did I do something? Did I say something?”
“No. No. It’s fine. I just have a stomach ache. No biggie.”
“Really? A stomach ache? Do you think I’m an idiot? There’s something going on.”
“Nothing’s going on.”
“Listen. I know you well enough to know that something’s off. Please tell me what it is.”
I looked at her for a long time, trying to choose the perfect words to explain my confusion to her, but instead I said, “I don’t know what it is. Something isn’t right.”
“What do you mean, something isn’t right? With the food. With me? Us? What?”
I could tell she was about to cry. That’s when I started thinking crazy thoughts. Instead of feeling badly I started getting pissed. This was all her doing. She had tricked me. She had made me lose my mind. She had made me think I wanted a relationship. But, I didn’t want a relationship. I wanted to be free, unencumbered. I sure as hell didn’t want to have to answer to someone else. That’s the last thing I wanted. Or was it? I couldn’t think straight, especially with her staring at me. Maybe this was just me panicking. Maybe if she left right at that moment I could somehow figure out that I wanted this. Maybe I could salvage it all. All I knew was, if she stayed, the storm would be much worse inside than out.
Neither of us spoke. She continued to look at me with hopeful eyes and that’s when the dam broke. Instead of returning her questioning look with warmth and happiness I met her eyes with an icy stare. And then I said these words, or a close approximation. “I don’t know what’s wrong. I just need some time to think. Maybe if you leave this very moment you can beat the storm.”
Silence. You should have seen her face change. The light turned dark and she said, “You want me to leave? You want me to try to outrun a hurricane?”
When she said the words back to me, they sounded so cold, so harsh, much worse than the storm brewing outside. How horrible was I? I was a horrible human being and it was too late to take them back. Of course I didn’t want her to risk her life! I cared about her and I certainly didn’t want anything to happen to her. But all I could think about was her in my apartment, with me, for 48 hours, if not longer. I was trying to ward off the disaster that was sure to come. I just needed to be alone to figure it all out. But my panicky feeling clouded my mind and my judgement, which lead me to utter those horrible words. Words that changed everything. And we both knew it. Yet, I still tried to make it right.
“No, of course I don’t want you to outrun a hurricane.” I replied. “It’s just. I don’t know. I’m so confused right now.”
“How can this be possible? All we’ve talked about for the last two weeks is our future together. Just yesterday you wanted everything I wanted. How can you just change your mind like this? How can this happen?!!”
Her voice started creeping towards a yell and I knew this was going to get worse. “I know. You’re right. I’m sorry. I meant everything I said yesterday. It’s just. I don’t know. I need time to sort through what’s going on. I just can’t explain it.”
And that’s when she lost her temper. “Well, there’s no f-ing way I’m going back out into that storm. Absolutely not. You’re just going to have to deal with me. And you’re going to have to figure this out in the next two days or else I’m done.”
“Of course. You’re right. I’m sorry. I know this must be horrible for you.” I looked outside. The storm had ramped up in the last ten minutes. I pointed to the window. “Anyway, it looks really bad. No one should be out there now.”
I tried to hug her, comfort her, but she pushed me away. She didn’t look convinced at my feeble attempts to make amends. She shouldn’t of been. I wasn’t feeling convincing. I was still panicked and pissed and confused and she could see it all over my face. She gave me one more stricken and disgusted look and then she left me alone in my room and went into the living room to read a book. Luckily my roommates were away for the weekend.
After moving to New England I learned that talking about the weather was kind of a thing to do. The saying I heard most often was: “All you have to do is blink your eyes and the weather will change.” I used to roll my eyes at that, since the weather was quite predictable in the midwest. Gray skies, glimpses of morning sun, more gray skies, late afternoon thunderstorms, beautiful clear nights. At that moment, I was praying for just the type of New England weather miracle people talked about. I needed a miracle so we could get some space from one another. I imagined the news person saying, “Well, folks, another New England surprise. It looks like the hurricane has given up and blown out to sea. You’ll be seeing sunny skies in a few hours. This is more than a surprise. It’s a miracle quite frankly.”
No miracle would happen. She would be staying the duration. In my apartment. With me. She was stuck. So was I. We were stuck together. She was so upset with me that she spent the rest of the day reading on the couch in the living room, ignoring the filth left by my roommates and mostly ignoring me. I tried to talk with her, but she didn’t want to speak with me. I couldn’t blame her.
I spent the day feeling guilty in my room. That is, when I wasn’t fuming. Somehow I kept convincing myself that this was all her fault. She pushed me into something I wasn’t ready for. She was the one who created the situation. If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t be stuck in this damn apartment together for two whole days.
I look back now and shake my head. The lies I told myself to alleviate the guilt are quite unbelievable. But being cornered was my comfort zone. I was good at it. In fact, the identity I lived with up until that point was one of a cornered animal, lashing out at would be attackers, reversing the pain whenever I needed to, spitting out venom if necessary, all to protect myself, most often from the fantasy playing out in my own head, rather than any sort of reality.
There’s no need to give the play by play. It unfolded as you might imagine. Me talking, her crying, me explaining, her listening, her crying some more, me getting annoyed, more crying, and on and on. Somehow, I did manage to smooth things over enough to make it through that day, night, and the next day, even enough that she retracted her initial statement, that she’d be gone, and agreed to see me after that weekend, just to see if we could put it all back together. We both knew the truth. It wasn’t going to happen. She tried, I give her that. She still laughed at my jokes, bantered about life, treated me roughly the same, even cooked for me on one occasion when she was feeling particularly happy about acing her mid-term exams, but her heart was no longer in it even if her body went through the motions. Slowly, she got busier and busier with school and other things and I saw less and less of her, until things faded away, like the moon being nudged out of the sky by an early sunrise.
I still feel guilty about the hurricane weekend, but I tell myself it was probably a good thing. Otherwise, our arrangement would have continued far too long, until it eventually came to a head, and then by that time, it would have been more difficult to admit that I had lied to her, lied to myself, and that I never saw her in my future. In a way, the hurricane that blew in on a southeastern current and laid waste to our relationship, saved us lots of time and pain.
Which makes me think that maybe every relationship needs a hurricane test. If you can pass that, maybe you’ve got something that’s worth keeping.
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