The basic trajectory of a relationship is that it has a beginning (aka the courting phase), a middle (aka the actual relationship), and an end (aka the break up).
Although unpleasant [read: knock the wind out of you debilitating], the breakup is important. It’s the time when both parties get to opine on why the relationship couldn’t / wouldn’t / shouldn’t continue. So, later when you are considering a reconciliation, you have some sound bites to play back on repeat about why getting back together is a terrible, terrible idea. Unfortunately, one is powerless to reason whether or not a re-play with an ex is a good idea or pure self-sabotage without those unpleasant memories. Without the break up experience, one is more apt to get back on an exhausting, futile hamster wheel.
This is exactly what happens with Travis and me.
We never got to the breakup phase. Our relationship is like the scarf that I’ll never finish knitting. I’ll pick it up, stitch a few rows, and put it back in the basket under the arm chair until it comes to mind next winter.
Over the past eight years, Travis and I have never ended with unpleasant feelings, or even had an argument for that matter. Instead, our relationship has always fallen prey to outside circumstances that put “us” on hold…only to unexpectedly take up again. And again. And again.
Travis and I first got together in the cold months of early 2004 when we were still in college. But then, he had a terrible accident on spring break – the kind of accident that they paint little warnings about on the side of the pool. He didn’t return to school spring semester and by the time he was back on campus, I had graduated. By the time he moved to New York, I was living in Chicago. By the time I came back to New York, he was off to business school. And yet – although we never lived in the same city, our lanes accidentally overlapped every so often.
One evening in 2010, as a new Brooklyn resident, I was riding the L train home from work. This subway line is basically the scene-ster express that shuttles the skinny jeans between the East Village in Manhattan and Williamsburg in Brooklyn. I rode the train because it transported me between my very different day and evening lifestyles. By day I wore snappy skirt suits and worked in wealth management. By night I lived in a converted loft and listened to music while burning incense. I guess I stuck out on that train like a signing agent at an indie rock festival.
On one regular commute home, I had my head down in my first generation kindle when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a pair of bare ankles in running shoes next to an Hermes Fourre Tout being used as a gym bag. I laughed to myself. First of all, who uses a fancy equestrian bag for a gym in Brooklyn? Secondly, I could still see the indentations of that day’s dress socks on this dude’s calves. I almost wanted to commiserate with him in that it is so rare to find a regular working stiff on this subway line full of models, bloggers, and TFBs (trust fund babies). That’s when I did a double take. I knew those ankles.
I traced the line from the ankles up to his face. “Travis!?” This prompted a theatrical double take from him as well. “Jacq?!”
“What are YOU doing HERE?” I asked. My heavy emphasis meant: What are YOU [a Regan-loving, hippie-hating, prep school name-dropping, Uptown lifer] doing HERE [on the L train, next stop hipster-Mecca]? He gave it right back to me, “What am I doing here? What are YOU doing HERE?” Guilty. I knew he meant: What are YOU [my former lady friend who supposedly lives in Chicago], doing HERE [in my home town without telling me]?
As it turned out, we were both getting off at the next stop. His new favorite trainer worked fewer than ten blocks from my new apartment. We walked together until the natural fork in the road. “Sooo…” “Yea, sooo…” “See you soon?” “See you soon.”
That Saturday around 9PM he called and opened with, “Hi. What are you up to tonight?” It was early enough that I could pretend like I wasn’t sitting at home with no plans, even though I was sitting at home with no plans. So, I said, “Haven’t decided exactly what I’m doing tonight…” Unfortunately he can read me like a large font Dr. Suess book and immediately called me on it, “You’re not doing anything. Have a drink with me before I leave for b-school.” I tried to listen for those sound bites about why getting together would be a bad idea, but all I heard were crickets. I feigned protests for a moment and he just said, “What’s your address? I’m sending a car.”
So, I think to myself, could the scarf use a cross stitch or a nice cable knit pattern this time?