Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sayonara Singapore

He walked into my office one afternoon in the summer of 2007. He was short, his graying hair brushed his shoulders from beneath his wide black cowboy hat. he wore jeans and a pressed yellow cowboy shirt. i was drawn to him instinctively and as he sat at my desk, talking about insurance, i sensed attraction from him as well.

but it didn't jive. he was way older than anyone i'd dated. the spark must be just my imagination.

we talked at my desk for nearly 2 hours. he told his whole story. he was leaving for singapore in August. expat. no wonder i'm attracted to him. like a flame to vapor, am i to expats. he had just finalized his divorce. been diagnosed with prostate cancer about 5 months ago. he said a lot that day. mostly really personal stuff about trying to find his way to a new life path. he loved Big Bend. had spent years in Russia with Fluor. a texas native from Victoria, where most of his 6 brothers and sisters still lived. he'd never had kids during his 25 year marriage. too late now. he made the break-up sound like it was motivated by her completely; and not at all what he wanted. he cried a little. he laughed. i laughed and fell for his folksy way that mixed so well with worldly experience.

when he left that day i gave him my card with a handwritten email address on the back and squeezed his shoulder (i'm telling you, he's short). i asked him to email me, and he promised he would.

i thought about him a lot that next week. he had popped open a can of emotions inside of me and the aroma of attraction lingered in me. i talked about him, but after a month or so with no word, i dismissed the man i had begun to refer to as "my old cowboy guy."

then one late afternoon in August he called the office. "Remember me?" he said. i remember. he had sent several emails, all returned he said. "guess i couldn't read your writing." he was in town for a few days; was getting his truck out of storage. wanted to come by and get new ID cards for the glove box. "will you be there?" i remember feeling a flush when i said "i can wait for you."

it was going to be a rare kidless friday night for me and i was eager to hit happy hour. i had assumed this whole thing was a one-sided crush on my side. it was the expat thing. and the cowboy thing. maybe i have some kind of grandpa complex. whatever it was, i was determined to be all business when he got there and had the IDs ready when he walked in around 5:00.

when he looked at me, it was like listening to my favorite song, that i hadn't heard in a long time.

i don't remember what we talked about that afternoon, or how long we sat there in the empty office. i will always remember standing next to him in the elevator after he'd stood behind me as i locked up the dark office. and watching him walk away when we got to the parking lot, having a feeling that i should follow him. i didn't.
and that's how it started.

i'm going into such detail of these first encounters mostly because they made such a strong impression on me, and also because these were the only times i had any contact with him beyond words on a screen. over the next four months, i would convince myself that i fell in love with this man, through emails and IMs. no phone calls. no face-to-face contact.

his first email was from sedona, where he'd gone on vacation before leaving again for singapore. it was touristy-chatty stuff about the mysticism of the area and how the new agey-ness of it made him roll his eyes at the place. i liked reading his words. he wrote long emails, which i like. i wrote long responses.

the emails got more frequent, and their arrival predictable, until we were emailing on a daily schedule. our time zones were flip-flopped. his 5am was my 4pm. he wrote to me while i slept, and visa versa. eventually i downloaded an IM program. i knew his schedule as well as my own. i knew when he would wake, and shoot him a good morning. he would respond. i knew when he got into the office, when he broke for lunch. our conversations carried from one day to the next and soon i found myself typing long hours, sometimes until daybreak, as our relationship was forged on a computer monitor.

it was crazy. i know that now. like falling in love with a character in a book. you read about him, you imagine his mannerisms, create his voice in your mind. the emotions feel real, but he's just a character. the love is not real. and neither was mine.

but it was the first time in long time that i had a relationship whose primary source of existing was not sexual. and i clung to that. it was all writing, reading. it almost felt like talking. i convinced myself we were building a solid foundation. he would be "home" for good in April. (as if expats are ever home.) i wasn't worried about the cancer--minor irritation--he'd beat that. he was thrilled to play daddy to my red-heads. they would love him. once they met him. my head swam with possibilities. there was talk of building a house in the country. a lake in the back. four-wheelers for the girls. a sunroom for me. this could be the new beginning he was looking for. this could be the man i was meant to find.

it was a lovely fantasy.

he arrived in houston Dec. 21 2007. it was the first time i'd seen him since that August afternoon in my office. i was like a smitten schoolgirl. i hung on him and gushed over every word he said. we spent two days together like a little family. him toting my youngest on his shoulders and dazzling my oldest with stories about his travels all over the world. we ate at the dinner table together and went looking at christmas lights with hot chocolate and popcorn.

it was a lovely fantasy.

by Christmas Day the facade of the fantasy had crumbled to reveal an unbalanced, emotionally immature, and quite possibly dying man. he had a lot of trouble getting through a day without having to rest. he had a sharp temper that was easy to set off. he didn't show up for christmas night like we had discussed. refused to answer my calls or texts, with no explanation as to why. he didn't call me. he did send a cryptic email that said he "could not do this". and would not speak to me because i'd "talk him out of it".
what? it was like my sam elliot had been replaced by tiny tim. our last conversation had been good.. pretty good. but now he refused me. it was the holidays, my kids were gone. i threw myself into a vortex of pity mixed with embarrassment and utter contempt. a mantra echoed inside my head: i'm an idiot. i will die alone. this just proves it.

we officially stopped the madness during last years AFC playoff game btwn the Patriots and the Jets; jan 2008. befitting our relationship, the breakup--so to speak--was a heated IM session, laced with colorful all-cap words on my part and pathetic childish apologies on his. at that time, he was going to stay in singapore and marry the woman he had been seeing there.

it took me some time to shake the dust off my ass from being bucked off the white horse with the knight and the armor and my hair blowing in the cool, country air.... but i eventually got used to walking my path again. i wrapped my heart in crinkly tissue paper and put it back into it's banged-up, rusty little box, and plucked it into the black hole from which it came. i got pissed off whenever i thought about him. even the idea that i fell for it, just burned me.

i got an email from him last july. he was in alaska now. god, he's such an expat. i had a few hot flashes here and there at the time. but i was in a rational place. i knew him now. i wasn't going to fall for the hype. but we did strike up the old banter again. this time phone calls only. no email. IM was long ago deleted from my computer. we talked about his cancer treatments. his job. the cold up there. all surface stuff. my heart was safely tucked away and didn't flutter. almost not at all.

then The Guy came along. we went to baseball games and the beach. we sat on the couch and watched Boston Legal. we laughed at the same things. it's been 8 months. he holds my hand and kisses my skin. he calls me after work. he burps. he farts. he's real. it's not the freefall, enveloping passion that i had with singapore, but then again, my life with The Guy isn't a fairy tale. did i mention the burping? The Guy is not my knight in shining armor. he's my best friend.

the other night i talked to singapore. he's just returned from LA for his latest clinical trials. the cancer continues to win the battles, it seems. we talked for half an hour. about my girls. the weather. his cancer. the snow in alaska. i thanked him for the big box of gifts he sent for christmas and the accompanying check to buy us each something special. after several minutes of talk i asked him if he was ever coming back to Texas. "i don't think so jewels." i could picture his face as he said it, "just nothing there for me anymore. and the project is so busy here, i can't ever see me going anywhere except maybe back to Singapore." he's an expat. all the way through.

i realized after i snapped my phone shut, that i had read all the chapters in this book. it was time to put it back on the shelf; let the years mellow the memory of the fairy tale.

so it's sayonara singapore.
goodbye alaska.
you win some and learn some.

1 comment:

Mandy said...

THIS ROCKS! Good for you. You're a smart cookie. I can tell.