Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 39byrpsuch©
Jeff showed up at my door at 6:30. He wasn't smiling.
He didn't say anything. He just followed me to my room.
"Jeff, why did you come last night when I asked you not to?"
I kept any trace of attitude from my voice. It was just a question and I wanted an answer.
He took a deep breath. He took several more not quite so deep.
I looked him in the eye.
"I knew there was a good possibility you would be very angry," he said.
He fidgeted. He raised his eyebrows. He shrugged. He gestured with his hands.
I had to fight to keep a smile from my face. He didn't want to answer. This was how he looked when he thought the answer to a question would make him look too good.
I had no idea what he was going to say, but I knew I was going to like it. If he ever said it.
"So why did you do it?"
"I had nothing to lose. If you changed your mind it was the right thing to do."
He fidgeted some more.
"Well, even if it turned out to be what broke us up," he dragged it out like he still had the hope he would never have to finish the thought, "at least I'd be sure you were safe. I might not have you, but you'd be safe."
I'd been thinking about this all day; what I wanted to hear; what I wanted to say. I gave him a brief smile.
"I'm sorry, Jeff. I was completely wrong. Please forgive me."
As I spoke that last phrase I moved forward, put my arms around him and buried my head in his chest. It was a sincere act of contrition and of love.
I knew it was also manipulative. There was a greater chance that if I tossed a coin in the air it would never come down than that Jeff would not forgive me when I asked him this way.
He held me. He caressed my shoulders, my neck, my hair.
It made me feel wonderful.
It made me feel terrible.
It made me feel like I had to do more.
"Let's go to dinner, Dr. Goldberg. There's more I want to say."
I didn't order a drink. I just asked for a glass of water.
This hadn't been about drinking but I couldn't work up any enthusiasm for it.
"You haven't called me 'fifths' for a while. Is there any special reason for that?"
"It's not a special reason. The name was what you did, who you were. You've been back around two and a half weeks and we've had two big blow ups already. I think I've made an effort, but it feels like you're backing away from me."
"I guess I have been," I said.
"Well, you're entitled to. It's not like we've made a commitment to spend the rest of our lives together. And even if we did, people aren't held to that anymore."
He was trying to sound understanding and accepting but I could hear the weight on his heart. He thought this was the beginning of the end.
He would do what he could to prevent a breakup, but he would let me go gracefully if he had to. He proved that by preventing us from driving home after drinking.
I was afraid it was the beginning of the end as well. But I was handling it very differently than Jeff.
"Were you planning to come back to our place when school starts?" I asked.
"That's not actually a rhetorical question, is it? How could you not be certain of my answer?" There is no anger in his voice, just incredulity.
"Because I'm so unsure of myself and I'm so worried about our whole situation.
"I don't know if I'm who you think I am. I haven't acted like it lately. Look what you were willing to risk. Look what you were willing to give up. I don't think I could do that. I don't know if I'd even think of that."
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Okay, this isn't rhetorical either; it's more Socratic. But you haven't been wrong yet so I'm just going to go with the program. I'm twenty-one, Jeff."
"How long have you known me?"
"About nine months."
"So you've known me only nine months out of twenty-one years. That's twenty-seven times longer you haven't known me than you have."
"I'll take your word for the math," I said.
"So for almost your whole life, you learned how things are in the world and how you fit into that framework?"
"And at the very end of all that time, a stranger comes along and tells you you're mistaken. He tells you you're really someone else with qualities you didn't know you had."
"Right," I agreed.
"So as I understand your big problem we've outlined here: you're having trouble accepting, on faith, the word of a stranger that your belief system built over twenty years is flawed in that it doesn't give you credit for being a better person than you thought you were.
"And, since you have failed to completely integrate his view, on faith, into your belief system, there is no hope for your future."
I chuckled. "When you say it that way, it sounds stupid."
"Which one had the Caesar Salad?" asked the waitress.
Jeff raised his right hand and said, "That would be me."
I waited until she walked off.
"Still … Let me put it this way: how much do you love me?"
He gestured with his hands that he didn't know how to describe it.
Then he described it.
"I want you happy. But not this-is-what-you-want-so-I'll-say-it's-okay happy. I'm talking long-term, to the bone happy. So if you do something that's just a short-term fix, I won't necessarily go along with it."
"Like let me drive home drunk?"
"Exactly," he said.
"I can help you put a name to that feeling. It's not mine. I've got to give credit to the eloquence of your sister. The feelings you're describing, according to Sandy, is that you're absolutely stupid for me."
He had a good laugh.
I put my hands on his and leaned in.
"Jeff, I love you so much, but I don't know if I can ever get to being stupid for you. I don't know if that's enough."
"You're mixing all kinds of incompatible concepts together. You look at an infinitesimally short time frame and use it to make conclusions about 'ever.'
"And you're looking at a balancing of love like it's a measurement on a laboratory scale. It seems to me that love is more ecological.
"Deer eat the vegetation until there isn't enough to support the population. They die off from starvation. The vegetation grows back with a vengeance because there aren't enough deer to eat it.
"The deer multiply because there's plenty to eat until there are so many they deplete it. Then the deer die off from starvation. And so on. There's a balance, a range. It's not a mathematical equality."
"You win," I said.
I wasn't giving up. I'd just gained a better understanding.
"I've been worried I won't be able to match the depth of your love and you express some of your passion by explaining the ecological balance of love. What the hell was I worried about?"
Jeff looked confused.
"We don't even speak the same language. I speak English. You speak nerd."
I lifted his hand and kissed it.
"But you're my nerd."
I relaxed and just went with the flow for the rest of the meal. This felt like make-up romance. I developed the proper attitude and everything fell into place.
It was a lovely respite. I knew we would have to talk about our biggest obstacle very soon.
I brought it up after dessert.
"Can we go someplace to talk? I have a pretty good idea what's been making me crazy and I need to talk about it."
Again his smile went missing.
He drove toward center city. His car was surprisingly quiet.
With all that was going on and what was coming up, how is it that I managed to focus on a detail about his car? The lack of noise wasn't intrusive. If it had been raining I would have noticed the wipers.
He parked behind the Art Museum. It was still light out and small groups congregate there most summer nights.
Still, it was quiet enough for us to talk.
"We've been together around - we've known each other around nine months.
"It's gotten pretty intense. I know it's still relatively early in the relationship and when women start to talk about this it's often the beginning of the end, but I was wondering …"
"Could you possibly qualify it any more?" Jeff asked. "Just ask the freaking question."
"Thanks, Chandler. Okay, I'm twenty-one and kind of an adult, I guess, and you're, well, you're not even on the radar yet."
"Maybe you misunderstood my tone of voice. I wasn't asking you to kindly add more qualifications to the question, just whether there were any left."
"This isn't easy," I said.
To my relief, he refrained from another quip.
"Have you thought about, our being married at some point in the future? Whether you'd want to do it? When you'd want to do it?"
He broke into a big smile. "Is this a proposal?"
"No. No, you know it isn't. I'm just trying to make sure this is something we both see as a possibility in our future."
"That's what's been making you crazy?" he asked in his incredulous tone.
Why did I hear that so much? Do I go around making shocking statements all the time?
"No. That's not it. But if we're not both thinking that way, then I really don't have a problem."
He gave some thought to my statement and said, "Nope. I have no idea what's coming next. Your conversation has been confusing and mysterious. Usually I can piece together bits of evidence from the conversation and figure out where you're going, but -"
"Shut. Up. Sometimes you just ramble on about nonsense. I'm trying to have a serious conversation about a serious problem. If you'll just be quiet and listen, I'll tell you what it is."
I could see him struggle. Keeping quiet was unnatural to him but he fought it bravely.
"It isn't just that we both consider marriage a possibility. We lived together for over four months at school, and we're planning to do it this entire school year."
He put up a hand in front of him in a "just a second" gesture.
"You'll be almost twenty-two. We'll both be college graduates with prospects at the end of the school year. That sounds like a good time to get married to me, if timing has anything to do with this."
The hand came down.
"Is that a proposal?" I asked.
He got that funny thoughtful look of his, then shook his head a little.
"Not romantic?" he asked, though it was as much a statement as a question.
"No," I answered.
"Then no," he said. "I'll work on it."
"You really make a girl work to have a serious talk. Here's the premise and the problem. We're going to be living together for the entire school year. We'll be together on breaks. We do almost everything together."
"Except celebrate your twenty-first birthday," he interrupted.
I shook my head and rolled my eyes.
"And we may be getting married as early as the time I graduate. That means," drum roll, "I'm going to have to tell my parents you exist."
I waited for his reaction. Apparently, the destructive potential implied by this was not obvious to Jeff.
"Was there some question about my existence before this point in time?" he asked.
"No. I have to tell them about our relationship. Duh."
"You don't need to tell them how good I am in bed, do you? I mean, I guess it's okay. I just thought we should give them some time to get used the idea before you tell them what a good deal you're getting."
"God, you can be such a smartass."
"Hey, your Father is a businessman. I'm sure we can couch this in terms he can understand. You're buying low so that you can sell high later."
"Very amusing," I said. "I don't think you're getting the import of this. This is not just Meet The Parents. The thing he's going to like about you most is that you're nineteen and, therefore, way too young to get married to me until he can figure out a way to break us up.
"He's ferocious. And he plays nasty. If he has to, he'll make it about cutting me off from the family."
"You don't know that for sure. You don't have any hidden siblings that serve as an example, do you?"
"I've seen him play hardball," I said.
"So, what is there about me that is so objectionable?" asked Jeff. "From his point of view, I meant, not yours."
I ignored the last part.
"You're not athletic. You're not tall. You're not classically good-looking.
"You don't have money. What money you have is not inherited. Therefore, you don't have proper breeding.
"You're not conservative. You don't have a name, contacts or money that will enhance his business interests.
"You don't have a family, name or money that he can brag about to all his friends who are just like him.
"You don't play golf. You don't play the social games. You don't do small talk. You are very reluctant to lie. You're in science instead of business.
"We don't look good together. And you lack the killer instinct; you're too nice, too cooperative. Basically, you don't bring anything he values to the table."
"And this is how you're telling me he's going to feel before you talk to him? You mean it could be worse?" he asked.
"You know I work with older guys. The youngest are in their thirties.
"They're not really happy treating me on an equal footing, let alone coming to me as a source of information or as someone to evaluate their work, especially since, from their point of view, I'm just there for the summer.
"There are guys in their sixties, who have been doing this all their lives. They have grandchildren older than I. Some of their grandchildren have children.
"And they perceive the company as giving me more responsibility than they get. Do you think they resent me? Hell yes. But they're coming around.
"I don't condescend. I treat them with respect. I solicit their opinions. And I try to do it all in a way that makes them feel they have contributed or even developed the ideas themselves."
Jeff spoke with a lot of passion and enthusiasm.
"Jeff, you basically just told me you're working with rational men who will ultimately judge you on your merits and your behavior. There's the difference.
"My Father's basing everything on a caste system. You either fit or you don't. For him, it's like you're an untouchable saying to a Brahmin, 'hey, Dude, what's the big deal?' He has no frame of reference to understand that."
"Well, he's a father," said Jeff. "There's a pretty good chance you're important to him. That's going to constrain his Machiavellian impulses. You're his only daughter. He doesn't want to lose you."
"Maybe. But some of the value of having me as a daughter is the alliance I could bring with the right family. If I marry you, that's gone."
"Maybe he'll look at the bright side: there's always divorce."
He took me in his arms and I held on tight. For me, it was the best way to deal with it for the moment.
In a very quiet voice, I said, "So here's the bottom line: I think I've been pushing you away to hold onto you longer."
Jeff backed his shoulders away to look me in the eyes with an expression that said, "That makes no sense."
"If I push you away," I said, "we're having trouble. We're not ready to take the next step, so I have to put off talking with him but I get to be with you. But, if things are progressing well, I have to tell him and I'm afraid I'll lose you in the shit storm that follows."
He moved back in.
"You are complicated. And constantly surprising. Certainly not the kind of girl one could get at the five and dime."
He said it with such affection it made me feel everything would turn out all right, even though I knew it wouldn't.
"Isn't that an awfully archaic expression?" I asked.
"We had a Woolworth's right on City Avenue, minutes away, until just a few years ago."
"What are we going to do, Dr. Goldberg?"
"We'll figure it out, Fifths."
He said it with such absolute conviction that I believed him against all my experience. I had faith.