We had been together so long, all those years at the University of Northern South Florida, that it was just naturally assumed a wedding was in the works. Even I had come to that conclusion, and I'm normally slow to catch on. And one evening, while I was fiddling around with the stereo I'd found an old Wollensak open-reel machine to refurbish I declared the subject open.
She said no.
I reacted in mock horror. "So does this mean I have to cancel the engagement party?"
"You didn't," she said.
And I hadn't at least, not formally. I was, however, adept at the fine art of Dropping Hints. "I had gotten the impression that you thought I was a pretty swell guy."
"And so you are," she replied. "But my heart belongs ... elsewhere."
I asked if I might know the intended recipient; she gave me the name. On the edge of her circle of friends. I barely knew her, except as a list of descriptors: tall, willowy, blonde-ish, studying something in one of the STEM fields.
While my own heart was being drop-kicked out of the room, I temporized. "Who knew? Apparently we have different tastes in women."
"Among other things," she murmured.
"You realize, of course, that I'm still going to be in love with you no matter what."
"I know. Which is why I have to do this now."
I forced myself to be sensible, and eventually we hit on a scheme: the engagement party that wasn't would go on as scheduled. There would be some impromptu chatter of a vaguely romantic nature, and then she would declare before everyone her desire for the tall, willowy one.
"You think she'll be there?"
"She'll show. Don't worry about it."
"And suppose," I began, hating myself for even bringing up the subject, "she turns out to be a boring old heterosexual after all?"
"That's just the chance I'll have to take."-------------------------------------------------------------------------
About halfway through the party, I woke up. I think it was the shock of discovering that I had forgotten my shoes, a common theme in my dreams. So I never did find out if those two women became a Happy Couple. I'd like to think they did, if only because this is the sort of ending I prefer in stories of this kind.
As a rule, I am skeptical of any and all attempts at so-called "dream interpretation"; it's always been my position that the brain, freed from quotidian considerations, conjures up whatever narrative it feels like, and any connection to Real Life is coincidental and not intended. Certainly no actual incidents are reflected here: I've spent, in 61 years and change, approximately one week in Florida, and no one has ever left me for another woman.
Still, this particular story strikes a chord, and I think it's this one: my apparently unshakable belief that anyone who actually dates me would be better off with somebody else. There is but a single data point to support this premise, in the person of my ex: her second husband was something of a bust, but her third proved to be, as the phrase goes, the charm. If nothing else, this explains my willingness to help my imaginary ladylove win the heart of the one she really wanted, at the expense of what, exactly? Pride? Self-respect?
This is, of course, a purely theoretical construct: actual romantic interest in the likes of me over the past two decades has ranged from "scant" to "nonexistent." So I really haven't had to deflect any such interest, haven't had to trot out lines like "I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream." (Thank you, Taylor.) But it's quite impossible for me to imagine anyone whose Mate Template in any way resembles me, so I'm not too worried about having to discourage anyone. I admit up front that I know just enough statistics to be wary of anything with a declared probability of zero; however, that's just the chance I'll have to take.
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