That night, we were going to some fancy wine pairing at the restaurant where Patrick cooked. I was wearing expensive heels that gave me blisters, and the dress I probably should have bought in a bigger size. I had failed to lose the ten pounds I'd promised myself in the dressing room, and now the dress — purchased to appear sophisticated and elegant — required more internal rigging than the Cirque du Soleil. It's hard to feel sexy and confident and beautiful wearing control-top undergarments. It's like trying to have an orgasm while holding your breath underwater.
Anyway, Patrick showed up and said nothing. I wish there were a better reason for how my mood curdled in that moment. I
was standing there, in that stupid dress I bought but could not afford, that stupid dress only bought to impress him, and he said nothing.
No, he said, "You ready?" And then he stuffed a cigarette between his lips.
I tried to walk off in a huff, but the dress was so tight I almost fell down the stairs.
Six months earlier, I met Patrick at a party full of scruffy boys with torn vintage T-shirts and literary pretentions. Patrick wasn't like that; he'd graduated, for one thing, and preferred high-end food and gourmet restaurants to academia. He wore clothes that sometimes required laundering. He shaved every day, and even used cologne. All of this was like a different planet to me, a college junior majoring in English and Keystone Light. Patrick had these fierce convictions about sushi grades and the way a steak should be cooked. Meanwhile, I ate Noodle Roni nearly every night. Not because I was broke; because I thought it was delicious.
I'd always thought of cooks like the guys you see in sitcoms — cranky, balding men flipping greasy eggs at a fry station. But Patrick made it seem dashing and romantic, chopping an onion with a Camel Filter dangling out of his mouth. I spent hours beside him in the kitchen, wrapping myself around his body as he made dinner for us, marveling at how his fingers flew, too fast to track. It was so blessedly anti-intellectual. Try this. Taste that. Sometimes we didn't eat till midnight, and we'd stay up screwing till dawn, stumbling to the car the next morning at nine a.m., bleary-eyed and dizzy on two hours' sleep.
What I loved about Patrick was his passion — for me, for sex, for food. But the problem with dating someone passionate is that they sometimes cool on you. In the kitchen, where he had always craved me beside him, I was suddenly in the way. "Can you scooch over, babe?" he'd ask. "I can't reach the salt." He once woke me up whenever he came home at midnight, at two a.m., hand sliding down my bare hip in greeting. Now he plopped into bed and rolled over. He stayed out later and later, too, which made me insanely paranoid about the women at the restaurant. I felt certain he would come home, hang up his chefs whites, and tell me he had fallen in love with a tall, thin waitress who really understood a tasting menu.
I wanted nothing more than to change into pajamas and eat the world's largest bean burrito.
All this made me needy in a bad way — needy for his attention, needy for his approval. A few days before the fancy wine pairing, we had been shopping in the mall for his mother when that stupid dress caught his eye. It wasn't my taste, really, but it was his. And though I once made fun of that mall store, I was now the proud owner of a high-interest credit card and a dress I really should have bought in a bigger size.
Anyway, that's where we were when he picked me up for the restaurant.
"Is something wrong?" he asked as we drove.
And what can you say to that? That I'm crushed you didn't tell me I looked amazing in this outfit I probably don't look amazing in? That I wish I had lost ten pounds? That I'm terrified you're going to fall in love with a tall, thin waitress and leave me?
"Nothing's wrong," I said, futzing with my eye makeup in the mirror, pretending I wasn't about to cry.
The restaurant was one of those places with tasteful amber lighting and clean, minimalist design. It was lovely and airy and clean, but at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to change into pajamas and eat the world's largest bean burrito.
I don't know about you, but once I start crying it's incredibly hard to reverse gears. Sometimes just the faintest suggestion of tears is like a promise made for later that night: This thing is going to happen eventually, whether you want it or not. I had no idea how I was going to make it through this dinner.
"We'll start you off tonight, ma'am, with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc."
Well, that might help.
Patrick didn't drink. Did I forget to mention that? Funny, because I thought about it all the time. He quit a year before I met him, swapping bourbon for endless cups of coffee and smokes. This was nice at first, because I had tired of being the party girl waking up hungover and blue on a Sunday, wondering who needed an apology. But it became a pain in the ass. He watched my wine glass. He counted empty beer cans. Drinking became something I did just to piss him off. And also because I like to drink too much, and always have.