I used to date assholes. Almost exclusively, certainly with frequency and with alarming consistency. I had a hidden magnet with pointed me to true asshole north. I could, with startling accuracy, swing a dead cat in the dark in hopes of finding a date, and hit an asshole.
It was a gift, really.
My first boyfriend was named Steve and lived in the middle of nowhere. My parents used to drive me, begrudgingly, 1.5 hours one way to visit him on his mom’s cattle ranch. I was 14 and didn’t quite grasp the budget-busting capacity of daily long distance phone calls. Mostly in which we didn’t actually speak, as he was pretending to french kiss me through the receiver. He tried to finger me next to a dirty fish tank in his cousin’s apartment in a dingy part of town and I kicked him in the nuts. Ah, first love.
Actually, my sister will tell you that my first boyfriend was my imaginary boyfriend in the 1st grade, to whom I gave the totally believable name, Johnny Rickertail. In my mind, Johnny had a pompadour like Elvis and rode a motorcycle. In 1st grade. I was firmly convinced he actually existed and had the ability to disappear when other people would show up. Which, if you think about it, is also kind of an asshole trait.
The first boyfriend I had that made a mark on me wasn’t really an asshole. He was kind to me and said nice things, held my hand. We were very chaste and spent a lot of time together. He sang with me at my sister’s wedding. He had great hair and a beautiful smile. To this day, he is devastatingly handsome. And gay. This was news to no one but me, although I really should have picked up on his proclivities when he did my hair for our first date. It looked fabulous.
After him, I fell headlong and ridiculous for a boy I would never date. My heart seemed created especially for him, and in the middle of our complicated friendship I was sexually assaulted and he was diagnosed with cancer. Something in his cancer-induced suicide and in my stolen virtue created a brick wall around every part of me, except my vagina.
Thus, I entered my hussy stage (sorry mom). I dated. A lot. I dated a Navy boy who was sweet as could be…but was entirely, wholeheartedly and stupidly in love with someone else. I didn’t particularly care that he was, because he was cute and I was…whatever I was. That lasted a couple of months until he went on his WestPac and called me on my birthday to tell me he had proposed to “her”. I hung up and set his picture on fire in the back yard, using one of my birthday candles. I have always had a flair for the dramatic. Then, in a fit of vindictive malfeasance, I went out with a Navy Seal, who rolled down his window to scream, “HOOOOAAHHHH!!!” making me nearly piss myself. When I asked if that was something he normally did, he interrupted me by rolling the window back down and screaming “USFUCKINGA MOTHERASSES!!!!”.
There was the guy who came into the store where I worked, while I did my stint as Snow White. He brought me 14 dozen orange roses and 14 Mickey Mouse balloons. We had never met before. I went to coffee with him, because seriously, what the fuck? Turns out, he was certifiable. I think his name was Carl, but I can’t really be sure since he asked me to call him by his last name, which he insisted was Knickerbocker. I have my doubts. He took me to dinner the next night at Marie Callendars and had a half off coupon, only valid if I ordered a chicken caesar salad.
I ordered the pot pie.
He threw a soda in my face.
There were many others in varying shades of weird, gay or feloniously disingenuous. There was even one who asked me to meet his family, then introduced me to his wife and two children. She knew all about me, I hadn’t even known she existed. The fit I threw, right there in his living room, was epic.
The last date I went on, before I met Clay almost made me rethink the possibility of love all the way around. He was a very nice man, who used to come into a store I managed in San Diego. He was always well dressed and every day, he came in and bought a votive candle. One day, I was working alone and he asked me out to dinner.
I was flabbergasted and flattered. He was sweet, I said yes.
We made a date and he called a couple of days later to ask if I would mind driving, his car was in the shop. Being a modern woman, I found nothing wrong with this and said yes. I went to pick him up at his apartment and his room mate answered the door.
Said room mate proceeded to tell me that my dreamboat of a date didn’t HAVE a car. Strike one for lying, strike two for being such a douche that your roomie rats you out. But, I was already there and I felt obligated to go through with the date.
He came around the corner, looking dapper, if not slightly nervous and I felt my resolve to not have fun, waiver ever so slightly. Then he said the following:
“I made reservations at Jyoti Bihanga.”
me: “You made what with the where to the who now?”
him: “Jyoti Bihanga. It’s a vegan restaurant.”
me: “Oh, I didn’t know you were vegan.”
him: “I’m not.”
me: *blink blink*
Now, look. Veganism is a lovely way of life, if that’s your thing. But, if you aren’t vegan and you aren’t sure that your date is open to such things, it probably isn’t the most conventional choice for a first date. But, I agreed. Because, I am nothing, if not adaptable. We went down to the car and I hopped in. He waited, at his door, even though it was unlocked. He waited, at his door until I got out of the car and went around his side to open the door for him. Holy crap.
I drove the short distance to the restaurant, listening to him make a “pshew pshew pshew” noise with his lips. I can only assume this was to hide the loud and distressing whistle emitting from his nose.
We were seated in the restaurant where he committed another faux pas, which for some reason some men think is cute. He ordered for me without asking me what I wanted. I could feel a steady, nasty, angry heat rising up from my toes, which had been sexily stuffed into decidedly not vegan shoes. This dude was seriously starting to piss me off.
Our meal came, a series of grains and beans and other assorted vegan items. He promptly grabbed his knife and began to eat. Did you catch that? Just his knife. He ate tiny grains of couscous and spiraled, egg-free noodles and plump little olives brined with garlic, with only his knife. All the while, talking through knife-fulls of hippie food about how his dad used to give him showers with a fire hose. He described this in vivid detail, as his nose whistled over the sitar music and pieces of quinoa flew from his lips. He took great, slurping sips of iced tea, and belched into his napkin with great aplomb.
I sat, aghast.
When the waitress came to see if we wanted dessert, without hesitation, he bellowed, “Yeah, I want Jell-O.”
It is my firm belief that you do not order Jell-O at a restaurant unless the following circumstances have occurred:
You are deathly ill, in which case get the hell out of the restaurant and go home.
You are celebrating your 5th birthday.
You are celebrating your 95th birthday.
You are not in a vegan restaurant.
The waitress, poor sweet, undernourished and anemic little vegan thing that she was, had to inform him that gelatin of any kind is not a vegan product, therefore, they didn’t serve it.
Hell hath no fury like a freak denied his Jell-O.
He went nuclear. There was spittle. And cussing. Topped off with the grande finale of him pitching forward and throwing up his entire vegan feast on the table cloth. I beat feet faster than I have ever moved without something chasing me. My car simply could not get me out of there fast enough. He ran from the restaurant, waving his arms and screaming my name at my back windshield as I drove away. He called me two days later and told me I owed him $20 for my half of dinner.
Over 11 years have passed since I met Clay. Since I first saw his eyes hit mine in that way that is both magic and completely breathtaking and also acts like a mild laxative. That gut squeezing, slightly sphincter clenching realization that someone has wholly taken your heart out of your chest and is holding it in their hands. That sense of being split in half and glued back together with their joints and muscles holding all your weak spots together. That sense that you are never going to be the person you were before you met them and seriously, thank God, because that person kind of sucked.
He has never waited for me to open his car door. He has never yelled “ASSNITED STATES OF FUCKMERICA, BITCHES!” out of the car window. He is gentle with my heart, forthright in dealing with my bullshit and more than him loving me, he likes me. He makes me a more responsible, logical, realistic person, simply by his example. I catch him looking at the hand that houses the diamond he gave me. It sparkles with his promise. It is his birthday and I simply cannot give him a gift that equals what he gives to me, simply by virtue of his presence in my life.
Happy Birthday, Burke. I love you.