I am sitting in my car trying to come up with the script of what, exactly, I am going to say. It needs to be sensitive, caring, and thoughtful, with a tone of finality. I just don’t think this is going to work out. No, too generic. It’s not you, it’s my busy schedule. Too much of a cop out. I really just don’t feel like we’re connecting at the level I had hoped. No, that’s not right either. Newman’s car pulls up next to mine in the Chilli’s parking lot. He gets out, gives me a broad smile and skips over to my door. I get out and hug him, a quick peck – the usual greeting. “I’ve missed you so much!” He tells me.
We walk to the entrance of the restaurant, hands in pockets. I open the door and hold it open for Newman and a perky blond family of four. “Thanks,” he says with a smile that makes me hate myself for what I’m about to do.
“How was your day today?” Newman asks as he rests his foot on mine underneath the table.
“Thanks, how was your day?”
He tells me about his day. He tells me about how he went to see his friend’s baby, but as he was pulling into her driveway she texted him to reschedule. He tells me about the purse he’s sewing for his mom, and about the conversation he had with his brother, the conversation in which he came out.
“So he took it well?” I ask.
“Yeah, he tried to tell me about all the gay friends he has, but none of them are really gay.”
“That’s funny,” I reply with a little less enthusiasm than the situation calls for.
With a look of confusion he asks, “Is everything ok?”
My heart jumps and I realize that what is bubbling and boiling inside of me, the things that need to come out, are slowly making their way to the surface. “I’m fine,” I reply. “Do you want to hear about the lamest kid in my business class?”
“Of course,” he replies. He is staring straight at me, straight through me.
I proceed to tell him about the kid who has come up with the next greatest asset to modern convenience since the Snuggie: something along the lines of a towel. That’s all he would tell us. I guess he thought that the class was going to steal his idea, patent it, and steal his millions of dollars. He was wrong.
Our food arrives and this is a relief to me. I no longer have to act the part of content boyfriend on just another date. Instead, I can focus on my Fiesta Salad Explosion. I busy myself with the task of corralling lettuce onto my fork, coating each piece with just the right amount of Explosive Dressing. We finish, pay and leave.
“Where are we going?” Newman asks while buckling his seatbelt and turning down the stereo.
“I don’t know. Let’s just drive.”
I turn onto the main road and head east. We talk about nothing in particular, some may call it small talk, others may call it shooting the breeze. We are simply making a verbal bridge from one moment to the next. The next moment, I know, is going to suck, and because I know this I try to delay it for as long as possible.
“Are you sure you’re ok? Are you mad at me?” Newman asks. The tone of his voice is concerned.
“What? No. Why?”
“Usually your hand would be on my leg or holding mine right now.”
He’s right. While driving, my hand goes instinctively from the shifting stick to his hand or leg, but this time my mind is so preoccupied, and I feel so disconnected, that my hand is resting ominously under my right leg, creating a barrier between us. I pull my hand out and put it on his leg.
We drive in silence until the road becomes a dead end. I turn around and drive in the opposite direction.
“Have we run out of things to talk about?” Newman asks.
“No.” I dryly reply.
“Are you sure? You’re not talking. It seems like you’re mad at me.”
“I’m not mad. I’ve just been thinking.”
I don’t reply. Both my hands remain on the steering wheel as we pass Chilli’s - where Newman’s car is still parked. Dread is building in my chest. I open my mouth to say something, then close it. I open it again, then close it. Finally a bubble of courage comes from my stomach, travels through my chest, cutting through the dread, and out my mouth.
“I think….that my life just doesn’t align with having a boyfriend right now.”
Newman stares straight ahead, through the windshield. “You want to break up?” He asks without looking at me.
I steal a glance at him, and then turn my eyes back to the road. “I don’t want to break up.” I carefully measure my words. There is no way I could’ve properly practiced for this. “I just think that it is the best solution.”
“Oh.” He replies.
I steal another glance and notice that his chin is resting on his chest, but there are no tears. This is a good sign because I have never seen him cry before, and don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know if he’s a sobber, a silent tearer, a shoulder shaker, or a wall creater – like me.
“I feel like I am doing a disservice to you, and also to myself. I want to be a good boyfriend. I want to be there for you emotionally, physically and in every other way. But I’m not able to do that because of work, school, and distance.”
He sits quietly as we enter a construction zone. I maneuver around orange cones and reflective orange clad men. I wonder what they think of us as we drive past. What assumptions do they make? Can they tell that something dramatic is going on inside this car? What’s the weirdest thing they’ve ever seen going on inside a passing car? I've found that I hardly notice construction workers anymore. They have become part of the scenery. Not really important. Perhaps this is the reason why there are those commercials on the radio telling you not to hit the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters in the orange vests.
I watch Newman and drive with my peripheral vision for as long as I feel is safe. “What are you thinking?” I ask.
“That there’s nothing I can really do. I can’t say ‘oh we can make it work’ because I know that your mind is made up.”
I make a U-turn. We are enroute to Chilli’s. I’m trying to time it so the hard part is over by the time we get to the parking lot.
“What are you feeling? Are you mad? Sad? Numb?”
“I’m not mad. I understand. I know that you’re busy. I know that you have a lot of things going on. And I support you in all that you’re doing. I think what you do is great.”
An understanding dumpee is so much harder than an angry one. I can deal with the anger; I can’t deal with the guilt trip.
“Do you feel like the past three months has been a waste?”
“Ok.” He meekly replies. He is crying now, not audibly, but out of the corner of my eye I can see tears rolling down his cheek. We pull into the Chilli’s parking lot and I park, unbuckle my seat belt and turn to him. It seems that I did not time it right. I hold the back of his neck, where his curly black hair ends and his neck begins. I pull on a lock of curls and they bounce back into place. I’m going to miss playing with his hair. I’m going to miss holding him, him holding me. I’m going to miss having someone always available to text or call. I’m going to miss all these things, but try as I might I cannot cry. I do not have feelings deep enough for him to cry.
Newman begins to sob. I hug him, his head resting against my chest. His shoulders shake slightly, but not enough to be considered a “shoulder shaker.” This hug has triggered something inside Newman. He is crying harder, shoulders shaking harder. I can feel tears dropping onto my bare forearm. I feel like shit. Slowly, he begins to reel himself back in. He pulls away from me and looks up, then back down again. I want to say something, but have nothing to say. “I think I’m going to go,” he says.
“I’m sorry,” is all that manages to escape my mouth.
“Don’t be.” He removes a black bracelet from his right wrist and puts it in his jacket pocket. I have a matching bracelet at home on my bookshelf, untouched. I never put it on, and this affirms to me that I have made the right decision. Newman did not occupy the top of my list of priorities, school does, and this is unfair to him. I know that he will find someone who can provide the level of attention and support that he deserves. A person who lives closer than I, who’s less self-involved than I, and who can be a compliment to him better than I. I am merely a stepping stone to that person. It hurts like hell to get dumped, but I hope that with time he will be able to see our relationship for what it was, a learning, growing, and fun experience. Nothing more.