My Queer Life: Runaway Train
|by Michael Thomas Ford|
There is a danger that is particular to dating writers. We are people who are used to dealing in possibilities. Our minds, either through training or natural inclination, can come up with a shocking number of ideas to explain any situation we might find ourselves in. Sometimes this can be comforting. But if, as I am, you are a writer drawn to the grimmest and most dramatic of options, it is more likely to turn perfectly reasonable situations into opportunities for disaster.
On Tuesday, Dave did not call me all day. For most people, this would probably not be a huge deal, or even a small one. But I'm used to hearing from him at some point during the day, so I started to wonder. I tried not to wonder too much, as I know how I get, but by late afternoon I couldn't help but have a couple of thoughts as I pretended to distract myself by working. I started small. Maybe, I thought, he was busy working on something himself and just hadn't had time to pick up the phone. That made me a feel a little better.
But of course I couldn't leave it there. That would be too easy. There is a scene in one of the Winnie the Pooh books in which the perpetually bitter donkey Eeyore tells the perpetually optimistic Piglet, "Think of all the possibilities, Piglet, before you settle down to enjoy yourselves." And this is what I did. I did it all evening, while I waited for the phone to ring.
Eventually I decided to just go to bed. Sleep is a great way for me to avoid this kind of mind game, as I can channel all the extra worry into my dreams and pretend it's all just some healthy process of filtering out my neuroses. Besides, Dave frequently calls me late at night so that we can talk without interruption, and this way I could just be unconscious until the phone rang, which was better than staring at it and willing it to do so, a tactic that only gave me a headache.
This turned out to be a fine idea, at least until I woke up for no reason whatsoever, rolled over, and saw that it was 1:37 in the morning. I checked the phone for the telltale beeping that told me there was a message waiting, heard nothing, and put it down again. I closed my eyes and tried to go to sleep quickly, before my brain started in and ruined things utterly.
It was too late. My imagination had already kicked in. And as every first-rate worrier knows, fretting in the middle of the night takes on a life of its own. As if a film were screening on the inside of my head, the images began to flicker on and off. Dave was out on a date with someone else. I just knew it. He hadn't called all day because he knew I would be able to tell that he was up to something. He was tired of our relationship, and he'd decided to sow his oats elsewhere. Fine. Let him do that. I didn't care. Oh, who was I kidding. Of course I cared. But who might he be out with? Did he look like me? Was he better in bed?
Then, abruptly, the scene changed. Dave was lying in a hospital bed. A careless driver had crashed into him. The car was totaled. Jaws of Life were involved. There were many paramedics, all shouting just like in E.R.. He was in a coma, and no one knew to call me because he hadn't given my number to any of his friends. Even worse, I didn't know any of his friends either so I couldn't call them and ask which hospital he was in. I wondered if the operator would connect me to all the emergency rooms in his city. But what if I didn't find him? It could be weeks, months, before I knew what happened. And what if he had died? I'd be a widow. How long would I have to wait until I dated again, and would that hot guy who smiled at me at the gym even want to go out with me if he knew my last lover had died tragically? Or would it be more satisfying to grieve for a really long time? I was torn.
Another scene change. Dave had fallen asleep and forgotten to call me. He was sleeping peacefully while I laid in my bed and worried. How could he? Didn't he know I was waiting to talk to him, that when people say, "I'll call you later tonight" to a writer it really means, "I will call you before midnight because at one minute after midnight it is morning and no longer later tonight"? Why wasn't he as worried about our daily conversations as I was? Or was he doing it just to make me mad? Would he do such a thing? I didn't think so, but you never know. In that case, he deserved to suffer a little bit too. I hoped he was having nightmares.
I looked at the clock again. It was 1:39. In the span of two minutes I had gone from being horribly jealous to horribly concerned to horribly vexed. It was a new world record in anxiety, even for me, and I was impressed. But still the phone didn't ring, even when I counted backwards from three hundred and told myself if everything was all right he would call before I got to zero. I dawdled on three, two, and one, but nothing happened. Finally, I turned on the light, picked up a book, and read until I fell asleep again a few hours later. Then, it seemed only moments after I dozed off, it was time to get up and walk the dog.
You might be wondering why I didn't just pick up the phone and call him. Well, that's easy. If I'd done that, then Dave would have know that I was worrying, and I couldn't have that. It's one thing to be mentally unwell; it's another to prove it to those who suspect it might be true.
He did finally call, the next afternoon. And of course as soon as I heard his voice I was fine again. "I'll call you later," he said before we hung up, "and I love you." It doesn't get much better than that. Still, about half an hour later I looked up from where I was happily pecking away at my keyboard and thought, "I wonder if he meant he loves me like he loves his favorite shirt or as in he can't possibly live without me?"
Michael Thomas Ford is the Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me and That's Mr. Faggot to You. He welcomes e-mail at Shopiltee@aol.com or in care of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 10, No. 5, May 19, 2000.