The Break-Up Chronicles
Episode 4 — Mary
Episode 4 — Mary
I met Mary at a friend’s birthday party. The only person I knew at this party was my friend, whose birthday it was. I’d been drinking with some friends beforehand and had bypassed dinner altogether …so, I was in good form.
There was another woman there who my friend and I had worked with. I knew her, I suppose, but we barely talked at work. Since neither of us really knew anyone, we hung out in the kitchen chatting.
I had been playing my Guinness-induced flirting game with her(I have no game …alcohol only makes it worse.) I was drunk and horny, a deadly combination …and as it was approaching midnight. I was hoping I could sweet talk her into coming home with me.
I threw caution to the wind: “Ya know, we should hang out sometime.”
“I don’t think so.”
Marginally irritated but with no discernible malice, she stated: “I would never date a white guy.”
Not missing a beat: “Who said anything about dating?”
So that went well.
I am not even sure how I met Mary. I think I just ended up talking to her because I have no recollection of a formal introduction. And Christ only knows what kind of nonsense I was slurring at that point.
Of that night at my friends birthday party, I only remember three things:
My birthday friend came over to me as Mary stepped away and said: “Be careful with that one dude.”
I recall drinking scotch on the roof and smoking a cigarette with her.
Going to some dive bar and closing it out.
Leaving the bar and having no idea where the fuck I was. I lived in Manhattan at the time and could count on two fingers how many times I had been to Brooklyn — that night being one.
Okay, so that’s four things.
“Yo, where the fuck am I?”
“Greenpoint.” I must’ve looked lost because she smiled and said: “It’s in Brooklyn.”
I turned around and looked at the 59th Street Bridge and recognized the Manhattan skyline and slur-pointed: “I need to be there.”
Mary laughed: “You’re not gonna get a car that’s gonna wanna go into the city right now, so just come home with me.”
“Yea, let me call a car.”
This predates Uber and Lyft, and Brooklyn doesn’t (or didn’t) have that many cabs, so calling a car service was a thing.
I barely had time to light a cigarette before the car came.
We’re all adults here, and I think we can piece together what happened next. In the morning, I tried to sneak out. Well, not sneak, just kind of leave post-haste. I went to kiss her goodbye, and she convinced me to stay …into the afternoon.
When I did eventually leave, I got her phone number, wrote it on my hand because I had not yet grasped the idea of putting someone’s phone number DIRECTLY into my cell phone.
I suppose it’s worth noting here that she was younger than me by about 13 years. In retrospect, this would come to explain her puzzled look as I wrote her number on my forearm.
It will not shock anyone reading this that with all the grease and sweat on my skin, that phone number had become illegible by the time I got home.
And I only knew two things about her:
Her name was Mary.
We worked for the same company.
Monday rolls around, and I begin doing a little recon in Outlook. Found out her last name (in a company as large as ours, there were A LOT of Mary’s) and did the requisite Google searching. MySpace was the thing back then, so I joined to look at her profile. After I had done all of my due diligence, I sent her an email.
Mary replied pretty quickly, we had some pleasant back and forth, and I asked her to dinner. She agreed — although she would come to admit later, she almost stood me up. She still doesn’t know why she wanted to stand me up.
I made reservations at an Italian restaurant on Second Avenue for our first date. I think it’s an unwritten rule that Italian must be the cuisine of the first date. For obvious reasons, Indian would not have been a good choice.
At dinner, we chatted more and got to know each other a little better. We each revealed that we had done our recon work. After dinner, I asked her if she wanted to get another drink. She said yes, so off to the Irish pub down the street — which I think is the second unwritten rule of the first date.
After we got our beers, she said: “I wasn’t gonna do this, but do you wanna come home with me again?”
I did. So I said so: “Yea.”
“Here’s the catch, though.”
I immediately thought: “Uh-oh, she’s on her period,” …not that it would’ve mattered, but some people are strange about that. I asked as coyly as possible, “What’s the catch?”
“I gotta get up at 4:30.”
It was about 11:30.
I almost spit out my beer: “Jesus Christ, what the fuck for?”
Mary explained the following — that she lived in Brooklyn, had to take two trains to get to 57th Street, where the company van would come and pick her (and others) up to take them to Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. All in, it was about 2.5 hours each way.
And I used to bitch about having to take the local train seven stops to get to my office.
“OK, that’s fine. I can get a car home or something, right?”
“Yea. For sure.”
Suffice it to say, we drank those beers pretty quickly and grabbed a cab to go back to Brooklyn.
For our next date, we decided to do a Sunday brunch. Mary picked the place this time, and it was some trendy little place in the East Village. I arrived a little early and ordered a beer. Moments later, I saw a guy come in carrying a crate of records, and I watched him walk over to what appeared to be a DJ booth.
I thought: “FUCK! A DJ at brunch— this was a gonna be a special kind of hell.”
Mary showed up a few minutes later: “Is that a fuckin DJ setting up?”
“Yes, I believe that it is.”
She looked at my half-finished beer and said: “Hurry up with that; we can’t stay here.”
I was falling in love.
After brunch, we took a walk around and made our way to Union Square and The Strand Bookstore.
For those who don’t know, The Strand is to New York City as City Lights is to San Francisco, or Powell’s Bookstore is to Portland or (insert your favorite bookstore here.) But the thing with The Strand is that A LOT of the employees are just kind of …well, they’re dicks. So one of my favorite things to do is go in there and find the hippest-looking employee walking around. I then ask for REALLY popular books by authors like Danielle Steele, Dean Kontz, or Judith Krantz.
Let me be clear. I have nothing against these writers. At all.
However, to watch whatever hip-looking weenie I tapped get entirely too knotted up about asking for books that this person probably wouldn’t even use for toilet paper is way too much fun to pass up. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s awesome.
That day after lunch, it fell flat, but Mary and I still laughed about it.
I had found out her birthday was in a couple of weeks, so I noted the books she was looking at. She held up Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, asking: “Have you ever read this?”
“Yea. You haven’t?”
“Nope,” and she set it back on the table.
Now it was my turn to get all knotted up, but I made a note (not writing it on my forearm this time) that I would pick that book up for her birthday.
As we walked out, we grabbed each other’s hands at the same time and smiled.
Mary said: “You know, I’ve never been to a bookstore on a date.”
“Well, you can cross that off your bucket list.”
We did many NYC dating things — rowed boats in Central Park, museums, semi-fancy restaurants, lots of bars, lots of weekend day drinking. Basically, Mary and I spent A LOT of time together.
We were falling in love.
After about five months of dating and spending almost every night together, she asked me if I wanted to move in. I shared a place on the Upper East Side with a friend and had zero attachment to it, so I said yes. Her family owned her place, so that made the most sense.
Of course, I knew the best course of action would’ve been to find a place together. But historically speaking, the best course of action and I don't always see eye to eye.
Here’s where it gets a little sticky.
I had 13 years on Mary, and I had lived with a woman before. I knew how hard it could be, and I swore that I wouldn’t do it again until I knew that it was a solid decision. It didn’t have to be for life, but I wanted to make sure it was solid. I explained everything to Mary one night, and she said she understood and was totally on board.
We were in love — what could go wrong?
Whatever we felt leaving The Strand that Sunday afternoon had turned upside down. Six months after moving in, we were at each other’s throats.
It was just bad chemistry, and we didn’t see eye to eye — on anything. There were far too many fights. Sure we would make up, but we were fighting almost daily.
It’s fucking exhausting to argue that much — but not nearly as exhausting as feeling your heart break day by day.
After one particular blistering fight on a Friday night that included the phrase:
“YOU’LL NEVER BE WHAT I WANT!”
PRO-TIP: If you ever want to shut down an argument with a lover, scream that.
Mary woke up on Saturday saying we were done.
I was sitting in the TV room staring blankly at the television as Mary leaned against the doorway.
“I’m going to Jenn’s tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“You don’t want to try and solve this?”
I could hear the ice in her voice: “No. There’s nothing to solve. This isn’t working.”
“No. It’s not.”
“You can stay until you find another place.”
I’d been down this road before: “I’ll be out in two weeks.”
She sniggered: “You think you’ll find a place that quickly?”
“I don’t have a choice.”
“OK. Keep me posted.”
And with that, she turned and left.
Have you ever felt your whole body collapse on the inside? The structure of your body remains, but that’s about it. While it was not a shock by any stretch of the imagination, I was naive in thinking we both had the same definition of “the long haul.” Maybe at 26, six months IS a long haul.
I spent the next 36 hours in a drunken stupor, crying to anyone who would listen. But come that Tuesday, I stopped by the local real estate place on my way home from work. They took me around the corner to look at a railroad apartment. It was a clean, nice neighborhood, close to the subway …it was perfect, so I took it.
It was also seven blocks from Mary’s.
Once everything got cleared, I was set to move in a week from the coming Saturday — two weeks to the day. Suffice it to say; Mary was a bit surprised.
On moving day, she offered to help but then had to “go do something for work. I’ll come by later, though.”
She did show up later that night, and we went out for a drink.
I won’t tell you it went well.
I won’t tell you it went poorly.
I will tell you that I spent time with a woman I loved very much.
I will tell you I had to let go of someone I didn’t want to let go of.
But, everyone has their own path to go on, and this was the one Mary had chosen. While I may have disagreed with her decision to terminate the relationship, I accepted it.
Did I think it was a mistake? I did then, yes.
But we all have mistakes — ask Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Have you ever seen the video or heard their abortive 1985 cover of “Dancin’ In The Street”?
Of course, we had loads of differences — that’s normal for any relationship. And it wasn’t just an age thing. Frankly, that had very little to do with it. I just thought we could overcome the differences because I felt they were rather insignificant.
Mary felt otherwise.
Everyone has a graveyard of bad decisions. Unless you’re careful, sadly, with age, that graveyard grows.
On that last night we spent together; I won’t tell you how it ended up.
I won’t tell you who cried.
I won’t tell you if we were alone or together.
I will tell you that in 30 or 40 years, neither of us will remember the reasons why we broke up.
Well, why we broke up the first time.