Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Collecting the missing pieces (part I)

We hadn’t dated but a few months when Mr. PNU approached his bishop one Sunday to request a personal blessing for guidance in our relationship. They met after meetings, in Sugarhouse where my husband was attending at the time. I know, because I went with him. 

I recall two things about this blessing. One, we were on the right path and we were doing well in pursuing the relationship seriously. Two, our coming together was no accident and Mr. PNU was advised to write down the particulars of our story. The second point stood out to me, because unlike my past relationships, when I sat down to write my own details about dating Mr. PNU I always found myself hesitant. Any descriptive formulation of that unfolding felt muddy and disrespectful, lacking sanctity. I wrote almost nothing during those months.

Anything I write now will of course bear the clouded nature of time passed and its absent clarity. But because I am losing my memories of my husband before his stroke, I feel an urgency to encapsulate these scenes in the solidity of language. And so I shall.

I gave Mr. PNU my phone number early in May of 2014 at the conclusion of an Ethics and Values professor/TA pizza party that he arranged at Two Jack’s Pizza on Center Street in Provo. I knew it was my last and only chance to express clear interest in continuing our relationship on a more personal level. I took B— with me to the party as much as social buffer as a likely excuse to duck out if the party climate seemed to go sour. It didn’t, but I was nervous enough that I used my son as a crutch. Mr. PNU sat wedged in the corner of our booth. He greeted my son warmly and I opened to a clean sheet in my notebook and pulled out colored pencils to keep B— happy until the pizza arrived.

Mr. PNU immediately began engaging B—. I already knew he was good with M—, my oldest daughter, his cheerful interaction with my son did not differ. He was wearing his red t-shirt and his forest green zip-up that he’s labeled his Kurt Cobain sweater. His hair was getting long enough that it hung in his eyes, and he frequently tucked it behind his ears and held it in place with his reading glasses. His jaw and chin sported the ever-present five-day beard. This was a classic Mr. PNU look—middle-aged grunge rocker secure in his philosophic aims; adorably sexy-nerdy. 

I myself wasn’t particularly chatty. I get that way when I’m around people who either intimidate me, or for whom I’m hopelessly smitten. With Mr. PNU, it was a little bit of the former and a healthy dose of surrender to the latter. He split a sausage, olive, and mushroom with me and B—. The very fact that he was into mushrooms was pheromone to me. Banter stayed light. The other two TAs were graduating, and they filled us in on plans for relocation and law school. Dave and his wife brought their infant son and Dave’s parents (which was kind of weird and kind of totally fine, since the whole party was awkward for me what with my intentions). Courtney came alone. After an hour or so everyone had eaten. We agreed it had been a good semester, the TA experience positive, and the party began to wind up. I took a spare sheet of paper from the notebook as B— drew, scribbled my name and phone number on one corner, tore it off and pushed it across the table to Mr. PNU.

“There’s my number. Give me a call this summer if you’d like to hang out.” I was going for my best nonchalant tone. My this-doesn’t-matter-to-me-one-way-or-another tone. I suspect though, for my nervousness, that my voice must have sounded pinched in my throat. Mr. PNU took the piece of paper with his best this-is-a-really-sweet-gesture-and-maybe-I-will-when-I-get-around-to-it cool cat smile. We all walked out together. Courtney took off to the left. My car was parked right in front. Mr. PNU was parked to the right down the block. He hung back for a moment, trying at a little more small talk before it all sort of dissolved into ambiguousness for any future beyond that goodbye. I got into my car with my son and drove away relieved and elated and sad and uncertain—really par for the course that entire semester. At least my interest was completely on the table and my phone number in Mr. PNU’s pocket.

What was the standard wait time? I thought I knew: three days.

On day four with no phone call I started to worry. I asked one of the guy trainers at the gym what he thought. Five days, he said. Five tops.

May 12th, day five came and still no call. I couldn’t believe I’d given this professor, my boss, my number and he’d just blown me off. I’d thought we were at least friends. He’d admitted to me how lonely he was when his daughter wasn’t around. Seriously. How could I have so completely misread that he wasn’t at least interested in continued friendship?

I was feeling really dumb, or perhaps in need of a good dose of bitter reality to curb my desperation. So I emailed him:

To: jmolsen1966 05/12/14 at 8:41 AM

“I've heard that persistence is either annoying or endearing. I'm aiming at the latter, but you'll need to tell me if my technique needs improving. SLC Library is hosting this screening of documentary shorts on Thursday. It will give me an excuse for a long ride on the train with a good book, and hopefully a chance to see you once I reach the city. Care to join me?”

He emailed me in return 22 minutes later with more gushing enthusiasm and overt availability than I anticipated.

To: msballetstudio 05/12/14 at 8:53 AM

“I would love to join you. I was planning on calling you today (I really was). I have C— Thursday night, though, and I usually have to have her home by 7:30, which is right in the middle of this. My choices (for this particular activity) then are 1) take C— home early (which I don't like, because I want to spend all the time with my daughter I can. 2) try to get her mom to let her stay out later and bring her with us (not a good idea either) or not do this. Could we do something else this week? I am very flexible with my schedule right now (I am just hunting for summer work and trying to get some reading and writing done etc., so other than seeing C— T/Th after school I don't have much else scheduled (oh--I volunteer at Valley Mental Health on Friday morning, but that should affect these kinds of plans, and I have a dentist appointment tomorrow morning. Other than that I am totally free). You want to catch a movie at the Broadway Friday night or even Thursday night after 8 (or Wednesday or whatever)?”

Except rather than wait for me to respond, he called me three minutes after he’d clicked “send”. I remember that phone call as frenetic and breathlessly upbeat and positive, if not giddily awkward. A whirlwind of conciliatory explanation for why he hadn’t called sooner, a no holds barred joviality, and ad item proactivity that I’d always somehow secretly known was possible. By 9 a.m. Monday morning, we had our first date planned—a showing of the Tom Hiddleston/Tilda Swinton vampire flick “Only Lovers Left Alive” at Broadway Cinema in Salt Lake City Friday, May 16th. I floated through the next four days. My photo dates tell me that in those interim days I took my daughter L— to dinner at Olive Garden and my son E— to the documentary shorts at Salt Lake City Library. I know I mused over what to wear. Except for that I remember feeling calm, weightless, and centered. All else leading up to that Friday is forgotten.

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