Here’s the sixth story from my collection Middle of Nowhere. In “What I’ve Learned from What I’ve Learned,” Tex is a misanthrope who falls in love with a wacky girl named Ginny who is his complete opposite.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED FROM WHAT I’VE LEARNED
I’LL TELL YOU FROM THE START THAT I DIDN’T WANT TO GET MARRIED. Didn’t want none of it. At least not the way it happened. Never pictured myself in a cowboy hat and fringes getting married by the oldest lesbian ministers in the West. Meet a girl, fall in love, and spend the rest of our lives together, except somehow it all happened backwards. Well, sort of. I mean, I met her, and she was nice, and pretty, too. I wouldn’t have done her at my cousin’s wedding in the coat closet if she didn’t have a good face. But to be honest, I had also sucked down about a half dozen Cape Codders that night.
Her name was Virginia, which bothered me already. I once dated this girl Alabama, who was a loon, and had sworn off other girls named after states. Alabama stole utensils. All the time. I caught her slipping forks into her pocketbook when I came back from the bathroom at the fancy restaurant I took her to for our two-month anniversary. She wasn’t even embarrassed.
I convinced myself, though, that I could live with a name like Virginia because it was a state I’d been to and had a very good time. Alabama was a state that I had never been, nor planned on going. When I told Virginia that, she said I was funny, and after mentioning that her hair smelled like peaches and summer, I was on top on her with a fur coat on top of me.
I said I’d call her, but didn’t. One night, however, during one of the C.S.I spin-offs, she called me. I didn’t even remember giving her my number, but we went out the next day, and then the day after that until I missed C.S.I for two weeks straight. Something I’d never done before.
“Tex,” she yelled over to me one morning a few months later, clamping her hand over the phone receiver. She had already infiltrated my bachelor pad with her stuffed animals and potpourri. “Joe and Minnie wanna go out on a double date. Isn’t that super dooper?”
The way she said “super dooper,” so clueless and sexy, turned me on big time. I hung up the receiver and threw her on the kitchen counter. We knocked over the blender and her Rachael Ray cookbooks. At one point her ass fell into the sink and her hip turned on the cold water. I was in love.
Virginia definitely had quirks though. Sometimes she’d stare, usually at walls. She’d sit for hours with cheese popcorn literally watching the paint dry and licking the hardened cheese off her bitten down nails. Hey, we’ve all got our hang-ups, right? Who was I to judge?
But then her cat came along, too. He’d been upstate at her sister’s farm for a while, “socializing” as Virginia called it. I hated cats, especially Smudges, whose kitty litter box forever stank. Smudges probably hated me more than I hated him. A little gray ball of shit who obsessively watched me, waiting for the right time to attack. She’d kiss him, cuddle him, tell him she’s his mama and he’s her baby, and wouldn’t it be great to have babies of our own?
“Tex?” she asked one rainy April morning, almost a year into our relationship. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror, curling her blond hair and reapplying tacky lipstick. “Tell me about your other girlfriends. Am I the favorite one you’ve ever had? Tell me I’m the best. What were their names?”
“There was Darlene.”
“Was she pretty?”
Darlene was pretty, but pretty slow, too. Everything always had to be explained three times with her. Even then by the third time she only slightly got it. We broke up because she joined some vegan cult. She’s still there with nine other wackjobs somewhere in Missoula dancing around beds of lettuce.
By our first anniversary, Virginia insisted that I call her Ginny, since her daddy used to call her that because he loved gin with everything and she loved her daddy. He had served in Nam and was killed, but that was after coming back from duty and getting hit by an out of control taxi.
“I haven’t taken one since,” Ginny told me. “A taxi. Besides they’re all driven by the Arabs anyway, and I’m not looking for a Taliban chauffeur.”
“Wasn’t New York City a bad place to move to if you were afraid of taxis?”
“I’m serious, Tex, don’t ever make me get in one. My daddy would still be alive today if not for them.”
“All right, the subway it is.”
We went out to eat for a special dinner, and when I came back from the bathroom all the forks were still there. I gave her a kiss on the nose and felt like asking her to marry me, but I held back. She put her hands in mine and went crazy over all the choices on the menu, then told the waiter that she wanted fish.
“What kind of fish?” he asked her.
She looked at me with one eyebrow raised and licked her lips.
“Your best fish!”
Joe and Minnie met us after dinner and the four of us went out for drinks. Ginny relaxed in the crook of my arm, but Joe and Minnie sat far apart from each other on their side of the booth. He got Samuel Adams all over his mustache and Minnie sighed at him. Minnie wore the shortest dress possible with enough make-up dumped on to look like a whore. Ginny and I watched as she flirted with the waiter bringing over more drinks. Joe finally excused himself and headed to the bathroom.
Minnie lit a cigarette and offered one to Ginny who took it in her chubby fingers like she was twelve and being pressured into smoking for the first time. She held it between her ring and middle finger, inhaled too much, and coughed.
“Don’t ever let the honeymoon end,” Minnie warned us, as Ginny’s face turned bright red and she spat a glob of phlegm into the ashtray.
“Much better,” Ginny replied, catching her breath.
“The sex is fucking lousy like my mother’s cooking. I feel like I’m fucking the sheets. Tex, your cousin is a damn zombie; I can get myself off better in the bathroom. We’re getting divorced; it’s mutual. I’m gonna go get another fucking shot of something.”
She wobbled up to the bar, her ankles turning in due to her way-too-high heels and began flirting with the bartender. I grinded my teeth and looked over at Ginny who shrugged her shoulders and mouthed “olive juice” to me with her hand over her heart.
We began to clash over furniture. Ginny declared that my – I mean our – apartment was too dark and needed to be brightened up. I gave in and suddenly the rooms looked like a huge Pepto-Bismol had exploded over the walls. My answering machine sounded weird, too. Beep. You’ve reached Tex and Ginny, we’re somewhere that’s not here and that means you missed us. We miss you, too. Leave a message after the beep. BBBBBBEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I didn’t know if the message made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end because it was too cutesy or that she referred to us as a unit, as a “we”. I didn’t know if I was ready to not be an “I” anymore.
Joe and Minnie wound up getting divorced and she bled him dry, but being a customer rep for a cell phone company, I doubt there was really that much to bleed. That night I started having this dream where Ginny and I were waiting for the subway and I pushed her off the platform into an oncoming speeding train. Everyone clapped, and I woke up with a stomachache.
“A rabbi or a minister?” she asked me one day, eating a hot dog with sour cream and onion potato chips on top.
“How can you eat that?”
“Daddy loved his hot dogs with Lays on top, and I was daddy’s girl!”
I had nothing to say so I just sneered back.
“So what do you think, Tex, a rabbi or a minister? I mean, I don’t speak Jewish.”
“No one does,” I replied, but the comment went over her head. “My mother was Jewish, my father was Lutheran, but neither would care. A minister is fine…”
I stopped myself because I was basically condoning a wedding. That little shrewd minx had regaled me into a proposal. She stuck her tongue down my throat and cuddled up next to me. Her tight, acid washed jeans were tapered, and I saw the pale part of her leg from where her jeans ended and her sock began. She had cankles, literally no ankles; her leg resembled a tree stump. I knew I couldn’t marry her.
“So don’t marry her,” Joe told me later that night, double fisting Bloody Marys. I explained that it wasn’t that simple because I didn’t want to not marry her either. It all came down to certain things that I was afraid would make me insane thirty years from now. Like the way she cried for people on trash talk shows and wouldn’t let me make fun of them. The way her perfume smelled like an old lady sandwich. Little things. The way I envisioned us moving to Long Island and me sticking my hand in the lawnmower one day just to feel some type of excitement again.
When I came home she was staring at the wall. She said hello without glancing over. Only her stupid cat turned my way. It curled up against my leg, gave me a shock, and then hissed at me like there was more to come.
“Smudgy loves you,” she said to the pink patterns on the wall.
“Why do you stare at…?”
“I think of things. I like Chicken Kiev, but I also like salmon. The question is what would everyone else like more at the reception?”
She told me she never needs a career and would be happy popping out babies. That we would have four children and name them Vanessa, Rudy, Denise, and Theo after the Cosby Kids, and that Rudy could be either a boy or a girl.
“But they would be white because we’re white. Although, I think down the road it’d really help them to have a cultural identity that’s different from us.”
I took three steps back, left the apartment, and walked around the neighborhood until sunrise.
The next day her mother called with her shrill Southern twang to tell me “con-grat-u-la-tions”. Apparently Ginny had alerted the nation about our imaginary Cosby babies. I hung up without even saying a word back. I didn’t want Chicken Kiev. I didn’t want to never take a taxi again. I wanted to meet someone and really fall in love, but it was starting to feel like the more I prolonged this relationship, the more complacent I’d get about eventually saying good-bye.
Joe got a new girlfriend named Velenda and stopped drinking Bloody Marys. She was tall and blonde and used to pose for Seventeen Magazine. At dinner at our apartment later that week, we ate linguini with meatballs and Velenda let her high heel slip off her foot to give his balls a foot massage. He nudged me in the ribs and boasted about them having sex six times that day. I glanced over at Ginny babbling to Velenda, and Velenda seemed bored out of her mind. Ginny was yammering this stupid story to her about meeting Kate from Kate and Allie, and telling Kate that she was on her favorite show as a little kid. Then they hugged and she got Kate’s autograph on a napkin. That was it, the whole story. Unbelievable.
After dinner, Joe and Velenda left. Velenda had a headache, which didn’t surprise me after Ginny’s assault on her ears. Ginny curled up next to me on the couch and gave me a meatball kiss. She wanted to watch a movie and make Jiffy Pop. While she stood in front of the stove, I thought of my dream and envisioned pushing her into the oven. But we sat down to watch Steel Magnolias instead. She laughed and cried, snuggled like it was going out of style, and I found myself pulling the string on her hood to strangle her.
“You silly billy,” she said, blowing her nose.
She then got on a Dolly Parton kick, and before I could stop her, “9 to 5” blasted from my Bose speakers. The neighbors called up to complain and she commented on them being squares.
I told her she was the one listening to Dolly Parton.
“I know dummy mummy.”
“Where do your cute, little, annoying fucking phrases come from?”
I caught her off guard, and it took her a moment to respond.
“My mother…she used to tell me them. Everything had a phrase, everything rhymed. Fell off my bike, it’s okay, tyke. Failed your test, you did your best. Your kitty died, don’t you cry.”
And then she broke down in tears. They streamed down her cheeks and crisscrossed over her tomato colored face. Like a two-year-old child, she held her breath.
“I won’t breathe until you tell me you love me, Tex!”
“’Til I’m blue, I swear. I’ll pass out dead and you’ll be sorry because all you had to do was say you loved me. I don’t even think you like me.”
She turned purple and had it backwards; I hated her. I hated that she cut up every bite of food into tiny pieces before she started eating and that she ate the food in sections. Like first came the salad, then the side dish, and finally the main course. I hated that she lived for me and who the hell was I? I was a half-Jew from a fucked-up family in Tarrytown, temping my way through my twenties, who managed to get the name Tex from parents on a whack acid trip. I hated mornings because I have a hard time dealing with peppy people. I hated afternoons because I got passed around from job-to-job like a cheerleader at a football gangbang, and I hated nights because I was too depressed to do anything but watch people get tortured on C.S.I and its thousands of spin-offs. I can’t stand small cars, ugly feet, people who agree with everything, fauxhawks, and the way I looked in a suit. Since I met Ginny, though, I only hated one thing and that was her.
“Will you marry me, Ginny? Marry me. I want you to marry me. So do it, okay? Just say yes. All right?”
The purple faded from her face and she jumped on me with a million meatball kisses. She screamed, “yes, yes, oh yes,” over Dolly Parton’s yodels. We then got drunk and made love, but I never smiled, and around three in the morning, I lost all my meatballs in the toilet that she just bought a furry pink seat for. I wiped my sick all over it and crawled back to bed.
The next morning she woke up early to call everyone she knew. The wedding list ballooned to about two hundred people, most of them friends of her mother. I called Joe and he wished me congratulations, but he had to go since Velenda was giving him a blowjob at that moment.
For the next few months, Ginny smiled like a retard. Vases and coffee makers appeared in the mail. I had the idea that it’d be smart to lie to people about getting married just to get the gifts. I told Ginny that, but it made her cry.
“That’s a horrible thing to say, Tex. Marriage is just about the most sacred thing in the world and you’re mocking it.”
“Have you not realized my sense of humor yet, lady?”
I didn’t get sex that night and had to sleep on the couch. But the new pink couch we bought was roomy and comfortable so I didn’t mind. Ginny snored like a foghorn anyway and always hogged the blanket. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to sleep on the couch more often?
A week later I said her mom was heavy and spent two nights on the Pepto-Bismol couch. It was the best two nights of sleep I had since I met her. When I woke in the morning I felt refreshed.
Soon my insults stopped being enough to relegate me to the couch, and I woke up feeling strangled in our bed one morning because in exactly one week I’d be committed to this woman on paper. Immediately I ran to the bathroom with the runs.
At breakfast, Ginny clued me in on our honeymoon night. Her plan was to get pregnant and that our first child will be Denise.
“Let’s also move to Long Island, Tex. Remember that movie Seven? It was on HBO last night. This city is foul. I don’t want my head to end up in a box like Gwyneth’s.”
Then she went into a long spiel about how her Aunt Ethel had to stay with us a day earlier before the wedding because she’s afraid of Saturdays and needs support to go outside on them. Also her cousins Dolores and Timmony had a fling a couple of years back that went sour so they needed to be kept separate. How I had to remember to dance with her grandmother and that she liked to be dipped. And that our wedding vows had to be memorized since it looked tacky to read them from a paper. I wanted to scream.
“What if we eloped?” I asked instead. “Everything stays the same but the hassle. These other people don’t matter. You do. Not fancy weddings and Chicken Kiev and incestuous cousins.”
I was ready for her to go ballistic and have to sleep on the Pepto-Bismol couch until our fateful day, but she didn’t. For the first time ever I saw a mature side of her and didn’t have a feeling in my gut like I wanted to punch her. I kissed her passionately and actually meant it.
We flew to Vegas. She clung onto me with her sweaty palm for the entire flight. After landing, we found the “Everyone Has a Heart to Love Chapel.” Ginny had a big Kool-Aid grin. The two oldest lesbian ministers in the West shook our hands and asked if we wanted to be married as Elvis and Priscilla, or a cowboy and a cowgirl. Those were the only two costumes they had left after one of them, Florence, tossed a lit cigarette in the wastebasket by the costume closet. They asked what song we wanted to hear as we walked down the aisle and Ginny screamed out “9 to 5” because she was listening to that when I proposed to her.
After the vows, the two oldest lesbian ministers blew bubbles at us and we stepped outside. The air felt immediately cold and didn’t smell right. They took a picture of us, and we changed back to our regular clothes. I was out of breath.
“Let’s go on our honeymoon,” Ginny said.
“I’ll take you to the Sphinx and we’ll gamble and get champagne and a room with a mirror on the ceiling.”
“I’ve never had that before.”
I threw my hand in the air to hail a taxicab. Ginny’s smile fell to a frown and she slapped my shoulder.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m hailing a cab.”
I put my finger back up in the air.
“Have you not listened to me? My father…my father was killed by a taxi!”
“How do you expect…?”
“Tex, I am not getting into a cab.”
A taxi pulled up to the edge of the curb. Her eyes pleaded with me like I was debating whether or not to kill her cat. The checkered cab sputtered and wheezed as a five o’ clock shadow stuck his fat head out with a cigar and barked at us.
Are we coming or not?
Ginny shook her head and fidgeted with the sleeves of her shirt until it had twisted up around her wrists.
“Get in the cab,” I ordered. I grabbed the slight excess of flab around her midsection and threw her inside.
I locked all the doors and guarded her from getting out by sitting on top of her. The taxi drove off to the Sphinx and her howling made heads turn as we flew by. She screamed and begged me to let her get out, but after awhile she relinquished and let her head collapse against my shoulder defeated.
The cab stopped and she rolled out dead. She wasn’t crying anymore, but her face had become stained with marks from the tears. I paid the chimney driving us and grabbed her hand as he took off. I had to raise her up to her feet. She held me tight.
“You hate me?” I asked, and she was quiet. I doubted this was how she pictured her wedding night to be.
“I love you,” she finally said. “You love me so much to make me get over my worst fear, and I feel like I can do anything now. I am so amazed by you, Tex.”
Her eyes widened as we hugged. I was lost for words. She was supposed to be disgusted with me and want me dead. She should’ve been crying for a divorce. That was how she was supposed to react, but what happened was…was…I had no clue what it fucking was.
Back at our apartment a week later, Joe and I knocked back Bloody Marys.
“It was fate,” he said, sucking the mix off a celery stalk and crunching down.
“That’s bullshit,” I said.
“She’s the one, Tex. Like it or not, she is the one.” He patted me on the back.
“Sometimes I want to kill her,” I admitted. “Literally.”
“Yeah, who doesn’t? It’s when you don’t want them dead that there’s a problem. Always good to have someone more into you than you are into them. Security purposes. She won’t stray.”
“Things not going so well with Velenda?”
“That bitch? She left me for some Hispanic guy. He’s a fucking toll clerk. Be glad you got a girl you hate, then you know you’re in it for the long haul.”
I stared around the pink room that stopped bothering me as much as it used to. I heard the sound of keys jingling. Ginny tripped inside with a large bag of groceries. She regained her balance, and upon seeing me, the worried expression on her face morphed into a genuine smile.
“Hi, Joe,” she said, placing the groceries on the kitchen counter. “You staying for dinner?”
“What’re you making?”
“Lamb chops,” she said, holding up two packages of lamb and waving at us with them.
Her hair looked a mess and her make-up had smeared. Her shirt had ruffled out of her elastic jeans, but she smelled good, like peaches and the summer. A pain in the left side of my chest made me rise to kiss her.
“I love lamb chops,” I said, my warm breath escalating down her neck. She closed her eyes and nodded.
We ate dinner and it tasted great. The tender chops melted in my mouth. Ginny opened a cheap bottle of Rose and we killed it. I saw the way Joe looked at us like he wanted a part of what we had. My fingers became wrapped up with hers, and it only felt awkward when she let go to get up and clean the dishes.
And that was how it all happened. How a fling in a coat closet became my life. How I got what I least wanted, but how things tend to bother me less now. How I barely watch any of the C.S.I spin-offs anymore, and when I do watch television, it’s with her by my side. How people around me have become more bearable, and that surprisingly, I am, too.
But once a week I still have that dream where I push her off into an oncoming train. She flies through the air as heads turn until she splats against the front of the train and is carried into the tunnel away from me. Everyone still claps.
I need that once a week.