Pierce had really ripped my heart to shreds (twice, three times?), but everything else seemed to be working for me. Things were more or less back on track in my life: I moved back to Austin from Lubbock, bought a condo, started working at a new job with some great friends. I went into another one of my dating frenzies.
One August night, my friend Gigi and I were hanging out at a dive bar on South Congress called the G&S. It was a boy haven—cheap beer, liquor, video games, foosball and a deck out back for those who could brave the heat. Obviously, Gigi and I usually went there in search of boys. It never failed to disappoint.
We were sitting a rickety table with a pattern that strangely I remembered from the bathroom counters in my house growing up when Christopher approached us. His brown hair was cut in a floppy skater cut; his blue eyes were intense. I had a datable height scale at the time, written on the white board in my cube: 5’8” and below, not datable. Christopher seemed to be in the good range, just about 6 feet tall.
He had a nice smile.
Christopher sat down with his whiskey on the rocks and chatted with us for a while, lighting up a cigarette and explaining that he’d just gotten off work. Work was in walking distance, in fact, just through the alley.
A raised eyebrow from Gigi. “What do you guys do, sell things that fall off trucks?”
He laughed. He had a row of uneven teeth that were somehow charming. “No, we do campaigns. For the good guys.” He looked meaningfully at me.
Not wanting to come on too strong (I hoped), he finished his cigarette, told us he needed to chat with his work buddies, one of whom was watching from the bar with a grin. Waiting to see if Christopher scored or flopped.
Gigi and I wandered into the back room to talk to some other conquests from earlier in the night. We wound up missing Christopher’s departure. I was disappointed. Something about him had hooked me—that disarming smile? His obvious focus on me? He was definitely the stuff politicians are made of. I marched up to his work buddies, grabbed a white cocktail napkin from the bar and a purple felt tip pen from my purse. I scrawled my name and phone number on the napkin.
“This is for Christopher,” I boldly told his friend, a Latino guy wearing a ball cap and a smile. “I don’t just give this to just anyone, so he better use it.”
Christopher called the next day while I was at work. I squealed over the cube wall to my friend Monica, “I think it’s that cute guy from the bar!” before picking up the phone.
Unbeknownst to me, I had given my phone number on a cocktail napkin to his boss, who promptly called a staff meeting the following morning and presented the napkin to Christopher. Over the phone, Christopher laughed and said, “I know I’m supposed to wait three days, but I think those rules are for people with less confidence than you and I.”
I laughed with him. Confidence? I was broken. But he didn’t need to know that yet.
He came to pick me up that Sunday evening. He struck me as unfailingly polite simply because he opened the car door of his Isuzu Trooper for me. As we drove down the street, he mentioned again how he worked for the good guys.
“And those are…” I prompted, a wary eye on him. He has sideburns, I thought. Cute.
“The Democrats,” he said, giving me the same wary eye as we pulled up at a light. “You dig?”
“I dig,” I laughed.
“Whew,” he said, shifting into first as the light changed, “I’m glad we got that right or I would have had to take you back home before the date even started.”
It broke the ice immediately. We went to South Congress Café for dinner, followed by the Elephant Room. It was strange, returning to the scene of my first date with Pierce. And it was nearly as strange that I could open up immediately to Christopher. I found myself spilling everything to him. It struck me again that he had political aspirations and perhaps that was why. But the conversation flowed; we couldn’t stop talking. Much like my date with Pierce. And I wondered where this was going—already. Up till this point, I hadn’t found anyone who could compare to Pierce or put a salve on my wounded heart.
Christopher brought me home, and at the door, he took my hands in his. He looked at me, right into my eyes. “I definitely want to see you again,” he told me, and then he kissed both hands and smiled. I went inside, closed the door and smiled too.
A couple of days later, after several email exchanges, I got this one: “Hey pretty lady, what are you up to for lunch today?”
When I pulled up outside the sub shop, I saw him reading a paper.
“What’s up?” I asked. It occurred to me that I was nervous.
“Just reading about the bad guys,” he said, looping an arm casually around my shoulders. He was so idealistic and passionate; he wanted to change the world, removing one Republican “evildoer” at a time. I thought he was fascinating. I returned to work and stopped by Monica’s cube.
She turned from her monitor. She evaluated me, and then her eyes widened. “You like him!”
I was grinning ear to ear. “Oh my God, Monica. I think I do.”
That afternoon he wrote me another email, with the subject line: “Dealbreaker.” My heart caught in my throat—what did that mean? I was in a meeting with a director, and the email popped into my inbox as he was speaking into the phone for our conference call. I hurriedly read the email and hoped that there would be no questions for me from the other meeting attendee on the phone, because my focus had definitely shifted from work. “You either need to be less hot or less engaging,” Christopher wrote, “because I forget to eat when I’m with you, and I’m going to waste away to nothing.”
I smiled, and exhaled with relief.
The thing I loved about us in the beginning—the thing I would tell my mom—is that we were tender with each other’s hearts. I relayed my Pierce story, and he listened patiently. I told him I was messed up—“Christopher, I’ve got daddy issues, and my heart has been stomped on, and I’m not quite right—are you sure you want me?” I asked with tears in my eyes. He enveloped me in his arms. “Love love love love love,” he whispered.
He had been hurt too. His prior girlfriend had cheated on him, and he had trouble trusting that I wouldn’t be the one to stomp on his heart. It was such a bizarre reversal for me. He seemed so vulnerable and honest. He would stop me in the middle of a conversation and say, “I love you.” We went to a Longhorn football game together—it was my first date to a Longhorn football game ever—and I thought he was the most perfect man in the world.
He worked. A lot. We fought about that in the beginning, because he just didn’t have the time I wanted. It was hard for us to coordinate our schedules, especially because he wasn’t a planner. And if he wasn’t at work, he was hanging out with his friends. Christopher claimed he needed “alone time,” but he was never actually alone. He definitely needed time away from me, and never backed down on that one. If he was having happy hour with work people or watching football with the guys, that was it. No debate. No girlfriends allowed.
While I was toying with the idea of law school, it had been a certainty for him since high school. It seemed like our hopes and dreams and goals were dovetailing nicely, but law school would require a lot of scheduling and time.
“I believe in us,” I told him solemnly one night over drinks at an Irish pub downtown.
“Every time you say something like that, a little piece of me melts,” he breathed.
We were ridiculously in love.
I had already learned, though, that love doesn’t necessarily conquer all. He was right for me in all the ways that Pierce and Billy hadn’t been, but there were huge fault lines in the relationship. Marriage and kids were the glaring ones: simply put, I wanted to get married someday and he didn’t; he wanted to have kids and I didn’t.
“It always seems like we’re talking about the end, and we just started,” I would lament.
He would pull me close and tell me we’d figure it out.
I hoped he was right, but the other big issue, simply, came down to this: Christopher didn’t like me. I know that sounds bizarre on the heels of describing how much we loved each other, but it’s true. It was the reason we had separate lives: in social situations, he was embarrassed about my behavior. He claimed it was worse when I drank, and we drank plenty.
It was a sticky, close ACL Festival night. We were under a canopy pop up tent with a group of his political friends to watch Willie Nelson. Dusk had fallen, and drinks had been consumed, making it hard to see and understand what happened. His friend Carissa was looking for someone’s purse in the pile we had made on the floor of the tent. I wanted to keep mine close because I always carried a wad of hard-earned, hard to come by cash for ACL—food and drink provisions made it necessary to do so—and she grabbed mine, holding it up to one of her friends: “Is this it?”
“Oh, hey, that one’s mine,” I volunteered, taking it from her outstretched hand and slinging it across my body. As I said, I thought it probably wasn’t smart I had let it languish in the pile of assorted belongings—purses, bags, flip flops. “Thanks,” I said, and continued to enjoy the concert, oblivious to Christopher’s rage at my apparently appalling attitude.
A week later, Friday night, I was sipping wine at my condo when Christopher blazed in from work, happy hour with his friends—whatever. He had made it clear that what he did or whom he did it with when we weren’t together wasn’t really my business. I had fallen into the sad and terrible habit of drinking wine and watching TV or writing in my journal on Friday nights, listening to music, really whatever could pass the time until Christopher deemed came over to see me. I just waited for him because he had set the rules on our relationship, and I was all too willing to oblige.
He unceremoniously dumped his junk on my dining room table. Another thing he had adopted was practically living in my house after we’d been dating for two years. This arrangement meant that he had stuff both in his home and mine—clothes, computers, work papers, magazines and books—and I cleaned up after him in my house. I even did his laundry. As a result, he didn’t have to clean up after himself in either place, and he had the added benefit of no commitment to living with me. Christopher needed an escape hatch, and that was his bachelor pad with his roommates. When I became too real, he could always leave. When he came back to my place, he had clean clothes and a girlfriend waiting on the couch.
“We’ve got tickets to the Longhorn game tomorrow,” he said, not looking at me, scrolling through something in his phone.
“Who got them for us?”
“Carissa,” he replied. Distracted, again, as he opened his computer, sat down and started working.
I didn’t recognize the name. “Who?” I asked, taking another sip of wine and also distracted, looked through the list of available shows on my TiVo.
“The girl who you got really mad at for touching your bag at ACL,” Christopher replied. His eyes were on his computer screen.
I set my wine glass down, carefully, because I could already feel my adrenaline pulsing. “Excuse me?” I said, levelly.
Still, not looking at me, working on his computer, he replied, “She grabbed your bag accidentally and you snatched it back and she said she was sorry about six times and you didn’t say anything to her.”
I was floored. His version of events was completely, undeniably, categorically wrong. At this point, we were two years in. Two years of his constant criticism of the way I acted around people in social situations, and especially with that group, as they were his political friends/colleagues. According to him, they were the people who were going to really take him somewhere, and if I didn’t behave, his career was going to be cut short before its prime. The way it always seemed to me was that the girls in the group thought their connection with him was more important than mine. Then instead of coming to my defense, Christopher would tell me I was the one acting out.
I had a couple of glasses of wine in me, though, and instead of saying that, I said, “Fuck off Christopher. That is not what happened.”
“I saw the whole thing, Christianne. I didn’t say anything at the time. I was too embarrassed.”
Embarrassed? I was fuming. I stopped talking and took another huge gulp of wine. I turned up the TV. He kept working at my dining room table, like it was okay to waltz in my house at any time of day, the only interaction with me to say that I had been a mean person, and then start working. Why was he even there?
I poured another glass of wine. We continued to ignore each other.
After a while, he went out on the front porch, presumably to smoke and continue working or surf the Internet on his laptop. A few minutes later, the door opened.
“Want to have your wine on the porch with me?” he asked.
I knew it was a peace offering, but I didn’t want to take it. “Do you really want to hang out with a bitch like me?” I snarled.
Christopher sighed. “I know what I saw. This is an unproductive conversation.”
“I’m mad too, but I don’t show it like you do,” he replied. “You told me to fuck off.”
“You told me I was being a bitch! Seriously, Christopher, look at your version of events. If someone apologized to me six times, would I seriously ignore her? Is that the kind of person you think I am? And if you noticed she was talking to me and I ignored her, or maybe I didn’t hear her—we were at a fucking concert, maybe you could elbow me and let me know?”
We got into a screaming match. This had always been our big deal breaker, and both of us knew it. Supposedly, I was working on my demeanor at social events (the words from my diary are “refine myself and stop acting crazy”) and he was working on being too sensitive around this group.
“You have not gotten any better on this issue!” he yelled at me.
“What about you?!” I flung back.
“I told you this was an unproductive talk. I’m going home.” He started packing up his computer and his cigarettes.
The dad trigger inside of me flipped—I knew I was right and he was being unreasonable, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of fighting with this man, whom I loved despite the way he treated me—and I relented, the anger draining away. “Please don’t go.”
“I don’t want to go,” he whispered, his shoulders slumped.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered through tears.
“I’m sorry too.”
“I didn’t mean to be a bitch.”
“I thought it was out of character for you,” he said, hugging me and then holding me at arm’s length, looking in my eyes. I thought but could not say, Doesn’t that prove it was a misunderstanding?
“This group is just really hard to deal with, Christopher—”Why I was going down this road again is a mystery to me. I wasn’t going to convince him that most of the girls in this group treated me harshly, but apparently I had yet to figure out that appealing to him with logic and facts wasn’t going to work.
“You expect them to be bitchy,” he said, releasing me and going into the kitchen to pour himself a drink. “And then you get all quiet, and that’s weird too.”
“The guys like me,” I said quietly. This was clear to me—in a group dynamic, if the men have no complaints with a girl, but the girls don’t like her?—it’s not necessarily her fault. If the girls have a connection, and the new girl is an outsider, they close ranks.
He shrugged. “Whatever, Christianne. This is still something you have to get right.”
I remember how we went to bed later that night after “resolving” the fight. I couldn’t figure out why I felt uneasy. Now I know why. Christopher just didn’t like me, and our position was untenable.
But we had a long way to go before we could admit defeat.
It was about this time that Christopher changed his mind about kids. I was ecstatic. Because of that, I dropped the marriage thing. He said we’d be together and have a commitment ceremony. I convinced myself this would be just as good as actually getting married. And honestly I was so relieved he had dropped the kid thing I probably would have agreed to anything.
I had planned to start law school in the fall of 2006. My LSAT score was lower than I wanted, though, and Christopher hadn’t taken his LSAT yet. The thought of starting school and possible moving away was too much for me, so I decided to wait a year until the fall of 2007. Then maybe we’d go together.
He continued to work a lot and we rarely socialized together. He took his work frustrations out on me too, snapping at me more than once on the phone about how he’d had a hard day and was still “keyed up” so he couldn’t come home yet. (Home of course being my condo, where he still didn’t actually live or pay rent, but spent each night.) He expected me to have a wealth of sympathy for him, but failed to give me the same in return. I explained to him that late August and early September were difficult for me because it was the time of year my dad had died, and he shrugged.
“Seems like you’re not dealing with that too well. Maybe you should stop focusing on the negative part of that.”
Or he would dress me down for not handling my emotions well in public, which only resulted in me crying and embarrassing me further.
We were sitting in his favorite restaurant one afternoon, discussing my impending departure. (If I never eat at Plucker’s again, it will be too soon. What vegetarian should deal with chicken wings on a weekly basis?) I had been accepted to five of the six schools to which I applied—Texas was the only one that rejected me, after giving me a glimmer of wait-listed hope—so I knew I was headed away from Austin again. After looking at schools, I had decided on the University of Houston. It made me nervous and scared for so many reasons: that little girl inside of me was still terrified of taking big leaps. She was still scared of being lonely. She was definitely scared of losing this relationship.
August loomed close. I picked at my salad and felt tears prick my eyelids.
Christopher leaned over the table. “I love you. You’re set in Houston and everything is cool, and I’m not worried about you.”
I was worried about me, though. I was worried about me and him, and I wanted him to go to school close to me.
“You’re pressuring me,” he sighed. “I need the freedom to get in wherever I’m accepted, and you and I will be fine. You need to visualize that.”
It was so bizarre. His words were the right ones, but I felt like he was yelling at me, telling me my emotions were stupid. I needed him to hold me and tell me he was going to be close to me, and he just couldn’t do that. The tears slipped over my lashes. Display of emotion like this in public enraged Christopher.
“Stop crying,” he muttered, looking decidedly uncomfortable and watching the game on the big screen, but not really seeing it. Or me.
I kept crying and had nothing else to say.
At my condo, he asked if I wanted a glass of wine.
“No,” I said in a small voice. “I’ll just cry some more.”
He looked at me. “I’m sorry about getting upset just now but when you cry, it freaks me out. I want to fix it, and I feel like the asshole that caused it.” What he meant was that he didn’t like for other people to see me crying and think it was his fault. His words were usually right, but they masked the real issue of his concern over public perception.
“I’m not mad at you,” I whispered. “I’m mad at the situation. I love you. I don’t want anything to screw us up because I waited a long time to find you.” Tears again.
“I love you. I’m with you. You’re stuck with me for better or worse.” He put his arms around me and I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to picture us sticking together. I just couldn’t cope with any other thought.
That summer Christopher started studying for the LSAT. As usual, he refused my help or advice about my experience. It was as if my experience cheapened his in some way. That if he acknowledged that I had already been through the process of studying, taking the test and applying to schools, that his journey was unimpressive. I see so clearly now how he was in a constant war with himself, and in the process, had to diminish me.
One afternoon, I walked in with groceries—to my own home—and got snapped at because he was taking a practice test and this interrupted him. I didn’t ask for him to help with the groceries. I didn’t ask for him to study at my condo.
Another afternoon, we were getting out of his Isuzu after lunch, when he looked down at his phone and said, “Oh shit.”
I asked what was wrong.
“Nothing,” he muttered.
We walked up the stairs to my place and I unlocked the door. Unaware I was skating on thin ice, I asked again. “You can’t say ‘oh shit!’ and then say it’s nothing.”
“I missed a call, okay?” We walked into the condo and he grabbed his computer. “You’ve been asking pokingly dumb questions all damn day.”
I stared at him, dumbfounded. Where was all this anger coming from? He went back outside, carrying his computer, presumably to surf the Internet, smoke cigarettes and ignore me for the rest of the afternoon.
I watched some TV, feeling restless and angry. Then I decided to go to the gym to work out some of my aggression. It was Father’s Day, and I was headed up north to see my parents—without Christopher, of course. We spent a lot of time with his family, but never mine.
On the porch, Christopher seemed surprised. “You’re going to the gym?”
“Yep.” I felt cold toward him, and I could see that he already felt bad about his outburst. He kept touching me, trying to make it up to me. His eyes looked puppy dog sad. What he had said hung there in the silence between us.
“I thought I had a point earlier,” he began. A typical Christopher apology—“I’m sorry that happened, but I was right.” He continued, “It seemed like you were trying to catch me doing something wrong.”
“You seem awfully defensive,” I said, “I wasn’t trying to catch you doing anything.”
I wonder now if there was a reason he was so defensive.
Christopher decided that I needed a conceal and carry handgun permit because I was moving to Houston. I thought this was a bit ridiculous. In his estimation, Houston was a big city, UH was in a bad part of said city, and he wouldn’t be there to protect me, so I needed to protect myself.
We were planning to go to the gun range and stopped at a pizza place for lunch. “Delilah” by the Plain White Tees played in the background.
“This song makes me think of us,” I told Christopher. “It’s about this guy and girl having a long distance relationship.” I explained the lyrics and smiled, “It’s so romantic and sweet.”
Christopher took a bite of pizza. He was unimpressed. “You’re really emotional about this.”
I felt my eyes fill with tears. “Sorry,” I muttered sarcastically and busied myself cutting a piece of crust with a knife, sawing at it savagely.
He sighed. “I just don’t want you to cry again in a restaurant.” His eyes darted around, taking inventory—who was looking at us? How many people were there? Did he know them?
“I’m not crying,” I said softly, still concentrating on the uneaten pizza on my plate. “This is really hard for me and I think I’m handling it pretty well. Apparently you don’t.”
“That’s not what I said. Just don’t cry.”
I guess he couldn’t see how scared I was, and that each time I needed reassurance, he just made me feel like I was an embarrassment.
The gun range Christopher had chosen was indoors. Inside, I trotted behind him dutifully as he went through the motions. I had never so much as held a gun before I met Christopher, and I was scared of them. It didn’t occur to me that an indoor range probably wasn’t the best place for me to begin my experience. I think it should have occurred to him.
He paid the fees and signed us up. He had brought one of his own handguns, and purchased some ammunition for it. From there, we put on earmuffs and went through the door from the front room to the range.
I was immediately terrified. This may sound ridiculous, but I had no idea guns were so loud. There were about 20 lanes, and five or six of them were full. Guns roared, shells clattered to the floor. I could hardly breathe. Christopher didn’t seem to notice. He yelled instructions, explaining what he was doing as he released the safety and started pouring bullets into a paper target. I watched with wide eyes as the gun kicked in his hands. If it kicked when he shot it, how would I be able to handle it?
Christopher calmly turned to me, handing over the gun. “Your turn!” he yelled over the deafening gunfire.
I refused to touch it. I shook my head, eyes filling with tears again. “I can’t do it!” I screamed.
He rolled his eyes. “Come on, you have to shoot!”
I backed up. I was on the verge of a panic attack. I couldn’t wait to get out of that room. “I can’t, Christopher! Please don’t make me!”
His eyes flinty with anger, he reengaged the safety and turned on his heel. I followed, grateful that we were leaving.
The ride home was silent; it would have been eerie enough but the contrast with the gun range was uncanny. I stared out the window of the car, angry that he was quite obviously angry with me. Why was I always in trouble?
The silence continued at home. After a few hours, he called a truce by folding me into his arms for a hug. Despite myself, I was relieved. “Are you mad at me?” I whispered into his shoulder.
“No,” he said. “It’s partially my fault for trying to push something on you that you weren’t comfortable with.”
Partially? I was thinking. But I nodded against his shoulder and squeezed tight.
I flew out to meet Christopher and his family in Phoenix on a sunny weekend that fall. His uncle was going to be a judge in Maricopa County, and we gathered for the induction ceremony and then a reception at his aunt and uncle’s house. I remember putting on a green A-line dress with a belt at the waist, loving the way it swirled around my legs, beaming with pride when his aunt introduced me to a colleague as her niece.
I drank wine and socialized, excited and interested that I was at an event with so many lawyers when I was just a first semester law student. I talked about briefing cases with one of them, explaining my highlighting system. He had had a similar one in law school. In the kitchen, I caught up with a woman I had been chatting with outside—“If you were on my blog,” I told her, “I think your nickname would be Sweetness!” Christopher found us and I relayed my story, cheeks flushed with wine. I felt like I was in my element. Later that night, after most everyone had left or gone to bed, Christopher and I stayed up with his aunt and a couple of close friends, talking.
In the morning, as we lay in bed in the neighbor’s guest room, Christopher said that he was thinking he would move to Houston in December. He had been accepted at South Texas College of Law, and would start the next fall.
“Really?” I breathed.
“Yes, would it be okay if I moved in with you in December?”
“Of course!” I laughed.
Back in Houston that Sunday night, I drove home from the airport and turned up Blue October “Calling You” high—singing along at the top of my lungs.
“I will keep calling you to see
If you’re sleeping, are you dreaming
If you’re dreaming, are you dreaming of me
I can’t believe you actually picked me”
He was coming to be with me. We were going to be okay.
At the time, I had no idea what had really happened that weekend. Two years later, he confessed that he was so embarrassed by my behavior he decided he would never take me somewhere in public again.
Christopher was slumped on the couch when I walked in. “Hey,” I said, “What’s up? You look…upset.”
“We need to talk,” he said. His eyes were downcast.
I dropped my backpack and my gym bag to the floor, sank uncertainly to perch on the coffee table. “Are you okay? Are you dying or something?”
He smiled slightly. “No.”
“Do…” I could hardly get the words out. “Do you want to break up with me?”
He smiled wider, laughed a bit. “No, it’s pretty much the opposite.”
The words didn’t make sense to me. If he didn’t want to break up, and it was the opposite, did that mean marriage? Christopher, who had railed against it and all it stood for? Positive that his buddies’ lives were over afterward?
“Do you want to get married?” I whispered. Strangely, my whispered words seemed very loud in the living room.
“I think so,” he responded. He reached out for my hands and I stood, moving from my perch to sit next to him on the couch. “I was having lunch with Grant and I told him about your ring and how it was on the way. He was like, ‘What are you doing, man? Are you in high school? Marry her!’ and I just realized, you know, he’s right.”
“My ring” was some silly idea we had hatched, that he would give me a ring but we wouldn’t be engaged or married. I would just wear it to symbolize our partnership. Even though I wanted to get engaged, I accepted this lesser deal. I suppose I was still happy about the kid part—both of us would sacrifice a little bit. We went to Kruger’s jewelers in Austin, and I designed what I thought was perfect: a white gold ring, delicate and thin, with three princess cut stones: an iolite in the middle, flanked by two white sapphires. It was gorgeous and unique.
My eyes filled with tears. “Really? You really want to do this?”
“But I don’t think I want to change my name!” I blurted.
He laughed and hugged me. “You don’t have to.”
“Oh my God, we’re getting married,” I said, the tears spilling over my lashes and down my cheeks.
Christopher didn’t want me to tell anyone what we had decided. He wanted to wait until the ring arrived, and then we would have a special dinner and he would actually propose to me. Not being able to say anything was absolutely killing me, but I went along with it because it was what he wanted. And the “proposal” on the couch was truly a bit lackluster.
Days later, he made a reservation at the Spindletop downtown. It makes me laugh now when I see it listed as a top romantic restaurant in Houston. I put on my favorite little black dress, curled my hair. We limped through our entrees. We ordered dessert and picked through some molten chocolate thing while the room spun lazily and we looked at the twinkling lights of the city. Truthfully, it was a little nauseating. I wished he had chosen something different.
Then Christopher stood up and came over to my side of the table. He actually got down on one knee and proposed. It was not a surprise, and I had designed the ring. He even had the right words. I suppose that meant the proposal was romantic. I accepted and posed for the photos. What everyone mistook for a thrilled grin was a slightly panicked look. In reality, I was engaged to a man who didn’t like me very much.
We both had to finish school. In fact, Christopher wanted to wait until he had finished school and the bar exam. Which meant we were shooting for sometime in late 2011, more likely 2012. In our case this four-year engagement seemed ludicrous, suspect, like we were playing our parts. I don’t think either of us really wanted to get married, but we also didn’t want to think too hard about it. What would we do without each other? We had already been dating for nearly five years.
The fall semester of 2008 was full of challenges. It was Christopher’s first year in law school, and like other things, he didn’t want any of my advice or help. It was almost as if he didn’t want anything to do with me at all. He was busy joining every single club his campus offered, including groups like the Hispanic Law Students. When I asked why, he retorted that it was best to be involved with everything. He made friends quickly, amassing a group in record time, while I still only had a few good friends among my class. As usual, it seemed to be quality for me over quantity, while he regarded me with disdain for the way I conducted my social life.
In fact, he regarded most of my decisions with disdain. One Saturday in September I ventured to a new hairdresser because I was having a hard time finding one in Houston whom I liked as well as the one in Austin. Bored with my hair, I asked for some bangs. She obliged, and I left the salon with a new look. I came home excitedly, sweeping in wearing my Longhorn orange and ready to go watch the game at the official Longhorn bar.
“What did you do to your hair?” Christopher looked alarmed, nearly sick to his stomach.
“I cut bangs,” I answered, crestfallen. “You…don’t like them.”
Christopher had been studying on the couch. This seemed to be his favorite place to study despite my argument that the couch in the living room in front of the TV was not really the best place, considering we had a study. I also come from the school of thought (thanks Mom!) that the living room is a “common area” – therefore, not the place you should nap, or study, if you need quiet time. Those activities have their places.
However, the problem with the study was that Christopher’s desk was piled high with papers and junk, rendering it unusable. It was a tiny room, and I had two desks that I had brought with me from my condo in Austin set up in an L-shape in the corner. I was—am—hyper organized, and my side of the room was a cozy study space with everything neatly in order in addition to some bulletin boards with special pictures and mementos. This configuration led to a couple more ways for Christopher to be angry at me: it wasn’t fair that I had two desks, and he only had one and it wasn’t fair that I wanted to watch TV if he was studying.
And now I had committed the cardinal sin of changing my hair.
“We agreed you wouldn’t cut your hair,” he said, teeth fairly gritted.
I looked at him curiously. “I didn’t cut it – see how it’s still long?” I pulled my locks over one shoulder. “It’s just the front is different.”
We went to watch the game that afternoon, and it wasn’t until halftime that Christopher deigned to speak to me without anger in his voice.
More likely he was just drunk and forgot why he was mad.
Hurricane Ike interrupted that first semester quite early, arriving on the Galveston coast late the night of September 13. It seemed like Christopher and I were fighting about nearly everything, and Ike was no exception. I wanted to hightail it to Austin and the comfort of my parents’ house. Christopher quite literally forbade me to go. I know I was frustrated by this, but I don’t think I questioned how strange it was that he needed that type of control. Maybe he didn’t want to be around my parents. Christopher was positive nothing would happen with the hurricane; that we wouldn’t lose power and the storm wouldn’t cause any issues. I looked at him and wished I was already in my Prelude, speeding along I-10.
But I didn’t make a move.
My friend Kendra emailed me and we commiserated because she wanted to leave and her husband also refused. Was it something to do with being men and riding out the storm? She acquiesced to him as well, and invited us to a Hurricane Party at Cyclone Anaya’s.
“If we have to stay here, at least we can drink some margaritas!” she typed.
I asked Christopher if he wanted to go. He refused, and slammed the door on his way outside to tend to his dinner. He had bought a little hibachi grill and was in a phase of delightedly cooking nearly everything on it. Clearly he was angry with me and my suggestion we do something different than his plan.
Christopher decided the best place for us would be his friend Grant’s house. Grant was a fellow attorney from Austin who was married to an attorney named Kayla, and they had two sons. He was also the one who had suggested we actually get engaged earlier that year. I liked Grant and his family but I didn’t want to impose. It was an awkward weekend.
It was my turn to be livid when Ike turned out to be even worse than anticipated, and we lost power for an entire week. Christopher ignored my suggestions that we clean out the refrigerator early, before things spoiled. Just like he ignored my request to leave for Austin or to go to a Hurricane Party with my friends.
I didn’t really feel sorry for him when he almost threw up in the parking lot after cleaning ruined vegetables out of the refrigerator.
The semester dragged on. Friday nights in law school were nearly identical to those back in Austin when we’d both been working. He spent his nights with the guys and I stayed home to study, or drink wine in copious amounts. Sometimes I would go to an event alone. One night I went out for salsa dancing with my friends. Despite Christopher’s protests about my hair, I had gotten a touch up on the bangs, and they turned out horribly short. I spent three weeks pinning them back in what I hoped was an Audrey Hepburn-esque look. I still have a picture taken that night, the bangs pinned back, me desperately trying to dress up my cheap law student wardrobe with some kicky little Mary Janes, grinning uncertainly. What was the point of having a fiancé who didn’t like me very much or go anywhere with me?
One Friday evening I was invited along with his friends. I don’t know what convinced him I deserved to hang out this particular evening. His friend Beau’s girlfriend was in town from Florida, and she had brought along a friend who happened to live in Houston. Her name was Cheyenne and she was a riot. Her purse was practically a suitcase, and she propped the leather bag up on the bar at the Velvet Melvin and started digging through it to pay her tab. Christopher and the rest of the group were outside at a picnic table.
Cheyenne pulled out the biggest can of hairspray I’ve ever seen, along with three or four prescription pill bottles. “You have to be prepared!” she told me.
I was laughing and making fun of her. “You are clearly insane!”
She shrugged and cocked her blonde head to the side, saying “You are probably right”—before grabbing the hairspray and making sure her hair was big and stiff enough.
We returned to the table carrying drinks for the group. I was flushed with laughter and drink and plopped next to Christopher to relay the story. As I told it, he kept telling me to quiet down, and looked nervous. It was as if he didn’t want to hear what I had to say. Somewhat deflated, I turned to my drink and nursed it. The air was hot, humid. I watched the condensation form on my glass, drip to the table.
On our way out an hour later, Christopher grabbed my hand in death grip and jerked me along. “Let’s go.” His voice was low, controlled, barely masking his anger. “That’s enough from you tonight.”
I stopped walking along the deck and yanked back on his hand. “What?”
“You’ve been talking shit about Cheyenne the entire time, as if she can’t hear you. It’s mortifying,” he responded.
I simply stood there for a moment. “Christopher, I wasn’t talking shit. She and I were having a good time together. She likes me. I said all of that right to her face – and she agreed and we laughed.”
He shook his head, dropped my hand and stalked away. The laughter and conversation of the bar patrons on the patio drifted to me. I thought about turning around and going back to the table. Or going into the bar alone, shooting pool with some random strangers in a haze of cigarette smoke.
Instead I ran to catch up.
Our final exam schedules were different, which meant that he was finished first, and I had two exams remaining. I finished an exam on an unseasonably cold December evening, and left the school, driving home through improbable snow flurries. At the apartment, Christopher was ecstatic about finishing up and raring to go meet all his friends and colleagues at Front Porch Pub in midtown. I was jealous of him being finished, of course, but I also understood how essential it was to blow off steam after an intense first semester of exams. I offered to drop him off at the bar because I was worried he or someone else would drive drunk. I wore my fuzzy purple slippers in the car, feeling like an old lady.
“I really wish everyone could meet you tonight,” he said to me as I slowed for the corner where I would drop him off. A swift kiss and he got out of the car. I gave him a small wave.
“No, you don’t,” I thought to myself and a moment later I wondered where the thought came from. A huge fat tear slid down my face. I cried all the way home.
Suddenly I admitted to myself that I was deeply unhappy.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I needed to, as I still had two more exams to take. I went to bed and tossed and turned, a million thoughts running through my mind. I was worried and stressed about my remaining exams. I was worried and stressed about me and Christopher. For the first time, I really allowed myself to picture us breaking up. What would it look like, living alone again? More than ever, we were living separate lives even under the same roof.
Somewhere around 2 a.m., I heard a car in the parking lot under our window, and voices. Because I was still awake, I peered through the blinds and saw Christopher getting out of the car, which seemed to be packed full of law students. Instead of driving away, it idled while I assumed he walked through the gate and up the stairs to the door. I climbed back under the covers and waited for him to come in.
He didn’t turn on any lights, nor did he speak to me. He went to the bathroom, and then I heard him grabbing something from the bookcase in the living room. Definitely not study materials—more likely a bottle of liquor to continue the party. And then he was gone, again. I heard squeals of delight as the car took off.
I had driven him to the bar so he could be safe and get a cab ride home. And now he was riding around with law school colleagues—most of whom I’d never met, owing to our separate lives—in the early morning and I assumed they were all drunk. Where were they headed? Obviously the bars were closed.
I felt like a fool.
He came home sometime around 4 or 5 a.m. Once he was there, I managed to catch a few hours of sleep. The next day I returned to studying, spending the day at the public library, slogging through notes. The library was cold, and smelled of linoleum. I gazed through the windows occasionally at the soccer field next door.
Christopher and I traded the occasional text, and since I had been gone all day and he was finished with studying, I was looking forward to spending time together that evening. I had mentioned it to him specifically after tossing and turning the night before while he partied till the wee hours.
I arrived home loaded down with my backpack, books and computer. I dumped my stuff with relief, opened the fridge, and peered in to see if there was anything appealing for dinner. I planned to take the rest of the night off and let my brain decompress. “What do you want to eat? Or should we go out?” I asked Christopher over my shoulder. Truthfully, I was feeling overwhelmed by the thought of actually making dinner.
“Oh, I’m meeting the guys at BW3 for football.”
I swung the refrigerator door closed and looked up at him in the harshness of the fluorescent kitchen lighting, incredulous. “We just talked about you hanging out with me for the night. You were gone all night, and then you had all day to hang out with your buddies.”
He shrugged. “I really need some guy time. Stop putting all this pressure on me. I just finished my first semester in law school. Please?”
After Christmas, Christopher headed to Arizona to watch our beloved Longhorns play in the Fiesta Bowl. He wanted to take his father and grandfather to the game. It was some sort of symbol for him, I think, that could bestow gifts like tickets to a football game upon his family. I traveled to Breckenridge with my own family for a ski trip. It was yet another one that Christopher had no desire to join. I didn’t know if spending our time apart like this was normal, but I did know it didn’t feel right to me. I wanted a relationship, and a partner, but most of all I wanted a friend.
He didn’t really feel like my friend.
I woke up each morning of the ski trip and completed the somewhat arduous process of logging into the online system at school to check my grades from exams in the fall semester. As any law student will tell you, it is nerve-wracking to complete an entire semester of school without having any checkpoints as to how well you’re doing; then you complete that semester with one 3-hour long test. My friend Kimberly said, “I turned in that disk to the front desk and thought, ‘How can what’s on there be indicative of the blood, sweat and tears of the entire semester?’” Then it takes days, weeks to grade that test, plot your score upon the dreaded curve, and load those scores into the system. It can really ruin a winter break.
I don’t remember specifically what my grades were that semester, but I remember exchanging text messages with Christopher about them. In the middle of freaking out about his own grades, he would dress me down for my concern about my own. Perhaps this was because he was still in his first year, when grades supposedly mattered the most. He did very well his first semester, faring better than I had my first or second year. But that wasn’t good enough for him. And the way he made himself feel better was to continue competing with me. He kept informing me of the following: my school was ranked higher, so his classes were more difficult to weed out the poor students; he had more outside pressures on his time; he was working too hard at his job even though he wasn’t supposed to at all in his first year.
I returned to school in mid-January and ran into a friend named Randy who was my student mentor my first year. I was weighed down with the usual mess of bags and books, but Randy took one look at me and saw something more.
“That boyfriend of yours treating you all right?” he asked, concern in his brown eyes.
I smiled weakly at Randy. “Of course, things are good,” I told him.
Randy obviously didn’t believe me, but there wasn’t much more to say.
In March, Christopher moved into a house down the street from our apartment complex. We moved into a two-bedroom duplex with the thought we could share the bedroom again as a study, except this time we would have more room and things would be different. There was a covered patio out back and a carport that Christopher magnanimously said I could use and he would park on the street. Though his car was newer, I cared more about mine and perhaps that was why.
My mom came and helped us move, along with a gaggle of Christopher’s law school friends. Mom generously painted nearly the entire house for us. The living room started out with circus yellow walls, the old, cramped kitchen olive green. She painted everything a modern shade of beige that had become so popular but was probably called something like Mushroom Basket. We made countless trips to Target and Home Depot, making sure the lamps in our bedroom were feng shui. Each floor to ceiling window got long, filmy white drapes. The tile topped table fit nicely in the breakfast nook. The tiny bathroom was outfitted with new accessories like stainless steel toothbrush holders and a fresh shower curtain. Maybe it would refresh our relationship too.
I thanked Christopher’s friends with a message on each of their Facebook walls, making sure to write something unique on each one. “You are so awesome for carrying all those boxes up to the second floor – I owe you a couple of rounds at the Gingerman” or “I’m so fortunate to have you as a friend.” Christopher actually pointed out how cool that was. We were so far gone at this point I silently bristled with anger. His comments seemed as if he didn’t think I knew how to treat people and he was bestowing a gift upon me by telling me how he approved of my social graces. Just this once.
It was still March when I was studying for the MPRE, which was an ethics test that was actually part of the bar exam, but the usual practice was to take it early. It also unfortunately fell on a Saturday, so that meant I had to spend my Friday night studying.
I was in the study at my L-shaped desk when I heard Christopher and his friends arrive from happy hour. I could hear them on the back porch, the kitchen door and then the refrigerator door swinging open. I stopped, leaned back in my chair, ignoring the books and papers spread out in front of me. Their voices floated up to me from the kitchen as they grabbed beers and then disappeared as they went back to the porch to drink, smoke cigarettes, maybe a little weed.
It occurred to me, as I sat there twiddling my pencil, that nothing had really changed. I stayed home and waited for permission to hang out with Christopher. If he denied me that permission, or that possibility, I said nothing and went on my merry way. If Christopher needed to study, he did it in the living room, or the kitchen or our bedroom, or wherever he damn well pleased and chastised me for not understanding his needs or thinking the common space should be free for me to watch TV.
I wandered down to the kitchen, wincing as usual at his usual stack of books, papers and mail on the table in the breakfast nook, rendering it unusable. We had taken to eating at the coffee table in front of the TV. Christopher came banging through the kitchen door.
“Hey,” he said, “I’m just grabbing one more beer before we go to the bar.”
“Mmm,” I responded, looking through the window of the back door. “Y’all just stopped by for a minute?”
“Yeah, wanted to smoke a bowl and grab some beers.” He was impatient, holding the beer and my gaze. “I know you’re studying and don’t want to be bothered.”
I saw a blonde girl on the porch, sitting at the table with the scattering of guys whom I had met, but not the girl. “Who’s she?”
The impatience turned to annoyance. He jerked his head in her direction, gave me a name that was lost on me immediately. “Like I said, figured you didn’t want to be bothered. Good luck with your studying.” He popped the tab on his beer and left, without offering to introduce her, without asking if he could call it a night early so I could get some rest, without giving me a kiss hello or goodbye or saying “I love you.”
I thought about going outside and saying brightly, “Hi! I’m Christianne! I’m Chris’s girlfriend and I live here!” while looking pointedly at the blonde and holding out my hand. Maybe my left hand, with the engagement ring on it.
Instead, I turned and climbed the stairs to the study and resumed studying for my early morning test. And I realized that one thing had changed—or maybe it had always been—that Christopher’s nights out with the guys included girls. And those girls weren’t me. And never would be.
Our fights became more frequent as the semester wore on toward May and finals. It was nothing new, but just how broken we were became increasingly obvious to me. Since December and the night I broke down crying in the car while he stayed out all night, we had grown further and further apart. He spent all his time at work, at school or with his friends. Saturday nights we would have wine on the porch. But when I wanted to go out, he was allegedly too tired, or wanted me all to himself. Occasionally we would go out with his law school friends or his colleagues. Never with my friends.
He didn’t clean up after himself, and our house was a wreck unless I cleaned. Because I had long ago started doing his laundry out of a misguided attempt to make him love me, he expected that to continue. So he let it pile up into a towering stack on his side of the bedroom.
“I’m not doing your laundry anymore,” I finally announced one evening. When I think back to the duplex, it feels hot and cramped and sad. I was so tired of trying to keep up with my own schoolwork and work life. Why did he think I had more time to do anything, including clean up and tackle his giant stack of dirty clothes? Perhaps I was supposed to do it on those nights I was alone while he was out with his friends.
“When did this policy change?” he asked with pursed lips.
“I don’t know,” I responded. I put my hands on my hips. “I didn’t think it was a policy. I thought it was something nice I did for you when I had the time. But you took advantage of me.” I suddenly flashed back to the days in my condo in Austin, when he would sit on the porch and surf the Internet as I went up and down the stairs carrying loads of laundry. Sometimes he’d smack my ass, but never did he offer to help. Then he moved to Houston and we repeated the same dance, though things had changed—he was now studying law textbooks and smoking a cigarette—and I, too, had two jobs—school and work—but for some reason I was still walking up and down the stairs while lugging loads of laundry.
I was suddenly really, really angry. I was angry about that and about a lot of things, and our relationship deteriorated even further. I started spending nearly every weekend in Austin to get away from him, while twirling my engagement ring around my finger and telling my brother and his friends while we sipped cocktails at bars that everything was okay, that he was just busier than me so it was easier for me to get away.
Christopher was angry too, because along with the laundry, there were things I didn’t want to do anymore, the most important thing to him being intimacy. We fought about it constantly and he didn’t seem to connect the dots—if the relationship was healthy, if he was nice to me, took me out, helped me around the house, listened to me, encouraged me, was my friend—then I would want to be with him. But as it was, I hated him. And I didn’t want him to touch me.
We barely tolerated each other. I watched the laundry pile grow and refused to do anything about it. We kept having fruitless talks about how to fix our relationship, something that’s difficult to do when one person refuses to acknowledge that it’s broken, and if it is, that they have anything to do with it. He tried to explain how embarrassed he was by me in social situations, and that’s why we didn’t go anywhere together.
There it was, our recurring theme. He said that I was cold and unfriendly at his law school happy hours, which is why he never invited me anymore. “And then, you’ll start talking to some guy and he flirts with you the entire time,” Christopher continued lamenting. He was lying on his back on our king-sized bed, one arm flung dramatically across his face, as if he could hardly bear discussing this; as if he could hardly bear how clueless I was to how much people detested me.
I was standing in front of the bed, arms folded. “So let me get this straight—I’m cold and unfriendly, but then suddenly I’m flirting with someone? I think you know me better than that; you know if someone flirts with me, I’m not flirting back. I’m just talking to the guy. You just said I don’t do enough of that!”
And then he dropped the bomb.
“Well, at some point, it looks as if you invite it. And that reflects poorly on me.”
“I can’t even talk to you anymore.” I turned on my heel and left the room.
Early in May, the air conditioner in our duplex broke. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as we were in the middle of exams. We hauled our mattress downstairs to sleep on the living room floor because it was too hot upstairs. Even the living room was hovering around 85 degrees. It was miserable.
One evening, we got into an inevitable fight. I insisted on counseling. He refused.
“It seems we’re at an impasse,” I said sadly, staring at the floor, the walls, anything but his face.
“Yup.” He agreed.
“I’ll make plans to find somewhere else to live,” I told him, feeling numb. Still not looking a t him. “Tomorrow.”
I slept on the mattress that night. He slept on the couch. Despite the heat in the room, I felt cold.
In the morning, I emailed my boss that I wouldn’t be coming to work that day, as I was looking for an apartment. I scrubbed my face free of makeup, because I couldn’t stop crying, and put on a purple sundress. After several stops and a recommendation from Kendra, I found a nice apartment I couldn’t really afford, but I thought that maybe I deserved it. I would figure out the money later.
That night, sitting in the office we shared, we changed our respective statuses on Facebook. I didn’t know how to hide it from my timeline, and I wanted to—I couldn’t imagine the horror of it showing up in everyone’s newsfeed and seeing the condolences and comments come across—but Christopher did. I can still see him sitting there in his desk chair, computer on his lap, making it “official” on a social network. It felt somehow even more final than signing a lease earlier that day had been.
We decided to work on ourselves for the summer, and unable to really call it quits, decided to talk again on August 1. We parted with tears.
My new one-bedroom apartment at the Cheval reminded me of my days in the condo, before I met Christopher. Everything was purple—my couch and chair in the living room, the duvet and throw pillows on my bed. I hung pictures, arranged my desks into yet another study haven for my final year of law school, spent too much money at places like Target. It felt like such an indulgence after the old pre-war duplex: It smelled of new carpeting and I had a washer/dryer in the kitchen. I put up a bulletin board above my desks and covered it with photos and cards and little scraps of paper with quotes I liked from my friends and family. One of them, from my friend Brent: “You are the coolest chick I know.” Pictures of me with Kendra and Monica and Minnie, grinning into the camera.
“I have a life apart from Christopher!” I wanted the bulletin board to scream.
I worked, went to the gym, bars, took summer school classes and tried to figure out what I was going to do in August. We didn’t speak. It was mildly excruciating and I wasn’t sure what to do in terms of dating. Was I single? Was I still with him? In my mind, of course, it felt like it.
The pictures from that summer are all of a girl desperately trying to escape from her relationship limbo. I alternated weekends fairly regularly between Austin and Houston—it was almost as if I lived in both places. Girls’ nights out in Houston. Dinner at Ibiza, all my friends partnered up; me the lone single girl. Wearing my favorite hand-me-down dress from Kendra: it was this awesome kaleidoscope of colors, shapes and lines, with a strappy neckline and knee length skirt. I wore it with some sky-high orange heels. Drinks at Pearl Bar with those same girls and a weird guy named DJ that no one liked but seemed to always randomly show up. Celebrating the Fourth of July in Austin with my brother and his motley crew. My brother and I sitting at the bar at Bull McCabe’s, which Gigi and I fondly dubbed “Jimmy’s Irish Lair.” I met some guys and did my fair share of flirting, texting and even going on dates.
But the days counting down until August 1 were few, and I had an exam coming up. Christopher’s birthday was on July 19. I thought about him all day. I wondered what he was doing. Did he miss me? Despite everything, I wanted to go forward with him. But I didn’t think the effort would be worth it without counseling, and I didn’t think he would ever agree to it. Distracted, nervous, I emailed him the next day and told him that I wanted to focus on my exam, and perhaps we should push off our talk until a week later.
His email back cut me to the core.
“Let’s just put off any talks for now. I’m not sensing much excitement or desire on your part to make a run at this. And I’m tired of the rejection. Good luck on your finals and beyond…”
I stared at the words on the screen, hardly believing what I was reading. What? I promptly forwarded the email to Monica and my mom, asking for their advice. What did this mean? In the end, I decided to let him know that’s not what I meant, that I missed him, still loved him and that I would meet him to discuss our relationship. Again, he floored me with a response about how he had been working on himself, reading about relationships and he was willing to try therapy.
“I think I have to try again,” I typed to Mom.
“If that’s what you feel is right, then you should,” she replied.
In early September, we spoke desultorily about our respective summers and our plans moving forward. He was going to New Orleans for a weekend to visit some college friends. I wrangled an invite, even though I could tell he was unsure about it. We didn’t know how to navigate this new place we were in—were we friends? Boyfriend and girlfriend again? Just trying things on for size?
I didn’t wear my ring anymore. It lived in its original box, nestled in blue satin, hidden away in my dressing table. I lived in my cheerful, sunny apartment, and he had a roommate in the old duplex. Some law school colleague of his named Sean. It was strange—I sort of felt like he was living in my house.
Sean and Christopher picked me up for the road trip to New Orleans on a sunny early fall day. I squeezed into the back of Sean’s Jetta with luggage and dog fur, and they opened the sun roof and smoked weed. It made me nervous—what if we got in trouble? Our law careers would be over before they really started.
“If you have an issue, you shouldn’t have come,” Christopher told me. He was wearing a pair of aviator sunglasses and I couldn’t see his eyes. But it seemed like they would have been narrowed in disgust.
I was quiet after that.
I can’t remember what we were ostensibly celebrating in NOLA. Maybe someone had passed the bar exam; maybe someone’s birthday? I had borrowed a dress from Kendra for the occasion. It was a black and white halter top with a flowered pattern. It made me feel pretty, though nothing could make up for the strange uncertainty that hung around me and Christopher; the inquisitive glances from his friends who thought we had parted ways for good.
We piled out of the car en route to Benjamin’s house to get a daiquiri just because we could—this was the world of debaucherous New Orleans!—and I giddily read the menu out loud, debating my choices. I asked the portly man behind the counter what was good.
“You’re not from around here,” he said with a Cajun twang.
“From Houston!” I answered, and decided upon something extraordinarily syrupy sweet, made from Everclear and rum. Because, again, New Orleans!
“Don’t ever tell people you’re from out of town,” Christopher schooled me upon once we returned to the Jetta. “They just take advantage of your naivety.”
“I’m naïve? What the fuck? You think the guy behind the counter is going to chase us down and rob us now?”
Our night was not off to an auspicious start. I once again got quiet, stared out the window and sipped on my daiquiri.
We arrived at the house for the party, which belonged to his friend Charles and his wife Janice. They met in college, got married and moved to New Orleans so that Charles could join the family law firm. Basically, Janice’s destiny had been laid out for her the moment Charles asked her to study with him freshman year.
“Christianne!” Janice greeted me with a smile and a hug, but the strangeness of my being there was as palpable as the New Orleans humidity. The house was enormous, and ancient. We were shown to a room upstairs along a narrow hallway. It was drafty and echoed with each footstep. I wondered if the place was haunted.
Drinks flowed. I was hyperaware of Christopher’s judgment of my drinking, and equally so about his friends and their feelings about me, and us. It led to a slow nursing of my drinks and seeking out quiet corners to observe instead of participate in the party. I hardly interacted with Christopher at all. If I had been too close to his side, he would have called me needy and annoying. And it was I who had invited myself along on this trip.
After midnight found a group of us on the back patio, some smoking cigarettes or weed. Janice was with us too, telling some story that involved curse words and probably sex. Janice was loud, smart, attractive and funny. She gesticulated wildly as she talked, and Christopher smoked and laughed. I stared at him. What would have happened had I told that story? He would have been mortified. Yet, here he was laughing along with her.
Shortly thereafter, the group remaining decided to go out. But between the social anxiety and the booze, I had no gas left in the tank. Again, not wanting to seem clingy or desperate, and unsure of how to navigate this new relationship in which we found ourselves, (could I even call it that?) I told Christopher to go ahead with his friends. I went to bed, blinking away tears into the darkness. What the hell were we playing at?
In the morning, Christopher was hungover. Suddenly he was the clingy one. He lay in bed moaning about how awful he felt, asking me to fetch him food and drink to help him feel better.
“Dote on me,” he said, adopting a pathetic pleading look.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I told him. “You were the one who went out for shots at 2 a.m.”
The request for “doting on him” also involved sex, and I turned him down. For about a billion reasons. But what I said was that I could hear everything going on up and down the hallway, and I really didn’t want his buddies in the room next to us to hear.
Obviously, this was not well received.
New Orleans was a bust.
One Saturday in October, Christopher and I had plans to watch football at his house. Perhaps a better way to put it was that Christopher was having a party, and he allowed me to come. I had a spread of snacks for my girlfriends the night before for book club, but I had saved my special queso dip for the party. People were making fajitas out of the brisket Christopher had smoked, drizzling queso over them. They were raving about the delicious queso, and Christopher was annoyed. “I spent all night smoking that meat and people are more excited about your Velveeta cheese.”
A little voice spoke up in my head: “This isn’t going to work, and you know it.” This voice spoke up more often than it used to.
One of the guys on the couch with us sharing my excruciating pain was a guy named JT – a wiry, tiny guy with black plastic framed glasses. He had brought himself and his little sister Devin, and they were LSU fans. Devin was only 20; not even of legal drinking age. She made me feel ancient, and Christopher made me feel dumb, beginning the day with his queso jealousy.
I smiled brightly at JT and Devin, “Wait, you didn’t get the memo about watching football here? You can’t come if you don’t root for the Horns!”
JT and Devin just smiled lamely. I couldn’t tell if my joke was just bad or if they were taking me really seriously.
Late in the fourth quarter, as the Longhorns pounded some crappy non-conference team, interest in the game waned because the scores kept piling up on one side of the board. JT and Devin, unaware that they were in my way, stood in front of the TV.
“You make a better door than a window!” I said to them. I again smiled to show I had no harsh intentions.
“I’m sorry – didn’t realize I was in your way,” Devin said to me, and scooted over.
Later that night, after the game was over and the crowd had dwindled, a smaller group of us took to the back porch so people could smoke. The talk turned to whether God cared about football, and I laughed and said that was ridiculous.
“Don’t you think God has better things to do than choose a football team?” I pointed out. “And how would he choose?”
Christopher’s friend Hank shrugged. “Christians are just better people.”
I cocked my head at him. “You think so? You’re a Christian?”
He said he was.
“So, what makes you better than me?”
He shrugged again.
“I really want to know,” I continued. I was honestly intellectually curious about how Hank felt he was a better person than I. “We’re both sitting here drinking booze tonight, but you’re going to church tomorrow morning and I’m not, so that makes you better? In what way?”
Hank had no answers for me. Christopher, predictably, was not happy with this discussion. He made this clear in our next counseling session.
We attended regular sessions at this point; it was a depressing weekly activity that seemed to point out that we weren’t meant for each other, rather than one that was patching our holes. I would pick Christopher up at his office and drive us to the U of H campus, where we sat side by side on a little green couch in Dr. Greg’s office. Afterwards we would have a sad lunch, both of us barely talking and picking at our food.
Dr. Greg was a sober individual who frowned constantly. It was a weird facial tic. And I could never figure out if he thought I was nuts, if Christopher was nuts, or if perhaps he just wondered what exactly we saw in each other.
“How was your week?” Dr. Greg asked on the afternoon after the Queso Incident, sitting across from us in a straight-backed chair with his notebook and a pen in his lap. I was dying to see what his notes said.
“It was great,” Christopher offered. My mom had been in town Sunday and we went to brunch. “It was great to see her,” he said, and even went so far as to say things seemed “normal.”
I had stifle laughter. If by normal, he meant he was mad at me again. He clearly wasn’t going to bring up the God and football incident, so I did.
Christopher rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, that. You were being adversarial and insulting.”
“Oh come on, Christopher, we’re all going to be attorneys soon. I was arguing, and asking for his side of the argument.”
“I’m sure Hank felt attacked. You can’t just assume that everyone is as smart as you are.”
While I nearly fell off the couch because he had just paid me a compliment, and about my intellect at that!—I was still incensed. “So I’m supposed to assume people are idiots and they can’t keep up with me? That’s not a very nice thing to do.”
Christopher was just as angry as I. “I always have to run interference for her,” he complained to Dr. Greg, while I looked up in surprise. He did? “She was being so mean to my friend JT and Devin at the party that JT came up to me at school and apologized to me.”
This time, I really did laugh out loud. “You have got to be kidding me, Christopher. I was joking with them about rooting for LSU and that they were standing in front of the TV while I was trying to watch! You think I have social issues? It sounds like JT is the one with issues. I have other social circles, and groups, and I have plenty of friends, and I have never had a problem.”
Christopher snorted derisively. “You don’t act the same way with your friends, just mine. And the reason your friends like you is that they know you well. Your first impressions aren’t great.”
I was trembling with rage, and angry tears started coursing their way down my cheeks. “It’s infuriating that you think I’m such an asshole. Why are you with me anyway?”
Dr. Greg, frowning, broke in. “Okay, Christopher, what I’m hearing is this – Christianne is her own person. She’s not going to change. This is who she is, and you’re going to have to decide whether to take her or leave her.”
At that moment, I realized Dr. Greg was on my side. I looked at him gratefully through my tears.
That session didn’t even end with a terrible lunch. I simply dropped Christopher at his office and he mumbled something about calling me later.
By the time the end of the semester rolled around, I was encouraged that we were going to therapy, and at least we were talking about things we hadn’t before. But we were far from healing our wounds.
For my birthday, I decided to have two celebrations: one in each of Houston and Austin. Friday night would be in Houston at the Hotel Zaza with Christopher and assorted Houston friends; Saturday night at Bull McCabe’s (Jimmy’s Irish Lair) in Austin with my brother and my long-time Austin friends. Even though I had been gone two years, we were still close. All of my close friends in both cities knew what was going on with me and Christopher, but it was the group of Austin girls that knew the real five year history; the ugly, unvarnished truth of my feeble attempts to hold things together.
The Zaza had been chosen for its fun party atmosphere, which was sorely needed after the brutal semester of both law school and relationship navigation. A decent group attended: for the girl with no friends, I had a solid group, including my buddy Kendra. And of course Christopher.
The Monarch is the restaurant and bar inside the Zaza. It feels like it’s made of glass—everything sparkles. The drinks are fancy. The bartenders are attractive and attentive. I wore my hair curly and my favorite bustier from White House Black Market and black pants. I drank vodka and talked with my friends. In many cases it was the first time people had met Christopher, since we never socialized with my friends.
But in fact, he was missing much of the night, either smoking or smoking and talking politics with someone he considered either important enough to impress or stupid enough to convince they were wrong.
My friends were effusive in their praise, so happy to meet this guy who I had been hiding all this time.
It was strange. I wanted to scream at them, “But don’t you see, he’s kind of a jerk?” and then I would wonder where the thought came from. Why wouldn’t I want people to love him?
Saturday morning I drove up to Austin without Christopher. I met up with my girlfriends and we did a second birthday celebration. I found myself lamenting to them how the Houston group had loved him. Was this weird? I asked.
“Whatever,” KK said, rolling her eyes. “He performs well in front of the crowd. They don’t know the real Christopher.”
We poured another shot.
Sunday night Christopher came over and we went out to dinner. It had been a long, lazy weekend full of booze, food, and happiness: exams were over and I could relax for a couple of weeks until my final semester of law school. I was feeling optimistic about me and Christopher despite all the problems, despite my strange feeling on Friday night that he wasn’t worthy of my friends’ adulation, and in turn, mine. Perhaps in May we could figure out our next step, but I was perfectly happy at that point to stick with the tenuous hold we had on our relationship.
Christopher was not.
I poured a glass of wine from the bottle of white in my fridge, walked over to the purple couch and sat down with a leg folded underneath me. “Do you want any?” I asked.
“No, I want to talk about next semester,” Christopher said. He was sitting up in a nervous way, sort of jiggling his foot, which was crossed over his knee.
“What about it?” I slurped some wine.
“I’m not happy with where we are,” he said, his blue eyes looking into mine with a mixture of sadness and coldness. “I don’t like living apart. I don’t like that you’re not wearing your ring. I want us to move back in together, you know, get a cat. And be more intimate than we are now.”
I considered the stemless wine glass in my palm, thinking that I was going to need more. “That’s a lot to lay on me right now. I really like having my own space.” I looked around the living room, my eyes resting on the corkboard with my “life is fun even without him” reminders. “I’m not ready for all of that again. We’ve only been back together for a couple of months, and we still have work to do with the therapist.”
He shook his head, crossed his arms and stared at his lap. I focused miserably on the backward Longhorn cap on his head, thinking, “We’re back here again?” and picturing all the cleaning and laundry I was doing when we lived together; the strangers on my back patio; the lonely nights by myself. Why would I want to move back in with him and perform sexual favors?
“I love you,” I said softly, after another fortifying sip of wine, “But maybe we want different things right now. I’m just not ready yet.”
A tear slipped over his lower lashline. He furiously wiped at it, then stood up, shrugging into his fleece. “Okay, I gotta go. I can’t stay here tonight. I need to think.”
After a beat, I got up, put my arms around him and tried to hug him, but he wasn’t accepting it. “Okay, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
He nodded into the top of my head, and left.
I sank back to the couch with my wine, wondering if those had been the right words to say.
Though I didn’t have school over the holiday break, I still had work. Monday morning, that’s where I was when I got the email. He addressed me as “Christianne” which was something he hardly ever did. I knew instantly it wasn’t good.
He told me that he didn’t want to go to our regularly scheduled counseling session the next day; in fact, he didn’t want to go to counseling at all anymore because our talk the night before had clued him into where we stood. He said he was sad that I was drawing the line. He wasn’t giving up on us forever, the email went on, but he just needed a break for now.
The words blurred on the screen in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. This guy was breaking up with me via email? After five and a half years? It just didn’t seem right to me. I wasn’t ready to move back in, pick up where we had left off, and resume my role in his life, so he had decided it was over. It was all about Christopher. Always had been, always would be.
We didn’t speak for that week. It was a strange sort of limbo, but in many ways, I had grown used to it. Christopher and I had been rather star-crossed nearly from the beginning. Maybe both of us had been in love with the idea of the other one, the idea of us as a couple. I went back to Austin for Christmas, spent the weekend talking things over with my mom, trying to figure out where to go from there.
He sent me another email a week later, again on a cold December morning at work. He reiterated what he had already told me—he and I weren’t working out, loved each other, but it wasn’t the best thing right now. Again, he mentioned that he didn’t need counseling.
I went into my friend Michael’s office. “He sent another email. Can he really break up with me again?”
Michael looked shocked, and more than a little mad. “I thought he broke up with you last week via email. Another one?”
“Yeah, I think he was really trying to drive the point home,” I said thoughtfully, then promptly burst into tears.
January – April 2010
New Year’s 2010 was difficult. The breakup was fresh, and while it seemed like a good time to start over, I just didn’t know how. At the last minute, I took off for Austin: I could hang out with my brother and his friends, and try to pretend the last five years had never happened. Speeding down the highway, I played a mix CD at top volume, torturing myself with breakup songs, sobbing in my car. I kept wondering if he was thinking about me too.
I tried to move on. It was my last semester in law school, so I had plenty of things to keep me busy between school, work and preparing for the bar exam. Graduation, in a way, seemed like only the first step.
Even though I was busy, I spent many afternoons and evenings fighting tears in the school library. It was almost inexplicable—we hadn’t exactly been doing well for a year, maybe even more—so why was this so hard for me?
After a girls’ night out at one of those silly clubs with velvet ropes, expensive drinks and poor lighting, I stumbled out of a cab into the stairwell of my building. It was April, graduation just a month away. The night air was close and the stairwell smelled vaguely of smoke. I’d had far too many drinks to make good decisions, and a girls’ night spent with two friends in long –term relationships meant that I had been thinking about him too much. I texted him as I made my way up the stairs.
“I miss you” I typed, thinking somewhere in the very back of my mind that his was a stupid thing to do.
His reply was almost immediate. “I miss you too.”
“WRU?” I asked.
I reached my apartment, put the keys in the lock and sank to the tiled kitchen floor, phone in hand. He was just leaving his law school spring event—what we all used to refer to as law school prom.
He was at my apartment within a half hour, and we poured drinks, and hugged, and kissed and talked. We took our drinks to my balcony. He smoked. We drank. We talked about everything we had both missed over the past four months. We admitted to missing each other, trying to be strong, me admitting with a sad smile that I had clearly broken first.
“Yeah, but I’m here,” he whispered.
I woke up with him next to me in the morning and felt a strange mix of failure and relief. I had failed when I sent that text message. Yet it was so comfortable to have him by my side, curled around me. He still loved me. I was still so broken that I needed that assurance, or I didn’t feel whole. I was nothing if someone didn’t love me. Even if that someone didn’t really like me.
My mother was so disappointed.
“I was so proud of you,” she lamented via email. “On our spring break ski trip, you didn’t cry about him once.”
Her disapproval slayed me, but I felt helpless to stop this thing I had put in motion once again.
Christopher seemed to feel much the same way I did. He was almost angry with me for distracting him from school, and I felt the familiar resentment rear its head. As if I didn’t have school, commitments, responsibility? He wanted to get over me, he said, and then I had sent that text. I flashed back to that night, where I had admitted my fault. But he had responded to that text message; he had shown up of his own free will.
Yet in Christopher’s way, he had managed to make this mess mine and mine only.
On a Thursday afternoon about two weeks after my drunken text, he sent me an email. It was ostensibly a list of our relationship issues, so we could figure out what to do next and where to go from here. It was actually a list of my faults, and he laid the blame for our failure thus far squarely at my feet.
Each bullet point was like a swift punch to the gut. Number one: his friends didn’t like me because I had treated him so poorly throughout these past two years. I sputtered with indignation. His friends? I wasn’t nice to him? It takes two to tango, I wanted to pound out over the keyboard in response. As if he had treated me like a princess? What did he think my friends thought of his email breakups with me?
Number two: I was too jealous of the time he spent with other people, especially women. It was just his nature, he explained, and part of his career path. He didn’t seem to get that I wouldn’t be jealous if he respected me and our relationship; or if he actually invited me to these events. How was I supposed to feel confident in his feelings for me, if he didn’t want to take me anywhere with him because he was ashamed of me?
The third bullet point was a judgment about my drinking thinly veiled with concern for me. According to Christopher, I was outrunning some unspeakable, deep seated horror. Never mind that I was the one who had been in therapy for years, who had suggested couples therapy. Never mind that he drank just as much as I did, smoked pot and dabbled with harder drugs like cocaine. Obviously, I was the one with the issue.
The list went on. I didn’t attend to his sexual needs properly.
He worried I would never “give [him] a child.” It was the last bullet point, and as I sat at my desk in my sunny apartment reading those words, my jaw dropped. Somewhere along the way, Christopher had changed his mind again, and now he was vilifying me for it. He explained that he thought being a parent was one of the most wonderful experiences a person could have in our “human lives,” and he didn’t want to miss out on it. Most jarring perhaps was his suggestion that we look into surrogacy or adoption. I was stunned. After five and a half years together, he wrongly assumed that I didn’t want children solely because of the possible physical effect on my body. Had he ever listened to a single word I had said?
I paced the apartment. I talked to my mom for an hour on the phone. I emailed all my friends, forwarding them the list and asking for their opinions.
I had been with this person for nearly six years. I had slept with him, next to him, I had cried with him, comforted him, fought with him, laid bare my soul for him, talked with him into the wee hours of the night. I had stayed home waiting for him, I had apologized to people I didn’t think I had offended for him. I had tried to contort myself into some misshapen version of me, so that he would love me. And yet, after these six years of love, recriminations and tears—this is what he thought of me. This is what he thought of the person to whom he had proposed, the person with whom he had planned at one time to spend his entire life—this is what it boiled down to.
I was an anti-social drunken prude who was too vain to bear his precious offspring.
I wrote back to him and simply told him that this list was too much for me, that I loved him, but that it was time to go our separate ways.
I didn’t look back.