You know, of course, what I did next. After all, I’m not that subtle, and my plot is not that difficult. You probably think I’m predictable. That’s the problem with people like me. To us: it’s an existential drift, with built in suspense. To you: it’s a belly buster, the hit clearly in sight. No suspense. You know about the laws of nature, things like gravity, and inertia. We manic-depressives are ignorant of them, don’t understand them, get fuzzy, frustrated with the concept. We are predictable to others; but we’re not predictable to ourselves. I see myself as mysterious, you yawn. This gap of awareness is pure anxiety for us, boredom for you.
Dot dot dot.
I tried to win back my ex-wife. Who wouldn’t? Artie, the chef, was her current man. Gracie didn’t have the heart to tell me this. It was easy enough to find out. I went in for lunch, she wasn’t there, and I asked the waitress. She and Artie were lovers, had been for “a couple a months, maybe a year.”
It wasn’t that Gracie didn’t want me to know; she just didn’t have the heart to tell me. Besides, we had this little ex to ex experiment going.
I didn’t hold it against her. I was grateful for the evening we had. But a chef named Artie? I had to see this guy.
I walked back into the kitchen.
I expected a younger man, a powerful, robust fellow — a man I couldn’t match-up against. I expected (my imagination plays tricks on me with this kind of stuff) some guy, about twenty-five, in a tank top, six-four, huge shoulders, muscles bulging, stupid as shit but good at cooking. Some fucker my horny ex-wife could use to satisfy her changing thirtysomething sexual needs. Then I met him. Hell, he looked worse than me. He was a few years older, half bald, had sampled too many of his own dishes, had a stupid looking moustache, was no taller than me, had an artificial leg – a fancy metal contraption unhidden by the usual pant leg – and he was a nice guy.
He was a calm son-of-a-bitch, and he knew about me. He dropped his spoon and shook my hand, turned the gas down on the stove, lowered the heat, smiled, and started to strike up a friendly fucking conversation.
He said he knew my daughter, was crazy about her.
“I guess you stay over there a lot?” I asked.
Me, the goddamn probing investigator.
“No, no, never. Gracie comes to my place. We go out. She’s very sensitive to Rachel’s needs. You know, her feelings, her upbringing. I respect that. It’s important. Wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Okay, okay – Mr. Awareness.
“Ever been in therapy before?” I asked.
He laughed. I think he liked me already.
“No, no. Well, yes, a little, I guess you could say. But you mean psychotherapy. Just a bit, but no prolonged thing.”
“Well, either you have or you haven’t,” I said.
“Then I suppose I have. Hey, Gracie went to the market. I’ve got to get back to my stove here. Why don’t you have a seat in the dining room and wait on her? She’d love to see you, I know. She should be back soon.”
A bit like a saint here, a little too secure.
Artie had a couple of skillets going, doing a little luncheon sauté. Shrimp in butter. He took a step back, turned the knobs on the stove, put on his gloves, got the food frying again, and gave them a shake. He flicked a few spices around, whacked the pans and flipped the food, stood back again and watched his gormet shit go. He grabbed a bottle of wine and splashed some in each pan.
“I’ve got to get these orders out,” he said. He looked back at me. “Lunch.”
I didn’t wait around for Gracie. Instead, I came back that night, sneaked around across the street until quitting time, so that I could see what I saw – her leaving with Artie, arm in arm in the cold, getting in the same car. These two were having one of their heavy moments together, a testing time at a crucial moment in the relationship, dealing with me, Gracie’s mixed-up feelings about her mixed-up past, all that shit.
I caught up with her the next night, at the bar.
“I met Artie,” I said.
“The other night with me was just…well…what was it?”
“Just a minute,” she said.
She left me sitting at the bar. She went back to the kitchen, took care of some pressing concerns. She came out, spoke to a customer, made sure everybody was happy. When she came back, she said, “We need to talk, but not here. Come over to the house later, about eleven.”
The Wimp was already in bed when I got there.
“You know I’ll always love you,” she said. She was standing in the kitchen, holding a tea bag. “And you’ll always love me. That’s been in the history books for a while – it can’t change.”
“Sure it can’t.”
“But, you know, the other night was good. I enjoyed myself. And it had to be. It was important for that to happen.”
“It can’t be permanent again. We both know that.”
Nope, can’t be permanent again. She was right about that.
“You and Artie,” I said. “It’s…well…you deserve something good.”
I knew I could shoot off about this Artie guy, reel-off a couple of quick ones, maybe about his leg. That would make life cleaner and clearer for Gracie. Better not to.
“It’s very good, very mature, secure.” She giggled. “Serious. The other night, that was a good way to leave it between us, don’t you think? It seems balanced, at peace. I mean, couldn’t that last us a while?”
“Certainly it could. Unless it couldn’t.”
“You’re damn right I mean.”
I stepped close to her. Things were different now. Appeal or no appeal, I was the one she married. I represented – at one time – hope, future, family, long life, old age, nice memories, all that stuff. She looked me straight in the goddamn eyes.
“Rachel’s upstairs. She’s a light sleeper.”
“That’s what you have a two story house for. Besides,” I said, “we’re her parents. That changes that whole convoluted equation of yours.”
Dot dot dot.
Yep, once we got started, she pulled some blankets and pillows out, and we did it on the floor.
This time was as good as the other, if not better, but a funny thing happened on the way to nirvana: I realized, for the first time really, that it was over – something was over – time for me to move on. Maybe, during all these years of separation and divorce, all I had really wanted was to do is hold up my end of the bargain, complete things on level ground, to be accepted in this arrangement, to be equal, morally, to my partner. My partner, I think, had lowered herself a notch or two; I had pulled my grade up. Now, we seemed, from my weird perspective, to be on equal levels in two important categories: morality, and pain. I felt like I could actually get out and save face.
So I did, in my mind, as I left her place in the wee hours, on foot. Best for both of us, anyway, that I left before The Wimp woke up. I walked home, hoofed it three miles at the quiet time. Good time to think. Good time to disrupt the mood balance. Get a little swing going while the stars still shine. It’s not good for us bipolars to miss our sleep this way; it brings out the mania. But who could sleep? Too much fucking electricity. I felt like I was plugged into a fucking power plant. Thoughts in my head pulsing like wild yo yo’s. I wanted to talk, a lot – and the good thing is I restrained myself. Not to do it to Gracie this time. Leave it like it was. Good. Do it to somebody else.