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March 6, 2008

Katie & Armando

On an ordinary Tuesday they met for coffee. He stood in line ahead of her waiting for their order and his back was to her, brown and smooth. He was wearing a white tank top and his profile was perfect, tan, weathered by the sun. Katie moved closer to his back and stood close behind him, placing her hands just where his waist began to taper. He was almost six inches taller than her, and she rested her head in the space between his shoulders and inhaled. He smelled male, like sun and warmth, and his shirt smelled faintly like washing powder. He reached for her hands and pulled her arms around his chest. She could not ever remember being so high. This was the drug. The one fix she had been searching for.

The flip side of her addiction was just as strong, the withdrawal. When he wasn’t around her, when her telephone didn’t ring, she began to doubt not only their attraction but the whole of herself. The hours when she wasn’t with him -- and there were so many! -- made her slip into an uneasy depression, anxiety, mistrust, fear. It was a powerful combination of intense anticipation and dread all at once.

"I’m dying," she thought. "I will never hear from him again, and I will wither up and die without ever having been loved."

It was dramatic. The beginning of something new is always heightened and extreme but this was taking place under the guise of her real life -- marriage and a husband and a house. She was unable to control her emotions, and when the days would stretch out without a call from him and with no opportunity to see him, she would feel like she was drowning. Drowning while picking up the dry cleaning. Drowning while driving to the post office. Drowning under the weight of the grocery shopping, the vacuuming, the dusting.

"Oh don’t worry," her husband Ernie would say. "You’ll find a job, you’ll see. Something will come up." And he would turn on the TV and she would pour another glass of wine and wait for the weekend to end, for Monday to come, for Armando to call and ask to see her. Ernie was oblivious. Ernie had always been oblivious, but for the first time Katie wasn't resentful. His disinterest in her life and in their marriage made her secret that much more delicious and awful.

And it was awful, she knew that. It was awful and she could not stop herself.

It became harder and harder not to tell anyone. She would scribble in her notebooks and wish for a confidante, but in the end Katie stayed silent and her days would fluctuate wildly between abject depression and total euphoria. Love had made her bipolar, she told to herself.

Oh God, I'm in love? I'm in love.

Telling Armando how she felt seemed out of the question. She didn’t ask him where he went during the long weekends when he didn’t call or make overtures to see her. It was her ultimate test of willpower. There is in all of us a woman who wants to know the truth, and one who is scared that the truth will be too hurtful to live with.

Not knowing was better. For now, anyway.

Yep, that's Katie & Armando, all right ... circa 2001. The cheese is palpable. You can practically taste it.

It was a powerful combination of intense anticipation and dread all at once.

At all the book signing events for Drunk Cat Hair Stuff, there was a big chunk of time devoted to Q & A. (I was terrible at it in the beginning, but I got better as time wore on. Once I got so comfortable that as I was talking animatedly with my hands I knocked over the entire floral topiary thingy on the table. And I once accidentally said a very sweary swear word in front of my grandmother. At an event. Very comfortable indeed!)

Occasionally during Q & A, someone in the audience would ask if I had always planned to write a book and I would answer yes, yes I always knew I wanted to write a book. I just assumed I would be in my fifties when I wrote it and the book would be about Katie and Armando and there would be a scene where they have sex in the movie theater and later something scandalous would happen and probably someone gets naked. Or shipwrecked. Or both!

And even though I was half-joking, I was half serious, too. Years ago I started making up a story in my head about Katie & Armando and from time to time I'd try to write it all down but later I'd re-read my silly paragraphs and all my words seemed sophomoric and dumb. Like I was pretending to write a book. So I stopped. I decided I would revisit it all one day when I was finally good enough.

I'd find other things to focus on (being married was an excellent distraction) and I would tell myself that one day, some time far off in the future, I would have the time and the skill and the energy to write a whole book. Like a lot of folks, I bought into the idea that one day I would have the life I wanted, and when that time came I would then do all the things I dreamed about.

It's so ridiculous now, even to me. But as time passed Katie & Armando became synonymous in my life with "One day.... one day far off in the future, I will be happy. I will know what it's all about. One day I will really be living my life! One day!" It was just one more way of waiting until conditions were right to finally enjoy the moment.

As if conditions are ever right for anything.

In more ways than one knitting has been a metaphor for good changes in my life. After all, we get better at stuff (gardening, knitting, speaking Spanish, writing) from just doing it. Lord knows I sucked at knitting from the get-go. Certainly I'm a better knitter now than I used to be and there is a lot of room for further improvement, but because I liked knitting I just kept at it even when I was bad at it. I learned to let go of trying to be Instantly Great! at it, instead I just wanted to knit a damn scarf -- any scarf -- simply for the sheer pleasure of knitting it, knots and all.

I can joke about Katie & Armando now because I'm not waiting anymore to live my life, most of the time. It's a hard habit to break. But when I do catch myself thinking "I'll do that next year, maybe..." I try to look inside and see if it's laziness or fear or just habit in me trying to postpone my life away. Like knitting, it gets easier the more you do it. I'm discovering it's always best to just begin where you are and trust you get better as you go along.

As far as poor old Katie and Armando go, I don't know if I'll ever write their story. Their tangled little web doesn't have a happy ending no matter how many times I try to spin it, so I think those poor star-crossed lovers may be better off in theory than on paper. They feel like part of the past, and they are cheeseballs. Plus they have some serious plot issues, I'm not going to lie. SERIOUS PLOT ISSUES, YA'LL. But I do know I'm going to finish some story this year, something that's more about where I am than where I was, and I'm not waiting for a mysterious date in the future when I'm finally "qualified" to do it. The time is now. It's the only time we get! And perhaps you improve with practice. My scarves have definitely improved over time ... remember this gem?

Lately I've been looking around at people and wondering what their own personal "Katie & Armando" is. Are they waiting until they lose weight to go on that fantasy vacation? Are they waiting until the kids are grown before they get the new sofa/visit those friends in Australia/take guitar lessons? Are they waiting until they have more money, less work, fewer obligations, a new car, a new haircut, a new boyfriend?

I bet lots of people have a Katie & Armando of their own. How about you? Are you waiting for something? Are you also waiting until one day? What is it you're waiting for? Can I end a sentence with a preposition?

Manny, do you like me? Do you want me? Do you love me? But instead what she said out loud was, "Manny, will you kidnap me? Take me away and keep me forever?"

He laughed and wrapped his thick arms around her and kissed her mouth and neck and ran his tongue along her bottom lip. She leaned into him and inhaled deeply.

"Yes, querida. I'll kidnap you all for myself."

And that was how it started, then. First as a joke, a wish, a way to say I want to be with you. Be with me. She could not pinpoint exactly when it became real. But that was how she found herself on this day, exactly five months and eight days since they met, putting things in a small black duffel bag. It was more difficult than she'd imagined, selecting only items her husband would never notice missing. How do you know what to keep? How do you take along some of your old life without anyone suspecting?

She dug her toes into the thick wool rug in the living room. She had picked this rug out when they bought the house, Ernie hated it at first but she had promised him it would grow on him. It had been expensive and she'd refused to take it back and they fought over it. It seemed so long ago, that argument. It was before she lost her job, when the money was still coming in and she thought he was overreacting about the stupid living room rug. Did he still hate it? She had no idea.

Ernie. Will he miss me? What the hell am I doing?

Her phone rang.

"Are you ready?" asked Armando. "It's time."

Katie zipped up the duffel bag. It was time to go. She took one last look at the house, her house, each picture on each wall carefully selected and hung up by her own hand, each piece of furniture picked out methodically over the nine years they'd lived here together. Her entire life was neatly summed up in one ranch-style corner lot in the suburbs.

She walked through the door and shut it behind her, knowing she would never see anything in that house again.

It was time.

Posted by laurie at March 6, 2008 11:11 AM