I’m Engaged and No One is Going to Tell Me Different

Photo Credit: Ryan Polei | www.ryanpolei.com via Compfight cc

I have news. I’m engaged. I know, right? I mean, you don’t know me, so you’re not familiar with my dating-slash-sexual history, but trust me – this is a big deal. I am one of those rare and freakishly fucked up people who, at forty-plus, has never been married. And, honestly, barring any trips out of the greater L.A. area, I’m okay with it. I’ve agonized over what to wear to countless weddings, spent thousands of dollars on wedding gifts wagering that at least some of it will come back to me when I launch an Indiegogo campaign to fund my short. I’ve taken delight over several dozen pregnancy announcements all the while holding firm – if at times with white knuckles – to my commitment to the untraditional path.

Oh, who am I kidding? From my ivy-entwined liberal enclave, I look down with disdain on those women who flash their rocks like winnings in Vegas.

Don’t they know about blood diamonds and how the De Beers cartel forcefully relocated indigenous people in Botswana to build their mines just so that insecure women the world over can feel loved and cherished? And to those women who claim that having a baby was “the most important thing I’ve ever done” I say, really? Lying on your back? Try writing a screenplay, bitch.

But now, I’m engaged. And okay, so I’m not a huge fan of diamonds, but a sapphire would be nice.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to meet someone before fifty was a mere five minutes away. I did the internet dating thing but lacked the commitment of those who succeed and participated in a half-assed way which the people running the sites seemed to punish me for by sending even more losers my way. No, I always sought more romance in my dating life and, not finding it these last few years, simply didn’t date at all.

But now, I’m engaged.

To a Frenchmen – did I mention that? My fiancé – I love saying that word – is French. Which I love. Because it’s exotic. But he’s a little different from your average American male. He doesn’t see any problem in telling me what to wear and how to style my hair, sometimes in a very blunt manner. He’s also not indoctrinated into the school of thought that posits that if the woman is happy, everyone is, so the goal is to make sure she’s in that state, almost like a human Prozac tablet. But hopefully, we can work on these things with a bilingual therapist because, well, my fiancé does not speak English. He knows a few phrases like “I am a walrus” and “Yes, we can!” but not much beyond that. And while I did major in French in college where I wrote long papers on remote French poets, conversationally I’m a bit rusty. I do speak some Italian and so does he, so between his few but very important English phrases, my book-learned French, and our rudimentary Italian, we get by. We really do.

No, language isn’t the issue. There’s actually another, bigger issue: my fiancé has disappeared. Yes, ever since the engagement, he’s been MIA.

Let me back up here and tell you how we came to be, my fiancé and I. In college I had a boyfriend whom I met in the most romantic of ways: on a train. The Long Island Railroad, to be exact, as both of us were heading back to New York City after a weekend away from it. I’ll never forget – Randy walked onto the train with a sleeping bag slung across his shoulders as if he were using it to towel himself off after an intense workout. He smiled at me and sat down in the seat directly across the aisle. When the train pulled into the tunnel, he asked if I’d like to have a drink at a Penn Station bar, and it was there, a hundred feet or so below the streets of New York, that I fell in love.

This is Randy – not my fiancé. We’re getting to my fiancé in a moment.

Randy was everything a spoiled, lazy, disillusioned and nihilistic college girl could ever want in a man. He drove an old Impala whose muffler’s noise seemed to cause the entire campus of my women’s college to collectively shudder when it pulled up in front of my dorm. He lived with a buddy in an area of the Bronx that was so un-cool it was cool, in an apartment inherited from his roommate’s grandparents, meaning the furniture was still covered in plastic. But the most attractive thing about Randy was that he was not in college. He’d graduated five years earlier and ran with a group of friends whose disillusionment with a) the idea of college; b) the eighties; c) life as an adult was equal to mine only they were older, had jobs and were living proof that it paid off.

The fact that I had signed up to study in Paris in three months’ time only added to the excitement Randy had injected into my previously dull and sexless college career. We accepted it and vowed – and I quote – “to respect ourselves and others” which in retrospect sounds like a line from a seventies movie about a swingers retreat. We mouthed “I love you” through the window at JFK before I headed to my gate to board my plane bound for Charles de Gaulle.

I thought about Randy constantly as I combed the streets of Paris. We wrote each other long letters that I’d carry with me and re-read in cafes. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be a shrine celebrating the beauty and wonder of l’amour, whether it was a couple French-kissing in a park or a lingerie ad on the side of a bus. I was in love in a city in love with love.

Then, not three weeks in the City of Lights, as I was sitting in a café nursing a crème and writing bad poetry, one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen started talking to me and invited me to dinner that night. Bien sur, I responded. How could I not? After the meal, Giancarlo and I took a walk and crossed the river on the Pont Neuf. And there, with the Seine rolling by below, that he kissed me. This was romance, I thought. This was living.

Sex, on the other hand, was rushed and unpleasant and involved a rancid body odor – not mine – only partially masked by Polo cologne.

No — Giancarlo is not my fiancé. I’ll get to my fiancé in a minute.

Not long after our evening together, Giancarlo showed up at a party my roommates and I were throwing. We hadn’t spoken since that night, but I reached out to him just to give the party some ethnic flavor since everyone else who was coming was American. He brought two friends along. Laurent and Fabrice were like his comedic sidekicks: funny, good-natured guys with none of his guile or good looks but affable and – unlike their friend – interested in getting to know me. The three of us instantly connected.

We started going to movies, to dinner. I spent the next few months determined to fool French people into thinking I was one of them. I studied the clothes, the culture, the food. My new French friends weren’t buying it; to them, I was American no matter how good I got at putting my hair up so that it looked haphazard when in reality it took close to an hour to do; and they loved me for that. When Randy came to visit after months, I took him to all my favorite haunts, and even though we ate, drank and fucked our way through the city, he broke up with me a few months later. I may just have been too French for him.

Laurent and Fabrice came to visit me in New York the following year and I took time off from stalking Randy to show them the sights. I graduated college and tried to make it as a modern dancer. I had a night job as a legal assistant and would sneak long distance calls to Laurent just to catch up. I went to Italy with a shady nightclub act and met an Italian, made a collect call to Laurent to hear a familiar voice, eventually moved back to New York with said Italian, endured his tantrums and his neediness which were probably just stand-ins for missing Italy but who knew it then? I worked at a company that made medical search software on CD-ROMs because I needed the job and was transitioning away from dance and while there started a relationship with a computer programmer who seemed incapable of a tantrum if his life depended on it. I broke up with the Italian and the programmer, lost touch with my French friends and all things French, started writing and doing script coverage, moved to Los Angeles, worked a succession of jobs, some good that I treated like shit, some shitty that I treated well, wrote scripts that I treated better than any jobs, and had a handful of relationships that in some way seemed as a impermanent and as flimsy as my career – not to mention life – in this impermanent and ethereal city I call home.

Then, 2008 and a job with a lot of internet trolling time happened.

I looked online for old friends from kindergarten, became obsessed with the weddings of people I’d worked with in 1995. Having exhausted everyone I’d ever come into contact with on this continent, I moved overseas. I typed Laurent’s name into the Facebook search box and there he was – chiseled, tan, crisply attired and – drum roll, please – A Man.

An email correspondence started up, fast and furious. He was recently single, a French banker with une nouvelle appartement, a new job and a Porsche. He’s always loved me, he said, and recalled moments I’d long forgotten and how I wore my hair in each of them. All I was working with was a fleeting memory of the electrifying frisson I felt, or thought I felt, as the soft hairs of his calf brushed across my foot one night when we shared a very chaste bed during his stay in New York. But that was enough. We emailed multiple times daily. He poured his heart into letters of the most galvanizing emotionality I had ever read, much less received. Not yet owning a Smartphone, I couldn’t bear to part with my computer for any amount of time. We arranged a rendezvous in New York the following January. I spent the holidays out of my mind with nervous anticipation when I wasn’t shopping for lingerie or undergoing painful hair removal treatments.

We reunited at the baggage claim at Kennedy Airport. He immediately pulled me into his arms and kissed me and I reeled from the smell of cigarettes on his breath. In the last two months I had crafted an image of this man in my mind and he was not a smoker. We jumped into a cab and sped toward our Upper West Side hotel, making small talk to cover our nervousness.

Once there, we staked out our respective corners and put our suitcases down. I sat down on the bed. He sat next to me. He was nervous and I noticed that his teeth were shitty. Not the haphazard European variety, just darkened from years of smoking and red wine. We kissed again. Pretty soon clothes were being ripped off. Pretty soon we were having sex. Pretty soon it was over. Then, we went out to dinner.

Laurent is my fiancé.

The next three days we walked arm in arm through a snowy Central Park, sat side by side at the computers in the Ellis Island Museum where I searched for the manifest showing my grandfather’s transatlantic crossing. We ate and drank and then, at a moment’s notice, decided it was time to for l’amour and rushed uptown from wherever we were, threw off our coats and sweaters and dove into bed. We walked at the same pace and finished each other’s sentences. We laughed at the same things.

But as I sat on my plane tens of thousands of miles over middle America, I had nothing to hold on to. There had been no straightforward expression of love at the departure gate or plan to see each other again. The feelings of closeness were juxtaposed with moments where Laurent would stare blankly into space as if trying to solve a calculus problem. Our last night together he confessed to having the French version of an anxiety disorder. Was that it? I longed for a copy of the DSM.

We went back to writing. He talked about coming to L.A. I pushed, he pulled. I did what my therapist told me to do and clarified what I needed. That didn’t translate well. I said I was done. And I was. Despite being across an ocean, he had managed to take my life from me – or rather, I had all too willingly given it. I needed to get back to myself and my work.

I wrote a play. Wrote another. Produced the first play, started acting and writing stuff for myself, took jobs that still allowed me to pursue my dream and be the authentic person I am deep down but cover up to talk to customer service at Bank of America and shop for groceries and be nice to people and generally get through the tasks that life requires. I was still reeling from the near-miss of colliding with yet another foreign object who didn’t understand the path I’ve chosen and the world in which I choose to do it and the strange ethos that is America and specifically Los Angeles. Still, he wrote every birthday, beautiful letters, letters in which he apologized for his behavior in New York and told me I was in his thoughts.

Then, almost exactly five years later, I went to Germany to visit my aunt for the holidays. He learned I was there through a little bird called Facebook. I felt the old excitement come back as we spoke on the phone, laughing at the same jokes and giving each other the same shit and falling into the same rhythm. He wanted to give me a Christmas gift, he said – a ticket on the fast train to come to Paris. With my aunt’s blessing I rearranged my plans, throwing the debate I was having in my mind out to the Universe. I got my answer: he backed out. It was déjà vu. I wasn’t surprised at him, I was surprised that he’d managed to inspire those feelings in me again.

We Skyped from time to time. I’d always feel the same jolt, but then happily went about my business when we hung up. Then, about a month ago, I got a video call from him. We got to talking – about his turning fifty, about my perpetually single status, about the state of the world and us. Then, out of the blue he suggested that if neither one of us was married by next April, we should do it. We should get married. December 2015 was tossed out as an arbitrary date. Seeing him in his apartment, seeing his windows open and the Bois de Vincennes outside transported me back to a world I’d long forgotten. The piece de resistance was that he told me he had loved me for thirty years. That I was his friend above all else. I thought about it for less than a second and said oui.

I was reeling when I hung up the phone. I reeled in the frozen food section in Trader Joe’s and later as I was huffing and puffing my way through a Zumba class. It wasn’t just the endorphin rush from having talked to him for over an hour – an hour in which he turned the computer toward the room in his apartment where my mom would sleep when she came to visit. It wasn’t just the idea of having a wedding in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I grew up and where my immediate family and many old friends reside. It wasn’t just hearing a person tell you that in thirty years you were the only woman they’ve ever loved.

It was the idea of being engaged.

I realized that, as my forties wane and my fifties loom, as the dates – and the sex – become more awkward, the idea of getting married was starting to feel less possible and, frankly, less desirable. The work in finding someone seemed superseded only by the work in being with someone. With all the other travails involved in just getting through the day, I was starting to wonder if it was worth it. But this I could envision. This excited me. This was also a known entity and one I had genuine chemistry with.

I wrote him an email a few days later to let him know that I was serious about our plan. I wrote in French, directly translating such phrases as “We deserve to be happy”, “life is short” and “game on”.

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I haven’t heard back. Not a freaking word.

One by one, the happy chemicals started to leave my body. The adrenaline went first and brought on a sugar binge. Then, the oxytocin said au revoir and had me craving a random hook-up. Next I felt very tired, before the anger hit me upside the head like a week-old baguette. I had an urge to punish him by any means necessary, like writing a note telling him never to contact me again or unfriending him on Facebook to deprive him of any voyeuristic inclination to peek through the window of my life. But being honest with myself, I realized the reality of the situation was always looming; I had chosen to ignore it in order to go on the ride. I was angry at myself, for believing him. Again. Why was I so stupid to think someone with no life coach or twelve-step program could ever change?

But then – because I have a life coach and a dozen friends in twelve-step programs – I realized it wasn’t him that I thought would change, it was me. I imagined that by being engaged, my life would suddenly transform, that I would be transported away from the dust and grime of daily life into a different world, a world celebrating l’amour. A world where I might be taken care of, not only by him, but by better social services and a really good healthcare system. I wanted the prince to find me in my apartment as I was cleaning the cat box and quickly and painlessly move me – move us – there.

But the truth is, I like my life – for many reasons, but mostly because it’s mine. I’ve fought long and hard for it. Anyway, I’d already let an Italian rescue me from a burlesque show gone bad, and we know how that turned out.

But then it dawned on me – what this is really about is possibility. Talking about it with this person opened my mind up to the idea that it could happen, and just that simple fact has changed me, with or without all those good hormones rushing around my bloodstream. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m visualizing the rough outline of something even if the picture, including my future husband’s face, hasn’t been colored in yet.

So, for now, I don’t care what anyone says. I’m engaged.

Besides, whatever happens, we’ll always have New York.

Jessica Abrams

Like her character Louise Bice in KNOCKING ON DOORS (www.knocking-on-doors.com) Jessica Abrams is a writer-slash-actress-slash-dog-walker-slash-contributor-to-an-obscure-dance-blog (although truth be told, ExploreDance.com is neither obscure nor a blog). Also like Louise, she had a stint working for the government as a field interviewer, an experience that proved to be creatively fruitful, inspiring IN TRAINING, the stories published here, and KNOCKING ON DOORS, the web series she wrote, directed and stars in. Her plays have had productions and readings in various Los Angeles venues, with “The Laughing Cow” receiving Pick of The Week by LA Weekly. She is thrilled to be a part of this amazing network of talented women.

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