Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentine's Tale

When I was 25 I spent a year house-sitting for several single friends who worked on Microsoft tradeshows that kept them away from their homes and cats for months. The timing was perfect; at that point I had a Rabbit Convertible in which I could fit everything I owned, and since I was on my fifth roommate in three years it was becoming clear that I needed to live alone.

House-sitting was a great way to sample lifestyles without committing to them. First stop was deep in the suburbs in Kirkland, on the other side of Lake Washington from Seattle, in a shiny new townhouse in which all walls were white and the windows covered with puffy floral valances; next on Capitol Hill, in the heart of the city, in a funky, urban, mid-century apartment with a kitchen so small it only took fourteen tiles to cover the counter tops; and last, in the kind of wet, woodsy neighborhood north of Seattle that made you think about how a body could decompose before it’s even gone missing, in a wood-paneled aerie so quiet I could hear the blood rushing though my ears when I put head to pillow.

The Kirkland suburbs aborted my budding social life. The commute to Microsoft was a breeze, but being so far away from friends put a damper on going out or having people over. I spent every night in that creepy new townhouse with a wheezing cat, both of us watching sitcoms and wondering why all circa 1991 construction had to feature textured walls, popcorn ceilings, and windows that were rounded on top. It was then that I started sampling psychics again.

I'd say it was mostly because my love life was in a miserable state. I had spent (wasted?) almost a year with James, a brilliant programmer I’d met at Microsoft. We couldn’t have been more different. He was from a prominent Boston banking family that summered at their villa in Italy and he pronounced basil “bahzil” without irony. While his co-workers were spending their stock on Porsches, he bought a Volvo, saying his real treat to himself was his 18th century Italian dining table with ten matching chairs that were reupholstered in period silk. He knew a lot about food and wine and taught me then, even before coffee really became a scene, that one should never, ever order a latte after dinner. I’m not at all sure what he saw in me, or what I really saw in him.

For the Fourth of July he suggested I come over to watch the fireworks on TV and listen to the synchronized music by the Seattle Symphony on his Bang Olufsen while he made his “famous” salmon in béchamel sauce. I said I wanted to take a blanket and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to Gasworks Park and watch the fireworks explode over my head. This distilled our relationship so succinctly that I had to end it right then and there. He took it hard and didn’t want to end it, letting it slip that because I was born on the same day that his mother had died he believed that we had some mystical connection. This only made me run faster.

After that, friends tried to set me up on blind dates—my personal nightmare. I finally conceded to one, only because an influential woman in my department insisted I go. Oliver was another programmer at Microsoft. We communicated via email before the date, which I left up to him to plan. He decided on dinner at a vegetarian restaurant downtown and then a concert by Diamanda Galás, who was promoting her Litanies of Satan album. I had never heard of her or even seen “performance art” before, but remained open minded.

As soon as I entered the restaurant, I was approached by a tall, pale man with braces and long red hair that smelled like breakfast. Nothing makes me more nauseous than hair that smells like breakfast. He ordered the vegetarian chili for dinner, which became stuck in almost every brace-laden tooth. Conversation was stiff enough without the added distraction of dangling kidney bean skins. Later Diamanda poured chalice after chalice of pig blood over her body while chanting, “There are no more tickets to the funeral! There are no more tickets to the funeral!" We never spoke again.

Enter the desperate search for a good psychic. Also enter, once again, my father. He had recently found an excellent one—though you had to reach her by phone. This was before Dionne Warwick started the whole phone psychic sham, so I didn’t really question it. Plus she had a good Slavic last name like mine.

She started with a prayer and a few minutes of silence while she “tuned in” to me. I busied myself with a crossword so I would not add up the three-dollar minutes that were ticking by.
She breathed in deeply and began. “All right sweetheart, I’ve got you now. What would you like to ask?”
“What I really want to know is when I’ll meet my future husband,” I asked. This is one of the stupidest sentences you can ever hear yourself say out loud.
She must have heard it a lot; without a beat she said, “Believe it or not, he’s right around the corner.”
I gasped. “In Kirkland?”
She chuckled and sipped at something, “No, dear, I mean time wise. By June 23rd you will have met him.”
“June 23rd as in three months from now?”
I could hear faint card shuffling in the background. “That’s right sweety.”
After the initial freakiness of talking to a psychic in Wisconsin who sounded just like my grandmother, I settled in. “So who is he?”
“Not to sound cliché, but I see tall, dark, and handsome.”
“Can you get any more specific?” For me tall, dark, and handsome only existed in black-and-white movies.
“You’ll be friends for awhile, but just take it easy on him; it will take him some time to figure out that you’re the one.”
“But I’ll know right away?”
“Women usually do.”
“I don’t know him already?”
“No, you don’t. Or you do and you don’t really know it.”
She took another sip of something and said, “Now remember, for once in your life you have to be patient. He needs to think it is all his idea.”
Patience was my missing virtue. “Okay, I can do that,” I lied.
“I’m seeing water. Your first date will be on the water. Either near or on a boat.”
All I could see was a Cary Grant type on a yacht, “Jeeze, he has a boat?”
Pause. More shuffling. “Not necessarily, no. Could be someone else’s.”
“Oh, okay…”
“You know dear, your circulation is a little slow. You should take a hot bath and pour a good heap of powdered ginger in the water.”
“And get your cat some MSM,” she said as she tapped the receiver.
“The cat I’m babysitting?”
“The tabby right next to you.”
I reached down to pet Grover and a chill went through me. For the first time I thought she might be legit. Me and a tall, dark, handsome man who may or may not have a boat seemed sketchy at best, but this mangy old cat needing some drugs made a lot of sense.
“You can get MSM at health food stores. She could really use some. Bad joints.”
“Great, I’ll do that,” I lied again.
“Okay then, honey, if there’s nothing else I’ll let you go. You’re going to have a real fun summer.”

I hung up and looked at my calendar; by June 23rd I would be out of condo hell and into the cool apartment on Capitol Hill. Perfect backdrop for Cary Grant romance avec bateau. That also left three months to lose ten pounds.

I met Scott through our mutual friend, Chris Ritter (aka Critter). Scott had left the downtown advertising agency where he worked with Critter for a job at Microsoft. Since I worked there too, Critter suggested we all get together for drinks one night. I had recently moved to Capitol Hill so my social life was picking up.

We met at one of the college bars in Pioneer Square. Sitting in the back by the pool tables, we ordered some pitchers of Hefeweizen and got to talking. Within five minutes I knew Scott was The One. It was June 21, the first day of spring.

Scott was a dead ringer for Young Elvis. He was a thin 6’2 with big blue eyes and dark hair, and had the most beautiful hands I had ever seen. He smelled like pine, but not like pine cologne, something more intrinsic. It was intoxicating. The only thing missing was a boat.

We clicked immediately that first night. After the bar we met up with some other friends at other bars and after last call, when no one wanted the night to end, we went to 7-11 for a case of Rolling Rock and headed back to my apartment just up the street. The four of us talked until dawn and made lots of summer camping plans. The next morning I called my Mom and told her I met her future son-in-law. Two days earlier than the psychic's deadline, impatient girl that I am.

A couple of weekends later we all went camping as planned. Critter and his friend Pete drove together and, since Scott and I were both leaving from Microsoft, we drove together. The turnoff was only about 30 minutes out of Seattle, but we got to talking and forgot about directions until we saw a sign for the Canadian border. We backtracked and made it to camp three hours late.

We became inseparable. We worked in the same building at Microsoft so we’d meet for lunch in the cafeteria or have dinner at Callabria nearby where we’d both always have the Penne Gorgonzola and a bottle of ice-cold Vernacchia. We’d meet Critter and friends downtown about four nights a week, often staying out until last call and then hitting Denny’s for Moons over My Hammy or Trattoria Mitchelli for the linguine in vermouth cream sauce.

It turns out Scott really was right around the corner, and not just time-wise. He lived about a half mile from the dreadful condo I house-sat for in Kirkland. His VW was always on the fritz so he carpooled to work with his roommates. But after work I was his chauffeur, and even at the end of a 3:00 a.m. night I had no problem driving 40 minutes from downtown Seattle over Lake Washington to the Kirkland suburbs and then back to Seattle to my place. I couldn’t get enough of him. I was ecstatic, driving home with the top down and the music up.

My patience wore a little thin at the end of a couple of months. Daves, confirmed bachelor and good friend from high school was coming for a visit so the three of us went to dinner on Capitol Hill. Scott came straight from work downtown; he was looking slick, very ad-man-1991. We had a great dinner and then went on to coffee and dessert. After Scott left, Daves broke the news.

“Sorry sister, there’s no way he’s straight,” he said as if delivering news about a terminal illness.
“What, the good haircut?”
“That and straight guys aren’t that damn funny.”

We drove home in silence, Daves respecting the fact that I needed to mourn a little. But after running it over in my head, I knew Daves was wrong. So for the first time in my life, I remained patient and confident. It was as if I were watching a play that I had already read; I knew what was going to happen, but the actors were bringing it to life.

At the end of the summer, when after I would drop Scott off at three in the morning I’d have to put up the convertible top to stave off the dewy chill, I could tell things were changing. There was a tectonic shift in our relationship that perhaps, like animals and earthquakes, only I could feel.

Apparently he felt it too. “So let’s do this,” he said one day on the phone.
I knew immediately what he meant. “Okay, let’s do it,” I said.
“Let’s go out tomorrow night, just you and me.”
“Oooh, a real date,” I said, mockingly. The adultness of all of this was too much to bear.
“I’d say it’s long overdue,” he said with so much earnest it made my heart sink. “I’ll plan something, and even pick you up this time.”

I was dumbfounded. I called Daves immediately. He didn’t take the news well, he hated being wrong.

The next day Scott picked me up at my apartment, just like a real date. He had made reservations at a seafood restaurant on the waterfront called Elliott’s. At dinner, I felt a calmness, a peace that I have never felt with a guy I was dating. There was nothing clumsy or uncomfortable about our relationship; it was as if we had always been together like this. Elliot’s was right next to the ferry terminal so we watched the boats dock and sail as we ate. After dessert, Scott suggested we hop on a ferry boat. I smiled as the words of Darlene Gustovich rang in my ears.

We ran over to catch the next one. It was a chilly but clear evening as we sailed from downtown Seattle, watching the skyline fade as we neared Bainbridge Island, where the stars shone brighter in the black night. Staying on as commuters disembarked, we rode back on the same boat.

We stood on the bow, Scott behind me with his head on my shoulder and his arms around me, both of us thinking those monumental thoughts that come from looking out at the universe at night.

The following Valentine's Day, exactly 16 years ago today, Scott proposed. Guests had to ferry to our wedding on Bainbridge Island.

Lucky, lucky me.


Hardygirl said...

Ahhhhhh. Happy Valentine's Day.

And, I'm so glad Scott didn't stand on the bow and yell "I'm the kind of the world!"

Yummiest story I've ever heard.

Steve Brezenoff said...

I love this story, and this perhaps isn't very Valentine's of me, but my favorite line is: "...made you think about how a body could decompose before it’s even gone missing..." That's excellent.

PurpleClover said...

Awww, how sweet!

Anonymous said...

Well, you got me crying! I'm the one you called when you met him and said that he is the ONE! You two are definitely soulmates, and with your 2 kids, are a "soul family", if there is such a thing. I have a new respect for Psychics. I love you all. Happy Valentine's Day!

jennie said...

Christy, I'm so happy to read this Ode to Scott!

Last night while he was sitting in our kitchen, I was thinking, "What a great guy! For such a great girl! And these two incredible kids!"

Your mom is right: you have quite the family. We're loving getting to know you all.

Steve is right, too: "How a body could decompose..."

Shelli said...

everyone together now - aaaawwwwwww! so cute and mushy - love it!

Suzanne Young said...

Um... so I'm spending Valentine's eating pizza and watching the All-Star game. That's just as romantic, right?

Great!!! Post! And I love the picture. Double Awwwwwww....

Carole said...

Yours is one of the most memorable weddings I have ever attended. And I will never forget the ferry boat. We almost missed the last one needed to get us to the wedding in time, in a rental car seating 4, with 3 adults and 3 kids on board. We folded down one of the back seats and stuffed the two smallest kids in the trunk, heads peeking out. Oh my!

Thanks for the Valentine story.


peggy Frasse said...

CRYING in Seattle! A lovely story.
I remember February 15th with you, Scott and Critter and I in the Rabbit going over to the Herb Farm to buy flowers to plant in honor of your engagement! 16 years ago today.

I think I need Darlene Gustovichs number, ASAP!

Thanks for sharing your world, thoughts and most importantly your experiences through words.

LOVE to you both.

Anonymous said...

You were made for each other. You know I know that better than most people :)
Congrats you guys. You're quality all around.


peteo said...

Belly CDs for everyone!

Barbara Slaton said...

Geez, I'm already verklempt over Andy & Christine's engagement and now I'm sitting at my desk in the Office crying...

That was so beautiful! I don't know how you learned to have such patience (came in handy later with Hank, eh?)

I love you all --


Miles Inada said...

You stole my man!!!