Someday, I feared, I’d simply run into her, the woman who’d ripped out and Irish-riverdanced upon my young heart. Lisa (let’s call her) was the initiator of the breakup that irreversibly changed the course of my romantic life, the cataclysmic heartbreak that doused frigid water on my twentysomething aspirations of true love.
Of course, what worried me most about the possibility of crossing paths with Lisa was how I’d ultimately fare in the who-looks-the-best, who-cares-the-least beauty pageant that would inevitably occur.
It happened a few weeks back, on one of those unseasonably temperate Sundays. The brunch joints along Broadway were overflowing-long lines just to put your name on the stand-in-line lists. My current girlfriend and I were meeting an old college buddy and his lady friend at Time Café, Broadway and 85th. As we milled around, small-talking, listening for our name to be called, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a woman hauling one of those supersized twin strollers out of the restaurant. I turned toward this stranger and quite suddenly there we were: me and Lisa, inches apart.
The recognition nodule of my puny brain sent an electrical impulse to my face, no doubt resulting in an expression of alarm or horror. I averted my gaze, hoping that she hadn’t recognized me.
“Andres?! Is that you? Hey!”
Lisa smiled widely, sweetly, seemingly thrilled to see me. But me, I became deeply nauseous. Over the years, despite my best efforts at repression, I’d been unable to eradicate the memories of our last moments together, the obligatory returning of personal effects. I believe I was weeping like a bitch at the time.
Now here she was, on a Sunday morning eight years later, trying to make nicey-nice with me at a brunch place.
I pretended to struggle for her name.
“Ah, hmm, hi,” I stammered, my breathing rapid and uneven.
“Lisa,” she offered.
“How are you?!” she asked enthusiastically.
Compelled to get a grip or, at least, to give the illusion of having my shit together, I decided to feign the same sort of pleasure she seemed to be experiencing at this moment.
” Gr-rreat!!” I responded a bit too energetically, like an Ecstasy-popping Tony the Tiger. I even flashed my best phony-baloney smile, the dental one from vacation photos.
“How ’bout you, Lisa?!!!”
Lisa and I had come face to face so unexpectedly, so split-secondly. This encounter was, so far, nothing like my decade’s worth of sick fantasies. No, those fantasies went more like this:
It’s dark and it’s raining. Lisa’s on a street corner calming her screaming infants (six of them). No husband in sight. I strut out of Nobu covered in jewels, perhaps wearing a tasteful man fur. With me, at least three girlfriends. The conversation goes something like this:
Me (enthusiastically): “Hello, Lisa! How great to see you!”
Her (taken aback by my enthusiasm): “Oh, hi … you, too.”
Me (to my young buxom companions): “This is Lisa, the first woman who ever broke my heart. Can you imagine that!”
My girlfriends and I share a good laugh, I stuff a couple of Benjamins into Lisa’s wrinkled hand, wave my jewel-encrusted cane, belt out a “Hoo-ahh!”, step into my stretch vehicle and I’m gone.
The origin of such ideation, I suspect, is that place in the human psyche housing the deepest of insecurities. For the dumpee, at least, the ex encounter is really a primal competition from which there can emerge only one true champion. I can’t imagine anybody’s capable of rising above this pettiness-great scholars, world leaders, Gandhi, even the Dalai Lama.
As Lisa and I stood there awkwardly silent for a moment, I resolved not to allow the creation of a whole new cringe-inducing memory such as this one in the making. I emerged from my reverie noticing my friends and girlfriend looking at me expectantly. (Lisa would later be explained away as a friend from the good old days. When possible, I choose not to publicize personal low points-except in print to thousands of strangers.)
“Right, this is my girlfriend, Jackie. And this is Brian and Danielle. They’re with me.” I emphasized the last bit because I was accompanied by three people, whereas Lisa was alone. My companions outnumbering hers must count for something. And where was her husband, anyway?
“Are they fraternal or identical?” my girlfriend asked Lisa. As they discussed the babies, I carefully sized up this woman from my past, remarking in particular how scrappy she looked these days. The Lisa I once knew was glowingly pretty, whereas this present-day version looked like just another overtired uptown mom.
I was actually feeling pretty good about my own appearance that day. I’d showered, a rarity for Sundays. I’d also brushed my teeth and combed my hair. My weight was at a cyclical low thanks to my recent ability to resist my longtime nemeses Ben and Jerry. And my girlfriend, perhaps the loveliest woman who’s ever chosen to keep my company, had also showered and prettied herself up to meet my friends. Plus my girlfriend’s also about 15 years younger than Lisa. In the evil, superficial world of woman-on-woman nastiness, my understanding is youth (and big boobs) represent formidable dominance.
Perhaps sensing the turning of tides, Lisa looked straight at me and asked bluntly:
“So, what are you doing these days for work?”
A loaded question, indeed. Back when we were dating, my career prospects were pretty dismal, and “scrubbing the urinals at Port Authority” might have in fact been a reasonable response, given my vocational trajectory.
“I work on Wall Street,” I offered matter-of-factly-only a slight exaggeration (though I do work near Wall Street).
“Oh,” Lisa sniffed, feigning disinterest. “Well, I’m still at NBC, producing the news. Going on eight years now.”
I looked neither surprised nor impressed. (Of course, my unfazed exterior was less a fact and more a function of regular Google searches performed throughout the prior decade.)
“Pinter, your table is ready,” the hostess chimed from behind us.
And, suddenly, I had just one more moment to do or say whatever I needed to. I could politely bid her adieu or flaunt my (indisputable!) victory playground-style, hurling a few good insults for good measure. There was the obvious: “Go get some sleep!” Or the guilt-evoking: “Destroy anybody’s life lately?” There was always the lowbrow option of referencing women in their late 30′s, fertility drugs and twins. Or I could’ve simply said, “See ya, chubbs!” (The really good material only occurred to me later in the day.)
Instead, I opted for the following:
“Well,” I said, extending a friendly hand.
“Great seeing you, Lisa. Congratulations on the twins.”
“Great seeing you too, Andres. Take care.”
A few beats later, as Lisa and her gangly pinhead husband ambled by, I folded my arms behind my head, basking as much in the uneven warmth of the sun as in my own cheap self-satisfaction. See, I fared well that day without the aid of name-calling or lewd hand gestures! I leaned back far in my chair and opened my menu. “Hoo-ahh!” I muttered to myself.
And, even better, if I do run into Lisa again, I’ll have an expanded arsenal of insults-just in case.
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