Friday, March 21, 2008

Moments I miss more and more

I was standing in line at Lalo’s Tacos this afternoon when I was hit by a flood of memories regarding lunch and my Marcie. I have detailed how very in love we remained throughout our relationship and our marriage, and lunch was one of the things we tried to do together from time to time, usually treating them as “minidates.”

This habit, of course, was more often indulged after I developed a liking for seeing Marcie in her work clothes. But it had always been a feature of our life together. I remember days at Anthony’s on the bay, looking into her blue eyes and holding her hand on or under the table as we ate.

She sometimes complained that I was not talking much. I would sometimes just start complimenting her, which pleased her greatly, or playing “footsie” on her silky legs, which tickled. But I usually just told her what was in my heart.

“We don’t need to talk,” I would say. “I’m just happy to get to see you.”

One discussion of this kind that we had, at Lalo’s in particular, came to mind today. I had called her to meet me as I tended to their ad in San Diego CityBeat. I did not like my job, as much as I loved CityBeat, and was pining for a return to the writing career I’d had to abort for practical reasons.

“Honey, why are you being so quiet?” she asked, practically throwing her taco onto her plate. “I gave up lunch with a friend that I had planned for weeks to come be with you.”

She was not interested in my stock distractions, my stock (if very sincere) answer, or the kiss I gave when I leaned over, to quiet her. She pushed me away, back into the seat across from her.

“No, honey,” she said. “You ask me to come to lunch with you and then you don’t talk to me, you don’t say anything, we just eat. What’s the point? It’s like we’re going through the motions when we eat together. It’s crazy.”

I looked across the table at her and thought about it. I had my reasons, but generally I thought she understood and things like this could go unsaid. In truth, I was a little hurt, and maybe it showed.

“Well,” I said. “Mostly, I call you because I want to be with you, and I need to share some time with you during the week when I work. You just make me happy and proud to have you.”

I tried to touch her hand and she pulled it away, giving me her stern and impatient glare, as if I had not told her enough. I just folded my hands together and looked down, and sighed.

“Sometimes, though, I really just need to be with you, and it doesn’t matter that we don’t talk or we eat and smile and chitchat, or maybe we have a little rest on a park bench,” I said. “I just need to see you, so I know why I put up with it all and why I do things I don’t want to. It’s because I want you in my life and happy more than I want all the other little things I think are important to me.”

I was gulping a little and I waited a few seconds to continue. She took my hand and I blinked a little as I looked up in her eyes. I composed myself as she squeezed my hand and rubbed it, nodding in her very understanding way.

“Sometimes I don’t want to keep on doing what I do, or being here in San Diego, or trying to squeeze an extra buck out of my job,” I said. “But all it takes is to see you, and my hard day is a little easier and my heart’s a little lighter, because I know I only have to make it through a few more hours and I can be with you.”

She leaned across the table, kissed my cheek and then my lips, then slid out of the bench and walked to the restroom, purse in tow. I watched her go, and then wondered if she was going to leave with a plate of food on the table. Maybe I hadn’t said enough, or maybe I had hit the wrong nerve.

She slid into the seat next me and kissed my cheek, taking my hand in hers and squeezing it between us. “I’m sorry, honey,” she said. “I understand completely. I’m glad I came.”

She never sat across from me again, but always sat next to me after that, and we didn’t speak much more at lunch, but we smiled a lot, and we acted a bit like teenagers while we waited for our food. I always felt revived, enlivened by her.

Today, as I sat in the bench table where we had that talk, I realized that I really don’t have that same big reason to deal with it all that used to. Still, I imagined she was there having her fish tacos and chattering about her workmates, flicking her long red hair back and playing footsie.

It didn’t work. There was no loaded silence we came to enjoy together. There was no sweet Marcie voice, just the chatter of a dozen people I did not know. There was only the taste of a stripped-down grilled chicken burrito, not her lips or her neck. There was the feel of my boot scratching an itch on my shin and then my hand rubbing and soothing away the soreness of last night’s run, not her little foot sliding up my calf or our socked feet playing footsie.

And in the context of her vast absence, it all just hurt.