My Relationship with Mindy Had This Weird Correspondence to the American Civil War, Part III

Gettysburg

So Mindy and I started going out. Which is to say we started having sex and we felt we needed to put some sort of public face on the whole thing. I mean, we weren’t ashamed of what we were doing, so it would have been strange to keep it secret. But to have our… our whatever it was be only and exclusively about sex felt kind of weird and shallow to the both of us. I know it sounds fine on paper, but in practice it would have been way too Southern California.

Maybe that makes it sound like we didn’t have any genuine feelings for each other, which was not the case. But those feelings were so convoluted, our affection and animosity feeding off each other in cycles, that it was easier to pretend we had something more straightforward. So we pretended for the people around us, and for each other. I guess all couples do to some degree.

That phase of things began during a group camping trip over the long Fourth of July weekend; about a dozen of us went to a nearby state park. Donna, naturally, was organizer and instigator. Mindy and I were civil enough when we each found out the other was there. Everyone got in some hiking and a canoe trip and there were plenty of late-night drinking sessions around the fire.

Around the end of one such session, as I was walking back from a cooler with another beer, I bumped into Mindy, who was looking around for her shoes. The conversation went something like, “Hey! You seen my shoes?”

“How did you manage to lose your shoes?” (It may help set the scene if you imagine us slurring our words and swaying ever-so-slightly in the warm evening breeze.)

“I was getting some sun on my toes,” Mindy said, “And why do you got to be such a pill all the time?”

“Pill? I’m a pill? Who calls a person a thing like that?”

“I do,” she said. “I call you this. You are a pill. You are this unpleasant thing I have difficulty ingesting.”

“I meant it sounds old-fashioned-ey, like you’re a grandma.”

“I ask for a little help and you got to go be so… so un-helpful.”

“All right,” I said, “Okay, I’ll help. Now. Where are your shoes?”

“I don’t know,” she wailed.

“Okay, okay, sorry, sorry. Uh, where did you see them last?”

“Gah! I knew it!”—her eyes started to take on that now-familiar psychotic gleam—“I knew you were going to say that! People always say that to people when they’re looking for stuff they’ve lost and it Makes! No! Sense!”

“What?” I said. “Why? I mean, it makes all the sense. It’s the first thing you ask yourself when you go looking for something.”

“It makes no sense because if you knew the last place you saw the thing, then it wouldn’t be lost in the first place!”

“Not so,” I said.

She stopped, cocked her head to one side, pondered for a second, then erupted. “How?! How not so?!” She actually stomped her bare foot.

“Someone could have moved it,” I said in a very quiet voice. “Or maybe it could have gotten covered up with something, like a dishtowel or a…” and then I looked around, because the idea of a dishtowel seemed out of keeping with the wilderness surroundings. I finished, lamely, with “…branch.”

She regarded me suspiciously through narrowed eyes, then finally said, “…possibly.”

I tried to follow up quickly, as this was the first break I’d seen in her gathering storm front. “Look, you said you wanted to get some sun on your toes? Where was that? Where were you when the sun-on-your-toes thing occurred to you?”

She thought for a moment, then said, “Oh, hey,” and turned and started walking. I just started walking along with her, in that way that can happen when someone you’re in a conversation with just pulls you along when they start moving.

We crossed part of a long, open field, stumbling a little thanks to the darkness and the alcohol. Finally we reached a little shaded spot at the back of our site where Mindy had set up her tent. She had a small green camp stool right out front. And resting just under it were her shoes.

She picked them up and started giggling.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“You were right for once,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“This is actually the last place I saw them.” 

We both started laughing. And then we started making out, just as if we were some kind of normal couple making up after a fight.

We came up for air at some point and I said, “Wait, why are we doing this?”

(By the way, breaking the moment with stupid questions like that is grounds for losing your guy license.)

“Um,” she pondered, “well, we have been drinking a lot. Or maybe we were curious to see what it would be like? But more probably the drinking.”

I decided to save whatever other stupid questions I might have for another time.

The Wilderness to Cold Harbor

The drinking. Mindy and I, together and apart, did a lot of drinking. Booze was how we met in the first place and how we finally hooked up. It was the reason for some of our best shared moments and our most savage fights. I guess the alcohol is an important catalyst for a lot of relationships, but I look back and it seems one or the other or both of us was drunk at almost every key moment of our relationship, and I wonder why that should be.

Neither one of us was a full-blown alcoholic, which makes me think we were using it to some purpose, like the way you drink at a party to be more social, or at Thanksgiving to numb the annoyance you feel toward your family. 

I think I drank for the courage. I knew if I didn’t confront, if I didn’t at least try to hold my own, Mindy would steamroll right over me every time. They say that every relationship is a secret rivalry, with both people constantly jockeying for position. With Mindy and me, it was more like a war.

As for Mindy, I think it was actually to let the anger out—to give herself permission to let it out. She had a lot of anger in her and spent her days at the office seething because she couldn’t stab people in the eye when they did something stupid. She never told me much about her childhood, but nothing in what she did or didn’t say led me to believe she had any deep trauma in her past. Maybe it was a biochemical thing.

So you can imagine what our time together was like. Donna was shocked out of her socks when we told her about the two of us. In fact, I’m not sure she ever quite believed it. I think Donna may have spent the entire time Mindy and I were together wondering if we weren’t playing some elaborate practical joke on her. Dave was smug and insufferable because he’d seen the attraction when I wouldn’t admit to it. The rest of our friends came in late to the story, so they were easier to manage.

We didn’t make any promises or declarations to each other. We went and did the things that couples do. Double dates with Donna and her flavor-of-the-month. Movies, concerts, restaurants—all the things you feel stupid doing without another person.

And we fought. Over big things and little things and nothing in particular. Each of us stormed out of the other’s apartment in the small hours of the morning, unable to take a moment more.

But we kept coming back to each other, because there was something there. Something in the back-and-forth. Like one of those rock bands late in their career when all the members hate each other, but the music they make is so fantastic that they keep linking up for one more reunion tour. Like a comedy duo that can’t stand each other but only has the rapport, the timing that makes the jokes work with each other.

And some nights we would lie there, burning in each other’s arms. And some mornings we would lie there, trapped between her side of our war and mine.

Sherman’s March to the Sea

It couldn’t last, of course. One week Mindy was out of town at a wastewater treatment conference in Georgia and I went out to grab a beer at a bar. Out of nowhere, the way it will sometimes happen when you’re not trying to force anything to happen, I got into a conversation with a girl.

We talked for maybe 45 minutes. And when she left, we didn’t exchange numbers. There were no real sparks. There was just this easy, simple back-and-forth. You seen that one movie? Oh yes, I thought so-and-so was good in that. You went where for college? Oh yeah, I visited that campus once for a game. They have a really nice quad. That sort of thing.

And after the girl was gone, I realized I wanted something normal. Simple. A relationship that didn't tear me up on a semiweekly basis. I wanted my war to be over and done with. I went home and wrote out a long letter to Mindy, then tore it up without rereading it.

A couple of days later when she got back in town, I went over. I was steeling myself up to actually say the words—and thinking that if I just had a drink or two, it would make this a lot easier—when Mindy took my hand.

“Look,” she said, “there’s something I need to tell you. I think you’re a fantastic guy and all, and I’ve had a great time being with you, but your penis is just way, way too big. Seriously, I need to find someone I’m more physically compatible with.”

“Oh my God,” I said, “you’re using Donna’s break-up routine to break up with me?”

She scrunched up her face in embarrassment. “You know about that?”

“Of course I know about that! You couldn’t come up with anything original?”

She shrugged her shoulders and sat down next to me on the couch. “I couldn’t even come up with a single solid reason except that it’s just…”

“It’s just time, isn’t it?” I said.

She nodded and said, “I’m surprised we lasted as long as we did. This certainly hasn’t been what you’d call healthy.”

I had to agree. I gathered up my things—maybe enough to fill a shoebox—and told her I’d get her stuff to her in the next couple of days.

As I was leaving I stopped in the doorway and said, “We had to do this, didn’t we? Give being together a try, right?”

“Oh, definitely,” she said. “We would have killed each other sooner or later if we hadn’t.”

Then she gave me a kiss and closed the door.

Surrender at Appomattox

I told Donna all about it when we met for lunch near the courthouse on Monday.

“Frankly,” she said as we were walking, “I never saw how the two of you got together in the first place. I know the opposite of love is indifference, not hate, but jeezus, the two of you hated each other.”

“We just rubbed each other the wrong way,” I said.

“So you determined to rub up against each other?” she said.

“Well,” I said, “when you find someone who really knows how to get to you, who has this, like, instinct for what buttons to push—”

“You wonder what other buttons they might find?” Donna said with a leer. I can always count on her to really lower the level of discourse.

“It means they know you,” I said. “It means they really get you, for good or bad.”

Donna gave me a chuck on the shoulder. “Hang in there, buddy. If you can get got by one girl, stands to reason you can get got by another.”

We walked along quietly for a while.

“You know,” I said, “she used the ‘your penis is too big’ speech on me.”

“I know!” she said. “I told her to use it. Said it never failed. I figured in the critical break-up moment you could catch her out lying and use it to grab the moral high ground.”

“Oh, thank God for you, Donna Chestnut. You probably saved me a lamp to the head.”

“Hey,” she said, jabbing both thumbs to her chest, “the queen of emotional ju-jitsu, that’s me.”

It’s really great to have friends who have your back like that.

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