Irreconcilable Differences

As I was waiting for the cashier to ring up my chicken-flavored cat treats (free with one 14-lb container of Tidy Cat cat litter), I glanced back at the ever-growing line of post work/pre American Idol grocery shoppers. I was just about to turn back to swipe my credit card when something caught my eye. A man was in line about three people behind me, and he looked vaguely familiar. Wait. Is it? No. Could it be? Oh my gosh. It is. It was Orangehat Goatee – live in the flesh.
It had been so long since our split that I barely remembered his face, and seeing him out of context like this really threw me. I craned my neck to see if I could get a look at his grocery cart. Was he buying a lot of food, or just a little? Is he seeing someone else now? Were there any air fresheners or wine coolers in his cart? He was too far away for me to tell, which frankly, was probably a blessing in disguise because had he been any closer, he would have seen the contents of my cart: frozen pizza, generic nighttime cold medicine, sugar free cough drops, People Magazine, and Monistat 7.
But I’ll tell you right now, had he been behind me in line, I would have given him an earful:
No, I don’t want to talk about it. Look, you made it clear that you didn’t want to work things out, so don’t come up to me in the express lane at the Jewel and act like everything’s fine.
That doesn’t matter. It took me way too long to get over you, O., and I’m not going back to square one. Besides, I’m in love with someone else now.
That’s really none of your business, now is it? No, I’m not going to tell you who it is.
No, his name is not Scott S. Dale, smart-ass. Just because Seattle and I fell in love doesn’t mean I fall for every city I visit. God, are you still jealous over that Seattle thing?
Well I can tell you this – he appreciates me for who I am and sees a side of me that no one else does. He brings out my carefree, creative spirit – something you never even knew I had.
Well, no, I haven’t told him how I feel. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he talks to me about things. At least my relationship with him isn’t one-sided, like it was with you.
Look, Orangehat. What we had was special. I’m not going to deny that. But I’ve moved on, and I think you should, too. I’ve got to go – my pizza is starting to defrost. Take care of yourself, will you?

Well, I guess it’s for the best that we didn’t talk. I don’t want to open up old wounds, and now that I’m madly in love with someone else, I don’t even think about him anymore. Orangehat. Always wearing that stupid orange hat. Wonder if he still has that hat. That hat sure looked nice on him.

The End of the End: Closing the Gate

As my taxi drove in late at night from LaGuardia to Vivian’s apartment, I stared out the window, trying to tune out the talk radio that the cab driver kept chuckling at. I was fumbling around in my backpack to find my cell phone, when suddenly I looked up and realized that we were already near Central Park. A flash of color caught my eye as we turned the corner – orange banners, all throughout the park. The Gates! But I thought they were supposed to be gone by the time I got here? Maybe I had the dates wrong!
I was immediately thrilled because I had read so much about this amazing public art exhibit, and was so disappointed to learn that I would miss them by only a few days. When I got to Vivian’s, I told her that the gates were still up in Central Park, which of course, she already knew. As it turned out, the official closing date was February 28, but it would take two weeks to actually disassemble them all and remove them from the park.
Shoe stores be damned! My first excursion in New York would now have to be Central Park! Viv and I walked over to the exhibit first thing the next morning. We had no idea how many of the gates would still be up, but I was happy to see even one. As we walked through the park, Vivian was amazed at how many were still standing – she said there seemed to be just as many as when it first opened, but with only a fraction the tourists, which made for a much more enjoyable stroll.
As we walked along and took the same pseudo-artistic photos that millions of others must have taken over the prior weeks, we saw one of the volunteers for the exhibit standing guard in her grey vest. We chatted with her and learned that, of the original 7,503 gates that went up, there were still about 5,000 standing. She told us how much the platforms weighed (a lot). And she shared the interesting factoid that Germans made up the largest population of foreign visitors to The Gates. I think she may have made that last one up, just to impress the German woman who was also talking to her, but I didn’t mind.
And then the coolest thing happened: she asked me if I had a swatch. At first I thought she meant the über popular Swiss watch, and I was about to tell her that I used to have one, but it got stolen in the robbery. But before I could explain, she pulled out a little orange square of fabric from her grey vest. Oh – that kind of swatch! She then handed me a piece of the actual material that was used to make The Gates! I own art!
Viv and I thanked her, and continued along our walk. As I turned the orange swatch over and over in my hands, a bit surprised at the rough texture, I was overcome by an emotion that was a strange mix of joy and melancholy. At first, I wasn’t sure why. I looked above me and became almost entranced by the gentle flapping of the orange sails. There was just something so wonderful about that color, bright against the clear blue sky. And then it hit me: Orangehat. Oh god, how I miss him.
Ever since our divorce papers were filed, I haven’t seen him on the train. We left things so… unfinished, but at the time it seemed like that was the best thing to do. Now somehow, standing in Central Park, clutching the orange fabric, I couldn’t help but think of what might have been.
Upon my return from New York, I vowed to give my marriage one last shot. With that singular goal in mind, I forced myself to take the early train on Wednesday to find him. I had to let him know once and for all how much I loved him.
I was running a little late since my body is not used to catching the early train, so I had to make a mad dash to the platform as I saw the train roll in. I struggled to catch my breath as I scanned the crowd of people waiting for the train doors to open. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t spot an orange hat anywhere. This was always his train, so why didn’t I see an orange hat? Come to think of it, why didn’t I see any hats at all? Oh no.
On this, one of the first warm days we’ve had in four months, the hibernating commuters had chosen to shed one of their winter layers. But – how would I find him without his hat? I’d never seen him without it!
When I got on the train, I didn’t take a seat, determined to seek him out in one of the other cars. For the whole trip downtown, I walked from car to car, back and forth, scanning the seats for any sign of Orangehat. What did I remember about his face? Did he have any distinguishing scars? A tattoo on his neck? A beard? I couldn’t remember! But he wears an orange hat. An orange hat! ORANGEHAT!!!
I couldn’t find him anywhere.
All day long at work, I thought about him – everything reminded me of my ex. I was in a meeting reviewing our 2005 corporate goals and the man sitting next to me didn’t say a word – he sounded just like my Orangehat. I bought some peanut M&M’s out of the vending machine and a bunch of them were orange and oval – just like the back of my husband’s head. When the elevator stopped at my floor, a group of people got off and walked ahead of me really fast – just like O. used to do. It was killing me! The ghostly memories of my failed marriage haunted me.
When this painful day finally came to a close, I left the office and quickly headed over to the train station. As I looked ahead of me, I saw an orange hat bobbing in the crowd. ORANGEHAT! I found him!
I started to run toward the hat, which shone like a beacon of hope in the night. When I finally caught up to him, I grabbed his arm, determined to not let him slip away this time. But my heart sank when I discovered that the man in the orange hat was not my husband, Orangehat, but the homeless man who often stands on the corner by the station.
“Little help here, people! Little help on a cold Wednesday! C’mon folks – little help!”
As I let go of his arm, he turned to face me, and looked almost as confused as I did. I didn’t know what to say, I was just dumbstruck.
“Your, your hat. But I… I thought you-“
“What? You like my hat? It’s yours for $10.”
“No, you don’t understand. No. I… I have to catch a train. Sorry.”
“Little help here, people! It’s a cold Wednesday! Little help!”
I rode the crowd of commuters like a wave, letting them push me toward my track. I felt empty. I don’t even remember getting on or off the train, but somehow I ended up in my apartment.
He’s gone.
I’m too late.
It’s almost spring.
I tucked the orange swatch under my pillow as I went to bed last night, hoping for one last dream of a marriage that might have been. But I suppose I can still take comfort in knowing that we had the kind of relationship that most people will never have. And we’ll always have Central Park.

The Middle of the End: It’s Your Move

Hey, Seattle, it’s Jenny. Are you screening? Pick up. Hello? Okay, I guess you’re not home. Anyway, I just wanted to call to say hi. Hope things are going okay wi- Oh hey! You’re home! I’m sorry, did I wake you?
I’m sorry, yeah, I know it’s early out by you. I just… I needed to hear your voice.
I know – it’s been a while. How have you been?
No, I’m okay, but things are really messed up with Orangehat and me right now. I’m ending it, Sea. I’m going to ask him for a divorce.
Why would you even say that? You know I’m not getting a divorce because of you. I told you that things were bad long before I met you.
Because it’s the truth! You’re the one I love, Seattle! I was so stupid with Orangehat – trying to hang onto something that hadn’t been working for ages. Looking back, I’m not even sure it ever worked. I rushed into marriage with him before we really got to know each other. I mean, do you have any idea what it feels like to think you’re in love with someone, but then suddenly wake up and realize you’re sitting next to a complete stranger? It’s the loneliest feeling in the world, Sea.
I deserve to be with someone who loves me as much as I love him. Isn’t that what we all want?
I know – I feel the same way about you. I just wish you lived closer to me – I never thought that having a clandestine long distance marriage to a city in the Pacific Northwest would be so hard.
I know you don’t like it when I bring this up, but I really wish you would consider moving out here. Illinois is a great state.
Well, Washington doesn’t recognize our marriage either, so what’s the diff-
We are a blue state!
Well, yeah, but we have Lake Michigan.
No, you can’t really eat the fish out of there, but it’s way bigger than Lake Washington.
Mmm, I think almost three million, but it doesn’t feel that big.
I don’t know, fairly temperate, I guess. About 84˚ in the summer, 21˚ in the winter…
Average monthly precipitation? How the hell… look, I’m not the Census Bureau. All I know is that my marriage to Orangehat is over, and you and I can finally be together all the time now.
I can’t stop thinking about you. I’ve tried to get you out of my head, but everything keeps reminding me of you. I mean, I walk past about 15 Starbucks every day, I eat salmon at least once a week, and last night VH1 had a Behind the Music about Pearl Jam. This can’t all be one huge coincidence!
Honey, don’t. I can’t have this conversation again. You know I can’t move out there – my job is here, my family is here. Won’t you at least consider it?
What do you mean, how? You just pack up your things and move, like everybody else.
Yes, babe, I realize that you are a city, but cities move all the time. Houston used to be in Colorado until about 1827.
I don’t know, I read it somewhere.
Stop trying to change the subject. Look, hon, I don’t want to pressure you. All I’m asking is that you think about it. I’m telling you, my place is so much bigger – I have the perfect spot picked out for the Needle. You’re going to love it here!
Okay, well, go back to bed and get some rest. I’ll give you a call tomorrow, okay?
Don’t worry, I won’t. Two hours behind – got it!
Love you!

The Beginning of the End: A Play in One Act

[Scene: a January evening on a crowded train in Chicago. Curly haired woman boards train and sits behind a man wearing an orange hat. Man is intently reading a book.]
Curly haired woman: Hi, honey – I was hoping I’d see you tonight. You look good. Your hair’s getting long in the back – I like the way it kind of curls up over your orange hat. I hope you haven’t been eating ramen noodles every night – you seem a little thin.
Curly haired woman: Orangehat, I want to talk to you about our relationship, but before you say anything, I need you to just hear me out. There’s just so much that I want to say to you right now, and I know if you jump in, I won’t be able to get it all out.
[Curly haired woman takes deep breath and pauses to collect thoughts.]
Curly haired woman: I miss you, Boo. I mean… I miss us. The way we used to be, you know? God, things were so good before, weren’t they? I used to feel I could tell you anything, but now it’s like we have nothing to say to each other.
Curly haired woman: O., I guess what I’m trying to say is that this separation just isn’t working for me. I thought that some time apart might help us figure things out, but I don’t feel like you’re really trying to make anything better. Your silence is devastating to me. It’s like this separation hasn’t fazed you at all – you act like we were never even married to begin with!
Curly haired woman: You’ve become such a workaholic over these past few weeks – the only time I ever see you is if I take the early train to work, or catch the late one home. Is that the kind of life you envisioned for us? I mean, did you even know that I got robbed last weekend? Do you even care? Oh wait. How could you have known? We never talk! Don’t worry – they didn’t steal any of your precious stuff.
[Woman wearing green scarf boards and sits next to man with orange hat. They exchange a few words.]
Woman with green scarf: Do you mind if I sit here?
Man with orange hat: No – go ahead.
Woman with green scarf: Thanks.
Curly haired woman: Well, well. Isn’t that just a kick in the head? No, no – don’t let me interrupt your flirtatious little banter. So who’s your friend, Orangehat? Aren’t you going to introduce her to your wife?
Curly haired woman: You’re not going to tell me who she is? Look, if you’re trying to make me jealous… It doesn’t matter – it’s all beginning to make sense now. I didn’t exactly see you jump to move your briefcase when I walked past your seat – I suppose you were saving that seat for Greenscarf all along, weren’t you? Well, now I understand why you like working so late – it’s so you can ride home with that tramp, isn’t it?

Curly haired woman: And just so you know, that scarf doesn’t even match her hat.
[Curly haired woman leans in and whispers to man.]
Curly haired woman: Look, Orange. If this is about Seattle, I haven’t seen him or even spoken to him since December. I made a mistake, and I’m sorry for that. I didn’t intend to mess things up with us. I was mad at you for being so distant, and just got caught up in the moment. But I honestly don’t know how many more times I can apologize for the same thing. We’ve both made a lot of mistakes along the way, and probably said a few things we wish we could take back, but we can’t undo what’s already been done. All we can do is try to learn from this so that we can move on together.
Curly haired woman: Aren’t you going to say anything? O., I know you’re upset, but how are we ever going to work through this if you won’t talk to me? God, you won’t even look at me – I might as well be talking to myself here. Fine – read your damn book. Since when are you so into literature, anyway?
[Man and curly haired woman get off train at same stop. Man walks quickly, with woman following behind.]
Curly haired woman: Orangehat, wait up for me. Slow down! We need to talk about this – I’m not ready to give up on us yet. Do you want to grab a coffee so we can talk?
Curly haired woman: Orangehat!
Curly haired woman: Orangehat – if you keep ignoring me, then we may as well end this right here and now. I will not allow myself to be treated like a stranger by my own husband. What we have is so special – I loved you from the first moment I laid eyes on you, and I know you feel the same way. Are you going to tell me that I imagined your love for me?

Curly haired woman
: Dammit! Slow down!
Curly haired woman: If we hadn’t agreed that traditional symbols of marriage were oppressive and that they supported the sexist view of wife as property, I’d take off my wedding ring right now and throw it at your stupid orange hat! God, I hate you!
Curly haired woman: No wait. O! I didn’t mean it. I don’t hate you – I love you! You know I do! Wait up! I can handle it if you tell me you’re angry, or that you feel betrayed, but what I cannot take is this total indifference! It’s killing me!
Curly haired woman: What am I going to tell the kids…
Curly haired woman: … that I thought about having with you?
Curly haired woman: Orangehat!
Curly haired woman: Orangehat, wait!
Curly haired woman: Orangehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!
[Woman drops to knees in the snow, raises fists above head as she screams man’s name. Man continues to walk briskly into the night. Woman collapses into snow bank, curls up tightly, and sobs.]


Separation Anxiety

Hey mom, it’s me. So – have you recuperated from the Christmas madness yet? God, I can’t believe how fast the holidays flew by! The lasagna was great the next day, by the way.
Yeah, you and me both! At least five pounds. Hey – do you have a minute? I kind of need to talk.
No, no. Nothing bad. Well, I don’t know – it’s not good, I guess. Mom… Orangehat and I… we’re going through a trial separation.
No! We’re not getting divorced. It’s a separation – that’s all. We’ll still see each other, but we’re going to be taking different trains for a while, just until we can figure some things out.
Mom – he’s not cheating on me. It’s not that sim-
Yeah, they were going great, but things change. People change. I really did a lot of soul searching during my week with Seattle. Maybe it sounds cliché, but I felt more alive in those few days than I have in years. I’m just not sure that Orangehat and I are meant to be together. I just… did you always know dad was the one for you?
I mean, I thought I felt that way about him, but then when I met Seattle, one thing led to anoth-

I wasn’t going to. Mom – I’m just trying to explain what’s going on. I wasn’t going to give you the intimate details – geez!
You’ve never even been to Seattle. How can you say it’s a mistake?!
You’re not going to tell her anything, that’s what! Why would you tell Grandma? Mom – I said it’s just a trial separation. What’s the point of getting the whole family riled up when we’re trying to work things out?!
I don’t know why you’re getting so upset – it’s not like you ever made any effort to get to know Orangehat. You always treated him like a total stranger anyway.
Name one time!
We haven’t. I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know if Orangehat would go. He’s not really into all that touchy feely share your emotions in front of a stranger kind of thing. It’s not exactly my idea of fun either, but I’m willing to try.
Believe me, you don’t need to remind me. Don’t you think I had dreams of a house full of little Orangecaps running around, too? But that’s not going to save our marriage. We have to figure out whether or not our relationship can last before we can even consider bringing a child into the mix.
Well, things are different than when you and dad were young-
Yes, I do take marriage seriously, but I’m not going to stay in a relationship that makes me unhappy, when there might be someone else out there who’s perfect for me.
Mom, I can’t do this right now. I gotta go. Just tell dad, will you?
Okay, yeah.
I will.
Love you, too.

My That Was Bigamy

I’m not proud of what I’m about to tell you, but I feel like I need to bring you up to speed on some recent changes in my life. During my business trip, I cheated on my husband. I never thought I would meet someone who excited me as much as Orangehat does, but sometimes life throws you a curveball and you just have to make lemonade.
His name is Seattle, and I love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my life.
I just never thought my life would end up this way. I take marriage very seriously, and once I commit, I commit wholeheartedly. But things have been a little rocky between Orangehat and me lately – he seems distant, silent, absent. Sometimes I look at him on the train and wonder who he is. It’s almost like looking into the eyes of a stranger.
Next week will reveal all the intimate details of my love affair, but I just wanted to make sure that you heard this first from me, and not through the tabloids. This isn’t just a casual fling – it was truly love at first sight – I fell head over heels for Sea (that’s my nickname for him). I can’t say that I feel good about the fact that I’m throwing away everything Orangehat and I have built together this year, but I just wasn’t feeling fulfilled in that relationship. Sometimes you have to take risks in life and follow your heart.
In fact, I really have my co-worker Tiffany to thank for my newfound bliss. Throughout the whole trip, I kept telling her how much I loved the city. So at one point, out of sheer frustration, she turned to me and said, “Well if you love Seattle so much, why don’t you just marry it?”
Marry it? Me and Seattle? Hitched?
A few scotches and a blood test later, I found myself at the Seattle Courthouse, waiting behind two fuchsia haired teens, one of whom looked to be pregnant. Before I signed the papers, I grabbed Seattle’s hand, turned to him, and said, “Babe, are you sure about this? I’ve got baggage, you know. I’ve got flaws. I’ve got a husband back home. I mean, are we really ready for this kind of commitment? I just don’t want you to ever regret…”
Seattle held my face in his gentle hands, put his finger to my lips, and said, “Shhh. Jenny, look at me. Look at me – I’ve never been more ready in my life. If I can wake up next to you every day for the rest of my life, I’ll be the happiest city in the world.”
My mind is swirling right now, so I can’t write much more. I’ll fill you all in next week, but right now, I’ve got to start planning our honeymoon – we’re going to Portland!

That’s What Friends Are For

I saw my husband on the train again last week. We did our usual routine – sat near each other, enjoying each others’ company, and feeling really good about the fact that we never feel obligated to fill silence with any sort of conversation. We’re just that comfortable together. That’s one of my favorite things about him.
As we walked home, I turned to go to my car and Orangehat kept walking straight ahead. For a moment, I thought about following him, just to see where we live. I can’t help but be a little curious.
Do we have a house? One of those nice condos with the balcony? Gosh, that would be nice. I’d love to plant some flowers out there in spring.
I decided against following him since I didn’t want to miss the beginning of Survivor Vanuatu – Islands of Fire. Plus, it was kind of raining out, and my hair started to frizz. Until he knows we’re married, I always want him to see me at my best.
Over the weekend, I was telling my friend Penny about my beau and how I thought about following him home.
Me: “I mean, if I just follow him silently to see where he lives and what kind of car he drives, and he never knows I’m doing it, that’s not really stalking, right? I’m only doing this so that we can be together.”

Penny: “Mmmm… that’s actually the definition of stalking.”
Me: “It is?”
Penny: “Yes.”
Me: “Oh.”
[reflective pause]
Me: “So then that would be a bad idea?”
Penny: “Right.”
This is why it’s important to run major decisions past an objective friend. Sometimes what seems like an innocent idea turns out to be a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Train Reaction

I met my husband on the train today. We were sitting next to each other when another woman came over and sat in between us. As the train conductor came by, the woman frantically looked for her December monthly pass, but couldn’t find it. She dug through her wallet and only came up with $2, but the fare during rush hour is $4. It was clear that the conductor didn’t care to hear that her December pass was still in the envelope on her kitchen table. He just stood in front of us stone-faced as he fidgeted with his hole punch.
That’s when my husband stepped in – he pulled out his 10-fare pass and told the conductor to take an extra punch. The woman was shocked and extremely grateful. When she handed my husband her $2, he refused to take it.
“Don’t worry about it. I hardly ever use the punch card anyway.”
Turns out he had forgotten his December pass, too.
I don’t know my husband’s name yet, but for now I’m calling him Orangehat Goatee. He has everything that a woman could ever want in a husband – he’s kind-hearted, generous, and attractive. He’s clearly intelligent because he knew enough to keep a spare 10 pass in his wallet for this very occasion. I assume he has a job, since he had a briefcase and was taking the train from downtown. And when he got off at my stop, he was blocks ahead of me in no time, so he’s clearly in good physical condition.
I love him so much. Sometimes it hurts just to think about it.
I haven’t told Orangehat that we’re married yet. I want to wait a while – maybe like a year or so – before I let him know. I know that sometimes guys can get a little spooked by the whole marriage thing, so I don’t want to stress him out during that touch-and-go first year of marriage. We’ll just keep going along with the status quo for the next 12 to 14 months. Riding the train together. Walking home together. Living life together.
Then, once I finally tell him that we’re married, if he freaks out, I’ll calm his fears by letting him know that we’ve already been married for a whole year. We will have gotten through that “getting to know you” year without a hitch.
“Orangehat, what are you getting so upset about? Baby, we’ve been married for over a year now, and has it affected your life negatively in any way? Name one thing that this marriage has prevented you from doing. You can’t, can you? I never stopped you from hanging out with your friends, staying out late, or dating other women. I haven’t nagged you to do more work around the house, or pressured you into starting a family. The only thing that’s changed is that you’ve been unconditionally loved and supported for the past year. How can that be wrong?”
I don’t see any holes in that argument, so I cannot imagine how this plan could fail. But now, when I finally tell him next year, do we buy each other wedding gifts or anniversary gifts? Doesn’t matter – I just cannot wait to let everyone know that I am Mrs. Jenny Goatee. Or maybe I should hyphenate: Mrs. Jenny Onassis-Goatee.
Oh yeah, if any of you know Orangehat, please don’t congratulate him on his marriage to me. Not until next year. I don’t want to mess up the best thing that’s ever happened to me.