Friday, September 5, 2008

Phaze Fantasies, Vol. II

Mixing Blessings by Will Belegon

For the first time in my life, I welcomed the distraction of turbulence. As the plane bumped and bounced, I told myself the rough ride was a metaphor for the last five years; that I was getting off at JFK with all the other passengers, and that I hadn't lost my mind.

"Are you alright, sir? Can I get you anything?"

The flight attendant's kind words caught me off guard and drew me out of my introspective daze.

The apprehension must have snuck through to show on my expression. By itself, this was evidence of how unsettled this trip had me. I wasn't nervous about the bumpy ride. After years in the business, my fear of flying had long since faded into a more general annoyance.

"No, thank you, I'm fine. It's not the turbulence on the outside that has me worried."

"Oh? Something at our destination? That surprises me coming from a man like you." She gave me a look that wasn't about coffee or tea. "Well, if you need me, please let me know ... right away."

The way she said it would normally draw a flirty response from me. I am completely incorrigible in that regard. On that day, I was too distracted; too worried about finally meeting one beautiful woman to flirt with the one right in front of me. I couldn't quite get over the chance I was taking.

I was on my way to meet Angie. She and I were introduced at a time when I was completely unmotivated to flirt with even the prettiest of girls. My agency was working on a deal to purchase an out of state vacation home. Angie was the paralegal acting as lead for the seller through a large New York firm. When things began to bog down on the details, my client asked me to get personally involved. He was a valuable client; I couldn't refuse.

Her attitude and competence impressed me immediately. She was so helpful that after we finished the deal, I sent her a bottle of wine and a card asking her to stay in touch. At first it was just about having a contact in the city. I hated New York and avoided it at all costs. The more people I know there, the better.

I started using Angie's firm to do business in the area. The only stipulation was that she remained my contact. She was the team leader as far as I was concerned, even when people technically her superiors were handling the actual transactions. At first it was because she knew her job and was able to roll with the punches inherent to my line of work. As time went on, our relationship continued because I grew to trust her. So did my clients. She had qualities that put them at ease. Soon, they were the ones asking for her.

The other reason was subtler. Indeed, I didn't notice it consciously.

One day, I put the phone down after a conversation with Angie and walked out of my office to get a cup of coffee. The expression on my secretary's face stopped me short. I gave her my best quit-fooling-around-and-earn-your-money stare, and it just created a wider grin. So I gave her my meanest scowl. She burst into laughter. Not the reaction I had been looking for.

"Gabrielle, what are you laughing at?"

"You, boss. I've never seen you like this before. I like it."

"Just what the hell are you talking about?"

"I've never seen you happy before."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I just shook my head and went to get my coffee. Sitting at my desk a few moments later, I reflected on Gabrielle's words. She had been with my agency five years. Five years and she had never seen me happy? That couldn't really be true, could it?

I focused on the last times that stood out as "happy" to me. It didn't take much for me to see the pattern and to realize that they all featured one thing. They were all times I spent with Kim.

A thousand times I'd told myself I was over her and a thousand times I'd lied. It wasn't just that she left; it was the way she left. I had always been one of those guys who felt that the whole concept of closure was overrated. I considered it part of my personal rebellion against sentimentality; the same rebellion that kept me with her for ten years without ever feeling the need to get married. That had backfired big time.

What I believed an example of the strength of our relationship, Kim had apparently come to view as evidence that I was unwilling to place limits on my freedom. Sure, we discussed the reasons not to get married a million times: my travel schedule, the hours I kept, the lack of desire for children on both our parts, and the advantages of keeping our incomes and assets separate even after we had been living together for several years. I thought that we were in complete agreement on the matter. Like so many other things with Kim, the truth had several layers.

One night, five years ago, I sat at LAX and waited for a ride that never came. We'd gone over my itinerary one last time just two days before, with her confirming that she would be there when the plane landed. My first hint should have been the message that her cell number was no longer in service, but I just figured there was something wrong with the network. After three hours, I hailed a cab.

Our house in Malibu was dark when the cab pulled up the circular driveway. I dragged my bags out and, after giving the cabbie a generous tip, he helped carry my things to the door. The only light in the foyer was the blinking red from the answering machine. Four messages, which by my count meant they were all me.

"Kim? KIM! Baby, are you here?"