Monday, February 14, 2011

Yellow Ribbon


The drive from Whiskeytown to SF is basically a straight shot -- south on I-5 to 505 to I-80 and across the bridge. I planned on planting my face on the passenger side window and sleeping the whole way.

The ride home was riddled with stops to put more oil in the car. The oil light would come on, Vanessa would pull over to the side of the road and more oil would go into the car. On the third time she pulled over, I mumbled, lips pressed against the window, “You shouldn’t have bought this car, it’s a piece of shit.” It was possibly the worst, most insensitive comment I could’ve made. She was more than cognizant that her car was a piece of shit, and, with this comment, it became clear that I was a piece of shit too. She slammed her hands across the steering wheel and began to cry: “That’s it, that’s it, that’s it.” I didn’t look up from the window.

We arrived home late. The Richmond District was fogged in. We put most the camping gear in the communal garage and walked her personal belongings up to her second floor flat. She had to get up early the next morning; I planned on sleeping in.

It wasn’t even an issue that I was going to stay. We hadn’t spoken a word since I told her the car sucked. Even if we were getting along, I still wouldn’t have stayed. I planned on picking up a 12-pack and drinking myself to sleep.

Walking to her door, I said, “See ya later.” I didn’t turn around. She said, “Greg, stop.” I knew right away that this was it. Even though she hated my guts at this very moment, she addressed me by my name, in a gentle tone. This was the moment I forced her to make. I’ve been pushing for this moment for months. It would confirm what I already knew: I was a worthless piece of shit, incapable of being loved. Of course this was all self-loathing and I knew it.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she continued. “We don’t even see each other anymore and all we do is fight.” All across the world 100s of people, if not 1000s, were expressing the same sentiments to their partners. As much as it was a cliché, it was concise and true. It should’ve been simple: we hug, express that we had some good times, vow to stay friends and move on. But I’m a guy and guys don’t work like that. Instead of checking this off my list of things to do to reach rock bottom, I suddenly wanted to change, work things out. In a way it was one of my first rational thoughts in a long time. Vanessa was the only constant in my life. My parents liked her and knew that I was safe in her hands, and, without her, I would dive faller into depression and my drinking would only get worse. This wasn’t her problem, though.

Like most guys, I pleaded I would change. When I realized we were way past a second chance, I turned inward and said attractive things like, “I suck,” “I hate myself” and the old “I should just kill myself.” The whole suicide guilt trip usually garnered sympathy. It didn’t. Her sympathetic tone stop; instead, she conjured up the frustration of our relationship in a controlled scream, like screaming into a mattress. It got my attention. She stopped short of saying, “Go ahead, Loser!” Most people don’t encourage suicide, just in case. If I were in her shoes, I probably would’ve verbalized the sentiment.

I turned and went home, picking up a 12-pack.

Instead of actually making positive steps to win her back like quitting drinking, seeking therapy and getting a job, I chose more creative/tongue and cheek methods: I bought a large yellow ribbon from a fabric shop on Haight Street and placed an ad in the SF Weekly that said: “Vanessa, I miss you, I’ll change. I’ll quit drinking and get a job. Meet me in the park on Sunday (you know where). I’ll tie a yellow ribbon around a tree. Greg” It was all so very Boys 2 Men. And, in my own little performance art way, I knew this was a vain attempt but would make a great story about failing...once again. Another notch in my failure cap, I used to say.

The week prior, I told everybody of my intentions. I knew it was crazy and it wouldn’t work; however, there was some part of my brain that thought, “Just maybe, just maybe this might work.” I envisioned a story to tell our kids. It would be the greatest, grandiose love story of all time. The other half of brain, the 99.9% part, knew it was bound to fail and had already started preparing for it.

A ¼ mile path runs on the west side of Marx Meadow in Golden Gate Park. It starts on Fulton and ends on JFK. I tied the ribbon on a tree along the path, and then waited in a patch of trees on the other side of the meadow. Knowing she probably wouldn’t show (mutual friends alerted her of the ad), I braced myself for rejection. I waited for an hour then walked home, ribbon in hand. I later found out that she was dating her upstairs neighbor.

I didn’t see Vanessa again until mutual friends got married. As luck would have it, I was the best man and she was maid of honor. She looked great and I had ballooned to 200 plus pounds. I looked like stuffed salami in my Tux. We were cordial; however, the yellow ribbon incident loomed large. I fought the urge to talk to her, knowing I would bring up yellow ribbon day. The night ended with me crying in the hallway. The 17 Vodka and Cranberries had taken control and put my life in perspective.

The next morning I woke up on a cot in the Valley. I was in my tux. Not good.

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