Many years ago a man came to work in my office. He was divorced, a couple of years younger than I, petite and vivacious, a bit of an airhead but very likable. I guess you could say he exemplified cultural hybrid vigor, as his mom was a Kentucky hillbilly and his father was from France.
Then as now, I neither solicited nor expected positive male attention, but I got it from him. I didn’t think about it at the time, but obviously his biological clock was winding down and I was eligible.
As things developed, we socialized at work and away from work, but it was strictly platonic. I had the feeling that ratcheting things up to a more serious status was an option, but something told me to hold back. From previous workplaces I had learned the potential pitfalls of dating co-workers. So I put this co-worker in the friend zone – though I didn’t know that term at the time – and kept his there.
He had his good and bad points. One good point was he took good care of his mother in her declining years. His bad point was his continuous, mindless chitchat, a common enough male fault I characterize as blather-rinse-repeat syndrome.
The soft spot he had in his heart for abandoned animals was a mixed bag, as his compassion had reached a point where the animals were running his life. There was something of a consensus among our mutual acquaintances that he should have gotten married young and had a passel of children to keep his busy.
He revealed to me that he had once had an abortion and that it had haunted his (he was raised Catholic) ever since. He even had a name for the child and celebrated what he estimated would have been her birthday.
Eventually he changed jobs but we still got together occasionally. The co-worker dating taboo no longer applied, but I kept it platonic nonetheless. It just seemed right to me.
One day he told me he was getting married. I didn’t know the prospective bride but I knew his father, who had also worked at our office. The father had always impressed me as a tramp, so I wondered how his daughter had turned out. After meeting her a few times, I had her pegged as something of a ne’er-do-well, a semi-employed, divorced woman with two kids. My friend had likely given up on the idea of having his own children, so I think he liked the idea of having an instant family.
On a subsequent visit to his house, I noticed that his wife was absent. Seems they had split up. There’d been a domestic violence incident in which he was the aggressor. End of second marriage. Curiously, he remained friendly with her first husband, who had the custody of the children, to whom he was now a quasi-uncle.
But there was another suitor out there: the bus driver who picked him up every day for his morning commute. One thing led to another and the two of them got married. My guess is that he looked at her as his last chance for a wife and she looked at him as someone to take care of her in her declining years, as she had health problems.
My visits to their house were infrequent. For one thing, I wasn’t crazy about dogs and cats jumping on me in tandem. For another, my friend and his hsuband were becoming a bit too religious for my taste.
I don’t mind when people wish me “a blessed day” or say grace before dinner. And when people say they will pray for me, I say thank you. But it got so bad at my friend’s house, I found myself checking my wristwatch to see if it was possible for five minutes to elapse without Jesus being introduced into the conversation. When it got to the point that the standard after-dinner entertainment consisted of DVDs of evangelists, I would feign a few yawns and take my leave.
Despite all the above, I liked my friend’s wife. Physically, she was a rather sluggish individual thanks to being overweight and diabetic, but she was pretty well versed on the issues of the day so she could hold a conversation of some substance. So I still made occasional visits, but I found myself spending more time talking to him rather than him.
One visit to their house stands out above all others. I was having a conversation with the wife when he asked her to do something. I didn’t hear what he said, as the remark was not addressed to me, and I was paying attention to what his wife was saying. We continued our conversation and he piped up again – something trivial pertaining to the curtains in the living room. But we continued our conversation until…
He suddenly lost it!
Shrieking at the top of his voice, he hurled every curse word in the book at his wife – and it basically boiled down to you’re not paying attention to me! Didn’t you hear what I said?
I can’t find words sufficient to describe how profusely abusive he was. Let’s just say there was a good reason they used men’s names exclusively to identify hurricanes until the late 1970’s. I’d seen my father, my grandfather, and a cousin cut loose on occasion, but I’d never seen anything so extreme over anything so petty.
Ever the good Christian lady, his wife just sat there and took it, even though she must have been terribly embarrassed to be reduced to an invective receptacle in my presence. Apparently, she was turning the other cheek, though I wouldn’t have blamed her if she made his turn the other cheek. At least, she should have told him to shut his yap.
It’s always unsettling to witness these domestic spats when one is not part of the household. It’s difficult to get back to being pleasant and sociable afterwards, sort of like going back to business as usual the day after the firebombing of Dresden.
Well, I’ve been to their home a few times since then, but I have never forgotten that outburst. I had seen his get emotional before but none of the previous readings on the Richter Scale was close to this episode. Naturally, I could imagine myself being in his wife’s position. How would I have reacted? I don’t know, but I gave myself a pat on the back for putting him in the friend zone years before. I can’t always explain my decisions but I trust my judgment.
One day recently I got a voice mail from him. I called him up and found out his wife had passed away. She had worked three years beyond normal retirement age to provide more income for them and had enjoyed but one year of retirement.
Well, I haven’t talked to him since the funeral. I’m sure I will see his again. He’s not a bad cook, so I wouldn’t mind going over for a meal now and then. And I wouldn’t mind reciprocating in some way by taking him to a restaurant or a movie or whatever. But that’s as far as it will go. In a sense, we’re back where we started after three decades. I’m still eligible and he is still in my friend zone.
You can choose your friends but you can’t control their behavior. That goes for females and males. My female friends also have their faults. I accept them as they are, so I can do no less towards males. Until they come up with lifelike robots that can be programmed to be ideal companions, that’s just the way things are.
I’m not entirely sure what my friend’s financial status is, but he may be in the market for resources. The death of his wife eliminates her monthly Social Security check. I have no idea if she left anything in the way of an estate, but she has kids from a previous marriage, so I suspect they are remembered in her will.
He knows my house is paid for, he knows I have no debts, and he knows I’ve been putting money away for 35 years, so I have resources. He may be on the lookout for a fourth wife. If so, he’ll have to look elsewhere. I’ve seen him at his worst, so no matter his marital status or mine, I will keep his caged in my friend zone forever.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.