I was raised on romance. Songs like, “Fly Me to the Moon” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and countless memories of sitting in a darkened theater watching the larger-than-life romances of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Louis Jordan and Leslie Caron, not to mention Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and their respective princes.
At home, I was hooked on late night movies. Two o’clock in the morning and you could find me watching Fred Astaire blithely dancing across a ballroom, in his top hat and coattails, whisking Ginger Rogers into his arms as they danced cheek to cheek. Or, a debonair Cary Grant gazing passionately into Grace Kelly’s eyes. Ditto, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who suggestively asked Bogie to pucker up his lips and blow.
As a little girl, I imagined one day meeting my own knight-in-shining armor. I even had a dream about this mysterious someone. He was on the battlefields of World War II (don’t ask), injured in combat and I was a nurse who had to nurture him back to health. We fell passionately in love and when I awoke, I had the faint memory of something that never happened. At least, not to me.
But then Jake swept me off my feet. There had been other crushes, as far back as first grade, but none amounted to anything but a passing fancy. With Jake, it was different. For six months we spent every possible moment together—in school, after school, on the weekends, and it seemed, whenever we couldn’t be together, we were on the phone. Kismet.
Maybe I would’ve been better off growing up on the set of a movie. I could have gone to the school sock hop with Andy Hardy. I would’ve treated Clark Gable a whole lot better than Scarlet O’Hara ever did. I could’ve danced in the rain with Gene Kelly, forever living my happily ever after on a Hollywood sound stage.
But instead, I grew up in reality and real life doesn’t promise the same happy endings. It’s filled with twists and turns, jealousy, misunderstandings and ultimatums. There’s love, yes, but there’s also love gone wrong, growing apart, moving on, and that’s all she wrote.
So, when Jake unceremoniously dumped me for another—a senior with soft brown curls, upturned nose and a smattering of freckles—I was devastated and downright miserable. Nothing and no one could console me.
James had said I was bubbly, which is why he called me Bubbles. But after Jake dropped me cold, it was hard to believe I had ever been upbeat or could be so again. Laughing and joking seemed pointless. Crying came naturally.
The shock of the breakup paralyzed me. After crying on my mother’s shoulder for two and a half hours, I took to bed, and stared at the ceiling, wondering how I would ever be able to return to school and show my face. The humiliation of it all. I had neglected many of my friends while I was dating Jake. Would they welcome be back into the fold or would I need to find new ones?
My best friend, Liza, had never liked Jake in the first place. “You could do better,” had been her refrain. I could do better, but it scared the bejezus out of me. I thought I had done better with Jake, but now Jake had a new girlfriend and they were in love. I wondered if Liza would say the same about her. That she could do better.
I couldn’t sleep that night or the next. I had no appetite, not even when my father offered to take us all to Sizzler’s for charbroiled burgers. I was mad at him. I blamed him for forcing us to go to D.C., certain as I was that the trip was the source of my problems. After all, had I not been gone a week, Jake and I might still be together.
I briefly thought about James. Last time I saw James, I was angry and said things I now regretted. I wondered what it would be like when I saw him again come Monday. How could I face him? Ugh. I wasn’t looking forward to going back or seeing him. And, I wasn’t sure which would be worst.
I heard the phone ring. Three times. My parents had a rule that the phone had to ring three times before you could pick it up. No more, no less. Go figure. There was a persistent knock on my bedroom door.
“Mónica, teléfono,” said my mother in Spanish.
Exhausted, defeated I dragged myself into my parents’ bedroom to take the call, carefully shutting the door behind me so as not to be overheard. A thought crossed my mind. Maybe Jake was calling to apologize, to beg me to take him back.
Picking up the receiver, I said, expectantly, “Hello?”
“Hey, heard what happened. You up for some company? Say the word and I can make it in 10.”
It was George, one of Jake’s good friends. I recognized his distinct nasal voice. George, who was just a tad taller than me, had jet black hair and swarthy looks. He also had no discernible personality to speak of, told dull jokes, and had a few whiskers that appeared to be growing willy-nilly on one side of his chin, which he said he kept to impress “the ladies.” George and I had never hung out on our own. I barely knew him and I found him rather annoying the few times he tagged along on my dates with Jake. And, now suddenly he wanted to pay me a visit. Someone must’ve told the hyenas that the prey was wounded and it was time to come in for the kill.
The smell of fried plantains wafted through the closed bedroom door. My mother was making dinner, and probably also cooking up her fritters made with white rice and bananas. My favorite. Her way of trying to make me feel better, and normally it would do the trick. Normally.
Normally, I’d be racing down to the kitchen to steal a bite before dinner. But I no longer knew what normal felt like. I had no appetite, nothing. Just a bland feeling creeping over my heart, cut by the pain of losing Jake.
“So, would you like me to come over or not?” The hyenas were getting restless.
Summing up all the enthusiasm I could muster, I said, “Sure. But make it in 30.”
I needed time for the swelling in my eyes to subside. Too much crying, I suppose.
(To be continued.)
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