BY CINDY ZELMAN
Life has been a little too serious lately and so has my blogging. This week I lighten up by sharing a tongue-in-cheek story of one my (numerous) questionable relationships.
I’m sitting in an old truck hauling a refrigerator ––olive green, a throwaway from someone’s basement — a thirty year old refrigerator in the back of a twenty year old truck. I’m sitting next to Jan who’s driving; we’ve been dating for three months and already we’re moving appliances together.
We got the fridge from two gay guys who’ve sold their beautiful home in in the country to move into an even more beautiful home by the ocean. They offered Jan this old piece of crap refrigerator for her ramshackle, ready to cave-in cottage, her “vacation home” in Maine. It’s ninety frigging degrees out and the truck’s a/c is busted. The refrigerator weighs two hundred pounds at least, and here we are bringing it up to Maine to our “love nest” by Little Sebago Lake. We even have a dog named Dido energetically running from one side of the truck bed to the other. We need someone from The Lesbian News to take our picture for this week’s Happy Alternative Family of the Week.
Jan has long brown-turning-blond-from-the-sun-hair blowing in the hot breeze, and my hair is just longer than crew. I’m wearing a white tank, my muscles ripped. You’d think you know who butch and femme are. She’s the pretty one and the one who wears dresses. She paints her nails. She sprays on the perfume. But I’m the one who would buy a new refrigerator or book a trip to a luxury resort. At least I’d get the A/C fixed if I’d been given the choice. Jan doesn’t give me choices, just opportunities, like this one, to spend the hottest afternoon of the entire summer in a beat up old pickup, on a road trip more than one hundred miles long.
Jan has a contented and stupid grin on her face. She probably thinks we’ll be married soon. You don’t start hauling thirty-year old refrigerators three hours into Maine with just anybody. You don’t stand there in the blazing August sun determining which law of physics will allow you to leverage an appliance, that by any God given mercy, should be dead by now. The thing still works. Somehow, we managed to lift the fridge and maneuver it in a series of muscle-tearing pulls and pushes up the steps from the basement and then onto the truck bed.
There it lies in the back of the old truck. Due to some perversity of emotion, I am compelled to turn my head every five minutes to take a look at it lying there, huge and imposing. It might as well be a gigantic olive-colored wedding ring.
This is not casual dating. This is nesting. I feel a little panic attack coming on and think about popping a Xanax.
We’re in the truck doing a good seventy miles an hour up Route 95, and I’m sweating so much I feel as though I’m in a hot Bikram Yoga class. I hate those effing classes. I worry about dehydration, about passing out. This kind of close air gives me anxiety attacks. But Jan, she looks cool as a cucumber, nothing worrying her. This is Zen for her, she’s in the moment, and there is no other moment she can imagine for herself.
Jan lives in a crumbling little Lowell apartment that occupies the top floor of a very old house. She lives near a factory and the smell of the sewage it spews into the nearby river reeks into her upstairs hallway. She doesn’t seem to notice. She owns the house and rents out the first floor. Jan is a small-time mogul of dilapidated real estate: the collapsing cottage in Maine, the stinking house in Lowell, and the absolutely ghoulish two-family rental she owns a few towns over in Beverly, with the kind of attic where you hide your crazy old auntie.
She says, “If I end up alone, I plan to live in the attic.”
Jan has no plans to sell any of these houses; they make her feel secure. She’s on a mission to fix them up, find a wife and live happily ever after. She spends an inordinate amount of time buying hardware at Home Depot, starting projects she rarely finishes. Last week, she tore the back porch off the house in Lowell. A few weeks ago we hauled a top of the line toilet up to the broken cottage in Maine. Last weekend, she peeled the old wallpaper from the attic apartment in Beverly, by hand, a little at a time, talking about our future. Good lord.
A lot lately, I’ve been invited (co-dependently commanded) over to her house on Friday afternoon and barely allowed to leave Sunday night (sad face, tears, clingy hugs, begs to stay until Monday morning). She has three nice kids, and we all watch TV in the pale, fading living room with the blue and white striped wallpaper and with Dido the dog tied to a chain and going into excited puppy spasms regularly (even though she weighs seventy pounds) anytime one of us breathes in her direction. I get so lulled into Jan’s illusion of security lying there on the 1950s couch: dog, kids, heat coming through the radiators, stomach full of Jan-home-cooked meal.
Then Jan leads me to the bedroom where I try not to notice the big hard-covered book about codependency that sits on her night table shelf, the one she was compelled to read during her last relationship. We have standard issue lesbian sex all by the light of the TV, which she never shuts off, with Bob Vila’s talking over our lovemaking about a home improvement project. Tonight he’s renovating a basement. Jan has an orgasm.
“I should read it again,” she says before we sleep, regarding the big codependency volume.
You’d think I’d be smart enough to catch the danger signals, but no, no, even after such non-romance, I’m sitting in this old truck with no A/C. Bon Jovi is playing on the truck radio which works at least by comparison to the air conditioning. I hate Bon Jovi. I’m wondering if I should pop that Xanax.
Jan still has a happy ass grin on her face. Hauling an appliance in the hot August afternoon makes her feel the way most of us do about an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii. We experience the airless August afternoon as we head toward a falling-down cabin in the woods that doesn’t even have a door on the bathroom, which kills me. I need privacy! And which, by the way, half the time you have to throw pails of water down the toilet to get it to flush. Yes, pails of water down the new top of the line toilet. This is Jan’s oasis.
It’s hard to hear with Jon Bon Jovi screaming whatever the hell he screams and the roar of the old Ford pickup and the air blowing through the open windows but every so often, Jan turns her head, completes the smile to a wide grin and says, “Isn’t this great? I love this. Maine, the highway, the sun.” The girl is in love and I’m not. Or she’s in love with love. Last night in bed she said, “I love love.” What do you effing say to that? I managed an “Uh, huh.”
I smile back at her and nod, take a bottle of spring water from my ice bag and pour it over my sweat-drenched neck and shoulder blades. I manage not to pass out when we are held up in traffic for twenty minutes waiting to get through the Hampton Tolls in New Hampshire, and the temperature rises well above 100 degrees in that old pick up. Jan grins, she gazes at me, in love with love. I should not be here but a good woman is hard to find while codependency is all too easy. Maybe I’m the one who should read that book. I ponder the Xanax one more time.
Cindy Zelman is a writer based in Boston, whose blog, “The Early Draft,” explores a variety of topics, including lesbianism, writing, agoraphobia and humor.