Monday, November 23, 2009

Magic is His Name

I’m sitting here tonight feeling a sense of the overwhelming certainty that uncertainty is certain. I question why when I am exceedingly bored with life and wish for spontaneity that it hides from me, while in the moments that I wish for solace and peace, spontaneity ambushes me.
This weekend, for instance, when I had time planned to spend a quiet evening with my computer and a caramel apple spice from Starbucks, I discovered that spontaneity is a distracter which shows up at the least expected times.
Saturday night I determined to sit for a while at Starbucks and write—just write. I had already started feeling that flutter in my stomach, the feeling a girl gets when she’s headed to see her boyfriend. My writing was calling, and I was headed there as fast as I could go. Taking a quick detour for a Christmas present, I ran into Barnes and Nobles grabbed the book I was coming for, a cartoon drawing kit on the discount rack for my little brother. But I'm a persnickety gift buyer, meaning that my gifts must show the care I put into buying them. So I wanted to check out all of my options. After all, I would never want to purchase a gift merely because it was on the discount rack.
I should have just stuck with the cartoon kit.
When I walked up to the customer service desk to ask the worker where the art books were, she was on the phone. I decided to find it myself. When I turned around, there in a brown bomber jacket was Magic, a sailor from the recreational center where I volunteer. He recognized me and at once threw his arms open for a hug.
After our greeting, he asked, “What are you doing tonight,” in a curious way that I knew was not akin to small talk. Magic is a sailor—sailors don’t make small talk with girls. Particularly not a sailor who has just told me that it is his birthday, and he's alone for the night because all of his friends are getting drunk and he promised himself he was laying off the liquor.
I could have made up a million excuses. Could have told him I had 25 papers waiting to be graded, two lectures to write before Monday, people to call, gifts to buy, a blog to tend, a kitchen that needed cleaning, a virginity and tender heart worth guarding— any of these excuses would have been viable for saying no to what he asked next.
“So, uh, you want to go to Olive Garden and get something to eat?”
But I said yes. Like the adventure craving creature that I am, I said yes. This isn’t significant to you, reader, not at all, I’m sure. After all, strangers meet, pick one another up, go out on the fly all the time.
I never have.
It was raining. In another setting with another heroine it would have been romantic. But I’m suspicious of the many elements for romance such as rain, random meetings, and handsome sailors in bomber jackets.
When we got to Olive Garden, we sat at his ‘special’ table where Cassy, his favorite server, waited. He goes there often; I could tell by the way they all knew him by name.
Cassy reminded me of an old time movie star—graceful, mature, very adept at what she does. She at once made me comfortable, almost in a maternal way though she wasn't that much older than I.
After we gave Cassy our order, Magic began to tell me about himself. He was a professional magician before joining the Navy. This I found out when he pulled out a deck of cards and commenced to performing while we waited for our food. He predicted what card I had drawn from the deck and made the salt shaker disappear. He was magical all right.
You should know that I wasn’t taken by his charm. It isn’t my nature to trust easily, particularly not military men whom I have known for only short periods of time; particularly not a military man whom I have known for only a short period of time who seemed to have a hungry look in his eyes and a pocket full of lies meant to get what is needed to satisfy his own needs.
After dinner he suggested that we go somewhere quiet. Somewhere for him to play his guitar, for us to ‘write’ a song together. After much deliberation ("It doesn’t have to be romantic," he clarified to me as I searched my mental list of places to go) we decided on Books a Million. When we walked in, him with his guitar swung over his shoulder, he swaggered up to the coffee shop counter. After greeting the man by name (cleverly reading his name tag), he ordered a white hot chocolate—an item which wasn’t on the menu but magically appeared just for him.
"Do you come here often," I asked.
I was amazed at his smooth way with people. I can only explain it in these terms: if he were walking along a path, flowers would bloom everywhere he walked. People just opened up to him--to his well-practiced charm. I, however, remained suspicious.
We sat while he tuned his guitar, me trying to hide my face from oncoming people who might see me with him sitting there singing country songs mingled with some of his own pieces.
Some girls would consider it a fairy tale to have a guy pick her up randomly on a rainy evening and serenade her with his guitar and homemade love songs. But I felt uneasy. My intuition alarm had been going off for quite a while. The first substantial sign of trouble came when I caught him in a lie. Pretty sure he told me a few that evening. The worst was the one he didn’t tell at all.
The evening culminated with The Little Mermaid hit “Kiss the Girl” which I have a suspicion was nothing more than a bridge meant to cross over into something else that he wanted out at the car.
I prayed, as we walked out in the rain that he would leave me alone—not ask or attempt for a kiss or anything else. My worst case scenario kicked in. But it was wrong. We said goodnight, I left the parking lot and after making sure he wasn’t following me, drove home.
That night, something I had heard the workers say at the recreational center suddenly came back to me. Something about Magic. It was a faint echo in the back of my mind. So faint, in fact, that I wondered if I weren't confusing him with someone else. Just in case, I decided to follow up on this the next day—when I would see him at church to which he invited himself.
After struggling to make him behave in church, he asked me to go to lunch. I was still pondering why this sailor wanted to spend time with me. I’m a decent girl whom I’m sure he gathered he would get nothing sexual from. Still perplexed, we drove to Steak and Shake for lunch. Besides, I wanted to figure out if what I had heard was true.
While waiting on our burgers, I decided to broach the subject that had been niggling at my mind. But he spoke first. “You changed hands.”
"What?” Looking down, I saw that I had put my ring on the left hand. It had been on my right hand the day before. Had I done that on purpose that morning? I wasn’t sure. “Oh, it was loose on my other hand so I switched it.”
"I was gonna say," he laughed almost nervously, "'you got engaged fast.’”
A perfect transition into my question.
"Are there many guys in the military who are married and pretend they aren’t?” I asked it innocently enough, pulling my glass of water closer to me, running my finger around the edge of it, a signal of female interrogation.
His eyes darkened just a bit. “Yeah, there are.”
“Are you married?” I swirled the straw in my cup of water.
Oh, the pleasure I find in watching a man squirm, writhing on his own hook. There’s something intoxicating about pinning them down with the very knowledge that they have been striving to conceal.
He looked me in the eye. Guilty as charged. “Yeah I am.” But honest. For that I respect him.
“That’s not going well for you, huh?” I asked dryly, folding my straw wrapper.
The mood changed entirely. He no longer had the cute almost patronizing look in his eyes; it was a sulky gaze as he explained, “I just like your company. Just the company, that’s all.” Noticing my mounting silent anger, he explained, "Look, you have the kind of personality that most women don't have. You're easy to talk to and don't make me feel like I have to impress you." He was silent for a moment before finishing, "There's a kindness about you that is hard to find."
I felt like writing up a receipt on a napkin—an hourly charge for my company. But I hate awkward situations, so I sat trying to find a way to recover from this one that seemed to be hovering in the air like smoke.
We decided to leave.
I began wondering how many of those calls or texts he took that day were from his wife. That one call he had to take away from the table—was that her? Did he really think I was that naïve or stupid? More importantly, am I?
My lesson for the weekend was, in short, don’t give up even an hour with my solace when spontaneity comes knocking. It can wait.
I learned that a firm handshake and a steady eye, confidence and charm are all tools that men use strategically to attract women to win them in their weakness.
I learned that nothing in the world can rival the pleasure of holding knowledge about a man—and using it against him.
I learned that you don’t trust men who do magic. And, by all means, never, ever trust a man whom has Magic as his name!

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