That Shrinking Feeling: The Beauty of a New Relationship
It took the locksmith who came in a small truck just moments to open the car door. He was a businessman for all seasons; a winch for towing vehicles hung off the back of his truck, dangling like a big question mark. He charged me $25; this was 1984, so it was the equal of double that today. Giving him that much cash would leave me short, so I wrote him a check—gladly.
I picked up Bob outside the bank with time to spare. I was waiting serenely in the parking spot when he came out, the key safely in the ignition. We played tennis on a deserted court in the middle of a field that afternoon, walked on the beach as the sun burned orange behind the dunes, threw lobsters into a big blue and white pot and ate them by candlelight.
On the way back to Manhattan, I began to think about telling him what had happened. I was feeling emotional. I'd enjoyed everything about the day; his paternal instructions on the tennis court, the way he'd placed the ball exactly where I could take a full swing. There was something eager and innocent about Bob. He told me everything about his career and his life. I was accustomed to much more well-defended types. He had been married for 32 years, divorced for only two, and was not a seasoned "single." We'd shared a day that surprised me—and, I thought, him too—with pleasure. I wanted to tell him the truth.
Sitting alongside Bob in the passenger seat, I felt my heart move up to my throat. I had a long history of "keys locked in the car" episodes behind me: the $2,000 crown from a molar dropped down the sink drain; my elderly mother's tax returns forgotten on a 104 bus. I was capable of arriving for an international flight without my passport and of sending a fragile Art Nouveau watch, a gift from my former husband, through the washing machine (it came out very clean). Some nights I dreamed of diving into an empty swimming pool and awoke knowing it could happen to me. I messed up matings and marriages. If I were recovering from a divorce behind the wheel of this battered wreck of a car, I wouldn't let someone like me into my life.
The car was ratcheting along the Long Island Expressway. Midweek, late at night, no traffic in sight. I told myself I could wait and see what happened to us, tell him at some other time. But I didn't want to do that, either. We'd seen very few people all afternoon and the day had taken on an intimate quality, more so inside the front seat on the dark, empty road. "I have something to tell you," I said. I took a deep breath and made my confession, all of it; the key, the locksmith, the check. He looked away from the wheel for a moment. "Twenty-five bucks," he groaned. "Why didn't you call? Or come get me?" He looked truly dismayed. "I have other keys. Couldn't you tell I'm the kind of guy who would carry a second set?"
The headlights of an approaching car were flashing and dazzling. They lit up the road and the sky. The concept of duplicate keys seemed to brighten the universe, a discovery to equal the invention of the wheel. "You are?" I said.
"Without fail," he answered. He laced his fingers through mine. It occurred to me that I was talking to a psychoanalyst, a guy who'd seen, and heard, a lot worse than me. I leaned back and rested my head on the back of the seat, and we continued talking as the car raced along.
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