And that’s why you don’t bring a rando to your office holiday party

I met a guy, Johnny Army, at the end of September, and by December we were spending a lot of time together but were only just beginning to talk about being exclusive, which we were by default but not fiat.  The admins in my office were pressuring me to bring him to the office holiday party in mid-December, but I knew it was too soon and my boss backed me up.  The holiday party was last Thursday and I flew solo, returning home late; Johnny kindly fed my cat before returning to his place.

Last night, I was having a glass of wine with a friend at her apartment after work.  I was showing her a picture on my phone of some jewelry I had seen that she might like [she makes gorgeous jewelry! http://palomitajewelry.com/] when it rang.  I answered without thinking and was greeted by an unfamiliar female voice.  I began to walk toward the hallway to get some privacy, when the voice identified herself: Johnny’s ex-girlfriend who lived in West Virgina.  I spun around and my friend caught my eye and perked up like her cat, attuned to the fact that something was up.  The voice continued that she was sorry, that she knew she must sound crazy, but she needed me to tell her if her ex, i.e. Johnny Army, had told me yet that they were getting back together.  I fumbled momentarily then recovered, saying, “Igottacallyouback.”  I smiled shakily in disbelief at my friend and told her what had just transpired and excused myself to call Johnny.  Before I could make the call, however, I received the following text messages from the number that had just called me:

(1/2) Hi! Sorry to lay that out there. I told him to tell you. I own our phone account and it looks like he is still calling you. I’m only trying to protect 7:30 PM

(2/2) myself. Hope you don’t get hurt if he hasn’t said anything. 7:30 PM

I had to make sure he wasn’t still lying to me. Sorry for the phone call. Please let me know and you won’t hear from me. Thanks 7:31 PM

I read these to my friend, who made the appropriate WTF faces, and then called Johnny.  No answer.  I called again.  No answer.  I texted him, “Hey I need you to call me immediately”.

At this point, an evening of catching up with my friend was done.  We attempted to change the subject, but just kept coming back to the bizarre call and subsequent texts, and glancing at my phone as if willing it to ring.  I filled her in on the history: that Johnny had met her when he was 21, fresh off an Army tour in Iraq, and she was a stripper at the time [so much for the “stripper with a heart of gold” trope].  Five years later she was taking online courses at WVU, when they moved to White Plains in the summer for his job.  A few months later they’d split up; weeks after that, he and I met.  She had moved back to West Virginia and they had most recently seen each other around Thanksgiving, about a month ago.  Finally, 50 minutes after I originally called and texted him, Johnny called back.  I purposely answered too enthusiastically, “Hi!”

He had already learned what that tone prefaced and warily said, “My phone died and I just got home to charge it.  You said to call you immediately…”  I interjected perkily, “Well, I had a very interesting conversation earlier this evening.”  He sighed, “Yeah, I thought you might have.  I spoke to–” “Oh, hang on,” I interrupted, “I just got more text messages from her.  Let’s read them together, shall we?”  “Oh, god.”

(1/3) I just talked to him again. If he doesn’t tell you let me know. He doesn’t know I called you. I don’t want him to do to you what he did to me. His 8:21 PM

(2/3) agreement was, ” It wouldn’t be fair for me to get rid of her then we end up not working out so then I have no one.” He needs to be honest this is wrong. 8:21 PM

(3/3) Good luck with him 8:22 PM

“<sigh> Just when I thought she was better, she goes and does something crazy like this.”

“Yeah, why don’t you start with telling me what the fuck is going on?”

“Well, we’ve been getting along lately and I really thought she was better and earlier this week–“

“Earlier this week?  Hon, it’s Wednesday.  Does that mean Sunday, Monday, yesterday…?”

“I don’t know.  Monday?  I think it was Monday.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t, say, a week ago when you started using a Google Voice number?”

He chuckled lightly. “Oh, that?  No, that’s for work.  Totally unrelated.”

“Are you sure?  Because you started using that number with me, too.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to use that number for everything.  But no, correlation is not causation.”

“Oh, I am aware of that.  But it’s definitely shady, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah, I could see that.  But it’s really not related, OK?”

“Fine.  Continue.”

“OK.  So we’ve been getting along better and she asked if we could talk about getting back together.  I told her that since we’d be seeing each other over the holidays anyway that we should just wait to see how it goes and talk about it then.  That’s all that happened.”

“So you’ve been getting along better, and two days ago your ex suggested getting back together and you told her to wait to talk about it until next week.  And then in two weeks after returning from your holiday discussions, what then?”

While he mulled that over, I looked at my friend, for whose benefit I had repeated his statements since I couldn’t very well put him on speakerphone.  She shook her head disapprovingly and continued texting her fiancé, giving him a play-by-play of the dinner theater that was being performed in her apartment.

He finally replied, “I don’t know.  I figured I owed it a shot but didn’t really think it was going to work out anyway.”

Well, that was not the right answer.

I reminded him that I had independently asked him about the prospect of him and his ex getting back together on more than one occasion, thus giving him ample opportunity to talk to me, and he had always pooh-poohed the idea on the grounds that she was crazy [which, clearly].

“You’re right, I know, I messed up.”

And then the deadly calm descended on me. I spoke quietly but confidently, smoothly articulating each syllable. “You handled this poorly.  You handled this very poorly.”

“I know, I know!  I’m sorry!”

“I need you to do me a favor.”

“Yes, of course.  What is it?”

“You know how you still have keys to my place from Monday morning when you left after me?

“Sure!”

“There are a bunch of your shirts in my room, and some other stuff in the living room.   I need you to go to my place, I need you to pack up that stuff and leave the keys.  OK?  Can you do that?”

He was silent for a few seconds, then resignedly said, “Yeah, I can do that.” “OK,” I clipped, and hung up.

My friend said I was “AMAZEBALLS” and that she had texted her fiancé just that [“in all caps!”]. But during the wine-fueled post mortem, I realized he was honestly surprised at my reaction: the fact that I had ended it, not just how I had ended it.  I had more to say to him and ask him, so I asked my friend if she’d mind if I cut out early [the earliest I had ever left her black-hole-of-fun apartment] and called Johnny with a change of plans: he was to go there and wait for me.  He asked how long I would be and I curtly reminded him that I had waited around for him plenty in the very recent past and that he could just fucking wait for me once, and I’d probably be home in around 45 minutes.

Sure enough, I was home around 9:15.  I could see the lights were on through the curtains and when I opened the door, the second thing I saw, after the tiny sashaying toward me, was his backpack open on the couch, in the process of being filled.  I said hello to the tiny, and Johnny  came around the corner with his arms full of clothes, and said “Hey” with a sort of sad, sheepish half-smile.  I responded with a big smile and overly cheery, “Well, HI!”, which I again knew would be off-putting,  and removed my coat.  He sat on the couch and packed his clothes while I retrieved a beer from the fridge for myself.

Then I stood in front of him, pulled at my beer, smiled at him and asked him to start again from the beginning.  He did and went into greater detail, adding that she had wanted him to stop seeing me and he had told her it was none of her business.

But it was my business.  He unilaterally made the decision to continue seeing me, thus removing my agency in the matter and barring me from making an informed decision if I wanted to continue seeing him.  And I call bullshit on that.

I sat on the couch next to him and I told him that as soon as he got off the phone with her, he should have told me what was going on.  That he could have told me because I am not crazy [“I know; it’s very refreshing”].  Was he ever planning on telling me, after coming back from the holidays if it didn’t work out with her?  Did he really not see this scenario as a likely outcome?  I laughed aloud at the ridiculous stupidity of the situation Johnny had put himself in so I wasn’t even that mad at him.  He continued to look grave while I clarified that despite that, I still wasn’t excusing his behavior just because he was an idiot, and that his ex-[possibly future] girlfriend was definitely angry with him.  That he’d managed to screw himself just by error of omission.  His repeated apologies were a mere watermark behind my bulleted list of the ways in which he’d fucked up.

There were certain issues I was more than just irked about: the fact that I’d given him several outs, especially a little over a week earlier when I invited him to my birthday party with the understanding that he should only come if he’d still be around in a week, as I didn’t want him to meet my friends and sister if he wasn’t going to be [he lasted a week and 3 days], and that he felt the need to “clear the air” with my ex at my party.

The tiny jumped on the couch and settled in my lap.  Johnny leaned over and began petting her and scratching her face, while I resisted the urge to tell him not to touch my tiny.  “Why did you even bother?  Why expend the time and energy doing all that, spending time with my friends, getting to know them?  It was obviously not a very efficient use of your time.”

He mustered a weak smile and sighed, “I really like you.”

“You understand that this was easily avoidable, right?  If you had just told me, I probably would have just put us on hold or something, but it wouldn’t have been anything like this.  This — all of this — just reflects so poorly on you.  The fact that you have a crazy ex, her fucking calling me, how you handled this — it all shows such poor judgment.”

“I know.  I’m sorry–“

“And I thought you were smarter than this.  That’s one of the things I really liked about you, but maybe I was wrong and you’re apparently a fucking moron.”

“I know.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I’m stupid.  This was so stupid of me, I just wasn’t thinking.”

“Clearly.   Well, I could keep you here because I know you have an early flight tomorrow–“

“Keep railing at me as long as you like.  I totally deserve it.” He put both his hands up and shook his head, ready to take more.

“Yeah, I still can’t be that mean.”

I stood up from the couch to signal the end of our conversation, but thought of something else.

“Oh, and I am not engaging your ex at all.   She is clearly a nutjob for calling me and texting me.  She could have called my office!  Can you even fucking imagine?  What if my boss had answered the phone?  Oh, he’s going to love this story, by the way.”

“Yeah, I bet.”

“And I don’t know what’s up with the conspiratorial tone of her texts, as if we’re on the same side or something.  Frankly, I’m pretty relieved I won’t have to deal with any more of that dramatic fucking insanity.  Good luck with that, by the way.  In future, you should probably better prepare girls you date for that level of crazy.  Either that, or just give up now and marry her.”  I never claimed to be nice.

He stood and faced me, but kept his distance.  “Yeah, no, I get it.  That was fucked up, I’m really sorry about that.”

“So, you’ll understand that I don’t want to poke the crazy.  I’m not going to contact you.  My interaction with her thus far has been relatively pleasant, but I do not want to hear from an irate crazy.  So you can contact me, and I may or may not respond as I see fit.”

“Understood.”

“OK.  Now you go to your room and think about what you’ve done.”

He cracked a real smile for the first time since we started talking, and laughed, “Yes, ma’am.” Then he put his coat on and looked at me sadly, like he’d briefly forgotten what we were talking about in that moment of levity and just remembered.

“Can I have a hug?”

Cripes.  Why do they always want a hug?  They don’t ask if it’s ok for them to hug you. No, they request a hug from you.  And how do you say no to that?  [Answer: you flail your limbs about when they go in for the hug, making it impossible for the hug to land without getting smacked in the face or about the body.  But I didn’t do that this time].

“Sure.”

He hugged me, hard but not too hard, and I half-heartedly returned it.  He kissed my hair, right on the top of my head, squeezed me one last time and released me.  Then he stepped away from me, grabbed his bag from the couch and walked to the door.  He turned around as if he wanted to add something, but I cut him off.

“Have a safe flight tomorrow.”

“Thanks.  Uh, take care.”

I opened the door for him. “Yeah, you, too.  Bye.”

“Bye.”

I closed the door behind him, and went back to the couch.  It was around 10:15pm and I had some TV to catch up on and a beer to finish.

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