The Break-Up Chronicles. Episode 2 — Lori | by Keith R. Higgons | Aug, 2021

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LORI

The first two things I noticed about Lori were her breasts and her smile.
Technically, I suppose that’s three.

I was a bartender then and I interacted with a lot of women. In almost every case, my interest in them was financially driven. I would flirt in order to get a better tip — that is the way of the bartender (regardless of gender.) Besides, I was usually involved and I’m not wired to date multiple women, overtly or covertly.

When I met Lori I was at the tail end of a relationship with one of the waitresses, Heather. At the time, Heather and I were having a rough go of it and were on the verge of calling it quits for the second time. It wouldn’t be the last time that Heather and I were together, but more on that in episode three.

Lori would come in every Friday night to the place I worked with a bunch of her girlfriends. For some of them, this was the last stop before going home after happy hour. For others it was their starting point before going downtown. For Lori, this was the last stop before going home.

One particular Friday night Lori came in with her usual gaggle of friends. For whatever reason, on this night I took notice of how pretty she was.On this night, she wasn’t wearing anything provocative or sexy. She was in a grey business suit with a white shirt.

And physically, she was attractive. Yes, there were the breasts, her smile, curves in the right places. She also had that Jennifer Aniston hair cut that was popular at the time.

On this night, there was something about the way she carried herself. Lori exuded confidence, and intelligence, and she didn’t command the room or suck the energy out when she entered, but her presence on this night was noticeable.

We knew each other and had flirted before, but neither of us with any intent. It was just playful. As I matriculated around the bar on this night, serving people, lighting cigarettes, making a joke here and there, I made it a point to stop by Lori and say something witty in an attempt to flirt — this time with more than just financial motivation.

As I dropped her second rum and coke down I said: “Ya know, we should have lunch sometime.”
She smiled: “Aren’t you dating someone?”
I had no idea how she knew that, but I tried to play it off: “Well, it’s just lunch. We don’t need to get married.” She scowled at me. I conceded: “Well, yea. But it’s almost over.”
Lori laughed: “Almost? What does that mean?”
“We just have to formalize it.”
“Well, when you do formalize it and it’s no longer ‘almost’ over, then you can ask me out.”
She wasn’t wrong, but I was disappointed: “What will you say?”
Lori smiled big: “You’ll have to wait and see.”

Not long after, Heather and I did officially break-up. Not because of Lori, but because whatever it was that we had wasn’t working any longer.

As if on cue, Lori and her girlfriends came in the following Friday.

I set her first rum and coke in front of her and said: “Now, what about that lunch?”
“What about it?”
“Do you want to have lunch with me?”
“Are you almost single or are you completely single?”
“I believe I now qualify as completely single.”
Lori raised one eyebrow: “What about Katie?”

I left that detail out. Heather and I broke up for a couple weeks a few months prior and I had gone on one date with one of Lori’s roommates, Katie. We had a decent enough date, but there was nothing there.

You can’t start a fire without a spark.

This time I chuckled: “Well, I volley back to you then. She’s your roommate.”
“Do you think she’ll mind?”
We both turned to look at Katie who was dancing, if you can call it that, over by the pinball machine. She had her head down, her long lock of black curls covering her head like a sexy and curvier version of Cousin It. She was gleefully dancing to “Send Me On My Way” by Rusted Root (I hate that fucking song.)
Lori and I turned back to each other and I said: “Nah, I don’t think she’ll care too much.”
“I should check anyway.”
I glanced at Katie again: “Yea, I suppose so.” I grabbed a coaster and wrote my number on the back of it, “Here’s my number. When she says it’s cool, call me.”
“Shouldn’t I be giving you my number?”
I shrugged: “You can if you want.”
Lori grabbed a coaster, snatched the pen out of my hand, and wrote her number on the back and handed it to me.
Tapping it on the bar, I folded it: “That’s settled.” and placed it in my pocket.

This was the time before cellphones, so you actually had to either be home to get a call or have an answering machine. I happened to be home the following Tuesday when Lori called.

She said: “We’re cleared for lunch.”
“Who’s this?”
Lori laughed: “It’s Lori you jerk.”
“And you are …”
She laughed harder: “Shut. Up.”

We spoke for a few minutes and since she worked about 30 minutes away, we made plans that Thursday to meet at some place like a P.J. O’Fiddle Faddles on my day off and during her lunch.

We had a lot of fun during lunch and took a walk around the adjacent mall. After about two hours, I said: “Don’t you have to go back to work?”
Lori laughed a little: “I’m in sales. I don’t need to be in an office.”
I had no idea about the white collar world at that point (arguably, still don’t), let alone sales. All I knew were restaurants: “How does that work?”
She smiled: “As long as I am hitting my numbers and doing what I absolutely need to, I get left alone.”
“So you can just take the afternoon off?”
“Today, yea. But not every day.”

Lori and I began dating and seeing each other with regularity. It didn’t take long for us to slide right into a steady relationship without any complications.

Meanwhile, I continued to work with Heather. After we broke up, it was awkward at first, but we fell into a collegial pattern. And we worked our way into being friendly with each other and talking during the slower moments. There was still a tenderness and chemistry between us, but it wasn’t something we knew what to do with.

Now Lori had a tendency to call me in the morning when I was working lunches. Sometimes Heather would answer and jut the phone in my direction without pressing hold: “It’s for you.” And I always knew from Heather’s face, who it was.

It wasn’t like Heather knew who Lori was, she just knew that someone existed. While Heather didn’t know who Lori was, somehow Lori knew who Heather was. I knew it chaffed Lori that we worked together, but there wasn’t anything going on. I wasn’t used to jealousy.

As Lori and I continued to date, it became apparent she was successful. I mean I made a decent living as a bartender, but I had the maturity of a 17 year-old. Which meant I spent money like a 17 year-old. Bartending, at least then, wasn’t a job that required a great deal of maturity — and that suited me just fine.

If I’m honest, I spent a large chunk of my younger adult life in a state of arrested development.

But Lori was not a bartender. She worked hard and I had a tacit understanding that she made more than I did. A lot more. She was 26, had built her own home, which she shared with her girlfriends (renting rooms to them), helped her family out, and her friends.

Whatever financial success and security she had was neither a deterrent nor appeal for me. It genuinely didn’t impact or influence our relationship. I was attracted to the person, who was smart, made me laugh, and made me feel good all around. Never once did I feel inadequate or that the relationship was unbalanced.

However, every now and again, I would get flashes of how self-assured she was.

We were at one of my friends wedding in Miami, and decided to go shopping before the afternoon ceremony. We were at some posh outdoor mall and had popped into a Prada store.
She looked at me and whispered: “None of this stuff has price tags.”
“Lor, if it doesn’t have a price tag, then you probably can’t afford it.”
She picked up a little black wallet she’d been circling around and smirked.
I shook my head and walked out.
A couple of minutes later she came out with a tiny Prada bag containing that little black wallet.
“Jesus Lor. It’s a wallet.”
“It’s a NICE wallet.”
“It’s a PRADA wallet, that’s about all it is.”
“Whatever. I like it.”

I didn’t ask what it cost, because it didn’t matter. She was happy and I could see in her smile that it was less about the wallet and more about having the freedom to purchase it without being bogged down about either the sacrifice of what it would cost or any discomfort about having the money to buy it. She grabbed my hand, as we walked back to the car, I could feel the extra spring of happiness in her step.

That happiness and spring in her step made us about 10 minutes late to the ceremony …which was in the same hotel we were staying in.

Our first, and only Christmas together, Lori and I agreed to exchange gifts, but put a cap on what we would spend (which we would both break.) I like to think I am a thoughtful gift giver for someone I care about. I stay within my financial comfort level and while I don’t recall what I got her that year, I do recall us both smiling and laughing a lot.

And then she gave me a few gifts and one was a letter sized envelope that she saved for last. I opened it and it was two tickets to Barbados. I felt the floor drop out from underneath me — this was much too extravagant. And it was clearly plastered across my face.

Lori asked me right away: “What?”
“Lori, this is too much.”
“Why?”
“I can’t accept this. Jesus.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know. It feels weird.”
“Why?”
“Well, I feel kinda like shit about my gifts now.”
“Noo, don’t I love them!” and I sense that she did. “I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t want to.”
I set the envelope on the kitchen island: “I know, but …”
She took a step towards me and grabbed my hand: “It’s my money. I can do what I want with it.”
“Of course, I get that.”

We went back and forth, neither of us angry or defensive. It was probably one of the very few mature emotional discussions I had up to that moment. And I felt she tried to understand my position. Of course, I felt a little sheepish about my gifts and not being able to do something like that for her. That said, I didn’t feel emasculated. I just felt like it was too much too soon.

We continued to have the conversation for a couple of weeks. I wanted to go, and so did all of my friends who thought I was being too sensitive (guilty as charged.). It’s not easy to pass up taking a break from a winter in the Northeast and going to a tropical island with a beautiful woman. I’d have to be a dummy to pass that up.

Color me a dummy.

While disappointed, Lori said she understood and accepted my decision. She ended up going with her mother. She’d call every night, but never said anything like “I wish you were here.” She’d just tell me about her day and what they had done.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

As I mentioned, Heather and I continued to work together, and slowly found our way back to being very friendly with one another …but not too friendly. She was graduating college and planning to spend her summer backpacking through Europe. I was a bit jealous, of the backpacking, but listened attentively as her face lit up talking about it.

As summer rolled in, Lori and I were doing well and having fun. Her family had a summer cabin that we would go to every now and again with her parents, her sister, and her aunt. Even though it was bare bones and the plumbing was a bit wonky, we always had fun. They were a fun group of people to be around.

Unfortunately, for as great as Lori was, she was a bit jealous. And there had been moments of it while we were together; but for whatever reason, she always had Heather in her cross hairs.

The night before Heather left for Europe, she called to see if I wanted to get a drink. At the time, I lived about 30 minutes away, so we agreed to meet in the middle.

I walked in to find Heather sitting at the bar. She had just cut her hair and colored it a shade of red, and had a real Juliane Moore vibe going on. It suited her well.

Heather looked amazing.

So we sat and had a couple of drinks. Heather excitedly told me about what her plan was. The countries she was visiting and the places she would be going. She was an artist, so it was like an artists tour around Europe. I was excited for her. But the longer we stayed there I think we both started feeling something.

Heather wisely passed on the last drink, saying she had to leave for the airport early in the morning.

We walked out to our cars, and there was a moment when we went to hug — it was a moment we’ve all had. It’s that moment that presents a very tiny window of opportunity where you know that if either of you made an advance, you know it would be met favorably. It’s just a few seconds where you look at the other person as if silently calling for them to make the move. But whatever the reason, neither of you make that move.

And almost always, it’s for the best.

Heather and I smiled during that small window and we let it close. We hugged and I wished her well asking her to drop a note if she had time.

We made a promise to re-connect when she was back.
It was a promise neither of us were convinced we would keep.

I got home to find a terse message on my machine from Lori: “Can you call me when you get home.” I shrugged my shoulders and dialed. She picked up on the first ring: “Hey, what’s up?”
“Where were you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Where were you just now?”

Now, I’m not proud of this, but if I had told her I met Heather for a drink, Lori would’ve gone ballistic. And since it was (mostly) benign, I didn’t see a need to upset the apple cart, so I lied: “I went out to get something to eat.”
“Alone?”
“Yes, alone. Why do you ask?”
“Because I called you and when you didn’t answer I drove up to your place.”
It was about a 30–40 minute drive for Lori: “You drove here?”
“Yes.”
I was pretty sure I knew the answer — she didn’t trust me — but I asked anyway: “Why?”
Defensively, she returned volley: “I can’t spontaneously drive to see you?”
“Well, yea, but it’s a bit out of character.”
“You don’t know me as well as you think. Maybe I just wanted to see you.”
Well, that rang completely false. I could hear it in her voice, but I wasn’t about to poke that bear, “I’m sorry I missed you then.”
“Did you go out with Heather?”
Certainly not the follow-up question I had expected: “Did I what?”
“Go out with Heather? To eat?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
“Isn’t she leaving soon?”
Now, exactly how Lori knew that was not a question I was going to ask: “Yea, I think she leaves in a few days.”
A tiny grunt came from the other end of the phone.

A few weeks before this, Lori and I had begun seeing her therapist to address certain communication issues that were beginning to pop-up. It was as if we were from different planets and didn’t speak the same language. Someone should really write some books addressing that stuff.

Lori and I had a therapy appointment about a week after that incident. It was a Thursday and I had the day off and had gone hiking with a new friend. A woman named Amy I had met at the bar. It was completely innocent, but it was a long hike.

When I showed up at the therapists office, I was a bit tired.

Lori noticed immediately: “You look tired. What did you do today?”
“Not much. I went for a hike.”
“With who?”
“This woman Amy I met a few weeks ago.”
Her voice dropped. She was pissed: “Who is Amy?”
Oops, I was so tired, that I had forgotten I wasn’t going to tell her for this very reason. But the train had left the station: “I just told you, a woman I met a few weeks ago at the bar.”
“Where did you go?”
“I dunno, some place by her house.”
“So you went to her house?!”
“Well, yea, we met there.”

I could see Lori was beginning to boil and I was pissed because I thought she was overreacting. Just then the therapist came out to get us.

The tension was palpable as we entered the room. Lori and I sat on opposite sides of the couch. The therapist sat across from us and immediately picked up on the tension.

“What’s going on with you two?” she asked.
“Well, he went hiking with some woman today.”
“Yes, and that was all I did.”

And thus began an unleashing of all the things we both had been holding down for the better part of ten months. It was the usual stuff, poor communication, not “seeing” one another, jealousy, and misunderstanding, among other things. As Lori’s Italian temper flared, so did my Irish. We were both seething, and finally the therapist asked: “Do you two want to be together?”

I started: “Yea. I do, but I want Lori to trust me more.”
“I do too, and I also want to trust him.”
The therapist asked Lori: “Has he ever given you a reason not to trust him?”
“He’s never cheated on me. Not that I know of.”
I looked away and shook my head: “I’ve never cheated on her.”

“Trust isn’t always just about infidelity or cheating,” the therapist informed us. “You can cheat emotionally, and some would argue that’s worse.”

Which was a solid point. As I look back now, I can see that I was beginning to emotionally distance myself from Lori. I had begun to think about Heather a little more. Lori was picking up on something, even if she didn’t know what, and it was probably that.

The therapist then dug into her bag of tricks and tried working with us to see if we could reach some common ground. Lori became more and more resolute that I had somehow done something. I became more and more defensive because I couldn’t understand where this was coming from and, in my eyes, I hadn’t done anything.

I didn’t feel it was fair to be persecuted for private thoughts. But they couldn’t have been that private if they were manifesting themselves as me slowly emotionally distancing myself. In hindsight, it would’ve been more mature to tell Lori that I was having conflicting feelings about Heather. But I just didn’t have the emotional toolbox to do that.

The therapist did what neither Lorin or I could, or probably would do, she broke us up: “Listen, it’s clear you guys care for one another, but it’s not working right now. Why don’t you take three months away from one another. Don’t call or talk to one another. And if you want to come back together after that time then, you can find your way back to each other.”

Lori and I reluctantly accepted the suggestion. Although, I am sure we both were somewhat relieved that the hard part was done by someone else.

Lori and I walked out to our respective cars. They were parked next to each other and we stopped as we approached them. We hugged briefly before going to our drivers sides. I turned to look over Lori’s car roof at her. In some ways, I felt like I was looking in a mirror — her face contained all the emotions I was feeling, sadness, anger, and disappointment. It was obvious she felt the same.

Who said it first doesn’t matter because we both felt it: “I guess this is it.”
“For now, yea, I guess so.”

Somehow, I think we both knew this was it.

As I got in my car and turned it on, that God damned “Send Me On My Way” by Rusted Root was playing.
I really hate that fucking song.

I never saw or spoke to Lori again.



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