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Exercise Wednesday: I was wr-r-rng. I was wr-r-r-r-r. I was not exactly right.

April 11, 2012

To live an interact with people is to be wrong, every once in a while. It’s a fact of life. We sleep, we eat, we screw up. It’s part of the human condition. As involuntary as breathing or avoiding John Tesh music.

The reaction to being wrong isn’t involuntary. It’s what distinguishes us from the lower primates. Like Fonzie.

The way a person reacts to being wrong can reveal a lot about them. So your job today is to write a scene in which your character is wrong. And not wrong about Starbucks being the best coffee in the world (it’s not). Wrong about something important. Wrong about something that has a significant effect. Wrong in a way that makes them feel lower, less than they should be because of the consequences of their being wrong.

Are they going to bluster through? Admit they’re wrong and move on, or are they going to try to turn their wrongness into a victimhood of its own? Are they going to ask forgiveness or expect it? Will there be a gift involved? Will the realization lead to reconciliation?

Time limit: 25 minutes

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One Comment
  1. Chris Hamilton permalink
    April 11, 2012 6:02 am

    Catherine didn’t want to be here. Neither did I for that matter. United for sixteen years in our mutual affection, now we were united in our mutual discomfort.

    “Hey,” I said.

    She looked at me, fingers hooked in her hip jeans pockets. But she didn’t say anything.

    “Thanks for coming.”

    Nothing. She wouldn’t make this easy. But if she did, she wouldn’t be Catherine.

    “Look, I’m–”

    “Don’t say it. I swear to God, Jim, if the next word out of your mouth is sorry, I will leave and you’ll never see me again.”

    Aha. So there was a way to not having her leave. But it wasn’t through sorry. I had a clear destination, but it was on the other side of a bottomless abyss. I hate days that start that way.

    “We’ve been friends…more than friends for sixteen years. You don’t fix that with sorry.”

    She was walking back and forth, three steps, turn, three steps. I was shifting side to side, standing still. Eye contact was brief and incidental.

    “What do I do, Cath?”

    She snorted a bitter laugh, not a good sign. “What do you do?” She was always good at working derision into her voice. Until now, it had always been aimed at other people. “Be a frigging man, Jim. Don’t be a pussy. Be yourself.”

    I pulled my lips together. Be myself. Oh, that’s all. Except being myself is tied up in my job and my wife and my frien–screw it. I closed my eyes and pushed that away. I fought back so I pushed it harder. My mental joists strained and started to buckle. I ignored the buckling. Actually, I didn’t. I just pretended I did.

    Until I straightened at that point, I didn’t know that I’d been a walking slouch for a long time. My back felt free. My shoulders felt a weight lift. “I want you to be a part of my life.”

    She stopped pacing, her gaze hot on me. I didn’t look away. She said nothing. I responded in like form. My statement was out there. I had nothing to add.

    “Why should I?”

    Damn her. I was myself. Why couldn’t that be enough?

    “Seriously, Jim, why should I?”

    I closed my eyes and nodded. “You’re right. The other night at your–”

    “When we slept together? You think this is about when we slept together? Jesus, Jim, are you really that clueless?”

    I could predict with amazing regularity what Catherine would do next. I was good at it. I knew when she’d get angry, when she’d play, and when she’d be really hurt by something. Until this very minute. I had no clue what she was thinking or what she’d do next.

    “I’m trying here, Cath. I hurt you. And I care about you. With all I’ve lost, I don’t want to–”

    “Lose me, too? God, you are that dense. You want me in your life in some form because everything else is gone. Screw you. I don’t want to be in your life because of that.” She paced again.

    I thought back to the other night in her apartment, the way she gasped when my fingers first touched her just above her hip and I slid in close to her. How her lips parted and she closed her eyes and took in a breath. I thought about how her arms were slow and relaxed and comforting as they slid up my back. We were drunk, felt alone. Wanted to feel a connection. I’d wanted to feel a connection. She’d wanted…something different.

    What had I done? My hand started to fly to my mouth and I stopped it.

    “Oh my god.”

    She stopped pacing. Her arms fell to her side. Her eyes became glassy.

    “Oh, my god, Cath. I’m sorry.”

    “Fuck you.” Her words were thick now and she blinked vigorously.

    “I took advan–”

    “Shut up. Shut up. I’m not some freaking porcelain doll who can’t think for herself. That’s not what it is.”

    I shook my head. She walked to me, put her arms out and shoved me in the chest. “Your fucking apology is part of the problem.”

    “I don’t get it! I want to understand but I don’t.” My voice was coarse and abrasive, thick like hers. Uncontrolled.

    She turned. “I don’t need you to protect me, Jim.”

    And she left.

    —-

    Double A told me Catherine was moving on August 18. Knowing Catherine, that meant she was leaving on the eighteenth, or she told Double-A to tell me the eighteenth so when I got there and she’d really left on the seventeenth, she’d get one final screw you in. I showed up in the seventeenth. Most people would have brought flowers.

    I brought a Boise State t-shirt I’d bought off the Internet. She didn’t follow sports much, but if she were working in Boise, she’d have to at least acknowledge the football team.

    “You thought I was leaving today, didn’t you?” She wore shorts and a Rays t-shirt and her hair was up. A light sheen of sweat show on her forehead.

    I nodded.

    She nodded back. “I leave tomorrow. I’m staying at a hotel tonight. I have to finish cleaning today, get my security deposit back. Money’s gonna be a little tighter now.” Her voice was stiff and formal. “Come in.”

    I did.

    “You brought something.”

    I held up the shirt. She looked at it for a second, smiled because that was expected, and took it. “Thanks. That’ll make it look like I at least know something about football.”

    I said nothing.

    “Jesus, Jim, either say something or get out. I have work to do.”

    I took a breath. “If Wendy hadn’t been my wife–”

    “Oh, God, please just leave.”

    “No.” I shook my head. “No. We’ve been…great for sixteen years. I’m not letting it go because I can’t figure out the right things to say. It’s more important than that.”

    She nodded. Leaned against the wall where she’d once had a framed picture of Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing. She seems small against the empty wall, fragile. And that had been my mistake.

    I took a long breath. “I know you’ve been through a lot–”

    “Okay, seriously, I have work to get done.”

    “No. Dammit. You’re going to hear me out.”

    She didn’t move.

    “I know you’ve been through a lot. And I know you’ve basically had to be everything for yourself. The people who were supposed to protect you didn’t. So you had to do it yourself.”

    Skepticism, thy name is Catherine.

    “Cath, I’m sorry I went to Milton. Without talking to you.”

    “Why?”

    “I wanted…I’d screwed up so much stuff. I didn’t want it to fall on you.”

    She nodded. “He wanted both of us gone. That wasn’t about you. It was about us, Jim. You and me together.”

    I nodded back. A chair would have been nice. There were infinite possibilities of what to say next. Most of them wrong. I’m good at wrong.

    “Partners.”

    She nodded and a tear spilled down her left cheek.

    “Partners don’t dissolve the partnership without talking to the other partner,” I said.

    She smiled and now tears ran down both cheeks. She came to me and I took her in my arms.

    “I love you,” she whispered as I held her.

    That night, we watched a movie together in my living room. She fell asleep on the couch. The Mets were in LA and I went in the office and watched the game. When I woke, it was light out. And she was gone.

    On the counter was an address in Boise. A phone number. And a list of airlines that flew from Tampa to Boise.

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