Friday, December 4, 2009

Short Story Sunday XVI: THE TWO-WOMAN MAN















From Pitino to Letterman to Shaq to none other than Tiger Woods, 2009 has shaped up to be a bad year for monogamy and gentlemanly behavior. With that in mind I bring you...




The Two-Woman Man


By Roy L. Pickering Jr.
Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.




“Latasha, I’m afraid this isn’t working out.”


“Is that right, Darryl?”


As expected, Latasha took my announcement in stride. She was not the sort to exhibit her pain. If the world believed she was tough, Latasha thought this would compensate for the fact that she was actually vulnerable and insecure. Perhaps no more so than the next person, but not any less either, appearances to the contrary.


“It isn’t you,” I said lamely, not bothering to mutter the “it’s me” part.


“Thanks. I feel so much better now. I would feel better still if you left.”


Without haste, that’s precisely what I did, officially bringing our relationship to an end. It had lasted a fair amount of time, but was in fact doomed from the start, though she had no way of knowing this. In order to explain myself, I must backtrack to a conversation with my friend Craig.


I had set Craig up with his girlfriend, Robin, and the two of them had recently gotten engaged. So I was teasing him that he owed me a future wife, and this is when he first made mention of his co-worker Latasha. He told me that she was a great catch who he would have gladly put a move on himself, if his situation was different than it was. Craig suggested that Latasha and I should meet. After he produced a photograph of the people in his department so I could judge for myself, I agreed that this was indeed a fine idea. Latasha possessed almond shaped eyes, braided auburn hair that no doubt included extensions, hips rounded just the way I like, and a pair of kissably full lips. An after work get-together was arranged for the following week, with Latasha promised to be one of the members of the gathering.


As it so happens. I was invited to a party the preceding weekend. In a stuffy Brooklyn apartment catered in “bring your own” fashion, I made the acquaintance of Cheryl. Her dancer’s physique contradicted an intoxicatingly husky voice, quite the enticing combination. She kept her hair short, usually not a preference of mine, but Cheryl pulled the look off nicely thanks to exquisitely carved cheekbones, sparkling hazel eyes, and an adorable button nose. Her phone number was skillfully obtained, if I do say so myself, and I do.


A few days later I met Latasha as planned, and we hit it off just as Craig had predicted. This put Cheryl and Latasha in competition against one another for my affection, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt pretty good about this at first. Find me a straight guy who claims not to be flattered by the attention of two beautiful women, and you’ve found me one outrageous liar.


I did not plan to doubly indulge myself for very long, however. Past history had shown me that one girlfriend at a time was more than sufficient. I was certain that one of them would pull ahead of the other in my esteem, leaving me with a clear-cut decision to make. Logic dictated that Latasha would come to stand out from Cheryl’s shadow, or else vice versa. But against all reason, neither scenario occurred. Instead, my love triangle continued to roll clumsily along. There is after all, no other way for a triangle to roll.


Despite the inevitable logistical issues to contend with, I must say that I did a masterful job of juggling during the next fourteen months. That’s right, I did say fourteen months. It was very hard work. There were numerous occasions when I was forced to disappoint one because of prior obligations to the other. Time and time again, I had to come up with plausible explanations for letting one or the other down. I handled this tricky business well enough to achieve my primary objective. Neither one suspected the existence of the other. I foolishly believed I was doing myself a favor by maintaining the status quo. Somehow it failed to dawn on me just how ridiculous the status quo was. Or rather, I failed to act on the recognition.


Since I could not choose between them, I suppose I could have concluded that neither one was my soul mate and broken ties with both women. But I was vigilantly opposed to starting over from scratch. Perhaps I did not believe that any single woman could accommodate the diversity of my needs as fully as the combination of Cheryl and Latasha. I was like a child who refuses a peanut butter sandwich as well as a jelly sandwich, only contented by the complete peanut butter and jelly package.


Both Cheryl and Latasha are wonderful women, but neither possessed all that I sought. Latasha’s best points neatly coincided with the things about Cheryl that I wasn’t too crazy about. Conversely, the finer aspects of Cheryl negated the areas where Latasha was lacking. I was unwilling to surrender what I would be giving up, and also refused to wholly embrace that which I only desired in part.


Latasha owned a superior sense of humor. Considerably less of my puns and wry observations floated over her head than was the case with Cheryl. Yet intellectually, I have to give the nod to Cheryl, who was nearly as well read as myself. If I seem to have an inflated opinion of myself, appearances are not entirely deceiving here. I freely admit that I am a self-confident man, proud of my attributes without being unaware of my deficiencies. I make no claim of perfection, nor am I deluded enough to be in search of a perfect woman. But I do hold out hope that somewhere out there is my perfect match.


To continue, Latasha was more proficient in the domestic arena, her cooking going straight from my belly to my heart, just as the old adage promises. Cheryl could not prepare a decent meal to save her life, but she did have a fully developed sense of playfulness, which led me to believe that she was the more maternal of the two. I found Cheryl slightly more attractive, which is a crucial factor. Yet I was aroused to a higher degree by the more sensuous proportions of Latasha’s body. Nevertheless, Cheryl was the one better skilled in the art of lovemaking, or at least possessing greater flexibility. However, Latasha was more vocally appreciative of my sexual efforts, catering to my ego and pulling the category of carnal relations to an even draw.


I fully realized that such a checklist could not be used exclusively to select a life partner. I was not oblivious to emotional factors capable of swaying the heart in whichever direction it was ultimately meant to go. Regardless of how a woman does in such a categorical competition, in the end, she will either make you happy or she will not. So I envisioned as best I could a future with Latasha. I then did the same for Cheryl. I tried to determine which of them touched me most deeply. Who could I imagine myself growing old with?


I came up blank. Or to be specific, I forecast a tolerable existence in both scenarios. I felt great tenderness for Latasha and Cheryl. A frustratingly equal amount. It was not greediness on my part that was responsible for the stalemate. All around me I saw men happy with a single, special someone, and I longed to have the same for myself. I was not interested in running around, I sincerely wanted a lone Pookie, or Snookums, or Honeypie. I simply could not decide who was better suited for the role. Can one possess too much of a good thing? Most definitely.


One twenty-four hour interval during this period distilled the essence of my situation. It started on a night when I lay awake in Latasha’s bed with her cradled in my arms, dead to the world. I held her not by choice, but because she had grabbed hold of my left hand and was clutching it to her breast like a child strangling a teddy bear for comfort. This was her standard post coital posture. Usually I would be exhausted from our lovemaking, so lacked the strength to protest and reclaim my captured appendage. Besides, I was somewhat touched by the gesture, even though I was certain that on nights when I was not around, a pillow served adequately as substitute for my body heat.


Since insomnia was keeping my eyelids open on this particular night, the discomfort of forced immobility proved more than I could bear. Ever so slowly, I withdrew my hand from her grasp. Then I propped myself up and examined Latasha’s face in slumber. The greatest beauty that people can aspire to lies in moments of such serenity. I wanted to preserve it, but did not know how. I only knew that if she could somehow remain in such beauteous repose, I would faithfully and eternally remain by her side. But of course, she would eventually awaken, shattering the perfection of the moment. So I rose and went to the bathroom. Then I returned, lay down on my stomach, and remained still until sleep overcame me.


The next day I met Cheryl for lunch. After a few minutes of small talk, she looked me in the eyes and calmly stated that she was pregnant. She awaited my reaction, but was surely disappointed because I gave none. I did not speak a word, did not move an inch, but merely stared at her unblinkingly, frozen, not even breathing.


“Just kidding,” she said. “April Fool’s.”


I kept still for a beat longer, then drained my glass of water.


“Suppose I hadn’t been joking.”


“I was just thinking the very same thing.”


“And?”


“And I’m not done thinking yet,” I honestly replied, after which I took a bite of my roast beef sandwich. Within a span of seconds I had grown exhilarated and mortified at the prospect of becoming a father, then both devastated and enormously relieved that it was a hoax. With so many emotions running counter to one another, no wonder my central nervous system shut down rather than allowing me to respond.


Fortunately, most of my days lacked such dramatic flair. With great dexterity I maneuvered around landmines such as New Year’s (spent with Latasha, belatedly with Cheryl) and Valentines Day (reverse arrangement), though I won’t pretend for one second that this was simple or inexpensive to accomplish. Quite a toll was being taken on both my bank account and my blood pressure. I had used up every excuse in the book and was writing a brand new one to stay afloat of my lies and misdirections. I feigned many an illness, fabricated numerous phantom business trips, did whatever it took to keep things running smoothly. Yet with each maneuver I pulled off, underneath was the omnipresent realization that my dual romantic status was functioning on borrowed time.


The importance of paying attention to detail is more crucial in a one-on-two relationship than in a one-on-one. Nothing is to be recalled with leisure. Early on I would occasionally stumble, mixing up who I had seen which movie with, or from whom I had borrowed what book or CD. By trial and error I learned not to be so careless with my recollections. The passage of time lived in such a manner regrettably made of me what extensive practice at any art makes of a person – an expert. And most behavior is far more easily learned than unlearned.


A nightmare began to plague my slumber on a routine basis. In it, I would invite Cheryl and Latasha to meet me at the same restaurant on the same day at the same time. Some nights Latasha would arrive first, on others it would be Cheryl. Once the three of us were seated and I had finished explaining the situation, the dream always took the same course. Cheryl and Latasha would begin to argue, their voices rising steadily, and once words proved futile, the disagreement would become physical. One would throw a drink at the other, then food would be flung, next a hand would grab a blouse and all hell would break loose. Then suddenly they would stop. It would dawn on both of them that neither of their wills could overpower or outlast that of the other. So they would turn with twin demonic smiles and unleash their fury upon me. At this juncture I would awaken, in a cold sweat and with a throbbing erection.


Occasionally I would find myself with only one girlfriend for a number of hours. The reason given in each instance was lack of commitment on my part, which I found rather ironic, since if anything, I was too committed. It was Cheryl who broke up with me first, after we had been dating for five months. Tired of my lack of accessibility, she decided that I was not serious enough about our future together. Once she walked out of my apartment, nothing would have been easier than to consider my quandary resolved and Latasha my one and only. All I needed to do was leave the break-up alone, allow it the time that such things require to cement. Instead, I called Cheryl and promised sweetly to make myself more available to her, emotionally as well as on the calendar. I threw in a bouquet of roses for good measure and we were back on track.


Why did I do this? Your guess is probably as good as mine. Perhaps a part of me was more proud than overwhelmed. Maybe I possessed a twisted curiosity to see how long I would be able to carry the madness out. The most likely reason was that however it was to play, I wanted to be in charge of the outcome. I felt the decision was mine to make, and refused to accept one that was handed down to me.


Three weeks later, it was Latasha who grew fed up. I went with tulips rather than roses this time, for Latasha has a preference for tulips. Other than that, same chiding speech, identical smooth talk rebuttal, mirror result.


I was given no less than tree additional opportunities to make things right in the months to follow, two more by Cheryl and one by Latasha. Each time I patched up what I should have allowed to unravel. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know better, but I was helpless against the power of irrational impulses. I was liking myself less and less, not dissimilar to an alcoholic downing glasses of liquor he is desperate but helpless to resist.


Sometimes, being with Cheryl made me regret that I was cheating on someone so wonderful. Other times, Cheryl’s flaws nearly convinced me that Latasha was the one I should settle down with. Time spent with Latasha was equally confused and contradictory. My desire for and dissatisfaction with both women went back and forth like a ping pong ball. The most consistent emotion I felt was guilt, but even this fluctuated, because human nature includes an instinct that allows people to justify just about any behavior. I knew I was not the first man to behave so badly, and was unlikely to be the last. Ridiculous as this rationale was, it managed to get me through the nights when I was made restless by my troubled conscience.


Contrary to what you may have opined by now, I am not a heartless man. I am merely a creature of comfort; an addict of stability; a coward in the face of confrontation; an impractical idealist; a seeker of pleasure; a fugitive from pain; a breeder of insecurities; both an opponent and advocate of chaos. I felt every ounce of Latasha and Cheryl’s hurt as they simultaneously strove for an intimacy that seemed within reach, but persistently eluded each of them. I empathized with the longing for closeness that they expressed in very different ways, but conveyed with equal effectiveness. They were both looking for a reliable brand of love. As for me, I was earnestly seeking a way out of the labyrinth of deception I had manufactured. I was being held prisoner by my own self for reasons that I freely gave to others when asked, yet in truth, possessed little comprehension of.


“You have to remove yourself from that mess,” my brother advised. “The last thing you need is two honeys on the warpath with you in their crosshairs.”


“If you were in my shoes, which one would you stick with?”


I had asked Meldrick this question numerous times before, in hope that an outside opinion might help sway me one way or the other. He had been noncommittal on the prior occasions and would be remaining true to form.


“I wouldn’t be foolish enough to be stuck in those shoes, Darryl. I think they’re both great. You don’t deserve either one, and certainly not both.”


“Maybe I should just flip a coin. Or join a monastery. I’m not cut out for this nonsense. I need to fix this somehow. I need to start living my life instead of letting it live me.”


“What you need is a backbone.”


“Come on, little bro. Cut me some slack. Believe it or not, I am trying to do right by both of them. It’s just taking a little longer than I had planned.”


“We should hang out this weekend,” Meldrick suggested. “Get the old crew together and go buck wild for a few hours. Maybe we’ll hit a club. No wives, no girlfriends, no nagging. What do you say?


“I say I’m in.”


The following Saturday night I got together with Rahim, Omar, Miguel, Jamal, and my little brother. We had not gone out as a group without significant others in tow since Meldrick’s bachelor party two years earlier. Since then, Miguel had also renounced his membership to the single life. There had been no carousing in advance of his nuptials, because he and Kathleen eloped due to disapproving family on both sides. Jamal had recently moved in with his long time girlfriend after finding out that she was carrying Jamal, Jr. Rahim was a seasoned veteran of married life, having gotten hitched shortly after college graduation. Omar had proven himself to be the fondest of our group of matrimony, if the criteria used was quantity. At forty-five years of age, he was contemplating proposing to the current love of his life, would be bride number three, a recently retired exotic dancer whose professional name was Butterscotch.


The plan was to drink a little too much, reminisce fondly about days of far less responsibility gone by, and laugh like the world was our own private amusement park, because for this one night, that’s precisely what it was. All about us in the trendy bar we had selected to hold court in were alluring man traps. These beautiful young women were done up in their best, eye candy for a group of guys on strict diets. Following a look but don’t touch rulebook, we contented ourselves with watching them glide throughout the room, neon spotlights framing their every move. Our commentary may have been deemed vulgar by devout feminists, but in fact, our only intent was to pay homage to the daughters of Eve.


I was pretty buzzed when my attention first became drawn to Lauren. One look at her was enough to sober me. She was quite possibly the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in the flesh. Perhaps that is why I approached her so confidently, convinced that this must be a movie in which I was the leading man, for before me was surely a celluloid heroine.


“Hi. Would you like to dance?”


“With you?”


I was momentarily taken aback by her reply. To my credit, I kept the moment brief.


“Well, not necessarily. Your choices are either myself, Denzel Washington, or Fred Astaire. But the thing is, Denzel ain’t here and Fred is dead. So what do you say?”


“I guess you’ll have to do then.”


She took my arm as I led her to the crowded dance floor. I knew immediately that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this woman on my arm, by my side.


During the next three weeks I saw Lauren as frequently as possible. I had not been so smitten with anyone since high school, when the curly locks of Michelle Allen set my heart racing every time we crossed paths in the hall. Yet I could never summon enough courage to make my crush on Michelle known. Twenty or so years later, I would not allow Lauren to also slip away due to inaction. It was time to clean my slate.


“Latasha, I’m afraid this isn’t working out.”


And so I have traveled full circle, back to the beginning of my tale. Lauren supplied me with Herculean strength where before there had existed the meekness of an asthmatic mouse. The unpleasant things to be said and done were said and done, and then I was on my way.


The following evening was scheduled for déjà vu. Cheryl was not as talented at concealing her emotions as Latasha, so my second parting of the ways did not go as easily as the first, “easily” being a relative term. Like Latasha, Cheryl had seen that an ending was imminent. But she was not so willing to accept our fate. Her tears moved me, of course, but they could not shatter my resolution. Her sense of drama was unable to break my will.


I never intended to hurt either of them. Prick me with a pin and you will see that I am made of flesh and blood, not stone. I did not string Cheryl and Latasha along, nor ultimately choose to let go of the strings, strictly for my own amusement. It may appear to some that this is the case. I will waste no more words trying to convince them otherwise, for people will believe whatever their minds are set on believing. Sometimes there are crimes with no victims. Other times, there are victims without a true crime. Or so I tell myself.


Freedom at long last earned, I was anxious to forfeit what had been gained. I wanted nothing other than to possess and be possessed by Lauren. I had come to understand the spring that has characterized my brother’s steps ever since the day he met Sharice, and without a second thought or moment of regret, laid permanently to rest his wandering ways. Now I would do precisely the same. Now I was home.


Three weeks later…


“I don’t know how to tell you this, Darryl. The thing is, I’ve decided to get back together with my ex-boyfriend.”


“But why?” I managed to ask, as dumbfounded as I was crestfallen by this turn of events. “What we have is incredible.”


“I know,” Lauren said. “I just feel I owe it to James to give our relationship another try.”


“How about what you owe me?” I asked, determined to fight the good fight to the end, to salvage what I had come to cherish. “You must have broken up with James for a good reason. Can you honestly say I’ve given you reason to be anything but happy?”


“No I can’t. But the truth is, I didn’t break up with James for a very good reason. Actually, I never broke up with him at all.”


“What? Are you telling me you’re dating both of us at the same time?”


“No. I was dating both of you. Now I’m just dating James.”


There was no arguing with that sort of logic. Like all women, Lauren was not burdened with the task of having to make sense. She simply needed to declare her latest intention, which indeed she had.


“Can you answer me one question, Lauren? How did you decide which one of us to pick? How do you know you’re not getting rid of the wrong guy?”


She gave me a look that could be translated as nothing but pity. Tenderly, brutal pity.


“Some things you just know, baby.” Lauren kissed me on the cheek to signify the end of her mercy killing. Then she was gone for good.


I’ve always been fascinated by how a person can make but a brief appearance into the world of another, amounting to little more than the blink of an eye in a personal history, yet have a most profound and permanent effect on that life. Whether it stands to reason or not, the opposite is often the case as well. Someone can influence and be influenced by virtually every action of another person for months or even years, then be plucked away one day without leaving the faintest trace of having existed. The impact of my desertion of Latasha turned out to be far less devastating than I had egotistically foreseen. She has recently moved in with the guy she hooked up with after me. Ironically, or perhaps poetically justified, Latasha met Alvin the same way she got together with me, through an introduction by Craig. I get the feeling that the happily married Craig has a thing for Latasha, preferring that she be in a relationship in order to remove the temptation. People do what they must to preserve harmony in their lives.


As for Cheryl, instead of rolling over and dying, she married a hotshot investment banker within a year of our parting of ways. They are expecting their first child in four months time.


I’m glad that things worked out for Cheryl and Latasha. Do I regret letting them go? Do I wish I had been able to appreciate what I had prior to its being gone? Is there anything I would have done differently, like rendering a decision of some kind? Yes, yes, and maybe, but I still have no idea what choice should have been made. I’m older than I was then (given little choice in the matter), and maybe even a little wiser. But the heart has its reasons for everything, and I’m the last guy who can fathom them.


Of one thing I am certain. I’ll get by. I’m not dating anyone regularly at present. I thought a hiatus from the mating game might do me some good. Eventually, I’m certain I will be properly suited for a healthy monogamous relationship. Maybe such a state of maturity is just around the corner.


Then again, I did meet a woman at the gym the other day who seemed quite receptive to my charm. And I’m having great difficulty keeping a professional amount of distance from a certain shapely business associate of mine. So maybe I’ll hold off on growing up for just a little while longer. After all, there is no need to rush around a corner when the view straight ahead suits you just fine.


X X X X X
The End



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