The day after my late-night e-mail frenzy, the phone rang while I was hurriedly getting ready for work. I had been alarmedly tearing apart my bedroom since I'd somehow ended up wearing a pearl in one ear and a diamond stud in the other -- and the matches were nowhere to be found.
I'd finally located the other pearl, but the stud still eluded me -- and now I couldn't find the portable phone either. I nearly broke my neck running to the kitchen to catch it on the last ring.
"Hello?!!" I panted, quietly thanking God that I lived alone so no one else would witness my Keystone Cops-like morning ablutions.
"Hi. I got your e-mail," said a sullen but familiar voice. "I'm in Phoenix."
It was college chum Dan Albom, or at least what was left of him. Apparently, he'd been holed up for a couple of weeks in a business suite hotel in North Central Phoenix. (Without calling me.) One of his regular business trips here had stretched out and, he explained morosely, he didn't have any reason to go home on weekends.
"What about Katy?" I asked, referring to his girlfriend of a few years. Since Dan and I had become friendly again after our airport encounter (now more than a year ago!) I'd heard all about the fair Kate and had met her once.
"We broke up," he said.
First we got engaged. Then I broke it off.
"Oh, Dan..." I said, compassion for his pathos pushing aside my own lingering depressiveness. "I am so sorry."
"Well, actually, I broke it off..." he said, thickly.
"Well, first we got engaged. Then I broke it off."
"What?!!" I squawked. "Why?"
Apparently, he and I had been quite out of touch. It seems Dan got engaged and then de-engaged during the time I was busy piloting my own significant other into the religio-cultural chasm.
He poured out the whole story to me after work, as he nursed a series of alarming-colored margaritas in the Carlos O'Malley's near his hotel. I was surprised at how haggard he looked. He'd lost weight and otherwise just seemed worn down.
"It just had gotten to that point..." he said morosely. "We were sort of flailing around and she was getting itchy. We'd been talking about it for a while, and I figured we'd get married, but I didn't feel any pressure until all of a sudden she started making demands."
"Demands?" I asked.
"You know, that we get engaged."
"Oh," I said, confused. "But you'd been talking about it?"
"And you wanted to get married?"
He nodded again.
As I understood, her "demand" was that the engagement happen sometime closer to now, as opposed to 2009.
Her demand was that the engagement happen sometime before 2009.
Dan had gone along with the "demands," he explained, because it seemed like the logical thing to do and because he didn't want to lose her. They got engaged and then, as wedding chimes began ringing around the corner, the enormity of what was happening hit him.
"It just didn't seem right," he said. "I had all these doubts..."
I found myself shrinking back into the booth. Something about him seemed incredibly ill-anchored.
"Do you think you did the right thing?" I asked tentatively.
He rubbed his eyebrows. When he looked up, I was pretty sure the glistening I saw was tears -- unrelated to contacts lenses or allergies.
"What sort of doubts were you having?" I asked.
"Just the same things we'd been dealing with all along," he muttered. "I just didn't know if we could get over them."
"But, Dan," I began, perplexed, "you were together for a long time. If there were these issues, why did you get engaged?"
"I thought we could work them out," he said, "but they only seemed to get bigger. Then they seemed insurmountable."
I thought of Katy, a non-returnable wedding dress sitting in her closet, and her having to go through what I was going through, except worse: explaining not just that they'd broken up, but that the wedding was off.
I looked at Dan and suddenly felt, on behalf of womanhood, fury.
"You got scared, didn't you," I said, waving my hand. "When it came down to it, you just couldn't do it."
He blinked his eyes several times and looked down.
You just dive out the window and leave her to deal with the messy aftermath!
"I can't believe you did that to her, Dan!" I said, angrily. "So typical! You are Mr. Wonderful-in-Love until it comes time to make a commitment, and then all of a sudden, you flee like an 8-year-old who got caught! You're so lost in your own fear that you didn't even think of her! You just dive out the window and leave her to deal with the messy aftermath of your inability to follow through on anything!"
Too late, I realized that my tone and my words were directed as much at Andy, my old commitment-phobic boyfriend, as well as the legion of pledge-reticent men who'd trucked through the lives of my sister Beth, my best friend Alison, and nearly every other woman I knew. Now I was bubbling out on Dan and I didn't even know if he deserved it.
Dan looked shocked, and then angry.
"Oh, and you're one to talk!"
"You get burned by what's-his-name, so you run off and lead on some poor guy who had the misfortune to be born into a religion that's not yours and, worse yet, fall for you!" he said.
"Well, I didn't lead him on!" I hissed, getting pulled in further. "I didn't know until the end that it wasn't going to work!"
"Well neither did I!" he spat back.
We exchanged a few more nasty jibes and then sat looking at each other, eyes blazing, for a long minute. I recovered first.
"Oh, Dan," I said, shaking my head in horror. "I'm sorry. I just bit your head off as a representative of all men. I was out of line."
He half-sighed, half-snorted. "Me too, me too. Look at us, two victims of love who left body counts in their wake."
"You're kind of right, "I said, not so quick to acknowledge my evil side. "I don't think I led Rick on, but I did let the relationship escalate without being aware of what was going on. I didn't know until the end how unfair it was, but I should have."
He nodded. "I feel like some sort of dating toxic waste..."
I stayed silent and let him continue.
I was reckless with someone else's heart. That's some sort of emotional manslaughter.
"Two weeks of brooding in that hotel got me to realize: It's not about her. If I'm going to take the responsibility of getting involved with someone, I need to be sure of what I'm doing. I spent more than two years with Katy and I do really love her... but I didn't know until last month how terrified I was of taking that big step. It was reckless of me. I was reckless with someone else's heart. That has to be some sort of major sin."
"I just never considered the obligations that come along with getting involved with someone," he said, meditatively. "I just kept moving forward, and then I panicked. It's emotional manslaughter..."
"You must get points for being repentant, though," I added helpfully, feeling a bit like a priest in the confessional.
He laughed ruefully. "C'mon, just being sorry isn't enough. You have to be in the same situation and not do it again."
He was looking at me earnestly. Staring, actually.
I looked back bashfully. Did he mean with me?