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Jessica #56 - Romantic Reflections

Jessica #56 - Romantic Reflections

Deep into Romantic musings, Jessica's disenchantment may be a sign of maturity.


I took a few moments to get settled under the umbrella on the pontoon boat, before dabbing sunblock on my nose. We were about to launch out onto the lake of the cleverly named "The Lakes" development in Tempe, after brunching with new friends of Joel who live there. After Joel had subtly begged to borrow the couple's pontoon boat (what looked to me like a motorized picnic table on inner tubes), we were floating down the 100-feet wide waterway.

Watching me, Joel burst out laughing. "You do realize that you look like Katherine Hepburn in 'The African Queen,'" he said, smiling.

"Well, hopefully, I shall remain unsunburned," I said haughtily. "And my slavic features say 'thank you' for the comparison to Miss Hepburn's more patrician ones."

The real resemblance, I knew, was the floppy straw hat I'd borrowed from our hostess. Joel had attended a lecture series that her husband, Larry, had given on the Arab-Israeli conflict at the Bureau of Jewish Education. They'd struck up a friendship and Joel brought me along when they'd invited him for a bagel brunch.

There was the strange, under-discussed issue of his divorce and his 5-year-old daughter.

The wife was a cute woman who amused me (and probably would've impressed my mother) by transparently trying to figure out how serious Joel and I are -- without actually asking. In truth, things were progressing nicely... "progressing" meaning that they were moving slowly forward. But, I -- little Miss Melodrama -- felt surprisingly non-melodramatic. I felt as if we were both being cautious and were very aware of developing The Relationship. And said Relationship was developing: Joel had referenced the "we" word on occasion, but there was still the strangeness of the under-discussed issue of his divorce and his 5-year-old daughter.

For my part, I was liking Joel more and more -- for instance, his interest in and dedication to Israel. And I found it interesting that, at 34, he had struck up a friendship with someone in his 60s (our host Larry).

And now I was discovering that he was a wanna-be ship's captain. I watched, amused, as Joel ran around the dock taking sea-faring instructions. From what I gathered, piloting the pontoon boat took all the skill required to steer one of the cars at Disneyland's "Autotopia."

Once on board, we promptly rechristened the boat as the "Karine-B" (without the ammo, of course). And when I pulled out my SPF 14,000 sunscreen, Joel snorted and shook his head, good-naturedly muttering something about it being January.

"Come on, Doctor Rabkin," I chided, "Surely you tell your patients about the dangers of sun exposure -- even in winter."

"Remember that most of my patients are under 8," he said. "But I always remind their parents to slather them in this stuff."

"Does Michal sunburn easily?"

Michal -- Joel's daughter -- was a topic I was desperate to crack. I still hadn't met her, and we hadn't discussed if the time was approaching.

"No, not at all. She can start to look Pakistani... it's hereditary. Shelley could stay in the sun forever and never think twice about it..."

"-- Shelley?" I interrupted gently. "-- Oh, uh, Shelley is Michal's mother," he said, a touch uneasily. "My ex-wife."


After a short uncertain silence, Joel tried to move smoothly to another subject.

After a few milliseconds of uncertain silence, Joel smiled at me and tried to move smoothly to another subject.

-- Arrrrrgh, I thought silently. Suppressed tension. I was frustrated with myself for not knowing how to say, "Hmm. That was awkward, wasn't it?"

We drifted along in the water in relatively companionable silence, and my thoughts somehow drifted to Jane Eyre. I started telling Joel...

Capital R-Romanticism (not "romance") speaks to me: "There is an order to these people's lives," I said, "an understanding that their whims are not what should rule them."

I found myself wondering, I told him, whether this was a sign of maturity. It reminded me of my disparate reactions to the wonderful movie (and of course, the book is even better -- and has recipes) "Like Water for Chocolate." The first time I saw it, I was carried away -- by the romance.

When I saw it again a year or two later (having grown up quite a bit in the interim), my reaction was quite different: I thought Tita was an idiot and should have stayed with the stable, decent doctor who loved her. Had I now completed the circle to utter old-fogeyhood? Was I now a certified non-romantic, even if I still loved Romanticism?

Too much damage had been done for us to trust each other anymore.

"Picking the doctor is always a good plan," Joel said with a smile. "But I know what you mean. I always thought of it in terms of Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, all the verbal jousting. That if you really love someone, you spar. You know how much 'chemistry' you have because of the constant back-and-forth and the intensity of bickering and making up."

And then, for the first time, he told me a little about his divorce.

"I didn't learn how wrong I was and how differently I needed to behave and react until it was too late," he said. "By the time I figured it out, too much damage had been done for us to trust each other anymore."

I didn't ask questions and instead let him talk.

"My greatest regret, is that Michal will grow up with the early knowledge that love can't overcome all. Or worse, that she'll think we didn't try."

Behind him, the sun was glinting on the sky-blue metallic front of the boat and on the green-blue water in front of it. Listening, I was struck with the thought that, if this goes anywhere, I will remember this moment -- squinting from the sun and the hum of the electric motor -- as the first time we made a real emotional connection.

Yup. A little romance, even for this non-romantic.

January 19, 2002

Article 56 of 66 in the series Jessica's Journal

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Anonymous, January 22, 2002 12:00 AM

I have managed to survive throughout all these episodes without cringing once. That is, up until now. What caused it? No, not the attempts at romance or the embarrassing avoidance of the ex-wife. I cringed at the sentence:
“we promptly re-christened the boat as the "Karine-B" (without the ammo, of course). “

To ‘christen’ is to give a name to and declare someone (esp. a baby) a member of the Christian church through the ceremony of wetting its head with, or immersion in water. (Cambridge Dictionary)

To Christen, to baptize and name; to initiate into the visible church of Christ by the application of water; applied to persons. And as a name is given to the person in the ceremony. (Websters)

Yes I know that the term is used to name boats as well but its origins are clear to all.

Weren’t you embarrassed at using such a term? Jews don’t christen or even “re” christen anything!

(7) Anonymous, January 22, 2002 12:00 AM

Sounds like a lot of people are reading this story...

based on the number of replies. It is as though there is a solid love-hate relationship with the auther! ;-) Ya'll grouse an awful lot considering that you are sucked into the story time and time again! Well, I for one am looking forward to seeing more! It would be nice if Jessica were a bit better communicator, but I know people with far worse communication skills! (maybe even me!)


(6) Anonymous, January 21, 2002 12:00 AM

This you call romance?

I don't think it's so romantic to be talking about your boyfriend's kid and exwife. Boat rides are romantic but why would you thinkt hat talkign about his divorce is?

(5) Anonymous, January 21, 2002 12:00 AM

Jessica seems a bit emotionally immature...

It's interesting to me that Jessica finds it so difficult to broach the questions to Joel about his divorce, child, etc. Especially his child. After all, it's an important part of his life.
Perhaps Jessica's past in the fasion industry affected her. It's easier for her to talk about anything besides the things that matter.
Some of us, upon first meeting people, get a sense of who they are, why their past relationships might have ended (at least according to them), and what they are looking for.
To be so hesitant in bringing up the topics that matter seems skittish at best, not to mention a waste of time.
Those of us who are interested in meeting someone compatible are able to do this early on with politeness and grace, without seeming to be prying or aggressive.
Those who can't: maybe it's time to brush up on your social skills.

(4) , January 21, 2002 12:00 AM

Is romanicism healthy?

As one who has been looking for someone like Mr. Rochester for my Jane Eyre persona, since reading the Bronte novel decades ago at 13 YOA, I found this article to be timely. I am currently in a relationship that I have felt sure came me to me to eradicate my overly developed notions of romance. I am now more convinced that this is true!!!! :)

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