I'm a smart person. Yeah, I'm definitely a smart person. I'm also crazy. I think I'm crazier than I am smart. It's not the good kind of crazy either. Vince could probably testify to it. He's experienced me in all of my deranged glory more than once. That's the thing about Vince; he always seemed to find a way to bring out the crazy in me like nobody else. But then again, men don't make women crazy. We do that lovely stuff to ourselves when we fail to demarcate the sections of our lives as clearly as we should. Vince had been allowed into an area that was had been expressly marked as a high risk one and that was nobody's fault but mine. Sometimes things didn't work out. He and I, it seemed, were one of those things.
I also have a real knack for choosing the most inopportune moments to do things. It was one of the things that Vince liked so much about me in the first place. I always managed to nudge people off-kilter, catch them with their guard down, and unflinchingly ask the awkward questions nobody had the guts to utter. The middle of an art gallery, bustling with people, probably wasn't the best place to have the kind of conversation I wanted to start but screw it.
My nerves had already been frayed dangerously thin by the preceding weeks and if I had to stare at one more pretentious, over-priced, paint-splattered canvas, I was going to lose my mind. I wondered why Vince thought it would be a good idea to bring me to this place to begin with. It was hot and stuffy, people kept bumping into me and I was tired of pretending that I was considering spending three month's salary on some dubious-looking doodles.
"I hate this fucking painting. Also, I'm leaving," I blurted suddenly, my eyes still fixed on the jumble of colours in front of me. It was selling for R195 000.
The background chatter seemed insignificant in contrast to his stunned silence. It drowned everything else out. He turned to look at me so quickly that his brown curls bounced around for a moment. I was very fond of how his hair did that but then I remembered the last time I saw it flowing about so haphazardly. My jaw tightened.
"You're joking, right?" asked Vince in disbelief.
"No," I answered simply.
"You can't!" he said, the anger rising in his voice.
I frowned at him, starting to feel angry myself.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean? I can't ? Since when do you make any decisions about what happens in my life anymore?"
If I was honest with myself, I still wasn't even sure if I was making the best decision but I didn't have the energy for another fight. That's all Vince ever wanted to do with me it seemed. He sighed deeply and ran a hand through his hair. He always did that when he was trying to calm down.
"Listen, Lynn. I'm just worried for you. Have you seen what those places look like? I mean, you're willingly walking into a warzone. It doesn't make sense to me."
"It doesn't make sense to you? This shouldn't be news to you, Vince. I talked about wanting to do this a very long time ago. Where was all the worry then?"
"Well I didn't think you were actually going to go! I thought we talked about this!"
"No, we didn't talk about anything. You expressed your opinion about something that is, in the end, my decision and we never brought it up again."
He was trying not to lose his temper, I could tell. He was definitely getting better at it, I could give him that. It wasn't going to help either of us though. He sighed again and shoved his hands into his pockets in frustration.
"Do we have to do this here? Really?"
"We can go outside if you like, but we're definitely doing this now."
Vince Bailey was a good guy. Well, he was when I met him. I'd never had much reason to try with anybody when it came to men. It never seemed like it was worth the effort. I just sort of ambled through life, kind of wanting a significant other and then kind of not. It was a big deal in my life, trying to find someone, until it wasn't. My job kept me busy enough and the independence was difficult to let go of once I'd found it. Then one day I got lonely and agreed to go on a date with a green-eyed, long-haired vagabond that I met on Tinder.
I'd never been on a date before; as he had been shocked to find out as I slurped away at a milkshake he'd bought me that day. I'd actually wanted to order wine, but didn't trust myself enough sober, let alone a little intoxicated so I'd opted for the strawberry concoction instead. I remember feeling like I didn't have enough clothes on, even though that winter morning had me enveloped in many thick layers of wool. He'd been very obviously undressing me with his eyes and it had made me exceedingly uncomfortable. I was scared I'd have to announce that I didn't want sex and say my goodbyes as I left him alone at the table, contemplating a more suitable option on Tinder.
That didn't happen. The green-eyed, long-haired vagabond decided to stop his wanderings there and then. Obviously, I didn't know it at the time. I mean, I was still wrapping my head around the addition of another person to my life that I had to consider and make provision for. It was like this whole new language I had to learn and I was astoundingly slow on the uptake.
It was alright though. Vince had this unmatched patience with me which I never quite understood but appreciated all the same. However, he'd never pass up on a chance to poke fun at my awkwardness (which, apparently he found confusing because I wasn't that way at work). We then concluded that he was the source of my awkwardness. We also concluded that that was as good a time as any to officially start dating.
Twenty-five years in and I finally had a boyfriend. It was strange and I didn't really know how to behave myself. Luckily, all of that wasn't too much of a bother because I could just continue being my regular, emotionally-underdeveloped self around Vince and things would be fine. For a while, anyway.
"What the fuck, Lynn?"
Vince seemed genuinely confused as he held his hands up in a questioning gesture. He should have been; I hadn't exactly explained myself. Amongst the many things I was struggling with in my life, behaving in an appropriately adult manner was one of them. People aren't telepathic, I screamed at myself in my head, fucking explain yourself!
"I need a drink," I mumbled, more to myself than him.
"You what?" he asked, more baffled than he was before.
"I said I need a drink", I replied.
I began to walk down the street. My feet were automatically directing me to my regular drinking spot. Yes, I had a regular drinking spot.
"You're going to drop a massive bomb on me and then you're going to run away to get a drink?" hissed Vince incredulously.
There was that hair again, floating around so enticingly in the August wind.
"Yeah, pretty much," I said, refusing point blank to turn and look at him.
This confrontation seemed so much more organised and easier to accomplish in my head. I hadn't banked on feeling so...flustered. I mean, I had every reason in the world to break up with Vince. He was a lying cheat. I'd waited and waited and waited a little more for him to confess. You know, because that's what adults do, right? Fuck it if I knew how relationships were supposed to work. I thought he was a good enough person to just tell me when he'd had enough so we could both move on with our lives. I'd probably cry about it for a bit (I know I'd definitely drink an excessive amount because of it) but I'd be fine again eventually. I'd just go looking for more green-eyed, long-haired vagabonds on a questionable dating application. Or maybe I'd have more luck with the ones with short hair and dark eyes. Or maybe I'd have no luck at all. That was always an option too.
He never did confess and I decided that I was too old to be dealing with his bullshit. I couldn't play the victim if I sat back and did nothing about it. Yet still it felt like the wheels were coming off. I don't like confronting people. Confrontations always had a way of going wrong whenever I initiated them, mainly because I could never stand my ground. I trusted myself even less around him. I walked faster. His presence made me feel claustrophobic.
My brain was making so much noise that I didn't notice the actual noise of the car approaching on the street I was crossing.
The moment I woke up and realised that I was confined to a hospital bed, I worried about how crazy my bill would be. Welcome to South African private healthcare. My very next though was how much pain I was in. The voice incessantly whispering my name wasn't exactly helping things either. My eyes wandered around my bed until I found the source.
Fuck it. Why was he there?
"I was your emergency contact," he said, as if he could read my thoughts. I frowned.
"Really?" I asked.
My throat was dry and scratchy. Speaking hurt, but I knew I had to make sure that I'd heard him right. My mother was the most reliable person on the face of this messed up earth. Whenever things went wrong, she'd fix them. Whenever I needed her, she'd show up. Whenever I was lost, she'd show me the right way to go. That's why I had to make sure that I'd heard Vince correctly. Why in the blazes would I list him as the first person to contact if something happened to me? He was a lying cheat, after all.
"What?" I said.
My head was spinning. My chest was on fire. I needed to know. When did this happen? When did Vince go from being another random human who was trying to assimilate into my life, to someone who actually mattered? When did he become somebody that I trusted? I don't remember it happening.
"Yeah," he said with a wry smile, as if he didn't quite believe it himself.
He touched my hand. I liked it and hated it all at once. He was solidifying our connection when I was trying to dissolve it. He wasn't allowed to care about me. He'd caused too much pain for that. But then again, I stuck around for all that pain. Did that make me a masochist? Or was I just stupid? All I wanted was to just get my shit together and he was doing nothing but throw a spanner in the works.
"I'm sorry," I whispered automatically.
"What for?" asked Vince? "You got run over by a car! Only you would apologise for something like that. You're one tough cookie. He was going pretty fast."
Despite my broken body, I was determined to complete the mission I had embarked on before the rude interruption by the careless motorist.
"Is that why you cheated on me? Did you think I could handle it?"
My statement came out of nowhere and it shocked Vince into silence. I wasn't trying to make a point or anything dramatic. I honestly just wanted to know why he did it. I lived my life on feedback. Good and bad. It was the only way I could get better at everything and anything I did. I needed to know what was wrong so that I could fix it. Sometimes I forgot that life wasn't a test. It was just a mix of experiences that everybody fumbled through. There was no rhyme or reason. I couldn't fix it, change it or direct it. I could only accept it. I couldn't do it, though. Accepting failure was just not something that I could do. That's why I prodded him for an explanation.
"What?" he said softly, staring at me with the look of a cornered rodent.
"You heard me. I know what happened between you and Lori."
I don't remember it being so difficult to speak but I was going to suffer through this, no matter how long it took. I tried to shift in my bed so I had a better view of him. I couldn't, so I assumed they had done some kind of surgery on my upper body. I was in too much pain to try and narrow down the options of what it may have been. Maybe I'd ask the nurse when she came back to give me my pain medication.
"I just want to know why you never told me about it," I asked, as earnestly as I could.
I couldn't avoid those green eyes anymore. I had no choice but to look right into them. He had to know that I was serious. He was still holding onto my hand but it was different from before. It wasn't a comforting gesture, as it had been when I just woken up. It was more like a child gripping tightly to the only form of reality that he knew would remain constant. Vince was as scared as I was.
"It's because I wouldn't fuck you, right?" I continued. "It's not my fault that I'm scared. I just can't do it. I told you. I just can't do it."
My throat was getting uncomfortably tight. I'd anticipated this moment right from the very second that he'd suggested that we date. It was all too good to last. People like Vince always came with terms and conditions and I'd neglected to read the fine print. It didn't make things any easier.
"Why didn't you just leave me for somebody who'd fuck you? Why did you have to keep me around, Vince?" This isn't fair."
I was crying before I knew it. I hadn't cried in ten years but there I was, teary-eyed and heartbroken over a situation I'd landed myself in. Fuck it, I thought to myself, this isn't what adults do. They sort things out and carry on with life. I thought it would have just been a matter of me asserting myself and telling Vince that I was done with his shit. Unfortunately, I was lying in a hospital bed, my soul as shattered as my body, trying to figure out how to discard this person who had so insidiously embedded himself into me.
The tears continued to run down my face in quiet rivulets, pooling at the base of my uncomfortable pillow. Vince said nothing for the longest time. I didn't have any words left, so I waited for him to start things again. Eventually, he spoke.
"Lynn, I wish I had more for you. God knows that you deserve it but I honestly don't know why I did it. I wasn't thinking. Not that far ahead, anyway. I wanted to tell you, you have no idea how much. I think I was too scared. It took a while, but I knew that I'd messed up. I felt like I needed to wait until I had a better explanation for you. I guess there isn't one."
"It's just..." I choked on my words, so I cleared my throat and tried again. "It's just, I didn't think that I'd end up liking you this much, you know? I was sort of just taking it one day at a time. I wasn't expecting it to be a big deal. I didn't want it to become a big deal because you know, people don't do big deal relationships anymore. And I just...you just...fuck it, Vince..."
At that point, I gave up on trying to make any sense. Crying and speaking hurt too much so I decided to commit to just one of the two. Tears it was. Meltdowns were not a common occurrence in my life. They were reserved expressly for those days at work when I felt like I'd lost a patient that I could have saved or something of the sort. Wasting a meltdown on a lying cheat was not a rational thing for me to do but feelings seldom made sense, so there I was. I gathered the miniscule amount of strength I had left to try and finish off my confrontation. I had to become an adult at some point.
"I think we should call it quits," I said quietly, my voice still hoarse from the operation I'd had earlier.
There was no fight. There was no debate. There was only the peaceful silence I had been longing for.
"Okay, I can do that," said Vince. "I'm sorry. I really like you."
"Vince, you obviously don't like me enough. I'm not doing this to make you feel bad. I just don't need us wasting each other's time."
"So, what now?" asked Vince.
"We try again," I replied. "That's all there is."
Initially, I hated art. I could never connect to any of the pieces in the galleries that I went to visit but Brandon Boyd just had a way with his art. I was so intrigued that I'd actually spent money on it. There was something about the way he projected curves onto a surface. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. I hadn't expected it to be so cumbersome to carry, though. After tripping a few times on my way to my car, I paused in front of the white Mercedes, wondering how I was supposed to fit the canvas into my sports car.
"Need some help with that?"
I turned to see a black haired hottie with the hugest brown eyes I'd ever seen in my life. My goodness was she beautiful.
"Yeah," I replied. "I think I do. But only if you agree to share some lunch with me. I know a pretty cool place down the road."
I was feeling adventurous, so what? I saw her frown at the scars on my shoulder. I couldn't help but smile.
"Help me with this, and I promise to tell you all about my battle scars," I said, winking in her direction.
"I think you have yourself a deal. I'm Nia, by the way."
I set my huge canvas down so I could give Nia the attention she deserved.
"Lynn," I responded, holding my hand out for a shake. "I hope you're not in a hurry."