Full of sound and fury

by Jamie McKenzie

Alan was enjoying a martini at the Oak Bar in the Plaza Hotel, an old Hemingway haunt, when a tall stunning woman took the seat next to him and ordered the same Belvedere martini with olives that sat in front of him.

"Belvedere?" he said. "That's mine, too."

It was almost too easy. They slid rapidly into talk of vodkas, trips to Russia and caviar. As she spoke, he found himself enjoying her soft southern accent and the way she would tilt her head and chuckle every once in a while. It being early evening — she still had on a smart looking business suit — but he found her sharply chiseled face and green eyes dazzling. He also enjoyed the slightly sexy perfume she had probably added after work.

Misty was very tall, maybe taller than he was, but it was hard to tell sitting at the bar. She had a finely sculpted hair style that was naturally blond except for a few exciting streaks of artificial brightness. He thought to himself that she was the girl next door who goes to Vassar and becomes a corporate executive. He also thought she was the most beautiful woman who had ever sat down anywhere near him.

Misty's eyes moved from blue to green according to her mood, he realized. They were alive and sparkling. When she stopped speaking for a moment and concentrated her gaze on his own eyes, he found it difficult to think. Maybe it was an exaggeration, but it felt like his brain had stopped. Her eyes were not piercing, but soft and tender. It was not the steely-eyed look of a corporate manager. Even though that was her work, her eyes were warm, poetic, soulful and seductive.

He was charmed and sat pondering his chances. He had always had pretty good luck with women, but he thought she was probably out of his league. If she had not sat down next to him, he never would have made contact. Like most men, he had no stomach for rejection. So he could remember no time when he had stepped up to a beauty like this at a bar and started a conversation.

It was not just her beauty that would have stopped him. It was also his distaste for almost anything one might say in such a situation. He had no patience with pickup lines and not enough ingenuity to invent something clever and appealing. He would rather keep his distance.

But this time, she did the hard part by sitting down next to him, and she offered him a great conversation starter by ordering the same drink. Even though it was the only empty seat at the bar, there was something about the way she sat down that made him feel she had chosen him, not the seat.

As if to leave no doubt about her interest, she repeatedly placed her hand on his arm in a sweetly affectionate manner.

"She is a toucher," he told himself, and he smiled because that was very high on his list for things he wanted from a lover. He loved the Alanis Morissette song "21 Things I Want in a Lover " but he would never admit to any friend that he had written new lyrics to the song — his own list.

Do you love touching, holding hands and sweet kisses?
Do you listen well and try to understand what I am feeling?
Do you have a big heart but know how to open and share it?
Do you see everything as possible?

"Ready for another?" She asked as she finished her martini. He was only half way through his, but he nodded.

"I've got this round," she smiled.

He liked her style. She was strong and bold. Quick to take the initiative. She looked like a girly-girl but she had a pleasant edge. She acted as if they were equals. She was not feigning or fawning. So many women started off a new relationship in a sheepish manner that really irritated him. He guessed most men found it attractive, but he could not stand it.

Do you pretend to be what you are not?
Do you share deep feelings, fears and questions that keep you awake at night?
Do you speak your mind even when it rocks the boat?
Do you hunger for a partner who is strong but tender?

He thought his list a bit silly, but all the while they chatted, he kept checking off attributes that he had once added to his list. It was almost as if he had bought a lottery ticket and won the big prize. He would have been happy with half the list, but this first hour saw a dozen check marks accumulate.

It was too good to be true, he kept thinking. In these first few moments he saw his life changing and a bright future. After an hour, she took his hand in hers and moved closer. You would have thought they had been together for a year. She was warm, affectionate and very sexy. It was the most delicious encounter of his life.

The Oak Bar is not a meat market. You do not go there to meet a woman. It is an old boys club. Very masculine and not at all romantic. Single women are generally not welcome unless they are clearly not working women or women cruising. Misty had the class, the demeanor and the power to step right up and sit down without anyone challenging her.

He was wrong about Vassar College. She had graduated with honors from UNC and gone on for an MBA at Harvard. She was not a preppy and had not enjoyed a country club childhood. Her dad was a carpenter and her mom a stay-at-home. Sweet people, according to her. She had worked in the kitchen of the country club to save money for college, but she was not born to privilege like Alan.

He had grown up in Greenwich with silver spoons and had enjoyed great food in the country club served by young women like Misty. At fourteen he had left for prep school at Choate and earned early admission to Yale. Unlike Misty, he had turned away from a business career to become a journalist. At 38 he was proud of what he had accomplished but growing disillusioned with the whole industry. The chase for ratings had soured the experience for him, and he had begun searching for a new path.

"And what would that be?" she asked.

He liked the way she took an interest and seemed to know something about the ways news coverage had been changing.

"I really don't know," he confessed. "It is hard to give up a deep passion. There were many years when I loved my work and felt my dream had come true, but now it is more like a nightmare."

She gave his hand a warm squeeze and looked into his eyes with what seemed like compassion.

"Well," she said, "I've been going through some similar questioning these last few months. Maybe we will help each other find something new."

He really liked the way she spoke to him, and he loved the feel of her hand in his. It was not a surprise when she suggested they walk down Central Park South to find dinner. And it was no surprise when she suggested later that they play pool at the Raccoon Saloon. And it was no surprise when she took him home to her apartment and her bed on the Upper West side.

It was one of those nights when your whole life changes and you believe in magic once again. After years of disappointment and disillusion, you think maybe dreams are not foolish illusions. Your heart soars. You think years ahead. You leap into serious territory.

"This is the love of my life," he whispered to himself as she lay sleeping in his arms after they made love. He could imagine waking each day with this woman for the rest of his life.
There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
Alan savored the first weeks of his time with Misty. They were extraordinary and she was remarkable. They spent every night in his or her apartment making love and talking sweet.

Great dinners, great walks through Central Park, a shared passion for modern dance at the Joyce. It was the most amazing romance of his life so far.

They were a little bit wild and crazy. Though Alan thought he was sexually experienced, he learned that he was really just a novice. Misty took him on a magical mystery tour. He learned that he was pretty ignorant. She was like a grand piano with many keys, and his hands and fingers could create a concerto. In the same way, he was a Stradivarius whose strings would play tunes with her touch that might raise the dead and heal the wounded.

Wounded? He did not know he was wounded until he found himself sobbing in her arms one night after a particularly sweet and tender hour.

Misty made him feel so safe, he began to notice wounds that were deeply buried. She was crazy and wild but very tender. Before Misty, sex was about romance and pleasure. With Misty, making love was an adventure, a voyage, a deep and magical exploration of inner worlds.

He learned that he was a mess inside, probably not more than most people, but that he had buried all kinds of fears and pain.

He learned that sex could open doors and uncover subterranean aspects of personality that were closed to him before Misty.

"You have the wrong name," he smiled one morning as they lay puddled in early hour awakenings.

"What?" she said, feigning shock and insult.

"Misty! It is the wrong name. You should be called Sunny!"

She was not a stupid woman. And she knew he was awakening emotionally because of the way she loved him. She knew it would take time, but she thought him promising. Most men she had known were a lost cause, but there was a sweetness to Alan that helped her through these early times.

He was so swept up by the bliss of self-revelation, he had not stopped to ask what was in this love for her. She noticed that he was self-absorbed and wondered when he would start to wonder about her needs. She could wait, but she did not want to be leader of the pack. She wanted a partner who was her equal, someone with the emotional maturity to help her with her own wounds and open new worlds emotionally.

She loved Alan and thought him delicious, but he seemed like such a little boy. He was so hungry for intimacy she began to think he wanted a mother instead of a lover. He had so much to learn, she wondered if they would last more than a few months. She did not want to mother him. She wanted a man with the emotional maturity to help her to grow and understand. She wanted a partner who would take her to a deeper and better place. As the days and nights rolled along with tenderness and great moments of rapture, she still found herself doubting their future. She was not just a good time girl. She was hungry for a level of intimacy and revelation that Alan did not seem to offer.

She noticed that they experienced dance in dramatically different ways. He was on the surface. He gushed about graceful movements and grand gestures, while she felt moved by the deeper metaphorical aspects of the dance. If she mentioned her insights, his eyes would glaze over. It seemed as if depth was not his forte. She began to see this in all things. For all his sweetness, Alan seemed superficial. He was happy on the surface of things. Even though their romance seemed sweet on that level, Misty had already started to look around and ask who might take her deeper.

Alan was blissfully unaware. Even as Misty's eyes began to wander, he was settling into a comfortable, sweet romantic mood that he hoped would endure. He had no idea that Misty had already left him emotionally. She did not tell him. She did not warn him. She still made love with tenderness and wild abandon, but she had started looking elsewhere. If he had been a bit less self-absorbed, he might have noticed some subtle differences, but he watched their love at the same level he enjoyed dance. On that level, everything was perfect. Misty was the love of his life, so he expected they would be engaged before the end of the year.

Misty, on the other hand, expected they would be disengaged by that point.

I get misty

Alan was a helpless romantic, so shortly after meeting Misty his favorite song became "Misty and so much in love."
Look at me, I'm as helpless as a kitten up a tree;
And I feel like I'm clingin' to a cloud,
I can't understand
I get misty, just holding your hand.
It was not a favorite of Misty, however, which he learned when he first sang it to her while she lay in bed one morning, still waking, still half dozing.

"Oh, Darling," she groaned. "I know you mean well, but do you have any idea how it feels to have such a song playing your name on every elevator you enter?"

This hurt. And it was the harbinger of other small wounds he suffered when he slipped into somewhat sappy gestures of affection. He was learning that Misty had a hard edge at times. She could cut with eyes, words, silence and body language.

This faced him with a serious challenge because he liked being sappy and resented her response. He wanted so much to please her in his own sweet way and resisted her pressure toward cleverness. He wondered what life had done to make her immune to sweetness. And he wondered if she might soften with time.

He was capable of cleverness, but he felt surrender to her disdain would be a loss, a defeat, maybe even the beginning of the end for them, as if her resistance to sweetness was a warning of some kind. Perhaps her shell was impenetrable? It was hard to imagine a lifetime of stifling such words and feelings.

The early days' perfection had shifted into a less dreamy state as he began to notice things he had ignored at first. She was less positive than he was. More prone to dark thinking. Suspicious of optimism. Quick to question rosy thoughts.

He was still crazy about her, but the surf of first meetings had been followed by an undertow all too familiar to him from childhood days at the beach. He began to see that each wave of good feeling was accompanied by treacherous currents that threatened to sweep him down and under.

This was new territory for him and not a welcome adventure.

He was tempted to raise the subject but a small voice warned him against such folly. He knew her well enough to predict a bloody outcome. Misty was likely to take offense and counter attack. He would hit a soft lob and she would greet his gentleness and nuance with a devastating volley.

She would not raise her voice or show anger, but she would dispatch his effort with a few tart words.

He chuckled to himself that "love" had a very different meaning in tennis. If the score is 40-love and your opponent has the 40, you are left with very little to smile about. Zero. Rien. Nada.

And so he began to feel like a loser even though Misty was a goddess in so many respects. His grievances accumulated and his passion began to ebb.

Alan began to search for an exit, but long before he found one, Misty delivered a coup de grace that took his breath away.

She simply moved away to the other side of the country with only a brief SMS to explain.

"New job calls me to San Fran. Please visit. Thnx 4 good times."

His emotions ranged from anger and disgust to relief. He was glad to escape the messy business of bringing things to an end, but he was astonished that she would simply leave town as if their romance had meant nothing to her. She was certainly lacking in basic social graces.

His life settled into a calmer, more solid rhythm with Misty gone, and he found the solitude comforting. He was happy she had moved so far away so there would be no chance encounters, but life has its surprises. In just a few months he bumped into her at the market.

He was nearly speechless. "You're back?" he mumbled.

She simply smiled.

When Alan bumped into Misty at the market, it set him back six months. He had pretty much erased her from his life and repaired his heart. In some ways he was grateful to her for helping him to appreciate his romanticism. He was glad she had flown away and saved him the trouble of breaking off what seemed like an increasingly toxic relationship.

But her reappearance messed up his adjustment and turned his life upside down. He walked around for several weeks resisting the urge to call her or text her. But he thought about her all the time and almost rang her up several times. One of his buddies became his AAA type sponsor. Each time he was about to text her, he would call Frank to talk him out of it.

Alan managed six weeks like this. He kept thinking if she had half a heart she would send the first message, but Misty stayed remote. There were no more encounters at the market and there were no text messages. She was not going to make the first move.

He began to lose weight. While he was determined to avoid her, the psychic cost of doing so was huge. He really wanted her, but he realized he wanted his dream version of her, the warm and romantic Misty who had failed to appear. He knew if he contacted her, the hard edge would still be an issue. He knew she would still resist his sweetness. He saw no good reason to get back together. She was poison. A bitter pill to swallow like the one in Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill song. He was feeling unhealthy desires. It was more obsession than infatuation and definitely not love.

As he suspected, Misty invested very little energy in thinking about Alan. She was deeply into her career and paid little attention to dating or romance. She'd changed markets to avoid any more collisions with Alan. She was just not interested in him. Not interested in any man right now. Not wanting a lover. Her work took up all her energy.

She did not view Alan as a lover. He was a nuisance. A threat. A drag. A challenge to her world view. A hopeless romantic. Silly man. Desperately tender. He was just what most of her female friends wanted but complained did not exist. Poetic. Sensitive. Charming. Affectionate. Empathic.

"There just are no sweet men!" they would moan.
"And why would you want one?" she would challenge.

They looked at her like she was crazy.

She started going to sports bars when she wanted sex. It was so easy to find some guy who would satisfy her basic cravings and expect nothing back. One night stands became her staple. Not often. Just a few times a month. No man twice. She preferred men who had little to say.

She did not want intimacy. She was self-contained. Independent. She did not need another man or woman to make her feel good. She did not need or want a relationship. Her parents had a shitty marriage, and she had no wish to replicate their experience.

Misty had a life plan that did not include men, romance or marriage. She would be a star. A solitary star. Her heart was closed to romance and romantics.

But then he sent her a text message and both of their lives swerved off road. None of their plans and none of their intentions could survive the drama that ensued. Neither could explain a few months later how a few words could change a life so dramatically. It was like some romantic tsunami. Two people with no hope for a future suddenly found themselves intertwined dramatically and irreversibly. They were welded together. Conjoined.

Months later they would shake their heads, unable to explain to anyone how they had been swept up and away. It was just one of those magical things that happens from time to time. Sometimes our best intentions are really our worst. Underneath the glib protests Misty had made about intimacy there was a heart hungry for the very sweetness that Alan offered. She wanted it so much she had to deny its power.

Misty was so scared by her parents' disaster, she closed herself off from any possibilities of romance. But Alan was exactly what her heart sought. Most of the time her mind suppressed what her heart might say.

Alan's message was very short. It was not a sonnet. It could not have the power to change lives, but it did.

"I miss u," he typed. And then "very very much."

When she read his message, Misty found herself weeping. "What the fuck?" She was a tough corporate woman weeping because some dude sent her 6 words? Just because he repeated "very?"

Yes. She was weeping because those few words won her heart, and from that moment on she would be his. And he would be hers. One of those grand surprises.

It made no sense at all. But they had dinner the next night and ended up in the same bed.

After they made love, Misty confessed her love. She found herself speaking lines that emerged from an alter ego that had been bound up and gagged for a very very long time.

"It is hard for me to say this, Alan, because I have been such a bitch, but I ran from you because I was terrified. All my life I wanted a man like you. But I never thought I would find you."

Alan knew enough to stay silent. He suddenly understood that this hard-assed career woman was as deep and as sweet as he. When folks build walls to protect them from what they want most, the walls can come crashing down in just a few moments. He went in moments from devastation to bliss. He could tell from the way she made love that Misty was as romantic and sweet as he was. Words were not necessary. They were also not sufficient.


Written materials, art work and photography on this site are copyrighted by Jamie McKenzie and FNO Press.

From Now On is published by FNO Press

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