OK, without further babbling, here is.....
The Best Man
In four months, I’m getting married.
Okay, I know I’m way too old to be running around yelling and shrieking just because I recently got engaged to the man of my dreams. But you only get engaged once (hopefully), and I’ve already been a bridesmaid like four times, so I feel like I’m due. I’m tired of watching all my friends get married. It’s my turn, gosh darn it!
Not that I rushed into things. I’ve been waiting for the perfect guy, and my fiancé Ted really is the perfect guy. He’s sweet (sends me roses at least once a week), smart (he’s a rising star at Google), and funny (he’s made milk squirt out of my nose—no joke). And much as we can all pretend that looks don’t matter, they obviously do, and Ted is just sooooo sexy. He’s got this shaggy brown hair and blue, blue eyes, and just an absolutely killer body for a computer programmer. And he’s got the California tan all year long.
Unfortunately, that amazing tan means that he actually lives in California. I don’t. I live in Jersey City. Which is a bit further than a stone’s throw away from Silicon Valley. That’s the problem when you meet your boyfriend on Facebook through mutual friends.
I know what you’re thinking: how could I marry a guy who lives 3,000 miles away from me? Good point. The truth is, I’m not thrilled about it. But Ted has feelers out, and he’s going to relocate to New York or New Jersey as soon as he gets a decent opportunity out here. Which shouldn’t be long, because he’s amazing at what he does.
In the meantime, we’re totally making it work because we love each other. He flies here, I fly there. We do Facetime every day. We watch movies together while talking on the phone. And every month, he sends me these adorable care packages filled with cookies and stuffed animals holding hearts and other treats.
Honestly, he’s the best boyfriend in the world.
Last night, Ted called me to let me know that he booked a hotel in Vegas. Yes, we’re getting married in Vegas. But it’s not going to be one of those cheap Vegas weddings, where you fly in that day, get hitched, then fly back that night. It’s going to be a beautiful ceremony in a chapel with our friends and family. At least, I’m hoping it will be beautiful. It’s costing enough.
“I booked the Bellagio,” Ted told me during our Facetime chat.
“Which one was that?” I asked. My head is still spinning a bit from our trip to Vegas when we must have looked at a hundred hotels.
“The luxury hotel that was sort of shaped like a C,” he said.
“Was it the one where they did the knights jousting on horses?” he asked.
“No, that was Excaliber.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to not to let on how disappointed I am. I liked the medieval theme and the jousting. Oh well.
“It’s not too late to switch if you want…”
“No,” I said quickly. “If you liked the Bellagio…”
Ted smiled. “I like you.”
And I got all warm and fuzzy inside. Almost as good as a hug.
“Hey, listen, Kirby,” Ted said. “You know I told you that my best man John doesn’t live too far away from you. I was wondering if you might be willing to go help him out with some of the best man duties.”
I crinkled my nose. “Like what?”
“Like picking out a stripper for my bachelor party,” Ted joked. (I think he was joking.) “Seriously though, he might appreciate the help. Anyway, you ought to meet Johnny. He’s my best friend in the whole world since we were eight years old.”
I had to admit, I was definitely curious to meet John. Even though I’d never even spoken to the guy, I sort of felt like I knew him after hearing Ted’s stories about how the two guys went kayaking or camping together, or hilarious stories about their failed attempts to pick up girls (“John’s an even worse nerd than I am!”). I didn’t see any way I could not like the guy.
So that, in case you’re wondering, is why I’m wandering around a Barnes and Noble in east Jersey, searching for John, who assured me on the phone that he’d be wearing a Mets cap. I didn’t see him in the café when I first came in, so I started walking around the bookstore, briefly getting distracted by the 30% rack, and now I’m back at the café and still no Mets cap.
I’m nervous as all hell. Ted and I have only been together a year, and it would mean a lot to get the best friend stamp of approval. How awesome would it be if John texted Ted after our meeting and told him how cool I am? That is, if he ever shows up.
I swear, if he doesn’t come soon, I’m going to have to buy this rustic apple tart I keep eying and then my jeans won’t fit me anymore.
While I’m doing my best to not buy the apple tart (don’t do it, Kirby!), I notice that there’s this guy slouched slightly in a wheelchair who keeps staring at me. The wheelchair isn’t the kind you see at the hospital, with the giant handles on the back and clunky metal footrests. This one is smaller and sleeker, although the backrest goes up to his shoulder blades. I always think of old people as needing wheelchairs, but this guy isn’t old at all—he’s maybe a little older than I am, maybe early thirties. And weirdly enough, he isn’t bad looking—just the opposite. He’s crazy hot. Not conventionally handsome the way Ted is, but in a slightly exotic way, with high cheekbones and deep brown, slightly slanted almond-shaped eyes. Even though his skin is as white as mine, it’s clear his relatives came from somewhere more interesting than England and Ireland, like mine.
I have no idea why this guy is staring at me, but it occurs to me that while it is not really okay for him to stare at me, it’s really not okay for me to stare at him. I mean, I’m not four years old.
Look away, Kirby. Look away now, before it gets creepy.
“Hey,” the guy says to me.
Oh shit. He’s going to call me out for staring at him. What’s wrong with me? Sometimes I think they shouldn’t let me go out in public with other human beings. I try to hide my face and pretend I didn’t hear him.
My mouth falls open. How does this guy know my name?
And that’s when I realize that there’s a Mets cap on the table in front of him.
“John?” I say breathlessly.
He nods. “That’s me.”
Okay, I am going to kill Ted. How could he not mention to me that his best friend in the entire world is crippled? Okay, I’m sorry, that wasn’t politically correct, but I’m too aggravated to be politically correct in my head. How could that bastard not warn me about this? What was up with all those camping stories? John can’t… I mean, I don’t see how he could possibly…
“I’m really sorry,” I say as I slide into the seat across from John. “I just didn’t realize that… I mean, Ted never told me you were…”
John smiles crookedly. “Half-Asian? Yeah, that throws some people off. But you get used to it.”
Ha ha. Well, at least the guy has a sense of humor. I can see the half-Asian thing is true too, although I might not have guessed it if he hadn’t pointed it out. Like I said, his skin is as white as mine, but it explains those slightly slanted, slightly sexy almond eyes.
Now that I’m sitting with John, I have an excuse to study him for a minute. There’s obviously something wrong with him beyond the fact that he can’t walk. And by that I mean that his hands are impaired too. There are deep groves between the tendons on the back of his hands, and I notice he uses his wrists to steady a mystery drink that he’s got in a paper bag (alcohol?) with a long straw sticking out of it. He’s wearing a sweatshirt, but from what I can see of his forearms, the muscles are just as wasted as in his hands. I have no idea what’s wrong with him, but it’s definitely not a broken ankle or something like that. It’s something serious and permanent.
I cough. “Ted just never told me that you use a… you know…”
John leans his head forward slightly and stage-whispers, “It’s called a wheelchair.”
“Right.” I try to smile. It’s not easy. “I just didn’t know. Otherwise, I would have recognized you. Obviously.”
Why did I say it like that? God, I sound like such an idiot sometimes.
“You’re just not exactly what I expected,” I finish awkwardly. And then I crawl into a hole and die. So much for the best friend stamp of approval.
John raises his eyebrows at me. “Yeah? Well, neither are you, to be honest.”
What is that supposed to mean?
“What do you mean?” I ask carefully.
John shrugs his thin shoulders. “I don’t know. I’ve just never seen Ted date a girl who looks anything like you before, that’s all.”
“So what kind of girl does he usually date?”
“Usually?” John rubs his chin with the ball of his hand. “Usually he seems to like these skinny blond types.”
“Are you saying that I’m not as attractive as Ted’s previous girlfriends?” I nearly scream. A few people in the café turn to look at us, and I feel my cheeks grow hot.
“I didn’t say that at all.” A tiny smile twitches at the corners of John’s lips. “I just noted that they were blond and skinny. You made that interesting leap about attractiveness all by yourself.” He pauses as my cheeks grow still warmer. “Although now that you mention it, yeah, they were all pretty hot.”
Forget me getting John’s stamp of approval. I don’t think he’s getting mine.
If this were anyone else besides my future husband’s best friend, I probably would have marched out on him by now. But I can’t do that. I may be seeing this guy hundreds, maybe thousands of times over the rest of my life, and I have to make an effort.
“Listen,” I say quietly. “How about if we start over?”
John leans in to take a sip from the straw sticking out of his mystery bag. He nudges the bag slightly closer with one of his stiff, thin hands. By now, it’s become obvious to me that he can’t move his hands at all. Does he have cerebral palsy? Lou Gehrig’s disease? I have no idea. My mind is a blank. “Start over?”
“Like, start fresh,” I say. “I mean, when you agreed to meet your best friend’s fiancée, is this how you imagined our conversation going?”
“Yeah, pretty much.” John smiles crookedly. “But then again, I had information you didn’t.”
That’s for sure.
“But yeah, that sounds fine,” he says. “Let’s start over.” Then he adds, “Whatever that means.”
Starting over apparently means sitting together in awkward silence for the next several minutes, until I finally crack and run over to get that apple tart. I consider offering to get something for John, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how he’d be able to eat it. Would I have to feed him? I don’t want to even get into that conversation.
I bring my warm apple tart back to the table, as images of Ted’s alleged skinny, blond ex-girlfriends dance before my eyes. Goddamn you, John.
“Christ,” John mutters, breaking the silence between us. “I really hate Barnes and Noble.”
I stare at him. “Seriously?”
He shrugs. “What’s to like? Bookstores are completely passé—they’re on their way to being extinct. Like travel agents and bubble gum.”
Hey, what’s wrong with bubble gum? But I’ll deal with that one later.
“I love bookstores,” I argue. “It’s so fun to just browse around the store, pull books off the rack that you like, and then get to have them immediately.”
“Um,” John says. “You realize you could do that in a library, right? And there the books are free instead of ridiculously overpriced. Why would you pay fifteen bucks for something you’ll only read once? It’s a waste of both paper and money.”
“I love the smell of a book,” I say.
John stares at me. “Really? That’s your best argument. Wow.”
“Anyway,” he says. “Paper books probably won’t exist at all in fifty years from now. Everything will be in electronic form.”
“You are completely wrong,” I say, getting so worked up that I nearly slam my fist against the table. “There’s no substitute for the feel of a book in your hands.”
John squints at me. “Yeah, I’ll have to take your word for it.”
My face flushes. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who’s made me quite this angry and uncomfortable in the course of twenty minutes.
John nods his head at the line for the cashier. “Look at all those idiots buying overpriced books. What’s wrong with people?”
I take a deep cleansing breath, like I learned to during the three month period when I attempted to go to yoga classes. I’m releasing my inner chi, or some crap like that. I am not going to get angry at John. He’s just an asshole, and it’s not worth my energy.
“Look,” I say. “I actually sort of have to go.”
“Oh yeah?” John raises his eyebrows. “You said in your email that you’d be free all afternoon.”
Yes, but that was before I realized you were a dick.
“Right,” I mumble. “But I had to make an emergency doctor’s appointment.” John raises his eyebrows again, and I quickly add, “It’s nothing serious. It’s just this thing. With my… leg. It’s just… yeah.”
John gives me a curious look, but doesn’t probe further. “Well, it was nice to meet you then, Kirby. I guess.”
I grab my purse off the back of the chair, and pull on my coat. As I look at John sitting there in his wheelchair, it occurs to me that maybe now he’s stuck here. I’m assuming someone must have driven him here and now he’ll have to wait for whoever dropped him off. It’s clear he wouldn’t ask for help, but I feel obligated to offer. I may hate the guy, but I’m not totally heartless.
“Hey,” I say. “Do you need help… getting back home?”
That crooked smile touches John’s lips. And that’s when I know that I’m in for it.
I hate that I do this. Every. Goddamn. Time.
Whenever I meet a girl (no, I mean woman—I’m in my thirties now, time to stop calling them girls) that I find attractive, I somehow evolve into the world’s biggest jackass.
I didn’t used to be that way. It’s a new development. Well, newish. Around the time I broke my neck, I realized that the girls I found attractive were very unlikely to find me attractive anymore, now that I was officially “asexual” to the vast majority of women. So my instinct was to get pissed off at the girl (I mean woman) and thereby turn into a gigantic asshole.
Even if that woman is my best buddy’s fiancée.
It was sort of like watching some awful natural disaster unfolding right in front of me and being absolutely powerless to stop it. Nobody could stop it, not even the Justice League. Save me, Superman. Keep me from being a complete dick before I destroy the world.
I really couldn’t help it though. I pegged Kirby the second she walked in thanks to the photos on Teddy’s Facebook page. She was much cuter than in the pictures, which didn’t show her small frame and adorable upturned nose covered with freckles. I watched her eying the desserts at the B&N, practically salivating as her breath blew hot circles on the glass. And I thought, stupidly, I’m in love. Not really love, obviously. That sort of half-love where it could be love if only you get to know the girl (woman!) and it turns out she isn’t dumb or a bitch or, most likely these days, utterly uninterested in me.
And then she saw me, but she didn’t know it was me. Because fucking Ted never warned her. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with him—it’s like he can’t accept that I’m a quadriplegic. Like he forgets half the time. (Lucky him. It’s a lot harder for me to forget. Impossible, actually, aside from that increasingly occasional moment when I first wake up and forget that I can’t just leap out of bed anymore.)
I saw her looking at me, but trying not to look. Also something I’m really used to. Only children stare like they mean it. Sometimes I want to yell at people, “What the hell is so goddamn interesting????” I mean, really. Yeah, I’m in a wheelchair. So what? Lots of people are. My hands look a little weird, yeah. Okay, fascinating.
But whenever there’s a pretty girl looking, I always get self-conscious. I straighten up a little in my chair so my gut doesn’t jut out as much as it would—something that ain’t easy to do with zero muscles in my torso. I make sure my legs aren’t crooked in the footrest. I run my tongue over my teeth to make sure there’s no spinach stuck in there. I don’t know.
“Kirby?” I finally said. And her slightly freckled cheeks flushed bright red—the kind of blush that touched every inch of her face, even her ears. Maybe even her toes. And that was it. I was completely infatuated. Fucking Ted—why’d he have to pick such a cute girl to get engaged to?
Then I spent the better part of thirty minutes making absolutely sure she hated me. I wasn’t going for lukewarm apparently—I was aiming for Kirby to think that I was the worst guy in the history of the world. She couldn’t wait to get the hell away from me. Could. Not. Wait.
And then, just as she’s about to storm out on me, she hesitates and she gives me that look. No, not that kind of look. Not the good kind. The kind that means that even though I’ve been a complete and thorough asshole to her, she feels some obligation to be nice to me. Because. You know.
“Do you need help getting home?” she asks gently, her brown eyes opening wide.
Because she can’t even fathom how I might have gotten here all by myself. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I haven’t had a whisper of a date in over a year. Because when girls (I mean women) look at me, they think to themselves things like:
How is he able to get to the bookstore on his own?
How does he get dressed?
How does he go to the bathroom?
So I’m not exactly feeling charitable when I practically spit at her, “You really think I would come to a place without having any way to get back?”
That flush appears again on Kirby’s face and I almost forgive her. Almost. If that line or some variation didn’t get said to me on a near daily basis, maybe it wouldn’t piss me off so much. Congratulations, Kirby—you’re just like everyone else.
It’s just…” she stammers. “I know I’m leaving early, so… if you need me to call someone for you… I mean, I wouldn’t mind.”
I raise my eyebrows at her. “Call someone for me? Like who? My nurse?”
Yeah, that’s exactly who she means. I can see it in her face. My nurse or my mommy.
“I can call whoever you want…” she manages.
I think about correcting her and telling her it’s actually “whomever you want,” but that would just be needlessly cruel at this point. She’s learned her lesson about trying to help a crippled guy. I’m satisfied.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “I’ve got my own phone that I can use.”
“Oh,” she says quietly.
“Also,” I add, “I’ve got a car.”
She looks so confused that I almost want to bust out laughing. “Is someone waiting in the car?”
Now I’m about to blow her mind: “No, I actually drive, believe it or not.”
I know what she’s thinking. How can a guy whose hands look like mine operate a motor vehicle? It’s what I thought before I actually started doing it.
I smile at her. “Would you like a list of times when I’ll be on the road so you can stay safely in your home?”
“That’s okay,” she mutters, even though I’ll bet the real answer is probably yes. “Look, Ted was saying you needed help with some of the best man activities, but the truth is, I’m pretty busy, so I don’t know if…”
Oh, is that what that idiot Ted told her? I shouldn’t be surprised. He took off for the west coast about five minutes after my accident, and he still can’t understand how I do anything for myself.
“That’s fine.” I shrug. “I don’t need help.”
I really don’t. Fucking Ted.
“Well, good.” Kirby buttons the top hole of her coat. “It was nice meeting you, John. I’ll… see you around.”
If I can avoid her till the wedding, I’ll be a happy man.