Always a Side, Never a Bride
Jeremy the wine clerk won me over for the simple fact that I can’t “Just Say No” to a Gen X-er who looks like he fronted a 90’s band like Fuel or Bush. In fact, Jeremy plays guitar.
I saw him working at the wine store last week and commented that I had never seen him before. He has shaggy, surfer hair streaked with grey, like he just washed ashore from Oakland or Anaheim, along with a deep pack-a-day voice.
“Your sign says this is $4.99,” I blow dust from a mini-box of rosé and hand it to him. “But it’s labeled $3.99.”
“Well for you, young lady, it’s free.”
“Free?” Jeremy just looks at me with sensitive brown eyes that fall somewhere between “sad puppy dog” and “pit bull on cocaine.”
“Well don’t just give it to me. I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
“It’s totally fine,” he says. “You should come back when you’re done at the library.”
Yes, it’s true, I was on my way to the library that evening to complete my life coach assignment. But, like with the best experiences in life, I got sidetracked. A romantic rendezvous with Jeremy had begun. And it began rather strangely.
“I fucking love you!” Jeremy shouts in the middle of the store. We’re alone; there’s no customers.
He grabs me and kisses me against a tall shelf stocked with gin. Bottles clang together, almost crashing to the floor. Suddenly, our moment is punctuated by a beep. A customer enters. We peer towards the door.
“We’re closed,” Jeremy says.
“Oh you are so silly,” says a sassy blonde lady. “I just want my numbers.”
I turn towards a display. “Miss?” Jeremy yells from the register. I set down the bottle of Everclear I’d been inspecting. “You’re being disruptive.”
“Me?” I say.
“Oh, no she’s not, she’s fun,” says the sassy blonde lady, and she leaves the store.
Jeremy walks over to me.
“I love you,” he says.
The logical part of my brain knows this is all completely crazy, because I’ve known Jeremy approximately one week. But I can’t help falling for him. I seem to have this effect on men.
Since he has blown my phone up with constant adoration, I decide to meet up with Jeremy outside of the wine store, even though there’s one very obvious red flag.
“Are you married?” I asked right away.
“Oh, we all have our issues,” Jeremy had said, then began organizing mini bottles of Fireball while examining a New York Lottery scroll and tapping his foot.
“Yeah, I know,” I say. “Issues aren’t a problem. I love issues. But, you know, if you’re married…”
“Look,” Jeremy locks both my palms into his own. “I just want to keep talking to you. If it means I have to give everything up, I will. There’s just so much wrong with me. I need to talk to you more about everything.”
Jeremy, at that moment, looked positively pitiful, a twinge of Fireball on his breath.
“Ok, ok,” I backed out of the store. “Jeez.” I left that night unsure of my next move. But it only took a split second for me to realize – actually, I had already fallen for Jeremy, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of.
My Pontiac rolls onto the curb, practically, as Jeremy runs towards my passenger door while yanking up his shirt to expose his “abs,” for some unknown reason. He’s apparently been hanging out by the stop sign. He tumbles into the passenger seat with a half-empty bottle of Mountain Dew and cigarette dangling from his mouth, and I start to drive even though his door is still wide open. But Jeremy’s lit cigarette falls on his chest and sits there until I toss it out the window,
“Yo! Can you not, like, start on fire?”
But Jeremy’s already talking a mile a minute, ranting and raving about cigarettes he needs to buy and how he had a miserable day confined to the dreary liquor store aisles.
“It’s ok,” I put my hand on his knee. “Anyway, I’m excited for the fiesta.”
Today is, after all, Cinco de Mayo, and there happens to be a legit taqueria right down the block. Jeremy and I pull into the packed lot, up against a white fence with a subtle mural design. The sun is strong, and the bassline of a song blaring leads our way to the back patio, where two dudes are serving cool icy margaritas. I get mine on the rocks, and tons of people are around, with a bumpin’ sound system to boot. The speakers throb with masculine energy as Daddy Yankee turns to Sean Paul.
Shake that thing, Miss hunabunna get busy, don’t stop just swivy yeah bust in the groove just get crunked and get jiggy, yo sexy lady come wine wit’ us yeah.”
Jeremy already made best friends with the two guys serving drinks. They both have cursive neck tattoos of people’s names. Jeremy waves his debit card in the air, and puts down our names for a table.
“How romantic,” I hug Jeremy tight. We wander to the very back of the enclosed patio space. “Gasolina” blares and the sun beats down on us as powerfully as Rhonda Rowsey in a metallic bodysuit. All is calm. Jeremy’s chain-smoking and chain-talking in my ear about how beautiful I am, and how he’s going to make me his wife. There’s only one problem…
“Friends for right now,” I try to catch Jeremy’s eye contact, but his eyes ping around the room. That’s when I spot them – smack in the center of the patio lies the only table, and it’s occupied with a gaggle of my high school frenemies, and their significant others too!
“Oh wow, hey guys,” I tip-toe nervously up to their table. Nobody takes off their sunglasses, or smiles, or says anything at all. “This is Jeremy. We’re on a date.” My face contorts into a mortified grin.
“Jeremy,” I take Jeremy’s hand in an effort to quell his manic energy. “These are some of my friends from high school.”
Jeremy runs up to Karey, who up until that moment remained totally stoic and unamused behind classic Oakley shades.
“So you can tell me all there is to know,” Jeremy rasps in her ear with a puff of rancid Marb smoke. “Ha ha ha.”
“Ugh!” I turn my back on the mortifying display before me and wait for it to be over. At least I have an icy cool margarita on the rocks to calm my nerves.
“Come on, like, let’s go over here,” I yank Jeremy away from the hateful table of frenemies. I pull him away, back under the awning next to the makeshift bar area. All is calm, all is still, as Jeremy replaces all my margaritas and chain-smokes in my ear and the sun refuses to stop shining…All is fine, until Jeremy gets agitated and spots a really cute Spanish one-year-old with a distinct resemblance to Sonny Bono.
“Hey, she said he’s fucked up,” Jeremy yells at the kid’s mom, who had been chilling and caught totally unawares. She stares at him in confusion and annoyance.
“What are you talking about,” I interject, “I didn’t say that! He’s making it up.” I plead with the mom. But she already totally realized that Jeremy is an idiot.
“Yeah, she said why does he have to be so fucked up,” Jeremy says, pointing at the kid, and I’m wondering, Is Jeremy seriously trying to start a fight right now – with a baby?
“Come on,” I pull Jeremy away from yet another person. “Calm down.”
Luckily the kid’s father – also with an intimidating neck tattoo – shows up. Jeremy’s face suddenly shifts to Mr. Charming and he backs away with a wink and a smile.
“Were you seriously trying to start a fight – with a baby?”
But Jeremy doesn’t answer, just changes the subject to how amazing I am, how he wants to go to Costa Rica with me, but not yet, first he has to consider leaving his Old Lady.
“Hey,” Jeremy’s raspy voice is on the other end of the line. This is his third phone call to me today. It’s after ten, meaning the liquor store is closed. Tonight, I decided not to meet up with Jeremy, for once, to practice “self care” and all that.
“What’s up?” I say. It sucks that Jeremy has me under his spell, and worse yet, I think he knows it.
“I just wanted to tell you – ” Jeremy must be home by now, or close to it.
“I wanted to tell you I love – “ All of a sudden, Jeremy trails off and then his whisper turns into confident bravado. “ Dude, I wanted to tell you. You got the job dude, at the liquor store!”
“I have to go,” Jeremy whispers and hangs up the phone. He must have been taking out the trash.
I’m walking over to the corner beer emporium to visit Jeremy. Come to find out – his full time gig is at the beer store where I worked over a decade ago. And yes, caustic angry Seth, with the personality of a bottle of bleach, is still the manager. Granted, it was my college summer job, not somewhere I would expect a mid-40’s, self-proclaimed Casanova to be working. But we all have our issues.
“No loitering,” Seth growls, coming down the microbrew aisle. He’s the same as always, minus all the hair once growing on his head. Stress. I lean over Jeremy’s flimsy beer sampling booth and don’t pay attention to party pooper Seth trying to shit all over our parade. We are in love. I’ve got leather shorts on, it’s a hot Saturday afternoon, and I just stopped in for a 24 ounce can of Seagrams’ “Jamaican Me Crazy.” But Jeremy is stuck inside this rat hole serving up samples of Genesee “Bock.”
“Can I taste your Bock?” I say to Jeremy.
Jeremy hands over a little foamy cup.
“I love the taste of your Bock.” I slowly pull an ice cube from Jeremy’s bucket, and hold it out to his lips.
But before I can even trail it pornographically across his mouth, Jeremy suddenly chomps on it with his front teeth like a ferocious beaver . He chews up the ice cube, crunching and cackling like a bipolar witch. He smiles his wide grin and wrinkles crinkle at the corners of his eyes – but are they from smiling all the time, or just from one too many Marb Reds?
Maybe both, I think. He’s perfect.
Plastered on all the walls and windows of the store are the names of customers who have donated their change to Parkinson’s Disease. Apparently many didn’t want to actually fill in their own names, so Jeremy took the liberty of scribbling “I love Annie” and “Jeremy Loves Annie” on these heart-shaped pieces of paper hanging all over the store.
“What’s up with that address you texted me?” I say.
When I was about to walk down here, Jeremy was texting me as usual and he randomly sent me the address of a house the next street over from his. He wouldn’t explain why.
“This dude that’s in here all the time,” Jeremy says without a moment’s hesitation, “He’s having a house party and I thought it might be a good place for us to meet later.”
“Heck yeah! I am so in.”
“But nothing’s set in stone,” says Jeremy. He is grinning from ear to ear.
“Okay. Let me know.”
Seth glares while using his trademark Solo cup spittoon; spit-soaked tobacco drips from his slackened jaw.
“Ok Seth, I’ll take my Jamaican me Crazy and go make myself crazy somewhere else,” I say to him, and then to Jeremy, “See ya later.” I blow Jeremy a kiss, and I’m out of there. I’m not even worried about Jeremy coming through with the party. Of course we are going to meet up later. We always do!
But around 6:00 p.m., Jeremy totally goes silent. I don’t blow up his phone or anything, at first, but at 10 I call him three times in a row. Because honestly, Jeremy is always the one blowing up my phone, and now we supposedly have plans at a neighbor’s sketchy bungalow, and you ghost me?
Not to mention, I totally could have stayed at my homegirl’s Porch Fest birthday bash. I didn’t have to drive back to the ‘hood to meet Jeremy. It makes no sense.
“You are clearly a LIAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” is what I write. “LIAR x100000000000000000000000000000000.”
And when Jeremy doesn’t answer that, I toss and turn all night, chugging leftover “Jamaican Me Crazy” to numb the pain. But the sugar only makes me more wired, so finally I just turn on all my lights and blare all my 80’s hair metal vinyl.
Then, my phone starts ringing – at six in the morning. Is he for real. At this point I’m too bleary-eyed and stupefied to care. I am obviously trying to get some beauty rest. I bury my head in pillows, blankets, everything, but my phone keeps ringing and ringing and doesn’t stop. Jeremy calls me ten times in a row.
And by morning, with the sun coming up over both our houses, and me with completely disturbing blood shot eyes, my homegirl Stephanie and I had planned to do a gossip n’ brunch at Bread Hive. Thank God, because I need charcoal water and rosé, stat, and a distraction from all of this drama.
I have a text from Jeremy before I even pull up to Bread Hive.
“I need to see you. Now,” it reads.
Ha! Like really, I’m obviously not available.
“I have plans with my friend. I will be back in a few hours,” I reply.
Jeremy is SO controlling.
“Fine,” he says. “Meet at the park.”
Yet, I can’t help but want the 411 about last night. What WAS that about?
It’s not like I don’t comprehend that Jeremy is psychotic.
“He sounds…terrible,” Stephanie says while waiting in line. “I can’t really think of anything good about him.”
“I know!” I shriek. I always feel bad for anyone having brunch in my vicinity. My conversations aren’t 100% family-friendly and veer into the absurd. I have to give Stephanie credit; she definitely listens with an open mind.
I listen to a couple of “our” songs on my drive over to the park – “Your Love is My Drug” by Ke$ha; “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” by Ariana Grande. .Of course we are meeting at our spot, the swings, where our true love was revealed that second day we hung out.
For some reason Jeremy has the audacity to ask me to pick him up a pack of smokes. He’ll “pay me back.”
“I’m at Draino’s,” Jeremy texts.
Ew, Draino’s? I hang in my fair share of rowdy saloons and dumpy taverns, but being spotted at Draino’s is the lowest of the low, not even Charlie Sheen on a week-long bender would be caught dead in there!
It used to be called something else, and I went there once when I was nineteen and got a Swedish Fish shot with no ID after my shift at the beer store with the twins who worked there and had crushes on me, and then the owner’s brother started showing me naked pictures on his flip phone – barf!
Draino’s is an alcoholic old guy scene which recently dealt with an outbreak of Hepatitis C and where a local politician got arrested after allegedly running his wife off the road – not exactly the romance I had in mind for my Sunday in the sun.
But… I’m willing to lower my standards.
“And don’t worry about the cigs, a bunch of people gave me some,” Jeremy continues.
I wasn’t going to anyways. I toss my phone into the backseat, along with my dignity. Draino’s it is.
I walk into Draino’s, which is totally empty except for some lunatic squawking like a methed-up seagull and squished against some poor, sad looking old guy in a Hawaiian shirt.
“HAR HAR HAR,” Jeremy laughs at his own joke, which typically make no sense.
“Um, hi.” I say. But at first, Jeremy doesn’t even notice me.
“Oh, HAAAAAAAIIIII,” Jeremy slurs out. His complexion has the grey pallor of someone who stayed up all night performing sexual favors for crack cocaine; he’s sippin’ on what looks like a 50% vodka, 50% tomato combination, with his liter of Mountain Dew nearby.
“Is this your woman?” asks the sad looking guy in the Hawaiian shirt.
“No, I’m nobody’s woman!,” I declare.
“Nothing for her,” Jeremy says. “HAR HAR HAR.”
The bleach blonde bartender has sympathetic eyes and hands me a pinot grigio that I apparently ordered telepathically. Jeremy’s tab here has been going since 1998. We grab our drinks and shuffle onto the front patio. Or at least, Jeremy is shuffling in some oversized loafers halfway hanging off his feet.
“I ran out in my gardening shoes,” Jeremy flops onto the patio chair. “I slept in the park.”
“Slept?” I say. “In the park?”
Cars zoom by, and across the street, the town park stares back at us with a vast, empty, void-like stare.
“Look, honey, I said times were going to get rough,” Jeremy looks at me with pleading, puppy dog eyes. “I need you to hang in there with me.”
“Am I not hanging? Hello.”
Jeremy leans so far back on the flimsy furniture, he might just fall right off the chair. He’s puffing on a cig, happy as a clam. We enjoy a short, comfortable silence, a moment of calm in a sea of chaos.
Then I ask –
“So, um, the park? Why’d you sleep there.”
Jeremy exhales a pre-emphysema-esque sigh of despair, and begins to unravel a barely-believable saga spurned on by the fact I called him at 10 p.m. Apparently, his old lady began “laying into him” and smacked him around, so he ran off and slept in the park since six in the morning.
“What about the party?” I ask.
Jeremy continues to chain smoke and shake his head.
“I didn’t even go.”
I embrace this new level of absurdity. I’m ride-or-die for guys who deal wine. Jeremy and I head into Dollar General for provisions to take to the park. We find some beach towels and I grab a Vitamin Water; Jeremy still is doing the Dew and going for broke.
“$7.42,” says the stoic girl. Her pin says “manager on duty.”
“Why d’you have to be so mean?” Jeremy leans over the swipe card machine and leers in her ear.
“I can make you cry if you want,” she says, unimpressed.
Jeremy counts out a few tattered bills, and we leave the store. We cozy up under a tree. R&B music thumps from a shelter.
“Can I have a sip?” I unscrew the Dew and gulp some down, and choke.
“Don’t drink that!” Jeremy takes the bottle away. “It’s vodka.”
“Whoa.” I wash it down with Vitamin Water.
All is calm. Stability is reached once again – for the present moment anyway. Later, Jeremy will have to return to his wretched old lady.
I’m speeding on my bike through the dimly-lit streets, with nothing except the cool breeze in my hair and lustful fantasies on my mind. Jeremy is closing up the liquor store. This is what my life has become – late night, 10 p.m. hangouts with my “man.” This past month we’ve become something of an item: there’s the signs commemorating our love at the beer store; Jeremy’s loud proclamations in Draino’s; we’re even familiar “Same Side Sitters” at the Walden Applebee’s. And one night, he walked me and my bike home, under a theatrical spotlight cast by a full moon.
“I love you Annie,” Jeremy stood at the end of my driveway, and shouted at the top of his lungs. “I love you!”
We are often at the swings, or the slide, or engaged in some other whimsical activity.
“I’m willing to give everything up – my life is so messed up,” Jeremy said, swirling a small bottle of Fireball around in his hand. “You just have to show me that you’ll do anything for me – you have to move in.”
“But how can I move in, if you’re still married?” I’m making a true attempt at getting Jeremy to understand logic. “The space is occupied.”
Apparently a year ago, according to Jeremy, he was separated from his wife. Another girlfriend lived with him. But allegedly, this girlfriend made out with another guy at her work Christmas party in front of Jeremy. So he kicked her out. His Old Lady moved back in the same day, according to Jeremy .
“I’m not going to be like that,” I said. “You have to choose me and me alone.”
I can tell Jeremy is burying himself in lies. Now, according to him, his Old Lady knows nothing about us, even though he first said they were on the outs and “roommates,” and each did their own thing. But yet, she goes through his phone, and he gets “punished.”
“Why would she go through your phone if she doesn’t care and you’re not together?” I said.
“She loves me, she pays all the bills, she just doesn’t do stuff for me anymore and doesn’t do things that I want her to do,,” Jeremy said. “I’m telling you I will give everything up. You just have to trust me.”
Of course, it’s impossible to trust a man like Jeremy.
Then, Memorial Day weekend, Jeremy asks a kid at the beer store to cover his shift so we can be together and have a picnic on the beach.
“I was supposed to work from nine to six,” he says. “So just meet me at nine at the store.”
“We can’t go at like, ten or eleven?” I ask casually.
“YOU ARE SPOILED,” all of a sudden, Jeremy snaps. He starts yelling at the top of his lungs, even though he’s on his continuous work smoke break. “SPOILED LITTLE BITCH GIRL, WHINE AND BITCH, THAT’S ALL BOTH OF YOU DO, YOU AND HER, PLANS ARE OFF, GO FIND SOMEBODY ELSE – “ Jeremy starts coughing and hacking and I don’t even respond to any of this.
“Fine. Bye,” I say.
And I hang up the phone, and immediately feel better for not having to deal with Jeremy anymore, his constant need for attention and having to go to the wine store at ten when I’d much rather do my skin care routine.
ONE WEEK LATER
I’m alone in my room and it’s the middle of the night, and I’m doing what I like to do at least one night a week, that is stay up and blare music and write my innermost thoughts. But then, when the moon is full, sometimes I feel lonely and wind up looking at all my ex’s and frenemey’s Instagrams and toss and turn and wonder what’s up with everybody. That’s how I wound up texting Jeremy. It only takes a second for the carefully constructed house of cards to fall…
“I just want to let you know, that I thought about things and I forgive you,” is what I send. It’s eleven, and Jeremy’s prone to passing out early, so I don’t expect him to reply, maybe ever.
“I’m bringing you lunch tomorrow!” he says.
And thus began Part II of our torrid affair, when Jeremy became more passionate-slash-obsessive than ever.
Jeremy started taking the Genesee bus downtown every day to bring me lunch. The first day, it was so romantic, Jeremy even sent me a selfie from the bus stop. We sat out in Lafayette Square, on the statue where I always sit, and Jeremy hovered over me with two pepperoni slices from Gino’s and a Lipton iced tea.
“Just hang in there with me,” Jeremy said, dabbing at my face with a napkin when it didn’t have to be dabbed. “Times are going to get tough.”
“What are you talking about,” I looked around at the manic seagulls surrounding me. “My life is fine.”
After a week straight of two pepperoni slices and an iced tea, and being dabbed when I didn’t need to be dabbed, Jeremy started wearing on my nerves.
On Friday, I come outside to find Jeremy standing in the middle of the sidewalk playing his acoustic guitar and yelping some kind of melody.
“I want to know, Can we get clean againnnnnnnnnnn,” Jeremy wails. He fits in on Main and Court perfectly.
“Wow, Jeremy,” I head towards him. “This. Is. So….Nice!”
I have to pay my parking at the underground parking office, since I always wait until the day it’s due, and the whole walk down Court Street and around the corner, Jeremy follows behind me with his guitar and makes loud comments about my ass.
“I swear, I don’t even know this guy,” is the look I give to people passing by, in a helpless “damsel in distress” kind of way, even though I know how to handle this. Jeremy keeps singing all the way up to the parking office door. I ring the bell, and the girl comes out to take my check with Jeremy still carrying on with his off-kilter melody.
“Whoaoaoawhoaohwhoahohohawhoaa,” his voice has had better days.
I lead him into the elevator and the whole way upstairs and on the walk through the Main Place Mall, onto the street corner and crossing over towards the CVS and through the revolving door into my building and up the stairs and almost into the elevator, Jeremy continues to wail.
“Look. You could ride up with me, but there’s an important meeting going on,” I say. The unaffected, snowy-haired security guy with tatted-up arms keeps watch. Jeremy takes a selfie with him, and gives me a smooch which tastes like cigarettes and vodka. I hop in the elevator and get back to work.
Later that day, we are in Draino’s again. Jeremy dropped his happy-go-lucky songbird demeanor from earlier and replaced it with a much more sour disposition.
“He told me he loved me. Should I believe him?” I ask a sexy urban chick reminiscent of young Lil Kim next to me.
“Yeah!” she exclaims.
Jeremy’s forehead drips with sweat, and he barely touches his vodka-and-tomato.
I walk away to the jukebox and accidentally cut in front of a dude with a shaved head who already put money in.
“Oops, sorry,” I say. “But can you play Poison?”
“Yeah, sure honey,” he says. He’s about Jeremy’s age but I don’t think he’s trying to flirt. I sit next to Jeremy again, back at the bar, and take my hoodie half-off so my shoulders are exposed in a silky camisole.
“ZIP YOUR HOODIE UP,” Jeremy snaps. “ALL THE WAY UP!” He fiercely zips it up himself and pulls the hood over my head and tightens the strings until I resemble Kenny from South Park.
“It’s hot in here!” I say and try to break free.
The guy with the shaved head is next to me, staring Jeremy down, and I’m all but certain a fight will break out.
“RAAAAAWWWWRRR,” Jeremy erupts like a pissed off caveman, hops up off his barstool and rushes across the room. He throws his battered arms around a thick blonde lady who resembles Honey Boo Boo’s mom, with a crazy, cracked out smile of her own, and the two of them slow dance at warp speed like a record on fast-forward, immersed in some kind of psychobilly samba on speed.
I turn to Lil Kim and, with tears in my eyes, sadly state, “He’s being an asshole.”
“Jeremy!” She yells to him, over “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” now blaring, “Come here and talk to your woman!”
Jeremy feebly reappears.
“NO,” he says, then stomps outside clutching a cigarette.
I rush after him, into the cool still night, and stare at him in utter confusion.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
All Jeremy does is stare back with a blank, empty stare, puffing away on yet another Marb. I grab my 12-speed Huffy that had been chilling against the beat up side of the bar, push off from the curb and take off, quickly and powerfully, the cool night air whipping around me as I descend the bridge and swerve through the silent streets. Behind me, I hear Jeremy emit his trademark “MMMMEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHH”, which sounds like a herd of dying sheep bleating at the moon, fading away into the darkness behind me.