on make-believe

I had driven the two hours to see Colin like I did every weekend. We had been dating for a year, and it was the first long distance relationship for both of us. Well, the first long distance relationship that worked. And I was happy with it.

It was Saturday afternoon, and we sat on the couch in his parentsí living room, watching TV, as usual. (It wasnít a terribly exciting relationship. But it was comfortable. And that was fine.)

Colin was all smiles. It was our one-year anniversary, almost to the day. "To the day" would have been a few days earlier, but due to the distance, the closest weekend day had to suffice. It was amusing actually Ė the whole role-reversal in the "anniversary" situation. Normally, it seems that itís the female who remembers exact dates and events and gets offended when the male doesnít. But the extent of my knowledge was that we had started dating in September. I think. I had tried to explain to Colin that Iíd had a busy week and needed to use the weekend to catch up on a lot of things, so could we cancel this weekend and just wait until next Friday, he got all upset and whiney.

"But I made dinner reservations!"

"Well, you can change them, canít you?"

"ButÖ I made reservations!"

I caved and drove out. Mostly because I didnít want to listen to him complain about my lack of effort.

I knew we were going to Bertucciís Ė that was nothing new Ė we went to Bertucciís all the time. We never needed reservations. But having "reservations" somehow made it a special occasion. When you go on a first date with someone, and youíre going out for dinner, "reservations" are always part of the package. It sets it in concrete, I suppose. If World War Three was scheduled to start at 8pm on Saturday night, "reservations" assure you youíre going to have dinner first. They also imply a more romantic situation. Colin could have made reservations at Bobís Steak Pit and therefore consider it fine-dining.

So, Bertucciís. I didnít have the heart to tell him I was sick of eating there.

Besides, we had reservations.

And after dinner, he planned to take me to the observation deck of the John Hancock Tower. This was also nothing new. Once you can spot Fenway Park and the huge Citgo sign, and you know all the answers to the Boston Trivia computer games, it gets old. But I didnít say anything. Heíd probably talked to the security guard and made reservations there, too. Got us our own private elevator or something.


We were finishing dinner when I decided to speak up.

"Do you really want to go to the John Hancock Tower?"

Colin stopped mid-tip-calculation and stared at me.

ĎWell, yeah."

I shrugged in submission.

"Why? Donít you want to go?"

"Iím just tired," I explained. He remained frozen, staring at me with a look that was a mixture of shock and panic. "Donít worry," I said. "We can go."

Heroin-rush relief flooded Colinís face.

"We wonít stay long," he cooperated. "Iíve just been planning this for a while."

That amused me, the whole "planning this for a while." We did this every other weekend. But if I thought I was stubborn, throwing a monkey wrench in Colinís plans meant Armageddon.


Boston Tea Party

Paul Revere

The Big Dig

Fenway Park.

Citgo sign.

We came, we saw.


"Well," Colin said after an hour. "Ready to go?"

"Sure," I said. Thank God, I was thinking. I turned around and started to walk to the elevator when I go the sense that Colin wasnít following me. I turned around to see that he clearly wasnít.

He was down on one knee.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

He pulled out a small velvet box, opened it, and held it out to me.

"Will you marry me?"

I was dumbfounded.

So I started to laugh.

"This is a joke, right?"

"No," he said, completely unaffected by my somewhat insulting response. And he smiled. "Will you marry me?"

My laughter stopped. And the first thing that went through my head was Matt Pictrowski, a guy I went to school with who I had a crush on.

And the second thing was "Iím too young."

And the third thing was "no."

And the fourth thing was "no."

And the fifth.

And the sixthÖ

Colin sat there, crouched on one knee, waiting. The five or six people that were also looking for a tiny Fenway Park tried to act like they werenít paying attention. But I knew they were. How could they not?

Colin stood up.

"Well?" he asked. "Be my wife?"

I put my arms around him and hugged him and whispered in his ear.

"I canít."


The ride home was pure torture. Colin was silent. He had tears running down his cheeks. I didnít know what to say. I didnít want to break up with Colin Ė I still wanted to date him. I wanted things to stay the way they were. But how can you say, "I donít want to marry you but letís still go out" and have everything be normal?

You canít.

We were almost back to his parentsí house.

"Letís go somewhere and talk," I said. He nodded.

We drove to a parking lot behind an old mill, and he put the car in park, and as I was about to open my mouth to explain why I said no, he started talking.

"This is gonna make me look like such a jerk."

"What do you mean?"

"I told everyone I was going to propose to you. They all think Iím engaged right now."


He nodded, sniffling.

"Colin, Jimmy Ray, the guys at the departmentÖ"

I didnít know what to say. I was thinking, "You should have told me first." I mean, we had been together for a while, and of course we talked about "if we were married." But I guess to me it had been like playing house. It was make-believe Ė it didnít mean that just because I was the Mommy and Paula was the Daddy that Paula thought I was really going to be her wife one day. When Paula made dinner in the make-believe kitchen, I didnít get all pissed off when there wasnít a real steak on the make-believe plate she handed me. When the Mommy and Daddy took their make-believe baby to the make-believe supermarket, I didnít scream in horror and call the police when Paulaís brother, Frankie, grabbed our Kermit the Frog baby and stuffed it in his pants and ran around the house saying he was going to eat it. I knew it wasnít for real. And Paula knew it wasnít for real. And we didnít cry when the realization set in that it was just a game. Because we knew it all along.

It was Make-Believe.

We made each other believe it.

And unfortunately, I had made Colin believe that I was the Mommy and he was the Daddy. But he didnít know it was a game.

But up until that moment, I didnít know it was a game, either.

Colin put his head in his hands.

"How am I going to face everyone and tell them you said no?"

He started to cry.

Everything I was going to say was gone in an instant. A Guilt Bomb went off and obliterated all my reasoning and left me with a memory span of 2.5 seconds. I cared about Colin, and I wanted to make him happy. I didnít want to see him hurt so much. I couldnít handle seeing someone cry over something I did or said. It wasnít an option.

I had to please everyone.

I had to make everyone happy.

Even if it meant sacrificing myself.

Those were my Rules.

So I had to follow them.

"Iíll wear it," I said.

I was thinking "for the weekend." At least he could face his friends and they could pat him on the back and he could be the Big Man. I could Make-Believe for the weekend. I wasnít thinking any further than that. Somewhere in my brain was the assumption "Iíll just give it back," but the When of that statement was unknown. It was Make-Believe. There was no Time, things just happened and then didnít happen. "Iíll wear it," Iíd said. Not "Iíll marry you." "Iíll wear it" meant Iíd go along with it. Iíll keep playing. Iíll do this to make you not cry anymore. Iíll take Kermit out of my pants and I swear I wonít eat him.

Colin took the ring out of his pocket, put it on my finger, and kissed me.

"I love you," he said.

I didnít know it get, but I was engaged.

As we walked up to the door of Colinís parentsí house, Colin took my hand.

"My parents are waiting up for us."

"Did they know too?"

He just smiled.

Of course they knew. Everyone knew.

Except for me.

We went into the kitchen, and on the counter was a bottle of champagne, four wine glasses, and a card. Colin handed me the card and I pretended to read it, but all I saw was a big mess of "congratulations" and "we love you" and "donít fuck with our son." (That last part wasnít really there, but neither was IÖ) I let Colin lead me into the living room, and in a state of shock, I smiled and said my "thank yous" and did my champagne toast. And the whole time I was thinking, "maybe Iíll get used to it."


I broke up with him a year later. On our two-year anniversary Ė unbeknownst to me. But it did seem rather poetic when it was brought to my attention. My intention was merely to call off the engagement. Iíd called him the night before I was to drive out to see him, and told him that I couldnít be engaged anymore. I donít recall the reasons I gave him, but whatever I said implied that I still wanted to date him.

I drove the two hours the next day.

Gave him back the ring.

And within ten minutes of being there, I had broken up with him completely. I had grown too old to Make-Believe anymore. Somewhere along the line my imagination had lost itís intensity. I needed a new game to play. So I got back in my car and drove the two hours back home, struggling to see the Mass pike through my tears. I wasnít crying for me, I was crying for Colin. I was crying with the relief that the game was over. I didnít care if I had won or lost, I was just thrilled that it was done. But the part of me that was elated wasnít allowed to show its face yet.


But not yet.


My second engagement wasnít as dramatic. In fact, it was the exact opposite, which should have been the big red flag waving in my face and blocking my view of Reality. Waiting to smother me and put me out of my stupidity.

Brandon bought me a ring.

With my money.

And proposed to me.

In the mall.

Unfortunately, it took me a $10,000 debt and the total and complete breakdown of my self-esteem to make me realize I should have said no.

That I was way too old for Make-Believe.