Iíll Say Goodbye and Let You Go:
A Dating Story
Thatís Seth Kooper, I think. Heís leaving this office building downtown as Iím about to enter its glass revolving doors. Even after weíve passed each other and heís on the sidewalk he keeps his eyes on me, his head rubbernecked completely around. Maybe he recognizes me, too, I tell myself. But looking back I think he just thought I was pretty, a pretty young woman who perhaps caught his eye.
Then a few months later I run into him again. Itís a rainy, chilly October evening and Iím going to some bar for a magazine launch party. When I get there Ė to this angry little mouse hole tucked away from the street ĖI find Jen and we order drinks and sit on the slippery leather couch against the wall, resting our beers on the cabaret tables lined up in a row before us. Soon a slight guy with dark hair sits down next to me, apparently alone, and heís reading Glom, the new magazine. I say hello, introduce myself, and then realize that itís Seth Kooper, the same Seth Kooper from high school, the same Seth Kooper I happened to spot downtown. I tell him my name and that I remember him, although to be honest, I didnít really know Seth in high school. If I tap into the high school images Iíve archived somewhere deep in my memory, I can see him as he looked then during sightings in the hallway between classes: Leaning against the lockers, chatting with a guy in a football jersey, looking slightly bemused, as if heís chewing on a good, private joke. I remember his hair, too, because it was very dark, and worn in that popular 80s mullet: short and spiky on top, long in back. I donít think we ever spoke. And I donít remember ever pining for him. I just knew who he was, the way you know the older kids in school, the way you have a sense of their place above you in the universe.
And it turns out he does knows me. After Temple one recent Saturday morning he had picked up a copy of the latest Jewish Week to read on his bus ride home, and guess what? Jen and I were the cover story; our faces peering out between stacks of books. He remembers the article, he says, summarizing the basics - how Jen and I knew each other before and then re-met, how we were hired to run these Jewish literary events. And then he leans in closer and tells me, for some reason, about going to synagogue every week and about wanting to send his kids to Jewish day school Ė the same one I attended. ďHeís boring,Ē Jen says to me later. ďI can see him in 30 years eating at Sweet Basil.Ē (The breakfast place of choice in our hometown suburb.) I agree, imaging him middle-aged and tan from playing golf in Palm Springs, his nails manicured (buffed, clear polish), the kids married with kids of their own, and his big-bosomed wife ordering off the menu for them both. While heís cute, small and dark haired the way I like them, he does bore me, telling me, rather slowly, in a nasal voice, all the details I donít want to know about his trip to wine country over the summer. When it starts to get old, I politely excuse myself, but not before handing him a flyer for the next literary event that Jen and I have planned. Itís on Tuesday at the Belly-Up Bar, I say. He gives me his card and asks for mine, but Iíve left them in my other bag at home. Thatís ok, he says. And by the way he lightly taps my arm for emphasis and shortens my name to one syllable, I can tell he likes me. We donít talk the rest of the evening, but he makes a point of finding me to say goodnight before he leaves.
Over the next few days I think a few times about Sethís card, which I have shoved in my messy desk drawer at work. At one point Iím even about to email him to remind him about our literary event, but I stop myself: You have enough dates right now, I tell myself, why complicate things, especially with a guy who doesnít interest you? So I do nothing. The evening of our big event who shows up but Seth. Alone. Heís friendly and sweet and I seat him with my group of friends, and Stephanie promptly falls in love with him for me: ďHeís crazy about you!Ē she reports. ďHis eyes followed you across the room, every move you made.Ē Her friend Pam is even a bit jealous by how devoted he supposedly is to me, and she makes a snap psychological evaluation of him based on the way he sat, with one leg propped up on a chair. ďHeís confident and self-assured, as in, sexually,Ē she says, with a wink.
Later that evening Seth catches me and asks if Iíd like to go out sometime. Heís so polite and gentlemanly that Iím flattered and am only too happy to give him my card, jotting down my home phone number, too. Whenís a good time to call? he asks, and I tell him evenings are the best. He calls the very next night and I take copious notes while we chatóa reflex from my reporter days. And a habit that got me through some painful phone conversations during my divorce. This was back when I had left my ex and moved in with my parents for a while. ďYouíre a spoiled 30-year-old baby running home to mommy,Ē my ex said (according to my notes), his tone at once patronizing and wounded. I could imagine his body: tense, taut, all the emotions that soared through him frozen and turned to scorn. Sometimes he would accuse me of not working on things, despite all the couples therapy I dragged him to, including sessions where he would barely utter a word. Which isnít to say that he didnít say kind things, as well. He told me he loved me. He told me that together we could work on things, that things could be different. ďIím so sorry that I hurt you. I didnít mean it,Ē he said. But by then I knew that it was too late. That even though there was much to love - his cleverness, his humor, and a real tenderness buried beneath all of his demons - that he would never really be well. At least not with me. And that I would never go back to him. Even two years later, just seeing those yellow legal pads brings me back to those late-night calls, to the cinching of my chest, to the way my pen would race across the page, my haphazard script filling every crevice of the notebook, including the cardboard backing. To the way my hand would ache by the time I finally hung up.
Straight Eye for the Consumer Guy
I'll Say Goodbye and Let you Go
Three Jewish Books on Sadness
The Other Jews: Secularism, Kabbalah and Radical Poetics
A Jewish Masterpiece
Our 580 Back Pages
Zeek in Print
Fall/Winter 2004 issue now on sale
From previous issues:
Wrestling with Installation Art
Run Like the Wind