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He tried to stop me before I discovered the gun.
Matt and I were packing up after a holiday weekend in his parents’ house in New Hampshire. The night before, we ate Chinese take-out and exchanged Christmas presents under the tree. Afterward and unbeknownst to me, he went downstairs to the basement and removed his father’s Glock from a dresser, brought it up to our room and laid it on the table next to our bed, wrapping it loosely in one of his undershirts.
I was packing when I picked up the T-shirt and felt the weight of the metal. I set both items back on the table. He needed have it next to him, he explained. His parents don’t have a safe for theirs like he does at home. Matt needed to know that, should an intruder break into the gated community, get past the alarm and find their arsenal, he would have a weapon to protect him.
We were mis-matched to begin with.
As a product of two former Peace Corps volunteers, I helped my parents hammer signs in our lawn for the local Democratic candidates and my mother and I marched on Washington. When I was 12, I went to a Catholic summer camp and relished the debates I got into with my counselors over a woman’s right to choose. I knew I wouldn’t change their minds, but I loved that we could go head to head together. In addition to my liberal leanings, I was hooked on the rush of being truly engaged.
Matt, on the other hand, was raised to defend and protect. He was constantly relaying to me the lessons learned from his father who “knew a guy.” We shouldn’t walk too close to a radio tower, knew a guy who was cooked to death. We shouldn’t ride a ski lift without a cellphone, knew a guy who was forgotten and froze.
We were in New Hampshire because his parents appreciated the relatively limited fire-arm regulation, a necessity to defend them from the guys they didn’t know. Matt was very proudly self-made, the first of his family to go to college then law school. He was proud of the life that he created on his own, one that, as a Manhattan litigator, required him to make arguments for a living.
There were many times when these arguments made sense. When I had to buy a series of plane tickets, he was right. An airline credit card was a better choice than my debit card. After a year barely making rent at a thankless temp job, he was right that I was due to give a well thought-out argument for a raise. There were many situations when his view of the world as black and white was helpful when I was fogged up in gray.
Sometimes, though, his arguments were absurd. As background, I have an extremely well-endowed Chihuahua named Luca Brasi. He has a roughly 1:10 business to full body ratio. It’s striking to see. One evening I was lying on Matt’s couch with little (big) LB when I made a playful joke about flicking one of his massive balls. This exchange followed:
Him: If you flick his balls it’s cheating.
Me: Wouldn’t I just be flicking his balls?
Him: You cannot touch his balls.
Me: I can’t?
Him: What. Do you want me to fuck a cat?
Technically he was right. I did not want him to fuck a cat. That wouldn’t have been fair to anyone (especially the cat). It was precisely this wild adherence to right and wrong that got us into this in the first place.
Even though we lived less than 20 blocks apart in New York City, Matt and I met on a rooftop in Boston at a Fourth of July BBQ hosted by his best friend from law school and my best friend from high school. I had recently decided that I needed to be single for a while so a kegger out of town was the perfect place for me to flirt without consequence.
He pumped me a beer and we tried to lay claim to the West 20s, he with his own new apartment on 23rd, and me as a regular performer in the theaters in the surrounding blocks. Beyond the geographic coincidences, our lives in the city were completely separate, something we were able to ignore during our weekend far away in Boston. Even when he walked me to the train and asked for my number, I never actually thought he would call.
He did call, something I credit just as much to our chemistry as I do to the fact that calling a girl who you’ve asked for her phone number was, in his mind, the right thing to do. For the next few weeks we had a few fun and wine-filled all night dates. We would text and flirt and play at casual, but repetition breeds patterns and I knew I had to come clean.
Walking down 10th Avenue on our way to dinner one night in early September, I stopped him in the street. I told him that my mother was sick. Sick enough that if we continued to see each other he would be with me through the hardest and most terrifying loss I would have ever had to endure.
I gave him the out and told him that I would understand. And I meant it. Without hesitation he told me that he would take care of me, that I could stay in his apartment and he would cook for me. And he did.
Over the next few months, we built our life together. I moved into his apartment and before long my life in the West 20s centered solely on 23rd Street. I stopped performing, afraid that as my mother declined, I was too fragile to trust my instincts in front of an audience. Bit by bit, I retreated. Ultimately I shuffled from temp job, to our fortress on 23rd, to my mother in Pittsburgh and back again.
For Thanksgiving, we bought ingredients at the Union Square Green Market to fatten up my mother when I went back home. When she continued to decline, he came to Pittsburgh with me for Christmas. My grandfather admired his “piercing blue eyes and broad shoulders” and he successfully answered the rapid-fire interrogation from my fellow lawyer aunts and uncles -- Boston College/Intellectual Property/boutique firm in Manhattan.
I could see the relief in my family’s eyes. We all saw what was coming, they were happy to know that I wouldn’t be alone.
As for his politics, for the most part I told myself that he was fiscally conservative which, as some one so proudly self-made, was not surprising. Even when he told me he voted for Bush the first time I brushed it off, telling him only that we could never ever tell my mother, both of us tacitly acknowledging that this wouldn’t be an issue for long.
When I asked him if he’d voted the same way a second time, he paused. I changed the subject. Never in my life did I think I would know a Bush term two supporter, let alone be sleeping with them. It was too much for me to process.
My mother passed away that January and, as I anticipated, I crumbled. One night I sobbed so loudly that his neighbor threatened to file a formal noise complaint. When we planted her ashes, I leaked mascara stains into the lapels of his bespoke suit. I found that the one way I could escape was through the fairy tale lifestyle of "Sex and the City" and so we lay on his couch night after night with the curtains drawn and watched every episode of all ten seasons.
Things did not end well. Matt knew how to love me when I was broken, but when I started to re-engage with the rest of my life again he turned critical. He listed reasons for disliking my friends, he counted my drinks, he insisted on reading and red-lining everything I wrote.
We rode to my 30th birthday party in icy silence because he refused to pay me any compliments. I paired cowboy boots with a cocktail dress and didn’t I know I should be in heels? Coming home after a night out, I was almost guaranteed an interrogation. Instead of agreeing to disagree, I was always the defendant.
These nights, like many in adult life, held nothing of the rush of summer camp. In our last awful fight, he went for the jugular and spat, “You were never parented.” Luca Brasi and I left that night. He was no longer my partner, he was the arbiter of my right and wrong, we were at two sides of the aisle. We could never ever walk down one.
I can’t dismiss him for the way he voted, or his NRA card, or even his absurd insistence that there’s only one way to hang toilet paper. We’re not together because we don’t see the world in complementary ways. When I start to wonder how we spent two years together I think of us in my car at the Pittsburgh airport the day after my mother passed away.
She went so quickly that the earliest flight he could get was the morning after. We sat her Honda for a moment before I started the engine. He pulled a DVD from his coat. It was “Dreamgirls” which had just been released in theaters that past Christmas. I realized that my bull-headed, self-righteous Intellectual Property attorney boyfriend bought a pirated musical because he knew that my mother and I spent the past holidays hoping for a day when she would be strong enough to make it to the theater. He clutched the bootleg and he cried.
He had broken the laws he made a living enforcing. For us.