UNRAVELLED

CHAPTER ONE

 “A what?” I asked, into the phone.

“A stitch ’n bitch club,” my friend Angie explained. “You know … a knitting circle.”

“Uh … aren’t we about forty years too young to be in a knitting circle?”

“Get with it!” Angie laughed. “Knitting is the new yoga. It’s replacing watching TV—or, at least, reading. All the stars do it.”

“Yeah?”

“Julia Roberts … Catherine Zeta Jones … even Brad Pitt.”

This sounded vaguely familiar. I was sure I’d seen a photo in a magazine of Russel Crowe knitting a pair of baby booties. Besides, Angie knew all about trends. As co-host of the cable television talk show The Buzz, it was her job to identify all the latest fads. She was up on the hottest clubs, movies, bands, and books. She knew the hippest styles in clothing, accessories, housewares, and hobbies. According to Angie, being cutting edge was more than her career: It was her calling. She considered herself the Yoda of pop culture.

But even if knitting was the latest craze, was it right for me? My only experience with yarn and needles had been in Brownies when I was eight. I’d had to knit a potholder in order to get my handicrafts badge. After several weeks of painstaking work, I had produced an irregular, lumpy orange square, which I displayed to my troop leader, Brown Owl. She inspected it, with the very slightest of sneers, and grudgingly gave me my badge.  I later gifted the potholder to my grandmother for Christmas. She was, of course, delighted, until she tried to use it to remove a tray of cookies.  The cheap acrylic wool turned out to be highly flammable. This feature, combined with a number of gaping holes in the weave, left my grandma with a second-degree burn at the base of her thumb. Since then, knitting had always carried sort of a negative connotation for me.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not really a crafty type of person.”

“Oh, and like I am? Come on. It’ll be fun.”

“It’s not really my cup of tea.”

“You’ll be able to make thoughtful, yet inexpensive Christmas gifts.”

“But I’m left-handed.”

“Enough with the excuses!” Angie cried. “It’s been two months since you and Colin broke up. It’s time you got out and met some new people.”

“New people?” This made the whole knitting circle idea even less appealing. But I knew Angie was right: My social life had slowed dramatically since I ended my four-year relationship with Colin. When we were together, we had done couple-things with our couple-friends: dinner parties, movie nights, girls vs. guys games of flag football … Since the split, I hadn’t felt like insinuating myself into any of these cozy pairings, playing the poor, lonely third wheel. I wasn’t about to call up my married, engaged, or co-habiting girlfriends and beg them to let me tag along. I could almost hear them explaining to their significant others: “Hon … do you mind if Beth comes with us to hear that new jazz trio? I know it’s a pain, but she’s a spinster now and I’m afraid she might kill herself if we don’t include her.”

But meeting new people? I wasn’t ready for that. I was content with my current social network. It wasn’t like I had no single friends. I did!—two, to be precise: Angie, and Mel, a twice-divorced forty-three year old with an uncomfortably close relationship with her golden retriever. But I was enjoying spending time alone, really getting to know myself again. It wasn’t like I was a shut-in, or some kind of a recluse.

“It’s like you’re a shut-in, or … some kind of a recluse!”

 “No, I’m not.” I laughed nervously. 

“It’s time you got on with your life, Beth. You ended the relationship after all.”

“Yes, and you know why,” I snapped.

“I know. I know.” Angie was beginning to sound exasperated and I could practically hear her eyes rolling. “Listen … the first stitch ’n bitch will be next Thursday at my apartment. You’ll need to buy some needles and some yarn. And feel free to bring a friend along, if you want.”           

“Okay,” I said, glumly.

 “I’m asking everyone to invite someone they’d like to get to know better,” Angie continued. “That way, we won’t end up with some cliquey group reliving old times. We’ll have a great, diverse bunch of people we can really open up to.”

It was sounding worse and worse. There was no way I was going to open up to a collection of individuals with nothing in common but the desire to create a homemade scarf.

“So you’ll come, then?”

“I don’t know. I’ve got a deadline,” I answered lamely.

“It’s just what you need, hon: a new hobby and some new friends.”

“Yeah … maybe.”

“Gotta run. I’m having a holistic scalp treatment done on camera. The owner guarantees it will give you plumper, shinier hair that smells like a basket full of strawberries.”

Hanging up the phone, I shuffled across the scuffed hardwood to the apartment’s small galley kitchen. Gently, I opened the fridge door, careful not to disturb my roommate’s, Kendra’s, collection of frog magnets. Leaning over, I peered inside. The top two shelves were burgeoning with various condiments, deli meats, a variety of cheeses, and several stackable Tupperware containers. These shelves belonged to Kendra. The lower two, allocated to me, were bare but for two Coronas, and a small plastic tub of hummus. What the hell … I reached for a beer. I deserved it after all I’d been through. If I were a guy, no one would fault me for lying around in my underwear, not shaving, and drinking beer at 10 in the morning. A glance at the microwave clock indicated that it was actually 4:17, which was a far cry from 10 A.M. And of course, I was fully clothed … But my legs were extremely hairy! (I didn’t really see the point in shaving them any more …)

Taking my beverage back to the living room, I flopped on the floral, overstuffed couch and took a big swig. Angie didn’t know what was best for me. I didn’t need a new hobby and new friends: I needed to wallow. Why did people insist I move on? Get over it? I had suffered an enormous loss! If Colin had died, they wouldn’t insist I heal so quickly. But because he was alive and well and working as a graphic designer downtown, everyone was on my case to get out of the apartment, meet new people, and take up handicrafts.

Colin and I were together for four years … four blissfully happy years. Okay, blissful was a bit of an exaggeration. We had our little problems, like all couples do, but they were nothing more than petty annoyances. We connected in all matters of importance: sense of humour; taste in music and television programming; general world view… and the sex was amazing! He was even a Virgo—an ideal astrological match for my sign, Scorpio. I had finally found him: the perfect guy for me. And he was perfect, in every way but one.

They say timing is everything, and for Colin and me, it seemed to be true. We met at a party when I was twenty-nine and he was twenty-eight. I’d had a number of passable, if uninspiring, relationships: He had sown his wild oats with several fun, but not entirely appropriate, girlfriends. We connected almost instantly, and since we were both attracted to each other, both available, and both ready, we were soon a couple. 

Two days before I turned thirty, I moved into Colin’s apartment. I hadn’t quite met my personal goal of being married before I reached that milestone birthday, but I wasn’t worried. I’d found my soulmate, and that was more than half the battle, right? I felt confident that eventually, everything would simply fall into place. Besides, as long as I had a baby by the time I was thirty-five, I was happy.

Our friends were dropping like flies. In our four years together, we went to no less than seven weddings! And three baby showers! Yes, I was counting. Each one reminded me of a bikini wax: a little awkward, a tad uncomfortable, but not unbearably painful. Because then, I was still hopeful! Every Christmas, I was sure I’d receive a diamond instead of a sweater or a gift certificate for a pedicure. Each New Year’s Eve, I predicted a midnight proposal. Oh well, Valentine’s Day was just around the corner! And then, my birthday was only nine months away! But every occasion passed without that symbolic gift.

It wasn’t until our final Christmas together that panic began to set in. I was already two years past my marriage deadline, and the baby target was fast approaching. There was still time, I told myself. If Colin proposed at Christmas, we could have the wedding next fall, and get pregnant on our first anniversary. That way, our baby would be born a few months before I turned thirty-five. It would all work out according to plan.

But on that December 25th morning, when I unwrapped a pair of black suede gloves and a digital camera, I couldn’t hide my chagrin. “What’s wrong?” Colin had asked.

“Nothing!” I croaked, though the tears in my eyes belied my claim. “This is … really nice.”

“I know it’s not the most expensive camera out there,” Colin explained. “But it’s a pretty good one. I thought it would be nice to have when we take that trip up to Vancouver Island.”

“Yeah …it’s just that …”

“What?”

It took me a moment to summon the courage, but finally, after a deep, ragged breath, I spoke.

“We’ve been together almost three years, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And we’ve been happy, right?”

“Very happy.”

“And you do love me, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do!” he said, quite emphatically, I thought.

“So, I guess I just sort of expected … I mean, it seems like we’ve been heading in this direction for quite a while and … Well, we’re not getting any younger …”

Colin was silent, his eyes unreadable. Finally, he pulled me to him and held me tight. “I know,” he muttered, into my hair. “I know.”

So I waited. Now that I had made my expectations clear, it was only a matter of time. All through the year, I continued to drop subtle hints, like:

“Oh look, another wedding invitation just came in the mail. What do you think of this font?”

And,

“God, I sure hope we get married soon.”

Still, my lover remained non-committal.

But then, on a crisp November day, my thirty-third birthday arrived. Colin woke me up with a kiss and whispered, “Happy birthday, baby. I’ve got a surprise for you tonight.”

I was to meet him after work at a romantic restaurant on Seattle’s waterfront. Wear something nice, he’d instructed. I spent hours preparing: hair, makeup, slinky black dress far too skimpy for the late autumn weather … When I walked into the dimly lit bistro, my heart was beating frantically. The hostess led me to the secluded table where Colin was already seated. He looked up at me and smiled that warm, boyish smile that had first won my heart. The lock of sandy hair that usually fell forward into his green eyes had been slicked formally to one side. I noticed that he was wearing his special occasion jacket. He never wore that jacket—except on special occasions! This had to be “the night.”

When Colin had poured us each a glass of expensive red wine, he fumbled in the pocket of his special occasion jacket. “Beth …” he paused, his hand still under the table. He seemed a bit nervous. How cute! I could not have loved him more. “You know I love you, right?”

“And I love you too,” I gushed.

“Well … happy birthday.” He handed me a tiny black velvet box.

“Earrings?” I screeched. It was like some kind of sick torture!

“They’re emerald cut diamonds,” he said feebly. “And they’re from northern Canada so … you know … they’re bloodless diamonds.”

I couldn’t pretend any more. “I didn’t want fucking earrings, Colin!”

His handsome face was pale and his voice shallow, when he said, “I know …”

“So, you don’t want to marry me?” I said, bluntly.

“It’s not that, Beth. I mean, I really want to be with you but … I’m just not sure that I want to … you know… get married.”

“Ever?”

“My parents had such a bitter divorce. I’ve just never really wanted to … uh … make that formal commitment.”

“Never ever?”

He was getting paler and beginning to fidget. “Well, you never know… I mean, one day, down the road … maybe I’ll see things differently.”

My eyes upon him were stony. “How far down the road are we talking here?”

“Oh … I don’t know,” He laughed nervously. “Fifteen … twenty years?”

Fifteen or twenty years!!! I’d be far too old to get pregnant by then! Well, I suppose with all the medical advances it was possible, but I didn’t want to have a baby when I was fifty! I wanted one when I was thirty-four! And call me traditional, but I wanted to be married to its father!

“What about kids?” I asked. “Do you want your children to be bastards?” Now, I was sounding downright Amish, but I didn’t care.

“I—I don’t want kids, Beth.”

It was like a punch in the stomach. “Never ever?” I managed to croak.

“No,” he said, quietly. “Never ever.”

I moved out that night. Of course, Colin wanted to explain but I wasn’t in the mood to hear about his parents’ acrimonious split, the ensuing custody battle, and all the damage to his adolescent psyche. I was heartbroken, disappointed, and betrayed. Colin had known, for at least three years, that children were an important part of my future. I had told him, on a number of occasions, how I had always wanted two kids: a girl first and then a boy (but if I had two girls, I’d have one more, trying for a boy, and vice versa). I told him how I’d picked out their names in ninth grade: Shayla and Roman (I assured him that these were no longer set in stone). He knew! He knew how important Shayla and Roman (or, possibly something more classic, like Emma and Jack) were to me! And yet, he said nothing.

Angie was kind enough to take me in for a few days until I was ready to find a new apartment. Fortunately, one of her co-workers had a cousin whose friend was looking for a roommate. And that’s how I ended up here, living with a woman I barely know, in her  cluttered, girly, knick-knacked apartment  That’s how I ended up here, drinking beer, alone, with my hairy legs.