Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chapter 2 - The Pledge

Waking up with a hangover on a Saturday was not new to me; in fact it was becoming quite a regular happenstance. In the year previous, I had just barely managed to rescue my life and marriage from the brink of disaster. To do this, I had to put up Svetlana in a small apartment in Paris while I worked doggedly to restore our previous life here in Hawaii. To maintain the status quo in Hawaii, I sold my soul to an employer and subsequently lost the ability to make any extra income. I lost the ability to take time off to think about my situation, lost the ability to do any new deals, lost the ability to move, breathe, care. The hangover stepped in to remind me of each and every thing wrong with my life on a grand scale followed by a reminder of everything wrong that I had ever done… ever.

I needed a distraction and quickly. There was no sense in working on any of my business schemes, since I could not execute anything of importance with an employer for an anchor around my neck. I had my game. Computer games give me a lot of solace, since they provide one with a continuous set of small rewards for the simple act of logging in. I looked toward my bookshelf. Dante’s “Purgatory”? Ugg, not now. Asimov? Hmm… later. Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. Perfect. Everyone was asleep as I melted into the chapter before thinking to do anything else.

I guess I wasn’t surprised to find that it was a book about transformations. There were stories of gods and men transformed into beasts, beasts evolving into humans and humans ascending into godhood. Soon, my mother-in-law would awake and resume her bloody quest to transform my wife into a monster and me into a bachelor. I looked down at the list of friends in my phone. Breakfast with a friend would solve all my immediate problems. I love breakfast and I love my friends and these two things together would make all the bad in the world go away. There was one thing I was forgetting through the hangover mist, something I had to do. I remembered; Candy.

I called Jamie. She was my most loyal friend and usually available for breakfast at a moment’s notice. For her, hangovers and breakfast didn’t usually work well together, but with any luck I could catch her after her morning grumblings (she was not a morning person) and before she had eaten. I was in luck. She was still hungry and in reasonable spirits. We’d have a lot to talk about. I looked around the apartment. Svetlana was still asleep and I suspected she would not stir ‘til well after noon. My mother-in-law was sleeping on an air-bed in the living room. I shuddered to look at her; already a beast.

I’d hoped that the air bed that I provided for her would have been uncomfortable enough to shorten her stay, but to no avail. She slept as soundly through the mid-morning sun as her daughter. I doubted that she would stir for anything less than an earthquake. After a quick shower, check of my email and an obligatory update of facebook, I was off.

I met up with Jamie at my favourite breakfast nook. It’s a come-as-you are sort of café near the new theatres on Ward Avenue. Honolulu is a strange city in that there are not a lot of breakfast places and the few that do serve breakfast stop at 10 or 11am. This is not a good situation for a night owl or anyone that needs to party. I don’t want to eat a hamburger at the best of times and I certainly don’t want one for the first meal of the day. Café Java was different though. It was one of the few eateries in town that would serve breakfast all day long. The service was slow and the ambiance was far from noteworthy, but they served me the necessary hangover fighting fare; eggs Benedict, caffe latte and freshly squeezed orange juice. I could feel my hangover squeal in terror at the mere mention of Café Java.

Jamie. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie. I could say this seventy more times. Unlike Candy, I really don’t believe that the combined efforts of Shakespeare, Voltaire, Freud, Nietzsche and a host of literary and philosophical greats could convene in an afterlife think tank, and produce one jot to accurately describe Jamie; not using mere words. They would need spreadsheets, video, pictures, diagrams and transcripts of expert witness testimony to explain only half of Jamie’s eccentricities. Here, I can only hope that with all the writing skills I possess, that I may relate to you a small but sufficient explanation of Jamie to include her in this story.

Anyone who has ever called themselves my friend has assuredly had something unique to their character; a certain je ne sais quoi that separates them from the norm. Undoubtedly, this is not coincidence, as I am attracted to those who stand out in a crowd. Unlike my other friends with but a single oddity, however, Jamie did not possess a single quality that might be considered normal. Her mannerisms, her hopes and dreams, her every breath seemed to separate her from normalcy as far as normalcy can be described. Certainly even the way our friendship began, with her fierce and penetrating hatred toward me was anything but normal; quite abnormal, to be true; even for me.

I met Jamie at a wine-tasting ball sponsored by the Australian Chamber of Commerce. Hawaii has its various ethnic and geographical groups and since the islands are halfway between Australia and the rest of the United States, Australia treats Hawaii like it is actually a part of the Unites States. The Australian government even built an embassy in Honolulu for some reason. Unless an Oahu event is Japanese in nature, as there are plenty of Hawaiians with a Japanese heritage and plenty of Japanese tourists to fill their ranks, these ethnic-oriented celebrations generally need extra outsider bodies to round out their numbers. The Australians were no exception to this rule and only about one in ten people at the soiree were of Australian origin, the rest being from just about everywhere else.

The event was supposed to be “black-tie”, which by Hawaiian reckoning translates to “please wear a suit jacket if you own one, otherwise an aloha shirt is fine.” I arrived in a tuxedo, true to the spirit of the dress code. Jamie was already there when I arrived. She was single and single purposed. Like so many women I knew in Honolulu in the 35-45 year old range, she was perpetually single. At this black-tie event, she deduced that she had a good chance to meet a well dressed single man whose life goals would include advancement in his business career.

Having already sold my soul to an insurance company, I had no interest or ability to do anything new in business and took to watching the crowd. Drinking copiously, I noticed her for the first time stalking the men, like a cat; very much like a big cat. Naturally, I was attracted to this curiously odd behaviour and eventually dragged myself up and out of my chair to have a closer look and perhaps make an introduction.

I had no sooner closed in on her when an Australian friend of mine, Melinda, jumped in to introduce us. “Jamie,” she said. “I want you to meet Svetlana’s husband, Robyn.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Jamie said, her eyes darting off toward the field of prey.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were friends,” I said, looking surprised.

Melinda nodded and slipped away to make more introductions. Having been introduced as a husband rather than some potentially single guy, it was too late to observe Jamie’s curious hunting technique as a prospective victim. I tried to make a little small talk to give me time to rethink my introduction plan. She glanced back at me hurriedly, with an air of disgust.

“Look, I’m here to meet single men,” she scolded. “Leave me alone.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to…” I tried to add in.

“No!” she cried and hurriedly walked away to acquire a new hunting position.

How abrupt! I had imbibed too much wine to feel slighted by her reproach and grew rather fascinated by her technique. She moved. I followed. She moved again and like a naturalist on the Serengeti, I kept up behind her. Her hunting technique grew more and more nervous by the minute and she glared back at me with increased levels of agitation as I pursued. Eventually her looks turned to what I can describe as pure unfiltered hatred. In my drunken state, it was oddly satisfying.

Like in so many Hawaiian affairs, the island itself intervened to bring about the metamorphosis of this relationship that had started so beautifully. I learned that apart from Melinda, that a few other girlfriends of mine were also mutual friends with Jamie. Crazy Sally in particular, who was a consistent breakfast buddy of mine, claimed to see her at least once a week. She learned of Jamie’s enmity with me from Jamie herself. I had a running joke with Crazy Sally about how I felt so sorry for Jamie, being that she was probably so terribly in love with me, but could not have me since I was married. I would mime her lament and feign my own torment that I could not return Jamie’s true love since my heart was taken by another.

This running gag continued for months when Oahu finally threw Jamie and I back together again. Melinda and Svetlana shared a birthday that was only a day apart. We conspired to combine their birthday celebrations into one large party, inviting people from both of our sets of friends. We compiled a guest list of over 100, a short list and fully expected everyone on the list to arrive. They did arrive, nearly down to the last invite. Almost the first to arrive was the incredibly punctual Jamie. We had finished decorating by that time and there were few other guests. I decided to be a good host, brave her gorgon stare and welcome her to the party. If permitted, I thought I might let her in on the mutual Joke that Crazy Sally and I had been sharing all these months.

I was permitted and when Jamie heard the story she laughed. She laughed. I had never seen her so much as dare to brook a smile, but at that moment, the absurdity and longevity of this inside joke had melted whatever barrier she had built up against me. She poured out her laughter and I drank it in. Jamie and I began our awkward, frustrating and completely indestructible friendship from that day forward.

I was 5 minutes late for my breakfast date with Jamie at the Café Java. When I arrived, Jamie had been there waiting for exactly 5 minutes. She was picking at the menu board with her forefinger in her peculiar way, looking for the perfect breakfast. She would always go for something healthy, and toiled between the muesli and an avocado selection. I knew what I wanted before I got there. She went for an avocado omelette and I put in our orders, slipped the cashier my card and took our number 12 table marker outside to enjoy the weather, the food, the conversation, and the company.

Jamie sat without a word in the particular way that she always did. I took a long look at her, thinking of what to say. She was pretty, not beautiful, but pretty in that rare sort of pretty without makeup kind of way. She had wispy red-blonde hair that came down to her shoulders. It always looked the same. Her hair style never changed regardless of whether we were at work, playing tennis, or at a black tie ball. It looked carefully styled and yet messy at the same time. Throughout our friendship I would often find myself staring at it, wondering if this time I could make sense from the senseless-yet-ordered disarray.

“So what did you do last night?” I asked. “We all missed you downtown.”

“Oh I was on a date with this guy I met from,” she grimaced, looking down.

“And?” I said hopefully.

“I don’t think there is a connection,” she said.

Jamie and I had had this conversation before; several times before. Her dating rules were the hardest to follow in the history of dating rules. She had rules for how the first date was to be conducted, what was allowed on the second and the permissible features of the third. Everything had to be in its place for her or there would be fireworks. Her match from last night had probably never dated anyone with Asperger’s syndrome before; the poor bastard. In addition to what was allowed on a date, Jamie had come to many conclusions as to what was allowable for conversation, how the fork and knife must be used, when an how to order the food, pair the wine and a great many other things that a hapless date could never know in advance. As her friend, she must have had to forgive my thousands of transgressions against the order she had set up for the world around her.

Our meals arrived and Jamie began to arrange her napkin, utensils and plate in order to best consume her meal. As she prepared to carve off her first bite of food, I broke the silence.

“I met someone last night,” I interrupted.

Jamie stopped preparing her first bite and looked confused for a moment. She was ready to take a bite of her food and yet, had to respond at the same time. Her decision finally landed on a reply. “Oh that is bad, especially right now,” she added.

“Oh it’s not a ‘thing’,” I said. “Just a woman that I think is very interesting. She sang in my ear. It was quite unforgettable.”

Jamie finally took a bite of her avocado omelette and looked like she was thinking hard while she chewed. Finishing the bite, she asked. “Why do you need another friend? You have me.”

“I didn’t know that there was a limitation on the number of friends I should have.” I responded, a little agitated.

“Well if this new friend doesn’t alienate you from Svetlana,” she said. “She will take time away from your current friends, including me. How will this be any good at all?”

A metamorphosis occurred. Suddenly Jamie became the Rain Man. “Oh oh, this is definitely going into my injury book. Yeah. This is definitely an injury.”

I woke from the daydream. Jamie was Jamie again. The daydream was cruel and I scolded myself, but bit on my tongue a little to suppress a laugh. Jamie was right. I needed another woman for a friend like America needed another war. Jamie was wrong. A person can’t have too many friends and my wife was spending all her time with her mother anyway. I needed other new perspectives on my problems and to get those I would need more friends.

“I’m going to call her, I think.”

“Well you know the rule,” she pointedly reminded me. “You are not supposed to call for 3 days after you first get someone’s number.”

I didn’t know this rule. I’m not sure that even is a rule, yet here I was being reminded of it. I considered whether it was possible to be reminded of something that was never in your head to begin with. Why would someone wait three days anyway? What sort of person would wait like that? I pictured Ovid’s telling of the three-day-rule. I wondered if Pyramus and Thisbe would be alive today if Pyramus had waited three days before talking to Thisbe through the hole in the fence. No, definitely not. I thanked Jamie for joining me on short notice and she thanked me for breakfast and we headed our separate ways.

“What does Jamie know about relationships?” I muttered to myself while I watched her walk away and called Candy the next moment.

One ring. Two rings. Three rings. I grew impatiently nervous. Just before the fourth ring there was a click. Answering machine? No it was Candy! “Hello?” she sang inquisitively.

“Hello, Candy? It’s me Ro…”

“Robyn! Hi!!!” the excitement in her voice pealed like the bells at the gates of heaven.

“I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t wait three days to call.” I nervously joked.

“Oh, my God, no! Oh, we should go for coffee. Three days! What is that all about? Are you busy right now? Let’s go for coffee. I had such fun last night.”

It was magnificently simple. I arranged to meet Candy at the Starbucks on Kalakaua Avenue at the end of Waikiki. No time to waste. Like Apollo pursuing Daphne, I dashed to my chariot, engaged in a brisk and spirited ride, and was at the end of Kalakaua in record time. I daresay that Apollo himself could not have managed the trip so quickly. The corner was filled with beach-goers of every description from the overweight and terribly sunburnt tourists to the perfectly formed gods and goddesses of the surf.

Nothing was as amazing as what I was about to see though. Candy was there; so pure, innocent and angelic, gracing the Starbucks doorway. Most importantly, she was waiting for me. Sporting a flowing wrap and a bikini top, her warm and inviting smile was so… so touched by the heavens that once again I had to check that I wasn’t dreaming. I wasn’t, and greeted her with open arms and shared the traditional island greeting of a hug and kiss on one cheek. The dulcet ring of her greeting reminded me of the aria she whispered from the previous evening. My knees weakened once again.

Taking the lead, I sallied up to the bar to order coffees. Mine, a caffe latte. Candy’s, a grande chocolate macchiato in a vente cup with extra whip cream and a chocolate drizzle. Could I have expected anything else? We retired to a table and began to chat, exchanging life stories from childhood to the present day. We spoke in grand swaths, skipping details. Candy had lived most of her life in Hawaii. Her mother was an important figure in a church and was off travelling. Her father had passed on. She was working at an engineering company doing books or paperwork of some sort. Her passion was singing and she had some professional work in California, but it sounded like that was long since over.

I told her about my life in Canada, how I had a large family and about how I was mostly raised by women, about my terrible relationship with my father and how I came to be married to Svetlana. Candy was easy to talk to and she seemed to be terribly interested in every detail of the conversation. When she spoke, her melodious voice was so hypnotizing that she could have been reading from the phone book and kept my full attention.

Our coffee talk concluded with a pledge. “Robyn?” she asked. “Promise me that we will see each other every single day from now on.”

I hadn’t even considered such an agreement with my wife and didn’t know what to say. Her eyes gleamed with sincerity. “I promise,” I said, vowing to myself that I should at least try to keep this most preposterous of promises.

Times were changing. My relationships were changing. My feelings were changing. My attitudes toward work, marriage, friendships, Hawaii, and life were all changing. I parted with Candy at that very same shop and went home to finish my book, knowing that the next day would be another day of changes, another day of Candy and I wanted to know as much about metamorphoses as I could.


  1. showing your colors. I love it! sweet and gentle. my first cup of the morning

  2. Your personality starts to grow on me!