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Feeling the pain of what isn't to be

October 02, 2003|Ralph Frammolino | Times Staff Writer

We went to one of my favorite downtown restaurants. I ordered the pasta, she got the fish and we circled around the inevitable for 45 minutes, until coffee was served and we had no place to hide.

She had requested the summit. "I have to tell you where I'm coming from," she explained a few days before. "I think we should talk. In person."

It didn't take an Einstein to figure out what was coming. There were signs: Plans canceled. Diminished e-mail response. Matter-of-fact reports about nights out, where before I might have been invited along. I was confused, I told her. This was her response.

No big deal, I said to myself, as I walked down Broadway to the Last Supper. After all, this was new. Neither of us had invested that much emotionally. Sure, we had met each other's family members and shared some secrets, but we were still "under the radar." No public face to save.

Then why did my legs feel rubbery? Why was there a gnawing in my gut? I had been dumped and certainly done my share of dumping.

I once spent an entire weekend explaining to a girlfriend why I couldn't go on. Hours and hours around the same loop; cry, laugh, cry. Desperate for a break, we went for a short hike. Upon our return, her mother was standing in my driveway -- arms outstretched for her daughter, eyes shooting daggers at me.

Even when we moved her stuff out, it wasn't over. In an inexplicable case of mistaken mattresses, I ended up with an old, lumpy California king set that once belonged to her grandpa. The girlfriend went on to another love, but that bed set hung around for three more years.

Irreconcilable differences dictated the termination of another relationship. When I closed the door, she tried to pry it open. She sent me that special red dress, quoted my love letters on voicemail, wanted to debate the meaning of "forever." Finally, she begged me to meet her at the Huntington. I declined.

Now it was my turn in the box.

She stirred her coffee. I swallowed hard.

"So I thought we should talk about ... us," she said, uneasily. "I don't think I have the same feelings for you that you have for me. And I don't think it's fair to you. I can't explain it. Boy, this is hard ...."

I prodded. Had I misunderstood? What about those three days? Yes, she said, she started out with the same feelings but somewhere along the line they changed. It wasn't anything I did, I was a prince, just

As the words trailed off, I realized how much I wanted her and how much I wanted this to work and how unfair it was that the hope that started with the first rush of exhilaration was cut short. I never got to take her to Disneyland. It was all I could do to keep from touching her arm. Sixty to zero and my stomach dropped. I let it settle in.

"This isn't a surprise, but I wish it wasn't happening," I heard myself say. "I guess I have no alternative."

I thanked her for telling me to my face, told her how much I respected her courage, although we both knew she was giving me excuses, not reasons. We made the obligatory noises about staying friends. Then the check came.

"Split?" I said. She smiled. I always loved her smile, even before we became close. It breaks over her face like a sunrise. "I think I should pay this time," she said.

I looked at my watch. Oh, gee, I need to make my train. She offered me a lift to Union Station.

As we left the parking garage, someone nearly hit us.

"Great," I said. "Dumped and killed in the same night. Well, at least the spaghettini was good."

We laughed. Sort of.

She drove me to the train station. I opened the door. I turned back.

"Kiss?" She looked surprised, then sad. Our lips touched.

I ran for my train. I got home to an empty house. I listened to the night.

And I heard my heartbeat, pounding, as I thought about the exquisite cruelty of a tender touch, too soon withdrawn.

Ralph Frammolino can be reached at

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