Self-Worth (Story #9)

“How you gonna win when you ain't right within...” 
- Miss Lauryn Hill

Saturday 7 p.m. September 17

In writing, this is what we call blatant foreshadowing.

Saturday 3 p.m. September 17

We've been officially dating for a couple of months, quickly approaching three. I'd like to say it's been perfect, but unfortunately we didn't ride off towards the sunset - apparently it’s not always rainbows and lollipops after 'I love you's'. It hasn't been all bad, it’s just been 'bumpy'. I feel like it's my fault, being that I am a recently retired 'man of the town' and in turn am a recovering commitment-phobe. Relationships are a hard transition for most people, but for someone like me... well, let's just say 'hard transition' is the euphemistic term. Both she and I doubt my ability to be domesticated, but I guess when you love someone all you can do is keep trying. One way or another, we're still waiting on our promised happy ending.

With my eyes attentively focused on the single lane country road, I ask her, “Babe are you sure we're going the right way?”

“What does the GPS say?” she answers my question with a question.

“It says keep going... but I have no idea where we are.”

She laughs and says, “Just keep going. I told you - I grew up in the country.”

“It just seems like I've been driving forever,” I say as my nerves build up in anxious anticipation; today is the day I meet her mom for the first time.

“Relax, her house is just a few more kilometres,” she reassures me as she turns up the radio to the tune of “Metal Heart” by Cat Power.

A few more kilometres turn out to be over an hour. I've been living in the city for the last decade; aside from attending a few long lost high school friends’ birthdays and weddings, I haven't ventured out much. But even in my time away from picket-fenced yards, minivans and early marriages, my cub scout navigation skills have never been in question until this moment. I have absolutely no idea where we are. Thank God for GPS's.

We finally get off the single lane regional road (the country equivalent of a highway), and turn down a dirt road that winds around a cliffside and overlooks a small lake. I slow down and cautiously cruise around the narrow path, mildly fearful for our lives. I drive over a wooden bridge that slopes down like a black diamond snowboarding run, and miraculously arrive safely at her mother's house. She told me she grew up in the country, but I had no idea how literal she being. I wonder how her mother manages to get in and out on a daily basis. I park my car beside a hitching post. True story.

We step into her mother's little country home, and settle into her childhood bedroom. Her bedroom isn’t at all what I was expecting. It reeks of lemon Pine-Sol (or is that Pledge?), and is about as welcoming as a hospital room. On an old dresser stands the only photograph - her as child. There are no posters on the wall nor are there any teenage keepsakes. I look around in silence for a while, not sharing my observations. Eventually we unpack our bags and I inevitably get properly introduce to her mother, who greets me with the all too familiar 'I've-heard-about-you-and-your-tainted-past' look.

During the last several weeks I've been introduced to many of her friends, who for one reason or another, have greeted me with that exact same look (hence my acquaintanceship with it). I'm not saying their opinion is false or unwarranted, but I would love to know who exactly spread these [truthful] rumours about me. It's bad enough being dragged to dinner party after dinner party and constantly have to partake in social events that no poor soul under the age of forty should ever have to be subjected to. I don't care that Colonel Mustard killed Madame Rose in the library with the candle stick. Board games should have more clearly defined age parameters: 8-14, 40-death. But that, combined with the under-the-breath talks about how I'm the wrong guy for her and the constant disapproving looks... it really makes it hard for a boy to stick to life-altering changes.

We make our way to the living room and sit across from her mother on the plastic-covered couches. Her mother asks me the routine new boyfriend questions: future plans, intentions, interests, and so on. I don't typically have a hard time getting in the good graces of the fairer sex, but like board games there is an age limit to my appeal. Nevertheless, I do my best to switch gears and battle my tarnished reputation. In just under an hour, I finally (sort of) win her mother over with the little charm I have at my disposal. Well, maybe not win her over, but I’ve done well enough that she informs the two of us that she'll prepare dinner and knock on Jessica's door when it's ready.

As Jess and I are sitting on her bed talking and waiting for dinner, my phone beeps, boldly announcing a text message from an old 'friend'. Jessica peeks over as I view the message. It reads, “hey! long time no talk. let's get together tonight for the usual”. She looks at me in disbelief. Her eyes start to water, and without a second thought she says, “I knew it. I knew you couldn't change. Just go!”

Understandably confused, I say to her, “What do you mean just go?”

In a fit of unexplainable madness, she opens her old dresser and starts throwing my clothes on the floor. Clothes that I had just unpacked not even an hour ago.

I walk towards her and attempt to calm her down. I try to tell her that I hadn't seen my old 'friend' since she and I had started dating. But she won't listen, there's no reasoning with her. She just continues to frantically throw one piece of designer clothing after another, each one violently flying through the air like meteors in a doomsday movies. She even begins to mutter insults at me under her breath.

I'm at a loss. I don't know what to do. I'm trying my best, but nothing seems to be good enough. I'm beginning to question whether she and everyone else are right. Maybe I’m not the person everyone thinks she deserves. We're cut from different cloths, and since we've “officially” been together, I've been continuously reminded of that. Everyone questions what she sees in a guy like me. Jessica isn't like the typical girls I’ve grown accustomed to dating; she's not impressed by social status, money or looks. She craves substance and - all criticisms aside - it's evident from meeting her friends. Their unfriendly looks towards me are really nothing more than concerned faces. Truth be told, I can't really blame them. My dating track record (if you could even call it 'dating') has not been so impressive as to inspire adoration and approval from her loved ones. My previous success with the opposite sex was primarily a result of my social novelty and the company I chose to keep. Real connections were something I had been deprived of for some time. But, compared to the past male figures in Jessica's life, I would eventually come to learn that I am practically a saint.

Her biological father abandoned her at the age of ten to start a new family, and of her many past boyfriends, she would only say that some had been less abusive than others. Whenever I would probe deeper, she would respond by saying, “It's not something that I like to talk about.” There is a place in Jessica's heart that I haven't been allowed to see. In all honesty, it’s worked out well because thus far I’ve been too afraid to look. But there have been times at night when I caught a glimpse. She would awaken me with her nightmares, pleading with “Chris,” the ex, begging him and his friends to stop. I have yet to ever let on or discuss the episodes the morning after.

After being kicked out by her father, Jess sought shelter with her mother, who at the time she barely knew. Her mother was an alcoholic and had a string of failed marriages. She stayed for as long as she could, but found it too difficult to live amidst her mother’s drama. She escaped to the city not even a year later and found momentary solace with a heroine injecting DJ boyfriend. That is until a few months later, when he decided to make ends meet by sharing her with paying friends.

She and I met a couple of years after that; by that time, she’d learned that trust was a commodity she could no longer afford. Even now, after all the changes I've made, she remains skeptical of my intentions. I guess after all that she's been through, she finds it hard to believe that any man - even me - could be different from the rest she’s known.

We began talking about building a future together. I made the long country drive to meet her mother, attended the weekly dinner parties and even purchased a couple of board games with one day having the objective to host my own Clue-and-Cranium night. But for some reason, it just wasn't enough. I would eventually subdue her doubts, and she would subside from her fit of CdG and Buckler tossing rage. But within the months to come, she would have many more of these sporadic madness-filled fits. And, like an idiot buying into Hollywood ideals of love, I will keep trying. Her further skepticism will only fuel my vocation to make this relationship work. In the months to come, I will try harder and harder to prove the falseness of her mistrust of people, of men, of me. Yet the more I attempt to convince her that I'm different from all the men from her past, the more I will begin to lose confidence in myself and begin to think that I will never be enough for her. Eventually, in trying to prove myself worthy of her, what I will fail to realize until it's too late is that what she truly doubted was her own self-worth. In her mind, she will never be good enough to sustain any meaningful male relationship. Every man, myself included, will always just be another guy waiting to break her heart.

Her mother knocks on her old bedroom door. Dinner time.