Split Decision by Michael Olenick

Photo of Times Square from afar
Entering Times Square by Ian D. Keating. CC license.

The New Year’s Eve party was near Times Square in the building then housing Show World Center. You sat on my friends’ laps and mine inquiring about our salaries. John had the features of a Jones Beach lifeguard, which, coincidentally, he was. He was neither dumber nor smarter than he looked. Brian was the company ladies’ man, who we had nicknamed Kraven the Hunter. Those descriptions are as dated as the large-lensed glasses we all wore. Another Long Islander, he had studied medieval history at Wichita State because he wanted to get as far away in spirit from Farmingdale as possible. And I was an English major city boy, having been publicly schooled and transported, from a walk to P.S. 63 to the D Train to City College.

You said the person who made the most could take you to dinner. What to make of this? Social commentary? Slightly tipsy humor? None of us had encountered this form of banter before, if indeed that was what it was. At nearly $20K a year, I was the winner. I’m sure if you asked a few more people you could have done better, but it was a decent salary at the time. Although if money or appearance was the key factor, I would have lost to many others in the room.

Your attitude was, you either get me or you don’t. That was the you before you met me and remained the you right through me. It floats around me and travels with me.

I wasn’t looking for anything to happen that night, just doing what people do on the last day of the year. I had been seeing someone for six months, but she had gone home to Toledo for an undetermined period because her father was ill. She was not my everything, but she was more than my nothing. I didn’t know exactly what she was, or what we would have been, but I was not against letting it continue.

I took your number but didn’t call. A week went by and you tracked me down at work based on the information I had supplied at the party. Was it just my first name and something to do with books? You must have had more than that to go on, my name was in the midst of a long run as the most popular male given name and was shared with several others at work. The company operator transferred the call and said, “I think this is for you.” You said, “So, are you going call me or not?”

But now I am not sure. Was this call made after we had gone out to dinner once? Or did this call make us go out for the first time? I know it occurred, but the details are murky. Do phone companies keep records that far back? This is a critical moment, but what was the moment? I can’t even remember our origin tale; clearly, I am not the hero.

Nothing happened for a month or two beyond a few dinners. I was in a phase of having female friends where neither of us knew what was supposed to happen, which meant nothing happened. I thought you were going to be one of those. I believe you knew what we would become before I did.

Once, early on, I made you walk several miles to an Indian restaurant because I had a coupon. Why did we walk? And who uses a coupon on a date? Only someone who doesn’t think it’s a date or doesn’t realize that walking somewhere to use a coupon on a date is not a good look. Maybe you thought, this guy doesn’t care what I think of him, I like that. But I just enjoyed using coupons, especially when they were about to expire. The restaurant was mediocre, but we did get free naan and dessert.

You were impressed that I knew you could look inside the police horse stables in lower Manhattan. You wore a flowery skirt that ruffled in the breeze on the Staten Island Ferry.

We morphed into something else. David Bowie was singing Fill Your Heart when we first kissed. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. But it was always clear that this was just happening until the other one returned. I recall thinking, her nose is a little runny, but I’ll kiss her anyway.

The return date kept moving forward but it had finally been set. I saw on your wall calendar that you had written “time to go” in that date’s box. We thought our final day together should be spent at Shea Stadium. The Mets beat the Reds 2-1 on a Darryl Strawberry home run in the bottom of the ninth. Even though you were more familiar with rounders, you understood the excitement. But the thing that impressed you most was Darryl’s butt.

This is something that is verifiable (not the butt part). Because, unlike your life, everything that happens in baseball is of critical importance and has been recorded. Saturday, April 13th; 1985; length of game 2:24; attendance 26,212; length of relationship 270,422:40; attendance at start 2; attendance at end 4.

The other one returned. There was some overlap. I had no experience with this type of situation and would have none in the future. I was vaguely straightforward with both parties and assumed a decision would be made for me because I didn’t want to choose. Not choosing is one of my strong suits. My friends referred to the two of you as “d” and “no d” because of the similarity of your names.

Photo of hand ringing doorbell
Doorbell by Alexa La Spisa. CC license.

You and I were doing things a normal person would not let be disturbed by a downstairs doorbell ringing. But I thought it was a package and didn’t want to go to the post office to pick it up during the week. I said, “Hello” through the intercom. She replied, “It’s me.” I said, “Give me a sec.” Pseudopostalis interruptus.

It turns out being vaguely straightforward is the same as lying. It took more than a sec to make myself presentable enough to go downstairs. She was walking away by the time I arrived. I always liked the perceptive ones.

There was no overlap after that. The decision was made by default. The decision was made because I had ordered something in the mail, because it was not a Sunday, because I chose to answer the doorbell, because someone was walking in the neighborhood and thought a surprise visit to her boyfriend would be fun on a beautiful weekend afternoon.

Would the outcome have been the same regardless of that Saturday doorbell? It would be easy to say that I knew all along who I was meant to be with. I maintain that my recollection is that I don’t recall enough to remember. I reserve my future right to present the past in a way that suits the narrative of what I want to have happened. When only one of us is left, it’s my word against mine.

Michael Olenick
Michael Olenick lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, son, and wife’s ashes. A lapsed English major, he stopped writing after college and started again following his wife’s death….it kind of helped, maybe a little, who knows. His work has recently appeared in Euphony Journal, Offcourse Literary Journal, and r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal.

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