Well, I knew Thanksgiving was going to be bad, so I guess I shouldn't feel surprised by what happened.
Jim offered to drive us down to SoCal, which was great because I was really busy having a stroke. He didn’t seem nervous at all. He was playing loud music and making jokes during the entire five hour trip, broken up by one stop at McDonald’s and one stop at In ‘N Out Burger. Yes, we ate lunch twice. What of it?
We arrived at our destination by dinnertime, so we got some food and checked into our hotel. When I told my mother that I was bringing Jim, she offered to put us both up for the night, but I think that was just to make sure we weren’t sleeping in the same bedroom. In her mind, I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m still a virgin. And I’d really rather not do anything to dispel that notion.
So yes, I told her about Jim, against my better judgment. I had to, mostly because the mention of him brought on an onslaught of questions. And one of those questions was a very suspicious, “So what’s wrong with him?” Because obviously any guy I’d date has to be defective. Well, I guess she was right.
“He uses a wheelchair,” I said.
“No, seriously,” she said. “Stop making fun of me.”
“I’m serious!” I said.
“He uses a wheelchair?? Why??”
“He’s a quadriplegic.”
What followed was my mom yelling to my dad what I had just told her, then asking him what a quadriplegic was. I heard him yell back, “Like Christopher Reeve!” Then my mother demanded to know again if I was messing with her. Already this was going really well.
“So he can't move his arms or legs?” my mother asked. I guess she was mentally reviewing everything she knew about Christopher Reeve. “Oh my god, is he on a breathing machine?”
“No, he can breathe on his own,” I mumbled.
“Do he use one of those wheelchairs you control with your tongue?”
For some reason, the thought of Jim operating a wheelchair with his tongue made me giggle, in spite of everything. It could be worse, right? I decided maybe I shouldn't let on that Jim wasn't as disabled as she thought he was. After what she was picturing, a relatively normal-looking guy in a manual wheelchair would probably be a relief to her.
Jim and I left the hotel in the afternoon and headed over to my parents’ house. They have a really nice big house with a nice big step to get to the front door that I totally forgot about. As I’ve said, Jim can usually jump one step, but he was having trouble with this one, for some reason. Just to torture me, maybe. Three tries and he couldn’t do it.
“Do you need help?” I asked.
Jim shook his head. He never ever wants help. The only time he’s ever asked me for help with something was when I unbuttoned his shirt and he couldn’t get it buttoned again. Small buttons elude him.
He made it on the next try, thank god, and I forced myself to knock on the door. My mother answered and I could see her eyes bugging out when she saw Jim. She hid it pretty well though. She welcomed him inside, although he had to clean his wheels off pretty thoroughly on the welcome mat to keep from dirtying the white carpet.
My sister Tina was already there with her husband Theo. I hadn’t seen Tina in months and I was shocked to see that she was visibly pregnant. I had been dreading Tina’s inevitable pregnancy for years, but now I was so happy that there was a distraction to take the heat off me. Great timing, Tina.
By the way, my sister Tina is gorgeous. I don’t know how we came from the same genetic material. Nobody thinks we’re sisters. People will insist we’re half sisters. It's sort of like that movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito are twins. She’s really beautiful, I don’t get it. And her husband Theo is a Greek God. I could never compete with that. May as well go for broke.
Jim was really great, actually. He’s such an amazing schmoozer. Even though I’m sure he was aware of it, he acted totally oblivious to the fact that the whole family seemed very uncomfortable with the wheelchair, at least initially. My mom was staring really conspicuously. But like he promised, he was really charming. He made a big fuss over how nice the house was, then made a fuss over Tina’s pregnancy. I could see my mother starting to relax a little.
“Do you need any special utensils to eat with, Jim?” she asked him as she started setting the table.
“I’m fine, Mrs. Manousakis,” he said. I couldn’t get over how well he pronounced our last name.
With about half an hour left till dinnertime, my father came out of his office. “Jim,” he said. “Tessie tells me you’re good with computers. Do you think you could help me out a little?”
“No problem, sir,” Jim said.
I cringed. My dad has no idea what he’s doing on the internet so he downloads all kinds of crap and his computer is crawling with viruses. It takes like an hour to open a window, it’s so damn slow. I didn’t think that there was anything Jim was going to be able to do to fix that computer in half an hour, but it turned out I was wrong. By the time dinner was on the table (which ended up taking an hour), Jim had undone years of damage to that poor computer. My father was beaming ear to ear. “Jim’s a genius!” he declared. “You better not let him go!”
All in all, dinner went great. I usually end up getting plastered on wine during the meal because it’s the only way I can deal with my family, but this time I only had one glass like everyone else. (Except Jim, who didn’t drink at all because we were driving back to the hotel forty minutes away right after dinner and he didn’t want to fall asleep.) It felt like Jim was accepted into the family. It was great.
After dessert, Jim went out to the car and I tried to follow him, but my mother asked if she could talk to me alone. We stood out in the foyer and she gave me this kind of desperate look. “Why don’t you spend the night here?” she said. “Jim can go back now and Daddy will drive you back tomorrow.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “We’ll be fine.”
“Anastasia, please don’t marry that boy.”
I thought I had heard her wrong. “What? We’re not—”
“I can see that he’s very serious about you,” she said. “And I know he cares about you, but it would just be a huge mistake to marry someone like that. If you can’t see that, then… I just don’t know.”
“Why would it be a mistake?”
“You need a man who can protect you,” she said. “A man who can take care of you.”
“Jim makes a really good living—”
“Tessie, you know what I mean.”
I did know what she meant and I was furious. Even with all the times she gave me crap about my weight or dressing sloppily, I had never been this angry at her. “I love Jim,” I said. “And if you can’t accept him into this family, then he and I will start a new family on our own. You don’t have to be a part of it.”
“Tessie, stop it. I’m just worried because I love you.”
“If you love me, then you should trust my judgment. For a change.”
My mother looked at me a long time, or at least it felt like a long time to me, then she said in a small voice, “Okay, Tessie.”
I let out a breath. Had I just won an argument with my mother? It was almost too easy. I almost expected the sky to open up and frogs to start falling on us. “We’re leaving,” I said.
“Call me when you get home to let me know you arrived safe.”
Jim was already in the car when I got there. He was sitting behind the wheel, looking very energetic considering had much we had just eaten. “Ready to roll?” he asked me with a grin.
I didn't smile back. “Let's go.”
We didn't talk for the first ten minutes of the trip. All these thoughts were swirling around in my head. I'd never told off my mother before. I felt exhausted from the effort. And a small part of me was scared that she was never ever going to accept Jim and this was going to be an issue forever. Finally, Jim broke the silence by saying, “Well, at least your dad liked me.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled. I didn't want to tell him what my mother had said to me, but I think he had figured it out.
“I'm sorry,” he said quietly. “I tried my best.”
“It's not your fault.”
“I know, but...”
I bit my lip. “Did Molly's parents get along with you?”
“Why do we always have to bring up Molly?” he said. “The last thing I want to talk about his my ex. Why are you so interested in her?”
I blushed. He was right, I was way too interested in Molly.
He sighed again. “Her parents liked me, yeah. But her last boyfriend drove a motorcycle and had snake tattoos all over his skull.”
I didn't say anything.
“Look,” he said. “Sometimes parents can't deal with the fact that I use a wheelchair. And sometimes it's a dealbreaker.”
I didn't say anything and Jim pulled the car over. He looked really sad. My heart ached just looking at him. “Tessie, do you want to break up with me?”
This felt like a turning point in our relationship. It was the point where I could either end this relationship because it wasn't worth the grief from my family, or we could take things to the next level. Did I want to break up with Jim? The answer was very obvious.
“No,” I whispered.
He seemed incredibly relieved. I don’t know why, but all of a sudden, I burst into tears. At that moment, I loved him so much. He took me into my arms and held me till my shoulders stopped shaking.
I think in the TV show Sex and the City or some other dumb show I’m embarrassed that I watch, they said that when a man wants to get married, a light goes on in his head, and he marries the next woman he dates. Well, Jim’s marriage light is on for sure. He really wants to get married. Everyone knows it. He wanted to marry Molly, but that didn’t happen, and now he’s with me.
Actually, it makes me feel better about the whole Molly thing. It wasn’t that he loved Molly so much that he wanted to marry her. He just wanted to get married and she was his girlfriend.
Yesterday, we were going out to a restaurant and there was a jewelry store next door. Jim said to me, “You never wear jewelry. Do you want me to buy you something?”
“I’m not really into jewelry,” I said, which is true. I must be the only woman in the world who doesn’t wear any jewelry. I just don’t “get” jewelry.
Jim gave me this meaningful look. “What about rings?”
I think everyone within a five block radius could hear me swallow. Jim was thinking about buying me a ring. A RING. Amazing, my mother had actually psyched this one out. I couldn’t believe this was happening for me.
I told Sandra that I thought Jim was going to propose soon. She was super excited. She said she thought he was going to buy me a gigantic rock because he tended to be pretty generous about spending money and he had a lot of it. Actually, she sounded a little jealous. I know she always wished her husband had bought her a nicer ring.
I know we haven’t been together that long, but I think if Jim proposes, I will say yes. I mean, I will definitely say YES. But I can’t but feel a little bit of reservations because the person you marry is a big deal. Supposedly, I’ll be spending the rest of my life with him. Maybe having kids with him someday. Dealing with Jim’s disability can be difficult sometimes and this would be a commitment to deal with it for the rest of our lives. That’s a really big deal. I think about things like how would he help me chase after the kids or get them strapped into their carseats or lift heavy packages or…
Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. First Jim has to ask me to marry him, then I’ll worry about everything else.
To be continued...