I meet bizarro me at the gym

August 29, 2010 at 10:33 PM 4 comments

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Jill and I were exercising on side-by-side elliptical machines when she told me she was mourning the death of her boyfriend. She had been with Ken, the love of her life and a man married to another woman, for sixteen years. Ken’s wife would not consent to a divorce, so he lived a dual life with a home in a wealthy Long Island suburb and lots of travel around the world with Jill.

Two years ago, Jill accompanied Ken to LA where he was supposed to meet some day-trading cronies. At their hotel, he said he felt sick. The next thing Jill knew, he was having a heart attack. “If it wasn’t for me, that man would have died in a hotel room alone,” she said.

Jill’s defensive tone was a reaction to Ken’s wife and children, who wrote her off as a home-wrecker. “You would think they’d be glad I was there with him,” she said. “But no. They had to pick on the fact that I didn’t accompany the body back to New York.”

I asked her why she didn’t accompany the body.

“Are you kidding? I was already creeped out enough.”

Jill was outraged that Ken’s family didn’t want to share any of his wealth with her.

“Did he write you into his will?” I asked.

He hadn’t. It seems that in his way, Ken was true to his wife and kids after his own fashion.

Part of a club that would have me

At the gym, Jill wears a baseball cap backwards on a head full of long, matted layered hair. She wears workout pants with star-and-crescent studs down the sides and covers over her chubby midsection with a hip-length tunic and a pea jacket. Jill is sixteen-going-on-forty-five and always looks to be on the verge of tears.

When I saw her last week, she was eager to talk about her life since Ken.

“My mother is driving me crazy,” she said. “The worst thing I ever did was get an apartment in the same building as her. She has no friends. I mean, how could she? My mother is a miserable woman. I’m the only one who gives her the time of day. My brothers don’t and my sister, she’s got two kids, although if you ask me, they’re just an excuse. The woman absolutely hates me. My sister, I mean. She lives in the building too. Have you ever seen her? She works out here too and we don’t say a word to each other.”

Jill asked me if I was close to anybody in my family. I told her I was close to my younger sister and both of my parents, and I had just gotten back from a short vacation visiting my brother.

“You have a son, don’t you?” she asked. “Do you get along with him?”

I said I did. I could see Jill was disappointed by the absence of turmoil in my family life, so I added that sometimes my son and I argued, which, of course, is true.

Jill knew I had been unemployed for a while. By her raised eyebrow, she was surprised to hear that I was working again. I told her I was only working two days a week, and that seemed to be a comfort to her.

“I’m still subbing three days a week, and I don’t really want to do more than that,” she said. “This way I can run over to the mall — do you like to shop?”

I said I am not such a big shopper.

“You and a lot of other people,” Jill said. “I was at the Westchester this week and the place was dead. Dead! Nobody’s shopping. This economy — I just don’t know what’s going to happen. Get this. A friend of mine said she couldn’t understand why people are making such a big deal about the recession. She’s been working regularly and she doesn’t believe the recession even exists. I mean, talk about living in a cave!”

Soon came the inevitable turn in our conversation to dating. “Do you see anybody?” she asked. No.

“Have you tried any of the dating websites? They’re all the same, you know. The schlubs on JDate are the same schlubs who prowl around on Saw You At Sinai. I think I’d better just stay alone. I mean, I almost want to be alone, but I don’t want to be alone. Do you know what I mean?”

The worst thing is that I understood exactly what Jill meant about everything. I knew that despite the particulars of her life, the two of us had all too much in common: The part-time work, the complaints about dating, the family tensions that surface when the entire family gets together on the big holidays. Jill was looking for an amen chorus and I was mortified to be part of a club that would have me.

She’s avoiding me? Da noive!

On my way home from the gym, I ran into another acquaintance. I remember the names of her children — Hilton and Warwick — because she had named them after hotels in Manhattan, but I could never quite remember her name (Stella? Claudia?). I thought that Stella (as I’ll call her) was a full-time mom because I used to run into her on the mornings and afternoons of the days I worked from home.

Several years ago, Stella told me that she was no longer married. She had gotten a job teaching second grade and she was emphatic that she was through with the abusive man she had been married to for fifteen years. The next time I saw her, I asked how things were going. Stella gave me a puzzled look. “Fine,” she said.

“Did your divorce come through?” I asked.

“I’m not divorced,” Stella said. “What made you think I was divorced?”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I must have you confused with somebody else.” I wasn’t confused.

“Well, we did split up for a couple of weeks. But I’ve known my husband since high school and we’re stuck to each other like epoxy. We are never getting divorced.”

This time when I saw her, Stella flipped open her cell phone and initiated a call. She retailed her congenial smile at me, but she made it clear that she wasn’t able to chat with me. Stella wanted me to understand that the two of us really didn’t have that much in common with each other. I mean, she’s married and I’m divorced, and she will never be divorced like me.

Then I got it: I was Stella’s Jill. The next time I see Jill, I will be nicer!


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Entry filed under: Bookpod, Family, Friendship, New York City, Tenants. Tags: , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. fast fact  |  August 30, 2010 at 4:32 AM

    Nice Info…

  • 2. Pesha  |  August 30, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    It’s nice to know that the next time you see Jill you won’t flip your phone open!

  • 3. Regina Brown  |  August 30, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    Brucha Orah – again U have taught me an invaluable lesson via your fine Bookpod. When somebody treats U horribly, the best action is to smile politely, “with malice toward none”, and walk away. i am learning that with whomever i choose to relate, and in whatever humour i end up finding myself as a result, i was party in creating that humour, by choosing the circumstances of my life. i am glad U are so gracious. it is a big mitzvah. Vengeance is not for me. i think our G-d claimed it long ago, when the nations all ard called that forth. one hopes we have all evolved since then. now to find the level balance between being knocked down and standing firm, deflecting any blow. Thanks, Darling, for the good lesson. i think WE have a lot in common. enuf anyhow, 4 me 2 call U cousin?

    Love , the other Rivkeleh

    P.S. Pesh – U sure seem truly a Wise (& funny) Woman.

  • 4. Sara Bennett  |  August 30, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    Great ending.


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