Sunday, December 9, 2007

What Did You Do Wrong?

I met Dee Dee at work. She was a department secretary, 24 years old, cute as a button, and all heart.

Programmers know that it is not unusual for programmers to work late, and on one of those nights I finished at about 9:00 PM. Headed for the elevator, I met Dee Dee, who had also just finished some overtime work. On a whim I asked her if she felt like having some Chinese food. She accepted and we walked the several blocks to Boston's Chinatown.

Things went well and we made a date for the following Saturday night. This was the beginning of a long (six or seven years off and on) and sometimes tempestuous relationship. That was about thirty-five years ago and let me say right now that I still love Dee Dee, although not romantically, and we are better friends now than we ever were when we were seeing each other. She has been married twenty-five years or more and our communication consists of Christmas cards and a telephone call once every several years, but I still feel close to her. On the increasingly rare occasions when I am in the Boston area, we have lunch together.

Dee Dee loved everybody and everybody loved Dee Dee. However, something in her personality absolutely compelled her to be hypercritical of two men in her life - her father and me. This was a given, and in my case at least, a constant. In all those years there were probably not a half dozen times that we saw each other during which she did not pick at me about something, often more than one thing. She was just driven to it, I know not why.

Of course, I was an easy target. I liked to tease, I was somewhat arrogant and always too sure of myself, and she was my opposite in these respects. She stayed on my case whether we were alone or with others, and my family often marveled at my patience with her, not that I was a saint or anything but because I was an impatient man by habit. I can only say that I knew she was driven to be this way with me, and although I did not know why I did know that she couldn't help it, and when she was truly angry with me it was out of some sort of frustration, not malice.

The turning point came after I had moved to Chicago, and I remember it very clearly. I was in Boston and I met her for lunch. We had a quick "hello" hug and we were walking across a parking lot to my car when she started in on me about something just as if we hadn't missed a beat. I said, "Get off my case, Grace," she laughed, and she hasn't been that way since.

There will be more, possibly many more Dee Dee stories, but I'll leave you with a bit for now, just to give you the flavor of things.
  • We were driving north on the expressway in Boston (many years before the Big Dig). This was an elevated expressway, four or five lanes in each direction, with twenty or thirty feet of empty space between the northbound and southbound lanes. I was driving. Someone in the southbound lanes honked his horn and she turned to me and asked, "What did you do wrong?"

  • Driving somewhere perhaps a couple of years after we started seeing each other, I saw her lean forward and take something invisible to me from the dashboard.

    Dee, shrieking: Whose hair is this?

    Donnie, pensively: I dunno. Nobody else has been in the car lately. What color is it?

    Dee: BLONDE!

    Donnie: Then it's yours.

    Dee: Oh.

  • She lived in a third floor walk-up and I had arrived about mid-day on a Saturday to pick her up. As she let me in she began picking at me about something, I can't remember what. We had been seeing each other for several years and I must have reached my limit, at least temporarily.

    I turned back toward the door, said "Fuck it. I deserve better than this," and left.

    Back on the street, I was unlocking my car door when I heard her voice, although not the words. She had stuck her head out the window and was shouting something, not, for a change, in a critical voice.


    "I'm sorry. Please come back up."

    I locked the door, climbed the wretched stairs again, walked into the apartment, and was greeted by a tirade for making her say "I'm sorry" twice.

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