When it was good with the Walking Red Flag, it was very, very good. But all good things must come to an end.
It was always good when we were together. It was bad when he wouldn’t show up when he said he would, and would be so many hours late that by the time he got to my place I was upset yet struggling not to be. It was bad when we had plans, and I didn’t hear from him and had to try to track him down. In his classic push-pull pattern, it would be very good right before it would be very bad.
I was careful about not spending money on the WRF because I knew that would make me not feel okay about the situation. I was resigned to his being broke (at least until school started for him in a month and his Navy pension resumed – the main reason he was still in school, I finally figured out. I’d always wondered how he thought getting a second associates degree, this time in business marketing, would help him when he already had a Bachelor’s in English, but I realized after a while that the Navy only paid him if he was still in school, so it actually incentivized a haphazard educational strategy over gainful employment, but that’s another topic). I could live with the fact that he didn’t spend any money on me as long as I didn’t spend any money on him either, other than the groceries I’d be cooking anyway and wine I’d be drinking. The wine obviously went much faster with the WRF practically guzzling it, but I wasn’t buying anything expensive, and I preferred his speedy imbibing to dating a non-drinker.
But I had a dilemma. In May, a month before I’d joined Tinder and let the WRF walk into my life, I’d bought tickets for several summer concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. Going to the Bowl with a well-curated picnic is just about my favorite thing to do in the summer, a giant outdoor party I’ve been taking part in since I was a teenager. I had tickets to see Buena Vista Social Club on their farewell tour, and who would be more fun to bring than the WRF? The Cuban music even went with our Spanish-language poetry theme, if you could say our relationship had a theme . . . or call it a relationship.
So I invited the WRF, making it clear I already had the tickets when we met. He said he’d never been to the Bowl in his 38 years, despite growing up in LA his entire life. That made it official: he had to come with me. Apparently when your family lives in a sketchy motel populated by hookers and drug dealers, making it to the Bowl for summer concerts is not part of the family agenda. My family was screwed up, yes, but my parents were always taking us to cultural events (usually free or discounted ones thanks to my practically penniless dad, who was sporadically employed at best, just like the WRF). Symphonies for Youth and the Joffrey Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion were part of my childhood.
I spent a good part of the day preparing our picnic. I’m not one to pick up premade salads from Whole Foods when I can make my own watermelon, mint, arugula and feta salad, and burrata with heirloom tomatoes from my garden.
The night we went to the Bowl was our best date since our first date. (Yes, technically it was our only other real date since our first date two months before, if you defined “date” as an occasion on which money had to be laid out. We’d had picnics at the beach, gone to a cancelled beach yoga class and hula hooped instead, and swum in the ocean together. Our dates all revolved around the beach, and my bed, and both made me happy.)
We took the park and ride from the Santa Monica DMV, drinking cocktails on the bus. We sat near the back, talking, laughing, drinking and kissing. At one point the WRF said something very dirty to me in a not appropriately quiet voice, and I laughed and told him to be quiet, the guy behind us could hear him.
“He just wishes his girlfriend were this fun,” the WRF said.
Girlfriend? His girlfriend?
For once I kept my mouth shut, but the word continued to echo in my mind. What was the WRF saying?
At the Bowl we feasted on our picnic, drank a bottle of wine and a bottle of bubbly, and even danced at the WRF’s request, despite the fact that I’d recently sprained my ankle and fractured my fibula and was wearing both an ankle and knee brace. (The WRF didn’t seem to notice I was injured, especially when he was over and I was getting him drinks and waiting on him rather than the other way around, but that’s another story.) The music was magnificent, and the WRF translated some of the lyrics for me, adding a new dimension to songs I’d loved but never fully understood with my crappy Spanish.
The woman behind us took our picture and said what a cute couple we were. It was true. We both looked incredibly happy in that slightly blurry picture, our cheeks pressed together, a giant grin spreading across our faces like a shared smile.
It was a magical night.