About two years ago, I got into a relationship with a woman we shall call Rachel. Her real name isn't important. (But it is Rachel.) I first met her during the course of my job, on the Monday after St. Patty's, 2011. She came up to my truck with some outgoing mail. We chatted for a while; she gave me her number; and that weekend, we hit Tex Mex for some margaritas. Some fool came in wearing his Kiss Me I'm Irish t-shirt, and everyone pointed out that St. Patty's had been the weekend before. The night was fun, and before you know it, Rachel and I were dating.
We had great conversations about a wide range of topics, with a good balance of shared interests and differing viewpoints. We went to places neither of us had been to before, or hadn't been to in years. After the understandably requisite period, I was permitted to meet her daughter (she was 9 then), who instantly liked me.
Very early on, however, it became apparent that Rachel and I weren't going to last. She'd just gotten divorced, and I was the first man she'd gone out with -- and we all know how rebounds work out. She could not get over the fact that I wasn't as educated as her (she has a doctorate), and that I did what she referred to as a menial job (when I'm not writing novels, I'm a mailman). She never let me meet any of her friends, her parents, or her ex. I responded in kind, which is why very few of you have met her, not even my mother.
The relationship ran off the rails that summer, when we met another couple in a bar who, after a long conversation, revealed that they were swingers. This couple thought maybe we could all go to their hotel room together for some debauchery. Now without divulging too much as to whether I might have accepted this offer, it's critical to realize that the guy looked like a mid-1990’s-era Brad Pitt, while the girl looked like a mid-1990’s-era Janeane Garofolo. In the immortal words of Peter Griffin, she looked like if I touched her, she'd be sticky, and frankly, she smelled bad.
Rachel said yes to them without hesitation. I asked for a minute alone with my girlfriend, explained to Rachel that I wasn't interested, and we proceeded on with the worst evening possible. After a couple of weeks of bickering, our relationship officially ended. I remember vividly that final day: I had the day off (it was a Thursday a little over a week before my birthday) and took her to lunch at the Grog on the Main Line. Best stewed tomatoes on the planet. I’d already checked out of the relationship, and she had too, but she made it a point to insist that SHE was leaving ME. I was like, whatever.
This break-up was a month before my 20th high school reunion, which was an all-weekend affair. I'd bought two tickets for the big dinner event for the reunion, intending to take Rachel; I ended up asking my friend Tara to be my last minute date fill-in. After that final lunch, I did not see, hear from, or get a text from Rachel until the Sunday of my reunion weekend: she called to say she missed me and hoped I was well. I remember the call waking me up, even though it was noon (this was my 20th reunion weekend: Friday, I worked, then Tiki Bar, then Gravel Pike Inn til 2am; Saturday, 9am at the high school for a tour, then a picnic, then the dinner at Birchwood, then closing the Trappe, 2am.) I told Rachel I was way too tired to talk, and probably just hung up.
After that, I would occasionally hear from her, usually by text but once by phone and once in person. These post-relationship events fall into two categories: 1) She missed me and thought how she handled our breakup was a mistake, and 2) She didn't miss me at all, and she was dating this fantastic guy who actually has a doctorate (or two). I wouldn't respond to her texts, but I did answer the one phone call.
So now we are getting to the truly surreal part of this story, and the reason why I'm bothering to tell it: today, Rachel showed up on my route. She appeared at the around the same time of day as the first time I'd met her, around the same time of year, and at the same precise location. She had a couple bills to mail. She did not draw attention to these amazing coincidences; she simply asked how I was doing, and remarked that I was looking thinner than she remembered. (I'm actually a little heavier, but whatever.) She said “Call me sometime,” got back in her Audi, and drove away.
I sat there for a minute, processing the event. I took out my iPhone, ready to give a friend a call to share the experience and discuss it. And then, something clicked. I never bother to delete anything, so I pulled up Rachel on my texts. And what do you know: her last communication was a text exactly a month ago, on February 21st, 2013. At around noon, no less.
I scrolled up. And up. And up.
With just two exceptions, Rachel has texted me at around noon on the 21st of every single month, going back to October of 2011 (which is when I bought my iPhone.) The two missing months are March and August of 2012. I can't swear my life on it, but I'd bet that the other time I ran into her in person was March 21, 2012, being the anniversary of our first meeting; and the one other time she’d called me was on August 21, 2012, being the anniversary of her first post-break-up call.
There was a chilling sensation coursing through my body. I googled the calendar for 2011, and sure enough, the Monday after St. Pat's -- the day I met her -- was 3/21/11. Our official breakup, when she insisted SHE was the one leaving ME, was the Thursday a week or so before my birthday: 7/21/11. The Sunday during my high school reunion weekend, when she called to say she missed me: 8/21/11. Like I said, I didn't respond to any of her texts.
So I sat there in my truck looking at the iPhone screen: a long line of left-side, gray text bubbles, separated only by small, centered date stamps. And I laughed. How could I have not noticed this until just now? It’s clearly not a coincidence. Is this some kind of really long-form practical joke, like she's showing her friends these texts and wondering when my non-doctorate-having, totally-dumb-ass will notice the hidden joke?
Part of me is recalling Fatal Attraction, and is glad that I have no kids, no pet rabbits, and no soup pots big enough to boil a live rabbit. Another part of me is recalling Andy Kaufman, and his penchant for elaborate hoaxes which sometimes left no one laughing but himself. Rachel is very smart, but she was never so subtle. In fact, she often over-communicated her thoughts to make sure I was clear on things (something I really disliked). I do remember her trying to prank me once, only she gave it away with her behavior. I can’t recall one time when she’d used such subtlety while we dated.
I honestly don't know how to react to this revelation. If you have thoughts, fire away.