My aunt was recently resident at the Chez for a couple of weeks during her annual progress through Kentucky, during which my father had asked that I bring the dogs over for a visit. I loaded everyone up and off we went, the day before Father's Day. Since it was a Saturday, I invited Hopkins to come meet the dogs, as he's been hearing about them forever and a day, but hadn't met them in person.
You would've thought that the devil himself was on his heels, because he was at the house roughly ten minutes after I messaged him that we'd arrived. My aunt, trying to make small talk, brought up several subjects, including how we knew each other, how long we'd known each other, and where he went to college (I emitted a cat-like hiss and excused myself from the room).
At some point, when Hopkins got really uncomfortable with the line of questioning, he muttered in a confused undertone, "I'm just somebody who hangs out with her occasionally."
Stick a fork in me. I'm done. Apparently, I don't even qualify as a friend.
Granted, Hopkins is a monumental example of social awkwardness made flesh. Yes, that is absolutely the technical fact...but in the name of all that is holy, my IQ is higher than his. I am not so stupid that I haven't figured it out, or have not known this since I was sixteen. years. old. His need to immediately (and with ungodly haste and emphasis) correct that misconception, as I've written about before, is a pain point for me. It's humiliating; there's no other way to convey it.
I cannot articulate how soul-crushing it is.
A couple of days later, I was back at Dad's on the way through with a rescued Airedale from Mom's hometown in northwestern Kentucky. My aunt doesn't miss much, really; she didn't get to be corporate HR director for a huge banking concern by accident. She'd picked up on my distress and his discomfort, and so she asked me about it.
"Is he a boyfriend, or just a friend?"
I sighed and told her the story. I explained why I have a lasting animosity towards Johns Hopkins University. The nutshell version to which I've distilled it down, because this happens more often than I care to admit, came tumbling out. Dad was standing there, and I watched his facial expressions as my emotions got the better of me. His lips set in a line, and he delivered some fatherly advice, having suddenly realized after thirty-plus years of ignoring this situation that it has had a profound and devastating effect.
"And so," I concluded, "although I have been in love with this idiot since I was sixteen, it is entirely unrequited and I'm a fool." I dissolved into a small puddle of burning shame, then loaded up the rescue dog to head back over to my place. After chewing on it for a week, I sent Hopkins a brief e-mail saying that I'd talked with my aunt, and heaven forfend that anyone should make such an egregious mistake (as to assume that we might possibly be, GOD FORBID, a couple, or that he should SETTLE for someone like me- implied, not explicit, you understand).
Someday, Hopkins will push the last dogged hanger-on away, and he will be utterly alone. I'm glad that he seems to be okay with that. I used to think I'd be that person, but I'm not so sure anymore. The pain is not worth the price of having a warm body who doesn't give a damn about me to drag around when I want to go do things.