Thirty Percent Rob
In photos, Rob is whole, or he appears to be. Even in person, you have to know him to know in order to be able to identify which Rob is present. It’s a mistake we make with people, expecting a cohesive whole. Love isn’t about getting to know a person, figuring out if their whole matches yours. You have to get to know all the different people a person is. You have to figure out if your love for one of those people is enough to outweigh your rage at another. Because we’re not whole. None of us. Not like we think we are. Least of all Rob.
“Yeah, I know, Tom, but we’ve got to nail this down now, or before we know it, those two weeks will pass, and once again we won’t have gotten any of this done in … yeah, yeah … Yes. Yes, Tom. I know. But I’m telling you, you always think you have more time than you do. Nobody ever listens to me about this, but you have less. A lot less. What? Okay fine, but text me when it’s done. Seriously, Tom. Text me. Bye.”
Seventy percent Rob and I are going hiking. He’s emailed me about it every two hours for the last week. What boots should he wear? Or should he buy a new pair? Did I check the weather? Which trail will we take? Maybe this one, or that, but maybe not because the drive might be so long that we can’t enjoy ourselves knowing how tired we’ll be on Monday. Sunday is the only day we’ve managed to get our schedules free at the same time. That morning, the texts: What will we pick up for lunch? Did I bring a wine bottle opener for the picnic? Have I packed sunscreen?
Will the trail be enough of a challenge? But short enough to leave time for the picnic? Should we try a different trail instead?
The texts arrive like gunfire, and already, even before he picks me up in his 1994 BMW—the “soon-to-be-classic” he bought last year and has washed and waxed weekly—already I know that seventy percent Rob is going to show up. I also know, by the fact that I have identified the difference between seventy percent and thirty percent Rob, that it’s time for us to break up.
I’m exhausted by the idea of the discussion, and I’m miserable, too, a fact that mystifies and annoys me. I should be overjoyed at the thought of being free of this. I should be running for it. But I haven’t, and I’m not.
Rob has one hand on the wheel, the other turning the heat on, then off, then on. Bluetooth in his ear, Rob barely manages to make his replies to his gallery manager less than a bark. He grabs a receipt from the center console, crushed it, pegs it at the windshield. It bounces away at my head. Rob flips the heat off again.
The next call is to his agent, then a sound technician, then his buyer.
“I’m sorry, baby,” he says, tossing the phone into his lap. “I have all of these stupid tiny little tasks that I haven’t been able to get to all week. They’re killing me. I swear, is life even fucking worth living with all this goddamn stress we’re constantly under? Sometimes I wonder.”
“I’m here now, beautiful. I swear.” He puts his right hand on my knee and squeezes, smiles at me and then lifts his hand to touch my cheek. “I missed you this week. You make everything feel so much better.”
I get the warm feeling, but only for a second. It’s less and less these days, the lifespan of that warmth. These are the words of thirty percent Rob, and I’m angry that seventy percent Rob has stolen them. Now I know why I feel sad about what I’m going to have to do.
“Rob, you say that, but—”
“Oh no.” He interrupts, the hand back on my knee, squeezing. “What? Baby, I know I haven’t been very attentive this morning, but I’m all yours now. Cross my heart.” He does his signature baseball player thanking God for his homerun heart cross, finger kiss. I want to laugh. I want to be in a better mood. I truly want to forget that I’m going to have to break up with him soon. I want him to change my mind. I decide to give him a chance.
To achieve this, I do what I’ve been doing for months, what I only just realized a few days ago I was doing. I cast my mind back to the last time thirty percent Rob showed up. It was six weeks ago. I had a cold, the kind of cold that makes you want your mom and your oldest pajamas. And death.
Rob checked on me all day by email, which wasn’t all that unusual, but then he showed up at my door. He held a bag packed with tomato soup and grilled cheese ingredients, a bouquet of flowers and a new pair of flannel pajamas. He cooked. He set his laptop up in my bedroom and put in a DVD, then propped us up on the pillows and held me, feverish and sweaty, against his chest until I fell asleep.
Thirty percent Rob. Six weeks ago was the last time I saw him. Since then he’d been planning his newest gallery opening, and I’d been understanding. Compassionate. It was a stressful thing, putting your infant creations out into the world. I’m a writer. I know all about it.
I didn’t see him during the week, our usual schedule. I almost never longed for more time with him, and it didn’t occur to me why for many months. It had been seven now, since we’d met at a mutual friend’s dinner party. At first there was a lot of thirty percent Rob. I thought he was Rob. And then I started fantasizing about the times when Rob was that guy, the one I met that first night and all those early subsequent nights. I don’t even remember when seventy percent Rob showed up the first time. I didn’t recognize him. To me, he was all-Rob, and he’d just had a stressful conversation, a hard day, a bad night’s sleep. And then I started coming up with excuses. It was stress, obviously. Poor guy.
Then it just happened, like all the most pivotal moments in life that sneak up and jump out at us. Or out of us. He embarrassed me at a party, lecturing the waiter about the temperature of the room. He was so enraged, he had to leave the table. I was busy pressing my most apologetic looks on the waiter, the other guests nearby, and my friend, our host. I needed to explain his behavior, to justify his existence in that moment, and I came up with a joke: I’m so sorry, I said to my friend. I guess seventy percent Rob is with us tonight. Thirty percent of the time Rob would never talk to a waiter like that.
“Baby, are you listening to me?”
Rob has been talking about his show, which opens in three weeks, and I’m not listening. All I can think is that I’m looking at three more weeks of seventy percent.
“Listen, love, I need your advice. You’re so much better at this than I am. How do I get Angela to kick in free catering? I mean, she’s your friend, really, and, you know, she fucking knows, I’m an artist. I’d love to pay her, but I just can’t afford it.”
“You know what, Rob?” I’m out of patience. It happens quickly. “She’s going to call you, but I’ll just break it to you now. Angela can’t do your show. She got a paying gig, and you were already only offering to cover her expenses anyway. You’re not the only one struggling to make your dreams come true.”
“What?” Now Rob is out of patience. “Fuck! That’s just fucking perfect. Who cancels three weeks before an event? How are you even friends with this person? She’s never going to be successful if she can’t even behave like a fucking professional, and I’m sorry, I really am, but I’m going to tell everyone she screwed me. I can’t believe … did you tell her this would be okay?”
“I don’t have any authority over Angela, Rob. And you know what? You were a jerk to her at the planning meeting. I can’t say that I blame her. How can you talk to someone like she’s your servant and expect her not to dump your gig? Even if she were your servant, you’d be an asshole to talk to her that way.”
Rob says nothing. He pulls the car over at the next overlook. We’re near the top of the mountain now, having driven to one of the highest trails, closest to the waterfall. Rob could only carve a few hours out of his day, and he wanted to get to the scenery and the food and wine right away.
The view here is pretty amazing, and I try to use it to tune out whatever it is he’s going to say.
He hangs his head. He’s silent for a long time, and then, “Oh my god. You’re right. I’ve been an asshole for weeks now, haven’t I? I swear, I just get so … wound up …” He turns his entire body toward me, and he pulls me to him with both arms. I am a sucker for hugs. And a sucker for someone who doesn’t ask before he gives them.
“Please, baby, tell Angela I’m sorry. No, I’ll tell her. I’ll text her.” He picks up his phone and starts pecking the screen with both thumbs. “Dammit!” He slams the steering wheel with his right hand. “No signal. I didn’t even think of that. I’ve missed at least six thousand emails by now.”
Ah. So close. But I already knew which Rob was in charge today. I know better. Why do I keep hoping for something different? I keep thinking it’s like an addiction. It is an addiction. Thirty percent Rob can lift you, hold you, even just lock his eyes on yours in that way he always does, and everything else disappears. Thirty percent Rob listens in a way that makes the noise in your own head fade away. Thirty percent Rob keeps one hand on your leg all night long and you sleep soundly no matter what when he’s in the bed with you.
But the thing is, thirty percent Rob might not even show up thirty percent of the time. That’s being generous.
Rob shakes his head, once, hard. “I need to hug you again,” he says as he pulls me toward him. “You make me calm.” We sit like this, him holding me, for a full minute. I start to relax because that’s what embraces do to me. And his embrace, it’s sincere. It always is. It’s maddening.
He pulls back, kisses my forehead, then my lips, then looks at me. “Let’s just forget it. Let’s not worry about anything. I want to see something beautiful with my beautiful girl. I love you.”
I want to scream.
We unload all the stuff. We hike. On the way, he brings up, then dismisses, or makes an attempt to dismiss, a list of no less than twenty other things that are worrying him. He thanks me for listening. He tells me how great I am.
We get to the falls, and Rob insists on a picture. He smiles that smile like he’s someone else entirely. Only now I know better, and once you know, there’s no not knowing. I have no idea why, because I’m hurting and it’s him who’s hurting me, but I wish to dial back that knowing. I wish thirty percent Rob had just shown up so I could pretend for a little while longer. I already hate myself for wishing for this, and I know it will haunt me, this willingness to settle for so little of something so good. But I also know if thirty percent Rob had spent the entire afternoon with me, I wouldn’t do what I’m about to do. I hate myself almost as much as I hate seventy percent Rob.
I click the digital shutter on Rob’s phone and lower the camera. “We’re done, Rob.”
“With the picture? Is it good? Maybe take one more.”
“No, Rob. Done. I haven’t seen the Rob I fell in love with for more than thirty seconds all day. I’ve hardly seen him for weeks.”
“What are you talking about? That’s not fair. You know I’ve got a lot on my mind.” He says this, but he walks over and puts both arms around me. The hug is strong and intense. And criminal. Seventy percent Rob never listens well, but somehow he’s learned my weaknesses. I start to wonder if thirty percent Rob is in cahoots with his diabolical twin. I start to wonder if I’m losing my mind.
“I’m sorry, Rob. It’s just done.”
“No. I refuse to let you go. You have to explain this to me. I know I’m a big bag of anxiety a lot of the time, but I’m trying so hard. Please don’t give up on me.”
I think I see thirty percent Rob looking at me through those brown eyes. I ask him to take me home. It is nearly impossible, but I manage only because I know I’ll just have to face this moment again if I don’t.
Rob sighs. We gather the stuff and walk to the car, no sound besides our feet crunching rocks and the leaves that have fallen. The aspens are golden and the sun ignites behind them, red rising to amber. The cold is sinking in now, and I can feel it through my fleece. I want his warmth. I want his arms. I want to take it all back. I won’t and I know I can’t.
He drops me off, and seventy percent Rob doesn’t look back when he drives away. Thirty percent Rob, though, he stays.
I have a photo of Rob. He texted it to me. He’s standing by that waterfall, grinning that easy grin. I have a hundred pictures like this one, him posing, standing in front of some landmark he will forget for a photo he will never look at. Often with someone famous or semi-famous, and you can’t see me, mortified, behind the camera. That’s where I always was, always preferred to be. But this photo, it’s not just one of the hundreds I will flip through, and he will forget. This one’s important because it’s the last.
[BIO]: Juli Anne Patty lives in Jackson Hole.