The first thing I always did when I came home from school in the afternoon was turn on The Jerry Springer Show. It was such a boost to my self-esteem.
“I may not be the most popular guy in high school, but at least I’m not one of those people,” my awkward teenage self would say.
In my twenties, I threw myself into my work. Make a lot of money, get fast-tracked to all the big promotions, be somebody my boss will invite to play golf…that was how I built up my sense of self-worth. But then I turned thirty and got burnt out, which, as I’m sure you can imagine, did nothing for my confidence.
“I’m a loser, I’m a freak, I’m surprised I made it this far,” I berated myself.
That lead to a case of arrested development that lasted for about a year. I still made it in to work each day, but come five o’clock I headed for home and locked myself away. You’d be amazed how many Family Guy and South Park marathons a grown man can watch in a year, not to mention how many microwaveable dinners he can consume.
Things finally changed when I met Lena. She was stocking shelves in the frozen food section of my neighbourhood grocery store and we got to talking; first about the finer points of frozen food and then, after a few more run-ins, about other things we had in common.
“Hey, do you want to grab a coffee sometime?” she asked after a few weeks.
I don’t know what came over me, but I said yes and we started seeing each other almost nightly. A few weeks later, she asked me another question.
“Listen, my family’s having a get-together for my Dad’s birthday next weekend. Wanna come? Don’t worry, it’ll be totally laid back. My family’s not fancy. They’re crazy mind you, but not fancy.”
I laughed at the crazy part because who doesn’t think their family is full scale insane? Only Lena wasn’t kidding, her family was full scale insane.
“Patrick, this is my brother Chuck,” she said while gesturing towards the man who had just opened the door for us the night of the party.
“Don’t call me that,” Chuck said. “You know that’s not my name anymore.”
“Fine,” she said with a heavy sigh. “Patrick, this is my brother Britney. Now move your high-heeled ass out of our way Brit.”
“Who the fuck’s that in my front hallway?!” shouted someone from the next room.
“It’s me, Old Man! And I’ve brought a friend, so mind your manners!” Lena shouted back.
“Does that mean….burrrrpppp…I’m not allowed to burrrppp….belch out loud? Oh, I see Britney let you in,” Lena’s father said as the three of us walked into the living room. “Did you know that he’s the finest Britney Spears impersonator in all of Colborne County? Do Hit Me Baby One More Time, son. It’s your best number.”
I’m not really sure how to describe what happened after that. Imagine if the real Britney Spears had swallowed vast quantities of steroids and human growth hormones, covered up the blonde hair we’ve been used to seeing for nearly twenty years with a blonde wig she got from a dollar store, threw on an outfit two sizes too small, and didn’t bother to shave, either her legs or her face for a few days? That was what stood before me. For a few seconds anyway. At his father’s command, Chuck/Britney was down on the floor writhing in ways even the real Britney would find embarrassing.
“Jesus, you’re such a drama queen!” Lena yelled at her brother. “Can you not be the centre of attention for one second? It’s Dad’s birthday and I’d like to give him his present if you don’t mind!”
“You got me a present? Where is it?” her father asked.
“He’s standing right beside me. Dad, this is Patrick. My husband to be.”
Okay, remember the part where I said we went for coffee and then started hanging out together almost nightly after that? Because I clearly remember those things happening. What I couldn’t recall was us ever getting engaged.
“You’re engaged?!” her father screamed with glee.
“Can I be your wedding singer?” her brother promptly asked.
“Can we talk?” I then asked.
“Sure, let’s go back into the hallway,” she said.
“What did you mean when you said I was your husband to be?” I then asked.
“We’ve been together for weeks now. Arranged marriages happen faster than that, so as far as I’m concerned, we’re a done deal. You’re my betrothed, my beloved, my knight in shining armor. I want our wedding colours to be pink and orange.”
“Just a second,” I said. “I feel my phone vibrating. Yup, that’s the very important call I’ve been expecting,” I lied while looking down at the phone. “I need to take this. Steve, is that you?!” I shouted at the pretend person on the other end. “The reception’s not very good. Let me go outside and see if I can hear you any better.” I then mouthed ‘Excuse me’ to Lena and went out on the porch. Then I ran down the street as fast as I could and caught the first bus I could see. One that I hoped would take me far away.
Although my time with Lena was brief, it was long enough for me to remember that although I’m not perfect, at least I’m not one indie-documentary away from being seen as the craziest person on earth. If nothing else Lena, I thank you for that.