Thought No. 19: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski


"Poor Sweetie."

During our staff meeting this week, I heard Lisa say “poor sweetie”, while talking to an employee who was stumbling over their wine terminology. We simultaneously looked at each other and immediately giggled. The thought of the man I hijacked that phrase from sprung into my consciousness and nostalgia washed over me.

I met Jeff during the aftermath of 9/11. At the time I was dating Jimmy, the lead singer of Murphy’s Law, and was in New York to visit him. We were hanging outside of his tattoo parlor on the Lower East Side (I’m not making this up) and Jeff rode up on his motorcycle – I think to buy pot. He looked like John Stamos – and I say that without judgement; purely as fact. Jimmy introduced me to him and, without thinking, I threw my arms around him. He smelled like paint and sweat – and I knew at that moment I had to make him mine. I invited him to dinner with us at a restaurant in Little Italy. Jeff lived near Ground Zero and at dinner he showed me pictures of people jumping from the Twin Towers on his phone. Tears streamed down my face as I ate my linguini.

I devised a plan that evening and in the morning I woke up, put my phone in my sports bra and pretended to go on a run. As soon as I got far away from Jimmy’s house, I sat on the curb and called the art gallery where Jeff worked. (Well, first I called information to find the number – and then I called the art gallery.) The first words out of my mouth were, “do you like me”? He stammered and responded with “Uhhhh, yes.” He seemed perplexed with my intent or in fear of bodily harm. Either way, we hesitantly started a long distance relationship after that phone call.

“Pooooor Sweeetieeee!”, he would say with a Texas southern drawl. The tone was condescending in nature, with an underlying lack of empathy. When I tripped over something, he would say, “poor sweetie”. If I embarrassed myself at a restaurant and mispronounced a dish, he’d say, “pooooor sweetie”. He would pull it out like a six-shooter from his holster and I’d be mortified on impact from those words. I could never find a witty retort. All I could do was lick my emotional wounds. As a Midwestern girl, this phrase was foreign and exotic to me. I’m a mimic, so it quickly became part of my own vernacular. (Now everyone I know uses it, too.)

Relationships leave a sticky residue – no matter how insignificant they may seem. Like a fossil, Jeff left an imprint on my life. My memories of him may not be as meaningful or wistfully romantic as fairy tales lead us to believe, but they hold intrinsic value. He also left me with a cutting two-liner. Every time I hear “poor sweetie”, I am sent a gentle reminder that the absurd is still possible – and that’s a gift that keeps on giving.