I have always had a fascination with obscure words and terms. If they sound funny, or have multiple meanings, so much the better. If they stray into the somewhat risque…well, “penetralia” is one of my favorites.
I have always had a fascination with obscure words and terms.
I speculate that this obsession stems from growing up small, nearsighted and timid. Being smart – and being seen to be smart – was all I had. A big vocabulary seemed a convenient way to achieve that. It did, occasionally, get me beat up. It was a price I was willing to pay.
But one time, this habit came back to haunt me.
I met Michelle when we started graduate school. A pretty, curvaceous Irish brunette from Brooklyn, she had a wicked sense of humor and a Noo Yawk accent sharp enough to slice a thin-crust pizza. We bonded quickly. She was my type in nearly every way I have types, but we were both dating other people, with both relationships being classified as “serious.”
Her BF was in medical school. Within a year, my Cindy also left for med school. The same medical school. Pure coincidence; they didn’t even know of each other’s existence. We decided that it would be a great idea to be each other’s “safe date.” We could go out, have drinks, see a movie, whatever, without the stress of will we/won’t we. Bayonne to Bay Ridge isn’t a long trip, so we saw each other fairly often. The problem was, soon I was becoming very fond of Michelle. Not long after that it became obvious that the feelings were mutual.
But we also were very serious about our respective partners down in Guadalajara, and dishonesty didn’t come easily to either one of us. So we went on as we were. The unfulfilled sexual tension was weirdly pleasant.
Soon after that, it was over between Cindy and me, for a host of reasons and with a fair amount of anger. That didn’t change my relationship with Michelle that much…until she mentioned that she and her BF were sort of on a break.
We didn’t immediately dive into a sexual relationship, though. I was emotionally bruised from the aftermath of two painful breakups, and she had some reservations about how I, in certain ways, reminded her of someone she had dated for a few years only to have it end badly. So, we waited, we danced around it, we discussed it. Maybe a bit too long.
Abruptly, after months of pleasant bantering and platonic dates, she stopped calling me. Whenever I called her to propose an evening out, she was busy. Worse, she was polite. Week after week. And I had no idea what had gone wrong. She’d left grad school without a degree, so I didn’t even run into her any more.
I don’t deal well with rejection by people whom I care for deeply, which is why I have never allowed myself to care deeply for that many people. My reaction is to withdraw, to run. Pride is involved, and fear. So, the situation festered in the back of my mind as we settled into mutual silence.
After many months of this, probably braced by a few drinks, I broke the impasse and gave her a call. Not to propose a date, or anything else. No pressure. Just to say hi, see how she was doing. Eventually I asked her what had happened, why she had withdrawn from me. Or maybe she broached the subject; it was a long time ago and details fade. But she told me that I had said something to her that had hurt her, badly. Something she found insulting. Which was a total surprise to me; there was nothing I knew about Michelle of which I was not enamored.
She told me that we had been conversing by phone as we often did, and I closed by saying that next time we’d continue to explore our new relationship situation and its possibilities. But I didn’t just say “new,” because I like odd words. I said “Incipit” which is Latin for “it begins.” It’s used in typesetting and music. But Michelle, being neither a typographer nor a composer, had never heard the word before. Hell, I have no idea where I had encountered it. Understandably, she misunderstood.
Michelle thought that I had called our lovely, comfortable and maybe about to become romantic friendship, and by extension her, “insipid.”
I was shocked. Mortified. Sad beyond measure. I explained. I apologized. I damn near wept. But it was too late. She’d reunited with her medical student by then. I think they eventually married. As friends too often do, we drifted away from each other.
In the world of what-ifs, this remains one of my most intriguing. A possibly life-altering relationship gone because of a single ill-chosen and misheard word. In Latin.
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.