THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Coupling

Where are we headed?

An incident at the Canadian border settles the question.

By Kim Gamble
June 26, 2011

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For the past 15 years, I’ve been soliciting advice from almost everyone I know for a solution to something I call “The Chris Situation.” Chris is a guy I met at a Burger King when we were both freshmen in college. The situation is that we’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship ever since.

Our courtship hasn’t featured the kind of plate-breaking drama that makes for good daytime television. (Well, there was one time, during a fight, when I moved a dresser in front of his door, sat on top of it, and essentially held him hostage. And another time when he left the entire 4:44 unplugged version of Kurt Cobain’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on my office voice mail at 3 a.m.)

Mostly, though, our saga has been more frustrating than tumultuous. The way I see it, our individual trajectories have never quite lined up, and instead of moving on or changing course, we’ve continued to orbit each other.

“You’re 33 years old. You need to figure this out,” my friend Brooke said over a round of salty margaritas late one evening.

“Maybe we should go on a trip or something,” I offered.

She pointed out that Chris and I had already taken plenty of vacations, not to mention having lived together both as roommates and as a couple, moved to two different cities together, looked at engagement rings, broken up, stayed friends, and dated again.

I ignored her and invited Chris to spend a long weekend with me in Montreal. We booked a room at a boutique hotel and splurged on a nice dinner. We saw the actress Minnie Driver. I bought Chris a new raincoat; he bought me a journal.

As a location, Montreal was the perfect choice. But as a remedy for our indecisiveness, it was a letdown. After three days, we were no closer to clarity.

Ninety minutes into our drive home, we reached the US-Canadian border. It was marked by flags and a large modern cubicle that could have passed for the entrance to an amusement park were it not for the armed guards and signs forbidding us to get out of the car. We handed our passports to a female immigration officer. A sign informed us that everything we did and said was being recorded.

“Names, please.”

Chris answered with both of our full names. I grinned pleasantly, confirming what he’d said.

“Why were you in Canada?”

“Vacation. In Montreal.”

“For how long?”

“Three days.”

“And who is Kimberly?”

“Huh?” The question threw him. After several seconds, all he could offer was a shrug to indicate he had no idea what she was asking.

“Ms. Gamble,” she pointed in my direction. “Who is she?” I nudged Chris, but he just sat there, picking at a frayed piece of leather on the steering wheel. I could tell the officer was growing impatient.

“Kim. Ber. Lee,” she said in the condescending way people sometimes speak to foreigners. “Is she your friend, your girlfriend, your roommate? Who?” I put my hand on the dashboard, leaned across Chris’s lap, and ducked my head down to meet her eyes.

“I’m his girlfriend.”

She nodded and handed me our passports. Chris started to roll up the window. “Good luck with that,” she said, and motioned us forward. After a decade and a half of maddening, circular debates – with Chris, my family, my friends, my therapist – a total stranger had succinctly exposed my childish romantic history using a question from the Homeland Security Handbook.

“What is wrong with you?” I yelled as Chris merged onto the interstate.

“I don’t know!” he offered. Then, after a few miles, added, “I was being recorded. I froze.”

My iPod worked hard to fill the silence for the next several hours. Then, somewhere around Albany, in the middle of Tom Waits’s rendition of “Jersey Girl,” I started to feel less angry, less humiliated. I felt relieved, almost. The waffling and indecisiveness and wishful thinking were coming to an end. I’d been wrong to call myself Chris’s girlfriend, and I knew it. I didn’t know what the maximum jail time would be for having lied to a border security official, but I was sure it had to be less than 15 years.

Kim Gamble is a writer and television producer in New York. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

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