Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I’ll call them Dan and Donna. They were a married couple and I was their third wheel for a time.
A lot of people find themselves in the position of being a couple’s third wheel, and it’s not always the best arrangement. My wife, for instance, was the third wheel of a couple I’ll call Jim and Teresa. Eventually weirdness ensued, as it often does, and she had to break up with them even though they were all thick as thieves for several years, and the last time she ran into Teresa in a parking lot it felt really strange.
But as for Dan and Donna, Dan was my friend in high school. In the fall of senior year, Dan, another friend I’ll call Ed, and I all achieved girlfriends and began to splinter into separate twosie units. Dan’s new girlfriend was Donna. Not only did she smoke and soon recruited Dan as a smoker, she was also rumored to do a lot of speed, which, even though I later found out wasn’t true, seemed true because she was kind of high-strung. Ed’s new girl didn’t smoke, but he started smoking anyway, so that I was the only one of us three who didn’t smoke now. My girlfriend didn’t smoke or do speed, yet she was also kind of high-strung.
The three couples went in different directions through college, but Ed and Dan and their girls stayed together, while I split up with my girlfriend. I found myself living alone but not that far from where Dan and Donna lived, so we hung out all the time, all of us working the five to midnight shift at the Washington University Medical Library. After work we’d head over to Llywelyn’s Pub for a couple of cheap Pabsts, or we’d go to Dan and Donna’s place and stay up late drinking coffee and watching old movies on the little black-and-white TV on their kitchen table. Dan would drive me home at two or three, then we’d meet up again at work the next day. It was actually a fun lifestyle, until Dan got tired of driving me home and asked why I didn’t buy a goddamn car. Meanwhile, Donna lost her shit with me once at work because I balked at her idea that everyone should speak Spanish — EVERYONE! I mean she really lost it, right there at the checkout desk, and Dan came up and said, “Oh, she finally got you, huh?” Like he knew this was coming and it was only a matter of time. After that, I never knew what would set Donna off, but something I’d say usually did set her off a couple times a week, so our friendship got weird.
Explain me this then, that when I got another job at a medical publishing company, the first thing I did was arrange for Donna, fellow English major, to come work there too. Why? It was going to get weird. We would carpool. I had a girlfriend now and a car, and here was my chance to disconnect as a third wheel, but out of loyalty to Dan I got Donna hired and sure as anything it all started to get weird. People in the office told me they thought Donna and I were having an affair, the way we went to lunch together all the time. I had to defend Donna when she acted out at work, which was bound to happen. She was kind of high-strung.
Then I got another job away from Donna, and the first thing I did was make sure she got hired there too! What was wrong with me? Yes, loyalty to Dan, but Donna’s mother was also head of HR at the new place, so not setting her up would have looked tacky, and the last thing I wanted was to look disloyal and tacky so I hired her and things began to get weird.
Meanwhile, my own girlfriend, who eventually became my first wife, didn’t get along too well with Dan and Donna, so things got weird. My girlfriend wasn’t high-strung but she was antisocial, so Donna’s acting out didn’t sit well with her. I’ll call her Bonnie. We were at Dan and Donna’s once, watching TV at their kitchen table, when Donna started weeping all of a sudden and barricaded herself in the bathroom for half an hour, Dan pleading with her through the door, and when she came out she screeched, “I’m under a lot of stress, okay?!” I almost wished she were on speed, because that would have explained some things.
The only way to truly dismantle a third-wheel situation is to get the hell away from it, which is what I did by moving to California, and I never saw Dan and Donna again, things had gotten so weird between us. On the other hand, like those atomic particles that are twinned somehow and do the same thing at the same time even though they’re separated by the entire universe, I’ve always felt connected to Dan and Donna, even though a relatively small portion of our lives overlapped. It was a crucial time, I guess.
When I think of them now, the weirdness has given way, mostly, to fond reminiscence, the drafts at Llywelyn’s, ice skating at the park, staying up super late, watching dumb soap operas on summer afternoons, seeing The Who, The Go-Go’s, Heart, The Stones, and most of all sharing each other’s youth.
I would reach out to them if I didn’t think things would start to get weird.