Monthly Archives: December 2011

Jack’s Story December 31st Update

My name is Jack. I am a single father who works as a journalist for the local paper. I have a a bi-weekly column that is read by more than 1 million people and I am the author of three books, with a contract to write more.

On the weekends I coach my son’s soccer team and drive my daughter to dance class. I have two girlfriends who really are just that, girls who are friends. Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between a girl friend and a wife. They both tell you what to do and neither put out.

I suppose that the real distinction is that the girl friend doesn’t receive a piece of my paycheck each month so that they can live in my house with Rudy, the flying Dutchman.

I know, that sounds overly bitter. My therapist told me that I should be happy about this. She said that it would be good for the ex to have a man in her life, that it would make her happier and as a result she would be easier to deal with.

I tried to look at it that way, I really did, but there is 6’2 of stupid preventing me from doing so. The same 6’2 of stupid that is shtupping my wife, sleeping in my bed and enjoying the house that was the fruits of my labor.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re better apart. It was a long time coming and something that I should have done years ago. I didn’t mind her taking the house because it was easier than uprooting the kids. But I won’t lie about being irritated about the cold Germanic figure that lives there now too.

We might not have had the greatest marriage, but we had a great house.

And now instead of having a bad marriage and a great house I have a bad apartment and a lot of freedom. So I suppose that there is something to be said for that. The girl friends keep telling me that if I moved out of the bad apartment I’d find it easier to date.

I keep telling them that I don’t want to date, but they ignore me. So then I tell them that misery loves company which is why they want me to get involved with another woman. I think that it is hysterical and every time I say this I crack up.

For some odd reason they don’t. And for that same odd reason they aren’t interested in hearing about what I think women are good for. That is ok, I don’t really want to tell them.

A while back my daughter found some old love letters that a lost love once sent to me. She had a field day with that. Ever since then she has been pushing me to try and look her up. She tells me that she can tell from the letters that she really loved me and that no woman who wrote those things ever stops loving the man she wrote them about.

I smiled and thanked her. She smiled back and told me that I was too young to give up. I think that the girl friends and her must be talking about me when I am not around, because I am getting tag teamed.

Anyway, I am on deadline for my next column. Since the ladies of my life are so intent on pushing relationships upon me I decided to show them by writing about the end of relationships. Something really bitter and biting, that ought to shut their mouths.

So here you have my first draft of my next column. I think that it has real potential.

Always On My Mind- Willie Nelson

Thanks to technology there are a million new ways to break someone’s heart. A million new methods of letting someone that you once loved or perhaps still do that you just can’t do it anymore.

In the age of instant gratification and social media it won’t be long before we hear/read the tales of dismissal. Husbands who let their wives know they are leaving them by unfriending them on Facebook or girlfriends who let their ex know their new status by tweeting it.

It is kind of funny in an I am not smiling kind of way to think how these time saving tools of communication can take the intimate and personal and turn it into something mechanical, cold and sterile.

What do you call people who do this? Awful, callous and cruel come to mind. Descriptive words that fail to capture the essence of how truly horrible being dumped in this fashion can be.

But let’s face it, being dumped isn’t a pleasant experience. It is not necessarily easier to stand or sit in front of someone and listen to them tell you that they have lost that loving feeling. I suppose that it doesn’t make a difference, even if they haven’t lost it, but are ending things because circumstances make it impossible to continue.

In the end you still ask those questions. You still wonder what you did or what you could have done. Surely there is a word or gesture that would have spared you the angel of death speech. Had you only known then they would have passed over and you’d be ensconced in your cocoon of love and happiness.

The End Of a Marriage

I’ll say this much for divorce, it makes for great blog fodder. There is something wrong about that, isn’t there. Shouldn’t there be some rule that says that being this connected is wrong. Isn’t there some rule or law of silence about this. I am not really supposed to be able to communicate such intimate thoughts.

The pain of a broken heart isn’t really something that you should be privy too, or maybe you should be. Maybe that is the point of all this. I act as the exhibitionist and you act as the voyeur. I pull aside the shades so that you can look inside the window and see just what is that I am doing.

And that is how you get the great image of “6’2 of stupid that is shtupping my wife, sleeping in my bed and enjoying the house that was the fruits of my labor.”

Really, I should be more grown up about this than I am. I should be happy that he has taken the burden off of my hands, but that is not totally true either. The end of the relationship is a mixture of relief and sadness. It is a mixture of success and failure.

I try not to tell the girl friends about this feeling because every time I do they interpret it as a sign that I need a new woman. They read the last column and told me that they thought that it was brilliant and that I was dead on about how awful breaking up by email is. Apparently this sort of thing is far more prevalent than I realized.

Just my luck really. I was trying to portray myself as being bitter, cold and unfeeling and they took it as being sensitive. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe this is all part of the stupid plan that they and the daughter are trying to put into place. You know, the whole lost love deal.

Earlier this week the girl friends slipped it into conversation, how some people never forget walking down Coventry or chasing each other through grapevines. The whole gist of it was their female version of some romantic tale in which I contact that great lost love of mine and we suddenly find our way back to each other.

I must admit that I find a certain attraction to it. I have wondered what she is up to and where she is at. From time to time I have remembered things and wondered if she has too. But that could easily be me. After all I am the one who is in this position. I am sure that she is happy with her life. I am just a good memory relegated to the unimportant and irrelevant pile.

At least that is what I suspect, but I admit that part of me wonders if that is true. I also admit to relearning the finer points of being heartbroken. I hadn’t ever planned on becoming reacquainted with it. I rather imagine that it is similar to a prisoner revisiting his cell.

You know all the corners intimately, but you never really want to step back inside, even if the door is open. Except in my case the door swung shut behind me.

The good news is that all of the crap that I left here is still here. Same books and toys on the shelves just waiting to be played with again. The bad news is that all of the crap that I left here the last time is still here. The questions and hard feelings and the sense of loneliness. The empty ache is back, an old friend that I didn’t want to see again.

But the good news is that I know from experience that this isn’t a life sentence. I’ll bust out of this joint like I did the last time. Only this time around things will be different.

Of course I said that same thing last time, but this time it is true. This time it is going to be different because this time a million people will read about this in my column. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but we’ll find out.

Stay tuned to this bat channel and assuming that the paper doesn’t fire me or go under from a lack of advertising dollars and you’ll find out what happens, or not.

A 21st Century Break Up

“Well now, everything dies, baby, thats a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back

Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

Atlantic City- Bruce Springsteen

Went to lunch with the Sheri, Pam and the daughter. It wasn’t my choice. I was far more interested in hiding out in my apartment. It might not be much to look at, but it is mine. Simple furniture, my books, music and a decent television. Reminds me a bit of how I described my first place after college to my parents.

But there is a difference this time around. The refrigerator is full and there is more than $25 dollars sitting in my bank account. Not to mention that the furniture isn’t a bunch of hand me downs from friends and relatives.

The best part is that it is mine and mine alone. I am happy being by myself. I don’t worry about who left dishes in the sink or if there are socks on the floor because if there are, I know who is responsible for it.

I had intended to make myself a sandwich, grab a beer and watch football. Later on I was going to take a nap and maybe start reading that book about the history of Scotland. It was a good plan, but the girls had other ideas.

When the telephone rang I didn’t bother to check the caller ID because I already knew who it was going to be. She called every weekend to check on me and every weekend I gave her the same response. Told her that I was fine, but if it would make her feel better I would let her iron my clothes and perform other services as needed.

It was the sort of obnoxious remark that I used as a shield and on most people it would work, but not her. After 30 some years of friendship she ignored it. Didn’t faze her, in fact I am not even sure it even registered.

But I was wrong about the caller. This time around it was my daughter. As soon as I heard her say “Hi daddy” I knew I was screwed. I am a lot of things, but I am not stupid. It didn’t take a genius to recognize that tone of voice. It was the same one she had used her entire life with me, that one that girls use to melt dads heart.

I placed my hand over the telephone and cursed. “Damn!” But there was no point in arguing with her. She is my girl and she is just as determined as I am. Better to just roll along and see if there was an easier way to get out from under their scheme.

Earlier that week she had shared her thoughts with me. She had told me that she was very concerned about me, that she didn’t think I gave myself enough credit or that I did a good job of taking care of myself. I had thanked her for her concern and reiterated that I was quite capable of taking care of me. Been doing it all my life, now wasn’t much different.

She smiled and wrapped her hand around my bicep and asked me to make a muscle. I couldn’t help but smile. Years ago she and her brother liked to try to arm wrestle. It had turned into a goofy game where we would make a muscle and pose like a body builder. It was sheer silliness and almost always disarming.

Damn, damn, damn. I keep forgetting this kid has made a life time project of studying dad. But I didn’t crack. I made a muscle and asked her if she wanted a piggy back ride. She laughed and told me that she was too big for one. I told her that she never would be too big and changed the subject.

Not that it mattered. She just went with it and here we were a few days later, the three of them and me. As we sat at the table I made a crack about feeling just like Hugh Hefner. It was met with a stony glare and sighs all around. Because I am both stubborn and prone to stupidity I told them that they were wasting their time and that we should find a different project. Maybe we could go out and save the environment.

Instead I was treated to a story about how things work in the 21st century. They told me that the Internet had killed the idea of a clean breakup and that now it was really easy to find people and or check up on them. I smiled at the three and reminded them that I probably knew more about computers and the net than they did.

That earned me more stares and sighs. And then I learned that all of them had googled the name of an old boyfriend once or twice. They assured me that it was just curiosity that made them do it. I looked at my daughter and said that curiosity was how I became a father. She glared at me and asked her companions why they put up with me. She had to because of genetics, but they had a choice.

Before anyone could answer I went into a five minute lecture/rant about minding your own business. They were silent. And just when I thought that I had convinced them they let me know that they had already done their own checking up.

She was free. She was single and so was I.

That took the wind right out of my sails. I was mildly surprised by the impact. She was single. I stuttered something in response and muttered something about having been kicked in the mouth one time too many.

And then I was silent.

For a moment I was lost in thought. I remembered the fire and the passion. I remembered how she made me feel like there was no one more important or more special. And then I remembered the pain of losing her.

It was like having an arm or a leg cut off. It took a while for those scars to heal, longer than I wanted to admit. And the truth was that I wasn’t even certain if they ever had. I did my best to hide the shock and thanked them all for their concern.

A short time later we got up and left. Out in the parking lot we hugged and kissed each other goodbye and I drove home lost in thought.

Later that night the telephone rang and again I didn’t bother checking the Caller ID. It had to be my daughter and again I was proven wrong. For the next five minutes I listened to her tell me why I should think really hard about things.

“She loved you as much as you loved her,” she said. I told her that I wasn’t so sure and that it had seemed far too easy for her to walk away. She snorted into the phone and assured me that I wasn’t the only one with a broken heart. She was just more practical about things than you were or so she claimed.

I thanked her again for her concern and told her that I would think about. A short time later I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering what would happen if I tried to contact her. Would she take the call or respond to the email. I was afraid that she would and afraid that she wouldn’t.

Just before I drifted off to sleep I remembered what it felt like to kiss her and how I couldn’t figure out where I ended and she began. And that was when I realized that I hadn’t ever stopped loving her. It was a bittersweet revelation.

Not the sort of epiphany that I had gone searching for, but that is the joy of life. You never know what is going to happen. So now there are butterflies in my stomach and my heart is pounding. I haven’t made the decision yet what to do, but I am going to have to do it soon.

I suppose the question is will a 21st century break up lead to a 21st century romance. I don’t know the answer but I rather expect that I will soon.

In the interim I think that I am going to unplug my phone and turn off my cellphone. I have had about as much excitement as I can handle for now.

“I Don’t Want To Kiss My Husband Ever Again”

I have a graphic memory. I dream and think in technicolor or maybe I should say high definition. My dreams are full featured spectacles. It is great when I dream about happy things, but not so good if they are sad or disturbing.

As a young boy I used to wonder if there was a way to control my dreams. I figured that it was nothing more than concentrating hard enough. So I spent more than a few nights lying in bed focused upon whatever it was that I was chasing. Some nights it was images of me chasing down fly balls in Dodger Stadium and or hitting the game winning home run. Other times it was me as a different sort of hero.

I suppose that it is fair to say that in many ways not much has changed. The boy grew into a man who still dreams of playing pro ball or of being a hero. All he needs is a chance. Although to be fair the man recognizes that some dreams will have to remain locked inside the vault.

It was the morning after and I was still in bed. It had taken hours to fall asleep. The news that she was single had a bigger impact upon me than I would have guessed it would. I didn’t want to think about it. Didn’t want to play memory lane. I didn’t want to have one of those dreams and wake up to discover that reality was different than I might want it to be.

The meal with my daughter and the girls was grueling. They didn’t understand that some scars don’t heal. They didn’t understand that I much preferred the safety of my own life. Being single wasn’t so bad. I didn’t worry about forgetting special dates. Never had to try and decipher whether a look or a comment meant that I was in trouble again for some other transgression.

In concept it made a lot of sense to me to say goodbye to women. I knew what I needed to know. I had served a life sentence known as marriage. I helped propagate the species. When I was instructed to go forth and multiply I did it.I listened to them.

That is big stuff, my listening. Ask those who know me and you’ll be told that I have an amazing ability to suddenly go deaf. More than one person called it irritating, but me, I called it survival.

All would be perfect, or close to it, were it not for my daughter and the girls. Did I mention that they don’t like it when I call them girls. Sometimes I like to aggravate them by talking about how you can’t trust a broad, not a single one of them.

The thing is, they know me too well. They refused to let me bait them into a different topic. They have an agenda and I am at the top of the list. And people wonder why I say I feel like I have a target on my back.

Midway through our meal Sheri asked me if I remembered what her marriage was like. I smiled and told her that she should have married me. That earned me another one of those withering looks and a sharp rebuke from my daughter.

Great, and to think that I thought that I owned the look and the lecture she gave me. But because I am rarely at a loss for words I told her that I have been inoculated against that sort of thing. She of course didn’t care. Damn, if she isn’t like me. Moments like this make me wonder if I should be proud or frightened of her.

But I digress.

Sheri jumped back into her story and asked me if I knew how she realized that her marriage was over. I was tempted to provide another smart ass remark, but something told me that it was smarter to stay quiet.

“When I realized that I never wanted to kiss my husband again, I knew that it was over.”

“Well, we share that in common. I never want to kiss your husband again either. For that matter I don’t want to sleep with him, he snores far too loudly,” I said.

I know, the smart ass remark didn’t help, but how could I let that one go. Again she ignored me and continued on.”

“When you find the kind of love and relationship that you had you don’t let go.”

That wiped the smile off of my face. I looked at her and thanked her for her opinion. Before anyone could go on I explained that it had been made very clear to me that she was done. It didn’t matter what I wanted, or what I thought. She was done.

My daughter came around the table and hugged me. She told me that she had no idea that my feelings for her were so deep and that I owed it to myself to not just ignore the opportunity.

I was surprised by my anger. I did my best not to bark at her, but I am not sure that I was successful. “This is not reality. This is not some stupid movie where I get to ride up to her ranch, grab her and ride off into the sunset”

“She gave up on us and she gave up on me.”

For a moment there was silence. It took me a moment to realize that both my jaws and fists were clenched. I took a deep breath and thanked them for their thinking about me.

Sheri smiled and told me that she was sorry. In a soft voice she said that I needed to remember that some loves never really die and that we had been victims of bad timing. “Call her. There is a reason why you are being given a second chance.”

I smiled back at her. “I’ll think about it.” And then I said a silent prayer of thanks that none of them knew how hard my heart was pounding.

Once Upon A Time

One of the best parts of my job is that I can do it from almost anywhere. All I need is my cellphone, a laptop and an internet connection and I am good to go. It is one of the perks that come with the position, not to mention the joy of dealing with the most cantankerous editor ever.

He and I have a real love hate relationship going on, and that is putting it mildly. It wouldn’t be fair to say that we love to hate each other. But it would be fair to say that I love to aggravate him. I probably shouldn’t. It is a bit unfair to always press his buttons, but I have issues with authority. So does he.

For some reason he finds it necessary to try and tell me what to do and how to do it. This usually inspires me to do the opposite. Somewhere out there my mother is shaking her head about this. She told me many times that it is better to get along with people, that I don’t always have to be such a pain-in-the-ass. I love you mom, but you know that it is not going to happen, so why keep trying.

“Big Ed”, the editor, that is what I call him, likes to have regular meetings with me. He says that they are not serious, just an easy way to communicate. The thing is that I prefer to communicate by email or telephone and he likes face to face.

“Big Ed” doesn’t like being called “Big Ed.” His real name is Harold but if you call him Harry he gets upset. It probably has something to do with having virtually none on his head. You also can’t refer to him as “Harold, the Hairy, the Regent of Rogaine” because he doesn’t like that either.

Truth is that I can’t say that I really like it. It is not particularly funny, but it gets a reaction from him and that I do like. Did I mention that he is very particular about where things go on his desk. I like to move his stapler around. Again, it is not funny and it is quite juvenile. But it tends to help him come to the proper conclusion that Jack and office visits are not a good mix.

With that sort of introduction you might wonder why the “balding behemoth” doesn’t release me from his tender mercies. The answer is that I am that good and so is he. Together we have found a recipe that works and both of us have been around long enough to recognize that you don’t mess with something like this.

It also doesn’t hurt that Harold went through his own divorce and was sensitive to my situation. He made a point of approaching me more than once to offer a friendly ear. I was grateful and appreciative of it. I made a point to thank him and then told him that if brought up a “friendly ear” to me again I would sue for sexual harrassment.

He quickly apologized and changed the subject at which time I threatened to sue him for not making a pass at me. You should have seen how red his face got with that remark. Poor Harold didn’t know what to do. I almost felt bad for him because I knew the feeling.

Getting divorced was sad and exciting. Even though I knew that it was the right thing to do it was hard to accept that something that had seemed so right was over. I need to qualify that. I think that at one time it felt that way. I mean, I wouldn’t have gotten married if it didn’t seem right.

That was something that I just wasn’t sure of. I couldn’t decide if I really had felt that way or if I had convinced myself that at one time I had. None of it really mattered. I had checked out of the marriage long before the divorce, I just hadn’t realized it.

For a long time I had thought that the problems were all related to external influences. When the kids are young they suck the life out of you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love them or have a single regret because they are amazing. They make you better people.

But they also make you crazy people. They take and take and take. And then they takes some more. During the week there is the daily grind of getting them to school, helping them with their homework and all of the extracurricular activities.

Weekends weren’t any less busy. There are birthday parties, soccer games, ballet and when they get older reports for school.

And did I mention the challenges posed by preteen and teenage romance. I almost killed half the boys in my daughter’s middle school. As far as I know she didn’t date any of them, but she and her friends swooned and cried about them more times than I can count.

In fact I intend to kick the crap out of some kid named Jason for the simple reason of just because. Just because translates into you dated my daughter for two years in high school. Two years of pretending to be Eddie Haskell. Two years of trying to bullshit me into believing that you weren’t trying to get into her pants every day.

Stupid prick forgets that I used to be him. I know every line and trick for making a girl think that you think she is special. You are not unique. And yes I know that other boys did it too. And yes I know about karma and all that kind of crap. But you just rubbed me the wrong way and now I want you to give me an excuse.

The thing is that even though they have long since broken up if anything happened I would still be the bad guy. She doesn’t love him anymore, or so she says, but I know my girl. Actually maybe it is because I know my girl that I don’t need to do anything to him.

Scratch that, my fragile male ego can’t accept it. I am ordering one ass kicking off of the menu of life. One righteous ass kicking so that I can wipe that stupid smirk off of his lips. One day….

********

I had planned on working at the beach today, right next to lifeguard station number six. The car was loaded with my gear and I was just about to leave when Harold called to ask what time I was going to come in. I tried to pretend that the connection was bad but he was ready and asked me if I had checked my email.

He had forwarded an email that I had sent him two weeks prior. In the email I had told him that I would be delighted to meet with him to discuss my latest assignment. I hate when I screw up like that. I silently cursed my own stupidity and made a note to remind myself never to commit to anything in writing.

I told him that I would see him soon and hung up the phone. I made a quick trip out to the car to grab my gear and switch it with the business stuff. One of these days I have to win the lottery or invent something because this working stuff is getting old.

A short time later I was in the car and headed towards the office. Talk radio and the sounds of traffic filled the silence and I found myself lost in thought.

Hanging Out With Hairy

Inside the car I remembered that I hate commuting. The fact that it would have taken me just as long to get to the beach as it did to travel to the office was immaterial. Normally I would have spent the ride plotting ways to prick “Big Ed.” The precious minutes of beach time that I was wasting would have been devoted to thinking about how many different ways I could call Harold, “Hairy.”

Did I mention that at times I can be juvenile, selfish and spiteful. Not my finer traits, but hey, at least I am aware of them.

This time was different. Instead of plotting my silly revenge, enjoying music or listening to the ridiculous rantings of the anonymous talk show callers I was lost in a place that I wasn’t so sure I wanted to revisit. I was back in the past. It was a bit like walking into my garage. There were all sorts of treasures inside and a bunch of junk that I probably should get rid of, but never had.

I have always liked thinking of my memory as being a big garage or warehouse full of stuff. It works for me. There is something appealing about it. Whenever I need to remember something I simply walk into the garage and find the box it is located in. The problem is that like my real garage those boxes are not only dusty but they sometimes include items that I didn’t expect to find.

Back when I was married the garage was my refuge. It was my cave, my domain and all who entered it understood that it was dangerous to screw with things without my approval. Not surprisingly the ex thought that different rules applied to her. Although to be fair I learned long ago that once a woman starts sleeping with you she assumes certain liberties, like trying to convince you that Laura Ashley sheets are cool for the master bedroom.

My internal monologue was disrupted by the squealing by a loud thump, thump, thump coming from the car next to me. If you want to piss me off it is always wise to play your stereo at levels loud enough to make the windows shake. I have said more than once that if I am ever involved in a road rage incident it is going to be because of that.

The noise got my attention and I made a point of looking around to see where it was coming from. There was a large SUV in front of me that seemed to be the culprit. Sometimes it is hard to tell. The noise is so loud that it could just as easily be coming from the side or behind.

The license plate frame on the SUV said something about being a proud student of Grapevine Community College. The G.C.C. administration should be proud of this sort of representation. It really says something. Then again, I am a part time writing instructor there so maybe I should be more charitable with how I think of the students.

The writing gig isn’t bad. For the past ten years or so I teach one or two creative writing courses each semester. In the beginning I wasn’t so sure about it. They didn’t have an existing curriculum so I had to develop one on my own. That was supposedly going to lead to my earning more but I am not really sure that ever happened.

That first year I taught by Braille. It was a lot of touch, feel and react. I wouldn’t advise doing it that way. The department chair made a point of instructing me not to do it that way. He gave me a lot of good advice that I ignored. Sometimes my issue with authority causes trouble for me.

But we got through it. Over time I developed a teaching style and I found that I was pretty good at it. Most of my students were truly interested in learning so it made it easier to engage them. And of course it didn’t hurt that quite a few were relatively attractive women.

On a side note let me mention that you don’t want to tell woman that she is relatively good looking. It is the kind of remark that creates a minefield that no man wants to walk through. It is not that different from being asked if a particular item of clothing makes her look fat.

Say that she is relatively good looking and she will set you up for a verbal beating. You can almost guarantee that it will be an interrogation of what and who she is relatively good looking compared to. If you suffer from the same fits of stupidity that afflict me it will lead you to saying that she is far more attractive than a hippo or warthog.

You’ll say it with a big smile that you think she’ll find endearing and then after she has eviscerated you’ll wonder why you didn’t just save time by hitting yourself in the head with a hammer.

In case you are wondering I sometimes use that as part of my lecture. The students enjoy laughing at my expense. It is not unusual for the women to laugh the hardest or tell me that I should know better. I smile and shrug my shoulders. The guys usually like this too. After class a few of them will come and share their own war stories with me.

I like to try and use these kinds of stories because they work well as ice breakers. Get the class to laugh. Get them interested and engaged and it becomes far more interesting to everyone.

Not everyone appreciates these tales. Every class is filled with at least one person who doesn’t appreciate a self deprecating sense of humor. Did I mention that they are usually female. Is this coincidence? I think not. That leads to another useful safety tip for the men.  Don’t try to use that last line or any derivation of it in class. You’ll do great with the women who likes to hang out with the boys.

But invariably you’ll upset one or more who will decide that you are sexist and in need of being reported to whatever authority they think will screw you the hardest.

Ok, I admit it, I am a bit bitter and irked with the fairer sex. But I have a good reason, really, I do. I can tell you her name, her sizes. Yes, I said sizes, shoe, pants, panties, bra, blouse, whatever. I don’t give a damn whether you think that is cool, weird or what.

I can tell you how tall she is, her weight, what color her eyes are and a million other details. It has been years and I haven’t forgotten what she smells like or how it feels to kiss her. Years later and sometimes when I close my eyes I still see her looking back at me.

Years later and I can’t forget. The last time I saw her we kissed each other goodbye and headed off to our cars.

But I am not going to go there. It took a long time to put it aside. It took a long time to accept that the life I thought we were going to share wasn’t going to happen. Took a long time to convince myself that I couldn’t just wait around, that maybe love wasn’t enough.

And until the girls decided to have lunch with me that was ok. I was ok. Until that little bit about her being single I was ok.

I’ll say one thing for being distracted, it made the time in the car go by like it was nothing. Of course the downside to that was that I hadn’t spent any time thinking about an idea for my next assignment. And now I had all of five minutes to try to come up with one.

I Will Never Fall In Love Again

I pulled into a parking space, turned off the motor and cursed out loud. The weather outside the car was perfect. Blue skies and just enough heat to make you feel warm were all the reason I needed not to be here. It is a good thing that my skull isn’t transparent because if it was my dear friend Harold would be able to see storm clouds heading his way. With any luck he’d be struck by lightning.

Ok, that is probably unfair. I was semi responsible for this meeting. The company had a funny policy about paying people only for the work they did and not for work that they might do. I had a long conversation with one of the bookkeepers about that one. We got stuck riding an elevator together and since I haven’t a clue what pasty faced number boys are interested I talked about paychecks.

We both learned something that day. He found out that a two minute ride on an elevator can feel like a week in cleveland and I found out that I can babble at length about anything. I know, you already knew that.

By the time I had walked into the office I had figured out that the topic of my next submission was going to be why marriage was the devil’s greatest invention. In my experience it was the closest thing to hell that one could find. Before you go off half cocked you need to understand that the classic definition of hell is wrong. It is not a place of fire and brimstone.

The Definition of Hell

Hell is seeing the love of your life unhappily living with someone else, but pretending to be happy. Hell is being granted a taste of the most incredible relationship and experience of your life and then having it taken away.

It  is like being seated at a table with the greatest feast you have ever seen. The food looks and smells incredible. You look around the table and see that the other guests are having a culinary experience that borders n the orgasmic. Just as you are about to join the  festivities you realize that your arms are tied behind you and your jaw is wired shut.

Hell is the real world and that is much worse than anything Dante can come up with.

Well, if there was ever any question about my being a bit bitter there isn’t now. Life is sometimes funny in a way that makes you laugh and sometimes in a way that makes you want to cry.

The first time I had my heart broken was hard. The second time was rough and the third time was ridiculously painful. It was bad enough that I swore that I wouldn’t fall in love again. And for a long time that is how it went. Various women came into my life. Some of them tried to break through the walls that I had erected but none really succeeded.

And then one day she did. One day the wall was up and the next day it was a pile of rubble. It scared me. I was frightened and excited by it all. But she took me by the hand and promised to just love me. I think that was part of what caught me, the “I just love you” bit. It was so simple and yet so powerful.

She did and so did I. We just loved each other. It is a cliche, but it felt like a dream. Somewhere along the way we got lost. If I didn’t have my meeting with Harold I might even take the time to tell you how and why. At least I think that I would. Can’t say for certain because I don’t know if I understand it.

So in the time we have before I go off to the meeting let me fill in some details. We fell apart, sort of. Not sure that we ever stopped loving each other, just found ourselves in unfamiliar territory and went separate directions.

She got married and I got married.

I thought that I was in love. I really did. It seemed like it. I guess that it must have felt like it or I wouldn’t have done that whole ring thing.

But here I am today, ringless, wifeless and until the other day very happy. Things were great until they told me about her. I was perfectly fine and now I am not.

Now I find myself on fire for a woman I haven’t seen or spoken to for what seems like forever. Now I find my heart pounding for a woman who probably thinks of me as just another ex. I am sure that she thinks of me fondly, but what are the chances that she feels like I do.

And this sort of talk is part of why I am pissed off with my daughter and the friends. I didn’t want to look at this corner of my closet. I didn’t want to explore the lost ruins to see if any treasure remains.There is a reason why you let sleeping dogs lie.

Sigh. Well, I’ll put this frustration to good use and go needle the hell out of Harold. If he doesn’t go off on one of this interminably long speeches I still might get to the beach.

Silence Is Golden

I walked into the office, looked at Harold and told him to shut up and listen. Dumber men than I are well aware that it is risky to tell your boss to shut up and listen. But having developed an exceptional urge to swallow my size 12 boot ignored common sense and followed up my opening words with, “I said shut up!”

This went over slightly better than the time I asked him in a restaurant whether it was possible to get his name removed from the National Sex Offenders Registry. That stunt led to my paychecks getting lost and my not receiving assignments for an extended period of time.

It probably could have been much uglier had they had a better staff of writers, but they don’t. While I am not dumb enough to believe I am irreplaceable I do know that none of the others are in my league. Don’t mean to be obnoxious about that, but it is true. My content is cleaner and written faster than theirs and that provides me with a substantial advantage over them.

But it didn’t prevent me from being forced to listen to his lecture about respect, his advice on what divorced men should do and something else that I can’t remember. Truth is that I can’t remember most of what he said. Damn girls and their news managed to rattle my cage in a way that just doesn’t happen.

Goodbye

“I remember holdin’ on to you
All them long and lonely nights I put you through
Somewhere in there I’m sure I made you cry
But I can’t remember if we said goodbye”
Goodbye- Emmylou Harris

The girls mean well. They think that they know me better than I know myself and that pushing me here is something that will me to be the happy guy they know I can be. I appreciate that. I really do but I also appreciate not being visited by the ghost of lost love and specter of She Might Still Love You Why Don’t You Call.

Isn’t there some sort of law or rule somewhere that dictates that men my age go sow their oats. Or maybe it is a study. Yeah, I think that I read that it is really important for us to get reacquainted with women by not dating. I think that I read that scientists advise getting involved in strictly physical relationships for an extended period of time.

In between the angst and excitement it occurred to me that this thing that was messing with my head could be the subject of my next column. Lost love rekindled is a story that never grows old. I mapped out a basic outline on a piece of paper and chuckled to myself.

Not only was it great fodder for a story, it would make one hell of a reality television show. That could be a great legacy for the kids. “Children, I want you to know that I paid for your education by creating a reality television show that makes the viewers dumberer.” Wouldn’t that be something to be proud of.

Writing

Yep, that reality television gig could be all sorts of fun now couldn’t it. It wouldn’t take much effort to come up with an idea for a script. All you need to do is think back upon college and pull something out of the memory banks but it wouldn’t be as much fun or as interesting as trying to come up with something that your friends and family would be proud to point at.

Did we ever mention that sometimes old Jack is a big old snob. Not that it matters, but he is and maybe that is why he sometimes talks about himself in the third person. It also happens to be something that drives Harold crazy and anything that drives Harold crazy is something that I have to do with reckless abandon.

Jack the big old snob likes to believe that he lives life with reckless abandon. He likes to think that he is a low maintenance fellow who doesn’t require much to be happy but I suspect that some people might disagree. Of course Jack the big old snob doesn’t spend much time worrying about whether people agree or disagree with him. Maybe he should. The world might appreciate a kinder, gentler and more sensitive Jack. But then again he would miss telling people to go fuck themselves.

And this my friends leads me to a different issue entirely that I like to call the problem with women. They pay way too much attention to me.

Slow down now Tex and take a deep breath. That is not my ego talking. I am not trying to say that women want to tear my clothes off and enjoy a thousands nights of unbridled passion. No, what I am referring to is their predilection for picking up on little details and pieces of personality.  I might have told the girls that I have no interest in her but the more I think about it the more I realize that they didn’t buy it.

The thing is that it doesn’t really matter whether they bought it or not because I know those three. They are convinced that there might be some sort of hope for her and I and they aren’t going to stop pushing until I make contact. But they are fooling themselves if they think that I am going to listen to Ma Bell and reach out and touch someone. If they ask why I can give them a list of a dozen reasons why it doesn’t make any sense.

We can start with this one. Why should I be the one to call her? I don’t get it. The three of them would be the first to tell you that a woman can do anything a man can do yet somehow I am the one whose stuck sticking my neck out here. What is that about? It reminds me of a discussion I had with that crazy woman a thousand years ago where she told me that should would never be the first to say “I love you.”

I remember scrunching up my face and rolling my eyes at that. Why do men have to take all the risk. Want to make a bet that those three will tell me that I am being ridiculous about this. Just wait until the shoe is on the other foot… Call me juvenile, but the next guy my daughter introduces me to just might get a verbal ass kicking because of this. No doubt that daughter will give me hell about that and blame it upon this very thing.

Damn if that doesn’t make me incredibly proud and frustrated. She is almost too smart for her own good. That girl has had too many years to observe me as well as the benefit of being a direct recipient of my DNA. The end result is someone who has more insight into my thought process and feelings than I sometimes like.

Talking In Circles

Whenever someone tells me that I am talking in circles I know that it is time for me to hunker down in my cave and think. This sort of thing only happens when I am confused about something or unwilling to share my real thoughts with someone.

It occurred to me that the sort of confusion I was feeling was tied into feelings that I thought I had left behind in junior high or high school. Or at least I thought that I had done so but the pacing around the room and struggle to focus made it clear that I hadn’t.

Someone needs to remind me to thank the girls for helping me take this trip down memory lane. Maybe next time they can help me find my high school metabolism and energy.

What I really should do is go for a run or head off to the gym. I am restless and it would do me good to use this energy for something other than mental masturbation- but that is not going to happen now.

No, now I am going to dig through old letters I and stories that I wrote about us. Now I am going to open some doors that have been closed and find out whether the ghosts of the pasts still rattle their chains or if they have found a way to rest.

I think that what I am trying to figure out is whether I am chasing after memories of what was or running towards what could be. If it was me giving the advice I would recommend moving forward because Doc Brown and his Flex Capacitor equipped DeLorean aren’t going to show up and take us back in time. The focus has to be back to the future and the present because that is when life happens.

Sometimes I Hate Editors

Most of my former students will tell you that a central theme of my course is that a good writer understands that writing is rewriting. And if I were a smarter man I would listen to Professor Jack and spend more time editing and reworking my columns than I do now. Professor Jack would tell you that Writer Jack rarely allocates more than three minutes per column to editing and that if he took things more seriously he could make a significant improvement upon the quality of his work.

The thing is that Writer Jack has a problem with authority and given a chance would kick Professor Jack’s ass.  I imagine that it would be the kind of fight that some would call a battle for the ages. The fine folks who handle the pay-per-view boxing matches would be well served to get in on that. Just imagine how much money a fight like that would gross. It would be epic.

This raises two important points. The first is that epic is overused and consequently the word has lost all impact. Everything is described as being epic and if everything is epic than nothing is important, significant or meaningful. That makes the use of that word an “epic fail.” Secondly, since Writer Jack and Professor Jack are the same person the only way that fight can take place is in imagination or some sort of science fiction novel.

I would take that idea and file it away but it bears a striking resemblance to Fight Club and the first rule of Fight Club is there is no talking about Fight Club.

That is a very different approach to the first rule of writing which is that writing is rewriting. It sounds far too obvious and as sensible as saying that water is wet but it is true. Good old Harold, the bald is beautiful boy wonder of writing, he who hates these inane descriptions of himself would be pleased to see me spend more time editing my copy. We have an ongoing fight in which he tells me that I am not serving my soul by providing these clean but sterile columns.

He knows damn well that my columns are anything but sterile. I don’t do safe, plain or vanilla. I let it all hang out there and that is part of why people love/hate me. It is one of the benefits of being ridiculously intense. Someone once described me as being inconsistent in my inconsistencies and as subtle as a freight train. I don’t know what the hell the first part of that description means but I can confirm the second.

You know when I am happy, sad or angry. The boys think that this is why I don’t play poker with them very often. They tell me that they know all of my “tells” and suggest that if I played they would go home with fatter wallets.  I haven’t bothered to point out that the last three times I played with them I was the big winner. Every now and then I think about using the fellas and the poker game in one of my books.

There are a million different angles that I could use with it. It might be kind of fun to write about a bunch of Jewish kids who have limited athletic ability but are freaking geniuses at making money. Come to think about it that is the sort of story that I should use in one of my columns and not a book.  Harold and the newspaper are far more worried about liability than my publisher.

You might think that is precisely why I should use it in the book but that is exactly why I won’t. That juvenile part of me can’t pass up an opportunity to tweak Harold. The look on his face would almost be worth the lecture that would come with it.

My Best Interests

She told me that her decision was in my best interests and than she wished me good luck. Her name was Katherine Rosebottom and she is the only teacher who told me that I shouldn’t become a writer. Good old Rosebottom, who used to eat raw sticks of butter refused to recommend me for a spot in the Advanced Placement English class because she felt it wasn’t in my best interests to be there.

I probably should have extended the same courtesy to her and yanked her fat fist out of her mouth so that she wouldn’t die of a massive heart attack at 50. That would have been the proper and gentlemanly thing to do but she didn’t like me and I didn’t like her either.  I can’t tell you what she had against me but I can give you a long list of reasons why I don’t like her.

Did I ever mention that sometimes I hold a grudge. It is not one of my finer traits but I would be lying if I said that it didn’t exist. Besides it is as good an explanation for why I still don’t like a woman who died years ago. In fairness some of that stems from her being unfair and unreasonable. The teacher-student relationship isn’t a level playing field and she worked hard to make sure that I understood that.

If you don’t believe me give Sheri a call and she’ll tell you that I am not making any of this up. She’ll also tell you that the reason Rosebottom was so hard on me was because I never let her have the last word. Did I mention that Sheri loves to say “I told you so.” Maybe that is the reason she is divorced. Do me a favor and don’t mention that I said that to her because I’ll never hear the end of it.

She’d probably say the same thing about me but what does she know. We have been friends for almost thirty years now which means that I remember when she didn’t need to wear a girdle and dye her hair. Actually she doesn’t have to wear a girdle. Good old Sheri scored big in genetics. You can’t tell that she gave birth three times.  She sometimes bitches to me about her hips being wider but I can’t tell if they are or not.

And as she’ll tell you, I would know. We spent countless hours together growing up and yes, I did try to convince her to sleep with me. I blame it on When Harry Met Sally. You know, that whole and women can’t be friends because the men always want to sleep with the women thing.  Allow me to clarify a few things for you.

  1. I have female friends that I have no sexual interest in. Never have and never will. It is just not there.
  2. I spent several years lusting after Sheri. She had this amazing body, a great personality and we hung out constantly

Did I mention that we there was a jacuzzi at her parent’s house. We used it all the time. Do you have any idea what it was like as a teenage boy to go through that. For reasons that were far too obvious getting out of that pool was no easy task and don’t think that she didn’t know why, but I digress.

Anyway, there was a point at time when I decided to confess my undying love for Sheri and suggested that maybe we should try slipping off the bonds of friendship. She told me that she was flattered and said that it wasn’t a good idea.

As you have probably ascertained I told her that I respected her wishes and made preparations to join a monastery. That thought lasted for about five minutes after which I told her she was being stupid and went home.

That led to a fight that almost didn’t get resolved. We never stopped speaking but for several months there was a lot of tension between us. Tension that I interpreted as being sexual in nature and like a good man I did my best to ignore it.

You see I thought that by ignoring it I would turn the tables on Sheri and that one day she would beg me to take her and end her misery. Years later I can see that I was an idiot but back then I didn’t have a clue.

Eventually I couldn’t contain myself and I said something and she exploded.  She screamed at me and told me how I was an insensitive asshole and then said something that blew my mind.

“Fine. Do it.”

I suspect that had my response been videotaped I might have made Porky Pig look like the world’s finest orator.After I finished stammering I asked her if she was serious and she nodded her head.

For a moment I stood there in stunned silence and then listened to her lay out the ground rules.

“You can have me. You can have me for two minutes, five minutes or five days. You can enjoy yourself for however long you can last and then you can go fuck yourself. Never call me again. I don’t want to hear your voice, see your face or know a thing about you.”

I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I know that she walked up to me and said that I had thirty seconds to make up my mind or get out. I remember feeling like my feet were stuck in cement and slowly walking out the door.

We didn’t talk for a while after that but I can’t tell you how long it was. What I do know is that during the time that we didn’t speak she met the guy who later became her husband.

About a month after I told her that I was getting divorced she told me that I probably should have slept with her that day. I asked her if that meant she and I would have gotten married and she rolled her eyes at me.

I still don’t know what that means or if it was supposed to mean anything at all. Women are odd creatures, too bad I am not gay. I understand men.

I’m Not Gay

Some years back I told Sheri that life would be much easier if I really were gay. She laughed and told me that I was as about as far away from being gay as a man could be.  “Should I thank you for saying that I am homophobic?”

She laughed again and told me to stop being so damn sensitive. “Jack, it is not an insult. You love women far too much to ever be gay.” I shook my head and told her that I still didn’t understand and she just rolled her eyes at me. “Is it the damn estrogen that makes you guys act like idiots or just plain stupidity.”

In a different setting that comment probably would have gotten me blasted but I was too busy recovering from the beating my heart took over a different woman. I really haven’t had my heart broken too many times but when it has happened Sheri has always been there for me and for that I am eternally grateful.

That conversation sticks out in my memory more for other things than for the tangent we took regarding which team I preferred to bat for. More specifically that was the night that I discovered that writing was cathartic for me. It is another thing that Sheri deserves partial credit for. She was the one who recommended that instead of getting drunk I try writing in a journal.

Initially it wasn’t something that I had any interest in doing. At that time I was focused on trying to become a sports writer and like many other men I considered the idea of keeping a journal of my feelings to be anathema.

“Have you ever considered writing about your feelings?”

“I was going to do it in between the drum circle and singing Kumbaya with the other losers.”

She ignored the heavy sarcasm and continued, “It is a really good way to understand how you are feeling and why.” “You really should take it more seriously.”

In response I flung a bottle across the room and told her if she really wanted to help she could ask one of her friends to sleep with me. As an alternative I suggested she call Bob and get his blessing to provide me with desperately needed medical care. I suppose that this is another example of how good a friend Sheri has been to me. She ignored the bottle and the thinly veiled request for servicing and pushed me again to write.

“Jack, you are a really good writer and there is no reason why you shouldn’t benefit personally from it. Promise me that you will try writing a few paragraphs about your thoughts.”

I nodded my head and fell on the couch. I remember her covering me with a blanket, kissing my forehead and leaving. Had I been sober I might have actually tried writing that night. Instead I made my first few entries the next day. I’ll let you decide whether the raging hangover made them more bitter than they would have been had I been sober.

Sometimes I Hate Editors

Most of my former students will tell you that a central theme of my course is that a good writer understands that writing is rewriting. And if I were a smarter man I would listen to Professor Jack and spend more time editing and reworking my columns than I do now. Professor Jack would tell you that Writer Jack rarely allocates more than three minutes per column to editing and that if he took things more seriously he could make a significant improvement upon the quality of his work.

The thing is that Writer Jack has a problem with authority and given a chance would kick Professor Jack’s ass.  I imagine that it would be the kind of fight that some would call a battle for the ages. The fine folks who handle the pay-per-view boxing matches would be well served to get in on that. Just imagine how much money a fight like that would gross. It would be epic.

This raises two important points. The first is that epic is overused and consequently the word has lost all impact. Everything is described as being epic and if everything is epic than nothing is important, significant or meaningful. That makes the use of that word an “epic fail.” Secondly, since Writer Jack and Professor Jack are the same person the only way that fight can take place is in imagination or some sort of science fiction novel.

I would take that idea and file it away but it bears a striking resemblance to Fight Club and the first rule of Fight Club is there is no talking about Fight Club.

That is a very different approach to the first rule of writing which is that writing is rewriting. It sounds far too obvious and as sensible as saying that water is wet but it is true. Good old Harold, the bald is beautiful boy wonder of writing, he who hates these inane descriptions of himself would be pleased to see me spend more time editing my copy. We have an ongoing fight in which he tells me that I am not serving my soul by providing these clean but sterile columns.

He knows damn well that my columns are anything but sterile. I don’t do safe, plain or vanilla. I let it all hang out there and that is part of why people love/hate me. It is one of the benefits of being ridiculously intense. Someone once described me as being inconsistent in my inconsistencies and as subtle as a freight train. I don’t know what the hell the first part of that description means but I can confirm the second.

You know when I am happy, sad or angry. The boys think that this is why I don’t play poker with them very often. They tell me that they know all of my “tells” and suggest that if I played they would go home with fatter wallets.  I haven’t bothered to point out that the last three times I played with them I was the big winner. Every now and then I think about using the fellas and the poker game in one of my books.

There are a million different angles that I could use with it. It might be kind of fun to write about a bunch of Jewish kids who have limited athletic ability but are freaking geniuses at making money. Come to think about it that is the sort of story that I should use in one of my columns and not a book.  Harold and the newspaper are far more worried about liability than my publisher.

You might think that is precisely why I should use it in the book but that is exactly why I won’t. That juvenile part of me can’t pass up an opportunity to tweak Harold. The look on his face would almost be worth the lecture that would come with it.

I Don’t Love My Husband Anymore

The telephone call came from out of the blue. I can’t tell you how long it had been since we had last spoken, could have been months or it might have been years. People get busy and live their lives. It is not personal, it is just life. Hell, most days I have trouble remembering my own name.

Our conversation began in the usual manner with small talk about our jobs and other little things about life. Slowly it progressed into some more serious matters sprinkled in with a couple of jokes here and there and then she hit me with the bombshell.

“I don’t love my husband anymore.”

For a moment I was silent, unsure of how to respond I let the words linger in the air. I said that I was sorry and asked her what she was going to do. She told me that she wasn’t sure. She thought that she’d try to hang on for a few years, until her boys were older.

I said that sounded like a good idea. This time the silence was her doing. I felt an obligation to try to help so I asked her a few questions about how she got to be where she was. She told me that he wasn’t a bad guy, that she had made a mistake in marrying him. I told her that I didn’t want to be rude but I didn’t understand why she had children with him.

So she explained that she thought that they were going through growing pains and that she always figured that they would work through them, but they never did. So here she was ten years later wondering how it was that she had come to be trapped in a life she no longer wanted to live.

When I suggested that she consider getting out sooner than later she grew agitated and told me how it was different for mothers. Mothers have different standards than men. I wasn’t sure if I was being insulted but chose to remain silent.

So I asked her a few more questions and suggested that maybe it wasn’t so bad. He sounded like a decent guy. She snorted and told me that I was being a man. I asked her what that meant.

“You don’t understand what it is like to be intimate with him. I feel like I am being violated. I hate kissing him, it makes my skin crawl.”

I was more than a little surprised by her candor and told her that I didn’t understand how she could equate intimacy and kissing. She snorted again and told me that I was a man and that I probably wouldn’t understand. I agreed with her, I didn’t quite understand how it was easier to have sex than to kiss him.

In an exasperated voice she told me that men could just stick it in anywhere and that most of us saw kissing as a means to an end which was why I didn’t understand.

She probably wouldn’t have liked the way I rolled my eyes, but she couldn’t see that. I told her that they would take my man card away for suggesting that she not be intimate with him and she laughed again. It wasn’t a happy laugh.

He wouldn’t put up with that.He didn’t demand it constantly, but he was a man and if she didn’t work to meet his needs he might try divorcing her. I told her that was the most backwards thing I had heard in a long time and received another long sigh.

“Mothers are held to a different standard than fathers. And I would feel such guilt if my children were hurt by me doing this. They love their father.”

There was more silence and then the conversation resumed, but it was different.The moment of sharing was gone and I knew better than to bring it back up again. We said our goodbyes and hung up the phone. As I sat there cooking my dinner I thought about what she had said, echoes of “I don’t love my husband anymore” playing through my mind.

Can’t tell you what made me think of that particular call but thinking about it made me wonder when my ex-wife began feeling that way.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many times she lay there hoping it would end sooner or how many nights she made a point to fall asleep before I climbed into bed. Relationships are such a funny thing.

We weren’t always bad. There was a time when she would have gladly woken up to my advances. Not to mention that I can think of a few times where she woke me up.   I know that I am not the only one to have gone through this sort of thing. Friends tell me that all relationships go through ups and downs and with the exception of she who I am trying not to think about that had been the case.

Or maybe it was the case. Maybe I had forgotten what it was really like to be with her. It was a million years since Ann Stacey and I had been something other than a memory. The days before marriage had been very different than what came after. It was hard not to wonder if time had colored my memories of what life had been like then.

Alone In The Stacks

It was 1980 something or maybe it was the early 90s- I can’t really remember and I don’t care. What I do remember is walking through the library…with Ann Stacey. We were in the Stacks looking for some tome that we needed for a group project we were walking on together. The space between the shelves was quite narrow preventing two people to walk side by side. In an effort to be a gentleman I let go first and I followed right behind her.

She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and had long black hair that was caught up in one of those scrunchy things the girls wore back then. I’ll readily admit that I chose to walk behind her so that I could stare at her without fear of being caught. But it was also done for self preservation, she made my heart pound and I was afraid that I might trip over my big feet and knock myself unconscious.

While I was confident in my abilities to woo a woman I couldn’t think of a clever way to knock myself out and get the girl. It seemed like a great move for some John Hughes movie, except in that one I would be some nerd who would end up with the girl I thought was just a friend. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but this was real life and I was enamored with her that the thought of ending up with someone else just seemed wrong.

The woman walked with purpose and moved quickly down the rows of books and magazines. Periodically she would speak and I would wonder if she had a part time job as a an auctioneer- she spoke so very quickly.  Who knew that she would also stop moving as quickly as she started. I suppose that if I hadn’t been enjoying the sweet scent of her perfume or admiring the swish of her hips I might have been aware that I was about to crash into her.

If nothing else I wouldn’t have smashed her face first into some dusty book causing some other books to fall off of the top shelf and plummet towards earth. Ok, they would have hit earth but instead they smacked her on the top of her head. Looking back on it I realize that this had turned into a John Hughes movie, except instead of me being the one who hit the dirt it was her.

For a moment we stood in silence and disbelief. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. Her face was inscrutable and I suddenly found myself fighting back gales of laughter. I really liked her and I didn’t want to wreck a future by laughing at the wrong time. The worst part of it was the feeling that I shouldn’t laugh. The idea that I shouldn’t made the urge so much stronger. So very strong that I was certain that if I didn’t do something I would laugh so hard I would fall down.

So in an effort not to laugh I just reacted. I tucked an arm around her waist and pulled her towards me. When she was close enough I wiped some dust off of her forehead and kissed her on the mouth. She didn’t kiss me back nor did she push me away. For just a moment we stood there with my lips pressed against hers. When I didn’t feel her return the kiss I began to panic and I got really nervous and began to mutter some kind of apology.

I remember thinking that this kind of crap never happens to Humphrey Bogart. Don’t bother me with silly details about him being dead or that all I saw him in were movies. I know that they were following a script- I already told you to stop bothering my with technicalities and details.

In retrospect I bet that less than a minute had passed but to me it felt like it had been hours. I took my mouth off of hers and looked at her face. She looked back into my eyes and asked me why I had stopped. Fortunately she wasn’t scared off by the Cheshire Cat grin that graced my lips or worried that kissing me would lead to being brained by a 50 year old dictionary.

Alone in the stacks we gained a different sort of education than the one that he had set out to find, and far more enjoyable.

Lost In The Parking Lot

She told me that Jesus loves me and offered me a smile that would make the Cheshire Cat look like he was frowning. I smiled back at her, said that I play for other team but didn’t walk away.

“No, you don’t. We all play for the same manager. You just haven’t realized it yet.”

I laughed. “I don’t think so. My manager hates me.”

Her smile evaporated and a look of genuine concern appeared, “are you ok?

“No, not really. Been a long time since I was ok.” My friends will tell you that I don’t hide my feelings but I am not usually so forthcoming.

“I am sorry about that. I really should get going.”

She put a hand on my forearm and said that it was ok. “God never gives you more than you can handle.”

“No but he doesn’t give me what I ask for either.”

She smiled softly and said that sometimes we thank god for unanswered prayers.

I nodded my head and said that I didn’t think that was true but appreciated her time. She didn’t argue, just flashed that beauty queen smile again and told me to watch out for traffic.

What she should have said was watch out for the shopping cart because that was what I almost tripped over. It was the very same shopping cart that a few moments earlier I had been walking towards.

Had she not called out to me I would have grabbed it and already been inside picking up some groceries.

Instead I was outside in the parking lot rubbing the side that had clipped the cart and wondering where she had come from. I made a mental note not to tell my daughter about it or she would have a field day making me eat my words.

I can’t count the number of times I have told her that she must always be aware of her surroundings.

“Drivers aren’t paying attention. It doesn’t matter if the pedestrian has the right of way because the pedestrian always loses that fight.”

I am guessing that if you asked her to share my favorite lines she would give you that one and the one about girls having to pay extra attention to their surroundings, especially at night.

That second admonition really sets her off. I can’t tell you how many times she has told me that it isn’t fair and that her brothers have more freedom than she does.

The only thing that makes her angrier is what she calls my ridiculous behavior around boys.

I told her that one day when she becomes a mother she’ll understand and then I said that I am far too young to become a grandpa but I am not worried because she is not allowed to date until she is 87.

When she was really little she would scrunch up her face and tell me that 87 is too old. “Daddy, what about 36. Can I date at 36 or 41?

I would smile and say yes and then she would throw out a couple more ages. Sometimes they would be higher and sometimes they would be lower. When you are 8 years-old there is not much difference between 17 and 27. They are both far older than you.

Needless to say as she got older and gained a better grasp of age I began to hear a range that went from 14-16. You can probably guess how those discussions went.

Daughters can be challenging. The first inkling I got of this was from Tom, a fraternity brother of mine. When we were twenty he knocked up his girlfriend and by the time we were twenty-one he was changing diapers on a baby girl they named Rachel.

We weren’t real tight so I would only see him at the yearly reunions. But I won’t ever forget what happened at one when we were around 35 or so.

It is a blustery afternoon at the park and the place is packed with current members and alumni. We are all there for the Thanksgiving day football game we call Turkeybowl.

Tom and I are part of a group of four or five people. We are making the usual small talk about life and what ours is like when Tom barks, “Rachel!”

We all turn to see who he is talking to and spot a very attractive girl talking to a couple of the actives.

‘Is that Rachel?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Dude, she is hot,” says Mark.

It was the wrong thing to say. I am pretty sure that Mark didn’t mean to be offensive. He was just busting Tom’s chops but it didn’t go over well.

Tom glared at Mark, muttered something and pushed by him. When Rachel saw her father walking towards her she gave him a look that could have melted steel, flipped her hair and turned back.

It didn’t take a genius to know that the look the boy was getting was far different from the one her father received.

I don’t know if Tom and that particular active knew each other or what they said to each other. What I can tell you is that Tom provided that 19 year old boy with the kind of education his parents hadn’t paid for.

Fifteen minutes later Tom and Rachel were standing off to the side screaming at each other while the rest of us tried to figure out what had just happened.

I found out later on that earlier that week Tom had walked in on Rachel and some boy in bed. That is the sort of thing that no parent wants to discover, especially a father.

******

I took my bruised hip and started pushing the shopping cart towards the store. It goes without saying that I found the one with the busted wheel.

Inside the store I wandered up and down the aisles and tried to figure out why I had responded the way I had to the woman in the parking lot.

The words had just spilled out of me and I realized that it wouldn’t have taken much more prompting for me to have said a lot more. That moment marked when I realized just how miserable I was and how desperately I needed to make a change.

It probably also is when I decided that it was time to start thinking about that dread ‘D’ word we call divorce. Up until that point it had been something that other people did, but not anymore.

Divorce

I never thought that I would be the guy to say this, but the failure of my marriage made me feel like a failure. That doesn’t mean that I wanted to stay married or that I didn’t want to get divorced because that is simply not true. We went as far as we could go and had we tried to make it last any longer it is probable that we would have had hit that ugly place that so many other couples hit.

That was simply unacceptable to me. My children didn’t need to have parents who hated each other and ending it when we did made it easier to ensure that they didn’t witness some very unpleasant and ugly exchanges. I don’t talk to them at the specifics and particulars of why we decided to end it. That hasn’t prevented them from asking for more information than I am comfortable discussing with them but I simply refuse to answer.

I told them that it is private because it is.

It is not a situation where we can point fingers and say that one of us is/was so horrible it became impossible to live with them. No one was abusive or being abused but neither were we loving or in love.

Look, I understand that relationships are filled with ups and downs. The “experts” and assorted friends have told me that you don’t stay “in love” with your partner throughout the entire relationship. They tell me that during the ebb and flow there are moments where you love them but that is it.

That is something that just never made a lot of sense to me. I don’t know what to make out of the ‘I love you, but am not in love with you” line that so many people have shared. What I know is that I reached a place where I didn’t have anything to say to her anymore. If it didn’t involve the children or some sort of household matter I didn’t speak to her.

It wasn’t because I was trying to be mean either. I truly had nothing to say. I don’t really know why that is. I have tried to figure it out but haven’t come up with anything that makes sense to me. Maybe I need more time to pass so that I can gain more perspective. Maybe I should give it a few years and I’ll be able to gain more clarity and provide a more substantive answer or maybe not.

The thing is that I just don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel a need to understand it well enough to express it.

But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t upset or that I didn’t feel sad about it. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t mourn the end of the relationship. It feels a bit goofy to say that but it is true.

I didn’t wait to start dating until the divorce was finalized but I didn’t go racing off to find a new partner either. It surprised me a little bit.  Back in the good old days when I was a happily married man I used to kid around that if I was ever single I would be like a kid in a candy shop. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it but it seemed natural to say.

As a man with a very healthy libido and a strong appreciation for women it seemed quite likely that I would go off and sow my oats for a while but then it happened and I didn’t. In part it was because I didn’t feel like I had the energy to go and learn about someone else. There wasn’t any motivation on my part to listen to someone tell me their life story and to share mine.

It probably would have stayed that way for a while except I started feeling a bit squirrely. You know, that whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing is going on and I suddenly gained enough patience to listen to a few stories.

I made a point not to say anything to any of my thoughts. I love my friends but I wasn’t in the mood to hear the boys tell me about dating. No cracks about what it is like to get back in the saddle or smart remarks about the need to bring along a little blue pill. I don’t need the damn pill and I don’t need to to get to revisit our high school locker room days.

That might be a little unfair to some of the guys but I am ok with that. I did all this because it was time and because I am taking care of myself. And along those lines I definitely didn’t say anything to the girls because I didn’t want them to start the “can I set you up” game. Correction, that started almost immediately what I didn’t want to do was give them any more ammunition or reason to talk about it.

And I especially didn’t want to hear Sheri lecture me about how I should dress, what I should say or how I must find a woman who is at least 35. Good old Sher says that she doesn’t want me wasting time sleeping with some twenty something year old girl. Why does she say this?

Well my dear friend says that she is looking out for the girl’s best interest. She fears that I will find some young, nubile thing and have outrageous amounts of meaningless sex that will lead the girl to become very attached to me and that she’ll end up getting hurt when I dump her. I told Sheri that she was very far too presumptuous and that she was hurting my non existent sex life with the hot twenty something year-old babe who can’t stop drooling when she sees me.

“Jack, it is a complete waste of time. You will have nothing to talk about and the sex will get old.”

“That is ok. I don’t want to talk to her. I am interested in lots of meaningless sex with a girl who won’t require three ibuprofen after a night of being bent every which way.”

I probably shouldn’t tell you how hard Sheri laughed and how she said that I would be the one who would require the medical assistance afterwards. ”I don’t think that you appreciate the position I am in here. Why not just support me.”

“That is not really a question. Besides I can assure you that a woman in her forties is more than capable of blowing your mind sexually. Chances are that she will be better than that girl you want to waste your time with. That whole talk about women becoming more comfortable with our bodies isn’t a myth.”

I thanked her for advice and reminded her that we weren’t on Oprah or Dr. Phil. There wasn’t going to be any cheering from the studio audience.  She stuck out her tongue at me and I told her that unless she put her tongue to better use it was time for her to go.

“It is not surprising that your divorced. Your mouth always gets you in trouble.”

“I only wish that I was as skilled at using my tongue as you are so that I could get out of it”

She turned to face me and said that she hoped that one day I would let myself be open to the possibility of falling in love again.

“Where the hell did that come from?”

“Jack, you like to pretend that you are a much bigger jerk than you are. You deserve some real happiness and you do a half ass job of taking care of yourself.”  I nodded and watched as she walked out the door and down the hall.

I don’t know if hindsight really is 20-20 but looking back on that conversation now I realize that she had already made up her mind about trying to get me to call the ex-girlfriend. If I were a bitter and angry man I would say that this was a prime example of the conniving woman who tries to manipulate the man. Thing is, I could say it just like that and she would nod her head and laugh.

Well, she really does care for me and is the kind of friend who you can call at any time so I suppose that I’ll let it go. Not like I had a choice, apparently she is two steps ahead of me.

She also gets partial credit for helping me to come up with new material for an upcoming book. Don’t ask me to tell you what book the section below will be used in because I haven’t the foggiest idea. Sometimes I get an idea and I just run with it and see where it goes. That is part of the joy of being a writer. You create worlds and you never know what they are going to look like.

You may have a rough idea about them but you never really know what they will look like or what the characters will be like until that final draft is done.

Not Quite Sleepless in Seattle

Harold keeps hounding me about my next column. He says that he is concerned about me and wonders if maybe I should take some time off. I told him that he has no sense of anything and his poor perspective is the reason that the barber shaved his head.  Unfortunately he has either gone stone deaf or has learned how to ignore my insults. Fortunately I like a challenge and am ready to develop a new set of sayings that will scorch his soul and scour his…soul.

Damn, I am losing my touch and going soft. That last line was beyond pathetic. I don’t know what comes after pathetic but that last line was clearly hanging out in that territory. I feel like the superstar athlete who had a lost step and is relying upon his reputation and a toolkit of wily veteran moves to get him over the hump.

So let’s cut to the chase. The girls upset my apple cart. They turned my world inside out and I am going a little bit crazy trying to figure out what to do. They keep pushing me to call her. They keep telling me that I have nothing to lose and that I should take a chance. Take a chance and see what happens.

I keep telling them that this is real life. It is not quite Sleepless in Seattle. I am not going to meet this very cool and mysterious woman at the top of the Empire State Building. I am not going to take her by the hand and ride off into the sunset completely fulfilled and madly happy. But the girls don’t play fair. They know me too well and they work on manipulating me.

Daughter sits next to me, holds my hand and tells me that she can see that I am nervous. She says that it is cute and tells me that she thinks I am very handsome. I smile and tell her that she is biased. I remind her that when she was four she told everyone that she was going to marry me. She looks me in the eye and tells me that she wants to know why I didn’t marry her.

I smile and tell her that it is a long story. She doesn’t care. She looks up at me with those dark brown eyes and I am lost. I love this little girl of mine, even if she isn’t so little anymore. I am supposed to be the one protecting her. I am supposed to be the one giving her advice.

I look down and stare at her hand and tell her that I remember the day she was born. She wrapped all of her fingers around my index finger that day. I told her that I was her daddy and that I would love her forever. Daughter has heard this story so many times she can tell it herself. I take her hand and pull it to my face. “Does my chin still feel rough.”

She giggles and tells me that it does but that I am not allowed to rub my face on hers. Too late, I wrap her up in a bear hug and rub cheek against hers. She squeals with laughter and for a moment I see the girl she used to be, but only for a moment. That passes and I see the woman she is becoming staring at me. The smile on her face has been replaced with a very serious look that I know far too well.

“Dad, you can talk to me. I am a girl. Maybe I can help you figure out what to say to her.”

I am not ready to tell her much more than she already knows. I know she is frustrated with me but she is going to have to guess what happened because I am not not going to let those ghosts out of their cage. Not today and maybe not ever. So I smile and tell her that I love her more than she can possibly imagine.

“I am not ready to talk about this. I am processing.”

I don’t know if that is entirely true or not because I really am not sure.

Five Years Ago

My father used to tell me that it was important to plan for the future but to remember that it was really hard to predict where you would be and what you would be doing in chunks of more than a few years. I don’t remember what prompted that conversation but I remember that it happened on the telephone and that it was in the old house. I told him that I thought that he was right but that I thought that I might be able to predict things in five year intervals.

Don’t remember what he said or if the conversation ended but I do know that I came to believe that I was wrong. Five years was too long an interval and too many things could happen within that to make the sort of prediction I wanted.

Five years ago I was still married and living in my old house. Notice that I didn’t say happily married because I wasn’t. I don’t know if  I was miserable but I wasn’t happy. I felt trapped, unfulfilled and bored and I suspect so did my ex. We didn’t do very much as a family and even less as a couple. In many ways our marriage more closely resembled two friends living together.

Except we had rings on our fingers and offspring.

I sometimes wonder when our marriage died and whether I was conscious of its death. Back when I was married one of my friends got divorced and told me that you never know when you are going to have sex with your wife for the final time.

I asked them if that bothered him and he said no. The passion had long since left them and she only took care of him because of marital obligations. For a long time I didn’t understand that but than I did. It would have been better had I not recognized it for what it was but I did.

Ladies, you may think that we don’t notice when you are in it but you might be surprised at how many times we do. We all go through moments when one partner isn’t into it but takes care of the other because they love them and want them to be happy. It is not the norm but every once in a while such a thing might happen.

Well, when you are two steps away from splitting up it is very clear to us that you have a timer in your head and you are hoping to use a couple of tricks to make us finish sooner than later.

Sheri tells me that at the end sex with her husband felt like she was being violated.

Well, I may understand that differently than Sheri, but I still understand it. When there is nothing left but memories and ghosts the sex doesn’t do much for us either.

A Whirling Dervish

One of my former students once described me as being a cross between a whirling dervish and the Tasmanian Devil.  Since it was part of a student evaluation of my skills as a teacher I wasn’t privy to all of the details but I got the sense that it wasn’t supposed to be a compliment. The department chair said that I should be aware that my proclivity formovement could be distracting to some people.

I asked if he was trying to say that I was hyperactive and he laughed. “Jack, it is clear to me that you can quite capable of focusing your attention but sometimes energy radiates from you.

That made me laugh but I had to nod my head because it is a fair assessment. There are moments when I feel like little bolts of lightning are shooting from my fingertips. They are usually the same moments when I feel like I have ten thousand ideas that I want to express, each one of them fighting to get out at the same time.

I mention this only because the lovely Ann Stacey once remarked upon it. She watched me pace around a room and wondered aloud if there was anything that could make me stand still. I am not the type to kiss and tell but she did find a way make it happen and to this day I am not sure if she made her comment because she was flirting with me or what.

Or what.

Those two words summed a lot of things up for me. I used to think that I knew a lot about her. I used to think that I could come up with a reasonable prediction of what she would do in a given situation and or how she would respond. I think that she really appreciated that. Television and film like to portray women as being these lovely and inscrutable creatures that men can’t possibly understand but I haven’t ever believed that to be true.

Well, maybe just a little.

But I think that when it came to us my understanding of her is part of what made her fall for me. There were things that I just knew about her. I can’t tell you exactly how or why I knew these things but it was enough to catch her eye. I used to like to tease her about a million different things.

I remember her telling me that in every relationship one person tended to take control but that didn’t necessarily mean that things weren’t equal. So I told her that with me she wouldn’t have to worry about pretending to let me think that I was in control when she really was. She giggled a bit and I told her that I had busted her on that point.

Don’t remember if she actually acknowledged it out loud but we both understood and I think that we loved that understanding. It was stronger and deeper than anything we had ever experienced and now I was beginning to wonder if the raw power of that connection was something that withstood time. Were the promises we made years before things said in the throes of passion or were they more than that.

As a journalist we are trained to ask lots of questions and to dig for answers and information that lies beneath the surface. Even though this is a personal matter I couldn’t help but start thinking about this from a professional perspective.  What is love? What is the difference between being in love and loving something or someone? Does love die?

I know that I have seen a million different stories that suggest that the Internet has helped to break up and or cause major divisions in relationships but it doesn’t talk about the flip side. What has the Internet done to help reunite and or restore lost loves. Surely there are examples of this. There have to be stories about the lost loves who found each other. But what happened when they did.

I wonder.

Whose Reality Is It Anyway

I hate my cellphone. I love my cellphone. I hate how it provides unlimited access to me. I love how it provides virtually unlimited freedom.  That is my unspoken mantra. It is what I recite while I sit on the beach and watch the waves come rolling in.

If I wasn’t on deadline I wouldn’t have turned it on but I am on deadline and I have already ignored two telephone calls, a text message and three emails from Harold.  The last voicemail was particularly touching. “Jack, it is 3 PM and you haven’t returned any of my calls or replied to my emails. This is unacceptable. If I don’t hear from you in the next hour I am going to kill your column. Put some goddamn sunscreen on so you don’t get cancer and call me back immediately.”

Telephone in hand I started to dial and then I got distracted by a woman. No, it wasn’t a woman on the beach although there were plenty worth looking at. This time it was Sheri calling to check in on me.

“Have you called her yet?”

“No, I haven’t called her and I don’t think I will. She probably won’t take the call.”

“You are an idiot and she will take the call. Trust me, she will speak with you.”

“What makes you think that I even want to talk to her. Life is good now. What do I need her for?”

“Jack, you know that I love you, but you are an idiot. What do you have to lose?

“You called me an idiot twice. I heard you the first time. Why should I call her? Why doesn’t she call me?”

“Jack, you know that she is not going to call you. It doesn’t work that way. She is not going to risk it.”

“So, I should take the risk? What the fuck is that about? Why does she get to protect herself?”

“I thought that you didn’t feel anything for her.”

I could almost feel the smirk and the “I told you so” smile coming from her. “I can’t talk any longer, I am on deadline. I’ll call you later.”

I made a point to hang up before she could respond and gathered my things.  Between Harold and Sheri the beach just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. It was time to go home and start working.

Fifteen or so minutes later I dusted the sand off of my feet, grabbed a beer from the fridge and began typing on my computer:

“Technically I am not supposed to start a column by reminiscing about what it felt to have a pair of long legs wrapped around me. The public doesn’t want to hear or read my recollection of sexual conquests, not even if they were of the loving kind.

I am not supposed to tell you that I have been thinking about long dark hair that falls just past her shoulder or sensual dark eyes that you could get lost in. Nor am I supposed to tell you about the full lips and the perfect hips that came along with the legs, hair and eyes.

But you see I have been lost in the land of make believe and wishes so I am allowed to go there. Allowed to tell you that there once was a woman who I loved more deeply than all others and whose presence in my life has been marked for years by her absence.

The question that I find myself asking is whose reality is it anyway and why do I have to pay attention to rules that hurt my heart. Why can’t I indulge this fantasy and try to determine if I am chasing after fools gold or trying to catch a shooting star. I am inclined to say that I don’t have to worry about what society thinks because society is fickle. Society doesn’t give a damn what happens as long as it doesn’t happen to them.

But you see that when you live in the public eye you sometimes have to be more aware of what you do and who you do it with. I told you all before that I am not really comfortable being seen as a public figure. I didn’t get into this business for fame or fortune. I did it because I love to write. I did it because I can make words sing and that song is always on my mind.”

I wouldn’t define it as my best work but it wasn’t bad either. Most importantly I had enough of  a framework in hand to send over to Harold.  He might be a pain in my ass but he has a good nose for this business and I was confident that whatever advice he would offer there would be useful and practical.

Later that night I planned on calling Sheri back to ask for advice. I wanted a female perspective about an idea. I wanted to know what she thought of my using my column as a way to reach out to Ann Stacey.

Who She Was

Who she was is the title of a book that I never published. It is a series of essays, poems and thoughts about love, relationships and life. It is a collection of hope, happiness and despair.

I am not the first person to have his heart broken and I won’t be the last.  Fact is that she wasn’t the first woman to break my heart. That honor belongs to another but she does hold the title for doing the best job of it. She probably wouldn’t want to hear that I thought of her as the best and the worst thing to happen to me. Or maybe she would like hearing it, it is hard to say.

Hard to say because the woman who once was my girl hasn’t been mine for eternity. There was a time when we were best friends. There was a moment where we didn’t know where our individual hearts ended or began. That was when we said that we shared a heart and felt our souls succor each other It was back in the days when we would read about our astrological signs and marvel over how cool they were together.

Both earth signs share the ability to communicate and understand one another intuitively. Their conversations get better over time and so does the relationship. They will understand each others goals and hopes for the future. There is an unspoken bond here that once established, hardly ever gets broken. They will provide each other with what the other person instinctively needs and desires sexually. You can’t go wrong with this astrological combination, period. A strong attraction and loyalty will keep these two together. Relatives can sometimes be a problem for these two.  Virgos understand that listening to their Taurus can provide them the sort of answers that they cannot figure out on their own. The smart Virgo recognizes that Taurus mate knows how to reach them in ways that no other can. Focus on healing yourselves and each other and you will have a mate for life.

I am clearly biased but I think that excerpt is simply amazing. I suppose in large part it is because I knew these things about her and I long before I read this. But that was then and this is now. Back then I knew exactly who she was.

She had one of the biggest hearts and sweetest personalities of anyone I had ever met. Sweet, caring, nurturing and giving. But she was also tough. That woman knew her mind, knew what she wanted and would go after it.

One of the things that I remember is how we used to fight. We didn’t fight very often but we went at it hard. I never fought with anyone else like that because if I had we would have ended things. It was different with us because the level of trust made it different. That mutual understanding provided a depth and a strength unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Back then she told me that no one could ever take better care of me. I told her that she was right but I am not sure that she believed me. I told her that she was the most beautiful woman I knew but I don’t think that she let herself believe that either.

Sheri thinks that all of my praise might have made her uncomfortable and that she might have felt like she couldn’t live up to the picture I painted. I don’t know. Suppose it could be true.

The damn woman used to tell me that she was logical, rational and organized. I told her that one out of three wasn’t bad and that she had plenty of time to work on the other two.

Even though it has been years I am willing to bet that she is one of the mothers that makes other women jealous. She had the sort of build that would allow her to quickly drop the baby weight and an enormous amount of energy.

*****

It is funny to me to think about how our perspective changes as we age.  I can’t think of a time where we didn’t have exceptional chemistry. We never ran out of things to talk about and the physical side wasn’t any different. Except back in the day when I wasn’t ready to become a father I used to get a little crazy trying to balance the need to be with her against not bringing a third party into the equation.

And now, well now I am disappointed that we don’t have that third party. Now I wonder what our children would look like. It feels a bit ridiculous to admit that but it is true.

I suppose that it is even stranger to say it about someone who hasn’t been a part of my life in forever. We all change. I certainly am not who I was but am I really that different? Have I changed so dramatically that people from my past wouldn’t recognize me?

Or in this case I suppose it is better ask if the feelings I am rediscovering are for who she was and not for who she is.

Preserve your memories

The year was 1980 something and the lovely Anne Stacey had chosen to grace me with her presence. I had spent countless hours unsuccessfully wooing the womanCards, chocolate, flowers, and a barbershop quartet had all failed to do the trick but I couldn’t tell you why. All I knew was that the girl who had gone to prom with me had chosen to withdraw her favors and spend time with a man I dubbed the scoundrel. I once tried to tell her this and she suggested that my ill feelings towards him had to do with jealously. Now I won’t say that this is true but I admit to suggesting that if she hoped for more than simple companionship she might consider spending time at the produce market.

Apparently this is not advisable nor is suggesting that he would probably die in robbing a drug store for used condoms. Don’t ask me to explain why I said these things or what they mean because I won’t answer nor will I admit to wanting to defenestrate him. Women make men crazy and love just exacerbates the craziness we feel.

Weeks of rejection turned into months but I refused to give up. I can’t explain why other than to say that every time I saw her I heard music and it made me believe that one day she would dance with me again.

One day I sent her a card with some of the lyrics to Get Down Tonight by K.C. & The Sunshine Band.

“Baby, babe, let’s get together.
Honey, hon, me and you.
And do the things, ah, do the things
That we like to do.

Do a little dance, make a little love,
Get down tonight.
Do a little dance,
make a little love,
Get down tonight.”

P.S. Come over and find out if I really am a better cook than you are. I’ll make it worth your while.

I had been rejected so many times that I was beginning to wonder if maybe I was swimming down the river of denial but was pleasantly surprised to receive a telephone call from her asking why she should come. Needless to say I was nervous because I knew that the wrong words would result in another no. Yet something told me that it was time to be bold so I told her that I was going to pick her up at 10 am so that we could go to the farm to pick fresh fruits and vegetables for dinner. Two days later she walked out of her apartment and into my car.

For a few moments we drove in silence and listened to a mix tape that I had made for the occasion. Good old cassette tape technology, a soft hissing noise in the background accompanied us on our ride. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker and Springsteen serenaded us.

A short time later we arrived at the farm and began picking out the items we wanted for our meal. She made a crack about me making her work for her food and I said that remained to be seen. Every time she bent over to pick something up my eyes were drawn to her. I was completely entranced by her- not just because I thought that she was beautiful but because she was so very smart. I attribute my love for carrots to that day. Somewhere I have a picture of her holding one close to her mouth, pretending to be Bugs Bunny.

And had anyone heard the music that played inside my head at the moment they would have heard Bookends.

“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you”

I can’t tell you when I fell for her or when she fell for me. Don’t know what did it, how, when or why and I am not sure that it matters. Scratch that, it will matter to her. Call me a full blown chauvinist but she is female and she’ll care about that for the same reason that women care about how big a baby was. It is one of those mysteries of the sexes. Men want to know if the baby was healthy and what their name is but that is not enough for women.

Oh no, they want to know all sorts of other details and if you don’t provide them you might get a look or hear an exasperated “men” slip from between their lips. I suppose that if I had actually given birth I might have some more interest in the extraneous details but since that is not going to happen we won’t know. But for the sake of argument you can be assured that if men were capable of giving birth we’d get through it with half the screaming and far less mess.

Hee hee. That is the sort of throwaway line that we troublemakers like to let slip. I have yet to find a mother who let’s that go without a retort. Suggest that labor is easy or overblow and you can rest assured that a nice kerfuffle will develop. Push hard enough and some woman will tell you that your words are the reason that you aren’t getting laid.

As a PSA to men I usually suggest that you always smile and laugh at that remark. Do this two or three times and then when she is really steamed tell her that your wife/girlfriend/paramour/escort refuses to spit because they consider your boys to be a rare delicacy. Incidentally I bear no responsibility for the consequences of speaking those words out loud.

And now back to our trip back to the time when I had a full head of hair and a body that was tan, hard and cut.

“Jack, you are a much better cook than I expected.”

“That’s good because you are a much better eater than I expected.”

As the words spilled out of my mouth I suddenly realized that they might be open to misinterpretation and my brain kicked into overdrive. Looking back now it is easy for me to see that I was already crazy about her. I don’t say that because of what I said but because of the moment of fear I had when I realized that she might not take it well.

“Ya know, calling a woman fat isn’t the best way to get what you want.”

She was smiling when she said it but for a moment I wondered if there was something else behind it. Smarter men than I would have played it safe but I gambled.

“Stand up and let me get another look at you and I’ll you know.” She laughed, “you are pretty confident, aren’t you.”

“Come over here and I’ll show you how confident I am.”

She stood up and walked over and suddenly my heart started beating harder than it had been. I pulled her into my arms and kissed her. Technically it wasn’t our first kiss, that had come in the stacks but that had been quite some time before.  That moment in the stacks had been good. Hell it had been better than good but it didn’t go very far. Time and circumstances had seen to that.

Several people showed up midway through our moment and any hope I had of taking things farther there was spoiled by their intrusion. The chemistry between us was electric and I know that she felt it too because she made a point to remind to me to call her. I can still picture the way she held onto my arm and told me that she would be disappointed if I disappeared like most guys did.

I told her that I had no intention and she smiled. “There is a lot that I want to show you.” I asked her what that meant and then she laughed and told me she was late for class. This time I didn’t hide the fact that I was staring at her but it didn’t matter because those long legs carried her out of there in seconds.

And I did call her- several times. She took all of my calls and we talked…a lot. But the timing was bad. I had to go to my cousin’s wedding. Had it not been family and already paid for I might have skipped it. Instead I spent two weeks on a family vacation and she didn’t wait for me. I can’t blame her or say that she was wrong.

We weren’t anything close to being boyfriend/girlfriend but I think that I knew then that I had found someone special.

The problem was that while I was gone she found someone too…but he wasn’t me.

Not Me

Not me is a good description for most if not all of the men she dated and to the best of my knowledge…married. They weren’t anything like me. They didn’t look like me at all. If I told you they were mostly tall Aryan nation wannabes I’d be called bitter and jealous or at least that is what she said.  She told me that it wasn’t very becoming to describe them as stupid rednecks or junkies who were one fix short of getting toe tagged.

I told her that it was the ‘coming’ that bothered me most and that I would have been happier had that not been involved at all.  Blame that on the joys of being a writer.

One of the reasons that I am good at this is because I have an imagination that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If Stephen Spielberg could make the movies I see in my mind he would sweep the Oscars and his movies would make millions. Ok, let’s adjust that and say that they would be impossible to forget and make billions.

Hell, the problem is that when you tell me something I see it in my head. And even if you don’t tell me I still see things in my head, sometimes even when I don’t want to. So if I know that Joe Blow used to date you I can’t help but picture Joe getting his blow and….well I don’t really need to go further. But since I never leave well enough alone let me go the rest of the way.

If I know that you were sleeping with some guy it is hard for me not to picture it so sometimes I compensate by making fun of him. I said sometimes, not all the time. If I really care about you there is a good chance that I might say that he is a buffoon in need of a more complete circumcision.

I never pretended to be a saint nor did I ever claim to always take the high ground. I am trying though.

The Pammer

Her full name was Pamela Susan Scott but to me she is The Pammer. Once upon a time she was Wham Bam, Thank you Pam but when we broke up I lost the right to say that. Ok, I never did have the right to say it but when we were dating she was barely tolerant of it.  The Pammer isn’t especially fond of my nickname for her but she doesn’t like it when I call her Pamela Sue either so she got stuck  with The Pammer.

I adore her the way a brother loves a sister.

We met not long after things fell apart between Anne Stacey and I. It was 19 ninety-something and I was out with the boys. Tommy said that a friend of his was having a party and we all agreed to make an appearance. It was better than staying home alone and cheaper than hitting the bars on the strip. Not that it mattered, by the time we hit the car I had already finished a six pack of beer and was working on a flask of something that tasted cheap and nasty.

Can’t tell you if it took an hour or five minutes to get to the party. For all I know I magically levitated myself from the curb all the way to the third floor apartment where the party was. The good news was that I was a very happy drunk. The bad news was that it wasn’t going to last. It wouldn’t take very long for me to find a quiet corner where I could sit and drink.

That was where The Pammer found me, drunk and grumpy.

“This is a party. You are not supposed to be the drunk guy in the corner.”
“I am not the drunk guy in the corner. I am the drunk, angry guy who hates women that just happens to be sitting in the corner.”

Apparently this was quite funny as she started laughing at me.

“I am not kidding. I hate women. Women suck and life would be a lot better if they all disappeared.”
“Who would iron your shirts and cook your food, oh mighty man.”

If you ask Pam how we met she’ll tell you that right after she said that my jaw fell open and I spent the next few minutes shocked and dumbfounded. I don’t know if I was shocked or dumbfounded but speechless is accurate. I didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t say it with a smile or a hint of sarcasm. There wasn’t any anger or bitterness on her part and that totally disarmed me.

We spent most of the rest of the party just talking about life. Pam would periodically disappear and I’d sit there in the corner watching people laugh, wondering why it was so easy for them to smile. I didn’t find out until almost 3 AM was that it was Pam’s apartment and her party that we were at.

“Here is a blanket. That couch turns into a bed. I can help you open it if you would like.”
“No, that is ok. Tommy will take me home. I just have to find him.”

“No he won’t. Tommy left a long time ago.”

This is where I always tell Pam that she has no judgment and only an idiot would let a strange drunk man sleep in her apartment.  That is when she laughs and tells me that the strange drunk man spent two hours passed out and snoring in the corner.

‘Tommy and I grew up together. If he said that you were ok  than I knew that I was fine. Besides I had a lock on my door.”

The combination of drunk and stupid did me the kindness of not showing up at that moment. Instead I collapsed on the couch and quietly went to sleep. That is my story and I am sticking to it. Pam disputes that. She claims that I passed out and started snoring so loudly she considered smothering me with one of the cushions.

I woke up the next morning with the kind of hangover that made me sorry that she hadn’t used the pillow on me. I remember wondering if it would hurt less if I used an icepick to stab my left eyeball.

“I have an icepack, water and Tylenol for you.” I couldn’t tell you when Pam arrived at the foot of the couch but I can assure you that when I proclaimed my undying love for her I meant it will all my heart. If a Jewish kid could bestow sainthood upon someone it would have been done that day. Not only did she let me spend the night she let me lie on that couch until almost 5 PM the following day.

“You owe me dinner and are going to be my rent-a-boyfriend for this.” I asked her what a “rent-a-boyfriend” was and learned that she was moving to a new place. It was a different apartment about two miles East of the current one. That party had been the last shindig at the old place. As the “rent-a-boyfriend” I was responsible for grabbing another friend so that we could move all the heavy stuff.

Two weeks after the move I called her on a Thursday and asked if she wanted to rent a movie. She said sure and that lead to another night on her couch, except the morning after was far more pleasant. We really didn’t date for very long. I can’t tell you how long it was for, but Pam can. Part of the reason she broke up with me was because she said that I was never really that into it.

She was right, I wasn’t. It wasn’t anything more than a rebound for me and not much of one at that. I don’t think that I would have predicted that we would become friends afterwards but you can’t get everything right.

Anyway, The Pammer and Sheri are both good friends of mine and most of the time I am grateful to have them in my life. They often disagree about things but I tend to think that they balance each other out.

What Pam Said

Pam didn’t say much at lunch. She told me later that she went because Sheri had pushed her to come along but that she wasn’t sure that telling me about Ann was the right thing to do. I asked her why and she said it we because she believed that I had never stopped loving her.  She said that she thought that my heart was still broken and that I had been in denial about it all for years.

I told her that I was confused about what she was saying. If she thought that I was still in love with Ann then why shouldn’t I try to contact her. She told me that she wanted to be certain that I wasn’t chasing ghosts. “You need to be moving forwards, not back.”

“You live much of your life in public. Do you really think that she hasn’t ever read your column or one of your books. I am telling you that she knows far more about you than you do about her. You have to assume that she reads your work on a regular basis.”

“Ok, so you are saying that because she reads my column she is not interested in me? Why is that a problem and what are you suggesting I do?”

“Jack, as a woman I am telling you that she has probably already decided if she is interested in sleeping with you again. Women think things out. We plan. We take time to think about what we are going to do. I don’t know how long she has been single but you need to assume that she is going to want to have time to go have fun.”

“Does that mean that you think that she has decided that she is not going to sleep with me and that I am no fun.  Or am I fun but not enough to sleep with. What hell are you saying? I am confused.”

“You two have a long history and sometimes that complicates things. I don’t know her, I just know about her, and you. I am saying that she may not see you as someone she can just date. She can go out with other men and not care what happens, she can’t do that with you.”

There was a long pause in the conversation and then I sighed.

“Jack, that sigh says so much more than you realize. You were a mess when we met. Maybe you don’t remember or maybe you weren’t aware of it, but you were a mess. I didn’t date you. I dated you and the memories of her that you carried around with you.”

“I remember asking Tommy about Ann. He told me about how hard you tried to get her back and about how she pushed you away. She wasn’t a bitch to you because she is a bitch but because her heart was broken too.”

I sighed again and said, “I know.”

“I still don’t know what you are telling me to do.”

“Jack, it doesn’t really matter what  I say you are going to do what you want because that is who you are. But what I am saying is that you need to open your eyes and be careful here.”

“Ok, I’ll be careful.”

“And if you still have feelings for her then I am saying that maybe you should consider doing something about it. We only have so many chances. If she really believed that you were the love of her life, well maybe she still does.”

“Pam, should I thank you now or late for contradicting yourself.”

“What can I say, I am a girl and we love romance.”

******

There were/are many things that I am not certain of but I never doubted that Ann was hurt or that it wasn’t hard for her too. The woman thought of herself as being logical and quite rational in her decisions. If you told me that she had made a list of pros and cons about our relationship I would nod my head and smile. I don’t know that she did, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Pam’s words echoed in my head. Did Ann really believe that I was the love of her life and if so, did it mean anything to her now. The more I thought about it the more that I decided that I was truly interested in doing something. I did have feelings for Ann but I couldn’t say exactly what they were. Maybe it was because I felt like we never really got the opportunity we wanted and as a result had unfinished business.

I wondered what she was like as a mother and what her children were like. I remembered talking with her about what we would name our children. There had been a time when we had talked about having six kids. It was right after we thought she was pregnant.

One broken condom had led to hours of conversation about children and an unspoken decision that we would have the baby. I remember feeling surprised by how relaxed I was at the thought of becoming a father.  I had gone through one other pregnancy scare with a different woman and my feelings had been very different then. It wasn’t just because I was young but it was also because I couldn’t see myself with that woman.

I never had a problem visualizing a future with Ann. It was something that we came to expect. She told me once until we met she hadn’t believed in soul mates, but now she did.

I touched it upon it in one of my books, wrote about what it was like for two people who shared something like that to be separated from each other.

Two Souls

She is out there, my other half. Can’t say what she is doing or who she is doing it with but I know that she is out there.

Her physical absence is palpable and impossible not to notice. Sometimes I turn and expect to see her standing there with that look I know so well. Sometimes I turn and wonder why those dark eyes aren’t looking back at me.

I pick up the telephone and expect it to ring like it always did before. I dial the numbers and laugh because I know that she is going to say that she was about to call me. I hear the smile in her voice, except I don’t do it. I don’t dial.

Instead I hold the phone and close my eyes. I hold the phone, close my eyes and feel the hole and the emptiness. I  hold the phone, close my eyes and wonder if that chasm is one sided and then I feel this twinge.I feel this twinge and a silent bell rings inside my head and I know that she is thinking about me and us. I hear the bell and I know that somewhere she feels what I feel and that this is how and what it is for now.

Necessary. Lonely. Hard. Long. Rough. Required.

I close my eyes and try to center myself. I close my eyes and try to turn off the noise and focus on what is. And then just when I feel like I am truly alone I feel something touching me in a place that fingers can’t reach and arms can’t hold.

I close my eyes and I try to run from it. It is more intimate this touch and the feeling scares me a little. It is the place that only one has been and then I realize that the visitor is the same one who was there before.

Slowly I relax and realize that two souls have shed their bonds and found each other again. They always find each other. And for a brief moment I am completely relaxed and lost in a place that I cannot describe. Reality will intrude and I’ll convince myself that I have seen/felt what I wanted to.

But later in the silence of the night I’ll accept that two souls have done what the bodies and minds can’t. And for a moment I’ll let myself wonder if can’t refers to now or forever.

She is out there and so am I.

Today

I am not the first person to have his heart broken and I won’t be the last. Fact is that she wasn’t the first woman to break my heart. That honor belongs to another but she does hold the title for doing the best job of it. She probably wouldn’t want to hear that I thought of her as the best and the worst thing to happen to me. Or maybe she would like hearing it, it is hard to say.

Hard to say because the woman who once was my girl hasn’t been mine for eternity. There was a time when we were best friends. There was a moment where we didn’t know where our individual hearts ended or began. That was when we said that we shared a heart and felt our souls succor each other It was back in the days when we would read about our astrological signs and marvel over how cool they were together.

Both earth signs share the ability to communicate and understand one another intuitively. Their conversations get better over time and so does the relationship. They will understand each others goals and hopes for the future. There is an unspoken bond here that once established, hardly ever gets broken. They will provide each other with what the other person instinctively needs and desires sexually. You can’t go wrong with this astrological combination, period. A strong attraction and loyalty will keep these two together. Relatives can sometimes be a problem for these two. Virgos understand that listening to their Taurus can provide them the sort of answers that they cannot figure out on their own. The smart Virgo recognizes that Taurus mate knows how to reach them in ways that no other can. Focus on healing yourselves and each other and you will have a mate for life.

I am clearly biased but I think that excerpt is simply amazing. I suppose in large part it is because I knew these things about her and I long before I read this. But that was then and this is now. Back then I knew exactly who she was.

She had one of the biggest hearts and sweetest personalities of anyone I had ever met. Sweet, caring, nurturing and giving. But she was also tough. That woman knew her mind, knew what she wanted and would go after it.

One of the things that I remember is how we used to fight. We didn’t fight very often but we went at it hard. I never fought with anyone else like that because if I had we would have ended things. It was different with us because the level of trust made it different. That mutual understanding provided a depth and a strength unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Back then she told me that no one could ever take better care of me. I told her that she was right but I am not sure that she believed me. I told her that she was the most beautiful woman I knew but I don’t think that she let herself believe that either.

Sheri thinks that all of my praise might have made her uncomfortable and that she might have felt like she couldn’t live up to the picture I painted. I don’t know. Suppose it could be true.

The damn woman used to tell me that she was logical, rational and organized. I told her that one out of three wasn’t bad and that she had plenty of time to work on the other two.

Even though it has been years I am willing to bet that she is one of the mothers that makes other women jealous. She had the sort of build that would allow her to quickly drop the baby weight and an enormous amount of energy.

A Writer Writes

A writer writes because we can’t contain the words and thoughts inside our heads and hearts.  A writer writes to share the stories that they see and feel. A writer writes because when they are happy, hurt confused or somewhere in between they look for the words to sing their song and soothe their souls.

Hurt, happy and confused is as good a description as any for the feelings that are flowing through me now. You don’t forget what we had. You can’t ignore or deny the truth of it and the way that it can transform your heart. That is not an exaggeration or melodrama it is an incomplete description of a story that isn’t told with words or with images. There is much more depth than that.

But since I can’t figure out what I am trying to do or say I have to do what writers do and that is write.

I don’t know what it is about you that closes and opens, only something in me understands the voice in your eyes is deeper than all roses- E.E. Cummings.

“For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be” Alfred Tennyson

“There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

Some nights I find myself wandering beneath a moonlit sky watching and waiting for a sign that I don’t really expect to come but wish for with the greatest of desires. I often stop and stare into the night sky and remember what it was like to stare into your eyes.

I didn’t tell you what I saw in them, about how they twinkled and glowed. I didn’t say the things that I thought because I could see you already knew them. You, the song of my heart already knew these things because you were my air as I was yours.

It seemed gratuitous to try and put into words the secret language our hearts spoke. Better to sit in silence holding your hand and sharing a moment. I treasured those moments of silence in which we would listen to each other breathe and bask in our presence together.

A story of two souls who laid themselves bare for each other. Two who became as one and in the darkness created light. I sit here writing this with the knowledge that some will call it hyperbole and romantic drivel. They have never experienced the sort of intimacy and oneness that we have and consequently haven’t the faculty to follow. It is beyond their ken.

This is ok. I don’t write for them and care not one whit whether they follow. I write for you and for I. You are my lost soul mate and your absence is always evident. Sometimes when I think of you I think of Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca and wonder if one day you’ll reappear as she did.
But if you did reappear I can’t say that I’d send you off like Rick did. I don’t really know what I’d do.  I have often wondered if Rick really meant those things he said. You know what I am talking about,

Ilsa: But what about us?
Rick: We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you.
Rick: And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Now, now… Here’s looking at you kid.

It is a movie, not reality so it is hard to say. Still, I wonder. Did he really mean all those things. I sometimes think that he was just protecting a heart that was still broken. You don’t say something like this and just forget about it. Or maybe he found that special something that allowed him to move on. That is part of the beauty of a movie, it is open to interpretation.

As for me, well I am in a different sort of place. Not really sure how to describe other than to say that all my options are open. I feel as if I have taken the first step on a journey to somewhere else. Can’t say for certain if these are the first steps to the time and place in which the reunion of lost soul mates will take place or if it is something else.

What I do know is that part of the joy of life is the journey and the mysteries that lie therein. So perhaps one day we will find ourselves staring into those eyes again. And if we do I am sure that it will be familiar and mysterious. There will always be that electricity when we brush up against each other here or elsewhere.

I’ll leave it at that knowing that you’re smiling as am I. The future beckons and I must answer.

I stared at the words, unsure and uncertain about how I felt and decided that it was time to ignore the self editor that lives inside and continue to write so I put pen to paper and wrote more words.

Blame it on too much television or a love that is overpowering, but I always wanted to be your hero. And for a while, I was certainly him. I was your knight protector, the man who wore the white hat. Always willing and able to protect your honor and to fight on your behalf. It was a role that I took on unexpectedly but with no hesitation.

No hesitation because I loved it, or maybe because I loved you. It was natural and effortless. I remember walking with you. I lumber and you float but we did so together. Our strides and pace perfectly matched. It opened our eyes to new possibilities and we saw what had once been old as new. Long conversations about life, love and dreams turned into passion foretold by poets.

“Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!”
Wild Nights-Emily Dickinson

There are tales that could be told and songs that should be written. It matters not that there are but two people who would understand or appreciate them. Such is the way of love and lovers. We walk upon clouds that sometimes evaporate beneath our feet. Sometimes fortune smiles upon us and our falls are broken by wings that sprout from nothing.

And sometimes fickle fortune fails to answer the calls that we send forth and we find ourselves plummeting back towards earth at a frightful rate. Perhaps it was that fall that caused us to forget who we were and to ignore who we are. I did my best to catch you so that I could break your fall. I tried to ensure that I hit the ground first so that I might try to save you.

But sometimes the hero fails. Sometimes the capes we wear bestow no power other than to serve as a silly looking fashion accessory.

“She put him out like the burnin’ end of a midnight cigarette
She broke his heart he spent his whole life tryin’ to forget
We watched him drink his pain away a little at a time
But he never could get drunk enough to get her off his mind”
Whiskey Lullaby- Brad Paisley with Allison Krauss

So I stood there and surveyed the wall that had suddenly been erected between us. I took its measure and considered going over, under, through or around. For some time it felt like the hero was bound to fail again.Super strength wasn’t enough to remove the obstacle nor was super speed. It was a conundrum of the first order and something that accentuated the ache and the hole in his heart.

And then one day the hero remembered that sometimes the best way to tear down the wall is not through demolition but conversion. Build a door or build a window and what was once a wall evolves into an entryway that can be used as a path into a future of bright and sunny opportunities.

New Year’s Eve

It is funny how little moments in time stick with us. Don’t know if it was five, six, seven or nine years ago when I realized that my marriage had an expiration sticker on it but I do know that it was New Year’s Eve.

I am not a big holiday guy but New Year’s Eve holds a big more significance for me than some of the other days of the year.

Kind of funny to look around my apartment and think about how different life is now from what I once thought it would be. There were other apartments in those days that didn’t have pictures of my kids floating around because there weren’t any…kids then.

The beauty of hindsight is that you can use it to look back at those little moments in time and mark them with a mental note that says “I was an idiot.” That is the sort of thing I always advise my children not to do, but I sometimes do anyway.

File it under “Do as I say, not as I do” or however that stupid saying goes.

Both Pam and Sheri called this week to extend invitations to the parties that they are going to but I declined. Not really interested in being social this year. The kids are out doing their thing and I’d much prefer to be home alone where it is quiet.

Of course right after I thanked Pam for the invitation I stumbled across a box of old letters and notepads and found the first draft of a letter I wrote Ann. It was sort of a bittersweet find. To tell you the truth, if I were more superstitious I might think that the universe was trying to send me a message.

Coincidence is really what I chalk it up to. Ever since that lunch with the girls I have stumbled across things that make me think of her or remind me of things that we used to do. Since she has been on my mind it makes sense that this has happened, right.

I have to admit that I wonder about what Pam said. Has she been reading my column? Has she read my books? Does she see herself in any of the characters or recognize any of the references?

Twice. I have read the draft below twice now. I wonder if she still remembers that night and all that came afterwards.

Dear Ann,

It is almost New Year’s Eve and I can’t wait to see you in that long black dress you showed me last week. Every time I think about you in it I feel like my heart is going to burst. I know that sounds like some kind of stupid line but it is true.

I think that you are simply stunning so you will have to forgive me when I pull you into the bathroom at the party because I can’t possibly wait until we get home. Every time I look at you I wonder how I got so lucky. You are the sexiest woman I know and so very smart. Hmm…maybe I should reverse that and call you smart and sexy. Wouldn’t want you to think that the only reason I say these things is to get inside your pants.

Because that is not true. There is so much more to you and I than that. I am not real good at sharing my feelings. I mask them with stupid jokes and comments. You are wrong, I am not afraid of commitment and especially not with you. But sometimes I am slow to move because I am cautious.

Remember how you told me that you would never be the first person to say I love you? Well, this has sort of been similar for me. I do want to marry you. I do want to share a life with you because I can’t imagine life without you in it. It is not because I can’t live a life without you because I can, just as you can without me.

But why would we do that. Why would two people who have what we have ever walk away from it. When I told you to take my hand and said that together we could do whatever we wanted I meant it. We can.

Remember how scared we were that you were pregnant and how we weren’t ready to be parents. We were both so relieved when we found out that you weren’t but I was also a little bit sad. At the same time I sort of shrugged my shoulders because we are young and I figured that there would be other chances.  It is easy for me to picture us when we are old people in our forties or fifties with a houseful of children.

And no, this isn’t a proposal. I am not asking for your hand in marriage. If I did do that I would do it in person. More importantly I don’t want you to know when it is coming. You are a planner and I am not. It is part of how we balance each other. I don’t want you to know because I want you to really be surprised.

I am sorry about what happened. I am sorry about our fight. I wasn’t kidding. I am the guy who will kiss the tears away. I am the guy who can be your best friend and your lover. Together we are more than we are when we are apart. If something ever happened to us I would never forget and I don’t believe that you would either. Decades could pass and I would still love you.

One day I want to make the grandchildren groan because grandpa chases grandma around the house. But first I want to kiss my girl at midnight. First I want to hold my girl and dance with her because she is the song of my heart and always will be.

Will you give me another chance?

Love,

Jack

Timing is Everything

It is fair to say that I am the fellow that prefers to learn by doing than by being told. I understand that the stove is hot and that the pot can burn me but sometimes I can’t help myself and I need to touch the pot.  A smarter man wouldn’t have gone digging around in that box to read more notes and letters.

That draft should have been enough for me. I should have read it and remembered that we didn’t break up. Should have read it and remembered that my girl cried when she read my note and told me that we are inextricably linked forever. I don’t doubt that she meant it but there was that other moment and well…

Stumbled across another letter I wrote after we split. I started out sort of writing to her but it ended up being more of a letter to me.

“Wendy let me in I wanna be your friend
I want to guard your dreams and visions
Just wrap your legs round these velvet rims
And strap your hands across my engines
Together we could break this trap
Well run till we drop, baby well never go back
Will you walk with me out on the wire
`cause baby I’m just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta find out how it feels
I want to know if love is wild, girl I want to know if love is real”
Born To Run- Bruce Springsteen

“Show me how you do that trick
The one that makes me scream” she said
“The one that makes me laugh” she said
And threw her arms around my neck
“Show me how you do it
And I promise you I promise that
I’ll run away with you
I’ll run away with you”
Just Like Heaven- The Cure

If you close your eyes and listen carefully you can hear the soft clink-clank of metal against metal. You’re so focused upon your task it is hard to say how long the rhythmic banging has been going on. You’re name is Johnny and you’re lifting weights in your garage. It is well after midnight and you can’t sleep.

You don’t feel much like talking to anyone and even if you did you’re friends are all asleep. It is a work night so you don’t really want to have a drink.Or maybe that is because you suspect that it won’t just be one drink and you’d rather not finish that six pack. Besides you don’t really want to drink alone.

So you decide that you are going to take your nervous energy and make use of it. You strap on your iPod and head outside to exercise because you know that you always feel better afterwards. And besides it will help clear your head.

Alone in the garage you start your workout and try not to focus on June. Been forever since she was a part of your life. But some days you can’t help but wonder what could have been. Sometimes timing is a bitch and that has you shaking your head. It seems more than a little unfair that circumstances could be the reason that a relationship doesn’t work.

As you focus on your form you can’t help but smile wistfully as you think about how unexpected it was to find June. Neither one of you could have ever predicted it. You grew up in different places and in different worlds. She used to tell you that she would never forgive you for not finding her earlier. You’d laugh and tell her that you could say the same thing.

Time would pass and you’d confess that you had never been more in love with anyone or more scared. This was the kind of thing that only happened in books and movies and that made you drag your feet. She’d tell you the same thing. And in no time you would forge a bond that was deeper and more powerful than any either one of you had known or experienced.

But life is not a book or a movie and things would happen. The world outside the one you shared would come to exert its influence upon you. The timing was off and no matter what you did you couldn’t fight it. You tried. You did what you could and when it wasn’t good enough you beat yourself up and wondered how it fell apart.

So sometimes late at night you’d wander outside and stare at the moon. Looking up at that giant white orb you’d sometimes smile and wonder if June was doing it too. Other times you’d stare at it and feel like howling in frustration and you’d wonder again if she felt like that too.

There would be good days and bad days. Moments when you were determined to walk away. You’d tell yourself that it didn’t matter why it ended or who was at fault or what. All that mattered was moving on with your life. But in the silent recesses of your heart you’d never completely let go.

The bond that you had forged was too strong and too deep. And once you acknowledged this truth of your heart you began to feel better. Once you accepted that you would always love June you were able to start living again. It wasn’t exactly what you wanted, but it was a start.

Because the truth was that your heart told you that June was still out there and that the end to this story had yet to be written. The promises you made were still valid. The love you shared still lived. And maybe, just maybe there might be chance to pick things up somewhere down the road.

And then you took off your watch and stuffed it in a drawer because the last thing you wanted to be reminded of was timing.

What Came Next

I suppose that it is fair to say that I think she was right about us being inextricably linked. That is not based solely on my own wants or desires but her actions too.

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New Year’s Eve

It is funny how little moments in time stick with us. Don’t know if it was five, six, seven or nine years ago when I realized that my marriage had an expiration sticker on it but I do know that it was New Year’s Eve.

I am not a big holiday guy but New Year’s Eve holds a big more significance for me than some of the other days of the year.

Kind of funny to look around my apartment and think about how different life is now from what I once thought it would be. There were other apartments in those days that didn’t have pictures of my kids floating around because there weren’t any…kids then.

The beauty of hindsight is that you can use it to look back at those little moments in time and mark them with a mental note that says “I was an idiot.” That is the sort of thing I always advise my children not to do, but I sometimes do anyway.

File it under “Do as I say, not as I do” or however that stupid saying goes.

Both Pam and Sheri called this week to extend invitations to the parties that they are going to but I declined. Not really interested in being social this year. The kids are out doing their thing and I’d much prefer to be home alone where it is quiet.

Of course right after I thanked Pam for the invitation I stumbled across a box of old letters and notepads and found the first draft of a letter I wrote Ann. It was sort of a bittersweet find. To tell you the truth, if I were more superstitious I might think that the universe was trying to send me a message.

Coincidence is really what I chalk it up to. Ever since that lunch with the girls I have stumbled across things that make me think of her or remind me of things that we used to do. Since she has been on my mind it makes sense that this has happened, right.

I have to admit that I wonder about what Pam said. Has she been reading my column? Has she read my books? Does she see herself in any of the characters or recognize any of the references?

Twice. I have read the draft below twice now. I wonder if she still remembers that night and all that came afterwards.

Dear Ann,

It is almost New Year’s Eve and I can’t wait to see you in that long black dress you showed me last week. Every time I think about you in it I feel like my heart is going to burst. I know that sounds like some kind of stupid line but it is true.

I think that you are simply stunning so you will have to forgive me when I pull you into the bathroom at the party because I can’t possibly wait until we get home. Every time I look at you I wonder how I got so lucky. You are the sexiest woman I know and so very smart. Hmm…maybe I should reverse that and call you smart and sexy. Wouldn’t want you to think that the only reason I say these things is to get inside your pants.

Because that is not true. There is so much more to you and I than that. I am not real good at sharing my feelings. I mask them with stupid jokes and comments. You are wrong, I am not afraid of commitment and especially not with you. But sometimes I am slow to move because I am cautious.

Remember how you told me that you would never be the first person to say I love you? Well, this has sort of been similar for me. I do want to marry you. I do want to share a life with you because I can’t imagine life without you in it. It is not because I can’t live a life without you because I can, just as you can without me.

But why would we do that. Why would two people who have what we have ever walk away from it. When I told you to take my hand and said that together we could do whatever we wanted I meant it. We can.

Remember how scared we were that you were pregnant and how we weren’t ready to be parents. We were both so relieved when we found out that you weren’t but I was also a little bit sad. At the same time I sort of shrugged my shoulders because we are young and I figured that there would be other chances.  It is easy for me to picture us when we are old people in our forties or fifties with a houseful of children.

And no, this isn’t a proposal. I am not asking for your hand in marriage. If I did do that I would do it in person. More importantly I don’t want you to know when it is coming. You are a planner and I am not. It is part of how we balance each other. I don’t want you to know because I want you to really be surprised.

I am sorry about what happened. I am sorry about our fight. I wasn’t kidding. I am the guy who will kiss the tears away. I am the guy who can be your best friend and your lover. Together we are more than we are when we are apart. If something ever happened to us I would never forget and I don’t believe that you would either. Decades could pass and I would still love you.

One day I want to make the grandchildren groan because grandpa chases grandma around the house. But first I want to kiss my girl at midnight. First I want to hold my girl and dance with her because she is the song of my heart and always will be.

Will you give me another chance?

Love,

Jack

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I Know Things

We’re standing on the balcony staring out at the sunset. You’re barefoot wearing nothing but that sun dress I like. I am in my usual shorts and a t-shirt. Our drinks rest on the table next to us while dolphins play in the sea below us. Great splotches of orange, red, blue and magenta are painted against the sky. Your hand fits perfectly inside of mine and I wonder if I have ever been so content with holding hands. A silent smirk creeps across my face and I catch you staring at me. I know you. I know that look. You want to know what I am thinking but I remain silent.

You look at me again and I raise my eyebrows and smile. In return you give me that look that says that you are somewhere in between content and exasperation. I try not to smirk. I tamed you when no one else could. You know it and I know it. I am trying not to laugh and so are you. Finally you look at me and tell me to “just say it already.” You try to give me a stern look but the light in your eyes and the smile in your voice tell me all that I need to know. I shake my head silently and pull you into my arms. For a moment we stare at each other and then our lips brush against each other.

This….this moment has been a long time coming. This thing that we share has been the most difficult, infuriating and best thing that we have ever known. Against the backdrop of the sinking sun we hold each other in silence and smile. We aren’t teenagers. Those days are long ago and far away. A lifetime has been lived by each of us both together and alone and then together.  I look at you and look back towards the room while you give me a knowing smile. Our fingers still intertwined we walk back inside. You sit on the bed and I turn on a mix I made for you long ago.

Bob Dylan is singing Lay, Lady Lay

“Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Whatever colors you have in your mind
I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine”

My voice is a soft rumble, “what should we do for dinner?” You tell me that you have a few ideas and I smile. I have the Peaceful Easy Feeling that The Eagles sing about. I stare at you and smile again.

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile
His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean
And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen

For a moment you look away, the look in my eyes too intense. I walk over to the bed and gently lift your head so that our eyes can connect again. I tell you that I never stopped singing that song. Some people come into your life for but a moment, others for a lifetime and some for longer still. You laugh and tell me that I don’t need to use cheap lines to get you. I shake my head and whisper “no.”

Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Why wait any longer for the world to begin
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you

I tell you that I am sorry. I don’t know how or why some things play out the way that they do. I have enough trouble remembering my own name. But I know things and this much is certain, whatever has happened is done. Now we have the future we once talked about except now it is real. Now we have countless hours to do and to be. It is good that we aren’t teenagers anymore because now we know what is real and what isn’t.

Moonlight fills the room and the lights dance in your eyes. We started a story whose end doesn’t have to wait any longer because our future is now. Take a leap of faith and believe.

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead
I long to see you in the morning light
I long to reach for you in the night
Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead

Some things can’t be stopped, they can only be delayed.

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Married To The Wrong Woman

Sometimes life is a cliche. One eager screenwriter in a convertible driving down Pacific Coast Highway on his way to pitch his script. Bright blue skies and not a cloud to be seen. Off to the right the surf continued to roll in and out. A healthy dose of nerves and an exceptionally long stoplight almost caused an accident.

The guy driving the black Hummer was none too happy about waiting for the light to change, let alone the extra five seconds that Jimmy Cox caused him to lose by sitting at the light. As the Hummer flew by the driver made a point of shouting somepleasantriesat Jimmy regarding his mental capabilities. Not that Jimmy noticed. He was lost in thoughts about the coming meeting.

The opening scene of the movie was simple. The camera was going to zoom in on a pair of eyes. Jimmy didn’t care what color they were. All that mattered to him was that they evoked sadness and longing. The model in a roundabout way came from a commercial that had run during his childhood.

The commercial was a PSA that was about littering. A proud Native American with a single tear running down his face. The cause of his tears? Litter.

This was different. This was about unfulfilled potential and lost opportunities for love. It is about trying to decide what kind of sacrifices a parent is willing to make for their children. Does a couple subjugate the chance to explore the greatest love of their lives for the good of their children or do they follow their hearts. Was there a middle ground that they could find or would they spend an eternity apart, filled with regret.

A small snort escaped from Jimmy’s mouth. His script Married To the Wrong Woman wasn’t anything special. He didn’t break any new ground. There weren’t any clever or innovative plot twists. It was just another love story. And if there was one thing that had been done a million times in a million different ways it was the love story.

Then again, Jimmy knew in his gut that Hollywood would never stop making love stories. As long as there were people, there would be those who would go to watch the love story. Some would go because they loved the drama. They got off on following the twist and turns. Others would go because they related to it. They could see themselves in the characters. They understood. They identified with the characters.

Love sold and love sells. That was the line he wanted to use. The question was how to present it. Married To the Wrong Woman was the story that was going to get him started. He loved the characters and he loved the story, but only because he had created it. It wasn’t his story. It wasn’t his personal experience. It was him and a million others he had cobbled together.

All that he really wanted to do was find a way to make a name for himself. He wanted the freedom to make any sort of picture he wanted and figured that the fastest way to do it was to come up with a hit movie. It wasn’t totally far fetched. In an age of manufactured pop stars and reality television it was hard to believe that he couldn’t fabricate his own fame. In spite of his nerves he reminded himself that innovation in Hollywood meant putting a modern spin on a remake of a sitcom or movie from the 1970s.

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Audio Post

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Jack’s Story December 28 Update

My name is Jack. I am a single father who works as a journalist for the local paper. I have a a bi-weekly column that is read by more than 1 million people and I am the author of three books, with a contract to write more.

On the weekends I coach my son’s soccer team and drive my daughter to dance class. I have two girlfriends who really are just that, girls who are friends. Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between a girl friend and a wife. They both tell you what to do and neither put out.

I suppose that the real distinction is that the girl friend doesn’t receive a piece of my paycheck each month so that they can live in my house with Rudy, the flying Dutchman.

I know, that sounds overly bitter. My therapist told me that I should be happy about this. She said that it would be good for the ex to have a man in her life, that it would make her happier and as a result she would be easier to deal with.

I tried to look at it that way, I really did, but there is 6’2 of stupid preventing me from doing so. The same 6’2 of stupid that is shtupping my wife, sleeping in my bed and enjoying the house that was the fruits of my labor.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re better apart. It was a long time coming and something that I should have done years ago. I didn’t mind her taking the house because it was easier than uprooting the kids. But I won’t lie about being irritated about the cold Germanic figure that lives there now too.

We might not have had the greatest marriage, but we had a great house.

And now instead of having a bad marriage and a great house I have a bad apartment and a lot of freedom. So I suppose that there is something to be said for that. The girl friends keep telling me that if I moved out of the bad apartment I’d find it easier to date.

I keep telling them that I don’t want to date, but they ignore me. So then I tell them that misery loves company which is why they want me to get involved with another woman. I think that it is hysterical and every time I say this I crack up.

For some odd reason they don’t. And for that same odd reason they aren’t interested in hearing about what I think women are good for. That is ok, I don’t really want to tell them.

A while back my daughter found some old love letters that a lost love once sent to me. She had a field day with that. Ever since then she has been pushing me to try and look her up. She tells me that she can tell from the letters that she really loved me and that no woman who wrote those things ever stops loving the man she wrote them about.

I smiled and thanked her. She smiled back and told me that I was too young to give up. I think that the girl friends and her must be talking about me when I am not around, because I am getting tag teamed.

Anyway, I am on deadline for my next column. Since the ladies of my life are so intent on pushing relationships upon me I decided to show them by writing about the end of relationships. Something really bitter and biting, that ought to shut their mouths.

So here you have my first draft of my next column. I think that it has real potential.

Always On My Mind- Willie Nelson

Thanks to technology there are a million new ways to break someone’s heart. A million new methods of letting someone that you once loved or perhaps still do that you just can’t do it anymore.

In the age of instant gratification and social media it won’t be long before we hear/read the tales of dismissal. Husbands who let their wives know they are leaving them by unfriending them on Facebook or girlfriends who let their ex know their new status by tweeting it.

It is kind of funny in an I am not smiling kind of way to think how these time saving tools of communication can take the intimate and personal and turn it into something mechanical, cold and sterile.

What do you call people who do this? Awful, callous and cruel come to mind. Descriptive words that fail to capture the essence of how truly horrible being dumped in this fashion can be.

But let’s face it, being dumped isn’t a pleasant experience. It is not necessarily easier to stand or sit in front of someone and listen to them tell you that they have lost that loving feeling. I suppose that it doesn’t make a difference, even if they haven’t lost it, but are ending things because circumstances make it impossible to continue.

In the end you still ask those questions. You still wonder what you did or what you could have done. Surely there is a word or gesture that would have spared you the angel of death speech. Had you only known then they would have passed over and you’d be ensconced in your cocoon of love and happiness.

The End Of a Marriage

I’ll say this much for divorce, it makes for great blog fodder. There is something wrong about that, isn’t there. Shouldn’t there be some rule that says that being this connected is wrong. Isn’t there some rule or law of silence about this. I am not really supposed to be able to communicate such intimate thoughts.

The pain of a broken heart isn’t really something that you should be privy too, or maybe you should be. Maybe that is the point of all this. I act as the exhibitionist and you act as the voyeur. I pull aside the shades so that you can look inside the window and see just what is that I am doing.

And that is how you get the great image of “6’2 of stupid that is shtupping my wife, sleeping in my bed and enjoying the house that was the fruits of my labor.”

Really, I should be more grown up about this than I am. I should be happy that he has taken the burden off of my hands, but that is not totally true either. The end of the relationship is a mixture of relief and sadness. It is a mixture of success and failure.

I try not to tell the girl friends about this feeling because every time I do they interpret it as a sign that I need a new woman. They read the last column and told me that they thought that it was brilliant and that I was dead on about how awful breaking up by email is. Apparently this sort of thing is far more prevalent than I realized.

Just my luck really. I was trying to portray myself as being bitter, cold and unfeeling and they took it as being sensitive. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe this is all part of the stupid plan that they and the daughter are trying to put into place. You know, the whole lost love deal.

Earlier this week the girl friends slipped it into conversation, how some people never forget walking down Coventry or chasing each other through grapevines. The whole gist of it was their female version of some romantic tale in which I contact that great lost love of mine and we suddenly find our way back to each other.

I must admit that I find a certain attraction to it. I have wondered what she is up to and where she is at. From time to time I have remembered things and wondered if she has too. But that could easily be me. After all I am the one who is in this position. I am sure that she is happy with her life. I am just a good memory relegated to the unimportant and irrelevant pile.

At least that is what I suspect, but I admit that part of me wonders if that is true. I also admit to relearning the finer points of being heartbroken. I hadn’t ever planned on becoming reacquainted with it. I rather imagine that it is similar to a prisoner revisiting his cell.

You know all the corners intimately, but you never really want to step back inside, even if the door is open. Except in my case the door swung shut behind me.

The good news is that all of the crap that I left here is still here. Same books and toys on the shelves just waiting to be played with again. The bad news is that all of the crap that I left here the last time is still here. The questions and hard feelings and the sense of loneliness. The empty ache is back, an old friend that I didn’t want to see again.

But the good news is that I know from experience that this isn’t a life sentence. I’ll bust out of this joint like I did the last time. Only this time around things will be different.

Of course I said that same thing last time, but this time it is true. This time it is going to be different because this time a million people will read about this in my column. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but we’ll find out.

Stay tuned to this bat channel and assuming that the paper doesn’t fire me or go under from a lack of advertising dollars and you’ll find out what happens, or not.

A 21st Century Break Up

“Well now, everything dies, baby, thats a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back

Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

Atlantic City- Bruce Springsteen

Went to lunch with the Sheri, Pam and the daughter. It wasn’t my choice. I was far more interested in hiding out in my apartment. It might not be much to look at, but it is mine. Simple furniture, my books, music and a decent television. Reminds me a bit of how I described my first place after college to my parents.

But there is a difference this time around. The refrigerator is full and there is more than $25 dollars sitting in my bank account. Not to mention that the furniture isn’t a bunch of hand me downs from friends and relatives.

The best part is that it is mine and mine alone. I am happy being by myself. I don’t worry about who left dishes in the sink or if there are socks on the floor because if there are, I know who is responsible for it.

I had intended to make myself a sandwich, grab a beer and watch football. Later on I was going to take a nap and maybe start reading that book about the history of Scotland. It was a good plan, but the girls had other ideas.

When the telephone rang I didn’t bother to check the caller ID because I already knew who it was going to be. She called every weekend to check on me and every weekend I gave her the same response. Told her that I was fine, but if it would make her feel better I would let her iron my clothes and perform other services as needed.

It was the sort of obnoxious remark that I used as a shield and on most people it would work, but not her. After 30 some years of friendship she ignored it. Didn’t faze her, in fact I am not even sure it even registered.

But I was wrong about the caller. This time around it was my daughter. As soon as I heard her say “Hi daddy” I knew I was screwed. I am a lot of things, but I am not stupid. It didn’t take a genius to recognize that tone of voice. It was the same one she had used her entire life with me, that one that girls use to melt dads heart.

I placed my hand over the telephone and cursed. “Damn!” But there was no point in arguing with her. She is my girl and she is just as determined as I am. Better to just roll along and see if there was an easier way to get out from under their scheme.

Earlier that week she had shared her thoughts with me. She had told me that she was very concerned about me, that she didn’t think I gave myself enough credit or that I did a good job of taking care of myself. I had thanked her for her concern and reiterated that I was quite capable of taking care of me. Been doing it all my life, now wasn’t much different.

She smiled and wrapped her hand around my bicep and asked me to make a muscle. I couldn’t help but smile. Years ago she and her brother liked to try to arm wrestle. It had turned into a goofy game where we would make a muscle and pose like a body builder. It was sheer silliness and almost always disarming.

Damn, damn, damn. I keep forgetting this kid has made a life time project of studying dad. But I didn’t crack. I made a muscle and asked her if she wanted a piggy back ride. She laughed and told me that she was too big for one. I told her that she never would be too big and changed the subject.

Not that it mattered. She just went with it and here we were a few days later, the three of them and me. As we sat at the table I made a crack about feeling just like Hugh Hefner. It was met with a stony glare and sighs all around. Because I am both stubborn and prone to stupidity I told them that they were wasting their time and that we should find a different project. Maybe we could go out and save the environment.

Instead I was treated to a story about how things work in the 21st century. They told me that the Internet had killed the idea of a clean breakup and that now it was really easy to find people and or check up on them. I smiled at the three and reminded them that I probably knew more about computers and the net than they did.

That earned me more stares and sighs. And then I learned that all of them had googled the name of an old boyfriend once or twice. They assured me that it was just curiosity that made them do it. I looked at my daughter and said that curiosity was how I became a father. She glared at me and asked her companions why they put up with me. She had to because of genetics, but they had a choice.

Before anyone could answer I went into a five minute lecture/rant about minding your own business. They were silent. And just when I thought that I had convinced them they let me know that they had already done their own checking up.

She was free. She was single and so was I.

That took the wind right out of my sails. I was mildly surprised by the impact. She was single. I stuttered something in response and muttered something about having been kicked in the mouth one time too many.

And then I was silent.

For a moment I was lost in thought. I remembered the fire and the passion. I remembered how she made me feel like there was no one more important or more special. And then I remembered the pain of losing her.

It was like having an arm or a leg cut off. It took a while for those scars to heal, longer than I wanted to admit. And the truth was that I wasn’t even certain if they ever had. I did my best to hide the shock and thanked them all for their concern.

A short time later we got up and left. Out in the parking lot we hugged and kissed each other goodbye and I drove home lost in thought.

Later that night the telephone rang and again I didn’t bother checking the Caller ID. It had to be my daughter and again I was proven wrong. For the next five minutes I listened to her tell me why I should think really hard about things.

“She loved you as much as you loved her,” she said. I told her that I wasn’t so sure and that it had seemed far too easy for her to walk away. She snorted into the phone and assured me that I wasn’t the only one with a broken heart. She was just more practical about things than you were or so she claimed.

I thanked her again for her concern and told her that I would think about. A short time later I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering what would happen if I tried to contact her. Would she take the call or respond to the email. I was afraid that she would and afraid that she wouldn’t.

Just before I drifted off to sleep I remembered what it felt like to kiss her and how I couldn’t figure out where I ended and she began. And that was when I realized that I hadn’t ever stopped loving her. It was a bittersweet revelation.

Not the sort of epiphany that I had gone searching for, but that is the joy of life. You never know what is going to happen. So now there are butterflies in my stomach and my heart is pounding. I haven’t made the decision yet what to do, but I am going to have to do it soon.

I suppose the question is will a 21st century break up lead to a 21st century romance. I don’t know the answer but I rather expect that I will soon.

In the interim I think that I am going to unplug my phone and turn off my cellphone. I have had about as much excitement as I can handle for now.

“I Don’t Want To Kiss My Husband Ever Again”

I have a graphic memory. I dream and think in technicolor or maybe I should say high definition. My dreams are full featured spectacles. It is great when I dream about happy things, but not so good if they are sad or disturbing.

As a young boy I used to wonder if there was a way to control my dreams. I figured that it was nothing more than concentrating hard enough. So I spent more than a few nights lying in bed focused upon whatever it was that I was chasing. Some nights it was images of me chasing down fly balls in Dodger Stadium and or hitting the game winning home run. Other times it was me as a different sort of hero.

I suppose that it is fair to say that in many ways not much has changed. The boy grew into a man who still dreams of playing pro ball or of being a hero. All he needs is a chance. Although to be fair the man recognizes that some dreams will have to remain locked inside the vault.

It was the morning after and I was still in bed. It had taken hours to fall asleep. The news that she was single had a bigger impact upon me than I would have guessed it would. I didn’t want to think about it. Didn’t want to play memory lane. I didn’t want to have one of those dreams and wake up to discover that reality was different than I might want it to be.

The meal with my daughter and the girls was grueling. They didn’t understand that some scars don’t heal. They didn’t understand that I much preferred the safety of my own life. Being single wasn’t so bad. I didn’t worry about forgetting special dates. Never had to try and decipher whether a look or a comment meant that I was in trouble again for some other transgression.

In concept it made a lot of sense to me to say goodbye to women. I knew what I needed to know. I had served a life sentence known as marriage. I helped propagate the species. When I was instructed to go forth and multiply I did it.I listened to them.

That is big stuff, my listening. Ask those who know me and you’ll be told that I have an amazing ability to suddenly go deaf. More than one person called it irritating, but me, I called it survival.

All would be perfect, or close to it, were it not for my daughter and the girls. Did I mention that they don’t like it when I call them girls. Sometimes I like to aggravate them by talking about how you can’t trust a broad, not a single one of them.

The thing is, they know me too well. They refused to let me bait them into a different topic. They have an agenda and I am at the top of the list. And people wonder why I say I feel like I have a target on my back.

Midway through our meal Sheri asked me if I remembered what her marriage was like. I smiled and told her that she should have married me. That earned me another one of those withering looks and a sharp rebuke from my daughter.

Great, and to think that I thought that I owned the look and the lecture she gave me. But because I am rarely at a loss for words I told her that I have been inoculated against that sort of thing. She of course didn’t care. Damn, if she isn’t like me. Moments like this make me wonder if I should be proud or frightened of her.

But I digress.

Sheri jumped back into her story and asked me if I knew how she realized that her marriage was over. I was tempted to provide another smart ass remark, but something told me that it was smarter to stay quiet.

“When I realized that I never wanted to kiss my husband again, I knew that it was over.”

“Well, we share that in common. I never want to kiss your husband again either. For that matter I don’t want to sleep with him, he snores far too loudly,” I said.

I know, the smart ass remark didn’t help, but how could I let that one go. Again she ignored me and continued on.”

“When you find the kind of love and relationship that you had you don’t let go.”

That wiped the smile off of my face. I looked at her and thanked her for her opinion. Before anyone could go on I explained that it had been made very clear to me that she was done. It didn’t matter what I wanted, or what I thought. She was done.

My daughter came around the table and hugged me. She told me that she had no idea that my feelings for her were so deep and that I owed it to myself to not just ignore the opportunity.

I was surprised by my anger. I did my best not to bark at her, but I am not sure that I was successful. “This is not reality. This is not some stupid movie where I get to ride up to her ranch, grab her and ride off into the sunset”

“She gave up on us and she gave up on me.”

For a moment there was silence. It took me a moment to realize that both my jaws and fists were clenched. I took a deep breath and thanked them for their thinking about me.

Sheri smiled and told me that she was sorry. In a soft voice she said that I needed to remember that some loves never really die and that we had been victims of bad timing. “Call her. There is a reason why you are being given a second chance.”

I smiled back at her. “I’ll think about it.” And then I said a silent prayer of thanks that none of them knew how hard my heart was pounding.

Once Upon A Time

One of the best parts of my job is that I can do it from almost anywhere. All I need is my cellphone, a laptop and an internet connection and I am good to go. It is one of the perks that come with the position, not to mention the joy of dealing with the most cantankerous editor ever.

He and I have a real love hate relationship going on, and that is putting it mildly. It wouldn’t be fair to say that we love to hate each other. But it would be fair to say that I love to aggravate him. I probably shouldn’t. It is a bit unfair to always press his buttons, but I have issues with authority. So does he.

For some reason he finds it necessary to try and tell me what to do and how to do it. This usually inspires me to do the opposite. Somewhere out there my mother is shaking her head about this. She told me many times that it is better to get along with people, that I don’t always have to be such a pain-in-the-ass. I love you mom, but you know that it is not going to happen, so why keep trying.

“Big Ed”, the editor, that is what I call him, likes to have regular meetings with me. He says that they are not serious, just an easy way to communicate. The thing is that I prefer to communicate by email or telephone and he likes face to face.

“Big Ed” doesn’t like being called “Big Ed.” His real name is Harold but if you call him Harry he gets upset. It probably has something to do with having virtually none on his head. You also can’t refer to him as “Harold, the Hairy, the Regent of Rogaine” because he doesn’t like that either.

Truth is that I can’t say that I really like it. It is not particularly funny, but it gets a reaction from him and that I do like. Did I mention that he is very particular about where things go on his desk. I like to move his stapler around. Again, it is not funny and it is quite juvenile. But it tends to help him come to the proper conclusion that Jack and office visits are not a good mix.

With that sort of introduction you might wonder why the “balding behemoth” doesn’t release me from his tender mercies. The answer is that I am that good and so is he. Together we have found a recipe that works and both of us have been around long enough to recognize that you don’t mess with something like this.

It also doesn’t hurt that Harold went through his own divorce and was sensitive to my situation. He made a point of approaching me more than once to offer a friendly ear. I was grateful and appreciative of it. I made a point to thank him and then told him that if brought up a “friendly ear” to me again I would sue for sexual harrassment.

He quickly apologized and changed the subject at which time I threatened to sue him for not making a pass at me. You should have seen how red his face got with that remark. Poor Harold didn’t know what to do. I almost felt bad for him because I knew the feeling.

Getting divorced was sad and exciting. Even though I knew that it was the right thing to do it was hard to accept that something that had seemed so right was over. I need to qualify that. I think that at one time it felt that way. I mean, I wouldn’t have gotten married if it didn’t seem right.

That was something that I just wasn’t sure of. I couldn’t decide if I really had felt that way or if I had convinced myself that at one time I had. None of it really mattered. I had checked out of the marriage long before the divorce, I just hadn’t realized it.

For a long time I had thought that the problems were all related to external influences. When the kids are young they suck the life out of you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love them or have a single regret because they are amazing. They make you better people.

But they also make you crazy people. They take and take and take. And then they takes some more. During the week there is the daily grind of getting them to school, helping them with their homework and all of the extracurricular activities.

Weekends weren’t any less busy. There are birthday parties, soccer games, ballet and when they get older reports for school.

And did I mention the challenges posed by preteen and teenage romance. I almost killed half the boys in my daughter’s middle school. As far as I know she didn’t date any of them, but she and her friends swooned and cried about them more times than I can count.

In fact I intend to kick the crap out of some kid named Jason for the simple reason of just because. Just because translates into you dated my daughter for two years in high school. Two years of pretending to be Eddie Haskell. Two years of trying to bullshit me into believing that you weren’t trying to get into her pants every day.

Stupid prick forgets that I used to be him. I know every line and trick for making a girl think that you think she is special. You are not unique. And yes I know that other boys did it too. And yes I know about karma and all that kind of crap. But you just rubbed me the wrong way and now I want you to give me an excuse.

The thing is that even though they have long since broken up if anything happened I would still be the bad guy. She doesn’t love him anymore, or so she says, but I know my girl. Actually maybe it is because I know my girl that I don’t need to do anything to him.

Scratch that, my fragile male ego can’t accept it. I am ordering one ass kicking off of the menu of life. One righteous ass kicking so that I can wipe that stupid smirk off of his lips. One day….

********

I had planned on working at the beach today, right next to lifeguard station number six. The car was loaded with my gear and I was just about to leave when Harold called to ask what time I was going to come in. I tried to pretend that the connection was bad but he was ready and asked me if I had checked my email.

He had forwarded an email that I had sent him two weeks prior. In the email I had told him that I would be delighted to meet with him to discuss my latest assignment. I hate when I screw up like that. I silently cursed my own stupidity and made a note to remind myself never to commit to anything in writing.

I told him that I would see him soon and hung up the phone. I made a quick trip out to the car to grab my gear and switch it with the business stuff. One of these days I have to win the lottery or invent something because this working stuff is getting old.

A short time later I was in the car and headed towards the office. Talk radio and the sounds of traffic filled the silence and I found myself lost in thought.

Hanging Out With Hairy

Inside the car I remembered that I hate commuting. The fact that it would have taken me just as long to get to the beach as it did to travel to the office was immaterial. Normally I would have spent the ride plotting ways to prick “Big Ed.” The precious minutes of beach time that I was wasting would have been devoted to thinking about how many different ways I could call Harold, “Hairy.”

Did I mention that at times I can be juvenile, selfish and spiteful. Not my finer traits, but hey, at least I am aware of them.

This time was different. Instead of plotting my silly revenge, enjoying music or listening to the ridiculous rantings of the anonymous talk show callers I was lost in a place that I wasn’t so sure I wanted to revisit. I was back in the past. It was a bit like walking into my garage. There were all sorts of treasures inside and a bunch of junk that I probably should get rid of, but never had.

I have always liked thinking of my memory as being a big garage or warehouse full of stuff. It works for me. There is something appealing about it. Whenever I need to remember something I simply walk into the garage and find the box it is located in. The problem is that like my real garage those boxes are not only dusty but they sometimes include items that I didn’t expect to find.

Back when I was married the garage was my refuge. It was my cave, my domain and all who entered it understood that it was dangerous to screw with things without my approval. Not surprisingly the ex thought that different rules applied to her. Although to be fair I learned long ago that once a woman starts sleeping with you she assumes certain liberties, like trying to convince you that Laura Ashley sheets are cool for the master bedroom.

My internal monologue was disrupted by the squealing by a loud thump, thump, thump coming from the car next to me. If you want to piss me off it is always wise to play your stereo at levels loud enough to make the windows shake. I have said more than once that if I am ever involved in a road rage incident it is going to be because of that.

The noise got my attention and I made a point of looking around to see where it was coming from. There was a large SUV in front of me that seemed to be the culprit. Sometimes it is hard to tell. The noise is so loud that it could just as easily be coming from the side or behind.

The license plate frame on the SUV said something about being a proud student of Grapevine Community College. The G.C.C. administration should be proud of this sort of representation. It really says something. Then again, I am a part time writing instructor there so maybe I should be more charitable with how I think of the students.

The writing gig isn’t bad. For the past ten years or so I teach one or two creative writing courses each semester. In the beginning I wasn’t so sure about it. They didn’t have an existing curriculum so I had to develop one on my own. That was supposedly going to lead to my earning more but I am not really sure that ever happened.

That first year I taught by Braille. It was a lot of touch, feel and react. I wouldn’t advise doing it that way. The department chair made a point of instructing me not to do it that way. He gave me a lot of good advice that I ignored. Sometimes my issue with authority causes trouble for me.

But we got through it. Over time I developed a teaching style and I found that I was pretty good at it. Most of my students were truly interested in learning so it made it easier to engage them. And of course it didn’t hurt that quite a few were relatively attractive women.

On a side note let me mention that you don’t want to tell woman that she is relatively good looking. It is the kind of remark that creates a minefield that no man wants to walk through. It is not that different from being asked if a particular item of clothing makes her look fat.

Say that she is relatively good looking and she will set you up for a verbal beating. You can almost guarantee that it will be an interrogation of what and who she is relatively good looking compared to. If you suffer from the same fits of stupidity that afflict me it will lead you to saying that she is far more attractive than a hippo or warthog.

You’ll say it with a big smile that you think she’ll find endearing and then after she has eviscerated you’ll wonder why you didn’t just save time by hitting yourself in the head with a hammer.

In case you are wondering I sometimes use that as part of my lecture. The students enjoy laughing at my expense. It is not unusual for the women to laugh the hardest or tell me that I should know better. I smile and shrug my shoulders. The guys usually like this too. After class a few of them will come and share their own war stories with me.

I like to try and use these kinds of stories because they work well as ice breakers. Get the class to laugh. Get them interested and engaged and it becomes far more interesting to everyone.

Not everyone appreciates these tales. Every class is filled with at least one person who doesn’t appreciate a self deprecating sense of humor. Did I mention that they are usually female. Is this coincidence? I think not. That leads to another useful safety tip for the men.  Don’t try to use that last line or any derivation of it in class. You’ll do great with the women who likes to hang out with the boys.

But invariably you’ll upset one or more who will decide that you are sexist and in need of being reported to whatever authority they think will screw you the hardest.

Ok, I admit it, I am a bit bitter and irked with the fairer sex. But I have a good reason, really, I do. I can tell you her name, her sizes. Yes, I said sizes, shoe, pants, panties, bra, blouse, whatever. I don’t give a damn whether you think that is cool, weird or what.

I can tell you how tall she is, her weight, what color her eyes are and a million other details. It has been years and I haven’t forgotten what she smells like or how it feels to kiss her. Years later and sometimes when I close my eyes I still see her looking back at me.

Years later and I can’t forget. The last time I saw her we kissed each other goodbye and headed off to our cars.

But I am not going to go there. It took a long time to put it aside. It took a long time to accept that the life I thought we were going to share wasn’t going to happen. Took a long time to convince myself that I couldn’t just wait around, that maybe love wasn’t enough.

And until the girls decided to have lunch with me that was ok. I was ok. Until that little bit about her being single I was ok.

I’ll say one thing for being distracted, it made the time in the car go by like it was nothing. Of course the downside to that was that I hadn’t spent any time thinking about an idea for my next assignment. And now I had all of five minutes to try to come up with one.

I Will Never Fall In Love Again

I pulled into a parking space, turned off the motor and cursed out loud. The weather outside the car was perfect. Blue skies and just enough heat to make you feel warm were all the reason I needed not to be here. It is a good thing that my skull isn’t transparent because if it was my dear friend Harold would be able to see storm clouds heading his way. With any luck he’d be struck by lightning.

Ok, that is probably unfair. I was semi responsible for this meeting. The company had a funny policy about paying people only for the work they did and not for work that they might do. I had a long conversation with one of the bookkeepers about that one. We got stuck riding an elevator together and since I haven’t a clue what pasty faced number boys are interested I talked about paychecks.

We both learned something that day. He found out that a two minute ride on an elevator can feel like a week in cleveland and I found out that I can babble at length about anything. I know, you already knew that.

By the time I had walked into the office I had figured out that the topic of my next submission was going to be why marriage was the devil’s greatest invention. In my experience it was the closest thing to hell that one could find. Before you go off half cocked you need to understand that the classic definition of hell is wrong. It is not a place of fire and brimstone.

The Definition of Hell

Hell is seeing the love of your life unhappily living with someone else, but pretending to be happy. Hell is being granted a taste of the most incredible relationship and experience of your life and then having it taken away.

It  is like being seated at a table with the greatest feast you have ever seen. The food looks and smells incredible. You look around the table and see that the other guests are having a culinary experience that borders n the orgasmic. Just as you are about to join the  festivities you realize that your arms are tied behind you and your jaw is wired shut.

Hell is the real world and that is much worse than anything Dante can come up with.

Well, if there was ever any question about my being a bit bitter there isn’t now. Life is sometimes funny in a way that makes you laugh and sometimes in a way that makes you want to cry.

The first time I had my heart broken was hard. The second time was rough and the third time was ridiculously painful. It was bad enough that I swore that I wouldn’t fall in love again. And for a long time that is how it went. Various women came into my life. Some of them tried to break through the walls that I had erected but none really succeeded.

And then one day she did. One day the wall was up and the next day it was a pile of rubble. It scared me. I was frightened and excited by it all. But she took me by the hand and promised to just love me. I think that was part of what caught me, the “I just love you” bit. It was so simple and yet so powerful.

She did and so did I. We just loved each other. It is a cliche, but it felt like a dream. Somewhere along the way we got lost. If I didn’t have my meeting with Harold I might even take the time to tell you how and why. At least I think that I would. Can’t say for certain because I don’t know if I understand it.

So in the time we have before I go off to the meeting let me fill in some details. We fell apart, sort of. Not sure that we ever stopped loving each other, just found ourselves in unfamiliar territory and went separate directions.

She got married and I got married.

I thought that I was in love. I really did. It seemed like it. I guess that it must have felt like it or I wouldn’t have done that whole ring thing.

But here I am today, ringless, wifeless and until the other day very happy. Things were great until they told me about her. I was perfectly fine and now I am not.

Now I find myself on fire for a woman I haven’t seen or spoken to for what seems like forever. Now I find my heart pounding for a woman who probably thinks of me as just another ex. I am sure that she thinks of me fondly, but what are the chances that she feels like I do.

And this sort of talk is part of why I am pissed off with my daughter and the friends. I didn’t want to look at this corner of my closet. I didn’t want to explore the lost ruins to see if any treasure remains.There is a reason why you let sleeping dogs lie.

Sigh. Well, I’ll put this frustration to good use and go needle the hell out of Harold. If he doesn’t go off on one of this interminably long speeches I still might get to the beach.

Silence Is Golden

I walked into the office, looked at Harold and told him to shut up and listen. Dumber men than I are well aware that it is risky to tell your boss to shut up and listen. But having developed an exceptional urge to swallow my size 12 boot ignored common sense and followed up my opening words with, “I said shut up!”

This went over slightly better than the time I asked him in a restaurant whether it was possible to get his name removed from the National Sex Offenders Registry. That stunt led to my paychecks getting lost and my not receiving assignments for an extended period of time.

It probably could have been much uglier had they had a better staff of writers, but they don’t. While I am not dumb enough to believe I am irreplaceable I do know that none of the others are in my league. Don’t mean to be obnoxious about that, but it is true. My content is cleaner and written faster than theirs and that provides me with a substantial advantage over them.

But it didn’t prevent me from being forced to listen to his lecture about respect, his advice on what divorced men should do and something else that I can’t remember. Truth is that I can’t remember most of what he said. Damn girls and their news managed to rattle my cage in a way that just doesn’t happen.

Goodbye

“I remember holdin’ on to you
All them long and lonely nights I put you through
Somewhere in there I’m sure I made you cry
But I can’t remember if we said goodbye”
Goodbye- Emmylou Harris

The girls mean well. They think that they know me better than I know myself and that pushing me here is something that will me to be the happy guy they know I can be. I appreciate that. I really do but I also appreciate not being visited by the ghost of lost love and specter of She Might Still Love You Why Don’t You Call.

Isn’t there some sort of law or rule somewhere that dictates that men my age go sow their oats. Or maybe it is a study. Yeah, I think that I read that it is really important for us to get reacquainted with women by not dating. I think that I read that scientists advise getting involved in strictly physical relationships for an extended period of time.

In between the angst and excitement it occurred to me that this thing that was messing with my head could be the subject of my next column. Lost love rekindled is a story that never grows old. I mapped out a basic outline on a piece of paper and chuckled to myself.

Not only was it great fodder for a story, it would make one hell of a reality television show. That could be a great legacy for the kids. “Children, I want you to know that I paid for your education by creating a reality television show that makes the viewers dumberer.” Wouldn’t that be something to be proud of.

Writing

Yep, that reality television gig could be all sorts of fun now couldn’t it. It wouldn’t take much effort to come up with an idea for a script. All you need to do is think back upon college and pull something out of the memory banks but it wouldn’t be as much fun or as interesting as trying to come up with something that your friends and family would be proud to point at.

Did we ever mention that sometimes old Jack is a big old snob. Not that it matters, but he is and maybe that is why he sometimes talks about himself in the third person. It also happens to be something that drives Harold crazy and anything that drives Harold crazy is something that I have to do with reckless abandon.

Jack the big old snob likes to believe that he lives life with reckless abandon. He likes to think that he is a low maintenance fellow who doesn’t require much to be happy but I suspect that some people might disagree. Of course Jack the big old snob doesn’t spend much time worrying about whether people agree or disagree with him. Maybe he should. The world might appreciate a kinder, gentler and more sensitive Jack. But then again he would miss telling people to go fuck themselves.

And this my friends leads me to a different issue entirely that I like to call the problem with women. They pay way too much attention to me.

Slow down now Tex and take a deep breath. That is not my ego talking. I am not trying to say that women want to tear my clothes off and enjoy a thousands nights of unbridled passion. No, what I am referring to is their predilection for picking up on little details and pieces of personality.  I might have told the girls that I have no interest in her but the more I think about it the more I realize that they didn’t buy it.

The thing is that it doesn’t really matter whether they bought it or not because I know those three. They are convinced that there might be some sort of hope for her and I and they aren’t going to stop pushing until I make contact. But they are fooling themselves if they think that I am going to listen to Ma Bell and reach out and touch someone. If they ask why I can give them a list of a dozen reasons why it doesn’t make any sense.

We can start with this one. Why should I be the one to call her? I don’t get it. The three of them would be the first to tell you that a woman can do anything a man can do yet somehow I am the one whose stuck sticking my neck out here. What is that about? It reminds me of a discussion I had with that crazy woman a thousand years ago where she told me that should would never be the first to say “I love you.”

I remember scrunching up my face and rolling my eyes at that. Why do men have to take all the risk. Want to make a bet that those three will tell me that I am being ridiculous about this. Just wait until the shoe is on the other foot… Call me juvenile, but the next guy my daughter introduces me to just might get a verbal ass kicking because of this. No doubt that daughter will give me hell about that and blame it upon this very thing.

Damn if that doesn’t make me incredibly proud and frustrated. She is almost too smart for her own good. That girl has had too many years to observe me as well as the benefit of being a direct recipient of my DNA. The end result is someone who has more insight into my thought process and feelings than I sometimes like.

Talking In Circles

Whenever someone tells me that I am talking in circles I know that it is time for me to hunker down in my cave and think. This sort of thing only happens when I am confused about something or unwilling to share my real thoughts with someone.

It occurred to me that the sort of confusion I was feeling was tied into feelings that I thought I had left behind in junior high or high school. Or at least I thought that I had done so but the pacing around the room and struggle to focus made it clear that I hadn’t.

Someone needs to remind me to thank the girls for helping me take this trip down memory lane. Maybe next time they can help me find my high school metabolism and energy.

What I really should do is go for a run or head off to the gym. I am restless and it would do me good to use this energy for something other than mental masturbation- but that is not going to happen now.

No, now I am going to dig through old letters I and stories that I wrote about us. Now I am going to open some doors that have been closed and find out whether the ghosts of the pasts still rattle their chains or if they have found a way to rest.

I think that what I am trying to figure out is whether I am chasing after memories of what was or running towards what could be. If it was me giving the advice I would recommend moving forward because Doc Brown and his Flex Capacitor equipped DeLorean aren’t going to show up and take us back in time. The focus has to be back to the future and the present because that is when life happens.

Sometimes I Hate Editors

Most of my former students will tell you that a central theme of my course is that a good writer understands that writing is rewriting. And if I were a smarter man I would listen to Professor Jack and spend more time editing and reworking my columns than I do now. Professor Jack would tell you that Writer Jack rarely allocates more than three minutes per column to editing and that if he took things more seriously he could make a significant improvement upon the quality of his work.

The thing is that Writer Jack has a problem with authority and given a chance would kick Professor Jack’s ass.  I imagine that it would be the kind of fight that some would call a battle for the ages. The fine folks who handle the pay-per-view boxing matches would be well served to get in on that. Just imagine how much money a fight like that would gross. It would be epic.

This raises two important points. The first is that epic is overused and consequently the word has lost all impact. Everything is described as being epic and if everything is epic than nothing is important, significant or meaningful. That makes the use of that word an “epic fail.” Secondly, since Writer Jack and Professor Jack are the same person the only way that fight can take place is in imagination or some sort of science fiction novel.

I would take that idea and file it away but it bears a striking resemblance to Fight Club and the first rule of Fight Club is there is no talking about Fight Club.

That is a very different approach to the first rule of writing which is that writing is rewriting. It sounds far too obvious and as sensible as saying that water is wet but it is true. Good old Harold, the bald is beautiful boy wonder of writing, he who hates these inane descriptions of himself would be pleased to see me spend more time editing my copy. We have an ongoing fight in which he tells me that I am not serving my soul by providing these clean but sterile columns.

He knows damn well that my columns are anything but sterile. I don’t do safe, plain or vanilla. I let it all hang out there and that is part of why people love/hate me. It is one of the benefits of being ridiculously intense. Someone once described me as being inconsistent in my inconsistencies and as subtle as a freight train. I don’t know what the hell the first part of that description means but I can confirm the second.

You know when I am happy, sad or angry. The boys think that this is why I don’t play poker with them very often. They tell me that they know all of my “tells” and suggest that if I played they would go home with fatter wallets.  I haven’t bothered to point out that the last three times I played with them I was the big winner. Every now and then I think about using the fellas and the poker game in one of my books.

There are a million different angles that I could use with it. It might be kind of fun to write about a bunch of Jewish kids who have limited athletic ability but are freaking geniuses at making money. Come to think about it that is the sort of story that I should use in one of my columns and not a book.  Harold and the newspaper are far more worried about liability than my publisher.

You might think that is precisely why I should use it in the book but that is exactly why I won’t. That juvenile part of me can’t pass up an opportunity to tweak Harold. The look on his face would almost be worth the lecture that would come with it.

My Best Interests

She told me that her decision was in my best interests and than she wished me good luck. Her name was Katherine Rosebottom and she is the only teacher who told me that I shouldn’t become a writer. Good old Rosebottom, who used to eat raw sticks of butter refused to recommend me for a spot in the Advanced Placement English class because she felt it wasn’t in my best interests to be there.

I probably should have extended the same courtesy to her and yanked her fat fist out of her mouth so that she wouldn’t die of a massive heart attack at 50. That would have been the proper and gentlemanly thing to do but she didn’t like me and I didn’t like her either.  I can’t tell you what she had against me but I can give you a long list of reasons why I don’t like her.

Did I ever mention that sometimes I hold a grudge. It is not one of my finer traits but I would be lying if I said that it didn’t exist. Besides it is as good an explanation for why I still don’t like a woman who died years ago. In fairness some of that stems from her being unfair and unreasonable. The teacher-student relationship isn’t a level playing field and she worked hard to make sure that I understood that.

If you don’t believe me give Sheri a call and she’ll tell you that I am not making any of this up. She’ll also tell you that the reason Rosebottom was so hard on me was because I never let her have the last word. Did I mention that Sheri loves to say “I told you so.” Maybe that is the reason she is divorced. Do me a favor and don’t mention that I said that to her because I’ll never hear the end of it.

She’d probably say the same thing about me but what does she know. We have been friends for almost thirty years now which means that I remember when she didn’t need to wear a girdle and dye her hair. Actually she doesn’t have to wear a girdle. Good old Sheri scored big in genetics. You can’t tell that she gave birth three times.  She sometimes bitches to me about her hips being wider but I can’t tell if they are or not.

And as she’ll tell you, I would know. We spent countless hours together growing up and yes, I did try to convince her to sleep with me. I blame it on When Harry Met Sally. You know, that whole and women can’t be friends because the men always want to sleep with the women thing.  Allow me to clarify a few things for you.

  1. I have female friends that I have no sexual interest in. Never have and never will. It is just not there.
  2. I spent several years lusting after Sheri. She had this amazing body, a great personality and we hung out constantly

Did I mention that we there was a jacuzzi at her parent’s house. We used it all the time. Do you have any idea what it was like as a teenage boy to go through that. For reasons that were far too obvious getting out of that pool was no easy task and don’t think that she didn’t know why, but I digress.

Anyway, there was a point at time when I decided to confess my undying love for Sheri and suggested that maybe we should try slipping off the bonds of friendship. She told me that she was flattered and said that it wasn’t a good idea.

As you have probably ascertained I told her that I respected her wishes and made preparations to join a monastery. That thought lasted for about five minutes after which I told her she was being stupid and went home.

That led to a fight that almost didn’t get resolved. We never stopped speaking but for several months there was a lot of tension between us. Tension that I interpreted as being sexual in nature and like a good man I did my best to ignore it.

You see I thought that by ignoring it I would turn the tables on Sheri and that one day she would beg me to take her and end her misery. Years later I can see that I was an idiot but back then I didn’t have a clue.

Eventually I couldn’t contain myself and I said something and she exploded.  She screamed at me and told me how I was an insensitive asshole and then said something that blew my mind.

“Fine. Do it.”

I suspect that had my response been videotaped I might have made Porky Pig look like the world’s finest orator.After I finished stammering I asked her if she was serious and she nodded her head.

For a moment I stood there in stunned silence and then listened to her lay out the ground rules.

“You can have me. You can have me for two minutes, five minutes or five days. You can enjoy yourself for however long you can last and then you can go fuck yourself. Never call me again. I don’t want to hear your voice, see your face or know a thing about you.”

I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I know that she walked up to me and said that I had thirty seconds to make up my mind or get out. I remember feeling like my feet were stuck in cement and slowly walking out the door.

We didn’t talk for a while after that but I can’t tell you how long it was. What I do know is that during the time that we didn’t speak she met the guy who later became her husband.

About a month after I told her that I was getting divorced she told me that I probably should have slept with her that day. I asked her if that meant she and I would have gotten married and she rolled her eyes at me.

I still don’t know what that means or if it was supposed to mean anything at all. Women are odd creatures, too bad I am not gay. I understand men.

I’m Not Gay

Some years back I told Sheri that life would be much easier if I really were gay. She laughed and told me that I was as about as far away from being gay as a man could be.  “Should I thank you for saying that I am homophobic?”

She laughed again and told me to stop being so damn sensitive. “Jack, it is not an insult. You love women far too much to ever be gay.” I shook my head and told her that I still didn’t understand and she just rolled her eyes at me. “Is it the damn estrogen that makes you guys act like idiots or just plain stupidity.”

In a different setting that comment probably would have gotten me blasted but I was too busy recovering from the beating my heart took over a different woman. I really haven’t had my heart broken too many times but when it has happened Sheri has always been there for me and for that I am eternally grateful.

That conversation sticks out in my memory more for other things than for the tangent we took regarding which team I preferred to bat for. More specifically that was the night that I discovered that writing was cathartic for me. It is another thing that Sheri deserves partial credit for. She was the one who recommended that instead of getting drunk I try writing in a journal.

Initially it wasn’t something that I had any interest in doing. At that time I was focused on trying to become a sports writer and like many other men I considered the idea of keeping a journal of my feelings to be anathema.

“Have you ever considered writing about your feelings?”

“I was going to do it in between the drum circle and singing Kumbaya with the other losers.”

She ignored the heavy sarcasm and continued, “It is a really good way to understand how you are feeling and why.” “You really should take it more seriously.”

In response I flung a bottle across the room and told her if she really wanted to help she could ask one of her friends to sleep with me. As an alternative I suggested she call Bob and get his blessing to provide me with desperately needed medical care. I suppose that this is another example of how good a friend Sheri has been to me. She ignored the bottle and the thinly veiled request for servicing and pushed me again to write.

“Jack, you are a really good writer and there is no reason why you shouldn’t benefit personally from it. Promise me that you will try writing a few paragraphs about your thoughts.”

I nodded my head and fell on the couch. I remember her covering me with a blanket, kissing my forehead and leaving. Had I been sober I might have actually tried writing that night. Instead I made my first few entries the next day. I’ll let you decide whether the raging hangover made them more bitter than they would have been had I been sober.

Sometimes I Hate Editors

Most of my former students will tell you that a central theme of my course is that a good writer understands that writing is rewriting. And if I were a smarter man I would listen to Professor Jack and spend more time editing and reworking my columns than I do now. Professor Jack would tell you that Writer Jack rarely allocates more than three minutes per column to editing and that if he took things more seriously he could make a significant improvement upon the quality of his work.

The thing is that Writer Jack has a problem with authority and given a chance would kick Professor Jack’s ass.  I imagine that it would be the kind of fight that some would call a battle for the ages. The fine folks who handle the pay-per-view boxing matches would be well served to get in on that. Just imagine how much money a fight like that would gross. It would be epic.

This raises two important points. The first is that epic is overused and consequently the word has lost all impact. Everything is described as being epic and if everything is epic than nothing is important, significant or meaningful. That makes the use of that word an “epic fail.” Secondly, since Writer Jack and Professor Jack are the same person the only way that fight can take place is in imagination or some sort of science fiction novel.

I would take that idea and file it away but it bears a striking resemblance to Fight Club and the first rule of Fight Club is there is no talking about Fight Club.

That is a very different approach to the first rule of writing which is that writing is rewriting. It sounds far too obvious and as sensible as saying that water is wet but it is true. Good old Harold, the bald is beautiful boy wonder of writing, he who hates these inane descriptions of himself would be pleased to see me spend more time editing my copy. We have an ongoing fight in which he tells me that I am not serving my soul by providing these clean but sterile columns.

He knows damn well that my columns are anything but sterile. I don’t do safe, plain or vanilla. I let it all hang out there and that is part of why people love/hate me. It is one of the benefits of being ridiculously intense. Someone once described me as being inconsistent in my inconsistencies and as subtle as a freight train. I don’t know what the hell the first part of that description means but I can confirm the second.

You know when I am happy, sad or angry. The boys think that this is why I don’t play poker with them very often. They tell me that they know all of my “tells” and suggest that if I played they would go home with fatter wallets.  I haven’t bothered to point out that the last three times I played with them I was the big winner. Every now and then I think about using the fellas and the poker game in one of my books.

There are a million different angles that I could use with it. It might be kind of fun to write about a bunch of Jewish kids who have limited athletic ability but are freaking geniuses at making money. Come to think about it that is the sort of story that I should use in one of my columns and not a book.  Harold and the newspaper are far more worried about liability than my publisher.

You might think that is precisely why I should use it in the book but that is exactly why I won’t. That juvenile part of me can’t pass up an opportunity to tweak Harold. The look on his face would almost be worth the lecture that would come with it.

I Don’t Love My Husband Anymore

The telephone call came from out of the blue. I can’t tell you how long it had been since we had last spoken, could have been months or it might have been years. People get busy and live their lives. It is not personal, it is just life. Hell, most days I have trouble remembering my own name.

Our conversation began in the usual manner with small talk about our jobs and other little things about life. Slowly it progressed into some more serious matters sprinkled in with a couple of jokes here and there and then she hit me with the bombshell.

“I don’t love my husband anymore.”

For a moment I was silent, unsure of how to respond I let the words linger in the air. I said that I was sorry and asked her what she was going to do. She told me that she wasn’t sure. She thought that she’d try to hang on for a few years, until her boys were older.

I said that sounded like a good idea. This time the silence was her doing. I felt an obligation to try to help so I asked her a few questions about how she got to be where she was. She told me that he wasn’t a bad guy, that she had made a mistake in marrying him. I told her that I didn’t want to be rude but I didn’t understand why she had children with him.

So she explained that she thought that they were going through growing pains and that she always figured that they would work through them, but they never did. So here she was ten years later wondering how it was that she had come to be trapped in a life she no longer wanted to live.

When I suggested that she consider getting out sooner than later she grew agitated and told me how it was different for mothers. Mothers have different standards than men. I wasn’t sure if I was being insulted but chose to remain silent.

So I asked her a few more questions and suggested that maybe it wasn’t so bad. He sounded like a decent guy. She snorted and told me that I was being a man. I asked her what that meant.

“You don’t understand what it is like to be intimate with him. I feel like I am being violated. I hate kissing him, it makes my skin crawl.”

I was more than a little surprised by her candor and told her that I didn’t understand how she could equate intimacy and kissing. She snorted again and told me that I was a man and that I probably wouldn’t understand. I agreed with her, I didn’t quite understand how it was easier to have sex than to kiss him.

In an exasperated voice she told me that men could just stick it in anywhere and that most of us saw kissing as a means to an end which was why I didn’t understand.

She probably wouldn’t have liked the way I rolled my eyes, but she couldn’t see that. I told her that they would take my man card away for suggesting that she not be intimate with him and she laughed again. It wasn’t a happy laugh.

He wouldn’t put up with that.He didn’t demand it constantly, but he was a man and if she didn’t work to meet his needs he might try divorcing her. I told her that was the most backwards thing I had heard in a long time and received another long sigh.

“Mothers are held to a different standard than fathers. And I would feel such guilt if my children were hurt by me doing this. They love their father.”

There was more silence and then the conversation resumed, but it was different.The moment of sharing was gone and I knew better than to bring it back up again. We said our goodbyes and hung up the phone. As I sat there cooking my dinner I thought about what she had said, echoes of “I don’t love my husband anymore” playing through my mind.

Can’t tell you what made me think of that particular call but thinking about it made me wonder when my ex-wife began feeling that way.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many times she lay there hoping it would end sooner or how many nights she made a point to fall asleep before I climbed into bed. Relationships are such a funny thing.

We weren’t always bad. There was a time when she would have gladly woken up to my advances. Not to mention that I can think of a few times where she woke me up.   I know that I am not the only one to have gone through this sort of thing. Friends tell me that all relationships go through ups and downs and with the exception of she who I am trying not to think about that had been the case.

Or maybe it was the case. Maybe I had forgotten what it was really like to be with her. It was a million years since Ann Stacey and I had been something other than a memory. The days before marriage had been very different than what came after. It was hard not to wonder if time had colored my memories of what life had been like then.

Alone In The Stacks

It was 1980 something or maybe it was the early 90s- I can’t really remember and I don’t care. What I do remember is walking through the library…with Ann Stacey. We were in the Stacks looking for some tome that we needed for a group project we were walking on together. The space between the shelves was quite narrow preventing two people to walk side by side. In an effort to be a gentleman I let go first and I followed right behind her.

She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and had long black hair that was caught up in one of those scrunchy things the girls wore back then. I’ll readily admit that I chose to walk behind her so that I could stare at her without fear of being caught. But it was also done for self preservation, she made my heart pound and I was afraid that I might trip over my big feet and knock myself unconscious.

While I was confident in my abilities to woo a woman I couldn’t think of a clever way to knock myself out and get the girl. It seemed like a great move for some John Hughes movie, except in that one I would be some nerd who would end up with the girl I thought was just a friend. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but this was real life and I was enamored with her that the thought of ending up with someone else just seemed wrong.

The woman walked with purpose and moved quickly down the rows of books and magazines. Periodically she would speak and I would wonder if she had a part time job as a an auctioneer- she spoke so very quickly.  Who knew that she would also stop moving as quickly as she started. I suppose that if I hadn’t been enjoying the sweet scent of her perfume or admiring the swish of her hips I might have been aware that I was about to crash into her.

If nothing else I wouldn’t have smashed her face first into some dusty book causing some other books to fall off of the top shelf and plummet towards earth. Ok, they would have hit earth but instead they smacked her on the top of her head. Looking back on it I realize that this had turned into a John Hughes movie, except instead of me being the one who hit the dirt it was her.

For a moment we stood in silence and disbelief. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. Her face was inscrutable and I suddenly found myself fighting back gales of laughter. I really liked her and I didn’t want to wreck a future by laughing at the wrong time. The worst part of it was the feeling that I shouldn’t laugh. The idea that I shouldn’t made the urge so much stronger. So very strong that I was certain that if I didn’t do something I would laugh so hard I would fall down.

So in an effort not to laugh I just reacted. I tucked an arm around her waist and pulled her towards me. When she was close enough I wiped some dust off of her forehead and kissed her on the mouth. She didn’t kiss me back nor did she push me away. For just a moment we stood there with my lips pressed against hers. When I didn’t feel her return the kiss I began to panic and I got really nervous and began to mutter some kind of apology.

I remember thinking that this kind of crap never happens to Humphrey Bogart. Don’t bother me with silly details about him being dead or that all I saw him in were movies. I know that they were following a script- I already told you to stop bothering my with technicalities and details.

In retrospect I bet that less than a minute had passed but to me it felt like it had been hours. I took my mouth off of hers and looked at her face. She looked back into my eyes and asked me why I had stopped. Fortunately she wasn’t scared off by the Cheshire Cat grin that graced my lips or worried that kissing me would lead to being brained by a 50 year old dictionary.

Alone in the stacks we gained a different sort of education than the one that he had set out to find, and far more enjoyable.

Lost In The Parking Lot

She told me that Jesus loves me and offered me a smile that would make the Cheshire Cat look like he was frowning. I smiled back at her, said that I play for other team but didn’t walk away.

“No, you don’t. We all play for the same manager. You just haven’t realized it yet.”

I laughed. “I don’t think so. My manager hates me.”

Her smile evaporated and a look of genuine concern appeared, “are you ok?

“No, not really. Been a long time since I was ok.” My friends will tell you that I don’t hide my feelings but I am not usually so forthcoming.

“I am sorry about that. I really should get going.”

She put a hand on my forearm and said that it was ok. “God never gives you more than you can handle.”

“No but he doesn’t give me what I ask for either.”

She smiled softly and said that sometimes we thank god for unanswered prayers.

I nodded my head and said that I didn’t think that was true but appreciated her time. She didn’t argue, just flashed that beauty queen smile again and told me to watch out for traffic.

What she should have said was watch out for the shopping cart because that was what I almost tripped over. It was the very same shopping cart that a few moments earlier I had been walking towards.

Had she not called out to me I would have grabbed it and already been inside picking up some groceries.

Instead I was outside in the parking lot rubbing the side that had clipped the cart and wondering where she had come from. I made a mental note not to tell my daughter about it or she would have a field day making me eat my words.

I can’t count the number of times I have told her that she must always be aware of her surroundings.

“Drivers aren’t paying attention. It doesn’t matter if the pedestrian has the right of way because the pedestrian always loses that fight.”

I am guessing that if you asked her to share my favorite lines she would give you that one and the one about girls having to pay extra attention to their surroundings, especially at night.

That second admonition really sets her off. I can’t tell you how many times she has told me that it isn’t fair and that her brothers have more freedom than she does.

The only thing that makes her angrier is what she calls my ridiculous behavior around boys.

I told her that one day when she becomes a mother she’ll understand and then I said that I am far too young to become a grandpa but I am not worried because she is not allowed to date until she is 87.

When she was really little she would scrunch up her face and tell me that 87 is too old. “Daddy, what about 36. Can I date at 36 or 41?

I would smile and say yes and then she would throw out a couple more ages. Sometimes they would be higher and sometimes they would be lower. When you are 8 years-old there is not much difference between 17 and 27. They are both far older than you.

Needless to say as she got older and gained a better grasp of age I began to hear a range that went from 14-16. You can probably guess how those discussions went.

Daughters can be challenging. The first inkling I got of this was from Tom, a fraternity brother of mine. When we were twenty he knocked up his girlfriend and by the time we were twenty-one he was changing diapers on a baby girl they named Rachel.

We weren’t real tight so I would only see him at the yearly reunions. But I won’t ever forget what happened at one when we were around 35 or so.

It is a blustery afternoon at the park and the place is packed with current members and alumni. We are all there for the Thanksgiving day football game we call Turkeybowl.

Tom and I are part of a group of four or five people. We are making the usual small talk about life and what ours is like when Tom barks, “Rachel!”

We all turn to see who he is talking to and spot a very attractive girl talking to a couple of the actives.

‘Is that Rachel?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Dude, she is hot,” says Mark.

It was the wrong thing to say. I am pretty sure that Mark didn’t mean to be offensive. He was just busting Tom’s chops but it didn’t go over well.

Tom glared at Mark, muttered something and pushed by him. When Rachel saw her father walking towards her she gave him a look that could have melted steel, flipped her hair and turned back.

It didn’t take a genius to know that the look the boy was getting was far different from the one her father received.

I don’t know if Tom and that particular active knew each other or what they said to each other. What I can tell you is that Tom provided that 19 year old boy with the kind of education his parents hadn’t paid for.

Fifteen minutes later Tom and Rachel were standing off to the side screaming at each other while the rest of us tried to figure out what had just happened.

I found out later on that earlier that week Tom had walked in on Rachel and some boy in bed. That is the sort of thing that no parent wants to discover, especially a father.

******

I took my bruised hip and started pushing the shopping cart towards the store. It goes without saying that I found the one with the busted wheel.

Inside the store I wandered up and down the aisles and tried to figure out why I had responded the way I had to the woman in the parking lot.

The words had just spilled out of me and I realized that it wouldn’t have taken much more prompting for me to have said a lot more. That moment marked when I realized just how miserable I was and how desperately I needed to make a change.

It probably also is when I decided that it was time to start thinking about that dread ‘D’ word we call divorce. Up until that point it had been something that other people did, but not anymore.

Divorce

I never thought that I would be the guy to say this, but the failure of my marriage made me feel like a failure. That doesn’t mean that I wanted to stay married or that I didn’t want to get divorced because that is simply not true. We went as far as we could go and had we tried to make it last any longer it is probable that we would have had hit that ugly place that so many other couples hit.

That was simply unacceptable to me. My children didn’t need to have parents who hated each other and ending it when we did made it easier to ensure that they didn’t witness some very unpleasant and ugly exchanges. I don’t talk to them at the specifics and particulars of why we decided to end it. That hasn’t prevented them from asking for more information than I am comfortable discussing with them but I simply refuse to answer.

I told them that it is private because it is.

It is not a situation where we can point fingers and say that one of us is/was so horrible it became impossible to live with them. No one was abusive or being abused but neither were we loving or in love.

Look, I understand that relationships are filled with ups and downs. The “experts” and assorted friends have told me that you don’t stay “in love” with your partner throughout the entire relationship. They tell me that during the ebb and flow there are moments where you love them but that is it.

That is something that just never made a lot of sense to me. I don’t know what to make out of the ‘I love you, but am not in love with you” line that so many people have shared. What I know is that I reached a place where I didn’t have anything to say to her anymore. If it didn’t involve the children or some sort of household matter I didn’t speak to her.

It wasn’t because I was trying to be mean either. I truly had nothing to say. I don’t really know why that is. I have tried to figure it out but haven’t come up with anything that makes sense to me. Maybe I need more time to pass so that I can gain more perspective. Maybe I should give it a few years and I’ll be able to gain more clarity and provide a more substantive answer or maybe not.

The thing is that I just don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel a need to understand it well enough to express it.

But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t upset or that I didn’t feel sad about it. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t mourn the end of the relationship. It feels a bit goofy to say that but it is true.

I didn’t wait to start dating until the divorce was finalized but I didn’t go racing off to find a new partner either. It surprised me a little bit.  Back in the good old days when I was a happily married man I used to kid around that if I was ever single I would be like a kid in a candy shop. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it but it seemed natural to say.

As a man with a very healthy libido and a strong appreciation for women it seemed quite likely that I would go off and sow my oats for a while but then it happened and I didn’t. In part it was because I didn’t feel like I had the energy to go and learn about someone else. There wasn’t any motivation on my part to listen to someone tell me their life story and to share mine.

It probably would have stayed that way for a while except I started feeling a bit squirrely. You know, that whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing is going on and I suddenly gained enough patience to listen to a few stories.

I made a point not to say anything to any of my thoughts. I love my friends but I wasn’t in the mood to hear the boys tell me about dating. No cracks about what it is like to get back in the saddle or smart remarks about the need to bring along a little blue pill. I don’t need the damn pill and I don’t need to to get to revisit our high school locker room days.

That might be a little unfair to some of the guys but I am ok with that. I did all this because it was time and because I am taking care of myself. And along those lines I definitely didn’t say anything to the girls because I didn’t want them to start the “can I set you up” game. Correction, that started almost immediately what I didn’t want to do was give them any more ammunition or reason to talk about it.

And I especially didn’t want to hear Sheri lecture me about how I should dress, what I should say or how I must find a woman who is at least 35. Good old Sher says that she doesn’t want me wasting time sleeping with some twenty something year old girl. Why does she say this?

Well my dear friend says that she is looking out for the girl’s best interest. She fears that I will find some young, nubile thing and have outrageous amounts of meaningless sex that will lead the girl to become very attached to me and that she’ll end up getting hurt when I dump her. I told Sheri that she was very far too presumptuous and that she was hurting my non existent sex life with the hot twenty something year-old babe who can’t stop drooling when she sees me.

“Jack, it is a complete waste of time. You will have nothing to talk about and the sex will get old.”

“That is ok. I don’t want to talk to her. I am interested in lots of meaningless sex with a girl who won’t require three ibuprofen after a night of being bent every which way.”

I probably shouldn’t tell you how hard Sheri laughed and how she said that I would be the one who would require the medical assistance afterwards. ”I don’t think that you appreciate the position I am in here. Why not just support me.”

“That is not really a question. Besides I can assure you that a woman in her forties is more than capable of blowing your mind sexually. Chances are that she will be better than that girl you want to waste your time with. That whole talk about women becoming more comfortable with our bodies isn’t a myth.”

I thanked her for advice and reminded her that we weren’t on Oprah or Dr. Phil. There wasn’t going to be any cheering from the studio audience.  She stuck out her tongue at me and I told her that unless she put her tongue to better use it was time for her to go.

“It is not surprising that your divorced. Your mouth always gets you in trouble.”

“I only wish that I was as skilled at using my tongue as you are so that I could get out of it”

She turned to face me and said that she hoped that one day I would let myself be open to the possibility of falling in love again.

“Where the hell did that come from?”

“Jack, you like to pretend that you are a much bigger jerk than you are. You deserve some real happiness and you do a half ass job of taking care of yourself.”  I nodded and watched as she walked out the door and down the hall.

I don’t know if hindsight really is 20-20 but looking back on that conversation now I realize that she had already made up her mind about trying to get me to call the ex-girlfriend. If I were a bitter and angry man I would say that this was a prime example of the conniving woman who tries to manipulate the man. Thing is, I could say it just like that and she would nod her head and laugh.

Well, she really does care for me and is the kind of friend who you can call at any time so I suppose that I’ll let it go. Not like I had a choice, apparently she is two steps ahead of me.

She also gets partial credit for helping me to come up with new material for an upcoming book. Don’t ask me to tell you what book the section below will be used in because I haven’t the foggiest idea. Sometimes I get an idea and I just run with it and see where it goes. That is part of the joy of being a writer. You create worlds and you never know what they are going to look like.

You may have a rough idea about them but you never really know what they will look like or what the characters will be like until that final draft is done.

Not Quite Sleepless in Seattle

Harold keeps hounding me about my next column. He says that he is concerned about me and wonders if maybe I should take some time off. I told him that he has no sense of anything and his poor perspective is the reason that the barber shaved his head.  Unfortunately he has either gone stone deaf or has learned how to ignore my insults. Fortunately I like a challenge and am ready to develop a new set of sayings that will scorch his soul and scour his…soul.

Damn, I am losing my touch and going soft. That last line was beyond pathetic. I don’t know what comes after pathetic but that last line was clearly hanging out in that territory. I feel like the superstar athlete who had a lost step and is relying upon his reputation and a toolkit of wily veteran moves to get him over the hump.

So let’s cut to the chase. The girls upset my apple cart. They turned my world inside out and I am going a little bit crazy trying to figure out what to do. They keep pushing me to call her. They keep telling me that I have nothing to lose and that I should take a chance. Take a chance and see what happens.

I keep telling them that this is real life. It is not quite Sleepless in Seattle. I am not going to meet this very cool and mysterious woman at the top of the Empire State Building. I am not going to take her by the hand and ride off into the sunset completely fulfilled and madly happy. But the girls don’t play fair. They know me too well and they work on manipulating me.

Daughter sits next to me, holds my hand and tells me that she can see that I am nervous. She says that it is cute and tells me that she thinks I am very handsome. I smile and tell her that she is biased. I remind her that when she was four she told everyone that she was going to marry me. She looks me in the eye and tells me that she wants to know why I didn’t marry her.

I smile and tell her that it is a long story. She doesn’t care. She looks up at me with those dark brown eyes and I am lost. I love this little girl of mine, even if she isn’t so little anymore. I am supposed to be the one protecting her. I am supposed to be the one giving her advice.

I look down and stare at her hand and tell her that I remember the day she was born. She wrapped all of her fingers around my index finger that day. I told her that I was her daddy and that I would love her forever. Daughter has heard this story so many times she can tell it herself. I take her hand and pull it to my face. “Does my chin still feel rough.”

She giggles and tells me that it does but that I am not allowed to rub my face on hers. Too late, I wrap her up in a bear hug and rub cheek against hers. She squeals with laughter and for a moment I see the girl she used to be, but only for a moment. That passes and I see the woman she is becoming staring at me. The smile on her face has been replaced with a very serious look that I know far too well.

“Dad, you can talk to me. I am a girl. Maybe I can help you figure out what to say to her.”

I am not ready to tell her much more than she already knows. I know she is frustrated with me but she is going to have to guess what happened because I am not not going to let those ghosts out of their cage. Not today and maybe not ever. So I smile and tell her that I love her more than she can possibly imagine.

“I am not ready to talk about this. I am processing.”

I don’t know if that is entirely true or not because I really am not sure.

Five Years Ago

My father used to tell me that it was important to plan for the future but to remember that it was really hard to predict where you would be and what you would be doing in chunks of more than a few years. I don’t remember what prompted that conversation but I remember that it happened on the telephone and that it was in the old house. I told him that I thought that he was right but that I thought that I might be able to predict things in five year intervals.

Don’t remember what he said or if the conversation ended but I do know that I came to believe that I was wrong. Five years was too long an interval and too many things could happen within that to make the sort of prediction I wanted.

Five years ago I was still married and living in my old house. Notice that I didn’t say happily married because I wasn’t. I don’t know if  I was miserable but I wasn’t happy. I felt trapped, unfulfilled and bored and I suspect so did my ex. We didn’t do very much as a family and even less as a couple. In many ways our marriage more closely resembled two friends living together.

Except we had rings on our fingers and offspring.

I sometimes wonder when our marriage died and whether I was conscious of its death. Back when I was married one of my friends got divorced and told me that you never know when you are going to have sex with your wife for the final time.

I asked them if that bothered him and he said no. The passion had long since left them and she only took care of him because of marital obligations. For a long time I didn’t understand that but than I did. It would have been better had I not recognized it for what it was but I did.

Ladies, you may think that we don’t notice when you are in it but you might be surprised at how many times we do. We all go through moments when one partner isn’t into it but takes care of the other because they love them and want them to be happy. It is not the norm but every once in a while such a thing might happen.

Well, when you are two steps away from splitting up it is very clear to us that you have a timer in your head and you are hoping to use a couple of tricks to make us finish sooner than later.

Sheri tells me that at the end sex with her husband felt like she was being violated.

Well, I may understand that differently than Sheri, but I still understand it. When there is nothing left but memories and ghosts the sex doesn’t do much for us either.

A Whirling Dervish

One of my former students once described me as being a cross between a whirling dervish and the Tasmanian Devil.  Since it was part of a student evaluation of my skills as a teacher I wasn’t privy to all of the details but I got the sense that it wasn’t supposed to be a compliment. The department chair said that I should be aware that my proclivity for movement could be distracting to some people.

I asked if he was trying to say that I was hyperactive and he laughed. “Jack, it is clear to me that you can quite capable of focusing your attention but sometimes energy radiates from you.

That made me laugh but I had to nod my head because it is a fair assessment. There are moments when I feel like little bolts of lightning are shooting from my fingertips. They are usually the same moments when I feel like I have ten thousand ideas that I want to express, each one of them fighting to get out at the same time.

I mention this only because the lovely Ann Stacey once remarked upon it. She watched me pace around a room and wondered aloud if there was anything that could make me stand still. I am not the type to kiss and tell but she did find a way make it happen and to this day I am not sure if she made her comment because she was flirting with me or what.

Or what.

Those two words summed a lot of things up for me. I used to think that I knew a lot about her. I used to think that I could come up with a reasonable prediction of what she would do in a given situation and or how she would respond. I think that she really appreciated that. Television and film like to portray women as being these lovely and inscrutable creatures that men can’t possibly understand but I haven’t ever believed that to be true.

Well, maybe just a little.

But I think that when it came to us my understanding of her is part of what made her fall for me. There were things that I just knew about her. I can’t tell you exactly how or why I knew these things but it was enough to catch her eye. I used to like to tease her about a million different things.

I remember her telling me that in every relationship one person tended to take control but that didn’t necessarily mean that things weren’t equal. So I told her that with me she wouldn’t have to worry about pretending to let me think that I was in control when she really was. She giggled a bit and I told her that I had busted her on that point.

Don’t remember if she actually acknowledged it out loud but we both understood and I think that we loved that understanding. It was stronger and deeper than anything we had ever experienced and now I was beginning to wonder if the raw power of that connection was something that withstood time. Were the promises we made years before things said in the throes of passion or were they more than that.

As a journalist we are trained to ask lots of questions and to dig for answers and information that lies beneath the surface. Even though this is a personal matter I couldn’t help but start thinking about this from a professional perspective.  What is love? What is the difference between being in love and loving something or someone? Does love die?

I know that I have seen a million different stories that suggest that the Internet has helped to break up and or cause major divisions in relationships but it doesn’t talk about the flip side. What has the Internet done to help reunite and or restore lost loves. Surely there are examples of this. There have to be stories about the lost loves who found each other. But what happened when they did.

I wonder.

Whose Reality Is It Anyway

I hate my cellphone. I love my cellphone. I hate how it provides unlimited access to me. I love how it provides virtually unlimited freedom.  That is my unspoken mantra. It is what I recite while I sit on the beach and watch the waves come rolling in.

If I wasn’t on deadline I wouldn’t have turned it on but I am on deadline and I have already ignored two telephone calls, a text message and three emails from Harold.  The last voicemail was particularly touching. “Jack, it is 3 PM and you haven’t returned any of my calls or replied to my emails. This is unacceptable. If I don’t hear from you in the next hour I am going to kill your column. Put some goddamn sunscreen on so you don’t get cancer and call me back immediately.”

Telephone in hand I started to dial and then I got distracted by a woman. No, it wasn’t a woman on the beach although there were plenty worth looking at. This time it was Sheri calling to check in on me.

“Have you called her yet?”

“No, I haven’t called her and I don’t think I will. She probably won’t take the call.”

“You are an idiot and she will take the call. Trust me, she will speak with you.”

“What makes you think that I even want to talk to her. Life is good now. What do I need her for?”

“Jack, you know that I love you, but you are an idiot. What do you have to lose?

“You called me an idiot twice. I heard you the first time. Why should I call her? Why doesn’t she call me?”

“Jack, you know that she is not going to call you. It doesn’t work that way. She is not going to risk it.”

“So, I should take the risk? What the fuck is that about? Why does she get to protect herself?”

“I thought that you didn’t feel anything for her.”

I could almost feel the smirk and the “I told you so” smile coming from her. “I can’t talk any longer, I am on deadline. I’ll call you later.”

I made a point to hang up before she could respond and gathered my things.  Between Harold and Sheri the beach just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. It was time to go home and start working.

Fifteen or so minutes later I dusted the sand off of my feet, grabbed a beer from the fridge and began typing on my computer:

“Technically I am not supposed to start a column by reminiscing about what it felt to have a pair of long legs wrapped around me. The public doesn’t want to hear or read my recollection of sexual conquests, not even if they were of the loving kind.

I am not supposed to tell you that I have been thinking about long dark hair that falls just past her shoulder or sensual dark eyes that you could get lost in. Nor am I supposed to tell you about the full lips and the perfect hips that came along with the legs, hair and eyes.

But you see I have been lost in the land of make believe and wishes so I am allowed to go there. Allowed to tell you that there once was a woman who I loved more deeply than all others and whose presence in my life has been marked for years by her absence.

The question that I find myself asking is whose reality is it anyway and why do I have to pay attention to rules that hurt my heart. Why can’t I indulge this fantasy and try to determine if I am chasing after fools gold or trying to catch a shooting star. I am inclined to say that I don’t have to worry about what society thinks because society is fickle. Society doesn’t give a damn what happens as long as it doesn’t happen to them.

But you see that when you live in the public eye you sometimes have to be more aware of what you do and who you do it with. I told you all before that I am not really comfortable being seen as a public figure. I didn’t get into this business for fame or fortune. I did it because I love to write. I did it because I can make words sing and that song is always on my mind.”

I wouldn’t define it as my best work but it wasn’t bad either. Most importantly I had enough of  a framework in hand to send over to Harold.  He might be a pain in my ass but he has a good nose for this business and I was confident that whatever advice he would offer there would be useful and practical.

Later that night I planned on calling Sheri back to ask for advice. I wanted a female perspective about an idea. I wanted to know what she thought of my using my column as a way to reach out to Ann Stacey.

Who She Was

Who she was is the title of a book that I never published. It is a series of essays, poems and thoughts about love, relationships and life. It is a collection of hope, happiness and despair.

I am not the first person to have his heart broken and I won’t be the last.  Fact is that she wasn’t the first woman to break my heart. That honor belongs to another but she does hold the title for doing the best job of it. She probably wouldn’t want to hear that I thought of her as the best and the worst thing to happen to me. Or maybe she would like hearing it, it is hard to say.

Hard to say because the woman who once was my girl hasn’t been mine for eternity. There was a time when we were best friends. There was a moment where we didn’t know where our individual hearts ended or began. That was when we said that we shared a heart and felt our souls succor each other It was back in the days when we would read about our astrological signs and marvel over how cool they were together.

Both earth signs share the ability to communicate and understand one another intuitively. Their conversations get better over time and so does the relationship. They will understand each others goals and hopes for the future. There is an unspoken bond here that once established, hardly ever gets broken. They will provide each other with what the other person instinctively needs and desires sexually. You can’t go wrong with this astrological combination, period. A strong attraction and loyalty will keep these two together. Relatives can sometimes be a problem for these two.  Virgos understand that listening to their Taurus can provide them the sort of answers that they cannot figure out on their own. The smart Virgo recognizes that Taurus mate knows how to reach them in ways that no other can. Focus on healing yourselves and each other and you will have a mate for life.

I am clearly biased but I think that excerpt is simply amazing. I suppose in large part it is because I knew these things about her and I long before I read this. But that was then and this is now. Back then I knew exactly who she was.

She had one of the biggest hearts and sweetest personalities of anyone I had ever met. Sweet, caring, nurturing and giving. But she was also tough. That woman knew her mind, knew what she wanted and would go after it.

One of the things that I remember is how we used to fight. We didn’t fight very often but we went at it hard. I never fought with anyone else like that because if I had we would have ended things. It was different with us because the level of trust made it different. That mutual understanding provided a depth and a strength unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Back then she told me that no one could ever take better care of me. I told her that she was right but I am not sure that she believed me. I told her that she was the most beautiful woman I knew but I don’t think that she let herself believe that either.

Sheri thinks that all of my praise might have made her uncomfortable and that she might have felt like she couldn’t live up to the picture I painted. I don’t know. Suppose it could be true.

The damn woman used to tell me that she was logical, rational and organized. I told her that one out of three wasn’t bad and that she had plenty of time to work on the other two.

Even though it has been years I am willing to bet that she is one of the mothers that makes other women jealous. She had the sort of build that would allow her to quickly drop the baby weight and an enormous amount of energy.

*****

It is funny to me to think about how our perspective changes as we age.  I can’t think of a time where we didn’t have exceptional chemistry. We never ran out of things to talk about and the physical side wasn’t any different. Except back in the day when I wasn’t ready to become a father I used to get a little crazy trying to balance the need to be with her against not bringing a third party into the equation.

And now, well now I am disappointed that we don’t have that third party. Now I wonder what our children would look like. It feels a bit ridiculous to admit that but it is true.

I suppose that it is even stranger to say it about someone who hasn’t been a part of my life in forever. We all change. I certainly am not who I was but am I really that different? Have I changed so dramatically that people from my past wouldn’t recognize me?

Or in this case I suppose it is better ask if the feelings I am rediscovering are for who she was and not for who she is.

Preserve your memories

The year was 1980 something and the lovely Anne Stacey had chosen to grace me with her presence. I had spent countless hours unsuccessfully wooing the womanCards, chocolate, flowers, and a barbershop quartet had all failed to do the trick but I couldn’t tell you why. All I knew was that the girl who had gone to prom with me had chosen to withdraw her favors and spend time with a man I dubbed the scoundrel. I once tried to tell her this and she suggested that my ill feelings towards him had to do with jealously. Now I won’t say that this is true but I admit to suggesting that if she hoped for more than simple companionship she might consider spending time at the produce market.

Apparently this is not advisable nor is suggesting that he would probably die in robbing a drug store for used condoms. Don’t ask me to explain why I said these things or what they mean because I won’t answer nor will I admit to wanting to defenestrate him. Women make men crazy and love just exacerbates the craziness we feel.

Weeks of rejection turned into months but I refused to give up. I can’t explain why other than to say that every time I saw her I heard music and it made me believe that one day she would dance with me again.

One day I sent her a card with some of the lyrics to Get Down Tonight by K.C. & The Sunshine Band.

“Baby, babe, let’s get together.
Honey, hon, me and you.
And do the things, ah, do the things
That we like to do.

Do a little dance, make a little love,
Get down tonight.
Do a little dance,
make a little love,
Get down tonight.”

P.S. Come over and find out if I really am a better cook than you are. I’ll make it worth your while.

I had been rejected so many times that I was beginning to wonder if maybe I was swimming down the river of denial but was pleasantly surprised to receive a telephone call from her asking why she should come. Needless to say I was nervous because I knew that the wrong words would result in another no. Yet something told me that it was time to be bold so I told her that I was going to pick her up at 10 am so that we could go to the farm to pick fresh fruits and vegetables for dinner. Two days later she walked out of her apartment and into my car.

For a few moments we drove in silence and listened to a mix tape that I had made for the occasion. Good old cassette tape technology, a soft hissing noise in the background accompanied us on our ride. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker and Springsteen serenaded us.

A short time later we arrived at the farm and began picking out the items we wanted for our meal. She made a crack about me making her work for her food and I said that remained to be seen. Every time she bent over to pick something up my eyes were drawn to her. I was completely entranced by her- not just because I thought that she was beautiful but because she was so very smart. I attribute my love for carrots to that day. Somewhere I have a picture of her holding one close to her mouth, pretending to be Bugs Bunny.

And had anyone heard the music that played inside my head at the moment they would have heard Bookends.

“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you”

I can’t tell you when I fell for her or when she fell for me. Don’t know what did it, how, when or why and I am not sure that it matters. Scratch that, it will matter to her. Call me a full blown chauvinist but she is female and she’ll care about that for the same reason that women care about how big a baby was. It is one of those mysteries of the sexes. Men want to know if the baby was healthy and what their name is but that is not enough for women.

Oh no, they want to know all sorts of other details and if you don’t provide them you might get a look or hear an exasperated “men” slip from between their lips. I suppose that if I had actually given birth I might have some more interest in the extraneous details but since that is not going to happen we won’t know. But for the sake of argument you can be assured that if men were capable of giving birth we’d get through it with half the screaming and far less mess.

Hee hee. That is the sort of throwaway line that we troublemakers like to let slip. I have yet to find a mother who let’s that go without a retort. Suggest that labor is easy or overblow and you can rest assured that a nice kerfuffle will develop. Push hard enough and some woman will tell you that your words are the reason that you aren’t getting laid.

As a PSA to men I usually suggest that you always smile and laugh at that remark. Do this two or three times and then when she is really steamed tell her that your wife/girlfriend/paramour/escort refuses to spit because they consider your boys to be a rare delicacy. Incidentally I bear no responsibility for the consequences of speaking those words out loud.

And now back to our trip back to the time when I had a full head of hair and a body that was tan, hard and cut.

“Jack, you are a much better cook than I expected.”

“That’s good because you are a much better eater than I expected.”

As the words spilled out of my mouth I suddenly realized that they might be open to misinterpretation and my brain kicked into overdrive. Looking back now it is easy for me to see that I was already crazy about her. I don’t say that because of what I said but because of the moment of fear I had when I realized that she might not take it well.

“Ya know, calling a woman fat isn’t the best way to get what you want.”

She was smiling when she said it but for a moment I wondered if there was something else behind it. Smarter men than I would have played it safe but I gambled.

“Stand up and let me get another look at you and I’ll you know.” She laughed, “you are pretty confident, aren’t you.”

“Come over here and I’ll show you how confident I am.”

She stood up and walked over and suddenly my heart started beating harder than it had been. I pulled her into my arms and kissed her. Technically it wasn’t our first kiss, that had come in the stacks but that had been quite some time before.  That moment in the stacks had been good. Hell it had been better than good but it didn’t go very far. Time and circumstances had seen to that.

Several people showed up midway through our moment and any hope I had of taking things farther there was spoiled by their intrusion. The chemistry between us was electric and I know that she felt it too because she made a point to remind to me to call her. I can still picture the way she held onto my arm and told me that she would be disappointed if I disappeared like most guys did.

I told her that I had no intention and she smiled. “There is a lot that I want to show you.” I asked her what that meant and then she laughed and told me she was late for class. This time I didn’t hide the fact that I was staring at her but it didn’t matter because those long legs carried her out of there in seconds.

And I did call her- several times. She took all of my calls and we talked…a lot. But the timing was bad. I had to go to my cousin’s wedding. Had it not been family and already paid for I might have skipped it. Instead I spent two weeks on a family vacation and she didn’t wait for me. I can’t blame her or say that she was wrong.

We weren’t anything close to being boyfriend/girlfriend but I think that I knew then that I had found someone special.

The problem was that while I was gone she found someone too…but he wasn’t me.

Not Me

Not me is a good description for most if not all of the men she dated and to the best of my knowledge…married. They weren’t anything like me. They didn’t look like me at all. If I told you they were mostly tall Aryan nation wannabes I’d be called bitter and jealous or at least that is what she said.  She told me that it wasn’t very becoming to describe them as stupid rednecks or junkies who were one fix short of getting toe tagged.

I told her that it was the ‘coming’ that bothered me most and that I would have been happier had that not been involved at all.  Blame that on the joys of being a writer.

One of the reasons that I am good at this is because I have an imagination that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If Stephen Spielberg could make the movies I see in my mind he would sweep the Oscars and his movies would make millions. Ok, let’s adjust that and say that they would be impossible to forget and make billions.

Hell, the problem is that when you tell me something I see it in my head. And even if you don’t tell me I still see things in my head, sometimes even when I don’t want to. So if I know that Joe Blow used to date you I can’t help but picture Joe getting his blow and….well I don’t really need to go further. But since I never leave well enough alone let me go the rest of the way.

If I know that you were sleeping with some guy it is hard for me not to picture it so sometimes I compensate by making fun of him. I said sometimes, not all the time. If I really care about you there is a good chance that I might say that he is a buffoon in need of a more complete circumcision.

I never pretended to be a saint nor did I ever claim to always take the high ground. I am trying though.

The Pammer

Her full name was Pamela Susan Scott but to me she is The Pammer. Once upon a time she was Wham Bam, Thank you Pam but when we broke up I lost the right to say that. Ok, I never did have the right to say it but when we were dating she was barely tolerant of it.  The Pammer isn’t especially fond of my nickname for her but she doesn’t like it when I call her Pamela Sue either so she got stuck  with The Pammer.

I adore her the way a brother loves a sister.

We met not long after things fell apart between Anne Stacey and I. It was 19 ninety-something and I was out with the boys. Tommy said that a friend of his was having a party and we all agreed to make an appearance. It was better than staying home alone and cheaper than hitting the bars on the strip. Not that it mattered, by the time we hit the car I had already finished a six pack of beer and was working on a flask of something that tasted cheap and nasty.

Can’t tell you if it took an hour or five minutes to get to the party. For all I know I magically levitated myself from the curb all the way to the third floor apartment where the party was. The good news was that I was a very happy drunk. The bad news was that it wasn’t going to last. It wouldn’t take very long for me to find a quiet corner where I could sit and drink.

That was where The Pammer found me, drunk and grumpy.

“This is a party. You are not supposed to be the drunk guy in the corner.”
“I am not the drunk guy in the corner. I am the drunk, angry guy who hates women that just happens to be sitting in the corner.”

Apparently this was quite funny as she started laughing at me.

“I am not kidding. I hate women. Women suck and life would be a lot better if they all disappeared.”
“Who would iron your shirts and cook your food, oh mighty man.”

If you ask Pam how we met she’ll tell you that right after she said that my jaw fell open and I spent the next few minutes shocked and dumbfounded. I don’t know if I was shocked or dumbfounded but speechless is accurate. I didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t say it with a smile or a hint of sarcasm. There wasn’t any anger or bitterness on her part and that totally disarmed me.

We spent most of the rest of the party just talking about life. Pam would periodically disappear and I’d sit there in the corner watching people laugh, wondering why it was so easy for them to smile. I didn’t find out until almost 3 AM was that it was Pam’s apartment and her party that we were at.

“Here is a blanket. That couch turns into a bed. I can help you open it if you would like.”
“No, that is ok. Tommy will take me home. I just have to find him.”

“No he won’t. Tommy left a long time ago.”

This is where I always tell Pam that she has no judgment and only an idiot would let a strange drunk man sleep in her apartment.  That is when she laughs and tells me that the strange drunk man spent two hours passed out and snoring in the corner.

‘Tommy and I grew up together. If he said that you were ok  than I knew that I was fine. Besides I had a lock on my door.”

The combination of drunk and stupid did me the kindness of not showing up at that moment. Instead I collapsed on the couch and quietly went to sleep. That is my story and I am sticking to it. Pam disputes that. She claims that I passed out and started snoring so loudly she considered smothering me with one of the cushions.

I woke up the next morning with the kind of hangover that made me sorry that she hadn’t used the pillow on me. I remember wondering if it would hurt less if I used an icepick to stab my left eyeball.

“I have an icepack, water and Tylenol for you.” I couldn’t tell you when Pam arrived at the foot of the couch but I can assure you that when I proclaimed my undying love for her I meant it will all my heart. If a Jewish kid could bestow sainthood upon someone it would have been done that day. Not only did she let me spend the night she let me lie on that couch until almost 5 PM the following day.

“You owe me dinner and are going to be my rent-a-boyfriend for this.” I asked her what a “rent-a-boyfriend” was and learned that she was moving to a new place. It was a different apartment about two miles East of the current one. That party had been the last shindig at the old place. As the “rent-a-boyfriend” I was responsible for grabbing another friend so that we could move all the heavy stuff.

Two weeks after the move I called her on a Thursday and asked if she wanted to rent a movie. She said sure and that lead to another night on her couch, except the morning after was far more pleasant. We really didn’t date for very long. I can’t tell you how long it was for, but Pam can. Part of the reason she broke up with me was because she said that I was never really that into it.

She was right, I wasn’t. It wasn’t anything more than a rebound for me and not much of one at that. I don’t think that I would have predicted that we would become friends afterwards but you can’t get everything right.

Anyway, The Pammer and Sheri are both good friends of mine and most of the time I am grateful to have them in my life. They often disagree about things but I tend to think that they balance each other out.

What Pam Said

Pam didn’t say much at lunch. She told me later that she went because Sheri had pushed her to come along but that she wasn’t sure that telling me about Ann was the right thing to do. I asked her why and she said it we because she believed that I had never stopped loving her.  She said that she thought that my heart was still broken and that I had been in denial about it all for years.

I told her that I was confused about what she was saying. If she thought that I was still in love with Ann then why shouldn’t I try to contact her. She told me that she wanted to be certain that I wasn’t chasing ghosts. “You need to be moving forwards, not back.”

“You live much of your life in public. Do you really think that she hasn’t ever read your column or one of your books. I am telling you that she knows far more about you than you do about her. You have to assume that she reads your work on a regular basis.”

“Ok, so you are saying that because she reads my column she is not interested in me? Why is that a problem and what are you suggesting I do?”

“Jack, as a woman I am telling you that she has probably already decided if she is interested in sleeping with you again. Women think things out. We plan. We take time to think about what we are going to do. I don’t know how long she has been single but you need to assume that she is going to want to have time to go have fun.”

“Does that mean that you think that she has decided that she is not going to sleep with me and that I am no fun.  Or am I fun but not enough to sleep with. What hell are you saying? I am confused.”

“You two have a long history and sometimes that complicates things. I don’t know her, I just know about her, and you. I am saying that she may not see you as someone she can just date. She can go out with other men and not care what happens, she can’t do that with you.”

There was a long pause in the conversation and then I sighed.

“Jack, that sigh says so much more than you realize. You were a mess when we met. Maybe you don’t remember or maybe you weren’t aware of it, but you were a mess. I didn’t date you. I dated you and the memories of her that you carried around with you.”

“I remember asking Tommy about Ann. He told me about how hard you tried to get her back and about how she pushed you away. She wasn’t a bitch to you because she is a bitch but because her heart was broken too.”

I sighed again and said, “I know.”

“I still don’t know what you are telling me to do.”

“Jack, it doesn’t really matter what  I say you are going to do what you want because that is who you are. But what I am saying is that you need to open your eyes and be careful here.”

“Ok, I’ll be careful.”

“And if you still have feelings for her then I am saying that maybe you should consider doing something about it. We only have so many chances. If she really believed that you were the love of her life, well maybe she still does.”

“Pam, should I thank you now or late for contradicting yourself.”

“What can I say, I am a girl and we love romance.”

******

There were/are many things that I am not certain of but I never doubted that Ann was hurt or that it wasn’t hard for her too. The woman thought of herself as being logical and quite rational in her decisions. If you told me that she had made a list of pros and cons about our relationship I would nod my head and smile. I don’t know that she did, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Pam’s words echoed in my head. Did Ann really believe that I was the love of her life and if so, did it mean anything to her now. The more I thought about it the more that I decided that I was truly interested in doing something. I did have feelings for Ann but I couldn’t say exactly what they were. Maybe it was because I felt like we never really got the opportunity we wanted and as a result had unfinished business.

I wondered what she was like as a mother and what her children were like. I remembered talking with her about what we would name our children. There had been a time when we had talked about having six kids. It was right after we thought she was pregnant.

One broken condom had led to hours of conversation about children and an unspoken decision that we would have the baby. I remember feeling surprised by how relaxed I was at the thought of becoming a father.  I had gone through one other pregnancy scare with a different woman and my feelings had been very different then. It wasn’t just because I was young but it was also because I couldn’t see myself with that woman.

I never had a problem visualizing a future with Ann. It was something that we came to expect. She told me once until we met she hadn’t believed in soul mates, but now she did.

I touched it upon it in one of my books, wrote about what it was like for two people who shared something like that to be separated from each other.

Two Souls

She is out there, my other half. Can’t say what she is doing or who she is doing it with but I know that she is out there.

Her physical absence is palpable and impossible not to notice. Sometimes I turn and expect to see her standing there with that look I know so well. Sometimes I turn and wonder why those dark eyes aren’t looking back at me.

I pick up the telephone and expect it to ring like it always did before. I dial the numbers and laugh because I know that she is going to say that she was about to call me. I hear the smile in her voice, except I don’t do it. I don’t dial.

Instead I hold the phone and close my eyes. I hold the phone, close my eyes and feel the hole and the emptiness. I  hold the phone, close my eyes and wonder if that chasm is one sided and then I feel this twinge.I feel this twinge and a silent bell rings inside my head and I know that she is thinking about me and us. I hear the bell and I know that somewhere she feels what I feel and that this is how and what it is for now.

Necessary. Lonely. Hard. Long. Rough. Required.

I close my eyes and try to center myself. I close my eyes and try to turn off the noise and focus on what is. And then just when I feel like I am truly alone I feel something touching me in a place that fingers can’t reach and arms can’t hold.

I close my eyes and I try to run from it. It is more intimate this touch and the feeling scares me a little. It is the place that only one has been and then I realize that the visitor is the same one who was there before.

Slowly I relax and realize that two souls have shed their bonds and found each other again. They always find each other. And for a brief moment I am completely relaxed and lost in a place that I cannot describe. Reality will intrude and I’ll convince myself that I have seen/felt what I wanted to.

But later in the silence of the night I’ll accept that two souls have done what the bodies and minds can’t. And for a moment I’ll let myself wonder if can’t refers to now or forever.

She is out there and so am I.

Today

I am not the first person to have his heart broken and I won’t be the last. Fact is that she wasn’t the first woman to break my heart. That honor belongs to another but she does hold the title for doing the best job of it. She probably wouldn’t want to hear that I thought of her as the best and the worst thing to happen to me. Or maybe she would like hearing it, it is hard to say.

Hard to say because the woman who once was my girl hasn’t been mine for eternity. There was a time when we were best friends. There was a moment where we didn’t know where our individual hearts ended or began. That was when we said that we shared a heart and felt our souls succor each other It was back in the days when we would read about our astrological signs and marvel over how cool they were together.

Both earth signs share the ability to communicate and understand one another intuitively. Their conversations get better over time and so does the relationship. They will understand each others goals and hopes for the future. There is an unspoken bond here that once established, hardly ever gets broken. They will provide each other with what the other person instinctively needs and desires sexually. You can’t go wrong with this astrological combination, period. A strong attraction and loyalty will keep these two together. Relatives can sometimes be a problem for these two. Virgos understand that listening to their Taurus can provide them the sort of answers that they cannot figure out on their own. The smart Virgo recognizes that Taurus mate knows how to reach them in ways that no other can. Focus on healing yourselves and each other and you will have a mate for life.

I am clearly biased but I think that excerpt is simply amazing. I suppose in large part it is because I knew these things about her and I long before I read this. But that was then and this is now. Back then I knew exactly who she was.

She had one of the biggest hearts and sweetest personalities of anyone I had ever met. Sweet, caring, nurturing and giving. But she was also tough. That woman knew her mind, knew what she wanted and would go after it.

One of the things that I remember is how we used to fight. We didn’t fight very often but we went at it hard. I never fought with anyone else like that because if I had we would have ended things. It was different with us because the level of trust made it different. That mutual understanding provided a depth and a strength unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Back then she told me that no one could ever take better care of me. I told her that she was right but I am not sure that she believed me. I told her that she was the most beautiful woman I knew but I don’t think that she let herself believe that either.

Sheri thinks that all of my praise might have made her uncomfortable and that she might have felt like she couldn’t live up to the picture I painted. I don’t know. Suppose it could be true.

The damn woman used to tell me that she was logical, rational and organized. I told her that one out of three wasn’t bad and that she had plenty of time to work on the other two.

Even though it has been years I am willing to bet that she is one of the mothers that makes other women jealous. She had the sort of build that would allow her to quickly drop the baby weight and an enormous amount of energy.

A Writer Writes

A writer writes because we can’t contain the words and thoughts inside our heads and hearts.  A writer writes to share the stories that they see and feel. A writer writes because when they are happy, hurt confused or somewhere in between they look for the words to sing their song and soothe their souls.

Hurt, happy and confused is as good a description as any for the feelings that are flowing through me now. You don’t forget what we had. You can’t ignore or deny the truth of it and the way that it can transform your heart. That is not an exaggeration or melodrama it is an incomplete description of a story that isn’t told with words or with images. There is much more depth than that.

But since I can’t figure out what I am trying to do or say I have to do what writers do and that is write.

I don’t know what it is about you that closes and opens, only something in me understands the voice in your eyes is deeper than all roses- E.E. Cummings.

“For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be” Alfred Tennyson

“There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

Some nights I find myself wandering beneath a moonlit sky watching and waiting for a sign that I don’t really expect to come but wish for with the greatest of desires. I often stop and stare into the night sky and remember what it was like to stare into your eyes.

I didn’t tell you what I saw in them, about how they twinkled and glowed. I didn’t say the things that I thought because I could see you already knew them. You, the song of my heart already knew these things because you were my air as I was yours.

It seemed gratuitous to try and put into words the secret language our hearts spoke. Better to sit in silence holding your hand and sharing a moment. I treasured those moments of silence in which we would listen to each other breathe and bask in our presence together.

A story of two souls who laid themselves bare for each other. Two who became as one and in the darkness created light. I sit here writing this with the knowledge that some will call it hyperbole and romantic drivel. They have never experienced the sort of intimacy and oneness that we have and consequently haven’t the faculty to follow. It is beyond their ken.

This is ok. I don’t write for them and care not one whit whether they follow. I write for you and for I. You are my lost soul mate and your absence is always evident. Sometimes when I think of you I think of Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca and wonder if one day you’ll reappear as she did.
But if you did reappear I can’t say that I’d send you off like Rick did. I don’t really know what I’d do.  I have often wondered if Rick really meant those things he said. You know what I am talking about,

Ilsa: But what about us?
Rick: We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you.
Rick: And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Now, now… Here’s looking at you kid.

It is a movie, not reality so it is hard to say. Still, I wonder. Did he really mean all those things. I sometimes think that he was just protecting a heart that was still broken. You don’t say something like this and just forget about it. Or maybe he found that special something that allowed him to move on. That is part of the beauty of a movie, it is open to interpretation.

As for me, well I am in a different sort of place. Not really sure how to describe other than to say that all my options are open. I feel as if I have taken the first step on a journey to somewhere else. Can’t say for certain if these are the first steps to the time and place in which the reunion of lost soul mates will take place or if it is something else.

What I do know is that part of the joy of life is the journey and the mysteries that lie therein. So perhaps one day we will find ourselves staring into those eyes again. And if we do I am sure that it will be familiar and mysterious. There will always be that electricity when we brush up against each other here or elsewhere.

I’ll leave it at that knowing that you’re smiling as am I. The future beckons and I must answer.

I stared at the words, unsure and uncertain about how I felt and decided that it was time to ignore the self editor that lives inside and continue to write so I put pen to paper and wrote more words.

Blame it on too much television or a love that is overpowering, but I always wanted to be your hero. And for a while, I was certainly him. I was your knight protector, the man who wore the white hat. Always willing and able to protect your honor and to fight on your behalf. It was a role that I took on unexpectedly but with no hesitation.

No hesitation because I loved it, or maybe because I loved you. It was natural and effortless. I remember walking with you. I lumber and you float but we did so together. Our strides and pace perfectly matched. It opened our eyes to new possibilities and we saw what had once been old as new. Long conversations about life, love and dreams turned into passion foretold by poets.

“Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!”
Wild Nights-Emily Dickinson

There are tales that could be told and songs that should be written. It matters not that there are but two people who would understand or appreciate them. Such is the way of love and lovers. We walk upon clouds that sometimes evaporate beneath our feet. Sometimes fortune smiles upon us and our falls are broken by wings that sprout from nothing.

And sometimes fickle fortune fails to answer the calls that we send forth and we find ourselves plummeting back towards earth at a frightful rate. Perhaps it was that fall that caused us to forget who we were and to ignore who we are. I did my best to catch you so that I could break your fall. I tried to ensure that I hit the ground first so that I might try to save you.

But sometimes the hero fails. Sometimes the capes we wear bestow no power other than to serve as a silly looking fashion accessory.

“She put him out like the burnin’ end of a midnight cigarette
She broke his heart he spent his whole life tryin’ to forget
We watched him drink his pain away a little at a time
But he never could get drunk enough to get her off his mind”
Whiskey Lullaby- Brad Paisley with Allison Krauss

So I stood there and surveyed the wall that had suddenly been erected between us. I took its measure and considered going over, under, through or around. For some time it felt like the hero was bound to fail again.Super strength wasn’t enough to remove the obstacle nor was super speed. It was a conundrum of the first order and something that accentuated the ache and the hole in his heart.

And then one day the hero remembered that sometimes the best way to tear down the wall is not through demolition but conversion. Build a door or build a window and what was once a wall evolves into an entryway that can be used as a path into a future of bright and sunny opportunities.

Time

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Pieces That Might Be Used In The Story

“I work in darkness and I work in light. In spite of adversity I work to find the way back to our secret world. Only time will tell if this is a fool’s errand or a noble quest. But at the end of the day I do what I must so that I can accept whatever the outcome of this journey may be.” Source 1

******
“I gather myself and prepare for the confrontation that must come, the challenge will be met head on, I don’t know any other way. The hard part sometimes is making me do so in a timely fashion, sometimes I hesitate and avoid it. But I never completely duck it. Sooner or later I will hit it and hit it hard.” Source 2

******

“The heart wants what the heart wants. It reminds me of Shakespeare, “Life is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Somewhere my high school English teacher Mrs. McDonnell is smiling. Little Jimmy actually remembered a line from Macbeth. See ma’am, I told you that I could hear just as well in sunglasses as without.” Source 3

******
“The cavalry never comes. He is alone and it is up to him alone to find a way to survive. He must be his own hero and he must find a way to rescue himself. It sounds like a very lonely existence and at times it is. He often feels as if he lives alone and apart, but he knows the warmth of love and friendship too.” Source 4

******

“Yet…I am not so sure that he is right. When I close my eyes I see you staring back at me. Lightning crashes and I am convinced that it can strike twice. I have that knowing smile, that crazy curvy lip you remember. The promises of the past and the echoes of the future tell me that some things aren’t quite done. The whispers in the wind tell of a time coming that will give the truth of the matter.” Source 5

******

“I told you that I would be your hero and that if you called for help I would do whatever it took to rescue you. But the truth is that I need you to rescue me as badly as you need me to rescue you. We have always known this.

So I kissed you one last time. One final kiss so that we’d never forget. One kiss so that if we ever lost our way we could use it to find our way back.” Source 6

******

“And in the end all that can be said is that you are loved. You are loved and appreciated, cherished for who you are not just yesterday but today. Loved because that is just how it is. And maybe one day we’ll find that quiet moment again and you’ll see that I never stopped Dancing In The Fire.” Source 7 

******

“Some pieces of our life are not built upon logic. There are no equations that we can solve or scientific rules to be applied. They don’t lend themselves to the laws that Faraday, Newton or Einstein spoke of. Sudoku can be understood, this cannot at least not in the traditional sense. And that is ok.” Source 8

******

“The song of my heart you touch those places inside that others are refused entry to. Your smile warms my soul and makes me believe that I can do things that I might not otherwise dare to consider. There is a beauty and grace that you carry with you.” Source 9

******

“Because the truth was that your heart told you that June was still out there and that the end to this story had yet to be written. The promises you made were still valid. The love you shared still lived. And maybe, just maybe there might be chance to pick things up somewhere down the road.” Source 10

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Jack’s Story December 23 Update

My name is Jack. I am a single father who works as a journalist for the local paper. I have a a bi-weekly column that is read by more than 1 million people and I am the author of three books, with a contract to write more.

On the weekends I coach my son’s soccer team and drive my daughter to dance class. I have two girlfriends who really are just that, girls who are friends. Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between a girl friend and a wife. They both tell you what to do and neither put out.

I suppose that the real distinction is that the girl friend doesn’t receive a piece of my paycheck each month so that they can live in my house with Rudy, the flying Dutchman.

I know, that sounds overly bitter. My therapist told me that I should be happy about this. She said that it would be good for the ex to have a man in her life, that it would make her happier and as a result she would be easier to deal with.

I tried to look at it that way, I really did, but there is 6’2 of stupid preventing me from doing so. The same 6’2 of stupid that is shtupping my wife, sleeping in my bed and enjoying the house that was the fruits of my labor.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re better apart. It was a long time coming and something that I should have done years ago. I didn’t mind her taking the house because it was easier than uprooting the kids. But I won’t lie about being irritated about the cold Germanic figure that lives there now too.

We might not have had the greatest marriage, but we had a great house.

And now instead of having a bad marriage and a great house I have a bad apartment and a lot of freedom. So I suppose that there is something to be said for that. The girl friends keep telling me that if I moved out of the bad apartment I’d find it easier to date.

I keep telling them that I don’t want to date, but they ignore me. So then I tell them that misery loves company which is why they want me to get involved with another woman. I think that it is hysterical and every time I say this I crack up.

For some odd reason they don’t. And for that same odd reason they aren’t interested in hearing about what I think women are good for. That is ok, I don’t really want to tell them.

A while back my daughter found some old love letters that a lost love once sent to me. She had a field day with that. Ever since then she has been pushing me to try and look her up. She tells me that she can tell from the letters that she really loved me and that no woman who wrote those things ever stops loving the man she wrote them about.

I smiled and thanked her. She smiled back and told me that I was too young to give up. I think that the girl friends and her must be talking about me when I am not around, because I am getting tag teamed.

Anyway, I am on deadline for my next column. Since the ladies of my life are so intent on pushing relationships upon me I decided to show them by writing about the end of relationships. Something really bitter and biting, that ought to shut their mouths.

So here you have my first draft of my next column. I think that it has real potential.

Always On My Mind- Willie Nelson

Thanks to technology there are a million new ways to break someone’s heart. A million new methods of letting someone that you once loved or perhaps still do that you just can’t do it anymore.

In the age of instant gratification and social media it won’t be long before we hear/read the tales of dismissal. Husbands who let their wives know they are leaving them by unfriending them on Facebook or girlfriends who let their ex know their new status by tweeting it.

It is kind of funny in an I am not smiling kind of way to think how these time saving tools of communication can take the intimate and personal and turn it into something mechanical, cold and sterile.

What do you call people who do this? Awful, callous and cruel come to mind. Descriptive words that fail to capture the essence of how truly horrible being dumped in this fashion can be.

But let’s face it, being dumped isn’t a pleasant experience. It is not necessarily easier to stand or sit in front of someone and listen to them tell you that they have lost that loving feeling. I suppose that it doesn’t make a difference, even if they haven’t lost it, but are ending things because circumstances make it impossible to continue.

In the end you still ask those questions. You still wonder what you did or what you could have done. Surely there is a word or gesture that would have spared you the angel of death speech. Had you only known then they would have passed over and you’d be ensconced in your cocoon of love and happiness.

The End Of a Marriage

I’ll say this much for divorce, it makes for great blog fodder. There is something wrong about that, isn’t there. Shouldn’t there be some rule that says that being this connected is wrong. Isn’t there some rule or law of silence about this. I am not really supposed to be able to communicate such intimate thoughts.

The pain of a broken heart isn’t really something that you should be privy too, or maybe you should be. Maybe that is the point of all this. I act as the exhibitionist and you act as the voyeur. I pull aside the shades so that you can look inside the window and see just what is that I am doing.

And that is how you get the great image of “6’2 of stupid that is shtupping my wife, sleeping in my bed and enjoying the house that was the fruits of my labor.”

Really, I should be more grown up about this than I am. I should be happy that he has taken the burden off of my hands, but that is not totally true either. The end of the relationship is a mixture of relief and sadness. It is a mixture of success and failure.

I try not to tell the girl friends about this feeling because every time I do they interpret it as a sign that I need a new woman. They read the last column and told me that they thought that it was brilliant and that I was dead on about how awful breaking up by email is. Apparently this sort of thing is far more prevalent than I realized.

Just my luck really. I was trying to portray myself as being bitter, cold and unfeeling and they took it as being sensitive. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe this is all part of the stupid plan that they and the daughter are trying to put into place. You know, the whole lost love deal.

Earlier this week the girl friends slipped it into conversation, how some people never forget walking down Coventry or chasing each other through grapevines. The whole gist of it was their female version of some romantic tale in which I contact that great lost love of mine and we suddenly find our way back to each other.

I must admit that I find a certain attraction to it. I have wondered what she is up to and where she is at. From time to time I have remembered things and wondered if she has too. But that could easily be me. After all I am the one who is in this position. I am sure that she is happy with her life. I am just a good memory relegated to the unimportant and irrelevant pile.

At least that is what I suspect, but I admit that part of me wonders if that is true. I also admit to relearning the finer points of being heartbroken. I hadn’t ever planned on becoming reacquainted with it. I rather imagine that it is similar to a prisoner revisiting his cell.

You know all the corners intimately, but you never really want to step back inside, even if the door is open. Except in my case the door swung shut behind me.

The good news is that all of the crap that I left here is still here. Same books and toys on the shelves just waiting to be played with again. The bad news is that all of the crap that I left here the last time is still here. The questions and hard feelings and the sense of loneliness. The empty ache is back, an old friend that I didn’t want to see again.

But the good news is that I know from experience that this isn’t a life sentence. I’ll bust out of this joint like I did the last time. Only this time around things will be different.

Of course I said that same thing last time, but this time it is true. This time it is going to be different because this time a million people will read about this in my column. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but we’ll find out.

Stay tuned to this bat channel and assuming that the paper doesn’t fire me or go under from a lack of advertising dollars and you’ll find out what happens, or not.

A 21st Century Break Up

“Well now, everything dies, baby, thats a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back

Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in Atlantic City.”

Atlantic City- Bruce Springsteen

Went to lunch with the Sheri, Pam and the daughter. It wasn’t my choice. I was far more interested in hiding out in my apartment. It might not be much to look at, but it is mine. Simple furniture, my books, music and a decent television. Reminds me a bit of how I described my first place after college to my parents.

But there is a difference this time around. The refrigerator is full and there is more than $25 dollars sitting in my bank account. Not to mention that the furniture isn’t a bunch of hand me downs from friends and relatives.

The best part is that it is mine and mine alone. I am happy being by myself. I don’t worry about who left dishes in the sink or if there are socks on the floor because if there are, I know who is responsible for it.

I had intended to make myself a sandwich, grab a beer and watch football. Later on I was going to take a nap and maybe start reading that book about the history of Scotland. It was a good plan, but the girls had other ideas.

When the telephone rang I didn’t bother to check the caller ID because I already knew who it was going to be. She called every weekend to check on me and every weekend I gave her the same response. Told her that I was fine, but if it would make her feel better I would let her iron my clothes and perform other services as needed.

It was the sort of obnoxious remark that I used as a shield and on most people it would work, but not her. After 30 some years of friendship she ignored it. Didn’t faze her, in fact I am not even sure it even registered.

But I was wrong about the caller. This time around it was my daughter. As soon as I heard her say “Hi daddy” I knew I was screwed. I am a lot of things, but I am not stupid. It didn’t take a genius to recognize that tone of voice. It was the same one she had used her entire life with me, that one that girls use to melt dads heart.

I placed my hand over the telephone and cursed. “Damn!” But there was no point in arguing with her. She is my girl and she is just as determined as I am. Better to just roll along and see if there was an easier way to get out from under their scheme.

Earlier that week she had shared her thoughts with me. She had told me that she was very concerned about me, that she didn’t think I gave myself enough credit or that I did a good job of taking care of myself. I had thanked her for her concern and reiterated that I was quite capable of taking care of me. Been doing it all my life, now wasn’t much different.

She smiled and wrapped her hand around my bicep and asked me to make a muscle. I couldn’t help but smile. Years ago she and her brother liked to try to arm wrestle. It had turned into a goofy game where we would make a muscle and pose like a body builder. It was sheer silliness and almost always disarming.

Damn, damn, damn. I keep forgetting this kid has made a life time project of studying dad. But I didn’t crack. I made a muscle and asked her if she wanted a piggy back ride. She laughed and told me that she was too big for one. I told her that she never would be too big and changed the subject.

Not that it mattered. She just went with it and here we were a few days later, the three of them and me. As we sat at the table I made a crack about feeling just like Hugh Hefner. It was met with a stony glare and sighs all around. Because I am both stubborn and prone to stupidity I told them that they were wasting their time and that we should find a different project. Maybe we could go out and save the environment.

Instead I was treated to a story about how things work in the 21st century. They told me that the Internet had killed the idea of a clean breakup and that now it was really easy to find people and or check up on them. I smiled at the three and reminded them that I probably knew more about computers and the net than they did.

That earned me more stares and sighs. And then I learned that all of them had googled the name of an old boyfriend once or twice. They assured me that it was just curiosity that made them do it. I looked at my daughter and said that curiosity was how I became a father. She glared at me and asked her companions why they put up with me. She had to because of genetics, but they had a choice.

Before anyone could answer I went into a five minute lecture/rant about minding your own business. They were silent. And just when I thought that I had convinced them they let me know that they had already done their own checking up.

She was free. She was single and so was I.

That took the wind right out of my sails. I was mildly surprised by the impact. She was single. I stuttered something in response and muttered something about having been kicked in the mouth one time too many.

And then I was silent.

For a moment I was lost in thought. I remembered the fire and the passion. I remembered how she made me feel like there was no one more important or more special. And then I remembered the pain of losing her.

It was like having an arm or a leg cut off. It took a while for those scars to heal, longer than I wanted to admit. And the truth was that I wasn’t even certain if they ever had. I did my best to hide the shock and thanked them all for their concern.

A short time later we got up and left. Out in the parking lot we hugged and kissed each other goodbye and I drove home lost in thought.

Later that night the telephone rang and again I didn’t bother checking the Caller ID. It had to be my daughter and again I was proven wrong. For the next five minutes I listened to her tell me why I should think really hard about things.

“She loved you as much as you loved her,” she said. I told her that I wasn’t so sure and that it had seemed far too easy for her to walk away. She snorted into the phone and assured me that I wasn’t the only one with a broken heart. She was just more practical about things than you were or so she claimed.

I thanked her again for her concern and told her that I would think about. A short time later I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering what would happen if I tried to contact her. Would she take the call or respond to the email. I was afraid that she would and afraid that she wouldn’t.

Just before I drifted off to sleep I remembered what it felt like to kiss her and how I couldn’t figure out where I ended and she began. And that was when I realized that I hadn’t ever stopped loving her. It was a bittersweet revelation.

Not the sort of epiphany that I had gone searching for, but that is the joy of life. You never know what is going to happen. So now there are butterflies in my stomach and my heart is pounding. I haven’t made the decision yet what to do, but I am going to have to do it soon.

I suppose the question is will a 21st century break up lead to a 21st century romance. I don’t know the answer but I rather expect that I will soon.

In the interim I think that I am going to unplug my phone and turn off my cellphone. I have had about as much excitement as I can handle for now.

“I Don’t Want To Kiss My Husband Ever Again”

I have a graphic memory. I dream and think in technicolor or maybe I should say high definition. My dreams are full featured spectacles. It is great when I dream about happy things, but not so good if they are sad or disturbing.

As a young boy I used to wonder if there was a way to control my dreams. I figured that it was nothing more than concentrating hard enough. So I spent more than a few nights lying in bed focused upon whatever it was that I was chasing. Some nights it was images of me chasing down fly balls in Dodger Stadium and or hitting the game winning home run. Other times it was me as a different sort of hero.

I suppose that it is fair to say that in many ways not much has changed. The boy grew into a man who still dreams of playing pro ball or of being a hero. All he needs is a chance. Although to be fair the man recognizes that some dreams will have to remain locked inside the vault.

It was the morning after and I was still in bed. It had taken hours to fall asleep. The news that she was single had a bigger impact upon me than I would have guessed it would. I didn’t want to think about it. Didn’t want to play memory lane. I didn’t want to have one of those dreams and wake up to discover that reality was different than I might want it to be.

The meal with my daughter and the girls was grueling. They didn’t understand that some scars don’t heal. They didn’t understand that I much preferred the safety of my own life. Being single wasn’t so bad. I didn’t worry about forgetting special dates. Never had to try and decipher whether a look or a comment meant that I was in trouble again for some other transgression.

In concept it made a lot of sense to me to say goodbye to women. I knew what I needed to know. I had served a life sentence known as marriage. I helped propagate the species. When I was instructed to go forth and multiply I did it.I listened to them.

That is big stuff, my listening. Ask those who know me and you’ll be told that I have an amazing ability to suddenly go deaf. More than one person called it irritating, but me, I called it survival.

All would be perfect, or close to it, were it not for my daughter and the girls. Did I mention that they don’t like it when I call them girls. Sometimes I like to aggravate them by talking about how you can’t trust a broad, not a single one of them.

The thing is, they know me too well. They refused to let me bait them into a different topic. They have an agenda and I am at the top of the list. And people wonder why I say I feel like I have a target on my back.

Midway through our meal Sheri asked me if I remembered what her marriage was like. I smiled and told her that she should have married me. That earned me another one of those withering looks and a sharp rebuke from my daughter.

Great, and to think that I thought that I owned the look and the lecture she gave me. But because I am rarely at a loss for words I told her that I have been inoculated against that sort of thing. She of course didn’t care. Damn, if she isn’t like me. Moments like this make me wonder if I should be proud or frightened of her.

But I digress.

Sheri jumped back into her story and asked me if I knew how she realized that her marriage was over. I was tempted to provide another smart ass remark, but something told me that it was smarter to stay quiet.

“When I realized that I never wanted to kiss my husband again, I knew that it was over.”

“Well, we share that in common. I never want to kiss your husband again either. For that matter I don’t want to sleep with him, he snores far too loudly,” I said.

I know, the smart ass remark didn’t help, but how could I let that one go. Again she ignored me and continued on.”

“When you find the kind of love and relationship that you had you don’t let go.”

That wiped the smile off of my face. I looked at her and thanked her for her opinion. Before anyone could go on I explained that it had been made very clear to me that she was done. It didn’t matter what I wanted, or what I thought. She was done.

My daughter came around the table and hugged me. She told me that she had no idea that my feelings for her were so deep and that I owed it to myself to not just ignore the opportunity.

I was surprised by my anger. I did my best not to bark at her, but I am not sure that I was successful. “This is not reality. This is not some stupid movie where I get to ride up to her ranch, grab her and ride off into the sunset”

“She gave up on us and she gave up on me.”

For a moment there was silence. It took me a moment to realize that both my jaws and fists were clenched. I took a deep breath and thanked them for their thinking about me.

Sheri smiled and told me that she was sorry. In a soft voice she said that I needed to remember that some loves never really die and that we had been victims of bad timing. “Call her. There is a reason why you are being given a second chance.”

I smiled back at her. “I’ll think about it.” And then I said a silent prayer of thanks that none of them knew how hard my heart was pounding.

Once Upon A Time

One of the best parts of my job is that I can do it from almost anywhere. All I need is my cellphone, a laptop and an internet connection and I am good to go. It is one of the perks that come with the position, not to mention the joy of dealing with the most cantankerous editor ever.

He and I have a real love hate relationship going on, and that is putting it mildly. It wouldn’t be fair to say that we love to hate each other. But it would be fair to say that I love to aggravate him. I probably shouldn’t. It is a bit unfair to always press his buttons, but I have issues with authority. So does he.

For some reason he finds it necessary to try and tell me what to do and how to do it. This usually inspires me to do the opposite. Somewhere out there my mother is shaking her head about this. She told me many times that it is better to get along with people, that I don’t always have to be such a pain-in-the-ass. I love you mom, but you know that it is not going to happen, so why keep trying.

“Big Ed”, the editor, that is what I call him, likes to have regular meetings with me. He says that they are not serious, just an easy way to communicate. The thing is that I prefer to communicate by email or telephone and he likes face to face.

“Big Ed” doesn’t like being called “Big Ed.” His real name is Harold but if you call him Harry he gets upset. It probably has something to do with having virtually none on his head. You also can’t refer to him as “Harold, the Hairy, the Regent of Rogaine” because he doesn’t like that either.

Truth is that I can’t say that I really like it. It is not particularly funny, but it gets a reaction from him and that I do like. Did I mention that he is very particular about where things go on his desk. I like to move his stapler around. Again, it is not funny and it is quite juvenile. But it tends to help him come to the proper conclusion that Jack and office visits are not a good mix.

With that sort of introduction you might wonder why the “balding behemoth” doesn’t release me from his tender mercies. The answer is that I am that good and so is he. Together we have found a recipe that works and both of us have been around long enough to recognize that you don’t mess with something like this.

It also doesn’t hurt that Harold went through his own divorce and was sensitive to my situation. He made a point of approaching me more than once to offer a friendly ear. I was grateful and appreciative of it. I made a point to thank him and then told him that if brought up a “friendly ear” to me again I would sue for sexual harrassment.

He quickly apologized and changed the subject at which time I threatened to sue him for not making a pass at me. You should have seen how red his face got with that remark. Poor Harold didn’t know what to do. I almost felt bad for him because I knew the feeling.

Getting divorced was sad and exciting. Even though I knew that it was the right thing to do it was hard to accept that something that had seemed so right was over. I need to qualify that. I think that at one time it felt that way. I mean, I wouldn’t have gotten married if it didn’t seem right.

That was something that I just wasn’t sure of. I couldn’t decide if I really had felt that way or if I had convinced myself that at one time I had. None of it really mattered. I had checked out of the marriage long before the divorce, I just hadn’t realized it.

For a long time I had thought that the problems were all related to external influences. When the kids are young they suck the life out of you. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love them or have a single regret because they are amazing. They make you better people.

But they also make you crazy people. They take and take and take. And then they takes some more. During the week there is the daily grind of getting them to school, helping them with their homework and all of the extracurricular activities.

Weekends weren’t any less busy. There are birthday parties, soccer games, ballet and when they get older reports for school.

And did I mention the challenges posed by preteen and teenage romance. I almost killed half the boys in my daughter’s middle school. As far as I know she didn’t date any of them, but she and her friends swooned and cried about them more times than I can count.

In fact I intend to kick the crap out of some kid named Jason for the simple reason of just because. Just because translates into you dated my daughter for two years in high school. Two years of pretending to be Eddie Haskell. Two years of trying to bullshit me into believing that you weren’t trying to get into her pants every day.

Stupid prick forgets that I used to be him. I know every line and trick for making a girl think that you think she is special. You are not unique. And yes I know that other boys did it too. And yes I know about karma and all that kind of crap. But you just rubbed me the wrong way and now I want you to give me an excuse.

The thing is that even though they have long since broken up if anything happened I would still be the bad guy. She doesn’t love him anymore, or so she says, but I know my girl. Actually maybe it is because I know my girl that I don’t need to do anything to him.

Scratch that, my fragile male ego can’t accept it. I am ordering one ass kicking off of the menu of life. One righteous ass kicking so that I can wipe that stupid smirk off of his lips. One day….

********

I had planned on working at the beach today, right next to lifeguard station number six. The car was loaded with my gear and I was just about to leave when Harold called to ask what time I was going to come in. I tried to pretend that the connection was bad but he was ready and asked me if I had checked my email.

He had forwarded an email that I had sent him two weeks prior. In the email I had told him that I would be delighted to meet with him to discuss my latest assignment. I hate when I screw up like that. I silently cursed my own stupidity and made a note to remind myself never to commit to anything in writing.

I told him that I would see him soon and hung up the phone. I made a quick trip out to the car to grab my gear and switch it with the business stuff. One of these days I have to win the lottery or invent something because this working stuff is getting old.

A short time later I was in the car and headed towards the office. Talk radio and the sounds of traffic filled the silence and I found myself lost in thought.

Hanging Out With Hairy

Inside the car I remembered that I hate commuting. The fact that it would have taken me just as long to get to the beach as it did to travel to the office was immaterial. Normally I would have spent the ride plotting ways to prick “Big Ed.” The precious minutes of beach time that I was wasting would have been devoted to thinking about how many different ways I could call Harold, “Hairy.”

Did I mention that at times I can be juvenile, selfish and spiteful. Not my finer traits, but hey, at least I am aware of them.

This time was different. Instead of plotting my silly revenge, enjoying music or listening to the ridiculous rantings of the anonymous talk show callers I was lost in a place that I wasn’t so sure I wanted to revisit. I was back in the past. It was a bit like walking into my garage. There were all sorts of treasures inside and a bunch of junk that I probably should get rid of, but never had.

I have always liked thinking of my memory as being a big garage or warehouse full of stuff. It works for me. There is something appealing about it. Whenever I need to remember something I simply walk into the garage and find the box it is located in. The problem is that like my real garage those boxes are not only dusty but they sometimes include items that I didn’t expect to find.

Back when I was married the garage was my refuge. It was my cave, my domain and all who entered it understood that it was dangerous to screw with things without my approval. Not surprisingly the ex thought that different rules applied to her. Although to be fair I learned long ago that once a woman starts sleeping with you she assumes certain liberties, like trying to convince you that Laura Ashley sheets are cool for the master bedroom.

My internal monologue was disrupted by the squealing by a loud thump, thump, thump coming from the car next to me. If you want to piss me off it is always wise to play your stereo at levels loud enough to make the windows shake. I have said more than once that if I am ever involved in a road rage incident it is going to be because of that.

The noise got my attention and I made a point of looking around to see where it was coming from. There was a large SUV in front of me that seemed to be the culprit. Sometimes it is hard to tell. The noise is so loud that it could just as easily be coming from the side or behind.

The license plate frame on the SUV said something about being a proud student of Grapevine Community College. The G.C.C. administration should be proud of this sort of representation. It really says something. Then again, I am a part time writing instructor there so maybe I should be more charitable with how I think of the students.

The writing gig isn’t bad. For the past ten years or so I teach one or two creative writing courses each semester. In the beginning I wasn’t so sure about it. They didn’t have an existing curriculum so I had to develop one on my own. That was supposedly going to lead to my earning more but I am not really sure that ever happened.

That first year I taught by Braille. It was a lot of touch, feel and react. I wouldn’t advise doing it that way. The department chair made a point of instructing me not to do it that way. He gave me a lot of good advice that I ignored. Sometimes my issue with authority causes trouble for me.

But we got through it. Over time I developed a teaching style and I found that I was pretty good at it. Most of my students were truly interested in learning so it made it easier to engage them. And of course it didn’t hurt that quite a few were relatively attractive women.

On a side note let me mention that you don’t want to tell woman that she is relatively good looking. It is the kind of remark that creates a minefield that no man wants to walk through. It is not that different from being asked if a particular item of clothing makes her look fat.

Say that she is relatively good looking and she will set you up for a verbal beating. You can almost guarantee that it will be an interrogation of what and who she is relatively good looking compared to. If you suffer from the same fits of stupidity that afflict me it will lead you to saying that she is far more attractive than a hippo or warthog.

You’ll say it with a big smile that you think she’ll find endearing and then after she has eviscerated you’ll wonder why you didn’t just save time by hitting yourself in the head with a hammer.

In case you are wondering I sometimes use that as part of my lecture. The students enjoy laughing at my expense. It is not unusual for the women to laugh the hardest or tell me that I should know better. I smile and shrug my shoulders. The guys usually like this too. After class a few of them will come and share their own war stories with me.

I like to try and use these kinds of stories because they work well as ice breakers. Get the class to laugh. Get them interested and engaged and it becomes far more interesting to everyone.

Not everyone appreciates these tales. Every class is filled with at least one person who doesn’t appreciate a self deprecating sense of humor. Did I mention that they are usually female. Is this coincidence? I think not. That leads to another useful safety tip for the men.  Don’t try to use that last line or any derivation of it in class. You’ll do great with the women who likes to hang out with the boys.

But invariably you’ll upset one or more who will decide that you are sexist and in need of being reported to whatever authority they think will screw you the hardest.

Ok, I admit it, I am a bit bitter and irked with the fairer sex. But I have a good reason, really, I do. I can tell you her name, her sizes. Yes, I said sizes, shoe, pants, panties, bra, blouse, whatever. I don’t give a damn whether you think that is cool, weird or what.

I can tell you how tall she is, her weight, what color her eyes are and a million other details. It has been years and I haven’t forgotten what she smells like or how it feels to kiss her. Years later and sometimes when I close my eyes I still see her looking back at me.

Years later and I can’t forget. The last time I saw her we kissed each other goodbye and headed off to our cars.

But I am not going to go there. It took a long time to put it aside. It took a long time to accept that the life I thought we were going to share wasn’t going to happen. Took a long time to convince myself that I couldn’t just wait around, that maybe love wasn’t enough.

And until the girls decided to have lunch with me that was ok. I was ok. Until that little bit about her being single I was ok.

I’ll say one thing for being distracted, it made the time in the car go by like it was nothing. Of course the downside to that was that I hadn’t spent any time thinking about an idea for my next assignment. And now I had all of five minutes to try to come up with one.

I Will Never Fall In Love Again

I pulled into a parking space, turned off the motor and cursed out loud. The weather outside the car was perfect. Blue skies and just enough heat to make you feel warm were all the reason I needed not to be here. It is a good thing that my skull isn’t transparent because if it was my dear friend Harold would be able to see storm clouds heading his way. With any luck he’d be struck by lightning.

Ok, that is probably unfair. I was semi responsible for this meeting. The company had a funny policy about paying people only for the work they did and not for work that they might do. I had a long conversation with one of the bookkeepers about that one. We got stuck riding an elevator together and since I haven’t a clue what pasty faced number boys are interested I talked about paychecks.

We both learned something that day. He found out that a two minute ride on an elevator can feel like a week in cleveland and I found out that I can babble at length about anything. I know, you already knew that.

By the time I had walked into the office I had figured out that the topic of my next submission was going to be why marriage was the devil’s greatest invention. In my experience it was the closest thing to hell that one could find. Before you go off half cocked you need to understand that the classic definition of hell is wrong. It is not a place of fire and brimstone.

The Definition of Hell

Hell is seeing the love of your life unhappily living with someone else, but pretending to be happy. Hell is being granted a taste of the most incredible relationship and experience of your life and then having it taken away.

It  is like being seated at a table with the greatest feast you have ever seen. The food looks and smells incredible. You look around the table and see that the other guests are having a culinary experience that borders n the orgasmic. Just as you are about to join the  festivities you realize that your arms are tied behind you and your jaw is wired shut.

Hell is the real world and that is much worse than anything Dante can come up with.

Well, if there was ever any question about my being a bit bitter there isn’t now. Life is sometimes funny in a way that makes you laugh and sometimes in a way that makes you want to cry.

The first time I had my heart broken was hard. The second time was rough and the third time was ridiculously painful. It was bad enough that I swore that I wouldn’t fall in love again. And for a long time that is how it went. Various women came into my life. Some of them tried to break through the walls that I had erected but none really succeeded.

And then one day she did. One day the wall was up and the next day it was a pile of rubble. It scared me. I was frightened and excited by it all. But she took me by the hand and promised to just love me. I think that was part of what caught me, the “I just love you” bit. It was so simple and yet so powerful.

She did and so did I. We just loved each other. It is a cliche, but it felt like a dream. Somewhere along the way we got lost. If I didn’t have my meeting with Harold I might even take the time to tell you how and why. At least I think that I would. Can’t say for certain because I don’t know if I understand it.

So in the time we have before I go off to the meeting let me fill in some details. We fell apart, sort of. Not sure that we ever stopped loving each other, just found ourselves in unfamiliar territory and went separate directions.

She got married and I got married.

I thought that I was in love. I really did. It seemed like it. I guess that it must have felt like it or I wouldn’t have done that whole ring thing.

But here I am today, ringless, wifeless and until the other day very happy. Things were great until they told me about her. I was perfectly fine and now I am not.

Now I find myself on fire for a woman I haven’t seen or spoken to for what seems like forever. Now I find my heart pounding for a woman who probably thinks of me as just another ex. I am sure that she thinks of me fondly, but what are the chances that she feels like I do.

And this sort of talk is part of why I am pissed off with my daughter and the friends. I didn’t want to look at this corner of my closet. I didn’t want to explore the lost ruins to see if any treasure remains.There is a reason why you let sleeping dogs lie.

Sigh. Well, I’ll put this frustration to good use and go needle the hell out of Harold. If he doesn’t go off on one of this interminably long speeches I still might get to the beach.

Silence Is Golden

I walked into the office, looked at Harold and told him to shut up and listen. Dumber men than I are well aware that it is risky to tell your boss to shut up and listen. But having developed an exceptional urge to swallow my size 12 boot ignored common sense and followed up my opening words with, “I said shut up!”

This went over slightly better than the time I asked him in a restaurant whether it was possible to get his name removed from the National Sex Offenders Registry. That stunt led to my paychecks getting lost and my not receiving assignments for an extended period of time.

It probably could have been much uglier had they had a better staff of writers, but they don’t. While I am not dumb enough to believe I am irreplaceable I do know that none of the others are in my league. Don’t mean to be obnoxious about that, but it is true. My content is cleaner and written faster than theirs and that provides me with a substantial advantage over them.

But it didn’t prevent me from being forced to listen to his lecture about respect, his advice on what divorced men should do and something else that I can’t remember. Truth is that I can’t remember most of what he said. Damn girls and their news managed to rattle my cage in a way that just doesn’t happen.

Goodbye

“I remember holdin’ on to you
All them long and lonely nights I put you through
Somewhere in there I’m sure I made you cry
But I can’t remember if we said goodbye”
Goodbye- Emmylou Harris

The girls mean well. They think that they know me better than I know myself and that pushing me here is something that will me to be the happy guy they know I can be. I appreciate that. I really do but I also appreciate not being visited by the ghost of lost love and specter of She Might Still Love You Why Don’t You Call.

Isn’t there some sort of law or rule somewhere that dictates that men my age go sow their oats. Or maybe it is a study. Yeah, I think that I read that it is really important for us to get reacquainted with women by not dating. I think that I read that scientists advise getting involved in strictly physical relationships for an extended period of time.

In between the angst and excitement it occurred to me that this thing that was messing with my head could be the subject of my next column. Lost love rekindled is a story that never grows old. I mapped out a basic outline on a piece of paper and chuckled to myself.

Not only was it great fodder for a story, it would make one hell of a reality television show. That could be a great legacy for the kids. “Children, I want you to know that I paid for your education by creating a reality television show that makes the viewers dumberer.” Wouldn’t that be something to be proud of.

Writing

Yep, that reality television gig could be all sorts of fun now couldn’t it. It wouldn’t take much effort to come up with an idea for a script. All you need to do is think back upon college and pull something out of the memory banks but it wouldn’t be as much fun or as interesting as trying to come up with something that your friends and family would be proud to point at.

Did we ever mention that sometimes old Jack is a big old snob. Not that it matters, but he is and maybe that is why he sometimes talks about himself in the third person. It also happens to be something that drives Harold crazy and anything that drives Harold crazy is something that I have to do with reckless abandon.

Jack the big old snob likes to believe that he lives life with reckless abandon. He likes to think that he is a low maintenance fellow who doesn’t require much to be happy but I suspect that some people might disagree. Of course Jack the big old snob doesn’t spend much time worrying about whether people agree or disagree with him. Maybe he should. The world might appreciate a kinder, gentler and more sensitive Jack. But then again he would miss telling people to go fuck themselves.

And this my friends leads me to a different issue entirely that I like to call the problem with women. They pay way too much attention to me.

Slow down now Tex and take a deep breath. That is not my ego talking. I am not trying to say that women want to tear my clothes off and enjoy a thousands nights of unbridled passion. No, what I am referring to is their predilection for picking up on little details and pieces of personality.  I might have told the girls that I have no interest in her but the more I think about it the more I realize that they didn’t buy it.

The thing is that it doesn’t really matter whether they bought it or not because I know those three. They are convinced that there might be some sort of hope for her and I and they aren’t going to stop pushing until I make contact. But they are fooling themselves if they think that I am going to listen to Ma Bell and reach out and touch someone. If they ask why I can give them a list of a dozen reasons why it doesn’t make any sense.

We can start with this one. Why should I be the one to call her? I don’t get it. The three of them would be the first to tell you that a woman can do anything a man can do yet somehow I am the one whose stuck sticking my neck out here. What is that about? It reminds me of a discussion I had with that crazy woman a thousand years ago where she told me that should would never be the first to say “I love you.”

I remember scrunching up my face and rolling my eyes at that. Why do men have to take all the risk. Want to make a bet that those three will tell me that I am being ridiculous about this. Just wait until the shoe is on the other foot… Call me juvenile, but the next guy my daughter introduces me to just might get a verbal ass kicking because of this. No doubt that daughter will give me hell about that and blame it upon this very thing.

Damn if that doesn’t make me incredibly proud and frustrated. She is almost too smart for her own good. That girl has had too many years to observe me as well as the benefit of being a direct recipient of my DNA. The end result is someone who has more insight into my thought process and feelings than I sometimes like.

Talking In Circles

Whenever someone tells me that I am talking in circles I know that it is time for me to hunker down in my cave and think. This sort of thing only happens when I am confused about something or unwilling to share my real thoughts with someone.

It occurred to me that the sort of confusion I was feeling was tied into feelings that I thought I had left behind in junior high or high school. Or at least I thought that I had done so but the pacing around the room and struggle to focus made it clear that I hadn’t.

Someone needs to remind me to thank the girls for helping me take this trip down memory lane. Maybe next time they can help me find my high school metabolism and energy.

What I really should do is go for a run or head off to the gym. I am restless and it would do me good to use this energy for something other than mental masturbation- but that is not going to happen now.

No, now I am going to dig through old letters I and stories that I wrote about us. Now I am going to open some doors that have been closed and find out whether the ghosts of the pasts still rattle their chains or if they have found a way to rest.

I think that what I am trying to figure out is whether I am chasing after memories of what was or running towards what could be. If it was me giving the advice I would recommend moving forward because Doc Brown and his Flex Capacitor equipped DeLorean aren’t going to show up and take us back in time. The focus has to be back to the future and the present because that is when life happens.

Sometimes I Hate Editors

Most of my former students will tell you that a central theme of my course is that a good writer understands that writing is rewriting. And if I were a smarter man I would listen to Professor Jack and spend more time editing and reworking my columns than I do now. Professor Jack would tell you that Writer Jack rarely allocates more than three minutes per column to editing and that if he took things more seriously he could make a significant improvement upon the quality of his work.

The thing is that Writer Jack has a problem with authority and given a chance would kick Professor Jack’s ass.  I imagine that it would be the kind of fight that some would call a battle for the ages. The fine folks who handle the pay-per-view boxing matches would be well served to get in on that. Just imagine how much money a fight like that would gross. It would be epic.

This raises two important points. The first is that epic is overused and consequently the word has lost all impact. Everything is described as being epic and if everything is epic than nothing is important, significant or meaningful. That makes the use of that word an “epic fail.” Secondly, since Writer Jack and Professor Jack are the same person the only way that fight can take place is in imagination or some sort of science fiction novel.

I would take that idea and file it away but it bears a striking resemblance to Fight Club and the first rule of Fight Club is there is no talking about Fight Club.

That is a very different approach to the first rule of writing which is that writing is rewriting. It sounds far too obvious and as sensible as saying that water is wet but it is true. Good old Harold, the bald is beautiful boy wonder of writing, he who hates these inane descriptions of himself would be pleased to see me spend more time editing my copy. We have an ongoing fight in which he tells me that I am not serving my soul by providing these clean but sterile columns.

He knows damn well that my columns are anything but sterile. I don’t do safe, plain or vanilla. I let it all hang out there and that is part of why people love/hate me. It is one of the benefits of being ridiculously intense. Someone once described me as being inconsistent in my inconsistencies and as subtle as a freight train. I don’t know what the hell the first part of that description means but I can confirm the second.

You know when I am happy, sad or angry. The boys think that this is why I don’t play poker with them very often. They tell me that they know all of my “tells” and suggest that if I played they would go home with fatter wallets.  I haven’t bothered to point out that the last three times I played with them I was the big winner. Every now and then I think about using the fellas and the poker game in one of my books.

There are a million different angles that I could use with it. It might be kind of fun to write about a bunch of Jewish kids who have limited athletic ability but are freaking geniuses at making money. Come to think about it that is the sort of story that I should use in one of my columns and not a book.  Harold and the newspaper are far more worried about liability than my publisher.

You might think that is precisely why I should use it in the book but that is exactly why I won’t. That juvenile part of me can’t pass up an opportunity to tweak Harold. The look on his face would almost be worth the lecture that would come with it.

My Best Interests

She told me that her decision was in my best interests and than she wished me good luck. Her name was Katherine Rosebottom and she is the only teacher who told me that I shouldn’t become a writer. Good old Rosebottom, who used to eat raw sticks of butter refused to recommend me for a spot in the Advanced Placement English class because she felt it wasn’t in my best interests to be there.

I probably should have extended the same courtesy to her and yanked her fat fist out of her mouth so that she wouldn’t die of a massive heart attack at 50. That would have been the proper and gentlemanly thing to do but she didn’t like me and I didn’t like her either.  I can’t tell you what she had against me but I can give you a long list of reasons why I don’t like her.

Did I ever mention that sometimes I hold a grudge. It is not one of my finer traits but I would be lying if I said that it didn’t exist. Besides it is as good an explanation for why I still don’t like a woman who died years ago. In fairness some of that stems from her being unfair and unreasonable. The teacher-student relationship isn’t a level playing field and she worked hard to make sure that I understood that.

If you don’t believe me give Sheri a call and she’ll tell you that I am not making any of this up. She’ll also tell you that the reason Rosebottom was so hard on me was because I never let her have the last word. Did I mention that Sheri loves to say “I told you so.” Maybe that is the reason she is divorced. Do me a favor and don’t mention that I said that to her because I’ll never hear the end of it.

She’d probably say the same thing about me but what does she know. We have been friends for almost thirty years now which means that I remember when she didn’t need to wear a girdle and dye her hair. Actually she doesn’t have to wear a girdle. Good old Sheri scored big in genetics. You can’t tell that she gave birth three times.  She sometimes bitches to me about her hips being wider but I can’t tell if they are or not.

And as she’ll tell you, I would know. We spent countless hours together growing up and yes, I did try to convince her to sleep with me. I blame it on When Harry Met Sally. You know, that whole and women can’t be friends because the men always want to sleep with the women thing.  Allow me to clarify a few things for you.

  1. I have female friends that I have no sexual interest in. Never have and never will. It is just not there.
  2. I spent several years lusting after Sheri. She had this amazing body, a great personality and we hung out constantly

Did I mention that we there was a jacuzzi at her parent’s house. We used it all the time. Do you have any idea what it was like as a teenage boy to go through that. For reasons that were far too obvious getting out of that pool was no easy task and don’t think that she didn’t know why, but I digress.

Anyway, there was a point at time when I decided to confess my undying love for Sheri and suggested that maybe we should try slipping off the bonds of friendship. She told me that she was flattered and said that it wasn’t a good idea.

As you have probably ascertained I told her that I respected her wishes and made preparations to join a monastery. That thought lasted for about five minutes after which I told her she was being stupid and went home.

That led to a fight that almost didn’t get resolved. We never stopped speaking but for several months there was a lot of tension between us. Tension that I interpreted as being sexual in nature and like a good man I did my best to ignore it.

You see I thought that by ignoring it I would turn the tables on Sheri and that one day she would beg me to take her and end her misery. Years later I can see that I was an idiot but back then I didn’t have a clue.

Eventually I couldn’t contain myself and I said something and she exploded.  She screamed at me and told me how I was an insensitive asshole and then said something that blew my mind.

“Fine. Do it.”

I suspect that had my response been videotaped I might have made Porky Pig look like the world’s finest orator.After I finished stammering I asked her if she was serious and she nodded her head.

For a moment I stood there in stunned silence and then listened to her lay out the ground rules.

“You can have me. You can have me for two minutes, five minutes or five days. You can enjoy yourself for however long you can last and then you can go fuck yourself. Never call me again. I don’t want to hear your voice, see your face or know a thing about you.”

I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I know that she walked up to me and said that I had thirty seconds to make up my mind or get out. I remember feeling like my feet were stuck in cement and slowly walking out the door.

We didn’t talk for a while after that but I can’t tell you how long it was. What I do know is that during the time that we didn’t speak she met the guy who later became her husband.

About a month after I told her that I was getting divorced she told me that I probably should have slept with her that day. I asked her if that meant she and I would have gotten married and she rolled her eyes at me.

I still don’t know what that means or if it was supposed to mean anything at all. Women are odd creatures, too bad I am not gay. I understand men.

I’m Not Gay

Some years back I told Sheri that life would be much easier if I really were gay. She laughed and told me that I was as about as far away from being gay as a man could be.  “Should I thank you for saying that I am homophobic?”

She laughed again and told me to stop being so damn sensitive. “Jack, it is not an insult. You love women far too much to ever be gay.” I shook my head and told her that I still didn’t understand and she just rolled her eyes at me. “Is it the damn estrogen that makes you guys act like idiots or just plain stupidity.”

In a different setting that comment probably would have gotten me blasted but I was too busy recovering from the beating my heart took over a different woman. I really haven’t had my heart broken too many times but when it has happened Sheri has always been there for me and for that I am eternally grateful.

That conversation sticks out in my memory more for other things than for the tangent we took regarding which team I preferred to bat for. More specifically that was the night that I discovered that writing was cathartic for me. It is another thing that Sheri deserves partial credit for. She was the one who recommended that instead of getting drunk I try writing in a journal.

Initially it wasn’t something that I had any interest in doing. At that time I was focused on trying to become a sports writer and like many other men I considered the idea of keeping a journal of my feelings to be anathema.

“Have you ever considered writing about your feelings?”

“I was going to do it in between the drum circle and singing Kumbaya with the other losers.”

She ignored the heavy sarcasm and continued, “It is a really good way to understand how you are feeling and why.” “You really should take it more seriously.”

In response I flung a bottle across the room and told her if she really wanted to help she could ask one of her friends to sleep with me. As an alternative I suggested she call Bob and get his blessing to provide me with desperately needed medical care. I suppose that this is another example of how good a friend Sheri has been to me. She ignored the bottle and the thinly veiled request for servicing and pushed me again to write.

“Jack, you are a really good writer and there is no reason why you shouldn’t benefit personally from it. Promise me that you will try writing a few paragraphs about your thoughts.”

I nodded my head and fell on the couch. I remember her covering me with a blanket, kissing my forehead and leaving. Had I been sober I might have actually tried writing that night. Instead I made my first few entries the next day. I’ll let you decide whether the raging hangover made them more bitter than they would have been had I been sober.

Sometimes I Hate Editors

Most of my former students will tell you that a central theme of my course is that a good writer understands that writing is rewriting. And if I were a smarter man I would listen to Professor Jack and spend more time editing and reworking my columns than I do now. Professor Jack would tell you that Writer Jack rarely allocates more than three minutes per column to editing and that if he took things more seriously he could make a significant improvement upon the quality of his work.

The thing is that Writer Jack has a problem with authority and given a chance would kick Professor Jack’s ass.  I imagine that it would be the kind of fight that some would call a battle for the ages. The fine folks who handle the pay-per-view boxing matches would be well served to get in on that. Just imagine how much money a fight like that would gross. It would be epic.

This raises two important points. The first is that epic is overused and consequently the word has lost all impact. Everything is described as being epic and if everything is epic than nothing is important, significant or meaningful. That makes the use of that word an “epic fail.” Secondly, since Writer Jack and Professor Jack are the same person the only way that fight can take place is in imagination or some sort of science fiction novel.

I would take that idea and file it away but it bears a striking resemblance to Fight Club and the first rule of Fight Club is there is no talking about Fight Club.

That is a very different approach to the first rule of writing which is that writing is rewriting. It sounds far too obvious and as sensible as saying that water is wet but it is true. Good old Harold, the bald is beautiful boy wonder of writing, he who hates these inane descriptions of himself would be pleased to see me spend more time editing my copy. We have an ongoing fight in which he tells me that I am not serving my soul by providing these clean but sterile columns.

He knows damn well that my columns are anything but sterile. I don’t do safe, plain or vanilla. I let it all hang out there and that is part of why people love/hate me. It is one of the benefits of being ridiculously intense. Someone once described me as being inconsistent in my inconsistencies and as subtle as a freight train. I don’t know what the hell the first part of that description means but I can confirm the second.

You know when I am happy, sad or angry. The boys think that this is why I don’t play poker with them very often. They tell me that they know all of my “tells” and suggest that if I played they would go home with fatter wallets.  I haven’t bothered to point out that the last three times I played with them I was the big winner. Every now and then I think about using the fellas and the poker game in one of my books.

There are a million different angles that I could use with it. It might be kind of fun to write about a bunch of Jewish kids who have limited athletic ability but are freaking geniuses at making money. Come to think about it that is the sort of story that I should use in one of my columns and not a book.  Harold and the newspaper are far more worried about liability than my publisher.

You might think that is precisely why I should use it in the book but that is exactly why I won’t. That juvenile part of me can’t pass up an opportunity to tweak Harold. The look on his face would almost be worth the lecture that would come with it.

I Don’t Love My Husband Anymore

The telephone call came from out of the blue. I can’t tell you how long it had been since we had last spoken, could have been months or it might have been years. People get busy and live their lives. It is not personal, it is just life. Hell, most days I have trouble remembering my own name.

Our conversation began in the usual manner with small talk about our jobs and other little things about life. Slowly it progressed into some more serious matters sprinkled in with a couple of jokes here and there and then she hit me with the bombshell.

“I don’t love my husband anymore.”

For a moment I was silent, unsure of how to respond I let the words linger in the air. I said that I was sorry and asked her what she was going to do. She told me that she wasn’t sure. She thought that she’d try to hang on for a few years, until her boys were older.

I said that sounded like a good idea. This time the silence was her doing. I felt an obligation to try to help so I asked her a few questions about how she got to be where she was. She told me that he wasn’t a bad guy, that she had made a mistake in marrying him. I told her that I didn’t want to be rude but I didn’t understand why she had children with him.

So she explained that she thought that they were going through growing pains and that she always figured that they would work through them, but they never did. So here she was ten years later wondering how it was that she had come to be trapped in a life she no longer wanted to live.

When I suggested that she consider getting out sooner than later she grew agitated and told me how it was different for mothers. Mothers have different standards than men. I wasn’t sure if I was being insulted but chose to remain silent.

So I asked her a few more questions and suggested that maybe it wasn’t so bad. He sounded like a decent guy. She snorted and told me that I was being a man. I asked her what that meant.

“You don’t understand what it is like to be intimate with him. I feel like I am being violated. I hate kissing him, it makes my skin crawl.”

I was more than a little surprised by her candor and told her that I didn’t understand how she could equate intimacy and kissing. She snorted again and told me that I was a man and that I probably wouldn’t understand. I agreed with her, I didn’t quite understand how it was easier to have sex than to kiss him.

In an exasperated voice she told me that men could just stick it in anywhere and that most of us saw kissing as a means to an end which was why I didn’t understand.

She probably wouldn’t have liked the way I rolled my eyes, but she couldn’t see that. I told her that they would take my man card away for suggesting that she not be intimate with him and she laughed again. It wasn’t a happy laugh.

He wouldn’t put up with that.He didn’t demand it constantly, but he was a man and if she didn’t work to meet his needs he might try divorcing her. I told her that was the most backwards thing I had heard in a long time and received another long sigh.

“Mothers are held to a different standard than fathers. And I would feel such guilt if my children were hurt by me doing this. They love their father.”

There was more silence and then the conversation resumed, but it was different.The moment of sharing was gone and I knew better than to bring it back up again. We said our goodbyes and hung up the phone. As I sat there cooking my dinner I thought about what she had said, echoes of “I don’t love my husband anymore” playing through my mind.

Can’t tell you what made me think of that particular call but thinking about it made me wonder when my ex-wife began feeling that way.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many times she lay there hoping it would end sooner or how many nights she made a point to fall asleep before I climbed into bed. Relationships are such a funny thing.

We weren’t always bad. There was a time when she would have gladly woken up to my advances. Not to mention that I can think of a few times where she woke me up.   I know that I am not the only one to have gone through this sort of thing. Friends tell me that all relationships go through ups and downs and with the exception of she who I am trying not to think about that had been the case.

Or maybe it was the case. Maybe I had forgotten what it was really like to be with her. It was a million years since Ann Stacey and I had been something other than a memory. The days before marriage had been very different than what came after. It was hard not to wonder if time had colored my memories of what life had been like then.

Alone In The Stacks

It was 1980 something or maybe it was the early 90s- I can’t really remember and I don’t care. What I do remember is walking through the library…with Ann Stacey. We were in the Stacks looking for some tome that we needed for a group project we were walking on together. The space between the shelves was quite narrow preventing two people to walk side by side. In an effort to be a gentleman I let go first and I followed right behind her.

She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and had long black hair that was caught up in one of those scrunchy things the girls wore back then. I’ll readily admit that I chose to walk behind her so that I could stare at her without fear of being caught. But it was also done for self preservation, she made my heart pound and I was afraid that I might trip over my big feet and knock myself unconscious.

While I was confident in my abilities to woo a woman I couldn’t think of a clever way to knock myself out and get the girl. It seemed like a great move for some John Hughes movie, except in that one I would be some nerd who would end up with the girl I thought was just a friend. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but this was real life and I was enamored with her that the thought of ending up with someone else just seemed wrong.

The woman walked with purpose and moved quickly down the rows of books and magazines. Periodically she would speak and I would wonder if she had a part time job as a an auctioneer- she spoke so very quickly.  Who knew that she would also stop moving as quickly as she started. I suppose that if I hadn’t been enjoying the sweet scent of her perfume or admiring the swish of her hips I might have been aware that I was about to crash into her.

If nothing else I wouldn’t have smashed her face first into some dusty book causing some other books to fall off of the top shelf and plummet towards earth. Ok, they would have hit earth but instead they smacked her on the top of her head. Looking back on it I realize that this had turned into a John Hughes movie, except instead of me being the one who hit the dirt it was her.

For a moment we stood in silence and disbelief. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. Her face was inscrutable and I suddenly found myself fighting back gales of laughter. I really liked her and I didn’t want to wreck a future by laughing at the wrong time. The worst part of it was the feeling that I shouldn’t laugh. The idea that I shouldn’t made the urge so much stronger. So very strong that I was certain that if I didn’t do something I would laugh so hard I would fall down.

So in an effort not to laugh I just reacted. I tucked an arm around her waist and pulled her towards me. When she was close enough I wiped some dust off of her forehead and kissed her on the mouth. She didn’t kiss me back nor did she push me away. For just a moment we stood there with my lips pressed against hers. When I didn’t feel her return the kiss I began to panic and I got really nervous and began to mutter some kind of apology.

I remember thinking that this kind of crap never happens to Humphrey Bogart. Don’t bother me with silly details about him being dead or that all I saw him in were movies. I know that they were following a script- I already told you to stop bothering my with technicalities and details.

In retrospect I bet that less than a minute had passed but to me it felt like it had been hours. I took my mouth off of hers and looked at her face. She looked back into my eyes and asked me why I had stopped. Fortunately she wasn’t scared off by the Cheshire Cat grin that graced my lips or worried that kissing me would lead to being brained by a 50 year old dictionary.

Alone in the stacks we gained a different sort of education than the one that he had set out to find, and far more enjoyable.

Lost In The Parking Lot

She told me that Jesus loves me and offered me a smile that would make the Cheshire Cat look like he was frowning. I smiled back at her, said that I play for other team but didn’t walk away.

“No, you don’t. We all play for the same manager. You just haven’t realized it yet.”

I laughed. “I don’t think so. My manager hates me.”

Her smile evaporated and a look of genuine concern appeared, “are you ok?

“No, not really. Been a long time since I was ok.” My friends will tell you that I don’t hide my feelings but I am not usually so forthcoming.

“I am sorry about that. I really should get going.”

She put a hand on my forearm and said that it was ok. “God never gives you more than you can handle.”

“No but he doesn’t give me what I ask for either.”

She smiled softly and said that sometimes we thank god for unanswered prayers.

I nodded my head and said that I didn’t think that was true but appreciated her time. She didn’t argue, just flashed that beauty queen smile again and told me to watch out for traffic.

What she should have said was watch out for the shopping cart because that was what I almost tripped over. It was the very same shopping cart that a few moments earlier I had been walking towards.

Had she not called out to me I would have grabbed it and already been inside picking up some groceries.

Instead I was outside in the parking lot rubbing the side that had clipped the cart and wondering where she had come from. I made a mental note not to tell my daughter about it or she would have a field day making me eat my words.

I can’t count the number of times I have told her that she must always be aware of her surroundings.

“Drivers aren’t paying attention. It doesn’t matter if the pedestrian has the right of way because the pedestrian always loses that fight.”

I am guessing that if you asked her to share my favorite lines she would give you that one and the one about girls having to pay extra attention to their surroundings, especially at night.

That second admonition really sets her off. I can’t tell you how many times she has told me that it isn’t fair and that her brothers have more freedom than she does.

The only thing that makes her angrier is what she calls my ridiculous behavior around boys.

I told her that one day when she becomes a mother she’ll understand and then I said that I am far too young to become a grandpa but I am not worried because she is not allowed to date until she is 87.

When she was really little she would scrunch up her face and tell me that 87 is too old. “Daddy, what about 36. Can I date at 36 or 41?

I would smile and say yes and then she would throw out a couple more ages. Sometimes they would be higher and sometimes they would be lower. When you are 8 years-old there is not much difference between 17 and 27. They are both far older than you.

Needless to say as she got older and gained a better grasp of age I began to hear a range that went from 14-16. You can probably guess how those discussions went.

Daughters can be challenging. The first inkling I got of this was from Tom, a fraternity brother of mine. When we were twenty he knocked up his girlfriend and by the time we were twenty-one he was changing diapers on a baby girl they named Rachel.

We weren’t real tight so I would only see him at the yearly reunions. But I won’t ever forget what happened at one when we were around 35 or so.

It is a blustery afternoon at the park and the place is packed with current members and alumni. We are all there for the Thanksgiving day football game we call Turkeybowl.

Tom and I are part of a group of four or five people. We are making the usual small talk about life and what ours is like when Tom barks, “Rachel!”

We all turn to see who he is talking to and spot a very attractive girl talking to a couple of the actives.

‘Is that Rachel?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Dude, she is hot,” says Mark.

It was the wrong thing to say. I am pretty sure that Mark didn’t mean to be offensive. He was just busting Tom’s chops but it didn’t go over well.

Tom glared at Mark, muttered something and pushed by him. When Rachel saw her father walking towards her she gave him a look that could have melted steel, flipped her hair and turned back.

It didn’t take a genius to know that the look the boy was getting was far different from the one her father received.

I don’t know if Tom and that particular active knew each other or what they said to each other. What I can tell you is that Tom provided that 19 year old boy with the kind of education his parents hadn’t paid for.

Fifteen minutes later Tom and Rachel were standing off to the side screaming at each other while the rest of us tried to figure out what had just happened.

I found out later on that earlier that week Tom had walked in on Rachel and some boy in bed. That is the sort of thing that no parent wants to discover, especially a father.

******

I took my bruised hip and started pushing the shopping cart towards the store. It goes without saying that I found the one with the busted wheel.

Inside the store I wandered up and down the aisles and tried to figure out why I had responded the way I had to the woman in the parking lot.

The words had just spilled out of me and I realized that it wouldn’t have taken much more prompting for me to have said a lot more. That moment marked when I realized just how miserable I was and how desperately I needed to make a change.

It probably also is when I decided that it was time to start thinking about that dread ‘D’ word we call divorce. Up until that point it had been something that other people did, but not anymore.

Divorce

I never thought that I would be the guy to say this, but the failure of my marriage made me feel like a failure. That doesn’t mean that I wanted to stay married or that I didn’t want to get divorced because that is simply not true. We went as far as we could go and had we tried to make it last any longer it is probable that we would have had hit that ugly place that so many other couples hit.

That was simply unacceptable to me. My children didn’t need to have parents who hated each other and ending it when we did made it easier to ensure that they didn’t witness some very unpleasant and ugly exchanges. I don’t talk to them at the specifics and particulars of why we decided to end it. That hasn’t prevented them from asking for more information than I am comfortable discussing with them but I simply refuse to answer.

I told them that it is private because it is.

It is not a situation where we can point fingers and say that one of us is/was so horrible it became impossible to live with them. No one was abusive or being abused but neither were we loving or in love.

Look, I understand that relationships are filled with ups and downs. The “experts” and assorted friends have told me that you don’t stay “in love” with your partner throughout the entire relationship. They tell me that during the ebb and flow there are moments where you love them but that is it.

That is something that just never made a lot of sense to me. I don’t know what to make out of the ‘I love you, but am not in love with you” line that so many people have shared. What I know is that I reached a place where I didn’t have anything to say to her anymore. If it didn’t involve the children or some sort of household matter I didn’t speak to her.

It wasn’t because I was trying to be mean either. I truly had nothing to say. I don’t really know why that is. I have tried to figure it out but haven’t come up with anything that makes sense to me. Maybe I need more time to pass so that I can gain more perspective. Maybe I should give it a few years and I’ll be able to gain more clarity and provide a more substantive answer or maybe not.

The thing is that I just don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel a need to understand it well enough to express it.

But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t upset or that I didn’t feel sad about it. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t mourn the end of the relationship. It feels a bit goofy to say that but it is true.

I didn’t wait to start dating until the divorce was finalized but I didn’t go racing off to find a new partner either. It surprised me a little bit.  Back in the good old days when I was a happily married man I used to kid around that if I was ever single I would be like a kid in a candy shop. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it but it seemed natural to say.

As a man with a very healthy libido and a strong appreciation for women it seemed quite likely that I would go off and sow my oats for a while but then it happened and I didn’t. In part it was because I didn’t feel like I had the energy to go and learn about someone else. There wasn’t any motivation on my part to listen to someone tell me their life story and to share mine.

It probably would have stayed that way for a while except I started feeling a bit squirrely. You know, that whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing is going on and I suddenly gained enough patience to listen to a few stories.

I made a point not to say anything to any of my thoughts. I love my friends but I wasn’t in the mood to hear the boys tell me about dating. No cracks about what it is like to get back in the saddle or smart remarks about the need to bring along a little blue pill. I don’t need the damn pill and I don’t need to to get to revisit our high school locker room days.

That might be a little unfair to some of the guys but I am ok with that. I did all this because it was time and because I am taking care of myself. And along those lines I definitely didn’t say anything to the girls because I didn’t want them to start the “can I set you up” game. Correction, that started almost immediately what I didn’t want to do was give them any more ammunition or reason to talk about it.

And I especially didn’t want to hear Sheri lecture me about how I should dress, what I should say or how I must find a woman who is at least 35. Good old Sher says that she doesn’t want me wasting time sleeping with some twenty something year old girl. Why does she say this?

Well my dear friend says that she is looking out for the girl’s best interest. She fears that I will find some young, nubile thing and have outrageous amounts of meaningless sex that will lead the girl to become very attached to me and that she’ll end up getting hurt when I dump her. I told Sheri that she was very far too presumptuous and that she was hurting my non existent sex life with the hot twenty something year-old babe who can’t stop drooling when she sees me.

“Jack, it is a complete waste of time. You will have nothing to talk about and the sex will get old.”

“That is ok. I don’t want to talk to her. I am interested in lots of meaningless sex with a girl who won’t require three ibuprofen after a night of being bent every which way.”

I probably shouldn’t tell you how hard Sheri laughed and how she said that I would be the one who would require the medical assistance afterwards. ”I don’t think that you appreciate the position I am in here. Why not just support me.”

“That is not really a question. Besides I can assure you that a woman in her forties is more than capable of blowing your mind sexually. Chances are that she will be better than that girl you want to waste your time with. That whole talk about women becoming more comfortable with our bodies isn’t a myth.”

I thanked her for advice and reminded her that we weren’t on Oprah or Dr. Phil. There wasn’t going to be any cheering from the studio audience.  She stuck out her tongue at me and I told her that unless she put her tongue to better use it was time for her to go.

“It is not surprising that your divorced. Your mouth always gets you in trouble.”

“I only wish that I was as skilled at using my tongue as you are so that I could get out of it”

She turned to face me and said that she hoped that one day I would let myself be open to the possibility of falling in love again.

“Where the hell did that come from?”

“Jack, you like to pretend that you are a much bigger jerk than you are. You deserve some real happiness and you do a half ass job of taking care of yourself.”  I nodded and watched as she walked out the door and down the hall.

I don’t know if hindsight really is 20-20 but looking back on that conversation now I realize that she had already made up her mind about trying to get me to call the ex-girlfriend. If I were a bitter and angry man I would say that this was a prime example of the conniving woman who tries to manipulate the man. Thing is, I could say it just like that and she would nod her head and laugh.

Well, she really does care for me and is the kind of friend who you can call at any time so I suppose that I’ll let it go. Not like I had a choice, apparently she is two steps ahead of me.

She also gets partial credit for helping me to come up with new material for an upcoming book. Don’t ask me to tell you what book the section below will be used in because I haven’t the foggiest idea. Sometimes I get an idea and I just run with it and see where it goes. That is part of the joy of being a writer. You create worlds and you never know what they are going to look like.

You may have a rough idea about them but you never really know what they will look like or what the characters will be like until that final draft is done.

Not Quite Sleepless in Seattle

Harold keeps hounding me about my next column. He says that he is concerned about me and wonders if maybe I should take some time off. I told him that he has no sense of anything and his poor perspective is the reason that the barber shaved his head.  Unfortunately he has either gone stone deaf or has learned how to ignore my insults. Fortunately I like a challenge and am ready to develop a new set of sayings that will scorch his soul and scour his…soul.

Damn, I am losing my touch and going soft. That last line was beyond pathetic. I don’t know what comes after pathetic but that last line was clearly hanging out in that territory. I feel like the superstar athlete who had a lost step and is relying upon his reputation and a toolkit of wily veteran moves to get him over the hump.

So let’s cut to the chase. The girls upset my apple cart. They turned my world inside out and I am going a little bit crazy trying to figure out what to do. They keep pushing me to call her. They keep telling me that I have nothing to lose and that I should take a chance. Take a chance and see what happens.

I keep telling them that this is real life. It is not quite Sleepless in Seattle. I am not going to meet this very cool and mysterious woman at the top of the Empire State Building. I am not going to take her by the hand and ride off into the sunset completely fulfilled and madly happy. But the girls don’t play fair. They know me too well and they work on manipulating me.

Daughter sits next to me, holds my hand and tells me that she can see that I am nervous. She says that it is cute and tells me that she thinks I am very handsome. I smile and tell her that she is biased. I remind her that when she was four she told everyone that she was going to marry me. She looks me in the eye and tells me that she wants to know why I didn’t marry her.

I smile and tell her that it is a long story. She doesn’t care. She looks up at me with those dark brown eyes and I am lost. I love this little girl of mine, even if she isn’t so little anymore. I am supposed to be the one protecting her. I am supposed to be the one giving her advice.

I look down and stare at her hand and tell her that I remember the day she was born. She wrapped all of her fingers around my index finger that day. I told her that I was her daddy and that I would love her forever. Daughter has heard this story so many times she can tell it herself. I take her hand and pull it to my face. “Does my chin still feel rough.”

She giggles and tells me that it does but that I am not allowed to rub my face on hers. Too late, I wrap her up in a bear hug and rub cheek against hers. She squeals with laughter and for a moment I see the girl she used to be, but only for a moment. That passes and I see the woman she is becoming staring at me. The smile on her face has been replaced with a very serious look that I know far too well.

“Dad, you can talk to me. I am a girl. Maybe I can help you figure out what to say to her.”

I am not ready to tell her much more than she already knows. I know she is frustrated with me but she is going to have to guess what happened because I am not not going to let those ghosts out of their cage. Not today and maybe not ever. So I smile and tell her that I love her more than she can possibly imagine.

“I am not ready to talk about this. I am processing.”

I don’t know if that is entirely true or not because I really am not sure.

Five Years Ago

My father used to tell me that it was important to plan for the future but to remember that it was really hard to predict where you would be and what you would be doing in chunks of more than a few years. I don’t remember what prompted that conversation but I remember that it happened on the telephone and that it was in the old house. I told him that I thought that he was right but that I thought that I might be able to predict things in five year intervals.

Don’t remember what he said or if the conversation ended but I do know that I came to believe that I was wrong. Five years was too long an interval and too many things could happen within that to make the sort of prediction I wanted.

Five years ago I was still married and living in my old house. Notice that I didn’t say happily married because I wasn’t. I don’t know if  I was miserable but I wasn’t happy. I felt trapped, unfulfilled and bored and I suspect so did my ex. We didn’t do very much as a family and even less as a couple. In many ways our marriage more closely resembled two friends living together.

Except we had rings on our fingers and offspring.

I sometimes wonder when our marriage died and whether I was conscious of its death. Back when I was married one of my friends got divorced and told me that you never know when you are going to have sex with your wife for the final time.

I asked them if that bothered him and he said no. The passion had long since left them and she only took care of him because of marital obligations. For a long time I didn’t understand that but than I did. It would have been better had I not recognized it for what it was but I did.

Ladies, you may think that we don’t notice when you are in it but you might be surprised at how many times we do. We all go through moments when one partner isn’t into it but takes care of the other because they love them and want them to be happy. It is not the norm but every once in a while such a thing might happen.

Well, when you are two steps away from splitting up it is very clear to us that you have a timer in your head and you are hoping to use a couple of tricks to make us finish sooner than later.

Sheri tells me that at the end sex with her husband felt like she was being violated.

Well, I may understand that differently than Sheri, but I still understand it. When there is nothing left but memories and ghosts the sex doesn’t do much for us either.

A Whirling Dervish

One of my former students once described me as being a cross between a whirling dervish and the Tasmanian Devil.  Since it was part of a student evaluation of my skills as a teacher I wasn’t privy to all of the details but I got the sense that it wasn’t supposed to be a compliment. The department chair said that I should be aware that my proclivity for movement could be distracting to some people.

I asked if he was trying to say that I was hyperactive and he laughed. “Jack, it is clear to me that you can quite capable of focusing your attention but sometimes energy radiates from you.

That made me laugh but I had to nod my head because it is a fair assessment. There are moments when I feel like little bolts of lightning are shooting from my fingertips. They are usually the same moments when I feel like I have ten thousand ideas that I want to express, each one of them fighting to get out at the same time.

I mention this only because the lovely Ann Stacey once remarked upon it. She watched me pace around a room and wondered aloud if there was anything that could make me stand still. I am not the type to kiss and tell but she did find a way make it happen and to this day I am not sure if she made her comment because she was flirting with me or what.

Or what.

Those two words summed a lot of things up for me. I used to think that I knew a lot about her. I used to think that I could come up with a reasonable prediction of what she would do in a given situation and or how she would respond. I think that she really appreciated that. Television and film like to portray women as being these lovely and inscrutable creatures that men can’t possibly understand but I haven’t ever believed that to be true.

Well, maybe just a little.

But I think that when it came to us my understanding of her is part of what made her fall for me. There were things that I just knew about her. I can’t tell you exactly how or why I knew these things but it was enough to catch her eye. I used to like to tease her about a million different things.

I remember her telling me that in every relationship one person tended to take control but that didn’t necessarily mean that things weren’t equal. So I told her that with me she wouldn’t have to worry about pretending to let me think that I was in control when she really was. She giggled a bit and I told her that I had busted her on that point.

Don’t remember if she actually acknowledged it out loud but we both understood and I think that we loved that understanding. It was stronger and deeper than anything we had ever experienced and now I was beginning to wonder if the raw power of that connection was something that withstood time. Were the promises we made years before things said in the throes of passion or were they more than that.

As a journalist we are trained to ask lots of questions and to dig for answers and information that lies beneath the surface. Even though this is a personal matter I couldn’t help but start thinking about this from a professional perspective.  What is love? What is the difference between being in love and loving something or someone? Does love die?

I know that I have seen a million different stories that suggest that the Internet has helped to break up and or cause major divisions in relationships but it doesn’t talk about the flip side. What has the Internet done to help reunite and or restore lost loves. Surely there are examples of this. There have to be stories about the lost loves who found each other. But what happened when they did.

I wonder.

Whose Reality Is It Anyway

I hate my cellphone. I love my cellphone. I hate how it provides unlimited access to me. I love how it provides virtually unlimited freedom.  That is my unspoken mantra. It is what I recite while I sit on the beach and watch the waves come rolling in.

If I wasn’t on deadline I wouldn’t have turned it on but I am on deadline and I have already ignored two telephone calls, a text message and three emails from Harold.  The last voicemail was particularly touching. “Jack, it is 3 PM and you haven’t returned any of my calls or replied to my emails. This is unacceptable. If I don’t hear from you in the next hour I am going to kill your column. Put some goddamn sunscreen on so you don’t get cancer and call me back immediately.”

Telephone in hand I started to dial and then I got distracted by a woman. No, it wasn’t a woman on the beach although there were plenty worth looking at. This time it was Sheri calling to check in on me.

“Have you called her yet?”

“No, I haven’t called her and I don’t think I will. She probably won’t take the call.”

“You are an idiot and she will take the call. Trust me, she will speak with you.”

“What makes you think that I even want to talk to her. Life is good now. What do I need her for?”

“Jack, you know that I love you, but you are an idiot. What do you have to lose?

“You called me an idiot twice. I heard you the first time. Why should I call her? Why doesn’t she call me?”

“Jack, you know that she is not going to call you. It doesn’t work that way. She is not going to risk it.”

“So, I should take the risk? What the fuck is that about? Why does she get to protect herself?”

“I thought that you didn’t feel anything for her.”

I could almost feel the smirk and the “I told you so” smile coming from her. “I can’t talk any longer, I am on deadline. I’ll call you later.”

I made a point to hang up before she could respond and gathered my things.  Between Harold and Sheri the beach just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. It was time to go home and start working.

Fifteen or so minutes later I dusted the sand off of my feet, grabbed a beer from the fridge and began typing on my computer:

“Technically I am not supposed to start a column by reminiscing about what it felt to have a pair of long legs wrapped around me. The public doesn’t want to hear or read my recollection of sexual conquests, not even if they were of the loving kind.

I am not supposed to tell you that I have been thinking about long dark hair that falls just past her shoulder or sensual dark eyes that you could get lost in. Nor am I supposed to tell you about the full lips and the perfect hips that came along with the legs, hair and eyes.

But you see I have been lost in the land of make believe and wishes so I am allowed to go there. Allowed to tell you that there once was a woman who I loved more deeply than all others and whose presence in my life has been marked for years by her absence.

The question that I find myself asking is whose reality is it anyway and why do I have to pay attention to rules that hurt my heart. Why can’t I indulge this fantasy and try to determine if I am chasing after fools gold or trying to catch a shooting star. I am inclined to say that I don’t have to worry about what society thinks because society is fickle. Society doesn’t give a damn what happens as long as it doesn’t happen to them.

But you see that when you live in the public eye you sometimes have to be more aware of what you do and who you do it with. I told you all before that I am not really comfortable being seen as a public figure. I didn’t get into this business for fame or fortune. I did it because I love to write. I did it because I can make words sing and that song is always on my mind.”

I wouldn’t define it as my best work but it wasn’t bad either. Most importantly I had enough of  a framework in hand to send over to Harold.  He might be a pain in my ass but he has a good nose for this business and I was confident that whatever advice he would offer there would be useful and practical.

Later that night I planned on calling Sheri back to ask for advice. I wanted a female perspective about an idea. I wanted to know what she thought of my using my column as a way to reach out to Ann Stacey.

Who She Was

Who she was is the title of a book that I never published. It is a series of essays, poems and thoughts about love, relationships and life. It is a collection of hope, happiness and despair.

I am not the first person to have his heart broken and I won’t be the last.  Fact is that she wasn’t the first woman to break my heart. That honor belongs to another but she does hold the title for doing the best job of it. She probably wouldn’t want to hear that I thought of her as the best and the worst thing to happen to me. Or maybe she would like hearing it, it is hard to say.

Hard to say because the woman who once was my girl hasn’t been mine for eternity. There was a time when we were best friends. There was a moment where we didn’t know where our individual hearts ended or began. That was when we said that we shared a heart and felt our souls succor each other It was back in the days when we would read about our astrological signs and marvel over how cool they were together.

Both earth signs share the ability to communicate and understand one another intuitively. Their conversations get better over time and so does the relationship. They will understand each others goals and hopes for the future. There is an unspoken bond here that once established, hardly ever gets broken. They will provide each other with what the other person instinctively needs and desires sexually. You can’t go wrong with this astrological combination, period. A strong attraction and loyalty will keep these two together. Relatives can sometimes be a problem for these two.  Virgos understand that listening to their Taurus can provide them the sort of answers that they cannot figure out on their own. The smart Virgo recognizes that Taurus mate knows how to reach them in ways that no other can. Focus on healing yourselves and each other and you will have a mate for life.

I am clearly biased but I think that excerpt is simply amazing. I suppose in large part it is because I knew these things about her and I long before I read this. But that was then and this is now. Back then I knew exactly who she was.

She had one of the biggest hearts and sweetest personalities of anyone I had ever met. Sweet, caring, nurturing and giving. But she was also tough. That woman knew her mind, knew what she wanted and would go after it.

One of the things that I remember is how we used to fight. We didn’t fight very often but we went at it hard. I never fought with anyone else like that because if I had we would have ended things. It was different with us because the level of trust made it different. That mutual understanding provided a depth and a strength unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Back then she told me that no one could ever take better care of me. I told her that she was right but I am not sure that she believed me. I told her that she was the most beautiful woman I knew but I don’t think that she let herself believe that either.

Sheri thinks that all of my praise might have made her uncomfortable and that she might have felt like she couldn’t live up to the picture I painted. I don’t know. Suppose it could be true.

The damn woman used to tell me that she was logical, rational and organized. I told her that one out of three wasn’t bad and that she had plenty of time to work on the other two.

Even though it has been years I am willing to bet that she is one of the mothers that makes other women jealous. She had the sort of build that would allow her to quickly drop the baby weight and an enormous amount of energy.

*****

It is funny to me to think about how our perspective changes as we age.  I can’t think of a time where we didn’t have exceptional chemistry. We never ran out of things to talk about and the physical side wasn’t any different. Except back in the day when I wasn’t ready to become a father I used to get a little crazy trying to balance the need to be with her against not bringing a third party into the equation.

And now, well now I am disappointed that we don’t have that third party. Now I wonder what our children would look like. It feels a bit ridiculous to admit that but it is true.

I suppose that it is even stranger to say it about someone who hasn’t been a part of my life in forever. We all change. I certainly am not who I was but am I really that different? Have I changed so dramatically that people from my past wouldn’t recognize me?

Or in this case I suppose it is better ask if the feelings I am rediscovering are for who she was and not for who she is.

Preserve your memories

The year was 1980 something and the lovely Anne Stacey had chosen to grace me with her presence. I had spent countless hours unsuccessfully wooing the womanCards, chocolate, flowers, and a barbershop quartet had all failed to do the trick but I couldn’t tell you why. All I knew was that the girl who had gone to prom with me had chosen to withdraw her favors and spend time with a man I dubbed the scoundrel. I once tried to tell her this and she suggested that my ill feelings towards him had to do with jealously. Now I won’t say that this is true but I admit to suggesting that if she hoped for more than simple companionship she might consider spending time at the produce market.

Apparently this is not advisable nor is suggesting that he would probably die in robbing a drug store for used condoms. Don’t ask me to explain why I said these things or what they mean because I won’t answer nor will I admit to wanting to defenestrate him. Women make men crazy and love just exacerbates the craziness we feel.

Weeks of rejection turned into months but I refused to give up. I can’t explain why other than to say that every time I saw her I heard music and it made me believe that one day she would dance with me again.

One day I sent her a card with some of the lyrics to Get Down Tonight by K.C. & The Sunshine Band.

“Baby, babe, let’s get together.
Honey, hon, me and you.
And do the things, ah, do the things
That we like to do.

Do a little dance, make a little love,
Get down tonight.
Do a little dance,
make a little love,
Get down tonight.”

P.S. Come over and find out if I really am a better cook than you are. I’ll make it worth your while.

I had been rejected so many times that I was beginning to wonder if maybe I was swimming down the river of denial but was pleasantly surprised to receive a telephone call from her asking why she should come. Needless to say I was nervous because I knew that the wrong words would result in another no. Yet something told me that it was time to be bold so I told her that I was going to pick her up at 10 am so that we could go to the farm to pick fresh fruits and vegetables for dinner. Two days later she walked out of her apartment and into my car.

For a few moments we drove in silence and listened to a mix tape that I had made for the occasion. Good old cassette tape technology, a soft hissing noise in the background accompanied us on our ride. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker and Springsteen serenaded us.

A short time later we arrived at the farm and began picking out the items we wanted for our meal. She made a crack about me making her work for her food and I said that remained to be seen. Every time she bent over to pick something up my eyes were drawn to her. I was completely entranced by her- not just because I thought that she was beautiful but because she was so very smart. I attribute my love for carrots to that day. Somewhere I have a picture of her holding one close to her mouth, pretending to be Bugs Bunny.

And had anyone heard the music that played inside my head at the moment they would have heard Bookends.

“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you”

I can’t tell you when I fell for her or when she fell for me. Don’t know what did it, how, when or why and I am not sure that it matters. Scratch that, it will matter to her. Call me a full blown chauvinist but she is female and she’ll care about that for the same reason that women care about how big a baby was. It is one of those mysteries of the sexes. Men want to know if the baby was healthy and what their name is but that is not enough for women.

Oh no, they want to know all sorts of other details and if you don’t provide them you might get a look or hear an exasperated “men” slip from between their lips. I suppose that if I had actually given birth I might have some more interest in the extraneous details but since that is not going to happen we won’t know. But for the sake of argument you can be assured that if men were capable of giving birth we’d get through it with half the screaming and far less mess.

Hee hee. That is the sort of throwaway line that we troublemakers like to let slip. I have yet to find a mother who let’s that go without a retort. Suggest that labor is easy or overblow and you can rest assured that a nice kerfuffle will develop. Push hard enough and some woman will tell you that your words are the reason that you aren’t getting laid.

As a PSA to men I usually suggest that you always smile and laugh at that remark. Do this two or three times and then when she is really steamed tell her that your wife/girlfriend/paramour/escort refuses to spit because they consider your boys to be a rare delicacy. Incidentally I bear no responsibility for the consequences of speaking those words out loud.

And now back to our trip back to the time when I had a full head of hair and a body that was tan, hard and cut.

“Jack, you are a much better cook than I expected.”

“That’s good because you are a much better eater than I expected.”

As the words spilled out of my mouth I suddenly realized that they might be open to misinterpretation and my brain kicked into overdrive. Looking back now it is easy for me to see that I was already crazy about her. I don’t say that because of what I said but because of the moment of fear I had when I realized that she might not take it well.

“Ya know, calling a woman fat isn’t the best way to get what you want.”

She was smiling when she said it but for a moment I wondered if there was something else behind it. Smarter men than I would have played it safe but I gambled.

“Stand up and let me get another look at you and I’ll you know.” She laughed, “you are pretty confident, aren’t you.”

“Come over here and I’ll show you how confident I am.”

She stood up and walked over and suddenly my heart started beating harder than it had been. I pulled her into my arms and kissed her. Technically it wasn’t our first kiss, that had come in the stacks but that had been quite some time before.  That moment in the stacks had been good. Hell it had been better than good but it didn’t go very far. Time and circumstances had seen to that.

Several people showed up midway through our moment and any hope I had of taking things farther there was spoiled by their intrusion. The chemistry between us was electric and I know that she felt it too because she made a point to remind to me to call her. I can still picture the way she held onto my arm and told me that she would be disappointed if I disappeared like most guys did.

I told her that I had no intention and she smiled. “There is a lot that I want to show you.” I asked her what that meant and then she laughed and told me she was late for class. This time I didn’t hide the fact that I was staring at her but it didn’t matter because those long legs carried her out of there in seconds.

And I did call her- several times. She took all of my calls and we talked…a lot. But the timing was bad. I had to go to my cousin’s wedding. Had it not been family and already paid for I might have skipped it. Instead I spent two weeks on a family vacation and she didn’t wait for me. I can’t blame her or say that she was wrong.

We weren’t anything close to being boyfriend/girlfriend but I think that I knew then that I had found someone special.

The problem was that while I was gone she found someone too…but he wasn’t me.

Not Me

Not me is a good description for most if not all of the men she dated and to the best of my knowledge…married. They weren’t anything like me. They didn’t look like me at all. If I told you they were mostly tall Aryan nation wannabes I’d be called bitter and jealous or at least that is what she said.  She told me that it wasn’t very becoming to describe them as stupid rednecks or junkies who were one fix short of getting toe tagged.

I told her that it was the ‘coming’ that bothered me most and that I would have been happier had that not been involved at all.  Blame that on the joys of being a writer.

One of the reasons that I am good at this is because I have an imagination that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If Stephen Spielberg could make the movies I see in my mind he would sweep the Oscars and his movies would make millions. Ok, let’s adjust that and say that they would be impossible to forget and make billions.

Hell, the problem is that when you tell me something I see it in my head. And even if you don’t tell me I still see things in my head, sometimes even when I don’t want to. So if I know that Joe Blow used to date you I can’t help but picture Joe getting his blow and….well I don’t really need to go further. But since I never leave well enough alone let me go the rest of the way.

If I know that you were sleeping with some guy it is hard for me not to picture it so sometimes I compensate by making fun of him. I said sometimes, not all the time. If I really care about you there is a good chance that I might say that he is a buffoon in need of a more complete circumcision.

I never pretended to be a saint nor did I ever claim to always take the high ground. I am trying though.

The Pammer

Her full name was Pamela Susan Scott but to me she is The Pammer. Once upon a time she was Wham Bam, Thank you Pam but when we broke up I lost the right to say that. Ok, I never did have the right to say it but when we were dating she was barely tolerant of it.  The Pammer isn’t especially fond of my nickname for her but she doesn’t like it when I call her Pamela Sue either so she got stuck  with The Pammer.

I adore her the way a brother loves a sister.

We met not long after things fell apart between Anne Stacey and I. It was 19 ninety-something and I was out with the boys. Tommy said that a friend of his was having a party and we all agreed to make an appearance. It was better than staying home alone and cheaper than hitting the bars on the strip. Not that it mattered, by the time we hit the car I had already finished a six pack of beer and was working on a flask of something that tasted cheap and nasty.

Can’t tell you if it took an hour or five minutes to get to the party. For all I know I magically levitated myself from the curb all the way to the third floor apartment where the party was. The good news was that I was a very happy drunk. The bad news was that it wasn’t going to last. It wouldn’t take very long for me to find a quiet corner where I could sit and drink.

That was where The Pammer found me, drunk and grumpy.

“This is a party. You are not supposed to be the drunk guy in the corner.”
“I am not the drunk guy in the corner. I am the drunk, angry guy who hates women that just happens to be sitting in the corner.”

Apparently this was quite funny as she started laughing at me.

“I am not kidding. I hate women. Women suck and life would be a lot better if they all disappeared.”
“Who would iron your shirts and cook your food, oh mighty man.”

If you ask Pam how we met she’ll tell you that right after she said that my jaw fell open and I spent the next few minutes shocked and dumbfounded. I don’t know if I was shocked or dumbfounded but speechless is accurate. I didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t say it with a smile or a hint of sarcasm. There wasn’t any anger or bitterness on her part and that totally disarmed me.

We spent most of the rest of the party just talking about life. Pam would periodically disappear and I’d sit there in the corner watching people laugh, wondering why it was so easy for them to smile. I didn’t find out until almost 3 AM was that it was Pam’s apartment and her party that we were at.

“Here is a blanket. That couch turns into a bed. I can help you open it if you would like.”
“No, that is ok. Tommy will take me home. I just have to find him.”

“No he won’t. Tommy left a long time ago.”

This is where I always tell Pam that she has no judgment and only an idiot would let a strange drunk man sleep in her apartment.  That is when she laughs and tells me that the strange drunk man spent two hours passed out and snoring in the corner.

‘Tommy and I grew up together. If he said that you were ok  than I knew that I was fine. Besides I had a lock on my door.”

The combination of drunk and stupid did me the kindness of not showing up at that moment. Instead I collapsed on the couch and quietly went to sleep. That is my story and I am sticking to it. Pam disputes that. She claims that I passed out and started snoring so loudly she considered smothering me with one of the cushions.

I woke up the next morning with the kind of hangover that made me sorry that she hadn’t used the pillow on me. I remember wondering if it would hurt less if I used an icepick to stab my left eyeball.

“I have an icepack, water and Tylenol for you.” I couldn’t tell you when Pam arrived at the foot of the couch but I can assure you that when I proclaimed my undying love for her I meant it will all my heart. If a Jewish kid could bestow sainthood upon someone it would have been done that day. Not only did she let me spend the night she let me lie on that couch until almost 5 PM the following day.

“You owe me dinner and are going to be my rent-a-boyfriend for this.” I asked her what a “rent-a-boyfriend” was and learned that she was moving to a new place. It was a different apartment about two miles East of the current one. That party had been the last shindig at the old place. As the “rent-a-boyfriend” I was responsible for grabbing another friend so that we could move all the heavy stuff.

Two weeks after the move I called her on a Thursday and asked if she wanted to rent a movie. She said sure and that lead to another night on her couch, except the morning after was far more pleasant. We really didn’t date for very long. I can’t tell you how long it was for, but Pam can. Part of the reason she broke up with me was because she said that I was never really that into it.

She was right, I wasn’t. It wasn’t anything more than a rebound for me and not much of one at that. I don’t think that I would have predicted that we would become friends afterwards but you can’t get everything right.

Anyway, The Pammer and Sheri are both good friends of mine and most of the time I am grateful to have them in my life. They often disagree about things but I tend to think that they balance each other out.

What Pam Said

Pam didn’t say much at lunch. She told me later that she went because Sheri had pushed her to come along but that she wasn’t sure that telling me about Ann was the right thing to do. I asked her why and she said it we because she believed that I had never stopped loving her.  She said that she thought that my heart was still broken and that I had been in denial about it all for years.

I told her that I was confused about what she was saying. If she thought that I was still in love with Ann then why shouldn’t I try to contact her. She told me that she wanted to be certain that I wasn’t chasing ghosts. “You need to be moving forwards, not back.”

“You live much of your life in public. Do you really think that she hasn’t ever read your column or one of your books. I am telling you that she knows far more about you than you do about her. You have to assume that she reads your work on a regular basis.”

“Ok, so you are saying that because she reads my column she is not interested in me? Why is that a problem and what are you suggesting I do?”

“Jack, as a woman I am telling you that she has probably already decided if she is interested in sleeping with you again. Women think things out. We plan. We take time to think about what we are going to do. I don’t know how long she has been single but you need to assume that she is going to want to have time to go have fun.”

“Does that mean that you think that she has decided that she is not going to sleep with me and that I am no fun.  Or am I fun but not enough to sleep with. What hell are you saying? I am confused.”

“You two have a long history and sometimes that complicates things. I don’t know her, I just know about her, and you. I am saying that she may not see you as someone she can just date. She can go out with other men and not care what happens, she can’t do that with you.”

There was a long pause in the conversation and then I sighed.

“Jack, that sigh says so much more than you realize. You were a mess when we met. Maybe you don’t remember or maybe you weren’t aware of it, but you were a mess. I didn’t date you. I dated you and the memories of her that you carried around with you.”

“I remember asking Tommy about Ann. He told me about how hard you tried to get her back and about how she pushed you away. She wasn’t a bitch to you because she is a bitch but because her heart was broken too.”

I sighed again and said, “I know.”

“I still don’t know what you are telling me to do.”

“Jack, it doesn’t really matter what  I say you are going to do what you want because that is who you are. But what I am saying is that you need to open your eyes and be careful here.”

“Ok, I’ll be careful.”

“And if you still have feelings for her then I am saying that maybe you should consider doing something about it. We only have so many chances. If she really believed that you were the love of her life, well maybe she still does.”

“Pam, should I thank you now or late for contradicting yourself.”

“What can I say, I am a girl and we love romance.”

******

There were/are many things that I am not certain of but I never doubted that Ann was hurt or that it wasn’t hard for her too. The woman thought of herself as being logical and quite rational in her decisions. If you told me that she had made a list of pros and cons about our relationship I would nod my head and smile. I don’t know that she did, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Pam’s words echoed in my head. Did Ann really believe that I was the love of her life and if so, did it mean anything to her now. The more I thought about it the more that I decided that I was truly interested in doing something. I did have feelings for Ann but I couldn’t say exactly what they were. Maybe it was because I felt like we never really got the opportunity we wanted and as a result had unfinished business.

I wondered what she was like as a mother and what her children were like. I remembered talking with her about what we would name our children. There had been a time when we had talked about having six kids. It was right after we thought she was pregnant.

One broken condom had led to hours of conversation about children and an unspoken decision that we would have the baby. I remember feeling surprised by how relaxed I was at the thought of becoming a father.  I had gone through one other pregnancy scare with a different woman and my feelings had been very different then. It wasn’t just because I was young but it was also because I couldn’t see myself with that woman.

I never had a problem visualizing a future with Ann. It was something that we came to expect. She told me once until we met she hadn’t believed in soul mates, but now she did.

I touched it upon it in one of my books, wrote about what it was like for two people who shared something like that to be separated from each other.

Two Souls

She is out there, my other half. Can’t say what she is doing or who she is doing it with but I know that she is out there.

Her physical absence is palpable and impossible not to notice. Sometimes I turn and expect to see her standing there with that look I know so well. Sometimes I turn and wonder why those dark eyes aren’t looking back at me.

I pick up the telephone and expect it to ring like it always did before. I dial the numbers and laugh because I know that she is going to say that she was about to call me. I hear the smile in her voice, except I don’t do it. I don’t dial.

Instead I hold the phone and close my eyes. I hold the phone, close my eyes and feel the hole and the emptiness. I  hold the phone, close my eyes and wonder if that chasm is one sided and then I feel this twinge.I feel this twinge and a silent bell rings inside my head and I know that she is thinking about me and us. I hear the bell and I know that somewhere she feels what I feel and that this is how and what it is for now.

Necessary. Lonely. Hard. Long. Rough. Required.

I close my eyes and try to center myself. I close my eyes and try to turn off the noise and focus on what is. And then just when I feel like I am truly alone I feel something touching me in a place that fingers can’t reach and arms can’t hold.

I close my eyes and I try to run from it. It is more intimate this touch and the feeling scares me a little. It is the place that only one has been and then I realize that the visitor is the same one who was there before.

Slowly I relax and realize that two souls have shed their bonds and found each other again. They always find each other. And for a brief moment I am completely relaxed and lost in a place that I cannot describe. Reality will intrude and I’ll convince myself that I have seen/felt what I wanted to.

But later in the silence of the night I’ll accept that two souls have done what the bodies and minds can’t. And for a moment I’ll let myself wonder if can’t refers to now or forever.

She is out there and so am I.

Today

I am not the first person to have his heart broken and I won’t be the last. Fact is that she wasn’t the first woman to break my heart. That honor belongs to another but she does hold the title for doing the best job of it. She probably wouldn’t want to hear that I thought of her as the best and the worst thing to happen to me. Or maybe she would like hearing it, it is hard to say.

Hard to say because the woman who once was my girl hasn’t been mine for eternity. There was a time when we were best friends. There was a moment where we didn’t know where our individual hearts ended or began. That was when we said that we shared a heart and felt our souls succor each other It was back in the days when we would read about our astrological signs and marvel over how cool they were together.

Both earth signs share the ability to communicate and understand one another intuitively. Their conversations get better over time and so does the relationship. They will understand each others goals and hopes for the future. There is an unspoken bond here that once established, hardly ever gets broken. They will provide each other with what the other person instinctively needs and desires sexually. You can’t go wrong with this astrological combination, period. A strong attraction and loyalty will keep these two together. Relatives can sometimes be a problem for these two. Virgos understand that listening to their Taurus can provide them the sort of answers that they cannot figure out on their own. The smart Virgo recognizes that Taurus mate knows how to reach them in ways that no other can. Focus on healing yourselves and each other and you will have a mate for life.

I am clearly biased but I think that excerpt is simply amazing. I suppose in large part it is because I knew these things about her and I long before I read this. But that was then and this is now. Back then I knew exactly who she was.

She had one of the biggest hearts and sweetest personalities of anyone I had ever met. Sweet, caring, nurturing and giving. But she was also tough. That woman knew her mind, knew what she wanted and would go after it.

One of the things that I remember is how we used to fight. We didn’t fight very often but we went at it hard. I never fought with anyone else like that because if I had we would have ended things. It was different with us because the level of trust made it different. That mutual understanding provided a depth and a strength unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Back then she told me that no one could ever take better care of me. I told her that she was right but I am not sure that she believed me. I told her that she was the most beautiful woman I knew but I don’t think that she let herself believe that either.

Sheri thinks that all of my praise might have made her uncomfortable and that she might have felt like she couldn’t live up to the picture I painted. I don’t know. Suppose it could be true.

The damn woman used to tell me that she was logical, rational and organized. I told her that one out of three wasn’t bad and that she had plenty of time to work on the other two.

Even though it has been years I am willing to bet that she is one of the mothers that makes other women jealous. She had the sort of build that would allow her to quickly drop the baby weight and an enormous amount of energy.

A Writer Writes

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Homecoming

Editor’s Note: Homecoming isn’t much of a title but it is a good placeholder. I decided to take the first version of my story and upload it here. Some of this is material that you have already seen and some of it isn’t.  This is part of my writing process. You might think of it as being similar to a jigsaw puzzle that I am trying to build. I am gathering all of the pieces together so that I can turn parts into a whole.

I was almost 25 when I left the city of my birth. It was time to go, time to move on and get away. There were new experiences to be had and the pain of what I had once been, what I had once had was too much. Everywhere I looked there were signs of the glory and the fall.

For most of my life I had been a scrapper, never afraid to fight, never willing to give up and not smart enough to get out. It was a self imposed punishment for sins that I had committed but was unwilling to discuss.

It is not much of a description, not very colorful at all. In fact it is rather ordinary, but that is ok, I am ordinary and I prefer it that way. If you stuck me in a crowd full of people you would be hard pressed to pick me out. It was like that in school, never did or said much in class. No need to draw attention to myself I did what I needed to do to get through and nothing more.

And for the longest time that had been enough, an average, nondescript existence. It suited me fine to be a guy who punched a time clock. But sometimes even the average man find himself in a situation that is beyond his control,a time in which he becomes something more than he has been.

But the question is not what he does to elevate himself but how he handles the elevation.

It was Friday night and I had just finished my shift at the plant. There was no rush to get home because there was no one to get home to, no wife, no family, no girlfriend, not even a dog. Just an empty house that was sparsely furnished.

Friday nights were not much different than any other night of the week. I’d go home, pop open a can of beer and stare blankly at the television screen content to let my brain turn to mush.

On this particular night I decided to stop at an ATM. I wanted to order a pizza and I had nothing but the spare change from the last time I had visited the liquor store. It wasn’t enough to buy a pack of gum, so I was forced to go to the bank.

There were two people ahead of me in line, a man and a woman and behind me there were a couple of teenage boys.

I didn’t see him approach. I didn’t notice anything about him including his presence until he was standing in front of us, waving a gun and shouting for our wallets. I have a bad habit of giggling when I am nervous. I don’t like being the center of attention and now was certainly a bad time to laugh, but laugh I did.

5’8 or so and about a buck twenty sopping wet with a bad haircut and a Judas Priest shirt, that is all he was, oh and he had a big gun and an even bigger attitude. He grabbed my collar and asked me what was so funny. Before I could answer he had grabbed the woman in front of me.

She cried as he pulled her in front of him and asked me if I thought that this was funny. I choked back a snigger and told him that it wasn’t. He told me that if I so much as smiled he would kill her. I wiped the smile off of my face.

It was the wrong thing to do, but I didn’t know it. The jackass cuffed me in the side of the head and laughed. It infuriated me, brought back memories of years of being teased and tortured by my someone who had been like an older brother to me. So I just reacted. I kicked him in the balls and smacked him in the head.

In the movies the gun falls and the hero (there has to be a hero) grabs it. Not here, not in my world. In my world when I slap him there is a flash of light and a loud noise. I am splashed with something, but it feels like hours before I realize that he just shot the woman, and that he did it involuntarily. The wetness I feel on my face is her blood.

I stand there in shock, numb and not really aware anymore of what is happening. The guy she had been with is beating the crap out of the jackass, the Judas Priest shirt is stained now, but it is with his blood.

There is a cop speaking to me, but I don’t answer. The real hero is lying, telling the officer that I saved everyone’s life, that if I hadn’t hit him the guy would have killed us all.

I didn’t hit him, I hit Georgie. It was Georgie I saw in front of me. It was Georgie taunting me, I just snapped and reacted. But I guess that somewhere inside I began to hear and to believe that I had been the hero, that when the bell rang I had come out swinging.

And that was really the beginning of the end.

Two Kinds of Pain

Life offers two types of pain, one physical and one mental. Man still hasn’t found a tougher prison than the one he encages his mind in. There is no greater pain than the mental anguish we inflict on ourselves and there is no tougher warden than the person we see in the mirror. For some there is no midnight reprieve, the governor doesn’t offer clemency. There is only one way out and no two people can share the path.

We all live in our secret worlds, but some of us never have the strength to leave our shelter and walk under sunny skies.

I used to.

I used to live in a place I called paradise. I could look out on the world and from my window and gaze upon waters that called out to me. Deep blue seas that embraced me like a child in the womb. The seas were always calm and at night they would gently rock me to sleep.

But it wasn’t real. I didn’t live on a boat. I didn’t live on the beach or remotely close to the water. It was all an illusion, a mindfuck that I created to make myself happy. The problem was that I hadn’t realized it. I didn’t have a clue as to how precarious my own happiness was and once that was shattered I knew nothing but darkness. I wandered aimlessly in a fog, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. It didn’t matter, I didn’t care.

I said it before, there are two kinds of pain and mental is far worse than physical. You can always find a way to escape physical pain, but you can’t run from your own mind. Philosophers had long ago figured out that hell existed, that there was a devil, except he wasn’t a guy with horns, a pitchfork and a tail. The church had made that guy up. The devil was someone familiar with you, someone who knew your most intimate secrets and your darkest fears. The devil knew you, knew how to torment your soul.

The devil knew all this because he was, he is…you.

That’s right, the devil is not supernatural. There is no Lucifer, no Satan, and no Beelzebub. It would be better for us all if he did exist. No, the devil is just a man, a person that lives inside us all.

See when they wrote the bible and told the story of getting banished from the Garden of Eden they were not talking about a mythological place, they were referring to the end of innocence. They were talking about that time when life hits you in the mouth, knocks you down and beats you senseless. They were talking about getting hurt in places that bandages don’t stick, cuts that you cannot stitch, they just keep bleeding. And even if you manage to stop the bleeding that stinging sensation never really does go away.

Stumbling Through Life

The truth will always come out, or so they had taught us in school. One way or another it would find it’s way to the surface. The problem is that sometimes the truth had all the beauty of a victim of drowning. The weights that anchor the body slip off and it shoots to the surface where it floats and bobs upon the water.

Face up or face down, it doesn’t make a difference until you get close enough to take a closer look. And the smell, the smell is something that you never get beyond. There is a putrid stench that sticks with you, gets locked in the back of your throat and grabs a hold of you like some alien parasite.

Anyway you look at it, that body is not pretty, not graceful, not anything but ugly. And that is what the truth can be like, ugly. Our teachers would have use believe that there was something noble and majestic about it. Movies portray the hero as someone who never falters, who uses the truth to defeat the bad guys. I was a streetwise guy. I knew that the truth was never black and white, that there were shades of gray, but even a mug like me can get caught up believing his own hype.

I wanted to blame the jackass at the ATM for bringing this shit storm down upon my head. If he hadn’t tried to rob us all, if he would have been honest, if he would have done a million other things the girl he shot would still be alive and I wouldn’t feel so miserable.

And then again she might still be alive if I hadn’t reacted like the frightened little boy I had been and maybe still was. If Georgie hadn’t spent years tormenting me, picking, poking and prodding me, she might still be walking. A father wouldn’t miss his daughter and a mother wouldn’t cry herself to sleep.

Maybe if I would have learned how to deal with the bullying I could have stopped myself from just reacting. Goddamn Georgie, he was dead too. Gone for years and still I could hear him mocking me, feel his presence. They say sometimes the absence of someone is palpable. The only thing palpable about Georgie’s presence was that even in death he still walked alongside me.

If I believed in G-d I would have prayed for something, forgiveness, death, anything, something to give me peace of mind. I hadn’t had it since I had left home, if not longer. The very thought of prayer was laughable. Any faith that I had possessed had been beaten out of me.

She was dead because Georgie had proven to me that I was weak and that I was lacking in value and worth. Really it was my fault. Georgie was right, kick a dog enough times and he’ll evolve. He’ll pass through stages of confusion, denial, anger and then he;ll reach a point where he just doesn’t care what happens, he’d just as soon bite you as crap on your porch.

Georgie had made sure that I experienced all of it. He said that he was helping me and I wanted to believe him. He said that he was making me into a man, making me tough enough to deal with a world that bent you over a hot stove and laughed at you.

The first time Georgie beat me I was scared. I didn’t defend myself. I didn’t try to, I just let him kick and punch me. And when he stopped I looked at him through teary eyes, not sure what to expect. He gave me a handkerchief and stuck out a hand to help me up.

I was wiping the blood off of my face when he hit me again. I didn’t see it coming and when I came to I was lying in the dirt and he was gone, as were three of my teeth. Georgie didn’t believe in giving or accepting help, to him it was sign of weakness and he couldn’t have that.

A Burning Anger

Georgie taught me about burning anger. It was he who trained me, rather molded me into someone who was angry all of the time. Prior to his entrance into my life I was just another Joe, nothing particularly noteworthy about me, but Georgie placed me on his forge and made me into something different. Not someone, something, his words, not mine.

Georgie’s influence was profound in the worst way. He claims that he saw potential and did nothing more than tap into it. And in my darker moments I tend to believe him, but most of the time I think of it differently. Georgie made me mean the way you prepare a pit-bull to be a fighter. Stick glass in his food, kick him, beat him and do what you can to make him feel battered and bruised. Place the animal in a position that makes it feel like it is never safe and never secure.

But humans are not animals, maybe at our most basic level, but even so there is still something more there, a sentient being who can go one of many directions. Georgie once told me that the fact that I wasn’t catatonic said a lot about me. He said it with the sick smile he used to wear when he thought that he knew a secret that no one else knew.

If it had been about something else, someone else, I would have felt differently, but this was about me and that made it worse. No one wants to think badly of themselves, even Charles Manson wants to believe that he is just a misunderstood soul. It was just another one of the wounds Georgie inflicted on me. It would have been better if he had hit me, I had grown accustomed to that, was familiar with the pain, but the mental torment never left me. I could drink or smoke the other pain away, but I couldn’t find a bottle big enough to take the edge off that cut, it was too deep.

Georgie

The funny thing about my relationship with Georgie was the way we looked together. Georgie was only about 5’7 or 5’8 and he couldn’t have weighed more than 165 pounds or so.

On the other hand I was almost 6’4 and weighed a solid 230 pounds. If you looked at us you would have never guessed that for years I had been scared of Georgie, afraid in a very real and tangible sense. And he knew it, he could smell it in my sweat, or so he claimed.

I can’t explain what it was about him that frightened me so, I just know that he did. It might have had something to do with the time he beat David Jackman with a tire iron, or the time that he hopped over the counter at the mini-mart and beat the shopkeeper up for insulting him by asking for proof of his age. He was like a mini-volcano, ready to blow at any time and unpredictable.

In some ways my size had put me at a disadvantage. I had always been bigger than everyone else. In school the bullies had avoided me as had most of the other kids. No one wanted to risk having their head handed to them. The end result was that because I never had any fights I was afraid of what would happen, worried that I could get hurt and quite concerned about what a fist to the mouth would feel like.

Georgie never had those fears and I don’t know why. He came from a middle class home. His mother was a housewife and his father was chief mechanic. It was a blue collar job that paid enough to provide white collar lifestyle. Georgie’s father never hit him, never used any sort of physical threat to control him, so who knows why he turned out as he did.

Psychologists and social workers get paid a lot of money to improperly diagnose people like Georgie. I won’t waste my time trying to do their job, and who cares what made him the way he was. The more important question was how to stay on his good side because he was mean and proud of it.

Georgie bragged about the fights he got into, showed off his scars and told stories of the past hurts and battles like they had just happened. The chip on his shoulder was never very far from his present.

We must have been around 20 or so when Georgie decided to teach me his life lessons. At first I was shocked and confused. I couldn’t believe that he was hitting and kicking me and then I was too bloodied and bruised to do anything but curl up on the floor and try to protect myself.

If I had any sense he beat it out of me there because the smart thing would have been to just walk away and not speak with him again. Alternatively I could have fought back, hit him, the lack of resistance only encouraged him to continue to batter me longer and harder.

This went on for a couple of years, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. I was in a funny place then, so time really didn’t have much meaning to me. It would probably still be going on if not for the accident.

It was a Saturday morning. Georgie showed up at my apartment at around 9 am, sat there kicking and yelling at my door. When I answered it he told me to get dressed, we were going out.

I threw on a pair of jeans, some Timberland boots, flannel shirt and topped it off with a baseball cap turned backwards and followed him to his car. We were heading into the mountains to “see someone.”

That was bad news for someone. Any time Georgie said he wanted to “see someone” it meant that he wanted to see them bleeding, preferably because of him. I didn’t bother to ask who or why, it wouldn’t matter and it wouldn’t change anything. Georgie would do what he did just because and that was the fact of the matter.

Georgie in the Mountains

Three hours later we joined a half dozen other cars in a campground turned shantytown. If I had been a photographer for Newsweek I could have composed a photo essay about the working poor. The people roaming through the grounds couldn’t have been much older than their mid-thirties, but the tired and weathered looks upon their faces told a different tale. Callused hands and leathery skin spoke of untold hours engaged in manual labor.

I still didn’t know much about why we were here, other than Georgie’s comment that morning about needing to see someone. I wasn’t real happy about it either, but Georgie wasn’t the kind of guy you complained to, let alone about. So I shut my mouth and followed him out of the car.

It was late afternoon and the sun had begun its journey to the other side of the world but somehow no matter which direction we walked I was squinting. I tripped over a pile of empty beer bottles and found myself face down in the dirt. Among other company this might have generated a laugh or two; with Georgie it earned a look of derision and a muttered curse.

In the distance someone was singing along with Springsteen’s Born in the USA. To the right of me a woman was trying to mediate a fight between her children, it can’t be easy when threatening to send your child to their room means the back seat of the car. More sounds drifted in, laughter, a dog barking and something that sounded like the pop pop pop of a pistol being fired.

Georgie finally stopped in front of a beat up Toyota Camry and motioned for me to wait where I was. I couldn’t hear the conversation but judging from the wild gestures and curses coming from Georgie he was not happy. If I knew Georgie we were moments away from one of his violent outbursts. It might have been warm for everyone else, but I felt a definite chill in the air.

The man in the Camry got out of the car and walked off into the forest. I waited as Georgie followed him. Seconds turned into minutes and I became very conscious of just how long I had been waiting for Georgie. It wasn’t unusual for him to just leave me somewhere with no instruction on how long to wait so I kept waiting.

It was sunset and now there was no question about a drop in the temperature, it was getting colder. Georgie had driven up here and taken the keys with him. I began to grow concerned about how I was going to get back. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have found out that Georgie had gotten back in the car and left me here. There was only one person that he cared about and it wasn’t me.

But running off into the woods to find him had its own problems. To begin with I had no idea which way to walk and for how long and then there was Georgie. With his paranoia issues there was no way to tell how he would react. But I feared a beating less than I feared being stuck out here so I began to follow the trail that he and the other guy had taken.

It didn’t take me long to find them. I had seen Georgie do some horrific things, but this one surprised me. Georgie had tied the guy from the Camry to a tree. His head was hanging and I could see him take a shallow breath. Georgie was talking into his hand, whispering something that I couldn’t quite make out.

That was when I realized that Georgie was not talking into his hand, he was talking into the ear of the man tied to the tree, except the ear was no longer attached to him. Neither were his thumbs or the middle fingers on both hands. They were lying on a rock in front of the man.
But that wasn’t the worst part of it. Next to the fingers and thumbs was a slice of bread, ketchup and his tongue. Suddenly Georgie’s mumbling started to make more sense, he was promising to reunite the man with the “pieces of flesh he had liberated.”

I must have coughed or gagged because until that point he hadn’t been aware of my presence. And then there he was, standing in front of me, prodding me to take a turn, pushing me to show him that I had learned something. I felt sick inside, but I let him press the knife into my hand.

Like Two Prizefighters

I stood there and looked blankly at the man, my arms dangled at my side like two sides of beef. It was overwhelming me. I stood there knowing that this man had been tortured, knowing that Georgie expected me to torture him some more. And the worst part of it was that part of me was curious about what it would be like to do it. What would it feel like, would I get some kind of rush of adrenaline or would it be the beginning of a nightmare that would haunt me.

It would have been nice to say that I was a nice guy who had never done anything wrong, but that wasn’t true. It would have been nice to blame it all on Georgie and to say that he was responsible for the violence that I had been a part of, but that wasn’t true. He may have gotten me involved, but I always had the chance to walk away, to say no and I never did.

The reality was that I blamed myself for the way my life had turned out and even though I knew that Georgie played a large role in it, I still beat myself up about it. Even though I knew that had I tried to walk away there would have been an ugly confrontation I still thought that I should have, could have done better.

Georgie came up behind me and guided the hand holding the knife to the battered remains of the victim’s face. As he suggested that I cut out an eyeball I realized that this time would be different. I had had enough that much was clear by how I thought of this guy. In the past I never would have used the term victim to describe the people we had hurt. But that was a different time.

I pulled my arm out of Georgie’s grasp and flung the knife into the woods. He grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and asked me “to tell him what the fuck I was doing.”

I knocked his hands off of me and told him that I couldn’t do this. Enough was enough. He spat at the ground in front of me and said that pussies like me deserved whatever happened to us. For a moment his face softened and he asked me to reconsider, told me that the guy was going to die anyway and that we might as well enjoy ourselves.

And that was when I knew that I had to kill Georgie. There was no way that he was going to let me live. Oh, he might let me get off of the mountain, he might not do anything for a while, but sooner or later he would come for me and I knew it.

For a moment we stood there starting at each other, like two prizefighters sizing each other up we shared a moment of silence. Georgie was an animal who could hurt you badly without thinking about it. I was someone who had participated in acts of violence, but I couldn’t escape the sick feelings that accompanied it.

And I couldn’t escape the feeling of dread that was wracking my body. I was scared and I didn’t know what to do. I knew that I didn’t have long. Georgie wouldn’t let this impasse last for long and for all I knew the Tree Man (as I had taken to calling him) might have friends come looking for him.

I knew that in the glove compartment of Georgie’s car there was a .38 snub nosed revolver and I knew that it was always loaded. Of course I had the simple problem of what to do about the Tree Man and Georgie. There was no way that Georgie would just let me walk away and I hadn’t a clue about the Tree Man. He might not survive his wounds and given that Georgie said that he was going to kill him anyway he could potentially be factored out of the equation.

But that left me as an accomplice to murder and I wasn’t real keen on that. Neither was I happy not knowing Tree Man’s history. Maybe I had read too many books or seen too many movies, but I was concerned with whether his death might create trouble for me outside of the many legal problems it presented.

And then it happened. Georgie hit me in the head, knocking me backwards over the stump. I grunted as I hit the stump and fell face first in the dirt. A boot slammed into my ribs. Again I wished that this was a movie or at least a dream. Nightmares ended with you waking up panting and short of breath, but at least you had escaped the monster. I was not so lucky.

This wasn’t a dream, I wasn’t going to wake up and no one was going to help me. It was nightfall and the moon had not yet risen so it was dark. I scrambled to my feet and tried to run only to be tripped.

I fell down again and again I was rewarded with another boot in my rib cage. I stood up and Georgie hit me hard, but this time I fell into him. I’d like to say that I planned it, but it would be a lie. Together we fell in the darkness. I landed on top of him and began punching him, screaming and shouting I pummeled him. I don’t know how long I hit him for, but I know that it took a while for me to realize that it had all been unnecessary. When we fell down the back of his head had landed on a rock. All I had done was make him more dead.

When I stood up I was shivering. Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead.

Now what.

The thing was that Georgie had been like family to me. In some sick, twisted and perverse sense of the word he had been like my older brother, the guy hadn’t always been bad, he hadn’t always been this way, had he. I couldn’t tell, I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t even really sure that he was dead, maybe he wasn’t, maybe he was just hurt, maybe he was just unconscious, knocked out like one of those cartoons we used to watch.

Maybe it was like when Bugs Bunny stuck his finger in Elmer Fudd’s gun and he would sit up, his face covered in black dirt.

A Pair of Corpses

But I knew that wouldn’t be the case, knew that this time he wouldn’t get up. Part of me wanted that to happen so badly, even knowing that there would be one hell of a beating involved.

To this day I don’t know how long I lay there on top of Georgie, panting, shivering and in shock. My shirt and hands were sticky with blood, Georgie’s blood. I stood up and walked over to the Tree Man. He was still tied to the tree, but he wasn’t moving, dried blood marked his body and when I grabbed his head in my hands it felt cold and limp. I shook him, told him to wake up, demanded that he answer me.

His silence mocked me and I couldn’t deal with it. I was out of my mind, overwhelmed with emotion and I hit him in the mouth. I felt his head snap against my fist and then the tree and I could swear that he groaned. “Hey, hey asshole, answer me, say something,” I screamed, but no words came out of my mouth and so I grabbed him and shook him again. But again his silence mocked me.

“Georgie, you better stop playing,” I shouted and then I kicked him over and over, slapped his face and grabbed his throat and began squeezing it until I realized it wasn’t Georgie. Georgie was dead, his body lay a few feet away.

I started to laugh and shake, giant gales of laughter wracked my body. There in the dark I stood the world’s newest murderer. Life hadn’t been great, but now it was distinctly worse. Georgie’s death was an accident, it was self-defense. He had been trying to kill me, but the Tree Man, how could I explain that.

How could I tell anyone about this. Who would believe me? When they saw him they would look at me and that would be the end of it. I couldn’t imagine any scenario that didn’t end with me in a cage and that wouldn’t do, couldn’t do, it just wouldn’t.

That sick cackle that had been emanating from my mouth returned, bubbled forth like the hiss of air escaping a punctured tire and then it turned into sobbing. Beneath the moonlight I lay in the dirt and cried. A soft wind blew through the trees and the rustling of the leaves painted a picture of desolation. What else was there besides me and the two corpses, my world was destroyed.

And then I heard Georgie’s voice. Even in death he taunted me, ridiculed me for being weak. I could see him standing in front of me, grinning at my pain, the contempt he held me in apparent for all to see. Except that he was dead and I was alive and in hell.

But like so many times in the past the self-pity turned to anger and I stood back up, sucked up the anger and stuffed it back into the pit in my soul it came from. I had to go, had to get out of there and off of the mountain. Now all I needed to do was figure out what to do with Georgie and the Tree Man and go home.

The Past

In a past life Buck had been someone, but it was a little unclear who.

He was not dumb or slow although some took his reticence to speak as an indicator of such. In a different time and place Buck had been a son, he had been a husband and most importantly a father.

Buck reminded Tom of granite, imposing and forbidding he gave the impression that had he wanted to remain in the bar nothing could have made him move. Tom wasn’t real sure how they became friends or even if they were, but he couldn’t let him stay or maybe he wouldn’t have stayed.

Who really knew what or why Buck did what he did. The reality was that Tom had invited him out, had asked him to join him for a beer and so he felt responsible for the incident.

Their friendship had been a gradual process, not much different than watching a glacier move. Slowly it had evolved from grunts and nods to the odd word here and there. The bar they were currently walking away from had helped to push things along.

One day Tom had decided to stop and get a beer before heading home. Buck was sitting on a stool, alone as usual. It hadn’t been easy to approach him, but he had been afraid not to. So he had walked over and asked Buck if he could join him. An almost imperceptible nod yes demonstrated his approval and so he pulled up a stool and sat down.

For the first ten minutes he hadn’t even tried to speak to him, just sat there trying to figure out what to say. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but the silence didn’t faze Buck. And in truth it was Tom’s decision not to try and force conversation that caused Buck to speak first.

He didn’t say much, but for someone who tended not to say more than three words at a time this was a veritable Shakespearean soliloquy. “You could do better work if you slowed down.” It wasn’t said critically, there was no accusation, it was surprisingly friendly in tone and nature. “If you let the machine do its job you’ll do better.”

Tom suddenly realized that he had been holding his breath and exhaled deeply. “Thanks, I appreciate it.”

And from then on they had an unspoken appointment to share a pitcher of beer each week. Over time bits and pieces came out about Buck. He shared little things about his life, but the pieces of the puzzle were still hard to place. It became more than apparent that there was much more to Buck than it appeared, but still he was a man who did not offer much in the way of answers.

Buck

His name was Buck and he was built like a gorilla. It wasn’t an affectionate description, nor a term of endearment. It wasn’t that he looked particularly simian, it was his long arms. Had they been thin they would have been called gangly, they were not.

Those arms were connected to a body that resembled a fireplug and to a brutish looking face. Dark eyes hid behind thick black eyebrows and a nose that resembled a pear.

He would never be called pretty, handsome or complimented for his looks. But neither would he ever be teased as it was apparent to even the animals that he was not to be trifled with. It was one of the things that set him apart.

Dogs avoided him. Big dogs, little dogs, Rottweiler, Pit Bull, Schnauzer, it didn’t matter, they stayed away from him, as if they could sense the violence that lay just beneath the surface.

Tom had seen it surface a couple of times. They had finished their shifts and walked over to a local bar for a beer. A couple of locals had the misfortune of poor judgment. He had sneezed and knocked over their pitcher of beer. They immediately began berating him and when he didn’t respond they grew more aggressive.

They mistook his inactivity for fear or who knows what. Had they looked more closely they would have noticed that his large hands were scarred and callused. A person doesn’t get those marks, they earn them. And those that earn them have a certain something that they bring to the party.

Tom was surprised, really shocked was more like it with the speed at which things happened. The man closest to Buck grabbed his collar and demanded that he spring for a new pitcher of beer. One moment he was standing in front of Buck, hands wrapped in the collar of a dirty blue jumpsuit and the next he was writhing in pain on the ground, one arm dangling uselessly from his body.

The second man didn’t have time to do anything before Buck and picked him up and slammed him face first on the floor like a cheap rag doll. The only saving grace for him was that the impact knocked him senseless, would that his sense would have flitted over to the first man.

If it had he might have lay still. He didn’t, opting to grab Buck’s leg. Perhaps he did so unconsciously, perhaps not. It doesn’t matter what the reason was, because Buck fixed his arm so that there was a question of whether he would ever be able to feed himself again.

Tom looked at his watch. It was 5:37, their shift had ended at 5:30. It had taken at least five minutes to leave the plant and walk to the bar. How did this happen so quickly and what was he supposed to do now.

Buck was a bit of an enigma to Tom. The fury with which he had dispatched the two men has dissipated into the ether. It was as if it had never happened. The only sign of his anger were the broken bodies of the two men and a couple of rivulets of sweat upon his brow.

Beyond that it was hard to determine if anything unusual had happened. He wasn’t breathing hard and his behavior had reverted back to the passive state in which most people usually saw Buck. Tom knew that this wasn’t what most people considered normal behavior, but he also knew that Buck had not gone looking for trouble, it had found him. And he also knew if they stayed there until the police came Buck’s trouble would include Tom and he wasn’t willing to let that happen.

So he grabbed Buck by the arm, taking care to make sure that Buck saw that it was him and not some stranger and suggested that they leave. And so they did, their progress was unimpeded by the other patrons of the bar. They were not people who had a great love for the police, but they were people who appreciated having two functional arms and after what they had just witnessed no one dared to challenge their departure.

Back on the street Tom considered what he knew about Buck. When Tom began working at the plant Buck was a Chief Machinist. Not that the “chief” part of the title meant anything, but in the 10 years since Tom had begun working at the plant he had yet to meet another Chief Machinist. Nor had he met any other machinists besides himself.

It was kind of queer. There was room for at least another three full time men, plenty of work to go around. Best of his knowledge the company was making money, so it seemed strange to him. But he had learned not to ask questions, what another man did was his business and it was best to stick with people of the same pay grade as your own.

What he did know was that Buck never missed a day of work. He didn’t call in sick, he didn’t take vacations either. He came to work and he did what he had to do. But that still didn’t tell the story. He was fast at his work, but not in a flashy way. His speed was deceptive, he always appeared to be moving at half speed, yet his production was faster than Tom and error free. And as Tom had heard, Buck had worn out at least three other machinists.
Each one had tried to match his production and precision, but none could.

Tom didn’t know this because of Buck, you could say that he knew it in spite of Buck.

Buck didn’t speak much and when he did it never was about his work and rarely ever about himself. Most of the other employees at the plant avoided interacting with Buck, he had a look about him that made people second guess themselves, double check their self-confidence. The thing was that Buck didn’t try to make anyone feel anything, the feelings were just a response to Buck. It was part of who he was.

During the first few years Buck didn’t say a word to Tom. The only way he knew that Buck was even aware of him would be when Buck came to his position to exchange a part or check the inventory terminal.

Clad in blue coveralls and safety glasses he would shuffle over and sniff around for whatever it was he needed. Tom knew that it was a little unfair to describe Buck in terms best used for a bear or gorilla, but it was hard not to. Buck had repeatedly demonstrated that he was abnormally strong and while he may have shuffled while he walked it was deceptive. He was fast and agile, his movements were actually measured and precise.

Old Buck didn’t waste energy with unnecessary movement or gestures.

Her Story

She came in through the bathroom window. The blackbirds outside the house announced her entry, but it didn’t matter, there really was no need because when she came in through the window the window came with her, glass and frame.

Her jacket provided some protection, at least it prevented major shards of glass from severing an artery or doing other serious damage. But it didn’t matter to her, the London Fog jacket she had borrowed from her last boyfriend had sustained mortal injury, grievous wounds made it apparent that it had purchased a one way ticket.

How silly it seemed, the fight that she had with her boyfriend. It was like so many other fights, battled over trivial things. Days later she wondered why his refusal to wear underwear bothered her so. What difference did it make, but it did. Something’s are not logical, nor rational, but they are important to us for reasons that we cannot always understand nor fathom.

The day of the final fight had given no indication that this would be the last day that she would speak with or look at him. One more act of impulsive behavior and one more place she would not be able to go back to, not even if she wanted to. But she never did, once she left she was gone. A traveler in the dark whose most important possessions were those that she always carried on her person.

They had woken up and made love in bed and again in the shower. And for a brief time she had thought that she could ignore the problems that made her shake her head. She acknowledged her role, owned her feelings and admitted to herself that she was impulsive and that if she would let herself forget she could forgive. But she didn’t forget and so she couldn’t forgive.

Her exits were not dramatic or exciting. A simple “I am going out for a walk” in which she left out the part about never returning. As she grabbed her hat and keys he yelled out from the bedroom, “It is cold, take my coat.” And so she had taken the London Fog and ambled out the door.

The steps to the staircase down did not slow her progress as they had in the past. This time they encouraged her. Not withstanding the 30 seconds it took to tie her shoe and adjust the coat her exit from her old life had taken a grand total of six minutes. In all of 180 seconds she had evaluated the prior two years of life and found them lacking and so she continued striding down the hall, accompanied by the strains of Gloria Gaynor singing “I will survive.”

Following the Breakup

Some people don’t like the clickety-clatter of chaos and confusion caused by the end of a relationship. That had never been a problem for her. When it was done, it was done and she always knew. Some of the men had begged her to reconsider, professed their undying love and offered to change, but by that point it was too late.

It was dead and there was no second coming. She wasn’t like her friends, willing to ignore problems because of a fear of solitude. It wasn’t honest and she was honest, too honest. She knew it, but it wasn’t something that she worried about or focused upon. In her eyes there was a natural cycle for relationships, they began, developed and grew into something that would last a while, but were ephemeral in nature.

And so it was with the last relationship, at least that is what it had appeared to be. But like many things in life, appearances can be deceiving and she had learned that leaving this last guy behind was far more difficult than she could have ever imagined.

Initially she hadn’t thought twice about it. She just walked out and headed towards the bus station. She never shared her finances with her men. She was far too independent for that, insisting that she maintain her own checking account. It was part of how she maintained control and in part responsible for how she kept from getting too close to them. They could only get so far in her head before they reached the end of the line.

Inside her pocket she clutched a small purse. It contained a lipstick, a stick of gum, bank card, checkbook with a balance of $7,237.34 and the first and only credit card she had ever owned.
All of her clothes, books and music had been left behind in the apartment. She liked making a clean start and this was going to be just that, clean. She figured that she had enough money to start over wherever she ended up and just where that would be remained up in the air.

Once she got to the station she would purchase a ticket somewhere and during the ride she would consider her options. She might even go on a vacation, lounge around on a beach somewhere and enjoy herself. She was single and all things were possible.

A billboard advertising the “Simple Life of Country Living” led to one of her famous impulses and so it was she ended upon a mostly empty bus headed down South. Her father had a hunting lodge that he rarely used, it was quiet and comfortable and she knew where the caretaker left the spare key.

The Bus Station

Years ago her mother had warned her that if she spent too much time with the guys she would never find the guy. At the time she had blown it off, attributed it to a woman who had never known a man besides her husband. Married at 19, pregnant by 20 and the mother of three children by 24 she couldn’t possibly understand why it was important to experience life and to live a little. So she wrote it off to motherly advice and went about her business.

She had always liked men and they had always liked her. She appreciated all the things that made them different from women, strong masculine hands, rough hewn features, broad backs, thick hair and more. There were so many little things about men that attracted her and so many different men to choose from.

So she set off to prove herself right and her mother wrong. She dated a lot, but was very selective in who she gave herself too. Not everyone made the cut. She wouldn’t talk herself into liking a man strictly to have a boyfriend, she’d rather be alone than settle. Besides, those relationships never worked, they were train wrecks waiting to happen.

Her thoughts were momentarily interrupted by the bright lights inside the bus station. With the exception of a man sleeping on a bench and the woman at the ticket counter it was empty. The fluorescent lights made the faded yellow paint look even more washed out than it was.

The checkerboard laminate floor was raised in places, sticky substances pulled at her shoes. In a different time and place she might have taken that as a sign that she was supposed to stay, but for now it was just gross. She choked back her thoughts of what made the floor so sticky and headed for the ticket counter.

It was 9:30, the next bus didn’t leave until almost midnight. Five hours after departure it would reach Durham. Then it would be a matter of finding transportation out to the lodge.
That gave her seven hours of downtime. Seven hours of being with herself. Some people had trouble being alone, they couldn’t take the silence, couldn’t handle the lack of contact with others. That had never been a problem for her. Her brother had locked her in a closet and left her there in the dark for hours. He thought that he was punishing her. She merely closed her eyes and went to sleep.

The harder part of the trip would be contending with the other passengers. She wasn’t unsocial, but she was not inclined to spend the rest of the night sharing recipes, stories of home or being mauled by some guy who thought that he had found an easy way to pass the time.
For a moment she considered turning around. She could walk back and step right into the life that she had left. It was almost comical to her. He had no idea that she was about to run off into the night, no clue that she had decided that their relationship was dead.

And for a moment she felt badly about it. Men were not real observant. He would not have noticed that they hadn’t had a real conversation for weeks, would not have noticed that she hadn’t initiated any sexual encounters and even if he had, he would certainly not have realized that she was no longer present.

He wasn’t a mind reader, she couldn’t expect him to fix something that he didn’t know was broken. It would be easy to come back like nothing was wrong and to just pick up where she left off, but it wasn’t honest and she couldn’t have that, couldn’t live with herself.

The Girl Who Was

It was hot outside, so very hot. If you were dumb enough to sit outside you could watch the heat radiate off of the highway, could see it shimmering off of the blacktop. An old radio with a broken knob pumped out a live version of Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones.

“Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away”

Yes, Mick could sing. She had never been one to chase after the older men, but he was different. In a past life she and her boyfriend had gone to one of the shows at the old stadium. Mick might have been old enough to be her father, but watching his shirtless body prance and strut around the stage she became intrigued. It was one of her many secrets, Mick was a boyfriend who would never be, but he would still be Mick to her.

It was a week since she had left the old life behind. Seven days ago she had been a committed woman on the verge of being committed. Seven days ago she had been living a different life, been a different person and now she was just starting to learn who she would become.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Mick left the stage to make way for another of her favorite artists. Rod Stewart serenaded her into a daydream about endless youth

“May the good Lord be with you
Down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
surround you when you’re far from home
And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
As you’d have done to you
Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you’ll always stay
Forever Young, Forever Young
Forever Young, Forever Young”

She missed the days when she could still believe that she would always be young. Her face and body still belonged to a young woman, but her heart and soul were much older. Too much baggage, too many scars to be the girl who could sit and daydream about the cute boy in her class, to kiss his picture and say that she was Mrs. Goodlookingboy.

Now she was more like Mrs. Robinson than a miss and it hurt. It hurt to be honest with herself, hurt to admit that she had been fooling herself for so long. When had she given up on feeling that crazy “high school love.” When had she decided that it was ok to not really feel anything.
The worst part was acknowledging her betrayal, not of another, but of herself. It is bad enough to lie to others but to lie to yourself is the greatest and most damaging lie of all.

But now she had an opportunity to fix that, to learn from the past and make it right. That was the great message of Hollywood, you can screw up and still make it ok. There were a million examples of it. Politicians, athletes and celebrities are celebrated on camera for admitting their faults and insecurities, lauded for admitting that they share the same human foibles as the rest of us. Everyone can get a second chance.

Hell, even Nixon managed to die as a revered elder statesman and not someone who had been run out of office.

A snort escaped her lips. She couldn’t quite believe the garbage she was spewing out, not that it mattered. She was the only one here. Aside from a couple of trips into town for supplies she had had almost no interaction with anyone else.

It had taken two full days to call home to say that it wasn’t home any longer. She had intentionally waited until the middle of the day, wouldn’t risk the conversation. Not because she was afraid of confrontation, but because she couldn’t think of a nice way to tell someone that she wasn’t in love with him anymore and probably hadn’t been for longer than he would believe.

There really wasn’t any point in hurting him like that. Just a short message to say that she was ok, was sorry that it had taken her so long to call and a request to donate all of her stuff to whatever charity he saw fit. No need to worry about bills or banking and just like that her present became her past, a story to be relived in dreams and journal entries.

And now out here in the sunshine there seemed little reason to look backwards, there was a big world out there and the only question was where to go and what to do. A pained sigh escaped her lips as she realized that she had fallen back into wondering where and what her place in the world should be.

She was comforted in knowing that the grey skies of Ohio were behind her, if she had to start over it might as well be in a place that had nice weather.

The Fall From Grace

“G-d struck down Lucifer and sent him spilling from the heavens and into the Earth. His wings were taken and his appearance went from fair to foul.” It was the first line of the story I had tried to write my sophomore year of high school. I fumbled around with it for a while, tried to find a voice that I could latch onto, a guide that would help me tell the tale.

I was almost sixteen years-old and an avid reader. I loved science-fiction and fantasy, wanted to be like Tolkien and Bradbury. It didn’t seem out of reach or impossible, all I needed to do was find the voice, catch the willow-of-the-wisp that would ferry me across the River Styx, my personal Charon.

Even now you can hear the echoes of the writers that influenced me in my youth. I’d like to say that I made the same mistake as Icarus, that I soared too high, that my flame burned too brightly to shine for long. It would be a lie. My life had long since lost that spark of hope that the youth of the world rely upon. I felt like I was nothing more than a broken toy that had once been shiny and new and now was buried at the bottom of the toy box. I could see glimpses of daylight, but I had no idea how to claw my way back to the surface.

Georgie might have been crazy. He might have been certifiable, but he was my lifeline into the world. He was the reason that I did more than just go to work. He was the reason that I didn’t just lie in bed or in front of the television.

A past love had told me that my affection for Georgie was equivalent to suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome.” She had said the same thing that many did about Georgie, that he would die a violent death and that he would cause nothing but pain to those around him.

I wonder if she would be surprised to see me now, to know that I was the reason he was dead. I wonder if she could recognize me, if any remnants of the love that we had shared remained or if I was nothing more than a dried up husk. Once I had been in love. Once I had felt alive and not dead inside. She wasn’t afraid to look at the darker places inside of me, didn’t think that I was broken, just lost.

And for a time her belief in me had made me feel like maybe she was right, like there might be a place for me, a chance to make something of myself. But that time was so long ago it was no longer real to me.

There is no question that her departure from my life corresponded with my own downward spiral, my own destructive nature took me to places I was afraid to be. The daylight was no longer bright and the sun was no longer warm. When she left it was abrupt and without warning.

She had told me that she loved me. She had promised to never leave me and I had believed her. I had tried to hold on to that belief, tried to convince myself that one day I would come home and find her waiting for me. But the days turned into weeks and the weeks became months and time never stopped moving, but my heart did.

A Broken Window

For the first time in what felt like eons she was free. It was easy to daydream, to lie in the sun and consider all the places she could go, the things that she could do, the people she could meet. After a long relationship it was easy to adjust to being single, to knowing that she could pick up and go anywhere, do anything.

But before she could do any of that she had to attend to a few things at the cabin. It had been late when she arrived and she had been very tired. The great escape as she liked to think of her flight from relationship land had been more emotionally draining then she had expected. It wasn’t that she missed him or that she was fearful about not finding someone knew, it wasn’t any of those things.

The end of some relationships stirred up old ghosts, memories of the past and things that had been. We all have our own baggage and sometimes when it is shifted around in the mental attic we call our minds it can wear you down a little. And it is never more apparent than when you leave something or someone behind, there is always a moment of doubt, some bits of regret.

In her case it was never enough to keep her from leaving, but it was enough that she spent time just thinking about what had happened so that she could learn from it and make a mental note not to make the same mistakes of the past.

The thing that made her saddest was knowing that in time it would hold less meaning to her, the memories would be there, but that special place that he had once occupied would be empty and his face would be harder to remember. It was both natural and normal, but it bothered her a little to consider that he might feel the same about her, to know that one day she would not be foremost in his thoughts.

She stood up and brushed herself off. The cute yellow sundress she had picked up during her last trip to town stuck to her back reminding her that while it was nice to be warm it was less pleasant to be warm and sticky.

More to the point back in the cabin there was a cold pitcher of lemonade calling her name and as a single woman with no encumbrances there was no reason why she couldn’t sit inside in her bra and panties and enjoy a cold drink.

To get to the kitchen she had to walk by the bathroom, the shards of glass from the broken window had been cleaned up and as a temporary solution she had glued a piece of cardboard to the frame. She knew that she had to get it fixed, but thus far it had not been a priority.

Now that she was considering moving on, leaving it in this fashion was not an option. It would have to be replaced. It was time to make a list of things that needed to be done and to more seriously consider where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do when she got there.

The Ghosts of Our Past

The ghosts of our past haunt us to our dying days. It is a common misconception among people to assume that this is a negative thing, that this is a something that hurt us. It can be, but only if you let it. We have the power to control our destiny. That is what I had told her, a promise of our future.

We were so very much in love. She was intoxicating, addictive, my favorite drug. I couldn’t get enough of her. Even now I can still smell her, the scent that never leaves me. Ok, it is not completely true, now it is more of a memory, but in my dreams she still visits me. In the dark of night she comes to stay with me and in the morning I wake up to the bittersweet realization that she has left me again.

Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and try to fall back asleep, hoping, praying that I can reconnect with the dream. In my mind there is no pain, no sorrow, no loss and no heartbreak. We’re still driving a convertible, her hair blowing in the wind, body pressed close to mine.

“Young hearts gotta run free, be free, live free
Time is on, time is on your side
Time, time, time, time is on your side
is on your side
is on your side
is on your side
Young heart be free tonight
tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, yeah”
Young Turks- Rod Stewart

It was one of our songs, we loved the idea of just running away together. It was a plan of ours, to steal away in to the night and to find somewhere that we could live together for the rest of eternity.

You know what is like, the first love of your life. You have nothing to compare those feelings to, nothing makes your heart soar like they do. As a teenage boy you have to fight to not act like an idiot. You’d pick a fight with some guy just so that you could try and prove how brave you were. You’d do a million other stupid things like that, just because you felt like you had to show her how much she meant to you. There was a fire inside you that you swore could not be quenched, a burning that felt so good it ached.

Sometimes that passion you felt could get you into trouble. Sometimes you found yourself getting involved in things that were best left to others. Sometimes you got lost, got stuck with the wrong crowd and the wrong people. Sometimes you found out that your parents were not that stupid, that they knew something more about living and life than you did. Sometimes the lack of life experience could save you because you didn’t realize the amount of danger you were in and sometimes it was that very lack of experience that condemned you.

It was my fault that I lost her. It really was. Because I was an idiot who fumbled the best thing I had. Because my fragile male ego wouldn’t allow me to ask for help and by the time I was ready to the only people who would help me were the very people that I should have run away from.

When she left me it was because I was already gone. I had already left the relationship, the boy she fell in love with fell down the rabbit hole but there wasn’t a friendly rabbit waiting for me.

There was a creature with a smile like the Cheshire cat, a creature who was only too happy to take me on as their apprentice. She called him an asshole and a loser. She called him a leech, a thug and more.

I called him Georgie.

Buck Revisited

Tom knew that Buck wasn’t stupid, knew that those things that people said about him were not true. He couldn’t say how he knew this, it wasn’t instinct or an innate ability to read people. It could have been just a lucky guess or the application of the fortune from last night’s cookie from the Mandarin Dish.

Did it matter? Was there anything to be gained from this. Probably not. Tom was smart enough to recognize that brains didn’t mean that you had any common sense. More often than not the smart people got themselves into trouble because their egos made them think that they knew more than everyone else.

What it was, what it was that intrigued Tom was knowing that there was more to the company’s resident boogieman. He had always enjoyed mysteries and Buck was one hell of a mystery. If this was a movie he would find out that he had become friendly with the town’s axe murderer or the kind but misunderstood giant.

He took a deep breath because he could feel his mind racing. When he got excited like this it always moved like one of the spaceships in the science-fiction movies he liked to watch, it just jumped about at hyperspeed.

What confused him about Buck were the contradictions. Back in his high school football days his coach had encouraged his players to “bring the hammer down” on the opposing team. He realized that until tonight he hadn’t really understood what that meant. Buck hadn’t brought the hammer down, he had taken the whole toolset out and worked those two guys in the bar with it.

The thing that intrigued him, that scared him and frankly titillated his senses was that Buck hadn’t broken a sweat. He had acted like this was a commonplace occurrence, as if maiming two men was not a big deal. And then he hadn’t even made a move to leave the bar. If Tom hadn’t hustled him out of there he might still be there or be wearing cufflinks, the kind that the police stick on your wrists.

Someone who acted that way had to be a little crazy or maybe they no longer cared what happened to them. Tom knew that at some point Buck had been married, maybe even a father. Every now and then he had dropped hints of this past life into their conversations, but he never gave much in the way of details and Tom was afraid to ask.

A couple of months ago he had Buck over to his place for a summer barbecue. In truth one of the reasons for the invitation was in the hope that he might reciprocate. Tom was dying to see what Buck’s home looked like.

Some of the guys at the plant said that they figured it would be a meat locker in which there hung multiple slabs of raw flesh. It almost was believable, especially given the way in which Buck had acted. But again Tom reminded himself that this could not be the case. It didn’t fit his gut intuition. Tom smiled at the thought and rubbed his belly, the gut had rarely been wrong. It was a finely tuned instrument.

The thing to do was to just ask, to just come out and ask Buck a few questions about his past. He had earned the right to do so, hadn’t he. Hadn’t he helped get him out of the fix that he would most certainly have been in. Maybe yes, and maybe no. He made a mental note to be sure to be out of arm’s reach when he did ask him. Just in case. Buck wouldn’t hurt him for asking a question or two, would he.

In the interim he would walk back to the plant with him and pretend that he was going home to something more exciting, to someone special. Maybe that girl from the new television show could help put him to sleep tonight. Maybe she had a thing for a man who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, someone who could fix a broken sink or build a fence. Yes, that sounded like a fine idea.

Girls Love Their Toys

There was a time in her life when it had all seemed so much simpler and maybe that was just the way the world treated your first love. She had heard that there was no love like that of a mother for her child, but she wasn’t all that sure that was true. The boy that had stolen her heart had taken more than just that, he had grabbed her soul and run off with it.

She had given it gladly, willingly. It had been her nature to share herself with those she loved and it was something that she felt like she needed to do. It was almost an obsessive compulsion to try and show the boy that there was nothing that she wouldn’t do to make him happy. When he smiled at her the world stood still, but like so many boys he didn’t quite understand what he had in her.

It wasn’t that he mistreated her or that he didn’t care for her, but he didn’t quite understand what it was that drove her. He thought with physical actions and she thought with her heart. She had always felt that he had a tender side and that if he could get around the emotional walls that boys build so that they can become men she might be able to really share something special.

Again, it is not that it wasn’t special, it is, but there was a deeper level to it and she desperately wanted him to see that with her. If he could open his eyes he would understand that there was no reason for him to ever question her or wonder about the other boys.

Once he wrote her a poem. It was kind of silly, really rather foolish, but aren’t lover’s jokes just that way.

“Girls and boys have their joys, But The Girls just really love their toys.”
He had written it down and given it to her alongside a picture of himself, a picture in which a book hid his pleasure at the thought of seeing her. He never did understand that she loved the poem and the picture, that it was something that he had made and as such it was precious to her.

Her thoughts were shattered by a loud noise and the realization that she was thinking of a past that was long gone in terms of the present. It still made her smile to think of the poem and the picture, it was one of the few possessions that she still had, a thing that she had stashed away where it could be recovered. She giggled and said “My preciousssssss” and then got up to grab some paper and a pen. It was time to get organized.

Inside the bedroom she systematically took inventory of the possessions she had acquired since her arrival. Underwear, pants, bras, a pair of white Keds, pair of jeans, overalls, a portable CD player and three CDs. The Immortal Otis Redding, Johnny Cash- Greatest Hits and U2’s The Joshua Tree.

Those three CDs also traveled with her. They spoke to her in so many ways. At times it felt like Bono, Otis and Johnny were singing to her. She had sat at the dock by the bay, knew what it was like to have a ring of fire and The Joshua Tree, “With or Without You,” “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For” described her perfectly.

Sometimes it was still painful to listen to the album, to hear her life expressed so poignantly. Perhaps it was the music or the recent flight from her latest relationship, but she felt a little bit like crying so she switched on the player and suddenly she was a schoolgirl again

“I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name”

That said it all, yearning and desire to be with him, to run away and give up the trappings of society. If he would have asked her to leave she would have gone with him, but he never did. And in some ways that was best. If she had known what was going to happen she might never have begun dating him.

The changes that she saw were so hard to watch, it was just raw. And the hardest thing was that he couldn’t see how he was being used, couldn’t stop it, or wouldn’t stop it. It felt like watching someone slip into madness, it wasn’t that hard to watch Alzheimer’s take her grandfather because he had been a bastard. But the boy, he had been special.

And she had tried hard to tell him, to save him when he wouldn’t help himself, but he wouldn’t’ listen, brushed her off and told her that she was acting foolishly.

The next song came on and there the truth of what she had been looking for was revealed. She choked back the tears for a moment listened.

“I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”

Everywhere she went she still sought to find the magic of that first love, to recapture it and bottle it up where it could never escape her grip again. And try as she might it never quite happened.

Finally the third track came on and as Bono sang the first verse the sobs rolled out…

“See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you”
Deep, heart wrenching sobs that racked her body and left her tearstained face a mess.
“With or without you
With or without you
I can’t live
With or without you”

The boy was gone. The relationship was over and the time in which to mourn that loss had long since passed. The song ended and she forced herself out of bed and into the bathroom. As she washed her face she reminded herself that the future was ahead of her and not behind. Sentimental journeys were for the old and decrepit or the mentally weak. It was time to give this crap up.

Buck Was A Soldier

Once upon a time there was a man boy named Buck. He was like other boys in that he loved to build with blocks, to play cops and robbers, to ride his bike and to collect bugs and get into all manner of trouble.

In short Buck was like every other ten year-old boy in all ways. Well, almost all ways. When Buck was eight he watched his mother and father die in front of him. They were robbed on a street corner. For less than twenty dollars a man stole their lives and profoundly influenced an impressionable little boy.

At first Buck went to live with his grandparents. He was happy there and for a time it began to appear as if the chaos that his life had been thrown into would be erased. His grandfather still worked as an accountant and his grandmother continued to be a housewife. In many ways it was very similar to the life he had been living with his parent.

But life has a way of not allowing you to grow too comfortable. Become too happy and some supreme being decides that you are ready to be tested or messed with. It doesn’t really matter why, all that matters is that it happens and you have to act or react to it.

In Buck’s case the second great tragedy of his life came when his grandmother had a heart attack and died. It was a natural death, she was 74 years-old. Buck sobbed through her funeral and alongside his grandfather he enjoyed a very somber ride back to the house. While in the Hearse his grandfather explained that it was time for him to grow up and that this would be the last time he could cry in public. If he wanted to be a man he needed to show the world that he was tough. From now on he had to be a soldier, he had to be like G.I. Joe.

And that meant that he had to listen to the orders of the General and there was no misunderstanding who the general was or why he was in charge. Before his grandmother had died he would come home to a warm house in which someone was glad to see him and interested in his day. Not to mention the many occasions in which she surprised him by having baked cookies. The house always smelled great and years later the smell of fresh baked cookies would always make him think of his grandmother.

Now he returned to an empty home. It was dark and uninviting, a cold home that had once held so much warmth. Buck couldn’t blame his grandfather, it wasn’t like he didn’t speak to him or act uninterested in his life. Grandfather was always careful to inquire about school, to offer his assistance and to try and be a father. But in the best of times he had as much warmth as a porcupine and so it was that a little boy in dire need of affection never really got what he was looking for and so desperately needed.

Time passed and the months turned into years. Buck was no longer just a boy, not in any sense of the word. By the time he was fourteen he had grown into a very solid young man, while not very tall he was quite broad and quite strong. Not to mention that he had a very heavy beard and dark hair peppered his chest. And so it came as no surprise to anyone who knew his story that he found himself getting into trouble.

His grandfather still worked an eight hour day, but it was becoming clear that he would not be able to keep that up for much longer. The death of his wife had aged him as had taking on the responsibility of raising a child. Still grandfather kept on moving. He didn’t know any way to live other than how he had for years. So he trudged into his office and in darkness he returned home.

It was an autumn day when life punched Buck in the mouth again. There was a chill in the air and grandfather had decided to split some wood. It was one of the simple pleasures in life he took. He would tell Buck that there was nothing more rewarding for a man than working with his hands.

Out in the crisp clean air he pulled on his gloves and began to prepare firewood to be used on the colder nights. He hadn’t been working very hard or for very long when his heart gave out. Grandfather died of a massive heart attack. Again it was a natural death, at the ripe old age of 83 he left the world and went to wherever the body and soul go after death.

Buck was 17. At the funeral he remembered his grandfather’s words and like a good soldier he shed no tears.

The Past Is The Present

Some people never develop any coping skills. The wounds of their past never heal, scabs and scar tissue build up and momentarily halt the bleeding, but it is a temporary fix. And like all such band-aids are prone to being ripped off. Sometimes the exposure to air is good for such hurts and sometimes they remind you that the pain is never far from the surface.

Physical pain can be debilitating, but it never will hold the same sway as mental pain. Mental pain hangs over you, a banshee whose wails of pain and sorrow remind you of past failure, the scream a bitter reminder that there are times when you just didn’t get it done or that sometimes your best just wasn’t good enough.

So the question comes down to how you deal with those moments. Can you accept your shortcomings and move ahead or do you get bogged down in the what-if moments and spend time replaying the moment in your mind searching for a better outcome.

The greatest professional athletes learn how to overcome this. The Michael Jordans of the world don’t remember the shot that they didn’t make or the play that fragmented. They live in a space in which the rarified air they breathe doesn’t allow that. Supreme confidence that they will change the outcome to one that is more favorable allows them to move past the failures and they do fail.

Jordan’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player didn’t quite materialize. Only a few remember Nick Anderson stealing the ball and the eventual loss to the Magic in the playoffs. It was a momentary setback, but one that spurred more work and more effort to reclaim his spot at the top of the pyramid.

But there is a reason why the world is populated with fewer Michael Jordans and more ordinary people. Before Georgie I had been much more like Jordan able to just move on and forget. But that was the past and now I lived in a world that was not so bright, the light was much dimmer and the prospects less interesting.

I live in a place in which I yearn for instant replay, the prayers in which I beg for a referee to come out onto the field and penalize the other guy for an illegal play. A chance to gain yardage that was unfairly stolen from me. An opportunity to ignore Georgie’s advances and to take the other path.

It never happens, even in my dreams, even those moments in which she is still by my side I always witness her departure and relive her loss.

And it is all because I let myself be taken in by that asshole Georgie. Georgie who stole all that was good and holy in my life and replaced it with shit. In the fantasy books of my youth Georgie was the demon whose magic made him appear to be beautiful but to those few who could really see he was always a hideous repulsive maggot eaten mess.

The long arm of Father Time eventually wraps us all in his embrace, but it is a hug that is neither tender nor loving. The claim that time heals all wounds is a myth, it merely dulls the pain.

A Soldier Follows Orders

Just prior to the start of the funeral the family was invited into a private room to say their goodbyes. Artificial lighting shone upon faded blue paint and bad artwork. Couches that had seen better days and lamps that looked like garage sale rejects added to the sterile ambiance.

Buck found himself standing next to an open casket, his grandfather lay before him. He was clad in a black suit. A cigar was in his coat pocket and his arms were laid out alongside the body. Whoever had prepared him had taken the time to add a little color to his cheeks. It was done to make the body look less dead but there is a reason that corpses are described as being pallid and once the light is extinguished it is gone for good.

After a few moments the director of the home quietly interrupted Buck and asked him if he expected any more family members to arrive. A short nod was all it took to indicate that Buck was it. Outside in the chapel there were only a handful of people there to bare witness to the interment of Buck’s grandfather. None of them came back to the house and only one or two of them spoke with Buck. It wasn’t clear if they were trying to be courteous or considerate of privacy. But it was very clear to Buck that he was finally completely alone.

The house was paid for and as the sole heir the title was given to Buck as was a very modest inheritance. It wasn’t much, but it was enough money to cover his needs for a short while, especially given his Spartan lifestyle. Many teenagers in similar circumstances have found it to be overwhelming, not Buck. For all intents and purposes he had been living on his own since the death of his grandmother, if not his parents. So he had become accustomed to solitude and had long since developed a tremendous work ethic.

The combination made it easy for him to adjust to his circumstances. In fact, he preferred to be by himself. Crowds and large numbers of people made him uncomfortable. He didn’t enjoy small talk and if forced to socialize would find a corner of the room in which he would sit quietly, dark eyes impenetrable but observant.

A short time after his grandfather’s death Buck received a letter from the local draft board informing him that Uncle Sam was ready to receive him as the newest member of the armed forces. In some ways this was one of the best things that could have happened to Buck. He hadn’t been much of a student and did not have any ideas on what kind of profession he was interested in.

Military life suited Buck. He liked the discipline and the sense of purpose it gave him. He made it through basic training without any major issues and in time was shipped overseas where it became apparent that if he had been a man of faith he either would have lost it completely or become a devout zealot.

Thanks to shithouse luck Buck had become acquainted with death at a young age, but it wasn’t until his squad inadvertently stumbled upon an enemy encampment that Buck learned about death first hand. If you were to ask the survivors how it all happened none of them could tell you how, but they could answer the what, at least when it came to Buck.

People react differently during moments of trauma and great stress. Here is what we know about Buck. The expression on his face hardly changed. Bullets were flying and he looked like he was playing poker. While returning fire his rifle jammed, but he remained nonplussed by it. There are stories of men who during moments like this charge the enemy in a suicidal rage determined to take as many out as they can.

Buck got up and just began walking towards the men who were firing at him. His steps were measure and with purpose. It was clear to those who saw him that this was not battle fatigue or a manifestation of a mental breakdown. He knew what he was doing. Somehow he got to the other side without being hit. This is the point at which the stories of the other men conflict with each other.

Some say that he grabbed an enemy soldier and cut his throat. Others say that he beat him to death with his rifle. The one thing that they all agree upon is that Buck killed a man and then took a moment to remove the head from the body and he did it without a smile, a grunt or any indication that he felt anything at all.

When asked about it later he had refused to discuss it and so no one really knew why he had done it, just that he had.

Biology

The love that I had once known entered my life when I was still in school. I’d like to say that like so many great love stories I knew from the start that one day she would be mine, but that would be a lie. We started going to school together when we were in junior high, but neither one of us knew each other then. Different circles and different classes made certain that our paths never crossed each other.

She liked to tell me that she was certain that we had passed each other in the hall. She said that I looked familiar and she wondered if we had swung on the same swing set at the park or if our families had eaten at the same restaurant on the same nights. It was all possible, we did grow up a few miles apart.

Of course it might as well have been ten thousand miles because I really didn’t know a thing about her. If I hadn’t decided to take a biology class instead of life science I might not have ever met her, and even then it took a push from someone else to make it happen, namely the teacher.

Mr. Constantine liked the lab partners to be couples his term, not ours. He said that it made for less fooling around in class, that the boys were less likely to try and impress the girls by doing something stupid if they were paired with a girl. During our first lab she was all business. I can’t remember anymore what it was. Again if this were some kind of movie I’d say that the reason for my memory loss was because I was too busy staring at her. But that is not the case.

I don’t remember because I didn’t much like the class and I spent as much time as I could day dreaming about other places. She didn’t appreciate the lack of attention and made a point of telling me that she expected me to carry some of the load because she wouldn’t accept my getting the same grade as her unless I did some work.

That was the day I learned that I was insouciant. Of course I didn’t know what the word meant, but she was happy to tell me. I suppose that she knew what her feelings were for me long before I realized that I was interested in her. I was a goofy high school kid who couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be tough and cool or just tough, or just cool. That is the beauty and the curse of high school, the chance to become someone or something.

If you asked me to tell you when it was that I noticed her I couldn’t tell you that either, at least not specifically. However I do remember when I realized that I was attracted to her. She was wearing a skirt with boots, black boots and some kind of top. Her black hair was in some kind of feminine hair torture device and she smelled amazing. It was awesome and scary.

Scary because as I realized that I was attracted to her I got the normal teenage boy response and didn’t know how to hide my attraction and excitement at being close to her. I must have turned red because she asked me if everything was ok and I really began to feel a little sick. I was sure that she could see that she had gotten a rise out of me. We were standing at our lab station and I did everything I could to try and hide behind the desk, not that it mattered. I felt naked and exposed. So I did what teenage boys do and tried to be cool as I launched a spitball at the guy at the station next to me.

I don’t have to tell you that she didn’t think that it was cool and that her disdain only made me feel worse. The boy that was on the receiving end of the spitball returned fire and I threw a book at him. It wasn’t his fault, but raging hormones made me act like an idiot. It wasn’t the last time that I acted the fool because she was close to me.

Constantine made it worse by grabbing my shoulder and trying to spin me around to get my attention. Since I was already in full blown idiot mode I threw him off of me and stormed out of the classroom. As a thank you the school gave me a two day vacation and detention.

And then just to rub salt in my wounds when I returned from my suspension she tried to switch lab partners, said that she couldn’t work with someone who was so childish. I don’t think that Constantine ever forgot or forgave me for my part in embarrassing him in front of the class so he refused to move me. I think that he thought that she would be a bitch and punish me, or maybe not. Who knows, it really doesn’t matter anymore, does it.

All I know is that I spent my suspension dreaming about her and fantasizing about asking her out. At last school had a purpose, there was a reason for me to attend. Now I just needed to figure out how to get her to go out with me. And that was something that I had no clue how to make happen.

But I figured that a boy who was insouciant had to be of some interest to her, didn’t I?

A First Love

I’d like to say that I came up with some kind of well scripted, beautifully executed plan. Everyone wants to be the cool guy, to look like the hero and I was no exception. I spent untold hours considering how to make this happen. It felt to me like nothing of this magnitude had ever come into my life. This was a decision that could impact my life forever.

Now I chuckle at teenage naiveté because who the hell really knows anything at that age. I was an ignorant fool, but ignorance is bliss and that is where I was heading, towards endless bliss. It sounds crazy, it sounds stupid, but that is where I would find myself, but I am getting ahead of myself.

High school students are not known for being well heeled and where I came from there was no question about it, money was a commodity that I did not have a whole lot of. And as I was relatively nervous about what to do and where to go I decided to go with a very simple plan. I would take her to the zoo. I didn’t know what I was going to do there, not one clue for how it would work.

All I knew was that I desperately wanted to be her boyfriend, to end the misery of watching her and dreaming of the day when she would call me on the phone, walk through the halls holding my hand, wear my jacket and do all those things that I had seen other couples do.
I even had a goofy thought for how to kiss her.

As I look back now it makes me cringe to even think about it. Basically I hoped that some of the animals would engage in some kind of sexual behavior and that this would give me an opportunity to try and start something. From the perspective of time and distance it is easy to say that I was an idiot. What the hell was I thinking. It is not like I could count on the chimps to suddenly begin an orgy.

As it worked out I didn’t need the monkey’s help, my own nervousness did the trick. I kind of tripped over my own feet and knocked her into the wall. Fortunately I also fell into her causing an unexpected but altogether pleasant embrace. We shared our first kiss near the elephant’s habitat. Another thing that I realized later on was that she was as interested in me as I in her because that area of the zoo stunk. It smelled like the zookeepers had been feeding the elephants something putrid and rotten. I suspect that in other circumstances I would have gagged. But not that day.

Her lips brushed against mine and I could smell her gum and an amazing scent that I couldn’t describe now or then. But every so often I catch a hint of whatever combination of shampoo, perfume and her on the wind. It always catches me unaware and it always leaves me with a bittersweet taste. There is something sad in knowing that the greatest love of your life was the first and that now all it is a memory of a life that once was but is no more.

“But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more”
IN MY LIFE- The Beatles

A Plan Develops

“Sentimental journeys were for the old and decrepit or the mentally weak. It was time to give this crap up.”

She smiled to herself as she realized that from out of the past the boy spoke to her. This wasn’t really her own thought, it was something that he had repeated over and over. Not unlike so many other teenage boys he wanted to be tough, to be viewed as a man. This was just one of those things he said and did to try and prove his manhood to the world.

Well the repetition had worked, at least she apparently had come to believe it. She wondered if he still did. He had tried so hard to be tough and she had tried to support him in this effort, even though she knew that he was not. He had a soft and tender side that would sneak out without warning. It was part of what attracted her to him, especially the fact that he wasn’t even aware of it.

She was always careful not to let him know what she really thought. It wasn’t that she thought badly of him, she loved that part. It made him more real, more human and less like some of the other idiots they went to school with. No she hid her true thoughts because men have fragile male egos and she would have been quite upset to have hurt him.

The light in the bathroom was less than perfect. It cast funny shadows on her face, making her look older than she really was. She spent extra time staring at herself trying to figure out if she really looked that old. Her body was still tight and lean, no children had come from her so nature had not done all that it could have to age her, at least not physically.

Overall she was pleased with what she saw. She wondered if the boy would still find her to be as attractive. Would he still be consumed with passion. Would he still desire her.

Back in school his desire had always been obvious. A man’s body had a way of betraying his thoughts. She had taken great pleasure in finding ways to make it hard for that not to happen. It was a bit of an ego trip, but a little positive attention never hurt and for certain it was a lot of fun to try and make him a little flustered. Ruffle his feathers and keep him off balance, why not.
In the Internet age it was easy enough to try and track someone down. Type their name into Google and a couple more search engines and you could often find a vast wealth of information. It might be kind of fun to try and locate him, play the voyeur and see what he was doing with himself these days.

Although the truth was that she was reluctant to find out what his present status was. She didn’t want to learn that he was married or find pictures of a family. Even though it had been years since their last communication it felt better to her to think of him as being single and available. There was some comfort in knowing that there might be a possibility of their being reunited.

Reunited. The word made her laugh. Once while waiting for a doctor she had read a trashy romance novel in which the hero had come for his love. The author had penned the classic line “their love was rekindled and reunited like East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

It was so bad that she had to laugh. But maybe it wasn’t that far fetched or silly to think of it in terms of the fall of communism. They had a bitter fight. It was long, protracted and towards the end very nasty. A lot of hurtful comments had been exchanged and even years later it wasn’t unrealistic to think that he could be angry. Or maybe she wanted him to still be angry because it would help to validate the feelings she had about their relationship.

The truth was that there had been something very good and special about their love. There had been a passion and a level of trust that she thought she would never experience again. The men who had followed the boy would have been shocked to have seen her then, or should she say they would have been surprised at how open and laid back she was.

That is not to suggest that she was cold and distant, but since then she had become far more controlling of who and what gained access to her heart. She had been in love at least a couple of times, but the soul piercing, time stood still, kind of her youth hadn’t come back. So maybe it made complete sense to wonder if the line from that book was applicable to her. Maybe, just maybe if she found him they could describe it as being similar to ““their love was rekindled and reunited like East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

But that was best left for a different day, the truth was that she really did need to figure out what to do with herself.

More About Georgie

If you were to ask me why I started hanging out with Georgie I wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. I don’t know why. It is the kind of answer or should I say non-answer that used to infuriate my father. When I was a child I could never have gotten away with explaining that I didn’t know why I had done something. An answer like that would not have been acceptable to him.

Of course like most teenagers I had responded to most of his questions about what I did or didn’t do with the very thing I just mentioned. It is part of a rite of passage to try and irritate your parents and I was a master at it. One of my father’s favorite movies was Cool Hand Luke.
Maturity is a wonderful thing as it allows you to look back and see what a jerk you really were.

All those times you thought you were being cool, all those moments when you thought that you were just like James Dean have a way of being colored by time to your advantage. But if you stop and think about it, if you are honest and truthful you find that most of the time you weren’t that cool and you might have even been a complete asshole. Maybe I am being too egocentric, but I suspect that I am not the only one who sees their past this way.

My father worked hard at trying to maintain a relationship with me. He tried to be my friend and to stay involved in my life. I hated it. The simple questions he asked me felt like an interrogation so I did my best to be difficult so that he would stop.

Often when he would try and speak with me I would quote Strother Martin’s famous line:
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it.”

After all if you are going to try and aggravate someone you might as well take something they love and twist it, offer it to them in some perverse distortion of itself. And it worked. After a while my father just stopped speaking with me. He gave up and I got angry. It is kind of silly because he was only doing what I wanted him to do, but all it did was piss me off.

Maybe that is what pushed me towards Georgie. I didn’t have any older siblings and without my father there was no longer any sort of male role model in my life. Not that Georgie was any older than I was, but he did have some life experiences that I didn’t have and he had a certain kind of charisma. I can’t explain it, won’t even try other than to say that he had a magnetic personality that attracted people.

And he was confident. Lord was he ever confident. Georgie walked like there was nothing in the world that could stop him from going wherever it was he was headed. He moved with an attitude that radiated from all sides of him. Mean, nasty, arrogant, cocky, bold and confident. He was all of those things and proud to be described that way.

If you asked Georgie if it was better to be feared or respected he would have picked feared without hesitation.

Georgie’s reputation for violence was earned and well deserved. You already know about Georgie and the Tree Man. I’d like to say that you have seen Georgie at his worst, but it wouldn’t be true. There were moments that matched or exceeded the treatment that the Tree Man received. There were many times that Georgie made it clear that he had more than just a mean streak.

A streak makes it sound like a little thing, but that is just not accurate nor true for Georgie. He should have been the model for some Country-Western song, the kind that tells you a story. But the reason why he couldn’t is that those songs almost always have a happy ending and stories about Georgie almost never did.

She knew long before I did that my friendship with Georgie was going to be a problem. She knew me so much better than I knew myself, but the problem I had was that I was young and male. My ego wouldn’t allow me to listen to her. The woman I loved so desperately knew that I was in trouble and I was too stupid to listen to her.

The thing about Georgie was that not only did he have that magnetism, but he was both shrewd and clever. He manipulated the situation so smoothly I didn’t have much of a chance. As he started reeling me in I began to hear bits and pieces about a woman’s place, her role in a man’s life. And it wasn’t as his conscience.

So when she started asking me to back off and find someone else to be my friend I took it to be demeaning, controlling and obnoxious. I wasn’t about to allow some woman to have that much control over my life. And I told her that. I let her know in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t have it. I was the man and if she wanted to be with me she needed to just shut up.

We had a few fights, some disagreements before this, but never like this. I had never told her to shut up with the kind of venom that lay behind those words. I had been poisoned and I was too dumb to recognize it. If I think back I can see the hurt in her eyes and I can feel the pain I caused her. When I spit those words out at her she flinched and actually drew back from me. And it just got worse from there.

For a moment I was sorry, so sorry that I had hurt her. I wanted to take her in my arms and just apologize for hurting her. I wanted to make her understand that I hadn’t meant any of it, but I couldn’t do that. I didn’t know how because I couldn’t figure out how to apologize and still show her that I was an independent and strong man.

The confusion and guilt only made me get more upset. I became even angrier that she had brought this up. I was furious with her and started screaming. For a moment she stood there and just looked at me and then she just left. She didn’t say anything, didn’t yell or scream. She just gathered her things and left.

There was a definite roar, but the silence was deafening. And if I had been a real man I would have stopped her from leaving. I would have insisted on talking it out and made amends, but I didn’t. Instead I let her go and allowed three days to pass before we spoke again. And when we finally did I didn’t mention it and neither did she.

It was the elephant in the room that neither one of us would forget or ignore, but could not speak about. It was the beginning of the end of something special and dear, the first of many cracks that would eventually cause us to shatter and split. Where there had been nothing but good there was now an ugly bruise that just ached.

And like so many other couples it was only a matter of time before the topic reared its ugly head again and the bad feelings came back to the surface. Another fight, another argument and more pain. It became a pattern. We would fight, make up, fight and then make up again.

Eventually I tried to do the right thing. I tried to break free of Georgie so that I could prove to her again that I loved her, but the problem was by that point in time there were so many nasty remarks, so much bad blood she couldn’t just believe me. I wanted her to believe in me again, but I couldn’t bridge the gap.

“We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Why can’t you see
What you’re doing to me
When you don’t believe a word I say?

We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds”
Suspicious Minds- Elvis Presley

After it was over I can remember kidding around with Georgie that once the trust was gone in a relationship it wasn’t fun lying to your partner any more. We both laughed, but my laughter was hollow.

Two Kinds of Pain Revisited

There are those who live on pain. They nurture and care for it, building a tiny garden of thorns that they tend, occasionally pricking themselves because without their pain they no longer know how to feel. They are everywhere. They live among us in places and in bodies that look like our own, but with minds that know no joy. The sun that shines is cold and unforgiving, the sky in their world is dark and forbidding.

Fear and uncertainty have become their most reliable companions. Trust is an infrequent visitor, a commodity that has become far too expensive to be purchased. And the biggest challenge of all is that it is the keystone of their arch of pain. Without it they lack the ability to pull themselves out of the warrens of darkness they have constructed, so they run.

Many people run from pain there is nothing uncommon about it. We often run from our fears. Like children who are afraid of the dark we flee the battlefield in search of a less frightening confrontation. But it can only go on for so long.

There is a limited time in which a person can run before they must turn around and decide to stand or fall. One can only avoid making that choice for so long before you lose the ability to make the choice.

The problem with pain is that there is only so much that people can take before they just crack. We all have our breaking points. Not unlike a dam, fissures develop and the pressure builds until we just lose it.

And some are stronger than others. Some can withstand incredible amounts of pain. They take whatever life dishes out and roll with the punches. They are kicked, beaten and pummeled, but they keep moving. It doesn’t really matter what happens because they have figured out how to cope, or so it seems.

They bleed so that they may feel human, so that they can feel alive. The problem was that this described Georgie perfectly, he was an emotional vampire who thrived on draining me and everyone else he encountered of our happiness. He instinctively knew that the only way that he could keep me around was to feed my fears and insecurities and so he did.

He fueled the fire and helped me resolve to forget her, to ignore the past and pretend that it help no meaning, no significance to me. By trashing the past I was proving my strength and creating a brighter future. I was in so much pain and so hurt that like a moth flies into the flame I kept listening to the poison he spewed. I was so very young and so very incapable of admitting that I was wrong.I had three things working against me. I was young, male and stupid. It was easier to pretend that I was whole than to admit that a gaping wound had torn my soul out of me.

In time the pain began to take on a familiar look to me. I woke up expecting to be cloaked in its embrace. As the empty feeling gradually took over I stopped remembering what it was like to be happy and turned inward. Had I been smarter I would have recognized that I was classically depressed and done something to try and work through it.

When you are dead inside the world is a place that lacks colors. There is little to no distinction between night and day. Without a way to distinguish between dark and light the days run into each other, a blur of activity, or in my case inactivity. At least I think that there wasn’t much, I can’t really say because I just don’t remember anymore.

Truth be told I don’t want to remember. Those were dark days that are best left wherever my mind stashed them. I sometimes think that if only I could truly forget them I might be happier and that the scars might heal faster, but maybe that is nothing more than a search for fools’ gold.

The Day She Left

There are people who speak of being able to sense a change in the weather. The slower among us take that at face value, as being a literal comment about the elements. But it is much more than that. Some are blessed with the ability to sense things about others, they recognize the signs that we share with the world and act accordingly. And then are the people who cannot see what is so obvious to the others and all that they do is react to what happens around them.

By the time she had made up her mind to leave me I was so far removed from reality that I fit into the latter group. I had been stripped of my ability to empathize with others, sympathy for the common man was a weakness that Georgie had helped me evolve beyond. Remove emotion and you become incredibly powerful.

Because once you stop caring about yourself and those around you there is an incredible sense of freedom. It is a cliché, but my heart was rapidly turning black, inside I was terminally ill. I eagerly consumed all of the poison that Georgie spewed out all in the name of personal growth. That is the term I used to fool myself into believing that what I was doing had meaning and value.

The end is what you would call a long time coming. Our relationship had died months before we acknowledged it. By the time we admitted it there was a definite stench and something that had been beautiful was deformed and misshapen. We were like the Black Knight in the Monty Python movie about the search for the Holy Grail. Every time we were together another part of us was lopped off and yet the body kept fighting.

She had called me and made arrangements to go on a real date. It was something that we hadn’t done in months. I couldn’t remember the last time that we actually planned a night out, or done anything in which we dressed up for each other. I was going to pass on it, was ready to push it off to a different date, but she wouldn’t have any of it. Inside she knew that this was it, make it or break it.

I remember showering that day and for a moment getting lost in memories of past dates with her. There were weekends away, sunsets at the beach, a million quiet moments in which we did nothing but get lost in each other. And for a moment there was a brief ache in my heart. Inside a piece of me realized that this was going to be different, but I was too busy evolving and I stuffed that shred of sentiment back into a cage and tried to forget it about it

It was a quiet dinner, but not the kind of comfortable quiet that you share with someone you love. It wasn’t quite an awkward silence either, it was something in between. I think that we went to a movie, but I am not really sure. Or maybe we went window shopping, it is really a bit of a blur to me.

She tried to reach me a number of different times, reached out in all the ways she knew how but I wouldn’t let her in. And each time I rebuffed her I could feel the hurt in her build. But she was tough and determined not to let go without a fight.

Eventually we made our way back to her place. I walked her upstairs and sat in a chair while she sat on the couch. Earlier in our relationship there never would have been this distance between us. Back then it was too painful not to touch each other, too hard not to at least hold hands.

We opened a bottle of wine and gradually made our way to each other. When I undressed her I was rough, but not in the way that I had once been. It wasn’t a case of my being so turned on that I couldn’t wait to have her, now I was careless and selfish. The goal was not to make love, but to fulfill a need.

The beautiful thing about hindsight is that it permits us the opportunity to look back and see what fools and asses we were. It wasn’t lovemaking, but sex and she wasn’t an active participant. True she did it willingly, but not lovingly or happily. She didn’t give herself to me, she didn’t surrender, she just let me do what I needed to do because she couldn’t believe that something so good had become so bad.

When it was over I got up out of bed and got dressed. There was no hug, no kiss, no words, just a cold feeling that made her pull the covers over her naked body. I was at the door when she asked me if I had anything to say.

“About what?” I replied. “Tonight, is there anything you want to talk about.” It wasn’t a question so much as it was a statement.

“There is nothing to say. I am tired and going home.” If life was like a cartoon there would have been smoke coming out of her nostrils. I knew that she wanted to talk, but I wasn’t interested.
“We need to talk,” she said.

“No, you need to talk and I am not interested in being nagged.”
“That is unfair and unreasonable. I have done nothing but be good to you, I put up with a lot of crap and you owe it to me to be a little decent.”

She was right, I should have been nicer. I should have sat back down and spoken to her, but I was too far gone. Instead I told her again that I didn’t want the lecture, that when I wanted to be nagged I would tell her. And then things got ugly in a hurry.

I don’t remember what she said to me, but I remember calling her stupid and asking her when she had turned into a bitch.

She didn’t yell. She didn’t cry. She didn’t do much of anything. She bit her lip for a moment and then asked me if I had any stuff in the apartment that I wanted. I said no and she said “Fine. We’re done now, please leave.”

It was a six word epitaph for our relationship. “Fine. We’re done now, please leave.” I smiled at her and winked and then I left. After the door closed I thought that I heard sobbing and for a brief moment I thought about going back in, but instead I walked down to the corner liquor store and picked up a case of beer and a cheap bottle of scotch.
When I got back home I opened a beer and turned on the CD player

ALWAYS ON MY MIND (Elvis Presley)

“Maybe I didn’t love you quite as good as I should have,
Maybe I didn’t hold you quite as often as I could have,
Little things I should have said and done,
I just never took the time.

You were always on my mind,
You were always on my mind.

Maybe I didn’t hold you all those lonely, lonely times,
And I guess I never told you, I’m so happy that you’re mine,
If I made you feel second best,
I’m sorry, I was blind.

You were always on my mind,
You were always on my mind,

Tell me, tell me that your sweet love hasn’t died,
Give me, give me one more chance to keep you satisfied,
If I made you feel second best,
I’m sorry, I was blind.

You were always on my mind,
You were always on my mind.”

It took a while and an unknown quantity of alcohol, but when the tears finally fell they came hard and fast, salty trails down my face. Only this time there was no one there to kiss them away, no one to hold me and let me know it was going to be alright. And I knew that if I was going to survive I was going to have to let these be the last tears I shed, emotion was a commodity I could no longer afford.

More Background

 It was during my junior year of high school that I lost my father. I was so very much in love with her that I walked around with my head in the clouds. Georgie was on the periphery of my life, kind of there but not really all that involved with me and if things would have turned out a little bit differently he might never have gotten any closer.

It was spring and my father was driving home in our old Buick. It was a boat, but my father loved it. He loved to be the “captain” of his ship. That car was older than I was and if ever my father loved something the way he loved my mother it was that car. After dinner without fail he would go to his garage and spend a little time with the car. There was always something to polish, to adjust, to tweak, always something to do.

It was almost 6:30 and I was perched in front of the television set absentmindedly watching ESPN. In moments I expected to hear a familiar honk followed by footsteps. My father would walk in and I would pretend to ignore him. It was a childish game, but teenage boys are just that, teenage boys.

Instead I heard the roar of an engine followed by the squeal of brakes and then the whole house shook as if a giant was shaking it. I ran outside to see what had happened.

A motorcyclist had cut my father off and in his attempt to avoid him he had slammed into the side of our house.

When I close my eyes I can hear my mother screaming. My father had been thrown partway through the windshield. There was blood pouring from his nostrils and a bone sticking out where his shoulder was supposed to be.

I was stunned. For a moment I stood there and stared. My mother was still screaming and I think that there might have been a few neighbors running around. Things get a little fuzzy around this time. I know that my mother and I rode together in the ambulance and I know that I must have gotten some of his blood on me because a nurse gave me a pair of scrubs to change into.

But some things are not so fuzzy. I can hear the gurgling noise my father made as his lungs fought to gather air. If I close my eyes I can see his eyes try to focus, see the fear and it doesn’t take any effort to remember that he died looking at me.

There were no last words, no gestures, looks or any sort of sign that he knew we were there. We might have been there alongside of him, but he died alone.

I don’t much like remembering that time because it is just too painful. And in some ways it is worse now because I can see now that even in spite of how bad things were, they still were better than they are now. Because then I still knew what it meant to love and to be loved. I wasn’t yet an outsider, I hadn’t started living on the fringes

On the nights when I stay sober I can see clearly. In the still of the night I look out into the dark and I remember that I used to be somebody. I used to care, used to love and was loved. But the thing about life is that it is not a movie and shit happens only there is no silver lining. Some of us just get screwed because that is what happens. You are born, you live and then you die. That is it, nothing more to it.

If you think that I was bitter and angry you would be right. And if you think that I was unaware of that you’d be dead wrong, but I just didn’t care. I was so caught up in my own pain that when Georgie suggested we start hanging out together I didn’t say no.

Sliding Sliding Sliding

 I was sliding out of control.

It felt like I was in the middle of an avalanche there was a loud roar, and then I was lost in a cloud of white, careening madly down a hill that I could not see at breakneck speed.It is a school day but I don’t bother going to class.

I show up on campus long enough for Georgie to pick me up. He hands me a bag and says that my gift is inside. It is 40 ounces of malt liquor and a fifth of whiskey.

A couple of months ago a few sips would have made me sick, now it is just barely enough to numb the pain. In short order I am drunk, but I am not a happy drunk.I am rude, belligerent and alternate between extreme bouts of anger and sadness.

My mother is lost in her own world. She is so wrapped up in her grief that she has nothing to give to me and doesn’t even notice that I am hardly home.

During the time I am around she sits on the couch staring off into space or absentmindedly playing with her hair. The man she loved is dead and the boy she still has is trying to slowly kill himself. It is shithouse luck, but the family that was is barely functioning if at all.

Guilt permeates my periodic bouts of sobriety. I know that I should try to help her cope, try to help her get beyond this but I am too weak emotionally to take on her pain. I can barely hold myself together.

Georgie is a constant companion. He is the one person that seems to understand my pain, the only one who can help me stay numb.

My girl is supportive and trying to do everything that she can to help me but I don’t want to feel anything because the pain is unbearable. I just want to finish becoming the hollow man, empty and devoid of feeling.It has been a while since I could hold her and smile. It has been longer since I could tolerate being held. The comfort she tries to give is killing me.

I know this because Georgie has been schooling me in how to stuff my feelings back down into a place where they cannot hurt me.For a short while she allows me to use her body to assuage my pain but this can only go on for so long before she and I begin to fight. She craves intimacy. She needs to love me and to hear me say I love you back.

But I am too focused on the life lessons that Georgie is teaching me. I am too busy learning how to take what she has to offer and give nothing in return.

I don’t know if it is because my teachers feel badly for me or if it is due to something else, but the semester ends and somehow I pass all my classes. Summer is my favorite time of year. I love the freedom and the feeling of the hot sun on my back, but most of all I love having nothing to do but drink or kick around with Georgie.

Summer brings a new twist to my descent into the pit I was sliding into. I have learned to enjoy the sound my fist makes when it meets flesh. I like being hit and I like hitting people. When I fight I let my anger go and I feel nothing but black rage. I am bigger and stronger than most of the people I meet. I give as good as I get and often better. I am not quite a bully yet, but I am close.

It doesn’t take much for me to get into it and thus far I have been lucky not to be seriously hurt. But that doesn’t last long.

It is Saturday night and Georgie and I are just cruising around town. We stop at a burger stand to get some food and he decides that he doesn’t want to wait in line. He doesn’t care about the people that are there because he knows that most of them are in his words “stupid sheep” and they won’t do a thing.

Tonight he is wrong.Tonight we are introduced to the pain a broomstick handle can inflict. The four guys we cut in front of are not satisfied with just kicking our asses, they want to hurt us. Had it not been for the police we both might of ended up paralyzed or worse.

The next day she comes over to see how I am doing. When she sees my back she begins to cry. I cannot see it, but I know from the way that I feel that it looks bad.

For the next three hours she begs and pleads with me to stop hanging out with Georgie and to try and get my life in order again. She swears that it is not too late and that if I let her help me we can fix things.And for the first time in a long while her words carry weight with me.

I nod my head and agree to try.

Last night scared me and the fear is enough to motivate me. For a short while life will go back to some semblance of what it had been and for a short while I try to let myself feel because deep inside I know that if I let myself love her I can begin to heal.

In the end it doesn’t matter because I just am not strong enough. I can’t take the pain and more to the point, Georgie is too good and manipulating me. In time I am going to fall down again and he is going to be there to kick me back to the curb.

It Gets Worse

 In my dreams a battle rages. I am floating above a battlefield in which men are fighting with clubs, axes, swords and crossbows. There are no guns or bombs because this is a fight based upon brutality. This is a fight in which the combatants come face to face, where the victor’s prize is watching the loser die a horrific death. I don’t want to watch, but I cannot help it. I have had this dream too many times to count and every time I have it I am forced to watch as limbs are hewn from bodies, heads are caved in and blood runs like a river. There is so much blood I imagine that if the ancient Hebrews are to believed the Nile must once have looked like this.

Each time I wake up I am breathless and covered in sweat. I lie in bed shaking and sore. I feel like someone has beaten me up. I get out of bed and cannot help but check for bruises. I know that they are there, but they are located in a place that I cannot see.

I am broken. I am damaged and I am well aware that things are not right inside my head. The only thing that keeps me from completely losing it is her. She is holding on to me so tightly that I cannot fall over the edge. I want to. I want to. I want to. I want to let go and roll off of the cliff because I am so tired that I cannot keep this up any longer.

She has wrapped me in a protective love that is so strong I cannot break its grip, but I will soon. I won’t want to, but there is a demon inside me and he is starving. He is not alone. He has an ally who is tough and determined. He has a friend who waits patiently. Georgie is crafty. He has street smarts and he understands that it will not take much to push me back down into the pit. He knows that if he pulls hard enough it is all going to come crashing down.

I haven’t seen Georgie in quite some time and I am not smart enough to realize that it is his absence that has given me the strength to begin to crawl back into the light. She knows that he is the cancer that is killing me and she does all that she can to fight it. But we all get frustrated and sometimes it is our frustration that is at the root of our greatest pain.

Georgie wants to go hang out, kick around a bit. He doesn’t have any specific plans other than a simple request to do this with me. I might not have gone. I might have stayed in that night but for her comments. She calls me a fool.

“You know going out with him is a mistake. He is a jerk.” I look at her in silence. She takes my lack of response as encouragement to continue.

“Georgie is an asshole, is that who you want to hang out with.” The truth hurts. Her words bite and sting so much so that my ego is bruised.
I am not kind or gentle in my reply, “What are you my mother. I’ll see you later.”
She blocks the door and tells me that if I leave I shouldn’t expect her to hang around waiting for me.

We exchange some more words but none of them are the kind that provide room for reconciliation. And by the time I catch up with Georgie I am looking for trouble. I am angry and he knows it.

“Dude, why do you let that bitch tell you what to do.”

If he had said that to me a few months earlier I might have tried to remove his head from his body, but not now. The anger is in control and I have left my self-control and judgment somewhere else. Trouble is coming and I am racing to meet it. Now I sit silent and stew in my anger.

Georgie is driving. I haven’t any idea where we are going because I am too busy with the six pack in my lap. By the time we got to the parking lot I had finished the four beers and had discarded the two orphans for whiskey. I hadn’t even gotten out of the car when I hear Georgie cursing at someone.

I didn’t bother to find out what was going on. I walked around the side of the car and punched the first guy in the mouth. He fell down but that didn’t stop me. I started stomping and kicking him. I wasn’t able to do too much damage because someone grabbed me from behind.

They didn’t realize what a big mistake that was. I was too drunk to feel any pain and too numb to care about the pain I was handing out. I used my legs to push off of the car in front of me and slammed him into the car behind me. He gasped and crumpled to the ground.

There is a full fledged melee going on around me. I am swinging at anyone that comes close to me and trying to get to those who do not. I am screaming incoherently. No one is close enough for me to hit so I start kicking cars and punching the windows. If ever there was an indictment of the police and their response time, it is tonight. I should have been arrested but they must have been busy elsewhere.

My hands are bloody and bruised but my anger is not sated. I grab Georgie and we get back into the car to go looking for more people to take it out on. I have time to take a couple more sips of whiskey. The cowards secret sauce is warming my insides when I notice her standing outside a restaurant talking to some guy.

“Georgie, stop the fucking car” and let me out. I don’t bother waiting for the car to completely stop before I get out and charge the man speaking to my girl. I am like the bull going for the matador. My head is down and I will not stop until I have my prey upon my horns.

It is not a fair fight. He doesn’t see me coming and hasn’t any idea that in a moment he is going to lose the ability to chew solids for the next few months. Fortunately for him there are at least three other valets and they are able to pull me off of him before I can kill him because that is what I want to do. I am drunk and I don’t care about the consequences.

But the valets are friends and they are not willing to let one of their boys get hurt without exacting their own payment. The last thing I see is a boot coming down on my face. As I pass out I can hear her crying and screaming at Georgie. He still manages to get the last word in.

“I told you that she was a bitch.”

Misery

 You don’t understand what real misery is until you recognize that time will not heal your wounds. You don’t have a clue about how much pain you can suffer until you have lost all faith that things can ever get better. And even then if you have any sort of fight at all in you your mind still does what it can to try and make you whole again.

But it just doesn’t matter because it feels better not to feel. It doesn’t matter because when you don’t care about yourself or anything else you reach the point at which you are hollow. And for a person who is in pain that hollow point is a magnificent place to be.

I remember watching a movie in which the characters swore to live life. They wanted to do everything, try everything, experience life in the fullest sense of the expression. It was very dramatic and there was a climatic scene in which one of them made a speech about nursing on the very marrow of life.

The marrow of life. It makes me chuckle. What a crock. Just a couple of fools speaking about things that they do not understand. I suppose that it is only fair to say that I used to be one of those ignorant morons who didn’t have enough common sense to realize that fairy tales are called fairy tales because they are fake.

The day after the incident with the valet I almost didn’t bother to get out of bed. I suppose that I had a secret hope that I would wake up and find her waiting patiently for me. She wasn’t there and neither was Georgie. The only thing that greeted me was the obsessive honking of my neighbor and a throbbing feeling that radiated throughout my entire body.

Outside the honking was replaced by the deep boom of bass emanating from a car. You would think that the experiences of the night before would have helped to teach me to think twice before acting, but that would be a lie. I was furious at the jerk who was playing his music so loudly. I jumped out of bed and screamed at him from the window.

It was useless. The booming noise prevented him from hearing my protest. This enraged me and without thinking I grabbed a baseball bat and was about to fly down the stairs when the hangover hit me. I didn’t even have time to make it to the bathroom. I was sick everywhere and unable to stand. I must have passed out because I woke up with my face lying in my own vomit and so disoriented that it took me some time to recognize that I was home.

The trouble I had been searching for had found me and now I was being made to pay for it. A smarter and more mature man would have stumbled to the phone and called for help, but I was too proud. Not that it would have mattered, she was too angry to help. Had I even managed to call she wouldn’t have responded.

The realization that she was too angry to want to help upset her in a way that she couldn’t begin to explain. There had never been a time in which she had felt this way about him. It had never occurred to her that her love for him could be challenged this way and it shook her up.

For the first time she began to wonder if their relationship had run its course. She cried that day. It wasn’t the first time that she had cried because of a disagreement with him, but it was the first time she had been afraid that the end was near.

Will The Sun Shine Again

 For many years she had avoided thinking about the end of her time with the boy. He had touched her in so many places, made her think about things, about life in a way that no one else had. She had given herself to him so completely, so deeply that in some ways it was hard to see where she ended and he began.

It was more than love and more than trust. There was a connection between them that she couldn’t verbalize or explain to anyone. She loved to watch him. He didn’t have to be doing anything in particular, it just made her feel good to watch him. There was something mesmerizing about him and it wasn’t any one thing.

When her friends would ask what she found so attractive she would stumble and stutter because she didn’t know how to empty the contents of her heart, how to share the things that you feel but cannot say.

So she would speak of his eyes and his wrists. She would talk about the way his lips felt on hers and how when she hugged him she felt never felt safer. She told them about how he looked at her like she was the most beautiful woman in the world and that when he put his hand on her hip she felt electricity.

Sometimes she wanted to say more. Sometimes she wanted to tell them everything that she felt because it seemed selfish not to share something so amazing and wonderful with them. And in some way it was so hard not to try and bond with them over something so important to her.

In the end she never did share any of that with them. She came close one day but faltered when her girlfriend suggested that all girls felt this way about their first. It bothered her because she felt that it cheapened and degraded what she had so she just smiled and said nothing.

The end of their relationship had damaged her. It had broken her in ways that she didn’t really understand until many years later. The men that followed the boy were measured against his memory. At first it was conscious, but subconscious. That is, she couldn’t help but compare them and though she knew it was unfair she persisted in the unconscious search for the one who would make her forget the pain and the empty feeling.

It was an empty hollow feeling. There was a sense of things having been turned upside down. It reminded her of something she had seen on a field trip she took in second grade. They had gone to the zoo and were in the reptile house looking at turtles. The zookeeper turned his back and one of the boys took the turtle and flipped it upside down.

She remembered watching the turtle flop around, legs kicking in the air as it tried desperately to right itself. And it occurred to her that she felt a little bit like the turtle. In some ways her world had barely changed and in others it had been turned upside down.

After the breakup it was months before she let another boy kiss her. It was horribly awkward and uncomfortable. He grabbed her and shoved his tongue in her mouth while his hands roamed all over her body. She wanted to push him away and run but she was tired of crying herself to sleep and thought that if could endure this it might help her move on.

It did not.

And neither did the boy who came along that summer or the three that followed him.

The problem was that subconsciously she was still looking for him. When they kissed her she would close her eyes and try to lose herself in the moment but all of the little details made it clear that they were not him. They smelled differently, their breathing had a different rhythm and their touch was not quite right.

It was a long time before she allowed any of them to do more than kiss her and that was only because she forced herself to. It had been almost two years and she had decided that her university life had to have something more to it than studying and casual dating.

For a time it worked. For a time she felt like things were better and that she might be able to fall in love again. And in a way she did. The cloud that had followed her lifted a little and the sun began to shine again.

But in her heart she knew that it was never quite as sunny and that the skies were not quite so blue as they had been. The jagged hole didn’t hurt the same way it had used to and the familiarity of the pain was replaced with something else.

Now with the grace of time and distance she was finally able to see that the relationships that followed had all been doomed because she had been unwilling to let them work. It made her nervous and she wondered if she had spent so many years teaching herself how to be more detached that we would never be able to really give herself to someone again.

“She put him out like the burnin’ end of a midnight cigarette
She broke his heart he spent his whole life tryin’ to forget
We watched him drink his pain away a little at a time
But he never could get drunk enough to get her off his mind
Until the night

He put that bottle to his head and pulled the trigger
And finally drank away her memory
Life is short but this time it was bigger
Than the strength he had to get up off his knees
We found him with his face down in the pillow
With a note that said I’ll love her till I die
And when we buried him beneath the willow
The angels sang a whiskey lullaby

(Sing lullaby)

The rumors flew but nobody knew how much she blamed herself
For years and years she tried to hide the whiskey on her breath
She finally drank her pain away a little at a time
But she never could get drunk enough to get him off her mind
Until the night

She put that bottle to her head and pulled the trigger
And finally drank away his memory
Life is short but this time it was bigger
Than the strength she had to get up off her knees
We found her with her face down in the pillow
Clinging to his picture for dear life
We laid her next to him beneath the willow
While the angels sang a whiskey lullaby”

(Sing lullaby)

Whiskey Lullaby- Brad Paisley

Watching and Waiting

 Watching and Waiting. It is what she did. She was watching and waiting for the thing that would send her running for the hills. It wasn’t any particular item, not a specific habit that made her takeoff. Each time she left it was something that happened because of a gut instinct, intuition that made her think that the relationship was doomed.

Most of the time her departure would be followed by bouts of clubbing. She’d find a nightspot where she could lose herself on the dance floor. She didn’t have any preference other than some kind of odd techno beat that drew people like her. She wanted to get lost in a writing mass of bodies that shared a love for a beat.

Sometimes she’d dance with a boy but most of the time she just danced by herself. She really didn’t want to talk to anyone. She had not interest in being picked up and didn’t feel the need for company. These nights would end in similar fashion. She’d come home drenched in sweat and exhausted, far too tired to shower but too revved up to speak. But they never stopped the voices in her head, that whisper that asked if she was broken so badly that she’d never be able to fall in love again.

The real problem in her life was that she had experienced a love that was so potent and so piercing that she couldn’t stop searching for it. She felt like a heroin addict who knew that she could never go back, never experience that amazing high again but would always remember what she had lost.

Sometimes she’d just lie in bed and shiver. Invariably she’d push beyond this and her attitude would improve. In reality it wasn’t that her attitude was improving it was just that she had managed to find a way to stuff her feelings down again. Push them, beat them back, make them go away because if you cannot feel you cannot get hurt again.

When she was younger her father had taught her that life wasn’t fair. It was one of his favorite sayings. She’d ask for something, a toy, shoes, whatever only to be refused. When she tried to convince him by telling him how many of her friends had whatever it was she wanted he always said “life isn’t fair.”

Daddy was right, life isn’t fair and she knew it from firsthand experience. There was no relief, only occasional interludes during which the empty feeling didn’t overwhelm her.

This time she was trying hard to break the chain. Determined not to follow the same pattern and path she had made a point of taking the bus to her father’s cabin. It meant that she would be forced to do things differently. The frantic dancer was not going to be allowed out of her cage. This time she was going to find a way to feel good and to enjoy life again the way that she used to.

The Monkey

 The monkey was a little man, both physically and literally. He had received his moniker in high school. It had come after he had been beaten silly for the third time by a boy who didn’t appreciate the monkey’s efforts to impress his girl. The other boy had punched the monkey in the nose and the bystanders had said that he looked like a sick monkey, swaying back and forth in a vain attempt to stop the bleeding and remain standing.

Some people argue that a person’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness and there is something to be said for that, but not here for philosophy is better left to others. Yet if you apply that line to the monkey you would find a man of great will and obsessive in his desires.

In some respects a better nicknamed for the monkey would have been “Gollum.” Not in tribute to Tolkien but in recognition that the monkey shared those same snakelike mannerisms. He didn’t walk, he slunk from place to place, always operating in the shadows.

But none of this would be an unexpected revelation to anyone who knew the monkey. The only person who would be surprised would have been the monkey. Not unlike so many others he failed to really see himself as he was an instead had a very twisted and distorted view of himself and his importance to others.

If there was a need to hold a class on failed relationships the monkey would be a good instructor. He was just smart enough to hold a conversation and just well read enough to convince his date that he had an education. But without fail his temper and petulant behavior would surface and things would end. It didn’t take much to send him into a rant. He was forever convinced that the world owed him more.

I never believed in fate or destiny. There was no such thing as predestination and if you asked me about a deity that watched over humanity I would have chuckled. That is the kind of thing that the weak need. I didn’t need that kind of crutch. I never did and expect that I never will. But even I had to admit that sometimes life had some funny moments in which your path crossed someone else in a funny way.

Death

 “He is dead.” Three words. That is all they had for her. “He is dead.” Flat, unemotional and yet they still echoed inside my head. She didn’t cry. She didn’t scream and She didn’t flinch. She didn’t do anything.

Several years ago a man was convicted of murdering his wife. The jury foreman said that they had found the defendant to be lacking in remorse and that he had not acted like a man who had just lost his wife should. The foreman said that it was this inconsistency in the defendant’s behavior that had really sealed his fate and that if he had shown some emotion and acted more like a human being they might have voted differently.

That bothered her because she knew from experience that they could not know how to act, would not know what a normal response would be because there was no normal response to death, especially something that was sudden or unexpected.

What you see on television or in the movies is not necessarily what happens. The fainting, screaming and or wailing is good drama and it makes it easy for a screenwriter to cheat but it still doesn’t mean that it is real. And reality is the point of this.

See the issue is acceptance and all too frequently the mind refuses to reconcile the truth that is placed in front of you with reality. “He is dead” is not something that you automatically digest and consume. The mind has numerous methods of protecting us from things that might harm us and one of those little items is need to process the information, to sort through it and absorb it.

Or maybe not. Maybe it is all a lot of crap that they try to sell you so that psychologists can make more money. Back in college in my basic psych course she had studied this guy named Festinger who had coined the term “cognitive dissonance” as well as some kind of “Cognitive Consistency” theory. Basically they referred to behavior that was either inconsistent with your stated beliefs or some kind of B.S. that said your attitude adapted to adjust to your behavior.

Whatever. It really didn’t matter what she knew for certain was that people would justify their behavior no matter how heinous or how nice. People would always rationalize their actions and few would think twice about what they had done.

Under the bright blue North Carolina sky it was easy to remember the day they called. She was confident that her mother had made the arrangements to call her and to tell her that the boy was gone. She would have done it with love and affection with the sole intent to help her little girl move on but it was one more foolish mistake in a series of missteps between mother and daughter.

Unlike her mother she did not accept life at face value and did not believe everything that was handed to her. At one time she had been that innocent and there was a certain joy in holding onto that kind of naivety. But she had been stripped of it.

The boy was responsible for that. It was hard to love and care for a drowning man and not change and she had. That period of her life had forced her to learn a number of hard lessons and one of them was that people lie. They deceive, they dissemble and they manipulate things to fit their reality.

So when the call came it was easier to just listen and not react. Because what do you do when your biggest nightmare walks out of the closet and into the daylight. Even so it still felt like someone had kicked her in the stomach and for an untold amount of time she had laid on the floor listening to angry cries of a busy signal from a phone that had not been hung up.

It was the incessant beeping of the phone that made her get up and move. The call had left her feeling completely unsettled, but it hadn’t made her forget the hell that the boy had put her through or the anger. And that anger made her determined not to waste any more tears on him until she had details of what had happened.

Two long distance phone calls to old friends were it all it took to confirm that the boy was still alive and that the phone call was fake. In spite of the good news and her vow not to waste any more tears she still found herself staring at a tear streaked face. The call had done nothing to help her move on. If anything it reminded her that sometimes our past can still reach out and hold onto us in the present and that was not a lesson she was prepared to learn.

Sometimes the hardest part of life is just living

 Sometimes the hardest part of life is just living. Sometimes the most challenging thing you do is force yourself to get out of bed and get dressed. That is because there are forms of pain that prove to be too difficult to impart in words. They are beyond description because nothing can accurately describe the kind of mental anguish that you feel when your soul is slowly ripped apart. You just can’t appropriately convey the pain of watching a piece of yourself die…slowly.

There is a reason why some people suffer a complete breakdown. There are explanations for going catatonic. The sheer horror, the magnitude of these situations is just too much to take and so the mind shuts down. I rather imagine there is a little person inside the brain that flips a switch and closes the blinds. Sorry, we just liquidated our entire inventory–the warehouse is dark and empty, the shop is closed.

Whenever I think about this I can’t help but envision empty streets and a gray skyline punctuated by stale air and the feeling that there is something rotting away nearby. The carcass of a large animal. I can almost smell it. Little hints, whiffs of vapor that tickle my throat and make me want to gag.

When you live life veiled in shadows and darkness it is just that much harder to be happy. You fake a smile and force yourself to laugh, but the smile is strained and the laughter is hollow. A sad empty feeling. Look in the mirror and you can see the shell of someone who once was.

Once upon a time there were tears that could be shed over the loss of so much. Tears to be spilled over the passing of friends and family and tears that cascaded down his face over lost love. There was a time when the reason for the tears made sense to him. A moment when he cried about unfulfilled dreams and potential that would never be realized.

Forlorn and lost he wandered the streets searching for something, but he never did know what that something was. It was an enigma to him a mystery that he couldn’t quite figure out. At times it felt like he was right on the verge of figuring it out. It was like those first few moments after you wake up when your dreams mixed with reality. And just for a moment you felt like it made sense and then the moment was gone. A second before you remembered your dream with perfect clarity and then poof.

That was a neverending source of frustration. It always felt like the answers were in reach. If he just tried a little bit harder. If he stretched a little bit farther he’d finally grab that brass ring and gain all that came with it. In the end it never worked. It was like trying to grab a handful of water. The tighter he squeezed the faster it dribbled out between his fingers.

Maybe that is why he started drinking. Maybe that is an explanation for why someone who could have been something more decided to become something less. He once told me that there was honor in being a drunk. It was a profession of the world and the common man and something that all people could relate to. I think that he wanted, that he tried to make it sound noble. I think that for a moment I saw a light in his eyes turn on and then just as quickly it was extinguished and he was just one more person beaten down by life.

If you never have experienced the harder side of life it is not easy to relate. It is much easier to pretend that people like him don’t exist. Most people prefer to watch the movies in which the boy gets the girl and the villain goes to prison. They don’t want to watch that same boy die a long and painful death. There is no desire to see the wreckage and pain caused by unexplainable loss. They can’t stand the pain anymore than the walking invisible.

You might be surprised at how fast you can shed your own humanity. The things that you never could have imagined doing are quickly rationalized and forgotten. The indignities are things that you do because that is how you have to live and you don’t have time to pretend otherwise. It doesn’t take long for life to age you so that you look far older than you are. You needn’t spend years on the street to obtain that weathered look. No, that is a gift that the lucky gain in far less time than that.

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