Three days and three nights

It’s been a week now since our ‘rendezvous’.

Twenty-eight days?

Sneaking around requires some discretion, plus a trick or two—a ploy, a ruse. So, yes, we met, but not being one to kiss and tell…

I hadn’t seen O in over twelve years. So, we’re like, what, over twelve years older than we were? This was a huge concern for O, who was so certain I’d take one look at her, see she was now a decrepit old hag, or whatever, and tear out of the Motel 66 parking lot never to be heard from again. Was I harboring reservations about her advanced age? I wasn’t … not at all. I did admittedly add twelve years to my mental image of how I remembered her, and, even so, the picture I painted was still looking pretty good to me.

Another concern of O’s was that she’d be disfunctionally nervous at first. “We need to have a clear itinerary from the get go,” she said. “We need structure.”

So we came up with a step by step, detailed plan. We would first take our luggage and groceries up to the room, step in, then quickly out—for lunch and a drink, then a long walk in the park. And if that wasn’t enough to calm her, then, well, we’d go see a movie, and then another.

I left my house at 7:30, headed east on I-70, feeling good, cheerful, a bit excited—a four hour drive to the motel. As I got to within a half-hour of the place, it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve committed myself to a blind date—for three days and nights. What the fuck was I thinking?

I couldn’t find an answer to the question, so I drove on. I would have anyway … no matter what. We’d agreed to arrive at the same time, to avoid the torture of waiting for the world to end in a motel parking lot. Actually, I agreed to arrive first.

“If you’re not there when I get there,” she said, “I’ll turn around and head home… no ifs, ands, or buts.”

So I got there ten minutes early, checked in, took my stuff up to the room, then, with one minute left before her expected arrival, I went back out to my car to watch for her. Twenty-nine minutes later, I spotted a vehicle with West Virginia plates pulling in. I was warned beforehand not to approach her too enthusiastically, so I gave her a call to see if she might want to chat over the phone for a while before leaving her car—talk away some of the nervousness—ease into our meeting.

“Hi,” I said as gently and sweetly as I could manage.

“Are you going to help me get all this shit up to the room or just sit there and watch?” she said.

I clapped my phone shut, hopped from my car and stepped over to hers. She was bent over her back seat dragging her luggage toward the car door. She turned, gave me a brief, nervous glance, and then turned back to what she was doing.

OMG! Wow! Just like that! I remembered what it was that I had, all those years before, been drawn to, fascinated by, and frightened of. It was her, just as beautiful as I remembered. This woman really rocked my world—rattled my foundation.

I tingled with excitement as the elevator door closed before us—just O and I in a tiny six by six-foot box… alone… breathing, deep nervous breaths. (Elevator? OK, so maybe it wasn’t Motel 66.)

We put our stuff away, then threw each other quick glances.

“Do you want to go to lunch now?” I said.

“I’m not hungry,” she replied.

“I’m not either.” I looked down at the king-sized bed. Our bed. “Do you just want to sit and talk for a while?”

She glanced from me to the bed and back to me. “No.”

“OK.”

“Yes.” She lowered her butt to the bed, so close to the edge, it’s debatable whether she was really on it or not.

I scooted up to the middle of the backboard, piled a couple of pillows against it, and leaned back.

She took a deep breath, fidgeted, then suddenly got back to her feet. “Let’s go do something.”

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I offered.

“What do you want to do?” she asked.

“Hold you,” I said.

She took a deep breath, then, a long moment later, let it go. “OK.”

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Twenty-eight days:

The days remaining between now and our meeting.

I can’t remember the last time I saw her. I know it was before April of 2001 because that’s when I moved away. We’d known each other for about four years prior to that. She had only recently started working full-time at the art gallery where I worked, though I’d seen her occasionally before—an archivist, and a painter like everyone else. I don’t recall our first meeting, not at all. She was just another face in the crowd, I guess.

Were we introduced? I don’t remember. I do, however, remember the first time I was jarred into noticing her. Sparks flew… but not the pretty kind. Our relationship (I’m going to call her ‘O’ from here on.) started with a head-butt. O stepped into my office one afternoon, interrupting my immensely important work, whatever it may have been, and asked me to move some artwork for her. I just looked at her like, “What? You want me to take time from my exhaustively busy day to move a couple of paintings that you’re perfectly capable of handling yourself?”

Every time I revisit that moment, a burning smell comes to mind—my eyebrows perhaps, singed by her searing glare. She left me with an unambiguous huff as she turned and walked out the door.

A short while later, another one of my female co-workers, one who I’d always gotten along exceptionally well with, came stomping into my office and barked, “Why are you being such an asshole?”

“Me?”

“You should know better. You should know that pregnant women aren’t supposed to do heavy lifting.”

“Uh… pregnant? Her? Really?”

I felt like such a turd after that. I couldn’t let it stand as it was—me, the heartless, son of a bitch asshole, and O, my poor pregnant victim. I had to somehow make it up to her. From then on, I would be her willing slave.

“Rodney, will you move this two thousand pound sculpture for me?”

“Yes, immediately.”

“Rodney, will you carry this half-empty shoebox down to the basement for me?”

“Certainly. Right away.”

“Rodney, would you please pick up my pencil for me?”

“Oh, my God! Of course I will.” I dropped to all fours and crawled under her desk to retrieve her pencil. And in this way O and I became friends, and eventually ‘good’ friends. We began going to lunch together, out for an occasional cup of coffee and a cookie, and at other times a quiet walk around the neighborhood. We talked, though I don’t recall the topics of our conversations. Perhaps they were too mundane to remember.

Then the baby came—a healthy boy.

Our friendship continued to grow. Though, I think there was something more, something deeper, beyond friendly, like some hardwired instinct stirring beneath the surface. I felt it, but refused to give it definition, the same as she. For the most part we ignored it.

Her baby became a toddler. She’d frequently bring him into the gallery where I’d spend hours entertaining him, giving him rides on my shoulders. He’d grasp my hair with his tiny fists, drool all over me, and giggle and laugh as I pranced from one end of the gallery to the other.

That thing, though, that undefined thing would not stop. Neither of us spoke of it, but I’m certain O was just as much aware of it as I. It was unsustainable and dangerous—a train, with a stuck throttle, headed for the edge of the world. I think she understood this better than I. Something had to be done to stop it. And then something was done. Perhaps she didn’t realize what she was doing; maybe it was subconscious. Whatever the case, she managed to shake things up so thoroughly and effectively that I refused to talk to her or acknowledge her presence for weeks afterwards. I don’t remember what it was she said, but I remember how my reaction left a persistent chill in the air. I think the entire gallery staff was aware of the quiet. Then suddenly and unexpectedly my wife died. My world turned inside out, upside down, twisted, shaken, beaten, tortured, and burned. Six months later, I moved away.

There’s a gap here of nearly twelve years between then and now, and a big, complicated story within it. Twelve years, which I might visit another time.

So, about two years ago, I was in O’s vicinity visiting my daughter who stayed behind when I left. While there, I found myself repeatedly thinking of O, wondering if she was still around and if she’d have a problem with me contacting her. I thought it’d be nice to go out for a coffee or, at the least, say hi—see how she’s doing. I found her address on line, the same address she had when I moved ten years earlier. I didn’t call. I wrote her a brief note and included my cellphone number, then drove over to her house and slipped it inside her door. Days passed. I got no response.

When I got home, I located her email address and sent her another note. Weeks later I got a reply: two short sentences followed by exclamation marks, which I mistook as a brush off. A bit disappointing. But, oh well… I let it go.

A year or so after that, I got a Linkedin message, one of those ‘you may know this person’ things. And there she was again. So I messaged her. Weeks went by. I mean, God, reconnecting with this woman seemed as complicated as landing a Chevy Astro Van on Mars. But I did it. Or perhaps we did it. It’s such a curious thing—as if whatever it was that we had long before resisted was still there, lying dormant, waiting. And now it seemed it was pulling us back together. So, anyway, we’ve decided to meet. Though, this time it’ll be under entirely different circumstances; there’s no longer reasons to resist.

Twenty-eight days…

Blackmail

I have fairly simple tastes; I like oatmeal with raisins. Not the quick-oats though; I can’t stand that grimy slop. I like my oats with a dash of butter and lightly sweetened with maple syrup. But don’t ever dump Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima on my cereal. That crap messes my mind up. I sometimes fix myself eggs for breakfast. Very simple. Just two eggs over medium, fried in butter, a dash of salt. And for lunch, beans, like a bean soup. Simple, except I want Cheez-its with my beans, and I have a certain bowl I prefer to use when eating beans—my bean-bowl. It’s like those old diner bowls, the ones that had the buffalo on the bottom—heavy, thick sides, diner-white. Remember those? They matched the coffee mugs that the same restaurants used. I loved those mugs.

The other day, I cooked up a big pot of great northern beans. I minced some garlic, chopped a large onion, threw in a healthy dose of cumin, a little olive oil (my meat substitute)—

So, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, about to eat my beans and Cheez-its, when out of the blue I hear: “I know you’re planning to have an affair with a married woman.”

I jump halfway out of my chair, grab hold of the table, and gape at the bowl. “Did you say something?”

“Don’t play all blinky-eyed innocent with me. You heard what I said,” the bowl replies.

My jaw drops. I gaze intently at my bowl for a long, crazy moment, as though it might up and dance off the edge of the table. It just sits there, though—quietly, like a bowl of beans. And then it hits me: A joke! It’s a joke. I twist around, looking first over one shoulder, then the other. There’s no one there. I rub my chin, thinking something is not right here. I mean, I’ve told no one about my secret, except of course my sugar dumplin. Well, yes she’s married—it’s complicated. But, the thing is, she’s the only other person in the world that knows of our plan.

What is going on here?” I say.

“Nothing is going on here‘” the bowl says, “but I can tell you exactly where it will be going on, and when… and her husband’s cell phone number, which I’d be willing to share, at no additional costs.”

“What the…? You gotta be kidding!”

“Do you want it,” the bowl says, “to perhaps check in, make certain everything’s cool with the man?”

I see my face reflected back to me from the side of the toaster sitting a foot beyond my bowl—a distorted jungle of flesh with eyes, peering back—a confused, Scooby Doo kind of face. “Huh?”

“Hu…uh?” The bowl mocks.

“What is this?!” I glare at the bowl—my eyes emitting microwaves.

“An opportunity,” the bowl says.

“How so?”

“We both gain something from the deal.”

I raise an eyebrow. “The deal?”

Except for a single Cheez-it floating in the middle, the bowl of beans is expressionless. “Yeah, I make a few bucks, you get a few fu—”

“Why, you despicable bowl of…”

“Oh, Mr. Rodgers, Mr. Epitome of chastity—”

“What do you want from me?!”

“For a mere hundred dollars” the bowl says, “I won’t spill the beans.”

What choice do I have? What? I mean, this could very well spin out of control. It could explode into a Monica Lewinsky kind of thing. A big, ugly, humiliating international scandal. And my poor honey muffin; she’d naturally assume it was my fault. What a mess. Yes. No, no… no choice at all. I pay up—though that kind of cash is admittedly hard for an author to scratch together at a moment’s notice, like all of a sudden I have arthritis in the fingers grasping the bills. Nonetheless, I give my backstabbing, double-crossing bean bowl the hush money.

I take a moment to allow it all to settle, draw a few breaths, pick up my spoon—can I trust it? it seems all right—then shovel some beans into my mouth.

Misunderstandings

  …happen all  the time in relationships, especially those you have a strong emotional investment in. Misunderstandings in romantic relationships comprise some level of disconnect by one or the other persons involved. One or the other is offended by something said or implied, or perhaps something subtle, hidden (and, I might add, entirely imagined) within a misspoke word, phrase, or gesture. Ninety-nine percent of the time we jump to a conclusion triggered by some past hurt, which ninety-nine percent of the time is the result of a similar misunderstanding. What we so often fail to take into account is the fact that the person who we perceive as being hurtful, selfish, sarcastic or whatever, has no motive to be any of those things. Often, their motives or intentions are very much contrary to what is perceived.

“Oh, Honey, I like you a lot.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What?”

“I like you a lot? You used to love me. Now you just like me?”

“I didn’t say, I just like you; I said, I like you a lot.”

“You used to tell me you love me, all the time. You never say that anymore.”

“I do too!”

“I guess I should feel lucky to get an, ‘I like you’.”

“If you don’t like being liked then I’ll try not to.”

“So, now you don’t love me or like me? That might explain the generic anniversary card I got last month. You used to make them by hand, remember? You used to write clever and sweet things that you claimed came from your heart.”

“Well, I used to have a lot more time … ree-memm-bur? You used to be just a wee bit more grateful, too. But that was before I took this suck-ass slave job so I could afford the house-of-your-dreams and the pretentious Prius that you fill up at PB every chance you get, and then charge the gas on your Bank of America card!”

“Oh, like you’re Mr. Social Conscience with your cheap, plastic made-in-China Adirondack chairs that you bought at Walmart.”

“So sue me!”

“Maybe I will! Maybe I’ll sue you for abandonment, and meanness!”

“F@%K You!”

Wait a minute …

May I suggest that we assume the other’s innocence and love—that we perhaps stop for a moment, hit the reset button, and try reading the script through the filter of the admiration we feel for those people we’ve shared so much of ourselves with? the admiration we know lies just beneath the fear and self-justified suspicions lurking at the surface?

I mean, we might as well be happy.

I love you

These are nice words, don’t you agree?

Do you crave hearing them?

Do you feel compelled to say them?

I have puzzled over love my whole life. Perhaps this is a mystery we all share.

Recently, I met a woman. Well, it’s more like I re-met her after having not seen or heard from her in over a decade. In the few weeks since, I’ve experienced a familiar symptom: a ticklish pressure building up inside my chest and a compulsion to say (or write) those words. Should I say it? I love you?

I’ve given this a lot of thought and have decided against telling her how I feel. I mean, not like that, anyway—not a weak and worn, ‘I love you.’ I asked myself, is ‘I love you’ what I hoped to hear in reply? I love you? Yes, I wanted that, while at the same time I didn’t, I don’t.

I think I’ve had more than my fair share of romance. I’ve said ‘I love you’ a million times over—always ‘in love’ with someone. I would say it as though it might possibly convey the excitement, uncertainty, and anticipation crackling like thunder inside of me, like ‘I love you’ might transfer some of that energy to the person I loved and ease the crazy pressure. I’d say it as though I’d never said it before, like it was something unique and special—like a first kiss.

Say it again? Why? It’s just three words. Anyone can say I love you. Saying it would inevitably become a habit or even an addiction, and the words would in time lose their meaning. They’d become a substitute for the real thing. These three words are so often said out of a sense of obligation. That, to me, is sad. They’re often expected, craved—and sometimes requested, or even demanded. Everyone says I love you. It can mean a lot and it can mean nothing at all. Three words.

How much effort goes into writing three short words? None. They total eight letters for crying out loud!. Peck, peck, peck, peck … peck, peck, peck, peck … done. That’s how I feel? That, My Dear, is the laziest way of expressing admiration and respect and interest and joy and… No! I am not going to convey the baffling complexities of how I feel, and then hope to satisfy your curiosity with a cop-out eight letters!

No, I will push it to twelve.

I like you a lot.

The blob

How old am I?

My grandson, Jory, celebrated his tenth birthday in June. He talked about nothing else for weeks prior to the momentous day − a recipe for disappointment, I believe – though, if that’s what it was, he seemed to take it in stride.

“What’s your favorite day of the year?” I asked, a week before the anticipated day.

“My birthday.”

Today, one month after his birthday, I ask him what he remembers about it. He thinks long and hard, then says:

“I went to Golden Corral.”

I ask, “How about your ninth birthday? Do you remember it?”

He searches his mind, then: “No.”

“Your eighth?”

More searching. “No.”

ect…

I can’t remember my tenth birthday. Are birthdays occasions one should remember? I know that while growing up, most every birthday was acknowledged with a special cake spiked with candles, and then ice cream, cards, a gift, and a song. I’m sure those occasions were enjoyable, and stood out from the days before and after, so shouldn’t I remember them?

Do you remember your tenth birthday? Your fifth? Fifteenth? Twentieth? Thirtieth? I don’t.

It doesn’t really matter to me that I don’t remember my birthdays. They come and go − no big deal. But this day (your birthday) comes once a year. It could potentially act as a marker, like those on a ruler, to provide you with a clearer sense of whom you are, where you came from, what happened when.

My life is one big blob, starting near the end of 1953, and extending to the present. I often find myself wrestling with a particular memory, trying to fit it into its proper chronological place. I want my past to be divided into neat, uniform increments that I can glance at and know where everything is and how it all fits together.  Birthdays should do this, but they don’t. They’re forgettable because they’re too predictable. If I don’t get a handle on this thing soon, it’ll become hopeless. It’s time to start living less predictably.

Wherever you go

I took the day off yesterday to be with family. My nephew, Derek, and his beautiful daughter, Leila, were visiting from Boston. And my grand-kids, Emele and Jory, had just arrived home after a few weeks of visiting their grandmother in Panama City. Unless I’m overlooking someone, thirteen of us (including my new buddy, Miles − not yet born, but giving it serious consideration), had caravanned to Conner Prairie, just north of Indianapolis, yesterday evening.

We had tables near the stage, thanks to my sister, Cindy, and her husband, Andy. Everyone had a blast, grooving to the ISO with Brody Dolyniuk singing Freddie Mercury’s parts, performing the music of Queen, cranked up to proper, rock-concert volume.

The massive crowd was civil and very well-behaved until a riot broke out toward the middle of the show.

FOOD FIGHT!

Fortunately the rebel-rousing was confined to just two tables − ours. There were no injuries (other than my niece, Kiley, being hit in the eye by a red seedless grape), and no arrests were made.

I’m pleading guilty anyway − of ignoring Queen for the last half-century. Not that I didn’t like them, more like I wasn’t paying attention. I have a perfect vinyl copy of A Night at the Opera in my collection, which I acquired at a garage sale in Buffalo, NY, back in 1996.

I’ve never once listened to it, until this past week. I put it on the turntable, cranked it up (to proper, rock-concert volume,) and was amazed at how varied and interesting the music was − not a dud on the LP. So, now I’ve added Queen to my list of favorites.