Valentine’s Day 2019

Love isn’t a mystery.

Loyalty, resiliency, and kindness are mysteries. And humor. Humor is definitely a mystery. And a gift.

I have been in love with many people who weren’t funny. They were thrilling at first but ultimately gave me a headache.

If two people are in love they will be happy for a while. If one or both of them is funny, they will soldier through the giant snow drift of life like it is fresh popcorn waiting to be eaten.

I know this to be true from laughing with my husband in emergency rooms and other places where people are silent or crying.

We would leave the hospital’s circle drive to have a milkshake, one thinking the other would be cheered by the chocolate, and it reminds us of times in the summer leaning against the car with the big neon sign giving our faces a slight blue hue and how we joked about coming there with all the other people who had no other place they’d rather be.


Minnie and BowWow Discuss the Stay of Execution

BowWow: Jesus H. They were gonna do me in at 9:15 this morning. Just like that. After all we’ve been through. Motherfuckers.

Minnie: They’re just trying to do what’s best for you. You’ve been looking pretty sick lately and then this morning you got all perky. So that’s probably why they changed their minds.

BowWow: Bullshit! If the Governor hadn’t called and given me a stay of execution, I’d be in a Ziploc bag at the hound morgue.  You know how shitty it is in there with all those other dead dogs?

Minnie: No. And I’m not sure how you would know since you’ve never been dead.

BowWow: I know shit.

Minnie: Yes, of course you do. Maybe you should reframe the situation. Assume the best intentions. They just don’t want you to suffer.

BowWow: Oh brother. They just don’t want to re-up on the insulin and the fancy kibble. Cheapskates. Jesus. They run around all over looking at sled dogs but the dogs at home, we’re just an in-con-veeeeen-ience.

Minnie: Well, you know I’m not going to agree. I think they’re nice to us. So what are you going to do with this reprieve you’ve gotten?

BowWow: I heard them say I’m going to the salon this week. Going to get a haircut and my nails done, maybe a little bit of a massage. You know, a spa day.

Minnie: I thought you were so rough and tough. What’s up with the spa day?

BowWow: Hey. I could go anytime. You know, shit, wake up in the morning and, boom, I’m in the backseat on our way to the eeeee-lec-tric chair. I gotta look good. I’m not going out looking like a scrub.

Minnie: Whenever it happens, it’s been a good life, BowWow. We’ve loved each other a lot.

BowWow: I guess.

Minnie: It’s true, BowWow. The truest thing.

My Mother’s Face

After my father died, I found this photo in his bedroom. It was leaning against the mirror of the vanity where my mother had sat painting her nails in a room dark except for the small lamp, her red nails gleaming in the dim light. She painted them with half moons, her touch was that fine.

The photo was in a cheap frame from our Ben Franklin store. I knew from having worked there for years that the frame came from the counter between the greeting cards and housewares. It was probably 79 cents or maybe $1.29, When a price ends in a 9, my dad said, people don’t realize they are spending more. This was his wisdom and I’ve remembered it.

I’d never seen the picture before.

Because we were there in his house to take the things that had meaning to us, I took this picture. I also took the bedroom furniture and my father’s minnow bucket. I didn’t take the toaster even though I needed one at the time because it had no meaning to me and I didn’t want to think to myself that I so needed a toaster that I would take it from my dead father’s house. Taking the picture was another matter. It meant something.

It was the image of my mother that my father loved most.

He took it from wherever it was kept before she died, a bottom drawer, an old scrapbook, and he framed it and put it on the vanity in their bedroom where he was now sleeping alone.

Today I slipped the old photo out of its dime store frame to put it in a sturdier frame I’d found. On the back was her perfect handwriting; she always labeled every photograph, with her name and the date, 1946. This was my mother two years before I was born. Her open, beautiful face and her glance of a smile. She is unadorned and so lovely, so unknowingly lovely.

No wonder he loved her so.

I wouldn’t have known this had he not left the picture there on the vanity.

My mother’s face.

Outerwear

I Googled an old boyfriend a few nights ago and a picture of him popped up. It was the only photo of him I’d ever seen but remarkably as I remembered him in my mind’s eye. Hair parted in the middle, big bushy beard, a really elegant looking nose, and aviator sunglasses. He’s looking off in the distance, not at the camera, not posing, just sitting there, seemingly unaware.

It made me wish I’d kept a scrapbook of old boyfriends where each would have a page with a photo and a few mementos of our time together. Cigarette butts, 911 call records, and a Jameson’s label would be pasted on this one’s page. Tickets from the race track and a cassette of bluegrass music might take up a second page, along with a memory of my 5-year old daughter hoisted on Ray Benson’s shoulders after an Asleep at the Wheel concert; it would be a sketch from a recollection because, of course, there is no photo.

Then, it would be nice to have beginning and end dates for each boyfriend, which, in this particular case, would look like the EKG of a patient alternately hysterical and comatose, since there were so many beginnings and ends. Peaks and valleys. Peaks and valleys. But never a flat line, there was always something there. I think that’s how it is. Nothing is ever dead and buried even if the people are.

The people you love in your life have permanence. But the rules of love seem to dictate the opposite, that love is like parallel parking. You can’t park a new car in a space until you move the old one out. But I don’t think it’s like that. I think there is love and then there is allegiance. There is love and then there is partnership. There is love and then there is complete faith and trust. The cars pile up, stack one on another, it gets crowded and dense but every car has a place.

I still love the man in the picture and the others in the scrapbook I wish I’d kept. I see each of their faces in my mind’s eye. I see the faces that made me love them. And it feels like riches, a coat of many colors, thick and warm, that is hanging in the back of my closet next to the brown suede jacket and the black parka I never wear. It’s nice to have it in there, to own it but it doesn’t mean I ever need to wear it.

The boyfriend in the photo died eight years ago. I hadn’t seen him for many years but I went to his funeral. The last time I saw him alive was at an anniversary dinner of an organization where we’d both worked. He had a seat at the same table as me and my husband. When he saw me, he stood up and held his arms out like he had done a thousand times when we were young. And I hugged him. His beard was the same. His look the same. But he seemed happy for me, happy to see me married. Glad that life had treated me well. And in that moment, I didn’t miss him but I loved him. For caring about my life even though he wasn’t in it. For letting me go but being the precious coat in the closet.

Thinking about this has made me glad I’ve had this life.

Two a Day #14: Not Go

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“The real reason for marriage. The borrowing and lending of courage.”

I said those words in a blog post I wrote last summer about a conversation I had with my husband on the back porch. Of all the things I’m grateful for, a husband who builds me up and makes me better is right at the top of the list.

I hope everyone is so lucky on this Valentine’s Day. Read about how the guy I married makes me a stronger person at Not Go.

Not Now, but Then

Every couple of years after he was the cause of the break-up of my first marriage, Hal would show up at my front door with a bottle of Scotch which I didn’t drink and then try to ingratiate himself into my life as my primary advisory and counselor, ready and willing to help me out of the jam du jour, his silver Corvette parked across the street the whole while of his visit so he could keep a good eye on it.

It had been many years since his last surprise visit and I kept wondering if he would show up again. Would my husband answer the door or one of the seeming dozens of children living with us? Would the dogs bark, jump up and act crazy like they do when the mailman comes every day even though his visit was no surprise and Hal’s certainly would have been? The biggest question was would he still bring Scotch and would my husband drink it? Would he share our troubles and find Hal a good listener and ready helper?

No visit would ever happen. I knew that. Word had gotten around that I was happily remarried, had moved to a better neighborhood, had more kids. Hal never appeared again on my doorstep but he did call me for lunch and so I met him in a dark Italian restaurant on the west side of town. It was there, some 15 years removed from our relationship, that he told me he had loved me very much. It wasn’t a come-on, it was sweet, maybe a truth telling a long time coming, a salve on a wound long since healed over, no scar even visible. It seemed like a kindness to say what he said. I took it at that and said goodbye.

Every now and then I’d wonder when I’d run into him again. Years passed with no word and I figured that the declaration in the Italian restaurant was the closing statement. There would be no more visits with or without the Scotch.

As it often does, late night boredom turned to searching for long lost people and things on the internet. That night it took an hour or so to find any trace of Hal. He was twenty years older than me so the footprints of his life weren’t displayed on Google. I had to go deeper. On Ancestry.com, I found the paper he signed to re-enter the country from Army duty in the middle east during the Suez crisis. I found a newspaper article about his daughter who had taken her own life several years before. And then in the dark of night and the still of a house with four other people sleeping soundly, I found the location of his grave.

Hal had died six years ago. He died, I thought, and no one told me. But who would tell me? There was no one to tell me but him and he hadn’t. Or had he? I don’t know.

I know that part of me liked thinking he was out there, that his silver Corvette just might pull up in front of my house and he would alight with his bottle of Scotch in a brown paper bag, ready to come inside, sit on my couch and solve my problems, and tell me, once again, that he had loved me very much. Not now, but then.

It was a nice secret to have.

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Photo by Jacob Spence on Unsplash