Monday, August 1, 2011

A Woman With a Past is Now "Off the Leash!"

Hello from Pearl, Mississippi, (even though the photo above shows New York City! ) that was taken on Day Seven of my cross country road trip with my dog. Today is Day 27!

I know most of you know I've bugged out to write this "book in motion" BUT I realized when I was looking at my friend Linda O'Connell's blog tonight, that some of you may not know that I've "embarked" on a whole new adventure.

So, come on down!!!

Please visit my site, Off the Leash: Road Stories With My Dog. Come early and come often!!

You can also follow me on Twitter @jeanofftheleash and on Facebook to find out, where in the world are Jean and Libby....and why in the hell is she driving across the country?


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Dog, My Muse, No Voltage

*** Peace and love to you all on this fine March day! Below is an entry I wrote last August, but didn't publish it because I was tweaking it when my sweet brother passed away and I ended up writing something else, more timely, his eulogy. I am posting it now, in part to honor him and also because the concept of artificial limits has recently taken on new meaning. More to come in the weeks ahead. Suffice it to say it involves my new car and my old dog.****

Inspiration is fleeting.

It comes in tufts and whiffs and sights before the eyes, when we’re still enough to witness, when our senses aren’t anesthetized.

I’ve been that way lately.

My brother is dying. Today --or the next day, or the next hour, or minute. I traveled to New Mexico last week to cry at his bedside, to kiss his face, to feed him jello, to say goodbye, until the dictates of my reality -- unpaid bills, unmet deadlines, too little leave, and too many details brought me back to St. Louis to wait for his passing, so I can return to Albuquerque to mourn. It’s parceled out this way. A sad fact of life, or death, for the working class.

For now, I stand and stare a lot. At nothing.

This morning, I sat and stared, from my sun drenched porch, drinking coffee from my mother’s bone china, gold rimmed cup, with a saucer. I do this every weekend, refusing to drink from that slave driver, silver commuter mug I gulp coffee from Monday through Friday. It’s a gift I give myself, genteel, civilized, the luxury of good coffee from bone china and the time to relish the coffee and the morning. I was thinking about the phrase, “sun bathing” reasoning that I needed to absorb of much of this nourishment as possible to fortify me for the next few days, when my peaceful reflection was rudely ripped apart by Libby the Replacement Dog’s frantic barking.

The neighbors had just left for church, where I was thinking I should be, if not for my swollen eyes from crying all night and being on the front porch in my nightgown. They’d left the cat out, crouched under the box wood bushes near their front door and Libby was absolutely going ballistic.

She hates that cat. Pete, the King of Dogs, God rest his soul, hated that cat too. It must be a devil cat. Anyway Libby had her hackles up and was barking like a rabid dog, not seven feet away from the black and white calico with the ineffective camo, crouched in the bushes. But, trained as she is to the invisible fence around our yard, Libby did not cross the line.

But what she doesn’t know is that the battery in her shock collar has been dead for weeks. She barked and writhed and ran up and down the driveway, and barked and stomped, lowered her head and stuck up her tail, but never went close to that invisible line which would stun her into submission. So thoroughly trained, (there’s a reason they say Pavlov’s dog) is she, that she won’t dare cross the line, won’t dare come close, even though the thing she wants at this moment, even more than a pound of raw hamburger meat, is just six feet away. There’s a black and white sandwich, curled up in a ball, ready for the chomping or the chasing and she has nary a shock collar in effect, a false barricade if ever there was one.

The comparison was just too rich. The message from the universe was screaming for me to take notice, just like a billboard for an adult bookstore on a rural highway.

My shock collar has dead batteries. I could break free, if I really wanted to.

My brother is dying.

When he was first diagnosed, I vowed I would figure out a way to spend more time with him, to somehow get funding for my writing so that I could write, observe, listen, record, breathe, write, live, remember, write.

That was eleven months ago. I have gone to New Mexico four times during these months and I am grateful for our time together, but always with so many other things on my mind --so many details to get back to, so many texts and emails and phone calls and arrangements and 50 hour work weeks writing other people’s stuff.

I had so very much wanted to finish my memoir before he passed, wanted to get started on a new book, about our crazy mother, (crazy in a good way, four days out of seven...) and I wanted to take him to California to see if we could revisit the places we lived, the places he could tell me about, San Francisco, Placerville, Folsom. I wanted to see if we could find my biological father’s son, the half-brother whom I don’t recall, but whom Don knew as a child.

But now, I”m losing Don. The real big brother. The man who helped raise me. The steady one, the best one, the one I could always trust. He’s slipping away with every minute I breathe and I am righteously pissed. The days are gone. We didn’t go.

I take Libby’s dead collar off and lovingly load her into the car and back out the driveway, where we park down the street to go for our walk. She’s as happy as a clam to trot past our house, once I’ve carried her safely across the barrier. That’s our drill. Who’s gonna carry me past mine? Aren’t humans supposed to be smarter than dogs?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

With This Ring

There’s something about a wedding.

A holiness in it.

Palpable mounds of frothy expectation lace the air like sweet dollops of meringue on the cupcakes which awaited the tasting, once the vows were spoken, the sanctifying kiss ‘tween bride and groom sealed, the dancing commenced, as we stand there, mother and son, my hand draped across his arm, waiting.

Waiting for our cue to lead the processional through the lush San Fernando Valley garden, under twinkling lights, draped from palm trees, past rows of prim white chairs and loving admirers. Deservedly so.

They waited. And I, looked at Nathan and drank in every drop, completely immersed in that sacred prelude to the rest of his life; the sun starting its descent, the forgiving breeze, which would break the heat wave, stirring the fern leaves, the table linens, blowing my bangs the wrong direction. The muted voices of guests in the garden, floated our way as we strained to hear our musical cue. I quieted my mind to be present, fully present to that finite moment, like none before or none to come again, my son and I, on the threshold of the rest of his life.

Back home tonight, days after the wedding, I’m reminded of a poem I wrote to him the day before he was born. It was an unseasonably warm November day, we were living in Virginia Beach then, my husband in the Navy. I’d taken a long walk along the Chesapeake Bay, trying to nudge my womb into bidding a fond adieu to its little charge. The beach was wonderful; bright and breezy, the sun further from the south, intense. It was quiet, near empty, save for the locals walking their dogs and a 23-year old girl, eager and scared. I was walking and thinking, thinking and walking, looking out over the choppy bay. I lay down in the cool sand, heavy hips and heels leaving an impression. I hiked up the home-sewn maternity blouse over my belly, exposing it to the sun, his prenatal nest, a greenhouse now.

What will you be, my mystery child?
Rolling about in your sea of seclusion,
I know you not but love you already.
Soon you will breathe the same air as I
and begin your journey away from me.

Thirty one years later, on an unseasonably warm California evening, he stands next to me, as I quietly inhale all the sweet promise of this minute. I study him, my handsome son, my baby, my firstborn, confident, happy, excited.


Ready to complete his journey away from me, down that flagstone garden walk,
head high, to stop.

To turn around.

And see, his future.

Radiant, lovely, sweet and smiling. A gift. A precious gift of thousands of mornings and California sunsets, and middle of the night wakeful babies yet to come, she proceeded. So worthy of our adoration -- stunning, a vision, joyful, brimming with love. So in love.

With my boy.

How pure and wonderful an emotion, there is none above it, than the moment a groom sees his bride walking toward their forever, except for, perhaps, the first sight of a their newborn baby, the manifestation and miracle of that love.

How grounding. As seven, yes, seven parents of this couple looked on. Never mind our missteps and eleven marriages between the lot of us. And me, the perennial parent without a partner, I sat next to Nathan’s father, my first husband. The poor man was sandwiched in between the former wife and the current wife. Not that she's going anywhere, seems like at least he got it right the second time around. And the three of us are downright chummy, we're nothing if not model co-parents. And the family into which Nathan is marrying, stupendous, they are just the best people and I love my son’s new mother-in-law like a sister.

It was all just so lovely. Lovely and sweet and inspiring and romantic. And tonight, looking at the photos, I am simply amazed.

Amazed by, what the hell was I thinking?

Who was with me in the dressing room at Nordstrom’s? Why did I think I could get away with a sleeveless dress? Why did I take off my sling backs and dance in my flats? I looked like a Pygmy. And when did my knees get so chubby? And why didn’t I pay the extra $28 for those little bra strap holders after I’d paid $30 to take up the shoulders on my ruffled purple cocktail dress ? Why didn’t I realize the dress straps would be sliding off my shoulders all night, so my black bra strap was showing in half the pictures from the dance floor, akin to a slightly disheveled middle-aged hooker?

How these photos ridicule my failures. I didn’t lose the 20 pounds I’d set out to. I didn’t do it. I lost a mere six. Weight Watchers is going to give me an “honorary mention” and set my ass out on the curb. Why didn’t I remember to plant a child, or a bush, or a short bridesmaid in front of me in every picture? Hell, I should have rented somebody’s kid for the night. Why didn’t I remember to lean forward, ever so slightly with my chin, so as to make the other chins disappear. I know this! Oh, and that little detail of lipstick and powder after dinner? I used to be a model for crying out loud! Powder and lipstick! Powder and lipstick ! I know this! Matte is good, shiny is bad! But no! We now have 9,000 photographs of a slightly pudgy, middle-aged mother in the throes of rapid-fire hot flashes, freakishly looking like a female version of Bill Murray.

Granted, it was record heat in L.A. that weekend, 100-degrees, and then some. And I did choose not to refill my hormone replacement prescription, thinking the $50 could be better spent elsewhere and surely after five years it’s time for my personal heat wave to subside. Damn weather.

Best laid plans of menopausal women, eh? I wanted to be a knock out. I truly did. I wanted folks to whisper, “Wow, four kids? She looks great ! ” Why? Why is this? What is wrong with me? Am I just a shallow, narcissistic heap of “that-ship-has-already-sailed” pitifulness because I wanted to make a splash? Or do most women secretly dream of being the age-defying gorgeous mother of the bride or groom, hoping against hope that somehow, we can hike it up, tuck it in, paint it over and prop it up enough to look, for just one night, remotely like the women we were when we were brides?

These young women don’t know the power or the beauty they possess. With their creamy skin, silky arms and legs and tiny waists and flawless necks that have not turned turkey, I doubt they appreciate how truly lovely they are. Some day they will. And someday, if they’re lucky enough to have beautiful babies who grow up to be beautiful adults, (the DNA upgrade is what I call my kids) complete with youthful minds and bodies, well equipped to embark on the rigors of love and marriage, they’ll have the privilege of witnessing their children fall in love, and mature into human beings possessed of character and grace. I don’t mean agility because Lord knows my kids aren’t exactly gazelles. I’m talking state of grace, to be present to the prospect and promise of love and to be brave enough to take that first step down the flagstone walk to their dreams.

And why the hell not?

Because joy lies there. And in these photos, I see joy. Unmitigated joy.

How wonderful. How beautiful a gift when our children become our teachers, reminding us of the purity of love, the magic of one person’s touch, one kiss, one soul, the one soul, that makes our lives complete. Everybody knows this is the good stuff. We watch, reminded, revisiting these moments from our own lives, restored, hopeful, renewed, like reciting baptismal vows from the good book of love. We glow in their glow, reflected in the happy smiles from grandparents in their 80s, from gray-haired dads in their 50s, with their still brunette wives and ex-wives, from hipster friends, who make up the couples’ created family, to my brother’s new widow, with her son next to her instead of her husband, to the younger brothers and sister, so thrilled that their big brother has married the girl of his dreams.

How blessed are we.

How lucky am I.

And for the record, I actually did have a date, bitches. Not a boyfriend, just a good friend who lives in L.A., a wonderful escort and dancin’ fool, who set the parquet floor on fire. I danced with all of my children, Nathan, Patrick, Lauren and Sean to “Shout!” (throw your head back, shout!) Brother Don would have been proud, as this was the last song he ever danced to. He’d gotten up on the dance floor at my niece’s wedding in June, cane to steady him, as we held on to the back of his pants and stood behind him, praying he wouldn’t fall. God rest his sweet, sweet soul, as his whole damn family was jumpin’ and shoutin’ like converts at a tent revival. Lauren and I ran to find each other when the DJ spun “Brown Eyed Girl” the song I spun her around to, in the living room on the night of her Sweet Sixteen birthday party. I had flown my mom in from Albuquerque just for the occasion. She said she’d never forget that night. Abundant joy then and now, giggling like school girls as we’d twirl and spin.

Abundant joy. How precious. How fleeting.

And now, I am home. Home to devote due consideration to this man just ten minutes away, who believes he’s found his joy in me. It would be so much easier to be young and in love, like my son and his bride, unencumbered by decades of life experience. Life experience, like so many gallons of discarded paint, separated now, into layers, the oil on the surface, the hue, the essence, underneath, not knowing the true patina, until we stick our paddles smack dab in the thick of it. How many times have we discovered too late, that the chalky disappointment in the bottom of the can wasn’t worth prying off the lid?

How I wish I did not know this. Or, is it good that I know that in this process of familiarization, once the lizard brain takes an exhausted nap and we move beyond the tactile benefits, beyond the rave reviews on the book cover flaps, and actually scour the contents, it eventually becomes cipherin’ time again. Not the normal kind, where I’m figuring how much credit I’ve got left on the Macy’s card, or how many more fill-ups between now and payday or which utility bill has to be paid first to avoid disconnection, no, this is cipherin’ of a heightened dimension and consequence. This is cold, hard analysis, pencil to the paper, let’s get down to the facts. For example, “on a scale of one to ten, how important is this one bad habit compared to all his good habits, intellect, sense of humor, good looks, remaining hair, music collection, and generosity of spirit and material possessions?” Or, “how uncomfortable am I with his opposing view on this particular topic, compared to the ten issues in which we’re in synch like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire?” Or, “when he does this it makes me want to scream!” as opposed to “when he does this it makes me want to scream.”

How do we inventory? Do we grade on the curve, like a lenient teacher who’d rather see more pass than fail? How large or small is a single act, behavior, episode or chapter when held up to a lifetime, at least so far. I always say, judge me on the entire body of my work. Shouldn't I grant him the same license? If so, what’s immediately tossed off as inconsequential? What constitutes a deal breaker or a commitment maker?

Oh, if we could just get references! We do that for every other commitment in our lives, from housekeepers to house painters! Would it seem untoward to call up a former lover or ex-wife and simply ask if she’d be willing to participate in a little survey?

“Using a ratings system from one to five, with five being highly satisfied and one being not satisfied at all, please answer the following questions.....”

But of course, we can’t. Somewhere at the nexus of our gut, brains, heart, lust, evidentiary hearings and misty-eyed optimism lies some bedrock truths, such as they would reveal themselves at any given moment in time, some truths being transitive, some not. While I try to sort through the knotted ropes, he is confident that his molecular planets have aligned. He loves me. How can he know this? He loves me. This puts him ahead of me.

I am like the lead guitar, backstage, waiting in the wings. The front of the house fills with expectant fans, the noise, the heat, the smoke, clinking glasses, laughter, metal bar stools scrape the concrete floor as concert goers take their seats. It’s safe backstage in the dark. The gun metal gray matte stage floor, marked off with glow-in-the-dark tape, provides a safe pathway around the cables, weights and pulleys, and the heavy black curtains. The blue light of the sound board a beacon, your bearings in the dark, comforting, familiar, throwing soft light up into your wise, road-weary face, resigned, comfortable with the drill, the solo performance, repeated night after night. You know this. Your friends are here, they know the set list, they’ve got your back, they know the fills, the beats and baselines. The pre-show rituals are predictable, familiar, well rehearsed. But then, you’re alone, guitar neck down by your knees, a spotlight catches the dull metal sheen of the haywire of new strings and you’ve been spotted, a whistle goes up in the crowd. They’re waiting. Your friends have moved off to take their places and it’s just you and your voice, your instrument, your audience. Nobody can tell you how to do this. Nobody knows the longing in your heart, the yearning for some magic solarium, a sunny cove next to a window sill, where the perfect lover resides, no more performing, no risk, no fear. He plays for you, an acoustic guitar cross his lap, the mere sound of fingers sliding over the frets, soothes and stirs your soul, like a healing rain, where one song, one song, for as long as it lasts, washes away every pain, every disappointment, every heartache, shame and fear, even for just a few short measures. Who could possibly know that song? You tighten the guitar strap and walk toward the spotlight.

But, it's a porch light which shines on him now as he waits for me on the stoop. Leaning against the rail, legs crossed at the ankle, he’s stepped outside to greet me on this harvest moon night. I pull up, he waves. The distance from the curb to the porch is about twenty feet. Twenty feet. Is this my flagstone path to the future? I step up, under the porch light, into his embrace, his sweet kiss, his house, his room. He takes off his glasses. He takes off his watch. He lays them on the nightstand.

The lamp stays on.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Am the Shiny Object

September 22

Overnight, I am adored.

“You are so beautiful,” he says to me in the tapas bar. And while I cast my eyes down, in Pavlovian modesty, I really want to stay there, maybe forever, weightless, inside the silky thread of his arresting gaze.

His eyes are blue, intense, smart.

“I’m going to kiss you,” a declarative statement he makes good on in less than a heart beat, coming toward me with a sweet, restaurant acceptable kiss, in between small plates. No dine and dash on this, our first date. We made it all the way to a nightcap. No waiting for that predictable parking lot moment, the pregnant pause we know from experience will yield that first tentative kiss, so common as to be cliche’. I like that, a man who knows what he wants, no hesitation. Such a simple thing. Telling. And a good thing when it feels this natural.

It is completely, however, unnatural, the way I feel right now, save for those few times in my life when I was on the verge of falling in love.

What the fuck does verge mean, anyway? The dictionary says, “an extreme limit beyond which something specific will happen.” An extreme limit, like 13 years as a single mother, hasn’t primed me to be on the verge of all manner of emotional and psychotic reaction? But knowing which specific thing I may be on the verge of, well, if I could predict the outcome of that, I’d be in Vegas, baby. I would submit, however, that I’m on the verge of something, marked by my heightened receptiveness to all things sensory. Every breeze, every touch, every voice, every cricket chirping or raindrop clinging to the underbelly of the holly berries outside my bedroom window, the goose bumps I get every time I think about him, this is, I’ll grant you, something. I’m sure there’s a definitive physiological explanation for this. Some might call it lust, but, there’s something lovely going on here, complete with a soundtrack. I’m listening to music again. After far too long of nose-to-the-grindstone, “time to make the donuts” drudgery, too busy to tap in to my inner Freebird, suddenly I want to listen and sing to everything. I model the lyrics like tattoos on my soul, reliving the emotions of every beat and verse; fast and slow, highs and lows, sad and sweet, the precious, tender, lovely melody of, seduction.

Ah, seduction. I have considered, from time to time, that the unlucky-at-love sucker punches I’ve survived may, (emphasis on “may”) have been worth the thrill of so many practice runs in my quest for the holy grail of a love divine. And, if I’m being fair here, a couple of these dress rehearsals led to long running shows, incarnate in the four children I am infinitely blessed with, born from two good marriages. Yes, good. Yes, both of them. I’ll concede that some parts of even the second one were good. It was the fallout after that union, Rick’s descent into darkness, which smudged my soul, for a while. But love always starts out good, why else would we do it? Good, bad or ultimately criminal, how many of us get to experience, more than once, the thrill of that first kiss?

And let me tell you, it was a thriller. I’m here to testify, that lightning can indeed,
strike thrice.

Yet, I’m cautious. I know from the school of hard won experience that embarking on romance is much like getting a dog. From the moment you bury your nose in the heart clamping perfume of puppy smell, you know as sure as you know your name, you’ll want to lay down and die when that dog eventually does. Yet, we do it. We do it. Time and time and time again, we do it.

Or so it seems with love and me anyway. So far.

For now, I’ll revel in the process. The way he cups himself around me, completely giving. How he reaches for me, in the noisy, crowded pizza joint, he pulls me up close beside him. Confident. Content. He’s taller than I am. What a delight! No more worrying about the height of my heels or my mode o’ day. I can show up on his doorstep in some ill conceived retro hippy outfit and he’ll look past it, right into my eyes, or down my blouse, no clue as to the pile of clothes heaped on my bed, after I ripped through an entire wardrobe in search of something to wear. If men only knew our torment! And even though he tells me he accepts me unconditionally, code for, “it’s okay, you’ve had four kids” and he looks at me like I’m Sophia Loren before she got old, my, how I fret, as I plow through the underwear drawer in search of items less, uh, utility. And then, I find it. I knew I’d bought one. Standing in front of the mirror now, in yes, a thong. In a moment of weakness, which became unbearable humiliation, I bought one, about five years ago. My daughter and her best friend goaded me into it, telling me “panty lines are not cool” and if I wore a thong my jeans would look more sexy. Compared to what? I toss it back like the too small fish it really is and look for those lacy negligees I used to have. Should I carry one in my purse? Reminds me of the Gilda Radner parody on Saturday Night Live, the “Hey You” perfume for one night stands, except I’m 55 years old for Christ sake! How tacky is that? I’m digging, digging, digging. I’m way in the back of the closet now, past the bridal gown from 1974, Jesus, what was I thinking?A bride at 19? I seize upon my long abandoned negligee stash, whipping through the hangers like the bargain rack at The Gap.

“Hmm, the pink one was for him.” Nope.

“Ummmm, the red one was for him.” Nope.

I can’t do it. I’ll have to get new ones. Who am I to risk bad luck? New ones for this new man! New ones for this new chance? I’m in a dither, as I stand with my back to the dresser, mirror over my head looking at my behind. Dimples would be cute on my face.

This is making me nervous. How long can I continue to spend an hour getting ready for a date? And how long can we leave the lights off? At some point, I’ll want to spend the night! Oh my God, the puffy bags under my eyes, my varicose veins, and horror upon horrors, my hammer toe! And I used to have such pretty feet. Oh, and I need to do more yoga. I’ll get a leg cramp. I’ll be forced to jump out of his bed, walking circles around the room to get the charlie horse out of my leg. I just know it! And what if he stops by sometime and catches me in my writing get up? My hair in a scrunchy on top of my head, my glasses and Uncle Don’s coveted green robe, with my grease stained “Life is Good” t-shirt underneath, which I continue to wear in hopes that surely it will rub off on me!

And what about my basement? He can’t see the basement! And the layer of dog hair that coats every square inch of this house. Will he understand that housework has been last on the list, lo these many years, as I toil at the altar of my Mac, writing screenplays, stories and memoirs and pitch letters, treatments and pleas for investors to fund me so I can complete my vast array of work, which by the way, never got sent to the millionaire acquaintances I have, whom I’d fantasized, given the opportunity, just might invest in me. Hell, the stock market isn’t such a safe bet anymore. Or, will he think it shabby that I flip the cushions on the sofa in the family room, to hide the frayed fabric, because a new couch has been a luxury I simply could not afford? I opted for painting the house, fixing cars, paying college tuition, hospital bills and funding our summertime trek to the sea. The “Holy Week of Motherdom,” seven precious days out of 365 when I have all my birds in a seaside nest on the Carolina Coast. I’d do it again. I’d take my last dime, as I often have, to bring us all together on the warm sand of the wide strand, personal property taxes be damned! Will he understand my irresponsibility?

Or my deepest secrets? The profound disappointments, evil deeds committed by and perpetrated against me. My moral failures? When one has lived five decades already, to what extent are we obligated to chronicle? Voir dire is achieved through examination, not purging.

On a scale of relevance, how important is that one romp with a rock star? The act itself wasn’t worth top billing at a high school battle of the bands but the bragging rights were, a privilege that millions of girls throughout America would have stood line for and I am certain often did. It’s not like I was that hot. I was simply in the wrong place at the right time, in my white-eyelet bikini, back when I looked damn fine in a bikini, lanky, tanned, flat stomach, with long brown hair, model thin, at the Holiday Inn swimming pool in San Antonio, Texas. The band was in the pool, all slathered up with Coppertone suntan lotion, the scent of which still makes me tingle. He swam up to me, like a God; stocky, muscular, square jawed, with the water running off his hair, laying flat against his incredible shoulders, like a seal who’s surfaced to lounge on a rock. A scrappy guitar player who’d come up the hard way in Flint, Michigan, his band was the headliner at the coliseum, and when all was said and done, the cheap ass didn’t even give me a back stage pass. Talk about not getting enough out of the bargain! His manager was leery, tried to wave him off, like diverting a shark from fresh chum. I was jail bait by any other name. But the lead singer had me in his sights and I was naive. What did I think we were gonna do when I went to his room, play canasta? Hell, I didn’t even know how. There wasn’t a lot of romance, and precious little foreplay. He was probably late for sound check. And he didn’t know. He honestly didn’t know it was my first time, not that he spent a lot of time asking. Consent was implied when I knocked on his door. Back then, I looked older than my age, thank God that stopped in my 30s. We didn’t have a lot to talk about and in a minute, (if I recall correctly) I was no longer a virgin. Big whoop. Satisfaction, for me, came later, when I confided to my girl friends back in Ft. Worth, with a guitar pick and his handwritten address on the hotel stationery to back up my story. That night at the Holiday Inn, my little brothers and I ordered hamburgers from room service, while my parents mixed and mingled at the cocktail reception of the convention they were in San Antonio to attend, while dude was singing, “I’m Your Captain” yeah,yeah,yeah.

Except he wasn’t mine. Tully, the lanky Irish kid, was the one I fell in love with, just a few months later. A first love I willfully loaded up with epic thrills, followed shortly thereafter by searing teenage pain at the end of our brief romance. He was the one I should have waited for, the one I could have died for, even though he didn’t deserve the adoration. “Tullys;” this would become a noun, a one-word description for he recurring plot line in my long running drama; falling in love too fast, giving too much, getting too little in return, acting and feeling like damaged goods. Cats had a shorter run on Broadway than this one-woman play. Oh, that we could recycle our purity, reset our brain, make smooth once again the dented can. But long before the square jawed rock star swam up to me in the pool, the freight had been damaged. I was a sitting duck, assuming that I was emitting some kind of bad girl signal, like sonar sounding off the depths of the deep end. This is what you assume when you’ve been molested. You think it’s your fault, your mark, your sinfulness, as opposed to the miscreants who perpetrate this crime on the innocent.

Naming names is pointless now. He knew better. He’s dead. It’s between him and God now. Announcing to the world that I was sexually molested is like taking a number to stand in line a city-block long, at the CBS Studios in Hollywood, for "The Price Is Right." Damn fools. I do not confess this as catharsis; instead, context. It is a defining and well healed developmental nugget in my journey in this life. And, I am apparently in good company. The Darkness2Light organization, among other things, urges us to break the silence about sexual molestation and puts the onus on parents to minimize the risk of their children being abused, rather than depending on some glib “just say no” slogan. Darkness2Light says there are approximately 39 million adult survivors of sexual abuse in our country. That just might be more than the whole damn Tea Party. So, I share this story with an implicit invitation; to anyone who’s ever felt ashamed, or powerless, or scared, or used, to anyone who’s felt like their life would be forever marred, I say come on over to the healed side of life. It can happen. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’d rather be a victor than a victim.

But at ten, I had not forged this concept yet. It was dirty. It was shameful. People didn’t talk about it. Just ask Oprah. I figure she and I were being molested at about the same time, but she didn’t have a TV show yet to talk about it. I was warned not to tell. I was told it was okay, but I knew better. I never confided to a soul, until, at last, I had to throw up this burden, when I was 47-years old, screeching my white mini-van into a shopping center parking lot and slamming on the brakes. I had finally had a belly full of my mother recalling all the glorious sacrifices she had made to secure for us, a good life.

“One of those sacrifices was me,” I found the courage to speak my truth.

“Oh my God” she said, in the passenger seat looking out at the Sports Authority parking but not seeing a thing. She went silent. After a momentary pause, the shock and sadness of hearing that the man she’d loved for 30 years, the steady paycheck, marrying her when I was nine years old, a woman with five kids and a checkered past, the man she considered our family savior, her love, her hero, had also been a liar and a child molester.

Trust me when I tell you the irony is not lost on me.

Within 30 seconds though, it was all about her. I swear to God. “The very same thing happened to me when I was a girl, “ she said, in some kind of appallingly ill-timed attempt to empathize. “And it just set me for life.” Well, no shit, Sherlock. It hadn’t been too great for me either and her sharing this dreadful mother-daughter bond made me want to slit my throat. She knew what it was like. She knew how it felt to grow up with that mark on you and she did nothing to protect her only daughter.

How many times I had tried to hide, in our house on Locke Street. I’d go upstairs, out of sight, off his radar. To this day, I can not smell Noxema skin cream without thinking how I’d smear some on my face when I’d hear him coming up the wooden staircase, the creak of each step, my early detection system, to duck in the bathroom and cover my face with goop. It actually worked, sometimes, dissuading him with Noxema on my face or my hair rolled up on orange juice cans. Or, I’d hear him coming and jump on the phone, pulling it into the water heater closet on the upstairs landing, where Garrett and I would take turns in our phone booth, the only place in the house which was private, until my mother or another brother would pick up the extension and say, “Jeannie, get off the phone.” And it’s not like I was spilling my guts to Jayne or Suzzie or Connie about the predator who was fondling me. We talked about more innocent things, like playing swinging statues and spin the bottle, where Huffy Scott was the first boy to kiss me when the Coke bottle pointed to him. It was thrilling. He was dreamy. He was wearing Eau Savage cologne by Christian Dior and a striped Oxford button down collar shirt and burgundy colored penny loafers at Kelly Slaughter’s 7th grade birthday party. I talked and dreamed about the normal things and dreaded the awful things.

Somewhere around the time I was 13, it stopped. I don’t know why. It’s not like I was going to ask him. I hadn’t rocked the boat, I kept it to myself. I saved our family. This is the kind of brinksmanship, do-or-die consequences kids conjure up in their minds, which keep them silent, keep them suffering, for fear they’ll tear apart their family, or worse, that nobody would believe them.

No, I dummied up. Until I finally went off on my poor mother, and then, as follow up, for $100 bucks an hour, to a guy who didn’t immediately make my story all about him, a blessed man who saved my life. If it’s possible to love your shrink, God knows I do, because Bill not only helped me face my demons, but taught me how to discipline them. Then, and also when, (you can imagine my horror) when Rick’s deviant deeds made "Top Story" on every TV station in town. We see now, how thunder also booms twice? But this was a cleansing storm, in time, because it washed clean my gut, no longer covered by the the filmy manipulation of a cunning man. Do you hear me, sisters? Once that inner voice had been vindicated, and I unleashed my anger by pounding the shit out of my poor steering wheel, at stoplights where I would dissolve into tears over my children being drug, albeit indirectly, into the scandal of sexual abuse, that same shrink taught me how to save them. He was like a family doctor with a shot of penicillin to the brain.

I have been head shrunk and purged, disinfected and cleansed. His advice to me, a little like the Eagles song, “Get Over It,” though not as hateful, was to deal with these assaults head-on; singularly, systematically, thoroughly. To feel and to say, to weep and grieve, to accuse, to rant and rage and scream like a banshee. And then, to stop.

“You’re the only one who can decide when you’re done,” he said. “But it might feel good to be done.”

He counseled me to take all that sadness and anger and put it away, like a shoebox in the shelves of my mind, a box I knew would always be there, but the contents of which, I no longer had use for. In time, I put it away, the box was shelved. Does this new man, with adoring blue eyes need to know how many I have and how high they are stacked?

I always dreamed that my writing would bring me a love most worthy. Seriously. I have hoped for this for so long. I felt if I could just tell my story, have my words travel beyond my screen door, the edge of my lawn, the circles in which I move, past the random people in restaurants and airports, on the street or in the grocery store, surely, like a divining rod, my words would bring me love. Blessed be my words.

“I’d like to know about your writing,” he said. So I promptly dove off a cliff and opened the vault. I sent him a link to this blog before we ever met. And, now, he is falling in love with me. We’re grownups. We see where this is going.

He’s a Californian, I like that. I wonder if there’s a unique sensibility that comes with being born in the Golden State. Are we golden? He wants to introduce me to his friends in San Jose. Is it irony or fate that the half brother, whom I have never seen, presumably lives less than a hundred miles from there? A Californian. Brother Don would approve. Brother Garrett would approve, of concerts attended at the Fillmore, baseball games at Candlestick Park, a gear head and art scholar, dog lover and music collector, who reads liner notes and the manual to his new chain saw with the same degree of ardor, then, turns his inquisitive gaze to me.

“I could look at your face for a long, long time.”

Did I mention how smart he is?

And brave, in small things and apparently large. “Take my hand,” he says as we start down the sidewalk. For a woman who’s had to fly across the country to the hospital bed of a sick child, who poker-faced her way through her weekly briefing to the President of SBC while her ex-husband was being interrogated at the police station within eyesight of the conference room on the 42nd floor, who bamboozled more financial aid counselors at colleges than you could shake a stick at, who rarely got rattled on live TV, no matter how close the deadline or freight trains in the background, for a girl who’s had to run the farm, without a foremen the past 13 years, through all manner of disasters, dead rodents, pestilence, floods and life celebrations for which she catered all the food, when he says, “take my hand,” I like it. Such nice hands too, well kept. No more wishing somebody would clean up or grow up.

This man is a man. Revealed in the proprietary way in which he kisses me, he takes the wine bottle from my hand, opens it, hands it back in a “let me do that” kind of way, the ease with which he strokes my hand, the perfect touch, and an approving pat on the butt, as we head out the door for a party. Are we born prewired, like so many receivers to frequencies? I respond to his touch like a cat rolling in the sun.

The glint of sunlight on metal nudges me out of the clouds and into the glistening present. I’ve been daydreaming out the window at 27,000 feet. The plane banks left and Malibu appears in the distance as we begin our final descent into Los Angeles. Los Angeles, where my brave son ventured seven years ago to lay his claim on the film industry and met his precious bride in the process. Los Angeles, where the two of them are making their presence known among the multitudes and declaring their love eternal in just three days. At this moment, I feel so happy. And the extra layer of delight, like nap on velvet, comes from knowing there’s a sweet man waiting for me back home.

“I will miss your lips. Be strong, have fun. Give your son a wonderful wedding. Hope you get some material for your blog.”

Worry not, my darling, I’m never at a loss for material, as you can tell-- telling you, telling the world, heretofore untold.

But, will you still be so enamored by this Woman With a Past?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tell It To the Marines

I just walked out of my Weight Watchers meeting because I could not stand to listen to another sob story from a fat girl. I was weighing in after a two week hiatus to attend to more pressing matters than counting points, like traveling back and forth to Albuquerque twice, first to say goodbye to my beloved brother in the declining moments of his life and then returning, a week later, for his funeral.

If ever there was a good reason to binge eat, I had it. And I’ll concede that I’m a little bitchy right now, and not overly sympathetic to women who would have you believe that someone has force fed them like suma wrestlers, narrowly escaping their food torture bondage, to show up to Weight Watchers sharing their tales of hostage cuisine hell.

But I maintained. I maintained.

After going around the room with their giddy weight loss reports, “four pounds!,”
“two-point-eight” “one-point-six!” (like taking a thimble of sand from the Sahara Desert, by the way) this one woman raised her hand and said, “I’d like to share a story....”

She proceeded to tell us about how it was her third week into the program and she had yet to lose a single pound. She had, she said contritely, gained a pound and a half, which given the fact that she probably needs to lose about 80, would seem to be physically impossible if she had indeed stayed “on the program.” (Well, she did confess she was using ALL of her weekly 35 extra Bonus Points, which any Weight Watcher worth her fake salt will tell you, will limit your weight loss efforts!) Anyway, I looked askance when she said she’d counted her points and logged her daily diary and had shed nary a pound, but “I’m not discouraged,” said she. Hell, I’d quit! If I stayed religiously on the program, I’d look like Karen Carpenter by now! She went on to share how it had been her birthday this past week, and how tough it had been, but she’d remained steadfast within her daily point limit, and how that hardship was COMPOUNDED, by the stress of driving a car pool with five kids, one of whom was charged with “special snacks” one day! I can totally empathize, because I am sure one of those little brats must have held a juice box to her head, telling her, “pull this fucking mini-van over” after which they all lept from their child safety restraints, four of them holding her hands and feet, while the other one shoved the entire 13X9 pan of freshly baked brownies down her throat. Such untold perils in the war against the muffin top and jelly roll!

I just wanted to say, wah-fucking-wah. Instead, I got up and quietly walked out.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

I could have raised my hand and said, “I’d like to share a story....”

And then I could have imparted my weighty tome, the stress of standing in front of 300 mourners, with my two eldest sons and my sister-in-law of 46 years and her grown children and grandchildren, and my younger brothers and their families all crying while I eulogized my eldest brother. This little command performance on the heels of 11 months of having my stomach in knots, because I knew, from the moment he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that, A) it was not good and, B) he’d probably want me to speak at his funeral, which is precisely what he did. Because, this is what I do.

Write and talk.
Write and talk.
Whether a reporter, corporate or political flak, when my words come out of other people’s mouths, less adept at delivery, (like the well intentioned hayseed who became Governor) or as the family eulogist, a job for which I did not apply, but appears to be my birthright now, this is what I do.
Write and talk.

But in the midst of rewriting the eulogy five times, I did engage in a fair amount of food and alcohol consumption, because this is also something I do, in increased quantities when I’m on the mourning tour. I don’t think this is atypical behavior.

The first of my guilty pleasures was with my youngest brother, who is homeless. He needed a hamburger. And we both wanted a Blakes’s Lota’ Burger, with green chile and cheese. I had to track him down through the cell phone number of a landscaper he sometimes works with. He asked me to meet him out in front of Walgreen’s, rather than me coming to get him at the backyard garage apartment in which he lives. Or sleeps. This being only a temporary arrangement. We ate. He enjoyed it. And then I took him to buy some decent clothes for the funeral; pants, dress shirt, belt, shoes, dress socks -- all at the Goodwill because Lord knows I could not afford a whole new wardrobe. And, truth is, my deceased brother Don, had frequented the Goodwill store a few times himself, which is what I told Paul, and we indeed, found some designer label clothes and probably the best pair of shoes he’s ever worn in his life.
We purchased a complete funeral ensemble, plus two t-shirts for $26.43. Don’t let it be said that I am not frugal.

Course there’s no fixing his front teeth which are now missing due to years of meth abuse, and his arrested development, which maturationally speaking, dropped him off somewhere around 16. I didn’t have to attend Al Anon meetings to realize that there truly isn’t much I can do for him, except pay his life insurance and send him new blue jeans, shirts and a jacket once a year and birthday money, when I can find him.

I can’t do much for my next younger brother, who has his own issues to deal with. Don’t we all? This is harder on Jay, Don’s death piling additional pain into a life that’s already had more than its fair share -- a child who died, cancer of his own to survive. Jay’s lost his role model, golf partner and fishing buddy, source of consternation and never ending amusement. They were closer in proximity and aggregated more life experience together than any of the rest of us sibs. All I could do was be present to his pain.

“He will never know how much he influenced my life,” Jay said with tears in his eyes as we held each other in the hospital bed next to Don’s. Minutes later we’d be laughing about Don flipping the nurse off after she said, "Mr. Whatley, you really can not get out of bed." He was past the point of self-editing. The next day after she told him, "I'll be back to give you a bath," he whispered to his son, "and a blow job?" Way to set the bar high, Don. You were funny to the end.

Which, within a week it was. In the Labor Day heat, too hot to be wearing black, all the mourners perched like crows in the grass, laughing and crying again, at the house after the funeral. The surviving story tellers, sharing a tale or two, because that IS what families do, pass on our oral tradition, phrase by phrase, beat by beat, in the cadence of our clan, with the same pitch, the same punch lines, unaware of how natural it is. I heard my mother’s voice, the voices of both my brothers gone in the words that came from younger mouths, and in the hearing, a single death becomes a collective loss, stirring up that tar bucket of grief for everyone I’ve ever lost. There have been too damn many.

And yet, in the midst of the acrid smoke, there is a bright spot, a shimmering, ice-blue sliver of hope for something I hold as dear as my dog. As I sit in the front yard full of relatives and friends, juggling piled-high plates of funeral food, there resides a tickling hope in the back of my mind. Just days before Don died, I had learned I was a finalist in a writing contest for women. I gasped when I’d read the email, which made my daughter jump a foot. It was, after all, my first day back from the “goodbye tour” to Albuquerque, and she assumed I’d received the sad news from my laptop that Don has passed. Although, I seriously doubt my sister-in-law would have simply emailed me, efficient as that might have been. Okay, so we were all a little jumpy after I got back. I had gone, I had stayed as long as I could, but the lingering could have been indefinite. I had the blessing of seeing him, when he still knew who was in the room.

I’m grateful for those moments. My voice would stir a look of recognition. He’d raise his eyebrows and turn his head toward me, focusing his blue, blue eyes on my dark, dark brown. He drank a whole carton of Yoohoo with me holding the straw. I fed him orange jello and spoons full of a vanilla malt. We flipped through the classic car calendar hanging on the wall, something his son had brought as a diversion.

“57 Impala,” he said emphatically, albeit quietly in his cancer muted voice, “63 BelAir.” And then, when asked if he was hungry, “I am fucking starving.”

His daughter and I fed him a tiny bit of spaghetti, with just a dollop of my homemade sauce . “It’s cold,” he said. We heated it up and he ate it all. I told him I loved him and he said, “I love you too,” and he kissed me on the lips. Here in this bed, the same big brother who carried me on the Lambretta scooter to the Forest Park Public Pool, when I was a chubby 9-year old, brown as a bun, hanging on to my towel with one hand and him with the other. The same big brother who let me drive the VW van on the Pacific Coast Highway, when I was only 17, with his whole family snoozing in the back, and him singing along with Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain” taking in the scenery in his Andy Capp tweed cap and hair down to his shoulders. The same big brother who, 25 years later, respectfully refused to back my gubernatorial candidate, even though I was the dude’s press secretary, proving that union solidarity is thicker than blood sometimes. We had blossomed by then, he and I, into a commandingly handsome, charismatic union leader and I, an accomplished, journalist turned spin doctor, both of us known throughout New Mexico. No brag, just fact.

In that dying room, none of that mattered a rat’s ass. It was the same two people who, through the intimacy of shared blood, shared experiences from growing up under the same leaky roof, two people out of the remaining four people on the planet, who shared the inter sanctum of our oft times bizarre upbringing and a communal purple heart from surviving it, it was just a big brother and his little sis in an appalling version of the The Last Comic Standing. Another one of the remaining four was about to bite the dust. Goddamn this devil called cancer. Saying goodbye was like watching Old Yeller on a continuous loop for four days, heartbreaking and precious at the same time. But, how much better it is to kiss his hand, his cheek, his forehead, when he is still warm.

But I maintained. I maintained.

I walked out of his room, out of the hospital, into the nourishment of the high desert sun straight to the nearest Lota Burger. I got one to go and was back in the Midwest by sundown, although not nearly so splendid as the one the day before. Home. Home to monitor my Blackberry, which would vibrate on the nightstand in the middle of night with the goddamn weekly grocery ad instead of the death call, waking me from a sound sleep to tell me flank steak was on sale. “Why did I give them my email address?” I wondered as I’d try to settle back to sleep. Only to be awakened a short time later, the death call cometh on a rainy Monday morning a week later. I jumped on a plane, and was back to the searing sunlight, the sixty-mile vistas and cumulous clouds in the afternoon, stacked as far and as wide as the eye could see, the magnificence of it all, tinted like a gel placed over a studio light, colored by the tyranny of death. Funny how we reflexively look at the sky when people die, as if we could see them rising.

But I maintained. I maintained, in front of the mourners and the greeters and the weepers because that’s what my mama taught me and that’s what my brother asked me to do.

Write and talk, that was my job.

Then laughed and drank. With the first ex-husband and his familiar, loving embrace and his band of brothers, five out of the eight -- former brothers-in-law all, as if no time, no legal document could sever the bonds of our past. And the margarita meet up with my best friend from high school, whom I have not seen in more than twenty years -- and she shares a story so similar to mine in the revelations of former husbands, I want to jump out of the wrought iron chair in the Mexican restaurant and scream,

“No fucking way!”

But I don’t. We quickly move on to more savory topics like our pot smokin’, Spanada swillin’ days of youth and stories I will not disclose here, because friend or not, she might sue my ass. It was all that, but NOT a bag of chips, because all the while, I was trying to maintain.

And I did. Even after I got home, after my first day back to work, writing scripts about millionaire athletes who deserve a fair deal, and millionaire entrepreneurs who want to grab life by the balls, as I check my bank balance, trying to figure out how I’m going to recover from emergency funeral flights for three, I open a few cards from my blessed friends and discover checks. Yes, checks from my St. Louis friends, who, when asked, “what can I do to help?” to which I replied, “send money,” and they did. I go to bed feeling so richly blessed, then crestfallen, the very next day, because, old Jean was indeed, a runner up. Not the winner, just a finalist. Everybody knows that nobody remembers the girl standing next to Miss America. The woman who won the writing contest is chronicling her experiences in raising bi-racial children in what she must perceive to be the Reconstruction Era. Cry me a river. But, in becoming a finalist, I have established some connections with a cadre of highly networked (love that word, networked) women, one of whom, a notable editor, is willing to continue to work with me even if I am just a runner up. Blessed be God forever, I have maintained.

Bitches. But I did not share my little story with the fat ladies club this morning, because I’ll bet you dollars to donuts, that divulging the mountain of stress I’ve clawed over in the past two weeks, would have sent the whole room into a frenzied, no-holds-barred group gorge, the likes of which nobody had ever seen! Points be damned! A whole room full of stress eaters, diving for their secret stash of Cheetos and HoHo’s in the hidden compartments of their purses! Snicker’s tucked in their bosom, cookies in their pockets, cellophane ripped off cartons of Weight Watcher snacks, pillaged and consumed, the cardboard cartons flying off like so much sawdust from a bench saw. It could have been ugly, anarchy right before the leader’s eyes, forcing her to cower behind her flip chart.

Nope, I didn’t talk about my stress eating, because through all the comfort enchiladas and burgers and booze, I maintained. I actually maintained. There’s this little stress buster called a brisk morning walk at the Highland High School track, with the Sandia Mountains as a backdrop. Talk about inspiration! But, I keep this to myself. And next week, I’ll come back even lighter.

Because I have another source of inspiration. There’s this little wedding next week and I do not want to plant a child in front of me in every photo.

And, I just might have met a fella.

Which goes to show, it’s never really over until the fat lady gripes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

He Is Leaving

August 29, 2010

He Is Leaving

The August breeze carries them,
like so many gold foil flecks shimmering inside diagonal rays of late summer sun.

"Why?" I ask indignantly. "Why are you falling?"

Even as the fullness of summer still gives off her scent -- life, life, everywhere!
Crickets calling, bugs crawling, the birds so busy, as the garden snake lounges in
the shady, chocolate clay of the flower bed, flush with color --pinks, yellow, purple
with buds yet to bloom.

"It's too early. Why must you do this now?" hands on my hips, accusing eyes to the sky.

"Because," say the leaves. "It's our time."


My big brother Don Whatley passed away this morning, his battle with cancer over. He put up a good fight. I loved him beyond measure. Please pray for his sweet soul, for Beverly, his wife and lifelong partner in crime, and strength and grace for all those who loved him and mourn his passing. I wrote this little poem, He Is Leaving, after I sat out in the yard yesterday.
God sent me the words.



Monday, July 26, 2010


There’s one fringe benefit to this whole Internet dating deal, it gives me a never ending supply of fresh material.

Reassured that my dance card was full for two nights out of three, over the long 4th of July weekend, I figured I wouldn’t feel too much like a loser if I hopped online on Friday night to check my,“Top Five” pics of the day. It’s revealing to see who you can smoke out on a lonesome Friday cozied up to their computer, hoping against hope that their miracle soul mate, who is: slender, athletic, emotionally, financially and sexually secure, with no baggage, no excessive drinking, no smoking, no drugs, no dentures, no leftover kids, someone who’s “comfortable in her own skin” (not too saggy, not too pasty, not overcooked) someone who loves life, loves to laugh, loves to go on thrill seeking adventures, including but not limited to: white water rafting, repelling, campin’, huntin’, fishin’, who has the free time and financial wherewithal to cover her half of the “let’s live life to the fullest” thrill-seeking tab, oh, and someone with great legs, expressive eyes, loves to cook, salsa dances, likes romantic walks along the beach, a crackling fire on a cold night or curling up with a good book on a rainy day, who just happens to be sitting at home on the 2nd of July, fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to respond, “ that’s me, that’s me, that’s me!”

Well, good luck buddy. On a good day, you might get seven of the twenty-four aforementioned “must haves” which 99% of the men on list as key attributes for a made in heaven. I have yet to read one profile in which a man says, “must have good grammar.” Why is this not important?

Catchy headlines, however, is apparently important to this one fella I came across, as evidenced by his clever Greeked in screen name. You know what I mean, Greeked in, placeholder copy in an ad layout, like Lorem ipsum dolor ? Well, I’m no dummy, because I got it right away and to hear him tell it, this guy is a rock star in the advertising world because he said, “you see my work. it’s the good stuff.” Pretentiousness notwithstanding, and I told him as much, I figured we could at least have an intelligent conversation. So I emailed him, always a bad call on a Friday night because it’s so transparent. “Doesn’t have a date” leaps from the screen, like one of those annoying banner ads saying President Obama wants moms to go back to school. But I threw caution to the wind and lobbed over the first shot of verbal repartee to Mr. Witty and Sophisticated, and lo and behold, ol’ Witty was all alone on a Friday night too.

He emailed me right back! He said I was cute.

Well ! My self confidence shot up like a rocket ship to the moon! Because obviously if someone as intelligent and accomplished as, “I’ve worked all over the world” thinks I’m cute, then surely it must be true! His high regard for my cuteness meant a lot more to me than, say, the opinion of “Lure_U_In,” another of my "Top Five" matches of of the day. Lure_U_In, is a pipe fitter working the night shift at a power plant across the river in Illinois, who smokes daily, drinks regularly, exercises never, is not a game player, just an honest guy lookin’ for an honest woman, whose favorite place to shop is Lowe’s and his favorite TV show, CSI. His photo looked like a mug shot, and I know from whence I speak. But true to his profile, I give him props for being honest. And I’m flattered, I guess, that he thinks I’m cute, and I wish him well, with anybody on the planet except me or anybody in my immediate family.

Lure_U_In was ranked a 67-percent match for me! 67-percent, that’s an F in school.
An F. This guy gets an F. Not that I don’t like pipe fitters, some of my best friends are pipe fitters, but, really? What are these damn computers thinking? What in the world do we have in common, that we both walk on two legs? We both live in the continental United States? Wait, I know! I think I’ve got it! It’s “sense of humor!” I put “sense of humor” in my profile and through the magic of data bases our keywords aligned! Hell, that's worth 67-percent right there!

A second look at Mr. Witty showed our compatibility ranked higher, 82-percent, more like a B+ as I’m typing my response to the first decent lead I’ve had in weeks. He wants somebody, of course, “confident, slender, and attractive, someone who could stop traffic." I told him the only way I’d stop traffic is if my shoe fell off while I was crossing the street, since the most slender thing on my body are my 9AAA feet, which I have a hard time finding shoes to fit and consequently often walk out of them when trying to look hot for a date.

And I admitted, in the interest of full disclosure, that I have 16 pounds, give or take, to lose, since I have now, (...wait for it...) lost FOUR POUNDS on Weight Watchers, since beginning this strict diet and nutrition plan just six months ago! I didn’t tell him the Weight Watchers part, just that I certainly wasn’t perfect, but then, who is at 55 andI hit send.

While waiting to see if the on-going weight loss goal would be a deal breaker with Witty Ad Agency guy, since he’d lamented about showing up for Match dates only to encounter “Mimi in the Mumu and Orca the Whale,” (I sense he has issues) I received not one, but two emails from guys firing on my profile!

But, riddle me this: what was the key word that matched me up with the blond mullet guy, wearing a wife beater, with a cigarette in one hand and the receiver to a red Princess phone in the other. This either means the photo is 30 years old or he still lives with his mom, and he also has piss poor taste in beer, because there’s two Miller Light cans on the table in front of him. But wait! All is not lost, he’s “low maintenance with zero baggage.”

To say you’ve reached your 50s with zero baggage is tantamount to saying you’ve undergone a life experience lobotomy with an emotions enema shoved in for good measure. Not me, baby. I am nothing if not the sum total of all my baggage. Baggage I cling to like my ratty, old Reebok running shirt, the miles showing on that threadbare scrap of fabric like they’re showing up on my face. How many times I have pulled it off my back and wiped my sweaty brow with its Tide-smelling splendor. My baggage is as much a part of me as the chicken pox scar on my cheek bone.

Because baggage, a.k.a. memories, experience, lessons learned, moments of grace, sorrowful regrets, certainly, or probably should inform our next steps, shouldn’t it? Whether we pay attention to its wisdom or not, it subliminally influences our choices. Of this much, I am sure.

It was, in fact, my early baggage which fueled the tingling feeling I felt when I met Rick.
28 years worth, to be precise. He had so much to offer and I had so much to apologize for -- a divorced woman with a child, I was barely out of college, getting a late start on my journalism career, just weekends at first, at the top TV station in town, where he was the BMOC anchorman, a household name in New Mexico, successful, square jawed, blue-eyed blond handsome, wicked smart with not only one, but two cars, impressive to a struggling single mom who prayed every day that her car would make it to work. My God, how some things just don’t change.

But we had chemistry.

That’s something you can’t discern from a laptop; the kind of chemistry which made my heart go pitter-pat when he’d come through the back door at the TV station, the afternoon sun back lighting him like some stocky blond God, as the metal door would bang shut and he’d pull off his Ray Bans to check his mailbox. Sometimes the whoosh of outside air would announce his arrival, scent before sight, a whiff of his Grey Flannel cologne triggering my stomach to tighten up, because he was the boss on those weekend shifts, and he was a hard ass back in the day when Type A personalities weren’t grounds for a lawsuit. His command of a room turned me on. What turned me on even more is that he deemed me worthy of his attention from the start, not only because I could pull a lead story out of my ass, but because I was cute. Yeah, we had chemistry.

It didn’t go unnoticed by the crew we hung out with after work at the Gin Mill, a watering hole for the press corps back in the day. Bonnie Raitt’s “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About” was top of the charts and we obliged. He’d connive a way to sit by me at these post mortems, where we’d compare notes on our antics to get all manner of murder and mayhem on the air, but he largely held court, everybody at the table busting a gut laughing. It was me though, he’d walk to the car. In a few months, our group outings had winnowed down to two, “I’ve got a bottle of wine in my fridge,” he said, and our first time alone at my house, he and I and a bottle of Mateus white, and a sleeping five year old in the next room, was made complete with that first sweet kiss on my front lawn. Of course I had to make the first move on the kiss, the first nudge toward the bedroom, borne on an ultimatum that if he wasn’t willing to take it to the “next level” after months of making out, in his car or mine, I was going to walk. How much I see in my rear view mirror now, free of the clamp on my gut instincts, which I wore like blinders on a race horse running for the good life. I don’t scold his inner child, nor mine, for wanting so deeply to feel legitimate.

And in 14 years, we legitimized a lot, three more babies, four or five different houses, a passle of cars and career moves all over the country. He went from a two-pack a day, right-wing Republican, (he was a Nixon volunteer in high school to my door-to-door canvassing for McGovern) non-believer to being a non-smoking, Democrat, Catholic convert. Imagine my satisfaction! It was a comprehensive act of contrition for some untold sins, if ever there was one, and to this day, I believe, a sincere undertaking. That life, house of cards as it turned out to be, still has sweet memories in the rubble. The good ones rub up like pill balls on a blanket--a blanket I try to toss off like some mildewed tarp of betrayal and disappointment. Who wouldn't, after being left with four kids alone, while he figured things out in prison? But the memories are persistent.

On this July night, I remember dancing at the symphony ball twenty-two years ago on my daughter's due date. I was in a last minute, rented dress, since I'd been planning to be at home with a newborn by then, and Rick wore a tuxedo he actually owned, an indication of our social calendar. My arm resting on his familiar, broad shoulder, my belly pushed against his paisley cummerbund, where he could feel Lauren stirring to the music, he whispered, “you are the most beautiful woman on this dance floor” and my eyes overflowed with tears, as my feet swelled even more, stuffed into high heels at nine months and counting.

Another memory busts through the barricade, the night of our 10th anniversary, when I prepared the same meal we'd had on our honeymoon in the high desert hills of New Mexico ten years before. It had spit rain on the short mountain drive to Lamy, a little railroad town just outside Santa Fe, making the two-lane hairpin turns nerve wracking. But the rain on the dusty terrain transformed the scrubby pinon pine and clumps of mountain sorrel into giant herb bouquets, the air spiked with the aroma of renewal. Ten years later, the dense North Carolina air carried nothing but the smell of charred flecks of steak stuck to the barbecue grill. Our back yard was as big as a park, lush with azaleas, dog woods and an enormous Crepe Myrtle, its branches bending with huge fuschia blooms, and while lovely, gave off no perfume. My Shalimar smelled sweet though. I’d catch a trace of my own scent, the same fragrance I’d worn on my wedding day, as I raced back and forth into the air conditioned kitchen to have the surprise anniversary dinner ready by the time he got home from work. I spread the linen table cloth over our rusty patio table and lit candles everywhere. I scared up the silver wine bucket with a cheap bottle of white Zinfandel, (what all the ill bred were drinking back then) and got the wedding crystal out of the china hutch. I timed everything perfectly, shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with Bernaise, Caesar salad and fluffy baked potatoes and decadent eclairs, with real custard inside, not the fake stuff, which popped out with sweat beads the minute I carried them on the bone china dessert plates from the fridge to the porch. Rick cried, I wasn’t sure why, when I asked, “do you want to dance?” to Van Morrison's craggy voice on the boom box, singing "Have I Told You Lately ?"

"Fill my heart with gladness,
take away my sadness,
ease my troubles that’s what you do."

There was, I guess, no easing his. When I whispered, “what’s wrong ?” his words said, “’s just so beautiful” but his eyes told me there was some unreachable sadness in him, that no amount of love, or wifely skills, or shrinks, or even four innocent kids, who took turns pestering mommy and daddy dancing on the porch, could cure. It was my four innocents, the forgiving southern breeze and that beautiful song, lulling me back to wishful thinking that it was still real, still right and everything would be okay.

And there was magic, for a few moments. His blue eyes as shiny as the drops of condensation on the champagne flutes in the candle glow, the same fancy glasses we'd sipped champagne from on our honeymoon, back when the sheets and towels and dreams were as fresh and clean as the desert air. Such a sweet beginning, long before his wild-eyed panic, the beginning of our end, a few years later, when I caught him flat footed, stammering to explain who Matt was, some random guy who'd called our house and actually spoke to me, saying he was an "old friend." No, there would be plenty of time to comb through that lice later. Or not. A mere shudder, shake it off, stay focused on the kids; that was the dismissal drill, the same duck-and-cover survival strategy I’d perfected as a kid. And on this screened in porch anniversary night, it was about being happy, feeling content, our children safe, a roof over our heads, a lush summer night and a loving dance partner, remnants of the dream incarnate in our kiss and Van Morrison’s voice, “have I told you lately that I love you?”

I take healthy sip of my vodka tonic. By now I need a drink, perusing the singles on a 4th of July weekend and then spitefully being bitch slapped by a memory that should be civil enough to leave me in peace. Then,“bling” another email from a prospective suitor not two seconds later and I’m belly laughing. Laughing hard. Laughing out loud, in my dining room, all alone except for the dog, who jumps up, startled. It’s theater of the absurd. Surely this MUST be a joke, because it says,“I’m a DDS - Doctor of Drains and Sewers, and lists the last two books he read as “Classic Toy Trains and The Plumbing Code Book.”

WTF? I know I did not put, “must possess solid plumbing, both personally and occupationally” in my profile. I snap my lap top closed and walk over to my neighbor’s house, where they’re hosting a graduation party for their son.

I’m somewhat obligated to go, as they are good neighbors, have attended my kids’ graduation parties and have never called the cops when those same kids have hosted a few little backyard parties of their own. I walked over with the graduation card, with a crisp $20 stuck inside, (We should just dispense with the cards, it’s an extra $2.95. Why not just hand them the cash and be done with it?) There were hugs all around, especially from the graduate and I sat down with a beer. This guy was playing acoustic guitar and singing, slightly horribly, maybe if he’d avoided "Stairway to Heaven" he would have sounded better and I’m thinking it’s about time for the band to take a break when indeed, he did.

“So, you dating anybody special?” my neighbor lady asked half nosey, half sincere.

“Not really,” I said. “I went on a date a couple of weeks ago. Nice guy, college professor, retired, kids grown, smart, not bad looking. Wants somebody to travel around the world and climb mountains and stuff with him.”

“And...?” she picked up on my dismissiveness.

“Well, there’s this little issue of my job, a mortgage, college loans, dog food, you know."
The guitar player sat down at the next table. “And I couldn’t climb a mountain if my life depended on it.” (In addition to the illiterates, have you noticed how many singles are into extreme sports?)

She pondered. “Well, you know, Austin over there is a very interesting guy. He’s our house guest. He’ll be staying for, well, I don’t know exactly how long he’ll be staying...”

This is code for unemployed.

“...and he’s single!”

God is going to strike me dead, I know, but this fella was a cross between Jerry Garcia and Elmo -- with a long salt and pepper beard, curly hair to his shoulders, but with bangs, like Friar Tuck with a fro. And bless his heart, he had a bulbous, red nose (probably a medical condition) and a bulbous belly, (probably NOT a medical condition.) I sincerely doubt that this guy has been able to see his own penis for years, and he might not even be able to see it standing buck naked in front of a full length mirror. And Lord knows he can’t see his feet when he looks down, because if he could, surely he’d have the decency to cover that shit up, because his toes were nasty. I’m telling you, nasty, the way you’d imagine Gollum’s feet, in Lord of the Rings to be. But to his credit, his Hawaiian print shirt was neatly pressed.

I was introduced to him, like some kind of prize pig and he was introduced to me, more like Don Knotts, The Reluctant Astronaut and we both smiled. It was awkward and kind of sad and weird at the same time. I left after I drank my beer, saying, “nice to have met you.”

Later, I was thinking, if you were to boil it down to keywords, whether it was the meddling neighbor or my former spouse, I suppose “good intentions” says it all.