Saturday, November 7, 2009

Eyesight, Hindsight and First Kisses

There’s one good thing about dating men in their 50s, their eyesight is as bad as yours. Nonetheless, I’m glad I tripled checked my look in the mirror, before I headed out on date #2 last Saturday. My mustache was looking rather unkept.

Feeling all foxy, (shout out to all you fans of the 70s) moments before his arrival, I got out the 2X magnifying mirror. It was both depressing and near debilitating. I was horrified to realize that I’d been walking around for God only knows how long, with every-which-a-way-hairs poking out from under my Clinique foundation. Ten or twelve of those short stubby bastards had taken up residence above my top lip, and the oft returning chin hair had sprouted again too. It was just too funny, I had to force myself to stop laughing as I plucked them out, then answered the door with a tender top lip. Note to self: buy some lip wax or a new mirror. The last one broke, uh, like seven years ago.

So, date #2. It was actually was quite pleasant.

He showed up with flowers, both endearing and slightly corny. (Okay, don’t yell, I know it was very sweet.) And he is cute --tall, six foot or so, with sparkly brown eyes and a well trimmed goatee and mustache, (looks better on him) and nicely dressed-- pressed jeans, a striped button down collar shirt, blazer and loafers. A far sight better than the last guy I dated, James, who wore Sam’s Club velour shirts and velcro strapped sandals, all the way to December, because being the short, Hungarian-Irish barrel-chested guy he is, he was always warm. I was always trying to tidy him up.

This new fella is appropriately dressed AND well behaved. He opens the car door for me.

“Wait, okay?” he said sweetly when we arrived at the restaurant he’d picked out. “I’m kinda old school,” as he came around to open my door. So mannerly, so hard for me to sit still that long. But I did, and I’m an old dog.

If you were to look up “neighborhood bar and seafood shanty” in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of this place. It was a jumbled mess of brand confusion; a sports bar, with baseball and hockey on big screen TVs at the bar, a little nautical, with lighthouses and fishing nets draped here and there, a dash of Cajun seasoning vis-a-vis purple and green mardi gras beads dangling from the nets, plus a pinch of Margaritaville, a.k.a. fake palms trees dotting the dining room; all this -- topped off with a Chicago style blues band kickin’ it at 9:00. The guys with the mullets near the dance floor were down with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a food snob, except for my aversion to chain restaurants. We got a quiet table near the back and ate fried alligator and scallops, even danced in a little corner next to our table. And guess what? I was nervous! He’s a fabulous dancer! He’s taken lessons for years, even belongs to a dance club! I was a little flustered in his most capable hands. I was also worrying that those hands could feel my back fat. But it’s very humbling every now and then to feel a bit nervous in some situations, it doesn’t happen that much anymore. Twelve years as a single mom with four kids has somewhat forged balls of steel, it’s refreshing to hide them under a skirt every once in a while and let the genuine article lead.

And I followed. Didn’t mind a bit. Didn’t mind that first kiss either.

You know the feeling. When you’re walking and talking and you get to where you’re going and there’s that momentary, first kiss pause. Funny how so many of them take place in parking lots of bars and restaurants. And so, you’re walking and talking and you get to where you’re going, and your conversation just trails off in mid-sentence, (I had one guy say that kissing me was the only way he could shut me up!) and then, boom, there you are, kissing. It’s exciting and predictable at the same time. I always have to crunch the restaurant peppermint by the time we get to the car, it’s not very lady like spitting it out. So, there we were kissing, in the parking lot, a very lovely, first kiss.

It was quite nice. Really. Quite, pleasant.

I want heart stopping.

I have had two first kisses in my life that stand apart from all the rest, as if I was climbing back inside my own skin, which I had been missing for a, long time. In both cases, the first brush of his lips felt as if someone had thumped my heart with a rubber mallet, the involuntary reflex of my heart flipping upside down inside my chest, more thrilling than the steepest roller coaster, swirling, sweet, curious, intense-- like morphine is to pain.

Neither of these first kisses were with my husbands. That should tell you something. My first husband was the great, sweet, reliable, “would never leave me or hurt me”, boy next door. In reality, he was the boy around the corner. He was smitten with me from the time I was sixteen. Poor dude, he caught me on the rebound from...

Heart Stopping Kisser #1

His name was Tully and I loved him with undue devotion.

I don’t care who you are, everyone remembers their first real love. Except with me, the memory is clouded by the near constant cloud of marijuana smoke that hovered over this nubile love. Between the pot and the Boonesfarm Strawberry Hill, and the devilish gleam in his Irish eyes, the first time I kissed Tully felt like magic. None of the other couples making out in Casey Collin’s family room that night were destined to be together like Tully and I. The very minute we stopped kissing, to look into each other’s bloodshot eyes, Only the Beginning, by Chicago started playing on the stereo--

“Only the beginning, of what I want to feel forever.”

I was crazy in love, with this lanky, long-haired, Irish kid, who nobody called by his first name. He was simply, Tully -- a ne’er do well, artist, painter, dope smokin’, laid back, player, constantly clad in one of those green, Army surplus store parkas. Remember those? The ones with the fur trimmed hoods?

He had that furry hood pulled up over his head the night he snuck into my bedroom.

It had just started snowing, when he came loping up the driveway, round about midnight, and knocked softly at my door. What in the hell were my parents thinking, giving the 16-year old the back bedroom, past the kitchen, past the walk-in pantry, at the opposite end of the house, with an outside door?

I’d let the dog in, ostensibly because it looked like snow, but strategically, to keep him from barking in case the Irish boy came calling. Grateful to be indoors for one night, Bowser, (back in the day when outside dogs slept in their dog houses) laid on the floor, while we peeled off Tully’s snowy layers. He was much like a soaked pup himself. We pulled down the covers, (my mother’s antique quilt, the sacrilege !) climbed into my wrought iron bed and made crazy, teenage love, but quietly, since my parents were sleeping in the front bedroom. When we were spent, and this was after some time, considering we were rambunctious teenagers, we were actually laying there, in a post-climax coma, when I heard someone in the kitchen! Tully was out cold. I was in cold sweat, not knowing if I should try to hide him or just stay still. I opted for a combo -- I covered up Tully’s head and didn’t breathe.

The cupboard door squeaked, then I heard the clank of a glass on the ceramic tile counter. He coughed. Not Tully, my step-dad, who for some inexplicable reason was in the kitchen at 2:30 in the morning. Had he heard us? I blew out the bedside candle, just as the light from the pantry slid it’s terrifying fingers of light under my door. It wasn’t a real door, since the extra bedroom appeared to have been an afterthought, it was one of those cheap folding doors with no lock. I lay there petrified, frozen still, barely breathing and scared shitless, with 170 pounds of slumbering testosterone in my bed, thinking “why did I blow the candle out, he’ll smell the smoke and think my bedroom’s on fire!!!”

But, no, my step-dad was nosing around for something in the pantry.

Rummaging, rummaging, rummaging.

My God, what was he looking for? I hear the crackle of cellophane and jump. Tully stirs, pulling the quilt off his face. I shush him, pointing to the light under my door. His eyes grow wide, as I’m sure his penis got shorter. The pantry light goes dark and we can see the feint light of the kitchen now. We hear him opening the package of duplex sandwich creme cookies my mom and I had bought at the grocery story that day. My step dad was a severe diabetic, with whom my mother fought for 25 years, trying to keep him on a diet. He was as busted as I was, although I would have been disinclined to wag my finger at the cookie crumbs on his pajamas had me come bustin’ through the folding door. We hear the glass being set in the stainless steel sink, then, the horrifying sliver of pantry light under my door again, the cookies being put back on the shelf, cans rearranged to hide the open package, then blessedly, the light goes off, the house grows quiet.

And before my step-dad had time to take a
middle-of-the-night leak, Tully donned the Army surplus parka and, like the thief in the night he was, left out through the back door. By now, it’s a full-on blizzard. I watched him from the door, shuddering from the cold and the thrill of it. I’ll never forget seeing his foot prints in the driveway, musing that nature would cover his tracks by dawn.

He was buried on my 18th birthday. Killed in a gruesome car wreck on a New Mexico mountain road, coming back from a party during spring break. The news reports later said he’d been decapitated. I could have been spared that little detail. I remember hating the media, hating what I considered to be the miserable, vultures who got a hard on reporting other people’s tragedies. Ironic, that I would become a TV reporter just a few years later.

“Sissy....did you hear the news?” my mom was pacing when I walked in the front door.

I actually hadn’t heard yet, with no real-time, world wide communication back then. My girlfriends and I were immersed in Jackson Brown on the 8-track, driving home from our own little spring fling at Elephant Butte Lake in southern New Mexico.

“Tully. Oh honey, I’m so sorry. He was killed in car wreck tonight.”

Down went Frazier. First and only time my legs have buckled beneath me. I went to the floor, with the requisite number of “oh my God, oh my God, oh my God’s” you’d imagine from a young girl who’s just found out that her first love, the sweetest one, the meanest one, the one who broke her heart, but whom she loved still, was dead. He was drunk. He was driving home from the mountains and he smashed into the back of a semi-truck.

I didn’t have the strength to go to his wake, which was in the Tully home. Nor did I go to his funeral. My mother made stuffed Cornish game hens and baked me a birthday cake. She watched me roll the food around in my mouth, no appetite.

“You have to eat, Jean,” my mother said and I humored her, best I could.

We still have pictures of that birthday, my eyes swollen nearly shut from crying. I couldn’t look at the camera. I was profoundly sad. And I felt shabby. I was eighteen, set to graduate in a month and in fact, would be the big ass, commencement speaker come graduation day. But I had already been the other woman. Tully would come knocking on my bedroom door when he’d have a falling out with the real girlfriend, Rose Ellen Petrocelli, the straight laced Italian girl who apparently was destined to be his bride. Even on the night we met, (I found out later) he was on the prowl after a dust up with the girl next door, probably because she wouldn’t put out.

I did. I loved him, or so my sixteen-year old heart and brain reasoned, and surely, surely, he would love me back. Love me more. Love me better, because I gave him everything.

How eternal some truths are.

I told him he had to choose and he chose her. He went back to Rose Ellen, the Italian Catholic girl whom the Irish Italian neighboring moms approved of. And when he died, Rose Ellen was the grieving girlfriend who earned a front row seat at his funeral. They didn’t even know about me. They didn’t know how much I had loved him. And even though I’d moved on, by then dating a sweet, wonderful guy whom I later married, I never got the chance to say good bye to the rascal Irishman.

I told his little brother instead. 20 years later, on a dance floor at the Albuquerque Hilton Hotel, I was dancing with his younger brother Tom at our 20th high school reunion. I hadn’t seen him since high school (and I thought Tully's death had put a damper on my graduation! )
I had long since left New Mexico, moving around the country as a TV news reporter, at that time, married to husband #2 and future felon, who was also in the TV news biz.

Tom and I were dancing to some God-awful Bee Gees song that the reunion organizers thought we’d like, but they were off by about seven years. “Let’s Get It On” and “Free Bird” were Top of the Charts in 73’, not that Barry Gibbs crap. But I wasn’t on the dance committee. Tom Tully was the dance committee type -- he’d been in student government and ski club, the antithesis of his slacker big brother. By 1993, he’d been living in Wyoming for years, hadn’t married at that point, a geologist, I think. Tom looked so much like his brother, it was like seeing a ghost. I wanted to pour out 20 years of regret and sadness to some member of the Tully family, I wanted somebody to know how much I had cared for their long lost boy.

“I still think of your brother,” was all I could manage when the crappy song ended.

“Me too," Tom paused. "He would have been 40 years old today."
The sadness in Tom’s words hung like the disco ball over the dance floor.

I could not speak. My eyes filled with tears. We just looked at each other and I think I muttered, “so good to see you.” I don’t remember how I found my purse, found the door, found the lobby, and the concrete stairs out of the hotel, found my mother’s car, then Central Avenue heading west, away from the city, across the Rio Grande River, and then up, up, up Nine Mile Hill,
Old Route 66, the western highway in and out of Albuquerque.

I parked in some vacant lot up on the mesa, the city, down below. It was probably as dangerous as hell out there, by myself at night, who knows? I threw my head back and tossed out buckets of 20 year old tears and cried outloud,

“I’m so sorry you died. I wish you'd gotten to stay. But, I just want you to know, I’m all right.”

I doubt he died feeling guilty about me, but I felt better letting him off the hook anyway. I wiped my eyes and took in the vast expanse of sparkling city below, it looked like thousands of shiny diamonds sprinkled on a black velvet drape. I finally felt peaceful. And then, I fell asleep in the damn car.

Nearly a decade later, in 2002, in a completely random, bizarre twist of fate, in almost the SAME exact spot, I would experience the other “most breathtaking first kiss of my life” overlooking the city lights from Nine Mile Hill.

I’ll tell you about that one in my next post. I’m going out with pleasant kisser on Date #3 tonight.

BTW, we never got around to talking about dead boyfriends, or the ex-husband who just got out of prison, when we were at the seafood shanty the other night. Just didn’t seem prudent.


  1. So funny. And so sad...

    I'm glad you managed to find some semblance of peace after the reunion.

    And I'm certainly glad you didn't discuss dead boyfriends and jailbird ex-husbands with Mr. Manners on your second date.

    Although I am curious to find out if and when you do disclose that kind of information. Is there an article in Cosmo one can refer to for guidance in these types of situations or do you just wing it?

  2. Wow, so captivating, and I'm on the edge of my seat.

    While I agree with El Nate, you never know- the embarrassing things I tipsily/nervously disclosed on a first date led to me wearing this ring on my finger...

    Continue to be brave in your storytelling!

  3. Disclosure of one's past is always challenging because you've had plenty of time to come to terms with it ... good or bad.

    But the person you're disclosing it to is not as far down the road. Kind'a like deciding to break-up with someone and then when you do (having taken all the time you needed to get comfortable with it), the other person never saw it coming. Rarely are any of us at the same place at the same time.

    But, your journey is definitley one lived on the backroads. You don't get that on the interstate ... the road is too smooth and the signs all look the same.

    Stay on the winding path. Much more interesting.

  4. The web is clogged with some really awful writing. Everyone, it seems, thinks they can write good. Even write well. There are a few talented observers of the human condition, however, who deserve wide readership. You are one of them, Jean. Keep the past alive with more stories. Maybe there's a movie in one of them.