Seven women

Men in my family don’t live long lives, and I’m already older than my dad and my brother when they shuffled off this mortal coil. For now I'm in reasonably good health, but I'm a crusty old fart and eventually that's going to prove fatal, so it's time to put my affairs in order.

There haven’t been many. 

First there was Molly, a co-worker at McDonald’s. We were 16, maybe 17. We barely dated, or maybe we didn’t date at all — it depends on what a 'date' is. By tradition, after a closing shift at the restaurant, employees who didn’t have to hurry home for bedtime gathered for (soft) drinks and side orders at the 24/7 steakhouse across the street. Molly and I were part of that group many nights, and some nights we were the only two who went to the steakhouse.

Then there was Marina, a co-worker at Burger King. There's no ambiguity here — we never dated, but after her shifts she came to my apartment, where we did wondrous things under my glow-in-the-dark Star Trek paintings. There was never anything more to it than that, and I don't think she even liked Star Trek.

At around age 19, I connected with Cathy. She was sweet and deserved better than me (as did all the women in my life) but we were both barely functional, mostly full of mistakes to be made. We held hands and baked cookies and drank whiskey though we were underage. When she’d drank too much she sang. When I drank too much, I fell asleep. Our dates were nervous and awkward, and for the first time it occurred to me that I might be happier alone.

Next there came another Cathy, who was also a damaged soul, like me and most of humanity. Same as Cathy-1, Cathy-2 and I hid our real selves from each other, until I unexpectedly ripped my mask off one night, and invited her to remove hers. We told each other some of the strange thoughts in our heads, and we fell in love, boinked like bunnies, and became inseparable for several wonderful weeks before deciding we’d be better as friends. Cathy-2 was the only time me and any woman agreed it was over, instead of one explaining it to the other. She’s also the only ex who’s still a friend.

Then there was April, who — let's be honest — was far too pretty and popular to spend any time with me, but somehow we were together for five years. In all that time, though, I never knew her as well as I’d known Cathy-2 in just a month. April never wanted to talk about Big Things like philosophy, morality, politics, literature, or the meaning of life. Our conversations were mostly about soccer and TV shows and movie stars, but damn, the sex was good. She said once that she played not too bright, because that’s what men preferred. “I'm a man,” I said, "and I don't want that." She laughed and said she sometimes felt she was pedaling to keep up with me, when she’d really rather coast. Many, many years later, from a thousand dates and even a few vacations together, that two-minute conversation in the car is what I remember most clearly. But I still don't understand it — what am I, Bertolt Brecht?

She dumped me a few months after that, and I spiraled into a years-long funk, drowned my regrets in Big Macs and ice cream, and went from pudgy to enormous.

Still reeling but lonely, I bought personal ads in the weekly paper, which led to a few first dates but rarely a second. I occasionally saw Cathy-2 again, but we were friends, not lovers. I even rang up Molly and took her out, for one disappointing date at the old steakhouse.

For several years there was nobody, but I'd grown accustomed to being alone, and decided that solitude is better than being with the wrong woman. That was a major realization for me, and that’s when and how I started becoming the old schmuck I am now.

In my late 20s and early 30s I lived with friends in a shared house. One by one, as the friends moved out to get married or otherwise become ‘real’ adults, strangers moved in. We'd take anyone who could pay the rent and didn’t seem too bonkers.

Margaret was one of the strangers who moved in. As I got to know her, it became clear that she had mental or emotional issues, but she was also funny and fun, and hey, this is America — show me someone without mental or emotional issues, and you know they’re just faking it. I prefer people who don't fake it, so Maggie became a friend, and after we’d been living in the same house for a few years, she became more than a friend. We sort of dated, and we were kind of a couple, but when her sister came and stayed for a week, Maggie wanted us to pretend we were only flatmates. I said I wouldn’t pretend, so we broke up. We started dating again after her sister left town, though. Several times.

Eventually, I moved to San Francisco, alone. There were half a million women in the City by the Bay, and I dated two or three of them, but there was nothing serious enough to merit mentioning here.

And then Stephanie wandered into my mailbox. I was publishing and mailing out my zine, she was publishing and mailing her zine, and we traded zines. I loved her zine, and she liked mine. Along with trading zines, we eventually traded letters. In one of those letters, I suggested a phone call. On the phone, I heard myself inviting Stephanie to visit, and she said, "OK," two syllables that changed everything about both of our lives.

A month later, Steph flew from Wisconsin to California to meet me. We got married on our first date, and I almost mean that literally. It wasn’t love at first sight when we met at the airport, and we were never legally married (because fuck your priests and county clerks), but once we’d stashed her luggage in her room at the rez hotel, spent a few hours together, and eaten dinner at Taqueria El Castillito on Mission Street, even before we'd kissed, we knew we'd be together till death do us part.

Her one-week visit became two weeks, and then Steph flew home, packed, and came back. We lived happily ever after in San Francisco, and then in Kansas City, and finally in Madison, where death did us part. I miss her every moment of every day. I’m not sure where Stephanie’s life would’ve gone without me, but without her my life would’ve been diarrhea.

I was almost 40 when we met, and I'd been waiting for a miracle. It was like waiting for a train, only there’s no schedule for miracles, and for many years I thought one would never come. My miracle finally happened, and I won’t say ‘Thank God’, but I will say, Thank you, Stephanie. 

Today, for no particular reason, all these women are in my head and heart. Especially Steph, of course. In my memory, each of these women is young and laughing, and so am I, and it metaphysically astounds me that now, all of them are either grandmothers or dead or both. Time and wrinkles and dentures and death wait for no-one.



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  1. Captain HampocketsJuly 5, 2021 at 5:15 AM

    I still remember your fake "wedding day" with Steph. Not the year, but it was allegedly March 25. This was well after you had met each other in person, I think. You guys went on a trip to supposedly get married. At some point later, Shawna looked at me like one would look at a slow child, and said, "You don't think they ACTUALLY got married, do you?"

    1. Laughter here.

      It was a weekend train trip from Frisco to Reno, and the big lie for Stephanie's parents was that we got married and honeymooned there.

      After Steph died, at her wake, her parents brought it up with a laugh and a line something like, "She wanted us to think you two were married, so for her we pretended to believe it."

  2. Only women? Man, you don't know what you've missed!

    1. I know what I've missed: whiskers, beer breath, sports talk, and proud farting.

  3. That was sweet and sad, thank you for posting it. You should send the link to all of these ladies still around.


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