To me, he appeared magical in the radiance of the small town's streetlight display. I flicked at a smoldering cigarette in my fingers, glancing at him here and there when I was sure he was looking away. It wasn't the decade which lay quietly behind us that propelled me to stare in his direction. It was the way his gentle eyes told sad stories of the path which he had recently traveled to get here. The way his fancy shoes looked displaced and crunched the northern snow.
His hat and scarf and belt and gloves. His LA style was both foreign and familiar among the hippies that resided here in my town. He couldn’t have just one damn, peaceful afternoon of writing in the coffee shop without some unshaven, pixie-haired, patchouli- drenched swinger trying to get into his pants. That’s what his flask of whiskey was for I suppose- to stifle his good-natured urges to placate small talk. Because, here, you know, small talk will make you the next “new guy in town” victim for some desperately bored local. Not that one would need to be desperate or bored or sex- starved in order to find him both incredibly sexy and affable. He’s certainly the type that women (and men) gravitate towards in a bar or crowd. I, however, never met him in such circumstances. I knew him when we were young and awkward- a time when this now savvy city-trotter was intimidated by my edgy, pre-teen attitude.
The lesbian who lived in the apartment above mine was quite bitter. Well, when it came to matters concerning me anyway. I rarely ever saw or heard her before last October. She kept to herself and her toolbox and her large silver truck. But one night, just before Halloween, I had escaped to the bohemian- infested coffee shop to write. Ideally, I prefer to write at home with a glass of unadulterated whiskey or schnapps, sitting in a computer and candled glow. A little City and Colour. But by time late October rolled around, my unemployed husband and I were so sick of each other that I could not have even drowned my resentment with an entire liter of Jamison.
I primed my small corner table for my ritual of writing preparation. I ordered a mug of spiced chai and carefully doused it with some vanilla schnapps. I was a good two pages in when she approached me.
“Hey, uh, you live downstairs from me, It's Elsie, right?” I unplugged my ears and we both laughed a little as the excessively loud music poured from my headphones. “Whoa, you’re really rockin out” she smirked.
“Well, yeah,” I laughed “I suppose it’s the only way I can think” I said, glancing down at my screen and clicking “save” for the tenth time that minute.
“What are you working on?” She seemed genuinely interested. Normally, I would have just lied and said that I was paying bills, but she pressed on. “You look like you’re writing. Like really writing.”
I smiled and chose to respond truthfully. “Yeah, um, I am.” She gave me a simple, encouraging grin, so I continued despite my wrenching embarrassment. “I just write some things here and there. I was an English major, and my emphasis was in Creative Writing and so I guess I just like to…” I let myself trail off there, as to stop myself from the rambling I was prone to.
She was unmistakably excited. “Wow, I just finished up my MFA in Creative Writing…I had no idea that you were a writer too.”
“Well, I am definitely not” I smirked. Her comment had caught me off guard. “I just mess around with a little poetry sometimes.” She had already positioned herself closer to the extra chair near my small table. I was not really in the mood to offer it up, but she asked before I had a chance to make up an excuse as to why I had to leave. “Oh yeah, totally, sure have a seat,” I managed.
The next half hour’s conversation meandered around topics such as the quality of the coffee, the house we lived in, and of course, academia and writing. She was extremely well- versed and it made me feel young and inexperienced. I think that I should have just come out with it and admitted that I partied too much through college and barely even read half of my assigned books. Maybe it would have been just the turn-off I was looking for. But, I humored the topic and allowed myself to look respectable and educated. She invited me to meet weekly with a small group of writers in the area. It was an extremely temping offer- I had not even considered the possibility that there were more than two talented, let alone educated, people in this miserable hick town.
Hitting the limit of my knowledge of John Donne and Hemmingway, I changed the topic. “Just so you know, my husband is moving out.” The bizarre drink I had mixed and the gravity of my imminent divorce were both suddenly hitting me harder than I had anticipated- so I suppose it was a recipe for a word- vomit cocktail. “He’s leaving this weekend, so you know, like if you see someone moving out. It’s just him,” I laughed. She threw her head back and laughed with me.
“Seems like you’re doing okay with it,” She said, catching her breath.
“Yeah, I am glad to be rid of him,” I stated unsoberly and matter-of- factly.
We talked a little while longer before I decided to lie and leave. The next day I found a Post It stuck to my front door asking me if I wanted to meet up for dinner. She gave me her number, but also reminded me that I could always just “stop up.” That bastard “Dick Proenneke” was leaving the next day and I was dreading being around the apartment while he sulked and played video games. So, later on I went for a run, did a few shots, cleaned the kitchen and called her up.
She went out with me just this once on a chance that she was certainly hoping was a date. I ordered a beer and waited for her at the table (which occurred to me later was decidedly very much for couples). Had I not been a natural blonde and a lightweight drunk, I would have connected the dots. But, I was both of those things and also in a place where I was waiting for my mountain man of an almost "ex" husband get his goddamned yurt out of the livingroom.
When she ordered wine, I knew then that I was in way deeper than a fish sandwich.
We continued our walk down 3rd street. Alcohol always leaves me feeling unsettled and hollow. I had too much to drink that night and so I was restlessly waiting for his touch. I knelt in the snow. It soaked through my jeans and the cold pierced my knees. Bare-handed I grabbed a handful of snow from the curbside. “It’s beautiful, right?!” I said excitedly.
Gazing upward into the black winter sky, I saw delicate sparkles of snow swirling around the streetlights. “Why am I stripped of all my worth?” I asked.
"Well," He said "You aren’t.” He was articulate and soul-bearing like all great writers are. But, at all of the right and wrong times, and certainly at the write times.
He knelt next to me, cupping my chattering chin in his gloved hands and continued, “I can tell you something about the meaning of home, and your sense of worth. You are beautiful." he didn’t smile, but the look on his face was safe and tender. He picked me up from the sidewalk and kissed me slowly on my cold cheek. “I have been where you are now, and I can help carry you through it.”
I stood still, feeling flecks of snowflakes on my face and it glistened in my long hair. The way that he understood me was astounding. I was deeply in love with him. With all the of the ways he understood me, undressed me and then dressed me up again as his girl, I was smitten. Feeling worthy was never a feeling that I was accustomed to. In attempts to be the best and worst versions of myself, I was content to let him in to be both my savior and thief.
I let the weight of his words pound me. I had hung from gallows of adultery and regret, and yet I knew that his journey was not so different from mine. But what does a stubbornly independent woman do when she has discovered the person who not only appreciates but revels in her deep intricacies? Run. That’s was who I was and what I wanted to do, for no rational reason. But he could run with me maybe. He Loved my past and present and my mother and my father and my fantasies and my stinking reality....
Perhaps that was the time to come out with it. To tell him all of it. To shake up this small northern town and then choose to enter a large, startling city.