Now most times when I tell this story I try to be clever with how I start it. I’ve tried lots of ways, but lately my favorite is callin’ it The Cross-eyed Cupid. Like this one time he got his bow and arrow out and hit a couple of people in the shoulder. Close enough, but no cigar. It goes like this.
“My girlfriend will be there with some other girls,” the big guy said. His name was Jeff and he was the second string football center at OU. We were workin’ this summer construction job, I guess that was the summer my old high school girlfriend and her mom shut that down between us. I mean lookin’ at it, they were right. A lot of us got that year, year and a half, maybe two in high school with a regular date, some finding out about sex in awkward places. But it’s always got a sell-by date. Just when we’re kids we don’t see it, can’t hear our parents sayin’ it. Like we think we invented all that, the same way we tell our kids they didn’t. I’m sayin’ that because when something ends and you think it’s the end of the world some other thing has you in the headlights like a slow deer on a country road. For some reason we’re so blinded by whatever happened we don’t see that train a comin’. Or maybe, like me, just a little dumb-blind. I think we all are, a little. Dumb-blind. Me, I’m some kind of poster boy for it.
The big guy and his tall, skinny friend with the pickup, they’re from Edmond where we’re doin’ this work, where they went to high school. So the girlfriend, or girlfriends, they’re like a year behind and they haven’t put a stop on it yet like what happened to me. I still don’t know why we’d be working and these girls were in school unless it was summer school, or maybe Christmas break but it was hot as hell, so I guess summer school. I followed them, my Edmond partners, in my own car. I still had that orange POS, the one that looked cool once I got all the wheels on it to match, with the six-cylinder stick and my name on the back in chrome letters where the Chevy sign went. It was bad-ass to look at and ran like a tractor and to this day I don’t why I was so damn proud of it.
Anyway, these extra girls they said would be there were from Edmond, some place I’d never met a girl from, so I thought, you know, twenty, thirty minutes up the road, how different can they be? I’d met this girl from Kansas and a couple from San Antonio, one even from this little town called Washington, in North Carolina. That girl, her name was Melody, like a song, and she coulda read the phone book with that voice of hers and people would have listened. I would have. I’m just sayin’ girls seemed to be girls back then. Just without that regular once or twice a week-end sexing it up, I was kinda frustrated. Getting to know somebody, blind dates, double dating, hoping you’d find a girl on your own, smoke a joint, get that way with them. Seemed to happen to everybody else. But lookin’ back I think a lot of those jokers were lyin’, like young guys do about sex and weed and how fast their car is.
We pull in to the Bonanza right there on the extension. I know the place. In high school I went to a yearbook how-to at that junior college, ate lunch there with this girl, we did the yearbook together. We made out in the parking lot after, and a couple of other places before we made it home. And she was driving. That sort of thing went on a lot. In the back of my mind I knew my old girlfriend and her mom had read my book. Once I graduated and wasn’t underfoot all the time she’d protect her baby from me, get me off the tit, so to speak. It worked to some extent, but I wonder sometimes if girls’ parents realize it takes two to tango horizontally. Moreover, did they know that a guy didn’t need to be regular bowler to be knocking the pins over as history proved out to be happening. Parents of daughters listen up right there.
In the Bonanza the girls, maybe five or six, seems like one or two guys, I may be wrong about that, all sittin’ on one side of a long table. Now there’s only three of us, the big guy, his tall, skinny friend and me. By this time I had longer hair, got some looks from the Edmond boys in their polo shirts. I got used to that look, but it took me forty years till I just didn’t have much hair. We’re all dusty and crusty, dried sweat and that sandy red dust you get north of the city, and it was expected we sit across from them for the sake of sanitation I suppose. I don’t know the players in this game so I wait. The big guy sits across from his girlfriend, the skinny guy next to him across from this other girl. I’m not going to sit by them, across from some girl looks like the church lady and scowls me out, so I skip a chair, knowing this is a long nowhere lunch for me. One in a long line of them.
The girl across from me, she’s cute. I’d say pretty. She smiles, kind of shy. She’s got the biggest brownish-hazel eyes, the kind of hair we’d all kill for. Thick, a little wave. Miss Breck ad hair, that perfect ski jump nose. I could have picked a lot worse chair. But she’s shy, or disgusted. I never really could tell with girls and me, and she doesn’t talk much.
We eat, there’s enough talking from the people who know each other, dating each other, their friends chipping in with some comment. The shy girl doesn’t talk that much, she has a nice smile, not too big. Her voice, she’s no life-timer in Edmond. Turns out she has some boyfriend, he’s her age, still in school, plays football. My luck.
Her name is Deb, Debbie. She said it’s Debra, De bra, not like she’s talkin’ underwear, just sayin’ it, how it is. I ask “Deborah, though, spelled the regular way?” And she says “Yes, but say it like I said.”
Here it gets interesting because Debra, she has a bent earring. It was a gift from the boyfriend. She has to see him later, doesn’t seem all that excited, and really wants that earring fixed. Maybe he’s the kinda guy will thump her, she screws up the earrings. It goes all the way around the table, the clean guys, my two work guys, the girls. Everybody sayin’, well, no, need some needle nose pliers, need a clamp, can’t bend it, need this tool or that. I’m no mechanical genius but I get geometry, always have, so when the earring makes it to me, last call, I see the problem. I ask Debra, I called her that properly, would she unroll that extra red napkin and hand me a clean fork and the knife. She wants the earring fixed more than she wants to ignore the sweaty shaggy guy, so she gets them for me. The fat part of the fork at the back of the tines is just right, so I open up this one part of her earring with the knife, park it over the fork, squeeze the snot out of it, and there it is, no needle nose pliers. I see why they wanted some, they were just seein’ it as a man-handle it project and I applied some finesse. Probably used my lifetime supply of it right there in that Bonanza in Edmond, Oklahoma.
I said, “Here ya go,” hand Debra her earring back, my hands are clean, it’s okay. Now I’m some kind of hero, even for the girls down the table. The big guy Jeff, and the skinny guy, they’re suddenly glad they know me, the clean boys not so much, but they have to be good sports, the girls down on that end liking me a little. The guys get jerky they’ll be dry and lonely like me this weekend. Debra is flustered a little, maybe I’m not the guy should have fixed it for her, maybe all the attention from her friends. Anyway, she knows it’s fixed, keeps being distracted and can’t stick it in her ear. For the second time I say, “Here ya go,” like I did when I gave it back fixed, only this time I get up, we’re almost at the end of the table, and I walk around and say, “Pull your hair back,” and she does, looking at me as far sideways as her eyes will go. She’s got it in, the little thing in the back isn’t cooperating is all. I’m not a moose, so I don’t rip her ear off like I’m sure she’s thinking I might, you know, me being all dusty and shaggy. I say, “I got it on there now, but you should push it tight. I don’t want to be the stranger who smashed your ear.” I’m being funny, the other guys laughing, the girls with that worried look. “I’ll hold your hair back, you do it.” I hold it with a finger of my left hand, she gets it right this time. I ask “Okay?” She says, “Yes,” I let go. She brushes her hair out with her fingers, not like I got it dirty but that way girls do getting it back together.
Down the other side this girl says, “Well tell him thank you, Deb,” and a couple others say something, she looks at me, tries it, gets flustered. I say, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” offer her my other hand for a girl handshake, take her fingers, a light squeeze. She squeezes back, looks at me with those big eyes like she has something to say but doesn’t. I know that look, the girl wants to talk to the shaggy guy like maybe he’s not like the boyfriend or somebody else, but you know, mom and dad, her friends, not this guy. Mostly for younger girls back then. Give it a couple of years when they want ‘em out of college, out of the wallet, I’d be okay. A pretty senior in high school, republican parents, horses. I was the plague in jeans.
Here’s the kicker. Two years later I’d go on a blind double date with this same earring girl and end up marrying her. She confessed to me before the wedding how her cute, perfect little ski-jump nose wasn’t really stock, and showed me the place where she was kneeling when the horse kicked her in the face. Told me she had a real shnoz, kinda like mine, so we made “we’ll have kids with clown noses” jokes. Hell, I was nineteen and dumb-blind. Closest idea I had to marriage was a couple of apartment weekenders. Pizza and sex and too embarrassed to hit the toilet hard until they went back to the dorm, or in her case, Stillwater. Clown nosed kids was funny if you didn’t have some idea of what that was really all about.
When we did get married the preacher must have gotten into the champagne a little because he put the date on the marriage license a day off, and scratched through it. It was hard to tell what day it was. One time I looked it up, to see what day it really was. It wasn’t like we celebrated it much. Maybe once or twice, if, you know, so I wouldn’t have it committed to memory. That marriage wouldn’t last but a couple of years, both of us not having any idea what the hell we were doing. Victims of that classic line from our parents, “You can be anything you want to be, get good grades, stay in school.” That was a great line, got them off the hook. But for a lot of us, what did we want to be? We’d take tests, talk to vocational counsellors about civil engineering or law school or biology, journalism, psychology. I didn’t give a damn about any of that. Thought I should, tried for three years. She was the same, taking art history, art, wanting to be a sculptor maybe, or work in a museum. We got stoned, and married, and lost our way in the culture of be somebody, be yourself, when we didn’t even know who the hell we were, much less who we should be. When it was all over she went crazy, I went to Texas. I wonder sometimes were they interchangeable, crazy and Texas.
Even more crazy than that earring and then the blind date and getting married and the license being off a day? Our Social Security numbers were the same, reverse the last two numbers. After I got her out of bed with this fella who sold me pot once in while back then to sign the divorce papers, then got an arrogant Dear John letter six years too late from someone else, I gave my home town the finger. She did the same and within six months she headed north and we lost touch. Well, truth be told we both let that touch go. I talked to her once maybe five or six years after all of that, but she didn’t make a lot of sense, kind of scared me for her. I think she said my mother gave her my number which was crazy, mom never liked her much. At the beginning of that marriage some words or knowledge I was never told passed between the set of parents. Whatever it was it should have been something they shared. Might have been the answers to a lot of questions. Might have been she’s allergic to cheese. I’ll never know.
Years later I learned that she had gone up and down the roller coaster I’d experienced from her a few times. Heard she vacillated between Artsy types of men like me and rugged, bearded Mountain Man types like that pot salesman. She’d met a new man in a bar when she was down one time, got married and they went on cruises together. I was told she and her hubby that rescued her drank their way all around the North American Continent on boats. She got pregnant, and there’s some other stories in that, and she went clean. No smoking, stopped drinking, which was something we never did much of, and I never understood happening to her later, and turned into a good mom and wife. Went all the way up to living in a post card in Southern California not far from where her horse ranch folks retired. Could almost throw a rock from her place to the ocean, had two young barely teenage kids. Woke up one morning, drank a quart of vodka and took a handgun to the condo swimming pool. Bang! She was fifty.
That divorce we got was final on a May 4th. She died on a May 3rd. One day off, one number off, one more step, this time her last one, just a little out of sync.
Now I know better than to think either of us put all those one number, one day off things together intentionally, but there they are, clear as can be, and I find that as fascinating as I do frightening. I fixed that earring, though, and I knew, but didn’t know, a pretty, artsy, and interesting if secretly big nosed and unpredictable girl for a couple of years. That earring, I always thought of that as being one of the only one of those things to happen to me, the future being telegraphed so obviously. Of course I didn’t see it, but there it was. Dumb-blind, like I said. But I’d be wrong sayin’ that about it bein’ the only one. There’ve been other times, the “here’s your story in the blink of an eye” times. Missed them, too. We all do.
There are those moments when we are told the entire story, in a flash right before our eyes, if we only had the power to see it unfold. The signals as plain as the sun in the summer sky. Like that sun, they’re so bright and obvious they momentarily blind us to their significance. Or maybe it’s just because it’s easier to ignore them and live like we don’t see that train a comin’. Unlike that train, which you probably can’t avoid, if you ever see that cross-eyed cupid fella comin’ you’d best get up off the tracks and haul ass the hell on outta there and wait for one that can shoot straight. Trust me on that.