I sat out on the window ledge of my second-story bedroom in my parent’s home for what became the second to last time, flicking forbidden cigarette ashes into the night. I sat many nights gazing at the beauty of the moon wishing I could reach it.
I was always drawn outside the window after dark because the walls of my room closed too tightly around me. Sometimes I could not breathe. But, out in the moonlight, I could feel myself wax and wane and flow with a full-throated silent soul keening and an all-out longing, for something quite beyond me.
I had recently left a brilliant college boyfriend. I’d left because I wasn’t brilliant, and he wasn’t kind enough to let the fact go. He’d taken dark delight in teasing around the issue until finally calling me an idiot to my face, and not even in an argument, just as if he’d been waiting for the totality of our relationship to say it. I took it harder than a slap to the face. We’d gone on for a while, but it had been done for us in the swirling dust of the finality of that word. I began leaving him in silent increments.
In a nod to fairness to my brilliant ex-boyfriend, I need to say that he got a bad package in me. I had not been honest with him about who I was. And, in hiding all of my bad things I covered up, too, the things that were really kind of good about me.
He never saw my silly ways or how truly loyal my heart could be. He never knew that in my head floated so many beautiful words and ideas that were trapped bonking around in there waiting for the day they would find a way to escape from me. He didn’t know about the clackety-clack-ding-swoop-clackety-clack of the secret typewriter in my brain. He didn’t know I was a writer because he never saw me physically doing it since I was hiding my motor issues and silent learning disabilities.
I hid this part of myself trapped in time before computers, and keyboards came along to save me. But, because he didn’t know about the typewriter nor even seem to guess at the swirl of beautiful musings in my head, every word I ever spoke to him slowly became deliberately dulled and blunted. My words left him long before I did.
He also didn’t know that I was a boxer, a survivor, and a fighter of the highest order. I hid that, which was probably my greatest lie. So I cheated him badly. I never was a complete picture for him. In his clumsy hands, I was a box of broken and shattered fragments, beautiful but brittle glass, and an incomplete person that shrank away from his touch. Some of the bright pieces of me were so pretty but never were they complete. Not for myself and certainly not for him.
I’d spent a few weeks in mute silence reflecting on who I was. I didn’t know anymore. I never had, I guess, I mean who does so young? I had spent much of my time like a lot of young women do practicing the careful mask and the artifice of the chameleon. What I did know of myself was of no help. I was a person who had become age inappropriately hard angled, dark and sardonic.
Even I was left sometimes aghast at the hard-edged fury of some of the words that escaped my thoughts and landed into the warm sunlight of the world outside of myself.
I didn’t know at all where I belonged. But I didn’t belong any longer in the home of my divorced parents, still living together. I did not belong for a single moment longer there, not in the cool icy silence that I was all too free to disappear into, and by that time, I had, I think for them and for myself. I had blurred into less than a whisper. It was spooky how complete that magic was.
That night, I finally uncurled myself and rose I flicked my cigarette off into a high arc of bright hot embers and watched it catch a flight and then scatter out into the dark exploding on the pavement in a sudden cascade shower of spark. I tucked myself carefully back through the window. I left the house. Nobody saw me go. Years later, when my parents finally sold that home, I slid out to the window ledge a final time. I tried to recapture something of those nights from way back then. By then though, everything about me had changed.
That night, I drove blindly. However, I knew exactly where I was going. A guy I’d known forever. A nice guy with a Camaro, who’d dated my beautiful dark-haired, and sweet-voiced Valerie Bertinelli look-alike friend. A guy who always listened to my flight of the bumblebee chatter. He’d known me since I’d just been the kid down the street. He was a guy who always looked at me with soft eyes.
I’d also known, of course, I had, that he had been hopeful that someday I’d see him standing there. He had always treated me with kindness if not an “Oh shit, go away, but maybe stay—“gruffness and a distinct traffic cop sort of way.
There were things that kept him at a distance for a long time. Our three-year age difference and my close friendship with his stepbrother were a couple of things. Other relationships had to be picked up and discarded too. But, that had not stopped the way we each studied the other from across a room. Waiting, I guess for some hiccup in cadence and for the timing of the waltz to pause long enough for a smooth cut in. By the time my car made its way that night, it had.
So in retrospect, it wasn’t surprising that my car found its way along the I15 across the Cara Knott Memorial Bridge and to his home. Though, I was not consciously thinking, exactly–I just drove. The tiny house that would come to figure so prominently in my life was dark when I got there. But, I remember the moon had risen fully from out of a fiery spectacle of red and orange whorls, borne from burned-out embers of a jaw-dropping magnificent sunset created by Mount Pinatubo exploding somewhere in the Philippines.
The moon had by that late hour fully escaped the bonds of its rising. It was both spooky and lovely, and the light it cast shown into even the darkest shadows. That light was inescapable, bullying out every inch of the darkness that it touched. It touched everything. It shined even into me.
It was late when I got out and then stood for a moment, considering leaving. I almost did. What stopped me I really don’t know. I knocked very quietly on the door. I had half turned away, changing my mind again and moving in a stop-stutter bolt for my car, when the porch light came on. I flinched away and froze. I heard fumbling with door locks inside. I tried disjointedly to dodge out of the light, but it was much too late. I braced myself and turned as the door opened.
What I saw will stay forever in my memory. I saw his sleepy face light up and shine into the very shadows that I was trying to hide in. He was delighted to see me. Pure and simple pleasure at seeing me standing there shown all over his face. The fullness and beauty of his look rivaled the very moon.
I stuttered out a hello and said something about my car bringing me there; and how it was stupid and late and that I would go. Instead, my feet moved forward and in. My feet were apparently stupid too. He disappeared but only to grab me a beer. We sat on his couch side by side in a darkened room with a stereo playing quietly. He tried to teach me how to flip the cap off the beer with the edge of a lighter. I never did learn how to, but I sure tried for years.
We talked that night of nothing specific that I can pluck up to recall, but we passed a couple of hours there on the couch. We spoke in an easy, familiar way; that wasn’t new. What was new was the bone weariness inside of me. I did not have it in me to get up and leave. I did not burble that night, nor did I have a flow to my chatter, I had a head that was slowly slumping down and weary shoulders.
Finally, I said, “I am really tired, and I don’t want to go. I don’t know if I have anywhere that I’m even supposed to be.” Again, his face lit up. “Then stay,” he said. I was suddenly forced to close my eyes; the look on his face was just too brilliant. I guess I’d been holding my breath. I felt something inside of me give way; I sagged under the weight of my weariness. I found a place to rest my head near his shoulder. He sat there quietly and let me.
I could hear the steady thump of his heart. He has a great heartbeat, and I like to lay my head just above it to hear it beat even now. I could hear the indrawn breath as he pulled a heavy drag on his cigarette. The smoke from it curled through his fingertips and haloed around our heads. Cheap Trick crooned low and slow about a flame as my eyes grew heavy. I sipped my beer and drifted quietly.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that, long enough for a few spent Rolling Rocks to line up the table and join the first good fallen soldiers. “You don’t have to leave,” he said, “You can take the bedroom, and I will take the couch”.
I felt him tug my hand, and I got up and followed him. The traffic cop was back on duty, blowing a shrill imaginary whistle and waving a pristine white-gloved hand in my face, and I didn’t resist. I curled up in his bed, and he tucked the velvety soft blue blanket around my shoulders and smiled at me as he turned off the light and left the room. I closed my eyes on the moonlight that had managed to follow me in, shining through the window casting strange lovely silvered shadows on the wall.
I woke up the next morning to the sunlight streaming in and him standing there with the perfect cup of coffee and a green Lifesaver in his hand, for me. “Don’t leave,” he said, “I have to work, but you can stay. I will be home later. We’ll talk then. If you don’t have anywhere you need to go, then don’t. Just stay” And, I instantly knew that I would stay. I never considered myself anywhere but home when I was with him. I stayed, of course, I did.
With a look of delight, a green Lifesaver, and a cup of coffee, he began to spackle up places in my heart. From then on, it was Cindy and Paul. When people referred to us, it became as a pair. We were never thought of in singular form again. That’s just how it is.
I knew even then that he had some issues, like me. Neither of us had launched particularly gracefully nor did either of us have exactly traditional roots. We both had that same sort of need to “escape ourselves”. I saw that, of course. I did not understand what those things meant back then, but I did if only very dimly, know them.
I also knew that he wanted me to be just who I was and that he accepted me without reservations or surprise. He seemed to move fluidly with the soft edges, the crinkles, and the childlike qualities that I had. He learned slowly about the clackety-clack-ding-swoop-clackety-clack of the typewriter in my brain. With him, I could easily say the things that floated and bumped about in my head. I know they didn’t always make sense to him, but I was free finally to be. And, over time, I became able to write out loud.
He let me have his bed and soft blue blanket as my own space. He played Greensleeves, letting easily slide the rock ‘n roll Marlboro smoking squinty-eyed ‘Smoke on the Water’ strumming cool, just enough to pick out by ear the strings of that beautiful medieval song on his guitar. He put me to sleep many a night with those hauntingly lovely strains.
He taught me how to bowl. We camped. Patiently he explained football to me. He accepted the sudden voraciousness that I acquired for that game. When I cursed like a sailor coaching the quarterbacks from my own chair and blasting special teams, he only backed away slightly. He kept trying to teach me the lighter beer lid thing, for me, it never caught on. He introduced me to gin and tonics, and when I became voracious about those too, he leaned right on in. He taught me terms about alignments and auto mechanics, and I ate his world all up.
He always laughed at the silly voices that would bubble out of me from nowhere or when I talked to my cat. He took in my enormous cat with the silly Mike Tyson meow, without hesitation. When I misheard the words to a song but liked my own lyrics more, he pretended they were better. “I’ll never leave your pizza burning, isn’t that better than Beast of Burden?” See now it’s a true love song without all that angst, I like it better that way, don’t you?” He would smile and assure me that he did.
He became my Jiminy Cricket, son of a Cocker Spaniel; God bless America curser! He accepted that when I cursed, a foghorn wouldn’t drown it out. He seemed to embrace the split in me that I could be astonishingly naïve about very simple practical life things and be perfectly comfortable explaining the punch lines of blue jokes to him.
He was the traffic cop! He still has this today. A look that arranges itself into stern lines, you can almost see the mirrored sunglasses carefully drop, as his expression manages to whisper the question entirely without words “Excuse me ma’am, but do you know how fast your what the *^*$, was going?” I, of course, never do. But, I do know I love the traffic cop!
In looking back, I see clearly now how little it was to start on. How ill-advised it all was. I have often thought of us in those days as competitors in a three-legged race. We didn’t compete so well alone but strapped together we could make our way as a hybrid sort of whole. Perhaps it was co-dependence. I’m fairly comfortable with that.
The question is moot anyway because here we still are the two of us. Though we’ve added two children thirteen years apart, the story really boils down to us. We’re fairly goofball as parents, but we’ve done our best to pass on surprisingly tough stuff ethical and upright moral codes. We have not been perfect, but we have been together. Together we were able to make our way across the field. A three-legged life race. I’ve so often thought of us this way.
I also think of the porch light popping on under that crazy bright moon and the delight on a very young man’s face. So no matter what has come and gone the truth has always been that from whatever mess I’m dangling feet over ass in, he’s come striding back to drag me back into the race. No matter what I threw out in my fractured angry ways he always came back to get me. I do this for him time and time again, as well.
We do not leave each other in the mess, whatever it is. And, life has had a ha-ha giggle festival parade with us and some of the curveballs we’ve maneuvered; there’ve been few soft pitches offered just because we face things together. But, it’s the rule we’ve got. We navigate the mess, first. We make it through and then we decide from there. So far, we’ve both decided that together is where we are. That’s a lot of destinies that flared up under a porch light and a silvery red slashed volcanic moon.
But, I had no way of knowing how the path would turn on that next morning when I accepted the green Lifesaver and I met my future husband’s eyes over the rim of a coffee cup. I did know that he was offering me a place in his life, me, and all of my un-doneness. So, I wasn’t going anywhere.
Because, what he really did especially in those early days, was to give something back to me. He let me be playful. A thing that had been diminished in me, the simple gift of play, Paul unknowingly gave back to me.
Sometimes he didn’t understand the words I said, but he said he liked the sound of my voice. He knew who I was and where I came from. Most of all, he gave me time. In that time, he became my good friend. The best I have ever had. When time passed, and it felt like there should be something more than that, he asked me to become his wife.
And, in the prettiest long white dress you ever saw, standing by the wishing well that is what I became. Everything that has followed has its roots in the simple two words “I will”. Even so, that day is not where we started. What has followed for twenty-two years of for better and worse had been set in motion long before that, rising up from under the gorgeously spectacular fierceness of a Pinatubo moon.