Second place in the Enid Writers’ Club
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?
T.S. Eliot / The Wasteland
We had met at the opening night of an art showing in Chelsea in happening New York City, which sounds far more interesting and romantic than it actually was. I had managed to sneak out a few minutes early from my position as an executive sales agent (a.k.a. telemarketer for an up and coming dish network, that promised to provide the viewer with a high-quality cinematic experience for the entire family, along with enough soft-core porn to keep the average household suitably entertained). So, being too early to meet my equally aspiring comrades for a night of frivolity and microbrews at Death Ave., I opted to drop into the gallery next door, which had more than its allowable number of hollow-cheeked and somewhat attractive women mingling aimlessly amongst a smaller gathering of man-bun sporting assholes.
She, Teresa Buccola, had been by far the most attractive of the hollow-cheeked and had entered the gallery immediately after me, hurrying in as the front door closed behind me.
“Thanks,” she said, sarcastically. “Typical,” she continued as she pushed towards the back of the gallery.
I didn’t see you… whatever.
Art is subjective and this particular brand of art was subject to being buried with tons of more appealing swill at the nearest landfill where even the rats would be appalled at the property devaluing contributions. And, as I am prone to do whilst wandering alone at any outing that doesn’t provide sustenance to keep me busy chewing instead of speaking, I let slip a few choice words while attempting to discern what appeared to be a “sculpture” of a spider devouring an ironing board.
“Looks more palatable than these… what? Tapas?” I said, holding up something that resembled the pigs-in-a-blanket that I had enjoyed as a child, but that tasted like overcooked Brussel sprouts.
There she was, Miss Typical.
I stared, the eleven between my properly trimmed eyebrows surely adding a century.
“These,” I said, holding up the offending non-morsel on a toothpick, “are not very good. That’s all.”
“I made them.”
Awkward silence and additional staring.
I eventually blurted out, “I’m sorry about the door.”
“I’m sorry about the door. I didn’t see you coming. I really would have held it open for you if I had.”
“What’s wrong with the food,” she asked, pointing at what remained on my plate.
I was not normally at a loss for words, but not wanting to insert my foot any deeper than I already had, I repeated my loquacious self.
She laughed. Then she covered her mouth and laughed even more.
It was a sound that even the most stoic of hearts could fall in love with and I did. Right there in the middle of so much bad art and man-buns, I fell in love.
“You didn’t make these.”
She laughed even harder.
There were sharp glances from those who refuse to let even the slightest glint of joy enter their eyes for fear of smearing their perfectly mascaraed lids, but she saw only me.
“Why are you here?”
Between her fingers, holding back guffaws that I would later learn lingered only a breath below the surface, she said, “I had to pee!”
And the laughter peeled from her in great torrents of uninhibited joy.
And suddenly the entire gallery was caught up in her merriment and joy.
Two months later, I tried to give her a ring and make it official. She wasn’t ready. Twenty-seven days after that—give or take an hour or so—I was glad she hadn’t taken me up on the offer, but there is nothing like time and habit and predictability to take something that should not have been to….
“Where are you?”
“Where are you? You’ve slid around the corner again and I lost track of you.”
“Focus for shit’s sake! I’ve been talking to you for the last twenty minutes and if you can tell me one thing I’ve said, I’ll spend the next twenty minutes pleasantly visiting with your mother.”
Hesitantly I said, “I don’t think either of you would enjoy that.”
“Well, I know I wouldn’t, but if it will pull you out of whatever dark dream you’ve wandered off into, then I’ll be happy to endure.”
She could, on occasion, be just a touch dramatic, but I’ve been home for at least two hours, and not only could I not tell her what she said in the last twenty minutes, I’m also quite certain that the last one hundred and twenty minutes are equally as blank.
She had a way of going on about things that shifted the mind and ears out of gear. Like closing your eyes and settling on the bottom at the deep end of the pool. The necessary and appropriate sounds are present, but the sound waves are so stretched out and distorted that by the time the thirty-three and one-third rpm recording reaches and undulates the tympanic membrane it… never mind.
Bottom line: on occasion, I tuned her out and drifted in my own thoughts, which is why this particular moment was more taxing than others.
Last Wednesday, I had been with Teresa for thirty-six months, and exactly one week and a day ago, she had reminded me of this gladsome event. Unfortunately, she had remembered, but I had not. That misfired synapse had brought on at least forty-eight hours of fighting, another twenty-seven of pouting, nineteen minutes of making love, and untold hours of sulking and tentative glances over several meals, sleepless naps, and a sixty-three-minute conversation about adopting a mesmerizing chimera kitten while gazing at said kitten who slept peacefully ignorant behind the plexiglass of their potentially traumatized life that would have inevitably been spent being taxied from one ‘parent’ to the other following the protracted divorce and ensuing custody battle.
‘Why?’, you ask would I forget such an event as a thirty-six month anniversary and then go on to consider adopting a Felis catus, regardless of those bilateral markings and David Bowie eyes?
No. Not “Goodbye” or “Hello”. Ciao… a perfume and not the more recent olfactory delights of Vince Camuto, but the 1980s variety, the original, by Houbigant.
In 1980, even though a healthy American teen, I was far more likely to have solved the issue of quantum physics before recognizing that a girl was hitting on me. I was more concerned with when squirrel season opened and whether or not I would finally be considered old enough to receive a Seiko Digital Chronograph Watch A229-5000 (I had no idea what all those buttons did, but I was certain that my life would not be fulfilled without them), but then, in the ninth grade…
Following second period, I was walking down the hall to an hour in the library. There was a group of girls chatting happily as they made their way to whatever third period demanded their presence, when she stopped, turned, and smiled. I didn’t even know her name, but she walked straight towards me. I was preparing to step out of her way, clearly she had not seen me, when she suddenly stopped, stared me in the eyes, and said, “I’ve wanted to hug you.”
I remember my exact response.
“Thcbl cy bracooit… eau.”
She smiled and then pressed her body into mine, wrapping her arms around me as she did.
The next thing I clearly remembered was Toni Fallow walking away with a quick glance over her shoulder and a smile that said she would be back for another hug. For my part, I was happy to oblige her for the next two-and-a-half years. She was my first true kiss, first bare breast, first love, and first broken heart.
Today, walking out of the office, looking forward to a potentially happy evening with Teresa of thirty-six months, one week and one day, anticipating episode one of season three of a mindless but intoxicating show of conquering thrones, a nice meal, and a bit of scotch (“Hello, Cousin Glen!”), there was Toni. Every kiss, touch, moment, desire, passion… all of her. There she was in a single scent of a 1980s perfume that was no longer even produced and my knees buckled.
I called out, without hesitation or concern for who heard. She had to be here.
I tried to follow that scent of memories, but it was quickly lost in all the noise of sweat and day-old deodorant.
I could have cried.
I remembered her hair. Her long dark hair cascading over her shoulders and down the smoothness of her back.
I remembered her skin. Skin bequeathed by some ancient race and born of the moon’s embrace.
And I remember her scent.
Her scent. Her scent…
I’m going to regret that.
“Teresa. I’m here. Just… just a long day. Lots on my mind. Sorry.”
Ah. There it was. The end of all conversations and the beginning of a cold night.
A finger in my face.
“You can’t treat me like this and then spin around inside your whims and expect me to take it! I won’t”
Very emphatic. I somehow doubt she would appreciate the internal commentary.
“No! Not this time. I’m tired of trying to help you work your shit out. Figure it out for yourself!”
I was in the process of doing just that before you interrupted my… my waking dreams! Dreams that took me a long way from you. Dreams of Toni on the night…
God, she was beautiful. Every other princess at the junior prom had purchased their dress from some store with a label. Toni’s mom had made hers. Chanel should have been so fortunate to have created something so potent. It covered everything that it was supposed to and revealed everything that the teenage male mind could hope to imagine or caress. And she was mine and I was the envy of all of the boys and even a few of the girls.
We stood dancing (not really, we were engaged in a kiss that would have made the one from The Princess Bride look like the fairy tale that it was) while Steve Perry sang out, “I’m forever yours, faithfully…..” I remember the tight little circles our bodies moved in and I remember the feel of her lips parted against mine and I remember the hormones pulsing between us and I remember Ciao. When the song ended, we discovered that we were alone on the dance floor. Those that watched our self-indulgent oblivion broke out into applause and laughter at the love that would never end. Except, it didn’t even make it to our senior year.
Sometime during that next summer, he entered in. His name is not even worth mentioning, much less remembering. He was a blip. In retrospect, I allowed him to be more of a blip than he should have been, but by the time I recognized my ignorance, I was almost forty years old and Toni had been happily married for fifteen years and had three beautiful daughters of her own. I, on the other hand, find myself divorced (no children, thanks be to God), and presently in a questionable relationship of thirty-six months, one week, and one day, wondering if I had made the gravest mistake of my life at the age of seventeen.
I had seen her only once since those high school days of innocently passionate kisses and brushes of flesh in the hallowed halls of Teenage High. We had both been attending the wedding of two mutual high school friends who had, in fact, survived not only those same hallowed halls that we had frolicked in but also all the years that followed and who were only now making the ultimate commitment of the self to one another. They were happy and as desperately in love now as I thought was when Toni first pressed her body into mine following second period on that day in the 1980s.
It wasn’t an awkward conversation nor was it comfortable. It was a conversation between two adults who knew the touch of one another’s flesh before age, wisdom, responsibilities, and life had kneaded the passion of youth from its midst. If she had been wearing Ciao I would likely have abandoned every aspect of my life to be with her, but as it were, I think she was wearing the same heavy Estée Lauder that her mother had worn, which is why I am now divorced and presently with Miss thirty-six months, one week and one day: Teresa.
“What?” I had forgotten she was there. “Wh… sorry?”
A moment to calculate.
A silence and then a glance up from the magazine she had been slapping through. Was that hope I saw or resignation?
Her lips pursed as though she was experiencing some painful gas, then she again said softly and with only a hint of desperation, “What?”
“Let’s get the cat.”