Matters Of Little Consequence

December 31, 2009: 

“So you’re really doing this . .” Jen said, shaking her head.

“Jen, what exactly do I have to lose in this transaction? She’s obviously in a professional relationship with her husband that has provided her with much swag but precious little sway. I’m a temporary excursion, her much deserved reward for sticking to the matrimonial script,”

“And when it doesn’t last?”

“What lasts, Jen? When we stop blinding ourselves to the realities, what lasts? Marriage behaves like a cranky Supreme Court verdict on love and romance, with plenty of loopholes in the decision . . ”

“Such as?”

“Such as ’till death do us part'”.

“How is that a loophole?”

“Because we predictably assume it to mean mortal death, without considering death on a more philosophical level. There’s the death of romance, of hope, of trust . . .”

“I never realized how intelligent your penis was!” Jen laughed as she sipped at her martini.

“Laugh all you want, but I cracked the code and I’m not looking back,”I said as we toasted to the differences of opinion that provided the solvency to our friendship.

“You go Indiana Jones,” She winked as Red approached.

“What are you two conspiring on?” Red asked as she gestured for me to hand over my martini glass for a sip.

“You are creepy, reading minds like that . .”I said as I watched her lips settle into negotiations with my adult swim.

“Excuse me while I double down,” Jen said, removing herself from the confab.

“I’m a witch. Didn’t you know?” Red winked as she handed me back my martini.

“That explains the artwork,” I laughed.

“Come here, I wanna show you something,”

She led me to a hallway replete with photographs and artwork and pointed to a signed copy of David Bowie’s Young Americans album and then proceeded to tell me how it was gifted to her by a biker she dated when she was going to school in Philadelphia. I was so transfixed by her story that I forgot why I’d come to the party in the first place, and then she reminded me by leaning in for a kiss.

“Ah . . holy shit?” I said when we came up for air.

“Don’t you dare tell me you’re surprised,” She said.

“No, I just thought I’d ask you out for that drink . . after which we’d get to this,”

She leaned in for another kiss before taking another sip of my martini and then returning to the party.

“Call me,”

That call turned into drinks and those drinks turned into a five year affair that navigated some stormy times in the early going. But we figured out the math and became the kind of bad romance that didn’t ask questions. And it worked until it didn’t, and that became that.

For years, I tried pushing the Dame out of my thoughts for fear I might come to the conclusion that we had vandalized some kind of epic forever after love story. But there really was no alternate ending to our story. We were trespassers, true believers of a mighty thing whose promises were cosmically challenged from our first hello; like a tarnished pair of tapers whose wick spoke wonderfully foreign languages to our tortured souls inside the all too brief embrace of forever.

The combustible effort to the final chapter of a love story we penned in short used to defeat me. It used to make me think I was an utter failure at unlocking the secrets to the heart. But time shows you differently when your shoes are earnest and your steps abide, and so I look back from here and consider myself the better for the women I’ve loved. Well, excepting for a short lived re-union with Maria and a bizarre tryst with a girl named Rachel that led to a Cuban Missile Crisis standoff where she actually held my Drinks Well With Others blog hostage for a short time.

The truth of the matter is that the women of my life have always been the greatest part of me. They were always the better half of a clueless romeo who never had a rap, and whose only real plan of action when it came to curls and curves was to provoke a laughter that might settle my wayward soul for a spell.

Those days of satire and gin martinis with the Dame feel as if they happened inside another lifetime, as if it was all a fever dream.

In the dream we’re having dinner in the Italian restaurant we found very much by accident. It’s where we had our very best date ever, which ended with the owner of the place gifting us a wine jug the Dame had been fawning over. And it’s also where we had our very worst date ever; the one that let me know it was all coming to an end.

This is our tie breaking feast and we’re having a time of it, with big fat glasses of red wine and Sinatra tap dancing along the walls and a summer breeze that is tickling our deepest wishes into a sublime flavor. And the dying sun is clashing with an opinionated moon and they’re birthing the most wonderfully handsome children. The dusk feels as if is breathing eyelashes onto a cantilever and the words we share feel as if they’ve never been uttered by another living soul. There is no beginning and there is no end to this magical place, but only the here and now. 

“I love you,” She says sweetly between sips of her wine.  

And then she lifts herself up from the table and retrieves a snub nosed Ruger from her purse and gives me the Solozzo special with two shots to the head before collecting her glass of wine and lighting up a smoke on her way out the door.

All things considered, the dream could’ve been worse.

 

Matters of Little Consequence

With the Gorilla dead and buried, I continued keeping her blog warm seeing as how her posts had become sporadic in nature. In the early going of this particular arrangement, I felt really good about it. But as time passed and her posts became less frequent, I felt like I was just getting in the way, so I ceased and desisted. From there, things settled into a predictability that was likely driving us mad. We were passionate people playing out the string, and so it only made sense that the end was a matter of when.

By the time 2009 rolled around, I’d started a new blog and then trashed it in short order. And then I tried another one, figuring out something that looked and felt light years different from before. Rooting for Laundry was the predecessor to Drinks Well With Others. My writing had become crisper, more poigant and poetically honest to my writing bones. The Dame was such a magnificent Goddamn writer, it was a slam dunk proposition that she would push me into these Everest-like discoveries. Her influence provided me with with the muster to quit holding back. She taught me that good writing will comfort your soul but great writing will unleash it.

On a personal level, she resented the fact that I never brought up marriage in our second go round. The truth was, our first breakup had provided me the cautionary tale to which I was in no hurry to return. It may not have been fair to her, but there was the matter of self preservation to think about as far as I was concerned. And with that fresh perspective, it occurred to me on more than one occasion that I was plenty fine being single for the rest of my life if push came to shove off. Being a man of a certain age does indeed have its privileges.

I didn’t want us to go away, mind you. I simply didn’t feel an urgency to plant our feet in concrete boots, what with all the many variables we were both toting around. Not the least of which were our respective battles with depression. She wasn’t a crazy bitch who wanted to murder me in my sleep, even if there were times when I swore it was true. She was just a small town rich girl who’d lost her north star existence to death, domestic abuse and a shattered family tree.

It wasn’t her fault that she couldn’t make me happy. In the end, I left her scavenging for tiny little pieces of me, as if scavenging for clearance bargains. What it comes down to is, when you’re never happy, then you have to find a person who at the very least gives you peace of mind.

She wasn’t that.

We drifted in and out of delirious moments interspersed with insanely provocative scenarios and corruptible silences that only served to push us further apart. We believed in something, but we stopped being so certain as to what that something truly was. We were weighted by the debt of our mistakes, we were constrained by the indifference we wore in order to protect ourselves. As a result, our rhythm listed and our swim became fractured under the strain of it all.

Our love story became a double edged sword in which every precious yin begot a forgettable yang.

For every exhilarating tennis match where she kicked my ass, there was a stone cold shoulder moment that pushed us further into the deep. For every hot date night where we got busy lighting the match fantastic, there were nights when we didn’t talk at all. And for every romantic Italian dinner at a joint we found by accident, there was the return visit where she stormed out before the entrees arrived.

If you were to ask me for a microcosm of our time together, I would tell you it came some time after midnight on Easter morning of our final spring. We’d gone Machiavelli on the friendly drinks and with her kids away till morning, we decided to cook up our feast. We started things late night and finished them sometime after who knows what in the very early morning. Drinking and smoking and dancing to Elvis Costello and Wilco, Neil Diamond and Al Green and Aretha Franklin. Bickering and laughing and kissing in between the smoke and fire and ramble of clinks. And when it was done we had roasted lamb, a museum grooved ham, green beans with pancetta, cornbread stuffing, honeyed carrots, garlic mashed and a divine asparagus/tomato/mozzarella salad. We made ourselves mussels with blue cheese and some crumbled bacon for the trouble and we dug in, toasting our dirty, rolled up sleeves whilst clinking Sams. And then we fucked like mad and fell asleep.

We did Miami in June and as great a time as the Clevelander was, that Easter Sunday was really our last great night together. Because the zip code doesn’t make up the rules on a good time, yanno?

And before we both knew it, it was late August and our forever after was being called on account of rain, again, this time for keeps. I would spend Saturday on the couch, watching Ted Kennedy’s funeral whilst keeping company with one part coffee to whatever the fuck parts vodka and a couple packs of smokes.

You have to be a writer to understand that shit.

Next Week: The Epilogue

 

 

 

 

Matters Of Little Consequence

December 31, 2008: 

Before she became Red to me, she was Geena. We’d gotten to know each other well enough that she invited me to a New Years shindig she was throwing at her condo. I brought my son and my friend Karen, because my son loved parties where he could hone his extensive vocabulary whilst flirting with the ladies. I brought Karen because she called me out of the blue to vent about having taken a break from her Romeo.

We’d dabbled in perpendicular associations after our respective divorces, but our friendship had become a hands free dynamic long before the Dame came along. Besides, the Dame and me had forged a compact inside our long distance relationship in which we socialized with friends of the opposite sex- including former flames. It was a matter of trust, and a dearth of friends.

My son talked politics with Geena’s daughter while Karen found some shot partners. I hung with a lesbian couple, and we kvetched on celebrity crushes. When the clock struck nine o’clockish, I collected my son and searched for Karen, who was having a blast and asking if we could stay till midnight.

I figured the night was still young and I’d be able to partake on the other side. So I drove my son home and headed back to the party, after which I called the Dame. Her plans had fallen through and she was short with me, so I decided against telling her I’d gone back to the party. But then she asked me and then I told her and then I promised to call her later, and then she told me she was going to sleep. If not for my schedule, I would’ve been there. And so I let it go and I hoped she would let it go, and I went back upstairs. I was intent on digging into a friendly beverage when I was swiped up by my new pals.

“We’re going dancing!” Tara said, as the party began heading out. A block and a half later, I was failing miserably on the dance floor, so I grabbed a beer and moved to where Karen and her new friends were sitting. By this point, Karen was several sheets into a stiff tequila wind and nursing a beer much too cozily with Paul, who oh by the way was Geena’s husband. So I tabled it with my sisters in rhyme, after which I danced up the floor to more proper conclusions thanks to an old school DJ who went heavy on disco.

When Geena wrangled up our motley crew, I couldn’t hit the door fast enough. I was feeling melancholic about Chi-town and dreading having to work the next day and bummed as all get out that I wasn’t feeling nearly as jovial as everybody else.

“Hey mister . . .”

It was Geena, sidling up next to me as if she could read my mind. Inside my depressed state, she was coming up aces. She asked about the Dame as we chatted our way back upstairs, where I constructed a martini for myself while Geena, Lori and Tara involved themselves in Gatsby sized vino glasses. I was feeling shin bone deep in a mellowed out feeling when Karen came in and handed me my coat. “You left it at the club, so we bummed a few cigs . . ,” She smiled.

We toasted the dwindling minutes as they teetered into dust and the hands of the clock reached for an indelicate breach. My brain began deconstructing a year whose wings had perched themselves into the vespers of a raging fire. I’d won and I’d lost and I’d given up trying to figure out the reasons why.

As midnight exploded, the martini swam upstream and the beer chaser dovetailed the setting magnificently as I let tomorrow work on its snooze. Me and Geena debated the best Bowie song while the girls took me to task for converting to deep dish over New York style. And just when the night had settled into a peaceful logic, one of Karen’s shot shuckers ran into the condo in a panic, “Your friend is bleeding in the hallway,”

Sure enough, Karen was sitting on the ground and bleeding from the forehead after hitting the astragal between a set of double doors which led to the elevators. “I’m fine!” she said drunkenly as Paul came out with a hand towel. I went back to grab my jacket and when I returned, she was gone. Geena wished me a vaya con dios and I went searching for a tall redhead doing a civil war drummer boy impersonation as I headed towards the parking garage.

There were plenty of times in my life where my past has spoken to me in bold cursive, but none quite so bizarrely. So I wasn’t shocked to find the parking garage booth had closed up shop, leaving me stuck between a gate and a single lane spiral I was never going to be able to navigate in reverse. I had two choices: crash through the fucking thing or try and lift it. I chose the latter and then cursed my way out of the garage, shortly thereafter finding Karen strolling down the street.

“Get in,” I said icily.

“Hey fuck you for laughing at me!” Karen slurred.

I pulled over and she got in, after which I told her where to go and how to get there. “I wasn’t laughing at you, so ease the fuck up,”

“I’m sure your girlfriend loves the fact that you were having such a great time with a married woman . .”

“What in the fuck does that even mean?”

“It was awkward!”

“No, awkward was whatever you and Paul were doing. We were dancing . . . and I’m pretty sure it was the only thing keeping Geena from scratching your eyes out,”

“Your girlfriend might not think this is so funny,”

I thought this black comedy of an evening had run out of surprises, as if there was a chance in hell the universe was done with me. 

As if.

Matters Of Little Consequence

The 800lb Gorilla met its inglorious end on August 8th, 2008. Dan said goodbye with a video. Of course.

By then I was writing with the Dame, on her blog. I was trying to provide her with the muse and doing a lousy job of it. Her readers weren’t all that receptive to me either, as evidenced by the dearth of comments. I’d get the occasional “Where’s Dame?”, to which I provided a cursory explanation that the Dame was busy gardening or tending to the kiddos or backpacking in Tibet.

The truth of the matter is, I was sans blog for the first time in years and I didn’t know whether it was a blessing or a curse. What I missed more than anything was the ability to slice something up with four lettered particulars, because my jam wasn’t playing in the Dame’s crib. I was like the new age bistro that replaces the landmark steakhouse; peeps wanted the sizzle she provided and were much less interested in my rap, so to speak.

Still, I loved keeping her seat warm because I knew when she got back to it, she was going to wreak havoc on the somethings and lay waste to the everything elses. And without a blog of my own, I felt plenty fine playing the role of David Carradine from Kung Fu . . wandering the literary stars, plucking ransoms out of the minutiae. It’s just what you do when you’re in love with someone’s pen. You wait by the window, shining that light until they make it home.

October of 2008 was a revelatory caterwaul whose presence I could have done without. But life never speaks to us with permission. And so it was that in October, the shit collided with the proverbial fan when Dan confessed to having an affair with bat shit crazy poet girl from Seattle. Yeah, the same writer the Dame had accused me of messing around with the year before. And when Dame wouldn’t stop shooting at my kneecaps with a smoking gun that wasn’t mine, I had turned up my snark index to ten plus and let her have it with something like Of course I took a flight from Chicago to Seattle . . because I have all the fucking time in the world to travel all over the fucking map banging bloggers! Admittedly, I might have tried tact on for size, seeing as how we ended up burning our relationship to the ground thanks to exchanges such as this.

Almost a year later, I was vindicated. Again. That lovable ape the poet girl would write sonnets to wasn’t me, it was Dan. And it made sense that the guy who whined about having to live vicariously through my social life now that he was married, was the culprit. It explained the vibe I was getting from him and Chris, and it explained all the mysterious shit he would post on the blog; which I was thankful was six feet under now.

I’m not gonna lie. I expected an apology from the Dame. I mean, it didn’t have to be served on fine china or anything like that. But I’d been unfairly accused of something, and I figured now was the time to close up that forgettable chapter with some mea for my affected culpa.

That wasn’t how the Dame ticked, though. Because what I got instead served to tear those sutures plumb off the scab of the previous November. After she got done scorching the patch of earth Dan stood on, she directed the rest of her bottle of Jesus towards me for having the piss poor judgement to be friends with such a cad. Never mind that I wasn’t pals with the fucker on the level of vault stories. Never mind that I was left to roast on a spit as he fucked the blog into the ground. Never mind that the Dame, oh by the way, had been married to a serial womanizer and I wasn’t holding it against her.

Needless to say, I was feeling the tremors as another November moved into focus. All of a sudden, the ground we walked on felt as sturdy as gossamer. But this time would be different, because I was going to be spending Thanksgiving week in Chicago. Which would guarantee that we would make it out of that scarred month intact as a couple. Probably . . .

And this is where the Dame showed herself to be one of the most beautifully complicated individuals I’ve ever known. Because that visit will live with me from the moment I touched down at O’Hare until I take my final breath. It speaks to who we are, as human beings, that I can think back on that time and be as in love with her from right here as I was right there without wanting any of it back, ever again. If you look up the definition of complicated in the dictionary, that’s what it looks like.

The Dame’s family had forged an empire in a small Illinois town once upon a time, before sickness and death claimed the progenitors. Her father’s passing had taken the biggest toll on her, after which she kept an arm’s length relationship with her siblings, but she had always remained close to her kid brother.

As in many prestigious families, excess and intrigue are sewn into the seal, and hers was no different. Her kid brother had been a hot shit equities trader until the bottom fell out thanks to a heroin crush that wouldn’t quit. And so me and the Dame went over to his apartment on Thanksgiving morning to get him, because she was afraid he was going to run.

We found him walking down the street and I got out of the car and let him take the front seat. Before he moved inside the car, I could tell he was higher than the planes that were circling above us waiting for their turn to land at O’Hare. He tried his best to play it straight on the way back her place, but he was a mess and I watched in awe as she kept it all together.

Back at her place, we played catch with her son while the Dame finished up her Thanksgiving feast. And then she got him to wash up and refresh himself, and by that evening when we were playing cards, he was the hot shit kid who’d been going places again. Only, he was much more than that. His smile was infectious and his laugh was original and he could talk on anything and I loved him. Just like that. And it was her, it was all her; holding together the last remaining pieces of a family that had gone away. And it just so happens to be one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed in my entire life.

I can still taste her smile inside the crisp advent of a winter’s breath that promised snow and far worse things. And maybe I knew we were a mistake by then, but it didn’t matter. Because that moment and that smile thrust me into the places of this universe that do not yet have names. And at least once in your life, you need to feel that kind of Longfellow in your bones.

As if the universe calls only you.

Matters Of Little Consequence

By the time spring started tickling the air with a dusty fever, the eight hundred pound gorilla had lost most of its weight. Dan was writing sporadically, leaving me to pick up the slack. Meanwhile, me and the Dame were figuring it out. And, because there is no such thing as simple math, a great big matzoh ball of a mystery was being played out, the results of which I wouldn’t learn until the blog was six feet under.

Me and the boys convened at McCleary’s Public House- a river town pub whose patrons were a funky soup of factory workers, college peeps and small business owners. It was the weekend and some cover band was pissing on the platinum sage lyrics of Cobain. When you make Lake of Fire sound like a boy band ballad, you should be brought up on charges.

It was my first and only time meeting Richie, and all those first impressions I’d collected were proving correct. He talked higher than his ass, about everything. When Chris and me started riffing about our ideas for the podcast, Richie had to interject his thoughts on the blog. The dude was floating more bells and whistles than a degenerate gambler on safari in Vegas. So far, he’d delivered shit.

We let him go on for a while since he’d sprung for the first round, but things were getting nowhere at the speed of light. It devolved into him talking about some chick from Jersey, and his businesses and his brilliant mind. His hairline was receding faster than the arctic glaciers, his paunch had more keep than a Rockefeller trust fund and his personality was a flailing strike. And somehow, Dan thought this asshole was a good idea for us.

Speaking of Dan, I couldn’t shake the feeling something was going on, to which Dan and Chris were holding tight. It wasn’t unusual to feel like the third wheel around those two, but this was different and I was pretty certain it had to do with the blog. It was doing nothing to assuage my suspicions that Chris and Dan were planning a mutiny. It didn’t matter that I was the only erstwhile scribe the fucking thing had going. By this point, nothing about the blog was making any sense. 

“So what’s this about you writing on that chick’s blog?” Richie asked me out of the blue.

The question felt like a punch to the face once I realized what he was talking about. It took a few moments to put together where this line of questioning could have come from. Dan.

“What in the blessed fuck does that have to do with getting us a website?” I asked.

“She hot?”

“She’s not pregnant or your cousin, so you wouldn’t be interested,” I said. The guys all cracked up after which Dan changed the subject quickly.

I was devoting more of my time to the Dame, sure. But that was because she’d stopped writing on the regular and without that steam vent, things could get menacingly perpendicular for us. My involvement in her writing life was equal parts wondrous fascination and self preservation. And it was nobody’s business but our own. 

At this point, I knew I had to take a breather from this catastrophe of a get together or there was going to be a scene. So I told Dan I was going out to call the Dame and gave him a look as if to say If your asshole friend has any inkling to join me, Imma need bail money. 

I called Dame, who cut our chat short because her oldest daughter was visiting, so I delayed my return inside by talking with Till Tuesday and her new friend- a construction worker who’d done work on Lincoln Financial Field. I was starting to feel the buzz of the shots, the Guinness and the smokes. It’s that peaceful, easy feeling when a certain time of the evening goes plush to necessary solutions. I was having such a good time chatting it up, I almost forgot about the miserable shit that awaited me when I went back inside. And then Dan made the scene.

“What’s wrong with you tonight dude?”

“Me? I’m listening to Richie sell us on ground floor real estate to a blog we built, and that you couldn’t care less about writing on now that we have a podcast with Chris. Never mind that it came about only because of the blog,”

“Sorry . . . It’s just, I’ve been going through it and my mind has been shit for,” Dan confessed.

“What’s going on?”

“Me and Em are fighting. I know it’s not fair to you or the blog . . . and maybe that’s what I need to do, you know? Just fucking write again . . take my mind off everything else?”

I almost felt badly for suspecting him of mutiny. Almost. But the more questions I threw his way, the more he ducked and ran. And while I knew this wasn’t about the blog, I also knew it was adversely affecting it.  So I got to pressing before . . .

“You fellas going to Haydn Zugs?”

Standing directly in front of us was a breathalyzer test’s wet dream and this asshole wasn’t taking no for an answer.

“Sorry man, but if we were going there . . why would we be here?” I asked with a straight face. The irony was lost on him.

“I need a ride there! I got a date!”

“So . . what was the plan exactly? Get drunk here, with no ride to the place where you have a date . . . ” I smiled.

“It’s not your fucking business,” He slurred.

“Incorrect. Because you made it my business when you asked for a ride, Sparky,”

“Fuck you then . . I’ll just slash your tires!”

“Hey fuckhead, get a cab!” Dan bellowed, stepping forward and opening his jacket to reveal his revolver. He had a permit to carry, but I’m pretty sure he still would’ve carried it even without one.

“I’m calling my brother, man . . . he’s a state cop!”

“Call him and tell him you’re drunk and you’re gonna slash some tires . . and then tell him to bring donuts. Chocolate glazed . . .” I laughed.

“I should fucking call him right now . . .”

“Call him . . . ” I said calmly. “Tell him that I prevented you from slashing some tires by kicking your ass. After which my friend here put you down after you reached for his gun when he was trying to pull me off you before I put you in a coma,”

“You guys are fucking nuts!” He shouted as he walked off into the night as me and Dan laughed our asses off whilst popping the top on another pack of smokes.

The episode was a microcosm of the blog: An accident of misbegotten times and places that was blatantly offensive and downright stupid. A bat-shit crazy run on sentence that was destined for nothing good.

Full of bluster and fire until it stumbled off into the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Answer

A while back, Frank offered up a dance step writing challenge to me. (Here’s his post) Which I’m dishing up now, in a somewhat different look. 

Hannah sat on the glossy wooden bench on the auditorium stage and waited for her name to be called. She prayed for a cataclysm to save her- a grease fire in the cafeteria or maybe a meteor landing right on the football field. Either would suffice.

“Hannah Verlander!”

Miss Favisham peered over her canasta readers as a faux ruby chain swung lazily across her graying temples. Her beady eyes followed Hannah to the center of the stage before she barked out another name, “Zachary Davis!”

Hannah’s silver low heels clicked across the stage as Zachary’s caramel Oxfords clacked. She wore a jade flare dress in honor of Ginger Rogers, letting her blonde hair roam across its silky pasture. Zachary looked like a mannequin in his starched white dress shirt and gray slacks, no doubt the ensemble chosen by his Barbie doll girlfriend, Jenna Sinclair.

They took their places as a smattering of students and teachers looked on. Chuck Berry’s Gibson punctured the silence and when his pipes started advancing their soulful method, Hannah’s leg kicked high into a stomp. She took Berry’s twelve bars worth of sound and raised it as Zachary followed along with the slightest hint of a crush creasing his face.

Two steps to Venus and four steps to his Mars and six steps to the Milky Way and then eight steps towards the Sun, and then . . .

Hannah didn’t even feel herself losing gravity until she was spilled across the stage. She quickly rose up, rejecting her dance partner’s assistance as she looked out into the audience to find Jenna weeping with delight along with her eleventh grade coven. She raced off the stage and ran as if the world would never catch her.

“Hannah!” Aunt Lily yelled up the stairs before climbing them and banging on her door.

“What?!” Hannah shouted.

“Open this door if you value your social life!”

Hannah flung the door open before jumping back into bed.

“I’m confused, are you sixteen . . . or six? Because that was the lamest act I’ve seen since my first husband,”

“You made me try out! And now you’re making fun of me?!”

“I’m talking about how you ran away, Hannah!”

“What was I supposed to do? Stand there and listen to them laugh at me?”

“Stand up, Hannah. You stand up and you take it from the top. You don’t quit when things go wrong, you fight. Your mother was a fighter, and so are you,”

“Yeah, well mom’s dead. And I got you as a replacement . . . lucky me,”

“Here, you left these on the bench when you played chicken shit,” Aunt Lily said as she placed Hannah’s glasses on her dresser. “You’re welcome,” 

“I hate you!” Hannah shouted.

“Good to know. It’ll make things less awkward when I sue your ass for back payments when you’re rich and famous,” Aunt Lily said as she slammed the door behind her.

Hannah rose from the bed, plugged in her playlist and danced madly . Step . . and reach for Orion’s favorite swing. Step . . and kick Poseidon out of bed. Step . . and open the windows of Curacao. Step . .  and jump into the universe. 

She stuck every landing.

It had been six months since Hannah’s epic fail, and she was trying out for the spring musical. Zachary had talked her into this one. They began dating shortly after he told Jenna he wasn’t interested in her modern day Athena act.

Outside of her bedroom, the only dancing Hannah had done since that forgettable November afternoon had been with Zachary: In her backyard after date nights, in the gym after one of his basketball games and in the middle of a snow covered street on Valentine’s Day.

Miss Favisham called her to the stage, alone this time. Hannah looked over the small assemblage to find Aunt Lily and Zachary throwing silly faces in her direction. And then the music started and then Hannah forgot all about November.

One step to my favorite song . . two will make him mine . . three steps ventured, four steps gained and five will be divine. Steps five to four will be the chance, steps four to three my bad romance, steps three to two will make them weep, steps two to one are mine to keep. 

When her feet finally touched down again, the audience collected itself in a momentary gasp before rising to their feet in raucous applause. Aunt Lily wooted as Zachary hollered while Miss Favisham whistled with delight. And several rows back, there was Jenna Sinclair, clapping wildly.

Hannah and Aunt Lily sat on the porch and waited for Zachary to pick her up for Senior Prom. They talked about the future: Zachary was going to Iowa State on a basketball scholarship while Hannah would be attending Iowa where she would major in English and Creative Writing.

“Aunt Lily . . I’m scared. Of what comes next,”

“Good. That’s a good thing. It means that whatever comes next is worth it,” She smiled.

“But what if I’m not good enough when I get out there?”

“Oh, you’ll probably get knocked down a time or two. Just remember to stand up, and take it from the top,”

“Yeah but this is different,” Hannah said.

“Kiddo, the challenges we face in life don’t really change as we get older. The rooms just get bigger is all,”

*****

That evening at the dance, Hannah and Zach took to the dance floor to say goodbye to yesterday, one last time before tomorrow called. She trembled with a thrill only he could provoke in her.

He led, holding to her with a strength that settled her. Each step they took was wisdom, each sway a branch of memories they’d prospered, each turn a photograph whose manifest was written in the cursive of stardust. He supplied the path and she supplied the bloom. 

It was Oakdale High School’s 25th High School Reunion. Hannah and Zach had flown in from Chicago for the week to spend time with his family in the lead up. They were local celebrities: She was a renowned author and he coached the men’s basketball team at Northwestern.

Hannah sat at the end of that same glossy wooden bench and looked out over the darkened auditorium. No longer the clumsy, bespectacled little girl with knobby knees, she wondered where the time had gotten to. She smiled at the thought of finding the right dance partner on an otherwise forgettable November afternoon.

“Hey funny face,” Zach said as he walked to his spot on the stage.

Hannah took his cue, moving into position ten feet to his left, preparing herself for the point of contact that would move two worlds into one. They came together in a slow dance with Zach leading her from one step into the next. She no longer needed to recite the steps in her head. She knew them by heart.

“How did you know I was the one?” She whispered in his ear.

“Because you were quick on the draw, and you had a great ass,” Zach laughed.

They came together in a kiss that was interrupted by Hannah’s one time nemesis, Jenna Sinclair. Now a reporter for The Des Moines Register, she was hoping to get a few minutes with the best selling author from their hometown. Zach gave Hannah a kiss before heading back down the hall to the gymnasium as the girls had their sit down.

“I would ask how you guys met but I already know that part,” Jenna began. They both cracked up with this, a million miles removed from high school intrigues.

And when the interview got serious, Hannah shared her story of being on the spectrum and of taking speech therapy and how writing had set her free. She talked about losing her mother while still in elementary school and how her Aunt Lily raised her; turning a lost child into a free spirit of a young woman. She talked of how Aunt Lily had lost her battle with cancer five years ago, but how her lessons prevailed.

“She’s how I met Zach. She’s how you and me made our peace. She’s what made me come back in this auditorium and try again. She’s what made me keep sending out my work, in spite of all the rejection letters. And whenever I feel as if I hit a wall, I just think back on her words . . and they guide me,”

“Just remember to stand up. And take it from the top,”

 

Matters Of Little Consequence

There’s a reason antidepressants were invented, and it’s called winter in Chicago.

Me and Dame made the winter of 2008 bearable seeing as how it was the honeymoon we never got to have. New Years Eve had been a John Hughes script in real time. Written by of all people, the Dame’s hellion of a daughter. The two of them had gone out with friends and when her mom began waxing on about our November breakup, her daughter snatched the phone and put in a call to yours truly. The conversation was brief and decidedly one sided.

“Happy New Years . . . Fuck You!”

It had confused me, since I recognized the number but not the voice. The less than ceremonious salutation and the quick hang up? Yeah . . that was her MO alright. The phone chimed back to life as I was sifting through possibilities and when I picked it up this time, there she was. The Dame.

She apologized, sweetly. Her voice dripping with grace, it was velvet to my senses. And when she directed any little reasonable facsimile of a bouquet in my direction, my knees wobbled. I told her she had no apologies to make, and that her daughter had helped open the lines of communication. And before too long, I realized I was already back in it with her. I was curious, but even more than that I wanted to be close to her again. To hold her in that certain way that Marvin Gaye once wrote into solid gold. To bury my face in her perfumed hair the way Old Blue Eyes taught me how. To speak to her in words that described the constellation we had painted over precious little time, as if standing at the corner of Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

The winter was magical, in spite of the Arctic relocating to the windy city in its annual eight month tour. In spite of her ex husband who wouldn’t quit and my blog which was about to. Because blogs are like houses. If you tend to them regularly, they will provide you with equity. If you lapse or become something less than diligent, your neighbor stops bringing you her prized casserole.

Something had changed with Dan. He was writing infrequently, which in and of itself wasn’t a shocker. But whereas he used to provide me with an excuse, now he would just disappear for days at a time. And when he did write something, it was usually vague nonsense, or just a music video with a cryptic title. I didn’t care by this point, because while the podcast was fun as hell, the blog itself was degenerating into the Bataan Death March. Never mind the fact that we flew past half a million hits and then kept right on going. It was no longer mattering.

When retired New York Giants great George Martin blew us off on a podcast interview, I sensed the end was coming. And when I blew off a well known gossip blogger, I might as well have gotten to writing our obituary. Not that I had a choice, seeing as how her communications with me had gotten a little too cozy for my comfort. After the breakup, I’d grown leery of the Dame’s cross-hairs. So I passed it off to Dan, who passed it off to Chris who passed it off to Richie- who oh by the way, didn’t contribute a fucking thing to the blog. And when the interview didn’t happen, we got shit on.

Dan’s reason for not doing the interview had to do with his new pal- the hippie chick poet I’d turned him onto the year before. The girl had a falling out with gossip chick and Dan didn’t want to appear as if he was taking sides. Dan insisted it was nothing more than friendship and that she had a boyfriend. I figured nothing into the equation, since I no longer read hippie chick poet after the Dame accused me of a cross country affair with her. Something felt off, but by this point Dan spent most of his time hanging with Chris and posting whenever the hell he felt like it so I didn’t really care.

I was more interested in writing to and with and about my girl to give a fuck about a blog partnership that was on its way out. Me and Dame dined in the best steakhouses, grabbed coffee on the regular from Intelligentsia, stuffed our faces with Frangos, sipped on gin martinis in the Water Tower, debated the best deep dish joints, riffed on pop culture and books and movies and cicada sex, chased snowflakes the size of saucers and started writing with each other. We were sick little puppies whose dull moments were thrilling. Everything was possible inside the crazy chances we signed off with on our second lease.

Like the way we’d drift away from each other in a bookstore and when we came upon each other again, we would play out a skit as long lost friends bumping into each other. It would start with Oh my God! How have you been? and within moments lead to us making out furiously and talking about grabbing a hotel room. The looks we fetched were priceless, and we loved it.

That kind of thing makes you believe in forever.