Chapter 1: The Way We Were
“Dad’s a pig,” Mindy said rubbing her swollen belly as she gazed at yet another mind-numbing amount of half-dressed men on WeveGotBaggage.com, a dating site she swore was the best for “people your age.”
“Honey, he’s not.” I tried to sound convincing but I lacked the energy. It was hard to defend a man you were divorcing for getting his twenty-something assistant pregnant.
“He is too.” She tapped on the computer screen. “This one.”
I nodded. The guy in the Stetson looked reasonably nice but without my glasses on, I couldn’t tell for sure. They had all started to look the same, middle-aged and lonely. I wondered if I gave off that vibe.
“He is a pig mom. His grandson and his daughter are going to be the same age.”
I couldn’t argue with her ability to do math. I leafed through my People magazine. So many pregnant celebrities. Must be that time of year. Seems to always go in cycles.
“Mom, are you even listening to me?”
I was still stuck on the celebrity baby bump hunt. Who is, who isn’t? Fascinating. Hard to believe the man I pledged my love for eternity to would soon be a dad to someone else’s child. And at our age!
I walked over to Mindy to give her my attention.
“He seems nice. Look. He likes dogs,” she pointed out.
I nodded. At least he might not have a problem with the fact that Bella follows me around the house like I’m her mom, begging like a waif out of a Dickens novel.
I stood and read all of the most important parts of his life summed up in a paragraph.
“He’s 39!” I nearly choked on my sweet tea.
“So? That’s 15 years older than dad’s mid-life crisis,” Mindy corrected.
“I don’t want a mid-life crisis Mindy. I want a partner, like I had. I’m not a feral cat. I’m domesticated now. I’m not meant for prowling.”
“Gross, mom. I don’t even want to go there. You’ve been on this site for almost a month. It’s going to renew soon and you have nothing to show for it. We need to get you a date.”
“I’m just saying that I’m not even sure I can do this Mindy.”
“Where are you going to meet men if not online, Mom?”
“Friends?” I asked as if she had the answer.
“Name one single friend you have?”
Jarrod walked in sweaty from basketball. My knight in Nike.
I wasn’t sure if he was ready to eat or just asking us how our day was so I started cooking.
“Jarrod, tell mom she needs to date. She needs to get out there before her looks start fading. You know how guys are, totally caught up in how you look.”
Jarrod grabbed an apple out of the bowl, took a mouthful and shook his head.
“Mom doesn’t have to date,” he said before swallowing all the bits of his apple. “She can do what she wants. Besides everyone knows men her age are looking for younger girls anyway.”
Mindy shot him a mean look, probably worried he was stating the obvious. They both were incredibly protective of me but instead of feeling proud, it made me feel ancient like I was someone who needed to be looked after. I wasn’t enjoying the role reversal.
“This guy thinks you’re pretty mom. He just sent you a dozen roses.”
I was trying to figure out how he was sending me something online without knowing my address. Maybe he was a lot more tech-savvy than I was.
“What color are they?” I asked leaving the stove and standing over her shoulder. “What a sweet thing to do without even knowing me. Maybe there are gentlemen online. Where are they? When will they arrive? I have a hair appointment tomorrow but I could reschedule if they’re coming tomorrow.”
I felt almost giddy, which surprised me.
“No mom. It’s a virtual thing.”
“So they’re not real? He just sent a picture of them? Well, that’s nice too.”
“No, mom. It’s one of those answers they let them choose.”
Mindy knew so much more than I did even though I was pretty sure she never had to do this online dating thing.
“What answers? I don’t get it.”
“When they want to email someone they like, WeveGotBaggage.com gives them introductory phrases to choose from.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Totally.” This time Jarrod’s mouth wasn’t full and I could understand everything.
“How do you know?” I asked facing him now.
“You know, mom. Dude’s gotta do.”
I had no idea what that even meant but I was hoping it had nothing to do with my high school senior being some sort of American gigolo. I guess if he was, I wouldn’t need to pay for college.
I walked to the window happy to have the distraction of the “General” walking through his yard. Every day at noon, no matter the weather my 90-year-old neighbor marched back and forth for exactly fourteen minutes. I once made the mistake of referring to his “fifteen-minute duty” but he quickly corrected me it was 14 because of his 14th Armored Division. Occasionally, when the windows were open or if I was outside cutting the hydrangeas, or other parts of my garden, I could hear him chant “Liberators ho” as if an entire division followed him.
I occasionally worried he’d burn his house down or break a hip. I wasn’t sure he was all there, but then again, maybe he was just reliving some of the times he felt most alive. We all should have that kind of inspiration.
As I watched his frail body, bony parts jutting out of his baggy clothes, I wondered what he looked like in his prime, when those clothes fit and he was with his beloved armored division. Did he chase the women or have a special someone stateside? How much of ourselves do we retain as we age? No matter the level of spunk the General seemed to be holding onto, he still was just a sliver of his former self, at least that’s what his clothes suggested.
While the General never appeared lonely—he was always busy doing something in a very regimented way—I often used him to set my clock or figure out what time it was. I wondered if it wouldn’t be better if I just became like the General. I could find a hobby and do the same thing every day. Practice consistency or work in painstaking details like those monks I saw that video about on Facebook. They sketch out these intricate Mandalas, one grain of sand at a time or something like that. Mindy’s typing interrupted my growing old alone sentimentality.
“What are you doing, Min?”
I would never understand all the things she could do on that stupid computer.
“Finding you a date to dad’s wedding.” She laughed at herself. “Too soon?”
I nodded. Truth be told, although I was humiliated by Roger’s lusty actions, I was also relieved. Roger had been an adequate provider, building and selling a couple of very successful companies during our time together but he bored me. And he always had. When we met in high school, he was just a serious kid. While others were out wrecking cars, he was molding his life after his own ideal character, a blend between Alex P. Keaton of Family Ties and Gordon Gekko of Wall Street. He was hardworking and very practical.
But I didn’t know any better. My father had suggested in order to have things to talk about that I study the stock market, so I did. I learned that bank stocks were safe investments for older people and airlines rarely made a profit. They were always just one crash away from losing their shirts. I learned the real money was in foreign investment but only if the country you were investing in didn’t suddenly go communist like Cuba or socialist like Venezuela. No money in either of those. But there were so many lucky pieces involved in selecting the right company.
After Roger asked me to marry him, I went shopping with Roger’s mother Bertie and we found the most beautiful white satin shoes with a lace overlay. They were $75 which was a huge amount for a teacher like me or my retired parents. Bertie was taken with them too and promised to put a bur in her son’s ear.
He had passed his Series 7 and was on the fast track according to his boss. He had an uncanny sixth sense of what the market would do. They started to refer to him as a Wall Street Wunderkin and I was quite proud of his skills. While my friends had all spent their high school careers dating the quarterbacks and homecoming kings, I selected the guy who would be able to provide a stable home.
My friends definitely were more insightful than I was. At least they still had good-looking men at home. I chose the safe, stable path and my guy bonked the intern. Assistant…whatever.
Anyway, the day of our wedding, Roger snuck into my room at my parents hours before the ceremony while I was dressing to go to the church. I shrieked about bad luck and seeing the bride ahead of time but he was quick to point out that I wasn’t the type of girl to believe in such silly declarations. After all, we were people who didn’t believe in fate. We made our own future happen and cut our own path.
If our marriage was going to fall apart in the future it wouldn’t be because he arrived early to present me with a wedding gift. I remember nodding like an obedient child at the time. He was right. We were our own people. Governed by no superstitions or other nonsense.
He handed me a white shoebox. I wanted to call up Bertie before I even opened it to thank her for being such a wonderful soon-to-be mother-in-law. This was the most extravagant gift I had ever received. I was marrying such a generous man. 75 whole dollars on a pair of shoes! I was giddy, my face burned with joy. I popped up the lid and thanked the universe that I had found a practical man who still understood that women sometimes need a little extravagance in their lives.
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