The Missing Link

Dennis and I were married on September 30, 1995. It was a fun wedding (the bartenders at the Elks Club where we had our reception talked about it for years afterwards), but the date itself means little to me. It was the only day available that summer or fall at any of the places we looked into. But December 3, 1993, was an otherwise uneventful evening that became one of those moments Dickens refers to in Great Expectations when he says, “Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”

 

I drove to Salem because my friend Karen’s car was in the shop while she tried to figure out how to come up with the $2500 she needed for repairs. We parked a few blocks away from the apartment.  Hiding the car was as important to us as not appearing early, forgoing jewelry and dressing as inconspicuously as possible. We refused to offer clues to Gloria the Psychic.

We climbed the stairs in back to her apartment and knocked, not eagerly, not gingerly A knock revealing nothing. A man answered the door, wiping his hands on a dishtowel.  Before we introduced ourselves, he said, “Gloria!“ and sighed. I felt silly being here, pitiful. Karen and I had just turned thirty. How many hopeful not-so-young-anymore single women did he open the door for?

In a living area crowded with furniture and bookshelves, I leaned back against a confusion of pillows on a loveseat despite my apprehension. Karen chose an oak rocker and hid her bitten nails. In the kitchen, oil spit in a frying pan. When the door beside the kitchen opened, a small woman in khaki pants and a white cotton t-shirt emerged. She was barefoot and had her short dark hair pulled away from her face with a leather headband. She might have just stepped off a sailboat.

She raised her eyebrows at Karen who had stopped rocking when she heard the door. “Wow,” she said. “Bad car karma.”

In a room as narrow as a closet, I sat beside Gloria’s desk. She turned a light low and picked up her tarot deck.“The cards give me a direction,” she said. “Images flash by me as if I‘m sitting near the window in a train. Time is nebulous. I might predict things that have already happened, for example.”

 Since she’d begun with a disclaimer, I sat smugly, gave her as few hints as possible.

“Are you student?” she asked. I shook my head. “Something with school then.  A teacher?”

Maybe I had that white board marker smell on me. A stitch of ink across my forehead was not unusual. She said a few general things about my life in the classroom. No surprises. I considered everything else I might have spent my sixty bucks on.

She told me I’d recently been disappointed in love. Revelation. Then she said, “You’ll try it again with him, but that won’t work either.” After my phone call with him the week before, that much was certain. I bit the inside of my mouth, sat forward a little. “Actually, I’m seeing an older man,” she said into the Tarots. “Very tall, very thin. A runner’s build. I don’t know if he runs, but he looks like a runner. Something about a foreign accent. I rarely see things this clearly, but there he is. You’ll go out to buy a loaf of bread, something like that. A few hours later, you’ll come home and that’ll be it.”

When our session ended, I toted the cassette tape home with evidence to laugh at years later. Or sob over.

As we drove home, Karen said,“She was pretty general with my reading. But if you go to the grocery store next year and meet a tall, thin runner with a foreign accent, you’ll make a believer out of me.”

For the first few weeks after my encounter with Gloria, I paid attention to every detail of my being whenever I went so far as the drive up window at the bank. No way was I meeting Mr. Wonderful looking like my usual jeans and sweatshirt self.  After presenting himself so plainly to my soothsayer, how could I disappoint him by introducing myself unshowered on my way home from the gym?

Karen moved to San Francisco a year later, a move Gloria had not anticipated. On my first Friday night in my new apartment, I made several trips out to my car with garbage bags full of laundry. A week of painting, cleaning and unpacking had left me few things in my closet.  Finding an ancient pair of jeans in the bottom of a box and a turtleneck I sometimes used for dusting, I set out with a pile of essays on Macbeth to a Laundromat I’d spotted near the hardware store on Main Street.

While I monopolized nearly every machine in the place, one white-haired man in a navy pea coat sat on a broken washer, drumming his work boots against the metal. I settled myself into an orange plastic chair and resigned myself to spending Friday night with the Macbeths.

When another man walked in a few minutes later, I looked up. He was closer to my age than pea coat man, dark haired. He wore glasses. That’s all I saw before I put my head back down and said to myself, “Please, God, don’t let him talk to me.”

A dryer clicked off. Pea coat man collected an armful of things and headed out into the night. The other man emptied the contents of two machines into the mouth of a dryer and sat up on the folding table, legs swinging.

“Mid terms?” he asked.

I cringed. “Essays.”  This without eye contact.

“I’m a teacher, too,” he said.

I nodded over the compositions.  How was I supposed to get my underwear folded with this nut looking over my shoulder?

We taught in neighboring towns. One of his colleagues had just taken an administrative post in my school. I had met the man that day. We both wrote fiction, had fathers who grew up on farms. I’d lived down the street from him a few years before, attended a teaching seminar the year after he completed it, student taught at the high school he graduated from. We each had four siblings, all married with children.

There was one thing we didn’t have in common.

“I’m a runner,” he said. “I’ve run every day since I was thirteen.”

Lots of people run, I thought.  And if he were Mr. Wonderful, wouldn’t I know it?

By the end of a couple hours cataloging things we had in common, I wasn’t convinced I wanted even one date with this guy. But I was motivated to give him my phone number when I imagined the conversation I’d have with my mother if I walked away from this one. I heard her voice amidst shirt buttons clinking in humming dryers: “What else could you possibly be looking for?”

I scribbled my name on the back of a doggie grooming coupon and walked out.  Just a few hours after I left my house to do something as mundane as buying a loaf of bread.

When I opened the door for our first date, the realization hit me as forcefully as if the door had been blown open by a hurricane force gale. Before me stood a very tall, very thin runner.  No trace of a foreign accent, although he had told me his father spoke with a thick brogue.  As if I wasn’t about to go on the first date with my future husband, the man who would make a good father to my children, with whom I would invest my life savings in that house in the country I’d dreamed of, I lifted my coat from the back of the sofa, and off we went into the future.

Sometimes People Ask Me What It’s Like To Be Married To Another Writer

Sometimes, being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life. There is never a time when you think: Woohoo! I do not have to write today. That Sunday night should-have-gotten-this-all-going-days-ago feeling does not vanish on some improbable June day when, on the way out the classroom door, you dump your backpack, Peanuts lunch box and all, into the overflowing trash can.

Milking ended fours hours after it began whether you hurried through, risking your father’s ire for your impatience, or lolled about singing songs and dedicating them to the behemoths before you. The wrap-up was simple: last cow out, parlor hosed down, cycles run to sanitize the machines. Vacuum pump off, the night buzzed with crickets you forgot would be out there, or you noticed the wind howling around the silos for the first time. The newest calf bawled for its mother, and she responded, a long, low bellow you’d hear all night long in your dreams. The next day, of course, the pattern resumed. But there it was — beginning and end. The moment when you were allowed to say: done. At least for today.

Shift’s end at Paddy’s Wigwam, Misquamicut Beach, meant it was time to refill the prep area. A bucketful of creamers in the fridge, a cupful of stirrers on the counter beside an opened case of napkins. You sorted your checks and cashed in your coins. If you were lucky, the bartender was bored and mixed you a Pearl Harbor you sipped while you waited for traffic to creep along Atlantic Avenue towards wherever the tourists called home. You smelled like fritters and ketchup. Sometimes, the place was empty enough for you to sweep the sand out from under the tables, to swipe the fly carcasses off the windowsills.

The school day ends with a bell, hallways clogged with noise and a hormone-y stench. Cars carroom out of the parking lot at the speed of light. Until the roads look fairly safe again, you sit at your desk clipping together a pile of essays you will take home and ignore. If you remember, you put up the rest of the chairs.

But the writing day never begins or ends for me in any of the predictable ways my other lives do/did. I should always be writing, notebook in my (non-existent) shirt pocket, pen behind my ear. I should pose in cafes looking ultra-pensive in a peacoat and black jeans. I should forgo watching Project Runway on demand and rubbing lemon oil onto my kitchen cabinets. I should rise in the dark, the moon still out and listening, as I do, for the first note of birdsong.

Should. I hate that word.

Dennis read somewhere (a Greek philosopher, I think): If you want to write, write. He likes to quote that to me the same way he likes to quote lines from Raymond Carver short stories and pretend they’re his own. At least I think the Carver lines are funny. At least they surprise me when I see them again in their original form. Dennis is the reason why I started writing regularly in the first place. He’s very disciplined, a marathon runner who isn’t afraid to string the miles out along a route rife with obstacles and very personal reminders of your own mortality. I wish I could say it was purely his example that motivated me, but I must confess: I worried that, with all that writing, he’d be better at it than I was. Yes, I’m that small-minded.

Dennis also says, Don’t say: I only have 15 minutes to write. Say: Wow. I can’t believe I get 15 minutes to write! (He also read this somewhere). Sometimes, he tries to hug me when he says this. I pin my arms against my side and mumble into his chest: How do you find so much time to read anyway?