Damn you, Dan Fogelberg….. that stupid grocery store/Christmas song made it impossible for me not to title this post as I have. Spilling her groceries and laughing till you cried. Why would that be so funny? I never got that schmaltzy song at all.
This past week I ran into two old lovers. And let me say I detest the word “lover”…. totally grosses me out. At any rate, these were friendly encounters. The first was indeed at the art museum. When we were together K. was 50 and I was 34. He was a fairly well known and respected artist. I was desperately looking to horn in on the Seattle art scene having just moved here from South Carolina (i.e. everyone assumed I was a dumb cracker, an entertaining oddity, or both) and was out to find some validation in the hipster culture of Belltown, one of the city’s enclaves of all that was artsy and edgy. Having been somewhat adopted into a certain clique as the resident Southern whacko, I had already been through a cartoonist, a struggling actor, a few musicians, some poets, a few writers. Let’s just say I was starting to make a name for myself in Belltown but not for my artistic talents. K was a semi-regular in the tavern that I had adopted as my virtual living room. When he asked me to lunch I was floored. That turned out to be the longest lunch of my lifetime. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant and then back to his place where we drank tea and talked all afternoon, then moved on to dinner and sake and I ended up staying the night and then not leaving for the next 8 months or so. When K. actually fell in love with me I could never trust that he took me seriously or that he was not a little ashamed to be with me. I had a lot to learn. He took the picture above, a little blurry and worn after all these years. That’s my dog Sparky with me. Best dog ever in the history of the world.
K lived in a huge loft in a decrepit old building in Pioneer Square, which was pretty much where one lived in the early 90’s if one was a serious artist. (Nearby Belltown was also acceptable, but had fewer lofts.) It was not a legal living space but it did have a rustic full bath and he had made a cozy little kitchen in a corner where he concocted delicious Asian dinners on a tabletop gas stove. We’d walk to Uwajimaya, the Asian market, and buy exotic ingredients for our meals, huge bottles of sake, Japanese tableware. He was very much into the Asian aesthetic and, in fact, was the lighting director for the city’s Asian art museum. At age 50, K. was in great shape but had a face that reflected a lot of living. A face with a view, to quote Mr. Byrne. Craggy yet handsome in that Willem Dafoe kind of way, with long gray hair worn in a ponytail. Usually in jeans or wide wale cords, shiny black cowboy boots and a black leather jacket. With his sparkling blue eyes and easy laugh, he was iconic to me. Still shaky and uncertain, finding my feet in this new world, I couldn’t believe he loved me.
We spent most of our time in his loft cooking, eating, reading, doing the NY Times crossword puzzles, watching Kurosawa films and listening to music. This was heady stuff to a Southern girl who had yearned for Bohemia her whole life. We were rarely seen together in social settings. I think we went to dinner one time at his friends’ home. I was very conspicuously out of place. And I was very uncomfortable and paranoid. The seeming secrecy of the relationship made me all the more certain that he harbored veiled shame for being with me. When I revealed our relationship to a woman who was a real player in the Belltown scene she laughed in disbelief. What the hell was he doing with me? It seemed absurd to her, almost unbelievable. I was, after all, an anomaly. A hanger on, a mascot. Not a true member of the In Crowd.
In time, like all things, the relationship went sour. Turned out K. had bad mommy issues and was extremely jealous. Mommy was a bit of a tramp when he was young, dad was shot and killed in a bar fight. Living with a somewhat loose single mom in the 50’s had taken its toll on him. Women were suspect… secret sluts. I certainly fit that mold. There was also the fact that he had a vasectomy, I wanted children and he did not. I was still young enough and wild enough that I liked to spend time in the bars with my friends from time to time. On one occasion, K. stormed into the bar and tried to drag me out, cursing and accusing me of hooking up with another guy there, who was actually his friend and who would never mess with me. He ended up punching a telephone pole in his frustration and anger, cutting his hand badly. I was amazed at the intensity of his jealousy. Things came to a halt shortly thereafter but I pined away for him for quite a while. These were the days when answering machines had cassette tapes in them and you could record your message forever if you wanted. So I did. I would end up at midnight, lonely and drunk and wishing him back in my life, playing some beautifully depressing song on my stereo. I’d dial his number and just leave the receiver by the speaker so he would hear the music. I don’t remember how long I kept at this ritual but it was definitely longer than necessary. Naturally, he never responded to any of that drama.
Eventually I found someone else and K. faded into the past. We had a few random encounters over the next years. I tried to revive the relationship at one point even after I was (unhappily) married and had my baby but he was fairly strident in his refusal to engage me on any level. Last week I was at the downtown art museum with my daughter, now age 13, and there he was…now working as the lighting director….. que impresivo!!! Approaching 70, he looked a little worse for the wear but not that much different. I was surprised to see him walking his very recognizable confident walk through the gallery where I was searching for the kid and he seemed equally surprised to see me. Apparently he thought I hadn’t lived in Seattle since I left over 10 years ago for library school. Although I had spied him walking down the street from time to time over the years since I’d returned, his luck had finally run out. Here we were face to face. I wanted to introduce him to my daughter but she was nowhere to be found. I asked if he had ever married and no, he hadn’t. We chatted briefly and that was that. Then I set out to find the kid, bemused and nostalgic as I wandered through the museum.
Later in the week, another ex came into the library with his wife and two adorable daughters. I’ve run into him there several times over the past year. We were never very serious. H. wasn’t much of a talker and I was a nervous chatterbox in his presence. Our relationship consisted of pretty much nothing other than fucking. After seeing way too many David Lynch films, I asked him to take me to the seediest hotel we could find out on Aurora Avenue (famous for street hookers) and fuck me. He willingly obliged. It was not very exciting in the end, as I was fairly distracted by the nasty condition of the room and the screaming and fighting that was going on behind the paper thin walls that surrounded us. It was definitely NOT hot.
But today, seeing him with his wife and kids, our conversations are easy. I’m not that nervous little chatterbox anymore and age has loosened him up a bit. He is still gorgeous to look at, which is what drew me to him in the first place. I like him now. I don’t think I really did back in the day.
I could go on and on about old lovers, (again..that word…); their numbers are legion. Most were forgettable, some still haunt me. And this brings me to my greatest fear. I fear I will end up strapped to a very uncomfortable mattress in some random, shabby nursing home. A babbling old lady shouting out obscenities and detailed descriptions of the sexual exploits of my youth as the orderlies change the rubber sheets on my bed. I am resolved not to let this happen. Guns, gas, razor blades, pills and booze. They’re all there for a reason.
NEWSFLASH: Just as I was finishing up this post, I received a notice on Facebook that another old flame, J, had sent a message and had friended me. I haven’t seen or heard from him in at least 13 years. We lived together for several years in Charleston, SC when I was in my late 20’s. The whole thing resulted in a visit to the loony bin for me. A rough one. Too long a story to go into at this point.
Irony is alive and well. I think it’s my middle name.