Here's a picture of my dog, Lulu looking longingly out the window wanting to run off and play.
This reminds me of the speech Dorthy gives near the end of the movie "The Wizard of Oz." The balloon has flown away without her, and she worries that she may never see Kansas again. She says something about how if she ever goes looking for her heart's desire, she shouldn't look any farther than her own back door. Do you hear that Lulu?
I never really got it either.
I am a weird sort of guy. I suppose I always have been. The other night, while watching "Bridesmaids" I found the tears running down my face when the rotund sister of the groom was trying to get the main character to fight against her depression. These tears happen to me when I watch movies about friends or movie-type parents or wives and husbands.
I'm still concerned what people think of me. I still care what people from high school think of me. Sometimes I can't see the forest for the trees.
So here's my confession. I'm all right. In fact I'm quite well. I have a wife who loves me, who is beautiful, and who is more wonderful than I deserve. My kids are great, educated, and happily married. My grandkids are fabulous, smart, and beautiful. My granddaughter Anika has travelled with us to Italy, Paris, London, and Ireland--not to mention Hawaii. My one-year-old granddaughter spent Thanksgiving on the westside of Oahu last year. I've been lucky enough to travel, our bills get paid, and while I have a few more aches and pains than some folks, I suffer a lot less than others. I live in this wonderful area, where there's lots of trees and deer and lizards and flowers. Coyotes in the hills. Open space. Horses.
As a kid, I often felt that no one really stood up for me. Okay, Mom wasn't a cookies and milk type and I rarely saw my dad. Nonetheless, I did have some people in my corner. Both sets of my grandparents doted on me, and my maternal grandparents took me in.
I was luckier than that though. In my high school years, I ran away like once a year. Jackie Landis' parents took me in one time, and even braved the wrath of my mother. They did it for no other reason that I was friends with their son and daughter. Thank you. That was really cool.
And my Aunt Mary and Uncle Tony took me in for a little while when I was as confused as I could be, and without another place to go. Thank you also. Aunt Mary, you are the best aunt ever. I thought it then, and I think it now.
So what's this confession all about? Is it because I still like old loved-and-lost songs? I think that's a part of it. Another part is because I have recently come across old friends from the old days again. It first happened after our 20 year high school reunion. Then in June of this year--or was it July--there was another reunion of our high school class. After the first one, somehow Jackie Landis and I found each others' address. This time I heard from Shelley Bridgman. I also heard from Ron Walashek again. The only other person I know from those days is John Belik. Eons ago he made me a surfboard, and I hooked up with him probably seven years ago in Maui for a few hours.
I always go all weird when it comes to high school friends. In a way, it was the best of times for me--and the worst. I know, I know, but I'm not going to explain it. Which brings us back to that 20 year high school reunion.
Late one night, from that reunion, Ron Walashek called me on the phone. He woke me out of a sound sleep. It was cool and strange. We got together once after that. Well, you know how that stuff goes. Last time I talked with him was after the '89 quake up here.
Ron was probably my best friend in high school. He was the only guy that got me anyway. So again, he called--and then I wrote this story, which got published in this now-defunct magazine out of Chicago. I put it here because--well maybe it's good. It all started with that phone call.
Thanks to all the people who liked me then, and still remember me. I miss you all, but I'm doing well.
One night she called. Tim, asleep again, answered on the second ring. He hadn't spoken to Deidre for twenty years.
"Imagine us living in the same place all these years and not bumping into each other," she said.
"It's a big city," he said.
"I didn't get up the nerve to call until tonight. I was out with some friends and I drank too much wine so I called. Why weren't you at the reunion?"
"I didn't have the money." He sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "I'm unemployed."
"If there was one person I wanted to see there it was you," she said.
He didn't know what to say so he said nothing.
Deidre filled the silence. She said she was widowed "Imagine, at thirty-six," and overworked trying to care for her husband's business and lonely sometimes. She talked about high school, a time inTim's life he would just as soon forget. At the end of the call, she insisted they meet for lunch Wednesday. "My treat," she said. "It'll give me a chance to pay you back."
"You don't need to pay me back," he said.
But she insisted.
On Wednesday morning when the alarm rang, Tim reset it and went back to sleep. The alarm rang again and he reset it. It rang again and he stayed in bed checking the clock every minute or so. He thought, I'll lay here just one more minute, but he dozed and didn't rise for ten more minutes. When he finally got out of bed he had to rush around to get ready. He showered, and dressed in his navy-blue blazer with the frayed pocket where he always kept his big ring of keys and his power-tie with the grease stain on it. They were the only decent clothes he had left. He wore them to job interviews, dinners, weddings, funerals, and any other occasion that might arise.
He chased and caught a streetcar two minutes after he left his Sunset district studio. Somehow, Tim arrived downtown on time. He sat in the lobby of the hotel where he was to meet Deidre, yawning.
She arrived twenty minutes late. When she walked in, he recognized her right away. She hadn't changed much. Something about the luminescence of the pearls and the cashmere next to her smotth, unlined skin made her look younger than he hoped she'd look. Tim wondered if she'd had plastic surgery. He thought, if he were rich and handsome he'd want to be seen with a woman like her. But being seen with her now would only make him feel inadequate. His legs felt like jelly. He panicked as he looked around for an exit--but too late--she'd spotted him.
"Tim?" she said as she approached.
"Deidre?" he said, trying for nonchalance.
"Good to see you," she said. "You still look the same."
"And you still look like a kid," he said.
"If only it were true." She took him by the arm. On the way to the elevator to the restaurant she jabbered all the while about traffic and business calls. "I really know nothing about business," she said.
At the entrance to the restaurant, the maitre d' addressed her as Mrs. St. Clair. "If Mrs. St. Clair and the gentleman will follow me," he said.
Tim hoped they wouldn't be seated under the massive chandelier. Wouldn't want to be under that thing when the next big quake hit. The maitre d' seated them at a table overlooking the garden-court.
The menus came. While Tim tried to decide what to order, she talked about problems involving "a property in Monterey."
He hoped she wouldn't forget her promise to buy the lunch. Of course, he'd feign an offer to buy, that was only fair.
"I'll have the chicken," she said when the waiter came for their order.
"The chicken breast with the brandy and artichokes?" the waiter asked.
"No, no." She yanked open the menu and jabbed at it with her finger. "This," she said.
"The baked?" the waiter asked.
Tim ordered a steak.
"What kind of wine should we have?" Deidre said, passing him the wine list.
"None for me," Tim said.
"Why not?" She squinted at him as if this were some sort of trickery.
"I'm a recovering alcoholic."
"Oh." There was a moment's silence. "I didn't know. Do you mind if I have wine? Would it bother you?"
"Not at all," Tim lied.
She opened the list and pointed.
After the waiter left she said, "So, after all these years here we are."
"Here we are," Tim said.
Tim only half-listened. He could feel the sweat soaking the back of his shirt. It seemed difficult to concentrate on what she was saying.
When the wine came, Deidre made a toast. "To old friends," she said.
"Skoal," Tim said and raised his glass of water with lemon. After he drank he picked up the bottle of wine and read the label.
During lunch, Deidre did most of the talking. She picked at her chicken. Every time the waiter passed he refilled her wine glass. The more she drank the less she talked about business and the more she talked about high school. Tim chewed his steak and nodded at the appropriate times. The food was good, even if he didn't know who was paying for it.
While Tim picked apart a pear tart, Deidre asked, "Remember that night at Buddy Burgers? You really saved my skin."
"I didn't save your skin, but I remember."
At the fast food joint where Tim worked, Robert Rossi, Deidre's boyfriend had punched Deidre in the face. Tim rushed out from behind the counter swinging the metal bar they used to close off the rear entrance at night, and chased Robert out of the place. It was his only act of heroism. Then Tim gave the other workers, Carlos and Bill Peters, the rest of the night off. He closed up the restaurant one hour early, and drove Deidre home. He lost his job for the act of chivalry. On top of that, Robert Rossi had made the last few weeks of Tim's senior year hell.
"What a night," Deidre said while the waiter poured the last of the merlot into her glass.
That night, in the car, she's leaned against the passenger's side door in her off-the-shoulder, forest green formal. He could smell her perfume mixed with the odor of beer. Even with the mascara running down her face and a thick, cut lip, he still thought she was beautiful. For a moment, Tim thought about pulling over and trying to comfort her. Imagine what she would've told her friends if he'd tried to kiss her or something.
"You lost you job," she said as she set the empty wine glass on the table.
"It was a lousy job anyway." Since then there were more lost jobs, a bankruptcy and a divorce.
"And here we are," she said.
"Here we are," he repeated.
She reached across the table and took his hand. "Twenty years," she said.
Deidre paid for the lunch with her American Express. Until the waiter brought the receipt, Tim continued to protest, if weakly.
"I won't hear of it," she said.
Deidre stood and staggered. "Whoops," she said. "I'm afraid I've had too much to drink."
"How are you getting home?" he asked.
"Will you drive me?" she said and leaned against him. "My car is here in the garage."
When the valet brought Deidre's Cadillac, he handed Tim the keys. A shiver coursed through Tim. He felt like he held her whole life in his hands.
She lived in Pacific Heights in an apartment building. When they arrived, she pointed the automatic garage door opener at the garage door. She held the device as if she hadn't done the same thing a thousand times and aimed with one eye closed.
She said, "Here we are. You'll come up, of course."
As they walked to the elevator, she took his arm. "I moved out of the house on Franklin shortly after Fred died. That was his house--his family's. He had adult children from a previous marriage and when they started looking at me funny, I got out. I still kept our house in Carmel, though. Maybe you can see it sometime."
Her apartment took up the entire sixth floor. Tim unlocked the front door. They entered and Deidre kicked off her shoes.
"Can I get you something?" she asked.
"I'm stuffed," he said.
"Well, I'm going to have another glass of wine. Go sit." She pointed toward the living room. She left for what he imagined was the kitchen.
Tim slipped Deidre's keys into his pocket with the others.
The apartment smelled of furniture wax. The living room was all blond wood, antiques, paintings, and sculptures. It looked more like an art gallery than a residence. There was an uncluttered, almost unnatural order to the place. He sat on the sofa.
Deidre walked into the living room. One hand held the glass she was drinking from and the other carried a bottle of wine. Deidre put the bottle on the coffee table. She sat next to him.
"Sure I can't get you anything?" she asked.
She sipped her wine then set her glass down. When she pulled her feet up on the sofa, it brought her closer to him. "So, tell me about yourself," she said.
He could feel her breath on his cheek. "Not much to tell," he said, "I'm trying to get my life together."
"Do you need work?"
"I'm okay," Tim said. "I've got some possibilities."
"Because if you need a job, Fred's business always needs good people. Are you interested?"
"Maybe I should go." He stood, but she grabbed his hand . "Sit," she said. "I'm not trying to insult you. I just want to help."
She didn't let go of his hand. "I don't think you understand how you saved me that night. I was always expected to be so perfect."
Tim stared at the floor. Deidre leaned into him, kissed him on the cheek and hugged him. He didn't hug back but she held on anyway for a minute. When she broke the hug she said, "Don't you like me?"
He felt shaky suddenly. He didn't know if this was a come-on or not, so he said of course he liked her--why wouldn't he?
"You're not gay or anything?" she asked. "I mean it's all right if you are, but I'm just wondering if I'm wasting my time..."
"No," he said. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be the subject of a what-would've-happened-if-you-would've-kissed-me experiment. Deidre must have sensed his confusion because she returned to small talk and drinking her wine.
Before Tim left that day, Deidre made him promise to come back to the apartment Sunday night for dinner. She told him to think about the job. St. Clair Properties really could use someone and if he wanted, they would discuss it then. He promised he would think it over. At the door, she kissed him, on the lips this time.
Tim walked down Van Ness, headed for a locksmith near Broadway. After he had copies of all of Deidre's keys made, he walked back to her apartment. She rang him in. He returned her keys and apologized for his absentmindedness.
She grinned. "Come in for awhile," she said.
"I have to get home."
"Don't forget Sunday," she said, then kissed him.
Tim took a bus back home and went to bed.
Thursday, Tim called Deidre and got her answering machine. He took a bus then walked to her apartment building. No one was in the lobby. He rang her apartment. When he got no answer, he let himself in with the key. After he rode the elevator to her floor, Tim entered the apartment.
It felt like this every time he went back. There was a thrill to it--a shiver. His heart always seemed to skip when he first entered. He always felt light-headed. His skin felt cool and hot at the same time. It had felt the same when he went back to Buddy Burgers and to what used to be his house after the divorce and in the early morning hours when he sneaked into all the offices where he'd worked using the keys he always copied.
Tim walked into Deidre's bedrooom. He looked in her closet hoping to find the same forest-green formal she wore that night in high school when he drove her home. Instead, he found the cashmere sweater and skirt she'd worn on Wednesday. Tim rubbed it against his cheek. It felt soft and smelled of her perfume. Her clothes smelled like he remembered. That was a part of her appeal even back in high school, the scent of her as she passed in the hall. Even then he would breathe in her almost ethereal tropical flower scent and sigh sometimes as she passed.
He went through her drawers, took a pair of her panties and rubbed them between his fingers. He imagined the garment close to her skin. The waistband would leave a reddish mark around her waist. Maybe someday he would get to see that mark and kiss it until the redness disappeared to pinkness and the pinkness to pale white. That night back in high school--he'd wanted to kiss the hurt away. That was all, just kiss the hurt away.
Tim replaced the panties, straightened the drawer, then closed it. He got onto the bed. The bedspread felt cool on his back. He looked at his watch and decided to stay only ten more minutes. Tim closed his eyes. The whole room smelled of her. It felt of her. He could imagine being with her. The sensation of Deidre made him dizzy and drained his strength. He could stay on the bed forever. Anxious, again he checked his watch. Nine more minutes. He sighed as he curled up and reclosed his eyes. Time was passing very slowly, he thought. Sometimes, at the best of times, each minute seemed very long indeed. He inhaled her scent from the bedspread and closed his eyes. Before he fell to sleep, he imagined he could feel Deidre's lips brushing his cheek.###