The Right Thing

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Sarah Kunkel closed the blinds and pulled back the sheets on her double bed.  She sat down by the pillows, took a damp hand cloth from a bowl on her night stand and lay down.  She gently pressed the cloth to her forehead and closed her eyes.

Her migraine rested like a sleeping porcupine on the right side of her head, but sent out sharp quills to probe the back of her eyes every minute or so.  Sarah felt as though her head would eventually split in two when the malevolent creature woke up and clawed again at the tender connections inside her brain.  She hummed a lullaby in the hope that she might fall asleep.  Her mother sang it to her when she was a sick little girl, and it had worked like magic.  But Sarah stopped when the vibrations on her lips became vibrations in her skull.  Pulsations of dull pain already thudded in time with her heartbeat, and she couldn’t bear adding another rhythm to the mix.

She began to feel blessed sleep descend upon her ten minutes later.  The few remaining unaffected corners of her mind rejoiced as her limbs grew heavy and her breath began to slow.  She saw a vista open up before her of mountains topped with glaciers and Alpine meadows filled with flowers.  She took a deep breath and smelled roses and newly mown grass, honeysuckle and lilacs.  A figure clothed in dazzling white robes walked toward her.

But then the door to the bedroom opened a crack.  A shaft of light from the hall pierced the darkness.  The door swung in, and a man stood in the doorway but didn’t come into the room.  His back lit silhouette looked familiar.  But he wouldn’t dare, would he?  Not again?

The silhouette spoke in a low rumbly voice.  It was Jeff, of course, but she couldn’t quite make out his words.

“Oh for God’s sake, Jeff!  Close the door and a leave me alone.  Can’t you see I’ve got a migraine?”

“Mumble, mumble, mumble.”  He stood there and faltered his apologies.  She couldn’t take it.  He had visited every single night since that horrible day last week when their marriage had fallen and shattered into a thousand splinters of betrayal.  Now the shards were embedded inside her skull, and his visits just pushed them in deeper.

“Jeff!” she screamed and regretted it instantly.  A bloody tsunami swelled in the back of her head and raced forward to tear at the roots of her nerves.  She held her head, moaned and nearly passed out…If only she could pass out she’d praise the gods forever…When she was able to speak again she said, “Come closer so that I can hear you.  You’re killing me.  Tell me what you want and go away.”

He shuffled into the room with his head down and sat near the foot of the bed.  She pulled her hand away when he took it, but he persisted.  She was too weak to fight him.  He leaned closer and whispered, “I did the right thing.”

“I know what you did,” said Sarah.

“Please listen,” whispered Jeff.

“You cheated on me.  That was the wrong thing, stupid.  You can’t talk your way around that.  It’s over and done.  You can’t take it back,” said Sarah.

“I slept with Rhonda, but I did the right thing.”

“Rot in hell, Jeff.  And please, please go away.  Why are you torturing me?  What did I do to you to make you so cruel?”

“You don’t know the whole story,” Jeff insisted.

“What?  You’re going to tell me that it was just a mistake?  She came on to you and you felt sorry for her?  She told the cops that you were the one who wouldn’t leave her alone.”

“I didn’t feel sorry for her.  I just wanted her,” admitted Jeff.

“I see.  Now we’re being honest.  At long last we’re being honest,” said Sarah.

“I didn’t come in here to apologize for the affair.  I know that you’re never going to forgive me for that, and I don’t expect you to,” said Jeff.

“So?”

“I just want you to know that I didn’t want to leave you.  That was never my intention,” said Jeff.

“Bullshit.  The moment you went to bed with her was the moment you left me,” said Sarah.

Jeff released her hand and turned away.  Over his shoulder he said, “You’re not angry because of the affair.  You’re angry because I’m leaving.”

“Shut up Jeff.  Go away.  Make me happy and leave.”

“Not until I tell you the whole story.  I promise I’ll go away and never return after I say what I have to say,” said Jeff.

“That’s a deal, but keep it short.  My head’s about to explode.”

“Rhonda’s husband George interrupted us last Tuesday.  We heard the car pull up, and I managed to run out the back door.  But he saw my wallet on the floor by the bed.  It fell out when I grabbed my pants.  I heard him roar, ‘Whose wallet is this?!’  She screamed.  I crept up to the bedroom window and saw him slap her.  Then he punched her in the stomach and she fell down on the floor.  She tried to crawl away from him on hands and knees, but he kicked her in the ribs.”

“Stop it stop it stop it!  I don’t want to hear any of this!” wailed Sarah.

“I did the right thing,” said Jeff.  “I went back inside and fought with George.  Rhonda got away.”

“Well good for you.  You did the right thing.  You’re my hero.  Are we finished here?”

“Yes, Sarah.  I’m finished.”

He got up off the bed and walked to the door without looking back.  The light from the hall blinded her, and she closed her eyes.  When she opened them again the door was shut and he was gone.

Sarah woke up early the next morning, and the migraine had retreated.  She snapped on a lamp by her bed and saw the wedding photo of her and Jeff framed in gold on top of her dresser.  It was surrounded by an arrangement of white flowers.  She trudged over to the dresser, pried off the cardboard backing and took out the picture.  She stared at it intently for a few seconds and came to a decision:  she tore it in half to separate her image from his and tossed young, still faithful Jeff into the trash can at her feet.

The scrap landed on a thick piece of cream colored paper scrolled with black leaves and flowers.  Beneath the header was a reproduction of a photo of Jeff taken a few months ago when he and Sarah celebrated their twentieth anniversary.  Beneath that a script of heavy gothic letters read, “In memoriam:  Jeffrey Kunkel, beloved son and husband.”

Little Kid Surprises

In 1998 I stumbled into a part time job teaching art ed at a charter school in Micanopy, Florida.  I taught kindergarten, first and second grade students to use their imaginations while painting, drawing, and making rudimentary prints and collages.  I don’t remember many of the lessons that I taught, but I do recall the many times my kids surprised me.  What I learned was that each one of them was very aware and thoughtful, that they were busy soaking in impressions and information from the environment around  them, and that they understood much more about their lives than I would have expected.

Ronny was undersized for a kindergartner.   The staff wondered whether his mother had lied about his age when she enrolled him in school.  He had the cherubic face of an innocent young child but showed a precocious curiosity about the opposite sex.  When a girl got permission to go to the bathroom I had to keep an eye on him.  If I didn’t he would follow them into the restroom in hopes, perhaps, of seeing something unusual.  He also liked to defy me in little ways to test my reaction.  If I told everyone to get up off the carpet and find a seat at a table he would put his hands on his hips and give me a challenging look.  If he refused to comply I simply picked him up, tucked him under one arm, and hauled him to a chair.  He didn’t mind.  I got the impression that he liked the attention.

James did damage.  He would watch me carefully, and the moment I was distracted he would drift off to the side and break a piece of equipment or hurt another boy.  When I located him again he would be slowly walking away from a collapsed painting rack or a boy who was doubled over in pain.  One day we had a fire drill, and he intentionally lagged behind everyone.  I put a two fingers on his shoulder and gave him a gentle push forward.  He flopped on the ground, pointed at me and cried out in fake pain.  None of the other teachers bought his act, and no one accused me of hitting him.  One of the aides had noted his penchant for trickery and sadism and predicted a future in crime for the him.  One day his father came in for a visit, and all the teachers cringed.  We were used to having parents blame us for the bad behavior of their children.  (One mother had even defended her little boy after he attempted to bite a teacher.)  James’ Dad told us that his son was reacting badly to his parents’ recent divorce, and that he was aware that his son was acting up at school.  He apologized for James and promised to take him in hand.  He was as good as his word, and James calmed down considerably and began to make good progress.  He gradually became a much more motivated kid who no longer attempted to make the rest of the world as miserable as he was.

Shandra transferred to Micanopy about half way through the year.  We heard that the school she had formerly attended had been rough, and that her parents wanted to give her a better chance of getting a good education by moving her to Micanopy.  The first day I had her in class she stirred up a minor ruckus.  Jim came up to me and showed me a cut on his palm.  He said that Shandra had stabbed him with a pair of blunt scissors.  I asked her if she had done that, and she said, “He ain’t hurt.  He ain’t bleeding.”  I told her that she couldn’t stab other students or hurt them in any way.  She stuck out her lip and glared at me.  I told her that everyone in class had a pair of scissors, and that she didn’t have fight to get her share of supplies.  Her shoulders dropped and her expression changed.  She learned eventually that the art room was a safe place and began to enjoy the class.  She became very frank and open with me as the year went on, and once explained to me why she had an urgent need to use the bathroom.  She said, “My butt itches and I have to scratch it.”  I stood aside and waved my arm toward the bathroom door in silent acknowledgment that having an itchy butt was a very good restroom excuse.  I reminded her to wash her hands before she came back.

Mary’s social life was a concern of mine.  She walked up to me one morning and demanded that I take action as her advocate.  Rachel had promised to sit next to her while they painted, and now she was sitting by Charlotte instead.  Mary insisted that it was my job to make Rachel sit beside her and didn’t accept my explanation that mandated seating arrangements weren’t in my lesson plan.  According to her the world had to be fair and true, and everyone had to honor prior agreements.  And she was determined and sure that it was my solemn duty to make it so.

Abdul would look up at me with adoration at random moments, would throw his arms around my hips and give me a big hug.  I couldn’t figure out what came over him as I had not done anything extraordinary to earn that much affection.  But I would give him a pat on the head and wait for him to release me.  He seemed to become overwhelmed at times by a wave of love that needed immediate expression.

Some of the kids felt that my marriage vows were not that important.  One boy in first grade gave me his mother’s phone number when he came by my table at a school festival.  He  said, “You really should call this number,” as Mom stood a few feet behind him and blushed.  She seemed oddly willing to entertain the possibility of a relationship of some sort, and I hemmed and hawed until I managed to thank him for the number and to say that I would take his advice into account.  The children called me Mr. Dennis or Mr. D., and another teacher named Derry was called Mrs. D.  She was divorced, and we were on friendly but professional terms.  One day a group of children began to point at Mr. and Mrs. D as we did our playground duty, and they suggested that the two of us make the obvious move of getting married.  Then we would become a unit:  Mr. and Mrs. D.  I was embarrassed once again, but Derry gave me a strange look that definitely was not an outright dismissal of the idea.  Who knew that tentative opportunities for infidelity could be brokered by little kids?

A first grade girl named Sharon sat down at my table at the same festival where I had been given a mother’s phone number.  We weren’t in class and felt relaxed with each others’ company, and she began to tell me about her life.  Her mother was a single mom who worked at a local motel out by Interstate 95.  She worked double shifts some days as a maid and was often away from home.  Sharon told me that she couldn’t stay long at the festival because of her Mom’s schedule, and that she was lonely.  She looked down at the ground.  Her speech was simple and direct, and it eloquently told me that she was a very sad little girl who was looking for more love and attention.  She had appeared to me before that to be a dull, callous child.  But I learned during our five minute conversation that she was a sensitive person who saw her world without any illusions:  life was hard and showed no signs of getting better.  She accepted this with philosophical detachment, but seemed relieved that she could tell someone how she felt.

I decided after my year at Micanopy to give up my ambition of becoming an elementary school teacher.  I realized that I was much better suited for dealing with adults, and that the strain of learning how to react calmly to the irrational and unpredictable behavior of little kids was a bit too much for me.  But I knew that my year’s glimpse of teaching them had been a gift, and that each child I met was precious and had the potential to do wonderful things with his or her life.

 

 

 

 

What Do You Do with a Drunken Girlfriend Ear-ly in the Morning?

Jane told me over the phone that she had met a young woman named Callie at the hospital. Jane worked as a medical secretary on one of the floors in the main building of Miami Valley Hospital, and Callie had just been a patient there. Jane was vague about the reasons for her new friend’s hospitalization, but I got the impression that she had overdosed and been housed in the detox ward. Callie had invited Jane to come to a party to celebrate her release. Jane added that Callie would be picking her up at the hospital after she finished her shift.

Jane said, “I wish that you could come along, but you always have to work on Friday nights. You should trade for some day shifts so that we could do things together on the weekend. I hate being trapped with nothing to do because of your job.”

I grunted. Our relationship had grown sour by that time, and we both knew that she was lying when she said that she wanted to spend more time with me. When we did go out on a dates in recent weeks we spoke less and less, and the tension between us made her crabby and gave me a headache. We were both looking for the exit, but hadn’t admitted it to each other yet.

Jane said, “Well, I might see you tonight at the hospital. I’m coming over to the Apple Street exit.”

“Okay,” I replied unenthusiastically.

At twelve a.m. Jane came bustling through the lobby where I worked as a third shift receptionist in the nursing school dormitory at Miami Valley. A thin woman with brunette hair and freckled, pale skin followed in her wake. Jane paused to introduce me to Callie, and when Callie said, “Hey there, Jane’s boyfriend” her lazy consonants mushed together. She was already tipsy.

Several uneventful hours passed by, and few people came and went. I was drawing a copy in my sketchbook of a still life painting by Chardin when the phone rang. It was Jane. I could tell that she was in the mood to be cruel, and she sounded very drunk. She sneered, “Hey, Denny. I’m at the party!” (I heard dance music and laughter in the background.) “I having a great time, but you wouldn’t like it. People are having fun! You don’t like to do fun things, do you? Well, I do. Hey fellas! Do you think that we’re having a good time?” (A group of men cheered.) “Hey, Denny! D’ya wanna hear what these guys think about you?”

“Not really,” I answered.

“That’s too bad, because here they are. Boys! Tell old Dennis what you think of him!” (A group of men shout into the phone, one over the top of the other. I thought that I heard a few obscenities and slurs, but it was hard to decipher what they were saying.)

Jane came back on and said, “Nighty-night old man!” and hung up.

I sat there and stewed. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and put away my sketchbook. I decided that I had to break up with her once and for all. Why waste time and effort on someone who enjoyed mocking me? She kept telling me that she thought that I was too old for her even though we were only four years apart. Somehow I was to blame for keeping her from a young and carefree lifestyle.

At five thirty she and Callie staggered into the lobby. Jane obviously needed a ride home. Callie was a lot more sober, but didn’t want to go out of her way to drop off her drinking buddy. She looked happy and relieved to dump the problem in my lap. Jane went to the bathroom after Callie dashed out the door. She left her purse on the counter in front of me, and I fished her car keys out of the clutter of cosmetics, loose coins, gum, cigarettes, and used tissues inside the bag.

Jane came back and tried to find her keys, and I held them up in front of her.

“Give me those,” she demanded.

“You’re too drunk to drive,” I said.

“I am not! Give me my keys. I’ll call security!”

“You’re drunk and you’re on hospital property after hours. What are you going to tell them?”

“I’ll think of something, damn you! Give me my keys!”

“No.”

“You’re just doing this because you’re mad at me. I had a good time tonight and you didn’t and now you’re taking it out on me!”

She had a point. I might have been holding onto her keys to reassert my power in the relationship, or to pay her back for that night’s phone call. But what really made me persevere was a temptation that danced around in my head. A devilish little thought told me to let her drive home, and if she got into a wreck it wouldn’t be my problem. If she killed herself or someone else I wasn’t responsible. She had chosen to humiliate me that night, and I felt like letting her meet her fate.

That evil enticement made me do the opposite. I knew that I couldn’t live with the guilt if something did happen to her. I would always suspect that I had let her go just to get rid of her. There was nothing selfless in my decision to hold onto the keys, just a twisted mess of motives and counter motives.

“If you don’t give me my keys I’ll get you fired!” she threatened me. “When the next shift comes on I’ll tell them that you held me here against my will! I’ll tell them that you hit me!”

“You’re drunk. They won’t believe you. And you’ll get fired too. Can you afford to lose your job?”

She calmed down while she thought that over. Her head bobbed a few times as she nearly fell asleep while sitting in a chair just across the counter from me. She got up and stalked away to the lunch room, and I heard her trying to put coins into a vending machine. She kept dropping them and cursing, but managed to get a cup of coffee. She spilled some of it as she walked back to my post. She made a show of drinking it down, and began to walk back and forth in front of me. She swayed and veered, and was too drunk to realize that her words were heavily slurred when she told me, “See, I’m sober now. I can drive.”

“No,” I said.

“I have to get home! Who’s going to be there when Carol Ann wakes up?”

“Your mother will be there. I’ll drive you home when I get off my shift.”

“But what about my car? It’s parked on Apple Street. I need my car!”

“I’ll drive you in your car, and I’ll call Tony to follow us down to Miamisburg. He’ll drive me back.”

“Call me a cab!”

“I don’t have the money. Do you?”

“Fuck you!”

“No thanks.”

We spent the next hour arguing in short bursts. She gradually got more sober, but still seemed unsteady. I called my brother at six and apologized for getting him up. I explained the situation briefly to him, and he agreed without complaint to come down to the hospital. He knew some of the things that had been going on between me and Jane and wasn’t surprised by this latest development.

My day shift replacement was a starchy old lady who had been widowed for years. She was a straight shooter for the most part, didn’t gossip much or wage office wars, but I was still worried about her reaction. Jane screeched something horrible about me stealing her keys when ‘Clara’ sat down at the desk, and I said nothing. Clara sized up the situation and her eyes narrowed when she took in Jane’s disheveled state. Tony walked in the lobby door, I clocked out, and Jane led me to her car. I pulled around to where Tony was parked and honked the horn. He nodded and started his engine, and we headed south.

Jane fumed in the shotgun seat and said, “I could have driven home. I wasn’t that drunk.”

“You would have killed yourself. You couldn’t see straight when you came back to the hospital.”

“How would you know? And don’t sit there judging me! You always act so superior, but you don’t have to live my life. What would you do if you had to raise a little girl with your parents nitpicking your every decision, looking over your shoulder and interfering? How would you handle it? I just need some help to get by. Everybody needs some coping mechanisms to get by.”

Jane had been taking diet pills for the last two months to shed pregnancy weight left over from her daughter’s birth three years before. As she got thinner she became more irritable and had begun to smoke and drink. Her ego had swelled as the fat on her frame diminished, and she had let it slip on a few occasions that she thought that I was no longer in her league.

I lost my temper and shouted, “Coping mechanisms!? Trying to kill yourself isn’t a coping mechanism!”

She was startled at first, and then became peevish. “You don’t have to shout at me!”

“You don’t respect me unless I shout! You don’t listen to anybody unless they yell at you!” I shouted louder.

“All right, all right! I get it!” she said as she turned away. We rode the rest of the way in silence. When I pulled up to her parents’ house I turned off the motor and tossed her the keys. I got out without saying anything and walked over to my brother’s car.

He drove us back to the hospital where I picked up my car. I thanked him and explained a bit more about what had happened at the hospital, and he told me not to worry about calling him for help. I also said that if Jane tried that again I’d let her drive no matter what her condition.

It was past nine when I got home and I was exhausted. I fell into bed and didn’t wake up until supper time. Jane hadn’t called while I slept, and I entertained the hope that she had finally decided to dump me. I had grown tired of finding myself in situations with her where I couldn’t tell whether or not I was making right choices, or making right choices for right reasons. She had a talent for twisting me into mental knots.

I graduated with a B.F.A. from Wright State a week or so later. Jane came uninvited to a party that my Mom and Dad threw for me to celebrate my accomplishment. When she walked out onto the back patio I felt my face stiffen and the muscles in my neck and shoulders tense up. I hadn’t known that I was still that angry with her until I saw her and heard her voice. She tried to glad hand her way around the crowd until she came to me, but some of the folks gathered there knew her reputation and didn’t do much to welcome her. I glared at her when she sidled up to me. She laughed as if nothing were the matter, and I could tell that she was trying dazzle her way out of trouble by laying on the charm. Her face fell when I ignored her pleasantries and said, “What are you doing here?”

She left a few minutes later, and I felt some satisfaction in driving her away. But I knew that our ordeal wasn’t really over. My show of force was just a temporary victory. She was the one in charge of this disaster, would end it when she was good and ready, and would dictate the terms.

A List: Love’s Labor Lost and Found

1.When I was five I loved Shirley Temple. I felt sorry for her when an evil spinster or a policeman tore her from the loving arms of her crusty but kindly grandfather and carried her off to orphanage hell. I wanted to hug her and make her feel better as she wept.

2. At seven I fell in love with Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills in the movie, “The Parent Trap”. The young actress played a set of twins who had been separated by a divorce and didn’t know of each other’s existence until they met, by chance, at summer camp. I adored their curly short hair and big round eyes, and my heart went thump, thump, thump when they played guitars and sang, “Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah.” If only we could…At school I two-timed the movie twins with a skinny, little girl with freckles named Laura. She had a great sense of humor, and I enjoyed talking with her every morning on the playground before the bell rang. The only problem with our relationship was that she punched me with her bony fist every time I made her laugh. It was meant as an affectionate gesture, but her knuckles separated the thin strands of muscle in my upper arm before colliding with my bone. I decided, reluctantly, after a month of her sadistic love, that I valued the structural integrity of my arm more than her.

3. In fourth grade I probably fell in love with Sharon. She was a happy go lucky girl who didn’t have all that much to say. I don’t remember any significant moment of romance between us, but that I enjoyed chasing her around the classroom at lunch time and she enjoyed being chased. I guess that I secretly longed for a deeper, more meaningful relationship and began to allow the distance between us to grow wider and wider.

4. In eighth grade I kinda/sorta liked Eileen. All the kids were starting to pair up, and while I didn’t feel any lust for her, she seemed like the most natural candidate. She was the smartest girl in our class, and I was near the top among the boys. We were both quiet and studious and took things very seriously. The main difficulty we had in jump starting our passion was that she looked like a hunted animal whenever our eyes met. She lived in terror that I might actually walk up to her and ask her out. I believed in the virtues of kindness and mercy and left her alone.

5. When I was a freshman in college I fell in love with a girl named Madonna. She dumped me after a couple months, and when I recovered from that blow I began to look for another target for my desperate affection. A young woman named Karen sat in front of me in speech class. She was a short brunette, petite and cute. I tried chatting her up one day, but her cold response warned me away.

I gave several awkward speeches at the beginning of the semester, and tried very hard not to look in her direction while I stammered and shook at the podium. I eventually got the hang of channeling my nervous energy into making stronger performances. I began to relax and enjoy public speaking. I wrote a skit and acted it out with three other classmates. We made satirical references to the health clinic and administration at U.D. and got a few laughs. Even Karen smiled a few times.

My final exam that semester was in biology. I filled in scan-tron dots for two hours, and after I answered the last question I felt my brains seize up in a massive, mental Charley horse. I stumbled out of Wohlleben Hall and was confronted by Karen. She looked up expectantly as if she wanted something from me. I was puzzled:  she had never bothered to talk to me in class. She hemmed and hawed and said something about living in a little town close to Dayton and that she had a summer job but would have lots of spare time and she thought that I was from Dayton and…then she trailed off into silence. She blushed and looked embarrassed. I rubbed my eyes and stared down at her and couldn’t imagine what she wanted from me. I wished her a good summer and walked away, but noticed that her shoulders slumped and head bowed after I spoke.  It didn’t occur to me until a few minutes later that she had been hinting around for me to ask her out. I ran back but couldn’t find her anywhere. I felt like a complete moron.

She wasn’t a science major, and I didn’t see her in any of my classes the next fall. But one day I was walking along Stewart St. near the campus with a friend. I saw her in the distance with a male companion. She glanced in my direction and a look of recognition crossed her face, followed by hurt and embarrassment. She hung her head and took the hand of her boyfriend for comfort. I felt the urge to run up to her and explain that I was a blockhead when it came to reading signals from women, but managed to restrain the impulse. I knew that anything I would say would only make matters worse.

6. I turned down a chance for love when I was 23. I had an off and on crush on a poet named Kathy. She was close friends with an English major I had known in high school named Sheila. Sheila was friendly toward me when I ran into the two of them on campus as long as I didn’t talk to Kathy for very long. One day I heard pounding on my apartment door, and when I opened it Kathy and Sheila invited themselves in. They had odd smiles on their faces as they chit chatted about U.D. gossip. They eventually got around to telling me the reason for their visit. Eileen, my proto-crush in eighth grade, was a friend of Sheila’s. She apparently suffered from having remained a virgin all these long years, and needed someone to release her pent up, libidinal energy. They went on to explain that poor Eileen had talked to priests about her problem to no avail, and had recently begun to break down crying during Mass. She was wracked by nun induced guilt when it came to her sexual needs. Kathy and Sheila wanted to know if I was willing to help a poor girl finally get some relief.

The two of them sat close to each other on my sofa and stared at me with wide eyes and coy smiles as they waited for my answer. It occurred to me that they were trying to kill two birds with one stone. They were a lesbian couple, I was a possible distraction for Kathy if she ever decided to switch teams, and Eileen needed to get laid. As all of these revelations danced in my head, I imagined going to bed with a hysterical, guilt ridden woman. I knew without a doubt that Eileen was one of those Catholic girls who would blame me for stealing her virtue minutes after the deed was done.

I was too embarrassed to admit to anyone that I was a virgin myself and was starting to get very impatient to have my first go at lovemaking, but the thought of deflowering Eileen wasn’t very attractive. And the offer being presented seemed predicated on their theory that I was a man and would screw anyone available if given the chance. I told Kathy and Sheila that I wasn’t interested. They looked disappointed and left immediately, but they had accomplished one part of their mission: I no longer had a crush on Kathy.

7. In the spring of 1983 I was finishing up a B.F.A. degree at Wright State University and a relationship with a woman named Jane. At various times I believed that I loved her, but inwardly cringed at the thought of marriage. She could be randomly sweet and loving and cruel and critical with me, and I wasn’t sure which end of the spectrum would become most dominant in her dealings with me. She once told me that she was a month late, and I reluctantly agreed to marry her if it became necessary. I could feel all sorts of doors to a happy life slamming shut as I told her that I would stick by her. That crisis turned out to be a false alarm, and our affair continued to stagger onward toward its final, ugly conclusion.

I had a few opportunities for a better romance during the last three tortured months of our relationship. One was a nursing student who rented the apartment below me. She had been living with a hyperthyroidic plumber who could stand outside in the freezing cold wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt. She had tired of his hot blooded love and kicked him out shortly before attending a wedding in which I served as an usher. We had shared a few sympathetic looks when we met on the front porch of our building, but I hadn’t thought that love might be possible. When she came through the receiving line she gave me a sad smile and a peck on the cheek, and it occurred to me that she was letting me know that she liked me. Visions of a vengeful Jane danced in my head, however, and I let that chance pass by.

A woman in my French II class liked to talk with me in the hall during breaks. She had long, silky, black hair, and caramel brown skin and gorgeous black eyes. One day she stood a little closer to me than normal and had that expectant look in her eyes, but she said nothing obvious. I knew that I could ask her out for a cup of coffee and that one thing might lead to another, but didn’t respond to her subtle overture. (I had vowed to never two-time anyone after being two-timed by Madonna.) She grew quite angry, stormed off and never spoke to me again.  (Years later I realized that she thought that I turned her down because I was a racist.)

Jane walked into my place early one morning six weeks later, woke me up and told me that she had been seeing someone else, and that she only thought of me as a friend. I wasn’t surprised. We had stopped going to bed together for the last two months of our affair, she had previously told me that she had learned to enjoy kissing again with a man who was better at it than I, and she had drunk dialed one night from a party and encouraged a group of men to jeer at me.   Jane babbled a few more excuses and self-justifications before she left, but I had stopped listening. My attention was focused on the urgent need to kick myself hard in the ass for remaining faithful to her.

7. My wife and I met two months later. Judy was the anti-Jane: she was consistently kind, thoughtful and loving. She didn’t like the way I kissed either, but was happy to teach me how to please her. And I was happy to practice until I got it right.