Big Two-Fisted Introvert

A recently found story by Ernest P. Hemmingway.

Nick rolled out of bed.  Midmorning light bleached the pattern on his rug.  He tucked in the sheets and plumped the pillow.  It was a good pillow.

Nick brushed his teeth and whizzed, put on a clean white shirt and cargo shorts, and sat down at his computer.  He booted the computer, and it loaded quickly.  His screen saver glowed green, silver and blue.  A trout leaped out of a stream.

Nick wrote a short story about fishing.  He liked to write; he liked to fish.  He never got lonely when he fished.  Nick waved when fishermen passed by in boats, but it was good when they turned a bend.  It was good when they disappeared. The quiet of the river swallowed them.

Nick’s phone rang.  The phone was in the kitchen.  Nick waited until the ringing stopped, and then walked to the kitchen: time to make coffee.  His receiver blinked.  He picked it up.  He checked for messages:  one from mother.  Nick deleted his mother’s message.  He had heard her talk before.  He’d heard enough.

Nick drank the coffee hot and black.  It burned his tongue.  The burn stung.  He wanted to swear, but didn’t.  The phone rang again.  Caller ID said that his mother had dialed his number.  He saw her holding her receiver like a fishing rod.  She would pull him in if he took her bait.  She would ask about last night.  Nick did not answer the phone.

Last night Mother made a meal for him.  She served it on china plates.  The silverware was silver.  Candles lit the room.  They ate roast beef, boiled potatoes and green peas.  The roast beef was dry.

Nick drank too much whiskey.  He often drank too much at Mother’s.  Mother talked.  Mother invited women to dinner, women she wanted him to marry.  Nick did not want to marry.

Nick was not gay.  He liked women when they were quiet.  He liked women who fished.  He liked lying with women on sun baked pine needles on paths in high mountains.  He liked to “make the earth move”.

Last night Miriam talked more than Mother.  She talked about dresses, her hair, an article in a woman’s magazine.  Nick’s finger itched as he ate his food and listened to her talk.  He wanted to kill himself with his shotgun.

He knew that Miriam was not talking about fashion and cosmetics.  She was talking about babies, houses, insurance policies and retirement plans.

Nick did not have a retirement plan.  He did not like babies when they cried.  A man did not need insurance, and died before he retired.  If he grew too old to be a man, he went deep sea fishing in a leaking, rickety boat, he ran with the bulls at Pamplona and let the bulls catch him.

Right now Nick had hunting, fishing, and writing.  He had what he wanted.  He did not want Miriam.

The phone rang again.  Nick went to the case in his study and pulled out his 12 aught shot gun.  He rubbed the steel barrel with an oily rag.  It glistened cold and deadly.  He slotted a shell into the breech.  He walked twenty five steps to his kitchen.  Nick shot his phone.

Nick sat down at his computer.  He poured two shots of whiskey into his coffee mug.  It tasted better that way.  He reread his story.  It was good.  Nick smiled.  He was alone.


God Bless You, Father Shine

The Cincinnati archdiocese assigned Father Shine to our parish as an assistant pastor around 1970.  He had been acting as a hospital chaplain, and before that served as a teacher in a boys high school.  A thin man with a large nose, pale skin, jet-black hair and sunken eyes, he trembled at the pulpit when he delivered sermons.  Sweat slicked his forehead and his hands shook when he raised the host at consecration.  He stammered, “B-b-body, body of Christ,” when he handed out communion.

Most of the congregation understood his terror of speaking in public and forgave him his faltering interpretations of Holy Scripture.  We felt sorry for a well-meaning man trapped in a job that ran contrary to his nature.  We also sensed a sweet nature hidden behind the nerves.  The man was ready to forgive sins in the confessional before a penitent uttered the first word.  He never spoke harshly or with cold judgment, and remained unfailingly patient and kind when dealing with folks one on one.

No one knew how the nuns and head pastor viewed Father Shine, but someone with a cruel streak gave him an assignment designed to torture him:  a sex-ed lecture for the eighth-graders.

We were ushered into the library and told to sit on the carpet.  No one told us the purpose of the assembly, but whenever our two classes gathered it usually meant a tongue lashing from the principal.  We were somewhat rebellious, and our budding sexuality sent one of the nuns into spasms.

It didn’t take much to bring Sister M.M. to her knees to pray for our immortal souls.  One flagrant problem that raised her blood pressure:  some of the eighth grade girls had tired of us boys and decided to take up with seventh graders.  Older hussies were seen walking with younger boys on the playground at lunch.  They held hands.  The horror.  The utter horror.

We were surprised when Father Shine shuffled into the room.  He sat down in front of us, but didn’t say anything for several minutes.  He appeared to be morbidly fascinated by the texture of the carpet.  A nun standing nearby whispered a few urgent words to spur him into action.  He looked up for a split second, returned his gaze to the floor, and wiped his forehead with a trembling hand. The nun whispered again, and Father Shine began his address.

“I taught for a few years at a Catholic school for boys in Cincinnati… Cin-Cin-cin-cin…nati…I, uh, the boys, uh….One day there was a dance.  The boys invited girls from a nearby high school for…girls.  Girls…Uh…I taught boys in Cincinnati…dance…There was this dance and girls were invited to come to our gym and…dance…And the boys, the boys…I taught at this school and…”

At this point Father flushed deep red and slumped to one side.  He covered his face with his hands and his shoulders shook.  I feared that he verged on a nervous breakdown.  The nun stepped in, put a hand on his shoulder and helped him to his feet.  She led him from the room.  End of assembly.

Father Shine recovered and returned to his duties as assistant pastor.  He said masses, heard confessions and visited the sick.  I was glad that his attempt to speak to us about sexual morality hadn’t damaged him in any permanent way, and relieved that we had escaped another tirade about a subject I found troubling enough when contemplating it on my own.  My feelings of relief were premature.

Eighth-grade classes usual went on a spiritual retreat to a park-like Catholic center south of town.  Sister told us, to our chagrin, that our retreat would take place on campus.  Her stern look and threatening tone warned me that my classmates and I would probably need a retreat from our retreat.

A balding priest wearing a black cassock, black shoes and socks, and black plastic framed glasses met with us in the library one morning.  He wasn’t afraid, shy, or embarrassed.  He appeared, instead, to be driven by outrage.  He barked at us for an hour about our sinful natures, and his face turned purple with anger.  He scorned our obsession with sex.  He sentenced us to eternal damnation if we thought about it, masturbated, or allowed ourselves to enjoy accidental sexual feelings that occurred at random moments.  The only Catholics allowed to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh were married couples (heterosexual, it went without saying).  And even these lucky few were supposed to reluctantly engage in the act for the sole purpose of making more Catholics.

He spent the rest of the day with us, “celebrated” a mass featuring a sermon that underlined the grimmest points made in the prior assembly, and glared at us with arms crossed at his chest during a break at lunch time.  Father Damnation appeared to be standing in for a watchful, vengeful God.

The eighth-grade girls stayed away from the seventh graders that day, but resumed their assignations the next week.  We knew that Father Damnation wasn’t coming back.  And most of us had figured out that his reign of terror had been one more attempt to bludgeon us back in line.  There had been plenty of those, and we had grown used to threats and hysteria.

Looking back, I have to say that I’m grateful to both priests.  Father Shine showed me that there were some clerics in the church who genuinely cared for their congregants, who tried their best even when stretched beyond their natural limits.  Father Damnation showed me that the church ranks had their share of crazies and militants that were best ignored.

God bless you, Father Shine.  Get bent, Father Damnation.

Lost: I Blame the Elves

Lots of things raise my blood pressure:  political news; financial uncertainty; computer glitches; and health concerns.  Sometimes I’m able to reason my way out of an anxious funk.  But misplacing something drives me crazy.  I’m plagued by the feeling that my inability to manage my possessions is a sign that my life is about to descend into chaos.

When my children were little I could blame an unexplained disappearance on them, but now that they’re grown and gone I have two options:  elves or the onset of dementia.  I choose elves.

A friend of mine named Jean had a third option.  She blamed the disappearance of a ring on a ghost.  Her Victorian house was haunted by a friendly spirit who once, according to Jean, brought her a cup of tea when she was in bed with a high fever.  Jean eventually decided to move to a new house and asked the ghost to come along with her.  He shook his spectral head and told her that he couldn’t leave the premises.  On the morning Jean left she found a ring in the middle of the floor of a room she had emptied the day before.  She understood, by telepathic means, that the ghost had taken it several months back as he admired the gemstone’s beauty.  He apologized, and she forgave his thievery.

One of my incidents usually begins with a search for an object in its last recalled location.  For example, I look for a pocket knife on my dresser where I’m sure I’ve left it–not there.  I look in the next obvious location and note my growing panic as the knife remains perversely absent.  I expand the circle of my search outward until I’m pawing through tool boxes, opening drawers in cupboards seldom used, looking under sofa cushions where I’ve not sat in months.

I eventually rummage through shoes on the floor beneath the dresser, the pockets of pants in the laundry, the dust bunnies under my bed, but discover the knife hidden underneath a piggy bank on top of the dresser where I first made my search.  I had neglected to take into account the elfish predilection for shifting things slightly to one side.

Today I went on an expedition to find some credit cards.  We had received a new batch just before my wife and I left on a mini-vacation, and I had forgotten when we returned to mail cards to my son and daughter.  My wife told me that my son had asked after his, and I remembered putting them on the desk in the living room.  I made quick searches through bank statements and bills, but couldn’t find them.  My wife noticed the strained look on my face as I redoubled my efforts and began to look in progressively absurd locations.  She said, “We’ll find them.  Don’t worry.”  I replied, “Will we?  I’ve looked in all the places I can think of, and they’re gone.  I’m running out of ideas about where to look!”  My wife looked at me with a mixture of exasperation and pity, and offered no more comfort.  “Those goddamn elves are ruining my marriage,” I thought.

I took Judy to an appointment a few minutes later, and when we returned I made another search of a desk drawer where I believed the cards had been left.  I found the them tucked in an envelope with an auto insurance bill.  They hadn’t been there 90 minutes ago.  Fucking elves.

I sighed in relief.  I bolstered my self-confidence by telling myself that I had defeated my tormentors once more.  The sheer power of my desperation had forced them to return the cards to the desk drawer while we were gone.

The jewel case for my Lemonheads’ CD, “It’s a Shame About Ray”, is next on the agenda.  I’ve turned my studio upside down on at least three occasions, but haven’t yet summoned the eye bulging intensity necessary to intimidate the elves.  But there’s always tomorrow.  I’ll recall all the things I’ve permanently lost over the years and work myself into a monumental froth.


Entering Into the Retirement Zone

I recently turned 58, and one of my birthday presents was the realization that I only have 7 or 8 more years to officially belong to the workforce.  I can continue on after that if I still feel some drive to teach and exhibit my work, so the end doesn’t have to be in sight just yet.  But the promise of an upcoming choice made me feel positively lighthearted.

And I had another realization:  my professional ambitions have largely gone unfulfilled.  I am not a tenured college professor, I’ve made nearly no impact in the world of fine art, and I’ve never earned more than chump change selling my art.  If I had known how things would turn out when I was twenty-five I might have chosen to become an accountant or a biological research technician, but I’m happily surprised to say that I’m not bitter about my choices.  I’m largely satisfied by the experiences I’ve accumulated as I made my artwork.  The sweetness of applying paint to canvas is addictive, and I’ve had 30 plus years to scratch that itch.  Teaching has been a trial at times, but helping students still satisfies me.

And it’s good to know that most accounts have been settled, that I’ve gone about as far as I’m going to go.  It’s an odd relief to accept that a final sink into oblivion is probably my natural arc.  I’ve never been a fan of suspense, of waiting for the moment when my professional fortunes would finally start breaking good.  The overwhelming evidence suggests that they never will.

I still remember how I used to torture myself when I was twenty-five about every move I made as an artist, how I questioned and doubted my abilities and potential whenever I finished a painting that didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped.  Now I know that it’s just a matter of averages.  Like a baseball hitter I’m bound to succeed and fail according to a percentage.  I’m happy when I do well but no longer hope that a streak of good work will continue indefinitely.  In my personal life I also have realized that I will inevitably screw up from time to time, and be thoughtful and kind other times.  I have fewer illusions about my ability to maintain a state of benevolence, and also know that I have a penchant for snarky cynicism.  I still feel guilty when I say or do something hurtful, but am aware that there’s another side to the ledger.

It helps of course that I’m married to a woman who accepts who I am.  The one blessing that I desperately needed when I was 25 was to find someone who saw me in my entirety and still loved me. It took another couple decades for me to figure out that she hadn’t made a self-destructive mistake by volunteering to live with me.  Now I finally can relax in the knowledge that we’ve had a mostly happy marriage and have been good for each other.

The next decade or two may consist of a long downward slide, but at least I’ve gotten some altitude (thanks to Judy) from which to descend.  To quote Edith Piaf, “No, I don’t regret anything.”


The Right Thing

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.


“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.”

Valentine for my Wife

My wife and I have long ago abandoned most outward displays of romantic commitment.  I buy her flowers on occasion, but rarely on Valentine’s Day.  And every day isn’t a testament to our enduring love.  We still argue and get annoyed by one another.  We have to work on our relationship.  But when I saw her sitting across the room from me today I remembered a moment during our engagement when we went to visit her parents.  They hadn’t met me before Judy and I announced our engagement, and this trip turned out to be one of mutual inspection:  they wanted to see if I was a good match for their daughter;  I wanted to get a feel for the dynamics and history of my intended’s family.  The second night we were sitting at the table after supper getting better acquainted, and I suddenly found myself listening intently to my fiancee’s voice.  She was talking with great animation with her father, but I didn’t really hear the words.  What caught my attention was the timbre, the rise and fall of the notes, her slight Pennsylvania Dutch accent.  And I was struck by the knowledge that this was the voice that I’d be listening to for the rest my life.

A few years later one of my relatives thanked my wife for being generous enough to marry me.  The woman went on to say that the family thought that I would never get married as I was such a difficult person to understand.  As we drove home that night Judy turned to me and said, “You’re the one in your family who’s easy to live with.”  I felt a surge of love for her while at the same time hoped that she’d never change her mind once she really got to know me.  I had plenty of doubts about my worth.

Her understanding of my personality and character has evolved over the last 32 years,  and I’m relieved to say that she still loves me now that she is thoroughly acquainted with my strengths and faults.  That’s a huge gift, and I sometimes don’t think that I deserve it.  I’m still a bit surprised that she enjoys my companionship, that she smiles at me when I come home from work, that in many ways we feel closer than we ever have before.

Beyond her acceptance she has stood behind me in hard times.  She took care of me while I was recovering from a difficult surgery.  We had only had known each other for seven months, but she made sure that my needs were met.  I’ll never forget how comforted I felt when I saw her look down at me with deep concern and understanding as I lay in a hospital bed.  She was willing to suffer along with me.

And years later she walked out of a church meeting with me to show her solidarity when my motives and character came under attack.  She didn’t hesitate when I stood up, spoke my peace and said, “I’ve had enough of this.”  My wife said, “I’m with him,” and we marched out the door together.

And that’s the crux of it:  she’s with me and I’m with her.



Honeymoon Oasis: Murray Hill

Judy and I started to have serious roommate problems the summer right before our wedding. We decided to move in together one month before the ceremony, and Judy found a two bedroom house on Murray Hill Drive a bit north of the intersection of Harshman Rd. and Woodman. We were a half mile away from the western edge of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and gigantic bombers rattled our windows when they came in for a landing. The house had a laundry room, an attic, kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms as well as a large garden full of snapdragons, lilies, poppies and black-eyed-susans in the back yard.

I made one bedroom my studio. I crammed in a large bookshelf, a kitchen table for still life set ups, my easel, painting supplies and a box of still life props. We pushed two twin beds side by side in the other bedroom. It had been a child’s. There was a plastic light switch cover on the wall by the door of Snoopy sleeping on top of his doghouse.

The day we moved in we encountered one problem after another. Judy’s roommate Diane left town for the day when Judy moved out. Diane’s cat developed abandonment issues and kept getting in my way. She curled around my legs if I paused while carrying a box, and blocked the back steps leading down to an alley where my station wagon was parked. I almost tripped on her a few times, and finally nudged her gently aside with my foot. The cat took offense and disappeared under a bush. Judy wasn’t too happy with me. The cat was declawed and could have been torn to shreds by the underfed guard dogs her next door neighbors kept chained in their back yard. The cat tried to bite Judy when she reached into the leaves to pull her out, and Judy went into the house, grabbed oven mitts and pulled it out of its hiding place. We had loaded the last box, so Judy tossed the cat into the kitchen, threw the mitts in after, closed and locked the door, and slid her set of the keys under the door. Judy wondered what Diane would think when she returned home and found the mitts in the middle of the floor.

I had a superstition about cars. It seemed that whenever I filled the tank my car broke down, so I never put in more than a few dollars. Judy had noticed my reluctance to buy a lot of gas at any one time and told me to top off the tank that day for the many back and forth trips we would be making. When we pulled up to the house on Murray Hill she noticed a puddle of fluid spreading under the rear of my Pinto. I bent down and sniffed and realized that gas was leaking out, and that there must be a hole high up on the side of the tank. Judy refused to ride in the car any more until the tank was fixed, and didn’t want me to drive a potential death bomb. I called a garage and was told that the cost of repairing the tank was about half of what I had paid for the car.

Judy had a little, aquamarine Suburu that was normally dependable. We went out for some groceries after a makeshift supper, and her car broke down at the intersection of Smithville and Linden Ave. I pushed it into the parking lot of a convenience store, but the clerk wouldn’t let us leave it there. We found a pay phone and had it towed to a garage on Smithville a few blocks from our house. As we walked a mile back to our new home we found plenty to argue about. We were hot, tired and annoyed with each other.

I found other ways to bother Judy in the coming weeks. I cooked recipes I had learned from my mother and added lots of onions to our supper dishes. Judy came down with intense abdominal cramps after eating my Texas hash, chili, spaghetti and fried potatoes. She also objected when I mixed my painting solutions of paint thinner, linseed oil and varnish in glass jars on our kitchen table. She pointed out the obvious fact that eating on a surface coated with toxic chemicals would be bad for our health. I took note of her requests and quartered the amount of onions I put in my recipes and mixed my solutions outside on the back steps. She had seemed eager to marry me before we moved in together, but I grew ever more worried that I might pull off enough boneheaded maneuvers to drive her away before the appointed day. I had been living with men who didn’t demand much of anything from me beyond very basic, sanitary maintenance of my surroundings and prompt payment of rent. I didn’t know if Judy had any faith left that I was trainable in the art of civilized living.

My parents, who had never visited me while I lived away from home, decided to stop by at random moments. We had lied to them about sharing a house before our wedding day: our official story was that I was the sole resident and Judy, while moving a few things in ahead of time, was still living at Diane’s.  (My mother was an old school Catholic dead set against anything premarital activities beyond kissing and holding hands.)  Judy and I would be sitting on the sofa after supper enjoying a few moments of privacy and peace when we’d hear the brakes of my Dad’s car squeal by the curb. We’d dash around throwing Judy’s bras, panties and assorted bits of laundry under the bed or behind boxes left over from the move. We’d answer the door out of breath with guilty and exasperated looks on our faces.

I had to leave for work one night about a half hour after they showed up unannounced. My Pinto still hadn’t been repaired, and I drove away in Judy’s Subaru to go to the hospital. Judy was left to answer my mother’s nonchalant questions about how she was going to go to Diane’s if I had the only working car. My sister reported that my parents had figured out our deception after that visit, and that my mother had asked her, “Do you think that the two of them are doing anything wrong?” I smiled and told Carla that we were doing it just right.

Judy and I took care of a lot of the preparations for the wedding and reception ourselves as Judy’s parents lived 12 hours away. Judy made her bouquet from flowers picked from our garden, and I drew illustrations and designs for our invitations. We drove to Maine for a long honeymoon trip that ended up being more about endurance than romance, and I was happy when we came back home and returned to our normal routines. I was eager to get to know Judy on a daily basis.

Judy had never shared a bedroom before with a man, and one night I woke up and heard her crying. I put an arm around her and asked what was wrong, and she told me that she couldn’t sleep, that she hadn’t been able to get a good night’s sleep ever since we moved in together. She told me that I breathed too loudly. I spent the next few weeks trying to breathe softly as I fell asleep. Judy finally asked me one night why I was holding my breath. “I’m trying to breathe more softly,” I told her. She sighed and said, “I was just trying to be polite. You snore.” I sighed and took a deep breath.

I began to paint still lifes of objects I picked up by the side of the road, at flea markets and second hand stores. The best one featured a carburetor, a pink cloth, a shot glass and a toy pistol. I thought of it as portrait of sorts of my father, and I remember spending long hours studying the effects of light striking the surfaces of the table and the motley objects. I felt like I was exploring a world that had been hiding in plain sight as I studied a fading tone reflected off the surface of a glass, as I tried to mix a warm gray that captured the color transition from a rusty patch to a cold and shiny area on a piece of metal.

I usually took a break about midday and rode a bicycle down to a grocery store about a mile away. I started supper for Judy later on in the afternoon, and when she came home we would eat and talk for hours.

We went for walks in the neighborhood and discovered that our part of town got increasingly dodgy the further down Third Street we wandered. Men sat out on their stoops during the day in warmer weather and sipped from bottles wrapped in paper bags. They looked grizzled and hollow eyed, and didn’t welcome a greeting or friendly nod. Around Christmas I passed through a block just east of downtown and noticed a house with a black wreath on its front door. A sign in the window read “Have a Merry Christmas. We won’t. Bobby died.”

Judy and I went out on a cold day in January after it had snowed, and we heard children yelling and laughing as they played. We turned a corner and came to a park with a baseball field down a slope from the parking lot. Kids were sledding down the hill to the diamond below, and parents stood talking in clusters around metal drums with logs burning inside. The orange light from the fires contrasted beautifully with the long, blue shadows on the snow. Folks warmed themselves from time to time by the barrels and passed around Styrofoam cups of coffee and hot chocolate. Judy and I enjoyed the feeling of camaraderie amongst the parents, but knew that we didn’t really belong. We wouldn’t be staying much longer in Dayton, in this neighborhood, and our children were still a distant dream.

Judy was in the process of finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Dayton. We planned to move to Delaware in February if everything went well. She got up early one morning to go to her lab to do one more experiment. Her advisor had been dropping hints about tearing apart a crucial piece of machinery that Judy needed to finish her research. She set up the equipment before Dr. Geiger arrived, and stayed at her post guarding it until she had the required data. She even timed her bathroom breaks for Geiger’s appointments outside the lab, not trusting that he wouldn’t dismantle the machinery while her experiment was still running. He seemed oblivious to her urgent need to get out of his lab and start her professional career elsewhere. At times it seemed like he was purposely sabotaging her in order to hold onto an intelligent, trustworthy lab assistant.

Judy decided to write her thesis at home. She sat in the living room while I painted in my studio. I was working on a series that required a lot of intense focus. Judy was a nervous eater when she wrote, and would compulsively dig into a bag of chips or cookies and crunch, crunch, crunch as she scribbled and typed. I closed my door but could still hear rustle, rustle, crunch, crunch coming from the living room at regular intervals. The repetitive sounds disrupted my concentration and eventually drove me crazy. I burst out of the studio and yelled, “Stop that!” Judy was unhappily surprised when I explained how annoying her habit was, and was probably offended. The next day I heard her setting up for another writing session and the sound of her cutting something soft on a cutting board in the kitchen. I peeked out from behind my studio door and saw that she had a plate of cheddar slices. She was indulging in her habit but with a quieter fix. I waited until I heard her begin to eat and write, and leaped out of the studio and cried, “Stop that! You’re making too much noise eating that, that CHEESE!” I pointed to her plate in mock outrage and gave her my sternest look of condemnation (eyebrows arched, nostrils flared, eyes bulging out). Judy stared at me wide eyed. “Are you trying to drive me mad? MAD??” I added with a theatrical wave of my arm, and then she started to laugh.

Judy survived her thesis defense with little help and some hindrance from Geiger. We began to pack up the house, and I quit my job at the hospital. We moved on a gray day in February, and as we drove out of town I thought about how I would miss my family and worried about the challenges we would be facing in a strange city on the east coast. I had never lived anywhere else but Dayton and had no idea what it would be like to move to a place where I knew no one but Judy.

As we took the exit off of I75 onto I70 and headed to Columbus I wanted to turn around and head back to our little home on Murray Hill. It had served as our honeymoon hideaway, as an oasis of happiness.  I believed that we would have other times together that would be peaceful and full of contentment, but already knew that our six months there had been special.