The next man in my life didn’t need to be the one and we didn’t need to last forever. I had no checklist. I had no plan. I wanted three things: attraction, distraction and comfort.
My dad had died over the summer, my ex-husband had just been delivered a death sentence with an aggressive, untreatable form of liposarcoma, and my boyfriend wasn’t returning my calls. I had fallen hard for him years before, but not because he was stable or consistently kind. When he was available, he listened to me better than some girlfriends, and being heard is women’s porn. It was for me and I couldn’t get enough. But he had war-inflicted emotional trauma, making it hard for him to be close and stay close. Anyone else’s impending drama, loss or doom was his ticket out indefinitely. After a dozen or more years of our push-pull, it was time to start over.
After a series of one-date wonders where I said too much or he didn’t say enough, I found him.
Making a woman laugh is a close runner-up to being heard and that’s what Joe offers. That is his best card and he plays it often.
He called while I was at work after we’d known each other a few weeks and told me he could never work in an office like I did.
“I would need to lay down a trail of chocolate kisses to find my way out.”
Funny. Drawn in, distracted, but not comfortable. Could he be more?
He’s getting evicted. He talked a homeowner into moving in to renovate her place in exchange for rent. They each wanted something valuable: she wanted a reappraisal on her home to avoid paying a $100,000 bank note that was coming due and he wanted a place to live and to work. It was a good arrangement until she came in from her real home in California on a surprise visit to Coal Creek Canyon, Colorado. Unimpressed with the work he had completed, she wanted him out in three weeks. They went back and forth threatening each other until he finagled another week out of her. But that wasn’t the end of it. They’ve been duking it out via text and email about the amount she owes him and he’s threatening to file a mechanic’s lien if she doesn’t pay what he believes he’s due. I track some of the details but not all. I stand on high alert for the words, “I don’t have anywhere to go.” I offered him shelter at my place last summer for three months after he was pushed out of the last free-rent situation he had.
I told him a few weeks ago, however, that I could only put him up for two weeks because my place was too small, which it is, and that I worked with people all day and I didn’t want to feel “on” when he came ‘home’ to my place at the end of the day. He understood.
The alternative he came up with was to befriend the snow removal guy who worked the hills of Coal Creek. After a recent spring storm, Jimmy offered to clear Joe’s driveway. One thing led to another and Joe decided to be Jimmy’s roommate fifteen minutes farther up the canyon.
I drove Joe to take a look at Jimmy’s house last week. We followed Jimmy in his truck, up, up, up until I finally asked if I needed to stop for gas and when was he going to turn? After rutted dirt road and alpine peaks emerged, we turned onto Jimmy’s ‘street’ and parked. Jimmy hopped out and warned me that he was a Bachelor and the place was a mess.
Then, his arm swung out pointing to boulders fifty feet from the house saying that a mountain lion lived over there and she was not afraid, “so you need to make yourself real big if you see her.”
And then he nodded at three barrels at the end of the circular drive and said, “I need to take care of those. There’s a bear that likes to come around and roll these down the hill to get the garbage out.”
We trudged up slush, scaling our way over icy steps into his house. I supposed as a snow-removal guy he just didn’t have it in him to shovel his own walk. That, or he didn’t want to risk being outside long enough to tempt the big cat just beyond the boulders.
The air was thick with cigarette smoke and beer which had permeated every carpet nodule and paint flake, blanket, and wall hanging. He showed us the two possible rooms that Joe might inhabit. One was a mish mash of clothes and things not discernable in the shadows of dusk. The other room had a twin bed that was made. The floor was uncluttered and visible.
There wasn’t a molecule of movable air. I stood while Jimmy sold Joe on his redeeming qualities. The list was short. He didn’t party. “When I’m not out fishing, you can find me right here on the couch.” The T.V. was as big as the wall. “I had a fight with my nephew. I got angry when I was drunk and said some things I shouldn’t have, so I try not to do that.” His red face betrayed him.
Jimmy got up and opened the freezer. Stuffed every which way were a dozen fish, not all in Ziploc, eyes staring out. “I catch ‘em and give a lot to the old guys in town. They like that. I can’t eat ‘em all.”
I stepped out a minute after this and took my chances shimmying down the ill-defined steps back inside the breathable air and safety of my car. Joe followed in short-order.
Later on the phone, Joe said, “You’re not going to visit me very often up there are you?”
“You’ll need to get Jimmy to change his lifestyle. ‘If I’m not fishin’ you can find me right here!’” I mocked. “He never leaves! If you found a way to seal off a room and get six fans going. Maybe.” In broad daylight when the cat was asleep and the bear was worn out. Maybe never.
I don’t see Joe and Jimmy living happily ever after but I can gulp the good air knowing he won’t be at my place, not yet anyway.
I loaned him money because things got tight during the winter months. Construction projects aren’t burgeoning like they are in the summer. I have yet to see any of it come back, but it will. I’ve loaned Joe money a few other times and he’s always paid me back. I set my limit at $1,000. I’ve watched him pawn tools and contact creditors since then. He knows I won’t give him any more. He’s capable and he’s learning. And, I’m hopeful and just too lazy to end it right now.
The other morning, Joe called. “I woke up feeling really uncomfortable last night and then I realized I was sleeping on a T.V. dinner.”
I laughed. I could see it all too well. He had worked himself to exhaustion, heated up something to eat, ate, and promptly fell asleep. I used to joke with him about building a conveyor belt with a train from the kitchen to the bedroom. There’d be a buzzer to release a snack in the wee hours of the morning and deliver it to his open mouth.
He chuckled. “With every story, there is a silver-lining, Jane. I pulled it out and saw there was still a brownie in there. I ate it and went back to sleep.”
I laughed and laughed.
He’s not husband material. No amount of wanting more from him will make it so.
Joe called me “a trooper” for hanging out with him. My girlfriend called me a “ride or die chick,” meaning I’d stick by my man through anything.
I just want my money back. If the laughter stops and the money doesn’t come, then I’ll be gone, but not a minute sooner.