It’s June and the rain comes every afternoon strong and violent making the grass grow faster than the moving lawn mower blades. There’s steam rising from the hot cement of the driveway and more steam in the deep shade of the wet pecan trees. I’ve been out picking blueberries and the branches were so soaked the sleeves of my blouse are wet and itchy on my arms and I’m sure I picked up a few ticks from the weeds under the tall berry bushes. I’ll actually have to get in a hot tub tonight and check for ticks, ugh.
My summers in the North East were never like this. They’d been full of picnics and back yard Bar B Qs’; friends coming over for last minute suppers and late night swims. Down here I’m content to stay inside from June to October. There is just too much to do outside and I’m the only one to do it and I don’t have the energy or the inclination. There was a time when I would’ve gotten up early and been through with all outdoor chores by noon and then canned fruit in the afternoon. But there’s no one left to eat the jams and preserves I was always so proud of; so I don’t beat myself up over it, I just let it go.
My little fishpond is in desperate need of cleaning and an old rattlesnake has taken up residence under the little gazebo in the straggly flower garden. It’s even too hot to sit on the back porch of an afternoon and have my martini, so I now have them with my dinner at the kitchen table. Any sophistication I may’ve had last April has gone to hell in a hand basket, or is hiding with the rattlesnake in the scraggly garden or sitting idly in the hall next to the un-used vacuum. The pride I once took in my looks is definitely clinging to the un-used make-up and expensive bath oils in the big bathroom off the master bedroom. Going to hell in a hand basket was too mild; I’ve made a detour to the city dump. I’ve lost any nice figure I may’ve had; bowls of ice cream and old movies in the nice cool air of the house have taken care of that. I still love to entertain on occasion though, and can muster up the energy to have dinner or lunch with old friends. But except for the joy of reuniting with two high school friends who’ve also moved back home and the close bonds we’ve formed in the last year, I took a couple of steps back and down when I moved back to this small southern town.
Now sometimes I dream of having weekly manicures and pedicures again, so I’ll drop in at the little mall downtown and ask for a pedicure. Choosing the sickly oranges and reds of the nail enamel obviously thinned to “go further”, I notice the young women in the salon rolling eyes at each other and sizing me up as a rude aging slob. Hell, they were probably daughters of people I went to school with, but I know I don’t sound southern anymore; that was gently removed with sharp reprimands by well meaning friends up north, and laughing strangers in expensive New York art galleries.
But things were different for me back in April. I dismissed the thought of another relationship after two marriages; one ending in divorce and the other in widowhood. The men I dated since are all flawed, and I guess I was looking for perfect. Of course that has always been my problem, picking men I thought were perfect. Is it any wonder it never worked out? Someone once told me that insane meant making the same choices over and over and expecting different results. If that’s true, then I suppose I’m about as crazy as you can get. So it’s just easier to stay single and safe.
But did being safe mean turning lazy and unkempt in the heat of the summer? My mother would be turning like a spinning wheel in her grave if she could see what I’ve become this summer. But I was not always like this.
One day back in April, standing in line at the Wal-Mart looking fresh and pretty after having lunch with friends; my basket holding a few pieces of fruit and a box of granola I was planning for supper. I heard a soft vaguely familiar masculine voice call my name. I turned straight into the eyes of James “Jimmy Lynn” Sparks, a high school friend and a favorite boyfriend from years back. God, he’d changed so little. He was still very handsome with a head full of brown wavy hair, graying temples and a body you could dress up and fly to Paris or put in cowboy boots and kick beer cans down a country road. Thank God it wasn’t today; my basket on my daily Wal-Mart trip is now full of discounted DVD’s, diet cokes, ice cream and the new James Lee Burke novel; and I’d probably have my raincoat on over my nightgown.
But back in April I was still keeping up with myself and proud of my figure and we had so much catching up to do. I invited him home to have coffee. Today I hope the cleaning lady shows up sober and remembers to flush her own toilette. But back in April, the cleaning lady was sober and the house was sparkling and clean. What fate was this that was making this reunion so perfect? I offered him wine instead of coffee, and he accepted. He stayed for several hours and we discussed our lives since school. He was a Doctor in the next town, Pediatrician, married for 21 years, but getting a divorce. He had no kids; his wife hadn’t wanted any. He was leaving her for mental health reasons as she wouldn’t take her medicines and it was breaking his heart. He needed me. I represented the home of his youth and happy memories and he thought I could help him begin to forget the wife “what done him wrong”. I think I fell in love that afternoon for the first time in my life. It was all so familiar, so loving and tender. There were no silent, awkward seconds looking for something to say, the words flowed from both of us as if we’d been with each other a lifetime. I quickly became addicted to the sweet nectar of his compliments and easy laughter and he of mine. He kissed me tenderly at the door and asked when he could see me again. I wanted to ask why again, why not just move in, but I was mature and feigned a gentle careless attitude.
“Soon, this has been so nice, let’s do it again soon.”
“How about tomorrow night?” He asked and kissed me again.
How many hours is that? How much time will I have to fill before tomorrow night? I didn’t know then, he was thinking the same thing.
I couldn’t wait to rub it in to the girls, here was Mr.Perfect and I’d passed him by years ago and married that jerk from college. But I wanted to wait before telling them; I had so many things to do before I saw him again.
After the first week of delightful dates, I went into New Orleans and got the beauty works at a very pricey salon. My hair was colored, all twenty nails had been trimmed, buffed and painted and I was looking damned good. I was so happy; euphoria had moved in and rode a white pony in my heart. Why the hell hadn’t I moved back sooner? From what he told me he’d been miserable with his wife for years, and she with him, but was worried about her mental health and what she might do if they split. But he couldn’t take any more, he needed to get out to protect his own mental health. He really needed someone stable like myself.
If stable was what he wanted, stable was what this dear sweet man would get. I began to expect him each day and he never disappointed me. He began to come in the morning for coffee on his way to the office and then have me meet him for lunch. Dinner we usually ate in bed watching the news; he loved that, because that meant he didn’t have to share me with all the men in the restaurant. Yes, he was perfect. I loved that he thought men ogled me when we were out together. Neither of my men had been jealous and I often wondered how it felt to have a man this possessive. I thought he must love me a great deal to be this possessive.
He took great pleasure in jokingly blaming me for the years we wasted by my going out of state to college. I blamed myself too, he asked me to stay those many years back, but I was sure there was a better life in the next state. We both new now how wrong I’d been about that. Imagine the family we could’ve had if I hadn’t run off to greener pastures. He sure thought my mistakes with men were silly and careless, and I loved that he was able to teach me how to judge people. That was a failing of mine, he could see it, and he’d help me correct it, I just needed to trust the Doctor. That became our favorite saying to one another, “The Doctor knows best”.
No one ever cared enough about me to point out my flaws and show me how to correct them. He showed me things about myself I never even knew were wrong, but through his eyes I could see what he was talking about, and I always wanted to make myself better so he’d continue to love me. It made him happy to see I was trying to make myself better, and it made him that unhappy when he had to point out a flaw I overlooked.
He pointed out how naïve I was with handling my own money and how unknowing I was about anything to do with the practical side of life. Sometimes I wondered how I managed without him. I was surprised at how ignorant of the world I actually was.
I thought he was just about the wisest man I’d ever known.
I’d wanted to have lunch with my friends for weeks, but he couldn’t stand having lunch without me; so his first conference in Baton Rouge, I took the opportunity to meet my friends for lunch and tell them all about my knight in shining armor.
They were all waiting to hear about the “Doctor”. I began by saying, “Do you remember Jimmy Sparks from high school; you remember I used to date him a lot…”
The collective gasp from two sets of matronly bosoms rattled the old fashions and spilled bourbon on the butter plates.
“You mean Dr. James Sparks? His wife may not live from the last beating he gave her and the son of a bitch is telling everyone he’s filing for divorce. But he’s just waiting for her to get out of ICU so he can get his hands on the rest of her money and then he’ll probably kill her.” My friend said in an angry voice.
“Sheriff Calton is ready to shoot him on sight if he goes near her again.”
“He is very dangerous, Sara”. My shy friend who never speaks ill of anyone spoke.
Two sets of middle-aged elbows removed themselves from the table they had been leaning on to get their point across. Two worried sets of shoulders slumped back into their chairs heavy with the knowledge that they’d just witnessed a friend’s heartbreak.
My mind rejected the words; none could get in and none could get out. It must be another Doctor; it couldn’t possibly be my Jimmy.
“True, he said his wife was in the hospital again, but that surely is not what he meant.”
These women had known him as long as I had, they knew it was he, and I had to know it too. Nothing he’d said or done had given me the least inclination that he was capable of such horrible violence or that he had such control and anger issues.
The girls were as supportive as only middle aged women who’ve lived through some hard times with men can be. They are bulwarks of strength and support; bastions of help and healing. Back in April, I was lucky to have them; it made the pain a little more bearable to know each in turn had been through similar experiences at one time or another.
The next morning I didn’t answer the persistent and angry knock on the back door, I was headed upstairs with a bowl of ice cream, “Casablanca”, and a Xanax given to me by one of my friends. I settled myself among the pillows and pulled the revolver out of the nightstand drawer. I was afraid when I killed my first husband, so terrified of getting found out that I couldn’t sleep for weeks after. People thought it was grief, and without my realizing, it had worked like a charm. I had even divorced him first so no one would suspect me. What was my motive? None, I just didn’t like the son of a bitch, couldn’t stand him. He’d been such a total disappointment to me. I thought he was about the most perfect man in the world, and when I finally realized how imperfect he was, I just snapped and didn’t want him to live on my planet. When I killed my second husband I was not as scared but still took extra precaution. He snored like a freight train and kept me awake for so many months, I often wondered later if I hadn’t been a little delirious from lack of sleep and acted too hasty with his murder. He’d been a great lay and we could have used separate bedrooms to handle the snoring, but no crying over spilled milk, the deed was done. I was going to enjoy this one though. I heard the glass door break downstairs; I figured I had enough time to eat a couple of spoonfuls of ice cream before he got to my door. You know what I kept thinking? I wouldn’t have to worry over leg and bikini waxing for a while. I laughed so suddenly I dropped ice cream onto my clean gown. I heard his angry feet coming up the stairs and as he was forcing his shoulder to my bedroom door, I reached over to the phone, punched in 911 waited for the dispatcher to answer, screamed and pulled the trigger as he came through the now broken door. Of all the things I hate in this world, a wife beater is the top of the list.
I’ve stopped looking for Mr. Perfect; last April something just went out of me. I don’t want anymore killing and I’m beginning to see a pattern that’s not healthy for the men in my life. I have to go run a hot bath. I have to deal with these ticks. Tomorrow I’ll have lunch with the girls and let them tell me all over again how wonderfully brave I was back in April. The End