Miss Lonlihearts

Red HeartI had only been in DC for about two weeks. Everything was new, fresh, and magic. There’s something about a new place and new people that makes everything feel like an adventure. Even the boring stuff, like getting a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop or getting your groceries. I was even excited about the public transportation. I’m a country girl. It can’t be helped. I was so content and nervous sitting on the bus. Happy to have a seat, grateful for this opportunity to live and begin. I was smiling like a fool.

This was odd for the DC commuter. Most of us sit pawing through our smartphones starting the work day early, checking email, or reading the news. Anything to get the edge to win the day. It’s complete silence except for the gears of the bus. People either not fully awake staring into their phone wishing it was a cup of coffee or thumb typing like a teenage pro, having started their day hours earlier with a run.

Everyone was all crisp and polished, ready to take on the world. It was summer so many men were decked out in their seersucker finest. Matching the pale blue pinstripes with pink or mint, and always with a bow tie. Women were dressed to match in pastel colored dresses, their jackets thrown casually over the edge of their purses awaiting the cool of their AC at the office. In honor of the summer, most women had their hair pulled up into a high power ponytail or crisply pulled to the side in a bun or tumble of curls. Any woman brave enough to wear their hair down had an elastic on their wrist, revealing the truth to come later that day. It was amazing to see, every person dressed similar to the other, but still completely their own individual. I smiled, completely satisfied with my choice to move to Washington D.C.

The bus came to a stop, and a woman hopped on. She could only be described as a hot mess. She was a complete contrast to the order of the bus. Her hair was slung back into one of the sloppiest ponytails I’d ever seen. That’s saying something, given my history of attending college classes with that girl. (You know the one I’m talking about, don’t pretend like you don’t.) Hugging her belongings to herself, she was sandwiching her stilettos between her chest and briefcase. Her heels kept falling out of her arms revealing that she’d misbuttoned her shirt severely. It also looked a little big on her too, like she’d recently lost some weight but hadn’t updated her wardrobe to match. She was completely breathless and panicked that her Smartrip card didn’t have enough funds on it for the commute.

The bus driver was kind enough to gesture for her not to worry about it and to find a place amongst the rest of us travelers. That was when she made eye contact with me. Honestly, it was my fault. If I had been doing what I should have been doing; which was getting my work day off to the perfect start on my technology, it wouldn’t have happened. Yet, part of me is so glad that it did. Why? Because we all need that someone, sometimes.

She sat down next to me, she was still breathing hard and took a few gulps of air before turning to look at me. I glanced back, smiling weakly.

–I’m sorry. I know. I’m. It. Just. Happened. You know?

I nodded. I did know. I’m never on time to anything, even when I try to be. It’s a problem.

–I just. Didn’t know. I mean.

She paused as I frowned. I had lost her train of thought. She looked out the bus window for a moment, then down at herself.

–Shit___Shit. Shit. Shit.

–What’s wrong?

She sighed.

–This isn’t mine. It’s his. I must have grabbed it without thinking. I mean, who would own a lavender colored shirt, right?

I looked around the bus spotting at least three other men in a similar shade. Clearly she hadn’t noticed how popular it was. She had already started to roll up the sleeves, and was examining the lack of buttoning skills.

–He was a really great guy. So good, I was a fool to think that he was so good. I just. I just couldn’t help it. He was right there for the taking. And. It was great. It was so great.

She put her hand over her mouth trying to hold it together. She swallowed back her emotion, and started to tuck the shirt into her pencil skirt.

–We finally spent the night as his place. We’d always been at mine, and he knew it was bothering me. And it made me happy he was thoughtful enough to notice. But. She came home. She came home and I had to run. I had to get out of there. I can’t believe. I can’t believe he would do that. How could he do that to me? Do I look like a side dish to you? What the hell is wrong with me, that I can’t find a decent man in this city?

She looked at me earnestly with those watery eyes. I took a deep breath.

–You look like you could use a strong cup of coffee to me.

She burst into laughter. Everyone glanced at us before looking back to their email. We were behaving like summer interns, not working hard enough to stay long-term. Leaning back into her seat, she relaxed.

–There’s always a catch, right? He was so good, of course he’d already be taken.

She sighed, closing her eyes.

I completely disagreed with her. I didn’t get how she could be so complacent about it. I mean, it’s not like throwing a temper tantrum would help; but grouping that bastard in with the rest of the men in the world wasn’t right either. I’m sure everyone knows wonderful, upstanding gentlemen who honor their commitments.

–He wasn’t good at all. He disrespected everyone including himself.

She snorted in dissent, rolling her eyes at me.

–That’s just how they are. It’s just the way it is.

I frowned.

–I think that a good man will come along once you love yourself enough to let yourself be with that good man.

Her bottom lip started trembling. I panicked. This is what happens when I start talking to strangers when I haven’t had enough caffeine to know better. I say things that are completely unneeded. Words that are invasive and make assumptions about people, that I shouldn’t be assuming about.

–When do you think that will be?

–Hhhm?

I was too busy mentally chastising myself to hear her.

–When do you think that will be?

She smiled weakly. I smiled back.

–When you’re ready.

Searching

Red HeartA gift is found one of two ways. The first is found through careful thought. The other is found by chance in a damn-how-could-I-completely-forget-that-I-needed-to-get-a-gift panic. The horrid feeling of trying to find something that will not be seen as an after thought since it is not an after thought. It is a later thought.

So I am wandering through Krammerbooks & Afterwords Cafe at Dupont Circle in search of a later thought gift. It was for Father’s Day. I already had a card and everything. I just didn’t plan for my knitting project to not be done in time. A planned gift that became a later thought one. I was irritated with myself. I needed to find something good, quickly. I had a plane to catch.

Krammerbooks never lets me down. It may not always have what I want, but the place can be depended on to have what I need. I scanned the shelves with laser precision. It was only a matter of time ‘till I found it. I came across a biography on Thomas Jefferson. I paused a moment. The title was familiar to me. A coworker had been reading it earlier in the year. That’s when I knew; this was it. My coworker had excellent taste in nonfiction, and who doesn’t love a good-old-fashioned American President?

I went as quickly as I could to one of the checkout lines. It was a little more difficult than it should have been. I was lugging a carry-on over my shoulder and I didn’t want to take down any of the numerous stacks of books.

As I stood in line, I hummed to myself thrilled with my find. I looked down fondly at the cover thinking sweet nothings about Thomas Jefferson, repeating the singular thought. I have found a gift. I have found a gift. It’s going to be awesome!

–A fan of Thomas Jefferson?

The comment startled me. I was so absorbed in my happiness I wasn’t paying attention.

–Enough of one, yes.

The man was tall and had a politicians head of hair. You know, the nice kind; the kind that could belong to a Romney or a Kennedy. He had dark eyes and his suit was Mad Men blue. His tie was loose and he was holding book two from A Song of Fire and Ice (aka Game of Thrones).

–It’s a good book. Well written. Not a love letter or anything. It’s just an interesting presentation of facts.

I looked down at the book, I had absolutely no intention of reading.

–Ah, Thank you. I was looking for a book that met that standard.

–You’re welcome.

His smile was inviting in a way that made me think I was in an Orbit gum commercial. You know, his teeth sparkled for a moment. I am not ashamed to admit, he was charming.

–Your book is pretty good too. Decent for Fantasy, trending away from standard plot themes. You just have to be okay with death, and that the series is unfinished.

–I’ll be sure to tell my wife that.

–Yes. Please do.

I turned away. Well, there was really no more point in continuing the conversation. There really wasn’t a need for him to flash his smile the way he did, was it for the thrill of the hunt? I didn’t care to know.

We both had had our standard normal grocery line small talk and it was my turn at the register. I placed the book down grinning with pride at the man behind the counter. I had found my gift, and I was going to go to the good old state of Connecticut and I would see my family and it would be amazing.

I started thumbing through my wallet for my card to make the payment, when I heard the question.

–Would you like to get dinner sometime?

I am not sure exactly what type of look I had on my face, but the cashier’s eyes bulged as he ducked behind the counter, fumbling for a bag that I did not want for my purchase.

I looked over my shoulder unable to accept that this had been asked.

–You’re married!

He shrugged.

–So?

–So, I am not going out with you to dinner.

–Why not?

–Because I am not Mormon!

His jaw dropped. The cashier was chuckling at my comment. He held out the bag in a perfect display for a quick exit. I grabbed the handle and fled on my way back to Connecticut. As I pushed the door open to leave I looked back.

The cashier was shrugging off his chuckle to the man with the devilish smile. I heard him say as the door closed behind me,

–What? It was a good line. Did you find everything you were looking for today?

Old Love New Heart

Red HeartWhen I first saw my wife I knew right then I’d marry her. There was never a doubt. There was never any other option. It didn’t matter that I was fourteen years old and that she was twelve. We both knew. It was how it was supposed to be.

Now, kids these days. . . I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with ‘em. Fuck. I mean fuck it all to hell. You all don’t know what you feel or think. You don’t know how to commit or what commitment even is. You are all or nothing. You’re with me or against me, my way or the high way. That’s now how love works. Not Love love, anyway.

I remember when I was about sixteen years old. Maybe I was seventeen. Hell. I could have been eighteen. Fuck. No. That’s not right. I was sixteen when I told her. I told my wife that I was going into the army. There was just no way around it. My dad was in the army. My granddad was in the army. My great granddad was in the army back in Ireland. I’m from a military family. So I was going into the military. I am the Army’s man, I said.

Now, there is something to be said about Irish women. Fuck. They are something else. Fire in the soul and more stubborn than an ass. Ha! Fuck me. That woman, she is. She was. . . She looked right back at me. She told me she was going to go to college. She was going to be a professor. Now, this didn’t happen yesterday. This was back when it was “unnatural” and all that fucking god damned bullshit. Fuck. What is wrong with people, anyway, huh? Fucking “unnatural”. Unnatural, what does it even fucking mean? Hell if I know. Hell if I give a rat’s ass.

That was it. I went into the army. I married her when she was out’a high school. She went to college. I served. She schooled. We had a family and all that shit. We were all about family planning. I mean, fuck. Do I look like I give a damn about what a church, thinks? You think I am going to let a church tell me what I can and cannot do with my wife? Fuck. Do you think, she would? My wife. She’s a woman who knows what she wants, wanted.

You know, she became a professor at George Washington University. Fuck. She was published and everything. She knows, knew, everything about books. Never read and of that shit I read. I’m so proud of her. Not that what I thought would have changed her mind. Ha! Fuck no. She would have just kept on workin’ and paid me no mind. She is, was, a damn fine woman. Damn fine.

Why is it that kids these days don’t do things separately, together? Why do you all fuck yourselves? Love and Loving, isn’t hard. You just do it. You just commit the same way you commit to all your new-fangled shit. You know, that media socializing and work. You love all the wrong fucking things. These days one person isn’t as important as everyone else. They are either more important or less important. Nothing’s equal. Nothing is the way it is. It’s always more than, less than, better than, the best, the worst, the most. Fuck. I mean really. . .  Fuck. That’s not even counting all of the should have’s, could have’s, and would have’s you all have out there.

Just do it. Just fucking love someone. Damn it. It’s really not all that hard if you have a heart.

Never Just: A Life In The Quiet Corner

Red Heart

Written in Loving memory of Donald Spaeth; teacher, mentor, and friend.

We had Freshman English in the closet classroom. It was absolutely stifling. No windows. No space. We lived in a box. Caging ourselves at our desks, we were prepared to dissect and destroy some of the worlds’ greatest pieces of literature. We averaged fifteen years of age and believed we knew everything about the world. Our heads were so big with our thoughts; we were more sophomoric than sophomores.

He stood at the front of the classroom. Wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt and cargo khaki shorts, he was not your standard Woodstock Academy teacher. Pushing his spectacles up his nose he looked around at all of us. Taking us in slowly. He absorbed us. He took his time in this first meeting.

Who knows what he was thinking in that moment while we looked dully back at him. To us, it was just another day. Simply another class. We were counting down the minutes till we could move onto the next scheduled torture in the day.

He took a breath and paused. Was this how he wanted to begin? Yes. He committed.

–What do you believe in?

He asked us. Taking in our dumbfounded looks, he spoke again. He gestured with his hands to emphasize the words. Not a single movement wasted. He worked with purpose in communication.

–I said, what do you believe in. What do you stand for? Come on!

Some of us looked at each other, confused on how to answer the question. There was silence.

The first day of class does not start like this. Everyone knew that. We were supposed to play name games and the teacher would calmly explain the expectations for the class. They would drone on about how this was going to be a hard class. That it would challenge us more than middle school did because we were far more capable than what middle school gave us credit for. Blah. Blah. Blah.

None of that was happening here. We didn’t even know his name. He hadn’t even bothered to write it on the board.

I stared wide eyed at him. A deer in headlights. The teacher stretched his fingers at his side. Waiting for us to volunteer, feverish and excited.

What did I believe in? It would have been easier if he had asked what did I not believe in. I would stand for anything if it sounded reasonable. If a cause needed a champion; if a campaign needed a poster child, I was it. I was so good at standing, I didn’t even remember what it was like to sit down. This was an impossible question.

He strode over to his desk. With drama he snatched a book from on top of it and held it up. This was supposed to be a clue. An obvious clue. He realized he had asked a difficult question, and instead of backtracking he wanted us to reach for it. Even if we needed training wheels he was going to push us to our limits. He saw us as capable.

A classmate in the front row could offering an educated guess.

–Love?

It wasn’t quite an answer since it was stated questioningly but our teacher accepted it with spirit. He dramatically clutched at his heart and took several steps backwards. Struck with the force of the answer.

He paused again. He leaned forward peering at all of us mischievously. He saw us, all. He knew us before we knew ourselves; and we didn’t realize it.

He slammed the book down on the desk of an unsuspecting student. We all jumped from the force of it.

–Yes! But . . .

He held up his hand to us. With relished he forced us to wait. We sat in unsettling silence.

–Would you die for it?

That was our introduction to Romeo and Juliet.

This was our introduction to Mr. Speath.

You could never just read a poem, or glance through a book. Nope. Never. Everything had a purpose; an intent. It wasn’t enough to read. We were demanded to a different standard. He assumed we could read critically and excelled at reading comprehension. He asked us to look at the practical application of literature. Was its relatable to the world at large? Does this show us how to live, or how not to live? You were asked to live it.

English Literature was never to be a chore. It was to be a guide. A lamp against the dark of the world. The key to all our problems and questions. It would cure your heartache. Give you drive and passion. Help you live a life worth living.

He was determined and joyful to give us the tools we would need to succeed in life. Mr. Spaeth knew we could write essays and how little meaning an AP exam would have ultimately in our universe. He sought more and in turn he taught us to seek more. As passionately he lived; he wished for us to live more fiercely. To conquer the world and make it our own. To be present and joyous; mournful and supportive; empathetic and of service. To love and let live.

He looked at us as equals. People with enough knowledge and pain to understand adult responsibility. Only once did I ever see him look at us as a parent.

We were standing in line at the wake of friend. It was the first death of our peers. An accident. An untimely death of the best of us. Shaken, we trembled waiting in line. He came over and stood before us. He twisted his wrist uncomfortably at his side.

–Oh God, my children.

He said. We stared dumbly back at him. We were beyond words. Nothing could ease the pain of this loss.

–How old are you?

He asked. It had been years since we had set foot into his classroom. We had up and left; moved onto the next journey. We answered.

–Twenty. We are twenty years old.

He covered his mouth and tears streamed down his face. He tried to stifle his sobs.

–You are just children. You are too young for this. My God. How could this have happened?

His grief was surreal. It cemented the world. Gave root to pain. Showed us the finality of death. The horror of it. His suffering was raw and cut deeply into the soul.

He took off his glasses and wiped at his tears with his wrist. He walked away from us. He was too overwhelmed to do anything else. Say anything more. Death stole all words. Death consumed all.

Death takes away life, but it leaves us with so much more. It gives light to the shadows of our hearts. It empties us and makes us full again. It weighs us down; drowning us in memory. Still, death gives us more than what it takes. In its darkness, it reveals the light. Gives way to a new path, a renewed way of being; a stronger sense of self. It gives strength for a new day. Having known the best of us. Having learned the greatest of lessons. Having been taught the heart of life.