Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chasing Marcie

When Marcie and I first met, at a San Diego City College speech class, there were a lot of obstacles to overcome for us to be a couple. I was certainly smitten by her red hair and saucy, flirty way of engaging me, but I was also eying a few other girls. She had other suitors, too.

Internally, I was not interested in pairing off right away as college just began. I had determined that, with a love life built of long relationships and no really short affairs to speak of, college should be a long string of trysts. Yeah, right.

Our first date was to Café Chabalaba, a 1990s "San Diego is the next Seattle" mini-venue of some fame. Owner Cristina let me and my pal Mark Veno run (read: hold) the door for a parade of quality shows.

Marcie and I had some coffee and a long conversation. Effectively, this conversation ended my dream of a parade of little hussies weaving a thread of lusty debauch through my college education.

"I like going out to eat once in a while, but I really like to cook for myself," she said after shooting down an invitation to Mr. A's.

"Oh?" I asked. "I like to cook, too. Maybe I could cook for you sometime and you can tell me how I did."

She rolled her eyes and looked up into the corner of the café, then rolled them back down at me. "You cook, huh? Yeaaah, right."

"What do you mean, 'yeah right'?" I asked. "I cook. I have cooked for myself for years, occasionally for other people, and I am pretty good at it, too."

Marcie looked at me intently and played with the coffee cup in front of her. She did not believe me, and she did not seem too impressed.

"I'll prove it to you," I said. "Let me cook for you, and you'll see."

"What would you cook?" she asked, as if she would catch me in a lie, or unprepared.

No such luck.

"Chicken fettuccine Alfredo, from scratch," I said. "No mix, no sauce, I make it from scratch."

She smiled and looked at the cup again. "But you live in a hotel downtown. Where are you going to cook this meal for me?"

The C Street Inn had no kitchen, but I decided to fib a little and see where she went with this. I could always use another kitchen.

"We have a kitchen at the hotel," I said. "Do you think I eat at La Gran Tapa every night?"

"Well, I don't want to eat at your hotel room," she said. "We are going to have to do this some other way."

"Oh, so you want me to cook for you?" I asked.

She smiled and then narrowed her eyes and watched me closely. That gotcha look again... again mislaid.

"Are you chickening out? Are you lying to me?" she asked, noting I shook my head. "Because if you are, we are not going out again. You can cook for me next week, Tuesday, my day off. You can use my kitchen and you have to clean it up afterward."

"Cool. You got a deal and a meal," I said. "Wine?"

"You're the cook, or so you say, so you choose," she said. "And don't be thinking that you can fake it. My friend's mom taught me to cook and she was from an Italian family. It had better be for real, mister."

I met her later that week outside the Museum of Man for crackers and cheese with Madame Harms, a friend of mine at City and her professor of French.

Marcie and another girl, a German who I learned later Marcie simply called "Eurotrash," had been charged with bringing wine. Marcie had brought three bottles, two reds and a white, and ET brought one, with a screw cap. Port, actually. Bad Port.

We drank and snacked as the sun slid low and Madame Harms came and sat with us. She was cute, in a middle-aged-but-sassy way, and she teased us, a bit drunk.

"You two lovers should go make a mess somewhere pleasant," she said, poking me on the nose.

Marcie let out her unbridled joy. It was the first time I had heard it. It was abrupt and sharp, then wound down melodiously as she laughed and tried to speak through it. I only speak a little French, but I deciphered what she asked.

"Madame Harms êtes vous en état d'ébriété?" she asked.

"Oui, Marcie, oui," Madame Harms slurred cheerfully. "Je vous remercie beaucoup pour le vin."

Marcie squinted and I said, "She said wine and thanks in there."

Madame Harms looked at me oddly. "I did not," she indignantly proclaimed. "I said 'I thank you for the wine,' and... yes, I guess I did. But not like that, silly boy. Not in little pieces like that."

With that she touched Marcie's nose, gave her a hug, then me, and rose unsteadily, our bottle rising with her.

"No more for you," she said. "You should go make your mess now."

I smiled at Marcie, but she rolled her eyes.

"I don't know what you're thinking, mister, but I am going home and studying," she said. "I work early tomorrow"

"May I walk you home?" I asked.

"I only live a few blocks away," she said. "I'll be fine."

"I have to see where you live if I am going to cook for you Tuesday," I said, smiling. "Besides, it doesn't take even one block to get robbed, right? And you have to go through the west side of the park."

West Balboa Park was a nightmare of crackheads and homeless people, gay prostitutes and ornery drunks at night. From dusk until dawn, the crime rate rose dramatically. A few years earlier, a man had been stabbed to death on the bridge, an Old Globe Actor.

"Oh, fine, pushy boy," she said, packing her things. "You can walk me to my building, but you cannot come up."

I got her home and we saw not one threat, which she was careful to point out as we walked. "I live here, she said. "I know where I am, so don't be thinking you're the man or something just because I let you walk me home."

"Oh, I won't," I said. "But I will think I must be because you let me even though you don't need me to."

She turned and looked at me as if to say "Oh really?" she did not comment, but handed me her bags. "You can be the mule, at least, since I don't need a bodyguard."

I carried her bags and she slipped her arm around mine and kissed me on the cheek. It was our first lip contact. I was suddenly high. She stopped me on Kalmia.

"I live here," she said. "Thank you for walking me home, and thank you for coming to the park tonight."

I waited as she took her bags and when she went to walk away, I touched her elbow gently. "Thank you for the kiss," I said quietly, my ears turning red.

She tilted her head down and looked up at me askance as if to say "Oh, come ON."

So I did, and I slipped my arms around her waist and pulled her into me for a kiss. At first, she put her hands against my chest as if to push me away. But they slid up over my shoulder and around my neck. We kissed until one of her neighbors chimed in.

"Yow! You go, Marcie!" a woman I would later learn was Marcie's amphetamine-driven lesbian property manager, and who actually was not much for men touching Marcie. It broke the kiss well enough.

"I'll see you Tuesday in class," she said. "Don't call me Saturday, I have to study for my English final and i have to go to my parents on Sunday."

Tuesday took forever to come and she did not answer the phone Monday. I remember the number, 338-8063. I must have dialed it fifty times, hanging up at the third ring.

I would find out later that Joey, her other suitor, had struck himself out sometime Saturday with a reference to her joining his gym while they ate at Golden Dragon. I did not learn that until months later, though.

When Tuesday did come, I tossed her notes in class the whole time, which I had prepared the night before. Every time our teacher turned away, another landed on her desk. She was mortified, and the whole class saw it.

She could not have known that Ken, our instructor, was in on the whole thing. He and I had a good rapport. I learned he started a theater company in Seattle after that semester. It was a loss for City. Mr. Norton was good to the shy speakers.

"You gonna eeeeeat," I remember one note said. The rest were variations on the theme. "You gonna get yo' grub on," "I feel like chicken tonight," was perhaps the cheesiest.

"Stop it!" she mouthed quietly, biting her lower lip and covering her eyes... but she read each one and smiled, then tucked them in her purse, shaking her head, red-faced.

The last one simply said. "Class is over. I have to go pick up the groceries. See you at 4:00 sharp."

I was gone before she was done reading it.

The meal went perfectly, but she admitted that it was too much for her. Far too rich for the time of day, she said, but delicious.

She did not like the expensive white wine I brought, but I had also picked up some Kendall Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon, which she drank two glasses of. We ended up making out for a couple of hours.

"You can stay tonight, but I have to get to sleep," she said. "And you have to shower. You can sleep on the couch."

I did, wearing her far too small robe and no covers in the September heat. When I woke up the next morning I brushed my teeth with a brush she gave me and slipped on my grubby clothes. She stopped me as I gathered my things and gave me a long kiss.

"I'll see you tomorrow at school," she whispered. "I had a lovely time and I believe you can cook very well. I will cook for you next time."

I enjoyed the feel of her body against me a little more than I could hide, so I held onto her a bit when she went to let me go. She giggled knowingly in my ear.

"Something wrong?" she asked.

I simply answered her with a kiss and slapped her ass, which she giggled at, her teeth against mine, our mouths open. I made my exit with my jacket around my waist, as a practical consideration.

But Marcie had apparently not had to wait until the morning to get her measure of me.

Tomorrow, I will post the recipe for the Alfredo sauce I used. I will continue this story of our early romance as well, but the next post will be somewhat adult in nature. You are warned.

Friday, February 8, 2008

To my wonderfully supportive coworker

To my generous and kind coworker,

You have not told me your name, and I understand that. Whatever it is and whoever you are, I wanted to thank you with a special post.

You have sent me cards and posted comments, and now you have sent flowers. I am deeply touched. I received it today, and I thank you for your prayers and thoughts as well as the wonderful tulips. Marcie would have loved them.

So that you know, since I cannot tell you in person, it has been difficult, but the burden has been lightened by the people who surround me at work and in my personal life, all of whom have been very good to me and extremely supportive. That means you, too, of course. I am floored by your patronage and thoughtfulness.

I will have the tulips on my desk at work, as they seem ill-suited to my porch, but I had to bring them home and put them among my little arrangement of plants. Here they are, comfy and surrounded but highlighted, not obscured, by their duller peers:

And here they are in a closeup for the rest of you:

Thank you to all of my coworkers, friends, family and readers. You have all been wonderful and I hope that I can return that in some small way through this and other endeavors I intend to share with you all.

Good night,


Thursday, February 7, 2008

The secret signal

Marcie and I were, to the day that she suddenly was knocked down and unable to walk, hopeful of her recovery. Certainly, her condition was not good, her setbacks disheartening and her episodes frightening.

But her brain metastases had been shrinking, the cancer had disappeared from other parts of her body, and there was a glimmer of hope. There was also more than a touch of desperate, stubborn and fierce determination from us both. We were alike that way.

But it did not mean we avoided preparing. We did what we could in case she did die, and we let other things that were too hard simply go.

But one night, up in Julian, when Marcie's tired legs had given out in a restaurant and she had been tucked in at the little bed and breakfast we had taken a break at, we talked of what would come after.

It was so difficult a weekend that I journaled it in my reporter's notebook, especially her touching words.

"I don't know what comes after you die," she said. "Maybe nothing, maybe Hell or Heaven, or maybe something more pagan. Maybe we're reincarnated."

She squeezed my hand and I listened, the dark making my tears invisible but my gulps and breathing telling on me.

"I hope there is something after," she said.

I did not know what to say. I have no answers. Faith and belief are not knowledge and I hold more in doubt than I do either of those. But I did think of something to say.

"So if I die first," I said. "I'll send a sign so that you know there is something and I am there."

She squeezed my hand and this time her own breathing gave her away. It was ridiculous, but she understood I wanted her to live, outlive me, or simply not to die without me. I had said it before, long before she was sick

We clung together and let the sadness pass through us. She finally spoke after she cleared her nose, and she tweaked the conversation.

"How should we signal each other?" she asked, squeezing my hand again and sliding herself back into me in a close spoon.

I gulped but maintained and I said, trying to break the tension, "Maybe email?"

She laughed her tired, chemo-strained laugh and rasped "No, honey, seriously. What will our signal be?"

I considered it for a long time. I am a romantic, and she was to a degree as romantic as I was. But both of us were skeptics of most things supernatural and intangible.

Except for ghosts.

Both of us firmly believed in hauntings after a strange sequence of events at our apartment in downtown San Diego. At first, the shower curtain whipped open in front of Marcie while I was showering, both my hands in my hair, covered in shampoo.

I had thought to admonish her, but she was in the hallway looking bewildered. I put on my dirty clothes and we stayed outside for a few minutes until we decided we were being impractical. I must have brushed it open with an elbow.

The next day, during an argument in the kitchen, the stove fell open and we both watched the cookie tray rattle out. We reasoned that away as well. And we reasoned away a remote sliding across the table and onto the floor, and the closet doors opening and cabinets closing.

We admitted once we moved to Humboldt that the place had been haunted.

"No whipping open the curtain to the shower, okay?" I said.

She "hmm'd" and sighed. "I will move something and you will know it is me moving it."

"Really?" I asked. "How about trying to talk to each other? Can we do that?"

"Yes, honey," she said. "I talk to my friend from New York who committed suicide once in a while in my dreams, but that's not easy to tell if it's real or not."

I pondered this, and my dream about my old cat Garfield Siamese, who had popped in to say hi a few times in my own dreams, my dead relatives and their appearances. They all seemed so real. But it was hard to tell.

"Well," I said, tugging on her hip a little. "I won't care if I know it's real or not, you'll be required to resume wifely duties if you visit my twisted dreams."

She laughed at first, but I had miscalculated and the unintended reminder of her state and inability to engage me in our heretofore most bonding act made her cry. I soothed her.

"I will send you my poems in email," I said. "And you won't be able to tell, because if I know I am dying, I will set them up to come on certain days."

"You'll never have to do that for me, honey," she said. "I wish I knew how to do that for you."

We went quiet and I stroked her. She slept the sleep of the exhausted long before I could close my eyes in the dark of our mountain retreat. When we woke, she brought the subject up once more.

"When I die, I will haunt you until you know there is something to look forward to," she said. "If I don't, then I will see you in your dreams and I know that will never be the same, but it's something."

I hugged her and I loaded her into the car. We took the long way home. As we wound our way through the hills, I considered a sharp turn or two gloomily. I pulled over after I took one of several far too quickly.

She had not commented as I had sped through them, but when I pulled over, she did.

"Honey," she said, taking my hand and sobbing. "I know you want to be with me. But you have to live how you are supposed to or it might not happen."

I held her hand and closed my eyes, squeezing the tears from them for a second. "I wasn't trying to kill us, I was just thinking 'what if,' and I guess I wasn't paying much attention."

She shook her head and she mouthed, "I love you" silently. "Be careful," she croaked.

When we got home and I helped her into the house, she laid down and watched me from the couch as I carried in our things. She patted the seat next to her when I closed the door. I sat.

"You are my brave man, and I already know you love me and will be just devastated without me," she said. "But you have to live even if I don't, because you are closer to me than anyone and I want you to be happy again someday."

I could not hold back my tears. I did not want to consider life without her, even if I had accepted she could die, the aftermath was such an enormity that I wondered (and still do) whether I could carry it at all.

"You are a rare man with a pure soul," she said, breaking my heart with each word. "You can't hide anything, you just say what you have to and share what you have in your heart. It's a precious thing, really."

"You took so long to open up, and I can't have you just shut down again over this, because I would feel terrible," she said. "You can't just clam up and hide yourself, because I want someone else to experience you, just how you are now, because I think I helped you get this way again."

We spent the afternoon on the couch, snoozing under a blanket and waking for little snacks, until I helped her into the shower and then to the bed.

And so, last night, as I dreamed, I went to a computer and logged into my email account. I watched the messages load and clicked on one that read "I love you, honey."

I sobbed in my sleep as I read a beautiful poem I cannot recreate, not typed but written on my screen in her hand, and I pondered how she had figured out sending timed emails, or who she had scan and email them, because I forgot I was asleep.

And when I awoke in the middle of the early morning and walked into the bathroom, my foot caught a mesh bag that I had put off to the side, far out of my path, but somehow in it now.

I stopped and put it back, and wondered how it had stood up in its own, but reasoned Seamus was to blame. But I did stop as I returned and felt a chill down my spine, and I asked, gently "Baby?"

And though I received no answer, I am still haunted beyond my skepticism, and this is signal enough.

The hiatus is over

So much for a break.

I am still sick. I apparently ate some rye that had developed penicillium mold of a type that caused an allergic reaction. I have been fevered but not infectious, and my workload has been heavy. I am down sick, but not out, and I am yet productive.

Yes, that's right. I went to work sick (mostly to make sure a couple of projects did not founder), though I took Tuesday to rest.

The hiatus is over because I am being bombarded by Marcie moment dreams. One of those I have shared with a friend who had a cameo in it and should share with another who was also in the dream. If they are okay with it, I will post that one, though it was a fever dream, and a very odd one at that. I remember it vividly.

The other dream concerns our secret signal, though I admit that dreaming the secret signal to indicate life after death is not exactly the strongest of proofs. Nonetheless, I had a dream in which Marcie sent our prearranged secret signal, and I will share it tonight.

Caveats in place, of course.

Until then, my break at work ends and I must go. Check in later...


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Possible hiatus

I am pretty ill at the moment and may need to take a break from blogging and life in general to deal with it. Then again, maybe being sick will inspire more nostalgia and the time to think will override the fevered state of my mind. We'll see.

A new blogger calls

Everyone say hello to Lana Banana, a blogger who popped in to say hello and show a little support. She's a teacher, journalism adviser (I'd love to use the "o" but the AP says, "no") and blogger from LaLa (LA) land.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The perfect life game

Marcie was a big fan of board games. Long before I met her, she was a big fan of Life, Payday, Monopoly and Scrabble. But her favorite game was one I called, "Perfect Life," and it was played on the template of our hopes.

There was no board, just the afterglow of some meal or thrill in the bedroom or in the car. Something to set the mood. Just as a nice rainy day in her youth might bring on a long session of spinning and moving plastic with her brother, a quiet, happy moment could sometimes tease out Marcie's playful, speculative side with me.

Usually such little sessions were preceded by her plopping into a seat on the couch as I read. Either under the pretense of reading our New Yorker, or after some time silently spent flipping through her movie book or the listings for her favorite theaters, she would push her feet into my lap.

Sometimes she put them under the book or magazine I read, sometimes pushing the item against my chest so that I made space. It didn't matter. I always surrendered, if sometimes with a touch of exasperation.

"Yes, my love?" I would ask, my stock indication that I was resigned to sating her desire for attention, or a favor, a massage, or any number of wants. One never could tell when Marcie's feet were involved. It could go anywhere from the feet.

"If you could have any house you wanted, what would it look like?" she usually asked.

Our first time having this conversation, two days before her birthday, elicited the grandiose response of a young man who thought law school and an MBA with an International Business focus might be a ticket to riches.

"It will look like a castle," I said. "It will have at least one drum tower, and it will be built with an open courtyard in the middle. The inside will be all wood, dark or slightly burned, with textured wallpaper in the narrow halls. Every corner will have a room, a dining room, a library, a music and dance room and a guest quarters, with an extra one in the tower. At the back will be a kind of keep, added onto the middle of the curtain wall, which will house the master bedroom, with French doors to the courtyard and a spiral stair to the second floor."

I remember she rolled her eyes, so I asked her, abit miffed, "If you could have a house built to your tastes, what would it look like?" I asked.

She looked around at her humble studio at Casa Arleda and smiled, "It would look like this," she said. "But it would be bigger and it would have a yard big enough for whatever animals I decided I wanted, and it would be screened from the street, but it would be near downtown or Hillcrest."

The next day, we toured the area and looked at the houses. She found one or two she liked, but thefact that she could see them detracted from their appeal in her eyes.

She asked every year, but rarely, in retrospect, more often than that.

The descriptions changed as we grew, and grew up, together. My homes became more modest, overgrown cocoons with vines and moving water around them, shelters from a place not kind to either of us, elaborate domestic shields against a callous and callow California outside our sanctum.

"What kind of house do you want us to have?" she asked me the year I married her. The message was clear. We no longer built for ourselves. This was for us now.

They were built in the city to make sure Marcie would be there, as she purported to hate the country. Now they incorporated more Victorian elements like window settees and complex inside woodwork. Now they had yards for animals we both wanted. Now we could speak for each other, because we had reached accommodation on accommodations.

Then, a bit over a year ago, as she suffered through her chemotherapy, she put her tired little feet in my hands and asked me a new question.

"What would the perfect house be like for you?" she asked, her eyes a little glazed from pain and exhaustion. I began rubbing her feet and gulped. I carefully avoided her cracked heels and little abrasions where skin had torn from being worn too thin.

I smiled and sighed, and she slapped her hand on the couch impatiently, "Honey, tell me before I fall asleep. I am tired and I don't feel good."

"It would always be warm and never too dry," I whispered hoarsely. "Every wall there would have ramps and resting spots for kitties, and every room would have a climber. There would be library with a chaise lounge for you and a big easy chair for me."

As she squinted and covered her eyes, I rubbed her feet and gulped. "I would let you decorate it, because you always do that so well. It would have a basement for my junk and a courtyard for your plants and a pool, and ivy would grow over it and give us a canopy so we could be outside without the sun."

I remember pushing her foot aside and sliding in next to her, burying her head in my shoulder and under my neck as I cuddled her and she shook.

"I can't think of a perfect home, or even one I could stand to live in for very long, without you and your love there to keep me happy," I said. "But any home we have together is perfect enough."

I covered her with blankets and held her for a long time, long past the point at which she fell asleep, wide awake, petting Seamus as he integrated himself into our snuggle. When she woke and I carried her into bed and tucked her in, I went too, despite the early afternoon hour.

She never asked me again. But because she was so ill around her birthday, and the memories of birthday seasons past played in my mind at her bedside in a Poway hospital, I thought of what I would say.

I believe that she would have asked had she not been knocked down so hard by the medical misstep by hospice. So I will answer her here and now, and hope she understands the lateness of it all.

My dear wife, my perfect home would be whatever place you have prepared for us. Festoon it with your trifles and decorate it with your tastes and interests, shape it however it will please you most. Construct a paradise to lure me, no matter my travels and my future here, no matter who or what consoles me in time.

Make for me, if you can, your perfect place, and I am sure that I will recognize it as the place I need to be when I come to it.

But if such a place is not to be, or cannot be, or cannot be shared when I pass, then there is no perfect place to worry about, and the mercy of oblivion is shelter enough.

Either way, I despair that no place seems balm enough to soothe me in your absence. I miss very badly our favorite, playful, loving game and the feel of your skin as I told you my dreams.