Showing posts with label Norfolk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Norfolk. Show all posts

24 March, 2014

Return Of The Big Blue Burrito

The Big Blue Burrito
Truthfully, I'd rather travel when someone else is driving. While being behind the wheel does provide some opportunities to get off the regular roads -- which we did as we took our time down rolling down U.S. Route 17 from Culpeper to Norfolk and learning along the way that sometimes gas station oysters really DO make sense -- I like to avoid the added worry of mechanical issues. Then there's the fact that ability to navigate only seems to work when I'm ON FOOT. (Seriously. Put me in a strange place on foot and I will find my way around in no time. Put me behind the wheel armed with a map ... or even a nominally functional gps... and I will still find a way to get lost. Count on it.)

 But: while this 1,345 mile round trip from River City to Norfolk (pronounced nor'fuk. And yes, I still count it as the most unfriendly town in the country.) was not my first trek out Interstate 64 and up and down Sandstone Mountain, West Virginia, it was the first major flight of The Big Blue Burrito. For an old truck, she did amazingly well, even on the westbound return over Sandstone Mountain. The westbound incline up the mountain is so steep I can only conclude that the Army Corp of Engineers intended to make driving through By Gawd West Virginia as unpleasant and automobile murdering as possible.

I've been criss-crossing West Virginia via Sandstone Mountain and I-64 off and on for as long as The Kid has lived in Norfolk -- since about 2001. She was in 1st grade when her mother dragged her there after an unsuccessful attempt to make it as a Navy wife in the backwater of LaCombe, Louisiana when Sgt. Tailhook was stationed out of the Naval Station at Norfolk. In the previous year, the Kid attended Kindergarten in 4 different schools that I can remember -- one, being in Jefferson Parish (LaCombe) where she had lice more than she had recess and where they taught an entire section on shoe tying. (I taught her in a short afternoon. The Kid has always been ahead of the curve.)

The reason I have, over the years, traveled the I-64 east-west corridor is that when her mother decided to haul her up to the North Atlantic coast, I decided not to follow. I moved from Lexington, Kentucky to New Orleans in order to stay close to The Kid. I did not and do not regret that decision. I have, over the years, deliberated and rejected the notion of moving there myself. Some ignorant folk might interpret this as a lack of interest in my daughter. And while there are moments of her life I have missed -- which is one of a short list of regrets -- I have always fought to stay in her life in spite of the geography. In spite of being derided, derailed, talked down, and insulted. In spite of my own feelings of inadequacy as a parent. In spite of one attempt on the part of her mother to try and talk me into signing my parental rights away to Sgt. Tailhook. (I told her mother in no uncertain terms that The Kid's last name is Parsons and would be until she changed it herself... and even then, I assured her mother,  I would always be The Kid's Dad.)

And here I am, back on the edge of the dirty, sacred river, getting ready to teach, getting back to all the little projects and obligations I have here. The Big Blue Burrito made it back over the mountains, with a stop off at Willow Creek to visit old friends and another in Losantiville to visit my Dear Sweet Ma and to pick up a new to us bed and frame. Here I am, looking home improvements, looking at starting up the garden, and yes, looking at a jaunt west into some square states in The Big Empty.

Life is good here and I am living it.

17 March, 2014

Culpeper Tells, Winter Talks Back

The Traveller's Angel and I jaunted east of the dirty, sacred river, barrelling up I-64, through the deep Appalachian darkeness of  the West Virginia Turnpike at night. We left River City Friday afternoon on a warm and sunny afternoon in order to make for the second day of Culpeper Tells!, a brand new storytelling festival in Culppeper, Virginia.

Culpeper is a pretty litttle town that has, over the past gfew years, built itself back up from devestation. The town has survived four earthquakes in the last year. The Big One, though, happened in August 2011. The town of Culpeper  built itself back from a 5.8 magnitiude earthquake. 

We had the opportunity to see some tellsers we've seen before, and to hear a few we haven't. Naturally we signed up for the story slam. But time ran out before the Kentucky contingnent could storm the stage.

We left Culpeper Sunday morning and rolled down VA 17 towards Norfolk to visit The Kid. And, as is almost always the case when I travel, winrter was at my back. The storm warnings blew up behind us, ad we hit the coast a good couple of hours before yet one more last hurrah of winter rolled through dropping ice, snow, and sleet in a wide swath from Loiusville to the coast. 

The North Atlantic coast may not seem the most romantic of destinations in March. Even without the interminably long winter  weather, it's still chilly, windy, and rainy.  But it's been a while since I've seen The Kid's smiley, shiny face. It's also been a while since I've seen Will, the boyfriend -- who is a nice guy, in spite of the fact that no one will ever be good enough to date my daughter.

We're staying at a Super 8 -- the same one I managed to stay in when I was here in January 2012. That trip was a very different one. I was here then to deliver bad news, among other things. I was convvinced that I was on my way to disappearing, convinced that, with the dissolution of my marriage that I most certainly would disappear, because I had convinced myself that no one weould see me the way my ex had seen me. 

I didn't know that I was on the road to put myself back together. I didn't even know I was broken. 

Amanda travels well. She's smart, pays attention to her surroundings, and drinks up new experiences. She wants to see everything she can,learn everything she can, experience all that she can. Although we've known one another for nearly 20 years, I like to think it has taken that long for me to get back to her. That it's too me 20 yeasrs to see myself in a proper enough light that I could allow her to see me. Some processes take longer than others.

And now I am here, with her, visiting The Kid -- who isn't really a kid, I guess -- and even though the North Atlantic winter is lingering outside, I am basking in the wearmth of a deeper, lovelier and more permanent light. The light where all the stories and poems and songs come from, where road unrolls under our feet and there is blue sky ahead.

08 April, 2012

Porkopolis Outbound: East By West Slingshot

Drink wine, my darling, and stop chattering. - The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

If you don't like my peaches
Don't you shake my tree.  -- Sitting on Top of the World, Doc Watson

Morning will come early in suburbia. Mi Madre and I  are loading up and heading east on Ohio State  Route 32, winding through Eastern Ohio to the West Virginia border. Somewhere around Charleston, we'll pick up I-64, which will take us all most of the way through Virginia and back to Norfolk... still top of my list as the single most unpleasant, unfriendly and curse-ed place I have ever been to.

The sheer shittiness of Norfolk is salvaged by the presence my one and only lovely daughter, Stella.

Not my old car. This actually looks much nicer.
Add to that the fact that we won't be staying IN Norfolk proper. Rather, we'll be staying at Virginia Beach... a place I have positive memories of. The last time I was in Virginia beach was the summer of 2001, when I spent a month or so camping around Chesapeake Bay and visiting the kid.

I drove there in my primer orange Subaru. It leaked oil and almost overheated driving through West Virginia. The two back quarter panels were in the process of rusting off. The exhaust pope and muffler were gone and it sounded like a tank. There was no radio. The back two doors were fused shut and one of the back windows was permanently rolled down. The heat didn't work unless I kicked the blower motor, and sometimes I had to hit the alternator with a hammer in order to get it to start. I loved that car. I loved camping along the south side of Chesapeake Bay. I loved that Stella got to camp with me on the weekends and that I got to see her most everyday when I was there.

This trip will be nice because the kid's on Spring Break, and will actually have time to hang out. The only real downer about this trip is that I will, once again, not be able to meet The Boyfriend. This, I must admit, I'm really quite disappointed about. Because although I am the genitor and pater primo, I don't get to meet the boyfriends.... since I am the non-parentis pater, she doesn't live with me and hasn't since her mother and I split up. This means I don't get to meet (scare) the boyfriends -- which, as far as I'm concerned, is a parental right.

Unless, of course, we extend out stay there by a day... and then... and then... maybe... I might get to meet some kid who I know, without even meeting, isn't anywhere near good enough.

Hey... at least I'm honest about it.

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11 February, 2012

An Ohio Valley Yankee in Virginia, Part 5: Don't Need a Weatherman

"A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves." -- Marcel Proust 

"Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get." - Mark Twain

"Even a paranoid can have enemies." - Henry Kissinger

As promised, the weather update.

You might recall, Dear Dedicated Readers, that I once posited that the weather is chasing me around the the Eastern half of the United States. Specific examples:

  1. The day I left Mount Carroll, it was to get ahead of a snow storm. By the time I left Chicago, it was snowing there.
  2. The day I left Cincinnati, it rained.
  3. The day I left Lexington, it was cold and the wind was strong enough to carry away Dorothy (And her little DOG, too!)
  4. The day I left Willow Drive, it rained.
  5. The day I left Ashland, it started snowing. (Yes, it stopped. But the weather was there... taunting me.)

But, to be fair, even I was skeptical. Yes. If there's one thing I've learned it's that you never trust a single event to explain the larger machinations of the universe.

And you don't trust the second.

Or the third.

Or the fourth.

Or EVEN the fifth.

But the sixth time that a similar weather pattern happens to show up within a day of my departure?

Well, then, Dear Friends and Valued Readers, I have no choice but to sit up and take notice.

It's snowing. I realize it's February and that snow isn't exactly completely UNHEARD of... even here on the  Virginia coast. But I'd also like to point out that the winter has had a late start. I'd also like to point out that even when I was down by the Ocean View Shopping Center spending a few more hours with my daughter, even she remarked how odd it was that the grass was still green.

So there.

The storm began and a loud clap of thunder, then a heavy rain that turned into snowy rain. The thunder cloud must have been right over head because it shook the room. And I'm on the first floor of a two floor building. 

I'm off to Washington D.C. tomorrow morning, back on the tried and true Greyhound Bus. My bus leaves at 8:16 in the morning. Yes. Had I thought it out better, I might have given myself some time to sleep in, since check out isn't until 11. My original thought was that I'd get up, check out, and walk across the street to the very conveniently placed Hampton Road Transit Bus Stop

Not the bus stop. Actually, I think this is a new sign, even. 
But when I went to the fairly easy to use HRT website, I found there was NO BUS SERVICE this far out on W. Ocean View Avenue on Sundays. 

That's right.

No bus service. This is one more thing to go down on my List of Things I Hate About Norfolk.

Ok. So I don't have a list. Not an official one. But I have stated, I think quite clearly, that the only reason I would ever come here is to visit my daughter, Stella.

She's older than this now... or a really short 17 year old. And I still miss that jacket sometimes.
No bus service means that I have to spring for a cab early in the AM to get to the bus on time. So, on top of how USER UNFRIENDLY this town is -- unless you have a car, or are rich, or are in the military -- I have to include that visiting here has cost me more money than I planned and that as a result of that my stay is far shorter than I wanted it to be. So thanks, ugly, gray, unfriendly, illogical, sterile, and ignorant (all proof that the DOD clearly had a hand in city planning) Norfolk. Thanks for picking my pocket, shortening my stay, and generally making it more difficult to get around a city on an isolated peninsula that requires two underwater tunnels just to get to it.

(I haven't mentioned how ILLOGICAL it is here? Well, allow me to illuminate. The cheap ass motel I'm currently sitting in as I type this post is on W Ocean View Avenue. But when you're on the street, the view of the ocean is BLOCKED by houses, apartments, and condos... except at Ocean View Park. And there's nothing there except a random structure meant to look like a large Japanese shrine. According to Stella, people sometimes rent it for weddings. She thinks it's stupid to spend so much money on such a boring place to get married.

Ye Gods, I love that daughter of mine.)

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen, or by going to and donating to
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. I write about them enough. They should be helping me help them. Right??

Thanks for reading.]

10 February, 2012

An Ohio Valley Yankee in Virginia, Part 4: Of Mice, Of Men, and the Etiquette of Cheap Motels

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. -- Joseph Campbell 

My only key... to a lock I don't have.
I'm writing this post from a cheap motel on the north side of the city. This motel has rooms that face Chesapeake Bay; mine is not one of those. My room faces the street, W Ocean View Avenue. There are no peaceful sounds of waves, though I have gone out on the beach to look at the water and think. Time and memories collapse the way waves crash into the break and pull back; I can here to see my daughter, my only child, blood of my blood. I came here, hoping to learn how to let go.

Against my better judgement, but in favor of trying to retain some bit of dignity in front of my daughter, I decided to find a cheap motel somewhere near her. In order to do that, I needed to find someplace to do some research; which meant, I needed a tour guide.

Luckily, Stella was able to give me bus instructions from where I was on the south east side of town to the northern suburbs near Ocean View Park. I went back over to the place where the bus had deposited me, at the intersection of Monticello and VA Beach Blvd, and crossed the big parking lot to the bus hub. I made my way through the crowd of mugs and thugs and thug wanna bes to the #1 bus, which would take me down Monticello, to Grandby, to Ocean View. Some of the landmarks looked familiar from the last time I was here. But the landscape is a different place when you're driving in a rented car and when you're riding a metro bus.

(It made me think about the last time I was here, with Melissa. We found the cheapest flights we could from Arizona -- which meant three different transfers. We missed the last one and had to take a later flight. We rented a car at the airport, found a cheap motel -- another Super 8 in another part of town -- and were able to spend a few days. On the way home, we weren't able to sit together on the longest leg of the flight, and Melissa cried because she was afraid the plane would crash and we would die not being together. That time seems so far away now. Another life.)

Riding by, I saw my daughter's middle school, so I knew we were close to her mother's house, where she lives. Then the bus rolled by her high school. Eventually, the bus got to the bus stop near the Ocean View Shopping Mall, and Stella was there waiting for me.

It was good seeing her; it had been two years since her last visit. That had been Melissa and mine's first summer in Mount Carroll. Stella normally visited us for at least month, sometimes six weeks; but that time, she could only stay for 2 weeks. 

We walked around a bit. She showed me Ocean View Park, and we talked. Updates. School. Grades. Her plans for the future... which by the way, are good ones. Boyfriend.

(Who, I might add, I haven't met. Yet. She did stop by tonight, on her way to a school dance and endured a a few pictures that I have since posted on Facebook. Her mother was kind enough to drive her over first, along with a few of the friends. Her mother looked mildly horrified and nervous about being in this part of town. The friends looks mildly bemused, having only heard about me in the 3rd person.I know I make an AMAZING first impression."Hey Gang. This is my Dad, the homeless writer. Don't stare too long.")

Then she showed me the public library, which had free WiFi, and I did a little research. The nearest motel that seemed almost within my price range was the Super 8 I'm currently staying in. Then we went to dinner; I sprung for KFC. This KFC, like a lot of them now, is combined with a Taco Bell. Whenever I'm in one... which isn't often... I wonder what ol' Colonel Sanders would think about that.

(If you're not familiar with the history of KFC, Col. Sanders, and Corbin, Kentucky... there' a rich history that includes both KFC and the KKK. But they do serve liquor by the drink now. And I think there's one or two blacks... which is as close to integration as it may ever get.)

Stella stayed home from school yesterday, but she was feeling better and planned on going to school today... because

  1. She's bored at sitting home; and
  2. There's a dance tonight she wanted to go to.
We parted after dinner so she could walk home before it got dark. And started hoofing the 1.7 miles up Ocean View to the Super 8. It was a long 1.7 miles, partly because I was tired and partly because my bag can get a little heavy. But I finally got there, checked in for the night, took a shower and tried to relax. My feet were killing me... the Achilles Tendon on my left ankle was throbbing like nobody's business. 

(That I have lousy feet is a matter of record. And that I refuse to stop walking simply because they hurt is a matter of stubborn pride. I like to walk, pain or no pain. And believe it or not, bourbon works just fine as a pain killer... though I am woefully short of even cheap rye.)

I find myself here a lot... not the Super 8 on W Ocean View, but in a cheap motel, running short of cash and options. I paid for another night, and bought my Greyhound bus ticket for D.C., leaving from the station -- on the complete opposite side of town, near where I was dropped off -- and I've got some finagling to do between now and Sunday morning. I may go ahead and blow what I have left to stay one more night -- which will give me more time with Stella tomorrow. I've got D.C. lined up, and New York after that... at which point, I'll swing back through the Midwest... as soon as I can, at any rate.

The funny part of this whole thing ... this whole trip that has no foreseeable end except for what finances allow... is that other than writing, this is the other thing I've done that ever made any sense to me. I don't object to cheap motels. I make fun of them. I make fun of the door with the broken safety bar that was clearly pried open. (I'd guess a squatter or a drug bust.) I like making fun of the television that can't be turned off and the heater that sounds like the engine of B-52.

And the truth is, the reason doesn't bother me is because I don't need much. I need a place to write. I need a place to sleep. I consider myself lucky to have friends who accept and love me in spite of my numerous short comings -- one of them being the fact that the only time I've ever really at peace in the world is when I choose to live outside of the prescriptive rules it sets.

That, in large part, is what inspired this blog to begin with... the idea that I can do what I need to do and make my way in the world without doing what other people want me to do. This isn't the first time I've sacrificed a life for my writing -- which, if I'm being honest, is a large part of what happened to my marriage. At least on my side. No one person can destroy a marriage; the only advantage of a decade long relationship ending/changing is that I get to carry my own baggage and no one else's. I don't envy Melissa hers.  But in order for me to process this whole thing -- this entire past 10 years that, when I reflect, was more good than bad -- I have to deal with my own baggage. 

I have to embrace the fact that my writing, and the ability to pick up and go are not mutually exclusive. I'm not saying it's necessary for everyone; I'm just talking about me. At some point, I'll probably find someplace to stay for a while... but in the end, I'll probably end up leaving that, too. 

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen;
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. Show them what happens when I don't write about them. Exert pressure. Remember: you are The People.

Thanks for reading.]

An Ohio Valley Yankee in Virginia, Part 3: The Welcome Wagon

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.
-- Thomas A. Edison

My plan, such as it was, was sublime and simple. When I got into Norfolk, the first thing I would do was call the Dorothy Day House. For those not familiar with Dorothy Day or the Catholic Workers, that's what fucking Google is for. Seriously, though The Catholic Workers are rooted in Christian Anarchism, with a touch of liberation theology. They have done good work since The first Dorothy Day House opened in the 1930's. They also ran Joe Hill Houses of Hospitality.

These are names you should know about. Look them up. And after you read the inadequate blurbs on Wikipedia, go and read more about them. It's part of that history the school board, the government, and your parents didn't want you to know about.

But you know what the sage says about best laid plans.

The bus dumped me in a section of downtown, at the intersection of Virginia Beach Blvd and Monticello Ave. There was nothing. A huge parking lot -- on the other side of which was a hub for Hampton Road Transit. Some not too friendly store fronts, light industrial buildings, and the former location of the Union Mission -- which is now located on the exact opposite side of town. I had a general idea where the Dorothy Day House was in relation to Stella's house... it's about 7 miles away... but I had no idea where I was in relation to either of those things.

When I called the number, though, I was told there was no room. The guy I talked to was genuine, apologetic. He asked my name, and where I was coming in from. He recommended a few places to get in out of the cold, and told me where I could meet a bus and come to church if I wanted.

After I hung up with him, I immediately started thinking. I knew how much money I had; I knew it wouldn't stretch very far if I had to rent a hotel room. The Union Mission was an option; but I was dead set against Stella seeing me that way. I mean, she knows me well enough to know that I'm probably not above sleeping in a shelter. And it was bad enough that she would probably figure out -- I thought -- what was going on her Dad's (former) home front. 

Spending my money on a motel -- even a cheap one -- would also mean cutting my visit short. I would need to make sure I could get out of Norfolk with enough money in my pocket not to starve, and not to get stuck.

My next move was to walk around, and see if I could get my bearings. The Norfolk of my memory is an unpleasant, ugly place with only one highlighting factor: the fact that my daughter lives here. Nothing about that had changed. I don't like Norfolk. I don't like that it's a military town. I don't like that my daughter attends a school that commonly makes the news because some kid brings a gun to school or because of some fight that gets out of control. I don't like that a significant number of things that I object to are glorified here: war, government, nationalism, popcorn patriotism, group think.

And I didn't like the fact that the guy from the Dorothy Day House understood very clearly, but tried not to tell me, that there was very little help for the down and out here. Other than the Union Mission, he said there was one other place where they opened up a gymnasium and let people sleep on the floor when the weather's cold.

Not promising.

As I walked around, trying to stretch out my legs and figure out what I was going to do, a black man in a long dark coat approached me. Well, more point of fact, he stumbled up to me. I don't know if the man was drunk, or high, or just... off. But I was familiar with the look. Long dark coat, the kind department stores donate to clothing barrels.  Fresh pajama shirt. Khakis. Worn out gym shoes.

"Hey man," he said. "You gotta a dollar? I need a dollar to catch the bus to the mission."

"Sorry, man," I said. "I just got here myself."

"You got a cigarette?"

"No," I said. "Wish I did, though."

He hobbled off in the direction I had come from. I kept walking, waiting for inspiration, when I heard a voice. It was the man I had just talked to. He was motioning me back over.

"Hey," he said. "You want a cigarette?"

"Sure." He came out with a mostly fresh pack of Camel Menthols. "Here," he said. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out some change. "You want a dollar?"

"Nah, man," I said. "You need that. For the bus. To the mission."

"Let me worry about that!"

"Listen," I said. "Thanks for the smoke."

"If you got a dollar," he said "and an I.D., the lady in their..." he motioned to the Exxon Station behind me. "they're running a special. A dollar and an ID, they'll give you a pack of cigarettes."

"Good to know," I said. "Thanks. Take care." I figured the "special" was some form of charity on the part of the cashier, so I didn't bother asking. 

I walked around some more to get a better idea of the territory. I walked near the Chrysler Museum of Art; one particularly uncomfortable looking museum employee -- who's job it was, I suppose, man the door -- eyed me suspiciously. Maybe he was worried that I might want to see the art. Maybe he was worried I might offend the memory of Lee Iaccoca. 

I knew I'd have to deal with accommodations, soon. It was early afternoon, but the day would pass quickly, and I didn't want to 1) be caught outdoors, or 2) be put in the position of having to ask Stella's mother for a spot on the couch. As far as I can tell, the last seven years or so has been the longest streak that her mother and I have actually managed to be civil with one another -- including our marriage. That civility, however, is based entirely on the fact that we never talk, rarely communicate, and try not to acknowledge one another's existence. 

That meant an additional expenditure and a shorter visit.

Then I decided to get in touch with Stella.

05 February, 2012

Baboon in the Bluegrass, Intermezzo 1: Cupid Is a Sadist

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
 Admit impediments." -Shakespeare

“Love is all right for those who can handle the psychic overload. It's like trying to carry a full garbage can on your back over a rushing river of piss.”  
― Charles Bukowski

Love stories are fraudulent, sentimental tripe -- which is why I don't, as a general rule, write them. Sure, I've written my share of love poetry; but poetry about love, like reality TV about self-important morons, isn't all that unusual.

STD Soup

The thing about love poetry -- in spite of how many people rehash "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" -- is that it lives in a moment and is gone again. That's the nature of poetry. That's the nature of love. That people find solace or reflection in a love poem after its moment has passed is only a confirmation of the continuity of human experience. That love has a beginning, a middle, and end is a reflection of the absurdity of the human condition; because even though it ends -- and it always does -- you either split up or one or both of you dies. Either way, the shelf life of love is terminal and short -- so it is with life.

That's the problem with telling love stories. No one wants them to end. And with Valentine's Day approaching... perhaps the most ridiculous, Capitalistic, and conspiratorial holidays on the U.S. calender... it's important to realize that all love stories end. They end because they have to.

But that also means they have to begin. And on rare occasions, even though they end, it may be worth the time and space to tell them. When they matter.

When I first met her, she was 18 years old, and a college Freshman. I was a few years older.  I was also trying to excise myself from a  relationship that had gone horribly, tragically wrong. There's nothing particularly interesting about that story, except that then, as always, I had gone into it with the best of intentions. But relationships have always proven problematic for me. For as long as I can remember, I have neither understood how they worked, nor have I have been very good at maintaining them. I also have a tendency towards thickheadedness when it comes to knowing whether a woman is interested in me or just being nice.

And when I met her, this college freshman, I thought she was interested in one of my friends. Past experience had taught me that this was most likely the case. Most women were interested in my friend. He was not only a talented and (some would say) troubled person, but he was -- according to certain women friends of mine -- handsome. Tall, with broad shoulders. Strong jaw. When he was in a good mood -- or in the early turn of a manic phase -- he knew how to be very charming.

Charm wasn't -- and probably isn't -- one of my strongest qualities. So when she came around, I assumed it was for him.  But even so, there was something about this girl -- this spark of an Eastern Kentucky girl that would smile, giggle nervously, ask me serious questions and seem interested in what I had to say -- that felt different. I was nervous around her because she was beautiful: shoulder length reddish-brown hair, blue eyes. But there was something about her that also made me feel ... well ... safe.

Safe. And very confused. I wasn't used to women who made me feel safe. I was used to the most recent dysfunction of my marriage to my daughter's mother. Prior to that, my experience had been severely limited by a painful shyness and social awkwardness that still, on occasion, plagues me -- along with the frustrating thickness in the head about whether women like me or whether they're just being nice. (I always assume the former.)

It wasn't until a mutual friend pointed out her interest in me that it occurred to me that maybe she was being nice to me other than because I was the roommate and she was trying to win me over in the process of chasing after my friend.

The relationship -- if you could call it that -- was a dismal failure, for all of the right reasons. She was young, and coming out of some pretty rough stuff. I was in the process of going through a gut kicking divorce. There wasn't enough of me to invest. And eventually, I ran her off because of my own unique ineptitude to say the right thing at the right time. (Another flaw that plagues me almost daily.)

But I never forgot about her. And, to be more precise, I thought about her. I thought about the way she made me feel -- that sense of safety that I thought I'd destroyed. I thought about the warmth of her body, the sound of her laugh. I thought about her belly button. (Don't judge me.) She became the standard -- real or imagined -- by which I judged other women, other relationships.

So it seemed more like destiny than chance when I ran into her again. And not only was I surprised to find that she still wanted to talk to me, but I was also surprised to find that I still felt that sensation -- that sense of safety, warmth, and acceptance. And I found -- I rediscovered -- a woman who has always seen me for who I am, who has never really wanted me to be something other than who I am.

And while the relationship is over -- because all love stories end -- I am grateful for the time. And while there is pain and anger in the parting, I know that when the sense of loss is past, I will be left with gratitude. And while that may not have been my intention... it certainly wasn't what I wanted... that is what I am left with.

And it will have to be enough.

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