Dana’s Story, Part 15

The band played two nights in Iowa City, then onto Des Moines for two nights. I contacted my parents and asked if I could come and see them. My mother said it would be best if I didn’t since my father still had not gotten over my divorce and subsequent three year relationship with a woman. I was both disappointed and a little relieved. I did manage to convince my mother to meet me for lunch. She was stiff and uncomfortable which made me feel the same. We parted on awkward terms promising to ‘keep in touch’.

After their gigs in Des Moines, we moved on to Omaha, Denver, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and then Durango, Colorado. I had called my office and extended my leave. I had settled into the rhythm of the road and was having the time of my life. My four companions were good to be with. They all knew of my situation and were sympathetic and supportive. However, my two weeks of freedom sadly came to an end and I had to get back. After tearful good-byes, I flew out of Durango to Denver, then Chicago. 

Back in Chicago, I reluctantly went from the airport to the condo and when I walked in, I got sick to my stomach. Thankfully, my stomach was empty an all I did was retch into the commode. I felt like a stupid fool, used by that  two timing deceitful woman. I couldn’t bear to stay there and went to a hotel. The next day I went into my office and tendered my resignation. I committed to two weeks to get my caseloads and affairs in order and I was free without a clue as to what I would do or where I would go. I knew Chicago was history.

One year later

I walked out of my rented old adobe house, my home for the last nine months, two blocks off the plaza into the dazzling bright New Mexico morning sunlight. I put on my sunglasses which I learned early on to always have with me. I love living here in this amazing magical place. The sky was more blue than any I could ever remember seeing. The deserts and mountains offered spectacular colorful canyons and vistas. Sunsets were most always as spectacular as Fourth of July fireworks.

During my trip with the Movers, I couldn’t stop thinking of Santa Fe. The two nights and one day when I was there with them was enough, I was smitten. During my two weeks finishing up at the Chicago office, I had done inquiries into some firms down there. Several expressed interest, impressed by my resume, and one in particular sounded like a good fit. I flew to Albuquerque and took the commuter train up to Santa Fe for an interview with the man who started the firm and two others, a men and a woman, both close to my age, a paralegal and an office manager/receptionist. 

The interview went well. All of us seemed to fit together well. I left the interview thinking of these people as old friends. After passing the New Mexico Bar exam, I was in full swing. I loved the work, everyone was laid back, normal dress being jeans and open collar shirts, comfortable dresses and slacks, unless we were in court, then it went more business like. We had a mixed group of clients. I was usually delegated to family and divorce cases which was my expertise and my first love.

I again felt free and alive. I had nobody in my life other than my colleagues who all became close friends. I kept in touch with Russell, Hannah, and Karen.  It was like I had a rebirth. Everything was new and exciting. Santa Fe had so much to offer in culture, restaurants, and beautiful places to explore. 

I had not heard anything from Jess since I left a little over a year ago. Then one day to my surprise I received a letter from her, with a Paris postmark. I left it unopened, sitting on my desk staring at me for over a week. Over lunch on a Friday, I told my female colleague, Susan about it. She was the only one in the firm who knew about my past which I spilled out one night over dinner and too much wine.

Susan insisted , “When we get back to the office, open it. At least I want to know what she might have to say.”

“You’re just so incredibly nosy, so all right, I’ll do it, but I may need a drink afterwards,” I responded, chuckling as we walked back the single block to the office.

I sat down at my desk with Susanne sitting across fro me, took a breath, cut it open and pulled out the single handwritten sheet of paper.

My Dearest Dana, 

I have finally gotten the nerve to write this. I want you to know that I was truly in love with you. I wanted to tell you about Rémy and little Isabella many times, but lacked the courage. I am ashamed of the way all this happened. I can only ask that you forgive me for my deceit for which I am truly sorry. 

I have sold my business and moved permanently to Paris to be with my husband and child. He is an important and respected financier and my absence was becoming a problem for him. I do love him and my daughter very much and am happy I made the decision to leave Chicago and my mid-west roots for good.

I am working for a gallery here in Paris in Montmartre that specializes in rare prints so I am fortunate to be in my element. It’s not the same as running my own business but in many ways it is so much easier and less stressful. My French improves every day now. I am working on getting rid of my Chicago accent. 

I think of you often and wonder where you are, how you are, if you are okay. I pray you are doing well. If you can find it in your heart, I would love to hear from you. Please forgive me.

With love and regret,

Jessica

I kept staring it for a moment, finally letting it slip from my hands onto my desk. So many memories flooded my head, so many good and now this. I was so naive and vulnerable those few years ago. Never again. 

“Are you okay?” Susanne asked, interrupting my revery. 

“I don’t know. I feel like such a fool. This letter . . . this letter is just her bullshit, wanting forgiveness, wanting . . . wanting? ‘Love and regret?’ What does that mean? I have no idea. I’m so done with her . . . forever!” I was starting to choke up with anger, sadness and regret.

“It’s okay,” Susanne said, trying weakly to reassure me. “It’s okay. You’re here. This is now. And you’re amazing. You’ve moved on and are continuing to move on. You have friends here. Good friends.”

“I know, I know. I hear you. It’s just . . . just hard.”

“I can only imagine all you have told me. It’s weird for me to comprehend, I know. I don’t know what else to say.”

“Say nothing. I know. Everything you say is true. It’ll be okay. I was getting over all this and then she had to write this bullshit.”

“It is bullshit. Total bullshit. So let it go.”

“Thanks. Let’s go out and have dinner and celebrate tonight. Celebrate freedom. Yeah!”

“It’s a date. Let’s do some lawyer shit. Okay?”

“Hell yeah. Let’s do some law.”

Finis

God Has Left

God has left the building . . .

How was her performance?

Was there a sing along?

Did she have the harp band?

Or solo with only her guitar?

Did she wear her black gown?

With the high collar?

Or her white suit and flowers?

Was there screaming?

Was there gnashing of teeth?

Did the crowd wear sackcloth?

Who cleaned up the ashes?

Sorry I missed . . .

Maybe I’ll catch the next show.

Or . . . maybe not.

Railroad Days

railroad days

freight hopping

cigarette smoke

filled

lonely box cars

rolling 

clattering

empty liquor

bottles

back and

forth with

rocking 

rolling

track steam

engine soot

from here to there

from there to here

grey faced 

bib coverall

spirit broken 

old men

from dusty

unpainted 

hobo jungle 

tin cup 

coffee empty

lost souls

going home

gone 

since

the old dirt road 

was paved.

Dana’s Story, Part 14

I met up with the group at Russell and Karens’ parents farm near Iowa City that afternoon. I was nervous about seeing my ex-in-laws, but they were more than gracious towards me, making me feel more than welcome. So much had changed in the last few years since divorce.

I had neither heard from Jess nor had I called her. When she left, our relationship seemed to be falling apart. I needed, I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to try to sort things out. So, late the first night at the farm I excused myself and went outside into a little garden area with several outdoor chairs and called. It would be early morning in Rome and I might catch her. Her cell went to voice mail. She had told me many times before each and every trip she took to always call her cell, never her hotel. That never did make any sense to me, so I decided to call her hotel and was quickly connected to her room. A man answered after the first ring.

“Bonjour, c’est Rémy.” (Good morning, this is Rémy.)

“Oh, I’m sorry. They must have connected me to the wrong room, I was calling for Jess . . .”

“Oh, Jessica. Of course. One moment. Jessica, Sweetheart. You have a phone call My Love.”

A moment later she answered, “Caio, Marco? We should be there around 10:30.”

“This isn’t Marco and who the hell is Rémy and what’s with the ‘sweetheart’ and my love’ stuff? What’s going on?”

“Goddammit! I told you to never call my room! I can’t talk now! Don’t call back!” Before she could click off I heard a child’s voice, “Maman, Qu’est-ce?” (Momma, who is it?)

I stood there starring off into the night with the phone still to my ear waiting for someone to tell me it was a wrong number, that it hadn’t been Jess, somebody else named Jess. I felt dizzy, like I was suddenly transported into another dimension where nothing made sense. Rémy? Sweetheart? My Love? Maman? I felt nausea rising and I went to a bench and sat. I was barely able to breathe. 

After a few minutes with my head between my knees, the nausea and dizziness passed. I called her cell which went straight to voice mail. What would I say anyway? Nothing made sense. I had been in a relationship with this woman for over three years. She had a child? A family in Europe? Was she married? I suddenly felt like the biggest fool in the world. Six week long trips to Europe every year interspersed with numerous week long trips to New York. She was not only print shopping, she was seeing her family. What had I gotten myself into? 

Karen came and joined me, “Hey, you’ve been out here a long time. Are you okay? My god, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. What’s wrong?” 

My shock had turned to anger and now, with Karen, it turned to tears. I blathered out everything to her through my sobs.

“I’m such a fucking fool. How could I have been so blind and stupid? I don’t know what to do.”

Karen put her arm around me, “It will be okay. Truly. This is bullshit, but you’re gonna be alright. You’re with friends whether you believe it or not.”

We sat for a long time, not speaking. Karen’s arm around me was comforting and felt good. Things were rolling through my mind like a runaway freight train. I didn’t ever want to go back to Chicago, much less ever see Jess again. My life as I had known it was no more. 

The band was playing two nights in Iowa City. The next night I went in the to help Karen with the merch table. It was fun and took my mind off Jess. My anger with her had turned into seething hate. Neither Karen nor I had shared what had happened with the others. I tried to act normal and must have since no one seemed to notice my mood.

The next morning, Jess called, her first words, “What doesn’t, ‘never call my hotel’ mean to you, you stupid bitch. You could have ruined everything. Goddammit! Where are you?”

So I’m a bitch now? Interesting. I managed my cool, answering calmly, “I’m in Iowa at Russell and Karens’ parents farm and plan on hanging out with them for a week on the road or maybe longer if I feel like it.”

“So, what prompted that?” she asked incredulously and angry.

“They invited me, and since you’re off in Europe, I accepted their invite and took a week off to travel with them. I was lonely and needed a break.”

“Just like that?! How can you just up and leave your work on the spur of the moment?”

“I lied and told them I had a family emergency,” I answered with a chuckle.

“Dana, how could you be that stupid?! I they ever find out you’ll . . .”

I was smiling inwardly at her pathetic attempt to avoid the elephant lurking somewhere in the nether world of transatlantic cell phone connections.

“So what the fuck if they do. Right now I give a shit, Jess-i-c-a, m-y  l-o-v-e!” I drawled with an exaggerated French accent. “So who the fuck is Rémy? And Maman? You have a child?”

“He’s a friend, just a friend. Nothing more. And . . . ”

“Yeah right, ‘my love’, sweetheart.” Fuck you Jess. What are you? A fucking lesbian in Chicago and a hetro with a family in Europe? Fuck you!”

“You’re overreacting. Really. You don’t understand . There is an explanation.”

“Over reacting?! Explanation?! You’re the one with Rémy calling you ‘sweetheart’ and ‘my love’. And  who is calling you ‘maman’ a trained monkey?” I asked with sarcasm oozing from my words. “What the fuck is Rémy? A lesbian with a deep voice and a man’s name?”

“I can explain . . .”

“I’m sure you can conjure up more lies like all the lies of the last three years. Fuck you! I hope to god I never see you again. You’re dead to me . . . Bitch!”

I clicked off and turned off my phone.

Dana’s Story, Part 13

That Sunday night, I went again to see Strealth Movers. There was less of a crowd with a number of empty seats. Karen noticed I was by myself and came and sat down with me.

“Where’s Jess?” she asked.

I told her about her European business trip.

“So, are you okay with her gone for so long?”

“Yeah, I’m used to it. She usually goes at least twice a year, most times not as long as this trip. She has a lot lined up for the next few weeks.”

“So, do you ever go off on a trip by yourself when she’s gone?”

“No, I just get a lot of work done.”

“Must be hard knowing she’s traipsing around Europe. Does she ever want you to go with her?”

“No. She says I’d be bored and a distraction.”

“Oh. Hey, I have to get out to the merch table and get it organized. Enjoy. See you later.”

I sat there with my wine, feeling lonely, sad, worried, and wondering. They came on stage and did another great concert, again, with all different material. I admired their professionalism and enthusiasm. They ended with two encores. I walked out and stopped to say good-bye to Karen.

“Hey, we’re all going out as soon as everyone’s gone. Why don’t you come with us?” she asked eagerly.”

“No, thanks for asking, but I don’t want to intrude.”

“You won’t be intruding. Hanna and Mick keep asking about you. They’d love to get to know you. Trust me. You will be more than welcome. Russell kept talking about how great it was to have lunch with you. Come on.”

And then the three of them appeared. Mick asked, “Where’s Jess? We wanted you two to join us to celebrate a great gig here. Sold out two nights and pretty much sold out of our CDs and T-shirts.  Celebration-is-in-order. . . !”

I briefly explained about Jess and that just made them more enthusiastic about me joining them. “Can’t have you going home alone without some partying,” Mick said and everyone laughed. 

Their insistent enthusiasm was contagious and I reluctantly relented. I helped schlep gear to their large Mercedes cargo van parked behind the venue and we headed to a sports bar Russell knew from his time in Chicago. The van had a comfortable bench seat that sat Hanna, Karen, and myself while the two guys rode the front, Russell driving, Mick shotgun. All their gear stored neatly in shelves on the sides in the cargo area and there was a blow up mattress for when they needed to do an all night run. Their energy was infectious. I was laughing with them. For the first time in the last few days I wasn’t thinking about my life. I was having a good time.

We arrived at the bar and Russell stopped to let us out while he and Mick went to find a parking spot. Since it was Sunday night, the bar was about half full. I was already planning on calling in sick tomorrow as I guessed it might be a late night.

We found a large table. The two guys joined us shortly and we all ordered a round of drinks and an array of appetizers. They seemed to be so close and happy together and I liked them all. I was also envious. 

The night wore on with them sharing stories of their time on the road and at their homes in California. Hanna and Russell had recently moved into their own place, a two bedroom cottage a little inland from the coast, after camping at Hanna’s parents for almost two years. Karen and Mick lived in a one bedroom north of Sausalito. Their lives sounded to be full of friends, fun, and a lot of hard work with their music. I became even more envious with my imagination beginning to run wild, making me wonder even more about my own life.

The margarita, jealousy, the excitement all combined to make my mind start to flicker like an old black and white movie I  saw years go. Then I was suddenly overcome by a wave of emotion, both sadness and happiness at once. I felt tears coming and I excused myself and went to the front of the bar and pulled out some tissues. 

A moment later, Hanna joined me, “What’s wrong, Dana? Did we say something to upset you?”

“Nothing anyone said, it’s everything. You are all seem so happy and fun. My life is boring. It’s going nowhere. I’m sorry. Apparently I’m having a little crises.” 

I was realizing I really didn’t like Chicago. I wasn’t as happy with my work as I thought I’d be. I was unhappy about everything concerning my life. I never wanted to go back to Jess’s place again, even though she wasn’t there but was somewhere over the Atlantic probably drinking wine and chatting it up with anyone close. It wasn’t my home It never was. She never liked any ideas I had or anything of mine I wanted to add to the collection of items on shelves or on the walls. There was nothing of me there.

Hannah put here arm around my shoulders and pulled me to her. Her warmth just made me feel worse and I snuggled in and cried on her shoulder. 

Karen joined us, “What’s going on. Dana? What’s wrong?”

I was calmed down enough to tell them what I was feeling. 

Karen was the first to respond, “Jess is gone for what, seven weeks? Why don’t you take some time off and come with us for a few weeks. You can catch a flight back here when you want.”

“I couldn’t do that. With Russell and everything, he wouldn’t want me hanging around. With our history, it would be weird, awkward. I’d just be in the way.”

“No you wouldn’t. Russell will be fine with it. I know he will. And so will Mick. Us girls run the show, don’t we, Hannah?” Karen said with a smug smile.

“Yup, we make those fellas toe the mark. Come on, Dana. This sounds so fun. We’re leaving tomorrow for a few days at my folks place and we’ll do a gig in Iowa City. Then to Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln, Denver, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Durango, Salt Lake, Lake Tahoe and home . . . about three weeks. You can help me at the merch table. It’ll be so fun. Come on, Say yes. Please?”

“Wait, hold on. This is too much. I can’t go off on the spur of the moment. I need to give more notice. What am I saying? No. This is crazy.”

“Tell them it’s a family emergency . . .  it’s kind of an emergency. And it’s sort of like family, you used to be anyway. Just a little lie. Your firm will never know.”

“But it they ever found out . . . I’m a junior partner. I’d be blackballed from ever making partner.”

“From what you were saying earlier, do you even want to be ‘partner’?” asked Hannah.

Before I could think about an answer, Russell and Mick appeared and Mick asked, “So what’s going on here? What are you three conspiring about?”

Karen told them everything we had been talking about. 

Mick said, “That’d be cool having you along. What do you think Russell?”

“Yeah, that’d be cool,” he said with a furrow in his brow, but smiling.

“No, it won’t work. Thanks for your concern, but no. I’d just be in the way. And going to your parents house, no thanks. They probably hate me.”

Karen said, “They’ve changed about 180 degrees from when you were around. They’d probably love to see you again.”

“Hannah said, “Oh come on. You won’t be in the way. They like having Mick and me around. That says a lot. We have a ton of room in the van. It’d be so nice to have you. Really. Do we have to beg?”

All four of them started talking at once about how fun it would be to have me along, someone new to break the monotony of just the four of them. I shut them all out. I was not going to go with them. I firmly rejected their pleas and called a cab. Before I left, Hannah, Karen and I exchanged contact information. My cab was there and I left.

I walked into Jess’s condo with a new understanding that it was indeed hers and I simply lived there with her to keep her company and give her some pleasure in bed, the later not appealing to me anymore if it ever had. I needed my own place and would begin a search tomorrow.

I lay awake with all that happened rolling around in my head like a looped tape. After a sleeping pill, I went into a restless sleep awaking before my alarm. I felt horrible from all the emotional trauma from the last few days and my restless night. I got up, made coffee and stared out the window into space. I hate lying, but called my office at 8:00 when I knew the phones would be on and told my secretary that I had a family emergency and needed to be out of town for at least a week. After the usual expressions of sympathy, we figured out who could take my case load and appointments and I was free for the week.

My call to the office had consumed over an hour. I called Karen and they were already outside of the city heading towards Interstate 80 and Iowa City. I could rent a car and meet them there. Screw it. Why not. A week on the road. It might do me good, clear my head.

I called a rental agency and they would pick me up in two hours, the time I would need to pack what clothes I thought I would need: some casual clothes I had, which wasn’t much, underwear, toiletries, and I was ready to go. The rental car arrived and I dropped the agent’s assistant back at his office and headed out of town. I cranked some tunes on the radio. Every mile from Chicago, I felt lighter, freer, more adventurous . . . and scared to death.

Dana’s Story, Part 12

 I walked into the condo late afternoon after my lunch with Russell. Jess called from the bedroom where she was busy packing for her annual European trip to visit auction houses and galleries looking for prints for her gallery. She was originally scheduled to leave the next week, but a rare print she had been looking for had emerged in a gallery in Rome and the owner, a long time friend, was holding it for her. She was off to get it before he changed his mind so she was leaving a week early on a late flight tomorrow.

“How was lunch?” she asked as I walked into the bedroom.

“Okay, I guess. Actually it was very strange. He’s changed so much and I felt . . . yeah, I felt dumb and uninteresting. He’s experienced so much done interesting things, let go of his old life, our old life. Am I in a rut? Do you think I’m in a rut?”

“No, not at all. You’re being a successful attorney in a good firm, doing what you have always wanted to do. Why would you think you’re in a rut?”

“I don’t know. You’re right. I am doing what I wanted, I guess. His life isn’t my life. He just got me thinking. Maybe we need more adventure. Do some traveling.”

“Dana, I have enough adventure and traveling. I’m leaving for seven weeks in Europe for work and I don’t think I could handle any more travel or adventure in my life. Maybe you need to take a trip somewhere, somewhere fun, like The Bahamas? Or maybe someplace in Mexico like Cozumel?”

“Maybe. Neither sound much fun . . . alone. Never mind. Sorry I brought it up.”

“I need to finish packing. Let’s go for dinner before the concert tonight. You still want to go, don’t you . . . after your lunch with him, I mean.”

“Sure, I really want to hear them again. How about Mexicali around 5:30. I can call for reservations. I’m going to lay down and rest for a while,” I responded all too unenthusiastically.

Dana finished her packing and went down to the gallery and I laid down on the bed and closed my eyes. Thoughts kept flooding my head: Am I happy? Am I really committed to Jess? Am I really a lesbian or does Jess just make me comfortable? Do I need a change in my life? She’s leaving for seven weeks. I have no real friends, just people from work. Do I do the same thing again while she runs around Europe . . . the same thing which is absolutely nothing? Russell and Hanna, Karen and Mick, they all seem so free and happy. Am I happy? God, Russell is so damn sexy. Was I stupid to let him go? Would he have changed? Probably not . . . not with me anyway. I’m not like Hannah, I’m just a boring lawyer.

I must have dozed off, I heard Jess calling me, “Hey, Dana, time to get ready to go.”

I know I was distant during our dinner and the concert. They did all different material from last night and it was great. Afterwards, we left without waiting around to see them. We didn’t talk on the way home and went directly to bed. I couldn’t sleep. Too many questions were running through my mind. I finally took a sleeping pill at 12:30 and awoke at 8:30 with Jess gently shaking my shoulder.

“Hey lazy girl, you going to sleep all day?” she said with forced cheeriness as she handed me a cup of coffee.

I blinked my eyes awake and saw the time. “It’s Sunday, a day to sleep in,” I said groggily with a sleeping pill hangover.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

I lied and said, “Yeah, I just had a hard time getting to sleep so I took a sleeping pill. Coffee’ll wake me up.”

“You take a whole one? A half is usually enough for you.”

“Yeah, a whole one. I know, I know.” I wanted to add, ‘Mother’, but held my tongue. “What time do you have to leave for the airport?”

“I have a cab coming at 3:00. That’ll give me plenty of time for check in, security, and a glass of wine or two before boarding.”

She was taking an all night flight and would sleep comfortably in her first class seat. She’d arrive in Rome sometime tomorrow. I usually worried about her flying and when she’d arrive, where she would be staying, if she’d be okay, but this time, none of it seemed to matter. I was ready for her to be gone. I wanted to be by myself. For the first time in three years, I didn’t want her around, I wanted to be alone.

I spent the day reading. There was little communication between us . . . an uncomfortable silence had settled in. As usual, Jess was going over and over her itinerary, trying to make sure all her time would be well spent and productive. She would have a number of auctions to be prepared for, meetings with gallery owners, drinks, dinners, a whirlwind schedule. Me, I would be here, wondering who the hell I really was, old boring me, alone and bored.

At 3:00, she took her suitcase and carry-on, gave me a kiss on the cheek, then looked straight into my eyes and asked hesitantly, “Will you be here when I return?”

I couldn’t meet her gaze and looked away, hesitated and, trying to keep my voice from shaking, replied, “I don’t know, Jess. I’m sorry, but I really don’t know.”

She took a deep quivering breath, turned and left.

Dana’s Story, Part 11

I walked into the restaurant, wondering what I was doing meeting him, feeling very nervous and uncertain, I slid into the booth. 

He greeted me with a big warm smile and said, “Hi Dana. You look great. Thanks for coming.”

I blurted out, “You . . . you look so different. You seem different. Your hair. Playing music? Really? And . . . San Francisco? So what’s going on. What do your parents think about you?”

“Whoa, one at a time,” he said laughing. “Obviously things have changed a bit.”

“A bit? A BIT? God, what happened, Russell? What happened to the uptight banker I was married to?”

“Well, when you left me, and by the way, I don’t blame you. It took me a while, but I realized what an ass I was. I’m very sorry for how I treated you. I would have left me. Truth is, I didn’t know any better, but that’s a feeble excuse, I know. But I am truly sorry.” He paused for a long moment looking past me into some other space. “Forgive me?”

“Of course I forgive you. We were both too young and inexperienced in life. We never should have gotten married. But I have to say, leaving you was the hardest decision I ever had to make. Now, seeing you so happy, I’m happy for both of us that I did. You seem so, I don’t know, just different, so much at ease. And Hannah, she’s amazing. I’m guessing you’re together?” 

A clean cut waiter, dressed in the obligatory white shirt, black tie, black vest, pants, and shoes, appeared with water and menus. We each ordered iced tea.

He left and Russell continued, “Yeah, Hannah, she’s amazing, we’ve been hanging out together a little over two years now. I met her my second day on the road after I, for some unknown reason, decided to do a camping trip to the west. She was hitchhiking and, believe it or not, I picked her up. Still, to this day, I am surprised that I ever did that. You know as well as anyone what a social derelict I was. She,” he paused and I noticed his lips quiver and his eyes tearing up. Regaining his composure he continued, “She more or less saved me from myself. I don’t think I can ever tell her enough. Anyway, she was the complete opposite of me, a total free spirit which I discovered early on when we went swimming that first afternoon in Nebraska and she got in the water in her birthday suit.’

“What? Oh-my-god. What did you do?” I said laughing.

“Turned red as a beet, I’m sure. Looked the other way. Embarrassed to death. Didn’t phase her though. But she, I don’t really know, but she took me on an amazing adventure from a sweat lodge, to hiking and exploring, to Buddhism, to music of course, and to a life I never could have imagined. She taught me about love, not by sitting down and teaching me, but by example. She is an amazing woman who I am very grateful for and very much in love with.”

The waiter appeared with our teas and was ready to take our order. We both momentarily cleared our minds and ordered without ever having glanced at the menu. Both of us ordered salads, mine with chicken, Russell with brisket.

As soon as he left, I asked more excitedly than I wanted, “Are you married?”

“No,” he answered almost too quickly, “that’s the furthest thing from our minds. Maybe someday. Her mom and stepfather have been together over twenty years and never married. They’re and interesting couple . . . really, really interesting. So, enough about me, how are you? How are you really?”

“I’m good. Really good. Jess, like Hannah, saved me, I guess. She gave me the strength and support during that last year we were together. Without her, I don’t know what I’d ever have done. She’s good to me. Encourages me, gives me space, supports me. My parents hate her. My father hasn’t spoken to me since he found out I divorced you and am together with a woman. My mother barely speaks to me . . . makes me sad. But they’re locked into their belief system, worried about what their friends and pastor will think and don’t want anything to cause any chinks in their stone walls . . . sort of like we were back then. Funny how life works.”

“It is truly strange indeed. Back then, if someone told me I’d be playing music professionally, I’d have laughed in their face. But I love it and I’m having more fun than I could ever imagine. We even make some money. Are you still at the DA’s office?”

“No, actually, I started with a private firm about six months ago, family practice, which is what I always wanted. Overall, things are good.”

Our food arrived and we ate with smatterings of small talk. As we were finishing, I asked Russell to tell me what really happened. He hesitated for a moment and went on to tell me how his world fell apart after I left him. He told me about his depression, his mother’s criticism, his crazy idea of a solo camping trip, about his loneliness, about Hannah and how they fell in love, about her parents, about Sausalito, about music, about his time at a Buddhist retreat center, how he had started therapy, about his father’s heart attack, about how Donny was really his half brother and was serving time in prison for spousal abuse, about his mother, and finally about how he would never go back to banking.

I sat there and realized my mouth was hanging open as I tried to absorb this epistle.  He was so different now, so open. Our table had been cleared and when I looked at my watch, we had been talking way over an hour after finishing eating. We both came out of our trance at the same time and reached for the check, but Russell insisted it was his treat. The bill was paid and we got up to leave. He took my hand as we walked out into the Chicago sunlight. He turned and looked at me for a minute and I thought, even hoped, he might kiss me. But it was not to be. He said his good-bye with a short hug, an uncertain smile, then turned and walked away without another word, without looking back. 

 I stood watching him as he walked down the street until he disappeared around a corner. My mind was racing with questions. What would have happened if he had this epiphany while we were married? Before we were married? Would we still be married? I suddenly felt unsure of my decision to leave him. Maybe I should have hung in there. Did I still love him? Did I ever? Doubts about my relationship with Jess unexpectedly erupted. Why was I with her? Did I really love her? Was she just a temporary fix that I kept clinging to? Should I have stayed with Russell? Would he had ever became the man he now was if we were still married? I’d never know. I kept looking down the empty street maybe wishing deep down he might come back. He didn’t. I turned to walk back to the condo. Tears of uncertainty and fear fell onto the city sidewalk I somehow now felt a stranger to. And now a life I felt a stranger to.