Thursday, March 15, 2012

Publication Day

Twenty-some years ago, I walked a sidewalk on a Hartford evening, side-by-side a pony-tailed volleyball-playing co-worker. You know who I’m taking about. Among a group of other journos coming out of a bar, Sheri and I nevertheless ended up in our own chat, as we seemed often to do those days. Side-by-side walking. Practice, I suppose.

We talked about what each of us hoped would come next in our own lives. Sheri mentioned Montana, and I allowed as how I wanted to write fiction. Stories. Maybe a novel. I had cockeyed ideas about graduate school, but didn’t how to apply or how much it cost or anything, really. Even as they came out of my mouth, the words, “graduate school,” made as much sense to me as “string theory” does now. I was 26 and clueless.

Some people might have laughed. Some might have pointed out the difficulty of uprooting a life for graduate school, of the cost, of the years given to a pursuit that would not be lucrative and perhaps not even successful. But Sheri listened to a younger man’s quixotic ambition, and she never varied the pace of her steps. And later, when I wanted to move to Arkansas for that mythical graduate school, she still kept pace.

Today is publication day. Twenty years later, my first book of fiction comes into the world.

And I think it is true that the reason I have both book and Sheri in my life is that twenty-years ago an older woman listened to the optimism of youth and made room on that sidewalk for what was unlikely, maybe even daft, and she considered it possible.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Love among the enchiladas

Dorky photo from 1991
Tonight we will drink champagne, toasting 21 years since the night we sat together on a couch in my Hartford condo, looking our future full in the face and saying yes to it.

It was March 11, 1991, a Monday night. The previous night, as “just friends” (we thought), we had played in a weekly volleyball game. Afterward, we had planned to make dinner together at my place; Michael had bought everything necessary for enchiladas, including the Mexican cookbook. But then I hurt my leg in the game.  So I sat with my leg on ice while he cooked. It took six hours. We joke now that we had to grow the corn for the tortillas in order to make it all happen.

Who was I then? My life was full: I was writing a grant proposal for funding to research the fate of American POWs left behind in North Korea, working as a newspaper bureau chief, playing volleyball, swimming laps at the Y, going to plays, choosing a sperm donor, reading both “The Little Prince” and I.F. Stone’s “The Hidden History of the Korean War,” spending a weekend with my sister at Cape Cod, taking a pottery class, watching the Gulf War on TV, and trying to quit smoking.

I knew Michael was 26, but even on that night of the enchiladas, he did not know my age. When we first met, he had guessed 36. Then, after I once mentioned being in college in the late 1960s, he thought, “Maybe 40, 41.”

Who we are today
Back to the enchiladas. It took so long that he didn’t leave until 2:30 a.m. Before he left, he hugged me. He was shaking. The kitchen was a mess. Both of us had to work in about eight hours.

When I woke that Monday, it was all I could do to drag my bad leg in to work. The condo was still in chaos. Egads, a 26-year-old guy had made tortillas from scratch so you can imagine the helter-skelter in my tiny galley kitchen.

That evening, after work, he showed up to wash dishes, bearing a bouquet of purple iris and a carton of ice cream.  And that’s when it finally hit me: This guy is serious.

Over ice cream, we abandoned the “just friends” fa├žade. There was too much joy, delight and exhilaration. We felt safe. Comfortable. He gulped only once when I said, “43.”