The White Russians worked magic.
Virginia is Joanne’s sister. Bruce and Joanne had been friends for years. They had invited me to their house the evening before I left for my second and disastrous foray into Germany.
I’d received a note a few weeks before from the winery where I’d worked in 1985 and 1986. The winery representative, Erwin Engel, who would one day become the director, wrote that I’d almost ruined my chance at getting into the fall 1987 class at the wine school in Geisenheim. The winery had paid my matriculation fee and classes started in a few weeks. Was school still in my plans?
I called the Erwin morning after I’d read the letter. Of course, I said, I was still up for Geisenheim. I would be there on time.
Before the phone call, I hadn’t given school a thought. The year since I’d moved from Trier to Kansas City for the love of an American opera singer contorted me in all sorts of ways. We’d spent a hot summer in Germany in 1986 while she attended a seminar at the famous music school at Darmstadt. She commuted between that city and Trier, where we spend weekends in bed. She hooked me. I had never met anyone so sexual. I confused body with soul. I was in love. She was having a summer fling.
This only became apparent to me after I returned to the states in late-1986. It was around Christmas. She wasn’t exactly happy to find me suddenly on her porch one rainy night. It turned out she’d been sleeping with a friend of mine after she returned from her summer seminar. In all our correspondence, she either had no idea I was coming back to take up with her or she didn’t take me seriously.
The relationship we developed was stormy and left me miserable and needy. The days were short and dark. My moods ran the gamut from overjoyed to be back home to depressed for having left a comfortable life in Trier, where I was doing well. My time with the American opera singer came to an end in January 1987.
Meanwhile, I’d taken up with friends in whose house I rented a closet for $25 a month. A literal closet. My oddball nature and the closet attracted a number of women who came and went. I drank. My friends mounted a beer keg in a refrigerator. That was like a lifeline, a virtual IV.
In this state of dissolution, I didn’t respond to the letter and my talk with Erwin. I reacted. Life in Germany had been good for me. Its U.S. counterpart was depressing and drudgery. Why not return?
Three days after the letter, I bought a plane ticket.
Bruce and Joanne wanted to send me off with a goodbye dinner. They had a neighbor over. Michael was a real estate agent, a strange and funny man who I had always gotten along with. Also present was Joanne’s sister, Virginia, who had just moved to Kansas City from Houston. She had been staying with Bruce and Joanne while she got her feet under her. Virginia and I hit it off well. We joked and stole looks over the table during dinner and a board game we played after eating.
When we finished the game, when Michael asked us over to his house. Bruce and Joanne, being moderate people, were at the end of their day. Michael told us we could sit around his house and have a few White Russians, about my favorite mixed drink next to a Manhattan.
His house was comfortably modern. He was as drunk as we were. He put on risqué movies and we joked around. Virginia sat on my lap. The drinks worked their magic. By time to go home, Virginia and I were holding hands. On the way back to Bruce and Joanne’s we stopped and made out on the steps of Roanoke Elementary.
Something happened there in front of the school. I went off to Germany the next day. When I wrote Bruce and Joanne, I asked them to greet “Elizabeth”—I was so drunk that night Virginia and I met, I couldn’t even remember her name.
I spent a couple of months at the school. It was a difficult time. I was drinking too much. I didn’t have any money and had to work for several wineries after school to make ends meet. In the end, school work and earning money, not to mention the loneliness, overwhelmed me. While my grades were promising, I couldn’t see life turning around. I came back to the Kansas City with my tail between my legs.
For some reason, I was always interested in what was going on with Virginia. Bruce and I were steady cyclists and rode together about once a week. Bruce would tell me what Virginia was up to. I’d see Virginia and her boyfriend at Bruce’s house. I occasionally ran out of beer and liquor on Sunday nights. Not done drinking, I’d pull into the bar where Virginia worked and buy packaged to-go. We’d say hello.
Over the next eleven years, I saw Virginia maybe a total of 45 minutes. Something, some sort of bond, remained though our connection was tenuous. I sobered up in July 1990 and started a new life. My daughter Sydney was born in June 1991. All the time, I knew who Virginia went out with, what happened to her.
Then, in 1998, Bruce landed a job in Minneapolis. Suddenly, he and Joanne’s move threatened my bond with Virginia. At the time, I was part-time father to Sydney. I picked her up at her mom’s every Saturday morning for the weekend. I knew Virginia worked and that she’d gotten her act together was in nursing school. On July 4, with Virginia on my mind, Syd and I were on the way home from her mom’s north of the river. On impulse, I asked Syd if she wanted a pancake. I knew a place where they made good ones.
We walked into the Denny’s on Broadway. Virginia was working the floor. The place was crowded and people shoved up against each other by the front door. I saw Virginia and got struck by lightning.
She recognized me, though she hadn’t seen me in over seven years. She finagled us into her section and waited on us. She came to fill my coffee. I asked her on impulse if she was doing anything for the holiday. She had a date to the baseball game. I said, well, the Shakespeare Festival was going on in Southmoreland Park. Would she like to do that?
She said we would. On the evening of July 7, we sat on the grass under the big oaks just in front of the stage. We ate cherries and talked all the way through the production of Hamlet. The people around us were irritated. Virginia and I were nonplussed. She took my hand as we walked to the car. We kissed good night.
Our relationship developed in a whirlwind. Within weeks, we were talking about getting married. Then, on October 1, about three months after we met again after all those years, we married each other sitting in my living room.
Just us. No preacher or priest. No officiant. I’d been a Universal Life Church minister for a couple of years. I had ordained Virginia in the church a few weeks before. With powers vested in ourselves, we wed. We didn’t exchange rings. We had faith we were going to live the rest of our lives together. It was official.
We ordained my Uncle Phil in the church via the internet a couple of weeks later. We secured a marriage license. He signed it on November 13 in front of a few friends at my house, now our house, over chips, dip, and sparkling apple cider.
We didn’t have any money at the time. We saved for a year to hold a marriage ceremony in the Sacred Heart Parish Hall on Oct. 2, 1999. Friends and family came from all over the United States. We spent our honeymoon at Bennett Spring State Park with my German friends who had traveled to Kansas City for the ceremony.
Now, 19 years later, we celebrate our anniversary on October 1, the day we married each other. It hasn’t always been bliss. We weathered tough times when the world and our headstrong natures were arrayed against us. But it’s been great, despite the setbacks. Getting married in the living room that night was the best decision we ever made.