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Like an old coat

After I spent the night with Lucy, I felt light and good. Something special had happened and I felt like my life was turning around. At least now, in my single-fatherhood, I had something to look forward to besides weekends with my daughter and being completely broke. Before long, Lucy and I had become the talk of the hotel. Wherever I went about my business hauling furniture about the public spaces in the hotel, I’d hear people talk about me behind my back.It wasn’t mean or spiteful, just whispers. “He’s with Lucy now,” I heard a houseman say to one of his mates one afternoon. Apparently, their pretty hot and heavy.”

A banquet server, a tall, broad shouldered Palestinian by the name of Simon caught me in the foyer of the main lobby one day. “Say, man, you’re going with that tall woman in the bar, aren’t you?”

“Yes, you can say we’re dating.”

“Lucky,” he said, and slapped me on the back. “She’s real good looking for an old lady.”

“She’s not old, Simon. She’s 44.”

“That’s a lot older than you. You got a mommy thing, don’t you?”

“I suppose I do.”

Meanwhile, Lucy and I spent many nights together. Her busy schedule limited our time together to just Thursday nights. We went to the movies and watched movies on the VCR. We ate out at late-night diners. We cooked dinner at her house. I even coaxed her into walking the dog, which got us out into the neighborhood after dark. We made love every chance we could.

After a few months, I fell into a kind of comfort with the relationship. This wasn’t love. We were very different people. She loved to get out to clubs and enjoy nightlife after her shifts at the rooftop bar. I preferred to stay home, not being much for that kind of society. She read different books than I did. Our talk revolved mostly around the motel and movies, and even then, we liked different kinds of movies. She really fell for blockbusters and chick flicks. I was more a classic movie kind of guy. I drifted toward art-house flicks and complicated stories. Our taste in movies, books, and life was worlds apart. The domestic aspect of our affair satisfied me. I liked the lovemaking and laying around. Lucy wanted more from me than I was willing to give.

We went for a walk one night in Loose Park in the early spring. There was still a chill in the air. The trees had just begun to bud and you could smell the green on the air. While we were walking, she said she wanted to take me to a concert.

“I just love the Eagles,” she said. “They are touring for the first time in fourteen years. It’s called the ‘Hell Freezes Over Tour.’ They once said they’d get together again when hell freezes over. Now, they’re back. The tickets are $110 each and I’m buying your ticket.”

“That’s too much money for a concert. I can’t let you spend that.”

“Why not? I’m flush. I’m buying.”

I was stuck. I hated the Eagles and always had, even in my high school years when they were all the rage among my classmates. Moreover, I thought it obscene to spend $110 for a ticket to any concert.

“I have a conscience thing about spending that much money on a concert,” I said. “Besides, I hate the Eagles.”

“They’re one of the greatest rock bands ever. You’ve got to be joking. Everyone likes the Eagles.”

“Maybe everyone you know but me likes the Eagles.”

“You’re joking, aren’t you?”

“I’m not joking and you’re not spending $110 on a ticket for me. I would have a terrible time.”

“I can’t believe it. You have to like the Eagles.”

“I don’t, Lucy.”

“You have to, they’re great.”

“Listen, I’m not going to that concert with you.”

This went on for some time. I’d never had a fight with a girlfriend before. Previously, whenever things turned sour with someone I dated, I left and didn’t look back. Things were different now that I was sober. I was trying to be a good guy and stick with something. Our relationship had turned into a routine, which I didn’t mind.

The conversation turned into a shouting match. She accused me of only wanting to be with her for the sex. I retorted that there was more than that, that I liked her for more than her body. I became resentful. I told her I hated the way her dog made her whole house smell like a dirty kennel. She shouted that I was a bum who didn’t know how to have a social life and that maybe I should start drinking again. It would make me more interesting. She made sport of the kinds of movies I liked and said that I was a snob.

She became so angry with me that we left the park and drove home in silence.

“If this is the way you’re going to be . . .” she said when we arrived at her house.

“What do you mean? Standing up when I don’t want to do something?”

“You could at least do it for me, goddammit.”

“But I don’t want to do it for you or anyone else,” I said.

“Well, that’s it,” she said as she climbed out of the car. “You can just forget about us then. Don’t call anymore. I’ll see you when I see you.

“Fine,” I said and sped away.

I saw her occasionally in the hotel hallways and service elevators over the next couple of months and she was cordial. Within weeks, we started to talk like old friends. Before I knew it, we were again sitting down together for coffee on Friday afternoons.

We fell into routine almost right away. I’d show up at her house on Thursday, we’d make love, order in a pizza, and watch movies. I’d go home and not see her for another week.

In the meantime, I started to notice a woman who worked in the HR Department. Kristi wasn’t as tall as Lucy but was as slender and fit. She, too, was older than me but only by five years. We began to have coffee in the lunchroom during the day, before Lucy came to work. Lucy saw me talking to the HR woman as I had once talked to her. Our relationship began to diminish. I went to Lucy’s less often. Soon, weeks went by between our visits.

One day, Lucy stopped me at thee service elevator where she had first asked me to look at her teeth.

“So, you’re with the HR woman these days,” she said. “I’ve heard you and her are going steady.”

“It’s nothing like that, Lucy.”

“Sure, it is. I know you. You’re on to the next good thing.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“Are you coming over this week?” she asked.

“Do you want me to?”

“Until you start sleeping with that woman, I want you to come over.”

I had a first date with Kristi. She was a swimmer and liked basketball more than she liked making love. She lived in an apartment that, coincidentally, a friend of mine had lived in years before. She was pretty in a severe sort of way with sharp, angular features and bleach-blond hair. Her face twitched with a nervous tick that interested me. She had a cat, Scout, that more or less regulated Kristi’s comings and goings when she wasn’t at work.

At the time, I was getting ready for along trip. I’d planned to walk to Helena, Montana, with a backpack and sleepingbag and canoe back to Kansas City on the Missouri River. The preparations wereintense. I took on double shifts at the hotel, working the day in theengineering department and then changing uniforms and serving banquets atnight. Between work and spending time with my daughter Sydney, I spent time with Lucy onThursday nights and with Kristi on Friday nights.

The relationship with Lucy sputtered along for a few more months. Lovemaking. Pizza. Movies. I liked the way we didn’t have to talk to each other. We spoke of mundane topics, as we really never had that much to say to each other anyway.

Soon, I did start sleeping with Kristi andstopped going to Lucy’s. It wasn’t long before I missed the routine I had with her.Except for that one altercation, we never crossed words again. Kristi was adifferent story, a much different relationship. We rode bikes together and wentcamping. The bonds that held Kristi and me together grew stronger. Ourrelationship began to bud about the time it was time for me to leave forMontana on May 1, 1995. I’d spent about a year and a half with Lucy but nowfound myself in deep infatuation with Kristi, something I never felt for Lucy.

Still, on the way to Montana, on those lonely nights in town parks and in the backyards of people I met along the way, on couches in living rooms and in the woods of Wyoming, I thought of Lucy, what she must have been up to, how she was pursuing her goal of one day retreating to her land on the Klamath River.

Kristi and I were together for three years. She came to visit me once on my trip. She drove the 350 miles to Lexington, Nebraska, to stay with me overnight in a swampy hotel room on the outskirts of town. That night, she asked me about Lucy. We were laying in each other’s arms on the bed. She wanted to know what my time with Lucy had been like.

“It was like an old coat,” I said.

“What does that mean?”

“About the time it gets comfortable, you need a new one,” I said, realizing what I was saying and hoping that Kristi wouldn’t get offended. But she elbowed her way out of bed and stood in the center of the room. “But you keep the old coat around because it fits well and means something to you,” I continued. “You’ve lived an important part of your life in it. You can’t throw it away. It sits in the closet until you find it again the next winter and you remember that part of your life again.”

“So, you’re saying I’m going to wear out on you someday too?”

“To tell you the truth, Kristi, you’re nothing like an old coat.”

“But I will be.”

“Maybe someday,” I said and paused. Who knew where we were going or what was going to happen to us. The journey to Montana was already changing me. I was becoming a new person. “But I don’t see it happening anytime soon. After all, you thought enough to come all the way to Nebraska to see me. I’ve talked to you about every other day on the phone. You’ve given me encouragement when I needed it. Plus, we have things to talk about. Lucy and I never had much to talk about.”

“You still think about Lucy?”

“When I’m not thinking of you, and I think about you most of the time.”

“Well, you better get over this Lucy thing pretty damn soon.”

To tell you the truth, 23 years later, I’m not sure I’m over the Lucy thing, just like 20 years later I’m not over the Kristi thing. They stick with me, these people I get close to and let into my interior. I’m not sure I ever get rid of that old coat. Even when it’s gone, thrown or given away, I remember it. And people aren’t old coats. They do more for me than keep me warm. They are like catalysts. They are agents of change, and in being so, they become a part of me. I wouldn’t be who I am without Lucy.

I think about her sometimes up there in a log house on the banks of the Klamath. The wind is in the pines and the snow is just beginning. She’s lit a fire in the wood stove. The house faintly smells of old dog and pine resin. She would be 70 now. She makes me think just where I’ll be at that age.

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