“Joy’s kind of like a retriever: sweet but not real bright.”
My husband said that to our daughter, and she told me.
To put the scene in perspective, they are not young: 68 and 40.
I was shocked. I’d never heard the analogy before. I thought it was a disloyal statement to make about one’s spouse. And I knew it was untrue. About retrievers anyway. My last dog had been a mutt but her dominant quality and talent was fetching. Susie was very smart. And maybe it was the regular prednisone for all those allergies, but my pet’s disposition was not sweet.
It wasn’t true about Joy either. I have no argument about her (lack of) intelligence, but I’ve never seen the sweetness. And based on some of her careless cruelties when my kids were young and had to put up with her stepmothering, narcissistic and needy and petulant seem better adjectives for her, no matter how sincerely she has apologized recently.
It was disloyal of Hank to speak of Joy that way, but I am permitted to so-describe Orson. I met him on public transit a month ago and our fast acquaintance sparked some interest. Then we got together. Uh oh…
The man is ten years younger than I am. That’s okay. He’s tall and not unfit, physically. Again, good. But I’ve now spent two afternoons with him, talking and walking and talking and resisting his attempts to handle my body or get me to handle his, and I have to conclude that he’s probably innately sweet, but not real bright.
I don’t think I’m an intellectual snob. I’m educated and well-read, and I understand language better than most, but I’m smart enough to know how much smarter I could be. And once one exceeds a certain intelligence threshold (probably an IQ of 115 or so, if you believe in IQ), that’s good enough. Willfulness and resilience count more then.
The problem with Orson is I doubt he meets that threshold. And even if he does, and even if his trajectory demonstrates resilience, he’s too sad for me.
Admittedly, I’ve enjoyed talking about myself to him. In fact, I’ve savored describing myself to him, in my imagination, more than the reality of actually speaking to him. But I have spoken and I have listened to him speak. Here are a few of the things I’ve heard:
On the subject of tattoos: “No, I don’t have one. I’m a universal donor.” (I replied, “You mean you’re O positive?” and I thought, “Does he really think they’re cross-typing in San Francisco?”)
Regarding children: “I never had any. Never wanted any. The world’s too crowded now.” (I’m thinking: “Oh yeah. That’s why someone doesn’t have kids. Sure.” And when he indicated maybe he’d change his mind about that, and I blurted, “Orson, that ship has sailed,” he asserted that 57 is not too old to father a kid).
On-demand water heaters? He opined that they’re trouble. I asked why. He commented that because the hot water doesn’t run out, you’ll use too much. As if the length of time one spends in the shower is governed by the water tank…
I asked him if he’s involved with anyone (this was after I confessed it’s been at least a decade for me). He pondered for a moment, admitted it hasn’t been ten years with a smile, and then described his latest affair. It ran for three months – all of last autumn. He’d met the woman in a park, while walking his dogs. She was married but not getting any. They agreed on an arrangement, meeting every Sunday evening in the park, and fucking in the bushes. (“Say what?”) He acknowledged it was simple sex, with clothes on. He said they went to the movies once when her husband was away, but it was a bad flick. (I can’t count the number of ideas wrong with this story). Then he asked me if I thought his behavior constituted cheating (Me: “No. Adultery yes. Cheating no.”)
He asserted that he’s a “cheating bastard.” He said the last time he had a real girlfriend, with whom he spent most nights (still retaining his apartment but not using it much) and adopted a dog, after the relationship fell empty of all but dog care, he took up with a neighbor. The women found out and both of them dumped him.
He also declared that he’s an asshole. That comment was apparently an acknowledgment that he has some anger issues (who doesn’t?). But he qualified it by stating that he only exercises his asshole-ness when he encounters someone who’s a bigger asshole than he is.
He said he likes to read. I asked him what. “Right now, just some magazines,” he said sheepishly. And then he admitted, with obvious embarrassment, that his favorite genre is sci-fi. (I didn’t understand then or now what’s wrong with that.)
“What’s your biggest peeve?” he asked me the last time we were together. I couldn’t come up with just one. He announced that his is species extinction. (Peeve? He calls that a peeve? That’s a fucking grief!)
I don’t think he’s an asshole or a cheating bastard. I’m inclined to go with “moron.”
But he appears to be sweet. He’s been repeatedly disappointed, by his parents, his brother, the high school buddies who at a party injured him and gave him the disability that narrowed his future, and probably all the women he didn’t properly approach or cherish since. But he didn’t “eat his shotgun” back when he was 18 (he’s told me that story both times we visited), and he seems to be trying to live authentically.
It’s obvious he deals with frequent sadness. When I asked him how he treats his depression, he looked at me with a sincere face and said, “Exercise.” As far as I’m concerned, that was Orson being real.
It got to me. Almost made me receptive. So when we stood to say goodbye and he leaned in for a kiss, I responded. It wasn’t repulsive, but I can’t say my knees melted. Then he groaned a little, kissed me again, took my right hand off his shoulder, and tried to move it to measure his erection.
Whoa! My reflexes were faster than my mind. I spun from him and paced away, muttering “arrested at 17” (that was his age when the disabling accident occurred).
“I wasn’t arrested,” he said.
I should not see Orson again. I should change names, switch this to third person, and submit it to my writing group. I told myself (and him) that I’m not ready for sex with him, but I’d like to get to know him better. That there may be a spark upon further acquaintance. But as I type it, I know it won’t happen. He’s a dim bulb.
But it’s his birthday today. He asked without a leer for a little time with me tonight. I’ve agreed to serve him a berry pie and beer.
That’s the last Mom wrote. She didn’t submit anything to her writers’ group the next morning. She didn’t go to the office. A day later I got the call from her assistant. I did what I could remotely and then traveled here. To find her place abandoned and this draft in her office.
It’s just not like her to disappear. Especially without word to me. I’m trying to get the police to pay attention, but I fear she’s with a cheating bastard asshole. Or was.