Part of my study in the quiet afternoons was to try and understand what had happened to me. I went to the county library, and updating my long unused library card, checked out two books purported to examine the older woman-younger man interface. One was Terry McMillan's How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and the other, Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. Stoned and unstoned, I read them as though I were flailing for a lifeline from a wreck in the ocean. But McMillan's book was just another one of her 'oh, black men in America are stereotypic sexist morons' rantings, and the young man in the book was the perfect lover because he was so innocent and unstained by American culture. Yeah, right, I thought in conclusion. The female version of the rationale of taking the child bride. Not my scenario. Valentine wasn't uncorrupted, wasn't corrupted, and I didn't have issues with men and sex. Well, not all that many.
Kingsolver's book had the young man showing up mysteriously for a hot screw or several, and then get sent on his way, having knocked up the over-forty woman who was happy to have him out of her life and a baby on the way. "Oh, bullshit," I said as I read the last lines. There are a number of mystery conception myths kicking around the world, but this was just stupid, utterly without point to me. A woman that old happy to have whoopsed herself a first baby? I sure as hell wasn't interested in getting pregnant (never had been since I was about twenty-two, was that unnatural?) and I wouldn't screw a total stranger who happened to walk along, appearing suddenly, packing an erection by way of introduction.
No help. Books to the book drop.
The Monday before Christmas I was using their computer to check my e-mail and the Port Laughton Tribune, which I did every day to make sure my house hadn't burned down or the university bulldozed under. On the local page was an article about a certain violinist, who was playing his instrument in the sunshine on the sidewalk downtown, competing with Santa Clauses and church boutiques for the attention of the holiday shoppers. The photo had caught him sitting on one of the planters, playing, smiling, with a little boy of about five standing near him, open mouthed, captivated by the sound of the music. "Here you go, Kimsky," I called to her. "Tell me there's no reason to have fallen for this man."
"That's Mr. Name?" she asked as she read the article and examined the picture on the screen. "Jay-sus. No wonder you're so hot and bothered. He any good?"
"Oh, gods, Kim, I never knew it was possible to feel like that."
"I meant the violin, stupid. Jeeze. Go sit in the snow, girl."
Face burning with embarrassment, I walked out on the porch to try to cool off. After a minute or two in the freezing cold, I went back inside, shaking my head ruefully. "Yes, the violin was very good, too."
Dimitri and Burlie had taken over the computer desk. Dimitri was peering closely at the picture of Valentine while his father tried to read the article. "How old did you say he was?"
"Twenty-six," I said.
"Hope to hell I don't look that old four years from now," Dimitri said as he straightened up. He raised his eyebrows and batted his eyes. "Now if you're really interested in 'young' -- "
"Oh, yeccchh," I sneered at him. "I remember how you looked tearing your clothes off when you were three. You have nothing of interest to me."
"Oh, yeah?" he countered. "There been some improvements made to the property." He began to slowly gyrate his hips and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt.
"Your turn to go sit in the snow, Creep. It does wonders." I moved to stand on the opposite side of Burlie, who turned his attention from the screen and glared at his older son.
"Fine," Dimitri said loudly. "Try to help out with a community service project for the elderly and see what happens." He tumbled to the floor and lay there, arms and legs outstretched. "I'm insulted to death. The only thing that could revive me is -"
"KNOCK IT OFF!" bellowed Burlie.
"-- Is that," said Dimitri, standing up. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out the banana cream pie that had accompanied dinner.
Burlie ignored him and tapped the monitor image with his finger. "So this is the guy you were ready to marry?"
I recoiled as if exposed to electrical fencing. "Hell, no! You know how I feel about marriage. Yours excluded, of course. Who said anything about marrying him?"
He looked up at me with his bushy eyebrows lowered. "You ran into this guy on the street, balled his eyes out, and when he disappeared the next morning, you called my wife crying like you got your heart ripped out. You want me to think you were that upset over some punk lay?"
"No, it wasn't like that, Burlie, not at all."
"Then what was it? This guy meets a good-looking older woman on the street, dates her and puts up with her crap for weeks and then just dumps her one day because he found out she was a few years older than he thought she was? Sounds to me like the both of you were more serious than you want to admit. Let me tell you, if getting laid was the only thing on his mind, he wouldn't give a shit if you were seventy -- not with a looker like you. My guess is he was planning on marrying you. If he hadn't found out you were too old to give him ten kids, he'd have been introducing you to his parents."
Kimsky showed up at my right shoulder with a lit joint. "Oh, not again," I said, but reached for a puff all the same. "Is this to shut me up?"
"No, it's to make you forget Burlie said that," Kim replied, glaring at him.
Coughing, I said, "He did introduce me to his mother and his sister when they came to a concert."
Handing the doobie to Burlie, Kim choked, "And then he dumped you?"
"No, no, no," I said laboriously. "He dumped me a week or so before."
"Then why the fuck would he be introducing you to his mother?"
"He was being polite."
Burlie and Kimsky broke into the most raucous, sarcastic laughter I had ever heard. I thought about being insulted, but after a few seconds, couldn't remember why I should be.
Christmas Eve we congregated at Burlie's brother's house, the next-youngest brother, that is, and his house was overflowing with relatives and drink and food and gifts, shouting and singing and kids underfoot everywhere. I wondered what kind of celebration Valentine's family would have in San Francisco, more than two thousand miles away. Probably wouldn't hear as much profanity or dirty jokes. But out here the noise wouldn't have neighbors calling the cops. I'd rather be here, I realized.
The day after Christmas, Nicolai announced that he and his girlfriend had been secretly married since Thanksgiving, and that she was pregnant. I retired to my room while Burlie roared at Nicolai for being an incompetent nitwit unable to figure out the directions on a condom, and after Nick stormed out of the house slamming the door, we all got blasted for consolations and concerns and celebrations. My little house on the coast never has these conflagrations, I thought. Thank god.
The days were drawing short before I would return to my futuristic world of electric buses and world markets and high speed rail. Burlie sat with me one evening, and gruffly informed me that if I needed to move back to Ohio (to get away from heartache), I was more than welcome to come back and live with them again.
"You could get a job at Bowling Green or Ohio State," he grumped, his bushy eyebrows scowling. "That way you'd be near family. Kimsky'd like that. This is more like what you grew up with, anyway. I know they're all fuckin' lunatics out there in California."
"Burlie, thanks. I'm not ready to give it up yet, but I think, in time, I'll come back to this area to wind down my life. Maybe sooner than later. I don't know. The sale of my house out there ought to put me in pretty no matter when I decide to move."
"Gus, if your heart can't handle that guy being around town, come home."
"Don't let your mom sell the fields beside you, Burlie. I may want to be your next door neighbor."
"We can raise pot," he suggested.
Sacramento Airport is strangely flat compared to the big airports in the Bay Area. And welcomingly tiny; you can see from one end of it to the other. When I returned to California that year, the small scale of Sacramento was very comforting. Time travel is exhausting. From following Burlie in the snow while he hunted pheasants and rabbits to news reports of PETA dingdongs throwing themselves at runway models who wore underpants trimmed with mink, from Nicolai's announcement that he was going to be a father to holiday booths in the malls for Planned Parenthood, the juxtaposition of sunrise to sunset lifestyle versus the classic twenty-four/seven was monumentally jarring.
I collected my car and drove home, both already missing the bustle of Kimsky and Burlie's home and glad for the solitude I'd find in my little house.
As I flung myself back into work, cursing with renewed creative vigor (by Burlie's eclectic vocabulary and his brothers' foul language) that I'd been assigned a Saturday morning class, as well as the Wednesday night one, I tried to focus my energies on how best to improve my classes so as to engage my students. This is what you do, I told myself sternly. You're a teacher, and a good one. Think of the faces of the students when they come to a new understanding, that's the moment that makes everything worthwhile, that's the energy that powers the world. Everything else is scenery, background, theme music...oh, god, music ...
New Year's Eve had to be the worst yet, curled up in my bed with a badly written book on North American Indian myths and a glass of wine, alone by choice because the only other acceptable choice was utterly beyond my reach. Where is he now? I kept wondering. Who is he with? Family, perhaps, or would he have found a girlfriend by now? Will he think of me tonight at all? Will he think, 'Poor old Augusta, too bad she was too old,' or would he toast the New Year, saying, 'Whew! Dodged a bullet that time!'
Had I still been in Ohio, I would have been surrounded by Kimsky and Burlie's buddies, partying like a fool, laughing and fending off boozy New Year's Eve smooches, toasting Nicolai and his young wife (he and his parents patched it up by the next morning after Burlie's roars) and the baby that would be born by mid-summer. That's where I belong, I thought. Burlie's right. This horrible emptiness is bullshit. I crawled out of bed, found some socks to keep my toes warm, and turned on the computer. Calling up a search engine, I typed in the words "Ohio + university" and hit 'enter.' Checking a map for locations and printing out the various addresses of colleges occupied me until two in the morning, when I was finally weary enough to fall asleep. I promised myself I'd get started on sending query letters within the next week, get the house appraised so I'd know what kind of leeway I had money-wise. Hah! From sitting staring at the walls with minutes dragging by, suddenly, if I was going to make this plan happen, I was already running short of time. Could I be relocated in time for the newest Burlington to be born?
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