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May 20, 2024

Christmas, 1999

By Kellie Gillespie

Rebound: NOUN: (rbound, r-bound)1. A springing or bounding back; a recoil. 2a. Sports A rebounding or caroming ball or hockey puck. b. Basketball The act or an instance of taking possession of a rebounding ball. 3. A quick recovery from or reaction to disappointment or depression: He is on the rebound following a tumultuous breakup.
--The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition.

According to some authorities, the Pirate was my rebound guy. That's the boyfriend that comes between your One True Love and your Second Chance. But I wasn't as naive as I looked. I had read all the dating books and advice columns and I could recognize rebound guys when I saw them. I knew the Pirate was not going to be around for very long; that's what made him fun. No investment plus no commitment equals no heartbreak. Sure, we left toothbrushes at each other's houses, which eventually led to keeping some clothes at each other's houses, which in turn led to exchanging keys for the sake of convenience. But I didn't fool myself into thinking it was something other than a little fling. I knew it was only temporary.

I had met the Pirate through a personals ad. My girlfriend had had some luck meeting men using the personals, so I gave it a try by writing what I thought was a cute come-hither ad using cooking as a metaphor for dating. I've since tried to erase the painful memory, but it basically went something like this: "Sweet and spicy DWF ready to cook up some fun with the right guy. Must have a good appetite." I learned real fast that the average male is not ready for clever metaphors, simple as they may be, so the men who responded to my ad were only interested in my kitchen skills, not my writing skills. They weren't even interested in my sex skills. Most of the guys who called only wanted to know if I could make a good pie. I can, but I wanted to be liked for more than pie. I wanted to have fun.

Of the three or four men who called, the Pirate was the nicest of the lot. He had no expectations of homemade dinners, and he was highly appreciative when I did make the effort. He actually cooked more for me than I did for him. He was a machinist and worked nights -- another plus. That meant that I could spend the day with my job, family and friends while he slept. When my kids were at their father's house, I was free for romantic interludes between the time the Pirate woke up and the time he had to go to work. Then I could go home and sleep in my own bed. It was perfect. So, dear reader, what happened to make this perfect dating experience not so perfect? It's simple, really. The Pirate was a pirate.

Pirates do have some good qualities. They insist on paying all expenses. On the few occasions we went out to dinner, or to a movie, or the fair, he paid for everything. As a newly divorced person with two kids still at home, I protested faintly from time to time, but not so much that the practice stopped. Another good quality: pirates can fix things. After twenty years of having a man around the house, I was absolutely clueless about home repair. The Pirate didn't mind doing odd little things for me, and I would repay him with homemade goodies. It worked out well while it lasted. Pirates also know how to have a good time, and mine was no exception. He was always up for a party, had lots of friends with similar interests, and looked pretty good with a lampshade on his head. The fact that he possessed various characteristics of an alcoholic didn't faze me in the least.

By Christmas of 1999, we had been dating for several months. Certain problems had arisen but I was trying to ignore them, gamely forging ahead despite the grim foreshadowing. The clues that pointed to his pirate tendencies were becoming more obvious, though. For instance, there was a sexual dysfunction that he refused to acknowledge. It's hard to talk about a problem when one person refuses to discuss that there is a problem. He also had an extremely dirty house that was downright unsanitary and distasteful. I was starting to find excuses to avoid going there. But it was Christmas, and I decided it was time to take things to the next level. I can only defend this stupid decision by stating that I had been married for over twenty years to the Storyteller and thought that this was the best I could expect. So I invited the Pirate over for Christmas dinner, which was being held at my house. With all my children. And my sister and brother-in-law. And my parents.

Let me introduce my family. My mother is a college instructor and my stepfather is a retired accountant. My brother-in-law is a mystery novelist, a composer and musician, and a graphic artist. My sister is an accomplished opera singer who has traveled all through Europe. We like to put out the good china and use a lace tablecloth for holiday dinners. For the most part we are down-to-earth practical people who sometimes sway toward the upper middle class, if only in our education levels. In addition, my family can be quite witty and they enjoy spirited conversational banter. Politics, literature, religion, current events -- these all provide the basis for fun, if excited, talk around the dinner table. My four children, who were intelligent and amusing people despite their tender ages, could easily participate in this repartee, and frequently contributed their own opinions.

Needless to say, the Pirate could not keep up. He sat at the table watching the fun and listening closely, but I could see that he had no idea what the conversation was about. He couldn't follow things because he did not read the paper, he didn't watch the news on television, he didn't read books, he didn't care about politics, and he had no religious background. In other words, he had no opinions about anything we were discussing. Don't get me wrong. He turned out to have plenty of opinions, most of which would be revealed to me on New Year's Eve and involved black helicopters and government conspiracies. But I digress. On Christmas Day, he was a polite bystander to the dinner conversation, which in retrospect was probably a blessing. I was already starting to wonder what the hell I was doing with him.

The climax to Christmas Dinner came with the rum balls. The Pirate had made them, using lots and lots of rum. (Of course -- what else would a pirate use?) I had watched their horrible creation, declining all offers for a sample, until he finally insisted. They were so potent that I struggled not to hold my nose as the distasteful morsel approached my mouth. My nostril hairs quivered. I took a small bite, quickly chewed and swallowed, and declined any more with a lie about starting a new diet. Further ensuring my place in hell, I agreed that these rum balls were the best I ever tasted. I could still smell the alcohol on my breath as I drove home and I studiously obeyed all traffic laws. If I got pulled over, I knew I couldn't convince the police officer that I had only had one, very tiny, bite.

The Pirate was a nice man, in spite of his buccaneer tendencies, and he wanted to contribute something to our Christmas dinner. He brought a whole tin of his rum balls to share, and he told us several times we were in for a treat. When it was time for dessert, I took advantage of his leaving for a bathroom break to warn the others about the rum balls. "They're horrible," I hissed. "What are we going to do?" My sister dismissed me with a wave of her hand. "How bad can they be?" she said. "You're exaggerating. I'm sure they're fine."

The Pirate came back and brought his cookie tin over to the dining table. He took off the lid and the overpowering aroma of rum filled the room. My sister put her hand to her nose. My mother said, "Oh, my. Those are made with rum, aren't they?" My brother-in-law, the fool, held out his plate and said, "Hey, man, did you make those? Put a couple of those babies right here." The Pirate beamed and put a couple on his plate. Then he put some on everyone's plate, but I stopped him at one when it was my turn. "Remember that diet?" I asked. He took about four for himself.

My mother took a bite and choked. "Umm. Good." She set the rest of hers on her plate. My sister took a bite and slowly chewed. "These are rich, aren't they?" she said. "I think I'll save the rest of mine for later," and she lay hers down also. My stepfather, who doesn't have the most discerning palate, was more enthusiastic. "Wow. These are great! Love the rum," he said with his mouth full. My brother-in-law didn't know what to do with his. I watched him bring it to his mouth three times and then set it down without taking so much as a nibble. While the Pirate was busy pouring himself a glass of wine, my sister snuck hers back into the open tin. Ahh, good idea, we all nodded to each other. My mother asked the Pirate what his children were doing for the holidays and while he was facing the other way we also threw ours back into the tin. My stepfather, obviously a pirate at heart, reached over and took my mother's. "I'll take hers," he announced. "She's always on a diet, too."

After the Pirate had taken his leave of us, my mother summed things up nicely. "He's not like us, is he?" she said. No, pirates are a different breed altogether. I feel sorry for the pirates of this world, who really belong out on the high seas, in a boat built for long trips around the world. That's the only place they feel at home, among men like themselves, whose main concerns are the mending of sails and the drinking of good grog. In reality, my complaints about our relationship were few and small. My pirate was mostly considerate of my feelings, he remembered my preferences, and he gave me thoughtful presents. The thing I am most appreciative of, however, is the tenderness he offered a bruised and hurting soul who needed to feel attractive and wanted again. He may have lacked couth and culture, but his heart was true and valiant, and I only hope he finds his own Second Chance someday, as I have found mine.

Article © Kellie Gillespie. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-12-27
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