The only place I was able to afford to live was the Rambler Motel. The units were all kitchenettes, so most of the 'guests', like me, were long term tenants. We appreciated the low rates, and wanted to keep them low, so we did a lot of our own repairs, and what we couldn't do, we contracted out as a group. On the north end of the building (the front doors all faced the sunsets), the motel property butted against a steep hill. We were having a narrow brick walkway put in so that we could walk up and over the hill to the streets on the other side without having to walk all the way around the block.
The project seemed to be taking too long; all we wanted was a path of a couple lines interlocking common clay bricks, reddish brown and kind to the feet. I thought the other residents and I could have done the work ourselves, if we had the time; it was not that difficult a job. I decided to go out and inspect the work and find out what was taking so damn long.
"How we doing?" I asked the man, who was wearing blue overalls, and had long gray hair and a dirty-looking gray beard.
"Just about done," he replied.
Wait a minute, those weren't the common clay bricks we'd ordered! About every foot and a half or so, he'd put in a crumbly, rough accent brick that had knobby pebbles embedded in the surface, in three lines of six. We didn't order these or even want them!
"What are these for? Why did you put them here?" I demanded. I usually went barefoot all summer, and these knobby things would hurt! "Sorry, we need to remove them and put the right bricks in."
"Listen, Missy, I'm the only one who can sign the building inspection papers for the city on this, and if you or anyone else takes those bricks out, I'm not going to pass on this project."
What an asshole. I backed off reluctantly; I just wanted him to get done and get out. I walked back towards the motel's long lower level porch. The man's old woman wife was doing the brick work on the other end of the path, where they were supposed to be building a little brick planter to make a kind of gateway to the path. She was bricking in a solid low pillar, not a planter. For crying out loud!
"Didn't you remember that this was supposed to be a planter? We don't want a pillar there!"
The old geezer with the beard came up, wiping his dirty hands on a dirty rag. "Stop messing with how we do our jobs. You make her take those bricks out of there, I don't sign. I told you that once already."
God, I was so pissed I couldn't see straight. "Give me some of your business cards, if you would," I gritted to him. I was going to disparage his name and his crappy work to every one in the city. He'd never get work again if I had anything to do about it.
The old toad refused! Said he wasn't going to give me anything unless I went down to the motel office on the far end and got his pen and clipboard for him. With his penchant for threatening to hold up the inspection papers, I had no choice. I stomped into the office and snatched up his papers and took them to him. I wanted to throw them at him but I didn't.
I was so damn mad, I woke up mad, too. Looking around the room for someone to be mad at, I wondered if I had been arguing aloud in my sleep, because Gabe wasn't even in the room, let alone on his usual spot on the bed. Rambler Motel, huh? Changes being made that I don't want done.
I picked up my bedside clock and peered at its face. Five-thirty in the morning and I'm dreaming symbols of unwelcome change, I thought. I clicked the alarm setting to "off" and found my slippers. As I called Gabe and went to the back door to let him out, I continued to think about the dream. Why had I been reluctant to fight about the changes? The old man had threatened that nothing would be finished unless the changes were made. Symbols of me ... me, not particularly happy about the changes in my life.
It took less than twenty minutes for Andersol to notice and draw Bodie's attention to the absence of my ring the next time we had dinner together. She elbowed him as she passed by, carrying napkins and silverware to the table. When he turned to look at her questioningly, I knew that she was pointing out the bare finger behind my back, because his gaze immediately darted to my left hand. I turned around to glare at her grinning face. "Don't start," I warned her, and was very thankful that she didn't tease me during dinner, although she seemed in high spirits and kept peeking at the hand, the ring finger of which still had a pinched-in place from the wedding band I had worn continuously for fourteen years. Bodie, too, held his tongue on the subject; but then he seemed a little subdued that evening, almost worried or preoccupied.
Mary LeMay said not a word about my decision to no longer wear Adam's ring. Perhaps she didn't notice; however, she seemed to notice every other change in the lives and properties of her neighbors, and she talked with Andersol and Bodie often, so I suspected she was being discreet. She did know, from many past conversations we had, that I was sensitive about my failed marriage, and that the ring had been all I'd had to tie me to Adam for eight years.
My hand felt oddly naked without the ring. An admission of being a no-longer-married woman. A disappearance of my public protection against romantic relationships. Thank God for November, and weather cold enough to warrant wearing gloves when I went out! I felt nervous and vulnerable and defensive, wondering how long it would be before I had to fend off an unwelcome conversation about my marital status.
A week and a half later my question was answered by Andersol, who invited me to join her and Bodie to go to a party given by one of their co-workers. "A planning party," she told me as we walked together to our mailboxes. "We're having a planning party so we can plan out next month's Christmas party."
"Thanks," I said, "but I'm headed up to my sister's to see the kids."
"Come on, Sully, you can go up to see the kids Saturday morning if you're not hung over. There's a guy who works in the office that you ought to meet. His name is Steve and he's good-looking and likes books and travel and wine."
"That clinches it, I'm not going. Thank you for asking, and thank you for trying to introduce me to someone, but I don't want introduced to someone."
"At all, Andersol."
"You've got to start somewhere, girl."
"No, I don't!"
"Steve's looking forward to meeting you; what am I supposed to tell him, that I mentioned his name and you screamed and ran the other way?"
"You can tell him that I had other plans. And what are you doing telling this Steve that you were going to bring me for him to meet? Are you nuts? You of all people should understand -- what if someone was trying to get you to start dating to split you up from Bodie?"
"Not the same, Sully, you know that. Bodie and I are a package, and everyone who knows us knows that we plan on staying together," she said.
"What they know about you is that you have an unequivocal stand. No one can change your mind; you make sure everyone knows that. Now I want you to understand that just because I'm not wearing a wedding ring, I am not in the market for a man in my life!" I pulled my wad of junk mail from the little mailbox and stood back, sorting through it to see if there were any pieces of mail worth keeping.
"Why not?" She countered. "Sully, in the six years we've known you, you haven't had a date. Except for going along with us sometimes, or visiting your kids. The only time you go off to be with other people is for church stuff. You got to get yourself a life sooner or later."
"Andersol. When I married Adam, I said the 'til death do us part' thing. I'm Catholic. I don't believe in divorce, even if Adam does. I took a vow to be his wife for as long as we're both alive. I feel as though ... I feel like I said that to God as well as Adam. Adam can forget those words, or pretend they were never said, but God doesn't." I sighed, wondering again how Adam could say those same vows and then renege on them six years later.
"You think God is going to send you to Hell if you fall in love with someone else? That's just a sick view of God, Sul, I'm sorry."
"No, you don't get it," I said, exasperated. "It's not about punishment. It's about making a promise, and keeping faith with the promise. I made the promise. I want to keep faith with what I made. Adam was and is a jerk, I know that. But that doesn't change the promise, the vow I made -- the oath I swore -- does that make it clearer? You've made a similar promise between you and Bodie. If one of you suddenly meets some hottie, are you going to just dump the other? No, I don't think so. Even if you were attracted to someone who wouldn't be open to the matched set of Bodie and Andersol, you wouldn't pursue them for that very reason."
"I'm not asking you to get married to someone else, you dope," she said, turning away, ripping open an envelope from one of the mall stores to look at the coupons. "Maybe you just need to get laid so you're not so serious all the time."
I reached out with my free hand and yanked the long blonde braid that hung between her shoulder blades. "Maybe you just need to get serious so you're not getting laid all the time."
She shrieked and threw her junk mail at me, and we both laughed so hard that the occupants of a passing car stared at us.
I didn't accompany Andersol and Bodie to their "planning party," and so did not meet their friend Steve, nor did I have any regrets about my decision. Instead I spent the weekend with my sister and her children; yet after the kids were in bed and Jesse had gone off to her occupations of the evenings, I found myself wondering about Andersol's attempt to find me some male company. Why hadn't she been trying to hook me up with her single twin? Once she saw that I was no longer wearing a wedding band, I'd expected her to start pushing me and Bodie into some kind of match, but she hadn't. I wasn't interested in him -- he was too much like a brother, but the three of us had been pretty much a team for years. At least until recently. He'd been finding other occupations than spending time with Andersol and me when we shared meals -- not always, but his absence was making me wonder if he hadn't found someone. I hoped Andersol would be able to cope with that.
At least Mary LeMay understood about the not-believing-in-divorce issue. We drove to church together (even when I had the five kids with me) and our faith and singleness gave us common ground. I could relax with her, knowing she would not see my solitary life as unusual.
Right up until Thanksgiving week when she told me that her son, John, was coming to California to spend his vacation at Christmas. "I can't wait for you to meet him! He's about your age."
"Oh, umm..." Where is the fire escape? The exit door? Sorry, got to run, I can guess where this is heading!
"Maybe you could show him some of the sights one day while he's out here. He always visits for a few days and never wants to go sightseeing. I think it would do him good. He thinks all Californians are crazy."
"Ah! Well, aren't we? Ha, ha. Well, Mary, I would, but I'm going to be going up to Port Laughton for the holidays to be with my sister."
"Oh, you'll still be here. John's arriving on the fifteenth."
While I had never met John yet, I had seen him stomping into his mother's house a couple times when he visited her. He looked like a skinny thundercloud, a dyed-in-the-wool grump, always glowering and looking suspiciously up and down the street. I did not even leave the house when I saw him outside. Bodie and Andersol were cruel -- they would go outside and one or the other would make sure John was looking at them and put his or her arm around the other, fueling the rumors of perversion. They thought themselves very funny.
Well, I suppose I could be polite and at least meet Mary's son. Sounded like he might not want to see the sights, anyway. Probably thought he'd seen it all in New York. Hah! I knew! Even if he did want to be entertained, I'd invite Bodie and Andersol along!