Several weeks ago I had a bunch of men hitting on me. It was really strange.
One of them was very appealing, an accomplished, fit IT guy with gigantic cats at home. I had met him through a friend of a friend, that type of thing. Another was a dear buddy who I had known for years.
Another was a pilot, so insufferable I kept sneaking looks at my phone, and planning how to get out of there. That was a pity, because he was very pleasant to look at, and had many interesting stories to tell. And tell. And tell.
I wondered what on earth to do with this stage. When Chris first passed, I was convinced that that was it. The part of my life that included love, companionship and that unique male perspective had slammed shut. I mourned the loss of being a married woman, and it did not occur to me that any other kind of an opposite gender relationship was possible.
I related all this to Barb, my counselor at Mount Evans. Barb has a very gentle chuckle.
“Victoria,” she said, “you’re young.” Really? I feel as old as the hills.
“I think you are going to get into another relationship someday, because you have a lot of love and life to give.”
Goodness, that makes me sound like an aging Labrador in anti- euthanasia commercial.
When Barb first said that, I dismissed it out of hand. One man was enough. I loved Chris unconditionally, but his alcoholism and past abuse issues made life quite bumpy sometimes.
Another relationship? Do I even want that? What on earth would that look like? I decided to give it some thought.
I thought about what my relationships were like with my men friends when I was married. Come to think of it, I actually had a lot of friends who are dudes. What would happen if I asked any of them to coffee? This could get interesting!
I thought about a practice shot. In one of our previous talks, I told you about a man named Jim Park, one of the guys who helped put together the Tim Tebow evening. He’s a gigantic Korean dude who is the last of 5 kids. A crackerjack businessman, he also has the interesting distinction of being the only child in his family not to accept an arranged marriage, as per Korean tradition.
He also has the most gorgeous, generous wife that I am lucky to have as a friend. I have known them for years.
What would happen if I arranged to sit beside Jim during the Tebow talk? I enjoy his company, and think that he finds me agreeable to talk to. Maybe he would get the willies if I chatted him up, and feel like there was a cougar hunting. Or maybe we would have a pleasant talk, like we have had in previous years.
Turns out, Jim is Jim. Married or not, Jim treated me the same way he has since before Chris died. We had quite an animated discussion. We talked about all kinds of interesting business things, one friend to another. Maybe this might work!
Someone suggested that I try asking someone to coffee that might be a little more consequential.
Colin Booth is a married English teacher at Evergreen High. Colin has often been the subject of controversy in the mommy circles I sometimes travel. Abrupt and often profane, Colin shields a deep love for teaching and the children in his charge with sarcasm and wry wit.
I first encountered Colin when Christopher had his ninth grade English class. The syllabus for that class includes Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I read this work in college, and found it profound and disturbing. I was nineteen, and had all the cognitive equipment to understand mental illness and identify with the author’s stuggles. I found it objectionable that EHS would consider this an appropriate work for 14 year old children.
Chris and I discussed it, and in the spirit of owning the consequences of what happened to our kids, decided to object.
Colin surprised me. I went into the room thinking that this was going to be another defensive, left-wing, obtuse public school teacher who had a superior attitude toward the ignorant, demanding parents he was forced to deal with. Not so. We had an interesting discussion about the merits of Plath and other authors he was going to teach that year.
I had a chance to air my grievance. Booth thought about it, (I just love a friend who thinks) and offered to give Christopher an alternative assignment. I thought about it. I was familiar with most of the authors he suggested. In the end, I allowed Christopher and the girls to read Plath. I still think it is not the best choice for young teenagers, but Booth dissected it well.
As the years went by, Booth and I developed a relationship of mutual respect. Occasionally I would bring things to his attention, and he would listen, and offer whatever he could do to rectify the situation. For example, about the middle of her freshman year, Abigail came home in tears.
Since the beginning of her high school career, Abi had been the target of many lame ethnic slurs. We would discuss them, talk about what kind of people would say these kind of things, and move on.
One day though, Abi just couldn’t stand it any more.
“Mom, someone called me a ‘slanty-eyed nigger!'” Mommy rage has always been easily accessible to me. I practice a lot of deep breathing.
“Really. Start at the beginning.”
(I have always had a grudge against educational pretension. Several years ago in Evergreen some squeaky wheels got a K-8 charter school established here. Chris and I were completely frosted- charter schools are supposed to be for special purposes-the arts, at risk kids, pregnant teens, that type of thing. This charter school was supposed to be a gifted and talented school of sorts, and is failing miserably. There is no distinction between this or any of the other schools in town, and it continues to drain funds from an already broke school district.)
It turns out the culprits in this situation involved several graduates from the local charter school. In a way, it was funny.
“Sweetheart, let’s think about this. You know how Daddy and I feel about that school. Now, not only are they producing kids that are idiotic enough to be racist, but they can’t even get their epithets straight! You’re not a nigger, you’re a chink!”
Abi was stunned into silence. Then, she laughed so hard she very nearly fell off the bed.
The name calling was going on primarily in two of Abi’s classes during a time that was supposed to be for independent research. One of them was Colin’s class. I went in and spoke to him about it, and he took me very seriously. It was obvious he cared what went on in his class, and we discussed what measures he could take to help stop the bullying.
I decided to send Colin an email, asking if he would like to get together. As none of my children have him as a teacher anymore, he was understandably puzzled. I outlined that I didn’t have an agenda, simply wanted to catch up with a friend, and reassure myself that at least some of the male species were still sane.
“What could I possibly do for your social life, Lierheimer?” Subtle, that one.
“Nothing, Booth. Just catching up, that’s all!”
We arranged to get together the following Thursday. As it turns out, naturally, it was one of those ‘grief days’ were things just pile up on you. Nothing of note, mainly familiar things that accentuated the Chris shaped hole in my life. As a result, I was more than a little fragile when I turned up at Booth’s room.
I had been looking forward to the time, though, and was determined to go through with it, fragile or not.
What followed was a very pleasant chat with a very accomplished gentleman. Booth is very much a peer. We are both from Colorado and both have a keen interest in literature. One of Booth’s kids had just won Miss Pre Teen Colorado, which enlivened the cynicism in both of us. It was hilarious to hear Booth’s take on the whole experience.
It was a relatively short visit, and no one hit on me at all. How relaxing!
Seriously though, when I look back on it, I have to give it to Booth for bravery. No one really is certain how to deal with grieving people, and gender issues are especially sensitive. For all Booth knew, I could have been contriving to hit on him.
I cannot remotely picture myself with another husband right now, or even a romantic involvement. The thought is just too foreign. But it is reassuring to know that people are still human, and friendships can endure through trauma. Even in the jungle of gender differences, some paths remain.