It's been a while since my heart sang. It sang last night.
She's a snowy blond Norwegian who grew up in Wyoming. You can see the Norwegian in her pale blue eyes. You can see Wyoming in everything else. Skin the color of sunbleached pine. An easy smile, wide and white. A hard lean body that's ridden a lot of horses and climbed a lot of sheer rock walls.
She doesn't have dainty hands. Her hands are hard and cold. She held my hand under the restaurant table because she has a resting heartbeat of about fifty beats a minute. And that, in turn, is because she's done countless marathons, innumerable hashes, and a hundred miler. Her hands are cold, but she is not.
I was immediately attracted to you too, but I already knew I would be. I already was. Have liked you from the start. Was very excited when you contacted me and said it didn't work out between you and Rebeka?? I was sorry for her, but happy for me.
We met on a dating site. She was in great shape, and I am not. She's a runner. I run only occasionally. She came across as happy, well adjusted, and steady. I am moody and I like my space. It would never work. I told her as much, but she was persistent. Let's just get together for drinks. Let's just meet. No expectations. Let's just go to a concert and listen to some music together.
Bad timing. I got involved with someone else, and told her as much. I wanted to give it a shot, the best possible shot. She said okay, but don't forget me.
It didn't work out with Rebeka. After two months it was obvious that it would only hurt us more if we kept going down this road. I broke it off, and promptly fell into a black hole of depression. I didn't seem to be able to connect with anyone any more. There were a lot of dates, a lot of nice women, nothing wrong with them, so it had to be me. Failure to connect. Failure to develop an empathic bridge to anyone else.
So I stopped dating. It was time to reassess. The last few times I connected with somebody warm and soft, the warm and soft didn't have any feelings for me. That took some getting used to. It was a slap of cold water to the face, the feeling of rejection.
I began thinking about what I wanted. I was a walking mass of contradictions. How could anyone deal with that? Why would they want to? I needed closeness and passion, but I also needed many hours of alone time. There were nights when I wanted nothing more than to spend the entire night belly to belly with a woman, getting our best hair pulling sweaty kink on. And there were nights when I wanted to spend all evening alone, reading books or writing. There is nothing the least bit consistent about me. I'm all Come Here Go Away. I was eating poorly, sleeping poorly, and not exercising. Why would anyone want a mess like me? To complete the balance sheet, I had to think about my ideal woman as well. Should she be tall? Strong? Petite? A Barbie doll, or a Valkyrie? Of course she should be smart - that was never open for discussion. And literate. But what about humorous? Should she be serious? And all I could think was, Yes, I want it all. Yes, she needs to be all these things. Tall AND short. Petite AND strong. Smart AND sexy.
The only thing that mattered was the face on the pillow next to mine. Morning face. The face that looks good by early morning light, when her hair falls over her lips and cheekbones, the hair I wanted to brush away so that I could run my hands over her face and over her shoulder and down her back. I would prop my head on my hand and watch that sleeping face until it woke up, and until she opened her eyes. I imagined - hoped - she would smile. I hoped she would see me and make a happy sound and tuck up into me, warmth seeking warmth, flesh on flesh, her hand on my ass, pulling me toward her. She'd make noises, something inarticulate, and I hoped it would mean: baby I'm glad to see you. Come here and put your arms around me and make me happy.
For some months, years perhaps, it is only these strong visions that sustained me. It was so real I could taste it. But reality - the reality I dated - was not like that.
I wanted something else, too. I wanted a strong feeling as soon as I would see her. Even before we said our first words, we ought to feel - both of us - like we were having a heart attack. When we saw each other, we should feel a powerful hormonal surge course through our bodies, electric, like a shot of adrenaline.
It hadn't happened in a while. I've dated some really incredible women, but it didn't happen. It got so bad that I began to question whether I was even capable of such giddiness. Was this for younger lovers only? Had the time passed where I could expect such an experience?
Time passed. I almost gave up.
And then I met this Norwegian with an Italian name, a Nordic woman from Wyoming. It didn't happen right away. We'd met online, and exchanged a few emails. I explained what had happened with Rebeka. Was she dating anyone? It sounded like she wasn't. So we met at an outdoor mall - it was a beautiful sunny day in Virginia - and I was lounging in the sun like a lizard. She was late, but I didn't mind. The sun warmed my face and my legs. Checked my watch and happened to look up.
She was fifty yards away, her modern cut of hair very striking. She waved. She had the confident walk of an athlete. Her hair reminds me of a mop, like a wild version of Martha Stewart, except she spent so much time outdoors that her hair was bleached by the sun, not chemicals. Her hug was just right - not too strong, not too eager, friendly.
She had no fear. She was relaxed. I was warmed by her presence. We walked to a wine bar and had a few glasses while sitting outside, watching the Mother's Day crowd walking by.
My friend Jeff, a regular, walked by and joined us. He told stories, smoked his cigar, had us listen to new music from his iphone. Jeff was charming - all the waitresses liked him. He makes me laugh. He made Alessandra laugh, too. And when we were done there we said good bye to Jeff and walked to a restaurant for dinner. Along the way she kept bumping into me. A bit disconcerting, at first. Then I began to like it. And then she slipped her hand into mine, as natural as could be, and there we were, walking down the street holding hands, like a couple.
Alessandra has classic good looks. She wears absolutely no makeup, because she doesn't need any. I say this only because it was when we walked into the restaurant on Mother's Day, and although we had no reservations and there was a big crowd waiting in front of us, the host took one look at her and sat us immediately - and even gave us a great table. She has the parting-the-sea effect that certain women have. It's not a conscious thing with her. Starlets would kill for this - blonde hothouse girls, grown in suburbs, used to the soft life and men deferring to them. By contrast, she's had twenty years as an Army grunt, and she has the attitude you see in U.S. soldiers. They never presume that anyone will do anything special for them. Or perhaps its her Norwegian roots. Scandinavians are heads-down humble people. She thinks she's nothing special. But she is.
She grew up in the big outdoors, running, jumping, exploring creek bottoms, fishing, climbing trees, boys and girls catching tadpoles and daring each other to eat one. Her family backpacked into the back country. To this day she'd rather be outdoors. Rain, shine, it doesn't matter. It's not that she's indifferent to weather. It's because she loves weather.
"Big clouds. Huge storms. The horses go wild. Craziness. Love it."
"The more the better."
"Staying warm by the fire. Spending the day reading. Or spending it with someone special." She smiled. "You can't do anything else. You might as well enjoy him. Ha ha."
"Being outside, all day long. Hiking, climbing, trail running. Ever run a riverbed?"
"Nope. What's that like?"
"Good opportunity to get muddy. The beer tastes great when you stop."
"Ha ha I think. How long did you run?"
"I don't remember. That's not the point. You start with a bunch of runners, and you run this course, and there's beer at the end."
"Sounds like a wonderful time."
"Oh it is. You'll love it."
"Color me skeptical."
"You never asked me if I've ever had beer for breakfast. I like that about you."
She grew up fast and strong with a family full of Norwegian towheads. Her dad moved east to Washington, DC to work for the government and bought a houseboat on the Potomac. She liked the boating crowd, and they liked her. She was miserable for four years at a small southern college, having to sit through interminable classes, got her degree, joined the Army and wanted to go to Europe. Boot camp was no problem, of course. Pushups? Ha ha ha. You have to be kidding. She could do pushups all day. One handed, no handed, it didn't matter. Running? All day long.
She was assigned to Germany fixing tanks and driving trucks, swapping engines and getting greasy. I couldn't picture this blonde in mechanic's overalls with grease on her face. Oh wait. Yes I could, actually. Nothing fazed her. She loved challenges. Four hours to retread this tank? You got it, sarge.
She met a man with a nice beard. They got married. She took retirement after twenty two years in the military, a young forty year old with two daughters and she said good bye to him after a few years back stateside when he would barely touch her. It wasn't about being wanted. She cared about sex - let's not put too fine a point on it - and what he had to offer was far less than what she needed.
We sat right next to each other, her leg against mine. Her hand was on my leg, cold. I put mine on top of hers to warm her up. A good, solid, strong hand.
We shared a meal: Roasted fennel soup, filet mignon, and spinach ("with balsamic drizzles").
"Have you ever had roasted fennel soup?"
"I don't even know what fennel is."
Women take note: She did not, at this point, make me feel stupid.
"Oh you'll like it. Let's get this soup. You'll like the taste. I grow fennel in my garden. How should we have the filet mignon cooked?"
"How do you like yours done?"
"Pink inside. You?"
"Brown. Cooked all the way through."
Major pause. Our first disagreement.
"OK we'll compromise. We'll order it medium rare, and you can eat the edges, and I can eat the insides."
"Did I tell you I cook?"
"Why not? You've surprised me in every way so far."
"Yeah. Pretty good cook too. You know, when you run every day, it's all fuel. I like fuel that tastes good."
It was somewhere during the course of that meal, when we talked and our hands kept seeking each others' under the table, that I realized I was crazy about this woman. We finished dinner and sipped our drinks, and at some point her lips were moving but I wasn't listening any more.
I leaned over to her. My lips grazed her cheek and went close to her ears, and I inhaled. Her hand held my arm. I inhaled that aroma.
"You smell good."
"You do too."
And then I kissed her cheek. And kissed it again. Held her face in my hand. Then she turned her head and put her lips on mine and we kissed for real, lip to lip, in front of all the families at McCormick & Schmick, and waiters and barstaff and the busboys, old, young, a very improbable couple, and it felt so right.
Mother's Day with Ally. At least it would be an easy anniversary to remember. Whoa... did I just think that?
The next morning's email:
Wow wow wow. We both have to be careful.
I feel relaxed with you. But I also know we just met... that "just met" infatuation is thrilling, but like a roller coaster, can change direction pretty quick. We don't know each other hardly at all.
She wrote more. It was positive. I guess she liked the kissing too.
I fell asleep with her on my mind, and when I woke up she was my first thought. I don't know how this story is going to end. This is the first chapter. But for the first time in a while, I am hopeful.