Try to Remember


The bumper sticker in front of Tom read, “Try to remember what you wanted to be.” Tom thought for a moment and then the light changed. He remembered that he didn’t want to be late for his date with Sherry. Pulling up to the next light Tom remembered that he wanted to be a missionary and a band conductor and a secret agent and a shortstop and an army guy and someone other-worldly, like a saint or an astrophysicist. At the next light he coughed as he said, “I never thought I’d end up as a welder.” 

Tom knocked and Sherry came to the door. “Dinner’s almost ready. C’mon in.”

“Wow what a day. How about that heat? I had to keep lifting my helmet to wipe the sweat off my face. I came home drenched.”

“You did take a shower, didn’t you?” Sherry joked.

“Yes, my dear. I see you did, too.”

“Yeah. I had the same problem you did. Welding that half-inch plate, I couldn’t see for all the sweat burning my eyes.”

“Maybe we should be welders in Alaska.”

“Yeah, and then could eat fresh wild-caught salmon and caribou.”

“You know the way to a man’s heart, don’t you kiddo?”

“As long as we are on the same path, I’ll know the way to your heart.” Sherry smiled.

Tom and Sherry sat down, gave thanks, and started eating the chicken tacos Sherry had prepared.

“I saw a bumper sticker on my way over here.”

“What did it say?”

“‘Try to remember what you wanted to be.’”

“I remember wanting to be Weather Woman on TV. I wanted to tell everyone what the weather would be while wearing nice clothes. I was ready. All my clothes were solids and not patterns.”

“You can tell me the weather forecast anytime you want Weather Woman. I hope I’m on your radar screen.”

“Yeah, you’re a blip.”

“Ahem. I remember wanting to be more than a blip. I wanted to save the world from the bad guys and run fast like Flash and play baseball like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Look at us now. We are both welders. You know, I read in Welder’s Weekly that…”

“Welder’s Weekly?” Sherry looked puzzled.

“Yeah, I am the only subscriber. Anyway, the Bead Column said that welders should date welders. “

“And why is that?”

“They’ll carry a torch for you.”

“I see why you are the only subscriber.”

“And there were bumper stickers for sale, too: “Be the Bead” and “If the Weld Smells Like Pork You’re on Fire.”

Sherry choked on her food. “That last one is hilarious.”

Sherry cleared her throat and said. “Well, you had me at first arc. C’mon. Help clean up. We have work to do.”

After putting the dishes in the sink, Tom and Sherry went to the garage. They set up the gas welders and the welding rods. They worked together creating a sculpture for a nearby church garden.

After a couple of hours, they came in for dessert – Key Lime pie. It was then that Tom gave Sherry the ring and said, “many are called, one is chosen.”


Later that night, while sitting together on the front porch, Sherry asked Tom a question.

“Tom, have you ever wondered why you and I were born in this time and place?

“I usually ask that in the middle of laying a bead and the temperature is ninety-degrees. But, what are you thinking?

“When I think of the millennia of time which has passed and the millions of people who have gone on before, I think we were born here and now to be a who we are-man and wife-to continue what God has begun, to continue creation.”

“Well, when you put it like that, welding makes sense in the cosmos. Joining two metals to become one creates something greater than the individual pieces.”

“You’re a philosopher now, Tom?”

“A stitch-er of thoughts, more likely. When I was on the road in New York and Indiana and Louisiana MIG welding together these towering static mixers I told you about I had time to think. There inside a hollow eighteen-foot diameter shell of twelve-gauge steel I realized that I am here for a purpose greater than me and greater than me welding together something that will benefit somebody today but will fall out of use some day. I saw that I am. Why that happened right then, I don’t know. But after what you just said, we make sense together. I better get home. I am exhausted.” 

Sherry looked at the ring on her finger and then looked over at Tom. Tom reached over and gave Sherry a kiss and asked, “Do you know how diamonds are created?”

“No, Tell me.”

Diamonds are made from the residual carbon of the earth’s first land plants. The carbon is exposed to extremely high temperature and pressure in the earth’s mantle. They are pushed up to the earth’s surface by volcanic activity.”

“Did you read this in Welder’s Weekly?”

“No. I read it in A Brief History of Welding.” Tom grinned like Alice’s Cheshire cat.

“So, to reach our Diamond Wedding Anniversary we will be subjected to high temperature and high pressure?”

“There’s only one way to find out and we’re going to go through it together.”

Tom gave Sherry another kiss and said, “See you in the morning. Don’t forget to wear cotton. It’ll be another hot day. Oh, I just thought of another bumper sticker: “Welders keep you in stitches.”

“You are exhausted. Good night.”


A year later, Tom and Sherry began marriage counseling with pastor Dave. The wedding date had been set.

During the first session with Pastor Dave, he asked them, “How did you two meet each other?”

Tom responded. “We met at Marsh Technology Center. We were both in a welding class. She flipped my lid.

Dave laughed. Now you have my interest. Explain.

“Yep. It was the first time I put on a welding helmet and I was trying to adjust the tension. Sherry flipped my helmet up and showed me how to adjust it. The tension has to be just right. When you are ready to weld you need to flip the helmet down to cover your eyes. Your hands are full so you flip the helmet down with a jerk of your head.” Tom showed Dave “the flip.”

During that first session pastor Dave asked about their family back grounds. As the session was wrapping up, Dave said, “Everyone who gets married comes to marriage with a lot of baggage. Each of you can share the load of the other but don’t think that the other will somehow resolves whatever issues you brought to the marriage. You own those issues like you own your credit report. It is yours to correct. Your spouse is there to support you but is not there to fix you.”

The second session was about finances. “You each come to your marriage with a certain way of dealing with money. Marriages break apart over how finances are handled. Marriage is a coming together-an intimacy-of finances where you must hold each other accountable. Set up a budget spreadsheet. Set up an accounting of debits and credits using available software. Set up financial goals for a home, for children, for retirement and most importantly-for giving. Remember. You cannot give what you do not have.

Look at each other’s credit report now before you get married. Look and see what each of you has done with their money. Love covers a multitude of sins, but a pile debt sticks out on credit reports. Stay away from consumer debt. It will eat you alive. Become financially savvy.”

During the third session Pastor Dave talked about in-laws–keeping one’s marriage separate, away from meddlesome in-laws. He said that becoming one takes focus. What Tom remembered was “Location, location, location.” What Sherry remembered was the ache in the pit of her stomach.

The fourth session: “long live intimacy.”

“Intimacy is the every-aspect-relationship that you have with your spouse. You have to work this out together day by day, minute by minute. And, don’t compare. Don’t ever read a couple or watch a TV show and say to your spouse, I wish we were like that couple.

Your marriage will face a test of wills. Your goal is to become one. That doesn’t mean the one is dissolved into the other. It means that the understanding, forgiveness and love you each bring to the other is forged-welded, is the better word for you two-to become one stronger whole.

Intimacy is broken when there is no forgiveness. Do not got to bed angry. A root of bitterness likes to grow in that kind of harsh unyielding soil. Do not apologize and say, “I’m sorry. I said it because of what you said.” You might get slapped. Holding grudges will quickly destroy your marriage. If you are angry, take some time to cool off and think about why you are angry. Are you angry because of what happened reminded you of something that happened earlier in your life that your spouse doesn’t know about and had no hand in? Beware. Unresolved anger is self-justifying as means of protection. Unresolved anger places others into exile. True forgiveness removes people from exile and embraces them. You may feel strongly about some wrong done to you. If so, tell your spouse that you are angry and why you are angry. Tell your spouse that you need some time to process your anger and that you do not want to reman angry with him or her. See what happens next. And, deal with your past baggage now so that the present and future are given to your spouse.

Intimacy is not sitting in front of a TV with your spouse. As it says, “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Find a church community which supports this truth. I recommend staying away from TV. Don’t make TV a third person in your marriage”

Tom interjected. “Neither of us own a TV and we don’t plan on having one after we are married. I think of the irony that so many people will go buy organic foods or be vegetarian or try to eat healthy and workout and yet they fill their minds with all kinds of trash from the TV. There is too much in this world to explore and to wonder about for us to sit in front of a box.”

“Good.” Pastor Dave replied. “Now let’s talk about sex.”

Both Tom and Sherry looked at each other and then rolled their eyes up to look at the ceiling.

“My wife Karen will talk to you, Sherry, and I will talk to you, Tom, alone. Let’s go.

Sherry met with Karen. Karen talked about sexual intimacy with a man and how to prolong a man’s excitement.

Pastor Dave talked to Tom. He began by drawing a picture of a vagina and then asking Tom to draw in where the clitoris was. Tom had no idea so, Dave drew it in and circled it. Dave then talked about how women are in no hurry to achieve orgasm but men are. He said that the two becoming one must find a happy oneness.

During the fifth session Pastor Dave talked about having a faith community that will support your marriage. He said to find a church where truth and beauty are combined into the daily life of the church. A church which is all preaching and teaching is missing the inexplicable and the transcendent. Find a church, he said, that loves mystery and encourages adventures of discovery. Find a church where art, music and drama play major roles in worship and teaching and are not considered asides to some pulpit ministry.

Pastor Dave’s sixth session: “When children come, life is turned upside down. Be prepared. Your marriage will be put to the test because everything you are came about during childhood. Having children is like attending a therapy session: the past is brought up and you are forced to confront it as little Tommy Jr. decides he will not obey, no way and no how. Rearing children requires patience you don’t think you’ll ever have enough of. Rearing children requires discipline for yourself and for your children, so know what and how that looks like. Listen to other parents. Learn to set and enforce proper boundaries for your children. Children feel secure when they bump up against sure and solid.

Their wedding day was a month away when Tom and Sherry came to Pastor Dave’s seventh and final marriage counseling session. Tom wondered why he was sweating sitting in Pastor Dave’s air-conditioned office. Pastor Dave surprised the couple by showing them the Princess Bride wedding scene. Tom was no longer sweating. Instead, his Cheshire cat grin reappeared.

“Alright then. You’ll need a sense of humor for your marriage to survive all the stuff thrown at it. Now, I want you two to focus on what I am about to say: Marriage is a rose that enfolds the mystery of truth and goodness and being within itself and then opens for the world to behold its beauty. A Kingdom marriage means taking vows-a sincere and binding promise made with full understanding. Together you will help each other to flourish. You will witness and worship together. Together you promote the glory of God. Together you will discover and uncover the mysteries of the universe.

And you should know that God created the gender identities of male and female not just for procreation of the human race. I believe that God’s creation of two distinct gender identities, both rooted and fixed in sexed bodies, was also for the creation of mystery.  You see, men and women who come into a marriage relationship begin a journey of discovery. Men discover and grow into their maleness and women discover and grow into their femaleness. Within the give and take of a marriage relationship the mystery of your gender identity and the other’s gender identity is explained and affirmed. The same thing also happens for a single person in a healthy Christian community. God created mystery for us to discover Him and each other and His whole creation over a course of a lifetime. We should never be bored.

God, in His infinite-personal love, created mystery and romance. Look at how much we do not know about the universe. Our God is surrounded in mystery.  Clouds and thick darkness surround him. God does not do boring, to put it another way. Reason alone cannot tell you all you need to know. Emotions and your senses cannot tell you all you need to know. No, we discover what we do not know when we are in relationship with Him and with others. Your marriage, the dancing embrace of male and female, will venture off into God’s uncharted universe to go where no man or woman has gone before.

“Bead me up,” Tom replied.

Pastor Dave looked over at Sherry. “Do you really want to marry this corny guy.”

Sherry looked over at Tom who was grinning his cat grin, “Well, he does keep me in stitches. That’s his welding joke.”

“You two were made for each other. Now for the welding. I mean the wedding.” Pastor Dave prayed a blessing on the couple and then dismissed them after discussing the wedding details.


At the wedding Pastor Dave again prayed a blessing on the couple. As Tom and Sherry drove away from the church Tom noticed the same bumper sticker that he saw before: “Try to remember what you wanted to be.”

“I remember what I wanted to be. It is what I am with you.” Tom leaned over and kissed Sherry.

Their car’s bumper sticker read: “With This Ring, I Thee Weld.”





© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

1968 AM

1968 AM


He sits in the battery power’d

Hand thump’d car

Listenin’ to the station that connects

Venus to his antenna.


Every day at 5:30 pm

He’s punched the AM dial

Selecting a love song from the air.


’57 Chevy Impala, sky blue

And baby, too,

Listenin’ beyond the melodies

For cues from sonic rhapsodies

Both waitin’ for a hand to hold,

Both steerin’ left and right.


Tomorrow has always been

Waitin’ at their disposal,

But “all my lovin’ ” can’t wait a day

In the wake of AM’s proposal.

Right here in daddy’s car.

Right here in daddy’s car.



© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

It Bears Repeating

… a short story about a man’s final hours, as related to me.

 It Bears Repeating

 The first time I heard the news was right here in the parlor of Moore’s funeral home.  I’ll tell you what happened because I need to hear it again myself.  I find it hard to believe.  Please allow me this last chance to tell my story.  I don’t have much time. I’ll be brief. The last cocktail is kicking in.

 Being dead, I must note before I move on, has its once-in-a-life time privileges: I can stretch out my legs and nap all I want. I don’t have to bother with bill collectors and more importantly I don’t have to listen to my ex-wives blather on about how horrible a husband I was. They did stop talking bad about me though.  That was on Thursday the day I died. Before that day these women were probably right about me but there were times when I tried my darndest to love the heck right out of them, damn near killing myself in the…

 “I don’t want you. I want your money.” 

 Yeah, that was what I heard at the end of two of my trilogy of marriages. That kiss of betrayal twice laid on me would be enough to break any man’s spirit, let alone his pocket-book. Heart and money gave out last Thursday and I wound up here looking at the insides of my stapled eyelids.

 Now, I’m not looking for sympathy, just an ear, so lean in close, because my mouth is wired shut, too. There are things that need to be said, my side of the story, before the cover comes down and this chapter ends.  And if there is another chapter, the gods, who must all be female because I’ve been a man of constant sorrow, may very well have taken note of my male deficiencies over the course of sixty-five years.  They will not rule in my favor.  And God help you if you snore or if your nose whistles while you are still alive and breathing. In fact, the gods may certainly deign to send me back as a woman – a large squat cat woman wheezing with asthma and having no idea the cat box litter needs to be changed – Pearl Purgatory.

 Is there life after women? If there is I am pretty darn sure that there will be retribution for my lack of mind reading:  “Because if I have to tell you, it doesn’t count.” And that will mean that I will be reincarnated en femme.    As such I will be made to learn what women need, what women want and, more importantly, I will learn how to demand tele-empathy:  holding every man accountable for every woman’s unspoken thoughts.

 As I formerly live and breathe, if you don’t know what a woman wants before she opens her mouth you are already in the death’s hollows. And because I could not read the minds of the three females in my life I spent twenty-six years in the dog house barking at shadows and howling at the moon. My only reprieve being a weekly escape to the local tavern, a tavern serving dead-beat husbands like me. Thank God there was a “Joe” the bartender at TKO Tavern. I could read his mind.

 And Joe could read mine.  Tuesday nights the Miller Lite would stand waiting before my stool: tall, cold and gushing with anticipation.  In that room filled with nodding imbibers, tattooed torsos and limbs and shouting TVs I would tell my story of woe to unknown people of every color and stripe. It was easy there.  Everyone at TKO was in my corner for those couple of hours a week.  Going home afterward I felt as if I just had therapy.  Sleep would come and I would start again the next day. But the truth was always there standing over me in the morning.

 Where was I?  My feet are cold.  They feel like lead. Did I own a suit and tie?  Oh, yes.  I wore a suit for the studio picture of me with my four kids last year. I see it now in the picture frame sitting on the top of the casket.  But I’m starting to ramble, a foible also despised by the women in my life.  What can I say? My mind became mush on women.  But let’s go on before the fat lady sings my song.

  Wife number one.  After six months of marriage wife number one didn’t hang around for further conjugal visits.  The umbilical cord between mother and daughter snapped her away from me like a bungee cord recoiling

 I met Andrea at a Bible college.  We dated while at school and then after graduation we camped out at her family’s home outside of Crown Point, Indiana. Every weekend I would drive from Illinois to her parent’s home in Indiana.  I was hoping that her father would say just take the girl and get out the hell out of there. Her father, a straight arrow of a man, was predisposed to disposing with unnecessary words.  His remaining words were pounded into arrow heads meant for a bullseye.

 You see, Andrea’s father was native-American – an Apache.  He liked him his TV, his Pabst, his pipe and his solitude. He made no demands on Andrea’s family other than “be quiet,” “shut up,” “get me some dinner,” bring me a cold one” and “don’t ever touch my pipe tobacco.” In this denizen of dysfunction Andrea stayed close to her cowering mom while avoiding her father. It would take me several harrowing attempts to ask him for Andrea’s hand in marriage. When her father said “Yeah, take her” I had hoped to leave the dystopia behind.  I married Andrea in her family’s GARB church – that’s a General Association of Regular Baptists church for all of you outside of the Bible Whiplash Belt (No, I never had a crew cut). 

 The “hallelujah and amen” of nuptial bliss lasted about six months.  Andrea’s father took a job transfer to Arizona – Arizona or Bust.  I figured that with the transfer Andrea’s father could get back to his native-American roots.  Being an oil refinery pipe fitter in Gary, Indiana was not the proper place for this son of the earth.  He saw the transfer notice posted on the lunch room bulletin board and applied the same day.  He never consulted his wife.  I figured, too, that the desert would be a good place to drink, shoot a gun and fall down drunk. I gathered all of this from his stolid stare which told me everything and nothing.

 In the moment when Andrea’s her mother told Andrea about the transfer Andrea decided that she and I had to move from Chicago to Arizona to be near her mother: “Or else.”   It was The Ultimatum Express for me or the highway for her.

 Now, I hadn’t mentioned this: before Andrea and I married I had a solid job in the Chicago area.  Andrea and I had settled in an apartment an hour away from her mother.  Things seemed quiet and sane apart from her family – us in Illinois, her parents in Indiana. But that was the problem:  way too much sanity for Andrea.

 So, without further discussion and a half-year after making our eternal vows to each other, vows which I found out would not indemnify the oath taker from the pain and loss of separation and subsequent divorce, our marriage was torn in two. I came home from work one day and found that Andrea had taken all her things and had left for Arizona.  There was a note:  “I’ve gone to Arizona.  See ya.”  She certainly had her father’s eagle-eye determination and his paucity of words.  Suddenly I was left with my job, an apartment lease and dozens of unpaid bills. I was uncoupled and alone but mother and child were reunited, a co-dependency I probably should have seen coming. 

 After six months of being married in absentia and being surrounded by the four walls of loneliness I decided to go out to Arizona and plead my case for our as yet “unwrapped” marriage. I flew out to Phoenix.

 The sun has finally moved behind the curtain.  Good. Oh, there are lilies. I wonder who sent those.  Maybe it was my daughter Anna.  I wish she was here.  My nose must be stuffed up. There’s not a smell in the house. Who are those people looking at me?  Are you still listening?

 The day I arrived in Phoenix the temperature was 121 degrees F.  I couldn’t sit down in the rental car until the air conditioning had cooled the seats and steering wheel.  Standing next to the idling car I thought my feet might stick to the black top taffy.

After checking into a room at the nearby airport Holiday Inn I immediately phoned Andrea and told her where I was. She sounded out of sorts when she told me that she would leave work at 4:30 and then drive up from Globe, Arizona where her parent’s lived.  When I called her the week before and told her that I was flying out to see her she balked, “Come but don’t expect anything.” I came expecting everything.  I bet it all on “See ya.”

 The drive to phoenix took about an hour and forty minutes.  I waited in the restaurant lounge of the Holiday Inn.  I asked the bartender what he would suggest for someone waiting to be disappointed once again and who never had a drop of hard liquor. He put a Manhattan in front of me – a cherry about to drown in a sea of bourbon.  Between the ebb and flow of Manhattans I would ride the elevator up to my room to see if I had any phone messages.  Upon opening the door if I saw no red light pulsing in the dark room I would return downstairs to my drink.  The waiting bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters consoled me.  The bitters and I were now comrades in arms.

 At nine o’clock I finally saw the pulsing red light.  Andrea had left a message:  she’d be there in five minutes.  I splashed some cold water on my face and headed downstairs. 

 Once back at my seat Andrea appeared at the door of the dining room.  The soft knit turquoise dress she wore gathered all of my attention.  The hands on her hips said, “Let’s go.” But after five Manhattans I was in no shape to go anywhere but up to my room.  Andrea insisted that we get in her car and go back to Globe.  But the liquor, now speaking on my behalf, failed to get my tongue to form syllables. “I rave de…,” was my only response so she relented and we went up to my room.

 There Andrea and I sat on the edge of the twin beds and talked for five minutes. I can’t recall the things we talked about. At one point I got up, leaned over and kissed her. Shapely turquoise and stultifying bourbon would continue to have the same effect on me up until last Thursday.  Now if I have one saving grace to present to the gods it would be my kissing ways.  Playing trumpet for forty years puckered my lips into the perfect embouchure for kissing.  A few nicely placed notes would make any woman’s ears wiggle.  Actual levitation would occur.  You’ll have to trust me on this.

 I did try to sleep off the bourbon but luck wouldn’t have any of it.  After a couple of hours we set out on Superstition Freeway and then U.S. 60 heading east toward Globe, Arizona.

 I remember the full moon transforming the rough cut desert landscape into a B & W western.  I half expected to see Tex Ritter or Roy Rodgers galloping along with our car.  In the distance I could see saguaro looking like they were in a holdup, both arms up. Gila monsters and tumbleweed lurched into and retreated from the light of the headlight “projectors.”

 We finally reached the town of Globe, a community of workers from the sliver mines.  Up north in the Tonto Basin there was an oil refinery where Andrea’s father worked as a pipe fitter. His nature had taken its course.

 I found a room at the eight room Globe Motel.  After checking in Andrea and I grabbed breakfast at the Mother Lode diner. It was there at the diner that Andrea’s older brother showed up, a pack of Luckies rolled up in his tee-shirt sleeve. He had a pock-marked face and his jaw was set.  He sat down across from me, flicked the ash of his cigarette into the ash tray and ordered a coffee.  I didn’t know what to expect. His demeanor was always silent tough-guy gruff.  He finally spoke:  “So, you’re here to take my sister home?” “I respect that.” I breathed a sigh of relief but then he said, “I don’t think my mother wants that to happen.” My stomach tightened. After drinking his coffee down in two gulps he stood up and walked out. That was it.  I was disposed of.

 I looked at Andrea.  She looked back at me over her glasses as if to say “don’t you see?”  She went off to work and I returned to my motel room to ponder what just happened.  I spent the rest of the day watching TV in my room hidden from the sun’s death rays.  The tepid water in the motel’s outside pool offered no relief.  I had lost my cool, too.

 After passing a couple of monotonous days in the Globe Motel Andrea offered me a room in their parent’s guest house – a tiny adobe bungalow at the bottom of a steep gully shaded by mesquite and jojoba trees.  That was better. Andrea would be closer but she could be a tease.

 When Andrea finished work at 4:30 she would come down to the bungalow and spend hours kissing me like I was her best beau.  She’d coo and I’d plead. Later she’d go back up to her parent’s house to sleep.

 My return flight was on Sunday.  Nothing had changed in the status of our marriage. Andrea said nothing about returning with me.  I was perplexed to point of “Enough already.”

 On Thursday I found a Globe Yellow Pages and looked for the name and address of her company.  I bought a Rand McNally map at the Texaco.  The place where she worked was on the outskirts of town. I drove my rental car to her office and walked right in. Andrea was nonplussed. She grabbed my arm, turned me around and took me out to the parking lot.  She told me to stay away from her work.  After some futile begging where I asked her to come home with me, I drove back to the bungalow feeling despair. I felt it where I never felt it before – in my feet.  Later that night, though, she told me that on Saturday we would do something together. Hope and pace revived among the kissing.

 Saturday morning we drove north to Tonto National Forest and Apache Lake.  The reflection of the midday sun off of the bleached rock was blinding.  We got out of the car and stood together on the bluff that over looked the cobalt blue lake.

 “Denny, I have something to tell you.  I have a boy friend.”

 “What? What’s his name?”  (What did it matter?)

 “His name is Scott. I’m not coming home with you.  I have divorce papers coming. I don’t want alimony. I just want to be here. I have to be here.”

 There it was, that unspoken word that pulled the bottom out of everything: “over.

 On Sunday my dad was waiting for me at an Ohare Airport’s arrival gate:  “At least you tried.”  

 “Yeah, I have that going for me.”


Who’s that? Do I know you? Someone please open my collar. It’s stuffy in here. Someone please open a window. I need some air. I promise the next bit will be shorter. I’ll have to rest soon.

 Wife, part two.  Melanie is a good woman. She didn’t get the best of me, though.  I had become jaded after my first marriage to Andrea – philandering took the place of fidelity.  I figured that I couldn’t count on just one woman to be there for me.  At any moment she could go off the reservation and perhaps return to her mother’s womb. I didn’t trust any woman even though Melanie deserved it. Regrettably, I decided there was safety in numbers.

 Melanie gave me two roly-poly boys.  I never thought life could hold such inimitable joy as when these two were born.  Fatherhood set the responsible part of me in stone forever.  But the marriage part remained free-floating. And though I had two beautiful sons I kept up my selfish ways until one night. I came home and found all my belongings sitting out at the curb.  I knocked on the front door but no one answered.  I sobbed and knocked and no one answered. I had been locked out of the marriage.  Later the sheriff would knock on my door with divorce papers: “I don’t want you. I want your money.”   I had blown it with Mel and all of my change-of-heart soul-searching wouldn’t bring her back.

 Wife, part three.  Yes, I tried again.  Once again I succumbed to the elixir of physical attraction.  But this time I thought I had also found someone who didn’t just love me for my kisses. I met Bethany at the Pacific Club dance bar where on Friday nights a friend and I tried to hook up with the dancing queens.  She and I met on a Friday night when I came alone.

 After returning to my seat that night I heard a voice behind me say, “That’s my chair.”  I turned around and looked into the face of a model. I said “Sorry. I went to dance and came back to my seat.  But you can have it.”  She sat down.  We ended up going out to eat that night and talking for hours.

 Bethany liked photography as much as I did.  We both liked fine wine and gourmet food. And kids.  She had a son from a previous relationship and I had two sons from Mel.  After whirlwind dating for six months we decided to elope.  I was pushing for this, perhaps unknowingly, thinking about the final net cost should there be a divorce – still jaded after all these years.

 We set up shop in a suburban town west of Chicago.  Two years later Bethany would give birth to a beautiful baby girl and then a boy two years later. Four kids now on the payroll.

 The first Lamaze class with Mel awoke fatherhood within me.  I was right at home with kids.  But marriage relationships, no, no, no, they would not come home to roost.  As it turned out Bethany was a very needy person.  Instead of mother issues Bethany had father issues.  The effects of family dysfunction had come full circle. There was also the bane of Bethany’s PMS.  Every month I wanted to go into the husband protection program the moment Bethany’s voice took on the other-worldly tone of a candidate for exorcism and her eyes became blue steel beebees and her dissatisfaction with me amounted to me just being alive.

Beyond this, in her own special three Margarita way Bethany would let me know that I was never “man enough.” She went on to tell our marriage counselor that she didn’t “feel loved,” by me, that “Danny is clueless.  He doesn’t know what a woman wants or needs.”  In lay person’s terms, I wasn’t woman enough to be a man. And from what I could gather as a mere mortal Bethany had also been looking for the Old Spice-John Wayne-gladiator-movie-watching father-figure who lathered on the macho during her childhood. What she got was a Ward Cleaver-turned-Casanova-turned-“give-me-a-break” type.

 Fourteen years later my marriage to Bethany ended with a prolonged, painful separation and a matter-of-fact divorce.  With that cut off point came the demand for support: “I don’t want you. I want your money.” 

 That’s my “trilogy of women” story – the troika that did me in.  In the end, emptiness is what’s left of me.  It can be found everywhere in my life:  empty vows, empty pockets and empty rooms to kick around in.  I had emptied my emotions, too.  This final loss was not paid for with tears.  This loss was paid for with my health.  I would soon break down, the hemlock of sorrow and depression working its diabolical alchemy. The only thing not empty in my life is this casket. And that brings me to my final state – death by marriage.

 Who is that strawberry blond with the turquoise pendant? Is that Andrea?  Who is that young guy with her? How did she know that I passed on?  I wish someone would stop playing that damn organ. I want to hear what their…

 Andrea:  “Scotty, say goodbye to your dad. We have to go.”

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

Lost At Sea


When I saw the beacon,

The light in your eyes,

I followed its beam to the shore.


Adrift so long,

So far from any harbor

I sailed to you.


Yet, another now stands between us

Eclipsing love.

The sea now rises above the horizon.



© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved



At the first bleep of alarm clock’s tirade my cinema head pops out of the rabbit hole. 3:38 am. I shut off the one-sided conversation and let myself fall back into a nest of pillows. I close my eyes. Inside my eyelids there’s an x-ray showing me the last scene of a dream. Mr. Dream State is looking good until anxiety’s screen saver pops up. Then my heart starts pumping adrenalin to somewhere outside of my body and I get out of bed. In the dark I fumble for the switch I need to start the day.

I head to the kitchen in my underwear. I flip on the TV and turn the volume down with the remote. In the kitchen I grab a pouch of oatmeal and start swinging it back and forth to settle its contents. I blink. Mr Dream State appears for a second. He is sitting in his cube facing pictures of his grandchildren. His wife smiles back from a shelf. I nuke the oatmeal, feed my parrolet Henry and make coffee. I head for the shower where the hot water is blazing hot. I’m the first contestant today. After the shower, a lobster looking woman is seen in a rain-forest video.

In the bedroom I throw on some pants and head for the kitchen for hot coffee and cooled oatmeal. On TV the weatherwoman is talking about wind speeds, precipitation levels and the temperature in May of 1952. I imagine that when I am ninety-two I might like to know those things.

Mr. Dream State shows up on my radar again. He and I are seated watching the weather together. I pour coffee and sip gazing at him on the inside of my eyelids. In my dreams he is always facing away from me. We are looking at the same things.

“Today will be mostly cloudy with a chance of…” It didn’t take long for me to realize that Duffy Adkins weather forecasts were recorded the night before and then replayed while she slept. There were just too many days when the actual weather was plus or minus ten degrees and plus or minus rain. The rain falls on the just and the unjust so I get dressed based on intuition and then suffer the consequences of humidity, wind chill and stormy weather. Isn’t that a song?

Outside my car is waiting for its cue. I crank the engine, turn on the fan and zip out of the parking lot of my apartment building. It will be a good day in Chicago if the weather and intuition hold up.

At the train station I stuff two dollars into the parking fee slot and walk over to the yellow line that divides me from the commuter. I wait. People gather. Gum chewing, smoking, dream people with large coffees and huge handbags. We wait. Soon the cyclopean search light of the train pokes out around the distant curve and heads straight for us. We wait. Clang. Clang. Clang. My head looks for another rabbit hole.

Two conductors get off the train and both say “Good morning.” I say “Good morning.” while my arthritic knee decides if it’s going to move. When it does I find my seat near the door where two women sit juxtaposed. The older one speaks with a hoarse guttural voice to the younger one who chews her gum in rabbit fashion. They know each other. They sit, chew and talk with the two conductors about the Bull’s chances in the playoffs. I read my Bible and then the latest copy of Vanity Fair. Mr. Dream State is sitting next to me reading what I am reading. I see him nod silently, appreciatively.

After an hour and ten minutes of the train’s stop and go lurching we arrive at the downtown station. We are on time today, plus ten minutes. Weather forecasts. Train schedules. Dreams?

I walk five blocks to my building and push the “34” plastic square which needs a push. I am shuttled up to my floor and find my cube as I left it – draped with drawings, spreadsheets and cut sheets. I push aside a set of schematics and place my tote bag in the vacated space. Coffee. I scrounge my purse for a few dollar bills and head back down the elevator to the cafeteria.

Veronica greets me. “Hola, amiga!” “Hola, Veronica.” “Como estas?” “Estoy bien. Y tu?” Bien, gracious.” Veronica hands me a small coffee and I say “Feliz Viernes.” She chirps, “Oh yeah, Feliz Viernes.” I walk the corridor to the elevator. I push “34” sipping black coffee, smelling Mr. Dream State. Notes of Havana.

I get off the elevator and at the receptionist’s desk I can only see the black octopus hair of Flor above the counter. Mr. Dream State used to have black hair but it turned grey. Flor is coughing again. Flor coughs loudly every day. Her sneezes are not for the faint of heart. I say “Good morning, Flor. Happy Friday.” She says “Happy Friday, Jennifer.” and coughs. I worry. My cube is within viral range.

Ahhh. Coffee, email and work to do. Mr. Dream State is happy for me. I smile back at him. Soon I will be in his arms (if he ever turns towards me). I lay out the displaced schematics and dive in.

Noon arrives as usual and I eat my now defrosted leftovers. After lunch I head out of the building for a walk in Millenium Park but Rahm Emmanuel is taking his oath of office under the Pritzker Pavilion so I head toward north toward the river. I walk slowly like the peg-legged woman I see all around. Arthritis is getting it digs at me. Mr. Dream State takes my arm. He’s my right side, my right leg. He is quiet, stable, there for me.

I push “34” thinking of my leg, his leg. I get off the elevator and see the flouncy-bounce of blonde curls called Carol. Carol subs for Flor during the lunch hour. “Hi, Jennifer.” ‘Hi, Carol. How are you?” As I walk past the desk I see that Carol is using a large paper cutter to slice rather small labels. I wince when she tells me that she uses the paper cutter on anyone who does not sign the registration book and then I smile. Mr. Dream State is scary-funny like that.

Back at my desk I read emails and pour over schematics until my eyes hurt and it is four o’clock. I gather my things and head out. On the way to the elevator I say “Have a great weekend, Flor.” Flor smiles her teeth out, takes in big gasp of air, coughs and says, “Have a great weekend, Jennifer.” I flee to the elevator and push”1”.

I walk the five blocks to the train station and I am early. I stand waiting (with Mr. Dream State who’s handsome and serenely confident) and some train buddies, regulars who ride in the same car. At some unknown time driven by some unknown force the big burly black conductor inside the coach turns on the coach car lights and opens the door for us clucking hens. He descends his throne room stairs like the king of Khartoum. He greets his passengers under his heavy breath.

I sit in an upper row of single seats. I begin to float away but arthritis doesn’t let me get too far. I find my place in the magazine and settle back, aching for a massage. Mr. Dream State, the conductor, doesn’t need to see my ticket. He just smiles and lets me ride.

One hour and fifteen minutes later we arrive at Friday night, the weekend and sleeping in. I’ll soon be sucking desire’s thumb and clutching the sateen edge of twilight to my breast. Mr. Dream State will be unrobed. And with him, R.E.M., just a few blocks from here.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved


Driftless By Design

When John gave her the ring he hoped that marriage would follow soon after. It did. Mary said yes. His unspoken question was answered with her unspoken assent on the same day. She simply nestled her head against his neck in silent agreement. They were married in June of that year, 1957.

The couple spent much of their time together in nature. There were yearly camping trips to lakes, mountains and forests. Twilight and sunrise often shared the light of their campfires. By way of nature’s vast expanse, the couple became closer. For them, there was never a thought of sitting in front of the television set night after night, pining for something more. They chose what they wanted: the panoply of the natural world; the broad-shouldered earth.

Wisconsin’s Governor Dodge State Park became the site of an annual destination for the couple. The state park, located only three and a half hours from their home, is demarcated in southwestern Wisconsin. It lies within driftless area of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The Mississippi, Chippewa, Kickapoo and Black rivers flow through this area, dissecting the uneven landscape and forcing the weaving of man-made roads.

The park offers two lakes: Cox Hollow and Twin Valley Lakes. The couple’s favorite campsite, near Cox Hollow Lake, is nestled among oaks, white pines and hickory trees. Through a clearing at the edge of their campsite the couple viewed a gently sloping field blanketed with goldenrod and sunflowers. At one time Mary told John that the Monarch butterflies that silently fluttered among this dappled setting were faeries. John told Mary that the Hummingbirds that hovered in their camp sought only the sweetest of nectars – his Mary.

The road trip to Governor Dodge was easy. The ride became a time to talk about nothing and about everything, a means to embrace the other. As was their way, they would pack on Thursday evening. Then, On Friday morning they would drive up in hopes of getting their favored spot before the weekend campers arrived.

When they arrived at Governor Dodge they paid their campsite fee, found their site and unpacked the car. Everything would be in its place within an hour. They prepared well.

Their first afternoon was usually spent sitting on the grassy hillside looking down on the sandy beach of Cox Hollow Lake. The scattered oak trees blocked the high afternoon sun, while a cool lake breeze ascended up the hill. These surroundings made it easy for John and Mary to nap, even though children whooped and wailed when splashed with lake water. Later in the afternoon the air would become filled with the cacophony of weekend visitors greeting each other.

When dinner time came around John and Mary had cooking down pat: Coleman stove, cast iron skillet, freshly caught walleye fried in butter with tear-prompting onions and brought-from-home herbs sizzling alongside. Dessert was an ice cream bar bought at the camp store just up the hill from the lake. And, a cup of Thermos coffee.

The undiluted sprawling sky above Governor Dodge State Park provided the couple with an open air observatory. At night they would drive out to an isolated ridge road that passed through an open field. They would park in the grass, get out and sit on the hood of their car. It seemed to them that the darkened heavens published dot-to-dot pictures: Ursa Major with its asterism The Big Dipper affixing north.

John and Mary would trace the points of light with their fingers. Occasionally, the celestial array of distant lights became cloaked by screeching bat swarms flying in high speed pursuit of blood thirsty mosquitoes. Mary liked the bats, but only for this reason.

After midnight, the couple would return to their campsite. They would make one final inspection of their food storage. They knew that robbing raccoons were on the prowl. When they were both ready, they quickly entered their tent hoping to keep the uneaten mosquitoes on the outside with the bats. Once inside, they replayed their favorite memory.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

Let’s Make Some Music, Man!

(One day, a long time ago, my father came home with The Music Man LP. He had won it as a prize during an office Christmas party. I believe this LP is the first record that I ever heard played on a stereo. In fact, my dad bought a small turntable to play the LP. I played the album unceasingly.)(I was big Trouble in River City!)

Valentine Vicissitude?

If I love thee

And, thou lovest me

Is not our love child . . . Fidelity?


© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

I Suppose…

I suppose you believed the words you said

At the front of the church: “I do.”

Those words were waiting for you.

They stood waiting with me.

Did you know that you would shred them?


I suppose that if you had kept your vows

We would be forever united in words:

Words that wrap lives with ribbons of care;

Words that tie down lives with stakes in the ground;

Words that follow balloons as they become pixels of the sky


I suppose, had you said,

“Let’s make this work.”,

I would be walking down the aisle with you everyday.

Un-tethering balloons, staking our lives

And letting rice fleck my hair.


© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

Almost like Praying

Almost Like PrayingWest Side Story

It is 1967 and that’s all I know about that. I do know that I looked in the mirror tonight and I didn’t see me. What I saw was the face of a thirteen year old girl with a pony tail pulling back on acne plagued skin. The adult woman I had wanted to see was really a decrepit adolescent in the bedroom mirror. This would-be woman, this child, this me with a hint of a baby face, stood in front of her dresser preparing herself for a night with her best friend Jane and Jane’s boyfriend Mick. They invited me along, feeling sorry for me, I think, knowing that I don’t have a boyfriend. If my mirror is any gauge, my chances of getting one are slim to negative. So, I see myself sitting alone in the backseat of Mick’s Chevy Impala Caprice tonight, hiding far from view. All eyes would be focused on Jane and Mick or on Tony and Maria. The three of us were going to the Sky-Hi Drive-In on Route 53 to watch West Side Story. I am just going to try to forget myself, hide my face and just let the movie carry me away in its arms. I wish I had someone to share it with, though. Maybe the gods of love will see me alone in the back seat of Mick’s car as they look down on me from their huge screen throne. Maybe, speaking with their muted voices in merciful tones through little black boxes, they will intervene on my behalf. Or, perhaps not.

As always, I’m not sure what to do with my hair. When I was a young girl it was easy. A pony tail was easy. Now it’s up or down, ratted or flat, sophisticated or playful? And, I’m not sure whether I should be a Greaser or a Climber tonight. In my school Indian Trail Junior High everyone has to be one or the other. The Greasers wear only black: black socks, black shoes, black clothes and black leather jackets; the girls wear black tight skirts and ratted hair above their black Dracula-like mascara staked eye lashes. The Climbers, the ones like me, wear white socks, paisley, plaid and colored school clothes and letter jackets and pink makeup. It doesn’t matter if you are a Climber or a Greaser-acne shows up where it wants to. As usual, tonight I have nothing black to wear except for some Buster Brown shoes that I wear to church. The black church shoes won’t do for the drive in. So, I’ll wear my dark brown penny loafers. But, what do I do about socks? I know, I’ll wear black socks. I’ll be a Greaser and a Climber.

My face is a blotchy patchwork of pointy blemishes. I’ve had it with puberty. I need different skin. This skin isn’t working. My body and clothes are just another battle on the same front. I tug on my dryer shrunk top until I fit inside its shamrock green sheath. My jeans, which I had pulled out of the dryer half an hour ago, are still wet. They will surrender to my lower half after I complete my wrangling dance yoga inside the resisting denim. I’ve done this before.

My friends are going to show up in fifteen minutes and I still am still not made up. This is the first time I would be at a drive-in without my parents. I am pacing myself to the AM radio: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell are singing, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby… I’ve got to move faster.

I find my purse and I am trying to find my cotton candy pink lipstick somewhere inside. My mom convinced my dad that I was old enough to wear lipstick. Lipstick and some cover stick. (The lipstick was like Chapstick, my mom tells my father. He’s not sure. “It’s good for her lips.” Mom goes on. “Every girl needs cover stick, too.”) No mascara. No blush. No eye shadow. Yet. I dab my face with the cover stick trying to hit every red spot at least twice. I look at my profile standing sideways to the mirror with my eyes shifted right. Then, I turn around and look in the mirror with my eyes shifted left. I apply move cover stick. I look straight into the mirror. There is a rose bud on my nose. More cover stick. I don’t see the pretty girl there I used to know. Pretty is not going to happen tonight. Where are my shoes? “Mom?” I yell downstairs.

“Honey,” my dad yells from the living room, “Your mother’s on the phone. She can’t talk right now. She’s talking to Jane’s mom.”

“Oh, no. Now what? Something’s coming.”

“Jane’s mom said they are on the way. They got a late start.” My mom talks to me from the bottom of the stairs. “Your shoes are under your bed, remember?”

“Whew.” I grab my shoes and do more denim leg stretching as I bend over to get them. I walk to the hallway and I take a last look at myself in the hallway mirror. “Ugh.” The figure I see is an embarrassing collision of childhood and adulthood, of Climber and Greaser. I want to go back to my room and hide. I take another look and I think that it is getting dark soon and my “ghastly” appearance won’t matter. Besides, I’ve wanted to see West Side Story. I turn around and pause to think about what I need for tonight’s movie: I have my baby sitting money. I have my lipstick. I have my comb. Where’s my good luck pink troll key chain? Ah, I remember. It’s under my pillow.

I head downstairs and my dad says, “Hi, beautiful. Have fun tonight. I’ll be waiting up.”

“Dad, I’m gross.”

“No your not, sweetie.”

“Dad, I am, too.”

“No, No, No.” Dad protests.

Mom says, “They’re here.” Then she says, “Oh, there is someone in the back seat of Mick’s car. I wonder who that is. Jane’s mom didn’t mention that there would be someone else going with. Did Mick and Jane pick him up on the way over? I wonder.”

So do I. I look out the window and see Mick and Jane in the front seat of the Caprice and in the back seat is Juan from school. “Oh, god!” Now my dad is looking out the window, too and I say, “Mom and dad get away from the window. Quick!”

Maybe we should go say “Hi” to them and see who this is? My dad talks to my mother.

“Good idea. You go first.” My mom responds.

I stand on the front door porch. I see my parents talking to Mick and Jane parked in the driveway. My dad is now talking to Juan. He shakes his hand as he does with everyone he meets for the first time. I see him smiling. I hear a scream inside of me. I look horrible and Juan, a Greaser, always looks so cool. The scream is edging upwards towards my mouth. A flood of terror rushes through my heart like a tidal wave. I take out my pocket mirror for one last look. I see my dad and mom heading towards me. I am almost fainting. I turn and face the house.

“Honey, Mick and Jane picked up Juan on the way over to our house. Juan is Mick’s friend and I guess Juan didn’t have anything to do tonight, so they picked him up. I will call Jane’s mom and let her know that he is going along. I talked to Juan. He seems like a nice kid. He says that he is in some of your classes. Is that true?”

“Yeah, dad. I didn’t think anyone would be around to see me except Mick and Jane. I look gross.”

“Honey, all I can tell you is that you look pretty, tonight. Don’t worry. Have fun watching the movie and come home right afterwards, as you promised. I told Mick to bring you right home after the movie. Here’s some money for a Coke and some popcorn. I know that you wanted to see this movie. You have been talking about it since it came out, since you sang some of the songs in chorus.”

“I do want to see it, dad, but maybe some other time. Maybe…”

“Marianne,” my mother says my name when she wants my attention, “Marianne,” her voice lowers, “your skin looks fine. I like your hair down and your lipstick is just right. You may feel embarrassed about how you look but your father and I see a beautiful young lady. Go ahead and have some fun. We’ll be waiting for you later and you can tell us how it goes. OK?”

“All right, mom. I’ll go. I’m very nervous, though. My stomach feels like it’s in a pillow fight. I’ll go. I see you later.” With that I head over to Mick’s car and get in the back seat behind Mick. Juan smiles over at me and says, “Hi, Marianne.” And, I say, “Hi.”

From the front seat Jane turns around and says, “You look great Mare. I like that lipstick.”

I see Mick looking in the rear view mirror. “Thanks. Hi Mick.”

Mick backs the car down the driveway and says “Hi, kiddo. Juan wanted something to do tonight so I invited him along. Is that OK?”

“Ah, yeah, I guess so.”

“Good” Mick smiles back in the mirror.

I lean toward my window and look out. I don’t know what to say to Juan so I’m just going to wait for him to talk. I’ve seen him at school in the hallways and waiting in line to go into the school building. I now remember him looking at me when our school was evacuated during a bomb scare. He was in the crowd with the Greaser girls but he was looking over at me standing with my girl friends. Now I remember Juan.

Five minutes later, “Marianne, you look swell.” Juan speaks to me while combing his hair straight back.

“Thanks, Juan. You look nice, too.”

“Did you hear about Mrs. Rhoades? She’s leaving the school. I guess she’s too old to teach.”

“Yeah, she must be a hundred years old. She was always nice to me but she got angry with some of the kids, mostly the Grea…” I stopped myself.

“Yeah, you’re right. She was very strict. I won’t miss her.” Juan looked over to me.

“She was nice to me. I’m not sure why.” I looked over at Juan. He was trying to get a black forelock to stay in a curl.

“I hear that you are in the band. What instrument do you play?”

“I play the French horn.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a brass instrument.”

“Like a trumpet?”

“Well, a French horn is round with a lot of tubes and a big bell where the sound comes out. It has a small mouthpiece. It takes a lot of air to play and it heavy to carry but I like it.”

“Cool.” Juan replies, sitting slightly forward from the seat. (I think he does that so he won’t mess his hair.) “I play the radio.” Juan laughs to himself.

I break into Mick and Jane’s conversation. “Hey Jane, put on WLS. I want to hear some music.”

Jane turns on the radio and finds 890 AM. The Hollies are singing Just One Look. I sing the words to myself as I look at my orange-pink reflection in the car window. Outside the window the sunset is washing the sky like an art class project.

We arrive at the Sky-Hi and we buy our tickets. The ticket guy checks the trunk to make there is no alcohol and no food hidden anywhere. We drive in and find a good spot in the middle about half way to the screen. All around are cars driving into their uphill spots, the car windows begin rolling down. I hear music everywhere, from every car. There are people walking to the concession stand and coming back with window trays full of food. I sit back and wait. I don’t want to be the first one in the car to get some popcorn.

Finally Mick says, “Hey, everyone let’s get our food now before this thing gets started.” We all say “Yeah” and we get out of the car. Mick and Jane walk hand in hand while I walk with Juan a few feet apart. I felt like we were being watched by everyone, that we were the movie, yet I felt safely obscure.  I wasn’t alone at the drive in and all eyes weren’t focused on me, just on our group.  At least, that’s how I pictured the way our audience of inclined viewers would view us.

At the concession stand I get a medium Coke and medium bag of popcorn. Juan gets some nachos with jalapeno and a Coke. Mick and Jane share a large bucket of buttered popcorn and a large Coke. We head back to the car. From the overhead loudspeakers I hear the Monkees sing, “I’m a Believer.” I notice as we walk back to the car that there are ascending pillars of cigarette smoke coming from many open car windows. Each pillar has an extended arm attached. The approaching midnight blue sky consumes the grey smoke while dancing on the giant screen, behind the plumes of smoke is Mr. Popcorn and Mrs. Cola.

We return to the car and listen to WLS until the sun disappears and darkness pulls in front of us. We can hear the cars around us and all the chatter of voices coming from those cars. Out of our speaker box comes the voice of the drive-in announcer telling us to be courteous to our neighbors and to not make a lot of noise. He tells us: “There are bathrooms behind the concession stand.” The previews begin with a commercial about the concession stand food: popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, Coke, Seven-Up, Jujubes, Milk-Duds, Affy-Tapples…. Hmmm, Milk Duds sound good. The previews start to appear on the screen. Car horns begin beeping and some guy is shouting “Shut up!” and “Hey, be quiet!” The surrounding murmur siphoned down into the movie sound coming from the little black box hanging on Mick’s open car window:

“The Graduate, opening January 1968… starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross and directed by Mike Nichols. A movie about an impulsive, rebellious kind of love, but the old-fashioned notion of love conquers all.”…

…“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, opening in December, starring Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Houghton…a love story of today. Does love conquer all?”…

…“Thoroughly Modern Millie starring Julie Andrews, James Fox, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, in the happiest motion picture hit of the year. Directed by George Roy Hill. “You’ve come a long way…”

…“Wait until Dark starring Audrey Hepburn who plays Susy Hendrix, a blind woman who unwittingly becomes involved in three murderous crimnals’ drug scheme. How does a blind woman defend herself? Now playing in a theatre near you.”……Feature Presentation…Technicolor…Now were getting somewhere. At last the movie is beginning. There’s another reminder on the screen to be courteous to our movie neighbors. I sit back and lean a little to the middle of the car to see around Jane’s head. Juan moves his head towards the middle also making sure his hair doesn’t touch the car seat. I can smell his cologne. It’s not like my dads. It smells musky. It smells like a rain forest would smell: fresh, earthy, inviting.

Music begins the movie. The overture fills our small space with jarring and unsettling tritones. The music sounds jazzy, modern and classical. It sounds hip (I got this word from listening to DJ Dick Biondi). The clashing dissonance of the music causes me to wonder about the story. Will it be like Romeo and Juliet? Will there be guys fighting? Will there be romance? “O Romeo, O Romeo…” Juan says that he wants the music to end and the story to begin and yet I see him tapping his hand while looking out his rear window. I crane my neck further toward the front of the car. I want to be closer to the sound. A cool breeze floods the car through the open window. My bare arms are covered with goose bumps. I shiver. Juan remains cool. Mick and Jane continue munching on popcorn while holding hands.

Juan returns his gaze to the screen when two street gangs appear, the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. The Jets have names like Riff, Action, Diesel, A-Rab, Baby John Big Deal and Ice. The Sharks: Chino, Pepe, Indio Luis, Anxious and Toro. There’s talk of a rumble and a dance. Tony is cute and so is Bernardo. Anita and Maria, two Puerto Rican women, work at a bridal shop. I find out that Bernardo is Maria’s brother and Anita’s boyfriend. Maria wants to wear a new dress to the dance and she asks Anita to make it for her. Maria wants her dress lower in the front but Anita, the older woman, is resisting her. She won’t lower the bust line of the white eyelet party dress for Maria even though Maria insists.

Something is coming. I am beginning to sense it. At the dance the two gangs meet and square off for a dance challenge. I love the warm feminine summer dresses of the Latin women. The rival couples dance the Mambo while doing a version of musical chairs with their dance partners. It doesn’t end well. There is tension everywhere in the room except in the eyes of Maria and Tony. They see each other across the room. They come together and dance. They are falling in love. They kiss warmly and I suddenly I don’t mind the chilly car.

Bernardo, Maria’s brother, does not like what he sees and he pulls them apart. He wants to fight. A war council is set up at Doc’s Candy Store. I don’t get this. Why don’t they just fight at the dance and get it over with. Maybe because the cop is there. I don’t know. After the dance, Tony can’t stay away from Maria. I like this. He finds her apartment window and he serenades Maria. I see myself on the fire escape. “Maria…the most beautiful sound…Maria”. More tritones and more melting. Maria and Tony sing to each other while the two gangs get ready to fight:

“Today the minutes seem like hours…

…Well, they began it!…
The hours go so slowly,

…Well, they began it!…
And still the sky is light.

…And we’re the ones to stop ’em once and for all,

Oh moon, grow bright,
And make this endless day endless night,


There’s a war council at Doc’s Candy Store. Now I’m wishing I had bought some Milk Duds. Tony tells Doc about Maria. Doc’s not crazy about the idea but Tony says he is in love. It will be alright. Tony only wants a fair fight. Things are heating up for the Jets and the Sharks and for Tony and Maria. The next day Tony meets Maria at the bridal shop. They dream and I begin to dream…

“I, Anton, take thee Maria…”

“I, Maria, take thee, Anton…”

“For richer, for poorer…”

“In sickness and in health…”

“To love and to honor…”

“From each sun to each moon…”

“From tomorrow to tomorrow…”

“From now to forever…”

“Till death do us part.”

Tony and Maria are holding hands:

“With this ring, I thee wed.”

“With this ring, I thee wed.”

A cool breeze floods in through the open window. I shiver and think to myself, “My hands are cold.” I nest them together on my lap. Juan reaches over and puts his warm hand on top of my left hand. He gently pulls my hands apart and brings our hands to rest on the seat between us. He holds my hand there. I don’t look at him. I don’t know what to do. No one has ever held my hand before. I feel the racing pulse of my wrist in my chest and my throat tightens. I try to swallow. This is all new and all good.

Tony sings:

“Make of our hands one hand.

Make of our hearts one heart

Make of our vows one last vow

Only death will part us now.”

Maria sings:

“Make of our lives one life,

Day after day, one life,”

Now they both sing:

“Now it begins, now we start

One hand, one heart;

Even death can’t part us now.”

“Make of our lives one life,

Day after day, one life,

Now it begins, now we start

One hand, one heart

Even death won’t part us now.”

The movie rolls on but my thoughts are removed from the movie. Instead, I picture myself in the back seat of the car with Juan. I imagine concentric circles of newly found energy flowing out of me. I’m not sure about the end of the movie: There is a fight. I think Bernardo stabbed Riff and then Tony killed Bernardo, Maria’s brother. I think Tony is shot by Chino. The fighting stopped. Maria is waving a gun and saying that it was hatred that killed Tony and the others. Maria is left alone to grieve about Tony. But now, I am outside their story and inside my own. I am sitting in the back seat with Juan, pimples, baby face and all, one hand one heart.

The credits begin to roll and Mick says, “Hey, that was pretty good.”

Everyone says, “Yeah, it was.” I am still not looking at Juan.

“I better get you home, Marianne. You dad’s waiting.”

I cringe under the weight of his words. “OK.”

Mick drives me home. In our driveway he looks in his rear view mirror and then looks over at Jane. He smiles at Jane. Jane doesn’t turn around. She just says, “I’ll call you tomorrow, Mar.”

I say, “OK.” I finally look at Juan. I think I had a shy smirky grin on my face. There was too much blood flowing in my cheeks to feel the words come out of my mouth. “Goodnight, Juan.”

Juan gently squeezes my hand and says, “See ya, Marianne. On Monday.” He gently squeezed my hand again and then let go.

I smile back him and when I do see moon glow sparkle in his dark eyes. I start to speak. “Juan…”, but my words are choked off when my brain decides to stop working. I return to the smile when I get out of the car. The cool night air revives my brain: “See you guys on Monday!  I had a great time! Thanks Mick and Jane. Bye Juan.”

I walk to the front door of my house. Mick waits for me to go in the house like my dad would. I turn and wave a goodbye and smile a smile that I think could be seen a mile away. I go in and shut the door. I lean back on the door. I feel that I had just begun living. I feel my heart racing.  My head is swirling.  I look at my left hand and I see his hand. I feel Juan’s pulse in my hand. I sense his heart beating as my own. The rush of romance feels like an unstoppable prayer.

Dad is sitting in his arm-chair watching his favorite movie Pork Chop Hill. He turns and sees me leaning against the door not moving. “Hey honey, how did it go tonight?”

“Dad, you would like the movie. There were a lot of guys fighting. I guess I’ll just go up to bed. Good night dad.”

“Goodnight, Sweetie. I love you.”

Now I know that I won’t fall asleep for the rest of my life. I will stay awake and be completely alive forever. I will think of Juan and how the movie gods looked down into the back seat of Mick’s Impala Caprice and made a musical out of me with a touch of his hand.

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

All Rights Reserved