How I Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life
Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk everything, you risk even more.
Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go
Every day I live I am more convinced that the waste of life lies in the love we have not given, the powers we have not used, the selfish prudence that will risk nothing and which, shirking pain, misses happiness as well.
Once I read that letter from Julie, I was a different person. I’ll leave it to the reader to determine if I became braver, less prudent, or more foolhardy; genuinely self-reliant or egocentrically self-serving; sagely insightful or just crazy …
Whatever the labels, the transformation was evident in the telephone conversation that took place minutes after I read Julie’s message. There was no hesitation, no explanations offered or demanded. Neither of us knew what would happen except that it was a foregone conclusion that we would meet. A few letters and calls completed the arrangements.
This all took place while I was married. It was a miserable marriage that had been haltingly moving toward divorce for a year or two. Even my ex-wife, once she was my ex-wife, spontaneously admitted that the divorce was the high point of our relationship.
Mitigating circumstances notwithstanding, I was married and I was surreptitiously arranging an assignation with another woman. How did I, a lifelong member of a fundamentalist Protestant sect,3 a rule-follower, a subscriber to the locally prevalent conservative mores, handle this conflict? Well, did you ever hear Loudon Wainwright III (father of Rufus) sing So Damn Happy?
The sad thing is I’m so damn happy
Who’d blame her if she were to slap me
The sun should not shine when there’s rain
I should be in a lot more pain
At least I should feel slightly crappy
But the sad thing is I’m so damn happy
Reducing the matter to its simplest terms, everything except other than Julie had become irrelevant to me.
I suspect, in fact, that even if my marriage had been not-miserable or even it had been pleasant or if it had been a anything short of ecstatic, I might well have followed the same course.
In any case, I had not forgotten my role in botching things with Julie the last chance I had six years before; I wasn’t going to repeat that mistake for the sake of propriety.
There was, of course, no guarantee that my pursuit of Julie would be successful. In fact, given the results of our combined three marriages, an objective observer might legitimately question the assumption that Julie and I being together could be accounted a successful outcome. And, it was clear that my reawakened longings for Julie, whether manifested in action or not, would, at a minimum, stress my then placidly dysphoric marriage and, more likely, propel it toward an egregiously painful and disruptive outcome. Was I aware of these risks? Absolutely. Did recognizing these risks have an impact on my actions? None that I noticed.
We’ll Always Have Wichita Falls
We agreed to meet on a September weekend in Wichita Falls, Texas,((Located, according to one website. “just south of the Red River and just east of where the Texas panhandle meets North Texas.”)) where Julie lived and worked. My official explanation for the trip was to discuss an offer to join a medical practice there.
I was on the flight to Dallas-Fort Worth before I realized that, despite not seeing each other in years, we hadn’t exchanged photos or arranged a I’ll be the one wearing a pink chrysanthemum and a bowler hat sort of protocol. It hadn’t occurred to me, until then, that either or both of us might have changed so that we might not immediately recognize each other in the crowd meeting the plane. I resolved to carefully scan each woman waiting at the gate before approaching anyone to avoid embarrassing myself. This hastily devised strategy was obviated the moment I exited the plane and found Julie, who was, just as she had been in all of our classes, at the front of the crowd, thrusting her arm in the air.
Those of you who have been following this story will be aware that this was, indeed, our first kiss. I am proud to report that on this occasion I performed, by my self-assessment, quite capably; Julie, of course, was spectacular. As I write this, I can recall how her lips tasted as that amazing kiss went on and on. While we didn’t escalate into X-rated territory, we may have behaved with a tad more panache and flourish than was congruent with a low-profile rendezvous – at least if the good-natured applause from those at the gate was any indicator.
After leaving the airport, we stopped for dinner at one of those restaurants that are always described to visitors as a place known only to locals who keep it secret so that the tourists (the other tourists, apparently) don’t overrun the joint. The essence of this eatery can be summoned by a few observations that persist in my mind:
- The parking lot was filled with fifty vehicles, all but three of which were pick-ups. At least two-thirds of these were equipped with a gun rack and most of those displayed a bumper sticker that advised onlookers, “You’ll take my guns when you pry them from my cold dead fingers.”
- Inside the establishment, stratus clouds of tobacco smoke drifted below the acoustic tile ceiling.
- The restrooms were clearly marked “Pointers,” and “Sitters.”
- On the wall was a backlit sign that promoted Dr. Pepper and listed the three items that comprised the menu: Shrimp Basket, Chicken Basket, and Calf Fries,4 a difficult choice if one believes the adage that you are what you eat.
From Between The Lines To Between The Sheets
Having survived dinner, we absconded to Julie’s apartment and, within seconds of opening the door, proceeded, without uttering a (coherent) word and without the benefit (at least on my part) of any planning, to rip off each other’s clothes (literally – Julie had to sew two buttons back on my shirt) and leap into bed. Rather than provide detailed color commentary, I offer as an indicator the fact that we were, after all, resolving eight years of foreplay. In any case, when we finished, we were disheveled, blissful, and smugly self-satisfied.
The Post-Coital Afterglow
Wichita Falls, Texas is rarely featured in the Travel section of periodicals as one of your destination cities for leisure fun and culture; on a hot weekend in September … well, we had few distractions. We quizzed each other on “whatever happened to _______” and “do you remember _______,” We talked about books and music and family and her adventures and our schools and on and on into the night. I even met a couple of her friends who dropped by. We must have eaten sometimes. Mostly, we camped out in bed.
Even the accoutrements of our two days and three nights sojourn took on iconic status. Because, for example, Julie and I spent this Labor Day weekend together with the Jerry Lewis Telethon playing everywhere, we henceforth thought of ourselves as “Jerry’s Kids,”5 Tanqueray and tonic was our official house drink that weekend – and for the next two decades. And, I still experience downright rapturous physiological reactions on hearing the opening bars of Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love), a favorite of Julie’s then:
The only two things in life that make it worth living
Is guitars that tune good and firm feelin’ women6
I don’t need my name in the marquee lights
I got my song and I got you with me tonight
Maybe it’s time we got back to the basic of love
Let’s go to Luckenbach Texas,
With Waylon and Willie and the boys …
We finally left the apartment for dinner on the night before I had to leave. We walked to a diner that specialized in chicken-fried steak and that offered, for our entertainment and edification, a booklet at every table with 20 pages, each of which began, “A Mother Is … ” (e.g., “A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie”).
Until this point, we had romped through the weekend without broaching the ultimate issue — What happens next? This liaison had been arranged on the basis of my classic two-part plan:
- Show up.
- See what happens.
We had specifically limited our mutual promises to the three days we were spending together in Wichita Falls. As Julie pointed out, she was already 0-for-2 in husband selection and had no wish to extend her losing streak.
And, having assumed far too much years earlier,7 I was hesitant, lest I repeat that egregious error. Besides, Julie seemed happy with the post-Philip life she had created for herself; she had friends, a good job, a decent home, a stack of Willie and Waylon LPs, boyfriends who had yet to shoot the family dog … . I certainly didn’t want to put that at risk.
Nonetheless, I made my pitch for us living together, opening with an offer to leave my marriage immediately and, once my residency in Chicago was completed, move in with her wherever she wanted to live. I did, however, promote Chicago, tempting her with descriptions of fantastic restaurants serving great, semi-exotic food (I was on a mousaka and pastitsio kick at the time), a full spectrum of movie houses (Julie was a hard core cinema addict), and a world-class theater district. I brought up the (then) booming job market, high quality educational opportunities, huge department stores, boutiques, professional sports teams, and, if I’m not mistaken, Chicago’s ranking in the number of equestrian statues per capita. For the topper, I promised Julie the ultimate gift a guy like me could offer a woman like her — a library with a library ladder (no, library ladder isn’t an euphemism for a bedroom toy; it was …, well, you had to be there).
When I finished, she was silent for 15 to 30 seconds and then — promised to think it over.
Surprisingly, I was not devastated by her promise to “think it over” even though I interpreted it to be the equivalent of the same response, “I’ll think it over,” my parents made to my childhood requests for a BB gun. I.e., “there isn’t one chance in a gazillion that I’m going to agree to what you want.” There may well be a law of metaphysics stipulating that 48 consecutive hours of banter and sex with a lost love preclude emotional desolation, however triggered.
Still, it certainly wasn’t the answer I hoped to hear. And I was leaving in the morning.
The good news was that we still had twelve hours before we had to leave for the airport to make my return flight – a glorious twelve hours spent talking, laughing, fondling, and screwing.
Then, we left for the plane. It was to be a tumultuous trip.
Note: Originally posted May 8, 2006 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com
Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ.
- I do realize, by the way, that little I could do (at least in a blog) could more effectively demonstrate risk-taking than offering Erica Jong as a source of wisdom. [↩]
- I trust that entering into the record this quotation from my fellow Missourian (if one considers St Louis part of Missouri) re-establishes my elitist pontification credentials. [↩]
- Our church’s primary credo, as far as I could determine, was Everyone else is going to hell – and we’re ok with that [↩]
- For the uninitiated, this menu item is also known as “Rocky Mountain Oysters” or the more prosaic “Bull Testicles” [↩]
- Consequently, Jerry’s fan club during this period consisted of 40 million Frenchmen, Julie, and me. [↩]
- At this point in the song, I would point out to Julie that I didn’t play the guitar, thus allowing me to focus on the one thing in life that made it worth living. Yep, I was hilarious. [↩]
- Those who wish to review my massive perception-fail referenced here are directed to the section headed “The Vignette: Julie Makes Me The First To Know” at Julie’s Story: 2. The First To Know. [↩]