His name was Bobby Lee. A paralegal for years in Mobile, he got tired of lawyers and took to the road. “I’m out here this way every other week,” he told me.
Bobby and I sat on the shoulder of the 101 waiting for the police. Side by side on the curb. He smoked a Marlboro. I sweated.
I hadn’t smoked in years and even then, I had only smoked in social situations. Outside bars, outside weddings, outside plays at intermission where I engaged in some of the most interesting conversations in my life. I miss that about smoking, the outcasts hanging out together on the sidewalk, the threat of lung cancer and annoyed family members creating a natural bond among you.
I asked him for a cigarette. He smiled, shook the pack in that perfect way so one cigarette presented itself,” “smoke me!”
My Ex was a smoker. He smelled like Downy. In the early years, we’d play pool at Gino and Carlo’s, a dive bar in North Beach. My Ex was an good pool player; he’d win the table, even against the regulars, the old Italian men from the neighborhood who spent their retirement playing pool. Vito was one of the best players, he settled for 8-ball only after “real” games of 3-ball. He was missing half a finger, and he balanced the cue on the nub. My Ex and I would partner up against him, and we would all smoke between shots (this is when you could still smoke in bars). My Ex would ponder the table, his cigarette dangling from his mouth. After he formulated his plan, he’d balance the cigarette on the edge of the table and take his shot. This ritual of his for whatever reason, released so many pheromones, I could barely stifle the primal urge to fuck him right then and there.
“I could use a drink,” I said.
“I don’t think they serve cocktails on the side of this highway,” Bobby said.
While a cocktail would have been welcome, I needed anything with ice. I was sweating profusely, my armpits were soaked, I had already given up hope and accepted the huge sweat circles under my armpits. But I dreaded the other: under the boob sweat circles.
“Well, little lady, would you like an iced tea?”
Bobby strode back to his truck, which was now parked in the shoulder, and came back with a bottle of sweetened tea, ice cold.
We smoked, we drank iced tea, and passed the time watching cars drive by. We told our stories.
Bobby had five children. The oldest was adopted and now in college. He had two from a previous relationship and two from the current one. And this is where his story begins. His son’s computer kept crashing, and so Bobby offered to defrag it. As he worked with his son’s computer, he found something about an internet dating service. He investigated. Turns out his wife was dating when Bobby was out on the road.
I toasted him. “You win. That’s worse than my story.”
“Well, at least I had the honor of being hit by a beautiful woman today,” Bobby said.
On the side of the 101, the cowboy and I talked. The police never came.
He walked me to my car, and said, “I don’t believe in accidents.”
At some point during our conversation, while he was calling his daughter, I called my therapist to tell her I was going to be very late. I hit the wrong number and dialed my Ex instead.
“Sorry Adam, I meant to be calling my therapist. I was in a car accident on the freeway. I’m fine, the car’s not.” He was concerned; I was relieved he felt concern.
That call was an accident, not some Freudian slip. We were not starring in Days of Our Lives or Ugly Betty. He was not going to be jolted back into love with me by my almost (not really) near death experience.
Just imagine what that would look like:
Heart-wrenching music plays in the background.
Adam rushes to the scene, stopping traffic. He jumps from the car although the man has never hurried a day in his life.
Adam: Are you okay? Oh, Tessa!
Me: I’m okay. Just shaken up.
Adam: Oh, Tessa, I’ve been so wrong. My life is nothing without you. I realize that now.
Me: Really, what did you realize? That you need me? That’s not love, Adam. You told me you didn’t love me anymore. You told me that you wanted to find the ten percent that was missing with me.
Adam: No, Tessa. I love you. Scientists kidnapped me! They were researching the effects of true love. They put a chip in my skull but it short-circuited and made me temporarily bipolar and meglo-maniacal. That man who wrote that horrible note to you? He never existed! I worked with the FBI and brought the mad scientists to justice. The doctors just removed the chip. Oh Tessa! You are my one true love. Please take me back.
I would cry, but my mascara wouldn’t smear. We would both face the camera and look longingly out to nowhere. With our relieved and joyous sighs, we would turn to one another and lock in a passionate embrace.
Cue up the music.
And then there is reality. He iterated his concern and we hung up the phone. I believe in accidents.
Cowboy Bobby boasted as a father should. His eldest was in college studying business. The second eldest was headed to college in Europe, “he’s so smart, he’ll be able to do anything he wants.” His youngest was the smartest; she was eight. “My eldest hates that she is already smarter than him.” He told me about his Ex, bitterness in his voice. “She took my money, except for the money I hid.”
He smoked another cigarette. I sipped my iced tea.
“I really can talk to you,” the cowboy said.
Eventually, we chanced leaving the scene of an accident and exchanged insurance information.
“So I am leaving you my email, that’s just for you pretty lady,” he said. “I get back here this way every few weeks, would you ever have drinks with me?”
Now this was the dilemma. He certainly was attractive in an Alabaman cowboy way. I had never had drinks with a real, live cowboy. But here are some snippets from our conversation:
“You lived in San Francisco? You one of those? Just kidding,” he said.
“You do horseback ride, don’t you?”
“You voted for Obama,” he said. “I hope he does a good job, I want him to. But I could never have voted for him. I wrote in Ross Perot.”
“Obama’s no Reagan.” He crossed himself when Reagan passed his lips.
Healing requires saying yes to the universe, saying yes to life. That’s the bit about creating a new life. When your partner leaves you, it’s as if half of you, half of every cell in your body has been cleaved in two. Each cell in your body craves reattachment. All of us humans need attachment to others in some form: a reminder that we’re not alone. Churches, cults, bingo clubs, they all have that in common: grounded connection. I don’t believe in god, I am too mouthy to be a follower, and I’m not a member of any bingo club. I have to make friends in the synchronicity of the moment.
The cowboy awaited my answer.
“I’d love to. I’ve never had drinks with a real, live cowboy.”
And so we exchanged cell numbers. I entered him in my contacts. I typed in Bobby because he was looking over my shoulder; I wanted to type in Cowboy.
I am in life for the adventure.
Epilogue: Well, Bobby the Cowboy called me that very evening and left me a message: a rambling I-can-really-talk-to-you message that lasted more than a minute. It was the first message of many. I ended up blocking his number. As you can imagine, I never did have that drink.
But I’m still in life for the adventure.