Car Accidents & Cowboys Part II

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 inhaled.

“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.”

I did.

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 cook?”

“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.

Car Accidents & Cowboys

Here I am in some form of grief again.  Stage of life and all that.  I’m not writing enough, but I am clawing my way back.  And as you other writers know, reading past work can inspire.  And so I share this piece.  It was published in another place with another name in another life.  I still like it though. 

If you’ve been through grief, you know it’s not just five clean stages where you can demarcate the beginnings and endings, crossing out the days on your calendar before your new and healed life can begin.

Denial

Anger

Bartering

Depression

Acceptance

No, these are not mere items or accomplishments to cross off your list.

These stages make up a murky, phlegmy, acid-rained ocean; and you are a scabbed over castaway balancing on a plank of wood.  Sometimes the waves are gentle and lull you into a state of sad bliss.  Aaah.  Acceptance.  Healed.  You turn to other areas of your life: your career, your family.  Your focus flows outward.  Sometimes you see sharks nipping at your toes and  you fall into a depression.  You turn inward and eat too many donuts.   And sometimes it’s a fucking tidal wave.

Drowning, you feel like you’re back at the beginning.

*

Friday afternoon and I was a wreck.  Adam the Ex had sent me an email telling me he missed me and that I inspired him.  That he feared he would never reach his potential.  The email was written with such sadness, I cried for the man I still loved, and yet didn’t love in that same way anymore.  My pain stemmed not from the lost love, but the lost friendship, the lost intimacy, the lost partnership.

That wasn’t all.

Sam had broken my heart.  Sam, a man who swooped into my life on a white horse (read some dented blue sedan), had just turned out to be my Transition Man.   But for several months, he had been my Sing-From-The-Rooftops-I-Am-In-Love-Again Man.  It was over, and damn it if those Divorce Books hadn’t been right all along—the Transition Man hurts just as much if not more (yes!) than the original Ex.

Aside: I hate those Divorce Books.  Hate them.  “They” all tell you how unique your grief is, and then they describe exactly how you are feeling, right down to the clamped throat and dry mouth.

Now, with Sam, the Divorce Books could have formed a chorus line and sung out, “I told you so. I told you so.  I told you so.  Tsk, tsk, Tessa, we told you not to get involved too soon, we told you this was just replacing your loss, we told you this was just about feeling loved, feeling loveable.”

I hate when my life feels so ordinary it could be a bad Lifetime movie of the week.

This time, practiced in the art of heartbreak, I didn’t flee Los Angeles.  I knew the steps I needed to take.  And the first one?  Emergency Therapy.

Friday night at 5 pm, I am racing on the freeway, crying, and trying to merge.

And what happens?

I hit a semi.

Now, in my crying and jabbering defense, my blinker was on and there was ample space in front of the semi.  I blame it on LA.  Not one driver eager to get to their Valley home would let me merge.

Faced with being stuck on the Hollywood Freeway when I wanted to be on the 101, I kept driving, hoping someone would notice the blinker.  No one did.  By this time, I was in the shoulder and trying to make eye contact with someone: “let me in!”  When I saw the two car lengths of freeway in front of the semi, I attempted to merge.  At the exact time I edged into the lane, the semi sped up.

So now, not only was my heart minced meat, my driver’s side passenger door was too.

Fuck.

At least I didn’t have to pull over as I was already in the shoulder.  That was convenient.

I got out of the car, feeling defensive.  I summoned the former lawyer within myself.  I pulled evidence rules from the deep recesses of my left brain—Tessa, no statements that would be admissible in court.  No excited utterances. No admissions.  Rally that accusation: He sped up and hit me!

The semi had stopped in the lane, blocking traffic.  At least I was in the shoulder not getting in the way of anyone’s 6 o’clock martini. People hated him.

The door opened.  And the first thing I saw were the boots.

Yellow alligator cowboy boots.

These were no ordinary cowboy boots.  They weren’t the ironic thrift store buys I see my hipster neighbors sport in Echo Park.  These taxicab yellow boots sprouted brownish nubs on them like the alligator died from a case of goiter warts.

Clack, clack they went on the metal steps of the semi.

I had hit a real, live cowboy.

He was tall and angular, weathered.  He walked like he was comfortable on a horse, or at least that’s what the movies taught me to think; maybe he just waddled.  He wore a cowboy hat, that again, hadn’t been bought on a drunken Sunday at Venice Beach.  It was a mid-sized white hat, so worn it looked as if it never left his head.

He ignored me.  Around his neck was a huge camera.  He began taking pictures of his truck, of the lane.  He walked right past me without or word or a gaze and took pictures of my car.  [Feel my indignance here.]  I stood in front of his truck in the right lane, hands on my hips, mouth agape.  I was about to be out-lawyered by a cowboy with a Nikon.

While the cowboy collected evidence, I thought briefly of pulling out my flip phone camera and snapping a few shots to make it even.  But what was I going to do? Put up a picture of my crushed door on Facebook?

All this, and still, my mother would be proud.  I stood up straight, mindful of my posture.  I did not curse.  I did not scream, “I am missing therapy, you fuck!”  Bring it on, Ms. America.  I had an audience of rubberneckers and I was still smiling.

Finally, the cowboy approached.  “Little lady, you ruined my day.”  His voice was deep and smoky with a Southern drawl.

His “little lady” sounded a lot like mother fucking bitch.

“You hit me,” I said.

“You hit me,” he said.

Too true.

“I had my blinker on for miles, didn’t you see me?”

“Little lady, you were driving in the shoulder.  Haven’t you ever heard of a blind spot?”

He walked toward me until the brim of his hat shaded me from the sun.  He smiled, his blue eyes crinkled.  “What were you thinking?”

Before I could tell him that I thought, which would have been an emotional strings of expletives, the former lawyer within asserted her opinion: Shut up and get your sad ass to therapy.

“Look, I’ve never been in accident before,” I said.  “I don’t know what to do.”

Aside: I am a feminist.  Not ashamed of the word, rather I am proud of it.  And so I am embarrassed to say I am one of those clueless people who have no idea about cars.  I lived in a walking city for many years and didn’t even own a car, so let’s blame it on that and not that I made my Ex take care of all things automotive.

“I need to call this in.  Probably need to wait for the police,” he said.  He ambled toward his truck and placed the calls.

I waited and began to sweat.  I met the eyes of rubberneckers and smiled, counting how many people smiled back.

Zero.

“We need to wait, Little Lady.  Who knows how long that’s gonna take.  You just had to hit me and ruin my Friday,” the cowboy said.

“You ruined my Friday,” I said.

The cowboy shook his head.  “My Friday was already bad.”

Really?  Was he now getting over two men?  “My Friday was worse than your Friday.”

“No, my Friday was worse than your Friday,” he said.

“Look, my year has been worse than your year,” I said.

“Little lady, that just can’t be true, my year has most definitely been worse than your year,” he drawled.

Here we were in a wreck on the side of the 101. I was in grief; I had lost a new love while still in pain over the old one; I was late for my therapist appointment; I was low on funds (a side effect of separation) and I was going to have to pony up a deductible; my insurance rates were going to go up; my car was a crumpled mess; and here I was having a pissing contest with a cowboy.

I laughed.  I felt no grief, only a moment of life happening now, and in all that haphazard craziness, was joy.

Stay tuned. . .