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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, I used to have a boyfriend. This was the real kind of boyfriend: not a guy who lived a thousand miles away, not the single guy who lives next door, not a hopeful who I e-mail with from Canada.
The real boyfriend actually showed up in my life on a regular basis. He ate meals I made for him without complaint and in fact gusto. We played dice games and card games—not mental games. I was happy to fluff bed pillows for him after a long work day, and he was happy to sink into them. Oftentimes, twining feet was how we talked at night, at least it was on the nights when “I got him”…as opposed to the nights when his kids got him.
I never liked the difference, but that’s how it is when you're single and childless, and your boyfriend has four children. Or you happen to be married and childless, and your husband has one very important boy. Or whenever a woman of a certain age is single with just cats or dogs, and she’s looking around at her whole world in which all the men have obligations, responsibilities, and deadlines…more than she would ever accept for herself.
It’s hard to chisel a boyfriend out of all that.
So I just live on memories of what past boyfriends have said to me over time, observations and bits of advice that are as important now as they were back in the day:
1. “You eat rotten fruit! You’re just like my parents—they love rotten fruit. You can only get the best rotten fruit in Scotland ya know.”
2. “Do you even know how to hug? Did anybody ever show you how to hug? You’re a stiff board—loosen up.”
3. “What the hell is that smell? Is that dinner? What did you make…that crockpot stuff again? It makes the whole house stink.”
4. “We could have lived together! You don’t trust me! Here, let me slam your face into the cushions of my couch—it’s your fault.”
Ah, what memories. It’s funny what sticks in your mind.
At 42, I’m picky and choosy and still hugging my bed pillows, quietly appreciating the male models in magazines delivered to my house: they smell nice. I still have a house, which is really lucky for me—as some boyfriends end up as thieving husbands.
But I still like the one who told me I like rotten fruit, because in fact, I do. I like a nice bruised banana, a cantaloupe begging to be let out of its rind…a crabby old pear. I make friends with fruits like these, the weird kids on the block.
I think we take at least one good thing from each relationship, though the relationship itself might fail. For instance, I learned how to cut up a ripe avocado, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and serve it with toothpicks. Hold on! That was from my dad! He still counts. Hi SuperDad. Everybody loves that recipe.
I learned how to put cilantro into my lettuce salads to spice them up.
I learned that even though you might accidentally shrink cotton in the dryer, it can be rewashed and reshaped.
I learned that if you put yogurt and grapes and chopped nuts into a wine glass, it can serve as a stand-in for the vacation you're not taking to Key West.
I learned that I can hug and cuddle and twine my feet, gently twist in the love that a man is giving me at the time, and not have to worry about his bankruptcy or the future of his children or whether he’s going to cheat on me again.
I mean, I can worry if I want—but I don’t have to.