Like Paul and Joanne
Rachel Grace Koller
This morning I woke up with a sore back. Certainly wasn’t the first time. Sometimes I can’t grasp the difference between how old I actually am and how young I feel inside. I put my wooly slippers on and go downstairs, still in my blue flannel pajamas. Third step still creaks when you walk on it. Did that since Lorraine and I moved in nearly 41 years ago. Never noticed it much until she died. It’s a lot quieter around the house now.
I turn on the coffeemaker and go out to the front porch to get the paper. I move quickly, well quickly as I can at my age, because it’s a chilly December morning. Which reminds me that Beth will be along in a few hours with a couple of sweaters and new socks. That’s what she told me yesterday on the phone. She knows the routine.
“Yeah, Dad, I know. Anything I pick out is fine, but the socks have to be thick. And you don’t just mean kinda thick, you mean real thick.”
I’ve always been one of those people that get a chill in their bones real easily. And it all starts at your feet. If your feet get cold you can be damn sure the rest of your body will be cold. Thick socks. That’s the solution.
My favorite pair isn’t so thick anymore, after years of use. The last pair that Lorraine made for me, before she went over to Brittany Terrace. She was always a lousy cook, but she made the best socks. Like walking on pillows or marshmallows or feathers. Enveloping your toes to the point where they were snug, but you still had enough room to wiggle them around if your heart desired. Long enough to be well above your ankle, but not too high that they’d hit your knee. I hate knee-length socks. No particular reason. I just don’t like the way that they look.
I pour myself a cup of coffee and open the paper. Headline story about some famous broad adopting another foreign baby. This is what matters to people nowadays Beth tells me when I start to bicker about the lack of interesting stories in the news. It’s always some garbage about a movie star. Never cared much about things like that. But Lorraine got the People magazine every week. She would complain about the lack of Paul Newman coverage. I said to her, “Paul Newman’s never featured because he’s a stand-up guy who’s committed to his wife and doing good things for charity. Those magazines only focus on the cheaters, liars and who’s taking off their clothes in the movies.”
We both always liked Paul Newman. Purposely bought his food brand since it went to a good cause. And to his credit he’s a damn good actor. Cool Hand Luke…Butch Cassidy…Hud...great characters in some great films. And he and Joanne Woodward always seemed so happy. I always thought Paul and I would get along if hell froze over and he found himself in this town.
Supposedly he never cheated on Joanne. 50 years of marriage or so. What was that he said? “Why fool around with hamburgers if you’ve got steak at home?” Something like that. Smart guy. Still makes me wonder though.
Lorraine and I had been married just over 4 years and she just fell pregnant with Beth the year I met Carrie. Carrie was a young barmaid at the place I used to frequent after work with some of the other carpenters. She had darker hair and darker eyes than Lorraine and had a real pretty smile, with a slight gap in between the front teeth. Carrie said she didn’t like it, but I always thought it was cute in some way. She’d always been nice to me. I started to talk about the baby and how nervous I was to be a dad and how I didn’t know if I’d be any good at it and if I made the right decisions in life. The conversation just kept snowballing into a bunch of “what ifs?” What if I never got into the carpentry business, what if I never met Lorraine, what if I met Carrie first?
The last one was Carrie’s question. After that night I only met with her four more times. Only. I’m still trying to make excuses for the inexcusable. It was still an affair. It was still a betrayal of the woman I loved. Still love. To my knowledge, Lorraine never knew. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her and word never got ‘round to her I guess.
I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. She probably knows now, someone filled her in up there. Since she died it’s been pretty much all I think about. What does she think about me now?
Are there “what ifs” running through her head? About if she never married me? Or even met me? Or maybe she still doesn’t know. And she still thinks of us as the Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward of our town. I wanted us to be like Paul and Joanne.
Ted and Lorraine.
I hope to God she still loves me.
It is times like this I wish I had a dog. He’d sit at my feet and I’d pat his head every so often. Beth and I used to beg and plead with Lorraine to get a family dog. But she consistently refused saying that she knew full well whose responsibility the dog would end up becoming and she wasn’t interested in having a smelly old dog to take care of all by herself. At the time she was probably right.
But maybe now I should get a dog.
An old one even. That nobody else really wants to adopt. Everyone wants puppies. Young dogs. I could get an old dog like me. He could sit on my feet when I wear my Lorraine socks so my feet would be warm and I’d still be in my favorite pair. We could watch Cool Hand Luke on the television; it always seems to be on the old movie stations. I’ll have a Heineken and eat potato chips and pretzels; he’ll wait for the crumbs to fall. Hell, I could even name him Paul or Newman or Butch Cassidy if I want.
I am just so damn lonely.
Beth comes by with the kids and I go to their baseball games and dance recitals. But they have their own family. They can’t be coming around here everyday to spend time with Grandpa. I understand that. It’s nice enough as it is to have them so close by. I have just been alone in this house for so long now. Even before Lorraine died and she was over at Brittany Terrace.
What a ridiculous name for a nursing home. I hate how those places try to make themselves sound more appealing by smacking a dumb, fancy name on the front. It doesn’t make the situation any better. It’s still a place to go where there’s really no hope left in your situation.
Stroke. Immobility. Dementia.
That’s really all I care to say about it.
I was there every damn day. Some days were good, but most were bad. When I remember Lorraine, I choose to block those images of her out of my mind. Because that wasn’t my Lorraine.
My Lorraine loved to laugh. Her laugh was so loud! Nothing fake about it, if she was laughing, she was going to mean it with her whole heart. I loved to make her laugh. I did it almost every day. She loved to dance. I hated it, but every year on her birthday I’d buy her new shoes and a new dress and take her out dancing wherever she wanted to go. Really fancy places, too. They’d cost a lot of money, but I didn’t mind. I’d do anything for her. She loved red. Most of the dresses I bought for her were red. It really made her eyes sparkle. Blue with specks of silver, like diamonds. She loved Beth more than any mother I’d ever seen love her child. Loved being home with her all day, a little sad when she went to school, but still supportive of everything Beth chose to do. Lousy cook like I said…but good effort. Beth and I would eat whatever she made because she’d try so hard. She loved seafood. Clams, fish, lobster, crab legs, any of it. Never attempted to cook the stuff, though. She knew better. She often picked seafood restaurants when we’d dine out. She admitted to me that she had a crush on Paul Newman. I only found out recently from Beth that she also had a thing for Bob Barker, of all people, and dreamt of going on The Price is Right to give him a kiss on the cheek. Lorraine thought that would hurt my feelings. Lorraine was always thinking of other people. Especially Beth. Especially me. That’s how I’d like to remember her. And how she probably would like to be remembered. Not the Lorraine in Brittany Terrace. But the Lorraine of my life.
People are afraid of death. But death really isn’t the thing to fear. It’s the process of dying. If you’re lucky, it’s quick and painless. But Lorraine wasn’t lucky. She was dying for years. Her actual death? In our case it was a blessing.
I cried. I cried the hardest I ever have in my life. Tears of sadness, sure, but tears of joy and relief. Near the end there I got to praying…not something I normally do. Praying for her to go. To be at rest. At peace. She deserved that much. She didn’t deserve what was happening to her.
I always thought it should have been me.
I hear the screen door opening.
Beth’s here with the socks.