Not that you should think I haven't had my moments. I have had my moments. Some. Moments. You know, the blind date with the guy whose face at first turns in on itself when he sees what he got. But particularly after age forty-five, one can make do. One adult female can offer a certain kind of comfort to one adult male. And although they didn't usually stay the night -- only two ever stayed the night -- I was glad for that. After my rare interludes, I actually prefer a sandwich alone at my own kitchen table. I know I'm better off sitting under the fluorescent light in my bathrobe, alternating bites of pickle with my ham and cheese, turning the pages of the Chambers catalog and finding the one thing I'll let myself order -- that's much better than the smiley conversations I endure when they stay. The awkward partings in the morning, the indignity of picking the guy's hair from my sink when I know I'll never see him again. Better to eat the sandwich and then look to see if any Mary Tyler Moores are on where Mary still lives in the old apartment. The only thing wrong with that show is that they acted like Rhoda was unattractive.
People think women like me should settle. That we should not aspire to certain things. Well, I had a crush on Chip Reardon, too, just like all the other girls. I had a full-time longing that went beyond the brief fantasy I enjoyed that day after English class. I saw him kissing me. I was not a different person when I imagined this; I saw him kissing me. I was aware that if most kids knew that, they'd snort their disapproval. They wanted me to have a crush on the guy equivalent of me. But of course I didn't. No one did. I didn't want Thomas Osterhout, him with his horrible posture and his stick-out Adam's apple and dandruff dusting the shoulders of black knit shirts tucked into his high-waisted pants -- I didn't want him any more than he wanted me. Probably Thomas kissed Diann in his dreams, rode her around in his battered Gremlin while all the jocks stared, their fists shoved into their pockets.
Mostly, I have a dog. Don't laugh. Take a look at marriages that have survived a long time and see if it's the dog or the spouse that offers a better package to either partner. The dog can't call the internist for you; he can't accompany you out to dinner or to a show. But he will lie by you the whole time you're sick, and he will listen to every word you say and offer nothing back but acceptance. My dog, Frank is his name, is an eighty-five-pound golden mix, selected from the suffering souls at the dog pound. He sat quietly in the corner of his concrete cell, asking for nothing. When I stopped in front of his dank space, he walked up to me and sat down. Looked up. Held my gaze and waited.
"This one," I told the overworked attendant.
Frank walked out into the office on the leash I'd brought with me, lifted his leg apologetically against the desk where I filled out the necessary forms, and never again had an accident.
Usually, he sleeps smack up against the side of my bed, quiet as a shadow, except on the nights he has dreams -- then he whines through his nose in a way that sounds like a story. Other nights, he senses a need and he jumps up to stretch out next to me. He lies on his side, his back to me. I put my arm around his middle, push up next to him, note with pleasure the salty earth smell of his paws.
It's enough, work and Frank. Or at least it has been, until now.
Copyright © 2001 by Elizabeth Berg
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