Mrs. Lovelace, who was my direct supervisor at Sweet Little College, never seemed to grow tired of me. I spent hours in her office each day, talking about my teaching challenges or my grad school issues, or my boyfriend issues (Owen was five years younger than I and a lapsed Mormon; I, a lapsed Catholic, was drowning in guilt over my irrepressible desire to make out with a guy five years my junior. I mean, who does that? Want to see a grim and dismal? Take a look at Nina and Owen, circa 1999).
I am sorry. Where was I?
I learned more about Mrs. Erica Lovelace over the next year. The western wear, for example, was a fad/phase she and her daughter were navigating together. Her daughter, Epiphany, had fallen in love with a cattle rancher and pro-rodeo performer from Oklahoma. Having fallen in love with not just the individual cowboy, but also the cowboy culture, Epiphany brought her mother along for the ride (so to speak). Both were happily immersed in country and western music and were fast developing the wardrobe to match. They were planning a vacation over summer break to visit the boyfriend and see actual, real live cows, close up. Epiphany had taken up the banjo; her mother was learning to sing along with Bonnie Raitt. These were good times for them.
Of her former husband, Mrs. Erica Lovelace would say nothing. Being a recent convert to Catholicism, Erica was more interested the present and the future. In spite of her silence on the subject, of her first marriage, I became convinced that whoever he was, he must have been a complete ass. Epiphany later told me that my general non-impression was perfectly right. I never asked Erica anything more about it, but I did get the distinct impression that she would very much like, someday, someway, to marry again – so long as it was ok with her daughters.
Fade, cut, whatever the means, to a picture now my dad, seven years ago. My dad, bless his heart, did not take my mother’s death very well. Some men, when they lose their wives, set about to find someone, anyone else. We’ve all seen it happen: a young wife dies and her husband is seen three weeks later packing a convertible with beach gear while some age-inappropriate tart stands by, fantasizing about how much money he is going to spend on her. It is the way of the lonely, heartbroken man and the charming parasite. Blech.
My dad was having none of it; he set out to traverse the rest of his days absolutely alone. He worked, he fished, he smoked a pipe, and he slept. That was his life. (Except for perhaps the first four years after my mother died. During those years, you could also add catatonic armchair sitting and heavy scotch consumption to the list). These were bad times for him.
By early 2002, I had made plans to move to New York City. Naturally, I was concerned about how my dad would get along with me. (In reality, it was I who would be worse off, but that’s another story entirely). One day at Sweet Little College, I mentioned my concern to Erica, who knew by this time that my dad, to me, is the beginning, middle, and end of all that is good and right in the world. I was expressing something or other to this effect when I had a sudden and inexpressible urge to tell Erica that I wanted her to meet my dad before I left for New York. I knew there was no reason for them to meet and I knew that to suggest the meeting would be inappropriate. But I kept wanting to say it and fighting the desire to say it. And then finally, I said it.
“Erica,” said I. “Would you mind terribly much if I said I think you should have lunch with my dad sometime? Or would that just be too weird?”
Erica, of course, would be delighted to meet this paragon of manhood. Of course she would.
I called my dad that night and said, because I have considerable influence over him when I said things like “please” and “pretty please”, “Please drive to Raleigh and have lunch with my boss sometime before I leave for New York. If you do this, I will not bother you ever again about spending all your time drunk in an armchair staring into a cold, damp fire. The end.”
So my dad, convinced that my boss was both annoying and ugly, consented to meet her because I said “please.” He called her and gave her a date and a time and then Erica, because she is one of my kind, commenced the pre-date wardrobe freak out and bought three new tubes of lipstick.
It was an exciting time.
When my dad showed up at the school to pick her up, he looked at me as if he were on a death march to the guillotine. I have to say, I felt right sorry for him. That is, I did until I saw that he was wearing a jacket and tie and had finally moved his wedding ring to his right hand.
Well damn, I thought.
Erica reported that she loved my dad with complete abandon from the moment he walked into her office.
My dad reported that he found Erica to be the most depressing, phony, faux-cowgirl of a flake he had ever met, and further complained that he’d drive a long, long way for a guarantee that he’d never have to see her again.
Thus ends part the second. Sleep tight.