We met for the first time at a coffee shop attached to a bookstore. It was one of those spongy, overcast March days where the grey of the sky bled into everything. Morning was much like Noon which was much like 3:00 which was the time of our date. I remember feeling like I had yet to wake up completely. She looked annoyed. Or maybe, just hungover.
I made some small talk, ordered us coffee. She had a habit of asking me a question and then concentrating on her hair. “Jen said that you worked at a place that makes dog food?”
I got as far as “Yes, I’m a chemist for Purina,” when her eyes dropped from mine, her index finger hooked a section of hair just to the right of her part, pulled the tress in front of her and closely examined the strands’ last eighths of an inch. I doubt she understood what I did for a living.
“Were you here early, it looks like you bought a book?” She asked, looking up momentarily.
I had found Adams’ Stamp Collecting in the bargain bin, which was a happy find as my copy was quite battered. “Yes, I’m a philatelist…” I immediately regretted the word choice, as Cheryl’s attention snapped from a tuft of hair, to look me straight in the eyes, “Like in Big Love?”
“No, like in stamp collecting,” I explained, though she looked skeptical.
“It’s an unusual habit, I know,” I was talking quickly and trying to restore what little she may have thought of me. “I was watching The Truth About Charlie the other night on The Movie Channel, and there are all these people looking for the money this dead guy supposedly stole and it turns out he bought rare stamps with the money, put them on an envelope and slipped the envelope to his girlfriend…”
Cheryl’s hair was long enough that she could pull a section from the back of her head and inspect the ends.
If you would have asked me that day, I would have speculated that Cheryl’s interests were limited to brushes, combs, conditioners, shampoos, perhaps the sharpness of clipping and thinning shears.
Three months into our marriage, those interests were supplemented with a regimen of not working, day time TV, her lengthy daily hygiene routine performed around the dinner hour, followed by trips to the casino with her cousin Chrystal and her friend Tammy, rum and diet cokes as well as a good 3 – 6 hours in front of a slot machine. Or maybe they had been there all along. It doesn’t matter.
The dresser drawers are empty as is half the closet. Coming home to these newly cleared spaces would have probably registered as relief after the initial shock had worn off: -intoxicating relief, ‘giggle at your good luck’ relief, ‘I just might have a Rum and Diet Coke myself’ relief. I am faced with the fact that I never loved Cheryl. I didn’t hate her I just knew we didn’t belong together.
But I hate her now. The empty joyous harbinger of the drawers and closets is drawn and quartered by the spilled stamp catalogs strewn around the bedroom floor, cellophane protected trays now empty where once had been – it hurt to think of the tenderly organized, rare, rectangles.
Philately will get you nowhere. It never occurred to me that Cheryl was attentive enough to realize the collection was there, let alone that it might be of value. That night I dreamt of Cheryl alternating her attention between her hair and the spinning wheels of the slot machine; her fingers drifting from her head only to reach into a cup to pull out delicate stamps which she dropped into the machine.