Friday, June 1, 2012

Love in the New Millenium

by Colleen Sutherland

Love came to Sheila Boren by way of Facebook.

Not that she looked at Facebook all that much. She had a few friends she cherished and didn't need to “friend” any others. People that sent her requests only wanted to brag about their hundreds of friends or needed names to fill in some online game they were playing. She was too busy teaching third grade to clutter up her life with people like that. Their requests were easy deletes.

She checked her Facebook account sporadically to look at photos of others people's grandchildren and her own, sent by their mother. She replied with Adorable, So Cute, Lovely, from a list of cliches she had tacked on her bulletin board. Sometimes they were really adorable children, often not. It was drivel. She hated drivel.

Everything changed when she got a friend request from an Aaron somebody. She checked his home page. His profile picture was of him as a teenager and he had no other photos she could go by. Still, he looked familiar. She read his home page and said, “Aha!”

Sheila dated Aaron in Chicago back in the 1960's, two boyfriends before she met Bill, her now ex-husband. Aaron disappeared from the scene just when she thought they were beginning to form a solid relationship. Back in those free and easy days, she and her female friends always said, “Men are like buses, miss one, catch another.” She moved on with barely a whisper of a thought about him.

Now she lived in a small Midwestern town where there was neither a bus service nor attractive men. She could use some servicing, she thought. She felt that old, familiar tickling in her nether regions, just thinking about it.

It had been years since she had had sex, just a couple of disastrous experiments after Bill ran off. Small town sexual encounters soon became grist for the gossip down at the feed mill. It wasn't the Sixties any more. A divorced woman wasn't liberated if she invited a man to stay the night. She was a slut. Sheila had her teaching career to think about, so she gave up on sex, at least with partners. Self-service worked just fine.

She hadn't thought about Aaron for years but apparently, he had thought about her. She hesitated. He had been a good looking man back then, basketball player tall, white blond hair, and really good in bed. Funny, too. She remember Aaron as sweet, though secretive, too, and that was intriguing. Her Man of Mystery was what she called him. Whatever had happened to him?

She checked her own profile photo. It, too, was an old photo of her sitting in a tree, her mini-skirt hiked up to show her legs. She put that on when one of her friends told her she had never been young, so on a whim, she put on a photo Bill took right after they were married. She really should change that. Maybe the next snow day when the schools were closed.

She “friended” Aaron.

A day later, there was an e-mail note telling her she had a message from him on Facebook: That was you! I recognized the photo.

I recognized yours, too! It brought back so many memories.

So it began, a cyberspace courtship that went on for months. He lived in Oregon where he worked on environmental projects around the world, keeping in touch with his clients from his home in Portland.

He had married twice, but never had children. Sheila's son had gifted her with three grandchildren who now lived with their mother in Florida while her son Artie served in the army reserves in Afghanistan. She saw them every other year.

Why did you disappear in the Sixties? Where did you go?

For several days, she waited for a reply.

The draft. I went to Canada. Stayed there until President Carter declared amnesty.

I fought the draft, too, she reminded him.

Times change, I wasn't sure how you would feel about that. Your son is in Afghanistan in his reserve unit.

I'm not particularly happy about that though. Different times, plus he volunteered. It was his choice to a certain extent.

They worked their way through that, establishing they had maintained liberal political beliefs. It was a relief to Sheila. She was one of two or three Democrats in her town.

Each evening, after her school day, Sheila went to the computer, put on her bifocals and read what Aaron had to say. Neither of them changed their profile photos. Neither did they Skype since her dial up connection was way to slow.

They began to talk of meeting. Could she come to Portland? Could he come to Wisconsin? Sheila didn't relish the gossips talking about her having a man stay in her house. Going to Portland was his territory. Memories were one thing, but what if he had murdered his two previous wives?

She decided she had been watching too many crime shows.

Finally, he called her. He sounded like the old Aaron she remembered. He said the same thing about her. They agreed to meet where it had all begun, in Chicago. She would stay with one of her old friends from college, he would stay with an aunt. They would go out for coffee and see where it would go from there.

It was a short spring break to make up for snow days. She had papers to correct, lesson plans to prepare. She suggested they meet when school was out, maybe at the beginning of June. That would give her enough time.

Sheila began a crash diet which made her cranky, but she was determined to fit into her skinny jeans. It was just a matter of losing twenty pounds in two months. Surely she could do that. She blew up her Facebook photo for inspiration and tacked it on the refrigerator. She made an appointment to have her hair colored, to get rid of the blond she had been using for years to cover her gray, and return to the brunette she had been in the Sixties. She began using teeth whiteners. She considered Bot-ox, but she was leery of putting something like that on her face.

Now he was calling her nightly.

She began to wear low heeled pumps instead of Crocs. Aaron had always admired her legs, fondly called her a “leggy broad”. She worked out at the high school fitness center, using the treadmill to shape up. It wasn't enough, she still had a muffin top around her mid-section.

The third graders noticed the change in her, especially when she giggled for no apparent reason. They talked to their parents about it. Some of those parents had been her students. None had ever seen her looking so good. At the final parent-teacher conferences, they asked, “What's going on?”

“Thinking about retirement,” she said. She was, too. After twenty five years of teaching, it was time to consider what she was going to do. Travel? She hadn't been anywhere since college. Should she sell her house? An apartment? Maybe move to Florida to be near the grandchildren? As long as she had her savings, her pension, and her house, she had plenty to live on in old age. She talked about all of that with Aaron, though never suggesting she move west.

Then it was June. She had lost fifteen pounds, still slightly overweight, but she thought she was looking good. Her Chicago friend Elaine told her so but friends lie. She had lied enough to Elaine, after all.

Elaine watched as Sheila dressed for her date. She wore a tied died shirt over the not quite skinny jeans. She curled her now dark hair. She carefully applied makeup as she had learned to do in community theater productions, covering the worse of the wrinkles. She knotted a bandanna around her neck to hide the old lady gizzard look. Elaine looked her over and pronounced her ready just as the phone rang.

“He's changing his mind,” Sheila said. Was that relief she felt?

Elaine laughed and handed her the phone. He was calling for directions.

“No GPS?” she asked.

“Rental car. The GPS doesn't work.” Sheila handed the phone back to Elaine who gave him directions in her sultry voice. She always did that with men. Now Sheila remembered how Elaine flirted with all her boyfriends back in college. She wouldn't want Aaron to go through that.

“Parking is terrible around here. Best I wait at the front door.” She went down to the lobby of the apartment building and paced. The concierge at the desk looked up from his newspaper.

“All right, ma'am?”

“Yes, yes, just stretching my legs.”

“Dick Clark had another stroke,” he told her, returning to his paper.

That didn't bode well, Sheila thought. She had never asked about Aaron's health. What if he had a stroke with all the excitement. What if she did?

She was feeling her pulse as he drove up in a dark sedan, new she thought, but she wasn't wearing her glasses and had never been able to tell one car from another. It didn't matter, it was a rental.

He unwound all six foot six inches out of the car. He was dressed in khakis and a polo shirt. He used to shop at Big and Tall. He probably still did.

She felt overdressed and intimidated by his height. He gave her a hug.

“I would have known you anywhere,” he said. “You haven't changed a bit.”

“You haven't either.” And he hadn't. He was still tall and lanky, his hair the same white blond.

He helped her into the car, in the old fashioned way men did back in the sixties. She hadn't been helped into a car in decades.

They drove off in search of a Starbucks, the radio playing songs from the Sixties on an oldies channel. He kept saying, “I can't get over it. You still look the same.”

They talked and talked about old times. Oops, they'd missed the Starbucks she had marked on the map. Never mind, there would soon be another. She had printed out a list of them.

“Do you remember the peace rallies?” It was how they met.

“Do you remember the Cubs game we went to?” The Cubs lost, of course, but it was such a beautiful day even if they both got bad sunburn there in the bleachers.

“Do you remember Gracie? The one that ran the protests? What happened to her?”

“Didn't you hear? She went conservative and ran for office. Now she runs Tea Party rallies.”

They sang protest songs along with the radio, stumbling over the few lyrics they remembered. When it was a Dylan song, they mumbled along with him. That was the great thing about Dylan, you didn't need to know the words.

They'd passed yet another Starbucks.

On the third try, they found a nondescript coffee shop, the kind they used to go to back in the old days. Chicago still had them, the family restaurant on the corner. They sat at the booth. Sheila thought they looked like a Seinfeld episode, though Aaron was too tall for one of those characters.

“You haven't changed at all,” Aaron marveled again as the waitress brought them menus.

“You haven't either.”

Sheila glanced at the menu and realized it was a blur. She reached into her purse for her bifocals, as Aaron pulled out his from his jacket.

They put on their glasses, looked at the menus and looked up at each other.

With their glasses on, it was obvious to both of them. His hair was not blond, it was white. Her blouse stretched across her belly fat. Both of them had laugh lines and gnarled fingers.

He was pounding the table and she had tears in her eyes before they stopped laughing

They both had changed yet two hours later, after they finished their coffee, ordered lunch, and then dessert, they decided they had changed for the better.

That fall, she was teaching in Oregon.

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