In exactly one week from today, I will officially have become Mrs. Squirrel. For those of you about to go all Gloria Steinem on me about my decision to change my name, just know that it is based not on conforming to societal standards, but on the shallow fact that he has a much cooler last name than me.
When Squirrel and I decided to have the wedding at our little homestead here in Bear River, I don’t think either of us realized that from that moment on, our entire lives would be consumed until the event was finally, blessedly over. We’ve begun to talk about this time almost as if it’s become its own historical period: 2007 A.W.
“After the wedding maybe we can go see that movie we’ve been talking about.”
“After the wedding maybe we can take a camping trip.”
“After the wedding maybe we can hike out to Capetown.”
“After the wedding maybe we can have a fucking conversation without the word ‘wedding’ in it.”
Last Wednesday, though, we got a short break in the million-and-a-half projects left to finish. We had promised our friends that we would go to a Crabs game with them, and since there were only two weeks left in the season, we decided we’d better go or face their wrath for an entire year.
I’ve never liked sporting events, and usually I avoid them at all costs, but going to see a Crabs game is different. The people-watching is fantastic, and if the band is playing, then you barely have to watch the game at all. Plus, they’re really generous with the jalapenos on the nachos. The four of us settled into the bleachers, and while everyone else cheered and jeered, I started my evening of observation. There were dreadlocks and high heels and little kids with blue hair. One woman completely captured my attention wearing a t-shirt with a large “got crabs?” slogan centered directly over her large assets. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she shimmied over to sit down in the stand of bleachers next to ours. Finally, when I was able to divert my gaze I noticed a familiar looking man sitting near her. I squinted to look closer and confirmed that yes, he was who I thought he was: a man I had hoped to never cross paths with again.
I met Sam a few weeks after my divorce was final. He was thirty years older than me, and we had absolutely nothing in common except for the appreciation of a good merlot. At that point of loneliness and low standards, it was enough. Sam lived in southern Humboldt in a sweet little house in the woods – with a hot tub. That helped too.
One of the first things he told me about when I started spending time with him was his terrible skin sensitivity. Almost everything made him break out in huge red welts. He could only use one completely fragrance-free type of laundry detergent. He didn’t want me to touch him if I had any lotion on. He had one special soap he used for bathing, and I was not to use it.
The hot tub was another huge issue. He couldn’t use any chlorine – only something made from seaweed to clean it. He insisted that I take a shower, and that I had to be absolutely free of any lotions, perfumes or soap before getting in it. This was a “nude only” hot tub as the laundry detergent from clothes might leech into the water. That’s what he told me, anyway.
I don’t typically have a problem taking showers, so I agreed to the rules and we spent several….not fun, exactly, but not horrible…evenings together. He seemed to be a nice enough person, especially if I’d drunk a few glasses of merlot, and it allowed me to not think about my mess of a life for awhile.
Sam was a very authoritative type of person. He liked to be in control at all times, and he liked to tell me what to do. Most of the time I didn’t take him too seriously, giggled at his demands, and played along.
One night we were sitting in the hot tub together. I was looking up at the stars while he was droning on about building permits or storage units or some other yawn-inducing subject when he suddenly asked if he could take some nude photographs of me. I looked at him in horror. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I have a polaroid camera, so no one would see them but me.”
I suppose in some small way I was flattered by the request, but this was a man I barely knew. There was no way I was going to entrust him with keeping safe (and off the internet) totally exposed photos of my…lusciousness. I tried to be coy. “Oh, no, Sam, I’m sorry, I just can’t. Not right now. Maybe some other time.” He kept pressing. I tried to distract him with other activities. No luck. After about a half-hour of constant harassment, I finally started to lose it a little. “Hey, Sam, I said no. It’s not going to happen. Can we please talk about something else now?”
This did not go over well.
He looked at me with an unemotional icy stare. “That’s fine,” he growled through gritted teeth. “I just wanted to show you something. You’re a pretty girl, you know, but if you just got some self-discipline and lost a little weight, you’d be so much better looking.”
I would like to tell you that I handled this with complete dignity and maturity – that I breathed deeply through my nose, straightened my spine, looked him right in the eye and told him that I was just fine as I was. I wish I could tell you that I calmly said to him that I was healthy, active and not about to change my appearance to fit some unrealistic perception of beauty – especially his – and that I had gracefully gathered my belongings, spun around in my Jimmy Choos and sauntered away without looking back, leaving him only with a last glimpse of my perfectly ample behind and lustrous locks dancing out the door. But I can’t.
With quivering lower lip and tears welling up in my eyes, I stumbled around gathering up my things, dropping them, picking them back up, knocking over the wine glass – still mostly full, all while trying to stifle the inevitable hiccup attack that always comes on during times of stress. I spun around in my $5.99 flip-flops, flinging drops of water from my wet and matted hair and nearly tripped over the threshold on the way out the door. I stopped to look back at him, and all I could manage to stammer was…”Well, you’re just…you’re just…NOT NICE. You’re just MEAN.”
I got in my car and started driving south. I didn’t feel like going back to my little apartment where I might do something stupid like call him, so I just kept on driving. I reached San Francisco at 6 a.m., and nearly five minutes after seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, all I wanted to do was to go home. I grabbed some Peet’s coffee, filled up the car, cranked up the ABBA and headed back to Humboldt.
I was back to Garberville by 10. Sleep-deprived and overwrought, I realized that I had just one last chance to enjoy that hot tub. It was Monday morning, and I knew that Sam would have left for work already. I knew where his key was, and that he wouldn’t be home for hours, so I stopped at the grocery store and headed back up into the woods to Sam’s house. All was quiet when I arrived. I got out of my car, walked onto the deck, found the key and let myself in. The house looked exactly like it did when I left the night before. I opened the glass doors in the back, stepped out onto the balcony where the hot tub sat and lifted the lid.
And just as the sun started to break through the clouds, I poured the entire 64-ounce bottle of chemical-filled antibacterial dish soap I had just purchased into the tub.
At the Crabs game, I had become fairly engrossed in my memory of this little bit of sweet revenge when I noticed an odd sensation on my inner thighs. They felt hot and had started to itch. Oh no! The universe was paying me back right at that second! After several minutes of squirming I knew that the most likely culprit was the poison oak I had been weeding near earlier in the day. I didn’t think I had touched it, so I didn’t bother to take a shower before leaving for the game.
I ran to the bathroom, grabbed some paper towels and soap and threw down my pants. Sure enough, large red bumps were covering my inner thighs, and the itching was nearly unbearable. I washed them off the best I could in those conditions, but then I had a real dilemma. The inside of my jeans were covered in poison oak oil. I couldn’t put them back on. For a split second I thought about just leaving them off, but I didn’t even have a sweatshirt to wrap around my legs and pretend it was a skirt, and I was sure that simply going pants-less would probably be frowned upon. There was only one thing to do. I turned the pants inside-out, grabbed some more soap and paper towels, and scrubbed down the now-outside part of the pants where the poison oak had been. I glanced in the mirror on my way out the door. There were a couple of leaves stuck in my hair, and I had a streak of dirt across my forehead. Smiling about the joys of country life, I stepped out the door almost directly into the path of Sam.
I would like to tell you that I handled this situation with complete grace and maturity. That I breathed deeply through my nose, straightened my spine, smiled widely at him, flipped my lustrous locks and said “hello” as if I didn’t have a care in the world. As if he and the nasty things he said to me never mattered one iota. But I can’t.
There I stood with tangled hair, dirt on my face and nacho cheese on my chest, wearing inside-out jeans with a distinct large water spot spreading from my inner thighs. I averted my eyes and hurried back to the bleachers, attempting to make it appear as if I hadn’t even recognized him.
Back at the bleachers Squirrel grabbed my hand and held it. His eyes moved from my face down to my feet and back up again without a trace of confusion. “Everything okay?”
The itching of my thighs had become much less intense, the sun was shining, the Crabs were winning, the band was playing Elvira, and I was about to marry a man who likes lotions that smell good, who doesn’t tell me what to do, who thinks I’m beautiful just as I am, and who doesn’t even mention it when I wear my pants inside-out.
And, I will never have to date again. Ever.
“Everything’s definitely okay.”