After my first marriage collapsed, I moved from the wine country down to San Francisco, where I worked, and there remembered that I had no knack whatever for what you might term romantic cold-calling, seducing unfamliar leggy beauties in singles bars. So I did the groovy, modern thing, and ran a personal ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. One of the women who responded agreed to meet me at The Pig and Gristle on California Street. I’d come, after several such blind dates, to expect the worst, and was happily flabbergasted when she turned out to resemble Michelle Pfeiffer crossed with Sigourney Weaver, albeit in black hi-top sneakers.
The sneakers were a tipoff. When she’d told me on the phone that she was 5-9, I, with my…thing for high heels, had mused, “So, around 6-2 in heels?” in hope of her confirming that she enjoyed the power of impractical footwear. She’d said something like, “Fat chance, buster,” and here was my proof. She was beautiful, albeit in a fresh, natural way I like less than a slightly overdone, slightly tarty one. It emerged that she would feel in high heels and makeup as though betraying her sister feminists. The chances of my having lunch with Jesus Christ were greater than those of my seeing her in false eyelashes. She was palpably feisty.
She had a big, affectionate family, straight out of Annie Hall. Her elder brother is one of the best, kindest men on earth. But their embracing me made me Groucho Marx. Mustn’t there be something terribly wrong with a family that would embrace me? Could they not see who and what I was? I am ashamed to admit that I was very often churlish with them.
She was constitutionally incapable of giving a timely gift. That is, on the actual occasion — birthday or Xmas or Kwanzaa, though of course I’m only kidding about Kwanzaa — she would give one a cute handmade certificate entitling him to a gift sometime in the vague future. I divined that she felt…controlled having to give a gift on a specific day, as she did by someone being generous with her. When I told her I’d really love if she made a big deal of my 50th birthday, she essentially said, “Fat chance, buster.” She admitted that, according to no less an expert than her own mother, she’d emerged from the womb spoiling for a fight, and over the course of the nearly 11 years of our domestic partnership, we fought a great, great deal. It was almost like being back in my childhood, except that neither she nor I was passive, as my dad had been. Oh, was she feisty.
She was a wonderful de facto stepmom to my daughter from age five — attentive and very generous. She agreed to move with me back to the wine country — even though it meant nearly four hours’ daily commuting for her — to accommodate my daughter. She saw me through a series of depressions that I very nearly didn’t live through, as I saw her through a couple of her own. We loved each other.
The constant fighting wore me out, though, and our erotic styles were incompatible. I realized we’d run our course. We agreed that I would buy out her share of the house in the wine country we’d bought together. On the last day of her evacuation, I told her I wanted her to have the enormous (for the time) TV I’d bought a year before. Well, how on earth, she demanded indignantly, did I imagine she was going to get it, heavy as it was, down to her new digs? She made me feel an asshole for trying to be generous with her, and the moment her car disappeared around the corner, I exploded into tears of hurt and frustration and anger. Our whole relationship writ large.
For seeing you didn't have it in you
For being the first one to surmise
that it was futile to continue
Baby, I apologize
Two of the best songs I’ve ever written — "I Apologize" and "When You Lost Me" are about our breakup.
We’ve been broken up nearly 13 years, over the course of which we’ve spoken on the phone maybe 20 times. In all 20 cases, it was I who made the call. There’s a hole in my heart where she, with whom I shared my life most intimately for a quarter of my adulthood, ought to be.
No one departs with heart unshattered
when something once so precious dies
For all the foolish things that mattered
Baby, I apologize