I still wear the cap Lorraine gave me. A loving gift for just being me. Lorraine was the Born-Again Christian I knew from a place in my mind called the Way Back. That’s where I live, in the Way Back.
The cap was a small, brown walking hat with a tiny tear in the back. I never sewed the tear together, and it never increased in size. So, why bother, I think.
Out the window I could see the fading sun thinning the clouds to long creamy strips across the pink sky. Getting close to suppertime. Supper at my advanced age was a T.V. dinner and a couple of cold beers while watching the local news. Supper has been that way since my unofficial retirement from an advertising firm to which I dedicated thirty years of my life. Now, I’m just called in once a month for consultations. Never married. Never learned to cook. With microwaves and frozen foods, why bother?
Six o’clock straight on. I shuffled about in my cottage from the sitting room to the kitchen to remove my delicious T.V. dinner - meatloaf, gravy, potatoes and a square chocolate brownie - from the little toaster oven. It takes me longer to reach the kitchen now. With old age comes muscle-pinching pain. My back, like everything else, has given out. The aroma of the chocolate dessert did make my mouth water, quickening my step slightly. I pulled back the foil from my dinner and carried it over to the table trailing white clouds of smoke chanting, “hot, hot, hot”. I sat down and faithfully turned on the television I kept on the table. After grabbing a few beers from the fridge, I became part of News Channel Three’s devout congregation. In respect for my sanctified meal, I removed the walking cap I have worn religiously for thirty years. I looked at my cap and started thinking Way Back.
Lorraine and I met almost forty years ago at the University of Georgia. I always considered myself a lucky guy to have this attractive brunette with bright, hazel eyes follow me through undergraduate and graduate school when she could have been chasing a career of her own. She was a simple small-town girl with no high ambitions in life. Just marriage and child-rearing. Despite her strict religious upbringing, we did have sexual relations, but only on special occasions. She said that pre-marital sex with me would be all right since we were going to get married after graduate school. I attended graduate school in New York City hoping to find an advertising job there upon completing my courses. Lorraine followed me around the city clinging to my clothes like a frightened child. The bigness of the city scared her. At first, I kind of liked thinking I could control her through her fear of getting lost and being alone in the city. After a few months, I could tell she was getting bored just sitting in our apartment. We didn’t live in anything luxurious. Three rooms, that’s all. The walls and carpet were gloomy, dark colors. Only the bedroom had a window. Plus, she was homesick for her little town in Georgia.
So, I kept telling her to go out more. Especially during the day. I drilled it into her that I couldn’t keep her entertained around the clock. I worked a full-time job and took classes at night.
“Go to the museums,” I suggested to her one night. She was moping around the apartment sighing loudly so I would pay a little attention to her. “That will occupy your mind. Go shopping. Do anything.”
Lorraine would shrug, sigh and drop herself on the couch. “You don’t want to talk to me, Paul.”
I never had time for this discussion. I returned to my studies.
My complaints to get her out of the apartment and explore the city finally took hold towards the final year at graduate school. So, imagine my surprise when she announced she wasn’t ready to marry me. After seven years of living together, she decided to leave. My Lorraine leaving me.
“I don’t understand, I don’t...I ...don’t understand. No.” I stammered as we argued in our bedroom. Lorraine was packing carefully sorting out her clothes from mine that we kept lumped together in the clean wash pile. Her clothes were simple to distinguish - stripes or solids and jeans that pulled apart static-free from my slacks, rugby shirts and Arrow button-downs.
“You’ve told me so yourself,” she rebutted, “there’s a whole world out there to explore. I want to find it. For years, you’ve been telling me to get off my bottom and get out. You are right. I’ve grown too dependent on you.”
“We were going to get married. I graduate soon.”
“All I want to do now is find the world.”