You’re Just Brokenhearted. Many of Us Have Had It
Did I ever leave you
Was I ever able
Are we still leaning
Across the old table
Did I ever love you…
Was it ever settled
Was it ever over
And is it still raining
Back in November
— Leonard Cohen
Autumn without Glenda
Across the river in South Carolina, the Greek’s after-hours bottle club had a Saturday wee-hours steak special with all the trimmings. There was a new comic the Greek imported from the New York borscht circuit. I was going to write a feature about him for next Sunday. The comic scored his final laugh and the jazz combo came back. We finished our steaks and ordered drinks, and the city editor asked me if I was really making a Florida road trip to return Glenda’s belongings.
“That ER nurse was all over you tonight on the dance floor,” Ribbit said in his bullfrog voice. “If it were me I would be plannin’ a cozy winter weekend right here, not drivin’ clear to Florida to not get laid.”
“I’ve kinda sworn off,” I said.
“Not me,” Ribbit said. “I have yet to make my mark in darkest Georgia. But I’m studyin’ on it. How come you didn’t take what was so copiously offered you by that morsel of Georgia womanhood?”
“It’s like I’ve got deep freeze of the genitals. I wouldn’t have been able to do her any good, not now.” The ER nurses who came across the river from University Hospital at the end of swing shift were dancing with a couple of young residents. Hospital residents were as bad as newspapermen about chasing women.
“I love this song,” Ribbit said as the ensemble struck up A Whiter Shade of Pale.
“Do you? I think of it kind of as our anthem these crazy days.”
“I don’t know what the hell the words mean, but it speaks to me,” Ribbit said. “I’d like to trip the light fantastic, perhaps with yon nurse.” He sighed. “So your Glenda chick has dealt you a psychic war wound, like Jake Barnes in Fiesta.”
“She’s not my Glenda chick anymore,” I said. “You’re talking about Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises. Right?”
“It came out as Fiesta in England,” Ribbit said. “I am merely demonstratin’ my erudition.”
“Have another drink,” I said. “I am.”
“I won’t turn one down. But you need to pace yourself if you’re really goin’ to Florida today.” Since Glenda ended it, Ribbit had been hanging around with me demonstrating brotherly solidarity. Almost like my Army buddy I.Z. when I crashed and burned with women. It was strangely comforting.
“Psychic war wound?” I said. “That’s pretty heavy for this o’clock. She just put me out of business, that’s all.”
“A honey badger will do that,” Ribbit said. “Before you comment, yes I am now demonstratin’ my North Carolina roots by referring obliquely to Robert Ruark’s bitter writing about women.” He finished off his new drink in one long swallow. “I sometimes think all Southern women are honey badgers.”
“Now you’re a naturalist,” I said. “How about black widow spiders? How about praying mantises?” But Glenda wasn’t Southern.
“How about another drink? Honey badgers always go for the groin,” Ribbit said. “Ask me: I know.”
“I believe I will have one more,” I said. “Going for the groin is only bad depending upon the intent.”
“Now you’re channelin’ that nasty Henry Miller,” Ribbit said. “Yon nurse looks good for a favorable groin descent. Probably right in the parking lot, she’s so ready.”
“Get over it about the nurse, okay?” I suppressed a shudder. Fox across my grave the matriarch would say. She had compared Glenda to polio: I’d survive or be crippled. Right now it felt like the latter. “My cannon is spiked,” I said. “Sometimes I think it’s permanent.”
“How he uses cynical speech to hide his bleedin’ heart.” Ribbit used his voice-of-doom bullfrog voice. “Don’t fret, Ish. You’re just brokenhearted. Many of us have had it. It will heal.”
“I’m not sure I even want it to. Maybe the R.C’s have a point about celibacy.”
“You are not a priest, Ish. Nor even a penitent. That’s just depression talkin’. A natural companion to a broken heart. Shake it off, Ish. Save yourself for a last go at Glenda, just in case. Nothin’ like brokenhearted sex. All sad and sweet and final.”
My groin shriveled at the very idea. I was finally done with Glenda. More to the point Glenda was done with me. It ached my brain like an abscessed tooth. Ribbit patted my shoulder.“There are those in the newsroom who believe you should just lug Glenda’s crap to the dump. But we know that’s not you, Ish. By God, all this talk has got me horny. I’m goin’ to dance with a nurse and see what develops. Don’t wait up for me.”
I drove home alone in the first weak rays of November sun. The old Dodge only wandered off the road once, which startled me to cold alcoholic wakefulness. I drove with careful precision the rest of the way. I was drunk enough to stop endlessly mulling Glenda, and slept from 7:30 to 1pm. It was time to load her stuff in the Dodge, which is why I traded the Barracuda back to my mother last weekend. A weekend of no Glenda. Of Glenda’s Beaches apartment already rented to someone else, Glenda in Ocala. Her father hadn’t driven up to take her for a visit. He’d come to take her home.
She’d never called me back with their number. Finding a listed out-of-state phone number was not an issue for a newspaperman in the good old days of Ma Bell. Her mother answered the phone the first few calls. Glenda was asleep. Glenda was running a fever. Glenda was out. Her mother had a gentle voice that hated lying. Finally Glenda called. Subdued, distant. Sorry, it wasn’t going to work. She just couldn’t. It was too much sex all the time. She had lied to me; she didn’t even like sex. Her mother had prevailed on her to tell me in person. “She said I owed you that.”
I scrambled some eggs and brewed coffee for the road. No hangover; I was developing a tolerance for liquor. The stilted conversation replayed in an endless loop. I was disbelieving when she quit her job and gave up her apartment without warning. Then filled with formless fear: what the hell happened? Her bald statement it was over and why, delivered in a flat emotionless voice, couldn’t have been better designed to castrate me. I went numb. I stayed numb, as I tried to explain to Ribbit. Psychic war wound was about right.
She hadn’t touched her stuff once it was here. I checked carefully to make sure all her oils were properly capped, an old habit from art classes that seemed a previous century. Then reloaded the Dodge. I affixed the clothing pole to the coat hangers and carried out armloads of her clothing. Her perfume lingered, trying to pull memories out of my careful blankness. A folded slip of paper torn from a reporter’s slender notebook fluttered out of a fold of skirt. I hung the clothes in the car and picked it up. Her handwriting, a self-inventory:
“Height: 5’ 2 ½
“Weight — 115 lbs
“Bust — 33
“Waist — 29
“Hips — 35
“Dress size 8
“Shoe size 6 ½ AA/B
“Bra size — 34b
”Prefer seamless demi-toe hose.
“Cotton bras — warm socks in winter.”
Who did she write this for? I never saw it before. Her written dimensions blended with her lingering scent, and memory after memory kept trying to form. I refused delivery. Loading only took an hour or so. She had abandoned all her furniture and other encumbrances in the marital home. Including her son. Now she had abandoned me.
The November sun was hiding behind a high speckled overcast. It was so chilly I barely worked up a sweat. I threw a change of clothes and toiletries in an Army AWOL bag, filled my Thermos and took a final look through the apartment. Even with my stuff there, the place looked abandoned as I felt. She had not mentioned her estranged husband that last conversation, but of course he knew where her parents lived. Maybe the cowardly lion was out there somewhere, having regained his bluster. I added my Colt atop the things in the AWOL bag. I was ready.