Itʼs my birthday today. I am 57 years old. No, donʼt bother leaving heartfelt good wishes and congratulations in the comments. Itʼs not really worth the effort. Itʼs the weekend, Janet-time, and Iʼm offline. I just mentioned the anniversary to permit me to say that Iʼll give you a gift in my honor (rather too much like an Anglo-Saxon king, the ring-giver). Hereʼs the next bit of Slaves to the Lesser Moon. Part 1 was last Sunday.
That next summer was endless. Both of us went home for the break, both of us to work and earn some cash for the next yearʼs tuition and stuff. My family lived in St. Cloud, northwest of Minneapolis, while she came from a little town just north of Milwaukee, Hartford. It wasnʼt a bad drive (I did it ten times that summer and never thanked my mom for the use of the Camry), about six hours, mostly on 94 and 90, then just over an hour on two-lane into Hartford. But her folks werenʼt about to admit we might be sleeping together (we werenʼt but wanted to by then), so I had to get a motel room when I visited, or sleep in the car, and get her home by two any morning, even Saturday night. Besides, my boss at the video store kept scheduling me for ten and twelve days in a row, right through weekends, ten and twelve hour shifts, too. Good money, but no time. Once I drove down to see her, right through the night, arriving about 7:00 A.M., because we both had that Thursday off, left about midnight and drove straight back home to sack out for only three and half hours before doing the opening shift on Friday. We texted just about nonstop from May until we got together again at school late in August.
The next fall was really cozy. She stayed in the dorms (cheaper, and her folks insisted), and Terry had found the Den of Iniquity at a much better rent than the first pit had cost, so we roomed together, each with a separate bedroom — and that came in real handy. Ter didnʼt even mind how Jen took over the bathroom, and her roommate was a real pro handling the random phone call from home for the absent daughter. Maybe too cozy. Jen kind of started acting like a regular wife or something that winter. Trying to fix me up, change me. Not that I was perfect or couldnʼt use some improving. But she kind of let herself go, too, finding that frosh fifteen by February, when second semester started, and somewhat more into that spring, and hitting me up for cash for clothes and stuff. I didnʼt mind, really, but Terry gave me the knowing eye, especially when I had him cover the whole rent in April.
That was my junior year, of course. I stayed through at school after spring semester, taking summer classes, trying to keep my college career down to just four years, even with the teaching requirements (what else is an English/Lit major going to do with his life? If only I had known…), and working a student-loan job in the Union. Bussing tables made me want to dropkick my fellow undergrads everywhere right into another universe especially made for careless slobs. Or make them clean their own crap over and over.
When summer came, Jen went home again, and we texted just about the same amount as always, but I was too busy to travel to Hartford, even though Pashitakua was really closer to her place than St. Cloud. Any time off, I just headed out to the river and dreamed of old times on the Mississippi, even though Mr. Clemens had piloted waters a lot further south than I was, fishing. And texting Jen usually.
That fall she came back different somehow. She looked slimmer to me, sexier. She spent more time in her dorm room. Studying, she said. And she dropped back home at least one weekend a month through first semester, too. Over Christmas break, I wouldnʼt hear from her for two, even three, days in a row sometimes, no matter how many little texts I sent. And then in the dead cold of January Interim, she let the ball drop: we were done. Sheʼd gotten close to somebody back home over the summer, and it turned out she liked him better than me. Jack. Old school friend since fifth grade or something. (I wasnʼt really listening but fuming when she talked about all this.) Farmboy, I guess, since he hadnʼt gone off to school anywhere and was ready to marry her whenever. Jack.
And we were done. Just like that. Stupid me. I hadnʼt had a clue.