By Carmelene Melanie Siani
After my husband and I decided to call it quits, I met “Bill” on one of the several online dating services I had joined.
He was 70-ish with a short, trimmed dark beard and lived in a little white clapboard house with a picket fence around it near a lakeside community in Northern California. I think it was the picket fence that got me.
That, and the fact he kept calling me.
“I just want to talk to you some more,” he’d say. Or, even something as simple—and real—as “I was feeling kinda’ lonely.”
Bill’s wife of over 40 years had recently died of breast cancer. “I don’t want to ever go through that again.”
I had assured him, in response to his rather probing question, that no, I didn’t have breast cancer. He told me he knew it might sound cold to ask me such a thing and repeated he just didn’t think he could stand to go through that again.
“It doesn’t sound cold to me,” I’d responded. “It sounds like grief.”
I think that may have been when he told me he wanted to meet me, I’m not exactly sure, but the upshot was I’d pay for my airplane ticket from Arizona to Sacramento and he’d pay for everything else when I got there.
Bill liked me and I liked Bill and the picket fence kept beckoning to me, but I have to admit, when I got off the plane and saw he’d come to the airport to pick me up wearing a dirty t-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap with a sweat ring around it, it kind of blurred any California dreamin’ I might have had goin’ on.
That’s not to say I didn’t still like Bill. I did, but I was pretty sure I didn’t “want” him, if you know what I mean.
True to his word, Bill took me everywhere around Sacramento he thought I would enjoy—such as the Train Museum (one of my favorites?) and his old house (another one of my preferred destinations?) and dinner at an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant around the corner from the same house that was, thank God, still in business.
Speaking of thanking things, thank God I had picked out the hotel.
When we checked in, we decided (that is, I decided, but we’ll just call it we) to take advantage of a room with separate queen beds. Good move because when the time came for us to get undressed, and Bill announced he usually slept with all of his clothes on, I was absolutely sure that I’d done the right thing by getting those two queen beds.
While Bill and I would never be a match, I came away from the weekend still liking him. He had a genuine down-home kindness to him and a naiveté about vain, demanding Italian women like me that was refreshing. He wasn’t ignorant or uneducated he was just uncomplicated, and his three-generations-of-born-in-California-heavy-equipment operators family was not cut from anywhere near the same cloth as my first-generation-in-the-United-States-singers, artists and actors immigrant family was.
“Pah-stah”? Oh, yeah,” he’d said in the midst of conversation. “I’ve heard it called that before.”
When I got home Bill kept in touch and in one conversation told me he was going to go on that deer hunting trip he had planned after all. He would be gone about 10 days and would text me because “ranches these days all have wi-fi, you know.”
True to his word, a few days later Bill texted me a picture; one of those kinds of pictures that you just don’t know how to respond to—the picture of a man holding a rifle while standing with his foot on the neck of a huge, dead animal.
Eventually, Bill’s calls would get fewer in between. I had met the man I was ultimately to marry; my head was turned and I probably wasn’t as responsive to Bill as I might have been. He still texted me occasionally, however, and then, one day, after almost a year, he called me out of the blue.
“Remember that picture I sent you of me and the elk I’d shot?” he said, in the way a person has of finally getting down to the reason they called. “I just wanted you to know that it almost made me sick to my stomach to send such a picture to you.”
Apparently, according to Bill, meeting someone so different as me, gave him a perspective on hunting he’d never had before and it was like, all of a sudden, he realized going into the mountains with a gun to shoot something that didn’t have a gun too, well, it just wasn’t right.
“I didn’t feel like I was hunting an animal. I felt like I was killing something. I felt like I was killing a live creature and that I didn’t have a right to do it.”
Bill tried to give me credit for his epiphany, and while I thanked him, I was pretty sure it had less to do with me than with the fact that his wife’s recent death had made him ripe for a different paradigm. Besides, I couldn’t take any credit. Truth be told, I had struggled to keep my mouth shut and to not tell Bill that I judged him for his hunting, which, to me, was nothing less than the slaughter of an innocent creature.
The great irony of it all was while on the one hand, I was trying desperately to understand and accept Bill and his life and how hunting fit into his values, on the other hand, he was giving me credit for having seen the light, as he put it, and changed all those values.
My final conversation with Bill came when he called me again several months later. “I just wanted to talk to you some more,” he said, adding lightly he remembered how those were the words he’d used when we first met. “How’re you doin’?”
“Well, actually, I’m going great. I’m getting married next month.”
There was an audible intake of breath on the other end of the phone and, just before he congratulated me one more time and told me one more time how happy he was for me, he finally added in his plain and simple way that he’d never forget me.
I had known Bill for just about a year and a half. We had talked a lot and told each other a lot of stories, and while we were never sexual and were never lovers, something had happened between us.
“I’ll never forget you either,” I quite easily told him in response.
It was the absolute truth—I wouldn’t forget him. I guess that’s why I’m writing about him. For whatever reasons, some people, in their plain and simple ways, put white picket fences around our hearts.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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