Letters for Maggie, The Girls

Speed Dating 25 ….

I figured we had about an hour’s drive to make our 7:15 reservations. 

I had the car out of the garage and air-condition-cooling by 6 p.m. 

Married twenty-five years, she knows how much I hate to be late. 

I hold the car door and she lowers herself into her seat … at promptly 6:35 p.m. 

Married twenty-five years, I know she’s never ready on time. 

She: Wait a minute. Forgot my cheaters. Can’t read the menu without ‘em. 

I get back out to hold the door a second time, and give the bridge of my nose a deep tissue massage until she returns and floats once again into her seat. 

As we pull out of the driveway, we Google Map our drive to check traffic. 

ETA: 7:37 p.m. 

My chest tightens. 

“Don’t drive like a maniac or you’ll make me sick.” 

Ah, the sweet nothings of anniversary date night. 

Speaking of sweet nothings …. 

Earlier in the week while ordering roses to be delivered to Karry at work, the young girl on the other line asked me several times to spell my name for the card. 

“P as in Paul, E ….” 

At least three times she made me repeat it. I was genuinely impressed with her thoroughness. 

That afternoon Karry texts me the sweetest thank you. 

But mentions that the accompanying card was signed, 

“Love, Teet.” 

My mother (on whose birthday we got married and who would’ve turned 90 this year) would have found this hilarious. Probably would’ve addressed future anniversary cards to “Teet and Karry.”  

Point is, you don’t make it this far without rolling with some punches. 

As we hop on the interstate, she tries to soften my clenched jaw. 

She: The restaurant has a 20-minute grace period. 

Me: I thought it said 15 when we made the reservation. 

She: We’ll be fine. 

Me (in my head): We’re totally fucked. 

Because of the dark bile now coursing through my extremities, I choose silence as my coping strategy as I try to navigate us as gingerly and swiftly as possible towards the city. 

Google breaks the silence by informing us of upcoming congestion on the Parkway causing an additional nine-minute delay. Google assures us we’re still on the “fastest” route, though. I reach for my cel phone to call the restaurant. Karry stops me.

She disagrees with the Googles. 

“We’re not going that way.” 

She hates sitting in traffic almost as much as she hates being a passenger, but not quite as much as she hates relying on Google or Waze to tell her how to get somewhere. 

So, now I’m faced with whether to listen to my wife who never leaves on time, or Google and the 20 billion petabytes of data it processes daily.

I’m pretty sure Google has a thorough read on the situation.

I’m also pretty sure that the thin odds of Teet making a 26th anniversary may rely less on our time of arrivals and more on knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. 

I disengage the auto pilot. She dons her cheaters and begins to bark out the audible. 

Game on. 

She has me exit the Parkway at Greentree, snake down the hill, make the right at the bottom, followed by a left to climb the backside of Mt. Washington. 

On our ascent it occurs to me that it was 25 years almost to the day when this exact scene first played out. Me driving into the city, Karry navigating from the passenger seat. Two days after our wedding day, in the place where the honeymoon was supposed to go, Karry insisting on riding along with me on my first day of grad school at Duquesne to make sure I arrived – and returned — safely. She was my Google Maps before there was a Google Maps. Better, actually. She held my hand along the way.  

My jaw starts to unclench. 

As we finish the roller-coaster climb up the big hill, Karry matter-of-factly points out that we just shaved three minutes off our arrival time. 

From there, she proceeds to carve the city like a Thanksgiving turkey. 

We cruise through Mt. Washington, climb back down and hang a left onto and over the Liberty Bridge, then follow 579 North. 

Bigelow, Baum, then, boom — onto Centre Avenue. 

We pass in front of the restaurant. 

I check the time. 

7:14. 

One minute early

Not only did she erase the nine-minutes we’d have lost sitting on the Parkway, she beat Google’s original guesstimate by over 20 effing minutes. 

Takes off her cheaters, stares at me as she slow folds them and drops them into her purse like a mic.

Think gun-slinger re-holstering after dispatching the black hat purported to be the fastest on the planet.

I pull us into the garage and find an open spot on the first floor. 

I hold the door as she gets out. 

She makes a point of taking her sweet time. Checks her hair in the mirror. Steps out from the car, smoothes her sleeveless dress, straightens her thin sweater. 

Now, she is ready. 

And for the first time since she emerged late from the house, I let myself register the sight of her. 

Am reminded, yet again, that she’s more than worth any wait. 

She holds out her hand. We interlock fingers. As it has since our first college dance, the warmth makes me forget everything else. 

She, on the other hand, ensures I don’t.

“I don’t know what you were all freaked out about. You forget who you’re riding with here?” 

On the 25th anniversary of the first time she guided me safely into this city, I think to myself: not for a second. 

Still, she spends the entire walk from the garage to the restaurant’s back entrance giving me the shit I deserve for ever doubting her skills. 

Ah, the sweet nothings of anniversary date night.

I’m grateful it’s a short walk to the entrance. 

I hold the door for my co-pilot. 

The gentleman asks if we have reservations. 

Yes.

Two for Teet.

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Letters for Maggie

Remembrance: Mom in relief ….

(Mother’s Day, 2021)

Ever since Mom’s passing, whenever I find myself missing her, I walk my memory back to being nine years old and standing in our kitchen.

I was sad as hell. 

The way you get when you’re nine and you have no one to play with on a school’s out, full summer sun, Mullen Street morning. The kind that, when you’re a kid, is just too good to let go to waste.

No Danny. No Jeff. No Jerry. No Amy. No Billy. 

Not a single soul to pass ball with. 

If you were nine in our neighborhood, this was a crime against humanity. 

Standing in the kitchen, I made no secret of my discontent, moping around in all my misery. 

Mom finally asked what was wrong, and I told her. She ran down the full roster of my friends. I shot down each one with a “Not home … not answering the phone … car’s not there ….”

Moved by equal parts not wanting to see me sad and finding me annoying AF, she disappeared into the dining room, opened the closet, and reappeared wearing a ball cap and holding Dad’s baseball glove. 

“I’ll pass with you.” 

This was not a solution to my problem. 

For starters, she looked absurd. 

This is the lamest idea ever, I remember thinking. I’d never seen Mom throw anything other than fits at my Dad. 

That’s all right, I said. 

“Come on, let’s go,” she persisted, popping the ball from her right hand into her gloved left. 

No, really, I deflected. 

This went on for a good couple minutes. 

In recorded history, though, no one ever won a test of will against Maggie Riddell. 

So I ended up grabbing my glove and, still in full mope, begrudgingly followed her out to the street in front of our house. 

As we spaced ourselves just a few feet apart, I remember thinking: this is going to be awful. 

And it was. 

She lobbed one that bounced in front of me and came to rest harmlessly at my feet. I tried to aim at her glove so she wouldn’t have to move to try and catch it. 

She ended up having to chase the ball down the street anyway. 

She was atrocious. Couldn’t throw or catch to save her life.

But she got the biggest kick out of the whole thing. 

When I was about to toss one to her, she’d screw her cap on, pound her fist in Dad’s glove, bend her knees, and say something baseball-ish, like, “Put ‘er in there.” The fact that she had herself giggling by the time my throw was on its way didn’t help her fielding percentage. 

Never one to take herself too seriously, she was totally in her element in spite of her incompetency. 

She’d attempt a pitcher’s windup and laugh like hell when the ball sailed opposite of her aim. 

We soon settled on throwing easy grounders to each other, and eventually lost ourselves in trying to make it as easy for the other as possible. 

I have no idea how long we were out there. 

Probably wasn’t more than 10 or 15 minutes. 

The only thing I remember is that, by the end, I wasn’t sad anymore. 

__

It was the first and only time we ever threw ball.  

Maybe because she was so awful. Maybe because we never needed to again. Maybe because having no one to play with was a blessed rarity in our neighborhood. 

Or maybe because once was enough. 

Because on rare occasions, I still find myself sad as hell. The way you get when you’re 50 and know the person you wish you could call isn’t home anymore.

So I walk my memory back to the old kitchen. Watch her disappear into the dining room, and reappear in her ball cap, looking ridiculous. 

And I follow her, still in full mope, out to the street in front of our house. 

I see her wind-up. Pound Dad’s glove. How she laughed. 

And we lose ourselves in trying to make it as easy on the other as possible. 

I stay for only as long as I need to. 

Until I’m not sad anymore. 

Always and forever … Mom to the rescue.

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