by Bud Sturguess
As friends will often do with friends, my friends decided it was time for me to hop back into the dating scene. I had no interest, but romance and relationships are among the things friends push on friends the most. Even more than narcotics. I’ve no statistics to back up this claim, but it seems to me friends are always selling friends the outlandish claim that “there’s somebody out there for everybody.”
You and I know this is rubbish. Numerically, mathematically, statistically and environmentally, this claim simply doesn’t hold up. No matter what ideology, religious or secular or miscellaneous, one holds concerning love, it’s absolutely impossible that every person on Earth is assigned a romantic counterpart.
But, my friends being good friends, I decided to humor them, after an initial protest. I reminded them, “you know good and well that I’m a loyal man, and I remain loyal to my love Natasha Lyonne.”
“That’s admirable,” G-Man replied (his name is Garrett, but I’ve called him G-Man ever since I saw a young Richard Dreyfuss, playing Baby Face Nelson in the 1973 film Dillinger, shout, “Eat it, G-Man!”, G-Man being a Depression-era term for a federal agent). “But you should look for somebody who actually knows you exist.”
Ouch. Quite unnecessary.
Setting up my dating profile was a big row.
“What should your username be?” Rick asked. Rick doesn’t have a nickname.
“How about… Not_A_Serial_Killer_86?”
“That’s gonna turn every sensible woman away, you turnip,” G-Man said.
“We can do without the name-calling,” I replied. “But it’s true. I’m not a serial killer, and I was born in 1986. Women need to know they’re safe, especially with the amount of dastards online. You saw that movie!”
“Yeah, we all saw that movie,” Rick said. “But saying you’re not a serial killer just gonna make people think you’re a serial killer!”
I retorted, “Bollocks! Look at all these women’s profiles – they explicitly say, not looking for a hook-up. By your logic, their declaration that they’re not looking for hook-ups implies they’re looking for hook-ups!”
G-Man tried to put his foot down on the matter. Bless him. “You’re not calling yourself Not_A_Serial_Killer!”
“How about Not_A_Serial_Killer_86_go_tampabay? Because I’m not a serial killer, but I am a lifelong Buccaneers fan.”
“You’re just being an ass now,” Rick grumbled.
“I’m not the one resorting to insults, and it’s true – I was on the Tampa Bay train long before pretty boy Tom Brady ever set foot in Florida.”
G-Man sighed in exasperation. “I’m just gonna put AmarilloGuy86.”
“You know full well I’m not an Amarillo native.”
“Moving on,” G-Man said, shooting me a quick glare, “we need a good header. An opening line.”
“I think the user name is worth repeating. Write, I’m totally not a serial killer. I mean, two victims hardly defines a series, am I right, guys?”
Rick buried his head in his hands. I was enjoying myself at this point.
“I’m kidding! I’m kidding,” I said.
“I know,” Rick deadpanned.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I eyeballed him intensely. “You don’t think I have it in me?”
G-Man had had quite enough. He tossed his laptop aside and demanded to know what was my “deal.” I shot back, asking him what his “deal” was.
“You’re gonna wind up still single by the time you’re fifty if you don’t put yourself out there!” G-Man scolded.
It was time to remove the hook and end my friends’ suffering. “Gentlemen, do you remember the story of Moses?”
Rick’s head drooped in frustration. “Please don’t compare yourself to Moses in the dating game.”
“Not to Moses himself, but to his punishment,” I said.
“What punishment?” G-Man asked skeptically.
“If you’ll recall, when Moses was about to die, God took him up on Mount Nebo to show him the promised land, the same promised land Moses would never enter. God said, to paraphrase, Moses, I’m gonna let you see the land of Canaan, the land of milk and honey that you’ll never enjoy, because you disobeyed Me. And Moses stood there and stared at the price he paid.”
Rick and G-Man exchanged glances, their meaning I couldn’t discern.
“And now, I’m on my own Mount Nebo to face the price I pay,” I continued. “God’s showing me He’ll not yet grant me a woman to treasure as a wife because of the way I’ve misused them, with my body and my mind, and even my heart.”
My friends’ faces seemed to soften a bit.
“I don’t know that God will keep me on this romantic Mount Nebo for the rest of my life. Maybe only until I truly learn to appreciate the treasure that is woman. But until He lets me descend from this lonely perch, I’m bound to stay here.”
G-Man put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re full of buffalo crap.”
He and Rick left my apartment in defeat, leaving me to wonder why G-Man chose to cite buffalo feces. It seemed an awfully specific type of feces to equate my speech to. Most people would have invoked the standard bull or horse. In any case, I was left in silence, knowing I’d spoken the truth, even if to an audience of well-meaning crickets.
The next day, on the bus ride to the dentist, I noticed a lovely woman. This is unusual, because most women on the bus are in an ugly mood with big scowls on their faces that make them look like Vernon Dursley. I don’t mean such a remark pejoratively – it’s the simple truth, given the grueling nature of public transit. I’m sure I don’t look my best on the bus, either.
This particular woman had curly brown hair, puffy-curly, that hung down just above her shoulders. She wore a blue Walmart employee vest. She read a paperback copy of Cyrano de Bergerac. Her name tag read “Elizabeth.” A fitting, lovely name. Her smile made her look very much like an Elizabeth. She lent me that smile for a moment when she passed by and sat diagonally across from me.
As the bus bumped and jolted its way through the city, I thought of telling Elizabeth she had pretty hair. In fact, I desperately wanted to tell her she had pretty hair. My inner monologue harangued me, “Tell her, you idiot! Just say it! Just tell her her hair is pretty! You have pretty hair. Simple!”
But I couldn’t. And I knew I couldn’t, and why I couldn’t.
Suddenly, she sneezed, giving me an excuse to speak to her. I said, “Bless you.” I don’t normally like to say “bless you” when someone sneezes, as the courtesy comes from the old superstition that a sneeze is a sign of some evil spirit at war with the body. I don’t like to combine superstition with the very real danger of evil that wars against the flesh.
But I sold out, and said it nonetheless.
“Thank you,” she said in an alarmingly soft voice. It wasn’t raspy or boisterous or soaked in nicotine like the words of most of my fellow bus patrons. I’m not accustomed to soft and sweet voices on the bus. Elizabeth was no Natasha Lyonne, but at least she knew I existed, and that I bore some semblance of being a gentleman.
But it was all too much. I was unable to withstand being so close to such a precious being any longer. I pulled the stop cord and leaped (and I indeed leaped) off the bus, long before the designated stop near the dentist’s office.
In my estimation, telling Elizabeth her hair was pretty would have been the first step in making her my girlfriend. I’ve been seeing women through the lens of potential love interests, and less, for so long that I’ve forgotten how to see them as sisters. As human beings whose value far exceeds the limits of “someone I’d like to be seen in public with.”
So, I must remain on Mount Nebo. For how long, I have no inkling.
It’s been good for me up here. I’m in such awe of women these days. I see a beautiful woman smile and talk to her children and radiate such strength that I wouldn’t dare talk to her or approach her, even if I knew I could be her husband someday. It’s like when you see a Pegasus: you just stand there, gobsmacked, and all you can do is be enamored and think, “I can’t believe they really exist.”
I don’t deserve a genuine romance. Not right now. I firmly, wholeheartedly believe God is saying no. He does that a lot. We call it “unanswered prayer.” But sometimes, He says no. We simply refuse to accept it.
When Hank Williams, the greatest songwriter of the 20th century (eat it, Woody Guthrie) was found dead in the backseat of a car on New Year’s Day 1953, a scrap of paper was found on his person. It contained the sloppily written words to an unfinished song. I doubt the lyrics are under copyright, as they’re essentially death rattlings, so I’m probably free to quote Hank’s final, drunken, heartbreaking ballad. Especially since, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear Hank was writing about me:
“We met, we lived, and dear we loved
Then comes that fatal day,
the love that felt so dear fades away
Tonight love hath one alone and lonesome,
all that I could sing
I love you still, and always will,
but that’s the price we have to pay.”
Bud Sturguess was born in the small cotton-and-oil town of Seminole, Texas. He now lives in his “adopted hometown,” Amarillo. Sturguess has self-published several books, his latest being the novel “Sick Things.” He is a collector of neckties.
Bud’s previous story for us was “Aim For the Snyder Brothers.”