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Joanie’s Street

 

Chapter 1

 

Single. Single is a bad word. Nobody should have to say “single.” Well, some people like to be single. But I am not one of them. There were times when it was convenient, I guess. But most of the time it was darn lonely.

I was single for a long time, twelve years after my divorce. I never was too whippy at dating even before I was married. Shyness. I think my shyness stemmed from a dearth of self-esteem. Most people thought I was okay lookin’, I guess. But I never was all that convinced. I had a heck of a time talkin’ to anyone. Never thought I had much to say. Did an awful lot of thinkin’ though. Sometimes I think thinkin’ gets in the way of doin’. I wasn’t much of a doer where the opposite sex was involved.

I grew up in the big city. Big cities are nice for a lot of stuff, but if you’re shy I think it causes some problems. Kinda hard to get to know people when there is a lot of competition. Big schools, big churches, big cars to drive on the big highways. Me, I never had a car except when I borrowed Mom’s. That doesn’t make a great impression.

So now here I was single in a medium sized college town. Thinkin’ got me this far at least. I was workin’ on my doctorate. Not a lot of people make it that far in education, and I wasn’t real sure I was goin’ to make it much farther. Tough goin’ that degree. The rest seemed awful simple by comparison. Lots of readin’. Lots! I never even sat down to watch TV without a big textbook in my hand. Readin’ between the lines—kinda a joke there—between the lines of dialogue on the TV, or the other meaning of the phrase. Guess that’s another one of my problems with folks. My sense of humor doesn’t exactly click with a lot of folks.

So I find myself goin’ to a singles group. Never particularly liked to do that. Gotta meet a lot of folks and you know all of them are there lookin’ for Mr. or Ms. Right. So am I the right one? Is there someone there that is right for me? Kinda’ like the old junior high dances. I was one a’ them that sat around the edges waitin’ for somethin’ to happen. I wasn’t too eager to put myself out there in front and be embarrassed. Geez! I remember High School prom. Had a date with someone three years younger. Doubled with another couple in his dad’s old beater of a car. Talk about your losers! Lotsa kids rent limos now, do the big dinner and make an all nighter out of it. Not us. Tried the dinner deal, but that wasn’t great. Date fell asleep halfway through the dance. Went home early. Not a great memory.

Anyway so here I am at a singles’ group meeting. Heard about it someplace and decided to give it a try. I’m sittin’ there lookin’ around, tryin’ to be a little sneaky about it. But then everyone knew I was sizin’ things up. Big range of ages. Maybe 30, 35 people. What was I then, about 35 or so? Prime age for a lot of things, but some think its too old. Wish I was thirty-five again, in a way. But I like my life now too. Guess it is a lot better than it was when I was thirty-five and single!

So here I am wonderin’ if it is worth trying to date again. I had been in love with someone for a lot of years after my divorce, but it wasn’t workin’ out all that well since I moved to the college town. Maybe it was ending—I didn’t know for sure, but I felt I needed to explore more options. Dated a couple of people before I moved up here, but they were real short term and not too memorable. Didn’t feel very comfortable being here. I knew there would be introductions, and what do you do’s? and stuff like that. Never know just how much to say about what I do. Right now I’m a full time student. No money, rental places, all that baggage. Tried to keep a job goin’ after I moved, but the doctoral work required too much time and energy. Used up all my savings. Geez, sometimes I think I’m too dumb to live!

At least I have a goal. Goal setter, that’s me. Sometimes the goals are not real logical. This time I am trying to prepare for a college teaching job. It’s what I’d like to do, but I don’t know how or when it will work out. Somethin’s gotta happen soon or I will be flat broke and hungry as well as being horny and lonely.

Lookin’ around the room. Anyone attractive? Anyone makin’ eyes at me?

 

Chapter 2

 

I had a kind of weird experience. My money situation was really getting desperate. I finally decided I had to make some money but I couldn’t afford the time it would take to get a menial job for hourly wage. I decided I should use my skills that I had already developed to get something that paid better than minimum wage and didn’t require a lot of time. I am a musician, I thought. I am working on my doctorate in music education, says me to me. What you ought to do is get a job involving music. Let’s see. Private lessons? Maybe, but I really didn’t want to do that. Aha! Church choir director. I did that before and didn’t really like it all that much. But I was getting desperate and that seemed like a good choice. I had a lot of faith, but didn’t really like sharing it with others and often felt that church people were quite hypocritical. Besides you have to do a lot of recruiting to keep your numbers up and people like to sluff off sometimes. It gets to be pretty hard to please a bunch of church going people when it comes to selecting music. And I was a hard taskmaster. I expected a lot of my musicians and of myself. Sometimes I turned people off in a volunteer choir situation.

Okay, time to act. One day I grabbed the local telephone book and started writing down addresses of churches. I started with Disciples of Christ (Christian) since that was the denomination I was raised in. I also wrote down Baptist, Methodist, and Lutheran, but I was not too positive about Lutherans since I didn’t know much about that brand. There seemed to be three Disciples churches, a couple of Baptist and several of the others. I wrote about 10 letters introducing myself and explaining that I was hoping to be able to lead their choir. Scrounging around in my desk I found one lousy stamp! Decision time again, which letter got the stamp? Did I mention I was broke? I picked First Christian Church, mailed that letter and saved the rest until I got more stamps.

I must confess I hadn’t been going to church since I arrived in the college town. I already said some of the reasons, but now it was time to face the music, so to speak. I got up Sunday morning, put on a suit, and went to the church nearest my apartment. It was one of those newbies that had no real building, but met in a multipurpose building on Sundays. I thought it might be more to my liking since those kinds of churches often have younger members and like newer music.

I walked in with a little trepidation since I was so shy. But I knew I had to bite the bullet and face the music (oops, used the same cliché twice). I could hear a few voices somewhere, but couldn’t locate the people. I guessed I was too early and thought I would sit down and wait. I sat for about two minutes and felt really uncomfortable for some reason, so I got up and left. What a chicken! I started to drive back home, but thought better of it and decided to go by First Christian, just to see what kind of people were walking in. I parked out in front and watched for a while. I had absolutely no intention of going in. But after a few minutes I found my feet making tracks for the front door.

Finding a seat about three quarters of the way back in the sanctuary I sat myself down. I was really surprised how many people came over and introduced themselves and shook my hand. That had not been my experience in most churches. The minister was about my age and got up to make the morning announcements.

“Good morning!” he said. “Lottie Mae is sick in the Memorial Hospital and would like your prayers. Roger Dodger has resigned as choir director effective in two weeks. He has a job in Loosey Goosey and will be leaving then.”

Did I hear right? The choir director resigned? How strange is that? The first letter I mailed was to this church. The first church I went to was this church. The first day I attended the choir director resigned! Too much coincidence for me!

After the service I stood in line to shake the minister’s hand. I introduced myself and told him I had sent him a letter a few days before.

“Oh yes! I was going to call you tomorrow. Can you come by my office, say, Tuesday, at 11?”

“Sure! I’ll be there.”

I got the job immediately and started to work. The choir was about 25 or so relatively permanent members. Some were older folks who had sung for years, and had the screechy voices to prove it. But some were my age and wanted to hear the choir improve. When I look back on it now, I gave it a pretty good shot for a few years, but not my best shot. I was too busy taking care of business with my doctorate and dealing with personal issues. One of those personal issues was the singles’ group.

 

Chapter 3

 

The evening was not quite as uncomfortable as I had feared. The people leading the group were sensitive to privacy and didn’t pry too much. They had no huge agenda, just trying to provide a way for people to be comfortable meeting others of like mind. I noticed a woman about my age in corduroy slacks and a blouse, both of which seemed to fit nicely. I guess that’s a euphemistic way of saying I was attracted to her. We made eye contact a bunch of times and there were probably some exercises where we broke into small groups a time or two. Anyway, we wound up talking a bit during the evening.

When things broke up we walked out of the building into the cold night together. She was easy to talk to and we decided to go someplace and get a cup of coffee. Her smile was nice and wavy dark blonde hair framed a rather pretty face. I guess she liked what she saw in me because she sure smiled a lot. I was beginning to like that smile. I didn’t remember ever having such an easy time talking to a woman before. But then I had had a pretty interesting life up to that point and she asked a lot of questions. I didn’t want the conversation to focus just on me, so I think I managed to make a few good inquiries myself. The evening went well and we decided to get together again soon.

What a week that was! I got a job that I could handle without too much strain on my studies, and met a woman with whom I felt something might happen. I sure never expected to have so much success in either department so easily. Well, actually I had to work a little bit at it.

When I hear religious people talk about “Leaving things up to God,” I often wonder what they mean. Too often I think people assume that there is no responsibility on their part. “God will take care of me.” That may be true with someone who has no ability to take care of him or her self. But I had to decide to seek a choir director’s job, had to write the letters, had to mail them, and then had to approach the right people. Maybe God put those ideas in my head, I can’t argue about that because I don’t know. But if I hadn’t taken the steps I did, it would not have happened. But the coincidence of events is unexplainable in logical terms. Someone gave me a little push along the way.

 

Chapter 4

 

My life at that time was a real balancing act. I had two sons who were probably 7 and 11 or so. I had a dog, a beagle mix, who was cute as heck, but loved to run away. And I lived in an old house in the poor part of town. My neighbors on one side were a really old couple that seemed to be glad that a decent guy had moved in. On the other side was a single guy about my age, a stonemason, or actually a creative layer of stone, a really interesting guy.

My boys lived with me on an every other week basis. I was not one of those single dads who left their kids to the vagaries of fortune without any fatherly guidance. I love my boys. I wanted very much to be a part of their lives. It has always boggled my mind how many single fathers have not seen their kids for years in some cases. How can you do that? We did a lot of fun, creative things together. Since I didn’t have much money, we learned how to have fun with practically nothing.

Junk sculptures were a favorite activity. We would gather up some Styrofoam cups, cans, string, wire, whatever we could find. Then we would make stuff. Usually we had no plan when we started out, we would just mess around until something came out of it.

Fantasy trips in the park were another fun thing. We would go to the park and just be walking around. When things seemed to be getting a bit boring I might shout, “Watch out for that alligator!” The boys would flinch and look around. Then they would get the idea and we would be off on some fantasy adventure.

When we went driving, especially on long trips, I would start a story thread. Each guy would have to add to the story when I stopped. The story would get passed around the car and mutated in amazing ways consuming tons of time and a great deal of brain power. Trips went a lot faster that way.

I remember a time when I was walking Blaze, my dog, through the park, which was just a few blocks away. An old man with very few teeth, and probably drunk, exclaimed, “That dog has teef as big as his mouf!” His eyes bugged out and he seemed terrified of my little beagle. I always get a chuckle out of that one.

Another time the boys and I and Blaze were walking around the park on a very cold morning. We discovered a pizza box on the frozen ground and one of the boys picked it up. It had a whole pizza in it. I have no idea how it got there and why nobody went back to get it if they dropped it. But there it was. I told the boys to leave it there since its heritage was suspect. Blaze either didn’t hear the order or understand it, because he started wolfing it down. Now Blaze was only about 25 or 30 pounds and here he was eating a 14 inch pizza. Comically, he got it all in his little tummy and proceeded to waddle the rest of the way home. I don’t think I have ever seen such a small dog eat so much.

I loved living in that medium sized college town. I rarely used my car, either riding my bicycle or walking almost everyplace. When it was time to pay bills each month I would write the checks, seal the envelopes, then ride my bike to the places that were in town and hand them the envelope. I haven’t done that for more years than I care to count.

I usually walked to my church job that was just across the same park. One very cold Sunday morning I headed for church with a sport coat and slacks on. Since it was less than a mile I thought I would be okay. Halfway across the park my legs started to shake and then freeze up. I honestly thought I was not going to make it. Since I was halfway it made no sense to go back home and get the car so I kept going. I don’t think I was ever more happy to be in the warm church.

 

Chapter 5

 

I explained that I am a musician. I have always wanted to write songs and the guitar and my songs became a way for me to cope with some of the ordeals that I was facing at various times. Since Joanie and I seemed to be getting along pretty well, I decided to write a song about it. I had grown up in Colorado and still considered myself a mountain man, in spite of my absence from the mountains. Well, here. I’ll let the song say it for me.

 

Country Lady/Mountain Man

©1983 BG Anjou

 

You were just a little Texas country lady

With a little bit of drawl shown’ round the edges.

You were just a Colorado mountain man

With those eyes that could look right through a lady.

 

Now here we are lovin’ each other

In the only way we can.

Now who would have thought we’d be together

In this Kansas country land?

 

You had those hands that were so expressive

When you worked your magic music on my mind.

You had your lovin’ arms to hold around me

When I needed tender lovin’ to see me through.

 

Now here we are lovin’ each other

In the only way we can.

We’re livin’ a life dedicated to the One

Who made this mighty plan.

 

Soft lovin’ hands sendin’ shivers down my spine again

Bringin’ you back to my lovin’ arms

Wonderin’ where you’ve been.

 

You had a way of climbin’ my walls

That finally brought me a little bit out of my shell.

You had a way of singin’ your songs

That made me light up with delight.

 

Now here we are lovin’ each other

In the only way we can.

Now who would have thought we’d be together

In this Kansas country land?

 

Soft lovin’ hands sendin’ shiver down my spine again

Bringin’ you back to my lovin’ arms

Wonderin’ where you’ve been.

 

As you might have figured out, we alternated phrases when we sang it as a duet, except on the chorus and the bridge (Soft lovin’ hands). We sang for both her church and the singles’ group that helped us meet.

 

I also wrote a song for the singles’ group, named “Heartland”, also the name of the group.

 

Heartland

©1982 BG Anjou

 

Heartland, you came along at the right time of my life

Heartland, friends who care and who share

Giving to each other of ourselves

Growing toward abundant life.

 

Heartland, interdependence is the center of our theme

Heartland, making friends along the way

Sharing in a growth experience

Heartland, lead me to a new day.

 

I had the group members make up subsequent verses each time we sang it.

 

            Those were some fun days and we enjoyed them fully while they lasted. It seemed almost a miracle to me that I actually met someone at a single’s function and we enjoyed each other’s company.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Joanie and I started dating quite a bit. She had four kids while I had only the two. We had a lot of fun together and the relationship seemed to be going rather well. I have to admit that I am a male and have a libido. A quite healthy libido as a matter of fact. That is another thing about some religious folks that I find hard to tolerate. I was single, Joanie was single, and things happen. I began to drive out to her house on the north side of town, across the river. Since Blaze loved to get out of the yard every time I left him, I had to take him with me. While Joanie and I sat in the living room I tied Blaze to the tree out front. One night I noticed he was missing after chewing through the rope. I called and called to no avail. The next day I got a call from the dogcatcher that my dog had been picked up that night. I went to bail him out of jail and had to pay a five-dollar fine. I decided to use a stronger rope next time.

A few evenings later I ignored Blaze a little too long and the same thing happened. It seems there was a dog in heat a few blocks away and Blaze, although neutered, could not resist going down there. This time it cost me $10 to get him sprung from the hoosegow.

One of my major problems in life is my temper. When I get upset at something that seems trivial or would be easily fixed with a little common sense, I get angry and express it in sometimes-inappropriate ways. The third time I looked out the window just as Blaze slipped out of his collar. I ran down the street after him, but of course a man is no match for a dog. I piled in my car and careened down the street knowing exactly where to go to find him.

The owner of the dog in heat had already locked Blaze up in the yard and had called the authorities. I arrived at the same time as the dogcatcher and jumped out of my car and headed for the gate. The dogcatcher stood in my way and asked me where I was going. “To get my dog out of that yard,” says I. “Oh no you’re not!” says he.

Did I mention that my anger sometimes got out of control? I cocked my fist in preparation to forcing my way through this obstacle to get my dog. As I looked up at the uniformed officer I noticed he was about six feet three or so and I stand a meager five-ten. The moonlight glinted off the badge pinned to his uniform and I happened to notice the bulge of his pistol at his side. Better sense prevailed just in time. I uncocked my fist and slunk back to my car. That time I had to pay a larger fine and go to court to get my dog out of trouble. But when I think about it, it could have been much worse. I could have been the one in jail and the fine could have been huge. That was the incident that forced me to consider counseling for one of my persistent problems. I needed help.

Things with Joanie were heating up too. I was spending more and more time on the street where Joanie lived. In some ways it was good for me, but in other ways not so good. I still had a very strong feeling for the woman I had been dating for so long, but she did not share that feeling anymore. In my judgmental way I compared Joanie to the other woman whom I thought was perfect for me. The thing of it is, she was not perfect for me. If she had been, we would have still been together. But I was having a lot of trouble dealing with that.

Again, looking back, I was not real fair to Joanie. We had a good time for several months and I even took her to meet my parents. That was a very strange trip.

 

Chapter 7

 

My parents lived in Arkansas at that time. Joanie had a relative that lived someplace along the way, so we decided to go see the relatives in one trip. I don’t remember much about the trip except her relative was not around or something and I didn’t feel that Joanie and I could sleep together at my folks’ house. So Joanie got the spare bedroom and I slept on the couch. Sneaky me did not stay on the couch all night!

It seemed like a great trip in some ways, but it became apparent to me that our goals in the relationship were a little off kilter. I had no desire to make things permanent with her, although I was not the type to love them and leave them either. Part of the problem stemmed from the way she pressured me in certain areas. The trip highlighted some of those problems.

I mentioned that I compared her to an ideal woman. That is always unfair. One person is very much different from another and each should be appreciated for who they are. I achieved that for a while, but my resolve was beginning to erode.

Joanie looked pretty darn good. Sex was a little different though. As I said she had four kids and yet had recovered rather nicely from that. I appreciated that, but she liked sex kinda rough, while I am a romantic at heart. (I hope I am not offending the readers who thought I was a nice guy because of the church choir thing. I think I am a nice guy, but I like sex too.) There were times when I was just not up to the task. I remember one night when she kept asking for more and more and I was struggling with the odor that was rising from her. It just was not working for me, and I finally gave up in disgust. When she asked what was wrong I had to be honest about the odor problem. It was not the first time I had been turned off by that. She admonished me that I should have told her so she could do something about it.

But it was more than that. As we talked she explained that her husband had abused her, at least once with a broom handle. She explained that caused some of her problems. The demanding nature of her needs may have turned some guys on. But it put me off. The overnight trip and other encounters had shown me that this was not the person I wanted to spend my life with. Still, I was not prepared for what happened next.

 

Chapter 8

 

My professional life was changing rapidly. I had finished all the class work for the doctorate and was beginning research on my dissertation. Although I was still directing the church choir, I decided to start a canoe rental business in Arkansas where my parents lived. I have always loved being outside but found Arkansas full of poisonous snakes and bugs, everything had thorns on it, and it just seemed really uncomfortable to me when I tried to go outside there. My eye turned to the rivers. There were no places at that time to rent a canoe, so I decided to start my own business. I bought five canoes, a trailer, and moved in with my folks for the summer. I had to stay in Kansas for the church job but I would drive down to Arkansas every Thursday and stay until Saturday night renting canoes. Needless to say it was a very tiring, demanding time.

This is an honest to God true story. As I said, Joanie and I were beginning to have a few problems, but she seemed like she really wanted to marry me. The night before I left for Arkansas the first time, she begged me to marry her. I had to say no for the time being, but said I still wanted to date to see how things would work out. After a few days down there I started feeling a little bad about the way I left and began to miss her a bit. It could not have been more than a week, so I called her. She coolly informed me that she was married! I was shocked! I did not even realize she was seeing anyone else in the months that we had been dating. Obviously she had been. She must have been playing us off each other the entire time. I still wonder if the other guy knew about me, and how she managed to get him to marry her in such a short time. For gosh sakes I was only gone a week!

I guess things turned out as they should have. I am happy with my life and I hope she is with hers. We had a good time together when we needed each other. We enjoyed singing together and I helped her deal with a situation regarding her mentally retarded son and his assisted workplace. So, I guess we had a mutually helpful relationship for a short time. And in many ways I think that is all we could have asked for.

 

I no longer go down Joanie’s street. I have no idea whether or not she still lives there. I may still have one or two pictures of her someplace, but I don’t know where. She was a vivacious woman and I wish her all the best. Joanies’ street was interesting.