With My Crazy Mom Gone—I Hope I Finally Have A Chance At Love!
Nearly half the class groaned as Professor Acosta repeated the assignment for the second time.
“I want you all to prove to me in a written report that this experience we call ‘true love’ really does exist.” He paused, letting his words sink in. “Make the case that it isn’t merely ‘ritualistic mating’ that we humans do on a subconscious level in order to continue the species.”
Great, I thought sarcastically. Another reminder that it’s almost Valentine’s Day, I’m single, and I have absolutely no grasp on the concept of love—just what I need.
Before anyone could question him on the complexity of his words, he held up his beefy, right hand and went on. “Now, it doesn’t have to be in depth or long—just enough to convince an old cynic like myself that we are indeed one step above other primates on the ladder of evolution.”
“I thought this was supposed to be a class on creative writing—not some course on biology or religion,” someone behind me muttered.
“Did you have something to share with the class, Mr. Herring?” Professor Acosta leaned forward as he brought his hand up to cup his ear. “I didn’t quite catch your words.”
I turned around just in time to see Daniel Herring flush with embarrassment. “Uh, no, Sir. I was just making sure I understood you clearly.”
“Good. Then remember, this will be due on February fourteenth.” Though Professor Acosta’s eyes narrowed, the corners of his lips quirked upward in a very tiny grin as he continued with his speech. “In keeping within the theme of this important holiday for lovers, I’m affectionately calling this assignment ‘Cupid’s Arrow—Does It Really Strike?’” Professor Acosta shook his head and chuckled at his own cleverness.
I sat and watched as he wrote the name and the due date on the blackboard in large, pink letters. Then he grabbed a piece of red chalk and drew a huge heart around it, completing his handiwork. He smiled broadly, raising a bushy eyebrow in amusement. “Have a nice weekend, everyone.”
As we exited the room, rumblings and complaints were still being issued. Though I wasn’t one of the vocal protesters, I hated the assignment just as much as everyone else did, and with very good reasons.
“Hey, Dharma, wait up!” my friend, Maisy, shouted. Despite her heavy backpack, her skinny arms flapped frantically until she was sure I saw her through the crowd. “What’s your hurry? I had to race to catch up to you.”
I stopped and leaned against a tree and exhaled heavily. “I never thought I’d make it out of that class with my sanity intact!”
“Your psychology class got you down again?” Maisy asked, lowering her sunglasses so that she could peer at me more closely.
“Are you kidding? I love psychology! It’s my nutty creative writing professor that has me so bent out of shape.”
Maisy craned her neck around while twisting at the waist to get a close-up view of my backside. “Hmm, you look perfectly in shape to me, Dharma. What’s the problem?”
I shrugged out of my backpack and nearly collapsed on a small, wooden bench. For the next several minutes, I explained how Professor Acosta just handed me the writing assignment from hell . . . or purgatory, at the very least.
“Wow, that is heavy!” Maisy’s eyes briefly left mine as she watched a cute guy walk by. She sighed with lustful longing and then turned her attention back to me. “Can’t you just make something up?”
I scowled, wishing it were that easy. “This isn’t a work of fiction. It’s supposed to be factual, and most of all—convincing.”
Maisy smiled in the manner that only the children of the wealthy and the pampered can smile. I didn’t resent her for it; I simply wished some of her lucky dust would fall on me. “Well, Dharma, with the wild life you’ve led, I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with something.”
My brows drew downward to match my frown. “I may have had a lot of different experiences in my life, but I’m not so sure there is anything in my past that can come even close to proving the existence of true love.”
Maisy’s comment about my life started my thoughts churning. She was right about one thing—my past is anything but boring.
I was born while my mom was living in a commune in northern California. Willow—which is what Mom preferred to be called—was a wild and carefree teenager who embraced the hippie lifestyle even when it wasn’t popular to do so. Her mom, my Grandma Cecelia, finally threw her hands in the air and quit trying to control her wayward daughter’s life. At sixteen, Mom was declared an emancipated minor and was free to do as she pleased.
She met her sperm donor—which is the only way I heard my father being referred to—at a rock concert and conceived me that very night.
Though Mom planned a simple home birth with a few other ladies attending, a complication necessitated a trip to the hospital. A few hours later, I came screaming into the world by emergency C-section, amidst all the gadgets and sterile equipment that Mom so desperately tried to avoid.
“You were one lucky baby,” Robbie, a boyfriend of Mom’s, told me years later. “You were originally destined to be sacrificed to Satan, but then Willow had to go and have you in the hospital.” He grimaced with disgust. “Once they registered your birth, our plans for you fell through, and you were allowed to live.” Though he later recanted the story and claimed he just wanted to scare me, I towed the line for months. I was afraid that if I didn’t, I would disappear to the place where Robbie said all naughty, little girls go. So, you see, life wasn’t all peace and love in the commune. However, it was where I spent my most formative years.
The summer of my sixth birthday was a time of change for me. Mom decided that communal living was no longer for her, and she moved us in with a guy named Reed. This man both fascinated me and scared the stuffing out of me. He had these huge tattoos all over his body, and when he spoke, he got right in your face. The words would exit his lips in a low, menacing hiss, forcing me to unconsciously back away from him. He wore a blue bandanna wrapped tightly around his greasy hair, and a large, gold ring hung from his left ear.
I seriously thought he was a pirate, though Mom said he was a motorcycle mechanic. I had my doubts.
During the day, Reed and Mom would sleep while I played or watched TV. At night they would disappear, leaving me to tend to myself. I didn’t know where they went or what they did, but I presumed it was normal for all small children to stay home alone.
“Now, whatever happens, Dharma, don’t open the door or answer the phone,” Mom would warn just before she climbed up on Reed’s Harley. Then, with a noisy roar, they would tear down the street, the sound of his motorcycle echoing for blocks.
One night, Mom’s instructions and my loyalty were tested when I heard loud banging on the front door. Instead of answering it, I ran to the bathroom and hid in the tub. I thought that was very smart thinking for someone who didn’t even attend school yet. I just knew Mom would be proud of me when she came home.
“Open up!” someone shouted, causing me to jump and hit my elbow on the faucet.
I pulled the shower curtain closed and crouched down. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, concentrating on making myself invisible. I had this silly notion that if I couldn’t see someone, they couldn’t see me, either. It was actually a type of game that I played when I was bored.
“This is the police!” I heard the final warning, followed by the sound of splintering wood. Heavy footsteps filled the small apartment, and soon after, the shower curtain was whipped back. Cowering against the cold tile, my eyes opened a crack, and I stared into the face of what I thought was an unbelievably huge man holding a gigantic handgun.
“Call Social Services,” he announced, sounding disappointed with his discovery. “We’ve caught ourselves a kid.”
My notion was proved incorrect, and the policeman saw me, after all. After that, I never played the invisible game again.
A very good thing came from the circumstances of that peculiar evening. Though Reed and Mom went to jail for dealing drugs, I was sent off to live with Grandma Cecelia.
For the first time ever, I had a normal life—though it did seem a tad restrictive for a little heathen like me.
“But Grandma,” I complained that very first night. “I had a bath last week. I’m not that dirty.”
Grandma firmly persisted, and I finally relented. I was cleaned up, fattened up, and promptly enrolled in first grade.
Though I initially found it hard to adjust to my new home life, I absolutely thrived at school. I learned to read and to write, as well as a slew of other useful things that I never dreamed were possible. Most of all, I found that people liked me, and that thrilled me more than anything else did.
Mom entered back into my life five years later. She had straightened up her life, was out on parole, and wanted me to come live with her.
Grandma had mixed feelings about my leaving. Though she was happy to see Mom doing the right thing, she also knew that I would be leaving a stable environment and its many positive influences behind. In the end, she knew she had to give Mom a chance to be a mother to me. It wasn’t her place to come between us. With tears leaving a damp trail down her face, she wrapped me in her arms and pressed a phone card into my palm. “Just in case you need to call me,” she whispered. “I’ll always be here for you, Dharma.”
Mom and I trudged down the walkway, crawled into her beat up Chevy, and headed to our new life. It’s too bad her old car backfired in protest all the way.
We both were quiet for the longest time, and then I noticed Mom’s eyes darting nervously toward me.
“Dharma, I wanted to wait and tell you this later, but I can’t bear keeping it from you any longer.” Mom allowed herself a quick look at me before focusing back on the road.
“What is it, Mom?” I settled in my seat and blew a monster bubble with a huge wad of gum.
“Well, honey, while in jail, I met these people who helped me find myself through religion.” Mom gave an anxious cough and attempted to smile. “Because of them, Dharma, I was able to get my act together and set my priorities straight. I also came to realize my responsibilities toward you.”
I stopped chewing long enough to process the information. Then I deposited a few more sticks of gum into my mouth and commenced chewing.
“So we’ll be going to a new church and we’ll both make lots of new friends. Doesn’t that sound exciting?” She reached over and patted my leg, attempting to reassure me.
“That’s cool, Mom. Grandma and I went to church sometimes, too.” I blew a bubble even bigger than the previous one, groaning when it popped and spread its gooey mess all over my face.
The car pulled to a jerking halt at a dilapidated apartment building. Mom handed me a wet wipe for my dirty face and shut the car off.
“Now, Dharma, this church might be a little different from what you’re used to,” she said. Her voice once again became laced with uneasiness. “But you’ll like it—I promise.”
What Mom failed to tell me was that the people from her new church were more cult-like than Christ-like. Though I was only eleven years old, I was mature enough to know that I didn’t want to be controlled by anyone, much less a group of people known as “The Brotherhood of Purity.”
“Why can’t we go to a church like Grandma’s?” I complained after only a month. “These people are too weird, Mom! And I really miss eating meat. Can’t we go and get a cheeseburger? Just one . . . pretty please?” I begged, tracing a cross on my chest with my finger. “I won’t tell anybody—I promise!” I licked my lips, already anticipating the dripping ketchup and grease.
“Come on, Dharma. Try to understand. They’re my friends, and they helped me get my life on the right track. They’re good for us.” She brushed my overly long bangs off my forehead. “And besides, being a vegetarian never hurt anyone. You’ll thank me for it later when you’re strong and healthy.”
I folded my scrawny arms across my chest and pouted. “How can I get strong and healthy when all we ever eat is lettuce and tofu?” How disappointing it was that I was missing out on a big, juicy hunk of meat surrounded by a soft bun and condiments of every kind! I thought about calling Grandma and telling her how hungry I was, but I knew I couldn’t do that to Mom. She was trying hard, and I didn’t want to make things more difficult than they already were.
It turned out not to have mattered, anyway. A month later, Mom decided that the forced celibacy required by our new church isn’t for her, so we left. I’d heard of safe sex, but who would’ve guessed that I would be saved by sex? If it weren’t for Mom’s hearty appetite for men, we probably would’ve stayed in that strange cult forever.
At first, I was thrilled that we were leaving . . . but then, Mom told me where we were going.
“It’s a little nudist colony up on the coast—”
“Mom!” My chin bobbed forward, waiting for the punch line of what had to be a joke. Certainly, she didn’t intend for us to live naked! I’d just recently purchased a really cool pair of jeans, and I had no intention of abandoning them.
“The people are really nice and accepting up there. I’ve already met a few of them, and I think it will be a great experience for both of us.” Translation: She already found a new boyfriend, and we were following him to his hangout, whether I liked it or not.
“But what about school?” I asked stubbornly. I planted both my feet rebelliously against the dashboard and refused to look at her.
“That’s the good part, honey. A former teacher lives there and home schools all the kids. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”
I rolled my eyes, knowing that Mom did everything because it sounded like fun. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to add to her joy. During the entire four-hour trip, I was silent and brooding. I couldn’t help but wish my mom would grow up and be like other responsible adults.
As luck would have it, life wasn’t bad at the nudist colony. Mom was right; the people really were nice, and Miss Wendy, the teacher, taught me things that I’m sure most sixth graders never learn. I didn’t particularly like the idea of shedding my clothes, but even that got easier with time.
People that I’ve confided in about my crazy life often wonder what sort of person chooses to live in a nudist colony. Did I come across child molesters or perverts? I can honestly say that nearly all of the people were fairly normal. Most of them were just like my mom—people who, for some reason or another, were disenchanted with their normal lives, and wanted to experience freedom and acceptance. Some of them lived there permanently, while others stayed for just a brief visit. Some even held down very prestigious jobs during the day and ditched their clothes come evening.
And these people were accepting. When a sudden attack of modesty struck me just after my thirteenth birthday, I was provided with a stack of shorts and tank tops. I proudly wore those for several months, until I realized that I stood out more when I was dressed than undressed. Budding breasts and sprouting hair be damned. I decided to shed my clothes and be as nature intended me to be.
Probably the most memorable thing that happened during our time there was the night I lost my virginity. It was the eve of my fourteenth birthday. My eager suitor was a cute, sixteen-year-old boy named Milo, who’d lived in various groups such as ours for most of his life. The experience provided little pleasure and much pain, but what makes it stand out most was Mom’s reaction.
Oh—I didn’t tell her. She unexpectedly showed up and caught us doing “the deed” on her freshly made bed. With absolute shock, but no words, she frantically backed out of the room and quickly shut the door. Needless to say, the mood was swiftly killed, so I kicked Milo out. With much trepidation, I waited for Mom to return, all the while wondering what my punishment would be.
“Mom, I can explain,” I said when she reappeared an hour later.
She held up her hand and looked cautiously around, making sure my “date” for the evening was gone. “I don’t want to hear it, Dharma. You’re old enough to make your own decisions about things such as this. The last thing I would ever want to do is stifle you.”
My mouth dropped open.
“I just have two rules, Dharma.” Mom plopped down on the bed next to mine and looked at me thoughtfully. “You’d better be practicing safe sex, and next time . . . for crying out loud, use your own bed!”
It was then that I realized we were more like two friends, rather than mother and daughter. That brought a sense of melancholy that I didn’t quite understand. It took me several more years before I realized how much I really wanted a “real” mother. At the time, however, I was relieved that my butt wasn’t toast due to my adolescent romp with Milo.
Not long after that, my life was once again disrupted when Mom announced that she was pregnant. Victor, her current boyfriend and the baby’s father, asked Mom to go live with him in Portland. Unlike during her pregnancy with me, she was then concerned about prenatal care and agreed to go with him. She said she wanted the best for this baby. I guess she was growing up. And I was growing jealous. The invitation to move didn’t include me.
I pulled out the plastic calling card that I’d kept all those years, and attempted to call Grandma. When I discovered the expiration date on the card had passed, I ended up dialing collect.
“Of course I’ll come and get you!” she exclaimed, sounding very happy and very excited to hear from me. “I can be there tomorrow morning.”
True to her word, Grandma came for me. I said goodbye to Mom as I hugged a single paper sack to my chest. Inside that bag was everything I owned. It wasn’t much, but it represented my life.
It wasn’t easy adjusting to life with Grandma the second time around. I was used to absolutely no structure and little authority in my life. I ate and slept when I wanted, and I played when I felt like it. If I didn’t want to do schoolwork, Miss Wendy would shrug it off, and we would do it at some other time.
I guess I shrugged it off way too much. Though my aptitude tests were very high, I lagged behind the rest of the ninth graders, and a tutor was assigned to me. He was a cute boy named Mack, whom I flirted with and teased unmercifully. Though I undermined his tutoring efforts at every turn, in the end, he succeeded, and I caught up with the rest of the class.
Time passed quickly during my high school years. I made several good friends, dated quite a bit, and once again, learned to fit in with my normal peers. That was one thing that I was exceptionally good at—adapting.
I heard from Mom occasionally. She informed me that I had a baby brother named Gunther, and that she and Victor were thinking about getting married. She never mentioned having me go and live with them. Though that stung a little, I knew I was better off where I was. I needed Grandma, and I sensed she needed me, too.
During my senior year, tragedy struck. Grandma got in a car wreck and both our lives were changed. Because she had severe neck and back injuries, she had to quit her job and go on disability. This was quite a blow to my very young looking and very fit grandma, who was only fifty-four years old at the time.
To help out, I put my plans for college on hold and got a job in the children’s section of our local library. The pay wasn’t much, but every little bit went toward paying off Grandma’s mounting medical bills. I knew she wasn’t happy with the situation, but I felt it was my responsibility to take care of her then. It was the least I could do for someone who was always ready to take me in at a moment’s notice and never even complain about it.
My labor of love ended the day I walked in the door and heard Grandma shout, “Dharma, it came today! It finally came!” Grandma was so excited that I knew something big must have happened.
I took both of her small hands in mine. “What came? Tell me quick, before you explode!”
“The settlement from my car wreck! They finally agreed to settle with me out of court.”
My fingers went to my lips, and I just stood and stared. We were expecting this news for over two years, and finally, the waiting was over. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her cheek. “I’m so happy for you.”
“No, not for me, Dharma . . . for you!”
I shook my head. “What do you mean, Grandma?”
“You’re going to college!”
My brow furrowed as I comprehended her words. “Maybe later, after you’re doing better and I save a little—”
“No,” she interrupted, “not later. You’re starting in the fall. You’ve put your life on hold for over two years, and now I’m going to help you achieve your dream.”
I felt hot tears well up in my eyes. This woman was so good to me that words weren’t enough to express my appreciation. “I just don’t know if I can—”
“Honey, you’re my only granddaughter. I’m going to do for you what I wish I could have done for your mom. I always prayed she would go to college and make something of herself.” She had a wistful, almost sad, look on her face and then it quickly vanished. “But that just wasn’t meant to be.”
Everything seemed to fall into place for me after that. I was apprehensive about moving away from Grandma, but she reassured me that a hundred miles isn’t all that far. I could visit often, and she would be sure to check up on me.
With heartfelt thanks, I said goodbye and promised to make her proud of me. It was a promise I intended to keep.
I threw myself into college life almost immediately, and my goofy roommate and I hit it off well. Maisy is the typical rich kid with a life’s-a-piece-of-cake attitude, but on the inside, she has a good heart. She went out of her way to be nice to me and attempted to include me in many of her goofy activities.
“You have the coolest name,” she told me the first day I met her. I watched as she stood in front of a mirror and teased her already spiky hair to even greater heights.
I made a dirty face. “I hate it! I think I was named after some famous Buddhist. Mom was going through one of her unusual phases at that time.” I smiled to myself. Going through various weird phases is normal for my mom, but I didn’t tell Maisy that. I have to know someone fairly well before I feel comfortable enough to confide in them about my upbringing.
“Well, if you wanted to translate my name into its literal meaning, it would be something like ‘corny.’” She tipped her chin skyward and laughed at her own joke. “Don’t you get it? Maize . . . corn!”
I pointed to her and chuckled. “Gotcha, Maisy.”
Though a tad eccentric, I couldn’t have asked for a nicer roommate than Maisy. She was gone a lot, which left me quite a bit of free time for studying.
I’m going to need it now, especially with this stupid, Valentine’s Day assignment looming over my head, I thought miserably.
What should have been a simple task seemed huge to me. I thought that it was pretty pitiful that in twenty years, I didn’t know of anyone who was truly in love or who I could use as a role model for love. Even Grandpa left Grandma just after she gave birth to my mom.
Tossing my notebook aside, I rose from my bed and approached Maisy. “Come clean with me. Surely you’ve been in love before.”
She shook her head, not one hair daring to move lest it be spritzed with hairspray yet again. “Nope. I’ve just been in lust.” She announced it as if she were proud of that fact. “Hey, wait a minute. I just thought of something.”
I instantly perked up.
“What about that guy, Keenan Roper? You dated him last semester; remember? He was so cute!” Maisy got all dreamy-eyed. “Surely he was in love with you, or you with him.”
I gave a soft snort. “Ha! His last name should have Groper the way his hands were all over me! The only thing old Keenan was in love with starts with a P and ends in his pants!”
Maisy laughed. “You still have two weeks before your assignment is due. Who knows? Maybe Cupid’s arrow will strike me and I’ll fall in love. And as your best friend, I’ll give you exclusive rights to the story.” Maisy gave me a smug smile and waltzed out the door.
Having an assignment based on love, and having it due on Valentine’s Day, really made me evaluate myself as a person. I’m sure when he gave the assignment, Professor Acosta didn’t think it would affect anyone in a serious way. However, it made me wonder about my own state of emotions and values. Maybe the way I was raised damaged the little part of my heart that would have allowed me to love a man in a romantic way. I know what “regular” love feels like—I feel that way toward Grandma. However, in my whole life, I’ve never experienced what it’s like for a woman to love a man. Heck, I’ve never even been infatuated. I experienced attraction, desire, and ultimately passion, but not once did my heart go pitter-patter the way romantic movies and novels say it should.
“Professor Acosta, may I have a word with you?” I asked timidly. After a week of driving myself crazy over an impossible assignment, I decided to do the only thing that made sense. I would go to him and explain why I couldn’t complete the assigned work.
“Ms. McNeal, what can I do for you?” He looked at me over the wire rims of his tiny reading glasses and motioned for me to have a seat.
“Thank you, Sir. It’s about that assignment.” I pointed to the ridiculous heart still drawn on the board.
“Ahh, the Cupid report.” He smiled in remembrance. “How is that coming along? You’re not waiting until the last minute to work on it, are you?”
“No . . . no, of course not.”
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk, eyeing me intently. “Then what is it?”
I tried to slowly let the air out of my lungs before answering. “I can’t complete the assignment.”
He removed his glasses altogether and placed them down with weary resignation. As he waited for me to go on, he pulled a tissue from a box and wiped his bloodshot eyes. Finished, he looked up at me once more. “Why?” He uttered the simple word with curiosity, but with no exasperation.
In as few words as possible, I explained my position. If I wanted, I could have made something up, but in accordance with the assignment, I was supposed to write about a personal experience through my eyes or tell about someone I know. “I just can’t do it,” I said when I finished.
Professor Acosta exhaled deeply. “You’re a complicated, young woman, Ms. McNeal. Here’s what I’m going to do for you. Since you claim that you can’t write about love, I’ll allow you to take the opposite position. Prove to me that we should give in to our instinctive natures and mate simply to further the human species.” He turned back to his paperwork, as if the case was closed and the matter settled.
I slumped in my chair and gnawed on my lower lip. “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that, either.”
Professor Acosta’s eyes snapped to mine. “But you just said—”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in true love. And to say that we should follow our instincts and just mate for reproductive purposes . . . well, I just can’t go for that, either.”
“Ms. McNeal, you’ve put me in a very difficult position here. Can you at least explain why you feel so strongly about the subject?”
Leaving out a lot of the unnecessary details, I gave Professor Acosta the abridged version of my life. He quietly listened for the most part, though he did ask for some clarification on a few of the points in question.
“You lived with a pirate?” he asked doubtfully. “I find that hard to believe.”
I shrugged. “Well, I always had my suspicions about Reed. At least to a six-year-old, he looked like a pirate.”
Professor Acosta nodded thoughtfully, so I went on. When I finally finished, I sat back, folded my arms, and waited.
He rubbed his chin and didn’t say anything for the longest time. Then, while tapping his pencil rhythmically on the table, he spoke. “You’ve lived an interesting life. I don’t suppose you’d want to share all of this with the rest of the class—in lieu of the other report, of course?”
I wrinkled my nose. “I don’t think so.”
He brought the pencil to his mouth and squinted. “How about for extra credit?”
Professor Acosta made a tsk-ing sound and shook his head disapprovingly. “I must say, Ms. McNeal, that you’re the most difficult student I’ve ever had. And the strangest, too!” he added. He rose from his seat and stood facing me. Then, with little enthusiasm, he said, “Go ahead and write me a report on the origin of Cupid and his magical arrow of love. . . .” His voice trailed off. “Truth or fiction, whatever you like—just write it and be done with it.”
My face must have reflected my joy, because he warned me not to tell anyone that he caved in and gave me a new assignment.
“And Ms. McNeal,” he said just before I disappeared out the door, “you might not want to register for my class next semester.”
“I always assign a very special Christmas assignment, and I’m sure you wouldn’t like that one, either.” His dark eyes bore into mine. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
I nodded. “Thank you, Professor Acosta, and I’ll remember what you said.”
I left his class feeling like a huge weight was lifted off of me. Not only that, but telling him about my childhood helped me see things in a new light.
In spite of everything I’d been through—my upbringing, my mom, the various “homes”—I turned out just fine. Not perfect by any means, but normal just the same. Maybe personality and temperament are connected more to genetics and luck than surroundings. You know, the old “nature versus nurture” theory. After all, Maisy is more like my mother than I am, and she comes from a very straight-laced, cultured family. They were probably just as shocked by their “strange” daughter as my mom was by her extremely “ordinary” daughter. We are two very different women, raised in totally opposite ways, but good friends just the same.
I never was a great believer in fate, but a strange thing happened not long after that. I was sitting in a pizza parlor with a couple of friends when I literally ran into Milo. Yes, Milo! After we took a step back, we both apologized simultaneously and laughed. Then, glancing into his blue eyes, I noticed a spark of recognition.
“Dharma, is that you?”
My mouth dropped open. I was amazed that I even recognized him, or vice versa. Standing in front of me was the boy/man who experienced life with me in the nudist colony—among other more personal things. Only then, he was all grown up. Gone was the teenager with the long, unruly hair and the lanky, too-thin body. And in his place was a man with close-cropped, stylishly cut hair and a body that’s firm and muscular and downright sexy.
Milo took my hand and led me off to the side. “My God, Dharma, do you realize how long it’s been?”
We both laughed as we once again spoke in unison. “Almost seven years.”
My gaze drifted downward, taking in his white, dress shirt, khaki slacks, and brown loafers. “I hardly recognized you with clothes on,” I said lightly.
Milo chuckled, and I thought I detected a slight blush creeping over his face. “I was going to grab a takeout pizza and head home, but I’d love it if you’d have lunch with me.”
I glanced over at my friends and hesitated. “I’d like that. Let me go tell my girlfriends, and I’ll be right back.”
I found Milo sitting in a corner booth. He’d set out a couple of plates and ordered us sodas.
“Dharma, I still can’t believe it’s you,” he said when I sank down in the seat across from him. “What have you been doing with yourself?”
A comfortable rapport settled over us as we filled each other in concerning the details of our present lives. I was surprised when he said that he left the commune not long after I did. His father remarried and asked Milo to move in with his new wife and he.
“What about your mom?” I asked.
Milo took a drink of his soda before answering. “She died last year.” He waved me away before I could say anything. “It’s okay, though. She was sick for years, but when she passed away, she was happy.”
I nodded and took a bite of my pizza. I told him how my own mother was still drifting through life, but I still held out hope that she would one day find what she needed to make herself happy.
“So, what about you?” he asked. “What are you doing these days?”
“Well, I’m now a full-time student and only a part-time goof off.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I remember a time when you were a part-time student and a full-time goof off! Miss Wendy was so easy on you, and I was jealous in a major way! I never told you this, but you were a bright spot in my life back then.”
I cleared my throat, feeling slightly uncomfortable about our past. Changing the subject, I asked, “What are you doing with your life now?”
“Actually, I’m following in Miss Wendy’s footsteps. Right now, I’m a student teacher, but I’ve had a stroke of good luck. I’ve secured a full-time position, and I start this fall.”
“I’m still just amazed,” I said, not expounding.
Milo’s eyebrows raised a tad. “What do you mean?”
“That we’re so normal. Have you ever stopped and wondered why you turned out the way you did, even after the way you were raised? I mean, we’re both so . . . average.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“On the contrary. After growing up the way I did, I think average is very, very good!”
We both sat sipping our drinks, not saying anything. Milo was the first to speak. “Dharma, I don’t know if you’re involved with anyone right now, but I’d really like to see you again.”
My eyes widened, and I felt a grin forming. “I’d like that, too.” I rose from the table and grabbed my jacket. “And Milo,” I said, my smile once again turning mischievous, “you look really good with clothes on.”
Milo and I dated a few times and renewed our friendship. However, you really can’t go back again and relive the past. I wouldn’t want to do that, anyway. It seemed as if fate—there’s that word again—had a different sort of woman in mind for Milo.
He and Maisy fell for each other almost immediately and they’re still an item. I guess opposites really do attract.
As for me, I still haven’t found my Mr. Right, and I’m in no hurry. In my heart, I know that true love exists, and Cupid’s arrow will eventually strike me when I least expect it. I’ve got plenty of time. For now, I’m content being a college student—and a fairly boring and normal one at that.
For the most part, I can say that life has been good to me, and I even like the person that I’ve become. Because my experiences contributed to who I am and what I represent, I’ve learned to appreciate and even be grateful for the wacky, wonderful life I’ve led.