Love at first sight, twenty years later: Someone to thrive with.

I wrote this fifteen years ago today, but it describes events that happened twenty years ago. You’ll figure it out… If you wonder what a gorgeous woman like that is doing with a schlub like me, I commend you to the power of poetry. –GSS


Someone to thrive with.

So… She says it’s time she goes
But wanted to be sure I know
She hopes we can be friends

I think… “Yeah, I guess we can,” say I
But didn’t think to ask her why
She blocked her eyes and drew the curtains
With knots I’ve got yet to untie…

What if I were Romeo in black jeans?
What if I was Heathcliff, it’s no myth?
Maybe she’s just looking for
Someone to dance with…

The song is ‘No Myth’ by Michael Penn, a very folky kind of Rock ’n’ Roll. There’s this one and ‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen: “You can hide ’neath your covers and study your pain, make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain.” We never had an ‘our song’ because we always had two.

I found her on the internet, like every good thing. It was just after Christmas in 1997. She was a widow awash in sadness, and her sister pestered her into posting this completely impersonal personal ad:

Women Seeking Men, Phoenix, Arizona

Intellect, Hubris Appreciated

Relationship: Talk/E-mail
Religion: Gnostic, Hermetic
Other: Doesn’t Smoke, Drinks, Doesn’t Have/Want Children

Description: I haven’t started dating since my husband
    died… and I’m not ready to start yet. I do, however,
    enjoy stimulating discussions, and am interested in
    expanding my network of gentlemen friends without
    having to go out and meet anyone. You may fantasize…
    I am lovely… but do not be crude or too graphic. It
    seems that the chatrooms I’ve scanned are populated
    with people looking for anonymous opportunity to be ill
    mannered. Please do be eclectic, though. There is so
    much fascinating knowledge to be shared and adventures
    to be enjoyed, that the mind should not be limited by
    crassness or trite vocabularies. If you don’t
    understand, please go to the next on the list.

I was in the same sort of spot. I had been through a completely vicious divorce, very costly financially and emotionally, and I had no need or use or plans for a woman in my life. A friend had been bugging me to do something despite all that, and I was reading those personal ads to get him off my back. But this ad was catnip to me. I mean, she had me at ‘hubris.’ I wrote back as follows:

> Such a breathtaking snob! Most impressive. Especially
> do I like the recognition that hubris can be a virtue.
> I have what you need, assuming you can stand it. See me
> at my web page beforehand. It’ll save us both time.
> Talk to me as and when.

Just the right kind of indifference, if you ask me.

See…, it was just too soon to tell
And looking for some parallel
Could be an endless game

We…, we said goodbye before hello
My secret she will never know
And if I dig a hole to China
I’ll catch the first junk to Soho

What if I were Romeo in black jeans?
What if I was Heathcliff, it’s no myth?
Maybe she’s just looking for
Someone to dance with…

She wrote back, saying,

> I thoroughly enjoy your writing. Your prose is poetry.
> But like Ayn Rand, you are to be savored, not skimmed.

Oh, my.

But then,

> I was once fortunate enough to have found kinship
> within romance and romance within kinship. I don’t
> believe I have the right to ask for such a miracle
> twice in a lifetime.

But wait…

> You, however, still have an unfulfilled experience,
> somewhere in your future; so please, in the name of
> romance, don’t let go of hope.

Not me. Not ever.

> If you would like to correspond, I believe you would be
> very interesting and very good for my soul. I fear,
> however, that I could not reciprocate. I’m very dark
> and very morbid just now. Especially in the midst of
> all the holiday joy. So, write back at your own risk.

But what if I was…?
So what if I was…?
Maybe she’s just looking for
Someone to dance with…

We batted things back and forth by email over the next few days, and then she surprised me by calling me on this very day, January 2nd, five years ago today. She asked me to meet her for dinner in downtown Tempe, a mildly-bohemian quarter of Phoenix quarantined safely outside city limits. Almost I declined, so disgusted was I by the thought of dating. I met her by the giant statues of Alice’s rabbits, by the little burbling fake lake, and she was tall and willowy and unbearably beautiful. And she was wearing black jeans…

What if I was Romeo in black jeans?
What if I was Heathcliff, it’s no myth?
Maybe she’s just looking for
Someone to dance with…

And she was, too, dinner or not. Someone to dance with, someone to dine with, someone to not-be-involved with. She told me as much.

We ate and then we walked all the way up to the little amphitheater in front of the America West building. We sat on a little circular concrete stage and I told her everything I never knew. I talked to her as I have never talked to anyone, and she let me, let us both drench ourselves in a geyser of words.

That was a Friday night, a long, sweet, slow drenching. She sent me home without a kiss. Someone to dance with. On Sunday she made me go with her to the Phoenix Art Museum. To demonstrate, I am sure, what was and what was not going on between us. But she forgot that I am a novelist, a hoarder of small details. Her behavior was above reproach, but the skin at her collarbone was flushed and mottled.

“This is a love worth living.This is a love worth grailing for.This is a love worth living up to.”Loving CathleenA Love To Live Up Toavailable at

“This is a love worth living.
This is a love worth grailing for.
This is a love worth living up to.”

Loving Cathleen
A Love To Live Up To

available at

I know how to prosecute my advantages, so I took her back to my house and made her lunch. Later we went to the mall and I made a point of taking her right past Victoria’s Secret: Say the truth or say nothing, but don’t tell me a lie when your chest is flushed like that. Even so, she sent me home without a kiss.

The next day we met for lunch and then did she kiss me, alone in her office and then again in the light of the winter sun on a bench by the pond in Encanto Park. The photo is of my Cathleen on that day, in that sun. Her chest was flushed from the first, but her hair wasn’t messed up before we started kissing.

A few nights later we were out in my car, just out driving in the dark on the empty desert roads in Papago Park. I had a tape of Melissa Etheridge’s MTV ‘Unplugged’ performance, and we listened over and over again as Melissa sang ‘Thunder Road’ with Bruce Springsteen himself.

Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely and there’s words that I ain’t spoken
But tonight we’ll be free, all the promises’ll be broken

Her name is Cathleen Collins, my wife. I saw her for the first time five years ago tonight. I love her better than I ever knew I could love any woman. And she’s mine — to dance with, to talk with, to dream with, to thrive with — to be with — forever…

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