My SLS: I was born and raised in Alabama by my herpetologist dad, my artist mom, and a host of relatives and babysitters. After an eight year stint in Massachusetts, the setting of this tale, I brought my Yankee husband back to Alabama where we raised our own children. Note that he is absolutely not the subject of “Sugar, Menthol, and Morgan le Fay.”
Sugar, Menthol, and Morgan le Fay
Oh baby, when you appeared in the UMass library, your smile lighting up the stacks, my heart went boom. “You wear glasses! You’re not perfect after all!” you said. Slap me silly, I should have seen it coming.
You gave me a ride home, saving me my hour-long commute on public transportation. During class the next day you asked me on a proper date to see the Boston Ballet. It wasn’t long before you kissed me in front of God and all his children, right there in the middle of jazz dance class, and I fell hard, right into a regular thing.
Oh, but I should have seen it coming every Saturday night, when you disappeared. Didn’t we have fun on Friday nights, and every other Sunday morning, and various weekdays! But never on Saturday nights. I didn’t ask, you didn’t answer. We tiptoed around an unspoken set of rules.
I should have seen it coming the day you surprised me with a red rose on my birthday while I studied on the second floor lounge, my usual spot, and I surprised you an hour later by showing up on the third floor lounge, your usual spot. You stammered and stuttered when you saw me appear, waving my red rose like a scepter. “Uh, Mary, this is Robin! Robin, this is Mary!” Robin, tall and thin, bared her white teeth through lipstick-lips and tossed her shiny, perfectly bobbed blonde hair. She did not look amused. Later I learned she was a model, the best friend of your roommate’s girlfriend.
I should’ve seen it coming when, after the ultimatum I’d forced myself to offer, digging deep to find a shred of dignity, you stopped laughing long enough to tell me that Robin was history, and so was Melissa. Melissa? On our very first date you’d told me you’d broken up with your high school sweetheart Melissa, so I was surprised to hear you’d broken up with her again. I took you back and played along.
Weekends in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Sunday brunches with friends, late nights with Monty Python and beer, we sure did have fun. You read my short stories and laughed, you came to Alabama to meet my family, you even brushed my hair.
When your car was stolen one night while we slept in your immaculate bedroom, the walls of which I’d helped you paint a steely gray while we listened to Dire Straits, you weren’t even angry. “My car is gone!” you exclaimed when we stepped outside that Tuesday morning. We filed a police report and made Buffalo wings for breakfast. We skipped all our classes.
The police found your car the next day. The thieves had taken it on a joyride before ditching it in a vacant lot in Mattapan. The stereo was gone and there was a small fender bender on the driver’s front side. That’s all. No harm done. Yet there was the lingering presence of someone who didn’t belong. I felt it deep in my creeped-out bones. You felt it too, and traded in your GTI for a beautiful red Jetta with cream colored leather seats and low-profile tires. We named her Morgan le Fay.
I should have seen it coming when you jumped out of Morgan le Fay and ran into the White Hen Pantry, returning with a pack of cigarettes for me, tossing them with alarming accuracy onto my lap. Marlboro Light Menthol. I hate menthol.
Later that day you bought me a pair of Vaurnet sunglasses, Legend line, after I stormed out of the store in horror of the price tag. The whole world was richer through those amber lenses.
I should have seen it coming when you again leapt out of your beautiful car and ran into Dunkin Donuts on the way to class. “Your coffee,” you said, handing me a giant cup of coffee with cream and sugar. I don’t take sugar. You knew that.
You bought a sail board and taught me to windsurf. “You look good out there,” you said and I almost believed you. That day you took a picture of me, sun splashed freckles prominent on my cheeks, hair curled and blown by the salty breeze. I’m looking down at something, smiling. It’s one of my favorite pictures of me. At the time I thought I looked ugly.
One night I sat by the phone while you went out with your friends. In the morning over eggs Benedict and orange juice at our favorite breakfast buffet, I asked you why you didn’t tell me you’d had plans the night before. You sighed, “God, you make me feel like I have a girlfriend or something.”
When we broke up, I sat in the bathtub, drinking wine and listening to my Linda Ronstadt Heart Like a Wheel tape until I pruned. You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good. I sat in the cold water and took stock, counted all the times I should’ve seen it coming, and hated myself for letting you get away with it. I’d known deep down in my hopeful heart it wouldn’t last, but I went along. Still willin’.
In the morning when you called, I knew it wasn’t to tell me you were wrong and ready to crawl back to me on your bloody elbows. You didn’t have that laughing lilt in your voice. In fact, for the first time, you sounded angry.
Turns out that while I’d been pouring my heart out into the bathtub and the wine, and you’d been sleeping with your arms around your latest sugary menthol flame, Morgan le Fay had spontaneously combusted in your driveway. You awoke to a smoldering mass of metal, ruined beyond repair.
I counted her kamikaze protest as a small victory, that beautiful red Jetta named Morgan le Fay refusing to go on without me. I’d sure miss that car.
And no, baby, I didn’t do it. Neither one of us saw that coming.