Bernice and Garry: Sweetness and Light
It is easier to remember “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, the tragedies, the down times. Happiness is generally something one enjoys and moves on, making no attempt to mark its passage. And yet, I will never forget the sweetness of the days following the arrival of Bernice’s provocative postcard.
Every waking moment was filled with anticipation. Anticipation I hadn’t experienced since I was five years old, right after my mother told me that I was going to take a train ride to spend a week with my Dad. At the time Dad worked for the H J Hines (Ketchup) Co in faraway Muscatine, Iowa and didn’t always make it home for weekends. When he did he loved to regale mom and me about the mighty Mississippi River. No kid in my neighbourhood had seen the Mississippi, and no kid in my neighbourhood had ever been for a train ride. As my imagination swept me away the only thing holding me to earth was the conviction that I had to be the luckiest kid in town.
Waiting for Bernice’s return from Phoenix, I thought, “Maybe I’m still the luckiest kid in town.”
My energy level was off the chart. As a runner I had often experienced the vaunted “runners high”. But now my endorphins seemed divinely charged. In a single run I could play out the entire Bernice and Garry story and have time left over for speculation on exciting scenes to come, such as our first kiss.
Before Bernice, it had been said of me that I did not suffer fools gladly. Since the postcard, I became the most approachable man on the planet. With great eagerness I would enter discourse with friends, shop clerks, strangers in the convenience store, seatmates on the bus, even wrong numbers got a play.
I have little doubt that I was headed for burnout if Bernice stayed away much longer. But return she did, looking vibrant, tanned, bright eyed, and more than a little, mischievous. Like maybe we were sharing a secret or maybe she knew I was dying to be let in on her secret. For my part I was trying hard to not appear like an excited puppy dog. “Keep your tongue in your mouth. Don’t wag your tail. Keep your paws down.”
We wasted little time arranging our first date. Dinner and a movie. Dinner was a medium pepperoni pizza and a couple of beers. The pizzeria itself never became one of our haunts, and I don’t remember its name. But I do remember us. Heads together like teenagers. No social conventions between us. So eager to fill the moment, we were stepping all over each other’s lines with glorious impunity. Looking back, I think we devoured the pizza just to get it out of the way of our conversation. I remember her face, engrossed in the moment, beaming with delight, smiling all the way up from her toes through her twinkling blue eyes. She seemed somehow released and determined to make the most of it.
Then off to the movie theatre, the stately Birmingham Theatre in pricey downtown Birmingham, MI
As we enter the theatre I make an automatic move to the concession counter. True, we had just polished off a medium pizza, but for me popcorn is a conditioned response. In fact, I think it is downright barbaric to be asked to sit through any movie, anywhere without popcorn.
Garry: I’m going to get some popcorn. Would you like something?
Bernice: No thanks. I’m full of pizza. I might nibble on your popcorn.”
Garry: Ok, see that’s why I asked if you wanted something. I have this thing about popcorn. I don’t like to share. For one thing, a full bag is just the right amount of popcorn for me. And for another, I have to pick just the right amount of popcorn to chew without distracting myself from the movie. And the motion from bag to chew has to be smooth. So the bag has to sit at the correct angle and be sufficiently open so that I don’t fumble around. Somebody’s hand in my bag upsets my rhythm.
Mistaking her bemused smile for one of amusement, I lead on to our seats. As we settle in for the previews, we are talking low and intimately. “Do you know anything about this movie,” I ask. “No but my girlfriend says it’s really good.” My popcorn hand is deftly doling out just enough corn to chew imperceptibly. Life is good. But as I turn my attention to the opening credits, my ninja-like reflexes detect movement in the area of my popcorn. I look down and there is Bernice’s hand lazily collecting some kernels from my bag.
“I thought you didn’t want any popcorn.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I can go get you your own bag if you like.”
Then she lays her hand gently on my arm and fixes me with those baby blues. “Listen Mr. if you want to be with me, you’re going to have to learn to share.” I knew she was talking about more than popcorn. However grudgingly, I capitulated. For the rest of the movie we cohabited the bag, snickering when our hands would collide going in or coming out.
Her friend was right, the movie, Prince of Tides with Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte was engrossing and emotionally charged. We laughed in all the same places; Bernice cried a few more times than I did. But most telling of all, to this day I can’t abide the thought of having a whole bag of popcorn to myself.