I’VE SPENT ALMOST FORTY YEARS riding the highways and byways of North America and Mexico. I’ve met people I liked, and some I didn’t like. Most of the people I liked were women. Some ignored me. Some didn’t. Some gave me comfort. Some gave me grief. Sometimes, but not often now, I wish the ones that gave me grief had ignored me.
They’re the ones I call my bank-robber dames.
Just about all of the significant women in my life have been dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a couple of exceptions that never mattered in the grand scheme of things. Four of them scared the bejesus out of me, and they were the darkest-haired and darkest-eyed of all.
The first, when I was twenty, was a little hippie girl with long, straight hair that she probably ironed, although I never saw her doing it. Perhaps she got up in the middle of the night to keep her secret. We got to talking about how things might be for the both of us in one imagined future or another. Eventually I figured out that she wanted to settle down with a man who had a factory job in the only game in town and start a family. I, on the other hand, knew that I had a rendezvous with the world and my future. I made good my escape, but it was a narrow one.
I learned from that, but not much, for what man does?
The second was a married woman, although strictly speaking, with her deep blue eyes, she didn’t qualify to the fullest extent. That didn’t matter, though. All the signs were there. I still wasn’t able to recognize them.
By then I was a fire pilot trapped in a small town with nowhere to go on my R&Rs. It was a hot, sunny day the first time I saw her. Her dark hair was tied back with a purple scarf. She was pushing her son down the road on his tricycle, and I remember thinking, I like that. I saw her around town a couple of times after that. Eventually I wrangled myself into position to meet her. Before long we were dancing in the dark, and in the daylight, too.
I traveled a lot with my freelance flying. It took me out of town often enough and long enough that each time I came back it was like coming back to a new and different woman. She wouldn’t budge, though. She saw me for what I really was, a footloose man without roots, who would never settle down. She was right, and we both moved on.
Eventually, I did settle down, and into a flying job on the Dark Continent. It was there that I forgot all about her. That experience was one of the best things that ever happened to me – and by that, I mean her, and Africa, too. It was just what I needed to clear my head of the experience with her, although the method certainly left something to be desired. It tempered me. I came home a changed man. Some of the things I saw and did would remain with me for a lifetime, but I would never tell anyone about them. Some secrets are best kept.
By the time Delissa came around, I knew the signs by heart and did the best I could to ignore her.
It was slow that morning in the high-desert bike shop. We were standing around, telling lies and trying to sound important. She strode through the door on her first day with a purposeful look. She knew we were paying attention. What attractive woman doesn’t? Her eyes flicked over us and then she put the lot of us on ignore.
She kept right on going in her tailored black leather slacks topped with a dark purple, short-sleeved Angora sweater. Her white arms set it off perfectly, as did her pale face and those lipstick-red lips. Long, pitch-black hair hung past her shoulders. It swung rhythmically from side-to-side with every step.
Oh, yes, I was nice and polite and joked and laughed with her, but I tried hard to keep a certain distance between us. It was difficult, because she was smart and funny and serious and when she talked her dark eyes would sparkle and her hair would shine in the light and sway just so when she walked. Her smile was wonderful and her eyes would crinkle and when she laughed, oh when she laughed…
We were only trying to make it through the nights. All the nights. For some of us need more help than others.
Then she left town, and I left town, and that was the end of that until we touched briefly for a time on social media.
I learned today that Delissa was four months pregnant when was murdered in the dark of night by her husband. He held a gun to her head in their bed and pulled the trigger. She leaves behind two children, both girls.
The news has left me devastated.
If only. If only…
But I must go on to finish what I started, difficult as it must be.
The fourth came along when I was least expecting it, for isn’t that how it usually happens? I looked through an open door and there she was, a rather plain-looking young woman. There was something about her, though. I tried ignoring her, too, but eventually she came to stand beside me and leaned back against the same wall and said hello. We never faced each other when we talked. Rather, we stared with the same faraway look, across the same open space, and onto the tarmac that stretched in front of us and led out to the world.
Then one day while we were standing around killing time and pretending not to flirt, I detected the faint odor of perfume. It was just a hint, the way I liked it. I should have walked away then. I didn’t. I surrendered in that instant and ended up captured. I asked, but she would never tell me the name of that scent. I would look for it, but I could never find it. She must have secreted it away after discovering how it had caught my attention.
I told her things I had never told anyone else, about the Southern Cross visible in the dark African nights; how the sun would rise and set fast across a flat horizon; how the dim of twilight would last for never more than a few minutes. I left out the stench of death and starvation and other things best left untold.
Eventually, she was the one to leave town – yes, imagine that, she was the one who flew away – after she caught her future mid-flight and moved on. I let her get away, my one regret so late in life. I had no choice, for it was the sensible thing to let her do at her young age. We could have held on. We both knew that, and we both knew too that it would be only for a while. I already had my life. Hers was just beginning and I would not keep her from her own rendezvous.
I miss her still, too.
I don’t think there will be a fifth.
Ah, yes, my bank-robber dames. I almost forgot. Had any one of those four suggested, out of the blue, Let’s rob a bank, I might have turned, and looked, and asked, Only one?
R.I.P. Delissa. I have always missed you, and will continue to do so.
I offer my apologies to all for my public sadness and despair at the loss of a warm, wonderful and loving woman with whom I shared many smiles and much laughter for such a brief time in my life.