Father always would say I should find something I enjoyed and practice it until it became second nature. Through my teen years I became somewhat of an expert in the area of auto-erotic stimulation, and Jane was the subject of every session I held either in the bathroom or huddled under my blankets in the dark of night.
Of course I know I was completely delusional. Jane was old enough to be my mother, and besides, she was very married to Dean, who -- with the exception of Father -- was quite possibly the nicest man in town. He always treated me famously and I liked him almost as much as I liked his wife.
I often wondered what Jane saw in him after I met him for the first time. He was dark and swarthy and looked like he'd been beat with an ugly stick. His nose was huge and hooked and he had no chin and I immediately saw where Carla got her looks from. After I got to know him though, I could see that he was just about perfect for Jane in the sense that he was just a terrifically nice man and I genuinely liked him.
About the time that Mother and Father split up -- I was 15 -- I halfheartedly tried to stop my obsession with Jane by dating girls my own age.
The summer that Father caught Mother with Mr. Gryzbowski in the dry store room in the basement of the restaurant, I dated a handful of girls from school. Nothing ever happened beyond a little necking and some innocent petting.
The branching out to be with my own age group did absolutely nothing to drive Jane from my dreams. In fact, my fantasies, in reality, seemed to intensify due possibly to having experienced holding real live girls and kissing and touching them and I was able to draw from those experiences to provide substance to my fantasies of Jane.
I wasn't there, and it took some time for me to ferret out exactly what happened from Father. One night, several years later, while deep in his cups he told me the whole sordid story.
Mr. Gryzbowski had taken a shine to Mother over the years and I do know Mother was fond of him as she often talked him up to Father.
One July morning, just after Independence Day, Father went to the basement of the restaurant to get clean table linens. He heard them long before he pulled open the door to the dry storage. Mother was on her back on a stack of three fifty pound sacks of flour. Mr. Gryzbowski was between her legs and taking what belonged to Father. They were both screaming and panting as they rutted. Mother's legs were splayed and pushed up, hooked by her lover's arms.
Father simply said, "Make sure you turn out the light when you're done." He turned and left.
Mother screamed at him to wait, but he just sneered coldly and left the restaurant. One of the waitresses that were there told me, years later, that Mother raced after him, naked from the waist up, her big bosoms bare and flopping around for all to see. She was crying and pleading for him to stop. Father never even looked back.
He tracked me down at the sandlot where I was playing ball with a group of friends. He motioned me over and rolled down the window of his International Scout. I could see there was something different about him when he reached out of the cab and clapped my shoulder with his big, meaty paw.
"Your mother and I are splitting up." He didn't say why. "I'm on my way home to pack my things and I'm heading up to Portland. You have a choice to make, son. You can come with me or you can stay here with your mother."
I was shocked and somewhat discombobulated. That Father even suggested I might prefer to stay with Mother over him indicated I had failed in letting him know just how much I loved him. If Father was leaving, I was leaving, also.
I tossed my glove in the back of his truck and jumped into the passenger seat leaving my team short a second baseman.
At Father's instruction, I packed a bag and my pictures of Jane and scrambled down the stairs to go see her. I didn't know how long I had, but I had to see her before we drove away. Jane wasn't home. I pounded on her front door until my balled fist hurt.
I wept as I slowly turned to where Father waited for me in the street in his idling truck.
The only pause I had in leaving Coos Bay with Father was not that I was leaving Mother, but that I was leaving Jane.
It would be more than a handful of years before I was to see her again.
Six years passed although they didn't pass too terribly well.
Father and I temporarily settled in Portland until the divorce could be finalized. A small two bedroom apartment kept the rain off our heads but would never be called home. We didn't even have a television and, when it rained, which was quite frequently, the rats paraded through the place like it was a thoroughfare.
Mother tried often during the divorce's pendency to persuade Father to give her another chance. I overheard one phone conversation he had with her when he thought I wasn't around.
"No, Marian." He kept his voice low and measured. Father never raised his voice. "You made your choice by cheating on me. The one thing I can not tolerate is infidelity. I was always faithful to you and you've shown I can no longer trust you."
Father listened for a minute or so and snorted, "No, Marian. As someone once said, 'Physical infidelity is the signal, the notice given, that all fidelities are undermined.' You are faithless and I can't do this anymore. In the future you may contact me through my attorney."
I could tell Father was crushed although he tried hard to pretend otherwise. His world had come undone and his sorrow weighed heavy on his shoulders. He began drinking more than normal and nearly every night. His heart had been broken. I tried talking to him, but what did a punk-ass fifteen year old really know about anything related to the heart?
The only thing I knew for certain regarding their breakup was that I would never forgive Mother for what she did to Father.
When the divorce was final and their assets were divided, Father had a decent chunk of change in the bank and we left Oregon for hoped for greener pastures.
Over the next five years we moved from place to place. One winter was spent in Omaha. Another winter we hunkered down in Galveston. We lived for a month in Detroit where Father's Aunt Hilda lived but neither one of us could stand the place. Two solid years we hung our hats in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Despite all the moving around, I managed to earn my high school diploma in Biloxi, although I was somewhat older than the others who graduated with me.
In Biloxi, Father's drinking became epic. He wasn't working. He told me his heart wasn't in it -- I don't believe he had the heart left for anything by that point -- but he had enough coin he didn't have to. He just drank. In retrospect, I think he was trying to drink himself to death.
I talked to him about it until I was blue in the face, but talking did no good. He just looked at me sadly as I flapped my gums impotently.
His heart was gone and it hurt me terribly that he acted like he had nothing left to live for.
After high school I had no idea which direction I wanted to take my life. I was fairly good at math and the sciences, but my heart belonged to the written language. When I mulled my options, teaching English and literature almost always rose to the top of the heap but higher education was out of my reach.
I took a few college courses at a local CC in season, and I worked summers at a convenience store just around the corner from our apartment. I dated occasionally, but never seriously. I was a virgin when I left Coos Bay with Father, and I was a virgin when I returned six years later.
The one constant in my life after leaving Oregon were the ever-present memories of a little bit of a woman thousands of miles to the west.
Despite the years and miles, my thoughts of her still made my heart race and my blood run hot. I compared every girl I ever dated to her and they all paled by comparison. My photos of her were tattered and faded but they were still my most cherished possessions.
No, leaving Coos Bay hadn't changed anything as far as my obsession with Jane was concerned. I once called her from Detroit. I couldn't speak when she answered the phone.
After her initial silvery "Hello." there was silence for several long seconds and then, as I lowered the handset onto the cradle I heard her say, "JP?"
I was torturing myself and never called her again.
Unfortunately, Father succeeded in killing himself almost six years to the day after he left Mother. He began drinking the morning of July 4th and drank heavily all day. When I left to watch the parade with a casual girlfriend at noon, he was already beyond drunk. When I returned to the apartment a few hours later, he was dead. He had aspirated vomit, asphyxiating himself.
For many hours I just held his head in my arms, crying uncontrollably. He was only 48 years old.
I wondered, later, if he had heard me as I left the apartment that day, "I love you, Dad." I prayed hard that he had.
Biloxi no longer held anything for me. I had Father cremated and held my own vigil for him. At sunrise on July 8th, I scattered his ashes in the gulf and whispered a fleeting prayer that God would hold the gentlest man I had ever known close and give him peace.
After Father's 'estate' went through probate, I was left with a good deal of money in the bank, his old notebooks, and a longing in my heart.
I got in my Ford Pinto and pointed it in a generally westward direction.
There was someone I had to see.
Just about a week later I returned to Coos Bay. The city hadn't changed much at all that I could see. A few new businesses had popped up, but the old neighborhood seemed the same as the day Father and I left. I drove slowly past the restaurant. It had been painted a light sea foam green and a new sign read 'The Lighthouse.'
I wept for Father and what might have been as I drove towards the old place. I had no idea if Mother still lived in the same house. Nor did I care. For that matter, I had no idea if she was still in town.
I wasn't back to see her, and if she was lucky, I wouldn't.
When I pulled up on the other side of the street from the Smith residence, I felt my palms start to sweat. The place hadn't changed at all, although it looked like it had been recently given a new coat of paint. The white trim and shutters contrasted nicely against the dark gray siding.
By comparison, Mother and Father's old place looked run down. There were bicycles and a variety of toys in the front yard, and the front lawn was nothing but hard-packed dirt, so I was confident that Mother no longer lived there, and when a pudgy and dark-complexioned little boy of about five waddled out onto the porch, I turned my attention back to 819 Sea Otter Drive.
A relatively new metallic blue Toyota was parked on the drive next to the house.
A stray dog ambled down the sidewalk, nose to the ground, dragging a length of frayed leash. He was apparently homeless. Like me.
The lilac bushes that guarded the gate in front of Jane's house were in full bloom and when I got out of the car and leaned back against the door, I could smell them. It had long been my favorite scent and I always associated lilac with summer and Jane.
I wondered then, at the wisdom of what I was about to do. I fully intended telling Jane I was in love with her, despite the fact that she was married. I planned to steal her from her husband, if I could. That was the moment I got back in my car and almost drove away.
Dean didn't deserve what I was planning. He was a good and decent man. I couldn't help recalling what Father was always saying about integrity and character. Besides, I wasn't at all sure Jane would do anything but laugh at me when I told her how I felt.
It was my favorite quotation from my favorite author that caused me to get back out of the car and stride purposely through Jane's front gate and up to her porch.
An English teacher in Biloxi was always fond of quoting Mark Twain and my favorite was; "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
I was pretty sure Mr. Clemens wasn't talking about the sort of thing I was about to attempt, but I didn't really care either. I couldn't live the rest of my life without making Jane aware of how I felt about her.
My heart was pounding in my chest like a trip hammer when I climbed the steps and pulled open the screen door. The morning sun was warm on my back but wasn't solely responsible for the beads of sweat that trickled down my back.
Jane later said that she sensed something out of the ordinary before she heard my knock.
I could feel her presence. My hand was shaking when I raised it and rapped my knuckles on the mahogany door.
An unbearable eternity passed as I waited for her. I started to leave. I felt like puking.
And then she was there.
The door opened slowly and she peered from behind its protection up at the uninvited intruder. It took a few moments for her to recognize me even after I managed to choke, "Mrs. Smith."
"JP..." She sounded like she didn't believe her own voice.
I nodded, unable to make myself speak again.
The door opened wider and she inched closer, squinting up at me against the late morning sun. "JP?" She whispered.
And then she was in my arms. She threw herself at me and shrieked happily, wrapping her arms around my waist and squeezing me tight. "Oh JP! Oh my dear God! JP!"
Just holding her in my arms again made what was wrong in my world disappear. I hugged her tight and closed my eyes against the tears that sprang to my eyes. "Jane." I sobbed against the top of her head.
I have no idea how long we held each other on her front porch. Nothing else mattered to me. I was where I belonged and my heart sang in my chest. My trembling disappeared, and every misgiving I had ever entertained about seeing her again drifted away on the summer breeze.
When she released me and slowly stepped back, gazing up at me she was beaming. Her eyes and cheeks were wet but her tears were belied by the broad smile that lit up her face.
She gently took my hand and happily asked me in, "Come in, darling. I've been waiting for this day for so long."
I followed her into her kitchen and mused that, as a child and as a young teenager, I had looked up at her. At my full adult height of 5'9" I towered over her.
The years had been kind to her. She looked almost exactly the same as she had that summer so many years before. She had a few new laugh lines around her eyes and mouth, and there was a softness about her that I didn't remember. By my calculation she was 41 or 42 years old, but she was still easily the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on.
She was wearing a light blue blouse and a pair of faded jeans that clung to her gentle curves. Her neatly coiffed and pure white hair was tied back in the old familiar ponytail. A pair of diamond studs adorned her ears.
"My God, JP, I can't believe you're really here." Her smile was radiant. Her large blue eyes stared up at me with what I can only describe as adoration. "Every day I've wondered about you. If you were happy? Where you were? What happened to you?"
I thought I'd feel awkward saying what I came to say, but I didn't. "Mrs. Smith...Jane...I've never forgotten you, either. The only thing I regret about leaving Coos Bay was leaving you."
We stared into each others eyes and, simultaneously, came together, our arms holding each other close. Jane lifted her face and kissed my chin. "I've missed you so much, sweetheart. Are you hungry? I'll whip you up something to eat."
It was almost as if we had a psychic connection of some sort. I was famished and nodded down at her. I reluctantly let her slip from my embrace and pulled a chair out from the table and sat down, watching her flit around the kitchen like a butterfly in springtime. She was graceful and fluid; her every movement seemed a dance step.
I was happier than I had been in a long, long time. My heart was singing again. Jane was positively beaming as she heated up left-over beef stew on her range. She cut big slabs of home-baked bread and set out a plate of watermelon cubes.
We chatted easily and normally as if the past six years hadn't happened at all.
"Carla lives up in North Bend. She had a baby her senior year and dropped out." A little sadness temporarily clouded her eyes, "She's not doing too well. I try to help when I can but she has a drinking problem and I think she's into drugs."
I shuddered at the thought of anybody having sex with Carla but grinned, "You're a grandmother?"
Jane laughed and wrinkled her nose at me, "Well, I don't feel like a grandmother."
"You sure don't look like any grandmother I've ever seen." I grinned again.
Her cerulean eyes sparkled happily when she set a bowl of soup in front of me and sat at the end of the table kitty corner from where I sat and just watched me eat.
When I told her about Father she took my hand in hers and sincerely said, "I'm sorry, JP. I truly liked him. He was a good and decent man."
"Is Mother still around?" I inquired, tearing a hunk of bread from a slab and dousing it in the stew.
"As far as I know she is." Jane nodded, "I haven't seen her in awhile, though. I believe she's living in a trailer park on the north side. The same one Carla lives in, I think. At least she was."
I finished my meal and pushed away from the table, rising to my feet. "That was good, Jane. Thank you so much."
She stopped me when I tried to clear my dishes. "Don't be silly, sweetheart. If you think I'm going to spend one second of the time I get to spend with you doing housework you're not as smart as I think you are."
Jane Smith, the mother of so many of my dreams, stood up and slipped her arms around my waist. "I want to hear about what you've been up to these past -- what has it been -- five or six year?"
In a rather truncated fashion, I gave her a rundown of my life over the past half decade. She listened raptly without interrupting. "I knew that was you!" She exclaimed when I told her I tried calling her a few years back. "I knew it!"
When I finished my story with sprinkling Father's ashes in the Gulf of Mexico, she blinked away a tear and pushed up on her tip toes and softly kissed my cheek. For the briefest moment she paused and looked into my eyes.
"I've wanted to do this for so long, darling." She whispered, turning my face to hers with her gentle hand and pressing her lips to mine.
I almost fainted. My knees felt weak and the room slowly began spinning. To anyone watching, my first real kiss with Jane would have appeared chaste and dry. In reality, it was soft and warm and passionate. Our lips clung together so lightly and so delicately it took my breath away.
When she pulled her lips from mine we stood there holding each other, panting softly. I couldn't tear my eyes from hers. Her own eyes were wide open and an odd light danced in them.
Words weren't necessary. We both wanted the same thing but I felt a weight on my heart.
"What about Dean?" I asked, brushing her forehead with my mouth.
She wriggled happily in my arms and held up her left hand. Her ring finger was barren. "We're no longer together, honey. I'm a free woman."
I wasn't sure what to say. I wasn't at all sorry but I thought doing cartwheels around her kitchen would seem oddly inappropriate.
"I'm...um...sorry..." I managed to choke without having it sound like I was doing a mental Snoopy dance.
Jane laughed, "Good Heavens, honey, don't be sorry. I'm not. Dean came out of the closet about three years ago. He and his lover live a few miles down 101 and they are happy together. In fact, I think Dean and I get along better now than we did the last couple years of our marriage. The alimony he pays me allows me to keep this place."