Me and Big FootPrint
By Jill McCorkle
March 1, 2008
It is snowing, a freak blinding storm that likely will shut things down for days. Thank God. Just last night under a clear winter sky, I had wished for a sign, or at least some kind of divine intervention between me and the matchmakers of the world—all those well-meaning friends who are far more upset over my single status than I am. They drop by unannounced to offer me comfort and advice and descriptions of various men as if they were hot entrées on a silver platter.
Now I look out my window and see a very large foreign object in the blowing snow, a big white rusty truck parked in my side yard. I put on my heavy coat and boots and go out and circle it a few times. There are no tire tracks leading in or footprints leading away. No license plate or inspection sticker. The front bumper is a two-by-four. A wet note penned on a coffee-stained napkin is under the wiper: You, cute looking owner of the little scrappy dog, please don’t tow or complain. I need you. Please. I’ll be back soon.
I tug open the heavy iced-over door and climb up into the cab; as soon as I close myself in, all windows glazed in ice, I have the strangest feeling that I’ve been here before. I’m not a complainer, I tell him, and I hate to be around one. No key. Only a flashlight and lighter in the glove compartment, a pair of gloves on the dash, the thumbs cut out, palms stiff with resin and dirt. I sit there in the cab, stretch my legs, and feel an odd sense of comfort and warmth.
The truck smells of mildew and wood smoke, the floorboard frozen, and the seats damp and frosted as if he’d driven off road through the swamp. A thick-lipped coffee mug is wedged into the opened ashtray, and I run my fingers around the smooth stained rim. Behind the seat there is a big pair of hunting boots covered in red mud and muck. I reach my hands down into those tall sturdy boots and feel the worn thick wool, my body heat slowly absorbed and held there. I need you. Had he walked up to my door? Please. If so, he might have seen me through the sheers, painting my toenails and talking to my friend Sophie, telling her yet again about how I am not going to Swinging Singles Sing-along at her church. She’s married—happily she says—but has made me her project. If he’d waited, he might even have heard me there under the sky saying those same words: Please, I need you to the powers of the great beyond.
I don’t know what it is about a person all alone that drives other people crazy. I’m thinking we’ve heard too many Bible stories over the years—Adam and Eve (that match made in heaven). Or Noah’s Ark, desperate pairs scurrying onto the Love Boat; a lesson reinforced by that Irish song we sang to death in grade school about the poor unicorn left crying on a rock because he didn’t find somebody he wanted to live with for all eternity.
What’s more, people seem to really hate it if you say you’re happy alone. It makes Sophie so uncomfortable in fact that I finally confessed to her that of course I had a dream of my perfect match, but that I also would rather live alone than opt for just any old body who slid up next to me and took root. I talked fast so she wouldn’t think I was referring to Kyle, who she married in great haste after only three months. I went on to say that even in my most ideal dream match I would still require a lot of solitary time with limited interruptions from friends and family. I said this very directly since she frequently drops by unannounced and has implied several times that both my house and person need an extreme makeover. She said my bedroom was abominable, that it looked like a cheap motel, and that my clothes were too bad even to give away. Especially the olive green velvet dress I wore to their Christmas party. Especially since it was cold and I was bare legged. “Well, thank you,” I said, hoping to hurry her along, but she was hellbent on connecting my poor fashion sense to the breakup with Scott months ago, even though I have explained many times over that we broke up because I said that I would never marry him and his biological clock was ticking. I could not marry him, not now and not ever. We had nothing in common, and the fact that I had trouble listening to what he was saying was proof enough that it would be a mistake. And why is that so hard to understand? Why do these people look out there and say: hetero and hetero, get on the boat and go. You both need to breathe to stay alive? Great-amazing, now get on the boat and go. And you say, I am not the least bit attracted to that person. I hate his politics, the way he chews, the way he finishes your sentence as you’re speaking it. I can’t stand anything worse than a spoiled white boy trying to sound and act like he grew up in the ghetto or a trailer park. That was Scott in a nutshell: privileged gangsta wannabe driving a Hummer and canceling my vote nearly every time. I say, I cannot live like that. I am better off alone. And people like Sophie (as if deaf to all else) will say: But he has such a good job.
And yes, there is a perfect man in my mind, and he has always been there—nameless, faceless, self-sufficient and therefore free from all societal entrapments, and most important, more loyal than any dog as he remains fiercely rooted in my life. Does he exist? Like all the great abstractions, I want to believe that he might, that with the right angle of the sun or direction of the wind, he could. And now sitting in this frozen white truck, my warm breath trapped against my mouth by the wool of my scarf, it is like he is here, sitting right there in the passenger seat in his big tall boots, his hands surprisingly smooth for someone so outdoorsy. I close my eyes and he is there; I can smell and taste him, feel his hands pulling me close, and it is like every little pheromone and hormone in my body is waking after a long hibernation, a million little Rip Van Winkles eager to make up for a lot of lost time. I have what is called a major out-of-body experience. No one could be more surprised than I am.
I go inside feeling like a new woman. I look in the mirror, and I am younger, more alive looking than I have ever been. When Sophie calls, I tell her I’m snowed in with a visiting friend, that no, she’s never met him, that yes, I’ve known him forever. That I am hoping he will stay a few days, and I will call later. I go and get his big nasty boots and put them by my front door so that when the storm ends it will look like we never left the house. I put on some music, light candles, build a fire. The snow has quietened everything. The power is out. The phone doesn’t ring. My whole world pauses.
“Who is he?” Sophie asks after a week, the truck still parked there. She is at my front door in bright yellow ski gear, even though little snow remains, and I motion for her to be quiet. “Still sleeping,” I say and point to my closed bedroom door. “He loves my bedroom. I can hardly get him to leave it.” She gives me a skeptical look, starts to speak but catches herself. I whisper over coffee in the kitchen. I tell her all about him. His slow gentle movements and ability to sense my needs and wants before I even speak. I tell her how we’re reading things aloud at night—funny columns that make us laugh, political ones that make us mad, poetry that breaks our hearts. How we are working to train little Curly so he will fetch something other than what’s in the cat’s litter box. It all sounds so wonderful, I can hardly believe it myself.
The truck is still here when the crocuses surface, and I like to think this can go on forever. I have gotten so comfortable with all the questions, the stories. We love to just cook and sit by the fire. Take long walks in the woods. We watch lots of old movies. Exercise? Oh we get plenty. Wink wink. Sure you’ll meet him. But he does travel a lot. He works so hard and plays hard, too.
Sophie says everyone has noticed how I often look glassy eyed and rumpled like someone who just rolled from the bed, that one day she would have sworn I had a hickey, which really did shock her. I laughed and blushed for real because sometimes—before going to the store or any place I might see people—I do pinch my neck and roll around and rub against the indoor/outdoor carpet on my stairs. I have to confess I kind of like the way it feels there on all fours, so primal and earthy, like an animal following a scent. Sometimes I start laughing and can’t stop. The cat thinks I’m making fun of him and swishes off into another room, but Curly sees my position as an open invitation to join in with some doglike behavior, and I just thank God he’s a 10-pound dust ball and not the 110-pound rottweiler I once tended at a shelter.
Word is out that my man is kind of antisocial. The talkers tell how he always has been a little bit of a loner, and with good reason. He is wanted everywhere he goes. His advice, his expertise, his big strong body and intellect and winning ways. Besides, he’s an archaeologist, out there digging around in the forests and riverbanks while they are sleeping. He’s nocturnal, I say. And there are certainly worse things.
Full spring and I never tire of closing my eyes and seeing him there. He is the best man I’ve ever known. He never mentions if my legs are prickly or my toenail polish chipped or if I look plumper or my breath smells of baked Brie or garlic. He doesn’t care that I don’t have much money and am not ready to have a kid, that I eat snacks in bed and keep the house cold year round so that I can wear layers and pile up quilts and blankets. He doesn’t care that my bedroom looks like the Days Inn. In fact, because we are so much alike, he likes it. And he loves that green fringed dress of mine, thinks it’s the sexiest thing I own. He sometimes likes me to wear it while I clean his big dirty boots and he washes the dishes and changes the sheets. He likes 400-count sheets, which is a little contradiction about him that I just adore. We would rather have soft sheets than shoes. And of course because he is that way, it makes me want to please him even more, to be as desirable as I can be. And there is the difference: Desire.
My man was created in my image and then roughed up in a way I have always found very attractive. He is me, only big and hairy and forceful in every way. He’s the man I’d want to be, and at night when I get under my warm quilts piled high like a mountain, I am waiting for him to return. The anticipation of his arrival is all I need—I can’t wait for him to grab my hips and spoon up close to my backside or the way I might wake and turn in his direction, nuzzling in like a heat-seeking missile to the comfort I’ve come to depend on, his desiring hands there in the darkness nothing more than extensions of my own.
By April, no one believes that anyone can be so perfect, so I give him seasonal allergies and a big white car-wreck scar on his clavicle. I give him a childhood just unhappy enough to develop his artistic sensitivity and compassion. I give him a sweet early heartache that keeps him romantic and longing to recreate a pure and perfect love. Though health conscious and in really great shape, he does love the occasional smoke, good bourbon, and pork any way he can get it.
“You are a phenomenon of the first degree,” I whisper to him as I fall asleep. I say: “You are a giant of a man, a magical and mythical wonder.” I call him Sass and Skookum, Yeti, Momo, Yowie. He just calls me baby or sweetheart, which out of his mouth is like nothing I’ve ever heard. I tell him how he will never want to wander too far from our own secret cave—there, away from all the others. I tell him I will slide my way over coarse rock and stone, wade the icy riverbed through the deepest darkest forest to find him, that I am forever marked by his scent.
Friends have begun to see him and report to one another. It’s a competition like Where’s Waldo or an Elvis sighting. He’s a local legend by now. He’s been seen several times on the riverbank, a man nearly seven feet tall with a stringer of enough fish to feed the whole county. “They were delicious, too,” I say. “He used a recipe he made up himself that was once published in Gourmet magazine.”
One person saw him at Food City with two cases of wine and a huge whole ham hoisted up on one shoulder. He talked to her and told her that the two of us would be having a big party one of these days soon, probably after his next expedition to the Arctic. Another woman saw him at Dainty Pat’s Pastries buying little fruit tarts. He held the door open for that mean elderly man no one in town likes and then shared a laugh with her; she said he asked her for coffee so he’d get to know some of my friends better, but she just didn’t have time. “He’s sexy all right,” she said to me, and it made me feel good but also really mad. I wanted to tell her to find her own man.
When I get tired of all the sightings, I send him on a big dig for a month, and then I tell them all about our last night together and the bracelet (ordered late one night on the Internet) he gave me so I would know with its weight that he is always thinking of me. It’s a silver cuff that wraps smooth and cold against my skin. People (including Sophie) think that because I am so lucky in love, they might change their wardrobe and bedroom furniture. Of course you’re fine all alone, they say now. You’re waiting for him.
But today I come home from the store, my bag filled with wine and roses and those big sea scallops he loves to sauté in butter, and the truck is gone. There is a note on my door penned in a hasty scrawl. Thanks for not calling the cops. My heart sinks as if I have been abandoned, as if I will never see him again, and then I remember that of course he’ll be back. What’s more, he has left his boots there by my front door, clean, ready, and waiting for his return.
Jill McCorkle is the author of six novels, most recently, Life After Life, and four story collections. Her work has appeared in numerous periodicals, as well as the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays anthologies. She currently teaches in the Bennington College Writing Seminars.
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