My friend Betsy gave me a book of hers a few days after I turned 40 – one that she wrote, as opposed to one that once upon a time made a difference in her life but is now collecting dust on the shelf. Just after I told her about my crush on a mutual friend of ours.
That I would see this other guy, our mutual friend, every Saturday morning in a church basement, where we would sit across the table from one another. That he was funny and smart, a writer. That he spoke my brand of crazy, which meant that when I talked, he would nod in that knowing way. The same way I nodded when he spoke.
That I was pretty sure he liked me after he brought me an entire smoked salmon for my 39th birthday. And that I liked him. (Blog: I Think the Fish Guy Likes Me)
Or perhaps I just liked the way he made me feel. Seen. Heard. Understood.
Betsy made a happy-sad face and told me the story of When the Messenger is Hot.
I’m standing in The Brown Elephant thrift store in Andersonville – Artist Date 50. Her book of short stories by the same name stares back at me from the shelves of fiction.
I smile a big toothy grin. It’s some sort of message, I think. Which is really the crux of the When the Messenger is Hot.
That people, objects, and experiences come into our lives for a reason.
Sometimes their appearance, or disappearance, is painful. Sometimes it looks nothing like what we imagined.
And sometimes, according to Betsy, God provides a pretty attractive delivery vehicle to make certain we pay attention. In her case, a bad boy with the heart of a poet and a tattoo on the inside of each of his wrists, Chinese symbols for “child of God.”
She thought he might be the love of her life. Or at least great sex. Instead, she came to see him, and their single date – which she rated among her top 5 – but never led to another, as a template of what a date should look like – “…love songs and flowers and candles and lollipops.” A reason to have faith. A harbinger of things to come.
I’m still not sure what message the Fish Guy came to deliver me. That there are attractive men all around who will bring me clever and intimate gifts that say, “I know you?” (Because really, I don’t know any women other than myself who would swoon over a piece of fish.) That my then-husband wasn’t the only one? My own harbinger of things to come?
That my brand of crazy really isn’t so crazy? That that “too much” that I fear being, really isn’t too much?
The Fish Guy moved away from Chicago – to Florida, so he could fish. Seriously. But the message of When the Messenger is Hot stuck with me.
The words became my shorthand for meeting someone seemingly special and not getting what I thought I wanted. And an opportunity to look for lessons where I thought there might be love.
The teacher who taught me about spiritual intimacy through shared prayer and meditation, and long conversations about God.
The Southern Svengali who taught me about creative companionship. What it was to be inspired by another, to have a muse. And to be a muse.
The divorce buddy who taught me about unconditional love and friendship. Who packed my car and drove me home from the West Coast to Chicago, even when things were awkward and clunky between us.
I think about buying Betsy’s book, just because it is here. Even though I already have a copy. Even though I have sent copies to several of my friends. But I leave it.
I pick up a collection of short stories titled Tongue Party, and a hardback copy of Like Water for Chocolate, both for $1.37, instead – curious what messages they will deliver.