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His memories were good enough to tempt. Hers were clear enough to sting.
I call her Superwoman because there’s nothing she can’t do. I used to date her umpty-ump years ago, back before either of my marriages. She’s the smartest woman I’ve ever known, a biological scientist, free-form sculptor, and hot-air balloon pilot who liked to hike the Cleveland National Forest at a breakneck pace—fearless, resourceful, good-natured, and good-looking. She also could kick my butt at Scrabble. I had the better vocabulary, but she was better at picturing “the spatial relationship of the letters.”
I don’t know why she left Krypton, but I’ve always felt privileged that she spent a few months dating me back in the ’90s. All was well back then. I was writing for television, cranking out crime shows no one remembers, and I loved having a bigger-than-life girlfriend. Sadly, it didn’t last.
Superwoman and I split up after a weekend in Bishop, where I accompanied her as she did research involving fern growth or some damn thing. I don’t sleep well in rural settings, and she got impatient with me yawning and catnapping instead of embracing the wilderness. After a disappointing weekend, we broke up and I headed home.
Funny story. I was supposed to fly back on this two-horse airline, but the pilot, short-hopping between Mammoth and John Wayne, failed to stop at Bishop airport. I asked why and was told—swear to God—“He forgot.” I wound up taking the bus home. Very un-Supermanly, but fitting.
Soon after, the Woman of Steel married someone else and moved to New York, where she soon had a lovely home and an adorable daughter. It had been years since I heard from her, but now she’s coming to Orange County and wants to see me while she’s here.
She invites me to a beach party on Friday, but I don’t have to wait that long.
Tuesday night I’m at a singles meetup at Sarducci’s in San Juan Capistrano, right beside the train tracks, fine-dining as a Metrolink thunders past. Try the calamari, the perfect companion for the southbound 7:06. I’m squid-munching and small-talking when I get a text message that goes like this: “Chris and I are at the Goat Hill tonight. … Join us.”
Chris is Superwoman’s brother, and the Goat Hill is a tavern in Costa Mesa. It’s not real close to Sarducci’s, but it’s a straight shot on the 73 and I figure what the hell, how often do you get to see a superheroic ex who’s visiting from out of town? Pretty soon I’m cresting the San Joaquin Hills with the lights of Orange County sparkling like cubic zirconia, the noisiest watering hole in SoCal dead in my sights.
Superwoman’s waiting for me, nursing a Guinness at a table by the window. She’s twice as beautiful as I remember, which seems unfair because I’m only half as handsome. Her brother looks much the same, but who cares? She gives me that “Aw, shucks” grin and the years melt away; it might have been just yesterday when she was prowling the Cleveland National Forest at superhuman speed.
“Great to see you,” I blurt.
“You too.” That grin again. I try to remember why we broke up, how I couldn’t keep up with her. Sad to think what might have happened if I’d had one of those 5-Hour Energy drinks.
“Hey, remember snowmobiling in Mammoth?” she asks. I recall it vividly, plunging into whiteout at horrifying speed, praying for survival, an adrenaline spike that I’ll die before forgetting. Or the time we found a rope swing in Modjeska Canyon, dropping off into a freezing stream. Or just tromping over half the county, with me doing my accordion wheeze and her surging ahead like an Olympic hiking champion.
For a while we reminisce like that, rehashing old adventures, marveling that nothing killed us. Chris brings fresh drinks as we catch up. Finally, I ask about now.
The news is bad and good.
Her husband’s gone, after a bad breakup. She’s raising her daughter alone. But she’s on top of her game, careerwise, doing whole-farm planning for thousands of acres in upstate New York, consulting with agricultural scientists in France, Japan, and Costa Rica on crop rotation and watershed protection. Her work could avert famine overseas.
“How about you, Terry?” she asks.
I can’t help fidgeting. “I, uh, work for a company that shows movies on airplanes.” Incredibly, she’s interested. Everything interests her. To Superwoman, nothing is mundane. In fact, she and her daughter and brother are going to Disneyland on Thursday, a must-visit even for normal people, better still if you’re adventurous and immune to fatigue.
I’m so tempted to ditch work and join them, but I’ve got jury duty on Wednesday—of all times, it has to be now—and it’ll probably run through Thursday. Lawyers love me, because I look so gullible. I’m a sitting duck during voir dire. I’ve been a jury foreman twice. You’re welcome, grateful citizens.
Still, next morning I’m fuming all the way to Santa Ana. I don’t want to decide if some poor bastard is guilty of something; I want to take Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with Superwoman and her young offspring. I want to postpone my jury service until after our California Adventure.
At the check-in window, there’s a sign marked “Postponements.”
I ask, “Can I do this at a later date?”
Turns out I can.
This is where the story should have a happy ending, and in some other universe I’m sure it does. I leave a message, breathlessly, telling Superwoman I’ve ditched jury duty so I can join them tomorrow at The Happiest Place on Earth. I wait for her response, but there isn’t one.
Finally, she texts this: “Thanks, Terry. But it’s been kind of a tradition for me, Hannah and Chris to go. … Enjoy your day.”
She wasn’t hoping I’d join them. I’d presumed too much. In my eagerness to recapture what Superwoman and I once had, I made the assumption that she still yearns for the past like I do, which turns out to be unwarranted. For her this is a nice visit, not an epic adventure. The fantasy was mine, not hers.
And that’s how it stands. I didn’t see her Wednesday or Thursday. I spent both days working for the company that shows movies on airplanes. Tomorrow I’ll see her at the beach party, but only to say goodbye.
I got her a Disney figurine, commemorating my absence: Dopey, from “Snow White.” There’s a resemblance.
Illustration by Megan Berkheiser and Mike Caldwell.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue.