‘Hi, Mike. I read your profile on Matchmate.com and thought we might have something in common.’
No. Too considered. Sounds like I’ve been comparing profiles. Anyway, I don’t own a bright red Mercedes to lean against; I find it difficult to pose for a photograph, and I can’t do that look to the sky, like a rare bird just caught my attention.
Mike seems to have hired a professional. Someone has fussed over his tousled hair, shot him from different angles and uploaded his best – that’s something we don’t have in common. From childhood, people have had to restrain me for photographs; just as well I never married, the wedding album alone would have led to divorce.
Damn this age of technology. How can a flat screen convey personality, the subtle nuances of character, or the idiosyncrasies that endear us to loved ones?
‘Hi, Mike. You sound like the type of guy I’d like to meet.’
God, that’s awful; now I’m using cyber-jive, and sound desperate, to boot. Mike would think I’d drawn up a checklist and sat in every night circling those who ‘loved to travel’.
Then again, maybe Mike, despite his cool exterior, feels similar apprehension. I mean it can’t be easy poring through a gallery of pouting blondes with gravity-defying boobs while trying to choose the perfect partner. Not, mind you, that I’m in the bronzed beauty category, but ten years ago, I could have held my own.
That’s the problem, I suppose. First time around, I knew where I stood – or thought I knew where I stood. Maybe we all thought we knew where we stood. I know ticked boxes never entered the equation. I know we weren’t reduced to megabytes and pixels, scored on compatibility, or matched by sophisticated software. We behaved as humans; that’s the difference. Was that the difference? Anyway. We met; laughed, shared, fell in love, cried. We . . . well, you know the deal. ‘Different strokes’; ‘horses for courses’; ‘if hindsight were foresight’, and all those other hateful clichés. And please, don’t give me the ‘plenty more fish in the sea’, nonsense. That’s the one I detest most of all – like it’s some kind of universal therapy for a broken heart.
Shéa hadn’t needed a computer. We met in Molly Malone’s on 69th Street on a hot July night. I fell fast and hard – the thick Irish accent, powerful shoulders and gregarious personality. All that summer; weekends at the Jersey shore; long sunsets; sex on the beach; greeting dawn in each other’s arms. And the promises – oh, the promises.
‘Hello, Mike. I’m Kate. Never married, no children, thirty-two years old. Brown hair, hazel eyes, willing to try again.’
I'm allowed to lie, a little - everybody does.
That summer of copper skies and shared breaths passed. Shéa disappeared. His friends claimed he had overstayed his visa. Immigration tracked him down, and deported him. Against my parents’ wishes, I borrowed enough money to go to Ireland. I found him – safe and well, with a doting wife and two beautiful children.
I fell fast and hard, a second time – heartbreak, loneliness, depression. The medication left me confused and disorientated. I needed to listen to my mother and father; after all, they’d been right all along. Mother and I spent a week at a quiet location in upstate New York. I returned to school and stumbled through college, staying well clear of anything that smacked of a relationship. I learned my lesson and became a teacher.
‘Hi, Mike, please tell me the truth, I can’t stand being lied to.’
Working with small children helps. The clammy hands and smell of fresh urine reminds me of how it might have been. Christmas cards splattered with fistfuls of red sequence and Santas of porcine proportions addressed to ‘bess teecher ever’. Mothers reminding me how much their prized offspring love me, then inquiring in hushed tones whether I’ve found someone. The haunting loneliness of the summer sun and the memories branded on my brain don’t seem to have eased with time.
‘Hi, Mike. Somewhere out there lives my daughter. I can’t see or speak to her, but she’s there every day of my life. She’s fifteen now, born on the date I used for my password to Matchmate.com. All these years she’s been close to me through that invisible thread that connects all mothers to their children. It’s not true , that I talk to myself on quiet evenings.’
< DELETE >
No matter how much I try, there remains a part that remembers.
‘Hi, Mike, one day soon, I hope to be free.’
< SEND >