You Go, Girlfriends
By Walter Jowers
DECEMBER 29, 1997: Quite a few years back, before there was wife Brenda, there was my three-nippled high-school companion Rita. When Brenda moved into my house, Rita didn't take kindly to it. So she busted in through the living-room window, gathered up all of Brenda's stuff--right down to her shoes and her toothbrush--and hauled it away in her sunny-yellow Chevette. This left Brenda with the clothes on her back and a few stray things in the dirty-clothes hamper.
That was the same day that my sister had her second full-out, hearing-voices-seeing-Jesus nervous breakdown, so I was feeling particularly sympathetic toward the mentally disturbed.
"Let it slide," I begged Brenda. "It's a pathetic attempt at re-marking her territory. Besides, it's her first year teaching first grade. If the sheriff comes and grabs her in front of the kids, she might come all the way unhinged." Out of the goodness of her heart--which is huge--Brenda agreed to ignore the whole situation.
A few weeks later, Rita blew the head gasket on the Chevette and lost all her coolant. She ignored the warning light, though, and drove to a service station. It was there she met Rusty--a mechanic and doctoral candidate--who told her that her head was warped, but he'd take care of it. Soon after, they were married, and they moved away to California.
That was the last we heard of them until a month ago, when right in amongst the everyday mail, I found a letter from Rita addressed to Brenda. I opened it.
The first paragraph was Rita's first acknowledgment of the clothes-stealing incident. "Please accept the enclosed check," Rita wrote, "as a belated apology." Rita went on, telling Brenda that this had been a difficult year at her house. "We had to put our Maine Coon to sleep (breast cancer), we lost two rats and one dwarf hamster, and Rusty left our house in September."
I left the letter on the counter, and daughter Jess found it before Brenda did. "Mo-om," Jess called out, "Some woman named Rita sent you $400, her cat, rat, and hamster died, and her dog ran away."
"Say what?" Brenda said, trotting into the kitchen. "Give me that." Brenda read the letter and then gave Jess a Rita-history lesson. "Oh, one more thing," Brenda finished, "Rusty is her husband. Not her dog."
"Her husband ran away?" Jess asked.
"Yep. Looks like it."
"I thought Rusty was a dog name."
"Well," Brenda said, "seeing as how he's left Rita with two children and the remaining cats and rats, you can think of him any way you want to."
When I came home that afternoon, I saw the letter still on the counter, but the check was gone. I found Brenda upstairs and asked, "You're not going to cash that check, are you?"
"Oh, you betcha. And don't you try to talk me out of it. That was my stuff she stole, and the restitution is late in coming."
"But she's short a few cats, rats, and a husband."
"Hey, this detailed apology with a check enclosed looks like 12-step stuff to me," Brenda said. "I'm not going to wreck this woman's recovery. Cashing the check's the best thing I can do for her. I'm off to the bank." And out she went.
The week after Brenda got Rita's letter, I got one from my even-more-former girlfriend, Becky. Becky and I were deeply in love for four months in the 10th grade, until she left my Corvair-driving ass for a boy with a gold Mustang. Becky cordially invited Brenda and me to her third wedding, in which she would promise to love not Richard or Jack (as she had promised earlier), but Charlie, until the day she died. We didn't go, and I figured I'd never hear another word from Becky.
But this week, Becky's Christmas card came. "Best Holiday Wishes," it said, in preprinted text from the Hallmark store, "From Becky, Charlie, Max, and Maggie."
I waved the card at Brenda. "Sweet Baby Jesus," I said. "Becky's married into a prefab family. All of a sudden, she's got two children. Probably teenagers."
"Give me that," Brenda said as she pulled the card out of my hand. "Max and Maggie? Now, Wally, you know those have got to be dog names."
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