Bernadette Martin, I liked her from the moment I first met her. It is that simple. It was at a First Friday in Olde City Philadelphia at a photography exhibit on a funky side street near Betsy Ross’s house. I almost didn’t go but some friends from college that I hadn’t seen in several years arranged a get together. It was to go out for dinner in Chinatown like we always did when living in West Philly during college days. The purpose was mainly to support one of our former classmates whose amazing photographs were on display. I had almost forgotten that this was the night we were meeting but I received two reminder phone calls. I was notorious for not showing up for things.
My classmate Ben Martin, a really fine photographer, turned out to be my future wife’s brother. I never knew much about his family, except that he had brothers and sisters and that he grew up in the Philly suburbs. My friends kept hounding me to go and I was a bit ambivalent about it. Ben was a good guy and I knew I would enjoy his work and I hadn’t seen any of the crew for months and months. I’m so glad I agreed to join them.
Bernadette was pretty, not in a flashy way but maybe somewhat like a lovely daisy that needed no adornment. She was eating an apple when I met her. Since then I’ve never seen a gala apple without smiling and thinking of her. We were introduced as she was taking a bite. Smiling, chewing and shifting the apple to her left hand and reaching out to shake my hand she looked right into my eyes and said “I’m so pleased to meet you” in a way that made me believe it. “Excuse my munching” she said as she wiped her mouth, “I haven’t eaten a thing today. I rushed to work this morning and rushed here afterwards to help Ben with some last-minute setting up”. “Thank god for these apples”, she said holding it up in the air to admire it before she took another bite.
“Why don’t you come to Chinatown with us after the show”? I offered. “I believe Ben is coming”.
“That sounds great”, she accepted
She had an inner vibe that auto corrected any slight imperfection someone might find like the small scar under her left eye that I never even noticed until possibly our second or third meeting. Her hair was a thick light brown with darker and then lighter streaks of auburn highlights. If she wore any make up it was so simple and subtle I couldn’t tell. Friendly and warm almost bubbly but with an easy self-assured manner, and so it is true, opposites attract. I am introverted and nervous, she was extroverted yet calm. I liked to read and dabble in arts, she did also but she was much more athletic than me. She had some artistic talents as well; small watercolor paintings were her specialty. She called them watercolor haikus. Using no more than three colors and minimum strokes she created what I called her “tiny masterpieces”. She would roll her eyes and say “Oh Sean, you need to have your eyes checked”.
Bernadette ran. She loved running. For fun she took ballet and yoga classes but running was her thing. She even got me into it, I didn’t particularly like running but I loved the way I felt when I was done. My nervousness would settle and the negative voices in my head were at their quietest. Mainly, I did it so that I could be with her. I loved to watch her run. We would start out together but quickly I would start losing my breath and begin to start lagging behind. She ran with total abandon like there was nothing in the world except her legs gliding down the road. Many times I would trip and barely stay up because I had my eyes firmly planted on her tight body and beautiful muscular legs. Even though she was 5′ 6″ her legs seemed to go on for a country mile. When she would slow down and stop I gradually caught up and after we caught our breath I would grab her and kiss her and she would laugh and push me away.
“Sean I’m disgusting, get off of me”, she would laugh and say. I would grab her again and kiss her deeply and this time she wouldn’t resist. She would return my kiss whole hardheartedly pressing into me from knees to face, salty sweat to salty sweat. Beautiful Bernadette would shove me away laughing even harder and say, “You stink Sean Baxter”, as she ran away making me chase her.
“You can’t kiss me if you can’t catch me”. I would start charging after her but I was barely recovered from our run and I didn’t stand a chance.
It didn’t matter because we would go back to her apartment or mine take a shower together and make love. Our running adventures on the weekends almost always ended like this and it was sublime. After running I was almost as calm as Bernadette. She taught me to be slow and gentle. Up until then making love, for me, was a race to the finish line. Not that I had a lot of sexual partners, I hadn’t. There was a steady girlfriend in my teens, and one failed attempt at sex with a sweet neighborhood girl when I was fourteen. Embarrassingly for me, it ended before it started because of my over stimulation. She seemed relieved and later I wondered if, like me, she was a virgin. We never talked about it, just pulled on our clothes and went to a corner store for a soda. There was also a homosexual encounter when I was seven or eight years old that, later, I realized was the defining moment in my life when I discovered I was straight. He was at least five years older than me and I was angry and hurt by what he succeeded in doing to me. He tried to get me alone again but I avoided him at all costs. Somehow I always blamed myself for what happened. I never told a soul until I met Bernadette. She had a way of making me open up and say things that I would never talk about.
I was extremely jealous when Bernadette talked about former boyfriends. I pretended it didn’t bother me but sometimes my face would get beet red and she didn’t miss it. She had a lot more experience than me and sometimes she would try to tease me with it. She actually enjoyed my jealousy. She would look at me intensely when telling me about one of her escapades and burst out laughing when I would start squirming uncomfortably and getting flushed.
I would sometimes lay awake at night and get so worked up imagining her with another guy. The thought of her even kissing someone else drove me absolutely mad. It was so immature but I didn’t know how to control it. After a while and after she agreed to marry me the obsession subsided, but I still get incredibly jealous if I dwell on the images that sometimes play in my mind.
Bernadette has a magnetic personality and the better you get to know her, the more attractive she becomes. I’m not the only one who saw this. Some of her good friends observed the same patterns. She was loved by many and her friends enjoyed her immensely. Co-workers and acquaintances seemed to always be falling in love with her. She enjoyed the attention and would, intentionally or unintentionally flirt a bit but she never let it go beyond that. The attention that she paid to people was genuine and sincere and it came through. Sometimes people misinterpreted her attention and began to desire her affection as well. Through the years she has learned to let people down gently. Since we’ve been married, several guys, three to be exact, (but who’s counting?), and even one young lady wrote love letters to her or tried wooing Bernadette in other ways. She showed the letters to me and I would go ballistic. I was so jealous my ears were burning. She would laugh and say, “Oh Sean, I should have torn it up but I would feel a little dishonest not telling you about it. I didn’t think you would want to actually read it! Sean I feel bad for him”, or “he is a really sweet guy, he doesn’t mean any harm. I told him that he should know that I’m not available.” In a totally unguarded moment she said, “I love when you get jealous! It makes me feel loved and powerful. I know it is wrong of me but I’ve never felt so much love as when I see your face get flush with jealousy. Sean I would never ever hurt you. I love you. They may want me, but you have me. I can’t change my personality. I’m not even sure what I’m doing. I’m just being myself. You are the only man I love and the only one for me. How many times do I have to tell you until you get it? Now come here and kiss me”.