by Valentine Michael Smith
He had been out of mental institutions 16 months when he met her, sunning herself with another woman in a mid-town Kansas City park in the spring of '68. A hairy guy literally drooling was harassing the two women lying on a blanket when Mike decided to intervene, acting as though he had just stepped across the street to get something, and had returned. The drooler shuffled off after a few sharp words got said, and after Mike covertly threatened to beat him to a pulp if he didn't move on.
Mike was dressed in jeans, a horizontal-striped shirt of grey and black, and leather leggings laced to the knee. His black-brown hair glistened in the bright late March su His dark brown eyes glinted with amusement. The women were in swimsuits; the one Mike was attracted too was tall with short-cut red hair, pixie-style, and a revealing blue-green one-piece suit on while the other woman was shorter, with full black hair, more buxom than the redhead, in a red and white bikini, but with plainer features. The redhead's green eyes grinned as she said, "I'm Pat, and this lady here is Linda." He told him his name was Mike, and would they mind if he sat down?
No objections offered, Mike slumped to a corner of the two women's blanket. Pat explained that they were playing hookey from the phone company because it was such a nice day. Mike allowed that all he was doing was hanging out in the park, that his reefer stash was low, and he hoped to meet some guy around the park to score some more. The women's eyes seemed to grow very large. Both Linda and Pat said, "Never did that! Is it OK?" Mik's reply, "For me, for me."
He told them he had been in a "sanitarium" (he couldn't bear to admit having really been in a state hospital for the insane) for five years for trying to kill some people back in '61. "So, I lit out from Illinois last spring, and have bounced around a bit since. Did I tell you I went to Haight-Ashbury last spring, and stayed 'til they buried hippie in Golden Gate Park, until everybody started shooting speed last fall, it turned out to be a bad scene, you know?" The woman seemed flabbergasted. "Sorry, I forgot you all were straights. Anyway, it was a lot of fun 'til the scene got wierd, with folks killing each other."
He spent an hour weaving tales, mostly true, about the world of the hippies, and living in San Francisco, about street begging and the Diggers, smoking reefer and doing Owsley acid on foggy nights, seeing Ferlinghetti in the early dawn light pulling his lanky body around as though no one else was around, whatever quest he was on was all that mattered. Finally, Linda glanced at her watch. "Wow, look at the time. Pat, we have got to go!"
Mike put them out of mind as the days went by, but he remembered the apartment number and address of Pat and Linda. Three weeks later, he was at the park in the middle of the night, on one of his frequent nocturnal wanders, and he stopped by the building the women lived in. Sharples and Aronson were Pat and Linda's last names. A day or so later, Mike was visiting with a friend, and saw a phone book. As he didn't have a phone, he rarely thought to call people. He looked up Pat Sharples' number, 221-4590. Mike memorizd the phone number.
Just as the weather turned to being vigorously rainy as April dawned, Mike went by their apartment again. Pat wasn't home, Linda was, but would not let him in. He left a note, a eight line poem composed on the spot that didn't rhyme, and disappeared. He left town a week or so later having seem Pat one more time, for five minutes in her parking lot.
He was on the road with the McCarthy campaign; Nebraska, then Oregon, then New York. Wherever thre was a WATS line, he'd give Pat a call, his one link to "home." He blew into KC the day before Robert Knnedy was shot, and somehow talked Pat into seeing him. She was heavily dating a Lt. Colonel in the Army, a fellow named Doug. Doug was a massive guy who just happened to be at Pat's when Mike showed up. Mike was totally unafraid, and Pat found that amusing. She took him to bed amidst great passion and much laughter.
He bopped in and out of town all summer, up to Chicago, out to the West Coast, playing, campaigning, but always staying touch with Pat. In September, he called to find out Doug had asked her to marry him. Mike freaked. He flew back to KC the same day. Pat wouldn't tell him what she had answered Doug with, and Mike stomped off in a rage, realizing he was madly in love with this Irish lady who had a great laugh.
He showed up at a huge gathering the next day in Volker Park, across the street from her house, and got roughed up by three punks who took the medallion from around his nck, blacked an eye, and busted a rib. He wouldn't fight back, for two reasons. He really felt he had to escape the violence cycle and he was afraid of killing someone and being reinstitutionalized. The next day, he walked from his apartment near Troost and 39th to Pat's place on 48th and Oak, only to see Doug's car parked in front. He lurked in the trees at the edge of the park, long enough to see Pat and Doug leave her apartment, with Doug carrying a suitcase he knew was Pat's.
He got pissed off, and went home and drank Jack Daniels until he was comatose. He woke up the next day, remembered the scene in his mind, and drank until the bottle was empty, and he drifted back to a state of comatosity again. The next day, drained, dehydrated, still drunk, he had to get out of his stupor. He showered, and walked the whole day, sweating out all the poison the alcohol had left in his system, and at dusk, went to the Plaza to the Sidewalk Cafe, and ate a huge chef's salad. Fortified, he wrote a note in his ever present notebook, and walked by Pat's on the way home and slipped it under her door.
He got to the front door to leave when he heard a familiar voice, "Where are you going?" and looked back to see only a hand sticking out of the apartment door, with his medallion hanging from it that the punks had taken the week before. He came back down the stairs, bewildered and bemused, to be greeted by a shriek of laughter at the apartment door.
He walked in, started to give Pat a hug, and looked around to see the three guys who beat him up. His heart leaped to his throat. Pat laughed, and the three guys laughed, Mike sat down. Pat introduced the three, one being her brother, also named Mike. They all sat around, got a little stoned, a little drunk and all was forgiven. Finally, the three guys left, with Pat's brother saying, "You treat my sister nice now, or we'll mug you again" and chuckled all the way down the hall. She kept him for the night, breathing in his ear the tale of Doug and the visit to his folks in Iowa. "I didn't want to marry him, I guess," she finally said.
Mike stayed in KC after that. He got Pat pregnant that December, they married the following March. Jim was born in September. They moved. They moved again, to a house on the east side of town, in a mixed neighborhood. Grandpa Sharples, though he didn't like much, came three times a week to see his first grandson. Mike cut his hair, worked "in plastics" for a while, then another political campaign, then got a job with the city in Human Relations in early '71.
The job, with its killing sixty and seventy hour weeks, killed the marriage. A miscarriage in '71, another baby in '72, was not enough emotional cement to keep them together. They had tried, even moving to Arizona for a while for a "fresh start," but Pat asked for a separation in the fall of '72, and moved that October to a small house, and in December again to an apartment. Mike was crushed. The boys were small, and they were very bewildered by Daddy not living with Mom any more.
Somehow all of '73 passed, and they were officially divorced, Pat saying at the courthouse, "Don't be friendly with me, the Judge will think we like each other and not grant the divorce!" They were friends, after a fashion, because of the boys. Mike came by frequently, often baby-sitting while Pat went on a date or ran errands. On Easter, in '74, Pat was attacked by three would-be black rapists, and almost lost an eye. She escaped their clutches, but moved to Arizona with the help of brother Mike and Dad Sharples within two weeks. A month later, Mike attempted suicide, blaming himself for the divorce, but failed.
Five years later, and a lot of agony later, Mike got another job he liked as much as the Human Relations gig, and put Pat out of his mind. The love affair was over, but it had taken 11 years of his life, the loss of his children to another place and environment, and through the deepest depths of despair to recover from falling in love with a woman in a park one day.
Previous essays in The Salon -- featuring Valentine Michael Smith