Orchid by J. Kuzmier --  photo by John B. at JohnBdigital.com     

It was six months after Sherry’s divorce, 1994 just around the corner, and she hadn’t gone out on a date yet.

Everyone she knew was worried about her. “Oh, Sherry, you have to go out sometime. You can’t spend your whole life alone.” These were the same people who had encouraged her to divorce her husband. “Better to be alone than miserable,” they had told her.

Not that they were totally unjustified in encouraging her to get a divorce. Her husband, Matt had been a real jerk, especially towards the end when his gambling started putting them in debt. But Sherry tolerated it without saying much, always being the forgiving wife. The breaking point in the marriage occurred when she caught Matt lying in bed with their cleaning lady, both of them naked.

She lost it then, screaming five years of resentment at the top of her lungs and threatened murder. The cleaning lady jumped out of the window to escape Sherry’s rage and ran like a scared plucked chicken the hell away from there (And this little piggy cried, wee, wee, wee, wee all the way home). Sherry didn’t see her again until a custody trial for Matt’s children, where she testified that Sherry was unstable and given to hysterical emotional attacks.

Matt had denied that anything went on between him and the cleaning lady. They were having an “existential” conversation, and freeing themselves of clothing helping them to free themselves of the mental barriers that came between them. Then Matt could be freer with Sherry in their marriage.

Yeah, right. Matt had never been philosophical a day in his life. Sherry had never heard such bullshit before, but after five years of marriage she should know to expect that type of crap from her husband. All of his crazy behavior was justified in this marriage because of her- he drank because of marital fights, he gambled because their salaries couldn’t afford the mortgage on a house she never wanted anyway as well as child support for three kids to his ex-wife. Once the wedding vows had been uttered, nothing he did was wrong; everything he did he did as proof of his undying love and sacrifice. And now this “existential” crap to justify an affair.

Well, Sherry couldn’t say she was completely surprised. She wasn’t even that angry, once she got past the initial confrontation of her husband’s adultery. It was almost a relief, like her ticket out of hell. She still loved Matt, but the affair gave her the ammunition she needed to get out of the marriage. Divorce sounded so ugly, which was precisely the reason why she had waited so long to file for divorce. She had known that the divorce rate was high when she got married, but she wanted her marriage to be different. The idea of being a man-hating divorcee like many of the divorced women she knew made her sick.

So when she filed, she was without a doubt in her mind ready to terminate the marriage. She figured she would get her divorce and get on with the rest of her life. I actually look forward to being alone, she considered as she discussed proceedings with her attorney. She’d gotten married very young-nineteen- and wanted some tine to herself to discover what the world was about, and, more importantly, what she was about.

But that dream wasn’t as easy to attain as she had hoped for. She had not counted on Matt contesting the divorce as vehemently as he did, delaying the action for almost three full years. He had refused to sign any papers or go to any hearings whatsoever if it had to do with letting her go permanently. And he harassed her, making it all that much harder to let go of him emotionally. Sherry was through with the marriage, but she still had heartstrings attached to him. It killed her to go with the divorce. And in the inner recesses of her mind, she hoped he would get some kind of help and become the man she met and fell in love with at eighteen. She wanted to go home again.

So every night for three years she’d return to her apartment to either find him sitting on her doorstep holding wilted orchids (they grew wild by their house) or thirty messages from him on her answering machine begging her to come home, sometimes both of the above. There were times when she listened to her husband’s voice on the answering machine she could hear other women’s voices in the background with her husband. It made her sick. Sherry never knew what happened to Matt that made him comply with the divorce after he’d fought it so hard for three years. She never spoke with him directly, their attorneys spoke for them. The only proof that he was involved with the process at all was his signature on the documents dissolving the marriage. Wow, she thought as she signed the documents and sent them off. It’s really going to be over. It was a strange feeling for her.

About two weeks before her divorce was finalized, her attorney notified her that her husband was going into a custody battle for his kids. Matt’s first wife had passed away, and the judge wanted to deem if Matt was a fit parent for the children he’d sired or if the children’s stepfather, Matt’s first wife’s second husband, would be a better choice. Sherry’s attorney informed her that Matt could stay the divorce and sue her for spousal support if he won and if the trial adjourned before the two final weeks of their legal marriage were up.

Stepfather, ex-wife(ves), widower of that one’s ex-spouse-it all made Sherry dizzy. Matt was thirty-two and he was twice divorced already, including his marriage to Sherry. After Sherry got off the phone with her attorney she went to the bathroom and vomited. It was going to be a long two weeks for her. Matt’s ex-wife’s widower’s attorney called Sherry the following week. “We’d like you to testify against your husband,” he said. “Am I able to do that? I’m still his legal wife.” “You’re legally separated, and this isn’t a criminal trial, so yes, you can testify against him.” “I’ll get back to you,” Sherry said quickly and hung up.

She wound up testifying, against the wishes of her attorney. He’d been afraid for her physical safety if she testified, because apparently Matt had been having some trouble in public places with his temper. Sherry did it mostly to enhance Matt’s decision to go through the divorce. Testifying against him would be solidification that the marriage was over, to her as well as him. The last time she’d seen him they’d made love all night and they were supposed to be getting a divorce. Testifying against him and hearing his shortcomings as a father and as a husband to another woman helped strengthen her to hold on until her divorce went through. That’s when she saw the slutty cleaning lady again; she tried to discredit Sherry’s testimony with the story about Sherry’s hysteria. Apparently the tactic didn’t work because the judge ruled in favor of the children’s stepfather. A week later, Sherry received her finalized divorce papers.

And now, six months later, when she hardly had caught her breath after all this garbage, she was getting slack from her friends for her singleness. It hurt her a lot. It didn’t help that during her separation and immediately after her divorce three-quarters of her friends announced their engagements and marriages to men who would be their first husbands. She felt so out of place. When she was married, her friends had been single, and now the roles were reversed. It was taxing trying to deal with their encouragement for her to find husband number two. Men were scared of her anyway. Being a twenty-seven year old divorcee wasn’t exactly an asset. Men thought she carried a failure disease. She thought so, too. So she stayed away from them. They scared her, anyway.

Actually, she’d been afraid of men since she was a little girl. Her father, who had been a joy to her, died when she was only seven. Sherry’s mother, Alice, had been too weak to deal with her mourning, Sherry’s loss, and her new role as a single parent, so her brother-in-law, Sherry’s uncle, came and took over the household. Sherry remembered Alice sitting in the living room vegetating while this man invaded their life. Alice always looked like she was going to die, and Sherry was terrified about that. Sherry’s mom never married her uncle, but he always felt that it was in his place to lord over his sister-in-law and two nieces like he was God. Sherry was deathly afraid of him. He’d hit her mother whenever she didn’t do the right thing in his eyes, and that mostly had to do with obeying him.

It was only when Sherry was older that she learned from Alice why she put up with such abuse and why her Uncle Tim was such a tyrant. “I was supposed to have married Tim, not your father,” Alice explained, “but Tim was drafted into Korea. It was so lonely without him. I’d wanted to marry him right away, but he wanted to wait until he got back from his commission because he didn’t want to risk making me a young widow. I felt like one, anyway, the minute he stepped onto the plane for Seoul,” Alice recalled bitterly and paused.

“Anyway, Bruce-your father-” (like Sherry didn’t know) “and I got very close while Tim was away, because he really missed Tim too. They were brothers, but they were also best friends, so Tim’s leaving affected Bruce like death too. Before we even realized it, your father and I were in love. “For the longest time Bruce and I denied it to ourselves that we had feelings because we didn’t want to hurt Tim. But after a year or so, we couldn’t. Tim had been my first love, but Bruce was more tangible, more real at the time. I knew Bruce would never be drafted into the war because of his leukemia so I felt safe and secure with him. So when Tim was reported missing in action, Bruce and I eloped three months later. As luck would have it, Tim was found two weeks after Bruce and I were married and returned to the States because he was injured. When he found out Bruce and I were married, he went crazy and shot up his own house and slit his wrists. Between you and me-” Alice whispered even though no one else was around,”-I think that the military gave him drugs. There’s all kind of evidence that it’s true.”

Alice returned to a normal timber. “Anyway, after that, I was tormented with guilt. You father was able to accept the situation a lot better than I, probably because he was sick. He didn’t want to waste time on useless emotions like guilt when realistically there was nothing that could undo the damage. Sure, Bruce and I could divorce so I could marry Tim, but the betrayal was already there.”

“So, you let yourself be abused because you felt guilty about doing something that hurt him unintentionally?” Sherry was incredulous at what she had just heard.

“He doesn’t mean to hurt me either,” Alice countered defensively. “It’s the drugs that the military gave him that make him act crazy.” You could say in effect, Sherry married Matt to get out of the house.

True, she wasn’t living home at the time she met him, but that was only because she was attending college clear across the United States from her mother’s home. She always was subjected to hell in the summertime. And Matt seemed ideal, with the exception of an ex-wife and a couple of kids floating around in the background. He was handsome, intelligent, rich(in the mind of a naive eighteen year old), independent, and always the life of the party. Any party. Surprisingly enough that hadn’t occurred to Sherry that “partying” could pose a problem. He was a heavy boozer, she realized, but as far as she could see he didn’t have any problems because of the booze. He had a really good job with a lot of pressure (stockbroker) which he handled well and he had a lot of friends. He was always nice to Sherry, taking her to exotic restaurants, hotels, theaters and the like; in fact he was the nicest of all the men she had dated.

The fact that he had been divorced before only enhanced the romance he emanated. It made him seem a hell of a lot more sophisticated than her college peers. She felt he educated her where it really counted- through experience, not a textbook. So when he proposed marriage six months after their affair began, she’d accepted. She knew she’d never find another man like him again, not in a million years. They kept their engagement secret and waited to wed until after she completed her associates degree in business management because Matt thought it important that she complete her education.

They finalized the act in a simple civil ceremony with just a couple of court officers present as witnesses. Sherry hadn’t even had a honeymoon, a wedding dress, or an engagement ring, for that matter. All of her friends went crazy when they found out that Sherry had gotten married. They had never liked Matt anyway, which Sherry had always attributed to jealousy, and they thought that her decision was so foolish that they had absolutely no problem telling her so every time they spoke to her. The only reason why she put up with this crap from her friends was because early on in her marriage she realized she desperately was going to need her friends. Matt’s vice at that time was work, and it wasn’t unusual for her to be alone until ten or eleven o’clock at night.

Strangely enough, the one vice everyone predicted Matt would get addicted to never surfaced- his alcohol use. By his twenty-fifth birthday, Matt had discontinued drinking completely. But he spent money outlandishly, purchasing fancy cars, exquisite gifts for Sherry, and a house worth over a million dollars (no kidding) with three acres of property. Sherry had no idea where he’d gotten the money to even put a down payment on the thing; his job as a stockbroker didn’t rake in that much money. It was hard not to become suspicious of her husband’s lifestyle at that point.

But Sherry still loved Matt despite it all, even though in her heart she was starting to realize that this marriage was doomed. She was still fairly convinced that Matt loved her. He was so tender, so affectionate- never once had he raised his voice to her and definitely not his fists. She would become bitter and confused when she began to receive collectors’ notices left and right, staying up as late as three or four waiting for her husband to come home, resolving herself, this is it, I am putting an end to this crap, only to have her bomb diffused when he gently kissed her hello on the head whenever he decided to waltz in. Sherry would think of Alice with Tim, and realize, my God, I’m just as weak as my mother. She would get nauseous then and desire to slit her wrists.

Then there was the issue of his first marriage. Matt didn’t like talking about his ex-wife Donna. Sherry didn’t care to hear much about her because she didn’t want to know about another woman being with her husband. Matt considered her a materialistic slut that he’d wined and dined for two years and all she did was deny him any affection. Sherry found that to be so horrible, how could anyone deny someone as gentle and sexy as Matt affection?

Donna became bossier and bossier as Matt gave more and more to her. Divorce was filed by Donna after she deserted Matt and moved in with the pretty boyfriend who eventually became the children’s stepfather. She’d taken the kids as well and set up the situation so that she could prove that Matt was insane in order to ger full custody and no visitation rights for Matt. Sherry thought Donna to be so evil for doing that to Matt. Not that Sherry wanted Matt’s kids around anyway. They weren’t hers and she wished to deny their existence.

So when her friends and family questioned why the father of two children didn’t see them even once in awhile, Sherry never took their doubts seriously. She was grateful they weren’t around and especially grateful that they weren’t in Matt’s hands right now, because she would be a hell of a lot poorer right now. She was stupid to have ever married him, and it embarrassed her to have been taken in by such a con artist. She considered herself to be intelligent, but she’d gotten duped anyway.

And the damnest thing about it was that she still really cared about him. When she’d gotten her final divorce papers, she’d felt victorious. It had taken every ounce of her self-will to continue with the divorce proceedings. She had wanted so desperately throughout the separation to run to his arms and pretend that none of this shit happened. She knew it was stupid of her, but she’d carried on an affair with him for the duration of the separation. It had been too hard for her to let go of him completely, especially with numerous visits and phone calls on Matt’s part tugging at her heartstrings. Their lovemaking during then became sadder and sadder as time went by, and Sherry would always have to run to the bathroom and cry when each of these sessions ended. And he was always gone when she returned to the bedroom.

She would think, how could this be, that I love such a man that destroys me? Do I have such little respect for myself? She would curse her own existence when she felt like this and the next day her body would curse her with a migraine headache. And another part of the ritual was finding a bunch of orchids sitting on her doorstep the following afternoon, hand-picked from the garden of their marital home. They made her cry but she treasured them, as much as she still unfortunately treasured their sender.

The next issue thrown at her after dating was her wedding band. “Come on, Sherry. You have to take the damn thing off. You have to let Matt go.” Carolin, her best friend and co-worker said. Carolin was forty-one and had an annulled marriage in her past. At least she didn’t push dating on Sherry, because she knew the value of just readjusting to singleton status, without a man. But she was pushy about Sherry putting Matt in her past so she could function at her full capacity by taking off her wedding ring.

“I don’t want to yet. It’s too soon.”

“Get real. You’ve been separated for almost four years.”

“I’ve only been divorced for six months,” Sherry countered impatiently.
Carolin shrugged, undaunted. “That’s just legal bullshit. Your marriage died the day you saw Matt with that bimbo.”

Sherry winced at her words. God knew how Carolin would react if she found out that Sherry’d been screwing Matt up until two months before the divorce. Sherry had been too ashamed to admit the affair even to Carolin. “Well, I’m not ready to go out with anyone yet,” she said hoping to end the subject. But it didn’t.

“I don’t mean take off the ring so men can chase after you. Men have no scruples; if they really want you, they’ll chase after you, ring or no ring. I meant, take it off for yourself. So that you acknowledge that your marriage is over. At least, wear it on a different finger if you still want to wear it.”

That evening, when Sherry got home from work she tried that. She put it on her right hand ring finger. It looked weird there and her left hand felt naked. But she braved out the night without altering the new arrangement. Carolin was right. She had been denying that her marriage was over symbolically with the ring, because in her heart she still felt connected to Matt.

As the days went by, she felt more and more infatuated with the memory of him instead of being disgusted by them. She’d even gone so far as to call him. A strange man had answered. “Sorry, miss. There’s no Matt Durand at this number.”

“Are you sure? Is this 555-9183?”

“Yes’m, it is. But sorry. Your boyfriend isn’t at this number. Night, miss.”

Sherry sat looking at the receiver, its dial tone buzzing angrily at her. Sherry hung it up, puzzled by the encounter. There were orchids sitting on her doorstep the next morning.

She felt confused for the next months. Her twenty-eighth birthday came and went, complete with a birthday dinner with Alice, Carolin, and some of her college friends, as well as a night on the town which culminated with Chippendale’s. Carolin had already told the management about Sherry’s birthday, so the hunks announced it and made her dance with them. One dancer in particular turned Sherry on. He was totally different from Matt, too: dark instead of light complexion, brunette instead of blonde, big instead of lanky. Of course she didn’t do anything to encourage the attraction. She had a good time just laughing and dancing with him on stage. It was just a nice feeling to be attracted to someone else other than Matt for a change.

But in the months surrounding her birthday, she had the feeling of being displaced from herself. She couldn’t feel anything emotionally and sometimes she thought she was having twenty-four hour a day long out of body experiences. She felt like something was severed from her body.

She started having fantasies of Matt with fairy tale stories with white knights rescuing damsels in distress. But the reality of her situation would creep in at those moments, and a voice inside her head would tell her, you did have your knight in shining armor. Look where he brought you.

Luckily, Sherry wasn’t suffering at all from the divorce, although that had been a fear of hers when she was separated. She’d heard tons of stories where divorced women wound up on welfare or homeless because of their marriage breaking up. Men would clean out joint accounts, try to sell houses and get spousal support from wives just to intimidate them out of the divorce action or leave them destitute as punishment for their evil deeds. But even though Matt had cleaned out their accounts and gotten the house, she hadn’t done too badly.

And at that point she hadn’t cared about anything but getting her own mind back. She’d worried about getting a job that would support her, having only an associates degree. And her work experience was sporadic, to say the least. She’d gotten fired frequently from jobs during her marriage because she seemed distracted all the time and didn’t put too much effort into her work. The scenario usually went like this: “Sherry, you’re an intelligent, capable woman. We know you are competent enough to handle this job. Yet you concentrate so little on your work that you keep making errors that we can’t afford to have in this company. So even though we regret this, we are going to have to let you go-”

And on and on. Sherry never could argue with her bosses because she knew they were right. Her mind was elsewhere ninety percent of the time, wondering if Matt was coming home that night or she was just to tired to think because she had been up the entire night waiting for him to come home. So she got fired all of the time and hence her resume looked like shit.

Luckily for her, she’d found the job she had now. That was where she’d met Carolin, her best friend. Carolin seemed like such an upbeat person Sherry couldn’t help but like her despite her offbeat sense of humor, and Carolin became her mainstay throughout her divorce. Carolin’s survival through a broken marriage gave Sherry tangible hope.

In fact, listening to Carolin, Sherry felt that her problems were nothing. Carolin’s ex had been a closet homosexual who’d married Carolin just for social pretense; no one, even Carolin, knew about his sexual preference. They’d never consummated the marriage, which for a long time Carolin had attributed to the fact that they both had extremely religious backgrounds and had a lot of inhibitions towards sex, but after a whole that had been hard to buy.

Carolin’s suspicions were confirmed when she saw her husband walking into a popular homosexual bar when he was supposed to be going to the mall to buy Christmas presents. At least, Sherry thought, I caught Matt with a woman! “It was so embarrassing, having to prove I was a virgin after five years of marriage to an open court. And I felt like such a failure too after it was all over, even though people kept reassuring me that it wasn’t my fault. Where I grew up you did not, under any circumstances, get divorced. At least you’re going through this during a time when it’s more acceptable to get divorced. Not that will make you feel any better at the moment.”

So that was how their friendship began. Of course they discussed other things than their broken marriages. But Sherry would always be grateful for Carolin. She probably would have never had the courage to go through the divorce and just dropped it and gone back to Matt. Sherry always found it strange how easily she forgot the pain that Matt put her through.

No, financial headaches were not Sherry’s concern any longer. Her salary was sufficient to meet her needs. But her heart still hurt a lot. The pain she felt now was different from the pain she suffered through her marriage. It wasn’t like the old pain that rendered her paralyzed, but it was a sad, dead feeling. Nowadays Sherry was a very good employee because she lost herself in her work to escape herself.

And oddly enough she felt rejected by Matt. Sure, she had been the one who had wanted the divorce. But she had such a torrid affair with Matt during their separation that she felt like she was the one who was dumped once he consented to the divorce. How could she ever love anyone again and risk getting hurt again? The Chippendale’s experience had helped her though. Maybe she could just have a fun time with a man, no strings attached, go dancing or to an amusement park with him, something fun.

But she was scared. As far as she remembered, Matt had started out as “something fun”. Look what had happened. “You have to stop comparing everything in life to your relationship with Matt,” Carolin advised her when Sherry relayed her fears to her. “Otherwise you will be stuck in a rut. One day you will smell Matt’s cologne on some guy and you’ll want to marry him or kill him, depending on your mood about Matt. The poor guy with the cologne won’t know what’s coming. You have to see the world realistically without the ghost of Matt lurking around the shadows. Try not to live with Matt in your mind. He’s not the present, he’s the past. Live in today.”

After Chippendale’s she started wanting to do things that she had never imagined doing when she was married- going to museums, going dancing with friends. She even tried going to dinner and to the movies alone. She felt awkward at first and was sure that everyone was staring at her thinking that she was a reject who couldn’t find a man to take her to these things.

And in a way, she did feel like a reject. From the time she was fourteen she’d always had a male escort of one sort or another. This was the first time in her life that she was truly alone, and she was doubly aware of her aloneness when she went out socially by herself. Her mind started wandering; should she take up a hobby, go on a trip, have a baby on her own?

She felt like she did when she first went to college with dreams so confused and jumbled that she was overwhelmed by even their very presence. It embarrassed her how much she had sold her dreams to please one man, especially when she saw other women, both younger and older than her, who seemed to fulfill their dreams, many times while being attached to a significant other of some sort. Where had she gone wrong?

She’d asked Carolin about this one time, and she said Sherry learned her behavior. “What do you mean?” Sherry asked. “It was what you were taught by example when you were growing up. To sell out for a man and give up your life for him.”

Sherry pondered that for a moment. “Do you mean, my mother? But I swore I’d never be like her. I did everything she didn’t. I went to college, tried to get a career…”

Carolin shook her head. “We learn our guardians’ bad habits anyway, even when we think we avoided them. You can’t help it. They’re your main focus point for at least eighteen years. But now that you have an idea where you messed up, you’re up to the fun part. You get to unlearn their lessons!”

After about a year from the day her divorce went through, Sherry started to think more seriously about dating. She’d begun to feel a sense of herself like she’d never felt in her own life. She had her own schedule to follow, as well as her own way of doing things. She’d discovered she liked cooking and painting, and she began to use her culinary skills to aid others by cooking food for a soup kitchen in her neighborhood. Who would ever have thought she would be sending her Saturdays hanging around the homeless? Saturdays were the days the she had done errands for Matt, and, before college, her mother, because both had been too irresponsible to do them themselves. At the end of each Saturday, she’d felt like she’d accomplished absolutely nothing, as though she wasted the effort.

Now, she felt she was doing something worthwhile, and appreciated. She would have pleasant memories of conversations with the soup kitchen clientele, when previously Saturdays were so devoid of meaning that she would forget what happened during them when by Sunday. But now they were full of both life and value. She was beginning to feel full of life and value as well.

So now that she had found new meaning in her life, she knew she wouldn’t sell herself out to a man the way she did when she was eighteen. Having a man and getting married at any cost were no longer the prime objectives of her life anymore. If she were truly honest with herself about the way she was during the year she met Matt, marriage was as important if mot more so than the lofty creative dreams she had for her life. Even though she always tried to ignore it she was well aware of the stigma that a never-married woman over a certain she bore; her family and the men at her college always made fun of female forty- and even thirty-something never marrieds. So, she’d taken the first opportunity to make sure she didn’t become the brunt of those jokes, and Matt’s debonair smile and big bank account had constituted wonderful husband material.

Well, no more. A man would have to have debonair kindness and a big heart to even be a contender now. She’d suffered and worked too hard for her dignity to do that.

Alice, Sherry’s mother, was worried about her daughter. She called all the time since Sherry’s sister Trish decided the Western way of life was not for her and teamed up with some guy from Pakistan or something like that and disappeared with him. Alice had never been good with dispersing attention between the girls. One got attention for a few months while the other was ignored and then the roles would reverse. At least Tim beat them up equally.

“When are you going to find a man to settle down with?” Alice lamented.

Sherry sighed. “Mom, stop it.”

“No, I mean it. You find a perfectly good man and as soon as you marry him you get rid of him. I don’t understand the mentality today. In my day, you married until death do you part.”

“Mom, he cheated on me. He gambled our money away.”

“So? All men cheat. It comes with the territory. And as far as the gambling, I think you are exaggerating. I never got the impression you were suffering too badly.”

Needless to say, Sherry spoke to Alice as infrequently as possible. Visits were limited to birthdays and holidays. Sherry hadn’t gotten rid of one nut to take on another one.

But she did want to get back into the dating world. She was starting to get tired of coming home to an empty apartment with no one to talk to but the pizza delivery kid. And her friends always telling her to go her find a man made them somewhat of a deleted option in her search for intimate company. Besides, she just missed male company. Men could be a pain, but they were also nice to have around, too.

The problem she had now was where to meet men. Work was ruled out, because in Sherry’s opinion it wasn’t smart to court people you talked business with during the day. It could cause problems, and Sherry didn’t want to put her job in any jeopardy whatsoever even if sometimes she swore the only reason why she kept it was to have an excuse to talk to Carolin all day. Besides, the men on her job were geeks, anyway.

The soup kitchen staff that she volunteered at was all women, and she certainly wasn’t interested in dating the clientele. The clubs she went to with her girlfriends were all meat markets where she got treated like a horny slut for being a divorcee (somehow these assholes made a correlation to divorce and promiscuity), so the clubs were definitely out of the question. Going to college was out because she didn’t need any more college to advance in her career, and she couldn’t see going to school just to pick up a man.

“Damn, girl, you certainly have strict standards for meeting men,” said Carolin when Sherry discussed her dilemma with her during lunch one day in the break room. “You have virtually eliminated every single place you frequent as a potential place to meet men. Are you sure you’re ready to date yet? You seem to be making it very hard for yourself to do so.”

“I don’t know, I’m just feeling very lonely lately. I just want a friend, a companion.”

Carolin knitted her brows into a mock frown. “What’s the matter, my company’s not good enough for you anymore?”

Sherry grinned sheepishly. “You know what I mean. Sometimes I get lonely, you know for…”

“Ah. I see. The three letter word sex.”

“Well, sort of.”

“Oh well, I have to admit, I couldn’t help you with that.”

Sherry laughed. “Well, I don’t mean running out and getting laid tonight. I mean, like holding and kissing, romance, that kind of sex.”

“I know you mean that kind of sex. Otherwise I would have advised you to buy a vibrator. It’s safer; less diseases and less headaches.”

Carolin found a newspaper that was lying around and opened it up to the classified section. “Why don’t you try that?”

Sherry looked to where Carolin was pointing. “The personals? I couldn’t do that. I’d feel like a wallflower.”

Carolin slammed the paper shut and got up. “You’re impossible. Buy the vibrator.” With that, she left the room importantly.

Sherry burst out laughing as soon as she was gone. Carolin came back in the room with two big steaming cups of coffee and frowned when she saw Sherry.

“Where’s my Danish, waiter?” Sherry accused.

“Fuck you,” Carolin said simply as she set down the coffee. “What was so hilarious that I missed?”

“You didn’t miss anything much. I was laughing at you.”

“Why? Because of my temper tantrum?” Sherry nodded. “I was serious. You want advice but you make it impossible for me to give it, because every suggestion I offer you have a grand reason for not taking it.”

“Sorry. I’m just nervous at the thought of dating. I haven’t done it for almost ten years.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling. I was gun-shy about the dating game after my marriage broke up too. That’s why I suggested the personal ads. They’re good because each person as nervous as the other person is. They’re still the only way a woman can ask for dates. Even though it’s 1994 with all the women’s rights and stuff women pursuing men aren’t viewed with much class. It’s wrong, but that’s how it is. But if you put a personal ad in, you have control. You’ll know where they live but they don’t have to know where they live, you’ll know their phone number, but you don’t have to give them yours, that sort of thing. And generally speaking, the men answering ads are just like you: they don’t have time to meet decent women on their own, or they’re new on the dating scene too. Once in awhile you run into a nut job, but that could happen anywhere.”

“How do you know so much about the ads?”

“That’s how I started out again.” She looked at Sherry’s incredulous expression. “Don’t look at me like that. It’s just a stereotype that personal ads are for losers. The people who come out with bullshit like that are WASP men who’ve been married for thirty years and don’t know that hardships of single life. No, the ads helped me out. I had no idea how to date. I put an ad in, and I got so many responses that I began to feel confident that I could make my own way in the dating world. Now, I have no problem with dating.” Sherry ought to know. Carolin seemed to have four boyfriends at a time; she was always getting flowers and phone calls in the office from her men. “Why don’t you try the personals? Maybe they’ll give you a good confidence boost. It’s better than going to bars. Try it. If you don’t like it-“ she lowered her voice “- I know a store that sells vibrators really cheap.”

Sherry threw her napkin and Carolin and laughed.

That night, Sherry sat down at the dinette in her apartment staring at a blank piece of paper. After awhile, she felt so zombied out staring at the thing it was almost like it was staring at her and saying, “Well? You going to write something or what?”

Sherry began to feel dizzy so she got up and fixed herself some iced tea. She was pretty confused about what to put down for this personal ad stuff. Did all people have this much trouble describing themselves or was she the only pathetic soul in the world who had no idea what words to use to describe themselves? She didn’t feel like consulting Carolin about it; their relationship was drifting too much into relationship therapy and she wanted to steer it out of that direction.

Besides, Sherry was the only one who could truly describe herself for this; no one else could. She looked at her weekend paper where some of the personal ads were. A lot of people seemed like they were trying to hard to stand out and a lot of the rest seemed generic. She didn’t know what she could write to make herself sound special or different. Somehow she wanted to emphasize that she wasn’t particular about looks, just personality. She wasn’t looking for marriage, just friendship.

She sipped her iced tea and stared out her windows over the city as she contemplated her memories of Matt. She liked her apartment. It was fifteen stories above the ground and sometimes even now the height made her dizzy, but it gave her the privacy she needed. Funny, Matt had been around so infrequently that an outsider to Sherry’s life would have thought that her married life had been one endless round of privacy, but for whatever reason, Sherry never felt she had it. Somehow everything felt claustrophobic during her marriage; maybe because everything she said or did around Matt was scrutinized and analyzed to death.

Sherry knew Matt never trusted her, at least, she knew that now, now that she had enough space and time away from Matt to be able to look at their relationship objectively; when she was married she had been in complete denial about everything under the sun. She was stupid enough to fall for his lame excuses why he gambled and wilted like a schoolgirl every time he lavished any flattery on her; the mansion had been the first time that she put her foot down about his gambling. She’d never wanted the mansion and knew they would never legitimately be able to keep up payments. A year later, the affair with the cleaning lady occurred.

And there still were more surprises in store for Sherry. Like at the custody hearing for his children. Contrary to what Matt would have her believe, his first marriage did not crumble because of lack of sex or irreconcilable differences or even Matt’s bossiness, but because of his gambling. Hell, maybe he was a stockbroker because of his gambling, too. Nothing would shock Sherry now. The vividness of her memories of the trial surprised Sherry.

Up until this very moment, much of it came in fuzzy, but suddenly it was as though someone had come and fine-tuned her memory and made the trial come in full Technicolor. Sherry had heard of instances where victims of abuse suppressed the memory of victimization until the individual was strong enough emotionally to deal with it. Maybe on a certain level that was what happened to Sherry, too. She’d been victimized, but in a different way. He abused her love by taking her for granted and manipulating her mind. All his expensive gifts probably were nothing more but a ploy to keep her in the marriage, Sherry considered with sarcasm.

Well, if that had been his plan, it hadn’t worked. She’d left anyway. She was embarrassed at what a materialistic trap she let her self walk into and how she’d allowed a man to buy his way into her heart. Then to find out that he was a different man than what she had married- what scum he was, Sherry thought bitterly. Thinking about Matt in that light made Sherry feel like the materialistic slut he’d accused her of. Some friendship, she laughed despairingly to herself. There was no friendship, only insanity and chaos. She’d been a trophy to Matt, nothing more.

Oh sure, there had been good feelings and great times here and there, but for the most part, if she was really honest with herself, there had been no relationship based on trust, honesty, or even any lasting affection; the basis of their relationship had been built on mutual need and nothing more. What a waste of time and energy, she thought disgustedly. She probably could have been president of a corporation if she’d channeled that same energy into her work. She only hoped that she wouldn’t make the same mistakes this time around.

Three hours later, Sherry came up with the final product: White orchid (female in human gendering) perennial in bloom for twenty-eight years, seeks its honeybee to grow with. Must be dedicated, loyal, honest. I have no seedlings and would like my honeybee to not be encumbered with offspring as well. Be clean with your only drug being the nectar that you share with me. Color and age of honeybee irrelevant. Education unimportant as well, just as long as you are intelligent enough to know how to special care of your orchid and be unique friends with her.

It sounded good to Sherry. Simple, got to the point and somewhat pseudo-creative. Actually, after three hours of crumpling up paper Sherry really didn’t give a damn what it sounded like, she just wanted to write something to write down. The orchid idea came from her musings about Matt and remembering the orchids they had -well, he had- and jotted it down. Well, as long as she met some nice guy from it the ad was worth it, after all, she was only looking for a friend, not a new husband.

“I did it,” Sherry announced to Carolin when she got to work the next day.

Carolin looked up from her paperwork, rather startled at Sherry’s excitement so early in the morning. “Did what?”

Sherry gestured Carolin to come closer to her and lowered her voice after Carolin cocked her ear towards her. “I put a personal ad in the paper!” she announced.

“You did?” Carolin exclaimed. She beamed and patted Sherry on the back. “Congratulations, my friend. You are finally overcoming your sexual inhibitions!”

“Shut up!” Sherry laughed and gestured to the passerby in the hallway. “Oh, don’t worry about them. They’re virgins and have no idea what sex is. Now, tell me, when will your ad be published?”

“Not this Tuesday, but the Tuesday after that.”

“Great. You’ll get lots of responses; I can guarantee that. I certainly did and it bolstered my ego big time.”

Sherry smiled. She wished she could feel excited, but she felt sad instead. Her friend picked up in her dreariness. “What’s the matter?” she inquired.

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess I’m not terribly geared up to go into the dating world. I shouldn’t be doing this at my age.”

Carolin laughed. “Wait until you get to be my age, sweetie. Then you’ll be qualified to say that. Hell, it’s not as bad as you think to go back out there. You only think it’s bad because this time it’s happening to you. Don’t worry about it. People of all different ages go back into the dating world and live to tell about their experience. You’ll be okay, kid.” Sherry hoped so.

Sherry started receiving letters at her special post office box about two weeks later. In that week she got a total of about twenty letters. She stared at them after she dumped them in a heap on her kitchen table. Their very presence seemed to overwhelm her; she felt like she did when she had to write a paper for school. She dreaded answering these stupid letters because she had no idea what she was supposed to write to a complete stranger. She read the letters over a few times. She wanted to be fair and answer all of the letters, but who had time to write to twenty men?

Twenty men- what a concept, Sherry never had that many men after her even during her glory days of high school. Carolin had been right; this personal ad business was heady stuff.

Out of the bunch, about seven or eight of the letters appealed to her. The others seemed like they were fake and the writers were trying to put on an act. She didn’t want to bother with idiots trying to impress her, she’d had enough of that, but she wondered if she was being just a little to rigid in screening her potential suitors, so she wound up breaking her oath of not bothering Carolin about her ad and asking her opinion about her behavior.

“Of course you’re not being too strict. You have to go by your instincts; you don’t want to wind up with a loser. And by the way, you don’t have to kill yourself writing a zillion letters. That’s why they invented the telephone; if you’re uncomfortable there’s no reason to give out your phone number. Besides, the phone is good because you get a better idea of what you’re dealing with talking on the phone than writing a letter. It’s easier to lie behind a pen than a phone.”

Sherry shuddered. “I’m nervous. I feel like a teenager going on my first date.”

“In a way you are. Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. Make some phone calls and talk to the fellows. It’ll get easier as you go along. Call me later and let me know how it went.”

So Sherry got to work. The first couple of calls she got off easy because she got answering machines, which she hung up on. Maybe she was being paranoid, but she didn’t want any of these guys having her phone number unless she spoke to them first. On the third try, she got some four year old kid who didn’t want to put Daddy on the phone. Sherry hung up the phone in frustration. I said no kids, she thought angrily.

The fourth time she actually got a live human being who wasn’t jailbait. He seemed sweet, but Sherry got the feeling that there wasn’t much chemistry, at least, from her point of view. He was too shy and reserved. She set up a date at the local diner to meet him, anyway. She didn’t want to be rude because he seemed too nice, and besides, maybe she was being too presumptuous. Who knew, he could be the man of her dreams.

She called Carolin to report her progress. “Good. So when are you going out with this guy?” her friend inquired.

“Next Wednesday. I figured a weekday would be good so I could get away with a short date if it doesn’t go well.”

“You’re getting to be a pro, girl. I’m really proud of you. So, you free now or do you have any other young men that you need to seduce?”

“I have four guys left that I want to call, but I’ll save them for tomorrow.”

“Okay. Don’t forget to check your box again soon.”

Sherry groaned. “I’ll save them for next week. I can’t face the prospect of answering another twenty letters so soon.”

Carolin guffawed. “My sympathies are with you, my child. Think of it this way, answer all the letters and you have a greater chance of encountering a gorgeous hunk that you’ll want to tear apart. Did you get any pictures from these guys?”

“A few. I didn’t ask for them. I don’t want to get into judging men by their looks.”

“Oh, yeah, right. I believe you,” Carolin joked. “Did you get one of the guy you’ll be seeing Wednesday?”

“Yeah, he’s cute. He’s got light brown hair, blue eyes. He’s thirty-one, six foot two, never been married but came close once three years ago.”

“Sounds sexy. But you don’t seem that impressed.” “Like I told you, I’m just nervous.”

“So let’s go out dancing and forget that men exist for the rest of the night. Marcia and Kelly are going, so we can catch up on the back office’ latest gossip. I’ll pick you up in ten minutes?”

Sherry laughed. “Make it a half hour. I look like a grungy housewife right now.”

“Half hour it is,” Carolin agreed. “See you then.”

Sherry got in touch with one more man the following day. He suggested meeting the following day at three o’clock at a local restaurant; if that was inconvenient, leave a message on his answering machine, otherwise, he’d see her then. Sherry liked him immediately; he seemed courteous but decisive. She looked forward to meeting him. His name was Christopher and he was thirty years old, never married but engaged twice. He’d cancelled both engagements because they had been too materialistic and not interested in matters of the heart. He owned his own business and home, enjoyed quiet evenings by the hearth instead of running around; he’d settled down when he got engaged for the first time at twenty-four. He had an MBA and didn’t drink, gamble, or smoke.

He seemed like the perfect blend of the old and new, all the positives of Matt and none of the negatives. Not having a picture of him made meeting him even more romantic; she had no idea what to expect. She felt so giddy and hopeful about this Christopher guy she almost cancelled her date with the other guy. But she didn’t just in case there was a teensy-weensy chance that her date with Christopher didn’t work out, which she hoped wouldn’t be the case.

She arrived at the restaurant about five minutes late. No one matching Christopher’s description was waiting around, so she got a booth and pensively watched for an individual that matched Christopher’s looks, which were tall, blonde and blue-eyed. She watched. And waited. And watched.

Twenty minutes went by, and she was getting nervous. She was getting ready to leave when she recognized someone. She recognized the blonde good looks, piercing blue eyes, tall stature. She would have recognized him anywhere.

It was Matt.

Instinctively she ducked from her booth and bolted for the ladies’ room. She rushed into an alcove and sat on the toilet seat, trying to catch her breath and to let her racing heart to slow down. Breathe deep, she instructed herself, and calm down. He’s probably here to get lunch after betting on the racetracks, she thought sarcastically.

Tentatively, she peeked out of the bathroom door to see if her was still there. If anyone walked in here right now they’d think that I was nuts, she thought. He was still there sitting by himself, tall proud and overly sure of himself, but somewhat more serene than she remembered him.

Maybe that is what I want to see, she reasoned as panic welled up in her. She couldn’t afford to fall for this guy again, and yet she felt paralyzed to leave with him sitting there because she felt the old attraction stirring up in her again. For crying out loud, hadn’t he put her thought enough pain? What was there to be attracted to? She felt self-disgust rise up in her throat like vomit.

She got her chance to escape when Matt got up and walked over to the pay phone and she took it, not bothering to pay for her coffee or put her coat on as she grabbed it and ran out the door. She floored the gas pedal of her car and fled from the scene.

Christopher never called. There was no message either on the machine. It was as though he never existed. Sherry fell asleep in the midst of her depression. She didn’t wake up until five the next morning, sluggishly she dragged herself out of bed to get herself ready for work. She felt like she had a hangover from partying the whole night and got only two hours of sleep. She felt her heart racing even before she recalled the previous day’s encounter. She listened in the silence somehow expecting to hear some sort of noise; but none was there.

But there was something different, something out of place. Perhaps it is all in my head, she reasoned; maybe yesterday’s events were making her paranoid. After she showered, she left her apartment to get breakfast and a newspaper. She returned to her apartment fifteen minutes later to find an orchid by her door. She picked it up, examined each petal, each leaf on its stem, knowing who its sender was. Tears came to her eyes despite herself.

She carried it into her apartment and put it in a vase by her window. It remained there long past the duration of its lifetime, when most of its petals had either browned or fallen off. Sherry pressed it and put it in her wedding album, which eventually got stuffed into the back of her closet by accumulated junk over the next ensuing months. She next saw the orchid months later, when she decided the closet was heaped enough and it needed a good cleaning, and the orchid brought back memories, nothing else- no pain, no joy, just memories. For that, Sherry was grateful for its presence.