I think what I appreciated most about Leslie was that she didn't require me. It's nice to be needed I suppose, but Leslie was sufficient unto her self. When we went to parties if we were separated I never had to worry that she couldn't hold her own. I'd spot her a few minutes later talking to a group. If she caught my eye, she'd smile or wave, not requiring that I rejoin her unless I wanted to. And usually I did. She was game. That's what I told her. "You're game."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I just mean, that you hold your own. I don't have to hold your hand or be with you constantly for you to be secure with me. It's nice. It's refreshing."
We spent most of our time together. When my apartment complex raised my rent I wrote the sort of indignant letter that only a 25 year old or a CEO can write about how it was "unacceptable" and how I would grace them with my presence one more year only if they lowered my rent. I was filled with righteous wrath.
Shortly after that I moved just outside of Cranberry. It was probably 20 - 30 minutes from Leslie's apartment, so she ended up spending a lot of nights with me. Ultimately, I asked her to move in.
I keep wishing I had her to fact-check this, but I suppose if I misremember, who is going to call me on it?
I seem to recall her really worrying about her parents' reaction to us living in sin. And (and this is where I wish I had her to fact check me) one night at a Super Bowl party at a friends house, we got in a fight about it and she broke down. Her parents kept asking her what was wrong, and she wouldn't tell them (also at the party) what she was actually upset about because she was afraid they'd be pissed at me, so she told them she lost a lot of money on a bet. Because...she was a huuuuuuge gambler. I'm not sure why she thought that would fly. It didn't. And maybe they were initially not super excited about us living together, but they were also okay enough with it that I never felt judged by them or "out of favor".
The place I moved into was an old carriage house that my landlord wasn't using. It was decorated in early 70's wood paneling and thick bright shag carpeting. I had a waterbed because "cool". The place had no air conditioning. But it was relatively large (by our standards) cheap, and it shared a yard with a swimming pool and jacuzzi, and the landlord was always gone and gave us free run of the place. Behind the cottage house was wooded and it sloped gently to the North Fork of Big Sewickley Creek. We invited friends to bonfires in our "back yard" and drank beer that I brewed with a friend in our kitchen and smoked cigars and lived like DINK couples can.
Every month she wrote a check for $212.50 and every month I did too. Because we were going dutch.
We had some amazing times there. We'd get a bottle of wine, I'd grab a cigar, and we just soak in the jacuzzi while snow fell around us until we were either too drunk or too cold (or too hot) to stand it anymore, then we'd cart all our things back across the pool to our place. Last night I was looking through pictures. It was soooo long ago. These were pictures and memories I'd almost completely forgotten, despite living there for maybe 2 or 3 years. God she looked happy and alive. I don't mean it literally like I could given that she's not alive anymore. I just mean...she was vibrant, she was joyful. It beamed out of her 10,000 watt smile.
We flew back to Montana to meet my parents. We were going to hike.
Sidebar: Leslie had ulcerative colitis. She'd just been diagnosed maybe a couple months after we moved in together. At the time she didn't know what was going on, and she was really suffering from a flare up. I remember being SO. PISSED. At her. She told me she had to go to the doctor. I asked her about it. She said she was bleeding. I'm like...okay...yeah, you need to do that. She said, "well I didn't think it was that big a deal, it's been going on for a year." I just stared at her.
"How...how did you think bleeding for a year wasn't that big a deal?" I drove her to the doctor. Step one: Prednisone.
Okay...sorry for the sidebar, but it dovetails with the Montana trip. Prednisone made her blow up. She was moon-faced and her joints hurt and she was very self-conscious about those facts. We prepared for the hiking trip by going on exactly one walk in the wildnerness at Moraine State Park north of where we lived. Clearly we were ready.
The elevation conspired against us. I remember growing up in Montana thinking about how tourists complained about the elevation. I remember thinking it was bullshit. I remembered that as I was gasping for breath less than 1/10th of a mile into the 3 mile hike. Leslie was struggling as much as I was. She thought she was going to throw up and she was in tears because there was no way we'd get up that trail and she was "ruining" the whole trip.
Dad jokes to this day that Leslie had curlers in her backback. Curlers and makeup and a blowdryer. She didn't. No, dad...it's just a funny story! Telling it 20 times doesn't change the funny story into a fact!
Anyway...I sat down with her.
"Les, I'm dying too. We're just going to take lots and lots and lots of breaks for 'pictures'."
We pulled ourselves together. Dad took Leslie's pack and his own and my friend Derek (who would one day be best man at our wedding) and the two of us started again up the mountain.
"Picture break!" we'd announce loudly. So. many. picture breaks. But it became a joke. The tension was defused. Three and a half hours later we made it to Slough Lake. She caught her first fish on that trip. She gutted her first fish on that trip. Because Leslie was fucking game.
She did freak out mildly at one point because we didn't pack any food up the mountain (because obviously we were just going to fish for our supper) and pushed the fishing rod at me apologetically. Her body language saying, "yes, it was neat catching that fish...now please take responsibility for catching more so we don't starve to death in the wilderness."
We camped that night miles from anything or anyone. I remember it was so dark you literally couldn't see your hand in front of your face.
|Jim + Les...you just have to look really hard.|
|I was telling Leslie that they use these guide poles to decide when to stop plowing the road. It was August when we were there, but when snow tops the pole...time to stop plowing.|