Chapter 4 Large Decisions
For these he dropped in not during their most intimate moments (that experiment was for the 90s) or the day they met or first dates. Instead he visited mundane conversations in the middle of the relationship and saw that all the conversations revolved around himself, not her, the future or life.
First there was Lina, the cashier at his dad's store. As he returned home to run the store he found her his only outlet to the world. Mired in the muddle of his dad's antiquated bookkeeping system, Norbert rarely had time to come up for air from the summer of 1981 until late '83, but when he did he found solace in Lina's cheery disposition and youthful way of looking at things. Norbert had been deprived of most childish thrills and she represented an outlet. She was studying business in college, so as Norbert sampled moments of their dialogue it was always about upgrading dad's business. The 1980s was the age of technology, but Norbert and his dad were generations behind and she could take the company there. He couldn't now, as it became increasingly obvious he would never return to college.
Norbert though his dad might retire after the heart attack, but he returned with a vigor and new life, jogging, eating health food and joining a gym. By 1984 dad was back in full command and Norbert receded to a glorified sales clerk.
That might have been the time he could have opted for marriage but in 1984 Lina dumped him for her college's top football star.
Any though of choosing her as his return point was hopeless. How could he compete with the young man who went on to a noteworthy career in the NFL and a college coach.
Norbert stopped watching pro football that year, smiled when he learned the young man was forced to retire after 7 seasons with an injury, then had to stop watching college football when he became head coach of a big ten team in the mid-90s.
With his dad healthy Norbert had more spare time and joined him in the gym and frequented the health food store. That led to his 3-year walk on the wild side with Valerie.
Once again Norbert sampled only a few chats with the young lady. Again the focus was only on himself, frustrations with his dad, business plans and how he could deal with her libertine ways.
Valerie was never monogamous and Norbert could accept that. She was into all manner of occult practices and Norbert dabbled with her, adopting superstitions and buying art his mom wouldn't tolerate. Norbert moved out into a studio apartment, but found the lonely life even more boring than home.
When Valerie took him to the witch's coven he'd had enough of her practices and broke up on his own accord.
That was 1987, and the occult dabbling transitioned almost seamlessly to religious fanaticism and a new love interest named Faith.
She was older than Norbert, divorced with two children Norbert came to adore, and immersed herself and soon Norbert into an
intense evangelical frenzy.
It was the era of Hal Lindsey, Pat Robertson and the televangelist sensation. Jesus Christ was supposed to return in 1988, 89, 92, 93, 96, 99 or 2000. They lost track of how many deadlines came and passed without new developments.
There were no intimate moments with Faith. Since the world was about to end why bother with sex, or marriage either. Slowly they both realized the end was not coming soon. For Norbert that meant a sharp decrease in his passion for evangelism. For Faith it meant it was time to become a missionary and their breakup came in the first days of 1991.
Norbert didn't have to revisit that conversation. He knew it almost by rote. They were to go with the children for a three-year mission to Senegal. They would not go as a couple but be separated in gender-based barracks, the children grouped with others in a mission school with the natives.
She was adamant about the plan. Norbert tried to convince her the children couldn't endure that in early puberty. He couldn't consider leaving for three years with both parents nearing 70. Living in separate barracks when it was she not the church that he loved and sacrificed for would be unbearable.
It was on that occasion, and that occasion only, that Norbert said the four words he feared most in all the world, the words he didn't summon the courage to say earlier that evening.
"will you marry me"
Always a stickler for English Norbert suddenly realized there was no period on the sentence, and the word will should not have been capitalized. He rejoined the conversation to hear it exactly as it came out the first time and tried to mentally punctuate the words.
"This is-is just...madness: to separate from the life you know, your family, the church you love, the people you love, and just-jettison off to...what is that place, oh yes, Senegal, suddenly, then to tell the man he, the man that, the man who loves you-and your ch-children, to...just suddenly choose, and not enclosed in a plan for the future, a future we never thought there'd be and might not be, without, without uniting in a bond, with no pledge of what comes after with no..darling will you marry me, attached, just a trip, like those 3 weeks in Honduras last year or those other revivals, just...no, I can't leave everything and-wait, don't insert that Matthew stuff, this is different, we both believe but, they don't need us, your children need...us...you, just no!"
Norbert was crying as he left the scene of that dispute. The rest of 1991 was sheer horror. He never saw Faith again, left the church for a more sedate Baptist church nearby, and tended to his mother for the rest of the year.
The sequence of her ailments was no longer clear. There was pneumonia that never seemed to go away, a stroke, a broken bone, and finally her first bout with cancer. Norbert left his apartment to live in the aging house which needed repair as much as his mom.
He hoped dad might tend to her and retire, but he became even more ambitious running the company, then he suddenly fell to his second heart attack in April.
Norbert's 30th birthday was spent alone in the old house, leaking in heavy spring rain and drafty in many places. He pondered the emptiness of life as he watched them both slowly recover and once again had full control of the business for a time.
Once again Norbert hoped dad would retire but by year's end he was back to work and Norbert was again being shoved into the background.
Mom took longer to recover and Norbert was with her daily in early 1992 caring for her needs and arguing with dad about business upgrades, home repairs and mom's medical needs. He became a bit of a handyman and when mom was back to reasonable health Norbert decided the hardware business might be the place for him.
Carefully choosing a set of products that wouldn't compete with his dad but could merge in the future he bought a struggling hardware store and nursed it to health, leaving no time for women until the mid-90s.
His dad approved in a way and the parents decided it was time to consider Norbert's future by fixing him up with society women.
Their choice was Diane, twice divorced daughter of a wealthy real estate developer. It seemed a good business-based matchup. Norbert might have gone for that until he became acquainted with her mom. With three women henpecking him Norbert couldn't consider Diane, much less now, as he knew her dad lived past 90 and her mom was still alive. He couldn't put up with her for over 30 years.
The love interest of the 90s he did drop in on was Paula Large. She went to his church but not for the worship. It was a step up from singles bars. Norbert spent a lot of time reliving their hot sex, but dodged the painful moment she met his mom.
The aftermath was hard to forget and especially painful now. He really loved Paula in a way and she never really demanded much of him. They remained secret lovers for years after mom thought she drove her away.
The thought of marrying her appealed to Norbert in a different way. He knew she died in 2023. She was the only woman he was considering that would leave him a widower in time for a second wife before tonight. He might even be remarried five years sooner by now.
Norbert wondered if his Fairy Godfather would disallow him choosing Paula if he realized the only reason was to be free in 2023. He didn't linger on the last memories of Paula, just lingered on one more intimate moment, then moved on to thoughts of the 21st century.
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