The getting rid of Stephen, getting connected with Karl bit takes about a month. Stephen doesn’t want to break up and refuses to be graceful about it. And I must admit that I handle it badly, being averse to confrontation and transparency, I keep hoping that everything will magically fall into place. I don’t want to tell anyone that I have fallen head over heels for Karl, don’t want to jinx myself or get embarrassed if it turns out he will never reciprocate.
So Stephen acts stringy-like jealous, smoldering hate unlike his usual skinny goat friendliness. He sits with Caitlin on his lap and reads to her while looking balefully at me every time he turns a page, he travels to Boston and writes more bad checks, throwing his purchases at my feet like a hunter with his kill. He is taciturn and unpleasant to Karl but Karl doesn’t notice.
I understand that Karl needs to get over Susie before he can think about me, so I don’t hurry things along too much, as impatient as I am most of the time. I try to be companionable, we slice carrots together and talk, paint the kitchen. Karl is happy to chop wood or wash dishes. He wears old cotton shirts left over from the army and buffalo hide sandals. Every day I see something different in him to admire.
One day I say to Karl that we should hitchhike up to Plainfield to buy brown rice at the health food store. Nowadays, you can get brown rice anywhere in Vermont but in 1971 the closest source was 30 miles away. We had to hitchhike because the Travell-all was broken and until we came up with enough money for repairs the only thing it was good for was the goats, they liked to climb on it.
Karl and I set off. When you walk a few hundred yards down the side road next to the house, you can climb down a steep bank to the highway. We put out our thumbs and quickly a car stops for us and drops us at the Montpelier exit, and then we get a ride down Route 2 to Plainfield. We buy our groceries, stuff them in our backpacks and make the trip back. I am still biting my tongue in the love department, looking for some sign from Karl, he doesn’t seem grief-stricken about losing Susie anymore but hasn’t made any overtures to me either.
By the time we are walking back to the house from the highway, I decide I’ve waited long enough and I search for some catalytic phrase. “Why don’t you like me?” I finally ask in an innocent voice. “Huh?” Karl responds.
Karl proves he likes me that night and for the next 16,425 nights, give or take.