MY TIGERby Karl Arnold Belser
When I first saw my life partner, she wore a tiger suit, a skintight orange and black striped leotard exposing a plumpish, voluptuous body accentuated by an hourglass waist. Her whiskered face with pointy ears turned toward me, and she displayed an enigmatic smile. Then her tail twitched, and her eyes met mine.
I, wearing a kingly purple robe topped with a gold crown, strode over to the refreshment table where she stood. She looked away and nibbled on a pumpkin-shaped sugar cookie, so I grabbed one and took a bite.
“Deliciously spicy,” I said, trying to break the ice without looking too goofy.
“Yes, deliciously spicy” she replied, and our eyes met again. I felt goose bumps because she repeated my words with apparent delight.
“I’m Karl.” I said, gazing deeply into her green, feline eyes. “You’re from the class, aren’t you?”
“Yes, just graduated,” she replied. “I’m Jackie.”
That 1988 Halloween party was the first club square dance I had attended since breaking up with my old girlfriend, whose black eyes now glanced at me from across the room, giving me ‘ha-ha I have another man’ looks from beneath her pointy witch’s cap.
Our club, the Bachelors and Bachelorettes in San Jose, California, met every Tuesday night in a grammar school cafeteria, an austere place whose only warmth came from the dancer’s body heat. I had felt a little cold, so I immediately asked Jackie to dance the next tip, a tip being what a single square dance is called.
We maneuvered the Ala-man-lefts and Right-and-left-grands until the caller finally said Stack-the-wood, which is the cue to hug your partner. I remember that embrace as being warm and soft with a faint smell of gardenia and a cat’s whisker tickle.
After that tip we talked, and among other things I told her that I was 12 years divorced with two grown sons, that I had low vision, central vision loss like macular degeneration in both eyes, and that my neighbor brought me because I couldn’t see well enough to drive. The conversation didn’t last long. I had promised the next tip to another person.
When we parted, Jackie jerked her head and flicked her tail. I saw a clear image of an upset pussycat, so a little later I asked her to dance again. I wanted to show that I wasn’t rejecting her.
Two days later, Jackie called and invited me to a hoedown on Saturday night. On the way home from that dance we stopped and ate steamy, apple pie and ice cream at an all night diner after which we went back to my condo and got to know each other a whole lot better on the sofa. Well, we did talk some too, and I found out that we had a lot in common. I was in a support group with Jackie’s therapist’s husband, I had previously dated Jackie’s sister’s husband’s ex-wife, and I had gone to school with one of the founders of her company. These signs clearly showed that we were meant for each other.
After that I spent weekends at Jackie’s house, a cute little bungalow shaded by birch trees, located up the San Francisco peninsula from San Jose. I would have liked to spend more time there except that I couldn’t drive, and we lived about 20 miles apart.
I even liked Jackie’s two kids who still lived with her, a teenaged boy named Mike and a teenaged girl named Heather. Her other son Steve, who I also liked, attended university in another city, but I didn’t meet him until much later. Liking them was a big deal since my previous girlfriend’s children had scratched my eyes out in photographs and locked the piano cover in clear disapproval. I had started to think that I preferred women without kids.
Instead I began to like domestic life, the smell of newly cut grass, the rustle of leaves while raking, the crinkly feel of old painting clothes, the cooperation of washing and drying dishes, the sound of children playing. I even banged out ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ on the piano before dinner with approval. This life seemed ideal, but I had no plans to commit myself. In fact, I downright resisted the thought, so much so that when Valentine’s Day came I forgot.
I awoke with a pink Valentine’s card sitting on the covers in front of me. Jackie leaned over, kissed me and said, “Happy first Valentine’s Day.”
“Oh,” I muttered and read the card. I felt terrible. I almost cried. I had no card. I had done nothing.
It is in times like these, I guess, when real feelings come forth because I jumped out of bed, took a piece of computer printer paper to the kitchen table, folded it like a card, drew a red heart pierced by an arrow on the cover, and created what Jackie says is her most prized possession, a declaration of love from a man who rarely declares.
I done forgot this day of love
But do declare by stars above
You are my friend, you are my mate,
My feelings do not hesitate.
Happy Valentine’s Day
Jackie snuggled next to me and purred, her head resting on my shoulder. I stroked her hair and thought, “My pretty tiger. I do love you.”
A stream of sunlight heated the covers and illuminated the card in Jackie’s hand. It glowed. I glowed. I felt warm and secure.
I thought how wonderful it was to have a partner who accepted me and loved me as I was, low vision and all. I thought about this miracle, about how Jackie and I met. Deliciously feline she was, hooked I was, and I didn’t even know it.
* * *
updated Novemberr 14, 2005
KARL BELSER HOME PAGE