My Old Boss

Dark outside, around noon, and on the verge of a loud and powerful storm, my old boss walks into the coffeehouse I write at.

There he was, pushing seventy, still towering over six feet, still bald, still Scotch-Irish, still impeccably dressed, still with hairy knuckles and coffee stained teeth. I had not seen or spoken to my old boss in over three years. I worked for him for fifteen.

I began as his assistant at the age of twenty-two. He told me my salary would be twenty four grand, he paid me eighteen. There were four of us, in the beginning. We were a million dollar a year company back then, when I left, forty million. He was the owner.

Year one, I wore plaid skirts with combat boots held together with electrical tape. I often smelled of Bourbon from the night before. With a copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer in one hand, and a Marlboro Red in the other, I told my boss, smartly: "Sex is base. It's...empty...and...has no value." He looked at me sadly, strangely; said I was “wrong," and he "felt bad that I thought that way." I did, at the time, feel that way.

When my old boss did not offer me the company health insurance, and I had a major health scare, he suffered for it. I was happy about that. When I needed a Dental Hygienist, he gave me his.

When I dyed my dry, fake blonde hair back to its natural color, my old boss looked up from his newspaper and said: "Better."

On his birthday, I scheduled a dinner for staff. The first year, I remember that he and his wife, both fifty, were holding hands under the table. I think she may have even massaged his shoulder. I thought, Old people still touch...humans...touch. I was an extremely late bloomer and had only been affectionate, once. I was still grappling with the meaning of that relationship; of love, of connecting. I had never even been on a real date yet.

On my twenty-third birthday, my old boss ruined my life. He told me: "Your life's going to start to go, now" even snapping his finger for extra emphasis.

One day, I was in the passenger seat of his brand new black convertible, talking about food. We often spoke about food. We ate out together, a lot. He loved Arrabbiata sauce and pancakes. Somehow, his eyes accidentally found my cleavage and he pushed the accelerator instead of the brake. Three thousand dollars in damage. Car was never the same. He soon bought a different one.

I was not to speak in the car when his wife called. I wanted to say "You're old enough to be my father!" but a part of me was like "My god, someone actually thinks I'm pretty enough to have sex with?"

He called me "obtuse" in a fight and "zaftig"(not in any good way) in another.

He liked to harp on the superiority of Italian culture versus my own Italian American one. He lent my father and I money. He gave all of my friends jobs.

One day, we rode the train together. There was no air-conditioning and he stood out, sweating profusely in an expensive suit, the largest body on the train. Love seemed completely bleak to me at that moment. I was ornery, probably not having gone to sleep since five am the night before, and hungover. I was annoyed I was proud of my...celibacy.

I told him I didn't understand how men could be so blatant about wanting to go to bed with a woman, like to the point of ridiculousness. How men acted like goons even to smart women, even when the men were smart themselves. How could intelligent people act so, so primal?

My boss enjoyed this argument and gave me his take "The worst parts of men, can also be the best parts." he said, "Without men desiring women, civilization as we know it would not exist. Men need women." he finished.

We both got off the train and walked in silence. I could not fathom a man desiring me again, let alone needing me.

He sent me to my first Opera, German. Then he had an Andrea Bocelli phase.

Once I found a Tom Waits CD in his Mercedes.

After two years, I started having panic attacks.. I spent most of my time at work crying in the bathroom. I told my old boss, in the car, that my hormones were out of whack and I had to “get balance again.” Then I began to cry, again. I never told him I was heartbroken. I never told him I was severely repressed and in love with someone for years who lived in another country and who turned me on to none other than... Henry Miller and...Tom Waits.

My old boss told me to take as long as I needed to get better. He, understood. When I resumed work, a few weeks later, we never spoke about this episode in my life, again.

He liked to take his reading glasses off to say something serious.

He told me to see the film Cinema Paradiso. He cried at the end. I cried at the end. I love it so much that when I hear the theme song, my stomach aches.

He taught me about White Burgundy, calling it “Liquid Sunshine.” I shared a case of Mersault with him that was on sale, once.

My old boss read me a poem he wrote, once, privately, when his sister-in-law passed. I bought him books of poetry on his birthdays, early on. He liked Ezra Pound.

If he told me I looked pretty, I would feel good the rest of the day, if not the entire week. I would look at myself in the mirror, a lot, to double check.

When he would travel, he would bring back small gifts. A tiny porcelain kitty from Japan; an ornate pill box from Turkey.

The first time I went to Italy he sent me to Lake Como, which he said was "the most beautiful place in the world." He paid for my luxury hotel there, with a view. It was the first time a man other than my father, bought me something so significant.

Over lunch one day, I asked him why he had never had any children. If he had had a son, around my age, I might have married him. I did not say this aloud.

After five years the business grew and my footwear and finances improved considerably.. My old boss was rarely around, and our relationship was never the same. He had a work trip out East. I was going to be out East, too. He asked to take me out to dinner. I said thanks, but I was spending the weekend at my boyfriend's. It sounded as odd coming out of my mouth as the look on his face in hearing it.

When I got engaged, he told me "You know, you'll never believe this, but when you first started working for me, my wife thought something was going on between us."

For my wedding in New Orleans, my old boss came solo. He handed me the largest check and a painting he bought in the French Quarter.. I was, “the most ambitious person he had ever met.”

A few years before I stopped working for him, my old boss met me for a high-level lunch. He had some preventative medicine on his bald head that made his skin peel. He was visibly self-conscious. He dropped me off at the office, afterward. I waited until the end of the day, to call him.

“I'm sorry I didn't say anything at lunch.... or in the about you... and want you to live a really long time” I told him.

“Thank you,” he said, nervously, “I want to live a really long time, too.”

My old boss randomly sent me an email wishing me a Happy Birthday right before I left the company. This came as a surprise. He knew the day of my birth, and I his.

After fifteen years, my brand new boss, at the same company, a real "go-getter," asked to meet - at the old office. My new boss assured me, "Everything's fine, don't worry." He laid me off when we met. He told me my old boss wanted to be there, but the new boss “insisted” he didn't have to come.

On my last day, I sent twenty hand written letters to every person I worked with, thanking them. Not one was addressed to my old boss. The man I had grown up with. The man I had caught eating French Fries out of a garbage can.

At the coffeehouse, while my old boss got his coffee, I grabbed my lip gloss out of my purse, under the table, and applied it, just in case.

I thought it would be beautiful if each of us had seen the other, while thinking we ourselves had gone undetected. It would be the perfect ending to a foreign film that made you cry at the end, like Cinema Paradiso.

I walk up to the counter, after my old boss has left, and notice the crisp dollar in the tip jar. He always was a great tipper, I remember.

"He ordered an Americano with a steamed skim topper?” I ask my friend, the Barista.

The coffeehouse knows it as my drink. They start to make it as soon as I walk in the door.

The wind and rain began to hit the large front windows of the coffeehouse loudly, cleaning the dirty sidewalks roughly, and along with it, fifteen years.

Fifteen years. Longer than some marriages. Longer than undergrad, Medical school and a residency; if I were a Doctor, which I'm not, I'm a writer...

"Why didn't you say anything to him?” the Barista, my friend, asks.

I look at my friend, the Barista, seriously, as if I had been waiting for this exact question. A little over three years, maybe? I smile, brightly, hearing the Director, another ghost, Fellini probably, calling "Azione" from inside my moist and fertile brain.

I take a few steps away from the counter and flip my hair back, Rita Hayworth style, and, following a large boom of thunder, whisper:

"Because I want to be the girl that got away."

Sometimes, men need women, just like my old boss told me on that sweaty old train. And, sometimes, women need men; for no other reason than to believe that a few good ones exist.

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