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Love Sick: A Memoir of Searching for Mr. Good Enough

Love Sick: A Memoir of Searching for Mr. Good Enough

by Frances Kuffel


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Frances Kuffel wasn’t a Victoria’s Secret model, but she wasn’t so bad. Why couldn’t she find her Mr. Right? As Shakespeare said, the course of true love never did run smooth, but for Kuffel, it seemed like one pothole after another…

In this sharp and irreverent memoir, Frances Kuffel recalls her quest to replace her on-again, off-again lover with someone new and preferably less unstable. Fifty-three and never married, Frances opens her mind to all possibilities. She goes out with an Orthodox Jew, is almost the victim of a scammer, stays out all night with a man twenty years her junior, encounters feeding fetishes and shoe fetishes, and generally reads a lot of strange emails.

Brazenly honest and insightful, Kuffel comes through the experience with a new understanding of love and realizes that what she wants is not necessarily a knight in shining armor. She’d be perfectly happy with someone who’ll spend hours buying antique teacups with her, thinks two dogs are not enough, and wants to be in her life through the good and the bad. And once she finally figures out what she’s looking for, the only challenge left is to find it…

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425247471
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/03/2014
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Frances Kuffel, author of Passing for Thin and Eating Ice Cream with My Dog, and has been profiled in Time, Salon, More, Chicago Sun-Times, and other media. She has made extensive radio and television appearances, including on CBS’s The Early Show and Good Day Live; has been a guest columnist for the San Diego Reader; and has written and blogged for Psychology Today. Her short stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, the Massachusetts Review, Glimmer Train, the Greensboro Review, and Montana Women Writers: A Geography of the Heart, and her poetry has appeared in the Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, and Quarterly West. She holds an MFA from Cornell and lives in New York.

Read an Excerpt


Penguin couples spend their lives apart from each other and meet once a year in late March, after traveling as far as seventy miles inland—on foot or sliding on their bellies—to reach the breeding site.


We are in Santa Fe to find a ghost. It is also, as he and I had discussed in a wearying back-and-forth series of phone calls and emails, my audition as Dar’s girlfriend and, seven thousand feet higher than where we started out in Phoenix, we were breathless in all the wrong ways. Instead of canoodling our ghost into rearranging the furniture, I slept fitfully as the television murmured and flickered through a marathon of Sasuke. In the end, our only haunting is that “Need You Now” is on every radio station between Santa Fe and Phoenix, which is annoying but also fitting as we sit in the car outside his house having the Talk.

It is becoming more and more obvious that men are oblivious to what Friends with Benefits can start for a woman.

“I love you,” he begins. “We have a lot in common. You know, the whole lit thing, and dogs, and a general sort of outlook on stuff. But then again, there are things that are important to me that we don’t have in common. I don’t know whether it’s best to be with someone with whom you have everything in common or not. I had a girlfriend like that once, but the minute she came to visit me, I knew it was all wrong . . .

“So I dunno. One thing is that you’re not exactly easygoing. You don’t always relax and go with the flow. I mean, you never know what could happen, I s’pose. I could wake up one day and be in love with you. But I’m not now and I don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize our friendship. That means a lot to me. You know that, right?”

I blow my nose in answer. I want out of his car. I want to get into my car, which is parked in his garage, and I want to drive to my father’s house, get on the plane to New York the next morning, retrieve my dog from my friends Ben and Jean and tell them what didn’t happen and then hold a weepy funeral with the mostly faithful love of Daisy, an ill-behaved, too-smart-for-her-own-good yellow Labrador, in the solitude of the Bat Cave.* Don’t say anything, one part of me warns. Have some dignity.

“Okay.” I hiccup and open the door. “I guess that’s that. I gotta go.”

He hugs me good-bye, an awkward bear hug in which I pat his back as though consoling him.

I’m so sick of this bullshit, I think.

• • •

I should have known, I think as the Midwest skeins me away from Dar. I should have known when I was late meeting him in Phoenix for the drive to New Mexico. I should have known when I found myself biting my lips in an ugly frown against my grinding jaw, that I was too tense, too scared to be girlfriend material.

I had no excuse for not knowing how tension crippled anything soft and fluid in me because I know the difference between scared, solo tension and the tension you admit to and find is as shared and rare as a yellow crocus flowering in the snow.


“God, France, I’m so sorry I’m not going to be here,” Grace calls in disappointment on a heavy and cold Sunday afternoon. I am about to leave on my book tour to Seattle and Portland and am excited to see so many people from my past. Grace and I had been good friends in college but we’d lost touch in the last twenty years. I’d looked for her on various networking sites with no success, but her curiosity was equal to mine and she had found me in a two-second Google search. All Grace had to do was email me and we spent most of a Saturday on the phone reestablishing a comfy, happy friendship.

“I have lots of friends and family in Seattle, so I have plenty to do,” I say, “although I really wanted to go to the movies with you.”

She sighs and is about to answer when there is a loud crash and cursing on her end of the line. I wait through some mumbling and then laughter. “Kevin just knocked over the trash,” she says. “He comes over most Sundays and makes brunch for us. But first we have to pick up banana peels and plum pits.”

“And eggshells—ick!” I hear him call.

It’s been thirty years since I’ve heard Kevin’s voice but I could pick it out of Monday morning rush hour. I hadn’t even heard of his sister, Grace, when Kevin Willoughby and I were pals for about five minutes in high school drama club. He’s two years older than I, had dimples you could bury nickels in, dazzling blue eyes, a lovely tenor and he was one the most popular boys in school. He was perpetually jolly and surrounded by people; I was fat, a depressed underachiever, someone who went through friendships like Kleenex. I admired him for being all those things I was not and wasn’t surprised when he got bored with acting. He went off to date the cream of the Joni Mitchell clones and the funniest cheerleaders, take the coolest drugs and ski with the maniacs. We lapsed into jokey hallway hellos and the thrill of having him sign my yearbook.

The ironies are rife. Kevin, gay and closeted, was hiding behind what I should have been learning—how to talk to the opposite sex, going to the prom, falling in love for the first time. But of course his story didn’t end there. After graduating, he came out and cozied up to Jack Daniel’s like the boyfriend high school never gave him. I’d gone on to college and more college, worked in publishing, wrote a book about my dramatic weight loss and then wrote another book about my more mundane regain. I know from Grace that he’s in his fragile first year of sobriety and is starting beauty college; I’m a sometimes–adjunct professor but mostly walk dogs for a living.

So much for our halcyon days. Which is why I am dying to talk to him.

“Put that Kevin on the phone,” I demand. “I need to talk to Kevin Willoughby.”

“How the hell are you?”

I start to laugh.

“Not well, Kevin. Not well at all.”

“What’s wrong, darling?”

“I have new neighbors.”

“Are they partiers? Complainers?”

“No. They’re gay.”

“Uh-huh,” he says cautiously, letting me know he’s waiting to see how this plays out.

“They have the garden my apartment looks out on. Summer’s coming and last night they were listening to Fiddler on the Roof.”

I can hear the hideousness dawn on him. “I see.”

“It’s going to get very . . . brunchy around here in a couple of months. I swear I’ll call the cops if they have Oklahoma! with their mimosas.”

Kevin has a laugh that is as dangerous and infectious as bubonic plague. I hunch-run to the toilet before I wet my pants, and when we catch our breath, he wheezes, “Where have you been all my life, Frances Kuffel, and when does your plane land?”

• • •

By the time we head out to Kevin’s favorite pho noodle shop on East Yesler Way, I am as tense as I would be a month later in Santa Fe.

There is a difference, however. In Santa Fe, I am tight with waiting, wondering, searching for the magic words or slant of light to fill Dar with that love he isn’t sure he doesn’t have for me, a double-negative that is too big to overcome.

Kevin and I, on the other hand, have sat on his small balcony discussing AA and the 12-step program for compulsive overeating I’ve not been attending lately, telling our drunkalogue and fatalogue stories with increasing glee, then a sharp ritenuto into the grim side of addiction, how we avoided everyone and everything in order to eat or drink alone, consuming so much that we passed out only to wake hours later to do the same thing again, our underlying convictions that we are pieces of shit and that addiction is both our punishment and solace. At several points along the way, each of us lost everything and learned nothing. I declared bankruptcy in my thirties because I couldn’t pay the cost of takeout. He was fired from a glamorous, well-paying job. Drunkenly careless, he contracted HIV in his thirties; overburdening my body with fat and hormones, I had emergency surgery to remove a thirty-six-pound ovarian cyst and my gallbladder in my thirties. At 336 pounds, I couldn’t walk for more than ten minutes. He spent the first three days in rehab leaning heavily on a walker.

We discover that we have unknowingly dallied in each other’s shit and I am shaking from the intensity of the second conversation we’ve had since high school. I’m not hoping I’ll turn, eyes bright, and give him a private peek at how pretty I can be. I am not waiting for Kevin to realize anything about me.

He already knows. He’s known for years without knowing me. And I am shaking and sweating because I want to dance or scream the loop-de-loop of a roller coaster.

I look up at the soft blue March Seattle day as we walk to my car. Daffodils are out and the pear trees are flowering. Across the street is an old white house that needs rose trellises and hanging pots of begonias.

“Just think what we’d do to that house,” I say as I fish out my keys.

“I know,” he says in that way that says he really does.


I should know that Dar’s aloof tolerance is a deal breaker when I beg to make one dash into the St. Francis souvenir shop. I want to buy gifts for my friends who are taking care of my dog. They are Vatican II babies like me who revel in bloodied martyrs and swooning penitents. Such tchotchkes have no charm for Dar, and he’s eager to move on to the art galleries where he can speak seriously with owners about the Mesa museum he volunteers at. I snatch Christmas ornaments of Francis of Assisi and primitive angels, hurrying, embarrassed, not wanting to waste Dar’s time.

When Kevin and I went down to the piers a month earlier, he knelt to pose goofily with a photo of Ivar Haglund at Ivar’s Acres of Clams and solemnly wrapped his arms around a scary arcade clown. He deliberated with me over crab-shaped salt and pepper shakers and pulled a stranger over to photograph us with a plaster fisherman, then dragged me to the Olde Curiosity Shoppe to visit his friends, the petrified remains of a dog and a human who seems to be screaming that Mount Rainier has erupted and swallowed her child.

If I’m honest—or later, when I begin to get honest—I am mystified by Dar’s lack of schlock idolatry. He’s too smart and too funny not to groove on jumping beans and Barack and Michelle Obama Day of the Dead figurines. After all, he’d laughed at the junk in the truck stop we gassed up at, modeled a baseball cap with a propeller on top and stuck a navy blue leather cowboy hat on me.

What happens in a truck stop, I am forced to conclude, stays in the truck stop.

• • •

I am hurt but determined to make the best of it. I breathe deeply for the first few days back in Brooklyn, walking dogs and taking too many pictures of tulips showing their Georgia O’Keeffe to the clement sunshine, but I can’t stop thinking about my conversation with Dar. I laugh crookedly and add to my list of Wrong Things to Say When Saying It’s Over:

I love you, but I’m not in love with you.*

It goes right up there with:

You would like her.*

Let’s get married, but to other people, and then tell each other about it.


I owe you an amends for how I treated you when we were together.*

I do like absurdity. In the end I tell myself I’ve come out ahead. Then I turn my attention to Dar and to what went, maybe, right.

• • •

“I want to remember . . .” Dar says, pounding along to “Need You Now” somewhere near Gallup on our way back to Phoenix, and proceeds to rattle off meaningful moments in our thirty-six-hour trip to fine arts purgatory. A few days later I email him from Brooklyn with the precise list:

The smell of pines as we climbed east and up in elevation from Phoenix

The pitcher of ice water with floating tangerine quarters in the lobby of our hotel

The portrait of our ghost, Julia Staab, hanging over our very own fireplace, across from our very own four-poster bed

The pony-hide armchair in the art gallery

The ukulelist and his girlfriend, who sang an affectless “Oh, Susannah” (and their conversation about clawhammer music after)

Ginger-pineapple juice

My entrée of shrimp with a green chili and lemongrass sauce [that he preferred to his plato supremo]; my lavender ice cream [that he preferred to his crème brulée]

The urn of Mexican cocoa in the hotel lobby (the best he’d had since living in Nicaragua)

The massage with oil made of bergamot, lemon, lavender and rosemary

The prayer wheel garden

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he wrote back. “I love that you remembered that for me.”

“Love?” I screech to Kevin. He’s taken to calling me a couple of times a week before he has breakfast and goes off to cosmetology school. We talk about living one day at a time and how much we want and don’t know how to be happy-joyous-and-free, as well as about the chittering Vietnamese students who dyed his hair platinum one slow afternoon and my audition in Santa Fe. “He loves my memory but he doesn’t love me?”

“That’s exaggerating, Frances, darling. I know he loves you.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I singsong back at him. The rest of that sentence doesn’t need finishing.

“If I’m not easygoing, why did I let him eat my dinner? Why did I smile and go study paintings while he talked to street musicians and gallery owners?”

“What do you want to remember from the trip?”

I’m stumped. I liked my shrimp and the lavender ice cream but an overeater has a hard time remembering tastes. A massage is a massage. The prayer wheels in the cool daffodil light will stay with me, though. “I liked the storm drain covers,” I say. “They had the city’s coat of arms on them.”

“That’s hilarious! Seattle has special drains, too.”

“I know! I took pictures of them. They’re walking squids or something, right?”

“I’m not sure. So if you liked the drains, what would he repeat back as the things you wouldn’t want to forget?”

“Probably the same things he loved,” I say. His mother gave him the trip for graduation—he had finished yet another bachelor’s degree, this time in social work. He’d earned that trip. Having earned the trip, it became a star turn, the Lone Ranger joined by Tonto so that he’d have someone to talk to and be admired by.

“When you’re . . . uncomfortable,” Kevin says, either searching for words or trying not to offend me, “you get all, you know, arms crossed and frowny-eyed and your voice gets kinda high-pitched. Did you do that?”

“You mean diffident? You saw the pictures he took of me. I’d give the Phantom of the Opera a shot at homecoming prince.”

“How much did you apologize?”

“For how I looked?”

“Partly. But for the waiter not bringing water on time or the cost of gas or for him ordering the wrong meal?”

“Or for him not burning CDs to play in the car? Yeah, that was my fault, too.”

• • •

The words “you never know what could happen” are still so alive in me that I rattle off Dar’s pleasures in the trip as that last shred of hope that I’m too smart to grasp at very often. Memory and sentiment have always been my province. I’m the one who has family stories from generations back, insists on holiday traditions and cried when the seam of a leather jewelry box my mother gave me forty years ago finally ripped. Maybe it’s being adopted or maybe it’s not having kids of my own, but I worry that my little pod of Kuffels will fade a little around the edges if one of us doesn’t know how to make my grandmother’s sugar cookies or that my great-great-grandfather died walking north from Andersonville when the Civil War ended.

All that remembering of other people’s stories makes me a sometimes-brilliant gift-giver. Such talents can make me less than easygoing, I suppose, but they are talents, fonts of generosity. Exactly what woman is going to remember bergamot and rosemary when she buys massage oil for Dar? Who will send him a perfect bouquet of daisies for graduation and give him a cotton candy maker for Christmas?

Do I buy love?

There has been a succession of such gifts that are so apt that the only thing I can top them with is to go away and leave my friend/crush/lover alone to enjoy them. That solemn teddy bear we named Étienne, the Irish print of the crofter’s cottage, the Grover Washington CD, the book of World War II maps . . . ?

Or do such gifts demand too much gratitude?

Dar may find me high-strung, but it’s not like I email him every week or even call him every month or confide my loneliness, depression and agoraphobia in him. In fact, he turns me into an insouciant ingénue. I tend to forget to turn the oven on when he comes to dinner at my father’s house and not be able to make up my mind as to what kind of cheese we should buy: Is this what being un-easygoing is?

Does he remember how we met, for God’s sake?

August 2005

Because of the heat wave stretching from coast to coast that prohibited dogs from flying, I had to leave Daisy, my boon companion, with my brother in Montana when I was due to go back to New York. Daisy is not an easy dog, but she’d been my blessed bane for the past two years. She is ageist and racist, and highly suspicious of wheelchairs, canes, crutches and walkers. Walking the broad length of the Promenade at night, she will sniff out and want to take down the drunks, drug addicts and mentally disabled from four blocks away. She comments on these people in a manner not dissimilar to Sandra Bernhard. For the last two years, I’d spent a couple of hours every day in the dog run lobbing balls while she shrieked “throw-the-ball-throw-the-ball-throw-the-ball” in a voice that disintegrated glass.

Finding myself alone was disorienting. My bed was too big. If the buzzer went off, there was no torrent of protest. I didn’t have dirt in my shoes and mud stains on my shorts. I cleaned my apartment and threw out bags of dog hair and grit and it didn’t stack up again by suppertime. I was forced to find something to do as I watched the weather reports in Missoula, Minneapolis and New York, and I decided to take advantage of my bachelorettehood.

What better statement of liberation could I make, then, than posting on craigslist? In the two years I’d had Daisy, I had had one sort-of boyfriend. In the few months before I got her, I’d gone through a mildly slutty period, but in my momentary independence I went, shall we say, a little over the top.*

I could have paid for any number of useful things—teeth whitening, having my apartment painted, a plane ticket to Milan, taxes—with what I spent on corsets, high heels, push-up bras, hose and garter belts in the summer of 2005. I got some good use out of them and when, after three weeks of record high temperatures, Daisy was finally able to fly home, I had been paddled, whipped, flogged and fucked in a number of creatively organic and inorganic ways. I was down to one or two emails of interest from the original post. If I was going to finish this project, I’d have to find a way that didn’t excite her wild defense of me. Anyway, I was losing interest. I like kink as much as the next girl, but I think it’s kinkier to be ball-gagged by someone whose mother has asked me to pass the mashed potatoes.

One of those lingering emails was from Dar. He thought my posting was quirky and too literate not to respond to. We spoke and I had no opinion of this younger man with a rather flat voice but I agreed to meet him for a movie.

Which he slept through.

We must have found something to talk about over iced tea afterward. I remember finding out that he has an MFA in creative writing and was from the West, which was enough to invite him to dinner at my apartment that week.

He arrived in a state of extreme nervousness. Daisy took one look at him and started humping him, something she’d done once before, to a fireman. She broke some of the tension he carried with him but as soon as he peeled her off he turned to me and said, “I have to tell you something before we go any further.”

I shivered a little at that.

“I’m a crack addict.”

I cocked my head and sized him up again. “I didn’t know white boys could be crackheads.”

“I’m a criminal,” he said.

“You’re an addict.” I shrugged my shoulders and went into the kitchen to fetch the chamomile iced tea he’d mentioned was his favorite. “So what? I’m an addict, too.”

“Not to crack. It’s not the same.”

I handed him a glass and sat down at my computer to pull up a research file. “Sugar and cocaine both affect dopamine receptors. Tolerance grows for each. The two substances are cross-addictive. Do you want to know more?”

He gulped his tea and then took another long sip. “I can’t believe you remember I love iced chamomile,” he said.

• • •

The company Dar had been working for had thought it wise for them to part ways. His lease had run out and, at the time we met, he’d decided to head to a friend’s beach house to go cold turkey. He was in the midst of saying good-bye to ten years’ worth of friends. After meeting up with old pals, he took to dropping in; when he was through with his farewells, he asked to stay for a night before hopping a bus to Georgia.

He stayed for ten days. The studio portion of the Bat Cave is about 15 by 40 feet, barely room for a single occupant. Now there were three, and one of us didn’t sleep. Except for forays to see his dealer, Dar worked frantically—downloading weird software, writing fragments of bopper poetry or base-crazy wisdom—on his laptop as I worked on a book. It was unaccountably comfortable, each of us in our own bubble of thought, emerging occasionally to share a good line, a website or a song. I gave him Frou Frou’s “Let Go” and he gave me the Postal Service’s “Clark Gable.” I would set a salad or bowl of yogurt at his side and two hours later he’d realize he’d eaten it and loved it. At night he created an elaborate ritual of tucking Daisy and me into bed.

The problem, he explained, was that, high, he found it hard to get an erection.

“But you would if you could, right?” I asked him about twice a day.

And one evening I came in from walking Daisy and he was splayed along the couch like Manet’s “Woman Reclining in Spanish Dress with Kitten.”

Except there was no kitten and he wasn’t dressed.

“So?” he said as I stood in the door and gaped. “Ready?”

“Uh,” I stuttered.

“It’s time. You want to do this, right? Let’s do it.”

I laughed as nervously as hair dancing over a flame. He stood up and walked over, unleashed Daisy, inspected the leash for a moment and then flung it into the kitchen behind us.

“So you don’t want to.”

I stuttered some more. “I do. I’m just . . . taken aback.”

“Abashed, disconcerted, out of countenance . . .”

“Surprised will do.”

I had never giggled, cried and come at the same time. That conjunction of silly orgasmic stars would happen once more in my life, the second and last time Dar fucked me and I made love to him. At least he was long-sober the last time. At least he got it up on a whim and at least he came.

Still. Twice in five years can make a girl kind of tense.


A couple of weeks after Dar loved the memories I’d saved for him, I ask him for music suggestions. Knowing we are now at a permanent impasse there cannot be a more stupid request I could make. Whenever one of my students goes through a breakup, I urge her to go out immediately and buy an album by an artist she did not listen to with her ex. “Cut your hair, take a juggling class, rearrange your furniture,” I advise. “Do whatever you have to do to become a person he doesn’t know anymore.” It begins with replacing the music because all she needs to do is run into 3 Doors Down on her iPod to start a day-long crying jag.

I am obviously bored out of my mind to invite Christopher O’Riley playing Radiohead into my life. With a lump in my throat, I listen to one tune and respond that I like it, then go back to playing Farm Town on Facebook.

Dar slams back. “What do you mean, you ‘like’ it? I sent you a playlist of songs I love and you listen to one and you ‘like’ it. You know music is one of the most important things to me. I think you owe me more consideration than that.”

I stare at the email, wondering what to say to make it right. I’ve gotten myself into one of those dumb arguments that is about one thing but is really about deeper matters of the heart, and although I started it, I’m pissed off at the fierceness of his response. I can listen to the song again, apologize and find something profound to say about it, or I can inform him that he’s overreacting to my mistake in asking for music that would remind me of his loose-hipped dancing forever.

Which I tell him. I might be a thinner, happier person if I felt and expressed my anger at the moment it’s roused, so this spat is important. This is progress. I have never argued with a man I loved.

In fifteen minutes, we descend into an email tug-of-war of I-told-you-how-I-felt versus that’s-exactly-why-I-can’t-listen-to-these-songs. By the time he circles back to my lack of going with the flow, I’m browbeaten. “Stop this,” I snap. “Let’s just stop.”

I mean a full, complete halt to all proceedings, but having argued my point of view I’m too tired to emphasize that to Dar.

What I say to Kevin is, “What the fuck does he mean I don’t ‘go with the flow’? We met on craigslist, for God’s sake. I was letting men spank me that summer. He’d lost his job and apartment and was ten thousand bucks in crack debt when I took him in and kicked him out at the right time. You know I really want to move to Seattle, right? I have a life there. I have you and Grace and a family the size of the Osmonds within 500 miles. What’s here? I walk dogs. I have about four friends here, and the only ones I actually socialize with are Ben and Jean. There isn’t room to turn around in the Bat Cave. But I can’t make the decision because maybe I should move to Phoenix. I hate that city, but I could take care of Dad and see Dar on a regular basis. In the five years I’ve known him, we see each other a couple of times a year. All I do is wave good-bye.”

“Shouldn’t you say that to Dar?” Kevin asks mildly.

“I can’t. It’s been such a hard month already.” I imitate Dar’s voice: “‘I love you but I’m not in love with you; you’re too stressful; I love the way your brain works; you don’t take me or my interests seriously.’ I feel like one of those felt bull’s-eyes with Velcro arrows of Dar’s statements all over me.”

Besides, if I let him keep arguing our way back to that night in the car outside his house, he’d have to clarify what he meant by my lack of easygoingness and I’m not sure I want to hear it.

“You gotta disengage, Princess. Stop emailing him. Start saving your money and come back to Seattle. I’m lonely for you.”

All the tears of rage and love coalesce around my vocal cords at that. I miss Kevin, too. As ready as I’ve been for the last couple years to massacre my Visa card and move to Arizona, I’ve never woken up every morning hoping he will call me that day or text me a picture of the tomato seedlings in his kitchen window. Kevin does that. Kevin’s genius is for making me feel part of his life by sharing the small things in the day. Dar’s genius is for making room to twit witticisms between final exams or full appointment rosters.

“If I ever get it together to move out there,” I tell him, “can we have one night a month when we watch sad movies and cry until midnight?”

“No. We have other things to do.”

I think of our stop in the International District on the way back to his house. He had to buy some fish to feed his three adolescent turtles.

“Maybe feeding neon tetras to Me, Myself and I will be catharsis enough,” I say.

“Yes,” he purrs in his speaking-to-a-kid-with-a-scraped-knee voice. “Only pretty fishies for my babies. It’s so much fun to watch them snap them up.”

It could be our version of a reality TV family: food, love and gore.


It takes Galapagos tortoises forty years to go through puberty.

The most important love is first love.

Freud would say that my first love was my father, and there is something to that. Little girls say their fathers can do anything, but mine really could. He set my broken arm, fixed my doll furniture, made the best spaghetti sauce, built a nineteen-foot sailboat, knew which mushrooms were poisonous and missed a lot of dinners because in our town, he was the first doc called for an emergency. My mother didn’t know how to work the Magnavox stereo but I did because my dad and I listened to music together in the evenings when he was home. He wasn’t just a hunter—he made his own bullets, an exacting and exciting hobby of molten lead and a delicate balance scale. He sewed up our Thanksgiving turkey with one hand and made new shoes for my Red Skelton doll. My father respected all those little girl things about me, but he didn’t treat me like a child. One Sunday afternoon he had forty-five minutes to teach me to ride a bike and I was flying down Dore Lane with five minutes to go. Later he taught me to drive his Oldsmobile 98, a small atoll of a vehicle, in the April mud up Miller Creek, saying one lesson in turning, stopping, accelerating and backing up in that mess was all I’d need.

As I write this, he’s nearly ninety-one and blind from macular degeneration. Nonetheless, we spend the first day of our 2011 Christmas vacation together comparing the birth narratives in the Gospels, figuring out that stigmata is a bunch of hooey because Jesus could not have been nailed through the palms of his hands, and reading up on the census that occasioned Mary and Joseph’s return to Bethlehem. (There wasn’t one.)

I still adore him.

As a kid, I also adored my brothers, who are seven and nine years older than I. They didn’t have any of Daddy’s powers to make things but they both had a glorious balls-to-the-wind aura that terrified and mesmerized me in equal parts. I would do anything to remind them I was alive and I made a fine target for the missile launcher on Dick’s Lionel train and gave away all my allowance to Jim for the firecrackers that scared me. Sometimes the three of us or the two of them were an unbreachable whole—my aunt Mildred considered us juvenile delinquents when she tried to take care of us while Mother was in the hospital—but mostly we went our own ways.


Excerpted from "Love Sick"
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Copyright © 2014 Frances Kuffel.
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