Chapter 8: The Me & Susan Years
My new roommate Susan had just graduated from Memphis State but was still working at Chili's with us. She was an only child, and when she moved out with me it was her first venture out on her own. Like Shelley's parents back in Long Beach, Susan's parents took me in as one of their own. I did holidays and weekends and family events with them. Susan was a pretty blonde who had her own history with questionable relationships. The two of us became each other's support system. I was building my own chosen family. (LEFT: Susan & me in 2014)
We rented one side of a large duplex on North Parkway in midtown Memphis. We shared clothes and shoe sizes, so our wardrobes doubled when we moved in together. We were both working at Chili's by the Oak Court Mall; most days we rode together. After work we would head to the after-hours bar The Bottom Line, with Julia, Renee, Clay, Michael, Chip the Bartender. When that bar closed, we'd go across the street to Chip the Bartender's apartment, where we would drink more and watch Elvis videos. Chip the Bartender was a huge, huge Elvis fan. Once we'd all had a couple hours of drinks, he'd make us watch his library of Elvis concert videos. Late one night we were listening to music and REM's Losing My Religion came on and I cranked it up and was dancing around and the neighbors called the cops. I was still dancing around Chip the Bartender's living room when they banged on the door.
Eventually, as is wont to happen in the restaurant business, our friends began to leave for other jobs. Julia went to Houston's. Renee graduated college and went to law school. I got fired from Chili's because I called off when I had the flu. Here's something you may not know if you've never worked in the service industry: You can't just call off. You have to get your shift covered. If you can't get your shift covered, you're responsible to be there. Even if you're sick. Which is pretty disconcerting if you're a restaurant patron.
So I got fired and went to work at The Bottom Line, our after-work place. I know it sounds like a strip joint, but it wasn't. It was a neighborhood bar, kind of like Cheers. We had a meat-and-three lunch, a happy hour full of regulars, live music and college kids on the weekends, sports on the big screen when Memphis State was playing. After the corporate environment of Chili's, I loved the free-wheeling atmosphere at Bottom Line. It wasn't long before Susan left Chili's to come to work there, too.
Life was good for Susan and me back then. We met a lot of laid-back guys at the bar. Had plenty of dates. Went out after work to hear local musicians (many of whom were regular performers at Bottom Line). I dated Chip the Bartender for a bit. She dated one of the Chili's managers. We developed our own fashion style we called "Run for the Border" - casual dresses with cowboy boots and straw hats. We saw Reba MacEntire in concert, and George Strait. I dated two local musicians (one of whom you may have heard of as he went on to do it professionally and make several records). Susan's parents bought a lake house in Snow Lake Shores, Mississippi, and we'd spend our days off sunning on their pontoon boat while they lazily fished.
If my teen years were a John Hughes movie, my early 20s were a 90s TV dramedy. I look back on it with a self-satisfied sense of bliss.
Eventually, Susan's parents decided to move to the lake full time. Susan and I gave up our midtown duplex and rented her childhood home from her parents. Susan's college friend Carole moved in, too. (RIGHT: Carole, Susan and Me together at one of our kid's baseball games in 2009)
The most important aspect of my years with Susan was that I had a best girlfriend for the first time since Shelley and I had gone our separate ways - me, to Memphis and her, to the Netherlands. You just can't put a high enough price on the value of a good girlfriend. It is among the most valuable relationships we will have in our lifetimes. She remains so today, even though we don't talk often. Still, I know if I needed her, she'd be the first one there.
Susan was my confidant, my sister. We shared every detail of our lives. We laughed. We cried. We were close through it all for those years. We were trying to find our way as young adults in our early 20s. We struggled. We floundered. We soared. We faced all of it together.
Susan started dating a boy she knew from college. John had been on the football team and in Sigma Chi, where Susan was a Little Sister. I started hanging out with Chip (not The Bartender) and Mike, a couple guys I'd met at school. Mike soon moved back to his hometown of Minneapolis and then it was just Chip & me hanging out.
Eventually, Chip told me he liked me as more than a friend. At the same time, Susan was telling me I should date Chip. I felt a bit burned by the musicians I'd been seeing and decided to be "off guys" for a while. My Friend Chip was a constant in my life. I needed that, and didn't want to jeopardize it. Susan kept asking me, "What are you waiting for?" [LEFT: Chip and Me at the Snow Lake Shores cabin, Fall 1992)
One night, after Chip and I had been to see the movie Malcolm X, he dropped me at the house I shared with Susan and Carole. We were standing at the front door. It was raining. Chip had somewhere he had to be that night so he wasn't coming in. "What are you waiting for?" I took a leap of faith and kissed him.
Three months later I found out I was pregnant.