Are we talking about more than just sunsets?

As I was hurtling down Missouri 370 en route to I-70 this past weekend, I heard a commercial for some brand of booze on the radio. I don’t remember which. Its advice for life was to be yourself (translation: drink lots of their product), and, among other things, to watch one sunset a week (and then, ideally, stay up all night drinking their product and take in the sunrise as well).
At that moment, the sun was beginning to set, and I was in a largely undeveloped area and we still had snow on the ground. I really wished I had my camera with me, because it could have made for a spectacular photo, had one of the master photographers I know like Tom Gatermann or Dan Coleman been there to take it. It had so much potential, it had the possibility of being an OK photo with me behind the camera. But it’s lost now.

So I started thinking a lot about sunsets. The late, great Mike Royko wrote a column about them, in the third person, after his first wife died. They owned a small cabin in Wisconsin, and when they vacationed there, they dropped everything and watched the sun set every night. After she died, he sold the cabin because he couldn’t bear to go there alone. He closed with the words: “Maybe a young couple who likes to watch sunsets together will like it. He hopes so.”

The column broke my heart when I read it. It usually still does. The talk of sunsets reminded me of the column, and I wondered why I don’t watch more sunsets.

Mostly it’s an issue of time. I have distractions, like making money and publishing stuff. (The two aren’t necessarily related.) So I work eight hours a day for my steady paycheck, then come home and write. Half the time I don’t even know when the sun sets. I just notice one day that I’d been driving home in daylight for a long time, but suddenly I’m not anymore.

But besides that, there’s another thing. Sunsets are best when watched with someone special. So I wondered why I’ve never watched a sunset with someone special, and I realized that’s because for some odd reason I always date in the fall and winter and during those seasons the sun generally sets while I’m still at work. I’ve never had a girlfriend in the spring or summer months. Ever. My relationships tend to be short, which partially explains it, but why I always start them in October (except for one I started in September), I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with baseball season.

Why the September Wonder and I never watched a sunset, I don’t know for sure. At that hour we were usually eating dinner. But I’ll tell you something. I’m glad we never watched a sunset together.

We shared our lives with one another. She knows things about me that no one else knows. No one. And I know things about her that her parents, her sisters, and her close friends didn’t know.

We shared our experiences too. One of her favorite things to do was to drive to Jefferson City, buy doughnuts, then go sit on the steps of the capitol building at night and eat them. It’s a weird University of Missouri tradition whose origins I never tracked down–some alumni have heard of it, while others look at me really funny when I bring it up. Probably the same way I looked at her funny when she brought it up, come to think of it.

Well, you can tell from looking at me that I don’t eat a lot of doughnuts, and she didn’t look like she ate many either. So there’s nothing special about doughnuts to either of us. As for the capitol, well, that stands for government, and I don’t like government very much and as far as I could tell she didn’t care much for government either. So I guess the big deal about this tradition is you find out who your friends are. Eating doughnuts on the steps of the capitol with a bore is no fun. If they’re willing to try, they’re a friend. If you both have fun, you’ve both found a friend worth keeping. Because, let’s face it, Jefferson City at night is a whole lot less interesting than a sunset. A sunset can stand on its own, while Jefferson City at night is only as interesting as the person you’re with.

I told her I’d miss eating doughnuts on the steps of the capitol building with her if that ever became impractical or impossible. She said there’d always be other things. Then she told me to get lost.

I wondered after she found someone new and flaunted him in front of me whether they ever ate doughnuts on the steps of the capitol building. And I wondered if she could do the deed without me coming to mind. Did my ghost still haunt her?

I shared a piece of me with her too. It was a restaurant, also in Jefferson City, called Madison’s Cafe. Great Italian restaurant. Growing up in Jefferson City nearly 20 years ago, my dad used to take us there. Going back there always reminds me of him. But now on those rare occasions when I go back there, it doesn’t just remind me of my dad anymore. It also reminds me of her. And I wish I’d held that piece of me back from her until she’d proven her ability to stick around for more than five minutes.

Can I ever take another girl to Madison’s? Assuming it wasn’t an obnoxious drive, sure. But I guarantee it wouldn’t be on the first date. Because I don’t want her to taint more memories. Once she’s established, that’s the right time.

Yes, I’m very glad I didn’t watch sunsets with that girl from September who turned out not to be cooler than baseball. It means I still have something special left to share with The One Who Will Stick Around for a While, once I manage to find her.

Then I started thinking I really ought to write some of these thoughts down. Then I realized I’d become so lost in my own thoughts, in my own past, that the sun had gone down and I’d missed the best part of the present.

Nuts.

A quick Opera tip. I felt bad about not including a computer tip today, so here goes. To see a list of all of Opera’s many keyboard shortcuts, hit Ctrl-B.

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