Joe Mattingly really is the only man I ever really loved. Oh, I have been in love, deeply so, with some others---even married some. But I never loved anybody the way I loved Joe Mattingly. I was only sixteen when I met him. He was eighteen and he had the blackest hair and the bluest eyes. His eyes were the color---well, in Missouri, around October every year for about two or three days the humidity will drop and the air will get very, very clear and the sky turns this amazing shade of blue---it is deep yet bright, and it makes my heart feel funny to look at it for very long. Also about that time of year, the leaves on the maple trees turn a vivid yellow, and when you look at those leaves against that sky, it makes the sky seem even bluer, and that's the exact color of Joe Mattingly's eyes. When we were grown and I hadn't seen him for twenty years, every October of those twenty year's I would see Mattingly's eyes in that sky. My love for him was different because I was so very young. It was overpowering and it was totally without guile or reservation. I had never been in love like that and so it never occurred to me not to trust it and him completely. Since I had no frame of reference for the heartbreak, I had no armor. To this very day, out of my entire fife---including the birth of my precious children---the very happiest moments of my existence was when Joe Mattingly told me he loved me. There's a hymn that says "and suddenly there were thousands and thousands of angels'---that's the way it felt. Because it was the one moment---totally free of fear--or pure, unadulterated joy. It is my treasure. But, by and by, he did break my heart, and though I have certainly loved others, the knowledge that love can hurt so much, tempers and restrains just ever so slightly.
I loved Mattingly then, still love Mattingly, will go to my grave loving Mattingly----he just tickles me. That's all I can say. He just tickles me slap to death-----his turn of phrase, his laugh, just him. He loves to be in the woods. He was telling me one time about trying to teach his new dog to hunt and the dog was real smart and doing great for a while, but now it seems all the dog will hunt is armadillos. How in the hell did that come about, I wanted to know. Well, he guessed it was really his fault. The dog had run up on one and chased it down and he (the dog), and so now he (the dog) thinks they are on another armadillo hunt. So basically the dog is useless for hunting now? I asked. "Well, yeah," he said, "except one good thing about it is, if you get lost in the woods, the first thing you want to do is find an armadillo."
Well, I had never read this particular tidbit in any hunting/hiking/camping material about what to do when you get lost in the woods. I've never known anybody to advise finding an armadillo for any worthy cause. Most folks here don't even believe there's such a thing as a live armadillo anymore; it does seem like we'd run out of 'em sooner or later, as many as we run over. So I pressed him urgently to find out why it is, when you are lost in the woods, you must find an armadillo---and by the way, how lucky he was to have a trained armadillo hunting dog. Mattingly was so happy and proud to contribute to my outdoor education. "You want to find an armadillo and follow it," he said. "cuz that sumbitch is heading straight for a road."
Anyway, Mattingly broke my heart, and we didn't see each other for twenty years, but what I did do as soon as I could form a thought in my head after we broke up was the only thing a girl could do, under the circumstances, I started dating his best friend Frank Frogdong. I went out with Frank for several years and then we broke up and then life just got away from all of us until the next thing we knew, it was twenty years later. So there we were twenty years later and who did I run into but Frank and he told me Mattingly was lawyering in a small town Kansas, where everybody in town adores him, and that he'd built a house out in the woods on a little pond and he hunts all the time.
So what did I do but pick up the phone and call his office. He answered the phone and I didn't say hello or anything, just, "Well, I thought since it's been practically twenty years to the day since you ripped my heart our and stomped the fucker flat, you might have the decency to come to town once in a while and take me to lunch." He didn't even ask who it was, just said, "How about Friday?" And I, of course, said Friday would be just fine, thank you. So he came and took me to lunch and proceed to tell me that he had loved me his entire life and that his one regret----the only thing he would change if he could---was losing me. I said if I had written him a scrip and paid him to read it, he couldn't have done any better, and I felt all that, too, but that since we did find ourselves married to other people at the moment, perhaps it would be best if we didn't date. But we stayed in touch and had lunch from time to time and he would come to the house if he was in town on business and we would call Frogdong to come go out with us here we'd go---me, Long Suffering, and my two old boyfriends-----out on the town. Whenever I would introduce them to anybody, they would announce that they were my two oldest boyfriends and they had both been in love with me for thirty years, and then they would argue back and forth over which one of them loved me the most and, more important, which one I loved the most. Oh, it was entirely satisfactory, let me tell you.