ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part One, Chapter 11: The Problem Solver
I call my friend Mary. She and I had planned to share an off-campus apartment our senior year with her friend Connie.
“I’m not going back to school, Mary. I’ve met a man named Ernie, and he and I are going to live together.”
“Are you going to marry him?”
“You don’t sound too sure.”
“Ernie will know what to do.”
“How old is he?”
“I haven’t asked him, but he’s older. Maybe sixty. He’s been married before. He’s a journalist, but he wants to write fiction. He wants me to help him.”
“Bring him cups of hot tea in the morning, glasses of Coke in the afternoon. Cups of hot tea in the evening. Be his first reader. Do the typing.”
“You know what everyone will say, don’t you?”
“That you’re marrying your daddy.”
“Ernie’s not my daddy. Ernie’s brave. My real daddy’s a scaredy-cat, even though, strangely enough, he scared me when I was growing up. My father’s big and tall and has a loud voice. . . . Ernie doesn’t scare me. No one can be scared of Ernie. He’s too kind.”
When I tell my mother I plan to move in with Ernie, she falls to her knees in the hall outside my bedroom door and moans like a hurt child. By this time, I know a few more Ernie facts.
“He’s been married twice before,” she says.
“He’s not married now.”
“He’s twenty years older than you.”
“Eighteen and a half. He won’t be forty until August. Besides, guys my age drink themselves sick on weekends.”
“He’s an alcoholic himself.”
“A recovered alcoholic. He stopped drinking eight years ago, and he went to AA meetings for five straight years.”
“You’ve only known him a few weeks.”
“How long does it take to know someone? And Ernie tells me his life stories — even the dark ones.”
I help my mother to her feet. Her sad brown eyes look into my green-blue ones. “You’ll be a college dropout.”
“Ernie will teach me everything I need to know.”
I sound more confident than I feel. What if living with Ernie doesn’t work out? How will I get back into school? Will I still have my scholarship? But I don’t want to go back to school. Dr. Donohew talked me into switching my major from journalism to communications, and for that I have to take a statistics course, and I don’t want to take a statistics course. And then what? A job? Ernie’s offering me a job. He will give my life purpose. He will know what I need to do.