I ran into her on the steps of the Yerba Buena gardens, across from St. Patrick’s. At first my mind refused to believe it. Told me calmly, your mother lives in South Dakota, she can’t be in San FranciscoIt’s just some other red-haired, middle-aged women who also happens to own a golden retriever—

“Well hey!”

“Mom?”

“Hi honey, how are ya?” She put her arms out to embrace, the leash looped on a wrist.

“Wait, what—”

“How are you doing sweetie?”

“Good, good, I’m just . . . What are you doing here?”

She came in for a hug. For a moment I thought she might have been some crazed look-alike but was too shocked to move. When we embraced, I knew for sure. Had that mom smell. Clean laundry, Panteen-Pro-V, and the slightest hint of fifteen-year-old perfume. Moose sniffed my leg excitedly.

“Well I meant to call you, but with the flight and packing and everything I just couldn’t. And running into you on the street? Small city huh?”

“You’re out visiting?” I said.

“No, I’m moving here.”

“You’re what?”

“Moving to SF. I just got in yesterday.”

“But that’s crazy. Where’s dad?”

“Oh your father,” she said, with a tilt of her head. “Well honey, I’m sorry to say, but we got divorced.”

“What!”

“Well not really, not yet, it’s still in the works. But we’re going to.”

“Mom, you’re serious?”

“Well yes, honey. Look I’m sorry. But it just had to be. I couldn’t go on living like that.”

I swept a hand over my face. “Jesus, what happened?”

She rested her free hand on her hip. “Well, I’ll tell ya. I woke up three weeks ago and realized I just had to get out of that life. Now I love your father, but he’s not a growing man. He’s not gonna try new lifestyles, or push himself. Because of that we just don’t fit anymore. But he’ll be all right. He’s got the house. And he can go back to fishing if he wants.”

“Stop stop stop. You’re serious? You left dad and flew to San Francisco? And you took the dog?”

“Well you know your father, he doesn’t take care of any of the animals. Besides he’ll be out on the boat a lot. Your Jason’s already found him a crew in Alaska.”

“Mom! How did this happen?”

“Honey calm down and I’ll tell ya. I was talking with Sharon—one of the nurses I work with at the VA—and she told me about this philosophy class she was taking—see she going back to finish her B.S. in per-dentistry—anyway, it was all about this German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—”

“Christ not Nietzsche—”

“Yes that’s the one! You’ve heard of him?”

“Yes, mom.”

“So maybe you know what I’m talking about. Well, I got to reading some of his stuff. Pretty confusing at first. But Sharon explained about the Will to Power and all that, how it was really about self-actualizing yourself, about self-overcoming. You know, taking on new challenges and experiences. At first it seemed so wrong, what with his rejecting Christianity and all that. But I lay up thinking all one night about how I’d been raised Lutheran, how all those ideas got forced on me when I was little and didn’t know better and I just snapped. I sat up and thought, hell, I’ve been holding myself back all this time. Working forty hours a week and raising kids for thirty years. Time for something new. I’ve lived in nothing but small towns, why not see the city? I’ve been married, why not be single? Why not try painting or take up ballet again? Hell why not sleep around, maybe meet some younger men?”

“Oh lord—”

“Or a girl even, I’ve never done that. Always thought about it. So I figured San Francisco would be perfect. Plus you’re here.”

“So you really are moving SF?”

“Well yeah, where else? I’m certainly not gonna stay in Hot Springs.”

I shook my head. “Mom you can’t do this.”

She pointed a pale finger at me. “Now don’t start. You of all people shouldn’t be trying to limit my reality.”

“Mom, wait. What, what about Emily?”

“Oh your sister’ll be fine. She’s an adult now. And she’s in college.”

“She’s only eighteen! And she’s in Minneapolis, all alone.”

“Oh come on now, she’s in a dorm. I’d hardly call that alone. Don’t worry honey, she’ll be fine, she’s a smart girl. Oh stop looking at me like that.”

“I just can’t believe it. You’ve been married for thirty years.”

“Only twenty eight. And I enjoyed most of it, I’ll give you that. Your father was a good husband. But now I’m ready to move on. And I’m so tickled I meet you out here, taking Moose for a walk. Say, you want to see my new place?”

“You’ve already got a place?”

“Yeah, in Nob Hill. I’m sharing an apartment with two other divorcées, Sharon and Kate. They’re real sweethearts. They’re taking me out dancing tonight. Well what’s the matter? Aren’t you happy to see me? Say, what are you doing here anyway?”

“I was meeting someone.”

“A girl?”

I sighed. “Yes.”

“See? You’re doing it too. Have you read Nietzsche?”

“Yes, mom. So what are you gonna to do then?”

“Oh well I’ve got a job at the city hospital for now, but I’m going to go back to school next fall. I got into CCA, just like you! Maybe we’ll be in some of the same classes. I’m starting with painting and theater . . .” She gestured to cross the street. “Come on, I’ll show ya the apartment.”

I followed her in a daze, my date forgotten.

For the next week my life came to a standstill. Every day I skipped writing classes and cut homework helping her get settled in Nob Hill. Then I saw her less and less as she made friends at the hospital and started going out with her roommates more and more. Three weeks later, after being incommunicado for a week, I was at the Makeout Room, on a Friday, with my friend Paul.

“Bro,” he said, nudging my elbow at the bar. “Check out that red-haired cougar on the dance floor.”

Hating too, but drawn by some force beyond my control, I turned to look. There she was, in a green skirt and heels, salsaing with a tall man with slicked back hair.

“Too old for me,” Paul said. “But she’s certainly got some moves.”

“Bartender,” I screamed. “Double whiskey. Now!”

“Hey man, are you OK?”

“No, I’m not OK, we need to get the fuck out of here. As soon as I drink this.”

“What the fuck’s the matter dude? Do you know that lady?”

“Yes . . . No. She’s my . . . Oh goddamn you, you syphilitic bastard.”

“Who the fuck are you talking to?”

“Look,” I said, spreading my hands out on the bar top. “All I’m gonna say is, fuck, man, Friedrich Nietzsche ruined my life.”

Paul put his hands up. “Who the fuck is Fred Nietzsche?”

“Trust me bro,” I said, head bowed. “You don’t want to know.”

Originally published in The Furious Gazelle at: 

http://thefuriousgazelle.com/2014/07/25/friedrich-nietzsche-ruined-my-life-by-leonard-crosby/