by Janet Gilmore

“After going steady comes marriage, if life is to proceed in an orderly fashion, and it generally does.”–Mary McGee Williams, from “On Becoming a Woman”

“You know, you’d be much more attractive if you’d wear some make-up,” he said on our first college date.

“You’d be much more attractive if you’d shut up,” I thought.

That man, however, forever to be remembered by me as Sneezy Peevish, became the worst boyfriend I ever had. And that’s saying something.

After we graduated from Penn State on the same day, I came home to Philadelphia and got a job and an apartment. Sneezy got a job and settled into his parents’ house in Yonkers. If we were to continue seeing each other, it would have to be on weekends.

We worked out an alternating weekly visit plan, but on my swain’s first visit to my Center City apartment, he saw something that sent him scampering back to Yonkers. “You got roaches, doll.”

That left me to be the weekend traveler. After all, when a man truly loves a woman, he really doesn’t mind making her schlep 200 miles to Yonkers every weekend.

Sneezy’s mother had me sleep in a small, cold room over the garage. I made myself as small as possible under the thin blanket I was given, but I couldn’t warm up.

If I wanted to be cold, lonely and unappreciated, I could have stayed home by myself.

“Good morning, Mrs. Peevish,” I said dutifully at breakfast the next morning.

“Your teeth were chattering all night; I couldn’t sleep,” she said.

“Sorry, Mrs. Peevish, I was cold. Is the heat on in that room?”

“HEAT?” she bellowed. She was a bellower by nature. “HEAT! What’s wrong with you? You have no BLOOD? It’s not even ZERO in that room!”

“Not even zero…” I murmured.

I could tell that my visit was as welcome to Mrs. Peevish as rats at a picnic.

After breakfast, she told me in no uncertain terms that when I took something from the refrigerator, I was to put it back with the label facing forward. She also had the odd habit of following me around the house, grabbing the door knob of whatever door I had just walked through and closing it behind me. Perhaps she thought I was just another jar to be put away, label forward. She never told me what her label for me was, but I bet it wasn’t the same nice one my mother used.

But hey, I’d seen “Cinderella.” I could make this relationship work. Or could I?

One afternoon Sneezy and I were in the basement “listening to records” when I heard a clopping noise upstairs. The walls rattled. An ominous sound, as though a large animal had been turned loose upstairs. The animal had Mrs. Peevish’s voice.

“Look at this mess. Doesn’t anyone ever clean up after himself around here? Of course not, why should they? The Horse’ll do it! ”

I looked at Sneezy, but seemed oblivious to the noise overhead. I heard the animal move into the kitchen. Dishes clanked, cabinet doors slammed. Some awful force was on the move. Next, in the hallway, she opened the squeaky door to my room. “Ach,what a pig sty!”

She shut the door and moved to the bathroom. “No one ever hangs up towels around here! Okay, the Horse’ll do it! Pronto!”

Her orthopedic horse shoes clomped gallop-a-trot down the basement stairs to fling the towels into the washing machine. “Sure, the Horse’ll do the laundry. The Horse’ll do everything!” That done, she ascended the stairs and settled down to scrubbing the bathtub, which no one was allowed to use because it would get dirty. Scrubbing calmed her. “ Sneezy? Is your mother okay?”

“Yeah, she’s like that sometimes.”

“Who’s ‘the Horse?’”

“She calls herself ‘the Horse’ when she gets that way.”

“Should we help her?”

“Nah. She’ll be fine. Hey, don’t touch the record!”

“Why? I thought you wanted to listen to it again.”

“Don’t EVER touch my records. Don’t you know the oil from your skin will ruin them?”

He bought me white cotton record-handling gloves for Christmas.

For some reason, probably inertia, I went back to Sneezy’s house for a few more years. I sort of hung around, waiting for a last straw, which was the day he said, “Can’t you PLACE the keys on the counter rather than TOSS them?”

I gonged him. Enough was enough. Alone in the kitchen the day I left Yonkers for the last time, I took the bottles of allspice and cinnamon and switched them around so they were out of alphabetical order in the spice rack, and slowly with intent, I turned the jelly jar in the fridge so the label faced the back.

I mailed Sneezy a break-up letter which left him free to listen to uncontaminated records by himself, and leaving Mrs. Peevish to the (very clean) stables in her mind.

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