My Robert Redford Minute
A slightly different version appears in Chocolate For A Woman’s Soul Volume II by Kay Allenbaugh. Published by Fireside Books 2003.
Driving has always enabled me to relax. It’s my time to take stock. And there is just so much one can accomplish behind the wheel of a car. One late August afternoon, many years ago, I’m in traffic, on the way to the airport. The sun’s rays were so brilliant, I had to shift the visor each time the car changed direction. I was mesmerized by the illusive powers of the asphalt surface, one mirage after another, making my throat burn with thirst. I reached for the Diet Coke suspended on the dashboard in the magnetic holder. Wiped the bubbles from the tip of my nose. The traffic, at a dead halt, I peeked in the rearview mirror. Not so bad, I thought— finally a good haircut, free of frizzies, each hair obediently in place. Steve had said he loved my hair. He called me Sister Golden Hair like in the song by the group, America. It was one of the only good hits of the mid-seventies, unless you dug Barry White and all that heavy breathing. Music eased the pain. Our divorces, like most divorces, were brutal. The usual rift over money, or the lack there of, kids and visitation and sometimes vengeful exes.
In the middle of all this change, was Steve’s big trial in D.C. The trial that took him away every Sunday through Friday, leaving me with the weekend fallout, shaking with fatigue. Even though the weather was spectacular, I drove to the airport that particular day, feeling the usual mixture of fear, anticipation and yearning: In a few weeks, Steve and I would be married. We hoped our remarriage would solidify us as a family—help us to create a bond with our four children. We knew we had a difficult task ahead, caring and raising four children under the age of six.
Now, I began to feel a surge of joy looking forward to seeing him. I imagined his coy look as he walked towards my car, smoking his pipe, his deep- set brown eyes intent on finding me. I was grinning like a Cheshire, when a guy with wild shoulder length hair drove past me on the left and made lewd gestures. I ignored him and looked straight ahead. Frustrated, he made a quick getaway and burned rubber. I smelled it through the rolled up windows. What made some men so rude and infantile? I remember when I first posed that question to my mother.
“Don’t ask me, what should I know? Didn’t I marry your father.”
“Thanks Mom, that makes me feel a whole lot better.”
At the time, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I got the same nonchalant attitude a few years later when I announced I was getting divorced.
“Why, you think you’ll do so much better the next time? You’ll only be trading one set of problems for another,” my mother said, never looking up from her needlepoint.
I arrived at the American terminal about fifteen minutes early and begged the security guard to let me stay at curbside. I always got lost looking for the parking lots. Once I’d exited the airport by mistake. When I got out of the car to stretch my legs, the smell of the cars’ exhausts in the stagnant air made me dizzy. I leaned against my old Pontiac and peered at people coming and going through the terminal doors. A young couple wearing matching floral shirts carried straw bags and balanced their suitcases. They looked happy but badly sunburned. I guessed they were returning from their honeymoon. Why exactly did they call it a honeymoon I wondered? After a few minutes of people gazing, I saw a tall handsome chauffeur walking quickly, carrying two black bags. A few steps behind him wearing dark glasses, a powder blue shirt, and navy blazer walks a short, but strikingly handsome man. Who? Who is that? It finally registered; my hands flew up to my face in disbelief. I reappeared slowly, like a toddler in a game of peek-a-boo, to see the man chuckling, his head tossed back. He seemed amused at my display of shock. Was this another mirage, a dizzy daydream on a stifling summer’s day? No, no, I was sure. It was really him…it was Robert Redford!
I feel a sudden surge of adrenalin. “Oh my God,” I shouted to no one in particular.
“You still here lady?” The security guard asked. Breathlessly, I babbled on trying to make him my friend. I pointed to the direction of the white stretch limo, sending the guard to investigate, to see for himself. I realized the limo would have to pass me when making its exit from the one way lane in which I was double-parked. In my mind I did what any normal, divorced woman, about to be remarried in three weeks, would do. I reached into my bag and touched up my lipstick. Then I posed against the Pontiac covering the neon graffiti someone once sprayed across the car door.
I waited, my heart beating relentlessly in my throat. I felt like a leading lady in some untitled B movie. But none of that really mattered. As predicted, the limo passed in front of me ever so slowly. The rear window was rolled half way down, just enough for our eyes to lock in an intense glaze. Burning, sizzling. This was a scene I’d remember, take with me, whenever things got really rough. I saw him gently smile, not mocking at all, and as he passed me, his head turned in my direction, until all that was visible was the black glass of the rear window.
Dazed, I fantasized the limo stopping. Then, he opened the door, beckoning me to enter. What would I say? Would I tell my life story and ask him to please get me home in time for the girls’ baths.
“Lady, that was him all right. Tiny little guy, ain’t he? Lady you gonna move that car now. Yo, lady!”
Just then, someone called out my name. It’s Steve grinning from ear to ear. He’s carrying his big litigation bag. One hand’s gripping the pipe. As we embraced and I felt the heat of my flushed cheeks against Steve’s cool smooth shaven face. And just the slightest tinge of guilt.