Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

We were never lovers, but there was something. An interest. Not quite a spark, but more a quiet heat that seemed ready to flare up at any moment, and yet never did. I admired him, his devotion to music and classical guitar and the way he wore his curly hair long.

We went on one date, to a movie. Afterwards we went in separate cars back to his house, and he showed me where he was working on his final project for his music master’s degree, then offered me a beer. I awkwardly declined, as I don’t drink, and it wasn’t long after that that I excused myself and went home. We hadn’t even kissed or even really touched.

Some time after that I was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized. He came to visit me, and when he did, he gave me a copy of Ham on Rye. At the time I couldn’t focus properly on reading, so it wasn’t until many months later, when I was out of the hospital and in remission, that I finally read the book.

It was a depressing time in my life. I had learned that due to damage from chemotherapy, I likely couldn’t ever have children. I was depressed and wondered why I had lived.

Reading the book made me even more depressed, and I wondered why in the world he had given it to me.

By that point I had met the man who is now my husband, and due to my new job and going back to school, I didn’t see my ex again until after I was already married, years later. We happened to meet at a bookstore, and all the awkwardness came rushing back. I asked him out for coffee, even though I don’t drink coffee, because I wanted to ask him about the book. But he gently replied that he was there with his significant other. Embarrassed, I retreated, and I haven’t seen him since.

It’s been thirteen years since he gave me the book, and much more than cancer and infertility has happened in my life. Now I think I might finally understand what he was trying to say when he gave the book to me.

I think he might have been saying: All that suffering you’re going through? It doesn’t matter. You can still find joy.

Thank you. I did.

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