The Freak and the Redhead: A Love Story

by Bill Brenner on December 17, 2009

I wasn’t looking for a soul mate when I met her. It was the summer of 1993 and I was doing just fine on my own.

Mood music:

I was in a band and we were busy pretending we were really something. This was long before I woke up one day, realized I really don’t know how to sing, and decided to spare the masses the agony of me trying to play vocalist.

I was driving around in a beat-up Chevy Monte Carlo. I had recently crashed it into the side of a van and the door was held shut with a bungee chord. I had recently tired of my long black hair and shaved my head for the first time. For some reason, that attracted her.

I was still a few months away from finding my calling as a journalist, and I was busy hiding from any real work. I pretended to work in my father’s warehouse but was really hiding behind boxes most of the time chain-smoking cigarettes.

I was starting to write for the college newspaper at Salem State College. She was editing the college literary journal, “Soundings East.” I joined the staff to get closer to her so I could make my move.

My first memory of her was on the drive home from classes one afternoon. Stuck in the vile traffic that often snarls the road from Salem to Route 114, I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a red-headed (strawberry blond, to be more accurate) bobbing her head back and forth to music. I later learned she was listening to The Ramones, and I’m pretty sure she was bobbing her head way off key and off beat from the music. That’s one of the things that attracted me.

On our first date, I took her to meet my mother. The first time she took me home to meet her family, I had forgotten my glasses and was wearing prescription sunglasses and a Henry Rollins T-shirt.  It was my first trip to Haverhill and getting home that night in the dark with sunglasses was an experience in mild insanity. But it was worth it. Her dad, by the way, was worried because he’d heard I was Jewish and pork chops were on the menu. I also met her whacky 12-year-old baby sister, who would eventually grow into the woman I would brand for life with the nickname “Blondie.” I taught Blondie the important things in life, like how to carefully put a string of tape on the back of a cat, to show how it would trick the cat into thinking it was under a piece of furniture and would, as a result, crawl as low to the ground as possible.

That wasn’t even enough to scare away my future wife.

In the years since, she has stayed with me through my bouts of depression following the deaths of many friends and relatives, obsessive-compulsive behavior, fear and anxiety and the binge-eating disorder that at one time pushed my weight to the upper 280s.

She was well within her rights to run for her life. But she stayed, gave me two precious children and helped me to overcome my demons and become the man I am today. She also gave me an extended family that I cherish, even the father-in-law who is to the right of Attila The Hun. I make the latter comment with complete affection, by the way.

My demons weren’t easy for her to understand, to be sure. My path was not the same she had been on. Yet she stayed.

She listens to folk music and puts up with my Heavy Metal. She puts up with the off-color language I picked up during my Revere, Mass. upbringing, which still surfaces in times of anger or intoxication.

She’s dedicated to her Church, sings in the choir and is a Eucharistic minister. Her parenting is the reason my sons are smart and caring beyond their years. She had the courage to leave a relatively safe full-time job to try and build her own business, something that’s not for the faint of heart.

I would never have gotten on top of my OCD without her. My Christmas gift to her is the relative sanity I carry around today. I hope she likes it. 🙂




{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin Brenner December 17, 2009 at 4:40 am

It’s the best Christmas present I could ask for!

Robin Coughlin December 17, 2009 at 5:37 am

Tear. Sniff. How sweet. 🙂

Ann December 17, 2009 at 8:45 am

I remember that Monte Carlo!

And as much as I know your wife adores your sanity, you need to at least get her a card! 😉

(((HUGS))) Bill! I love reading your Blog.


Michelle December 17, 2009 at 10:19 am

This ia a wonderful, heartfelt story. Erin is a very lucky gal! Good job Erin. (If only we had all been as lucky.)
Nice writing Bill.

Faith December 17, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I love it. You’re renewing my faith (no pun intended) in solid marriages and strong families, which is sadly something I see very, very infrequently. Oh, and by the way, your extended-extended family (i.e., the crazy Corthell cousins, me included) loves having you in our clan, too.

Sara December 17, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Well written Bill! It is a very sweet story, thank you for sharing it with us. Oh and I do forgive you for tormenting my cat if you were wondering…

Davida December 18, 2009 at 3:07 am


You got heart. Well done.


Penny December 18, 2009 at 3:52 am

You are a lucky man. And it sounds like she found a heck of a guy as well. Happy holidays.

Anne December 18, 2009 at 4:57 am

There are very few things that can make me truly laugh out loud and smile broadly at 6 in the morning, but this one did it for me. Keep up the great work here.

MC December 18, 2009 at 10:28 am


Blondie December 24, 2009 at 4:19 am

“Wacky” huh? I still enjoy tormenting cats in the same way to this day. I intend on passing on your Bill-isms to future impressionable, rugrats.

On a more mature note, I do really enjoy your blog, Bill. 🙂

wendy February 14, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Great story Bill…
especially for Valentines Day…I always knew Erin was a strong woman…even back during the Log years but your list of her faith and tolerance just proves it! Many you enjoy many happy years together!

Audrey Clark May 25, 2012 at 10:39 am

lovely story bill

Andrea June 29, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Your incredible honesty, humility and growth will continue to make you and Erin an incredible couple and parents.

This is a great piece for your family history and should be preserved.

Bob/Dad/Grampa August 21, 2013 at 3:49 pm

To be aware of your background and see your growth tells me what kind of person is caring for my daughter and grandsons. I like to believe that I have assisted in your movement towards the political center.

Will August 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Beautiful story sir, as always a pleasure to read your work.

tr3ss June 30, 2014 at 4:03 pm


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