Sunday, July 18, 2004

PART 14 - Almost Paradise

(smiling) This needs no further explanation. Join with me in remembering Meatloaf's classic anthem to young bodies, young minds, hot pursuit, and split second decisions;

Paradise by the Dashboard Light

And now our bodies are oh so close, so tight
It never felt so good, it never felt so right
And we're glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife . . .
C'mon! Hold on tight!

And I gotta let ya know
No you're never gonna regret it
So open up your eyes I got a big surprise
It'll feel all right
Well I wanna make your motor run

Stop right there!
I gotta know right now!
Before we go any further - Do you love me? Will you love me forever?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sometimes winter comes in like a lion in Atlanta. Such was the case in November, 1982. Unseasonably cold weather descended upon the city, and it got harder and harder to will myself up each morning to get to school. It was damn cold. Oh yeah, and I was damn tired.

I had been fruitlessly searching for a job since early September, and aside from babysitting, I had come up with nothing. I figured that there would be some holiday work popping up, so I kept my eyes open. Sure enough, I saw a "Help Wanted" sign in the window of an upscale women's clothing boutique. I didn't feel terribly hopeful going in, but within the week, I was a proud member of The Banker's Note boutique. It was quite a coup for a 15 year old. I was the youngest employee there, and I was exposed to a whole new level of retail and fashion.
The girls I worked with were mostly college-aged; there were also a couple of early 30-something part timers. It was a beautiful store, full of expensive designer label fashions. It was located in the corner of an L-shaped strip mall, with an AMC theater and all manner of other little specialty shops. The sidewalks were covered and well-lit, and it gave off the air of a high end village shopping complex.

The only downside is that the hours soaked up most of my afternoon and evening time. I headed straight there after school, and when the shop closed at 9:00, I still had homework ahead of me, which wasn't NEARLY as important as seeing him. Since I wasn't going to let my grades go down the toilet, and I was dying to see him, I let sleep go . . . it seemed expendable.

My shift worked from 4 until closing. The shift was usually me and two other girls. We vacuumed, straightened clothing, secured the receipts, set the alarm, and locked up. I was always happy to close the store because I knew I would be seeing him. He always made sure he was there to pick me up when my shift was over. The girls I worked with were so impressed with him; he always insisted on walking them to their cars, and he often complained out loud that we girls needed some security at closing. It was charming, of course, but we all felt quite safe there. Even so, he always insisted on picking me up and providing escort. Not only did he worry over us, but by picking me up, he and I could have a precious hour or two together. I always silently counted down the minutes to closing, and I was always glad to see him. Being alone with him, however, was becoming more complicated.

We generally picked up something through the drivethrough and went to his apartment after work. I was usually ravenous by that time, and I liked being able to unwind and relax with him. He was usually ravenous, too, but his appetites weren't quite as easily satisfied. Night after night ended the same way: I would lay with him, basking in his attention and affection, and at some point, I would turn away from his embrace, rebuffing his attempts, and leave him frustrated. This had gone on through August, September and October. I knew he was running out of patience, and I was running out of time.

This particular evening, we were a bit edgy with each other. Both of us were recovering from our first fight, if you could call it that. The Sunday before, we had spent the day together and despite his patience, I had once again left him hanging. He had reached his breaking point. Frustrated, he got up from the bed and paced the room, brooding and angry. I sat on the bed, silent, not knowing what he might do. Finally, he came back to the bed, and sat beside me, taking my hand into his. "Why won't you let me make love to you? Why? Don't you love me? Don't you want me? I want you. Badly."

I gazed downward, not saying a word. "Look at me, please, " he begged. I met his gaze and saw that the anger was mixed with hurt and confusion. "Look, I can't do this anymore. It's too hard. I love you, I want to be with you, I want to show you, I want to make love to you, and you push me away over and over. I'm not going to force you, but I'm not going to put myself through this anymore, either. I don't like being teased." With that, he drove me home.

I had a thousand thoughts in my head. Why couldn't I allow myself to be with him? Did I trust him? I did, with all of my heart. Despite the first time that I was with him and had that wierd panic attack, I had since grown completely comfortable with him. Was it religious? Nah, I had long since stopped suffering through Catholic mass. Did I think he loved me? Yes, I felt sure of that. When it all boiled down, I decided that I was freaked out by the intimacy. I was a kid that had never been held, or kissed. The only intimacy I had ever experienced had been wrong and painful. Ramping up to this level of closeness was so hard for me, as I began to rise from the depths of my lonliness and isolation toward the light, I had gone too fast, and I was getting the emotional bends. Could I get past this? I had damn sure better try, otherwise I would lose him, of that I was sure.

The next week was agonizing. I didnt work until Friday, so no mid-week after work meetings. By Friday, I was frantic. I wondered if he would be there after work. I needn't have worried, he always kept his promises. He was there as he always was, and so we were together, with this large, looming discomfort between us. "Do you want me to take you home now?" he asked as we pulled out of the shopping center parking lot. "I'd rather go home with you for awhile," I said quietly. "I don't think that is such a good idea," he countered. The closest I could come to telling him the truth was woefully inadequate. "I thought alot about what you said, and I want to show you that I never meant to tease you, not for a second. I haven't been able to show you how I feel about you, and I want to."

It was hard for me to stay in the here and now as we climbed the stairs to his apartment door. It felt like I was climbing the highdive ladder, with a line of kids behind me . . . no going back. I was about to take the plunge. I was visibly shaking, but I was determined. He gently led me to the bed, and began to kiss me and whisper to me how much he loved me. He turned the bedside lamp off, and bright moonlight poured through the window, over the bed, spilling puddles of light over us both.

As he gently kissed me, he began to undress me, stopping now and again to ask me "Are you sure?" I nodded solemly. His gentle caresses eased me out of my clothing piece by piece, and as he uncovered portions of my body, he covered the newly exposed skin with kisses. It was tender and heartbreakingly sweet, and I wanted more than anything to be who he needed me to be.

The actual moment was one that I can only equate with that split second before the girl at the mall pierces your ear with that spring-loaded gun. You squeeze your eyes tightly shut to prepare yourself for the pierce, your heart pounds, and you wait for the confirmation of the pain. Only there was no pain. He cradled me, kissing my neck, my chest, and gently entered me. Seeing how tightly my eyes were closed, he whispered, "Are you ok?". I peeked out of one eye, and said "yes, I'm ok, I was just waiting for, you know . . . ." He smiled and kissed me, and said, "Yes, I do know . . . ", rocking his hips slightly. "Oh my God, I didn't feel a thing!" I said before I even realized I had said it. We both giggled, and I tried to explain away my comment, to tell him that I was fine, that he felt wonderful, and he stopped me in mid-sentence, kissing me deeply as he slowly and gently made love to me.

Laying on the bed, I was able to fully see his face and chest from the illumination of the moonlight. At that moment, I felt like the center of his world, and that is just what I wanted to be. I wanted to comfort him, pleasure him, be everything he ever needed. My focus was not on my pleasure. Although I experienced no pain, I really had no sense of arousal or sensation. I just loved him, and I wanted to make sure he knew, and when I heard his cries of pleasure and love for me, I knew. Laying with him in the dark, we clung to each other, breathing in sync with each other, and when we had no more time, I sat up to switch the light on to discover that I was covered in blood.

He sprang into action, the shock of seeing the blood puddle and smears sent him running for cold washcloths. He gently blotted me and the bedding. I was more upset that I had stained his bedding, and I apologized and felt hot with embarassment. He cracked a smile and said, "There's nothing to be sorry ABOUT, baby, except maybe that 'didn't feel a thing' comment. That hurt!" That was enough to break the tension, and I giggled as we stripped the bedding together.

Later as he was driving me home, I began to feel a dull, but growing pain. I considered it a badge of honor. I was proud that I had seen it through. He could do nothing but smile and wink at me everytime he glanced my way and caught my eye. Arriving home, he walked me to the backdoor. We silently looked at one another for a moment, and ended the night with a long, deep kiss. As he walked back toward the van, he looked back over his shoulder and said with a smile "Are you gonna think any less of me tomorrow morning?" and with my laughter in his ears, he left to sleep alone with the knowledge that someone loved him more than he could imagine.

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