Tuesday, July 20, 2004

PART 16 - With or Without You

Hard to pick a more appropriate song for today's post.

U2 - With or Without You

See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you

Through the storm we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I'm waiting for you
With or without you

And you give yourself away
And you give yourself away
And you give and you give and you give yourself away . . .

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

It took awhile before I was really able to regain my footing and venture out to school and work again. As I had done many, many times before, I had distilled fear into anger. I was determined to live my life, and I was fed up with the snail's pace of my progression toward adulthood. Laurie had been denied the opportunity; I was going to claw and scratch my way into a life that I could enjoy.

Just before the winter holiday break in 1983, I visited my school counselor's office and asked for a review of my academic record. I wasn't a student that had ever really made a blip on the radar at that school. I was a good student, but not a star student. I didn't participate in activities, and I didn't spend one extra second than I had to on school grounds. The counselor had never met with me before, and when she pulled my records, she looked them over while I waited in a chair, quietly, listening to the muted ticking of her wall clock.

She smiled at me condescendingly, leaning over her hands folded on her desk. "It is an unusual request, asking to leave halfway through your senior year. May I ask why? Looking over your records, I see you have taken quite a few higher level math and science classes. Are you interested in any college in particular? Perhaps I could give you some help with applications." Yeah, right. Fuck you. I got you to stop kissing the athlete's asses long enough to pull my file, and all of a sudden you want to carve out my future.

I ignored the question. "Do I have enough credits to leave now? If I do, can I get an authorized transcript from you?" And, just like that, with a flourish of her pen, I was out. Graduated.

I left her office with my transcripts and drove straight to the local technical college. By the time I left there, I was officially enrolled. And I was 16.

My plan was coming together. I would start school now, attend through summers, and finish in three years, two if I could maintain the grades and take extra classes. I had decided that this was the best course of action after a few discussions about what the future held for he and I. I was starry-eyed; he was my hero. I wanted to be his wife, and I thought anything was possible.

He was less than enthusiastic. He constantly told me that I was too young to even think about marriage, and he wouldn't marry me until I had finished college. He said over and over that he had a long way to go to get where he intended to be by 30: financially comfortable with a business that was in the black. He told me over and over that he had his goals to meet, and that I had mine.

I was a romantic, I wanted to help him build our life together. He was beginning to lose patience with my tunnel vision and my insistence on pushing the marriage agenda. I had always been a fierce debater, and he was finding that he was no match for my quick parries during our verbal jousts. He began to assemble an arsenal of reasons and stumbling blocks to counter my relentless pursuit.

He pointed out that I had never lived out of my parent's house before, and I had no idea what keeping a house entailed or how much money it took just to meet bare expenses. I took it upon myself to replenish his groceries and clean his house each week.

He said that I was used to a life that he couldn't provide for me (yeah, I laughed, too). That I would expect him to buy a large house and have lavish vacations. He chastized me for wanting to go out to dinner or to the movies. I told him that I would rather not do those things if it meant that we could save some money toward our future.

He told me that I didn't know my mind at 16, that I might meet someone later that I would leave him for. I made a point to never acknowledge other men in his presence. Pretty soon, I didn't acknowledge them when I was alone, either. I was dedicated, and I walked through life with blinders on.

He was presenting a bar, I was leaping it, and he was setting the bar higher and higher. It was a power play, and I was determined to win. He presented everything that I wanted and needed, and I was willing to prove myself to gain the reward.

It was about this time that I found a new job at The Weather Channel. Yep. They are headquartered in Atlanta, just a mile or two from the dress shop, as a matter of fact. I had interviewed for a position in the marketing/pr department. I answered viewer mail, helped the department with promotions, manned the front desk at their corporate office, and whatever else they needed me to do. They were great about working around my college schedule. Oh, yeah, and they thought I was 19.

It was by far the coolest place I could hope to work. The television studio was on the premises, and I would see all of the meteorologists working in a war room of radars, ticker tape, and all manner of crazy contraptions. The camera crew guys were a riot, and I was learning so much.

About this time, he relocated back to my town - his business was mostly on my side of town anyway, and he had grown tired of the long commute from the lake. Plus, we were able to see more of each other again. Which gave him plenty of opportunities to test my resilience. And he did. I was stubborn, and I took great pleasure in crashing through the barriers that he placed between me and the marital finish line. He still had one trick up his sleeve, and he played it flawlessly. Check and mate.

I didn't realize it then, but I was beginning to spiral downward. Most of the time, my heart was pounding in my chest. I was having panic attacks. I was scared most of the time. I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings. When I wasn't working or studying, I wanted to run. When I wasn't trying to run, I wanted to hide. And when I wasn't running or hiding, I was eating. Binging would be a more correct term. Unlike LP, who could hide his crutch in small vials and behind dark glasses, my crutch was beginning to show.

It had always been a comfort for me, eating. I hid food in the closet I ran to when my father came home in a rage. When I was home alone after school, I ate to keep my fear of monsters and evil brothers at bay. I had spent so much time away from home, working, and I had pretty much lived on whatever snacks or candy was available at work or whatever fast food was nearby. I had always stayed one step ahead of it, and it was my little secret. After Laurie got killed, my binging stepped up a notch, and I was gaining weight, fast.

It was the one thing I couldn't seem to get a handle on, my weak spot. Despite efforts to eat healthier, when I started feeling anxious, the old habits took over.

He really wasn't aware of the depth of the problem. I had never divulged any of the abuses in my past to him. He approached life with a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" attitude, and he confidently began to administer his own flavor of self-discipline for me to follow, and he was openly disappointed when my relapses became more and more obvious. He didn't make any effort to disguise his disapproval of my growing waistline and multiple failures.

So, in a moment of exasperation with me, he placed before me the ultimate challenge. He told me that he would never marry a fat girl. I was devastated. Not only did it hurt to hear the words, it made me hate myself. I felt that I had failed him and failed us. The verbal punishments and disparaging comments that he was doling out as we laid nude together were for my own good, I reasoned, and I had brought them on myself. I stepped back from the challenge, defeated, and he sat in the position of being my lover, my accuser, my judge, and my punisher.

I approached my classes and my work with extra zeal and I backed off on the marriage hard court press. This caused just as many problems. Suddenly, he went from playing defense to running after me to recapture my attention. This didn't suit him at all. He was constantly questioning my whereabouts, my loyalty, my intentions, and I tried even harder to walk the straight and narrow.

I redoubled my efforts to prove to him that I was ready to be a good wife. I also was hard at work coming up with a Plan B. With or without him, I was getting out.

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