Thursday, July 22, 2004

PART 18 - Teach Your Children

This was the hardest post yet to pick a theme for. I thought and thought, and thought some more. I'm not sure this completely captures the vibe of the events, but maybe you will see the parallels:

Teach Your Children
Crosby, Stills Nash and Young

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The ones they pick, the ones you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The ones they pick, the ones you'll know by.
Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh

And know they love you.

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

Summer was the busiest time of the year with the landscaping business, and I spent quite a bit of my weekends at home with my mother patiently (and sometimes not so patiently) waiting for my beloved's calls. We waited there together, she and I. My dad was still traveling, only coming home one or two weekends a month, and he called most evenings to fill her in on his day and to hear that all was secure on the homefront. Despite her promises to take a message for me, I couldn't seem to tear myself away, so there I sat.

I felt obligated to wait at home for him to call me. His promises were gospel. Nightly phone conversations usually ended with "I think I'll finish early tomorrow afternoon - I'll call you." When afternoon turned to evening with still no word from him, I would transfer from slight annoyance to panic. What if he had had a wreck? What if he had run over his foot with a mower, and he was in the hospital right that moment with surgeons feverishly working to reattach his severed muscles? I had an overly active imagination, and my head would swirl with morbid possibility. By the time I DID receive the call, it would be long past afternoon, and long past rational thinking. I would be so relieved to hear from him, I would have forgotten all about having wasted my precious time off by the phone. Usually, the call came so late, there wasn't really any point in trying to make plans together, so we would hang up with promises of "tomorrow afternoon . . ."

On one hand, I truly believed that he MEANT to finish work at a decent hour, he just couldn't tear himself away. I had never seen anyone as driven as him, workwise. He was a perpetual motion machine, and he would work nonstop from early morning to late evening, pouring sweat, day after day after day. He had a revolving door of hired help that ALL proved to be "lazy assholes" or "sorry sonsofbitches". The truth was that no one could keep up with him, and no one could please him. Every job that a helper did, whether it was spreading pine straw or edging the yard, met with criticism. More times than not, he would either bark at them to re-do the job, or he would do it himself, and they would be let go. He was a perfectionist, and a terrible taskmaster.

On the OTHER hand, I saw the broken promises as a way to keep me home. Alone. It was bad enough that I was going to school full time and working Monday - Friday, but then I was sitting at home alone every evening and all Saturday and Sunday. I was lonely, and hurt that I was being left alone and pissed off that he stood me up, over and over. Everyone was back in town for summer break, and I would get calls here and there to go to a weeknight party, or a weekend concert, or go hang out at the pool. I turned the invitations down, choosing to wait for him instead. My mother always urged me to go, and she fretted when she saw my mopey, unhappy face. "You're only young once - go enjoy yourself, " she gently urged.

I knew the reaction I would get from him if I went out with my friends. Fear of his jealous outbursts kept me home for awhile, but that gradually began to lose its power over me. Soon I started accepting the invitations and enjoying time at the lake, at the movies, at parties and wherever else I wanted to go. It felt strange at first, being out not to work or go to school, just to be out for fun, and be on my own. I began to enjoy the summer.

Every evening, I would get home to find messages from him. Days would pass between our conversations. When I would call him back, he would be livid, and hurl accusations at me. He was pissed as hell, but he wouldn't give up any of the work or accept any help, so he was stuck with the endless hours. He was like a rotweiller on a chain - he was slobbering mad, barking and clawing, stretching the chain taut and I took a comfortable seat just beyond his reach, calmly inspecting my nails and yawning. The constant reminders of the ever-present threat of the outside world were losing their effect on me. We had reached a stalemate and I wasn't giving in, I was drifting away. His hold on me was losing its strength.

Along about this same time, toward summer's end, I was (very poorly) handling a situation at work. The Weather Channel building was one of a handful of buildings managed by an onsite property management group. It wasn't unusual for me to see their maintenance guys come in our office to check fluorescent bulbs, or reset thermostats, or do little repairs. They all were cordial, and most of them would pause at my desk on their way out, have me sign completed work orders, and chit chat about the weather (ha!). Which was fine and dandy.

One of the maintenance guys began to show up at my desk with ever-increasing frequency. Like the others, I had signed orders for him, and chitchatted about the station and other random stuff. I went from seeing this guy once every couple of weeks, to nearly every day. He generally showed up at our office toward the end of the afternoon, 4:45 or so, attended to something or sometimes nothing at all, and then would proceed to sit on the couch beside my desk and talk with me while he completed paperwork. My day ended at 5:00, so when I would gather my things and flip the switchboard over to night ring, he would leave, and that would be that.

At first, I just figured that he liked our front office. In early evening, it was always calm and quiet; no one was really ever there except me. Since he seemed to be completing paperwork, I assumed that the sofa was as good a place as any for him to take a breather, finish up his papers, blah blah.

This was yet another frog-boiling moment. I can't pinpoint with any accuracy when this became creepy, but it did. There was something . . . not right . . . about this guy. He was in his late 20s, and was completely average. Even after seeing him many times, I am not sure I could have easily picked him out of a crowd. He was soft spoken, but he was intense when he talked to you, like he wanted you to absorb everything he said; he was just really earnest.

It didn't take long before he started hanging around after I shut down the switchboard. He would walk out with me to the elevator, and I would leave. This graduated to him riding the elevator downstairs with me, and then to him walking me out to the parking lot. Even people in the office asked me about this guy. I always shrugged my shoulders and said that he just seems to keep showing up. A couple of them raised their eyebrows and made reference to the fact that he seemed a little . . . off.

Over the month or so that this transpired, it was getting very close to the anniversary of Laurie's abduction. I was still pretty spooked about all of that; it had never really left my mind. No one had ever been arrested for that brutality. She was picked up, raped and killed just around the corner. The Weather Channel was half a mile from the dress shop, and my mind started working a little overtime. It wasn't fair, but I began to wonder: white guy, single, loner, late 20s/early 30s, worked in the vicinity, off evenings and weekends, seems to have a thing for young girls, kind of strange, no girlfriend . . .

Of course, it was just speculation. I tried to put it out of my head. I didn't mention a thing about it to anyone, ESPECIALLY the boyfriend. I was determined to handle it - whatever IT was. I made sure to talk about my boyfriend alot, and I tried to remain casual when one of my stories was followed by his intense stare and his comment, "You talk about a boyfriend, but he never seems to be around. Pretty girl like you shouldn't be alone so much, you never know what could happen . . ." OK, that freaked me out. The alarms were beginning to sound in my head.

I mentioned the situation to my mom - safe bets so I thought. Au contraire. She had been just as scared as I was for the past year, and she was convinced that this guy was THE guy, or someone equally dangerous. My mom told my dad, who placed a call to the boyfriend. Within 24 hours, I had not one but TWO rotweillers on chains. Not good. BOTH of them were determined to go up to the station, find this guy and kick his ass. When I refused to tell them who it was, they both seethed and badgered me for details. Using techniques that would have made the Moonies proud, they teamed up to convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that this guy was evil incarnate, and that I would surely end up like my friend if I didn't allow them to sweep in and save the day.

I vowed to tell my boss in exchange for the promise that no one would show up at my office with brass knuckles. My comment to my boss ended up in the offices of the VP of Human Resources. They guy got reprimanded, but not fired. I still ran into him and his unblinking stare quite often and it nearly stopped my heart every time. The rotweillers' blood lust was still not satisfied, and they continued to press me for hints and indications of who this guy was.

The panic attacks began to resurface with a vengeance. With deep regrets, I quit my cool job at The Weather Channel as soon as school wrapped for the summer quarter. I went out less and less, choosing to stay home with my mom, other than seeing him when he had the time. Once again, he had a firm stranglehold on me; I drifted right back to him very quickly.

Wanting a fresh start, I took my professor's advice and transferred to Kennesaw State University in the fall of 1984 to major in English. For anyone that asked me, my stock answer for the change was, "I'm going to be an English teacher." The truth was, I NEVER intended to be a teacher, but I wasn't confident enough to announce that I wanted to be a writer.

The change was like a breath of fresh air. This school was quite a bit more social that the tech college had been. Music and theater majors were colorful accents to the diverse campus population. Art classes displayed their creations in all of the class building entrances. There were on-campus concerts, movie nights, open-forum lectures, and free-spirited students and teachers. I had landed in a comfortable place, and I began to settle in. For the first time, I attended school without working. It was like being on vacation - even my heavy classload was a breeze to keep up with, compared to my usual regimen. I flourished at that school, making the Dean's List that fall and winter quarter. I was making a new circle of friends, too, much to the dismay of you-know-who.

Our relationship had changed drastically. He had precious little time for us, and he knew good and well that I had a life separate from him; new friends, new school. He really couldn't do much about it except pretend it didn't exist, and that is exactly what he did. When we were together on weekends, we never discussed my classes, or anyone that I had met through school, or any pending tests, or anything funny that happened to me. Any mention of that reality was met with indifference on his part, and a quick subject change back to his business, his family, etc. I needed him to feel secure, and I was willing to endure his absences and step in and out of his schedule in exchange for that peace.

Winter break came and along with it came our third Christmas together. He asked me what I wanted Santa to bring me. He didn't have to ask. He knew what I wanted. I had subtly (and not-so-subtly) hinted about an engagement ring for the past 2 years. I would flip through the Service Merchandise catalog and look longingly at the rings and dream about being proposed to with a one of the beautiful rings expertly hidden in a champagne glass or a flower.

I had waited so long for one that I had pretty much just given up on the idea altogether when my dad called one evening and asked me to do him a favor. He had purchased a diamond solitaire for my mother - he knew a jeweler that gave him a good deal, and they were celebrating (I use that term loosely) 30 years of marriage. She had never had an engagement ring. Since he was still working out of town, he wired me the money for me to go retrieve the ring and hold it for him until he came home for the holiday.

We drove waaaaaaay across town and picked up the ring from the jeweler. I was stunned when the jeweler opened the velvet box. It was breathtaking, better than 2 carats. I was still staring, slack jawed, when the jeweler commented to him, "You know, I could make up something special for your lovely miss here . . ." The comment was initially met with silence, then I was asked to wait in the car with the ring. I was ecstatic! I was sure that I would be receiving a ring on Christmas morning. Maybe he would get on one knee, or maybe we would sit together by the twinkling lights of the tree when he asked me to marry him. I spent the next week in the clouds, daydreaming and Christmas shopping.

His holidays weren't shaping up quite so nicely. He and a partner had a Christmas tree and firewood lot, and he spent many cold nights tending the lot, chopping wood, and lifting trees onto the tops of cheerful families on their way home to hot chocolate and warm beds. I generally took dinner to him and sat with him close to the bonfire while he quickly ate and got back to selling trees. One evening, between wolfing down gulps of dinner, he stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. Peeling off a few, he grumbled, "Here, take this money. You need to go back to the jeweler tomorrow and pay him. I'm too busy here to get back over there. There's a ring waiting for you."

I wasn't sure what he meant at first. Didn't he intend to surprise me? I rationalized that he intended to surprise me, but couldn't tear away to go get the ring. When I got to the jeweler's the next day, I asked him to box the ring, sight unseen, and I was giddy with excitement the entire hour's drive back. I went straight to the tree lot and handed him the little velvet box, wordless with anticipation. He was testy, tired and preoccupied and after a few silent seconds, he shoved the ring box back at me and barked, "Well? Put it on - what are you waiting for? You've been begging for the damn thing for 2 years!" Stung, I slowly opened the box to reveal a dazzling cluster diamond ring on a wide band. It was stunning, exactly what I had wanted. As I slipped it on my hand, I concentrated hard on the ring, choosing to overlook his initial comments. As I held up my hand, admiring the ring, he glanced at it while he was walking past me toward a customer. "Pretty. It SHOULD be . . . it cost enough." I was torn. The ring was gorgeous. I felt guilty about the cost, and I was ashamed that I was so disappointed that he hadn't even attempted to create a nice memory to go along with it.

After Christmas, my mother and I were dismantling the tree and storing all of the decorations. My dad was back out on the road, and he was back to the firewood lot and his customers. There we were, keeping each other company, both of us carefully wearing our glimmering new rings. Like me, my mother fretted over the extravagance of the gift. Like her, I willingly glossed over large chunks of absence and miserable reality, distracting myself with the sight of glittering perfection.

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