Tuesday, August 31, 2004

PART 41 - Love Hurts

Hard to know how many readers remember Nazareth, but I am hereby resurrecting their tune in honor of today's post:

Love Hurts
Nazareth

Love hurts
Love scars
Love wounds and mars
Any heart not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud, it holds a lot of rain
Love hurts

I'm young, I know
But even so
I know a thing or two - I learned from you
I really learned a lot
Love is like a flame
It burns you when it's hot
Love hurts

Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness
Some fools fool themselves, I guess
They're not foolin' me
I know it isn't true
Love is just a lie made to make you blue . . .

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The next morning, I swatted at the alarm clock and dozed back to sleep, when suddenly the previous evening entered my head. Like a bolt of electricity, my eyes popped open, I threw back the covers, and hopped gingerly out of bed. I say gingerly because I was aware of a constant ache just below my abdomen, like I had been punched. From the inside.

With some trepidation, I stepped into the bathroom to survey the marks. Even without my contacts in, I could see the garish black splotches in the mirror. Upon closer inspection I discovered, if it was even possible, that they were worse than the night before.

I panicked. There was NO WAY I could miss work that day. I was finalizing a huge proposal and had 2 meetings scheduled with different company executives. I popped some Tylenol and washed them down with a handful of water out of the bathroom sink as I considered my options. Did I have a garment, ANY garment, with a neck high enough to disguise most of the carnage? I poured through my wardrobe in my mind as I quickly showered. I remembered one top that might work.

Dressing a bit later, I slipped on the top and was pleased to see that it hid MOST of the bruising, but there were still 2-3 inches of dark splotches just under my jawline that were easily spotted, especially if I did something like, say, turn my head.

No way. There was no way that I was going into meetings looking like this. It was Friday, and I knew that by Monday, I would be in the clear. Besides, I NEVER called in sick. I began to rationalize the absence. Fuck them - if they couldn't get along without me for a day, I wasn't making enough money. That thought made me smile, and I began to relax once the exit strategy was in place.

Now just a quick call to the boss . . . this early, I was bound to get his voicemail, I thought.

No such luck - he answered on the third ring.

"Hi, David. This is Rita. Listen, I'm not feeling well, and I can't come into the office today."

Silence.

"Don't we have meetings today?" he asked.

"We sure do, David, and I'm not going to be able to be there," I said, curtly, and said nothing more. I was determined not to grovel or apologize or feel guilty.

"Hmmm . . . well, do you think you will feel better later today? Maybe you could come in at lunchtime?" he asked, half whining.

Time to pull out the big guns. "Well, here's the thing, David . . . I am having some feminine complications . . . and, well, uh . . ." I began to trail off.

In a bit of a panicky voice, David quickly responded, "OH! Oh . . . ok . . . sure . . . I understand. No problem." He kept on talking just to make sure I didn't continue down that path of conversation. "Well, you just . . . . feel better and . . ." At that point, he wasn't sure what to say, either. After I offered to put in some time over the weekend, he let me off the phone.

I gratefully crawled back into the bed, waiting for sleep to overtake me. I reassured myself for awhile that not going to work was the best course of action. After all, I WAS having some feminine complications - I was sure that I was just as bruised on the inside as I was on the outside.

What the hell had gotten into Rick, anyway?

I had some time to analyze it, laying there. Maybe he was angry that I had led him to break his vow of fidelity to his ex. Hell, maybe that was WHY she was his ex. I didn't really have any clear indication of what his motive was, but part of me thought that he might be one of those men that saw 2 kinds of women: those you respect, and those you fuck. Maybe I had slipped from Column A into Column B when I had divulged my crush, and he was doling out his own punishment for my lack of restraint. Who knows? Maybe that was the same kind of aggression that had driven him to enlist in the service when he knew he would be sent to Vietnam, and be a cop, despite the danger.

Thinking more along those lines, I made the connection that maybe that kind of aggression had driven my ex in the same way.

And in a final illuminated thought, I began to wonder if that kind of aggression wasn't exactly what had drawn me to Rick in the first place.

THAT was a scary thought.

Scary, but plausible. Both of them were very masculine, very decisive, and both of them were very driven. Both of them saw the world in black and white. Both of them could overprotect you and hurt you at the same time. And most importantly . . .

Both of them were like my dad.

Holy shit.

It was an "Aha!" moment for me. What was probably crystal clear to the rest of the world had escaped my vision until this very moment. But why, why would I be attracted to men like my dad? My dad was a bastard. He was mean. He was cold, he never had a loving word for me. He had beaten his own children, sparing me from the pain but not the sight and the sound. He had instilled debilitating fear in me, for him and the outside world. He had left me . . .

He had left me.

Suddenly, A flash of memory popped into my head. I was in the Winn Dixie with my mother, it had to have been early 70s. My mother ALWAYS shopped at the Winn Dixie, and more times than not, I was with her.

The vision was so clear - I was wearing a red dress with three pockets across the front. It was my favorite. There was a man with a little girl walking past us as we waited in line to check out. He was holding his little daughter's hand. I walked right up to that little girl and shoved her away, insisting "That's not YOUR daddy. That's MY daddy. YOUR daddy is gone away on an airplane!"

I could see the little girl, scared and crying, shouting back at me, "No he isn't! He's MY daddy!" and bursting into tears. I watched her dad pick her up, putting her on his shoulder, tenderly shushing her and patting her back, petting her hair.

I remember feeling confused, and scared, staring at the floor, studying the speckled linoleum tiles, counting the patterns and trying to ignore my mother apologizing profusely to the man while she explained that my father was away on business. I remember watching our food travel down the belt and into the bags.

God, I can still see the aqua green polyester uniform top that the bored, overweight checkout lady was wearing. I remember watching her fat, stubbly fingers grabbing cans of Astor vegetables and pushing in the register buttons in a rhythm . . . snick snick, jingledy snick. 29 cents took three movements . . . the round 20 button, then 9, then the big rectangle grocery button. Snick, snick, jingledy snick. Over and over. He had been gone for more than 3 months by then. An eternity for a 4 year old.

He had left me.

I laid in my bed, letting hard painful sobs shake my body. The tears were more painful that the bruises. I sobbed for the little me at the Winn Dixie, for the countless times I had needed my dad, for the pain of still loving him and hating him at the same time, for feeling weak enough to still need him, or someone like him, for what my life was amounting to, for all of it.

That day passed with me drifting in and out of sleep, waking long enough to grow teary again, and then fading back into quiet, serene rest.

When Saturday shone bright in the window, I dragged myself from the bed and started a hot bath. Slipping into the depths of that hot soapy water was curative; hot baths had always helped. Always.

Feeling drained, but surprisingly serene, I dressed for the day, donning dark sunglasses and wearing the top I had picked the day before for maximum coverage. I had a few errands to do that morning, and since I had some actual work to do, I decided that day to finally go buy myself a computer. I knew just the one I wanted, too - a Mac Quadra.

Later that afternoon, I was unpacking the brand new machine. I had set up a little desk area in my large bedroom, and the giddiness of the purchase seemed to sweep away the hurt that had overtaken me earlier. I quickly made all of the connections and soon started up my precious Mac for the first time. Wondrous.

I, of course, had been a Mac user for several years by that time, so I knew what to expect out of the machine. What was particularly cool about this one was that it had QuickTime loaded, and a demo CD that came with the machine displayed the glory that was the latest in digital video technology. It also came preloaded with an application that I had heard a bit about, but had never really used before: America Online.

After a few failed attempts, I was able to actually connect to this amazing . . . . world, for lack of a better term. I had never seen anything remotely like it. It was all breathtaking and compelling, and there was so much to see and do! I clicked on everything - the shopping, the entertainment sections, and into an area called chat.

I jumped in my chair when I heard a series of chimes through my speakers and saw a little box pop up on my screen. What was this? A message in the box said

"Hi! Care to chat?"

What was I supposed to do? I studied the box for a moment and decided to click near the bottom of the box. Could I answer? I began to type "Hi there" and then I clicked the Send button, and lo and behold, my response appeared right below the original one.

Damn, this was cool! Immediately a response came back, along with that pleasing chime. As I exchanged tentative messages with this person, another box popped up, and then another.

I had worked with computers for years by that time. I had even used a BBS in college and an online file exchange system at work for sending files to commercial printers, but I had never, ever seen anything like AOL.

In the span of that weekend, even though I didn't leave the house and barely ate or slept, I had alleviated my lonliness and despair and had a ball chatting with people from every corner of the USA. I learned my way around AOL, and I had created a fledgling friends list.

I didn't get a damn bit of work done, but I had just been introduced to a whole new world. AOL took my mind off all of my troubles, and gave me a whole new place to play.

Monday morning at work, the calls started pouring in from friends and family. "Where WERE you? I called you ALL WEEKEND and your phone was busy?!?!" I must have heard that at least 10 times.

I just smiled and said, "I needed some 'me' time," and left it at that, all the while waiting for 5:00 to arrive to get back to my new, secret little universe.

Monday, August 30, 2004

PART 40 - I Wanna Make It With You

PART 40?!?!?!

I never thought this little tale would stretch out this long! 25, tops, but 40?!?! When I was back at PART 1, 40 sounded so faraway. I never thought I would see 40 so soon, but here it is, and now that I am at 40, 60 seems like an eternity away.

And so, without further ado, I will introduce today's post with the quintessential 70's double entendre:

I'd Like To Make It With You
Bread

Hey have you ever tried
Really reaching out for the other side?
I may be climbing on rainbows
But baby, here goes...

Dreams are for those who sleep
Life is for us to keep
And if you're wondering what this song is leading to
I'd like to make it with you
I really think that we could make it, girl

Though you don't know me well
With every little thing only time will tell
If you believe the things that I do
Then we'll see it through
Life can be short or long
Love can be right or wrong
And if I chose the one I'd like to help me through
I'd like to make it with . . .


Now, on with the show

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Once I had Rick's full attention, I realized that this was my moment to tell him what I had been thinking for months. I had a strange, eerie sense of calm; no panic attack, no embarassment, no freezing. I found myself clearing my throat and preparing to calmly tell him all that I had been thinking, all that I had been wondering, and most importantly, how important he had become to me.

He sat calmly across from me, relaxed in his recliner, elbows on his armrests, fingers laced together and resting just below his chest. He seemed completely open to me, in no hurry whatsoever, and there wasn't a sound in the house except his grandfather clock on his mantle, which was actually soothing, somehow.

OK, here was my chance. Without knowing exactly how it would come out, I just started.

"Rick, I . . ."

But the words failed me.

I stopped myself, and with a little nod of positive encouragement for myself, I steeled myself and took a deep breath to begin again.

"Are you ok? Are you going to tell me something bad?" Rick asked, looking a bit worried, but more curious than anything.

I smiled, and assured him, "No, nothing bad. Nothing bad at all. Just bad at telling, that's all."

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Well, only one way to tell it - spit it out," he declared. "If you're telling the truth, you don't have to worry about HOW it comes out." I smiled inwardly. Spoken like a true cop. I wondered momentarily how many people he had ever interrogated. Was he the good cop, or the bad cop? I wondered all of this as he sat there, expectantly looking at me. With a little shake of my head, I cleared all of the distractions and got back to the matter at hand.

Of course he was right. I was struggling with what to say because I was busy sanitizing and spinning it, struggling to present it in a pleasing, palatable way. It dawned on me that I did that alot, too. It was also dawning on me that I was beginning to look like a freak, sitting there silently, having these thoughts, having already requested his attention for a conversation.

Enough. ENOUGH. Out with it. And so, I just started talking, raw words, fresh thoughts, unsanitized, unscripted.

"Thank you. I have never felt the way you make me feel. You have been kind to me, you have opened your home to me. Thank you for being my dance partner. I can't tell you how happy being with you has made me. I have enjoyed everything about you." I finally managed to get out.

"Are you leaving?" he asked, not quite sure where the conversation was heading. When I smiled and nodded no, he smiled and continued, "OK, that sounded like a goodbye, so I wasn't sure."

"Yeah, neither am I." I continued. "But it has been eating at me for a few months, now. I wanted you to know how much I care about you, and I hope that me telling you that doesn't make you feel any differently about our friendship. The last thing I would ever want is for you to be uncomfortable around me. Your friendship has meant the world to me, and I just wanted you to know . . ." I floundered. To fill the agonizing silence, I kept talking, rambling, really. "Please don't think that I expect you to feel the same. I don't. I just wanted you to know that I felt this way." I was doing a miserable job, and I was beating around the bush.

"So, are you saying that you are in LOVE with me?" Rick asked me, straight shot. So much for embarassment. I hung my head, my cheeks burning hot, wanting to drop through the floor into the center of the earth. Why had I started this? This was absolute misery. Rising up from my seat, I swallowed hard and said, "Yeah, I guess I am. I'm sorry." I was determined to get out of there as fast as possible. What had I done?

He sat there, looking dumbstruck. It was obvious that I had completely blindsided him. "All these months, you felt like this, and you never let on, you never said a word." I ruefully nodded that yes, that was exactly what I had done. He continued, "Well, first of all, I couldn't be MORE flattered . . ." Oh, shit. Kiss of death. My cue to leave.

"Well, I am glad that you feel that way. Hope you had a nice birthday," I said, as sort of a parting statement as I made my way toward his door. He stood, finally, and walked with me through the den towards the door.

"Now wait a second. You just dumped all of this, and now you want to bolt out the door. Why are you leaving? Have I upset you?" he asked, and rightly so. What had he ever done to me to deserve this drama and bullshit, except be his kind and handsome self? "You know that I am still hoping to reconcile with my wife, I've been pretty vocal about that. So I haven't allowed myself to think about being with anyone else. The truth is, I couldn't have more respect for you. I enjoy your company, too. I mean, who knows? Maybe things are supposed to happen this way, it might be wonderful."

No, no, no, no. I didn't want this. He was talking himself into the possibility. He embraced me in a warm hug, and murmured "Thank you for my present," into my ear, kissing my cheek. I felt a lump in my throat as I whispered, "You're welcome," and kissed his jaw softly, hugging him close to me. Feeling my lips on his skin, he instinctively turned his face toward me and our lips met in a soft, warm, slow, lingering kiss. I was still battling my shellshock and nerves; I was there, but I wasn't. I was numb from the acute embarassment I had felt earlier, and as our lips parted, I was a bit relieved. Now I could go.

"Stay with me." Rick said, looking intently into my eyes.

Oh shit. Again.

He was doing nothing to hide his intentions, and in that second I realized that he was not a man to be toyed with. He had made his position clear to me from Day 1, and I had chosen to pursue him anyway, and had practically thrown myself at him. He hadn't come to MY house; I had asked to come to his. I had upped the ante, and he had called. What would he think of me if I divulged this deep longing for him, and then shut him down? Would he think that it was all a lie, some kind of cruel trick on my part? Time to show my hand. I nodded yes, I would stay with him, and wordlessly, he turned from me, holding my hand and leading me back toward his bedroom.

Once there, he turned on a very small bedside lamp, undressed down to his boxers, and slid into bed. "Do you need to freshen up? The bathroom is right there," he indicated, pointing to a door right beside the bed. Freshen up? What did he mean? Not knowing what to say, and welcoming the chance for a timeout, I went into the bathroom and shut the door behind me. I turned on the water faucet and looked at myself in the mirror. His bathroom was fully tiled in aqua blue, and the flourescent bulb mixed with the tile's reflection gave me a sickly greenish pallor. Or maybe the situation was giving me a sickly greenish pallor. I squeezed a dab of his toothpaste onto my finger, and quickly swabbed my teeth and tongue, rinsing with a handful of water. No going back now, I told myself. I had made this bed, now I had to lie in it.

When I exited the bathroom, I saw him laying on his stomach there on the bed. I slipped off my jeans, but otherwise stayed dressed and sat beside him on the bed. I ran one hand lightly over his back, and he let out a little moan of approval. Feeling a bit pleased about that, I began to methodically massage his back. "Oh, it has been FOREVER since I have had my back rubbed," he confessed, as he groaned with pleasure. I had become pretty adept at backrubs when I was married - between his work at the fire department and Fed Ex, he stayed pretty sore, and he requested backrubs several times a week.

I was recalling all of that in my mind, absentmindedly continuing the massage, when suddenly, Rick rose up from the bed and turned over on his side facing me. "Come lay beside me," he said, and I laid down with him, cuddling my back up against his chest, spooning, feeling his kisses on the back of my neck. Feeling him all around me was heavenly, and I would have been content with this, just this. But I had struck a bargain for more, and I was being gently reminded of that fact with every urgent rub of his growing desire against the back of my thigh. "Take those clothes off," he said hoarsely, after he had grown weary of battling the buttons and hooks of my blouse and undergarments. Sitting up in the bed there beside him, I slipped off my blouse and bra, shyly looking his way as he propped himself up on one elbow, expectantly. He seemed not to be terribly impressed with the importance of the "moment of unveiling"; he quickly pulled me toward him and rolled on top of me, kissing me hard, crushing my lips with his.

With little ceremony or foreplay, he entered me, pretty roughly. This felt familiar, I thought, as I lay beneath him, enduring his too-deep, too-fast and too-rough penetration. I felt him kissing my neck, sucking and licking my skin and giving me little lovebites, but my mind was more focused on positioning my hips to minimize the pain of his incessant pounding. He held me tightly, his hips continuing to thrust away as he continued to bury his face in the hollow of my throat. "Is THIS what you wanted, hmm?" he asked me, again and again. It sounded angry to me. This was not remotely what I expected. There was no real way for me to participate; I was pinned to the bed. Without a sound or an indication that he had indeed finished, he rolled off of me and fell in a gasping heap there beside me. I lay there quietly beside him, listening to his breathing return to normal. Actually, it went from gasping to snoring. He was asleep. Dead to the world.

As quietly as I could, I extricated myself from him and dressed in the light of the tiny lamp. I looked down at him as he slept, his handsome face relaxed and enhanced by the shadows of the nightlight. I felt a mix of emotions for him, and after giving him a little kiss on the cheek, I left his house and drove home. It was one of those drives that you complete without even realizing that you WERE driving - when I got home, I had absolutely no idea how I had gotten there. My mind was completely full of recollections of the evening; snapshots of him, snippets of conversation that played over and over again in my head.

Dropping my keys and purse on the table, I wearily headed upstairs to bed. I began undressing as soon as I hit my bedroom door, and headed straight for the bathroom. Flipping on the light, I reached for my makeup remover and toothbrush, when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and let out a scream.

There, in the mirror, was a ring of black and blue hickies across my throat and down my breasts. Big, angry ones. They were shockingly dark in comparison to my pale skin - I had always had a very fair complexion, and it looked for all the world like I had been attacked by a pack of vampires. I stood there, not able to break the gaze. I leaned in close to the mirror, inspecting each one, cautiously touching them, not quite believing they were there.

How in the hell would I cover these? They were nearly up to my ears on both sides. How had I not felt this? I immediately deducted that this was my comeuppance for pushing things with Rick. I shouldn't have, I knew better, and I did it anyway. I led him to believe that we were only friends, and in a moment of weakness for him, when he was alone on his birthday, enjoying a beer or two, I invited myself over and laid myself at his feet.

I crawled into bed that night, ruefully aware that I was indeed laying in the bed I had made for myself.

Friday, August 27, 2004

PART 39 - Crash into Me

This is the most recent piece of music I have referenced in this blog, but after reading about The Dave Matthews Band's legal woes over a certain expelling of liquids on a Chicago ferry boat, I had to include one of their pieces. It is perfect timing, really, considering I am at a similar point in my story. Read on.

Crash Into Me
Dave Matthews

You've got your ball,you've got your chain
Tied to me tight, tie me up again
Who's got their claws in you my friend?
Into your heart I'll beat again
Sweet like candy to my soul
Sweet you rock, and sweet you roll
Lost for you, I'm so lost for you
Oh, and you come
Crash
Into me
And I come into you . . .

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Don's dramatic exit didn't mark the last chapter with him. He continued to call, and come by, and leave me notes and letters on my car at work. My regret and sorrow from our breakup soon melted away into aggravation - I didn't like him showing up unannounced. I tried to be as kind as I could to him, but my patience was wearing thin. It felt like I was wading through alot of bullshit, and I was growing tired of that.

Speaking of wading through shit, I was doing JUST that. One early morning just after the New Year, I was groggily driving the few miles to work, trying to stay awake, when I saw a very large dumptruck in front of me hit its brakes. I did the same, and as the seconds ticked by while we waited for the redlight to change, I absentmindedly sipped some coffee, and searched for a station that didn't jangle my nerves. I glanced up just in time to see the truck lurch forward - the light had finally changed. The truck must have been overloaded, it seemed to strain to move forward, and there was water draining out of the back. Just as I began to wonder what the truck was hauling, the back tailgate gave way and a tidal wave of brown liquid shit water doused my entire car. My hand to God.

I was stunned, not realizing what had just happened. Disgustingly enough, I turned on the windshield wipers to sling away the slimy layer of waste so that I could see to drive. The truck continued on its way, it never stopped, but I saw a placard that indicated that it was a County Water Department truck. The smell was . . . horrible. Just horrible.

An hour later, after the car had been towed, I was at work, lighting a fire under the county water department manager about what had just happened. He was flippant at first, and then when I told him I worked for an environmental engineering company with close ties to the EPA and would be glad to make a call about how the county was hauling human waste in open flatbed dumptrucks, he became very very friendly and accomodating.

The car was sent to a detail shop for a full workover. They steam cleaned the engine, handwashed and waxed the exterior, scrubbed and dressed the tires and rims, steam cleaned the seats and carpeting, and replaced the A/C lines. They gave me $2 grand to boot. The insurance company made them do a few more things. The car never looked better, but I couldn't get over the idea of what had happened to it.

I had loved that car. I had hand picked it and taken good care of it. I had paid it off, it had transported me away from my hellacious marriage, and it had been the carriage of choice for many of my outings with my friends over the past couple of years. It had been a great car, and now, I couldn't wait to dump it (no pun intended). It was a beautiful, loaded Taurus SHO, with every option imagiable, including heated leather seats, moonroof, keyless entry, digital dash, you name it . . . but the love affair was over.



My Taurus - except mine had a cool spoiler package and moonroof

All of my friends called it the "Shitmobile". The idea of driving it anymore pretty much repulsed me. That shit-soaked car came to represent everything that had once been good but then had gone wrong, and it was time to move on.

So, I did what any self-respecting southern, white, newly-single girl would do.

Yep. I bought a Camaro.



My Camaro

I had never had a sports car, and I figured I was due. I had always secretly wanted a Camaro, and I found one that was about a year old, and it was in perfect condition. The previous owner had babied it, and gotten into a little financial bind, so I was the lucky recipient.

If you have never driven a high performance, redneck sports car, I can't recommend it highly enough. Something incredibly sexy and fulfilling about hearing that big-ass engine rev when you hit the gas, and surveying the road over the long, sloped nose makes you feel like a road God. Well, it did me.

I tricked it out a little further by getting a cellphone installed (that was cool back then) and a set of teal neons that ran the length of the undercarriage, making the car appear to be some kind of Nascar hovercraft when I cruised in the evening (that was also cool, in a Panama City sort of way.)

In that car, I felt like I owned the world, and that anything was possible. I loved driving it, loved washing it, loved parking it way back in the work parking lot so that no one would scratch it, I just loved everything about it. Looking at it carried no baggage, no memories, nothing but promises of fun and escape.

Nothing surpassed the feeling that I got driving that car to the new dance club that had just opened the month before: The Crystal Chandelier. This club was TWICE the size of Nashville Sound, and had a valet staff, 8 bars, a house band, concerts every weekend, and a weekly Ladies Night with a $2,000 balloon drop. It became our new hangout, and more times than not, the valets would rush to get my keys to take it for a spin around the lot.

That club had a MUCH larger pool of partners to choose from, and Rick and I seemed to have escalated to a duel, of sorts. We still met there as friends with the rest of the group, and we would generally dance once or twice together, but then he would choose other partners while I sat at the table chatting with our friends. It was silly, but it hurt every time he did it. Of course, it was innocent, just dancing, and he likely had no idea that I was upset by it, but I was so overwhelmed with my feelings for him, everything he did had a major impact on me. I was frustrated with how juvenile and silly my feelings were, and I redoubled my efforts to hide any trace of them. Meanwhile, I filled my dancecard with other partners, and even though it was fun, I still found myself watching him. Sometimes, I caught him watching me, too.

Occasionally he would approach me and a partner and ask to cut in, without any explanation, and we would dance together, with nothing more than a smile passed between us. I began to panic and stammer every time I saw him - it felt just like I had felt over Jack so many, many years ago - silent, unable to speak, and dying inside. Damn it! Why couldn't I just TALK to him about this? Why all this posturing? What did it all mean? Did he feel ANYTHING for me? My inability to express my feelings was becoming intolerable. I dreamed about confessing to him, and each dream had some kind of humiliating result. It was driving me crazy, and finally, in a moment of clarity (or maybe it was fatigue), I had an epiphany.

It was there, laying in my bed alone one night. I had been thinking about Rick, and Don, and my ex, and even further back . . . how often I had not been able to voice what I was feeling, how many times I had silenced myself, and how often it had been disastrous for me. What was I scared of? Then it dawned on me: I wasn't scared of anything anymore. What I felt, I felt, and no one could command my feelings but me. I couldn't control anyone else, either. Maybe Rick had feelings for me, maybe he didn't, but suddenly, it didn't seem to matter all that much anymore. I cared about him, and I was entitled to feel it. If I wanted to, I could say it, and he wouldn't be obligated to do anything, but I would be able to say what I was feeling out loud. It was so simple, but it was so alien to me. Saying what I feel, out loud, not worrying about the reactions of others, not holding secrets. I immediately felt better.

Rick's birthday fell on a weeknight, and most of our group was busy with other things, so we all decided to celebrate it the following Saturday. The week before his birthday, I had thought and thought about what to get him; it was a chance to convey to him what I felt and what he meant to me. Like a bolt of lightning, it hit me. Rummaging through my jewelry box, I found the packet of diamonds that I had had removed from my wedding set - I had used three of them in a new set, and had just held on to the remaining ones. Rick's ear was pierced, and he wore a small while gold stud. I decided to have one of my small diamonds set for him, and I picked it up from the jeweler the day of his birthday.

Calling him from the car, I caught him alone at home and asked him if I could come by and bring a little gift. He sounded a little down at first, but he seemed to cheer up when he told me to come on over.

When I arrived at his house, it was mostly dark. He was sitting in his den, alone, watching a movie. He hugged me hello with one arm, and held a beer with his other hand. It had definitely not been his first that evening, but he wasn't staggering, he was just comfortably buzzed.

"Happy Birthday, Rick," I said as I sat across from him on the couch.

"Well, thank you darlin'. Glad you are here to spend it with me," he said as he raised his beer into the air in a mock toast. Wordlessly, I handed him the small box and the card I had written for him. Placing the little box on his leg, he balanced it there precariously while he set his beer on the side table and carefully opened the card. He read it aloud. "To Rick: a diamond among the rubble. Happy Birthday - Rita." With a curious look on his face, he began to open the little package. When he opened the lid on the little jewelry box, he looked pleased and surprised at the same time. "Thank you! I have wanted to get one of these for awhile now." As he put it in his ear, he glanced at his reflection in a mirror on the opposite wall "It glimmers like a real one!" he said with delight.

I smiled warmly and said, "That's because it IS a real one," and I enjoyed the shocked look on his face. I also secretly enjoyed the fantasy of the temper tantrum my ex would throw if he ever knew that one of the diamonds that he had bought for me was now proudly perched in this cowboy's ear.

"I don't know what to say," he said, a look of shock and surprise still on his face.

"Don't say anything, just enjoy it. I'm pleased you like it," I began. "But there are a couple of things that I would like to tell you. I'm glad we have a quiet minute together."

He looked at me thoughtfully, clicked off the muted television, and said, "Shoot, sweetie . . . I'm all ears."

Thursday, August 26, 2004

PART 38 - Love, Look What You've Done To Me

I'm not ashamed, I can say it with my head held high: I loved the movie Urban Cowboy. It affected me. Debra Winger was a rough but sweet girl, John Travolta was hot as hell . . . it was just a damn good movie and I happened to see it when I was quite impressionable, I guess. Anyway, I still love Boz Scaggs, and whenever I hear this song, I stop what I am doing, and enjoy the memories.

Look What You've Done To Me

Boz Scaggs: Urban Cowboy Soundtrack

Hope they never end this song
This could take us all night long
I looked at the moon and I felt blue
Then I looked again and I saw you
Eyes like fire in the night
Bridges buring with their light
Now I'll have to spend the whole night through
And honey, yes, I'll have to spend it all on you

Love, look what you've done to me
Never thought I'd fall again so easily
Oh, love, you wouldn't lie to me
Leading me to feel this way........

They might fade and turn to stone
Let's get crazy all alone
Hold me closer than you'd ever dare
Close your eyes and I'll be there

After all is said and done
After all you are the one
Take me up your stairs and through the door
Take me where we don't care anymore . . .

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

It was hard to believe that my year's lease on my apartment was close to its end. Had it REALLY been a year since I divorced? Indeed, it had been. It had been a productive year; I had managed to put a little money aside and I was set on finding myself a little house. It seemed like the next step to re-establishing myself. The apartment was nice, but it felt very temporary for me, and I wanted something that felt like home.

I started spending my weekends combing the Homefinder section of the Sunday paper and driving through neighborhoods that looked affordable. I saw a small ad in the Homefinder for an agent that specialized in HUD and VA foreclosure properties, and I gave him a call. He said he had a few properties in my area, and if I would get prequalified, he would be glad to show them to me. One thing I did walk away from my marriage with was excellent credit, so after a quick check and approval, I was out looking at properties.

Several of them were just dumps, or "handyman specials." I wasn't handy enough to take any of them on, and was just about to give up on the whole idea when I found a pretty townhouse foreclosure about 5 miles away from my work. The townhouse was only 2 years old, and the previous owners had left it in pristine condition. A few weeks later, I was moving into my pretty little place.

The townhouse was a steal, if I do say so myself. Nestled in a swanky suburban neighborhood, it was a jewel. I had paid $47,900 for it, and at the closing table, the appraisal had come back at $71,000. Close to work, pretty, cheap, AND nearly new. I was giddy.

It was arranged with 2 master bedrooms upstairs. Both had full baths and large walk-in closets. It was a perfect roommate situation, and I had asked Angie to move in with me. She had been so supportive of me, and I knew that she needed to get out of that damn small town that she was trapped in. A change of scenery would do her a world of good, I reasoned. After an initial protest, she did relent and move in. She was scared to death; she had never lived out on her own, and she wasn't used to being around women that had the means to support themselves. Despite her fear, she was just as proud of the new house as I was. We had a ball setting up the little house together and having friends over.

I was so incredibly proud of that little place. Not only was I proud of having found it and bought it without any help from my family or friends, but I was equally pleased that the purchase seemed to signal to my family that my new life wasn't just a phase - I was out for good, no going back. They were glad for me and sad, all at the same time, and Don seemed to be a lightning rod for their disappointment. They felt that he had completely captivated me (which he had), therefore spoiling ANY chance of reconciliation. I grew very distant with them - it hurt to hear them say bad things about Don when he was so kind to me. It also hurt that they weren't more protective over me, that they would willingly have me reconcile with my ex and go back into hell. As my world got smaller, Don became an ever increasing part of my reality.

By that time, Don and I had grown so used to sleeping and waking next to each other that neither of us ever wanted to be apart. Initially, he came over on alternate weekends, and occcasionally during the week, but gradually, he began to stay over more and more often. Pretty soon, he was living there, too, to Angie's dismay. She bit her tongue most of the time; she hadn't changed her opinion of Don much. She was sure that Don was sponging off of me, and she said so in not so many words. She resented seeing him laying on the couch when she left for work, and still there when she returned. He often seemed sleepy when I got home in the afternoons, and I wondered if all the painkillers he took for his back weren't becoming a problem.

I had to admit, Don didn't seem very motivated to find a job. He exhausted his unemployment early that fall of 1992, and the phone started ringing. His mother called him pretty regularly to push him about work, and money for the kids. He seemed bothered by it, and somewhat depressed, but he didn't seem terribly motivated to get moving. He always had dinner cooked and waiting for me, and he kept the laundry done and the house picked up. To tell the truth, it was a nice situation, domestically, I mean. It was nice to have someone there to share the chores with and to do things with, to watch tv with, to cuddle up with.

The weekends he traveled back home to visit with his kids at his mother's, I missed him, but I lived my own life. On those weekends that he was away, I generally drifted back to Nashville Sound to see all my friends and dance and have a little fun. There were always plenty of friends and dance partners, and I never grew tired of meeting new people OR learning new dances.

Occasionally, I would have people approach me at the club and ask me to teach them to dance. Sometimes men, sometimes women. There was one group in particular that stopped me to chat most every week. All five of them sat together, and all five of them would watch me dance. After a couple of friendly conversations, I joined them for 2:00 am coffee at IHOP, and got to know them all a bit better. Mike and Lisa were a cute married couple, and Bob and Kathy were their lifelong friends, also married. Rick was Mike's older brother, and because he was always alone, I figured he was probably divorced. It shocked me that he never seemed to have a date; he was one of those men that everyone looked at when he walked into a room.

They were all just learning how to dance, and they asked if I would please come over to Rick's house some weeknight evening to show them step-by-step how to do certain dances that were running through all the clubs at that time. More often than not, they all hung out at Rick's house on Tuesday nights.

Rick's ex-wife (yep, I was right - he was divorced) had taken all the dining room furniture, so the large bare dining room with hardwood floor provided a perfect place to dance. Come to find out, Rick was still deeply in love with his ex-wife, who had taken residence just up the street in a house the two of them had owned. She had recently remarried, and she and her new husband and the kids all lived in that house, while Rick lived at the end of the block in what had been their marital house. It was great for their kids - they could run back and forth. Rick's parents, who had basically owned all the land the neighborhood sat on at one point, lived in a small home beside him, and Mike and Lisa lived one street over.

The first night I went over to his house, I was a nervous wreck. I had been looking forward to it since I had first been invited, and as I slowly drove through his neighborhood looking for his street, I though my heart was going to pop, it was beating so fast. What the hell, why was I feeling this way? When I finally found his house, I parked on the street, killed the engine, took a last look in the rearview mirror, and gave myself a little pep talk. When I walked into the house, I was greeted by the entire group, plus a few extras. They were so happy to see me that I forgot all about being nervous.

This crew wasn't playing around; they were serious about learning how to dance. They had set up a CD player and picked a mix of songs to practice to. They handed me the remote so that I could start and stop the tracks as we went through the steps. I was a little unsure at first about showing them steps, but it turned out that they were good dancers, and they picked up everything fast. Initially, I had everyone lined up, men on one side, women on the other, so that I could demonstrate the lead steps and the women's steps (they are always opposite, by the way). When it was time to pair up, Rick walked straight up to me, slipped his hand around my waist and held my other hand, looking down at me with a bright smile and those pretty eyes (sigh).

By the end of that first night, we were all having a great time dancing the West Coast swing. Rick had been my partner for the rest of the night, except for the few times I had danced with Mike and Bob to show them how to guide their partner through the transitions. Everytime I finished that instruction, Rick would take my hand with a boyish grin on my face and say, "Come on, gal . . . let's dance!" which thrilled me to no end.

Over the next several weeks, I felt this incredible chemistry with Rick, but because of his situation, I was super careful to appear friendly, but not overly friendly. When I met up with the group on weekends, I always made sure to drive my own car, meet them wherever we went, and visit and chat with all five of them the same. The only time my cover was blown was when Rick would step over to my chair, extend his hand, and lead me onto the dance floor. It was all I could do to keep a goofy, blushing grin off my face as we danced effortlessly together. He made me feel like a princess, and he made me feel pretty, and I was so taken with him, I didn't know what to do or say most of the time.

Just as I had always done, I completely camoflauged the heartwrenching crush I had for Rick. I not only thought he was drop dead gorgeous, I thought he was just a fine man, period. Honorable and kind and gentlemanly, but still sexy as hell. I couldn't help having fantasies of what it would be like to kiss him, to make love with him. Physically, he was stunning: He was over 6 feet tall, broad shouldered, with a beautiful head full of salt and pepper hair. He had icy blue eyes, and it was rare to see him not wearing boots and well-weathered jeans. He drove a truck. He loved to hunt and fish. He enjoyed a beer or three on the weekends, but he was always in church on Sunday.

He was incredibly charismatic, and even though week after week, he held me in his arms as we danced, he was never anything but gentlemanly to me, and I never so much as batted an eyelash at him. He often voiced the hope that his wife would return to him, and for whatever reason, it was important to him to be able to tell her that he had been faithful to her. I rationalized that partnering with me on the dancefloor was just a way for him to have some fun and be assured of a "safe" dance partner that he was in no danger of becoming involved with.

Comparatively, Rick and Don were two ends of the spectrum. Rick was ex-military, he had actually been shipped to Vietnam when he was 18. When he came back, he became a cop and served on the force for many years. He went to work for the post office when his wife grew too fearful of his cop work. I remember mentioning all of this to my mother, and with a horrified look, she said, "You mean he is a Vietnam vet, an ex-cop, AND a postal worker?" My God, that sounds like a recipe for a serial killer!" I still laugh about that.

So, anyway, in early 1993, I was custom fitting my life to circumstances. During the week, I was enjoying Don's company one weekend, and dancing the next weekend away, secretly eating my heart out over Rick.

Just before Memorial Day that year, Don received a summons to appear in court for non-payment of child support. I wondered what it was going to take to get him motivated. This was it. The next day, he applied for a job at a nursing home. It was familiar work for him; after his divorce, he had gone to work in the nursing home where his grandfather lived, and he found that he had a knack for dealing with the patients. His calm ways were comforting to the patients, just as they were for me. He divulged that the work was a strain on him; it was hard to watch so many people suffer and die, and that was one of the reasons he hadn't wanted to go back to work. He had come to the point where he wasn't able to detach himself from that, and he had become depressed.

Relieved that he was working again, and hoping that he would stay the course, I resigned myself to seeing quite a bit less of him. He worked all evening and night shifts, so the only time we really had together were alternate weekend afternoons. It wasn't long before he began to resent the work, resent the time away from me, and question the amount of time I was spending with my new friends, especially Rick. Without much provocation, he quit the job late that summer and came back to my house. He seemed a bit frantic, and even though it was nice to have him back, it kind of wasn't.

Sure enough, within the month, he received yet another summons to appear for nonpayment. This time, he didn't get away with a slap; in August, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Angie divulged to me that this was the kind of pattern that she had always seen with him: depression, job jumping, and pill popping, altough with me, she added, he seemed to be doing quite a bit better than she expected he would.

When he reported to serve his 30 days, I was devastated. During the month he sat in county jail, I began to go over our time together, and more to the point, I started to go over my finances in his absence. Despite all of the joy and comfort I got out of his company, I was nearly broke.

I confided all of this to Lisa one night over drinks, who in turn divulged to me that everyone hoped that I could be the one to break the spell that Rick's ex had over him. She encouraged me to end things with Don and asked me if I had feelings for Rick. It was hard, even with the alcohol in my system, but I admitted to her that I did. It scared me to death to say it out loud, and I regretted saying it immediately.

Each in their turn, Mike and Bob and Kathy had their own talk with me about Don and about Rick. Their motives were pretty evident, but they did help me look at my relationship with Don objectively. I finally came to the realization that I was giving him the out, that he was able to escape to my house and evade his responsibilities. That was the beginning of the end for Don and I. I began to see him less and less. His phone calls to me went unanswered, plans with him were cancelled more times than not in order to go out with the group, and more to the point, to see Rick.

In desperation, Don showed up at my house one evening close to Christmastime with roses and wine. I was pleasantly surprised, and as we were talking, out of the blue, he pulled a small box out of his pocket, got down on one knee, and proposed to me. He opened the box to reveal a pretty little diamond engagement ring. "I should have asked you a year ago. Will you marry me?" he asked, his face a mixture of hopefulness and fear. I was stunned. I didn't say a word.

Slipping the ring on my finger, he said "Don't answer me now. I want you to think about it. I know I have alot to prove to you, but you are the only woman that I have ever cared this much for. I want to make a life with you." The words hurt. I knew at that moment that it could never be. My mind quickly jumped to the obvious. "Don, where did you get the money for this ring?" I asked him gently.

Sensing that I wasn't going to allow him to lead me off into fantasyland anymore, he looked dejected. "I sold a few things I had, and my mother loaned me the rest. Are you happy now?" It was the first time I had ever seen him angry. It cut me like a knife to see the pain and disappointment on his face.

"I can't accept this ring," I said. "Your kids need this money, Don. Knowing that they might be doing without, I could never accept this," I said as I handed him the ring back.

"I want you and I to take care of the kids together. We could get married and have them with us," he dreamed. Oh, God. Marry him, foot all the bills, AND have his kids living with me? There was ABSOLUTELY no way I was signing up for that.

"I don't think that can happen," I said to him sorrowfully. Slowly rising up from his positing on one knee, he dusted his pants and said softly, "well . . . I picked this for you. I owe you this and more. I'm sorry I have been a burden. You won't have to worry about me anymore."

He turned to leave, placing the ring box on my kitchen table. I didn't say a word to stop him, even though I know he expected me to.

After I heard his car drive away, I felt sad, but I also felt that I had just dodged a bullet. Had he been using me? Did he REALLY love me? Did I REALLY love him, or was I just so starved for kindness that I fell hard for the first man that showed me an ounce of tenderness?

The pendulum had swung both ways at that point. I had ended a life with a man that was driven to succeed, but that was cold as a stone. I had also just ended a life with a man that was kinder and gentler and more caring than any I had ever known, but that couldn't maintain his commitments to care for his own children. And I was crazy about a man that I couldn't have.

As I sat there pondering my 1994 New Year's resolutions, I wondered if I would ever get it right.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

PART 37 - Swiss Miss

Believe it or not, I haven't come up with a relevant song for this post yet. I'll keep thinking.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I truly had a "swiss cheese" relationship with Don. That is to say, portions of it were so solid, so strong, and other areas were just missing altogether.

The fact that he had another home, other commitments, children, an ex-wife, and financial problems really didn't affect me directly. Well, ok, they affected my wallet when I wanted to go out for dinner or a movie, but other than that, he just simply went away and did what he had to do, returned to me when he had gotten things under control, and we picked up where we left off.
I am going to put this in writing, even through it is shameful and embarasses me to say so: I could not stand his children.

Don had 3 children. At that time, his daughters were 13 and 11. His son was 8. At first, I saw his children at his mother's house twice a month when he had visitation. His mother's house was a step up from my ex mother-in-law's, but it was still a little dumpy concrete block house filled with cheap, 1970's crappy furniture, extra-large, fading, reddish Walmart portraits of each child on every available inch of wall space, and every piece of cheesy "collectible" crap that could be ordered from Fingerhut. We would spend Saturday at his mother's with the kids, and drive back toward Atlanta early that evening. By the time we left, I was usually ready to jump out the window.

I know it is a horrible thing to say, and no one was more shocked than I was to realize that I couldn't stand spending time with these kids. Me - a foster parent, one that loved all kids. What was it about them that grated on my nerves almost from the first moment that I met them?

I knew precious little about Don's ex wife, but being around her children filled in alot of the missing information. Conversations about her were rare, but Don had told me that she was a silly, spoiled, not terribly bright, manipulative person.

He had worked in the carpet mills when they married and he began to work weekends with her father, a brick and stone mason. He was making good money and even when the babies started coming, his main job provided all the benefits and a decent salary, and his side work provided all the "mad money." To hear him tell it, life was good.

I saw pictures of him and the girls from that time. He looked happy, and the girls were sweet, cute little babies. He would reminesce about how he loved to play with them, feed them, and how easy they had been to care for. He worked second shift so that he could be home during the day when the girls were active - his wife stayed home full time back then.

He was thrilled when he learned that they were expecting a 3rd child, and even more thrilled to learn that this time, it was a boy. His excitement was tempered when the two of them received some troubling news from the obstetrician: this pregnancy was different from the others, and he wanted to run some tests. Once the results came back in, the doctor confirmed his initial suspicions - the child had spina bifida, or "open spine", and would likely be born severely handicapped. Don and his wife both adamently refused to entertain any conversations about terminating the pregnancy. The months that followed were stressful and excruciating, and when his son was finally born, he was just as the doctors predicted - his spine was exposed, and he seemed to be paralyzed from the waist down.

The years that followed his birth went from bad to worse: Don got laid off, bills began to mount, tension rose, the boy demanded a tremendous amount of energy and care, they grew apart, she had an affair, they divorced, she got the kids and a support order, and married her boyfriend. Don lost all incentive to work, and that was just about when Angie met him.

When I saw his son, he was in a wheelchair, a sporty black and purple one with a tall flag mounted on the back. When it suited him, he would tumble out of the chair and scamper across the floor with his hands, dragging his small legs behind him. He was quite agile, and very boisterous. Despite his obvious handicaps and challenges; as hard as I tried I could not summon any warm feelings for this kid. I was infinitely sorry about his handicap. Paralysis aside, the kid was a pain in the ass.

His sisters were equally irritating. Neither of them had any kind of handicap, they were just abysmally dim, whiney, shockingly unattractive, and their baby talk and silliness drove me crazy. They seemed absolutely stupid and helpless.

When they weren't begging to be taken to McDonald's or whining about wanting toys, all three of the kids would look at you with a completely moronic blank look: their mouths hanging open, eyes at half mast. It was hard to see Don in any of them, and nothing about them was endearing.
I did try, I swear it. I would try to engage the girls in conversation about school, or find out what their interests were, but they generally reverted back to inane conversations about the latest plot twist on a television show. The scary part was, the girls talked about these shows as though the characters were real, very real, and an integral part of their lives. They would have heated arguments about which tv boy was their boyfriend, often coming to blows over the disagreement. They would claim to be this or that girl off their favorite show, and would refuse to answer to their given names for stretches of time. They spent inordinate amounts of time singing (oh, God help me, the tuneless singing) pop songs, insisting that I be their audience for their "shows". This was way beyond the typical girlhood teenie bopper crush - this bordered on hysteria and a complete disconnect with reality.

The boy was much the same, except his friends of choice were all superhuman and robotic. Hours and hours of being chased by him and his robot friends scrambled my brain, and any attempt to divert his attention to something else resulted in howls of dismay and temper tantrums.

Don's mother seemed to be blissfully unaware of her grandchildren's shortcomings and eccentricities; she loved them dearly and smiled warmly at all of their antics. I had never been around stupider, crazier children in my life. Secretly, I was convinced that they were retarded, all three of them. Don assured me that they were all just like his ex: dreamy, out of touch with reality, silly, and spoiled. Their lives seemd to be an endless pursuit of McDonald's Happy Meals, television friends, toys, and endless whining. Just the way he coddled me, Don coddled his kids, accepting them at face value, being completely content with them exactly as they were, with no expectation of anything thrust upon them.

I beat myself up for a long time about feeling this way. I always treated the kids with kindness and I always tucked away small gifts for them, which delighted them to no end. The kids were blissfully unaware of my disdain; as a matter of fact, they were tickled pink whenever we had the chance to spend time together.

I was able to endure this for the first few months we were together, then, as kindly as I could, I told Don that I couldn't accompany him for weekend visits any longer. I told him I needed rest and time to tend my own house and see my own family, but actually, I just couldn't bear to be around his kids anymore.

Maybe I resented them because so MUCH more had been expected of me at their age. Maybe I was jealous of Don's time; I still seemed to be so emotionally starved that after months together, my need for affection and reasurance was STILL not satiated. But I think the biggest reason was that I could not tolerate their stupidity. My family was shitty in many ways, but each of us was held to high intellectual and academic standards. Being dumb was simply not acceptable.

As much as I loved and needed Don, I couldn't blend my life with his. We fell into a familiar pattern, Don and I, one that I recognized immediately. We spent time together to the exclusion of all others, and when we were apart, our lives were our own, and our relationship was put on ice and resurrected over and over again. I had seen my mother live this way for years, and I had learned the ropes when I was back in college and trying to sustain my relationship with my ex.

It's funny, I never have been able to stand swiss cheese, either.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

PART 36 - The Damage Done

He needs a haircut, he seems like a loon otherwise, but I adore Neil Young. His voice is haunting, and his lyrics are spare, but full of meaning.

Needle and the Damage Done
Neil Young

I caught you knockin' at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more?
The damage done.

I hit the city and I lost my band
I watched the needle take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done.

I sing the song because I love the man
I know that some of you don't understand
Milk-blood to keep from running out.

I've seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's like a settin' sun . . .

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It wasn't kind, but the next morning, I called every one of my friends and regaled them with the story of the previous night's antics. Even after telling the story for the 5th time, I was STILL laughing. Ahh, sweet revenge . . .

There was no doubt that it was fun to watch his face fall as Don doled out the verbal knockout punch that night. I had dreamed of exacting my revenge on him for the hurt, humiliation and loss that I had suffered, but in the days following (believe it or not), I began to suffer some remorse.

Breaking my loyalty to him was much, much harder than I ever imagined it would be. Even though my love for him had died a slow painful death, my allegiance to him was still there. It made me angry with myself to feel so torn. I desperately wanted to start over and put him behind me, but I also still valued him, his family, and what we had built together over all of those years.

I fought my tendency to rationalize his actions away, but I found myself spending more and more time wondering why he had done it, why he had snapped, what it was that tipped the scales THAT day, versus any other. It was a mystery that I couldn't seem to let rest; it tumbled over and over in my mind as I would lay waiting for sleep to overtake me.

Was it just the money? I know that we were under some financial pressure, but it wasn't insurmountable. Was it because the kids were leaving? I didn't think that he was nearly as attached to those kids as I was, and besides, he saw their leaving as a way for us to return to our normal lives. Was it my unwillingness to have sex with him? That seemed to be the most sensible answer, but to tell the truth, for every time I denied him, there were two more times I didn't. He wasn't leading a life of celibacy with me, and I was more than half sure he had stepped beyond the bounds of our marital vows, so that seemed more and more unlikely a reason for violence. Why, then, had he attacked me so savagely that Saturday morning? What was it that had detonated the timebomb?

Sometimes I thought he had snapped for no real discernible reason. That he had just basically flipped out. Knowing him as long as I did, I couldn't really point to any OTHER time that he had acted that way. He had a history of violence, to be sure. He was well-known for his willingness to fight a man at the drop of a hat. I had never seen nor had I ever heard that he had started fights, but as he always liked to say, "I don't know much about starting fights, but I sure as hell know how to FINISH them."

I think if I had been able to make more sense of the violent way we ended, I could have put it aside and moved on. As it was, it nagged at me. After close to a year apart, it still occupied my thoughts, and I was growing impatient with my inability to either make my peace with it or push for more information. Was there something that I had missed about that morning or the days that had proceeded it? Admittedly, I was so preoccupied with the kids that it could be that I had missed some important occurrence, but try as I might, I couldn't put my finger on anything significant.

Where had he been earlier that morning, before the earthquake had shaken our house to its foundation? He was always up with the sun on weekends, and true to form, he had been out most of that morning before he had returned to pace in and out of the house and began his manic jabbering for me to get off the phone. He was always up with the sun on weekends, and he generally went to his mother's for join them for early breakfast and a visit. Other than that, I couldn't recall anything particularly significant about the day. I just had to resign myself to the fact that I would probably never know why.

After the Nashville Sound Showdown (as my friends dubbed it), I didn't see him darken the doorstep of that place. Nor did I see him pop up at any of the other places that he usually did. It was nice to enjoy my time out without his presence, for sure. After more than a month had passed without an "Elvis sighting" (my pet name for the shocking experience of running into him in public), I figured I was in the clear.

Late one Saturday afternoon, I was cleaning the apartment and catching up on mundane chores. Don was gone for the weekend, and I had decided to settle in for the evening. The phone rang while I was putting some clothes away, and figuring it was Don, I answered quickly, "Hey sexy!"

"Well hey there . . ." a familiar voice answered back with surprise and amusement.

"Oh, hmm, sorry about that, I thought you were . . ." I backtracked as I realized that it wasn't Don. It was far from Don.

"So, how IS Don?" he began with a saccharin sweet lilt in his voice. "You two still lovey dovey?" he asked, with a hint of sarcasm.

"Who wants to know?" I challenged him. I wasn't really in the mood for any bullshit from him.

"OK, OK, I didn't call to piss you off," he offered.

"Well, why DID you call?" I countered.

"Well, just to say hello and see how you were," he said cryptically.

"Oh, well, thanks. We are just fine," I answered smugly. "Nice of you to ask."

He began to chit chat about mundane things as I continued folding clothes. His babble was just beginning to become white noise for me as I watched the muted television when I was snapped back to reality with his out-of-the-blue comment:

"So, that night at the club, when Don said all that smartass shit to me, which by the way he was lucky I didn't kick his ass for. What did he mean?" he asked.

What the hell? "Uh, I'm not sure how to answer that," I began.

"Just answer it straight. I can take it," he said matter-of-factly. As I took a deep breath to dive in, he continued, "I mean, I always knew that you didn't . . . you know. I just . . .wondered . . . why?"

Why? WHY? He was asking me WHY? As I was considering a thousand comebacks, he continued his filibuster. "I mean, look, I've been with other women before AND after you, and I have never had ANY complaints, if you know what I mean."

Rolling my eyes, I kept folding my laundry. "Congratulations," I said dryly.

"No, that's not what I meant . . . I meant . . ." he floundered, searching in vain for the right words. "I meant, why him? Why were you able to with him and not me?" I was shocked to hear the choked words followed by quiet sobbing. I was floored. He was crying. Was he crying over the insult? Was he crying from remorse? Was it because I was having sex with another man? I was dumbstruck; I had no idea what to say. I put the laundry aside - this was unbelieveable.

Sniffling and regaining some of his composure, he cleared his throat and continued, "You were the best. No one makes me feel the way you do - no other woman has ever pleased me the way you did. I miss us. I know this is over, but I still miss us, I dream about us together, and knowing that it meant nothing to you is killing me." I had to read through the manspeak. If a woman had said that, I would have known just what she was saying. For a man to say the same, it took a little deciphering, but I got the point - it was all about him missing his servant, basically.

"So, you are saying that you are upset that I am enjoying sex with another man, even though you have had "no complaints" and have evidently had enjoyable sex with many women, and you miss having sex with me, even though I clearly didn't enjoy it," I said slowly, clarifying the message.

"You are so fucking cold, why do you have to be so cold?" he said quietly.

"Tell you what, why don't you let ME ask a couple of questions. How does that grab you?" I was being cold, and I was trying to keep my anger to a low simmer. I wanted a couple of answers, and this might be my only chance. "Tell me about our last morning together," I said. "What happened that morning?"

Initially, he went through the same old routine - he was exasperated that my housekeeping didn't measure up, he was busy and I was talking on the phone, I was disrespectful to him. Cutting him off, I said, "Yeah, you know what? This isn't really going anywhere. I thought that you might have had some time to think about all of this and what your part was in it, but I can see that you are still playing the old broken record. I gotta go . . . "

"No, wait . . ." he said quickly. "It wasn't all your fault, I know that. I was under alot of pressure, I had dealt with Pat's dumb ass all morning . . . " he began, than stopped abruptly. Pat, the brother that no one really mentioned much, was the drug addict that split his time in and out of jail, in and out of rehab, back and forth from Chicago. What did he have to do with this?

"What do you mean, dealt with Pat? He doesn't even live in the state!" I argued. I personally hadn't laid eyes on Pat for the pervious 3 years, and no one had said a word about him.
He was silent on the other end of the phone. I could hear him breathing, clearing his throat, and he began to speak. "It's just that Mama had called me that moring to go pick up Pat from a motel near the bus terminal. He is back in town."

"Yeah, so, okay, what's so hard about that?" I said, pushing him for more information.
Still sidestepping the issue, he said, "Oh, you know, when he shows up, things get nutty. He's living with Mama now. He's not doing so good."

I sat quietly and waited for him to continue. He seemed to feel compelled to fill in the silence, and slowly the story unfolded.

His mother had indeed told him to pick Pat up, but the request was made the week before Pat's arrival. His mother had called he and his other siblings to her house for a pow-wow with specific instructions not to bring spouses or children. She swore them all to secrecy, and as they all wondered among themselves what kind of trouble Pat had gotten himself into now, she broke the news.

Pat had AIDS.

His mother had received the call a couple weeks prior from a volunteer at an AIDS clinic in Chicago. Pat had been roaming around Chicago when a men's shelter had taken him in and helped him seek treatment. The clinic confirmed his diagnosis, contacted his family and coordinated busfare for him to return to Georgia - Illinois had enough of its own to care for.

The devastation of this news cannot be overstated. His little home town had had NO instances of AIDS at that time. None. National news stories were reporting that entire towns were turning on children that were HIV infected, and his family was terrified of the repercussions if anyone found out that their family was "infected". To them, it was worse than typhoid, or leprosy.

That morning, he went to the motel to pick Pat up, as instructed. The sight of him was a shocker. Pat had always been a healthy looking man, but the man that stood before him in the doorway of the cheap motel was pale, sickly, pitifully thin, bruised, with hollow eyes and raspy breath. He helped Pat gather his things, and was mortified to see the remains of Pat's last hit on the bedside table - the needle, a lighter, a length of thin rubber hose, and a scorched spoon. Just then, he heard a noise coming from the bathroom. A young woman exited, saw him, and self-consciously began to straighten her clothing. She couldn't have been more than 18, and from the track marks on her arm, she was just as big a junkie as Pat was. He felt waves of nausea wash over him as Pat kissed the girl goodbye, wished her luck on her travels, and got into the car to go to his mother's.

Driving in silence, he asked Pat one simple question, "Did she know?"

Looking out the window, Pat said in a faraway voice, "She didn't ask. I didn't ask, and nobody told ME, and I got it. She's a druggie too, she knows the game, so fuck her."

As soon as he had dropped Pat and his things at his mother's, he had returned home to me.

When he concluded the story, we both sat in silence, not knowing what to say. Finally he spoke, "You HAVE to understand, Rita. We all could lose EVERYTHING if anyone knew. I might lose my job if people were scared of exposure. My sister would lose all of her cleaning and nanny jobs, no questions asked. This isn't a joke; when people hear AIDS, it is a witchhunt." Suddenly, it was clear to me. No amount of financial success or backbreaking work or volunteer effort would be able to wipe the black smear from his family name this time. His world literally crashed when the news hit him.

Admittedly, Pat was the first person I had ever heard of to contract the disease. He wasn't gay, which at that time seemed to be the first requirement to contract it. This was 1992, and information was scarce and unreliable, everybody was running scared.

"I wish you had told me," I said quietly. "I wish you could have trusted me."

Crying again, he said, "I can't trust anybody anymore. I've lost everything, I have fucked it all up."

My heart ached. I didn't love him now, but I had once. There was a time that I would have laid my life down for him, and now, here we sat, him in agony, and me not able or willing to do any more than simply listen.

This was one of the most intimate conversations that he and I had ever had, and partly to relieve his conscience, and partly to make my own offering to him, I revealed to him that I had kept a deep secret from him, too.

I had never revealed to anyone what had happened between me and LP (speaking of junkie brothers) years before. Sitting in that apartment, my bedroom became my confessional as I poured out the story of my sexual abuse for the first time, and how it had all come back to haunt me when Daniel came. I told him that I couldn't bear the shame of telling anyone, including him, and I wasn't able to block the memories that surfaced when I allowed him to have his way with me, so I had turned away from him.

We talked throughout the evening and into the wee morning hours, he and I. We shared our stories and our secrets in a way that we were never able to face to face, as man and wife. Both of us were dealing with our own brand of shame and pain, and with nowhere else to turn, we finally turned to one another.

He encouraged me to try to forgive LP, while at the same time admitting how angry he was that I had endured it and it had ended up affecting us. More than once, he asked me, "Why didn't you ever TELL me?" and it was at that moment that I was able to fully understand the incredible power that secrecy has, how it can control and manipulate us and drive us to unspeakable acts.

Hanging up the phone, I felt that I had received something precious; not from him, but from me. For the first time, I had voiced my own pain and fear to another person, and I felt stronger for it. I had also been able to extend comfort to him, despite his transgressions. If I could do that for him, perhaps I could find some compassion for myself.

The weight of anger and hate began to lift, and taking a deep breath, I settled comfortably into bed and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Monday, August 23, 2004

PART 35 - Celebration

I was in the Kroger the other day, getting the usual crap, and heard Kool and the Gang on the Musak. I thought that was silly, but I hummed along and bopped down the dairy aisle. What the hell, why not?

Celebration!
Kool & the Gang

Celebrate good times, come on!

There's a party goin' on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times, and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate and party with you
Come on now
Celebration
Let's all celebrate and have a good time
Celebration
We gonna celebrate and have a good time

It's time to come together
It's up to you, what's your pleasure
Everyone around the world
Come on!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Ohhhhh, stop it . . . you don't have to do this . . ." I halfheartedly mumbled, as I made a weak attempt to sit up from the bed and was gently urged to lay back down on my tummy as Don gently poured a puddle of warm baby oil into the small of my back and evenly spread the warmth with his strong, gentle hands up over my shoulderblades and down my bottom to my thighs and calves, returning to each area to firmly and completely massage every square inch of me.

It had been a hell of a week at work, and he could sense the tension in me when we kissed hello at my apartment door that Friday evening. As he massaged me, he spoke to me in low whispers, urging me to relax when he felt a particularly tight grouping of weary muscles. His words and the sheer pleasure of his soothing touch lulled me away, and 2 hours later, I awoke to the smell of Italian food, and him humming a little tune as he put the finishing touches on our dinner. Closing my eyes, taking a deep, deep breath with a long, slow stretch, I thanked whatever good deed's payback had brought this man to me.

Meeting Don was like having a bomb go off in the middle of my shoddily-built reality. All of my long-held beliefs about myself, my worth (or lack thereof), my place in the world, what I could expect out of this life, and how I could expect to be treated were completely blown to hell and back. In short, he changed me.

Don, for lack of a better term, was decadence incarnate. He held sacred all things that brought pleasure and peace, and he was a mesmerizing force.

He voiced my wants and needs before I was strong enough to do it for myself, and he tirelessly convinced me that I deserved comfort, pleasure, contentment, rest and fulfillment for all of my hard work. He knew when I was tired when I didn't really notice, and he knew when I needed to be held and consoled when I was feeling anxious or worried. It was the first time in my life that anyone had devoted themselves to my well-being, and I blossomed with him. My world with him was a haven against the ravages of my workday AND my inner demons.

As a matter of fact, I was SO deliciously enveloped in his care, I had all but forgotten the sick little game of hide and seek that had been going on with my ex since my divorce.

For whatever reason, he made it a point to keep tabs on my whereabouts. He didn't stalk me, but he did gather information on me from my family. He had kept in touch with my parents, convincing them that I had gone off the deep end, and that he had my best interests at stake. Of course, he wove a story for them that glossed over "the bad time".

Just as he had done years before to learn my whereabouts when I left for my Florida trip, he used scare tactics to find out from them what I was up to. "You know, I heard from a few friends that Rita has been out by herself at bars, and that just worries me to death. God knows what could happen to her. I'm trying to give her some space, but it would make me feel so much better to know where she's going these days so I could maybe stay in the background and make sure that she is safe. You know she's not really acting like herself these days," he would confide to my mom and dad. Like hypnotized audience volunteers, they would quote to him verbatim any snippet of information they had gathered from me or my brother or sister.

No one in the family was really coming clean with me back then; to my face, the encouraged my fledgling attempts at building a new life, but out of earshot, they all wanted so badly to believe him. From where they stood, I had acted irrationally and recklessly, so they were doing what they could to see me through my phase and back to my normal life.

The game started a couple weeks after I moved into my apartment. I received a "courtesy call" from him letting me know that I had some mail at the house, and he asked me how I was settling in. Seemed harmless enough.

These kinds of calls came nearly once a week. Gradually, he began to reminisce with me about the good times we had shared. Of course, he meant sexually. The phone would ring at 11:00 at night, and it would be him, initially preying on my loneliness and fear of being alone, and after he had indulged me with a few minutes of conversation, he would begin to hint and suggest that I invite him to the apartment for "old time's sake." The first few times that I turned him down, he maintained his patience, and sounded sorrowful and sad, bidding for sympathy. I was never strong enough back then to let the phone just ring, but I was strong enough to keep him at arm's length, even though I was alone and frightened and just hearing his voice gave me some wierd solace.

Once I settled in a bit and started going out with my friends, his calls went unanswered and I would hit the erase button on my answering machine when I came home late and saw the message light blinking. It didn't take long for him to track me down.

He walked into Nashville Sound one night when I was there with Angie and my other friends. He had NEVER stepped foot in a bar, and I was shocked to see him standing at my table. He ignored the rest of the table and directed his comments at me. "You have NO BUSINESS being here. This place is too rough and trashy for you. You should be ashamed of yourself."

Standing up to her full height of 5'1", Angie blew a cloud of smoke in his face and snapped, "Who in the fuck do you think YOU are? I guess you know all about ROUGH and TRASHY, you piece of shit. I KNOW where you're from, you fooled her, but you ain't fooling me. Leaving your dumb ass and coming in here was a step UP for HER, motherfucker!" As the whole table laughed, he seethed, giving me an angry look that I recognized all too well. It still sent shivers down my spine. Not taking a breath, she stood back up, stepped into his line of sight and said, "And you can shove that pissed-off look on your face straight up your ass, too!" Out of nowhere, a large bouncer appeared. Of course, they knew each other. "Move on brother, before I have to ask you to leave," the bouncer advised him, and he left without a word.

That night just upped the ante. He made it a point to show up every Saturday night after that and either have a woman with him, or quickly find one and make sure that I saw him dancing, kissing, and rubbing all over her. It was a different woman every week, and in my eye, they were ALL far prettier than I was. It was humiliating, but I was determined not to let him beat me or even see me flinch. I held out pretty well for several weeks, but eventually, my flagging self-confidence got the best of me. Even though I hated him, it still hurt, and I stopped going to Nashville Sound.

Over the course of 4 or 5 months, I went to 3 or 4 new spots, but he always seemed to find me and pull the same shit. When I finally just stopped going out altogether, the calls started again. "If you hadn't pushed me away, I wouldn't have gotten so frustrated. You neglected you wifely duties to me when we were married, and NOW you're willing to go whoring in a bar when you weren't willing to let me, your HUSBAND who gave you everything you wanted, have what was rightfully mine to ask for. You are crazy." His manipulations were beginning to wear me down.

Angie was livid. "You ain't gonna let that sorry bastard keep you at home, are you?" she asked me, a look of disbelief on her face. "He is such a waste of time! Fuck him, let's go out!" Thankfully, I listened to my little friend. I did go back, and I endured his antics. Good thing I did, or I would have never met Don.

I hadn't been back to Nashville Sound since Don and I had met. It had been weeks, and I was feeling proud of us and spiteful toward the ex. The flicker of anger that had been burning in me ignited right along with my growing pleasure and desire for Don. That sonofabitch had used my body for his own pleasure for years, and had never, EVER taken the time to try to please me. When I thought about all of the years of emptiness, my blood boiled. I mentioned the feelings to Don, and as if on cue, he said with a smile, "You know, I think we should go out dancing tomorrow night. We might see somebody."

That next night when we entered the club together, my stomach was flipping, but I was giddy with excitement. It was a mean, selfish thing, but I wanted to strike back at him, hard. We had taken a table to one side, and Don sat facing the door. Sure enough, around 10:00, Don leaned over to me, kissed my cheek, and whispered, '"Guess who . . ." We both laughed. Damn, this was fun.

Leading me out to the dancefloor, Don held me close and kissed my cheek as we danced under the watchful eye of you-know-who. I was borrowing courage; as badly as I wanted to get back at him, I didn't have the strength to stand up to him. Don whispered encouragement to me the entire time and disguised it as whispers of love and affectionate kisses. I held on and as the last notes of the song faded away, I breathed a sigh of relief as we made our way back to the table. It was over.

Looking up a moment later, seeing he and his date coming toward us, I reconsidered and decided that maybe it wasn't QUITE over. With a big, fake, cheesy smile on his face, he said loudly, "Long time no see! I want you to meet my new girlfriend Trina." Exchanging pleasantries, I thought I would croak when I heard Don extend his hand to her and comment, "My condolences." Uneasy laughter followed as Don stared unblinking and unsmiling at him, sizing him up.

Stretching his arms up over his head and settling one around my shoulders, Don added, "Yeah, she hasn't been here in awhile. We really haven't had much time for dancing, have we, baby?" as he leaned over and kissed my cheek. Outside I burned red hot with embarrassment, but inside I was cheering. Stunned, my ex stood there, his arm still around his new girlfriend. Before he composed himself and uttered another word, Don leaned forward toward the two of them, smiled and said, "Don't you just LOVE the cute little yelp she makes when she's about to . . ." Trailing off, he watched for the reaction and then 3, 2, 1 . . . he followed up with a regretful look on his face, sitting back in his chair, arm around me once more as he said offhandedly, "Oh, man, sorry, that's right, I guess you wouldn't know anything ABOUT that. You two were together HOW many years, and you never heard the yelp?"

Turning on his heel, leaving his girlfriend standing alone and bewildered, he threw over his shoulder, "Fuck you, asshole." Not able to resist, Don lobbied it back, "Nah, I hear you are a lousy lay." I held my breath, sure that a fight was going to happen any second, I was stunned when he just kept on walking.

His poor girlfriend stood there, not knowing quite what to do. Don winked at her and offered, "Honey, I think we may have just done you a big favor." Thankfully, I held it together until she was out of earshot and out the door to follow him.

I laughed until I couldn't breathe. I was still laughing when we left. I was giggling all the way back to my apartment. And the next morning, Don told me I had been laughing in my sleep.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In April, 1992, and I was given a pretty cool assignment at work. I was asked to go to the Savannah River Site Nuclear Power plant near Augusta, GA for a monthlong stint. Seems the Department of Defense was conducting a community feel-good-about-living-near-nuclear-waste-you-hicks drive, and my company had secured the contract to assist them in the effort. I submitted to and received a security clearance, and with that, I was on my way to Radioactive Land. It just so happened that the Masters golf tourney was happening at the same time, and accommodations were scarce, to say the least. My company arranged for me to stay at the Telfair Inn, a cluster of antebellum homes that had been retrofitted into suites. It was swank!

As excited as I was to go, I was scared to go. I had never, ever traveled alone before, and I was terribly uneasy about the trip. The week before I left, I was whining to Don, "I am going to miss you so much, I don't want to go . . . I wish you could go with me." Hugging me, he said, "If you want me to go, I will . . ."

Don had been a little down on his luck that year, jobwise. He was drawing unemployment, and nothing had turned up for him in awhile. He was basically penniless - the majority of the money that he DID get went straight to his ex-wife for child support, and he was living back with his parents rent-free. It was a bad situation for him, but lucky for me since I was desperate for him to travel with me!

"It will be perfect!" I gushed. "The accommodations are paid for, and I get a per diem to cover food expenses. It will be like a vacation!" Sneaky girl I was, I ordered an Entertainment coupon book for the Augusta area, and it was FULL of 2 for 1 dinners and lunches all over Augusta. The plan was flawless. Don arranged for his mom to deposit his unemployment checks while we were gone, and he left checks behind to give to his wife each week.

We were like two little kids as we headed toward Augusta. It was a great trip down; great company, good music, good food, and we had uninterrupted time together.

When we got to the Telfair Inn, we both stood, jaws agape, inside the suite. It was elegant. Clawfoot bathtub, beautiful armoires, televisions in every room, classic furniture, opulent drapery, beautiful linens, and it even had a sweet little kitchenette. We settled into our pretty little home away from home and enjoyed the rest of the weekend.

"Sure you will be ok here while I am gone to work?" I asked him Monday morning, and he assured me that he would be fine, and that he would be waiting there for me to get back. I don't know why I was nervous about leaving him there, but I was. I felt like I was doing something sneaky and potentially troublesome, but at the same time, I was thrilled to bits that he was there with me.

The work at the site was ridiculous, really. A high school kid could have done what I did. I made posters for tabletops and sent out flyers to residents. It was laughable, but it did afford me the opportunity to spend a blissful month with Don. Our evenings were filled with romantic dinners at different restaurants, our weekends were spent sleeping in, making love, and taking in the local sights.

It felt like we were a million miles away from home, but home had a way of reaching out and finding us anyway. We received a couple of calls from Don's mother. His ex-wife was livid that he had taken off for a month without notifying her, and she demanded to know where he was and whether or not he was working. He placated her by calling and letting her know that he had arranged for her payments, and that he was in Augusta looking for work. That was Fire #1.

After the Nashville Sound run-in, my family got a review of Don from the ex, but none of them had met him. Of course, the ex painted a horrible picture of Don, not that it really mattered. They weren't terribly enthusiastic about me keeping company with anyone, really. They all still held out hope that this would all blow over and that I would get back to my "safe, comfortable" life with the ex. Denial ain't just a river, folks. Early on in the trip, after a worried call from my ex, my sister called the Telfair to check on me, and I had not arrived back from work yet. She was pregnant, and pissy, and in no mood for surprises. When Don answered, she was taken aback. "Who is this?!" she demanded. He answered, in his slow, deep, amused voice, "Well that depends . . . who is THIS?" That wasn't the best start. He finally told her who he was, and she asked him to have me call her, that she was worried that she hadn't heard from me in awhile. He responded, "Don't worry, I'm taking good care of her." I think he meant to be comforting, but it just pissed her off to no end.

The calls started like wildfire, her to my mom, her to my brother. Everyone wanted to know just what the hell I was up to, and who in the hell was this Don guy, exactly? Fed up with the intrusion and all of the bullshit talk behind my back, I told them all that what I was doing was none of their damn business, and as soon as they started paying my bills, they could dictate who spent time with me. The sting seemed to temper their pursuit, and we spent the rest of our trip in peace and quiet. That was Fire #2.

The trip and the fires only deepened our attachment to each other. Being away from the reality of home, away from the pressures of exes, of meddling family, of housework, it was just . . . perfect. It was fun to be in cahoots with Don, and I was growing more comfortable with his brand of living. His cavalier, couldn't care less attitude was a perfect antidote to my obsessive, worry-filled existence, and I found myself enjoying longer and longer stretches of stress-free living.

It wasn't long before I had developed complete disregard for what anyone had to say. I loved Don and that was that.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

PART 34 - So Into You

I feel sure that I can say, without reservation, that I was the only 7 year old to see the Atlanta Rhythm Section at the Great Southeast Music Hall here in Hotlanta. This place was like a love-in. Nothing but open floor and people reclined on pillows and the pungent kiss of smouldering doobie in the air.

Ahh, the 70s.

So Into You
Atlanta Rhythm Section

When you walked into the room
There was voo doo in the vibes
I was captured by your style
But I could not catch your eyes
Now I stand here helplessly
Hoping you'll get into me

I am so into you
I can't think of nothing else
I am so into you
I can't think of nothing else
Thinking how it's going to be
Whenever I get you next to me

It's gonna be good, don't you know
From your head to your toes
Gonna love you all over, over and over
Me into you, you into me, me into you

Come on baby
Driving me crazy
I'm so into you
Love the things that you do . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, I awoke to Don's sweet kisses on my neck and back. "Morning sunshine," he murmured in my ear, as I stretched luxuriously. Had I ever slept that well in my life?

"Been up long?" I asked as I turned to him, still cradled in the crook of his arm.

He traced down my breastbone with a forefinger. "A little while, but you were sleeping too good for me to wake you any earlier. But I figured since it was close to noon, we might want to get up,"

"Noon?!" I nearly shrieked. I couldn't believe it. I never slept much past 8:00. "You've ruined me already!" I joked as he pulled me closer. Nuzzling my neck, his moustache tickling along my throat, in that deep, gravelly voice he murmured,"Ruined ain't the HALF of it, sweetheart."

An hour later, after I had once again been completely transformed at his hand, I lay there, helpless, panting for breath, glistening with sweat. I looked at him incredulously, "How do you DO that?!"

He was propped on one elbow, calmly and cooly looking down at me. Damn. He had perfect swirls of black chest hair that marged into a perfect trail down to his navel. His green eyes glimmered with mischief, a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth. In mock surprise he said "Do what, baby?" His dimples were even more pronounced than I remembered from the night before. I was in big trouble.

"So, what's on your agenda today, what's left of it?" he asked me. As if on cue, the phone rang. My mother. I had forgotten that we were having a 2:00 cookout that day for one of the nephew's birthday. Could I bring soda and chips?

Damn.

I thought about cancelling. Stomachache. Something believeable and easily gone by tomorrow morning. "You go be with your family - I have to get back home soon too." Where WAS home for him? He lived on the outskirts of my ex's hometown. Interesting. "Let's don't delve into THAT too deeply, who knows what skeletons might pop up. Chances are we know ALOT of the same people," he said with a chuckle when he saw the surprised look on my face.

We showered and dressed and left together, pausing for kiss after kiss when he dropped me back at Nashville Sound to get my car. Getting out of his car with me, he leaned back against my car and pulled me close, his hands on the small of my back. He gave me a deep, soulful kiss that took my breath. "Should I call you later?" he asked, those eyes glittering, that dimpled smile making my heart jump.

"Absolutely," I answered, fighting myself to pull away. He was like a damn magnet. Finally extricating myself, I blew him a kiss as I drove away.

Later that evening, I was talking to my (initially just a bar friend but now my best) friend Angie. "Damn it, I miss ONE WEEKEND and all this good stuff happens!" she lamented. "Tell me about him . . . What's his last name?" Yep, she was from the ex's hometown, and she popped THE QUESTION. I told her and she dropped the phone, screaming. Finally coming back to the phone, she said, "PLEASE tell me that you didn't just say Don (last name)!"

"Yeah, why?" I asked, wondering what in the world would have caused THAT reaction.

"Oh, shit, Rita . . . I can't leave you alone for a MINUTE!" Talking to herself, she muttered, " . . . hooked up with that asshole . . . what the hell . . . " Completely confused, I began to get defensive and asked her what the problem was. "Oh, damn, what ISN'T the problem?"!"

She knew Don. Knew him well. Her (shady, on again off again, bastard of a) boyfriend had grown up with Don, and she had known Don for years. "Well, first of all, he's too old for you, Second, he's a lazy asshole. Third, he has three kids. Fourth, he's crazy. You deserve MUCH better. Trust me."

How could this be? I trusted her completely - she was a very loyal, matter-of-fact friend. But the man that I met in no way resembled the guy she was describing. "Nah, you're mistaken, hun. He is a sweetie," I countered.

"Sweetie, my ass. Wait 'til I see that bastard," she said, half promising, half threatening.

I recounted the evening to her, and she could tell from my voice that I was completely taken by him. "Well, you know, I knew him really well several years ago. Maybe he has changed," she softened. That had to be it. She was thinking about him from years back. Hadn't we ALL changed over the years?

Nothing could tarnish his shine in my eyes. Not then, not yet.

He called me at work on Tuesday. I had to stifle the giggles, I was so tickled to hear from him. "How bout I meet you at your place after work and cook you dinner?" he asked. How sweet! Work had been pretty stressful the past few weeks, and seeing him for a few hours was a welcome diversion from the pressure.

Just as promised, he was there waiting for me when I pulled up. He had a couple of grocery bags and handed me a bottle of wine as we made our way toward my apartment door. Once inside, we set everything down quickly and kissed hello. Again. And again. Placing a finger over my lips, he said, "Wait here," and went into my bathroom with a small bag. I heard the tub water running. When he emerged a few minutes later, he beckoned me into the bathroom.

It had been transformed into a retreat. The bright flourescent overhead light was out and candles were lit on the counter and the lip of the tub. Towels were waiting, and fragrant bubbles sat like fluffy clouds on top of the rising steaming hot water. I was too shocked to speak. "You soak here . . .dinner will be ready in about 30 minutes," he said as he began to undress me. When all of my clothing was in a pile on the floor, he held my face in both hands, kissing me softly. I had never, ever felt so cared for. He held my hand as I stepped into the bath and settled in for a long, long soak. He left with my clothing and returned with my bathrobe and a glass of wine for me. I was just . . . speechless. As I sipped my wine and luxuriated in that hot steamy water, I wondered how I had been so lucky to meet such a wonderful, caring man.

I felt silly sitting at the table with my hair wrap and robe, but he insisted that I stay wrapped so that I wouldn't get chilled after the hot bath. Was there no end to the pampering with this guy?

Dinner was incredible. This man could COOK! He divulged that he had been a cook for several years, and it was evident. The salad was cold and crispy with just the right amout of vinigarette, the seared steaks were perfectly peppered with the slightest strip of pink in the middle, and the whipped potatoes had just a hint of garlic and parsley. When he brought out the strawberries and took my hand, I thought I would fall over dead.

He brought the candles into the bedroom, and placed them in front of my dresser mirror. The whole room was illuminated. He approached me as I stood against the foot of the bed. He opened my robe and slid it off my shoulders and onto the floor, kissing my exposed shoulders as his hands followed the descent of the robe down my back. Stepping aside for a second, he reached into the darkness and produced a huge, ripe strawberry. He teasingly dangled the luscious fruit just higher than my lips, inviting me to take a bite. Giggling, standing on my tiptoes, head tilted up, I allowed him to tease and trace my lips before I bit through the thickest part of the ripe strawberry. The strawberry juice trickled down my chin and into the hollow of my throat, which he softly kissed and licked away.

He used the juicy remnant of the strawberry to glaze my nipples with chilled strawberry juice, rewarding him with an immediate and visible reaction. Moaning his approval and his desire, he laid me gently back on the bed, my legs hanging over the edge, my toes barely touching the ground. The candlelight reflected and illuminated the wetness of my breasts. My back arched toward him involuntarily as he bent over me, worshipping and caressing my breasts.

He was a true giver; he seemed to take endless delight in witnessing my pleasure, and he would gently, but continually rebuff my attempts to please him. "I'm guessing you have done enough of that in the past, and I KNOW I have had plenty of that before, let's concentrate on you for awhile," he would whisper kindly each time I tried to pay back all of the pleasurable things he would do for me.

I had never known there were men like this, I had never known that lovemaking could be like this. There is no way to overstate the effect his patience and unselfishness had not only on my neglected body, but moreso on my abandoned and lonely soul. I was consumed by him, and it happened quickly and completely before I even knew what had hit me.

Angie summed it up pretty succinctly a few weeks later as we sat together at Nashville Sound. Don wasn't there, he was home with his kids for the weekend, so it was a girls' night out. As she took a long, thoughtful drag on her Virginia Slims menthol, squinting her eyes, she resigned herself to the idea and exhaled a perfect plume of smoke, shaking her head and declaring that he and I were both "eat up with it."

What more is there to say?
There was an error in this gadget