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.

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