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.

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