Sunday, March 15, 2009

Broken Down Man

(This is completely fiction, based on a conversation had in the car with the two Linda's on Tuesday, March 10, 2009)kk

Broken Down Man

“I’m sorry, Lisa; I don’t get what you see in him. It’s not like you’re a 20 something anymore or that you need a man to take care of you. It’s not like you are desperate or can’t do any better.”

“What is that supposed to mean, Carrie? Why can’t you see the good in him?”

We finished dinner quickly because John called and wanted Lisa to come home immediately. She made her usual lame excuses, but I was pissed. This was the second time he’d interrupted our plans. Lisa used to be independent and sure of herself, but this man changed her into someone I didn’t know.

“Believe me, I’m trying to find some good in him. You’re my best friend, and I want you to be happy, but JOHN? I don’t understand at all,” I said, knowing we were heading for a fight.

”What’s not to understand? He is the most amazing man. Have you noticed the way he smiles at me? The way he’s waiting for me when I get home?”

I had noticed. How could anyone not notice? John was missing a tooth right in the bottom front of his mouth. The first time I saw him, he stuck an unlit cigarette in the empty space and talked in a bad southern accent with it hanging there. I thought it was disgusting, but Lisa giggled like it was the cutest idea ever. Blech.

“OK, Lisa-whatever. Go on home, and call when you find some time for me.”

Eyebrows raised, she looked up, reminding me to give John a chance. She knew I’d love him too eventually- just as long as I didn’t love him too much. “Heh, heh, heh,-it’s a joke, Carrie.” When I didn’t laugh, she put on her jacket and went out the door.

When we were younger, we fell for really attractive guys. I married one who turned out to be a big jerk and after five years of affairs (his) and breast implants (mine) in an embarrassing attempt to hold onto him, we divorced. No kids; just Dooley, our standard poodle for whom we shared custody the ensuing eight years and then blamed each other when he caught some strange disease that killed him. Lisa also married one, and their marriage was good for awhile, but six plus years into it, Stu realized he was gay and moved in with a guy from work. Lisa was devastated. She felt that she had somehow failed. She said to me soon after Stu left, “At least Paul left you for another woman-not a MAN!” as though this were some kind of competition. Over the years, we both dated off and on, but nothing ever lasted for either of us. Now here was John. I kept hoping she’d be over him so we could joke about how ridiculous he was.

But at dinner, Lisa told me she loved him –that she hoped to make things permanent. All I could think was, “How could she do this to me? How could she hook up with this broken down man?” I tried to keep my cool, but she could tell I wasn’t happy about it. Why couldn’t she see what I was sure everyone else saw in John. He was obviously looking for someone to support him. He was a bum.

All of that got me to thinking about the past. Throughout the years, I’d look at couples and wonder how they ever got together. Oftentimes, they just didn’t seem to fit. Usually I’d find myself wondering how someone like HER could fall for someone like HIM or vice versa. One would be very attractive and the other NOT, or one would be very thin and the other NOT, or one would be an asshole. Lots of assholes out there. I wondered if anyone thought that of Paul and me, but then how could they? We were the perfect couple on the outside. We took care of our bodies. He played every sport in high school and several in college. I spent every spare minute at the gym. He didn’t act like a jerk outside of our home. He saved that for me. Our marriage had failed, but some of those odd couples were still going strong.

Now that I’m in my 50’s, I notice more of a person than just the outside. I’ve become picky about my friends and even more so about men. I don’t mean that I want him to make “X” amount of money or even have hair on his head. I mean I want someone I can talk to –someone who will listen. I want to be able to share my most intimate thoughts without fear of being put down. It’s not about looks and stature anymore but about finding value in another’s ideas and accepting him for who he is...wanting to know everything about him and finding out slowly with a certain amount of anticipation. I want him to be interested in the whole me, not just whether or not I’m beautiful or sexy or whatever physical attributes men look for in a woman.

As I left the restaurant still ruminating, my phone rang.

“Carrie, it’s me- Lisa. I wanted to apologize for earlier…” She was almost whispering, and my first thought was that John the jerk was listening in.

”No need- I understand-really. We’ll get together soon.”

”That’s what I wanted to tell you, Care! John bought us tickets for a cruise.” Now she was giggling like a teenager. I imagined him nuzzling her neck as she talked on the phone and nausea crept up my throat. The sooner this conversation was over, the better.

”That’s great, Lisa. I can tell you’re busy- I can practically hear John breathing down your neck. Call me later when we can talk.”

”He’s not here- your imagination is in overdrive. He went to the Burnett’s to help them with a plumbing problem. I mean, aren’t you even excited about this?”

“OK- the truth- no, I’m not. I think he’s manipulating you and has been since the beginning. How can he afford a cruise anyway? Odd jobs around the neighborhood don’t pay much. You support him, so my guess is he’s using your credit card to book this trip.” I said it, and I braced myself for her verbal onslaught.

“Carrie! Is that what you think? You are so wrong about John. I haven’t told you the whole truth because he asked me not to, but I hate it that you judge him the way you do, so here it is. John doesn’t have to work. His grandmother left him a lot of money (and I mean A LOT) when she died a year ago. He does odd jobs because he likes to help people. As a matter of fact, he gave up a good job in Virginia to move here and take care of his grandmother about two years ago.”

“Hmmm-interesting story. Are you sure it’s the truth?” I couldn’t buy it.

“What, do you think he’s a crook or something? Carrie, it’s all true.

“Okay, if you say so- I believe you. When do you guys leave?” I obviously wasn’t going to convince her.

“He bought the tickets for us- for you and me, not for him and me! He wants us to go and have a good time because he knows how important our friendship is.”

“You’re kidding, right? He wants US to go on a cruise- without him?”

“YES, that’s what I said. Just the two of us. Everything is paid for, but with you being such a bitch, maybe I should take Melanie instead.

Her words were beginning to sink in. John wanted Lisa and me to go on a cruise together. It was paid for. We’d talked about taking a cruise since we were in high school- just the two of us. We even visited a travel agency once, picking up brochures and spending hours poring over them, discussing possible destinations.

“Whoa- you don’t want to take Melanie. She’ll drive you crazy! I apologize for everything I ever said about John. Really, I’m sorry. Oh my, Lisa, you’re not kidding, are you?“

Lisa was laughing now, and she sounded like the Lisa I’ve known almost my whole life.

“Lise, just one question,” I continued. “If John is so wealthy, why on earth doesn’t he fix his front teeth? I mean, come on. He looks like a guy who just stepped out of the bowling alley! You don’t really think that’s cute, do you?

“You are so damn shallow! He has had two implants that haven’t taken. He kids around because he’s embarrassed about it. He sees a new specialist next week to either try another implant or to get a fake tooth. I thought you were beyond looks. You’re always talking about how it’s not about looks, but you are such a liar!

I felt like a pretty big schlub. She was right. I heard people in my head saying, “Her husband is such a nice guy, but she’s an asshole! How did they ever end up together?” I had made no attempt to get to know the man behind the absent-toothed smile. I ranted about judgmental people, and here I was right there with them.

“You’re right, Lisa. I’m an idiot. But, why didn’t you just tell me all of this before?”

“Maybe because you never asked. I know you well, but I still haven’t figured out to read your mind!”

We talked for another hour. She told me that the tooth bothered her at first, too, but John won her over. He’d drop everything to help her elderly neighbors, and when the Parker's across the street heard how handy he was and asked him to paint their house, he didn’t hesitate to help them, too. The more she talked, the more I began to understand what it was about John that lit her up.

After we got off the phone, I went home to my empty apartment. I opened my closet to hang my coat and noticed my old bowling bag, from a college class Lisa and I had once taken to get rid of a PE credit, on the shelf. We thought bowling would be easier than tennis and less embarrassing than ballet. Of course we turned out to be wrong on both counts, but that’s another story.

“Hmmm,” I thought, “a sign? Nah…probably not.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A New Direction

I decided sometime this week that I'd use this space to publish the stories I'm writing. The following is a fictionalized version of an incident from my childhood.

1960 in Georgia

Arms pumping, lungs exploding, I ran. Somewhere between the candy store and home, Sue let go of my hand, speeding off in front of me. I remember thinking that I’d never seen anyone move so fast. This must be what Mom meant when she said, “That boy runs like the wind,” as she watched footage of an Olympic track competition on television a short time ago. My sister, ran so fast, I thought she might disappear along with the wind, never to return.

Earlier that day, Sue and I, took the nickels Mom gave us for cleaning our room and walked to the store about a quarter of a mile from the house. Just a few weeks before, Daddy had moved us into a duplex in Warner Robins, Georgia, after the Air Force sent him there for a new assignment. I was five years old, and Sue was six- both of us still young enough to accept the move with little grief about leaving friends and the house we knew in Louisiana.

At the store, I wanted to pick my candy very carefully, so I walked up and down the aisles surveying each and every treat on the shelves. Sue knew what she wanted- candy cigarettes and wax lips, which she quickly picked and headed to the check out counter, entreating me to hurry up. As I turned the corner near the back of the store, I noticed a water fountain with a sign attached to the front.

“Susie,” I called. “Come ‘ere.”

Impatient with waiting for me, she came back to where I was standing, and told me again to hurry up. I was learning to sound out words at the time, and turning back to the water fountain, I said, “What does ‘No ni-nig-niggas’ mean?”

A nearby man, big and overalled with brown spit on the edge of his mouth, boomed, “What does NO NIGGAS mean? This little girl wants ta know what no niggas means! I’ll tell you what… ”

He didn’t have a chance to finish because Sue grabbed me by the hand, causing me to drop my nickel on the floor, and yelled, “Run!”

I didn’t know why we were running, but the urgency in her voice propelled me forward. She pulled away quickly and though I hollered after her to wait for me, she waved her arms and kept going. By the time we reached the house, tears rolled down my crimson face. Sue slammed the screen door, and I cried all the louder.

Hearing the commotion, Mom emerged from the kitchen with,
“Susan Elaine, what on earth is all the noise- and why is your sister crying?”

“Catch your breath and tell me what is going on- Carol Anne, are you hurt?
I shook my head as Sue began to explain.

“She said a bad word, Mom- right in front of people at the store, and this big man came after us.”

About now, Sue began to sob uncontrollably. Mom looked at me with a big question mark etched across her forehead.

“I read the sign…the sign on the water fountain. I just wanted to know what it meant- that’s all. I didn’t know it was bad, Mom.”

(I'm not sure if the story is finished here or if I should add to it. For now, I'll leave it as is...)