Running With Wolves

I read a story in Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, many years ago. The story spoke about a girl who waited for the right suitor to come along. The girl lived in a small village and suitors came from far and near, but each time they were not the right one, and she let them go. She was looking for the perfect one. She did not try to fix this or that, in the one that was almost just right, she just sent them on their way and waited for the next one. Eventually, after many suitors and much waiting, the perfect one came.

I was so impressed with that story and could not get it out of my mind. I had never sent a suitor packing before, instead I always tried like hell to make it work. I would grasp details of something that I liked in a man, and hang on for dear life. I never imagined that there could be a constant stream of suitors for me to choose from. I never had faith that there would be the perfect one.

Just prior to reading this story, having been married twice, each marriage followed by divorce, having had numerous one night stands and many relationships of varying length, all ending badly, having given up entirely, handing in my library card, saying enough was enough, the good ones are gone, snatched up by women much smarter than I was, I woke up one day realizing that I had not had a date in five years.

It seemed like there were no men out there, even though the statistics showed millions of single and available men in the world. I imagined that all the good ones were completely taken and were now gone, even though there were divorces in the thousands that happened every day. It did not matter because in my experience, the well was dry. You get what you believe and I believed there was no one out there, no one who was perfect for me.

The story of the girl with the stream of suitors bothered me. How could there be such a story. The symbolism in the story was supposed to shed light on some truth after all.  Where did all these men come from? After being bothered for long enough, I checked out the internet and found dating service after dating service of men looking for someone. I looked up the number of single men in my city and in my state. The number was big. I started to let myself believe, letting the door creak open to the thought, with all these available men out there, maybe just maybe, there was one for me. I was a good catch and I was available, so why couldn’t that be the same for those men who were also looking.

Once I opened that door with the expectation that there were available men, the stream of suitors began to line up. Friends introduced me to their single friends. I went on coffee dates. I met men at my church. I met them over the internet. The stream became steady and reliable.

The next issue I faced was not clinging to the ones who were a close, but not perfect fit. I needed to let them go, like the girl in the story, let them go and remain patient for the right one. It was not that I was looking for a perfect human being. I am not a perfect human being. But I was looking for someone who was perfect for me. That’s a far different thing.

There were many false starts along the way to finding my perfect suitor. I thought that this one or that one was Mr. Right but it would become apparent, sooner or later, that it was not to be. There were those who came close and I had to work hard not to clutch, as I had in the past, letting him go on his way, working hard to be patient and not look back. It took everything I had at times to break the pattern of wanting something that was not right for me, remembering that trying to make it work had failed many times in the past. I needed to hold out for the perfect one. I worried often that I was just being overly picky, that what I was after did not exist, and it was hard to keep a steady gaze forward.

It was the overall feeling of the thing I was after. I wanted it to feel easy, like coming home. I wanted it to be fun and full of laughter. I wanted to be understood without having to push at the finer points. Mostly, I wanted to be loved without reservation. I did not want someone who loved me with one eye over his shoulder, looking for someone better, nor did I want someone who would be constantly pointing out small little things that I might improve on. I wanted someone who was absolutely sure that I was as perfect for him, as I was sure he was perfect for me.

So I waited like the girl in the story. I was not always as patient or as clear as the girl in the story, but I did the best that I could to stay the course. In the end it worked. Mark walked into my life one day and never walked out. The moment I saw him, I thought that he was the one, but I did not jump out of my dress and I waited to make sure. When he did not ask me out on the first night we met, I did not lose heart. I knew that if he was the one, it would happen, and I felt certain that it would happen. There was a knowing I had from the first moment, a knowing that had been missing from all those bad first starts. It turned out that he did want to ask me out, believed that he would find my name in the directory, but was unable to. He came back to the discussion group where we first met the very next opportunity that he had, and made certain to ask me then.

Mark was as keen on me as I was on him. There has been nothing difficult about our relationship and our courtship is a highlight in both of our lives.  For the first time in my life I am where I know I should be in a relationship. That is not to say that we have not come up against difficult things. We have had our share. The difference is that we know that together, we can figure things out. We also know that we are committed to being together. We are right for each other. We are perfect together.

I suppose there are those out there that get this straight out the door. They don’t have to go through marriages and divorces and many failed attempts before finding the one. For several reasons I didn’t get it. I don’t beat myself up about that anymore. I like the life that I have had. All the crazy things that I have been through and done, in the name of love, have made me who I am. I know for certain that I appreciate what I have now, in a way I never could have, if I had not gone down this long and winding road.

Trust Severed

We were already three hours late for the wedding; at least that’s what I had told them. I was standing up in my sister’s wedding that day and if they had it their way, I would get there three hours after the wedding started. We had driven all the way from Oklahoma to attend the wedding in northern Wisconsin but my husband’s mother lived in Madison which was on the way and we could never, I mean never, just pass Madison without stopping in.

When we moved away from Madison to Oklahoma, when Tim got into a master’s program there, it took a full month of saying goodbye to his mother. We had to have a special party at her house, which turned into many dinners saying good-bye, because we would not be able to see her all the time after we moved. Each of these dinners focused on how much she was going to miss us meaning miss Tim. She came up with a series of excuses why Tim had to come over to help her with this or that. The goodbyes were endless. Finally we were set to leave, but we had to postpone because Tim’s mom had to go out-of-town, and if we left as we had scheduled, she would not be able to see us off. Finally, it got to the point that if we did not leave, Tim would miss his first day of classes. Even so I felt like I could not breathe on that first day out-of-town, imagining that we would have to turn around for some reason having to do with Tim’s mom.

Tim said early in our relationship that it was just easier to just do as his mother told him. Over the years we spent together, I saw how she manipulated Tim and his brother to do her bidding. She was very free and easy with her love, affection and money as long as you towed the line and complied. I had lived on my own for several years before hooking up with Tim, and the idea of having a mother to cow toe around was foreign to me. I adored Tim’s mom at first, she being so overwhelmingly engaging, well-educated, cute and petit, she was downright charming. I soon found out that, like Tim, I was expected to follow the family rules which meant I was to show up at all the family events, put on a bright and happy face and do what I was told. The first time I got out of line, Tim’s mom gave me the silent treatment which lasted a full year. During that year I was still required to show up and put on a happy face. I was in love and wanted to make things right with Tim’s mom, so I complied.

By the time we left for Oklahoma, I was on speaking terms with Tim’s mom and for several years we returned to Wisconsin each Christmas to visit our respective families. Invariably, we would stop to see Tim’s mom before heading further up north to see my parents and invariably we would be hours late to see my parents. We could not leave late the night before, because that would be too hard a drive so late at night. Never mind that we had driven the 18 hour drive from Oklahoma straight through with Tim and I taking turns at the wheel. Never mind that we had already stayed for days with Tim’s mom. It would be agreed that we would leave early in the morning so that we could get to my parents for Christmas lunch. But in the morning we could not possibly leave without a large breakfast, a breakfast that lasted until noon making us arrive at my parents for dinner instead of lunch, my family having to tell the kids to wait to open presents until we finally arrived.

Of course that was not the end of the story. Tim’s Mom would then talk Tim into a cross-country skiing trip after Christmas so we could spend just a little more time together. On a couple of occasions we made the mistake of also trying to get together with friends for some cross-country skiing. Tim’s mom would find a way for us to have to linger on with her, while our friends waited hours at a restaurant for us to show up. The first time it happened I called my friends over and over explaining the problem so they were not in the dark. The second time I told Tim he had to make the calls. He never did. There would not be a third time skiing with friends.

So now I was faced with the prospect of getting to my sister’s wedding on time. I was standing up and this was extremely important to me. I knew from experience that we would have to stop at Tim’s mom’s house on the way up and knew there was no way out of there on time. I decided the only solution was to lie. It was the only lie I ever told during my marriage but it had to be done. I told Tim and his mother that it was a morning wedding. I told Tim and his mother that the wedding started four hours earlier than it did. Of course they decided the best solution was to wake up really early in the morning to get there on time. I set the alarm for the proper time, according to my lie and got up. I got ready and packed the car. I got the kids ready to go. Then I waited. As I suspected we had to have the big breakfast. I could see that both Tim and his mom were looking at me, waiting for me to become hysterical in the manner I usually did about leaving on time. They could not say anything though, because that would announce the fact that we were dangerously late for a wedding, a wedding that I was standing up in. We continued the charade until we finally left.

We left on the three-hour drive north to my sister’s wedding when the wedding was supposed to have started, according to the lie I had told them. Not a word was said by either Tim or his mother about how we could possibly make it on time for a wedding that was starting already.

I made it to the wedding on time because of the four-hour lie. My family was extremely relieved to see me, but was prepared to go ahead without me. Tim never said a word about it. We did not discuss it on the three-hour drive north and never said a word about it after getting to the wedding on time.

My New Car

When my daughter Daryl was six, her Dad finally came home from Japan to visit her. Daryl never gave up on her Dad. During the entire two years he was away, even though there was rarely even a card from him, she kept a tee-shirt of his in her room. As if to recreate him from his scent she would hold that old shirt up to her face and inhale, his smell the only thing she had left.

When Tim showed up at my door, I offered for him to stay with us and before the week was out I offered him not only my apartment, but my car and my bed. My daughter was not the only one starved for his scent. I found it to be delicious that he was back. Our family fell quickly into step as in the old days. Daryl was so thrilled to have her Dad back. Tim and I spent the week, cooking together, going out together to a concert, meeting all my friends from work, and in the evening after a full day, plopping down into each other’s arms and making love. It all seemed perfect. I walked around with that glow on my face that you can only get from a new relationship.

My first husband was emotionally abusive and left no doubt about my decision to get a divorce. When I started to pray that he would get into a car accident and die so that I could have a peaceful night, it was time to call it quits. After that divorce I never looked back.

Tim was my second husband and my second divorce.  The thing about Tim is that even in divorce he was a nice guy and I loved him. We just had very different ideas about what it meant to be married. I believed strongly in fidelity and he did not. I did not like the idea of sharing him and he thought as long as we loved each other, what was the difference. I even tried the infidelity thing on for size, while we were married, to see if I could manage it. I decided to bed this very attractive man who had been pursuing me for some time. It turned things even messier and I became even more confused and had to call it quits. In order to sort out the chaos, I left both the affair and my husband.

That did not keep me from believing that Tim would come around and see it my way. I imagined that he still needed to sow his wild oats and he would come around to seeing that I was the best thing since the discovery of sugar and come back to me. So when he returned to the States to visit Daryl, taking up his old space in bed beside me, I imagined that all my dreams were coming true and we would be back to our old selves, madly in love with each other once again, but this time it would be just the two of us, Tim finally forgetting all those other women.

It did not help that before Tim showed up on my doorstep I was in a very low spot, feeling like a twice failure for having two divorces under my belt, not having found another person I thought could possibly replace what Tim and I had, being overly stressed by the tension of being a single parent and having to do it all by myself. To add to the trouble, when I divorced, I chose to move to Arizona where I did not know a single person and had no family or emotional support besides my colleagues from the office who were all delightfully single and child free and had no idea what I was dealing with.

Just before Tim left to go back to Japan, where he had a temporary position at a University, he totaled my car. He ran into the car in front of him while trying to find an address, not knowing where he was headed. Daryl was in the car and they both had on seatbelts. Fortunately, no one was hurt except the car, it being towed away for salvage. We went to the used car dealer and I picked the best car that I could get for the $10,000 Tim was willing to spend and drove away in a used Nissan.

I took Tim to the airport the next day. He insisted we stop at a shop on the way to the airport and I spied on him from around the shelves as he picked out some jewelry I imagined was for me. When he never turned it over to me on the way to the airport, I asked him about the jewelry. “Oh, that, it’s for Gwen,” he said casually, slapping me in the face with the casualness of it, sending my whole life up in flames. The fact that we had shared a bed for the last week, had cooked together, had fun together, going shopping together, going to a concert together, acting like lovers act, was nothing.

The only thing that had changed during our week together, in comparison to the days when we were married, was that now I was the other women. Gwen was his woman. Gwen got the jewelry.

The Repo Man

Me with Elmo Somewhere in Canada Evading the Repo Man

The Nissan my ex-husband bought for me, after he totaled my car, was now being followed by the repo man. I just didn’t know it yet.  Tim had decided to quit making payments. It was not like I could make the payments. I did not have a job, having quit my last job, not able to continue one more day, being too exhausted. I was fried from the combination of depression and too many years going too strong, trying to do it all alone. In one rash moment, I gave up, quitting my job at a Legal Aid office in Phoenix, packing up the few things I owned, moving back to my parents at the age of thirty-eight. I had not lived at home since I was eighteen. In fact I had been dead set on getting out of there the day I turned eighteen. Now I was back.

I came back down the winding gravel road to my parent’s cottage on the Spirit River Flowage outside Tomahawk, Wisconsin in the Northern corner of the state near the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A flowage is a lot like a river except that the only reason it exists at all is because a dam was put in causing a spillage area. The one difference between a river and a flowage is that a flowage can shrink to a slick stream of mud when the water is low at the dam. On the summer I moved back, the flowage was running high with water and I took it as a good sign.

Fortunately, both my daughters were taken care of for the summer. My oldest had graduated high school and was exploring life in Milwaukee, living with her father. My youngest, Daryl, was visiting her father in Japan for the summer. I had insisted that Tim take her, recognizing I was on thin strings at the time.

It seemed like a perfect place to recuperate. There was a little shack on the half-acre lot my parent’s owned that I cleaned out, packing in my few belongings, making it my home for the next three months. My parents were not thrilled to see me lulling around their place every day, looking forlorn and with no plan in life except to recuperate. They suggested little things each day over breakfast to get me moving along in some direction or other. “There is surely a job at the grocery store in town,” Mom would say with an edge in her voice and a frown on her face. “Tim should be helping out more with Daryl. When is he coming back from Japan?” my dad would demand. Dad always thought there should be some man who should be sorting this out for me.

I had a law degree. I was not going to work at the grocery store. The problem was that I was only licensed to practice law in Oklahoma and Arizona. This was Wisconsin. Not only was this Wisconsin, but this was the north woods. Making money here as a lawyer was not anything I had any familiarity with. People here tended to stick with who they knew. They did not know me and I was a woman to boot. Anyway, I did not even have the $500.00 necessary to pay for the bar exam and I had none of the study materials to get prepared to take the bar. I had no plan and there was no man who was going to sort this out for me.

I spent the summer looking up old friends and going to visit them. I liked it away from my parent’s house and the constant reminders about how lost I really was. In my Nissan rambling down the road in Wisconsin in summer, the pine and the birch trees making a tunnel of green, nearly covering the sky, with the black-top road my only companion, that being the nearest I could get to feeling free.

My parents turned out not to be the answer to my prayers in the way I had hoped. They did not understand the concept of being burned out. They had worked hard their whole lives and had no one to complain to about it. It was my choice to marry the men I married and I had made my bed. They wanted to enjoy retirement, not take on the care of their adult daughter and all of the problems that come with that. It was not that they were kicking me out. They just wanted me to figure things out and get on with my life.

Coming home from one of my visits, I found my parents sitting in their usual spot, outside in front of their house, taking in the sun at the time in the late afternoon just before the mosquitoes come out to drive everyone inside. “The Repo guy was here, wanting to know where you were.” Dad said sternly. “He wants to pick up the car.”

I had no idea Tim had been stupid enough to let this get this far. He had threatened to quit making the car payments, thinking he had paid enough and it was time for me to make the payments. I figured he had totaled my car and should be required to replace it for me. The Nissan was in his name, not mine; it was his car to pay for. “How the hell did they find me here” I wanted to know.  I could not believe that they could possibly find me out in the Wisconsin woods. It had not been that long since I had left Arizona and I left no forwarding address.

For the next two days, I made sure to park the Nissan in with my parent’s vehicles blocking it so that it could not be snatched away when I was not looking. It was time to leave my parents place.  The repo man was making that clear. The only answer was  to move back to Arizona where I could get a job as a lawyer without having to wait the next half a year or more that it would take to pass a bar exam.  Daryl would be back in another month and school would start for her. I needed to find a job and an apartment and get her registered for school. After two months of floundering, I felt purpose returning to my life.  I knew what I needed to do.

I sent in a request to cash in my only retirement account which totaled a measly $3,000. It would take a couple of weeks of process. When it got here I would move back to Arizona.  I still had a couple hundred dollars left in my pocket. With that I left town, both to evade the repo man and to go on one last road trip before I went back to my life of work and single parenthood.

Elmo

It all started with Elmo, truly the ugliest Lhasa Apso ever to exist. I had always had a love for dogs but had resisted getting one for the kids because I was having a hard enough time coping with just the two girls to raise. The added responsibility of a dog seemed over the top to me. But I was in the middle of my year of tears, having split from my second husband, feeling lost and alone, thoughts of an adorable lap dog to snuggle up to began entering my mind, causing me to cave, causing me to run to the library for some quick research, needing a dog that did not shed, finding myself on the wrong side of town at a pet store crammed with cages, looking into the big brown eyes of a bundle of fur the size of my hand. Elmo did not look big enough to be weaned but I knew he was meant for our family.

Elmo With Turd

When I brought him home the girls both ran and squealed in delight. It was clear that my visions of a lap dog to cuddle up to were out the window. This dog would never again be put down if I did not insist one of them take him out to do his duties. He actually managed to do his first dutiful turd right on the middle of Kelly’s bed. The girls were so thrilled with the magnificence of his performance that a picture of the turd with the offender was taken before Kelly took him on a walk in the neighborhood.

The very next thing that happens and it seems to happen almost instantly, is that Kelly comes screaming up the stairs and into the apartment: “Elmo’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead, Elmo, he’s dead.” Kelly had bleeding scratches up and down her arms and legs. There were some deep gouges. I was terrified, images of terrorist type attackers in our little apartment complex flashing through my mind. It took what seemed like several minutes to calm Kelly down enough to tell me what happened. A bunch of cats, which seemed to her to be coming from every direction, attacked Elmo.  Kelly tried to rescue him from the attacking cats, getting herself attacked in the process. Later, I discovered that the cats were strays with kittens that were being rescued by one of my neighbors and Elmo must have been a threat to their little brood.

Kelly continued wailing for me to go find Elmo and would not allow me to take care of her until I found him. I wandered in the direction that she had walked with Elmo, wary of the attacking cats and thinking the worst about what might have become of the little bundle of fur after seeing what the cats were able to do to Kelly. I found Elmo under a bush. It did take some doing to extricate him from the thicket, and when I picked him up he was still shaking from the experience but there was not a scratch on him.

After bringing the unscathed Elmo home to prove to my daughters that he was indeed alive and well and after they were allowed to swoon over him a bit, I was able to get a better look at Kelly’s wounds. She clearly needed to be taken in for some medical treatment.

I went over to my friend Dee’s place to see if she would watch my youngest daughter, Daryl who was just six years old and needed supervision. I had never gotten a sitter for Daryl and Dee was the only person in the neighborhood I knew who owed me a favor. She owed me a lot of favors in fact. I had begun to drive out of the complex through the back, because if I left the usual way, Dee would more often than not see me pulling past her place and run out to ask me if she could ride along. Riding along for Dee meant that I stop at the various places for her to just do a little shopping or a few errands. I never got home in under two hours and in that time Kelly would be home watching her younger sister. My day and the things I needed to get done would be set behind schedule. When raising two kids by yourself, schedules are everything. I think Dee was just lonely and wanted the attention. She was in her early thirties, had a good job as a Dentist and she did own her own car. Fortunately, Dee was very happy to watch Daryl.

At the clinic, Kelly’s scratches were all cleaned and bandaged and she was sent home with pain killers but no stitches, the whole process took over three hours. When I got back to the apartment complex, I saw a police car with the lights flashing at the front office and when I got to my door there was a police officer waiting for me. I was taken to the office where I found my six-year-old in the custody of another officer. My youngest daughter, Daryl was grinning from ear to ear. I knew why she was grinning. Daryl is a very special child and has difficulty with many things but the one thing she knows and loves are police officers and police cars with lights going. She was the type of kid that after going to Disneyland and being introduced to getting autographs from Disney characters decided she wanted her autographs from police officers and had a small stash of police officer autographs by this time. The only thing missing was the siren blasting and her world would be perfect.

“I found your daughter with another kid smashing out windows in the complex with a baseball bat. She has been with me, in this office, for two hours now and there was no parent to be found. I was just about to pick up the phone and call child protective services. Is there any reason why I should not?” the officer demanded. I started with the story of the cats and taking Kelly to the clinic and Dee and that she should have been watching her. I knew I was not convincing and I was searching for a way to explain and making no sense. The officer looked at me skeptically, “We have been here for two hours and there has been no one looking for this child,” he interjected into my ramblings. It was then that Dee popped her head into the office, “Oh, there she is,” Dee said feigning exasperation. “I was wondering where she went off to.”  I was happy for her late appearance but wanted to strangle the woman just the same.

The officer was at least now convinced of my story but he started on a completely different tactic, “Your daughter just broke out several windows and does not seem to show any sign of remorse for what she has done. I am extremely concerned about her ability to understand right and wrong.” I looked over at Daryl who was beside herself beaming at the police officer, thrilled by the flashing lights on the police car coming through the window and dancing around the office, delighted by the entire spectacle.

How do I explain this one? Daryl had no diagnosis that could sum all this up for the officer. I had taken her to see many psychologists, a psychiatrist or two and councilors but the conclusion was that she just had needs and would take a lot of one-on-one work and would always have needs. Medications were tried but did not work. She was prone to extreme tantrums but was a very happy and loving child. In the end I just decided not to respond to the officer. He was both right and wrong. Daryl did have trouble always knowing right from wrong, but she did try to understand and by the time she was an adult she got it better than most people get it. She would always and forever remember this experience as the time her bat got taken away. In the end we were released with strong warnings about next time should this ever happen again.

After Elmo’s brief introduction into our family, which turned out not to be very off the mark on what life with us would be like, he stayed on with us for the next twelve years. We were the only ones that ever took to him. From that little hand sized bundle, he did grow into a cozy lap dog, taking turns with each of us in our needs, his hair never shed, his big brown eyes turned out to look in opposite directions and his teeth were extremely bucked. Most people who came to visit grew to hate how he nipped at their heels and growled at them and how he humped small children. But for us he was perfect. We learned to leave him alone when he was under a bed and learned to control his nasty edges but mostly we loved and adored him, thinking he was the best thing the universe could have ever placed at our feet. He has been gone for years now and we look at his old pictures with a bit of awe. How could we have found that ugly face to hold such unbounded beauty? “We were blinded by love.” Kelly recently explained. We were blinded by love.

Elmo

Longing

I used to long for the perfect man, the man I would recognize immediately as my soul mate, the answer to my loneliness, the man who complimented my finer points and I his. The problem was that I did recognize him. I recognized him everywhere. I even married him; I married him three times.  It was never the same man I recognized “as him”, but always a different face, a different profession, each time a completely different person. I would swoon at his feet. I would act coy. I would put on my smartest face. I would stumble all over myself to be seen, to be noticed, to make him love me. I found them all lovable, amazingly good-looking and kind. Each evening, alone, I thought over their words and the cute way they smiled at me, looking for evidence of their love for me. I would write in my journal: “Steve really is the nicest guy, I really do love that guy; I wonder if Dave will call me tonight, we had the best time last night; Jack just had a controlling mother, he’s got to sort a few things out, he will see that we are perfect together.”  Sometimes it would be years between this one and that one but other times it was only one day from one love to the next. My first marriage lasted less than two years, my second five years.

The truth is that I really was falling in love with the same guy over and over again. The guy I fell in love with was the one that made me work for his affections the same way that my Dad did. I fell in love the final time on the day Dad died, this time to a man who loved me back in the same way I loved him, openly and freely, no reservations. My third marriage is forever.

First Boyfriend

He was not someone who I would have picked out, not because he wasn’t good-looking – he was – it was just that it looked like he was trying to be good-looking. It was his clothes, mostly, that gave that appearance. They were never the things most of the guys wear – jeans, worn and tattered. No, he always wore black jeans or shirts with a yoke on them and a matching belt. He had moved here from somewhere else; maybe they dressed that way where he came from. It wasn’t like it was gawky or anything and it’s not like he stood out like a sore thumb for it, but it was just different. He sat across from me and behind me in my eighth grade English class.

I would never have noticed him if he hadn’t decided to leave his ID bracelet in my folder on the top of my desk during recess one day. We had two sessions in English every day. One was with Mrs. Theime and the other with Mrs. Boss, one teaching us grammar and the other literature with a break in between. It was when I came back from break that I found the bracelet, hidden inside my folder, causing my folder to bulge up funny. I was a little frightened seeing that bulging folder thinking that someone was pulling a prank on me. My worst horror was standing out; I could blush and wilt under scrutiny like nobody’s business. When I found the bracelet with his last name on it, I was a little confused. But things cleared up after class. He came up by my side, “Why aren’t you wearing it?” he wanted to know.” “You want me to wear it?” I asked. “Don’t you want to?” he responded and from then on I was his girlfriend.

The only difference after becoming his girlfriend was that now everyone in my class knew that we were together and he walked me to my bus everyday at the end of the school day. We never really talked. I never knew what to say and I suppose he didn’t either. It became something I thought about all the time though. I did not know the first thing about having a boyfriend but I thought it had to be more this. I had no idea about who he was or even where he came from. It was fun and exciting to have a boyfriend and I thought maybe I was the envy of girls who did not have one. My friends were asking me what it was like. What could I say? It wasn’t like anything. For several days we walked to the bus together and he politely said goodbye to me each time as I got on the bus. He was nice enough, anyway, and he was cute with that thick thatch of dark wavy hair and dark brown eyes, almost black even.

In the end it became too much for me. At break one day between Mrs. Theime’s and Mrs. Boss’ class I put the ID bracelet back on his desk. There was nowhere to hide it the way he had hidden it in my folder, so I just left in on top of the wooden desk. Later, my friend’s asked me why I had broken up with him. I said, “It didn’t feel right.”

First Job

I pounded on the locked and flimsy screen door, hearing the rattle of metal echo into the quiet of the morning on this little tree-lined street of old two-story white houses, each house with similar cement steps and metal screen doors.  After enough pounding to wake the neighborhood, I came to the conclusion that there was no one inside. I plop myself down on the front steps, brace my head up in my hands, waiting for something to happen, realizing that I may be here for a while. Maybe these people were just out somewhere and they would return soon giving me a very reasonable explanation for not being here.

This place is my summer job. Mom decided that I was old enough to work now that I was fifteen and found this job for me in this neighboring town through an ad in the local newspaper. In this small northern Wisconsin town of about 1,500 people the local paper runs anywhere from four to eight pages and is mostly advertisement. The ad was looking for a live-in sitter for five days a week with the weekends off and it paid $25.00 per week. That was more money in one week that I had ever held in my hand so I was intrigued yet just a bit scared. I had never lived away from home with strangers before and I was not what you would call your outgoing type, but rather more the type of person that hid behind her hair.

The first Sunday evening after being dropped off on this job was less than welcoming. I met the three older kids as they ran in and out of the room, racing around me as the baby was plopped in my arms by his mother. I loved the baby immediately, all chubby cheeks and squishy pink skin, a thatch of red hair on the top of his head and a quick smile. He was still in diapers and would take most of my attention. The room they gave me to stay in was off the living room and had no door, a string of beads, all the separated me from the TV and the chaos of kids. The Dad sat in front of the TV watching the news. I assessed the danger he might pose as he nodded to me when I was introduced to him. He seemed non-threatening enough. The mom rattled on about what I needed to know about the kids and their work schedule. I had the evenings free to myself, free to hang out where and do what I wondered.

By the time the mother was done explaining things to me and I got back to my room behind the beaded curtain, I noticed my suitcase lying open, the contents ruffled through. The little ruffians had taken every red cent I had in there, running off with it right under their parents’ noses. I was too intimidated to say a word about it though. The $25.00 I was going to make that week just got reduced to $19.00. The kids were nowhere to be seen at the present but they showed up later with their mouths and pockets stuffed full of bubblegum and candy, probably from the five and dime store five blocks down the street.

My duties included, taking care of the baby, watching the kids, keeping them out of trouble, keeping the house clean, mopping all the floors in the two-story house once each week and making supper every evening for the family. I had never been much of a cook and the mom needed to leave recipes with instructions for me to follow. She insisted it would be easy and I could learn. I was worried about the cooking, but I followed the directions and they ate what I made.

In the evenings I did the only thing I could find to do; I walked around town, stopping in the furniture shop, drug store and dime store while they were still open or I went down to the park at the end of the block and sat on one of the swings until it got dark outside. It was on that swing that I started praying to God. I prayed that there was some way that I did not have to work at this place. The only person I liked at all was that red-haired baby. The kids only found ways to mess up the house and torment me when they weren’t off finding mischief in the neighborhood. Before I had a chance to escape the house in the evenings, the mom rattled on about work and people I didn’t know and things I had no interest in. Her husband always plunked himself in front of the television set each night and I rarely heard as much as a grunt out of him. I wanted to be home where I had my own room and my own space and where I knew the people I lived with. I was lonely as hell.

On Friday, before my mom got off work and was able to pick me up for the weekend, a man dropped by the house. The mom sat on the front stoop with me as the three older kids jumped all over him. It was the first time I realized that these kids had a different Dad, their blond hair suddenly making sense to me. “Isn’t he cute?” The mom gushed at me. She was talking in a hushed voice and was gazing in his direction as she spoke. “Uhuh,” I mumbled thinking how completely weird this was. First of all, I saw nothing cute about this guy and what was she doing, getting all hazy eyed over a man she was divorced from when her husband was sitting about 12 feet away in the living room in his usual spot in front of the TV. My mom drove up to pick me up right after the kids left with their dad and I was never so happy to see her in my life. I said another prayer, asking for something to happen, anything not to have to come back to this place.

Now here I sit, this is the fifth week on this job and I am dropped off bright and early on Monday morning when they are supposed to be expecting me and there is no one home. Mom just dropped me and left for work. I don’t know a soul in this town other than this wacky family. I wonder just how long I will end up sitting here and what I can do, when a women walks up to me from down the street. Maybe she is a neighbor. “Are you waiting for someone?” She wants to know. I tell her about being the sitter. “I don’t know why no one is home.” I say “Didn’t you hear?” she asks. “They are both in jail and DES has the kids. They got into some kind of gun fight at the county fair last night. It was her ex-husband and her husband and her right in the middle of it. I don’t think anybody’s going to be by here. There ain’t no kids to babysit here.”

I put on an expression of shock and concern that a person should have on their face at this moment and did my best to keep the smile, that wanted to spread from ear to ear, off my face. In my head I just kept saying, “Thank you God, Thank you God, There is a God!” The nice woman was willing to give me a lift to the Post Office where Mom worked and that was the end of my first job.

 

Pam

Pam opens the door to her small apartment and I meet her for the first time. She is tall and lanky thin with wavy brown hair coming to her shoulders and has a quick, friendly smile. I think she is pretty. My friend Jerry introduced me to her, having known her through his brother and the motorcycle gang his brother ran with. Pam’s husband, the father of Penny, Pam’s four year old child, was in the gang and off somewhere cruising, leaving Pam and Penny home alone and needing a roommate.  I had just graduated high-school and landed a job at a pizza factory and needed somewhere to stay besides my parents’ home. As Pam and I introduced each other, I found out that Pam also had a job at the pizza factory. We could not only share an apartment but we could also take turns driving to work every morning. The deal was quickly made.

Pam was on welfare, so I had to write a note to the Department of Economic Security (DES) stating that I lived with Pam and we shared the rent but I bought my own groceries and she bought hers. I had to be at home at our apartment for the meeting with the lady from DES so that she could interview me to make sure we weren’t trying to pull a fast one on them. Pam would never cheat the system. She had too much integrity for that. I could tell that she was embarrassed to ask me to write the letter to DES and to have to ask me to be there for the appointment. I would never occur to me to think any worse of her for it. I was just so happy to have a buddy to live with. I needed a good friend at that time, the same as I needed air to breathe. I felt lost and alone with no direction, with no idea what life as an adult should look like and no idea of what I wanted for my future. Pam was a woman living on her own and making it. She was even making it with a kid in tow. I admired her.

At first Pam said she would not go out with me on the weekends. She said the she would rather just sit home with Penny, telling me she never went out. I was amazed and told her so. What was life except for living?  We were adults now. We did not need permission. We could make our own rules. We could have fun.  She was actually afraid to leave the house. I cajoled her, wearing her down, a little at a time, telling her that we could find things to do with Penny in tow, that it would be so fun, the three of us and I would help with Penny. She eventually consented, packing a bag of goodies to keep Penny entertained, and we were off, the three musketeers, taking on the world together.

That summer ran past like a dream, Pam and I working at the pizza factory, getting ready for work together every morning, pulling on own white uniforms and white thick-soled shoes that kept our feet from getting too sore standing at the lines all day long, talking about our lives on the drive to the factory, at lunch at the factory, on the way home and until we retired to bed at night. On the weekends we went to see bands that played in country fields and parks, dancing and getting high. We brought Penny along for the fun of running around and dancing in the grass. Every weekend there was something fun to do. We never left Penny alone with a baby sitter. We always went somewhere that she could tag along.

I don’t remember how it came out. I noticed that Pam had a couple missing teeth. I assumed that it was because of gum disease or a tooth problem or something dental going wrong. But she said it was from her husband hitting her. She never brought up her husband and I didn’t even know his name. It was weird to think about Pam being married. I had never laid eyes on the guy. I had heard he was somewhere in Colorado with the motorcycle gang. This was not the type of gang filled with teachers and accountants dressed up in leather.

I had encounters with this gang many times. They showed up in a bar once where I was hanging out and one of them covered in tattoos and leather, cuddled up next to me, dragging his nose ring up my neck as he recounted to me how he once killed a man and wanted to know if that thrilled me. I knew better than to bolt. I had been put in a scissor hold by one of these guys at a party once until I passed out. I was always saved by Jerry, who discovering me in distress would call it quits to my tormentor. Rocky was the leader of this gang of ruffians and Jerry was his brother. Jerry was the opposite of any of these guys, sweet and soft-spoken as butter, gentle and unassuming as a doe, but the gang never crossed him because that would mean crossing Rocky. At one party far out in the woods the gang showed up, taking over our spiked water melon, shooing us all to the edge of the woods. I always assumed Jerry somehow let on to where we were. They brought a woman along on the back of one of their bikes, calling her peachy cheeks, taking turns with her in the woods. Through the rest of the party there was always one of them yelling toward the woods something in the order of, “Are you done yet, it’s my fucking turn, get the fuck on with it.” I hid next to Jerry keeping my mouth shut.

I saw Pam open up during that summer we spent together. There was an edge to her that seemed to ease and relax over those easy summer days with the rhythm of the life we made together.. As the summer stretched on, we laughed more, played the music louder and danced more. We melted into each other in the way friends do when life is new and you get to figure it all out together. I left at the end of the summer to attend a technical college 45 miles away and had to move on. We were sorry to say our good-byes. I knew that I would always remember her.

The next summer I called Pam and asked to come by for a visit. She told me her husband was back. I was surprised, thinking that he was history for her, not understanding how she could take back a guy that left her stranded on welfare with his kid to feed and clothe. But I didn’t question her and she told me I could come by in an hour. She said to come by the back door. I found the instructions on how to park and how to use the back door strange, but again I didn’t question her. When I got there I saw her peeking out of the curtains watching for me and she actually pulled me into the apartment. When I got in and my eyes adjusted to the low light, I saw the bruises on her neck and face. She said I could only stay a few minutes because she was afraid he would come home and catch me there. The Pam I knew over the prior summer was gone. The old fear was back but now it was far worse. I tried to convince her to leave him in the same way I had convinced her the summer before to go out with me on the weekend. But I only saw the fear in her eyes grow the longer I stayed and the more I talked. There would be no more music and dancing in her life.

I left wondering what I could do. I still wonder.

First Love

My eyes rivet in place on him as if magnetized there – at the same time I don’t want to stand out like some type of gawking freak on a mission, so I hide behind corners and trees, following him around and when his path crosses mine I walk past him, nonchalantly, making as if I just happened to be there at the same time. It seems right that we should get together. We are the only two people from our school at this lake. Surely he would recognize me and find it equally a coincidence and an opportunity to start a connection before the school year. It would be our summer fling, our first love. It would be so amazing to come back to school and have summer love stories to share with my girlfriends. I would not be the same dowdy girl with no personality and little potential that left school for summer break. I would be someone if I had a boyfriend to be with when I came back to school. I follow and watch as he hangs around with his friends, locals from the area, he’s always easy to laugh, all tanned and in shape with blond sun streaks in his normally brown hair. When he’s out on the large wooden raft anchored just past the swim area, he can jump and twist dive in the lake with the ease of an otter, all that tan, sleek muscle glistening in the air.

My Aunt and Uncle have taken me on this week-long camping trip to Lake Mondeaux on the condition I watch my cousins for most of the day. The campground is on the other side of the Lake and it is time to return on the trail that winds its way full circle around the lake. I love to walk this trail, feeling the cool mud packed earth beneath my bare feet, avoiding the tree roots that crisscross along the way, enjoying the flicker of sun that manages to squeeze through the leaves overhead and dashes across my skin. I know this path by heart and feel that I could take it in the dark, knowing just where each twist and turn comes. On this path I can let my thoughts dream of this boy.  Back at the campground I am teased about where I was off to. Was there a boy I was chasing? Of course I am horrified to think my Aunt and Uncle know what I have been up to, not wanting them to read my thoughts, but the red,  that rushes up my cheeks, eventually covering my entire face, tells all. Even so, I refuse to acknowledge anything, hiding my embarrassment, turning to the fire, stoking some flames with a stick, making believe the fire is causing the blush in my face.

I take the long trail back and forth from the campground to the recreation area as often as I can, hoping to  catch a glimpse of him, seeing him in those cutoff jeans, frayed against his tan, hoping against hope that he notices me. I continue to torment myself, thinking only about him, his sun-streaked hair, his muscles as he dives in the lake and pulls himself wet and shiny back to the raft. I go to sleep in my tent each night, listening to the sounds of the crickets, imagining him holding my hand as we walk through the trees in Mondeaux Park stopping somewhere hidden in the branches to steal a kiss, imagining going to school in the fall and walking down the hall holding hands, laughing and sharing our secret stories of the fun we had at the lake.

The days stretch on and although I have managed to nearly jump in front of the guy, nearly tripping over him, getting more and more daring in my attempt to be seen, he never takes notice of me, never recognizes me. It is as if I am invisible. To him I am just another kid in the park, someone he does not know or care to know. Even so, when school starts in the fall and I get on the same bus as him, I think, then, possibly then, he will notice that I am the one who was also at the lake this summer. But even on the bus, I continue to be invisible to him. I am nobody to him.