Archives For April 2013

Everything I have written about in this blog up to this point has been absolutely true. I have used real names and written about events as accurately as I can. I will admit that the order in which things occurred may well be a bit jumbled but that does not lessen their having happened. Where I have chosen to protect someone’s identity, I have simply not given a name. Starting with this post, I will need to use pseudonyms for at least two people who, I assure you, are very real. I feel I need to do this out of respect for them and their privacy. Perhaps one day I will discuss my writing with them but as you will see, that may not go well. Until then, I feel it is important for me to not use their real names.

When my my not-yet-husband, Tommy, confessed to smoking crack, snorting cocaine, and drinking himself half to death for four days in a local hotel room with his best friend Brian, I felt as though I were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I gave him my fill of name calling, screaming and throwing items around the room. But I stayed. God help me, I stayed. Over the course of the next year, he pulled this disappearing act at least three more times that I can remember. Each time he would cry, I would yell, we would collapse in each other’s arms in tears, make love and move on trying to put it past us. Each time he said he wanted to stop, made efforts to stay clean and we found ourselves right back where we started from. Tommy worked and lost jobs, we fished together and he by himself. We had so many ups and downs it became normal to experience his disappearances, loss of money and cleaning up after the mess he left for us to struggle through. I’ve often thought about why I did stay with him then because I remember how angry I was and how dark and soiled this whole situation felt. Part of me was was hugely embarrassed that I had gotten so deeply invested in him. Another part, I must admit, was a bit excited by the drama of it all. There was certainly never a dull moment with this wild boy-man. Still, another part of me was convinced that with time, patience and love I could certainly fix him and make him love me endlessly. I know much better now and often wish I could have sat down with my younger self and explained all of this. But I have no regrets because I know I needed to learn certain lessons.

So many important events in my career happened that year. The bookstore I was managing and had been with for four years could no longer afford the rising cost of rent for the exclusive North Shore Shopping district it had been a part of. The corporate office told me to fire eighty per cent of the staff and to expect construction to begin on decreasing the size of the once palatial bookstore. My sanctuary was being destroyed and there was nothing I could do about it. Firing people whom I considered my only family was difficult and caused me great upset and sleepless nights. Several staff members were angered that I had fired them despite my attempts to handle the situation as humanely as possible. I was following corporate orders and honestly, glad to have my job. A few months after I had fired everyone, I was handsomely rewarded with the news that my services were no longer needed. They were getting rid of me in order to save money and promote my assistant manager. Since the new space would be reduced to forty-five percent the size of the original space, there would only be a need for one manager, two full timers and one part timer. I had never lost my job before and losing this one was more than just losing a job. It was losing my sanctuary, my friends and family all at once.

One day, Louise announced she was pregnant with Brian’s baby. Brian was overjoyed, but both Tommy and I reacted the same way, feeling sick knowing that both Brian and Louise were still using drugs on a regular basis. At the time, I thought it was reckless of her to get pregnant but a disaster of gargantuan proportions to carry that child to full term and have it. Nevertheless, over the next several weeks, Louise and Brian then told us they were moving to California to get clean and have our baby where there are no drugs or temptations. Louise asked if she could borrow some money to get settled and she would send it back. I told her not to worry about it, that we were friends for life and that I would be happy to just hear about their happy life in California. I had mentally washed my hands of them when they left, hoping Tommy and I could finally get down to the business of repairing what was left of our badly damaged relationship. Tommy breathed a deep sigh of relief, admitting both of them were poison to us for so many reasons and that he was glad to see them go. We knew we would miss their friendship and the laughter but we were happy to get on with our lives in peace.

I was well into the first year of my Master’s degree studies at Hofstra University in the Education Department and working part-time at a high-end department store that was opening a new location on Long Island not too far from where we lived. Tommy was working mornings on the party fishing boats again. He got home about 2:30 in the afternoon and liked to go out on the boat we bought at the beginning of the season. I had taken out $10,000 above what I needed on my student loan and bought a 1964 30ft Chris Craft straight in-board engine boat that was in fair condition and ideal for fishing. It was Tommy’s idea to get the boat. He convinced me it would save us a ton of money on vacations (which we never took) and give us the most use out of our time living near the beach and the inlet where we did most of our fishing. He also convinced me it would be a great way for us to bond and spend time together every evening and weekend. He convinced me that having the boat would connect him to nature again and create a new sense of responsibility; a diversion from being bored which is what so-often lead him to use drugs. Finally I agreed and it made me so happy to see him smiling and feeling useful again.

Tommy was making a real effort to stay sober during this period of time. He decided he could handle having one beer on occasion instead of an entire six pack. In the wake of missing Brian and looking to attract positive people into his life, Tommy decided to reconnect with his estranged cousin Aiden who lived upstate. Aiden and Tommy grew up in the same Bronx neighborhood which was, at the time, mostly Irish-Catholic. They played together, spent holidays together and got into boyhood hijinks together. When Mary, Aiden’s mother, noticed that the neighborhood started to change, becoming less Irish and more Dominican and Puerto Rican and West-Indian, She decided to move herself and her only son Aiden to a “better” part of the Bronx. The part with less drugs and crime. Tommy and his brother Mickey stayed behind and Tommy eventually fell in with the wrong crowd and never got out until he went off to jail. The cousins had on-again off-again contact with each other over the years. Aiden, Tommy’s cousin was married to his high school sweetheart Claire. Aiden and Claire were now parents to two teenage boys and living in Upper Putnam County near the border of Connecticut. Aiden had a good engineering job at the local hospital and Claire was a medical assistant at a local doctor’s office. The cousins chatted, laughed and got caught up. Tommy had railed on about what an angel I was, how smart I was because I had been in college, how I was sweet and classy and not like those bitches from the Bronx. He boasted that he was a new man and that I was the best thing that ever happened to him. and by the end of that phone conversation we were invited to spend the weekend upstate as Tommy would continue to refer to it. He continued to say upstate, though in the big picture of New York State, their town was really considered Downstate. This was a fact Tommy understood but decided it was so far from Long Island, it might as well be upstate. So that was how we always referred to it. Upstate.

We arrived upstate on one of those summer days when there is a cool breeze but the sun leaves your skin warm and smelling of sunshine. I was a bit nervous about meeting Aiden and Claire, as I knew I would be getting the once-over from them. They wanted to see for themselves if everything Tommy said about me was true. I didn’t know what to expect… were they rough talking like him? Would they be educated? Good or bad looking? Cool or warm toward me?…

Aiden and Claire’s house sat on a small hill on a street that had no sidewalks. They had a long blacktop drive way that that had four cars parked on it. Tommy beeped the horn of my Nissan Sentra, and out the loose screen door ran Casey, their German Shepard mutt barking and drooling an excited greeting. Next, Aiden punched the door open. I remember his subtly red hair and big happy smile. He was slightly bow-legged and stood at the same height as Tommy but much slighter build. Aiden never worked out but had a slim build. He had a little paunch of a belly, possibly from a few too many beers over the years but had a friendly smile on his kind, boyish face. Just as the cousins were embracing and back slapping and laughing, out came Claire with a big wave and arms stretched toward me for an embrace. She had shoulder-length blond hair, sharp blue eyes and the body of a little girl. A few extra pounds stayed close to her waist and lower body since having the kids years before but she would not be considered heavy by any means. She was covered in freckles on her face and arms and was cute and very motherly looking. My first impression was that they were two warm, sweet people and had the appearance of being a comfortably married couple who seemed more like brother and sister than husband and wife. I was so relieved… they seemed normal.

We went inside for a bit and had iced tea and some pretzels and potato chips to munch on. Aiden was excited to show Tommy his grill and Claire and I hit it off right away. We talked about her herb garden and the flowers in her front yard and life up in the country. She admitted she was better suited for a life of farmer’s markets and five-mile drives to the local grocery store over city life in The Bronx where they all grew up. We sat all four of us on lawn chairs on the front lawn, sipping iced tea and talking and laughing in our shorts and t-shirts until the sun began to set and the lightening bugs flashed their wares. It was a perfect summer night in the country. The temperature dropped slightly and we all grabbed sweatshirts and began preparing dinner by the grill. We ate, talked and laughed some more. It’s like we had been best friends for years. Tommy was so happy that night. As I was helping Claire clear away some dishes, we met each other’s glance and he looked at me with a tender loving look that told me how much he loved me without speaking a word. That night Tommy and I cuddled up in each other’s arms and slept a restful contented sleep. It was the first in a long time. I felt we were coming back to each other.

In the morning we woke to the sound of Casey barking, the screen door banging and the smells of freshly brewed coffee. Tommy and I showered and dressed and met Aiden, Claire and the boys at the breakfast table. The boys announced they would be going to a local water park with some friends and other parents as escorts. The boys shoved toast in their mouths and guzzled orange juice, grabbed their beach towels and ran out the door. Claire and Aiden high-fived when the screen door slammed behind them confirming their exit. The four of us had the day together to laze about and have fun. We were like peas in a pod; we shared stories, laughed and laughed, Tommy pointing at Aiden and exclaiming on occasion, this guy – you were always a funny motherfucker. We all pitched in to prepare and cook meals. At night, Aiden took us to his pride and joy, his basement bar. He had built it himself to match the exact proportions of his favorite bar in The Bronx, Saints and Sinners. Claire and I drank White Zinfandel and the boys drank beers. I was a little nervous about Tommy drinking, but said nothing in fear of ruining the weekend. By the time we left their place, we had been so happy to have made new fun friends who were also family. The boys were reconnected and I had a great new girlfriend. We planned to go back again in two weeks time. We were all so excited.

It went on like this for about a year. every couple of weeks we went upstate for a visit with them or they came down to Long Island to spend time on the beach. During the winter months we saw each other a bit less but made sure to spend Christmas together. Tommy was keeping his drinking under control. After several conversations with Claire, I decided to try going to Al-Anon meetings to sort out my emotions about Tommy’s drinking. I suppose I was also looking for a support network to talk to when things got rough, as I expected they might. The four of us were like birds of a feather and sincerely enjoyed each other’s company.

By January of the following year, Tommy and I moved one town further inland from the beach. It was closer to where we were docking the boat and consisted of whole first floor of a nice house with a fenced-in yard. In February of that year, Tommy and I got engaged and adopted a baby Rottweiler. She was an adorable puppy…shiny black coat and a cute round face. I named her Maxine because I thought it would be cool to have a dog called “Max”. I got a book about dog training techniques from a friend and began to teach Maxine some simple commands. By spring, we resumed communication of our friends upstate and started making arrangements to see each other. We went up to their place for a week this time. Aiden and Tommy made repairs around the house and Claire and I went to yard sales. At night we lit the wood burning stove in the living room and drank White Zinfandel and beers, talking and laughing. I started to think about what Aiden and Clair’s intimate life was like. Started to wonder who initiated sex between them after so long together, if they were passionate or not. I suppose that happens when you spend a lot of time with another couple. Things were beginning to unravel between Tommy and I despite out engagement. Claire made a fuss about the ring and how pretty it was, but she did not know he had put it on a credit card which I paid the following month.

When the summer rolled around Aiden and Claire were involved with some issues with the kids. It was difficult for us to find a time that worked with all four of our schedules to see each other. Tommy started going out on the boat more frequently because he lost his job again and told me he was continuing to stay dry not drinking at all, not even on the boat. One day I drove up to the dock to tell him about a phone call he received at the house and noticed the boat had taken on about three inches of water. I opened the engine cover, turned the key to start the engine, and pulled the bilge pump to drain the water. When I went under the hull, I found a case of empty beer cans. Some crushed some not, spilling out of the case box. I let the water finish draining, closed the engine cover, turned the key out and left the boat the way I found it. I had suspected he was drinking but previously had no proof. Now I knew. I said nothing that night.

A few weeks later I asked him if he were drinking again. We began to fight. There was screaming and yelling and now barking from Maxine. I told him I was going to leave him, that I had enough of his bullshit. I wanted a life, I said, but not this kind. I packed my things and drove to my mother’s. I hadn’t spoken to her in nearly three years at her insistence. Now that I was home, she asked if it was for good so I lied and told her yes. I was only there for a week.

Less than two months later we were married at City Hall by a Justice of the Peace.

I’d like to say I put a lot of thought and care into deciding on my new plan for switching Master’s Programs at Hofstra University.  The truth is, I was in a relationship and in my mid-twenties and was desperate to have a child.  I had been given an ultimatum by my English Professor: leave my man, or leave the program.  I made my choice.  I thought about career possibilities and came to the conclusion that if I became a teacher I could be home by 3:30 to care for my child and have a solid, steady income that would keep my alcoholic husband, my baby and myself financially stable.  With these thoughts in mind, I requested a place in the Education Department Master’s Program.  Classes would begin in the fall, just a few months away, and I could have the summer to enjoy my management career in the bookstore and have a fun summer now that Louise, my childhood friend was living close by.

Tommy, of course was not very supportive when I announced my change in plans that evening.  He didn’t like that I was planning things without his approval.  I knew that academics was a world he did not know about or understand.  I was independent in at least this one thing and he did not like it.  Eventually he would tell people and brag a bit about my choices to become a teacher when he spoke to  people he respected; potential employers, people in our town and even his mother who he resumed contact with that summer.

My sexual life with Tommy became my drug of choice.  I consumed the scent of his skin.  I  craved his muscular body, how it dominated mine.  He knew how to seduce me and I surrendered to his touch.  A wave of pleasure would come over me, despite my lack of experience with men before him, and I was like a woman possessed drinking in his freckled skin that smelled of soap and the salty sea air.  Living by the beach had made his pale Irish skin turn a soft reddish brown.  What was left of his crown of sparse blonde hair became even more golden as the summer days grew longer.  His crystal blue eyes which once brought a shiver of fear through my body now seemed soft and serene.  A tingle came over me as his mustache tickled the secret parts of my body.  Looking back on this now, I realize I was clumsy and awkward and not very knowledgeable in the ways of love.  I was only beginning to discover the pleasures of lovemaking.  Navigating his body, somehow helped me discover mine.

Views_FromThe_Subconscious_by_happycurlgirl

Lady – Maria McCabe, November 2007, India Ink on Paper

After a one passionate session of lovemaking, he revealed to me that he had a previous relationship with a woman, Madeline,  who he lived with back in The Bronx.  He described them as having a tumultuous live-in romance that ended badly.  Three months after they parted she contacted him to reveal she was pregnant with his child.  He immediately denied it and refused to speak that crazy bitch.  He saw the baby after it was born, at her insistence, denying he was the father.  She was a slut, a whore.  It could have been anyone’s baby.  He told me.  Three years after the child’s birth, Madeline showed up at Tommy’s mother’s house to show her the baby.  As it happened, Tommy was there and both he and his mother could see the resemblance; the big round eyes, the shape of his little body next to Tommy’s was a miniature version of him.  He even had similar mannerisms.  Tommy had contact with Madeline and the child on and off for a year or so, or whenever Tommy felt guilty.  Then nothing.  That’s about the time he went to jail, served his time, got out and met me.  It had been three years since he saw his son.  I asked him if he wanted to contact the child but he admitted he did not want to deal with Madeline and he still had his doubts if the child was really his.  I suggested a paternity test but he was not open to that, so I let the matter drop for a while but it weighed heavy on my mind to think there was a child of his out there and it wasn’t mine.

*     *     *     *     *

By now, Louise and Brian had been living together down the street for a few months.  I came to discover that they were smoking pot quite regularly with Tommy while I was off at work.  Fighting about it, I realized, would get me nowhere.  So I lived in the very comfortable state of denial which I was beginning to know all too well.  My goal was to keep things peaceful while I was with Tommy at home.  He was beginning to open up to me about his childhood, his past criminal behavior and his feelings about people in our social circles.  I was feeling more and more confident that we would make it through this sensitive period and come out stronger for it.  I was beginning to trust him and believe that he was my lover, my protector, my friend.  So one day, when he took my car keys and announced that he was going to the store to get cigarettes, I thought nothing of it.  He gave me a little kiss and walked out the door.  I settled into the couch and flipped on the T.V. waiting for his return.

Now, here’s where things get a bit hazy for me.  Recalling events of the past are funny that way.  Sometimes you can remember every detail of one event and almost nothing of others.  Sometimes the memories float in and out like ghosts.  I didn’t have phone numbers for any of the characters in town who he regularly talked to but I tried to recall which of these I could turn to.  I was worried that something might have happened to Tommy; an accident, a flat tire…..who could I call if I needed help?  There was an older Italian American man who lived on the other side of town who everyone called Johnny Garbage because he worked for the sanitation department for over thirty five years.  He was retired and suffering from a bad case of diabetes, so bad it took three of his toes.  He had a grimy, rude, foul mouthed way of addressing people.  When I first me him, he asked me why I was even with Tommy because I seemed like a nice girl.  He told me to run and dump that bum, that he would only be trouble but I thought that was part of his grumpy act.  There was Jesus look-alike, Mark, who was a former cocaine addict turned Born-Again Christian who owned a local bagel store and was known for fucking all the young girls that worked for him in the back of the bagel shop.  There there was a friend of Tommy’s from Yonkers who he recently came back into contact with.  John was part of the old gang Tommy ran with in The Bronx many years ago.  When they got back in touch a few months before, John came for a visit and told us the story of how he became a cop, got married, bought a house had three little girls and was doing really well.  Tommy had put on a real show for John making it seem everything was perfect with us.  When John left, it was as though we had passed inspection.   Those were the only people I could think of and I didn’t have any of their phone numbers.  I also didn’t have my car and was terrified of leaving the house in case a phone call came.  I remember trying to call his cell phone but it was off.  I was sick with worry, pacing the floor and not knowing what to do.  Brian and Louise were unreachable – not home, not answering their phones.  I remembered they were away visiting with Louise’s mother in Queens and would not be back for at least a week.  I didn’t want to call them anyway.  I saw them as being the source of many of Tommy’s problems with staying sober.  I had no one in my own life to call since I had pushed all my friends out of my life.  I decided he must be at a local bar, which also worried me because he had been so good in the period just before this.  And finally, I couldn’t help myself.. I shuffled through his night table drawer looking through papers, looking for a phone number of anyone who seemed remotely familiar, any hint of anything to help figure out where he was, until finally I found one… a ripped off corner of a paper.  It said John with a phone numbered scrawled on – the area code was Yonkers, so I dialed it.   I apologized for bothering him and told him what was happening.  He cut me off and asked me how long had it been since I’d seen him.  I told him he didn’t come back from getting cigarettes the night before.  He said give it another day or two.  I know him, you don’t.  Pack your bags and go to your family – when he does come back he’ll cry and apologize but he’s fucking drug addict and you better get out of there.  He’s probably in an ally somewhere passed out.  I hung up the phone without a word.  I pushed his words out of my head in disbelief, deep into that comfortable place of denial.  Something’s wrong, he’s had an accident, that must be it.  Where could he be?  That night I was so worked up and fought sleep from coming over me.  I stayed up for two days and nights, constantly checking the house phone to see if it worked, calling his cell phone but no rings.  Just the immediate message of the voicemail.

I called in sick to work, telling my Assistant Manager I was having car trouble.  I checked out the second floor window but my car was nowhere on the block.  I showered to ready myself for Tommy’s return and dialed the local hospital.   No one matching Tommy’s description was admitted, no car accidents reported.  Nothing.  A quiet night in our sea-side town.  The sun was blaring into the windows and it was a clear beautiful day but I remember feeling a sense of doom.  Maybe he’s dead; he could have gotten drunk and drown in the ocean…he wouldn’t take my car and purposely leave me here alone, he could be in trouble, what if he needs me….

He didn’t come home for four days.

When he finally came home I was sitting on the couch and shocked by what I saw. He looked like hell.  He had bags under his eyes, he smelled from not showering and his clothes were filthy.  The scent of alcohol and cigarettes seemed to hold his clothing together.  I screamed as he walked toward me, what happened?, where were you?, couldn’t you pick up the phone and call me? and this man, this broad-shouldered street tough ex-convict could not look me in the face.  He collapsed in my arms, crying like a little boy.  I held him for a long time, crying myself, until finally he spoke through his tears.  It was horrible, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t stop…

Couldn’t stop what…I thought… what was so horrible….

It turns out he ran into Brian who did not go to Queens with Louise after all.  The two of them got drunk in a local bar.  I’m not sure how, but they wound up in a local flea bag of a hotel that charges by the hour with and eight ball of cocaine.  They were snorting coke, cooking it and smoking crack, drinking and getting high for four days straight.  He didn’t even know how long he was gone.  To this day, I don’t know if there was anyone else with them, if he fucked someone, I have no idea.  All I knew then was that I was living with a man who had absolutely no self control.  And I was disgusted.  I yelled, I screamed I threw things and broke things.  I told him only an animal could behave this way.  I was possessed in a new way now.  I hated him and I loved him.  I despised him and I craved him.  I banged my hands against his chest and threw his clothes at him and told him to leave, just go, get out!!  He just sat on the edge of the bed.  Crying.

And it broke my heart.

So, I stayed.

Poetic Interlude

April 14, 2013 — 2 Comments

Sunday Ritual

I drink cardamom coffee
alone now
on this sunny Sunday morning

I drink cardamom coffee
from my biggest mug
and fill it with memories
from Sundays with you…

I drink cardamom coffee
and with each sip
another tear falls
and lets loose another memory
of rumpled sheets
my wild hair
your blue blue eyes
that little boy smile of yours
and your mouth tasting of sex
and cigarettes
and cardamom coffee…

I drink cardamom coffee
alone now
and close my eyes and linger there tasting the memory…

And just when I can no longer bear it, I take another sip of
cardamom coffee
Which I now only drink
alone.

April 2013

photo-2When I hung up the phone, I excitedly told Tommy that my long-lost camp friend was coming to spend the weekend with us.  He hesitated for a moment – asked where she would sleep, how we would arrange things in our small apartment – and I assured him we would figure something out.  These were some happy times in our relationship but from time to time, Tommy expressed unwarranted jealously.  This was one of them.

We had a few days to straighten up the place and get groceries to help our guest feel welcome and cozy in our happy little space.  There wasn’t much to organize, as I kept quite a tidy house and Tommy was really good about keeping organized too. In this way, we were great partners.  He hated a mess and so did I.  It was part of my morning routine to wipe down the kitchen counter and table with Windex and vacuum the small living space and bedroom.   We had a filing system for mail and other papers which we set up together.  I was the financial guru in the house; Tommy did not have a checking or savings account, he had never kept a checkbook or had his own credit cards.  By this time in our relationship, I guess we had been together almost two years, he had a full set of “secondary user” credit cards which I had arranged through my credit card companies.  We had an agreement that if either of us wanted to spend more than $500 on something, that we would talk to the other before making the purchase.  For a while, that worked really well.  I was making enough money in my managerial position at the bookstore and managed the bills really well – never paying late, keeping balances low and maintaining good files at home.  Tommy agreed to be in charge of rent.  He lost and changed jobs often and there were long stretches when he did not work at all, so I would occasionally have to dip into savings to keep things running smoothly.  Overall things were going well and I did not feel a sense of urgency about money.  Having grown up in The Bronx, Tommy was used to doing laundry in a laundromat and didn’t mind about helping with putting clothes away.  I mostly did the grocery shopping during the week because the stores were on my way home from work and we only had my car but during weekends we’d go early on Saturday morning to beat the crowds and be able to spend our days grilling and hanging out with his friends.  So, in preparation for Louise’s stay, I went to the store a few days before to make sure I had enough snacks and food to welcome her.  I adored playing the role of being Tommy’s little woman – his Angel – as he lovingly called me because he felt I had saved him – and I could not wait for Louise to see how far I thought I had come from our days in summer camp.

Brian was a six-foot tall black man who had seen difficult times growing up in The Projects.  Tommy was five foot eleven but walked like he was seven feet tall.  The two made quite a comic pair.  During Tommy’s drug dealing days in The Bronx, he and Brian somehow crossed paths and became friends.  Brian was hopeful that one day he would be a member of Metallica because he played a mean air drums to “Nothing Else Matters“.  Whenever he and Brian got together, they told stories of the good old days that made anyone in the vicinity laugh big hearty belly laughs.  They were only in their thirties when I knew them but you would swear they were two wrinkled old men when they started to reminisce about the old days in “the neighborhood”.  They filled hours with their comic adventures of crimes gone awry.  They sounded as though they had moved way past those shenanigans and in a way they had.  “Moving to the beach and finding a good woman” made Tommy feel he had put his life in The Bronx seem very well placed in the past. It was Tommy who encouraged Brian to move to the beach to make a clean start for himself, to get off drugs and make an honest living, but Brian never seemed comfortable living sea-side. We helped him find an apartment, conveniently located down the street from ours, and Tommy introduced him to his cronies in our town in hopes of landing them both jobs.  The town where we lived was mostly Italian-American and very much racist.  Back in the day, Tommy was known as “Mighty Whitey T” because when he had hair he was blond with wild crystal blue eyes and ran with a mostly black and Puerto Rican crowd.  He earned his street cred by being fiercely street smart and was always up on his game, as was Brian.  They made strange bedfellows indeed.

After work one sunny summer evening, I picked Louise up from the local train station.  Always considerably overweight, Louise barreled out of the train station with more bags than seemed necessary for a weekend stay.  She was dressed all in black which made her stand out in our beach community but this did not phase me.  She was here and with her she brought stories of our own naughty adventures at camp.  We embraced and giggled and I loaded her artifacts into my car and we made our way to my little apartment. She was surprised that we lived in the upstairs portion of a private house.  Louise had grown up in a Manhattan townhouse and currently lived in a Second Avenue apartment building.  She had a clear sweet sounding voice and had a way of making people instantly warm to her.  It was just the two of us at the apartment, so I fixed us something to eat and we chatted about my life with Tommy.  She commented on how cute our place was, and how lucky I was to be so “settled”.  She couldn’t wait to meet Tommy, who I explained was with Brian so that we could catch up and have our girl time. Louise asked about Brian, as single girlfriends often do.  When I told her to forget about it because he had a troubled past and was currently out of work, she said that didn’t bother her – after all she was only staying the weekend.  Only staying the weekend.

Later that night we met up with the boys and made our way down to the beach.  Louise had fished around to find out if I was a pot smoker – no way I told her, and explained how Tommy was trying to stay sober- so, she let it drop.  When we met up with the boys, she pulled me aside to showed me the dime-bag of Hashish she had brought with her, and asked me if I thought Brian would be interested in smoking it with her. I told her he probably would be but not to bring it up because he too was trying to make a clean start.  Of course she ignored me and at some point they walked away from us down the beach.  Tommy rolled his eyes and suggested we go home.

We snuggled up in the bed and talked about what a disaster Louise and Brian would be as a couple.  Tommy asked me to try to talk her out of it and I assured him I would.  I talked to him about how she would always be the one to devise a naughty plan for us at summer camp but that those little adventures were fairly harmless.  He outright told me he had a bad feeling about her and I, of course, defended my friend.  I remember having the same feeling but did not want to be right, so I pushed that thought aside.  When we woke up in the morning, Loise’s bags were neatly organized in the living room where we left them.  Obviously she and Brian spent the night together.  Tommy told me he would call Brian later to find out what happened and I got showered and ready for work.

When I got home that evening, no one was home.  I called Tommy’s cell phone.  I could hear voices in the background but he avoided answering me when I asked him where he was and who he was with and if he had seen Louise.  He said he would be home in a half hour and that was all.   My stomach was unsettled and I didn’t know if I should make dinner, so I waited.  He stumbled in with Louise and Brian nearly three hours later.  They were all drunk and I was clearly angry.  I asked Tommy if he had been drinking and he told me I needed to relax.  He had been sober, as far as I knew, for months.  I was furious but did not want to make a scene in front of my friend and his.  Louise put her hand on my shoulder whispered in my ear that she really liked Brian, and they had so much fun all night and day.  We moved into the bedroom and she told me all the details of her night with Brian.  She painted the picture that this was just what she needed – a little fun.  She told me they had decided she would move in with him.  I was shocked and told her she was crazy, that she had known him for less than twenty-four hours and how could she do this.  She admitted that she had been kicked out of her apartment and had nowhere else to go.  She said she would have gone to her mother’s in Queens after the weekend, but fell into the good fortune of meeting Brian.  I felt sick.  The room seemed to be spinning all around me and I could feel my face getting redder as she went on.  The boys were loudly talking and laughing in the next room and when we entered, Tommy took one look at me and repeated you need to fucking relax, life is good Maria.  Try to have some fun. 

Some fun…

The days and weeks after filled me with anxiety and suspicion.  Tommy had started drinking heavily again.  I was beginning my Master’s Degree in English Literature at Hofstra University, taking classes three nights a week after work.  I always made it home before Tommy.  Most days he said he spent the day looking for work and then took the evening to relax and have fun with friends, meaning Brian and Louise.  It wasn’t until about two months into this that I realized he was smoking pot with them behind my back.  Louise denied it when I asked and so did Brian.  Tommy and I had a raging brawl over this.  He told me I needed to skip on back to school and mind my own business.  I thought he was my business.   We had a life together and now it was being infected.  I blamed Louise and Brian for my relationship issues.

I took solace in my classes.  Academia was a world I felt comfortable in.  Safe.  I loved listening to lectures about Milton’s masterpiece Paradise Lost and found myself having sympathy for the primary character, the devil.  Milton’s Satan had fallen away from heaven for loving God so much he wanted to be God.  He was the angel that was most loved by God and is the one that fell the hardest.  When the story begins, Satan is chained to a lake of fire… I found myself relating to this character more and more.  My Catholic upbringing taught me the greatest sin was, indeed, pride.  So, I pushed thoughts that I was better than Tommy – or deserved more- way, way, back into the recesses of my psyche.  This particular class was led by a professor who had published many papers on the works of Milton.  She was an expert.  Our class was small, only eight students, and we had lengthy and heated debates about the characters.  I felt that familiar connection with my professor that I had experienced with others in my undergraduate years.  I admired her work, her tough assignments and her detailed feedback.  When she assigned our first major paper – minimum twenty pages examining three key characters we had read about so far – I  was up for the challenge. I had to find some time to write after work on the nights when I was not in class and realized I would need weekends too.  I gathered the sources I would reference and created an outline for myself.  When I began writing the first time, I felt stuck; that awful block when a writer is unable to organize thoughts into clear sentences.  Tommy hated seeing me on the word processor (this was before the days of real computers) and demanded I spend time with him and that I should get off that fucking thing already and pay attention to him.  In an effort to save my relationship, I procrastinated on my writing and figured I would get it done last minute.  In my undergraduate years I had a knack for writing A papers by pulling all nighters.  This would not be the case for me now.

When I handed the paper in late, it was only fourteen pages long.  My professor commented that it felt thin but accepted it anyway.  She handed it back to me the following week and asked to speak to me in her office after class.  She point blank asked me what was this crap I had handed in.  It took all of three seconds for my eyes to well up with tears.  I could not answer her.  I knew it was crap.  She asked me what was going on, that the writing I handed  her did not match the discussions we had in class.  I don’t know why but I let it spill – I told her about my relationship with Tommy, that he demanded my time.  She asked point blank if he was an alcoholic or if he was doing drugs.  I nodded my head, yes. She told me I had a choice to make – to leave him or leave the program because there would be no way I would be able to write the amount of work that was required of me in the program if I were living with a drug addicted alcoholic.  I left her office feeling defeated.  My dreams of becoming an English Lit professor evaporated with my tears.  A few weeks passed and I decided to drop out of the program.  Things with Tommy had been escalating and I knew there was no way I could do it.  I knew my professor was right.

I was beginning to accept my circumstances; I had a relationship that was spiraling out of control, my childhood friend turned out to be someone I could not trust and with the retail book world’s increasing use of discount programs our high-end publishing/retail company refused to join the pack.  They maintained that they were a high-end retail boutique, offering publications that would eventually maintain a customer base that sought exclusivity in the purchasing experience.  The executives at the company felt we would survive the discount trend.  It was a shaky time, so I held on to my academic pursuits and went down to the registrar’s office at Hofstra to find out how to change my major.  I at least had sense enough to know that continuing my education would eventually get me what I wanted in life.  Though, I had no idea what it was I wanted.  I acted the way I often do during a crisis.  I went into autopilot and just acted.  I kept the wheels turning.

And turn, they did.

My future husband, I’ll call him Tommy, was a jolly person when things were going well.  He had a good sense of humor and really did confide some intimate thoughts and details about his life before meeting me, in the way that lovers do.  I shared with him my dreams and hopes.  We were growing closer and he admitted that he had never known life could be so good.  By his own admission, he had never  had the experience of having a “real” relationship with a woman.  And though I was just a girl, I felt like a woman in his presence.  We lived on the south shore of Long Island in a town that was known as a lively summer hang out.  From the signs of first thaw in early April until school began in September, our little beach side community was invaded by Manhattanites who spilled off the Long Island Railroad dressed in shorts and flip-flops loaded down with beach chairs and tote bags bursting with beach towels custom ordered from L.L Bean.  Locals lounged on the beaches during the day and strolled the sidewalks at night, ice creams in hand, with barking dogs and rowdy kids. Boating, fishing and beach-side clubs were daily distractions from commuting, work and bill paying.  Tommy and I went through a very happy stretch.  There was lots of laughter and love making and we shared our lives happily.  I remember there were times where I looked at his big blue eyes and simply melted.  I was very much in love and things felt really good.

In an effort to stay sober, Tommy discovered the joys of fishing.  In the beginning he went out on day-trips that departed from a local dock.  These “party boats” lauched at 6:00am and returned around supper time.  I would drop him off in the morning and pick him up from the dock after a day at work in the bookstore.  I was a manager by then and brought home a generous paycheck.  When he lost his job (again) we were comfortable enough that he could continue with his hobby.  There came a time when he invited me along on a blue fish trip.  The boat went out into international waters where the blues and striped bass were abundant.  I did fairly well, having caught two blues and a striper.  After dark, I battled a bit of sea sickness, running for the bathroom.  Upon opening the door, I quickly bolted (fishing boat bathrooms are not conducive to young women) and had trouble finding the horizon line.  We laughed about this later, but I remember calling out to Jesus, Mary and Joseph for consolation.  I was happy when the boat docked and I stepped onto solid dry land.

Eventually, we discovered surf fishing.  We went out with some friends, geared with only the long, heavy fishing poles designed especially for this type of fishing.  Walking onto the beach, baiting up and casting our lines into the shallow parts of the surf was exhilarating.  It was great to be out in nature with my love and sharing this experience.  The following weekend we went to the local tackle shop and we bought all the gear – waders, rods, line and matching hats.  The waders came up to Tommy’s waist, as they were meant to.  The smallest pair came up to my chest and looked like Lucile Ball in some crazy sketch.  in the evenings we would head out at sunset, and on the weekends just before sunrise.  We stole salty kisses and as the summer months rolled in, our sun-kissed skin grew use to these outdoor adventures just steps from our apartment.  It was around this time that  my former friend, Louise, had called and asked if she could spend a few days with me and Tommy at our beach-side apartment.

I awaited my former friend’s arrival with joy and excitement.  When I met her for the first time so many years before, she was a student of very exclusive Manhattan Private schooling.  When I saw her for the last time, I was filled with sadness at her betrayal and disappointed in what her life had been reduced to.  A disaster of epic proportions.

stock-footage-night-drive-with-approaching-car-driving-at-night-on-a-rural-road-ontario-canada

Finding marijuana instead of money for Chinese food in my future husband‘s leather jacker scared me more than the memory of being choked by my future husband.

I had nowhere to go.  With tears streaming down my face and the one ounce bag of marijuana in my purse, I firmly pressed the gas pedal to the floor and drove.  I drove without a destination.  I drove to get away from the south shore town, from my future husband and from this life that was spinning out of control.   I drove for about twenty minutes before it occurred to me that I could get randomly pulled over by police and they would see me as a criminal.  I could not go to my mother’s house because I was no longer her daughter.  My brother was not an option as we had almost no relationship.  By this time in my relationship with my future husband, I had pushed most of my friends out of my life.  I was too embarrassed to continue explaining my future husband’s erratic behavior.  I grew tired of making excuses, so I suppose it was easier to isolate myself.  I decided to go back to the apartment.  I feared that he would hurt me physically if I got rid of the drugs.  But I turned the car around.  In doing so, I was accepting what was to come.

When I arrived he said what I was thinking, what I expected to hear.  So you decided to come back?  You have nowhere else to go…. you’re acting like a baby and overreacting.  It’s just pot, not crack, Maria.  Everyone smokes pot.  I didn’t smoke pot.  People I called friends didn’t either.  In fact, I turned away friends during high school who did smoke pot.  People I worked with didn’t smoke it…did they?  What if they sensed I was too much of a ninny to tell me?  Not everyone smoked pot.  He couldn’t be right.  Could he?  I didn’t say anything for a while.  He kept mumbling things about how fucking ridiculous I was being and asking me questions I had no answer for.  Why is this such a big deal?  What is your problem anyway?  Can’t you just fucking relax?  I was beginning to believe his ridicule.  No I couldn’t relax.

Eventually things simmered down that night and of course he rolled himself a joint, cracked open a can of Budweiser and began smoking and drinking in the living room.  The skunk-like smell of the strange cigarette disgusted me.  The T.V. was on and I wound up in the bedroom and tucked myself into the bed.  My eyes were wide open for a long time.  I was keeping watch over myself thinking of what to do when he eventually crawled into the bed next to me.  Tell him to sleep on the fucking couch.  Pretend you are sleeping.  If he touches you, just go with it so the fighting will stop.  I didn’t know how I would handle things and all the scenarios played themselves out in my head.  At one point I even hoped he would slide into the bed next to me, wrap his arms around me and tearfully ask for forgiveness.  No such luck.  I heard him on the phone talking in his loud Budweiser beer voice as though everything were just fine.  I couldn’t tell who he was talking to, surmised it was one of his cronies and eventually there was silence the familiar beeps of the phone dialing and a new conversation began.  He ended the call with Alright, I’ll see you in a few.  The next thing I heard were his feet clomping down the stairs and the door closing behind him.  He left the lingering odors of marijuana ashes and open empty beer cans for me to stew in alone.  My heart was racing.  Where is he going?  Will he be right back?  Can I fall asleep now?  In the morning I woke up alone with no sign of my future husband having returned to the apartment.  I cleaned up the mess he left in the living room, got showered, applied my makeup and drove directly to the bookstore where I worked.

The sun was shining and I found my regular parking space.  I pulled open the heavy brass-handled door to the smells of coffee lingering in the air and the sweet melodic sounds of Cole Porter‘s Night and Day pouring out of the speakers.  Good Morning! One of the girls at the register called out to me.  I gave her the biggest smile I could muster and returned the greeting.  I was pretending to be cheerful.  I pushed aside my pain, put my purse in the back office and walked out onto the sales floor straightening piles of books as I walked toward my post.  I made small talk with my colleagues and cheerfully greeted customers.  I joked with the guys in the stockroom and checked for special orders in the UPS delivery.  I went about my business and loved every minute of it.   I was beginning to live a double life.

I left work a little later that evening so that my time at home would be shorter.  When I arrived he was waiting there, apologetic and told me he went down the block to visit his friend and hang out.  He said he was sorry that I got so upset but that he wasn’t going to give up smoking pot because it was not a big deal and I would just have to get over it.  He told me it was cheaper to buy an ounce that buying dime bags all the time and that he was actually saving us money.  But he said out of respect for you, I won’t do it in the house.  I said it was ok, that I understood.  But I didn’t understand.  And it wasn’t ok.  I don’t know if I was trying to convince him or me.

A few months after this, I received two significant phone calls.

The first was from a Literature professor I became close with while doing my undergraduate degree in Literature.  The phone call, despite coming just shy of a year after graduation, was certainly unexpected and caused me to recall a rush of memories. This particular professor taught a class called The Art of Autobiography which captivated me.  We focused on the genre through readings by Jean Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, Anais Nin, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and Wole Soyinka.  The lives of these writiers fascinated me and made me want to experience life at its fullest, richest possibility.  Always having kept a journal, I fantasized about the many lovers I would hope write about later in my life like Nin, or zooming in on a tender memory of my mother singing and soothing me as in Proust’s Swan’s Way.  In general, I longed to romanticize things about my own life, and things that never really occurred but seemed so nostalgic and romantic in the way only great writing and art can be.  Words, thoughts, artistic expressions leaped off the page and grabbed me in the chest and demand that I was present in that moment.  I recall over the course of my life, beginning in my undergraduate years, crying real tears for the frustration of not being able to express these emotions myself.  Despite beginning my studies three years later than my peers,  I was very young then, having the soul of an artist and the heart of a poet.  Nothing agonizing had happened to me yet, though I desperately hoped it would.  I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined how my life would turn out just a few short years from that very safe, over-romanticized period of time.  I worked hard and wrote well and suppose I stood out for being knowledge-hungry and enthusiastic.  I suppose, too, that starting a few years later and being one of the older students in the small private university made me stand out a bit for this particular professor.  While I was in her class, she asked me to be her assistant at a conference which she was heading, focusing on the life and works of Anais Nin.  It took place at the Southampton Campus of our University.  I accepted her invitation, feeling very self-important and flattered all at once.  I  helped with everything from picking up guest speakers at the train station and delivering them to the dorms they would occupy for the weekend-long conference, to distributing programs and basically schmoozing with professors in between speakers. I made sure lunch was served on time and handed out bottles of water.  I felt star-struck when meeting professors from all over the country who had written books and delivered papers on Nin.  I met and listened to Benjamin Franklin V (yes, a direct decendant), deliver a paper on his research for an upcoming cook he was writing about the life of Anais Nin.  There was even a group from Japan who studied the implications of Nin’s work in Japanese feminist culture.  I was invited to an after conference party at my professor’s vacation home in Southampton.  The evening played out like a Woody Allen film.  Gossip amongst the professors about who was sleeping with whom, gossip about promotions within teaching departments and who’s book was rejected by publishers.  I drank some white wine and got a little tipsy and had the most interesting conversation with a professor from a big university in California.  She had similar observations about the crowd, loved my Woody Allen analogy,  and asked me about my future plans, which of course included getting my Ph.D. in Literature.  She shared some sage advice and we laughed a lot.  I was very intimidated by the crowd and at one point thought my Professor’s husband might have been flirting with me a little while he was playing the piano.  He probably wasn’t but at the time I thought he might have been.  He taught at Barnard and later wrote a posthumous biography about a great American Poet whom shall remain nameless.  It was on the bestseller list for something like three years, and wound up on our “New York Times Best Sellers List” shelf years later while I was the Manager of the bookstore I would begin working in after graduation.  My attendance at the party also afforded me the opportunity to meet, speak with and exchange recipes with my professor’s mother – an internationally recognized scholar in the field of Comparative Literature, Symbolism and Surrealism, in addition to being a regular contributor and reviewer for the New York Times Book Review.  I remember she had a mustache (as did my professor) of impossibly black hair and a giant bun atop her head and a big round belly that made me believe I was standing before Gertrude Stein herself.  The longer I spoke to her, the more beautiful her face became, the more I wanted to be like her… the memories all came in a flash when I heard my professor’s voice on the other end of the phone call.  She inquired as to where I had started my Master’s and where I would be doing my Ph.D..  I was silent at the other end of the phone, feeling very disappointed in myself because of my current circumstances.  Should I confide in her and tell her about my abusive, alcoholic drug using future husband?  No I decided almost immediately.  I told her things were going well, that I had decided to take time off before beginning my Master’s and that I had met a fantastic man whom I moved in with.  I could detect a bit of disappointment in her voice, but she was non-judgemental, and got to the point rather quickly.  She wanted to know if I would be interested and available to be her sole research assistant for a book she was beginning to write on literary perspectives of Anais Nin – a body of work that would be a direct result of the conference I attended and assisted her with the previous year.  My heart leapt when she asked me!  She explained that she could not afford to pay me, but that I would get a mention in the acknowledgements page which would apparently be a great thing to add to my resume and applications to grad school.  I remember looking around the small apartment, scrambling for what my answer would be and recalled difficult and happy moments with my future husband – my name in the acknowledgements page  – my name in a book and the chance to do research for a conference I had attended and….. and I accepted the offer.  She said she would call again at the beginning of the following week to firm up what she would need me to do first, and suggested I gather and review notes I may have taken at the conference. I hung up the phone, overjoyed and called my future husband…. he was not nearly as excited.   Why would you do anything for free?  What kind of hours does she want you for? You don’t have time for that shit, you need to work and make money.  I started to think about it.  His cool reception to my offer made me think like him – yeah, why couldn’t she pay me?  Was she taking advantage of me?  Maybe I should just say no since he’s so upset about it. When he came home later that evening, he continues to rant about what a ridiculous idea it was.  She must’ve thought you would be her nigger bitch and do all her work for her for free, he said.  I don’t know why it was so easy, but I started to believe believe he was right.  I started thinking my professor had bad intentions of taking advantage of my time and skills…. the next time I spoke to her I told her I was simply too busy with my full time job and dedication to my relationship at home to give her the time she was asking me to devote to the project.  I shut my eyes tight as I lied these lies to her.  She said it sounded like someone was making me say those things – she was smarter than I could have imagined – and asked me if I needed help.  I told her no, and everything’s fine and this is all my decision.She asked me if I was sure, and that she would have another teacher’s assistant currently her student, available to do the research work, but really thought I would put the passion into it.  No, I said, I’m sorry but I just can’t right now.   And that was the end of that.  I would hear from her again in four years time.  i arranged a book launch and signing at the bookstore after I became the manager.  She and her writing assistant, the student teacher that took my place, arrived all smiles.  The professor’s husband, who I swear flirted with me at the party in The Hamptons, was also in attendance.  I swear he just had that look flirtatious look about him again.  A week before the event, I admit I tore open the box of books from the publisher, plowed through the acknowledgments and forward to search for mention of the teaching assistant’s name.  When I found it I found myself reading three whole sentences about her over and over, and rereading it replacing her name with mine to see how it rolled off my tongue.  The hours of work necessary to complete this book were made shorter and more bearable by my faithful research assistant, and assistant in all things academic ________ _______”   Your love of literature and determination to see this work through until its completion has been much appreciated and admired.  From the bottom of my  heart, I am so glad I found you. Thank you!   Damnit, that was four sentences.  My name was forever omitted from any historical connection to my professor, the conference and Anais Nin.

The second phone call I received around the same period of time was from a former friend of mine whom I had not spoken to in nearly ten years.  I knew her from summer camp which I attended in Sag Harbor, Long Island from the ages of eight to sixteen when I became a Counselor in Training (CIT’s for short).  We were only acquaintances during my younger years at camp.  She was definitely one of the “cool” girls at the all-girls Catholic camp located in the sleepy former whaling village nestled in the heart of The Hamptons.  She had, I heard, a reputation for being wild since she was from New York City.  There were only a handful of girls from The City that attended.  One of them was the daughter of a director who I hadn’t heard of at the time.  One year Yule Brenner’s adopted children attended camp with us, though they were much younger than I.  I was curious about my friend before I met her until it finally happened; she spoke to me first and we became friends almost instantly.  She dared me to steal ice-cream from the kitchen after hours, and together we plotted with other girls to stick one of the younger girl’s fingers in a glass of cold water while she was sleeping.  Apparently there was a rumor that poor girl had a bed wetting problem and we wanted to make that happen, for sure. I ran into that poor bed-wetting girl in London nearly six years later when I was entering a theatere in Victoria to see Me and My Girl.  I was shocked to see your beautiful blue eyed face and golden blonde ringlets as she got up on her tip-toes to call out to me.  I tried to hide from her vision, embarrassed by my past sins against her but eventually my mother saw hers and we all stopped to chat for a bit.  I felt so small, so horrible.  She was lovely and sweet.  How could we have done that to her.  She never knew I was involved.  This ultra cool trouble-causing friend also got us to sneak off camp grounds to wrangled us into a local club on Reggae Night where dred-locked Jamaican men were dancing and openly smoking marijuana on the dance floor.  We were very much underage and not supposed to be there anyway, but somehow a Rolling Rock beer wound up in my hand and I began to drink it.  Eventually another came into my posession and by the time I started feeling my knees go warm and weak, I was deathly afraid of getting caught by the nuns at camp more than getting kicked out of the club but figured if that were to happen, it better be for a good reason.  Some of the other CIT’s puffed away happily, dancing to the lazy Reggae beats.  And then round about one o’clock in the morning out came Rick James – Rick James as in, She’s a very Kinky Girl (SuperFreak).  He was dressed all in gold, chest exposed and both shoulders flanked with platinum blondes with highly glossed red lips and not much else on.  I could not believe my eyes, or the effect his performance was having on me… so naughty so dirty, so freaky but I liked it!  I danced along with my stoned friends.  When my Former Friend called me, all the memories rushed back.  I was excited to tell her of my new life, living with a man and working at the bookstore as an Assistant Manager by that time.  I thought I might sound impressive to her.  She told me she was coming out to Long Island and could she come stay with me for a night or two?  Of course!  I said, what fun!  I had to explain all this to my future husband, but he said a visitor made no difference to him.  As it happened, his old friend from The Bronx would be moving into an apartment down the block from us, so he would be busy with helping him anyway.

I had no idea how poorly the stars aligned themselves that night.  My former friend did not leave for another three years.  When she did, she left with my future husband’s crony,both Crack addicted by then, her belly swollen with his child and five thousand dollars of my money.