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.
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.