Do you ever wonder what’s real? What if the very life we are living is all a dream; a simple figment of our imaginations that we will one day wake up from? Is there anything to even wake up to? I can’t say for certain that I understand the life I have or the level of existence that I am on. I was once on a path that I was so certain of, but now I can be certain of nothing. In the face of danger, I had to be brave; testing everything I once believed in. I was made to dream; to leap out into the nothing in order to retrieve the two most precious things in all of existence, not knowing if they would ever know me again. I did things I thought I would never do. I said things I thought I would never say. I was challenged to go along blindly in a place so unfamiliar but hauntingly comforting at the same time. I melted away in time and space to find something I knew I could never live without. Something I always took for granted; my precious children.
I distinctly remember the first time I fell in love with a man. He had short black hair, sparkling green eyes, and a body like an Olympic swimmer. Not only was Jace the star football player at my high school, he had shown an unsolicited interest in me. Much to my surprise, he approached me one day in the hallway while I was rifling through the things in my locker. As I scraped my jaw up off the floor, he placed his confident arm around my shoulder and kissed my cheek.
“I’m going to make you mine,” he said. My heart skipped several beats that day, thinking all my dreams had come true.
I was one of those nerdy girls who simply needed a small push in the right direction. It only took me parting my hair differently, removing the glasses, and putting on a miniskirt to realize I was just as hot as any of the other girls. I could attribute that realization to my time with Jace. At least he noticed me.
On the evening of our high school graduation ceremony we were sitting on the top of the water tower watching the sunset over the small Texas town we lived in. I had his letter jacket resting on my shoulders as he rubbed my thigh up and down, gazing into my eyes. His clumsy hand held a small black box that trembled as he spoke.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
“Yes!” I shouted at the top of my lungs wrapping my arms around his neck and taking him in for a passionate kiss. I lost my virginity that night on that water tower. The sharp metal dug into my back as I began to count the stars filling up the night sky. It was one of those moments that I was just trying to get through. I remember looking at the muddled stars through my salty tears. The pain of being stretched down below and jagged metal in my back didn’t make it easy to hold them in. It wasn’t really the picture that I had imagined for my first time, but it didn’t stifle the excitement of what was yet to come.
Things changed after I married Jace. He decided rather quickly that working and raising a family wasn’t really for him. His trips to the bar became more frequent as his time at home dwindled down. I would pretend not to smell the cheap perfume and pussy while he pretended not to notice my effort in raising our sons. It was a strange sort of synergy that sustained us for a time while I tried to wrap my head around it.
I rose to the occasion though, getting a job managing my father’s shoe store full-time. Supporting us all became a way of life until Jace decided to leave me for a slutty woman he’d met at a bar. I suppose I was partially crushed at the time, but I knew deep down inside that it was a blessing in disguise.
The divorce went through quickly and I hadn’t heard from Jace since the boys were 2 and 3. At this point, Jace was a distant memory; like a dream, they weren’t even sure they had. Surprisingly, they never really wanted to know him. Sometimes I would get a question here and there, but for the most part, we were happy being just us three. My parents had let us move into their small two bedroom apartment over the store after Jace left us. We were content, although sometimes I feel like my personal life consumed me to the point that I allowed the boys to entertain themselves while I fussed over my outfits, my hair, and the way the men noticed when I went out.
I really only wanted one thing in the whole world; to love and be loved in return. I longed for that sweet fountain of honey. I wanted the rush on my skin, the grip of a strong arm around my soft slender body, and the sweet kisses planting themselves all over my eager skin. The theme of my life seemed to be throwing my heart ridiculously from one douche bag to the next. I felt myself so easily drawn in by the kind, gentle words of a tomorrow that never came. And so it was; the thought of having a true love filled my thoughts constantly.
I would spend hours on the phone talking to friends about the men I was dating and crying about the failures. I would relish in my misery; a wonderful little pity party made just for one. It was so prevalent to find someone who truly loved me, that I forgot who I even was. I found myself fading away into a sea of failure. Unfortunately, the boys became used to finding their own entertainment when they came home from school. I would make a quick dinner of a frozen pizza or chicken nuggets before I would grab my cell phone and retire to my room. I’d ask them to please keep their video games to a dull roar while I browsed online dating profiles.
At this particular time in my life, I had been dating a man for a bit, so he had most of my focus. All throughout the day at work I would text my friends about him. Then, in the evenings, I would sit by my phone awaiting his contact. I just wanted love and I knew he was the source of my addiction. At times he’d bring me lunch at the store. He’d stare into my eyes, and gush about my beautiful face. On those days he’d bend me over the desk in the back office. A mind-blowing fuck was all it took for me to consider us official. Then, for days at a time, I’d hear nothing at all from him. I would cry on those days. Every time I gave him my body I knew it would be a while before I heard from him again. I learned to accept the excuses that he was busy or that I just needed to stop being so damn needy.
This particular day though was Friday. I knew he would contact me because he wanted to secure our sex night. Hearing from him would be like the first time your tongue touches chocolate ice cream it would be cold, yet satisfying. How could I think he was wonderful when he was horrible all at the same time? My view of love became distorted by the picture he painted for me. Although it was a beautiful painting, there were black holes and blemishes compromising its integrity. He was like a band-aid for a broken leg.
I sat by my phone as I did many Fridays, drumming my nails on the countertop, just longing for his call. When would the chocolate ice cream grace my tongue? A sadness covered me like a dark cloud as I awaited that magical text message. Ding, went my cell phone as I sat slouched in my chair behind the sales counter. I reached for my phone, sliding my finger quickly across the screen, typing in my passcode, and pressing my message button as quickly as I could.
“Has he called about your date yet?” it read.
It was from my girlfriend Syble. I wanted to respond, but my fingers were paralyzed. Every time she accused him of using me I came to his defense. I pretended the hot and cold didn’t bother me a bit.
“You can’t bullshit a bullshitter,” she’d always say to me. As the store phone rang, I slid my own cell phone back down into my pocket. Maybe a few more minutes and he would contact me. It had been three days. He always contacted me again. The store phone rang.
“Hello?” I answered. “Yes mom, I’m fine....No, he hasn’t called yet.”
Why did everyone care so much?
“I can go with you tomorrow, sure....I’ll see if Marilyn will open the store... Mom, I don’t know Wendy all that well are you sure she can handle the boys? Okay then, see you tomorrow morning.” I grasped my cell phone in my pocket. Please ding. Please Ding. I pleaded inside my head, but there was silence.
Silence is never a good thing, I thought to myself. Only a few customers had trickled in that day, leaving me alone in my thoughts on Friday. Dare I text first? No, that may be too “needy.” I must refrain. Ding, went my cell phone. It was Syble.
“Well?” it read.
“No, but I assume he’s busy at work,” I replied.
“This is BS Liza and you know it!” She retorted.
“It’s going to be fine. I’ll text him to see what time he’ll call.”
Again, there it was, silence in this moment of grief to torment me. In my misery I sat tortured with the lack of my drug. Oh, how I longed for his sweetness. He knew it, and yet he deprived me over and over again. I was an addict, fiening at his doorstep. I was begging for a small drop of water in the dry desert. Ding. Syble again.
“A man who loves you will move mountains for you. I’ll be here when all this crumbles and you cry.”
Again, I felt paralyzed. What could I say? She was right. She was always right and sometimes she would put it to me in such an unpleasant way. My stomach turned flip-flops in the sad realization that this relationship I had again thrown myself into wasn’t a relationship. It was yet another man who promised to love me, but only until after I gave in to his desire for my body. He would enjoy the pleasure of my company only to deprive me of my own needs.
I don’t know if it was my pride, but I felt this man was different, as I always had. I had to stay this time. The truth is, he would ride the Liza train all the way to Canada as long as I continued to let him use me. Ding went my phone.
“Hey, beautiful! Super busy day! Sorry, I’m just now texting. Looks like my mom is coming in this weekend and I won’t be able to meet you for a drink. Hope you have a good one!” Gary
I tried to fight the urge to respond immediately to him. It had been a few days since I’d heard from him and I didn’t want to give him the impression that I was just waiting around, but I had just been waiting. I loved him. I wanted him in my life. I wanted him to meet the boys and come home to me after a long days work. I wanted him to bear his soul to me, share his secrets, sins, and dreams. I wanted to be his rock, his lover, and his best friend. Why couldn’t I just find that? What was wrong with me? Gary had promised me he would never break my heart.
I remember the first time I met his beautiful blue eyes with mine. He was tall and slender with a dirty blonde goatee. He was completely bald, but it was the sexiest bald I’d ever experienced. We were in a second-hand bookstore. Both of us were delving into the religion section. It almost seemed like fate with Gary. We bumped into one another out of the blue and got to talking about different religions. Not only was he devastatingly handsome, but he was also smart and easy to talk to. He was a dream come true, a bright spot on a bad day. Gary took me to a wine bar that evening. He had my feet propped up on his lap running his fingers up and down my legs.
“I don’t know how to act around you,” he said. “I like you and I’m attracted to you, but I’m afraid to show too much affection. Am I freaking you out?”
“I like it,” I replied. “I like you too. There’s no reason to be nervous.”
He ran his finger down my face, tucking my hair behind my ear. Then with his entire hand he reached behind my head, tilting my face toward his. He met me with a lip lock that made me absolutely weak in the knees and wet with anticipation. His large hands pulled me into his lap for a full-on make out session, holding me with his other hand around my waist. I pulled his head close to me, pressing my lips into his, enjoying the sweet bliss of his embrace, and that was it. I was hooked.
“When can I see you again Liza?” he asked. “I’ve never felt this kind of chemistry and passion so early on. I can’t explain it, but I want to be close to you.”
“Well, I have to go home to my kids tonight,” I replied.
“Okay, tomorrow then? Can I see you tomorrow?” he pressed.
“Maybe,” I responded, trying to be coy. I began gathering my things up to go home. His hand covered mine as I placed it on my purse.
“Let me walk you to your car. I can’t get enough of you.”
We walked hand-in-hand back to my car. He pressed me up against the car, gathering the hair at the nape of my neck in his fist. He gave my hair a tug as he pulled me in for another kiss. His other hand found its way to my rear end as he pulled my hair a bit harder this time, forcing me to throw my head back. He began to kiss down my neck.
“I bet you’re an amazing lover,” he whispered.
“I have to go now,” I giggled and bit my bottom lip. I could feel the temptation of going home with him that night in my panties. “Call me, okay?”
“It’s going to be so hard waiting to see you again,” he said. I watched as he waved at me while I backed out of the parking space.
It was a perfectly delightful date full of stimulating conversation and romance. It was the most wonderful experience while I was with him, but when we were apart, I found myself feeling sad and alone. It was as if I were a toddler experiencing separation anxiety from her mother. This was hard for me because I had thought for so long he was my true love. I dreaded fielding questions from my friends about a break-up. So, I held onto him even though his love no longer served me in my life. My fingers shook as I pulled out my phone to write him back.
“ It’s okay sweetie. I understand. Have fun with your mom. ”
It was a lie. I had zero understanding of why he treated me this way. I slouched back into my chair, trying to hold back the tears of disappointment from another canceled date. What happened to the man who couldn’t wait to get his hands on me again? That man was far gone. The man I had now was comfortable, knowing I would always await him. I was at his mercy and he held the key to my happiness. I was in the desert once again awaiting that drop of water. I knew my satisfaction would only be acute. It killed me to know I wouldn’t hear from him the rest of the day. A small tear escaped my eye and streamed down my cheek. I wiped it away staring at my silent phone. I hated myself for always allowing the torture. All the pain made the pleasure worth it to me, however. Ding dong, went the front door to the store. I looked up and there was Syble holding us each an iced mocha latte. She always knew how to make me feel better.
“I figured you could use a little pick me up Liza. I assume he either didn’t text you or you’re crying because he’s not seeing you this weekend. Am I correct?”
I looked down.
“Yes,” I whispered as tears began to fall down my face, splashing on my silent cell phone. Syble approached me and put the drinks down. She shuffled around the sales counter and opened her arms to me for a hug.
“Hang in there kid. Men are really stupid .”
“But I love him, Syble. I love him so much. Why can’t he be the one? What does it take to find true love?” I asked. Why did I always find myself in the insanity cycle?
“Who knows?” she shrugged holding my desperate, trembling body in her arms. Although I admit, I wished it were Gary’s arms I was in. It just wasn’t the same not coming from him.
“You know what you need? Just get online and distract yourself with a young hottie who wants to rock your world,” she said
“Um, no. I’m with Gary and I’m an honest person. I could never do that to him,” I replied.
“So what? Do you really think he’s doing whatever it is he says he’s doing this weekend? A man doesn’t go from saying he can’t get enough of you to being busy every time the weekend comes. Oh, excuse me. He manages to stroll in here and bend you over in the back office once a week or so. I forgot he’s such a good boyfriend.” She rolled her eyes. It was apparent Gary was using me, but I didn’t want to accept it. Not this time. I loved him.
“Okay, so what do you want me to do? Sink to his level? I love him. I don’t want anyone else.”
“Whatever, babe. It’s your life. Listen, I gotta run to the gym, but I wanted to stop by, check on you, and give you a little afternoon delight. Call me tonight okay?”
“Okay honey, I love you.”
I kissed her cheek as she left and managed to wipe away my leftover tears. Syble bounced out of the store swinging her hips like a belly dancer. She always managed to do everything so sexy and sweet. She wasn’t like me--weak, needy, and vulnerable. She was strong. She knew what she wanted and she was never afraid to try to capture it. I loved her determination, diligence, and constantly reaching for that which was always unobtainable to us mere mortals. She was my hero, always enduring every disappointment and holding strong to the idea that I could change my circumstances if only I believed it was possible. I can’t express how much I appreciated and loved this woman.
The store fell silent in contemplation of my weekend. I suppose it wasn’t all that bad since my mom and I had planned to go to the big flea market that was coming into town the next day. I could get a designer purse for a fraction of the cost and also pick up a few cool trinkets here and there. I could have never guessed this would be no ordinary weekend for me. My life would be transformed in ways I never would have imagined, but I’ll get to that in due time. In the silence of the slow day at the shoe store, a small piece of me wanted to fire off a text at Gary and tell him off.
How could he use a beautiful, smart, and vibrant woman like me? I was the kind of woman who would love him and do anything for him like no other person would. I drafted up a text message then deleted it several times, but eventually I just put my phone down as the school bus screeched up outside.
The boys were home from school, but the store would stay open another couple of hours. Two little heads. Two little faces. Their sweet blue eyes twinkled in the sunlight as they raced to the front door of the store. Their backpacks bounced up and down to the rhythm of their feet. Ding-dong, went the front door as it flung open. It was at that point in the day that the craziness ensued. The quiet of the store turned into an exciting mixture of tennis shoes screeching on the floor and shrill voices speaking over one another. It was difficult to differentiate the tattles from the tales of the day, to the declarations of starving tummies. I would snap my fingers to try to quiet them down, but at times I found it was best to just nod my head and pretend to understand until they tornadoed their way into the back with the mini fridge and snack drawer. The sinking feeling in my stomach would dissipate if only for a moment while I preoccupied myself with snack time and homework. The boys were my salvation in that regard.
“Guys, homework!” I commanded as they found their way to the back of the store. Noah’s crying soon ensued the moment they disappeared from my sight. My ears rarely got a break from the noise. The youngest always fell victim to the oldest and his attacks. I yelled to Jameson to be nice. It was always mildly effective, but necessary to show them I was serious about wanting them to behave themselves. Soon, the anxiety returned, beckoning me to question Gary’s every move. I genuinely thought that my problems were solvable if only I could find a magic formula via internet search engines. Sitting there on my phone, I searched advice on how to make a man love me. Boy, was I delusional. Ding dong, went the door once more, and to my surprise, I was greeted with the object of my desire.
“Oh, my God! What are you doing here?” I squealed in a high pitched voice. I jumped over the counter, sprung across the store and wrapped both arms and legs around his body, planting kisses all over that precious face, before finally meeting him with a lip lock.
“Well baby, I missed you and wanted to see you for a little bit before mom comes into town. Are the boys here?” he asked
“Yes,” I said. “Do you want to say hi to them?”
“No, not now,” He replied. “Are you busy? Can we sit and talk for a moment?”
“No, I’m not busy honey,” I replied as I took his hand and led him to a seat in the store. I drug my stool across the floor and planted myself in front of him. He put his hand on my face, tucking my hair behind my ear and gazed into my eyes. He always knew how to entice me.
“My God, you’re beautiful,” he said. “I just don’t deserve such a sweet and wonderful woman like you.”
I agreed in my head, of course.
“I’ve had such a horrible day,” he began. “I’ve been so busy and haven’t been able to get anything done. I’ve had my boss riding my ass all day long. I’m in debt up to my ears, and my ex-wife keeps hounding me about child support. She was such a cool chick back in the day. I don’t know what happened to her. Sometimes, I think I’m still hung up on her.”
Hung up on her? What could this mean? I just nodded in agreement and leaned forward.
“You know, I just have so much going on in my life right now with my ex-wife. I still love her you know. I can’t really explain it Liza, but I need to do my own thing for a while. I don’t think it’s fair to you that I’m emotionally unavailable and you are here giving this relationship your all.”
Oh no! He was doing it. Wasn’t he? He was breaking up with me! How could I stop this from happening? What could I do to make it all stop? I had to think and fast! I couldn’t allow him to say another word. So, I did what any reasonable person would do in this situation, I pretended to feel faint.
“Oh God,” I said. “Gary, I’m sorry to stop you, but I feel a bit queasy or sick or something.”
I then proceeded to roll my eyes upward and tilted my head back while sliding off my stool to the floor. Gary sprung from his chair and knelt down next to me. He began to slap the side of my cheek ever so slightly.
“Baby? Baby? You fainted baby, wake-up! Wake-up Liza!”
I fluttered my eyes open a bit dramatically at him pretending to be disoriented.
“Liza, are you okay baby? What happened?”
“Well, I don’t know,” I replied, batting my big brown doe eyes. “We were just talking and I, I fell. I haven’t fainted like that since the first time I found I was.....” I looked up at the ceiling then looked down for a moment. “No, I can’t be.”
“Can’t be what? Can’t be what?” he commanded.
“Well, what I was going to say, is that I haven’t fainted like that since I was pregnant, but don’t worry. It’s not like I’m.....oh wait. I think maybe I am.”
I looked off to the side as if I didn’t know which was up or down.
“You are? You are what?” he held onto both of my shoulders and looked into my eyes with concern. “For God’s sake Liza. You don’t think you’re pregnant. Do you?”
“I am late Gary,” I whispered. “I’m sorry, I’m three weeks late, but I haven’t tested. I’m sure it’s fine. Anyway, what is it that you were saying to me, sweetie?”
“Don’t you change the subject on me now. You can’t be pregnant Liza and if you are, you better damn well take care of it.”
His hands were still grasped around my shoulders as panic took over his demeanor. His grip on my shoulder felt like the squeeze of a boa constrictor. He wasn’t sweet, gentle, or charming, but fierce. I felt almost a bit intimidated by the way he was behaving.
He looked at me, cutting me all the way down to my core as if his eyes were piercing my soul with his dominance. Not only would he lead me on to break up with me, but he would actually ask that I take care of the baby we conceived. Never mind I had created this diversion to delay the break-up. I was seeing a side of him I wasn’t familiar or comfortable with. This alone compelled me to seek a momentary break.
“Gary, you’re hurting me!” I exclaimed. “ You’re scaring me. Why are you acting like this? You’d actually want me to kill our child? I’m not a monster.”
“I am in no position to raise another child and neither are you, Liza. Look at you, you’re a mess. You have two bastard children already and you’d want to bring another one into the world? For what? To live in your tiny apartment over Mommy and Daddy’s shoe store. So, you can teach it to try on shoes and to talk on the phone about God knows what?”
“I had no idea you thought that of me or my children Gary. Who said this baby would be a bastard? I have you haven’t I? What are you saying, Gary? That you’d abandon me?” My doe eyes began to glaze over.
“Don’t cry. Please don’t cry. I’m sorry Liza. I’m being a jerk.”
He stood up slowly looking down at me. His eyes changed from cold and sharp to warm and charming once again. My heart was deceived with warm feelings. His eyes alone could manipulate me quicker than anything. All the feelings of fear and disdain began to drain away as this heart of mine melted.
“I’ll call you. I’ve got to go baby,” he said.
Helping me up with his strong right hand while pulling me into a warm kiss with his other. This only occurred for a brief moment however as he quickly turned from me and bolted out the door. My heart sank.