by Bonnie Lass
Memory of a lost lover
Since Harry and I had started dating, I stopped going out with the girls. They were upset and resentful. I assumed it was just jealousy now that I had a boyfriend, and a great one at that. Surely, the moaning and whining would wind down once they came to grips with it. In this case, that did not happen. Instead it got worse. It was really annoying. One Thursday night, Consuela mentioned it. She was speaking on her cousin’s behalf. Consuela agreed with Janis that I was being rude and terribly unfair to the girls. I was dumbfounded and I am sure it showed in my facial expression. Just how am I being rude and unfair to them?” I asked. ‘They can’t go out if you don’t go.’ “Why not?” ‘They want you to go.’ “That is not an answer to my question nor a real reason.” ‘Why can’t you just do it?’ “What is the big deal?” |
William was a captain at the Tampa Police Department. ‘It’s the men.’ He stated without ever looking up from his cards. “Pardon me.” ‘You are petite and you’re hot. You have a great personality. You attract men that they never could; you have your choice and they get the leftovers. It’s simple really, and logical. They are smart.’ “No disrespect intended Bill but that is pure horse shit. I am no raving beauty; short and fat and plain. Just an ordinary girl.” Everyone around the table looked up chuckled. Except for Consuela. “No, really, I mean it.” Benecio chimed in, ‘That makes it even more appealing. You’re not stuck up or conceited.’ These guys think they have a chance with you. You’re a boost to their egos.’ I felt Gary staring at me and it was uncomfortable. William continued, ‘They make you look even better. Your presence guarantees lots of men and plenty of liquor.’ Blushing beet red, I finally met Gary’s gaze. He nodded imperceptibly and smiled a wry little smile. Benecio broke the spell. ‘Look at the one you got. He could have anyone, but he is with you and it is plain to see that you are the only one he is interested in.’ Not daring to look at Gary. I smiled at the thought of my Harry. Gary, looking away said, ‘He seems like a good guy.’ “He is a good guy. The best. I am lucky to have him.” Conversation waned and good ole Consuela asked, ‘So are you going out with them?’ “No.”
Later on down the road, I’d come to realize why Consuela could not comprehend me not wanting to go out. She was feeling left out. And her wild side was showing. She wanted to dance and date and have a good time. She wanted to shirk her responsibilities and her “boring” life and the way she had been sheltered. Consuela and her sister would use me just as her cousin and the other girls had done. I would not believe it for a long time because I didn’t want to. Sooner or later, even I could not ignore the obvious. Jacinto’s voice in my head helped with the realization.
Harry thought we were getting too wrapped up in each other too quickly. He had first brought it up and that made me feel like he was pushing me away. My pride would not let me do anything but agree. And because I felt unsure again, we both felt the need to cool down and slow down for a bit. We should take it easy. It was the smart thing to do. We talked about it and agreed to it. But it really wasn’t what I wanted. The girls had were relentless. I finally said “okay.” Margaret, Janis, Wendy and I went to Club Riviera. Once upscale, it had turned into a place frequented by the middle class. It was a very nice place. Not a bar, but a cocktail lounge, it was decent and generally quiet. The band who played popular music was great. And of course all the women wanted to connect with the blonde lead singer named Dutch. The four of us sat near the bandstand. It was their choice, not mine. Center front has always been too public and too noisy for my tastes.
Every other song was a slow one. I must admit it was fun watching the women lead and maneuver their dance partners up close to the stage. They were all hoping Dutch would take notice. He was adorable, but since I had met Harry, he held no attraction for me. Dutch couldn’t hold a candle to Harry. My Harry. The girls and I had gone out for different reasons that night. I wanted a night out with my friends, away from Harry, to sit and talk, gossip, listen to music and dance. To put Harry out of my mind for a while. They wanted to meet men. Wendy could have gone either way, I think. Our location was ideal for their purpose. They were in plain view for all the men, including the band. And each dance was an advertisement of sorts, like dates on parade. The girls were having a grand time. I felt like the unenthused spectator at a sporting event. As the night and the drinks progressed, they became a little rowdy, especially Janis. She was prone to vulgar language and behavior even without the alcohol. I was totally embarrassed, and very irritated. Needing a break from them and the attention they were drawing, I also wanted a reason to call Harry. I had been looking for an excuse since we walked in the door. I left the table in search of a phone booth. There it was at the end of the bar. Liquid courage enabled me to dial his number. As he said hello, I realized the lounge had become very loud very quickly- unusually so. In fact the main attraction for me had always been the quiet, pleasant atmosphere and ambiance. Harry did not hear my first hello. I had to raise my voice. “Rita?” ‘Yes”. “Where are you?”’ ‘Club Riviera.” “Yeah?” ‘Yeah, girls night out.’ “Rita, what are you doing there?” ‘I told you–girls’ night out.’ “That’s not what I mean and you know it.” ‘Okay then, where should I be?’ “Here with me.” ‘Oh?’ “Why don’t you come over?” ‘It’s late.’ “Uh huh. I’d rather you were here and I am pretty sure you would rather be here. Or am I presuming?” ‘No, but I promised them.’ “I don’t like you there and I don’t think you do either. Will you come over? Please?” “What am I supposed to do about them?’ “Just tell them it’s time for you to go.” ‘I’ll see you in a few minutes.’ “Good. I’ll be waiting for you. Be careful. Lock your doors.” Staring at the phone, my hand was shaking and I was totally confused. He was, after all, the one who wanted a cooling off period. What had happened to that notion? I planned to confront him when I got to his home. Gladly, I didn’t. His reasons were obvious and I was just glad he wanted to see me. He had gotten what he wished for and as in so many cases, it wasn’t what he really wanted after all.
I walked back and told the girls I was leaving, and asked if anyone else wanted to leave. None did. Thank goodness we had taken 2 cars. Janis would take the other two home. I jumped on the interstate and drove to North Tampa. By the time I reached him, Harry was grimacing. ”Your doors aren’t locked.” ‘Oh Harry. I never lock my doors.’ “You should lock your car doors, just as you lock your apartment doors.” ‘I don’t lock them, either.’ He stopped dead in his tracks. He lowered his head and looked up as he was prone to do. “You’re kidding me. Aren’t you? Please tell me you are.” ‘Nope.’ “I’m totally aghast!” We sat in our usual spot on the floor, leaning against the sofa. ”You are so different than anyone I’ve ever known, Rita.” ‘Thank you. I think.’ “Oh, it is a compliment. But some of the things I really like about you are foreign to me.” I could certainly understand that. ‘The locks?’ “Yes for one. You are the sweetest, most trusting person I have ever known. On the other hand, some of the things you choose to do or not do, along with whatever causes that, scares hell out of me.” ‘Oh, Harry, I’m really sorry that I have scared you in any way. But you shouldn’t be scared. I will be fine.’ “See? That’s what I mean. You really and truly believe that. You don’t even see the potential dangers.” ’As you pointed out, that is one of the things you like about me.’ “Yeah, it’s a real conflict.” It wasn’t just the locks, I knew. As he readily pointed out, he had never known, much less dated a girl like me. It was all I was made of, I think. The girls in his past were by and large rich and pampered. Most were haughty and aloof. There were servants to do for them, parents to provide for them, and boyfriends to satisfy their whims. They had nannies, chauffeurs, cooks, maids, and gardeners. He was accustomed to that type and that life. Something in Harry made him look for something new and different. Whatever that was, he saw in me. And he loved what he saw. I was completely opposite. I was a single mom, and had to work hard to support my daughter and myself. I loved to cook and garden-for myself. Harry seemed to marvel at that. Certainly not spoiled, I took pride in my work and my daughter. I had trouble asking anyone for help. I still do. Anything anybody did for us was greatly appreciated. Any kindness, no matter how small was never forgotten. Even now. I was friendly and trusting, and had faith in the goodness of people. Like Harry, every life mattered. I was open and direct, and did not play games. All of that was so new to Harry and he had trouble dealing with the differences sometimes. Those differences that he loved about me. Of course he had conflicts. Yet, asked if he wished I was more like them, he didn’t hesitate. “No.” ‘Are you sure?’ “I came looking for something else, didn’t I? And I found you, Princess.” ‘It has to be difficult for you. You opened my door and walked into a different world.’ “Yes sometimes, it is a little strange. Still, here I am. And this is where I want to be. I dated them because they were there. I date you because I want to be with you. Did you ever think the reason I hang around is because you are so different?” ‘Well in that case, what happens when the novelty wears off?’ “It won’t. Every time I think it has, I find something new about you. There’s been one surprise after another with you. I’ll certainly never be bored with you.” ‘Still…’ “Look, Bonita, whoever you are and whatever I am get along great. Whatever we have been used to, whatever came before doesn’t matter. What does matter is what works now. And we do, don’t we?” ‘Yes.’ “I enjoy you and I enjoy myself when I am with you. There’s been something between us from the start. We hit it off from the beginning, didn’t we?” ‘Yes we did.’ “Then quit worrying and let’s just enjoy it”. He knew that would not happen. I have been a world class worrier since childhood. One of the things he did not like about me. But the man always made sense even when it came to affairs of the heart. It was exalting hearing his words of affirmation. One of the biggest and most appealing differences between this guy and all the rest is that he did not need me, as much as he wanted me. I did not care about his money or his money making abilities. It never mattered what he had or how much. All that did matter was the man, the person that was Harry. He knew it, if he had not, I would have made sure he did. Maybe the debs and models had not felt that way, thought that way about him. When he was with me all outward trappings disappeared and he liked that. All that showed was his essence. I saw and loved the stripped down version, I loved the core of his being. He loved being that, knowing I loved him just as he was. As we used to day he could let his hair down. Obviously he felt the same about me. Maybe that was what he had been looking for the whole time. I recognized him. I acknowledged him. I appreciated his mind and sensibilities. I knew and valued his heart, his soul, and his spirit. And I loved him with no care or concern for anything else.
We had not been seeing each other long enough for people to start asking about permanence, marriage, our status. But they did. It seemed obvious to everybody that was where we were heading. If I am being honest, the thought had occurred to Harry and me too. I, for one, did not want to think about it at that point (although I did) because it raised too many questions and thoughts, and there would be too many choices to be made. For one thing, I would have to be willing to follow him anywhere as his career advanced. We’d have to leave my daughter’s father behind, as well as family and friends, my whole life. It was scary. I’d have to adopt a whole new lifestyle in so many ways, on so many levels. How would his family ever accept his choice? A poor, single parent who had to work, just squeaking by. What about his friends and business associates? I really could not see myself in the social setting from whence he came and where he would surely return. Most importantly, I worried about my child. Harry was quite nice to her and said he really cared about her. He expressed concern for her well-being and happiness. And he thought about her safety and security. He claimed that he really liked kids. However, his paternal leanings were not blatantly obvious. We talked about her and he did ask about her. He was always understanding and kind about her being my number one priority. He never ever showed any concern about her being part of the package, and he never complained when she and her needs had to come before his. I probably expected too much too soon. But a mother in my shoes would have to think and worry about it. And my own Mother, how could I do that to her? She and Cori had such a strong loving bond. They were each other’s world. They adored each other. Their connection was very unusual. I would be ripping their hearts out. It would be cruel, really.
We talked around the commitment issue. Many, many times. Deep inside, I knew and he knew that was the future for us. And underneath our reticence, there was an element of excitement. We played with it, like a new toy, then wrapped it back up and put it away for a later date. Each time we did, it became more serious and more promising. If it was to be, we decided, all those issues would fall into place. We also decided that we wanted the idea to take hold of us, rather than us taking hold of the idea. We would just let nature take her course and wait to see. What was vague in the beginning began to take form, becoming more solid with each passing day. We started talking about the details of our married life together. I wish Harry and I had moved in together. There would have been more time, and he could have stopped obsessing over my apartment. He could have gotten used to living with me and my child, a child that he wanted to help me raise. We could have started becoming the family that we both wanted and needed. And Harry had become my home and my family. He didn’t ask and I was too timid to suggest it. He wanted me there all the time which has always made me question why he had not asked. He was so sensible and it would have made total sense, for both of us.
With the girls going to Jai Alai so often, the guys decided to have poker night, once a week. When I suggested they invite Harry, they balked a bit. After all, he was the new kid in town. The women rallied round and left the guys no choice. What a world he volunteered to step into. I had warned him, described the house and the people who filled it. The music, the loud, fast talking Cubans. The whole machismo thing. And yet he wanted to and did it anyway. Yes, a good part of it was about me. I am grateful to him that he would do that, walk into a new world and strange goings on solely on my account. I was thankful that he wanted to be a part of my world, even if he felt like and might be treated like an alien. But Harry was so confidant and determined about all of it. That being said there had to be more to it. It would become apparent soon.
Harry accepted the invitation immediately. There was no reticence, what so ever. He loved the game and played regularly. He looked forward to mingling with my crowd, and making new friends. When I saw him, I hung my head. He entered the den of sweat pants, old holey tee shirts and baggy shorts wearing pastel Polo shirt and shorts coördinates. He was carrying cards, all fresh decks, and spinning coin dispenser, along with a bowl of change. The men’s eyes rolled; there were a couple of groans. Someone asked who does he think he is? Mr. Big shot? Harry didn’t deserve that. He wasn’t trying to be superior or Mr. Big Shot. He did like being prepared and having the right tools for the job. And he did tend to like doing things his own way, in what he believed was the right way. And sometimes, that meant the only way. It was a bit anal but surely, he thought he was doing a nice thing, adding something to the game and the evening. He was trying to fit in and make them like him and appreciate his thoughtful gesture. He wasn’t trying to show them up, but it appeared to them that he was. Showing off and rubbing their noses in his wealth.
Bless his heart, he was so excited. He was trying to be nice and impress them. They were idiots, and he made them aware of that, in that very subtle way he had. They could never match his wit, his intelligence. They could never keep up with his command of the English language. And he did it all with a smile; well most of the time. There was his notorious smirk. He did not throw his weight around. He did not show off his lot in life. He didn’t have to. It was a second skin on him, very obvious to anyone around him. It was more about them feeling inferior to him and his life, his station in life. He was everything they were not, and they knew it. I pulled Gary aside. He was the smartest and most financially successful of the group. (Also, he was not Cuban). I made him promise to be nice to Harry. Benecio, I threatened, “You be nice to him. I mean it, and get used to having him around. You hear me?” The time came to leave, but I stalled. How could I leave my precious, gentle lamb in the company of those hungry wolves? I’d heard Tony say he would show this guy a thing or two about playing cards. Oh crap, they took him for a novice, and planned to beat him royally and take all his money. They actually thought there was a chance to show him up. Crap. It was like watching someone throw an electric fan into the bath water. I couldn’t not go. And I wouldn’t. That would have been insulting to him and an indication to the others that I lacked confidence in him and his abilities. Guiltily, I left with the girls and worried the entire time we were gone. All I wanted to do was go back home and I made that perfectly clear about every thirty seconds. I was always lucky at Jai Alai. I won. Often. They counted on me to pick the winners so that they might prosper. That night my heart was not in it. I wanted to leave and check on Harry. They finally gave in.
We returned home early to a bunch of sore losers. Harry had, of course won. He had whupped them, royally. That was like a slap in the face to them. Then he offered to forget the money, “it’s just a game.” That added insult to injury. He was trying so hard but was just making matters worse. His gracious attitude further convinced them he was weird. No real man would go that far. Poor Harry could not win for losing. He tossed the coins into the bowl “for future use”. He was a good winner and a good sport. Always. I don’t know what kind of loser he was, because I never saw him lose at anything. Ever. I mean the man should have graced a cereal box. It was so odd that as serious about sports and games, and as competitive as he was, it was really just a game to him. He knew when and how to remember that. The lack of importance Harry placed on money and winning was foreign to those guys. And to most men I have met. They took it as if he was rubbing their noses in it. Had I not known him and loved him so well, I might have thought his outlook was odd. I had only known the kind who were like the others who filled the room that night. When Harry got up to go home, he left behind all he had brought for next time. What a guy! I walked him out and kissed him goodbye, then returned to the men with a vengeance.
I faced Benecio first. “Were you nice to him?” ‘Yes’. “Were you?” Gary interrupted ‘We were nice to him.’ “Thank you Gary.” Ben asked, did you say something to him?’ “Like what?” ‘Like loosen up. Quit trying to impress everybody.’ “Well of course he’d try to impress you on account of me. But mostly what you guys can’t see is that he’s just being nice, wanting to fit in.” ‘Maybe you are prejudiced?’ “Not in this case”. Gary was a dear. ‘I kinda liked him. He seemed like an okay guy.’ My heart smiled. “Thank you again, Gary. He is an okay guy. At least you see that.” To all of them I said, “Regardless, you have to be nice to him.” Ben replied, ‘Have to? Why?’ “Because Benecio, I am asking you to. And because he makes me happy.” ‘Really?’ “Really. Happier than I’ve been in a long, long time.” Gary looked down at his hands, and asked. ‘You like him a lot, huh?’ “Very much.” He smiled a little resigned smile. Ben softened. ‘Why didn’t you just say so?’ “I just did. Please do this for me.” ‘Okay and I will make sure none of the others don’t give him too hard a time.’ “Thanks, Benecio.” He stood. ‘I’m going to bed. See you kids later.’
I made coffee and poured Gary a cup, feeling his eyes on me the whole time. He always said I made the best coffee he’d ever had. We were the last two remaining. We sat there at the table, facing each other. “What did you really think of Harry” ‘I told you he seems okay. But that is not important. What is important is what you think.’ “I like him and like being with him.” ‘How serious is this?’ “Not. At least at this point.” ‘Funny, I wouldn’t have thought him to be your type.’ “I wouldn’t have either.” ‘Well, I hope for your sake, this works out. Although the way you talk about him makes me feel a little envious. Has it really been so long since somebody made you happy?’ “There were a couple of times. Short lived. “Once in particular. I remember spending a day with a very handsome guy; a good guy. We went riding in his dune buggy through the woods, over the hills. The sun shining through the pines will stay with me forever. I was happy that day and I know he could have made me very happy for all the days of my life.” ‘What happened to that guy?’ “He belonged to somebody else. Worse, he was in love with her.” But I have some very warm memories and think he does, too. We turned out to be very good friends.” ‘Good. I’m sure he has some great memories too. Do you ever stop to wonder…?’ “No. There would be no point in it. Especially now.” ‘What if there’s a chance?’ “We would have seen it back then. How it is now is how it should be.” The man we spoke of was Gary, of course. Why do we do that? Speak in third person when we are uncomfortable? Is it ever acceptable? It seems lame now. Later, I found out just how evil his wife was and the only other one who had known was Consuela. She had known all along. They were cut from the same bolt. Partners in crime, evil twins. What I had said was true. Harry made me happy. There was no fiery, wild passion, at least as I knew it. I just enjoyed him and all that he was. Being with him was the most fun thing in the whole world. He bought to me love, tenderness and extreme joy. Had it not been for Harry, I might have given Gary another chance, especially after his wife and Consuela showed their true colors. Had I known about those two evil women before Harry, I am not sure we would have met. I would have given Jerry and me a chance. That is all speculation. But I would not do anything that might cost me the happiness Harry gave me. And I would not do anything to hurt him.
Harry invited me over a couple of days later, and, of course, I went. He was preparing to host a card party of his own. I wondered aloud why he had not asked me to bring the chips and the other poker things. I think he said somebody else would bring all that. I can’t recall the exact words. What I do remember is that it seemed important to leave all his poker supplies at Benecio’s. It was some symbol of attachment and a pledge to our future and it made my heart smile. I also remember sitting straight up when he told me what he planned to serve at his to do. He described a finger sandwich with a cream cheese filling and pimento cheese stuffed celery sticks. “Aren’t chips, nuts, and beer the usual fare?” He became defensive. “These are my mom’s recipes. She always served them at get-togethers.” I did not say anymore. How could I? But I was so scared for him. He was defensive because they came from his mother, and I meant no offense to her or her recipes. But, there is a difference between what a Dallas socialite serves at her soirees and what is served on poker night. I dreaded a repeat of what had happened at Benecio’s. Worse, they might laugh or poke fun at him. Surely, they’d think it a bit odd. But how could I tell him that? I asked how it went the day after the card party. His answer was curt. Because he would not answer there was a suspicion that it did not go well at all. We never talked about it after that. I knew he did not want me to bring it up. Perhaps he had felt a bit offended. Perhaps even embarrassed. That was not my intention, I only wanted to protect him. Surely he must have known that. But something had caused his silence and his dour attitude. It was clearly best to let it be. We never spoke of it again.
The next week Harry came over for poker. When we arrived home after Jai Alai, the boys seemed to be having a good time. They’d accepted my Sweetheart and that made me exceedingly happy. The boys/girls night out was being discussed. Somebody suggested we have a couples’ night out as well. Not a bad idea, thought I, wondering dreamily what we could all do together. I could literally have smacked the person who suggested bowling. It was not something I had ever remotely thought of doing. I didn’t fret much as they probably would not invite us. But Benecio spoke to Harry. “Wanna come?” ‘Yeah, I like to bowl.’ “What’s your average?” Whatever he said made them whoop. Everybody wanted my Baby on their team. Great. Harry was ready to accept the invitation and they decided to make it the following Saturday night. “Ahem. Aren’t you even going to ask me?” ‘I assumed. I’m sorry. Don’t you want to go?” ‘No, not really.” ‘No?’ “No, actually, I don’t.” He looked so incredibly disappointed. My heart ached. Ben called me a spoil sport, among other things. But, as usual good ole Harry came to my defense. Even in that situation. Remarkable. ‘If she does not want to go, we won’t go. We’ll do something else some time.’ God love him. He made my heart swell. As I walked Harry out, I asked “you really want to go, don’t you?” ‘Yes, I’d like to. But’s it’s really okay.’ “No. It’s not.” ‘Why don’t you want to go?’ “Harry, I don’t know how to bowl.” ‘I’ll teach you if that’s really all.’ “I’m not athletically inclined. I don’t want to make a fool of myself or embarrass you.” ‘Rita, people will understand you’re a novice and it will not bother me a bit. Besides, I’m good enough for both of us.’ “Really?” ‘Yeah’ “You’ll teach me?” ‘Yes.’ “And you’ll be patient?” ‘Yes.’ “Okay, we’ll go.” ‘You’re sure?’ “Yes.” ‘Doesn’t sound like it. Hey, are you doing this just for me?’ “Yes.” ‘You shouldn’t do that, and I really don’t want you to do something you really don’t want to do.’ “It’s important to you, so it’s important to me.” ‘I can live without it. There are other things we can do together.’ “It’s okay. We’ll try it. I might never go again, but I would not feel right if I didn’t at least try.” ‘Alright, but if at any time you want to leave, that’s okay. Deal?’ “Deal.” ‘Rita? Thank you.’ He was such a neat guy, best of the best, cream of the crop. Normally, he was a good judge of character, but when it came to people and what they were capable of, he was a bit naïve at times. That would come to mean trouble for us down the road.
It felt wonderful to have everybody become friends. It had been important to me, but was more important to and for him. And it allowed me to feel like I had something to offer him. My friends, the card games, the competition, the parties. The good food and drink along with the comradery were the things I could offer Harry. Somebody else might be able to offer the same, but there would be some elemental differences. This was my sacrificial lamb, my atonement for all that I did not have and could not give him. He had people from my world who genuinely liked him and he had been vetted and approved. I know it made him feel good that he had not only been accepted into the fold, but that he was well liked. It made me glow. I was so proud of him and so proud to be in his company. We had found a middle ground, which made our differences less stark and less intimidating. His world and my world aside, we had found our comfort zone. He had never doubted that would happen. He would make it happen, no matter what he had to do. And he did. That, I know was more for me than himself. I managed to loosen up a bit on that subject, and that made him very happy. Aside from me and my love, I came to the table lacking, but I could offer him entry into my club.
Saturday rolled around to find me sick from being so nervous. “You’ll be among friends. It’ll be okay,” I told myself. Harry called to make sure we were still on. “Yes, Ben0 and Connie will drive me. We’ll meet you there.” ‘No way, I’ll pick you up.’ “Harry, it’s out of your way.” ‘Picking you up is never out of my way.’ “I’ll be okay Babe. I’ll just meet you there.” ‘And miss the chance of walking in with you on my arm? Uh-uh. I’ll pick you up at 7:00.’ We’d all agreed to meet at the Bowling Center at 7:30 PM. Fi and Connie were ready to leave before 7:00 and, of course, tried to hustle me along. “Oh, sorry I forgot to tell you; Harry’s coming for me. Consuela and Ben looked at me with irritation and aggravation. “You’re making him come all this way? Why, when we’re going, too?” The lanes were about ½ way between the house and Harry’s apartment. Funny how they always assumed that I was to blame for most situations. I’d sort of gotten used to always being at fault. Harry was my saving grace. I was in love with him, even then, but thought it improper to tell him first. “It wasn’t my idea, for your information. He insisted.” ‘Oh Brother.’ They rolled their eyes. They thought we were being too mushy. Baloney. Harry was doing it just for my benefit. He knew how nervous I was about the whole thing. He wanted to be there for me, to walk in and face them with me. He was being supportive. And I’m sure that was, in part because I had agreed to go just so he could go. And yes, he liked walking in with me on his arm wherever we went. May I repeat, he really was a neat guy?
Harry was always delighted to walk in with me, anywhere we went. He showed great pride in me and in the fact that I was with him. He was proud of us. It seemed to be gratifying to him when other men looked. And they did. He would look at them directly in the eyes while he wrapped his arm around me a bit tighter. He would walk taller, head high, chest puffed out. Perhaps it was a nod to his own ego. It made me happy, but I blushed. A lot. How gosh darned cute he was. Women looked too, of course. But he did not take notice and I did not have to. He averted his eyes when they looked longingly at him. Harry smiled at everybody, but he did not return the smiles of these select women. He did not look sideways or back. I believe if a woman would have approached him, Harry would have rejected her better and faster than I could have, and more efficiently. I would not have had to utter a word. He would be short, sweet and to the point. I resisted the urge to shout out to the world. He is mine. This wonderful man is mine, all mine. I was very well aware that Harry could have any woman he wanted, but he chose me. He wanted me. Harry only wanted me. The twinkle in his eye was only for me. I knew I was the luckiest woman alive.
When Harry arrived, to pick me up, I realized I was dressed inappropriately; a little too dressy. Great. One more thing to make me worry and feel self-conscious. We arrived at the bowling alley and my date pulled open the trunk. He brought out a duffel bag. “What’s that?” ‘My ball and shoes.” Well, of course he had his own. “What’s wrong with the shoes you’re wearing?” ’They are not bowling shoes.’ “Making a fashion statement?” ‘No, you have to wear special shoes. Didn’t you know that?’ I shook my head and gulped. “Harry, I don’t have bowling ball or shoes.” ‘It’s okay. We’ll rent your shoes.’ “And the ball?” ‘They’re free. You really don’t know anything about this, do you?’ Again, I shook my head. ‘It’s okay, Princess. Nobody knows until they are taught.’ The man who had given me a rock was my rock. Wrapping both my arms around his one free arm, we walked in together. We rented my shoes, then found our group.
Two faces made me stop cold in my tracks and my smile faded. One of those faces was scowling and the other grinning broadly. I could see how the evening would go. “Consuela, may I see you a minute?” ‘What? What’s wrong?’ “Why didn’t you tell me-again- that they would be here? I never would have come had I known.” ‘You have a date. What’s the difference?’ The difference was that the two would not care that I had a date. It would not change a thing. “You should have told me.” ‘I did not see the need. Why are you making a big deal out of this?” Surely, she was not that dull, she had been present some of the other times with those two. “Firstly, the last time created nothing but problems for me. Secondly, I don’t like Julie and don’t want to be around her. Lastly, it’s one thing to make a fool of myself, it’s another to do it in front of her.” I then thought of what I was wearing and blushed red. ‘Oh, Rita, you’re the only one who cares. Nobody else even noticed.’ “Oh really? Well look at her face.” She saw it also. ‘Once it is obvious that you are here with somebody…’ There was no point continuing the conversation. That would not be the last time I would hear the Drummer’s warnings about her in my head. Harry immediately sensed something wrong. He asked and I answered, nothing.” ‘Nothing? You’re trembling.’ He suggested a drink to calm me down and I heartily accepted. He probably assumed it was more of the same-fear of something new. He turned toward the lounge. Looking back, I should have explained.
In his absence, I listened to the conversation going on around me. These people were fiercely competitive. Surprisingly, Julie made the men seem docile. She was loud and bossy and trying to control the game and the evening. She demanded everybody’s averages and stats. Somebody told her about Harry’s. She was obviously impressed. Then she came to me. Disappointment and disdain were clearly evident on her face. I’d see that look again one day. I had never liked her before, couldn’t stand her now. A cold Singapore Sling arrived, hand delivered. God bless Harry forever. It did nothing to dispel the jitters. Prayers went unanswered. Nothing happened to prevent me from taking my turn. Knees wobbling, I walked over. My Harry, that good, good man helped me select a ball, told me to breathe deeply, and gave me instructions. While I stood there trying to breathe, people yelled directions and helpful hints my way. The ocean was roaring in my ears, so I couldn't make out most of it. Except for Julie, louder than all of them put together. So nervous, I was unable to think. Everything was spinning. I closed my eyes, took a breath and basically dropped the ball. I could barely hear above my pounding heart. But they were all yelling damn! Finally I opened my eyes to slits and asked that man I loved, “How badly did I do?” ‘Badly? You got a spare.’ “What’s a spare?” He smiled and explained. “You’re kidding?” ‘No, look.’ Sure enough there was only one pin standing. There was a sigh of relief. ‘See? You did great.’ Ben was mumbling about Beginner’s Luck. “She didn’t even have her eyes open, for crying out loud.” Harry was so proud of me and I was beaming. Everybody in the group had something nice to say-except Josie. She wanted to win in the worst way, but not enough to want me to do well.
Starting to walk away, Harry grabbed for my arm. ‘Whoa, where are you going?’ “To sit.” ‘No, Princess, it’s still your turn.’ “I already had my turn.” ‘A spare has to go again.’ “Again? Why?’ It’s how it works.’ “I don’t wanna.” I was uncomfortably close to whimpering. ‘You have to. You did very well. Just do what you did before.’ The pin remained standing and I was so disappointed. ‘Don’t worry about it. Even a seasoned bowler might not make that. It’s okay. Really. You tried and you did good.’ Franky came striding over to say something nice, but received a very cold reception. Then my date and I sat, heads together, talking. Harry loved bowling, he loved competition, and it had been very clear how much he had wanted to go that evening. Yet, with all that had led up to that moment, he was more interested in me than the game or our friends, (who by the way, noticed and commented). Even when it came to competition in games that were so darn important to him. He could set it all aside because he knew how to prioritize, he knew what was really important in the grand scheme of things. He had to be reminded of his turn. Can you imagine? Nevertheless, he was in good form. I started swallowing hard knowing I had to have another turn. All parties were offering their advice. “Last time, you made a spare. Imagine if you really try this time.” Good point and I really did want to show some team spirit for Harry’s sake.
Harry and Ben showed me in slow motion exactly what to do. I followed their directions closely. I got a gutter ball---in somebody else’s lane. Everybody in the place seemed to be laughing. The men seemed to make light of it, thinking it cute and I did my best to play into that, even pouting a bit trying to hide the red flames that burned my face. Julie’s eyes bored into me and ruined my resolve to laugh it off. I think me being there with a man like Harry made her even angrier than usual. Her smug superior expression was too much. I froze, embarrassed to tears. My escort was there in an instant. ‘Poor Baby. It’s okay’. I really didn’t want to play anymore, but knew not how to tell Harry. Turns out, I didn’t have to. ‘Hey, why don’t we take a break and go sit in the lounge for bit? ’We started walking in that direction. “I forgot my cigarettes.” Harry waited at the door of the lounge while I ran back to get them. Turning to rush back, I bumped smack into Ralphie. I did manage an “excuse me” as I brushed past him. ‘Wait’ “No.” We were just inches from the door. ‘Wait a minute, will you?’ I spun around angrily. “Go away.” ‘You won’t talk to me for one minute?’ “No, I want you to get away and stay away from me.” He stood there looking helpless as I turned away from him. Harry stood watching the other man as I walked through the door. “Harry? You coming?” Not a word did he speak, not a touch. He did not reach for my hand or put his arm around me as he normally would have. The bar was mostly empty and the drinks came quickly. Harry sat, looking straight ahead with both hands around his glass. He was feeling badly for Ralph. Don’t ask me how I knew, but I knew. “Is there a problem?” He finally faced me and to my amazement, there was disgust on his face. ‘I can’t believe you treated him that way.’ “Look Harry, you don’t know the whole story. He’s married, yet he won’t leave me alone.” ‘He seemed harmless to me and he was pleasant to you. Why’d you have to be so mean?’ “Because if I’m nice to him, he will never leave me alone.” “Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?’ That was unfair. He knew better, knew that I had no confidence in my looks. “That has nothing to do with it. Even after I did treat him that way, I’ll bet you he follows me in here.” Right on cue, Ralph came sauntering in. I threw up my hands. “See?” I sat there knowing that Josie was watching. We had already played this scene many times before and tonight would be no different. I knew I would catch hell from the whole group because they believed if I was not leading him on, he would have left me alone. That included Connie. Later at home, it would be brutal as it had been before. Harry did not have a clue what I would have to face, how I would have to defend myself and how clear they would make it that they thought I was a liar and a cheat. He had no idea of the hurt and tears it would cause me, as it had so many times before. And he had no idea that I had to act in a manner above reproach. If that included being rude, so be it. Ralph stood directly behind us, trying to decide whether or not to approach. I glared at him, then turned my back, helping him to decide to walk away. Harry made some sort of noise. He did not want to hear my explanation, and he knew nothing about men who could not take no for an answer. Because he did not want to hear it when I offered and because I felt betrayed, I would not try to explain any further. Harry saw the good that was in himself in everyone else. Frankly, I was beginning to be very upset with him for being angry with me without good reason. It was the closest we ever came to an argument. Harry thought I should be nice, demure even, and if Frank would still not leave me alone, then he should handle it. Yeah, I think that was the gist of it. If I read him right, and I am sure I did. He was upset and embarrassed for Ralph. My behavior had diminished the image he had created of me (and of all women I suppose). Of course, his own ego had been bruised.
He had forgotten that I was a strong independent woman who had always had to care for my daughter and myself by myself. He lost sight of the fact that I could and would defend myself, and knew how to be assertive. It did not occur to him that I had never had someone to handle things for me. I didn’t even know how to let someone do that. He also didn’t realize that I was trying to save him from getting involved in a mess that had been around for a very long time. My silence bothered Harry. It wasn’t expected. He’d get upset, tell me what he thought, and I’d see the wisdom of his words and be apologetic as usual. I’d fit myself back into the slot he had created for me. That was how it was supposed to work in the World According to Harry. I, on the other hand, resented Ralph for his actions, which always brought me grief. I’d treated him accordingly, done what needed to be done. My hard, no nonsense attitude had been in order. I perceived Harry as being weak and wimpy for failing to see and understand that, and for defending the other man. For taking his side. For judging me. For coming to his own conclusion with none of the facts. And for the irrational thinking, his failure to support me, my thoughts, and decisions. He had just met the man, he was in love with me, yet he only wanted to see Ralph’s point of view. How dare he? It tasted of betrayal. And brought old memories; bad ones to the surface. All that and the slightly chauvinistic leanings pissed me off. It reminded me of the cost of Daddy’s thought processes. Harry didn’t like me much at that moment. That probably should have bothered me, except that I did not like him very much either. I was so mad that I could not care about him being angry. He was not the one entitled to be angry. The Sling was gone. He ordered me a Scotch-yuck, then a Rusty Nail-double yuck. ‘You’re just one of those people who like sweet drinks.’ ’ Surprising he did not find that girlish taste to his liking “Yes”. ‘I know one you’ll like.’ “Just a Sling, please.” ‘Try one more.’ “Whatever.” The server brought me a Harvey Wallbanger. His attempt at humor and trying to lighten the mood was not lost on me. The drink was okay, but by then I was being stubborn. I could not be moved. Not with a drink. No matter how cute and unique the approach.
The drink vanished quickly. “There, now may I have a Sling?” He did not miss the point or the sarcasm, and frowned. But he did honor my request. We drank more that night than we ever had in a single sitting. Honestly, that probably added to my mood and my reserve. And maybe his. It amazes me that I walked out on my own when we left. He and I both knew full well, that I was a light weight at best. We sat in silence. ‘Aren’t you going to talk to me?’ “Why? You don’t listen.” ‘I do, but…’ “No buts, Harry, you did not listen to me and you did not even try to understand.” ‘Okay, can we call a truce?’ “Okay.” ‘Good, let’s talk about something else.’ “One more thing first. You see this guy has created yet another problem for me.” ’What’s that?’ “His wife is riled up and I will hear all about that, and be blamed for it, and now there is this thing with you. Not to mention spoiling our evening.” We did move on but there remained some tension. Benecio poked his head in and told us they were all leaving. We finished our drinks and followed. “Oops I almost forgot the shoes.” Harry waited by the desk while I changed shoes. Heading towards him, I was stopped again by Mr. Persistent. “Oh for the love of Mike. Not again.” ‘So, you’re with that guy?’ “How long did it take you to figure that out?” ‘Are you?’ Heavy sigh. “Yes, and he is waiting for me, so if you will excuse me.” ‘I want to talk to you.’ “But I don’t want to talk to you.” ‘Will you just listen to me?’ “No, I won’t Ralphie.”
The truth is I really don’t care what you have to say.” ‘Why do you have to be so mean to me?’ “Because, I keep telling you I don’t care what you have to say. It doesn’t matter anymore.” ‘Are you trying to get even with me?’ I’d started walking away, but turned back. “You know, maybe I am. But what does it matter? You hurt me deeply, but I got over it. You’re somebody I dated once. That’s it. We are nothing to each other now.” ‘Not even friends?’ “No, not even.” ‘Can’t we be?’ “No, we can’t.” ‘Why?’ Did he have a death wish? How could he possibly think it would be okay for his wife? “Because I don’t wanna be your friend, I don’t wanna hang out, I don’t even wanna be around you. Up until tonight I would want to be at least civil to each other. Now, I don’t even want that. Where you lead, trouble follows. And it always comes back to haunt me. At this point, I would prefer acting as if we do not know each other.” “You can’t mean that.’ “I can and I do. What is it going to take to get through to you? Just leave me alone.” Harry came sauntering over. ‘You ready?’ “Yes.” Ralph stuck out his hand ‘Ralph De Jesus.’ The big man grasped it. ‘Harry Alexander.’ ‘Glad to meet you.’ ‘Yeah, you too.’ Oh brother. I stood there, rolling my eyes. ‘I hope you didn’t mind me talking to your date.’ ‘No, I don’t mind anybody talking to my girlfriend.’ He slipped his big arm around me. While I would never show it, that warmed my heart. Now this was more like it. I was pleased and oh so proud. ‘You know, Rita and I go back a long time.’ ‘Yes, she told me.’ ‘You’re a very lucky man.’ ‘Yes, I am. We gotta go now Ralph. Ready, Rita?’ “Yes, I’ve been ready.” We returned the shoes and left. I have always wondered how Ralphie got away from Josie long enough for all that. Normally, she would have come hunting. Where in the heck was she? I’ll never figure out how he pulled that off. After the drinks Harry had ordered for me, which I had gladly accepted, I was a little unsteady. I wish, oh how I wish, I had known that it would be okay to let him handle it. That it was okay to let somebody else look out for me. I wish I could have let my guard down and let him do whatever he believed was right. StilI, why did he continue to stick to his guns, even though he must have perceived danger? Why on earth else would he have taken control over the situation with Ralph, made it clear that I was off limits and that he was my boyfriend and protector.
I sat in the car waiting while Harry put his things in the trunk. When he sat behind the wheel, He was overcome with sympathy for Ralphie. Again. ‘I mean, he must really like you. He’s willing to come look for you with his wife, your friends, and your date there. Even after you shot him down.’ “Yeah, he came back for more.” ‘Yes he was willing to take that chance again just to talk to you.’ “He says he has something to tell me.” ‘Aren’t you the least bit curious?’ “Of course I am.” ‘Then why couldn’t you have at least heard this guy out?’ I sighed heavily again, wondering why it was so hard for him to see my point. “Because any interest I show, would give him license to keep hounding me. He won’t leave me alone when I treat him like crap, as you saw for yourself.” ‘Well, maybe he’d just tell you what he has to say and then leave you alone. It must be important. It’s like he’s on a mission.’ I suppose there is a possibility that it could work that way, but I am not willing to take that chance. Whatever he has to say is not important anymore, and the fear of the consequences that will most likely come from it outweighs any curiosity I might have. That’s all I am going to say about it. Please change the subject.” ‘I think we need to discuss this.’ “We have discussed it ad nauseam.” ‘It’s not resolved, it’s still hanging.’ He was bound and determined to defend this guy and his mission. Looking back I can see that was just Harry. And part of why I loved him. He believed all men were as beautiful as he. We were both so focused on our own views and feelings that we could not see past it. I wonder, even now, if he ever figured out that all men were not created equal.
It felt as if I was being held accountable, put to the fire as I had been before, having to explain, having to apologize for what I did not see as wrong. Cow towing once again to a man. It felt like I had to defend myself and my actions, and it also felt like my opinions and views had no value. It put me on edge and made me more than a little bit defensive. I was also confused why he wouldn’t even consider my logic and rationale on the subject. I had to wonder if Harry was playing in the old boys’ club. I did not like thinking of him in that way. He made me feel as though I had no voice. Once again. That was probably a good part of what made me really dig my heels in.
“We obviously disagree on this subject. And it does not look like either of us is willing to budge. There comes a point when you have to agree to disagree. I believe we have reached that point.” ‘Don’t you think it would be better for us to come to an understanding?’ “Not if it means beating a dead horse.” ‘That’s not what we’re doing. At all. We are trying to find the middle ground. Or, at least I am.’ “Harry, I’ve told you what I was doing and why. You still just don’t get it. What else can I do but keep repeating myself and explaining over and over? What good will that do? Don’t you trust me?” ‘Of course I do. You know that.’ “What about my judgement?” ‘That too.’ “Then please believe me when I tell you I know him, I know the situation, and I know what I am doing.” ‘You’re right, but this is so unlike you.’ “That should tell you something. Obviously there is good reason for this course of action.” ‘I see your point. Okay, the subject is closed.” I almost breathed a sigh of relief. “No bad feelings?” ‘No, I still have some lingering doubts. But you are right, this is so unlike you, you must believe you have good reason. That’s got to be good enough for me.’ “Good. Thank you.”
We had many disagreements to be sure, but that was the only real fight we ever had. However, there was no yelling or screaming, no worry about what the neighbors heard or suspected. There was minimal cursing (we thought that showed a lack of intelligence). In our disputes, there was no belittling, personal jabs, or name calling. It goes without saying there was never any expectation of bullying, verbal or physical attacks. I could sing Harry’s praises all day. But as close as he came to being perfect, he was not. He was stubborn as the day is long, he would never give in if he believed he was right (possibly more so than I). And he thought he was right most of the time. Often inflexible, implacable, he could stare you coldly in the eye and show no emotion. The logic of his own mind, he believed surely must be correct. At all times. In his head, he believed he knew all the facts, all the angles, and how things should be. The thing is, he sometimes disagreed about things with no real rhyme or reason. He needed things to make sense if only to himself. Things had to be clear in his own line of vision.
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