He was from a relatively poor family. "There were times," he told me, "when my mom would say, okay, it's your turn to sleep on the couch, you sleep in the chair, and you three get the bed." His poverty embarrassed him, and probably had a lot to do with his dropping out of school. He said that when he dropped out, he worked two jobs. This was not a man who would stay poor, and even though he didn't go on to college or start his own business, he worked in the steel mills, which were booming back then. By the time I met him, he had been there more than ten years and was financially secure. But something else came across in that first conversation too. I realized that he coveted his money. It represented a level of security to him that he could not be without, and was one he would not risk.
I, on the other hand, was a struggling single mother. Like him, recently divorced, but, unlike him, I had three children; he had just one. My life was a struggle because I was a woman, and, back then - probably still - women were paid less than men. That has never made sense to me, but of course it is a historically true fact. I am not sure to what extent our conversation that first night provided him with insights into just how desperate my situation was. I was a sinking ship, I had three children - whom I would not wish away for anything - no child support, and, like dropping out of school, it never occurred to me that I should seek state assistance. Rather, I worked hard, and when one job didn't prove enough, I took a second job. In hindsight, if I had it to do over, I would have gone for the state assistance. Giving up valuable time with my children to work a second job during their early years is something I can never have back. Although my children aren't affected by it; if anything, as young adults today they are stronger for it - and they have told me as much.
Still, either he didn't realize or he chose to ignore the fact that I was very poor. I dressed simply; my clothes were clean, well pressed, but also well worn. I was a glorious size five back then, still wearing the same blue jeans I had worn in high school, which meant they were well worn. I took care of my clothes, but I never seemed to have enough. It had been years since my ex-husband had worked, and the marriage had never been financially comfortable. At some point, much later, I realized that he probably suspected that I was very poor, struggling, on that first date, but that he chose to ignore. Like me, he had fallen hard at first sight and he just wanted to run with it, to let it be a free flowing kind of thing; and it was that if nothing else.
After the first date I knew that he was a kind and gentle man, a good man, and a man who had had what he thought was a good marriage until the day he came home to find his wife "in my house, in my bed, banging my mailman." That was the end of it, he said, he walked out and never looked back. She apparently didn't chase him out the door because when I met him, six months after his divorce was final (mine wouldn't be final for another month), his ex-wife was still dating the mailman. He was bitter about it, but not the way that most people might suspect. He was most bitter about the fact that she had bought a new furnace before the divorce was final and had charged it to their joint JC Penney credit card, and that with the divorce he got the bill. He was bitter, too, about the child support that he paid; every time he got a raise, he said, she would take him back to court and get a raise in the child support he paid to her. "It's not like it's for the kid," he whined (and, yes, at that time I thought it was whining - the emerging me). The kid was taken care of, he said, had everything he needed and always would, regardless of what he paid in child support. He wasn't going to gauge his support of his son by the financial standards the court set.
He was a good dad. He spent most weekends with his son, but if there was an event that he was interested in attending, a baseball game or football game with his friends, he didn't feel guilty about passing on that weekend. I'm not sure why I thought he was special (That's not her talking. Even now, she would never say such a thing, I am sure). I also realized early on in the relationship that he was probably more open, more relaxed and warmer with me than he was with most people, even his own son. With others, he was distant; with me, he was completely relaxed. I think that had something to do with the fact that we usually began our time together by making intense love until we were both completely exhausted. "I am totally relaxed," he would always say afterwards. I could never put my finger on exactly where that was coming from. It struck me as an odd thing to say after one had just exhausted one's self making love (That is her talking).
Still, those times together - and there were many of them - were a mixture of great and playful fun - he taught me the fine art of ballroom dancing while in bed. He would often lift his long legs in the air and say, "Do you like my legs?" I did, I loved his long, perfectly shaped legs that were muscular and masculine and led to - well, never mind. Yes, I loved his legs. I loved it that he was tall and that he would create this curve in his body to pull me close to him, and then he would wrap his arms me, not tight, but gently. He always treated me gently. Then he would rest his head next to mine, where he could whisper in my ear and he would say, "You feel good." I loved making love with him.
I can't quite put my finger on the moment in time when things changed, when he I noticed that he made an effort to aloof, and to be stand offish from me. I remember the feelings of hurt and confusion, not understanding what was happening. Then, suddenly, after six months, he stopped calling. I was deeply hurt, because I had no answers for his disappearance. But there was so much that I had to do, important things to take care. My ship was sinking fast - something he might have guessed, but I never discussed my financial problems with him, and I never asked him for money or help. It would never have occurred to me to do that.
Finally, I had to take a second job, and I didn't know what to do except to train myself for a job that I could work at night and on the weekends. There were no offices that were open at night - none that I was aware of, and the only skills I had were office skills. So I managed to steal from Peter $150 to pay Paul for bartending classes. It was, for a lot of years, my saving grace really. My best friend became a surrogate mother to my young children - and she was okay with that because she had just one child, and our children were already close. She liked it that they spent a lot of time together. I think it freed her from being the constant source of entertainment for her only child.
Tending bar was an experience she will never forget. For me, it is so far in the past and so educated away from me that it seems really never to have happened at all. But it did. I lived outside Washington, DC, in Virginia, and the night clubs were booming. I chose not to work in the singles bars, they were too fast paced and I didn't have enough confidence in my skills when I first graduated bartending school. So I worked in restaurants - and who would have guessed that they're not any less fast paced than the singles scene was. I worked my fingers to the bone mixing and serving drinks, but I was young, energetic and organized. I wish I could say it was hard work and organization that helped me earn good tips, but it wasn't. I was size five with long dark hair that hung below my…