Tuesday, October 14, 2014
By Liz Zuercher
After Patrick stole just about everything from me, I gave up on men for a long time and concentrated on taking care of myself. I devoted myself to my new career in real estate, working long hours and sticking to the occasional night out with the gals I’d met in the office at Monterey Homes. Nearly twenty years later, I was still friends with some of them, even though they’d left the company years ago, gotten married and had families. A couple of them were divorced now and had tried to get me to go out bar hopping with them, but I didn’t drink and even though I wasn’t against going to bars, I just didn’t see the point of hanging out in a place where everyone was getting drunk. And I sure as hell didn’t want to go there looking for a man like Gail and Trish did. The last thing I wanted was a man who liked to drink a lot. So when Gail said, “Let’s check out the clubs Friday night,” I declined. My excuse was always plausible – “I have to work on Saturday and can’t be out late.” or “I have so much to catch up on I have to stay late Friday night.” Really, you’d think those gals would know me better than that by now.
From the minute we started working together, Sarah had gotten on a find-a-man-for-Cassie kick. She just wanted me to be happy. I knew that. But why did happiness have to involve a man? From my experience men just caused too much trouble and heartbreak, so why go looking for that? Sure, there had been men in my life since Patrick, but they never lasted long. Sarah said I was too picky and that I needed to relax a little and look at the positives. But I wanted to be careful. I was determined not to get hurt again or to put all my eggs in one basket when it was just too easy for everything to get broken that way.
Then came Garrett. Sarah and I were selling Harper’s Cove when cute Melinda and Cody Casey bought a house from us. Melinda joined forces with Sarah, determined to find me a mate. The Caseys were USC people through and through, and they had a bevy of friends all over Southern California. They must have trotted every eligible male USC graduate through the sales office at Harper’s Cove. The cover story was always that they had this great friend from college who wanted to see their new house, but the story got flimsy after about the third time they brought someone through. Here’s how it went:
“Cassie, this is our good friend, (Fill in the blank). We’re showing him our house.”
They’d hang around the office talking and laughing and then when Cody would leave with (Fill in the blank) to go see the models, Melinda would hang back and say to me, “So, what do you think? He’s great, right? And he’s got a really good job with (Fill in the blank), or he’s a lawyer, or he’s a doctor, or he’s a filmmaker, or whatever. He’s such a great guy!”
A few days later Melinda would call and say, “Cassie, (Fill in the blank) really liked you. How about we all go out for dinner next weekend?”
They were okay guys, probably some were great guys, but I always begged off until finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I gave in. I figured Melinda was never going to give up, so I might as well go one time. Then I could say I gave it a try, but it just didn’t work. So, the next guy the Caseys brought by got elected. That guy was Garrett.
Garrett was tall and handsome in a studious guy kind of way, lanky and soft-spoken, but with a warm smile and serious dark brown eyes. I had to admit that if I were going to fall for someone just by looking at him, it could have been Garrett. But he was on the shy side and a little hard to talk to. I thought maybe Melinda was scraping the bottom of the USC personality barrel with this one. Looks he had. Pizzazz not so much.
We all went to a trendy Newport Beach restaurant, the kind where every surface is hard and shiny and anyone who’s anyone was there, talking at the top of their lungs, because it was so loud you couldn’t have a conversation otherwise. It was a Saturday night and I had had a crazy busy day at work. My head was starting to pound as we were seated in the restaurant. I noticed that Garrett declined the wine when I did and wondered if he did that to be polite or if he really didn’t drink. Cody and Melinda shared a bottle of Merlot and talked non-stop. I didn’t say much and neither did Garrett. It was an okay evening, but nothing to write home about, and all I could think of was how I could make an excuse and go home, take an Excedrin and go to bed. But I put on my smile and pretended to be enjoying myself. No one would ever have known I wasn’t having a good time.
Garrett, who it turned out was an engineer, occasionally joined in the conversation, but mostly he kept silent. It occurred to me that he was just as uncomfortable as I was and that he couldn’t wait to go home either. I felt a little stab of anger at the thought that he might not be enjoying my company, but then reminded myself that he’d probably been roped into this whole thing, too. Why wouldn’t he feel the same way I did about it all?
Finally, the dinner was over and I made my excuses not to go on to a bar for a nightcap. Work tomorrow, must get some rest. I drove home to my peaceful condo, ears still full of the restaurant’s reverberations. The next day Melinda called me at work.
“Wasn’t that a great evening?” she said.
“Yes,” I lied.
“I think Garrett really liked you,” Melinda said. “I know he’s really quiet, but I’m sure he thought you were great. How did you like him?”
“He seems like a nice guy,” I said.
“Ooo, there’s a BUT coming, isn’t there?” Melinda said.
“I just don’t think he’s my type,” I said, hoping that would be the end of it.
“Well, don’t write him off,” Melinda said. “He’s still water. You know, still water runs deep and all that. Promise you’ll give him a chance if he calls you.”
“Sure,” I said, just to get Melinda off the subject.
I didn’t hear anything from Garrett for two weeks. I figured I’d dodged a bullet and wouldn’t have to come up with some big story about why I couldn’t go out with him. Then he walked into the sales office one Sunday with his mother.
Hate was a strong word, but I really hated this situation and everyone who had landed me here – Sarah, Cody, Melinda, but mostly right then I hated Garrett. And I hated that I had to look him in the eye and smile and act like I was happy to see him. I even almost hated his mother just for being with him, so that I’d have to be especially polite and charming, because I couldn’t be mean to an old lady. The worst part was that Garrett’s mother was elegant and charming, with the same warm smile Garrett had. That made me feel like such a fake, such an evil shrew for hating them both right then, even though I barely knew them.
Garrett’s mom put out her hand and I shook it.
“I’m Barbara Fleming, Garrett’s mom,” she said with a gentle, refined voice. “I’m happy to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s mine, Mrs. Fleming,” I said in my best sales voice.
“Oh, please. It’s Barbara,” Mrs. Fleming said.
Garrett hung back, his eyes cast to the carpet and I wondered if he’d found the smudge of dirt the carpet cleaner had missed the last time he was there.
“Garrett, you didn’t say she was so lovely,” Barbara said, and Garrett turned bright red.
Good lord, I thought, he was still a little boy, not a man in his late thirties.
Garrett stammered a little before regaining his composure and saying, “I didn’t tell you anything about Cassie, Mom, just that we’d had dinner together with Cody and Melinda.”
He mouthed the word, sorry, to me behind his mother’s back.
I got back into sales mode – I was at work after all – and asked what brought them to Harper’s Cove.
“Mom wanted to see Cody’s new house,” Garrett said.
“Cody’s like another son to me,” Barbara added. “Like a brother to Garrett. I needed to see where he’s going to live if he’s moving so far away from me.”
So they toured the models and when they came back through, Barbara had to visit the bathroom, leaving Garrett and me alone together.
“She’s beautiful,” I said.
“She’s a piece of work,” Garrett said, a smile breaking out on his face for the first time since he’d come in the front door. “But she’s a lovable piece of work. I’m afraid she only has me to dote on, and she takes her doting seriously.”
“How about your dad?” I said, hoping we hadn’t already covered that topic in the noisy Newport restaurant.
“Out of the picture,” Garrett said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry,” I said.
“Not a problem,” Garrett said. “She’s – we’re – better off without him.”
I felt a twisting in my stomach and a sudden kinship with Garrett. I knew what it was like to be better off without your dad. I couldn’t help saying so.
“I understand that,” I said, and Garrett gave me the soft probing look of a kindred spirit.
“Alcohol?” he said. “I noticed you weren’t drinking the other night.”
“Yes,” I said, “among other things.”
“Us, too,” he said, and as if he had said all he was willing to say about that subject, he changed tacks.
“I’m sorry I never called after our dinner,” he said.
To my surprise, I said, “So am I.” I realized I meant it. He didn’t offer any explanation, but I didn’t really need one.
Barbara came back from the restroom then and we all said our goodbyes. I watched them walk arm in arm to the car. Garrett opened the passenger door for his mom and said something to her that made her laugh, then he gently closed the door. As he walked around to the driver’s side, he glanced back at the sales office, saw me watching him, smiled and waved. I waved back, a slow, embarrassed wave that made me feel like an idiot. He looked back, I thought. He smiled and waved.
I realized I was still waving after they’d already driven out of sight, when Sarah came out of her office, looked out to the empty parking lot and said, “Who are you waving at?”
“Oh, no one,” I said, halting in mid-wave. “Just the Flemings.”
“Who are the Flemings?”
I shrugged and said, “Just some guy the Caseys fixed me up with and his mom.”
“Ah ha,” Sarah said, a sly smile creeping onto her face. “Do we have a winner finally?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve only just met him.”
“I think we have a winner!” Sarah said, doing a little happy dance around the topo table.
“Why would you say that?” I said.
“Because you’re waving at the empty parking lot with a bewildered look on your face. And…you told me his name without a sneer or a groan or a rolling of the eyes. Yippee!” Sarah danced around again like a teenager instead of a fifty-year-old woman.
“Ridiculous,” I said. “He hasn’t even asked me out.”
“But you want him to, don’t you?” Sarah said.
I thought about it for a minute. Did I want to subject myself to dating? Did I want to see this guy again? What good could come of it? Probably nothing but heartache. But there was a little flutter in my chest that defied reason.
“Yes,” I finally said to Sarah. “I wouldn’t mind.”
“Well, that’s a major victory,” Sarah said. “Let’s call Melinda and tell her.”
“NO!” I said. “We’re not telling anyone anything about this until there’s actually something to tell. Promise me.”
* * * * *
We sat in the car in front of my house after our first real date, both looking straight ahead through the windshield. He asked me if I had ever been a drinker.
“Not me,” I said. “I saw what it did to my parents, especially my mom, and I swore I’d never be like that. I can’t surrender control like that, surrender my dignity. How about you?”
Garrett paused before he answered. “I was a big drinker in college,” he said, looking over at me to gauge my reaction.
“And now?” I asked.
“Now, I stay away from it,” he said.
“Because you want to or because you need to?” I asked. This answer was important to me, I realized, maybe the most important answer he would ever give me.
“Both,” he said. “I was out of control for a long time until I went to rehab.”
“What made you quit?” I asked.
“My mother. She’s a force of nature,” he said. His hands tightened on the steering wheel. “And my wife.”
“Wife?” I said, choking a little on the word. “You have a wife?”
“Not any more,” he said. “She couldn’t take it, the drinking and the sulking. I’m a morose drunk. I don’t blame her. I wasn’t exactly the best husband in the world.”
I couldn’t come up with anything to say. This side of Garrett rattled me. Sure, he was sober now, but how could I know he’d stay that way?
“Am I scaring you away?” he said, a combination of hope and resignation in his eyes.
“A little,” I said. I clutched the little black bag that held only my house key, lipstick, Kleenex, an emergency twenty-dollar bill and a credit card. Sarah had given it to me a couple years ago for dates, so I wouldn’t have to carry my giant Coach bag. It was the first time I’d used it, and it felt awkward, insufficient.
“Well,” he said, “I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to run as far away from me as you could get. But I’m not the same person I was then.” He paused and looked over at me. “Do you think people can change?”
“I’d like to think so,” I said. “But I’ve had bad experience with alcoholics and I’m not sure I have a lot of confidence that a person could overcome that.”
“I felt that way, too, until I met some alcoholics who had turned their lives around and stayed turned around. It has to come from inside. The people who make it have a deep desire to change and a stubborn persistence. I think most of all you have to believe in yourself and respect yourself.”
“Do you?” I said. “Believe in and respect yourself?”
“So far,” he said. “A day at a time.”
Which made me shift in my seat and wonder what I was doing there with him.
I perched on the edge on the car’s front seat like a cat ready to leap. He leaned over and kissed me goodnight – a sweet, gentle kiss that made me question why I felt so anxious to get out of the car and run into my condo, away from him.
He pulled away, but reached to squeeze my hand. It was a soft touch, but strong and purposeful. Gentle and rough at the same time. I looked into his eyes – deep brown, searching mine – and for a moment I thought of asking him in. Then reason took over and I just said goodnight and thank you.
“I’ll call you,” he said.
Was that a true “I’ll call you” or the kind that meant when hell freezes over? He seemed sincere when he said it, but I still had that gut feeling I couldn’t trust him. In truth, I wasn’t sure I wanted him to call, but I’d had a good time, and I decided I should give him a chance.
“Great,” I said. “I’d like that.”
“It might not be for a couple of weeks,” he said. “I have a business trip to Saudi Arabia coming up, but after that?”
“Perfect,” I said, actually relieved that I’d have some time to think about this rehab curveball he’d just thrown at me. “Have a great trip.”
I put my hand on the door handle, but before I could open the door, he jumped out of the car and went around to open it for me. That simple act of chivalry grabbed my heart. Who did that anymore? He was such a nice guy. Too nice, maybe.
We kissed again briefly on my doorstep and I went inside. I stood in the dark, my back against the closed front door and thought about Garrett. What a puzzle he was. Nothing about him seemed to be what I expected. I’d gotten to be a very good judge of people in my years selling homes, but I just couldn’t get a read on this one, or on how I felt about him. That was unsettling. In the past I’d run from anyone I felt this uncertain about, but I didn’t feel like running from Garrett.
I listened to his car start up and heard the sound of it fade as he drove down the street. I felt a sense of loss in knowing he was headed away from me. What the heck was that all about?
To Be Continued
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
This is from a novel in process. Franklin and Louee have been together since their days at UC Berkeley where they met the first day of Louee's freshman year - Franklin's junior year. Louee is a dyed in the wool new age girl who has never given up her innate love of the spiritual and esoteric. Franklin's always gone along because Louee's heart is as big as the whole outdoors and they truly do love one another. They've been married for more than 40 years, and their differences are coming to a head.
Franklin opened the back door with a sigh. He blankly looked at the brochures in his hands.
Louee galumphed down the stairs, her wooden clogs announcing her arrival like the enthusiastic footfalls of a puppy. She saw Franklin standing in the kitchen and a big smile crossed her face. “Oh good, you’re back. Where were you? You didn't tell me you were going out! I would have…” she looked at him confused. He was not responding to her at all. “Honey, are you okay?”
He didn't answer. Just looked into her face. She noticed the paperwork and brochures in his hand, and tilted her head to read them. She felt the blood drain from her face and felt weak and disoriented. Her eyes started to fill with tears. “What? Franklin. What is this? Are these yours?” she asked trying to take the brochures, but he pulled them away from her hand.
“I’m sick, Louee, what do you want from me? I’m sick and I need to figure out what to do.”
“What? How did you… when… why didn't you…”
“This is about me Louee. I wanted to take care of this myself.”
“I don’t understand,” she said in an uncharacteristically serious, mocking, and almost angry tone. “We are a couple. You can’t just say, well hell, I've been diagnosed with, what is it, she said pointing to the brochure, cancer? And then just go on as if nothing were the matter, or saying I’ll take care of it as if this doesn't affect us all.” She waited for a reply that was not coming. “It’s not fair Franklin, this affects both of us, all of us.”
“Why can’t you just let me be sick and let the doctors take care of me? Why do you always have to get involved? Why do you always want me to do things the way you want to do them? Why can’t you just let me be who I am?”
She coughed air, “Wha…. What do you want me to do, pretend I don’t know? I don’t even know what I don’t know. You have to tell me what’s going on. Please. I want to help. I want to be here for you. We’re partners. Why are you pushing me away?
“Because I know what to expect from you Louise! And I don’t want to participate in that. I don’t want you fawning all over me. I don’t want you to tell me what to do, how to live my life.”
“I don’t want to tell you what to do. I just want to be part of this, part of your treatment, your healing.”
“Louee, I don’t want mumbo-jumbo prayers and chanting and discussions about how my energy needs to be changed. I don’t want to take the remedies you’ll find in books or in your crazy stores. I don’t want you make me stop eating foods I love and replacing them with foods I can’t stand that YOU THINK will make me better.”
“Frankly Louee, I am not even sure I want to get better. Maybe I’m just tired of it all. Maybe I just want to stop.”
Louee stood there looking at Franklin. She had never heard him speak like this before. She was unable to speak, unable to come up with any words that would make any sense. She finally blurted out, “So, you’re saying that the children and I are so horrible that you don’t want to be around us anymore? How could you say you don’t want to get better? How could you say that you want to leave your children…”
“They aren’t children, Louee, they’re adults. They’re young adults.”
“They will always be our children Franklin. Always. Why would you want to leave them now? What are you trying to escape from?...” Her eyes opened wide, and she shivered as if a bolt of lighting impaled her.
“Oh my God, that’s why you’re sick. You’re trying to escape.”
“No I’m not,” he said immediately, but then paused a long time looking at Louee. He shook his head and grunted a laugh. “Maybe yes. Maybe I am trying to escape.” He sat hard in one of the kitchen chairs, and Louee sat across from him.
“I do love you Louee, but I just, I just, ehhhh, don’t want to live like this anymore. We’re too different. I’m really not a mumbo-jumbo kind of person. For 40 years you've tell me how to breathe, what to eat and drink for my Soul and my energy. You tell me to think good thoughts and make affirmations and ideal scenes for what I want in my life. You know what Louee. I just want a normal life. I want to feel loved and appreciated for who I am. I don’t want to feel like an experiment anymore. And now, the thought of what you will try to do…” He starts to laugh and continues, “I feel like you’re a mad scientist, and me and the kids are your experiments.”
“I have no idea how the kids put up with this, but they’re gone now. They've escaped. And maybe I thought my only escape was to leave this word because I didn't want to hurt you by divorcing you.”
Louee became aware of the hot tears that were rolling down her face. This man was a stranger to her. She knew he was scared and didn't mean anything he was saying, but it hurt none-the-less. “I’m sorry,” she said pushing away from the table and standing up.” I need to go meditate. I need to do something healing for myself.”
“Of course you do. Go do something for yourself! Everything you ever do is for yourself.”
“That’s not true,” she said calmly. “But I’m not fighting with you,” she said, tears falling down her cheeks on to her brightly colored cotton shirt. “If you want to talk, I’m here for you, but I can’t listen to you telling me I am a control freak who ruined your life and is now responsible for your death. As a matter of fact I need to go out for a while. I’ll see you later. I’ll take my cell if you want to talk.”
“I love you,” she said, “I've loved you for over 40 years. I think maybe you’re scared. I think maybe that you are scared and that you love me and you feel safe taking your fear out on me. And that’s okay, but right now my heart hurts, and I can’t stay here with you right now. I’m sorry you’re sick. I’m sorry you don’t want my help. I’m sorry you think that dying is a better alternative than living with me and seeing your children. I won’t take this personally, but right now, I need to be alone.”
She picked up her tie-dye cased cell phone from the counter. It had been a gift from her youngest daughter who had followed in her parents’ footsteps and was in her sophomore year at UC Berkeley. She took the phone, dropped it into the pocket of her long skirt and walked out the front door closing it quietly behind her.
Franklin stood, staring at the door. The keys to his car were still in his hand along with papers and brochures he had gotten from the doctor. He dropped them all on the kitchen table and walked into the living room with its comfortable, over-stuffed furniture, and bookshelves filled with metaphysical tomes as well as classic and popular novels and books on history, philosophy, and rows of high school and college year books. He looked around at the dozens of family photos. It looked like a happy family lived here. An unconventional, happy family, but he knew that he needed something different. He loved Louee, but sometimes she was too much. And all he wanted was peace. He took his senior year Blue & Gold yearbook from the shelf. Louee had been the editor, and their pictures were all over the place. He started to cry for the first time. He knew from now on everything would be different.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
By Liz Zuercher
Up the street from her house was a playground, a small tot lot really, where the kids in the neighborhood went with their moms or nannies or the occasional dad to play on weekdays. Cassie used to go up there sometimes on her days off, her Tuesdays and Wednesdays. She didn’t really want to talk to anyone there – she got enough talking in her job selling new homes. She just wanted to watch the kids play, see the joy in their faces and listen to their laughter. She ended up chatting with some of the moms, but when they found out none of the kids belonged to her, they began to keep their distance. People were so suspicious these days. They all thought someone was out to take their children or harm them in some way.
All she wanted to do was relax and watch the children play, but somehow that got twisted into something sinister. So she stopped going to the tot lot and spent Tuesday or Wednesday in her own condo on the balcony listening to the gentle gurgling of the water fountain she’d installed all by herself. She was happy and comfortable there, so it was no great loss not to feel welcome at the tot lot, but it made her sad not to be part of that innocent bit of neighborhood life.
As much as she knew about the ten or so neighborhoods she’d put together over twenty years of selling new homes, she knew almost nothing of the one she lived in. In her work neighborhoods she’d been in every home. She knew who lived in each house, how old they were, what they did for a living, how many children they had, what their pets’ names were, how much money they had in the bank, whether they liked wood, carpet, tile or stone on their floors, how they’d upgraded their new house, if they’d upgraded at all.
She knew if the husband was kind to the wife or if the wife belittled the husband behind his back. She knew what kind of parents they were. If they weren’t yet parents, she knew how hard they were trying or that they were too busy with their careers to have kids. She knew where they’d lived before the house she sold them. She knew whether they preferred coffee or tea with their cookies and if they liked the oatmeal raisin or the sugar cookies better. She knew if they’d had health issues or financial problems or if their parents were helping them out. She knew that one couple had paid cash, while another had financed everything.
She knew which kids were well behaved and which ones were going to terrorize the neighborhood like Little Chad Grissom. She knew which of her homebuyers would have their landscaping done right away and which ones would take a year to do it like Eddie Petrocelli.
She knew all this and more about every neighborhood she’d ever sold, but she didn’t even know her own next-door neighbor’s name.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
By Liz Zuercher
After the baby, I decided to find my new path in life at community college. What I found was Patrick.
When it comes to Patrick, I should have paid more attention to Grandma Elsa’s saying, “If they don’t say hello, then you don’t have to say goodbye.” That one always bothered me, because I thought it seemed unfriendly. I couldn’t imagine a world where people shied away from others, just because they were afraid of caring, or rather because they were afraid they’d have to get hurt by needing to say goodbye. That sounded to me like it would make for a lonely life. I’d say that to Grandma and she’d come back with, “Better to be lonesome than sorry.” Grandma had a saying for everything. Like I said, I should have paid more attention.
Patrick Stevens was a charmer. He wasn’t necessarily handsome, but the minute he said hello to you, you thought he was the most appealing man alive. His looks were average, brown hair, brown eyes, medium build, medium height, and you wouldn’t notice him in a crowd. Maybe that’s what got him through life, that you didn’t notice what he was doing until it was too late. By the time you realized what had happened, he had slipped into a crowd and become anonymous again. But the residual Patrick left behind was anything but ordinary, anything but innocuous or anonymous.
I met Patrick in my English Lit class. He fancied himself a poet and the first time I took notice of him was when he raised his hand in class to read a poem out loud. He always sat behind me, so I hadn’t seen him before that day. I didn’t look at him even then until he started reading the poem. His voice was so smooth, so emotional that I couldn’t help taking my eyes off of my poetry anthology to look around at the person who belonged to that voice. Patrick’s voice said hello to me first in that poetry reading, and I felt something stir in me that I hadn’t felt since Billy. It scared me, but it enticed me, too.
I stared at him as he read and kept looking at him after he had spoken the final word. The class was as enchanted as I was. Everyone was quiet for a long moment, including the instructor, a middle aged woman who seemed to have no passion for her work or for the literature we were studying. She broke the spell.
“Thank you, Mr. um,” she looked at her roster.
“Stevens,” he volunteered. “Patrick Stevens.”
“Yes, well, thank you for a most heartfelt reading, Mr. Stevens,” she said.
Reluctantly, I turned back to face the instructor as we started discussing the poem Patrick had read to us. I don’t remember a thing about that discussion. I only remember feeling like I had to know Patrick Stevens, and I made up my mind to introduce myself after class.
We became inseparable. We studied together, ate our meals together, and before too long we were sleeping together. And yes, I had learned my lesson and was taking the pill. I’d had enough of unplanned pregnancy. But I was giddy in my infatuation with Patrick, and I was sure I had found my perfect soul mate.
Mary McCarthy, on the other hand, didn’t care for Patrick, and she made no effort to mask her displeasure whenever he entered her house or popped in at Mandala. It started to become a sore point between us. I felt uncomfortable having Patrick over, and I definitely didn’t feel right having him spend the night. Patrick lived near campus in an apartment with three other guys, and I found myself spending more and more time there.
When I’d come back to Mary’s after having spent the night with Patrick, I would get a look from Mary that clearly expressed how she felt. But the way I felt was, what right did she have to question what I did? She wasn’t my mother, and I wasn’t accountable to her. I paid her rent for the room and I worked at her store. Sure, she had helped me out when I really needed help, but there was no blood tie between us. Things got more and more tense.
One Sunday morning we had it out. I had come in after spending Friday and Saturday nights with Patrick, and I went into the kitchen to get a bite to eat. Mary was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper and drinking her coffee. She looked up at me with a smirk on her face, the one I’d seen often lately, the one that had replaced her usual beautiful broad smile.
“Well look what the cat dragged in,” she said.
“Good morning, Mary,” I said, opening the refrigerator door and staring inside for something to eat. I thought I was being cheerful and nice, but for some reason she took offense.
“Don’t good morning me, Missy,” she said.
“I just said good morning. What’s wrong with that?” I asked.
“If you’re not sleepin’ here, ya don’t have the right to say good morning,” she said.
That didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t recognize this Mary, and I sure didn’t like her tone. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong. I felt like I was back in Colfax and my father was raking me over the coals. It made me squirm to have that flash of memory.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “What did I do wrong?”
“Oh, forget it,” she said, picking up her coffee cup and her newspaper and going outside to the patio table to finish reading the paper.
I stood watching her, wondering where my Mary had gone. I decided to go out and apologize for whatever it was I’d done, even though I wasn’t sure an apology was called for. But as I pulled the sliding screen door behind me and approached the patio table, she beat me to the punch.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Me, too,” I replied, hoping we’d just gotten past our differences and could get our relationship back to the way it had been before Patrick. She gave me a long searching look.
“What are ya doin’, Cassie?” she said. She never called me by my name. She always called me Hon or Darlin’, and hearing my name from her lips made me nervous.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“What are ya doin’ with that boy?” she said.
“I love him,” I said. Saying this out loud surprised me a little, because up until then I’d told myself I was only having fun, the way girls in their twenties were supposed to have fun, the way they were supposed to explore life and enjoy the exploration. Mary looked at me and shook her head.
“Do ya really?” she said. “Or has he cast a spell on ya? Have ya fallen for his blarney because you’re lonely?”
“We’re good together,” I said.
“What do ya think he wants from you?” she said.
“Love,” I said. “I think he loves me, too.”
“Are ya sure?” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, I hope you’re right,” she said. “Just be careful. Boys like that can pull the wool over your eyes.”
“Patrick would never do that to me,” I said. “Why do you dislike him so much?”
Mary looked at me intently, studying my face as if to see if I were capable of understanding the answer she was going to give me. I must have come up short, because she just shrugged. I wasn’t about to let it go, though.
“No, don’t do that,” I said. “You’ve disliked him from the minute I brought him in here. That’s uncomfortable for all of us. If you think he’s bad for me, then you need to tell me why you feel that way.”
She sat silent, her head down. She stared at her hands clasped together in her lap, wringing each other.
“Please,” I said.
“It’s just that I know boys like him,” she began. “A boy like that swept me off my feet when I was your age. And that boy took advantage of me and left me with a one-year-old baby to take care of all by myself. And he didn’t even look back. He didn’t even say goodbye. That’s not the worst of it, either. A boy like that put a spell on my beautiful daughter, Emma, and he took her away from me and brought her here and got her on drugs and sold her body to other men, then left her to rot in the gutter. He went on his way with another poor young girl who couldn’t resist his charms. Both those boys, who were very much like your precious Patrick, took chunks out of my soul, and I would just die to see that happen to you.”
She was fighting back tears by then. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t see Patrick doing any of the things she warned me about, but I could understand her point of view.
“He’s not like that,” I said.
“So you think,” she said. “Just you be careful.”
Mary and I had cleared the air a little, but our relationship was still strained, mostly because I didn’t pay attention to her warning. I continued to see Patrick, falling more and more in love with him as the months went by. By the time the school year was over, we were planning a future together. I was afraid to tell Mary, but when Patrick asked me to move to Costa Mesa with him and I said yes, there was no choice but to tell Mary.
It was a gloomy Sunday morning in June when I dropped my bombshell. Not only was I moving to Costa Mesa with Patrick, but I was giving up my job at Mandala. I’d found a secretarial position with a homebuilder in Costa Mesa, and I was scheduled to start work in two weeks. I couldn’t delay the inevitable. We were having breakfast at the kitchen table when I finally found the courage to speak.
“I have something to talk to you about,” I started tentatively.
“Oh?” she said. She looked nervous, and I suspect she had an idea this wasn’t going to be good news for her. I decided I had to just spit it all out – all at once, like ripping a Band-Aid off as fast as you could to lessen the pain.
“Patrick and I are moving in together in Costa Mesa. I have a new job that starts in two weeks, so I’ll be moving out next weekend.” I held my breath waiting for the explosion from Mary.
“Oh. Is that right?” she said.
“Yes,” I said, still anticipating fireworks. But she surprised me.
“Fine,” she said. “Good luck to ya.” And just like that she picked up her breakfast dishes, took them to the sink and started washing them without another word.
I was stunned. I thought she cared about me. I thought she would at least say she would miss me. I thought she might try to talk me out of leaving. But she did none of that. She just wished me luck in an unemotional tone, like you’d use with someone who meant nothing to you. It was more like a politeness than an actual expression of good fortune. I couldn’t believe it.
“Is that all you have to say?” I asked.
“What else do you want from me?” she said, her back to me.
I didn’t know. What had I wanted from her? After everything we’d gone through together, I wanted more than what she was giving. But maybe she thought she’d already given enough to me. Maybe she thought she had given more than enough to me and definitely more than I seemed to willing to take.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Well, then,” she said, still not looking at me.
I felt like I was leaving home again and my mother was stirring the soup and drinking her rum and coke and telling me not to let the door hit me in the ass on the way out. What had I done to make them treat me like that?
“Okay, then,” I said to her back and left the kitchen.
* * * * *
Patrick and I found a tiny little apartment close to Orange Coast College, where I took some classes, still working toward my AA and trying to find my passion, like Mary had suggested. Patrick already knew what his passion was and he was hard at work pursuing it. He had been accepted at University of California Irvine and was studying creative writing. He was a poet, yes, but mostly he wanted to be a screenwriter. He already had six screenplays completed and was shopping them around. He worked at a bookstore near campus and I had my new job as an escrow secretary for Monterey Homes. We settled into a routine, and for a while it was good.
Once again I discovered I was good at my job, something that always seemed to surprise me about myself. I don’t know why I doubted that I could excel at whatever I tried, but I did. I worked hard to learn all the ins and outs of escrow, and I found out I was good with numbers. That was another revelation, because I had thought I was hopeless with math. It turns out I just hadn’t tried very hard before. I gained confidence in my abilities and before long I was a star in the Monterey Homes escrow department. I put in long hours and my paycheck got fatter because of it.
When Patrick said he needed to spend more time working on his screenplays and his homework, I suggested he quit his job. By then I was making a good salary for someone my age, and I could cover the expenses, if we didn’t go overboard with the spending. I figured it would be good for us both in the long run if Patrick could concentrate on his writing and his college degree. I didn’t have to twist Patrick’s arm to get him to agree, which in retrospect should have been a red flag for me. But it wasn’t. He quit his job the next day and I became the sole provider for us.
I can’t put my finger on when exactly it all started to go wrong. There were little things that started happening, things I’d see as an annoyance, as petty and wouldn’t think much about – like thinking I had sixty dollars in my wallet instead of the forty that were there, or like having a mysterious fifty dollar charge on my credit card from a place I’d never heard of, like getting phone calls at all hours of the night and having the person hang up when I answered. I didn’t add it all up. I wasn’t careful, like Mary had suggested I be.
And Patrick was becoming less interested in sex. That alone should have alerted me that something was wrong. He’d never been able to get enough of me. I told myself he was under pressure to get his script completed for his screenwriting class. I made excuses for him that finals were only a couple of weeks away and he had to spend all his energy on studying. I was so full of excuses for him that he didn’t ever have to make any for himself.
It all hit at once, just before Christmas. I wrote a check for one hundred dollars to pay for Patrick’s Christmas present and it bounced. I had never come up short in my checking account, so I was beside myself. I hated to make mistakes, especially with money. When I called the bank from work, a condescending woman told me that I never should have written that check when I’d written one for five hundred fifty dollars the day before that had left me with only ten dollars.
“What?” I said. “I never wrote a check for five hundred fifty dollars.”
“Well, I have it right here,” she said. “You wrote it to a Patrick Stevens and he cashed it here at the bank.”
My heart stopped.
“I wrote a check to Patrick?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s your preprinted check and your signature.”
I felt like I was going to throw up. My cheeks were hot and people in the office were staring at me. The world started spinning.
“I didn’t write that check,” I said.
“Well, it’s been cashed, so there’s nothing I can do about it,” she said. “If you think someone forged your signature, you can file a complaint, but the money is gone.”
I hung up and sat at my desk, cheeks and eyes burning, my heart racing, bile in my throat. It was three in the afternoon, but I made an excuse to my boss that I didn’t feel well and I left the office. When I got home, the apartment was unusually quiet. I’d gotten used to Patrick’s noises, the clack of the typewriter and the jazz music he always played, so without those sounds the place seemed empty. And it was empty – of Patrick’s belongings. He’d cleared out everything he owned and half of my things, too, along with my bank account. The television was gone, as was the stereo system, the diamond necklace Mary had given me after the baby was born and every small appliance we owned. I assumed he’d pawned all of that to get cash for whatever he needed it for. I later discovered he’d used my credit card to pay for a plane ticket to New York and dinner at an expensive restaurant two weeks before. He left without any explanation, without even a goodbye. So, Grandma, I didn’t have to say goodbye after all.
Mary was right about Patrick. I hadn’t been able to see him through her eyes, and it had cost me dearly. Not only had I lost a good deal of money, but I’d lost my heart and I’d lost Mary. The price of hearing Patrick say hello had been very high indeed.