My Personal Love Story in Honor of Valentine's Day!
It never occurred to me...The first time he asked me out, I said no. I was kinda, sorta seeing someone, you know how that goes? And it was only half true. I'd been hanging out with George and a hilarious group of guys from Cleveland that I met the first day on campus. Their idea of a good time was to poop in a shoe box, gift wrap the box, leave it in front of someone's dorm room, and loiter in the hall to hear the reaction.
Since I was the biggest Honor Society, editor-of-the-high-school-newspaper, goody two-shoes dork who ever lived, I thought this was not only funny but cool, and I traded a few kisses with George for the privilege of being the group’s mascot. It never occurred to me that George might have a girlfriend back in his home town. Then Christmas break happened.
Apparently George’s girlfriend in Cleveland got wind of those kisses. The day after we got back to school, George showed me where she’d put out a cigarette on his forearm. We agreed that our budding relationship had been nipped and said goodbye.
Meanwhile, Scott launched his future as a salesman by inviting my friend Kathy to the same party I turned him down for. His goal, he said later, was to go out with me, but he was using an old salesman’s trick – the takeaway. And sure enough, I felt a little deflated and called Kathy a week after their date.
“So Kath…uh…how are you feeling about that Scott guy? Are you into him or would it be ok if I called him?”
“Sure, go ahead,” she said. “I didn’t really like him or anything.”
Kathy told him I was interested, and one night there was a knock on my window. There was Scott, standing on a chair. We talked happily about nothing for an hour with our elbows on the windowsill until a security guard came by, tapped Scott on the knee cap, and said “Lemme see yer ID, son.”
The next night he walked me to my job. Yeah, okay, it’s true. I once had a job dancing in a nightclub…with clothes on, I swear! I’d just turned 18 and considered it a great way to earn maximum dollars per hour while getting a good workout to my favorite tunes. It never occurred to me that creepy dudes could burn my image into their brains and take it home with them, thinking about me while…well, you get the picture.
Luckily, this cute, protective guy waited to walk me home after work every night. Scott kept me safe from creeps and soon talked me into changing jobs. I went from dancing in a cute outfit to being the ‘salad bar girl’ with green goddess dressing all over my apron, slogging silver tins of greens and tomatoes to a shiny salad bar that required continuous wiping to avoid becoming absolutely gross.
It never occurred to me that my cute, protective guy couldn’t stand the idea of other guys looking at me so he went to work in the cafeteria with me even though he didn’t really need the money. We worked on opposite sides of the tray line sometimes, throwing grapes that people left on their trays at each other. We learned how to cut a sheet cake or a tray of jello into 70 pieces, roll giant cakes down the incline from the freezer, and we once locked our boss, Mrs. Hicks, in the freezer for a few minutes. (Yes, her name was Mrs. Hicks, and she had very few teeth.)
One bright April day my parents told me they couldn’t afford to send me back to school in the fall. Truth be told, they didn’t see why I needed a college degree and hoped I’d become a dental assistant. I packed up my stuff, folded my perfect academic record into my pocket, and cried all the way to West Palm Beach.
Scott and I had a plan – we would both work as hard as we could to come up with money for a year’s tuition so I could come back to school. Scott talked his parents into paying him to paint their house. I sold lingerie in a department store during the day and seated patrons in a high-priced steak house at night. At minimum wage, well….you do the math. But we were game. I kept my money in an envelope in my parent’s home safe, counting it every week and dreaming of being back at school with Scott. It never occurred to me that might not be a good place to keep my money.
We’re probably the last generation to write love letters and send them in the mail. Scott’s were so sweet, filled with lists of all the fun things we’d do when we were back together. Mom brought in the mail most days, but it never occurred to me that she’d been opening my letters, reading them, and then sealing them back up again.
Our notes of love, lust and dreams for the future had my parents simmering with anger, erupting into a full boil when Scott came for a visit and stayed in our guest room. After about two days of polite silence, a screaming fight began. It was apparent from our letters that we had an active sex life. “Am I supposed to be happy that you two are having sex?!” my father screamed, backing Scott into a corner and raising his arm.
I knew Dad was capable of violence, had experienced it myself, and yanked Scott out of there, called a cab and helped him pack his stuff and head back to the airport. I called him from work and kept saving money, frightened by my parent’s anger but working literally day and night to return to school.
One day I discovered that most of the money was missing from my envelope. I don’t remember if I was angry, hurt or both – how could my parents take my money without asking me? Were their money problems really that bad? But it was evident that Scott and I needed a new plan. He raided his house-painting money and found me a place to live on campus. Our new plan was for me to work and save money while living in our college town, establishing in-state residency and lowering my future tuition costs. He sent my plane ticket to a friend at work.
The day of my exodus arrived. Wearing my hostess dress, I told my parents I was leaving for work and parked my mom’s car around the corner, waiting for them to head out for dinner with friends. The cab for the airport showed up minutes later, waiting while I threw everything I could fit into my blue camper trunk. My brain was on fire, filled with excitement and a sense of purpose. I can still picture the chubby cab driver obligingly sitting on the trunk so I could close it.
The note to my parents said, “You know where I’ve gone. I won’t be in touch for a while.” I don’t remember whether I signed it ‘love’ or not, but I knew I was drawing a line in the sand between girl and woman. And yes, a few years later when we got married I’d reconciled with my parents and they were there.
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”