I met Dean when I was 43. He was a one night stand I pushed and pushed and turned into a relationship. I met him in a bar on the Fourth of July. A gay bar. I was eating shrimp and chips and drinking lemon drops. He came up and sat next to me. I offered him some shrimp and chips, we shared. We were both drunk and just got drunker. He was awfully friendly, and if I didn’t know better, I would have thought he was coming on to me.
“This is a gay bar. You know that right?” I asked.
“Yes, but I’m not gay!”
We decided to go to his place. We had sex. I remember there were condoms on his bathroom floor. He’d had a guest the night before. He asked me to get on top. So not my thing. And he kept putting a pillow under my ass. He’d clearly never been with a big girl. We don’t need pillows. Our asses are pillows.
He was Native, tall, strikingly handsome, charismatic. When he walked into a room, all eyes were on him. All female eyes. His skin was brown and smooth and hairless. His muscles were long and firm. I was madly attracted him. He always dressed well. He never wore jeans, always Dockers and button-down shirts and never athletic shoes. His jet-black hair was always stylishly cut. He was a player.
He was an alcoholic. A bad one. And when he drank too much, he was mean. There were blue lights in my driveway more often than I care to admit. One night, actually two nights, he spent in jail. But I stayed. Why? A lot of reasons.
He was a project. I like projects. I helped him get jobs, which he couldn’t keep for more than a few months. I helped him get public assistance. I did his taxes. I took him to the foodbank, where he would sit in the car while I went in to fill his sacks. I made his doctor appointments and took him to the doctor. I paid his bills, and I paid his rent. I shuttled him to AA meetings, where I would talk, and he would pass.
I tried to break it off time and again. My problem is, I get mad, but I don’t hold grudges. I couldn’t stay angry. I made excuses for him. He’d been drinking since he was 15 years old. How do you undo 40 plus years of living a particular way?
Finally, I moved in with my mom, about 70 miles away. It ended. We still talk sometimes. I like to stay friends with ex-lovers. They’re ex-lovers. Why hold on to ill will?
Once I thought I had things figured out, he’d do something I hadn’t anticipated. I’d quickly move into my “female” mode, and I’d exude just that little extra sensual aura, playing on what I had, but not at all obviously, and he’d respond just as I expected. He’d become absolutely charming in his guileless boyish pursuit of me. I’d be the perfect complement to his forward dance, the woman who was putty in his hands, whom he could have all of, but for whom he must pay a great price.
After we had sex, it was then I knew I could ask him anything.
“Do you love me?”
“Yes of course I do.”
“Because you’re a good person, you’re kind, you’re good to me, and I just do. I want you all the time. I want you to be my woman. I want you to be with me like a woman.”
There would be a long silence. He’d change the subject, the mood would lighten, and life would continue on. I’d spend time brooding about how wrong we were for each other, and how I was yet again wasting what was left of my life being with a man who was not my equal and who was truly unworthy of me, all the while pretending I was having a marvelous time with him, that I was totally encompassed in his charms, that anything that interested him was of the highest value to me as well. That his flipping through the channels, landing on a documentary about WWII aircraft, that I was totally engrossed, that I loved it, what media he had solemnly chosen for us to consume together.
I did love it sort of. I loved being perceived as being a woman who took great interest in her man, in his manly things, things that were just beyond my comprehension — and that was only because they were just outside of my range of interest. But he didn’t need to know that.
Did he ever wonder if I was really interested? I don’t think he did. I think he was always thinking of what he wanted to watch, never about what might interest me, never that he might think of what I might like best of all, and graciously allow it.
The times when I’d try to break it off, he’d make such sweeping promises. “I’ll watch those movies you like with you!” And when things were going well, when we were settled into our familiar rut of hanging together in spite of everything wrong about it, I’d suggest a movie and he’d say, “I’d rather have a tooth pulled than sit through that.”
He was unfaithful. I didn’t catch him, I figured it out from the clues he dropped. I think he wanted me to find out, because I think he wanted me to invest more of myself into him and into the relationship. His act was one of rebellion. Because he wasn’t getting anything outside of us I wasn’t willing to give him, freely and often. But I was engrossed in my career, spending weeks away on business. And he didn’t like not being the center of my life.
It was a dying relationship. We were woefully wrong for one another. He was abusive. I loved him, but it wasn’t a good thing. It wasn’t sustainable, and I knew that for a very long time before I was finally able to walk away.
Years later, my friend remarked, “You really fought for Dean.”
“Why?” I asked. She knew the intimate details of the abuse. She did what she could, but she really had no power to change my mind about him. I was committed, against everything I knew to be true. I lied to myself and I fought very hard for many years to make it work.
“I don’t know why you fought. I don’t know why you stayed,” she replied. “But you did.”
At the time his infidelity was discovered, I just wanted him to tell me the truth. I say this again and again, it is one of my core beliefs. I can always handle the truth. Tell me what you’ve done. I’d rather hear the truth from you than a lie. Even if the truth is devastating, it’s far more devastating to be deceived.