Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Am the Shiny Object

September 22

Overnight, I am adored.

“You are so beautiful,” he says to me in the tapas bar. And while I cast my eyes down, in Pavlovian modesty, I really want to stay there, maybe forever, weightless, inside the silky thread of his arresting gaze.

His eyes are blue, intense, smart.

“I’m going to kiss you,” a declarative statement he makes good on in less than a heart beat, coming toward me with a sweet, restaurant acceptable kiss, in between small plates. No dine and dash on this, our first date. We made it all the way to a nightcap. No waiting for that predictable parking lot moment, the pregnant pause we know from experience will yield that first tentative kiss, so common as to be cliche’. I like that, a man who knows what he wants, no hesitation. Such a simple thing. Telling. And a good thing when it feels this natural.

It is completely, however, unnatural, the way I feel right now, save for those few times in my life when I was on the verge of falling in love.

What the fuck does verge mean, anyway? The dictionary says, “an extreme limit beyond which something specific will happen.” An extreme limit, like 13 years as a single mother, hasn’t primed me to be on the verge of all manner of emotional and psychotic reaction? But knowing which specific thing I may be on the verge of, well, if I could predict the outcome of that, I’d be in Vegas, baby. I would submit, however, that I’m on the verge of something, marked by my heightened receptiveness to all things sensory. Every breeze, every touch, every voice, every cricket chirping or raindrop clinging to the underbelly of the holly berries outside my bedroom window, the goose bumps I get every time I think about him, this is, I’ll grant you, something. I’m sure there’s a definitive physiological explanation for this. Some might call it lust, but, there’s something lovely going on here, complete with a soundtrack. I’m listening to music again. After far too long of nose-to-the-grindstone, “time to make the donuts” drudgery, too busy to tap in to my inner Freebird, suddenly I want to listen and sing to everything. I model the lyrics like tattoos on my soul, reliving the emotions of every beat and verse; fast and slow, highs and lows, sad and sweet, the precious, tender, lovely melody of, seduction.

Ah, seduction. I have considered, from time to time, that the unlucky-at-love sucker punches I’ve survived may, (emphasis on “may”) have been worth the thrill of so many practice runs in my quest for the holy grail of a love divine. And, if I’m being fair here, a couple of these dress rehearsals led to long running shows, incarnate in the four children I am infinitely blessed with, born from two good marriages. Yes, good. Yes, both of them. I’ll concede that some parts of even the second one were good. It was the fallout after that union, Rick’s descent into darkness, which smudged my soul, for a while. But love always starts out good, why else would we do it? Good, bad or ultimately criminal, how many of us get to experience, more than once, the thrill of that first kiss?

And let me tell you, it was a thriller. I’m here to testify, that lightning can indeed,
strike thrice.

Yet, I’m cautious. I know from the school of hard won experience that embarking on romance is much like getting a dog. From the moment you bury your nose in the heart clamping perfume of puppy smell, you know as sure as you know your name, you’ll want to lay down and die when that dog eventually does. Yet, we do it. We do it. Time and time and time again, we do it.

Or so it seems with love and me anyway. So far.

For now, I’ll revel in the process. The way he cups himself around me, completely giving. How he reaches for me, in the noisy, crowded pizza joint, he pulls me up close beside him. Confident. Content. He’s taller than I am. What a delight! No more worrying about the height of my heels or my mode o’ day. I can show up on his doorstep in some ill conceived retro hippy outfit and he’ll look past it, right into my eyes, or down my blouse, no clue as to the pile of clothes heaped on my bed, after I ripped through an entire wardrobe in search of something to wear. If men only knew our torment! And even though he tells me he accepts me unconditionally, code for, “it’s okay, you’ve had four kids” and he looks at me like I’m Sophia Loren before she got old, my, how I fret, as I plow through the underwear drawer in search of items less, uh, utility. And then, I find it. I knew I’d bought one. Standing in front of the mirror now, in yes, a thong. In a moment of weakness, which became unbearable humiliation, I bought one, about five years ago. My daughter and her best friend goaded me into it, telling me “panty lines are not cool” and if I wore a thong my jeans would look more sexy. Compared to what? I toss it back like the too small fish it really is and look for those lacy negligees I used to have. Should I carry one in my purse? Reminds me of the Gilda Radner parody on Saturday Night Live, the “Hey You” perfume for one night stands, except I’m 55 years old for Christ sake! How tacky is that? I’m digging, digging, digging. I’m way in the back of the closet now, past the bridal gown from 1974, Jesus, what was I thinking?A bride at 19? I seize upon my long abandoned negligee stash, whipping through the hangers like the bargain rack at The Gap.

“Hmm, the pink one was for him.” Nope.

“Ummmm, the red one was for him.” Nope.

I can’t do it. I’ll have to get new ones. Who am I to risk bad luck? New ones for this new man! New ones for this new chance? I’m in a dither, as I stand with my back to the dresser, mirror over my head looking at my behind. Dimples would be cute on my face.

This is making me nervous. How long can I continue to spend an hour getting ready for a date? And how long can we leave the lights off? At some point, I’ll want to spend the night! Oh my God, the puffy bags under my eyes, my varicose veins, and horror upon horrors, my hammer toe! And I used to have such pretty feet. Oh, and I need to do more yoga. I’ll get a leg cramp. I’ll be forced to jump out of his bed, walking circles around the room to get the charlie horse out of my leg. I just know it! And what if he stops by sometime and catches me in my writing get up? My hair in a scrunchy on top of my head, my glasses and Uncle Don’s coveted green robe, with my grease stained “Life is Good” t-shirt underneath, which I continue to wear in hopes that surely it will rub off on me!

And what about my basement? He can’t see the basement! And the layer of dog hair that coats every square inch of this house. Will he understand that housework has been last on the list, lo these many years, as I toil at the altar of my Mac, writing screenplays, stories and memoirs and pitch letters, treatments and pleas for investors to fund me so I can complete my vast array of work, which by the way, never got sent to the millionaire acquaintances I have, whom I’d fantasized, given the opportunity, just might invest in me. Hell, the stock market isn’t such a safe bet anymore. Or, will he think it shabby that I flip the cushions on the sofa in the family room, to hide the frayed fabric, because a new couch has been a luxury I simply could not afford? I opted for painting the house, fixing cars, paying college tuition, hospital bills and funding our summertime trek to the sea. The “Holy Week of Motherdom,” seven precious days out of 365 when I have all my birds in a seaside nest on the Carolina Coast. I’d do it again. I’d take my last dime, as I often have, to bring us all together on the warm sand of the wide strand, personal property taxes be damned! Will he understand my irresponsibility?

Or my deepest secrets? The profound disappointments, evil deeds committed by and perpetrated against me. My moral failures? When one has lived five decades already, to what extent are we obligated to chronicle? Voir dire is achieved through examination, not purging.

On a scale of relevance, how important is that one romp with a rock star? The act itself wasn’t worth top billing at a high school battle of the bands but the bragging rights were, a privilege that millions of girls throughout America would have stood line for and I am certain often did. It’s not like I was that hot. I was simply in the wrong place at the right time, in my white-eyelet bikini, back when I looked damn fine in a bikini, lanky, tanned, flat stomach, with long brown hair, model thin, at the Holiday Inn swimming pool in San Antonio, Texas. The band was in the pool, all slathered up with Coppertone suntan lotion, the scent of which still makes me tingle. He swam up to me, like a God; stocky, muscular, square jawed, with the water running off his hair, laying flat against his incredible shoulders, like a seal who’s surfaced to lounge on a rock. A scrappy guitar player who’d come up the hard way in Flint, Michigan, his band was the headliner at the coliseum, and when all was said and done, the cheap ass didn’t even give me a back stage pass. Talk about not getting enough out of the bargain! His manager was leery, tried to wave him off, like diverting a shark from fresh chum. I was jail bait by any other name. But the lead singer had me in his sights and I was naive. What did I think we were gonna do when I went to his room, play canasta? Hell, I didn’t even know how. There wasn’t a lot of romance, and precious little foreplay. He was probably late for sound check. And he didn’t know. He honestly didn’t know it was my first time, not that he spent a lot of time asking. Consent was implied when I knocked on his door. Back then, I looked older than my age, thank God that stopped in my 30s. We didn’t have a lot to talk about and in a minute, (if I recall correctly) I was no longer a virgin. Big whoop. Satisfaction, for me, came later, when I confided to my girl friends back in Ft. Worth, with a guitar pick and his handwritten address on the hotel stationery to back up my story. That night at the Holiday Inn, my little brothers and I ordered hamburgers from room service, while my parents mixed and mingled at the cocktail reception of the convention they were in San Antonio to attend, while dude was singing, “I’m Your Captain” yeah,yeah,yeah.

Except he wasn’t mine. Tully, the lanky Irish kid, was the one I fell in love with, just a few months later. A first love I willfully loaded up with epic thrills, followed shortly thereafter by searing teenage pain at the end of our brief romance. He was the one I should have waited for, the one I could have died for, even though he didn’t deserve the adoration. “Tullys;” this would become a noun, a one-word description for he recurring plot line in my long running drama; falling in love too fast, giving too much, getting too little in return, acting and feeling like damaged goods. Cats had a shorter run on Broadway than this one-woman play. Oh, that we could recycle our purity, reset our brain, make smooth once again the dented can. But long before the square jawed rock star swam up to me in the pool, the freight had been damaged. I was a sitting duck, assuming that I was emitting some kind of bad girl signal, like sonar sounding off the depths of the deep end. This is what you assume when you’ve been molested. You think it’s your fault, your mark, your sinfulness, as opposed to the miscreants who perpetrate this crime on the innocent.

Naming names is pointless now. He knew better. He’s dead. It’s between him and God now. Announcing to the world that I was sexually molested is like taking a number to stand in line a city-block long, at the CBS Studios in Hollywood, for "The Price Is Right." Damn fools. I do not confess this as catharsis; instead, context. It is a defining and well healed developmental nugget in my journey in this life. And, I am apparently in good company. The Darkness2Light organization, among other things, urges us to break the silence about sexual molestation and puts the onus on parents to minimize the risk of their children being abused, rather than depending on some glib “just say no” slogan. Darkness2Light says there are approximately 39 million adult survivors of sexual abuse in our country. That just might be more than the whole damn Tea Party. So, I share this story with an implicit invitation; to anyone who’s ever felt ashamed, or powerless, or scared, or used, to anyone who’s felt like their life would be forever marred, I say come on over to the healed side of life. It can happen. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’d rather be a victor than a victim.

But at ten, I had not forged this concept yet. It was dirty. It was shameful. People didn’t talk about it. Just ask Oprah. I figure she and I were being molested at about the same time, but she didn’t have a TV show yet to talk about it. I was warned not to tell. I was told it was okay, but I knew better. I never confided to a soul, until, at last, I had to throw up this burden, when I was 47-years old, screeching my white mini-van into a shopping center parking lot and slamming on the brakes. I had finally had a belly full of my mother recalling all the glorious sacrifices she had made to secure for us, a good life.

“One of those sacrifices was me,” I found the courage to speak my truth.

“Oh my God” she said, in the passenger seat looking out at the Sports Authority parking but not seeing a thing. She went silent. After a momentary pause, the shock and sadness of hearing that the man she’d loved for 30 years, the steady paycheck, marrying her when I was nine years old, a woman with five kids and a checkered past, the man she considered our family savior, her love, her hero, had also been a liar and a child molester.

Trust me when I tell you the irony is not lost on me.

Within 30 seconds though, it was all about her. I swear to God. “The very same thing happened to me when I was a girl, “ she said, in some kind of appallingly ill-timed attempt to empathize. “And it just set me for life.” Well, no shit, Sherlock. It hadn’t been too great for me either and her sharing this dreadful mother-daughter bond made me want to slit my throat. She knew what it was like. She knew how it felt to grow up with that mark on you and she did nothing to protect her only daughter.

How many times I had tried to hide, in our house on Locke Street. I’d go upstairs, out of sight, off his radar. To this day, I can not smell Noxema skin cream without thinking how I’d smear some on my face when I’d hear him coming up the wooden staircase, the creak of each step, my early detection system, to duck in the bathroom and cover my face with goop. It actually worked, sometimes, dissuading him with Noxema on my face or my hair rolled up on orange juice cans. Or, I’d hear him coming and jump on the phone, pulling it into the water heater closet on the upstairs landing, where Garrett and I would take turns in our phone booth, the only place in the house which was private, until my mother or another brother would pick up the extension and say, “Jeannie, get off the phone.” And it’s not like I was spilling my guts to Jayne or Suzzie or Connie about the predator who was fondling me. We talked about more innocent things, like playing swinging statues and spin the bottle, where Huffy Scott was the first boy to kiss me when the Coke bottle pointed to him. It was thrilling. He was dreamy. He was wearing Eau Savage cologne by Christian Dior and a striped Oxford button down collar shirt and burgundy colored penny loafers at Kelly Slaughter’s 7th grade birthday party. I talked and dreamed about the normal things and dreaded the awful things.

Somewhere around the time I was 13, it stopped. I don’t know why. It’s not like I was going to ask him. I hadn’t rocked the boat, I kept it to myself. I saved our family. This is the kind of brinksmanship, do-or-die consequences kids conjure up in their minds, which keep them silent, keep them suffering, for fear they’ll tear apart their family, or worse, that nobody would believe them.

No, I dummied up. Until I finally went off on my poor mother, and then, as follow up, for $100 bucks an hour, to a guy who didn’t immediately make my story all about him, a blessed man who saved my life. If it’s possible to love your shrink, God knows I do, because Bill not only helped me face my demons, but taught me how to discipline them. Then, and also when, (you can imagine my horror) when Rick’s deviant deeds made "Top Story" on every TV station in town. We see now, how thunder also booms twice? But this was a cleansing storm, in time, because it washed clean my gut, no longer covered by the the filmy manipulation of a cunning man. Do you hear me, sisters? Once that inner voice had been vindicated, and I unleashed my anger by pounding the shit out of my poor steering wheel, at stoplights where I would dissolve into tears over my children being drug, albeit indirectly, into the scandal of sexual abuse, that same shrink taught me how to save them. He was like a family doctor with a shot of penicillin to the brain.

I have been head shrunk and purged, disinfected and cleansed. His advice to me, a little like the Eagles song, “Get Over It,” though not as hateful, was to deal with these assaults head-on; singularly, systematically, thoroughly. To feel and to say, to weep and grieve, to accuse, to rant and rage and scream like a banshee. And then, to stop.

“You’re the only one who can decide when you’re done,” he said. “But it might feel good to be done.”

He counseled me to take all that sadness and anger and put it away, like a shoebox in the shelves of my mind, a box I knew would always be there, but the contents of which, I no longer had use for. In time, I put it away, the box was shelved. Does this new man, with adoring blue eyes need to know how many I have and how high they are stacked?

I always dreamed that my writing would bring me a love most worthy. Seriously. I have hoped for this for so long. I felt if I could just tell my story, have my words travel beyond my screen door, the edge of my lawn, the circles in which I move, past the random people in restaurants and airports, on the street or in the grocery store, surely, like a divining rod, my words would bring me love. Blessed be my words.

“I’d like to know about your writing,” he said. So I promptly dove off a cliff and opened the vault. I sent him a link to this blog before we ever met. And, now, he is falling in love with me. We’re grownups. We see where this is going.

He’s a Californian, I like that. I wonder if there’s a unique sensibility that comes with being born in the Golden State. Are we golden? He wants to introduce me to his friends in San Jose. Is it irony or fate that the half brother, whom I have never seen, presumably lives less than a hundred miles from there? A Californian. Brother Don would approve. Brother Garrett would approve, of concerts attended at the Fillmore, baseball games at Candlestick Park, a gear head and art scholar, dog lover and music collector, who reads liner notes and the manual to his new chain saw with the same degree of ardor, then, turns his inquisitive gaze to me.

“I could look at your face for a long, long time.”

Did I mention how smart he is?

And brave, in small things and apparently large. “Take my hand,” he says as we start down the sidewalk. For a woman who’s had to fly across the country to the hospital bed of a sick child, who poker-faced her way through her weekly briefing to the President of SBC while her ex-husband was being interrogated at the police station within eyesight of the conference room on the 42nd floor, who bamboozled more financial aid counselors at colleges than you could shake a stick at, who rarely got rattled on live TV, no matter how close the deadline or freight trains in the background, for a girl who’s had to run the farm, without a foremen the past 13 years, through all manner of disasters, dead rodents, pestilence, floods and life celebrations for which she catered all the food, when he says, “take my hand,” I like it. Such nice hands too, well kept. No more wishing somebody would clean up or grow up.

This man is a man. Revealed in the proprietary way in which he kisses me, he takes the wine bottle from my hand, opens it, hands it back in a “let me do that” kind of way, the ease with which he strokes my hand, the perfect touch, and an approving pat on the butt, as we head out the door for a party. Are we born prewired, like so many receivers to frequencies? I respond to his touch like a cat rolling in the sun.

The glint of sunlight on metal nudges me out of the clouds and into the glistening present. I’ve been daydreaming out the window at 27,000 feet. The plane banks left and Malibu appears in the distance as we begin our final descent into Los Angeles. Los Angeles, where my brave son ventured seven years ago to lay his claim on the film industry and met his precious bride in the process. Los Angeles, where the two of them are making their presence known among the multitudes and declaring their love eternal in just three days. At this moment, I feel so happy. And the extra layer of delight, like nap on velvet, comes from knowing there’s a sweet man waiting for me back home.

“I will miss your lips. Be strong, have fun. Give your son a wonderful wedding. Hope you get some material for your blog.”

Worry not, my darling, I’m never at a loss for material, as you can tell-- telling you, telling the world, heretofore untold.

But, will you still be so enamored by this Woman With a Past?


  1. Woman with a past, you have gone and done it again, taken your reader to the apex. You write with such depth of emotion, clarity and honesty. I am HAPPY for you. Now, turn your back on the past and look to the future. The best of everything to you!

  2. Jean, I absolutely love your writing. I live in Los Angeles, a native) and would love to meet you sometime. How long have you known this new man and where did you meet him? Your honesty is something that is so precious to your readers like me. I am late to find you but so glad I have. I feel like I've known you for a long time. A good soul, great energy and willing to share your stories. Please know I appreciate your ability to share.

  3. Jean, I don't know anybody who does this kind of cathartic writing better than you, and I know a lot of people who try...


    Scott P.

  4. Scott,

    Catharsis and $2.49 will get you a Grande cup of coffee, right? But, I am humbled that a writer such as yourself, with multiple publications and a movie under his belt, would say something that generous. Shit happens and sometimes we have a voice. Soon, I'll move on to fiction, after I plowing the fields with the "you can't make this shit up."
    Let's Meshuggah soon. Miss you.

    You know you're right there in the acknowledgments. Thank you for turning me on to Mary Karr. Weird, I'd never read her until I was neck deep in my own stuff, and if I could ever be as good as her, well then, that would be something. Thanks for your never ending support.

    Madgew -- L.A., we'll do it.


  5. My dear Jean,

    You are the most wonderful writer of close and personal experiences I think I've ever read. Your wit, humor, and, may I say, in your face honesty, makes you a projectile to a national book award someday. I treasure your past life, as much as I will treasure a future together.

    Love, my sweet, the guy with the blue eyes.

  6. Dear Jean.
    It takes me months to get around to reading one of the dearest, most telling journals, because by nature, I procrastinate. Wow, I am so moved. Words, at least from this hack, just wouldn't do any justice to your perspicacious, honest and brave revelations and observations. You are very talented! Sincerely, your friend, always, Mark D. Parsons

  7. I've known you my entire life and yet I am continually surprised and inspired by the stories of your life and the way you tell them.
    Thank you.

  8. Nice job, girlie. Can't wait to meet him.

  9. Okay, you guys, you made me cry. Thanks, I needed that on a Monday.

    And way to boost my word power, Mark.

    Perspicacious - having ready insight into and understanding of things, from the early 17th century, Latin, perspipax - "to see clearly."

    Quite apropos.

    Far out, dude. Thanks.

  10. I'm in awe of your ability to tell the brutal, honest truth with such bravery and depth. From my very humble perspective, you are a brilliant writer and story teller. Congrats to you, on many levels. Please keep writing - we'll all keep reading, this I know for sure.

  11. I continue to be moved by your incredible gift. You my dear Jean are quite the catch! Love on.