Taken

When I was nineteen, life handed me my first hard lesson.

His name was Rob. He lived in the apartment below mine in an old house that had been divided into five apartments, and he was everything I wanted in a man. Tall, handsome, and funny, with an interest in all things sci-fi and fantasy. We could talk about comic books, Doctor Who, Monty Python, and this new British writer who was making a splash with something about hitchhiking across the galaxy. We listened to Joe Jackson, REM, and vintage Who; he loved the group Love & Rockets while I  fiercely defended the comic book by the same name.

He was perfect.

He was also taken.

He was one of those college boys with the girlfriend back home, and that meant he was strictly off-limits. No matter what.

I should admit here that I was pretty naive when it came to men. I had a lot of friends who were male, and I could tell a raunchy joke right up there with the best of them, but I’d only had a few boyfriends in high school. And I’d never gone farther than second base with any of them.

My self-confidence was non-existent. I had this mental picture of myself as someone who was too fat and ugly to be desirable, and so I decided that I was going to be okay with being the girl who was every guy’s buddy. The friend. One of the guys. In high school, I never thought I had to worry when I was alone with a group of males because none of them thought of me “that way.”

So that’s the type of relationship I fell into with Rob. We would hang out in his apartment or mine, drinking cheap wine and talking about everything from philosophy to which actor was the best Doctor (I still say Davison, although Rob was a big fan of Tom Baker). We’d read Elfquest and New Mutants together or compare notes on which parts of Restaurant at The End of The Universe were funnier. We even had deep, scientific discussions on the Theory of the Universal 7-11 and how it applied to life in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

It was a great semester. I sold my first article to a real magazine and started working on my first novel with Rob’s encouragement. It was a pretentious little bit of  literary fiction that wanted very badly to be an allegory based on Faustian legends, but it just ended up being very bad. Very very bad. Still, it was a great learning experience.

Even better, no one but Rob ever read it. Really, it was that bad.

We used to go for long walks through the woods and talk some more. He would tell me about his girlfriend, and I would tell him about whatever man I happened to be interested in that week. I never dated any of them, though; there just wasn’t time what with my class load, my writing, and all the time I was spending with Rob.

Who was taken.

Off-limits.

Safe.

“I want to show you the dams,” he told me one April night. It was cold and clear, with a full moon, and we filled the pockets of his battered Army jacket with bottles of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. We giggled and drank and talked as we made our way through the woods to a beautiful little spot where a fast-moving creek rushed over a series of stone dams. It was an isolated little cove, almost magical in the moonlight, and we sat on a ledge for hours, swinging our legs and talking about life.

When he kissed me the first time, I liked it. I admit it. We were a bit tipsy, and he was so cute. And we had become so close, after all. He was perfect, wasn’t he?

By the second kiss, however, I had sobered up enough to know it was wrong. He was taken. Off-limits. He belonged to another woman.

By the third kiss, I realized he wasn’t going to stop no matter how hard I fought.

He was very apologetic afterward and even sent me flowers the next day with a cute card that had a little frowny-face and the words “I’m sorry” pre-printed in puffy blue letters. He knocked on my door a few times over the next few weeks, but I pretended not to be home. Eventually, he stopped trying.

I don’t know where Rob is today, or if he ever married the girl he was with back then. I wonder sometimes if the rape was planned or if he just lost control after too many bottles of Bartles & Jaymes. I wonder if he took other girls to the dams before me or after me, and I wonder what would have happened if I had gone to the police.

I wonder if he realizes now what he did to me, or if he tells himself it was just sex. If he regrets it. I wonder if he even remembers me at all, and if he’s sorry.

I wonder how my life would have turned out if I hadn’t thought I was safe when I was nineteen.

This post has been part of Finish the Sentence Friday, with the sentence starter “When I was nineteen. . . ” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and co-hosted by Mimi at Mimi Time and Vidya at Coffee with Mi.

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Knot Now

200px-Cherry-stem-tongue

One of my hidden talents is the ability to tie a knot in a cherry stem with my tongue.

Believe it or not, it has taken me a week to come up with that in my search for anything that I might be able to refer to as a “hidden talent”.  Of course, once I figured that one out I remembered a few others.

I can light a lighter with my toes.  Once upon a time, I could also light a cigarette with the toe-lighted lighter, but these days I strongly doubt that I could get my toes anywhere a cigarette in my mouth.  Meh, I don’t smoke anyway.

I can balance a stack of quarters on my raised elbow and then swing my arm around fast enough to catch them before they hit the floor.  My record is twenty-one quarters.

I can break into almost any house, as long as I have access to a butter knife, something to climb on, and enough time to think about it. . . but not enough time to really think about it.

It says an awful lot about where I am in my life right now that I struggled so hard to find my own hidden talents for this week’s prompt.  I’m dealing with so much in my life, and I know that it has taken a real toll on my self-esteem.  Which was always a bit wobbly to begin with.

I’ve never been out of work before now.   I don’t know what I’m good at.  I know I’m not dumb; I just don’t have any real ideas of what direction to go, career-wise.  I have limitations now that I’ve never had before, limitations that pretty much eliminate any kind of job I have ever held in the past.  Or, as I whined to two old and dear friends last night, “I have no marketable skills!”

Let me tell you something about these old friends:  they don’t take self-pity lightly.

I’ve known them since we were all eight years old.  At times, we’ve gone years without seeing each other.  At times, we haven’t really liked each other.  But there is no one on this earth who knows me better than they do, warts and all.

They pretty much slapped me down, scolded my ass for feeling sorry for myself, and proceeded to remind me of all of the things I am good at.  They reminded me of my worth as a human being, and they made sure to tell me that they love me.

They helped me remember that I need to love me too.

This morning, my husband and I drove to the county courthouse together to file the papers necessary to begin our divorce proceedings.  It was an emotional experience for both of us; neither one of us wants to get back together, but taking this step feels like failure.  It hurts.

It hurts to admit we couldn’t make it work.

It hurts to realize that it really, truly is over.

It hurts to look each other in the eye and say yes, I am sure I don’t want to be married to you anymore.

It hurts.

In the car, I asked him for help with this week’s writing prompt.  “You’ve lived with me for eighteen years,” I said.  “What would you say is a hidden talent that I have?”

“You can tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue,” he said.

My friends know that I can hand-quilt and embroider like a dream.  They have faith in my writing, and they have ideas of ways for me to make money with it.  They know I am a hard worker and that there is no job I can’t do if I set my mind to it.  They believe in me, and they are going to make me believe in myself whether I want to or not.

My friends demand the best that I have to offer, and they will accept nothing less.  They know that I have talents and skills that I haven’t even discovered yet.

My husband, the man I loved and lived with for nearly two decades, knows that I can tie a cherry stem into a knot with my tongue.

Somewhere between the county courthouse and home, I finally understood that my hidden talent has nothing to do with cherry stems or cigarette lighters or fine needlework.  It has everything to do with this man that I used to love; this man that I tried so hard to share my life with.  This man who never really knew me at all, any more than I really knew him.

My hidden talent is knowing when to walk away.