Saturday, October 30, 2010

Indirect Route

Being hotly pursued on a dating website is nothing new, but this guy was persistent. It takes me several weeks to agree to a date. I need to suss out the situation, decide if my suitor is safe, if they have controlling personalities, or riddled with bitterness. Thankfully, most people are transparent enough that a quick review of their emails tells their story. His did not.

After the first date we were a reluctant couple. We were giddy but still guarded, and intense but we couldn't verbalize our feelings. He was recently divorced, had slept around considerably and was still being obsessively texted by two or three girls. I was involved with a couple of other men. He was nine years my junior, and was in the habit of bedding down girls half his age. "Self-proclaimed bondage sluts with daddy issues," he confessed.

He claimed he met them in all different places and ways--some online, one at a mini-mart, two were friends of friends of friends of someone else... too many to be a coincidence. I asked him if not getting that sort of thing in bed with me was going to be a problem, and he responded, "I'm not into tying up and torturing, but they wanted it so I did it." He was offended that I would even dare ask such a question, and he pinched me very hard under the guise of teasing. I told him to knock it off or leave, and that he was only confirming my suspicions. He left and didn't call for several days.

When he did call, he attempted nonchalance, then asked if he could come over. I told him he could as long as we practiced some mutual respect. We then entered into a phase of general calm, enjoying each others' company and keeping the sniping to a minimum. He would reprimand me if I cut him off in conversation, but I didn't ever bother to point out that he only talked about himself. Endlessly. I decided to pick my battles and adjust, and would wait until he was even boring himself before stepping in.

Then came the big blowup. We were supposed to attend a party together but he was called away to help his ex with an emergency she could have handled. Because he was afraid of her and her power to take away his children, he usually jumped when she said jump. He kept telling me he'd be done "any minute" so I kept waiting, until I finally called the hostess and told her I was going to try and make it on my own. "Oh. It's over, already." I'd missed her daughter's birthday celebration entirely. 'Hurry up and wait' at its finest.

When he finally arrived I tried to explain to him why I was upset. He had a bad habit of assuming I knew better than to question his actions, so he sat there. Saying nothing. Until I burst.

"I understand she has you by the balls, but this is happening way too often. She's acting like a child and you're playing into it, and you'll have to figure out some way to explain all this to me because I'm not getting it. I don't read minds, I read people, and I get why you're afraid. The details are what are escaping me. I'm sorry I'm mad. It's a gut reaction to a frustrating situation, and it's not just frustrating for YOU! What does she have on you?"

He felt like he deserved respect no matter what his actions. I felt like that was absurd. It's my belief that respect is earned, day to day, one action at a time. We went to bed angry.

The next morning we fell into an old habit of morning sex, but at one point he pulled my hair and pretty much forced me to do something I didn't want to do. He wasn't staying hard, and maybe that was his solution. When I told him that was never okay with me and asked if we could try again, he yelled, "Don't start something you can't fucking finish!" I realized, to my horror, that he'd said that once before. He'd taken out his inability to perform on the one person who was trying to love and understand him.

While we were apart for the next few weeks... I went on a date with a man I'd met before, with a completely different set of problems. For now, let it suffice that seeing him made me think my "current" situation wasn't so bad. I made a phone call. I needed to know my ex-not-ex understood how frightening his behavior had been and maybe we could AGAIN start respecting each other.

But I didn't respect him. I couldn't and I wasn't even aware of it until it was all I could think about. And the more he spoke about his life, the less I understood this strange, cold man. I realized he didn't love his kids for who the were, but because they were his creations and reflections of his virility. How sad. A manic mother and a cold father. I wanted to kidnap them and take them away from the madness, and I hadn't even met them.


His main source of income I'll keep to myself. Well, it's probably best to keep his other two jobs out of this, too. What I will say is that over 10 years before we met he was part of a drug dealing ring. He was the money guy.

For those who don't know, volume dealers rarely touch the drugs, the money and the gun at the same time. Never the money and drugs, as that's a dead giveaway to law enforcement. Part of the busines is collections--yes, coercion, threats and physical harm fall under that umbrella. Should the muscle be unable or unwilling, someone needs to step up, and on at least one occasion he stepped up, beat the hell out of someone, was arrested but never convicted. There were other arrests without convictions for various other deeds.

So now we have bondage, abuse, illegal activity, dangerous hobbies (included in one of his other jobs), a punishment mentality toward me and others, and all manner of other frightening behaviors. Naturally he was abused as a child, and he came out of that with the attitude that if he could survive the pain, so could everyone else. It didn't bother him one tiny bit to watch someone else suffer. My reaction to childhood trauma was to feel too much, and that's where we clashed the loudest.

We began to drift apart. His ex-wife's behavior was growing increasingly bipolar and manipulative, so it was difficult for him to find time away from his kids. At that point, we'd been together for almost 10 months. I asked about meeting them and he said, "Yes. That would be nice." I asked for details on how we could make that easy on them and the ex. He didn't offer much. After that he didn't call much, either. He'd been calling every day up to that point. When I asked him about that, he claimed to not remember the daily calls. I found that odd, but then again, he forgot lots of things. Stress, perhaps.

A month into this relatively distant period, he called to let me know his ex had given over complete control of the children. She'd been a neglectful, inconsistent, addicted mother as it was, but I'd never known anyone who would do such a thing. He couldn't believe his luck, that she would just back down and let him move forward with them, hire sitters to get more of a social life, see me more often, have more fun time with his kids, etc. Things seemed like they might be improving.

One of the last times we spoke, he called with some disturbing news. To him it was merely odd, but it cemented everything I'd ever wondered about. He underwent frequent background checks for his job, and there had never been a problem. It was almost as if his arrest record was sealed. It was almost as if he had had help with the sealing of it, and what came next made me think that maybe his ex had let some sort of cat out of the bag. She'd met him when he was involved with drugs, because she was a client living in the same crack house his boss controlled. She knew everything.

He had innocently applied to volunteer for a cause I won't disclose, and part of acceptance was a background check. Up popped several things. It was, I suspect, the beginning of his undoing. His primary job wasn't doing well, and his other more nefarious activities weren't reliable. The stress he must have been under, well, I can't imagine. And now this. Did his ex cause this out of bipolar vengeance? Did someone protecting him decide to suddenly stop?

It dawned on me that maybe I should be a little more concerned about my safety. Not that I thought he'd try anything with me again, perhaps misguidedly. His frustration with not being dominant over someone was obvious. His ex may have had him by the balls at that point, but she had been the sub in their marriage.

No, my concern grew as I started to realize that some of his business dealings could get him killed. He sold a certain product to a certain group of people who, well, let's just say they are capable of making the biggest bad-ass cry like a baby. After he would meet with them, he'd visit me because I was close by their favorite restaurant. Months later I thought, "Oh, shit. I hope he took an indirect route, because I never want people like that to know where I live."

This charming crew of career criminals are also rumored to be in the sex trade. Specifically, they are allegedly involved in the peddling of sex slaves, bondage films and torture pornography. If what I was thinking was accurate, it was through them that he kept meeting bondage sluts. He had stories for how he met each one, but that didn't mean they were true.

I'll never know how things ended up for him. A few days went by, then he called and asked if he could come over on his lunch break. We sat in silence. My head was resting on his shoulder, swimming in conjecture, dying to ask what was really going on and drowning in sadness. He left me with a kiss on the forehead, then felt like it was coming from a desperately frightened man.

I called about a week later and got voicemail, and left a message offering friendship if he ever needed it. It was a difficult holiday after that, because what got me through the bulk of the relationship was my vision of the future for us and his kids. They were still very young and needed a mom, and I wanted to be one; and it was, as it turns out, most likely my last chance to be one.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Man with Two Eyes

When I see someone with a ghastly face, I try to count the recognizable features as quickly as I can. In his case, he has two eyes, right where they should be, but that's about it.

It appears he's had his jaw removed due to cancer. His cheeks are lopsided, with one much larger than the other. Part of one of his ears is missing. Maybe it's a ghoulish birth defect or the result of an injury, but the pattern of scars along his jawline make me think otherwise.

I've never seen him without a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He can't even make the three-block walk from his house to his favorite bar without a sip and a smoke. God, who could blame him? I go into depression from so much as a pimple. He must look at people with severe skin diseases or cystic acne with envy. He probably hasn't had to listen to some teenager wail about how zits have ruined their social life in ages, because what he has going on pretty much trumps all that.

He's also addicted to prostitutes. They've seen it all, but I doubt they can look at him while they "work". Then again, they probably don't look at any of their johns too closely, for fear they might accidentally make eye contact. A revolting, shame-inducing job isn't going to change just because a client is attractive.

My one and only conversation with him was mostly about alcoholism and addiction. We were walking the same direction, and ended up chatting for several blocks until he reached his bar and I reached my home. By the end of the walk we decided that, on rare occasion, it's okay to be an addict. Sometimes it just doesn't matter. He knows he's one of the few, and I know I'm not.

No worries, new friend. No one blames you for hastening your own end, even those who would blame you for your face.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Survival of the Least Fit

On nearly every street in my part of this paved jungle there has recently been erected a "Block Watch" sign. These signs have a disquieting effect on me, because they're reminiscent of the ultimate keep out signs: heads on stakes.

If you happen upon one of these signs, what might your reaction be? I've seen whole groups of people turn and walk the other way, looking behind them at some indefinable threat. If you don't know what to fear, it's only natural to fear everything. Signs like this give criminals ultimate power and turn the concept of survival of the fittest on it's ear.

One evening, while walking Sam-dog past an array of ignored signs, I saw a small band of my perkiest, most hope-filled neighbors sipping cider and nibbling on junk food in the middle of the street. Traffic cones laced with yellow tape barred cars from picking them off, one by one. They were "taking back the streets" by encouraging each other to stay safe, make that 911 call if needed and make this a family oriented neighborhood once again. Be a hero. Squash evil. Assert yourself, even if it means blocking traffic and eating your weight in potato chips.

A hundred yards away stood a prostitute, busily flashing her boobs at potential customers. I imagined some of the same brave men at the block watch party furtively pulling her into their cars. I ducked around a corner so no one could see me laugh.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mr. Methadone Head

It's impossible to go more than five feet around here without rubbing elbows with desperation and depravity. There is a methadone clinic, several regular AA meeting spots, a couple of make-shift shelters, a popular food bank, homeless vets waiting outside the VA hospital and two bars--populated by prostitutes--that tolerate crack and heroin distribution. Poverty and violence are part of daily life. Someone is being torn apart by the excruciating pain and anxiety of withdrawals, hiding in a doorway in hopes that no one sees them cry. Someone else is hiding a gun. Most of my neighbors try not to notice, but I can't help myself.

Yes, it's true, I meet people more easily than most. If you start talking to me, I'll jump right in despite myself. The majority of the planet doesn't want to see or talk to the addicted or homeless, but there I am, yapping away. It's difficult to listen to some of these people talk. It exposes another world; one of hurt, fear, pain, hunger, abuse and cruelty that's frightening and baffling. Sadly, this means most of my neighbors will probably never meet Mr. Methadone Head.

I know his real name. It's a fine, solid name, given to him in infancy by a mom who loved him on sight. He's a nice, normal guy. Okay, he's a nice, normal guy with a serious addiction to methadone (to replace prescription painkillers) and methamphetamine (to stay awake).

His body and mind have likely sustained permanent damage from these two drugs. He can't remember my name to save his life. He knows he's lost name retention, and looks a bit uncomfortable when he has to ask again. He repeats my name over and over in the hopes that it will stick, while busily scratching one of the many open sores on his arms. He quotes John Lennon and Janice Joplin, but can't remember the source.

This morning we had our longest conversation, yet, and I learned that some of the kids in the local make-shift gang beat up a homeless guy who has a fine, solid name of his own. "They beat him up, and then they peed on him. You know the guy? He has one of those diseases that's one of the really bad ones, too. So he can't even walk." He meant muscular dystrophy.

"Then they kicked him out of the hospital after an hour. Sent him back here with blood still on his face. All over this side, especially," and he traced an area on his cheek and chin.

Mr. Methadone Head digressed to the topic of the methadone clinic. "'People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing.' You know, W...W...Wanina..da? Did I get it? I do my thing and get out. Dealers hang out there, too. Mean fuckers. And those kids that hurt that guy, or maybe similar. They act tough. It's fucked there. Those people steal shit. I do my thing and get out."

It's good to know that even Mr. Methadone Head has standards.