Another Tale from the Classic City
In the summer of 1984, I was 21. I had been in the yellow house for a year and was suddenly abandoned by my housemates. They''d decided that living with an OCD bulimic with a violent stalker ex-boyfriend wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It had been a hell of a year, full of restraining orders and court dates and the psychic bruising that lingers long after bodily harm, and it made matters worse that the two girls, friends of mine since middle school, had decided that my putting their dirty dishes in the back yard while they were out of town was the last straw. I mean, I'd warned them not to leave their mess for me to clean up!
I was as low as I'd ever been, physically and mentally exhausted, existing on pounds of raw cookie batter and Franzia. I was waiting tables at the Gyro Wrap and Wildwood Cafe and teaching aerobics. One day, my on-again/off-again father came to visit, bearing the usual Honey-Baked ham (I was a vegetarian). He was in the mood to be a hero, and he made me an offer I couldn't refuse: "You need a break from all this. Come live with me this summer. You won't have to work at all. You can just relax, get your bearings."
Now, this was the man who always kept an Ace comb in his pocket and a bottle of Royal Copenhagen cologne in his console; this was the John Birch Society member who had cheated on the woman he cheated on my mother with; it was the same man who, when I'd explained to him that my boyfriend had dragged me through his apartment, beating me from one end to the other, asked me what I'd done to make him do that. So, granted, I should have known better.
But it sounded so nice--rest, a change of scenery, so I agreed. I would hang out with him at the hip swinging singles complex Tahoe North in Roswell. I'd take him to work in the mornings and use his car during the day. I sublet my part of the house for half the rent to a grouchy hippie chick in the Ag school. My father would cover the other half.
The moment I entered his apartment, I knew I'd made an epic mistake: The walls were white and bare, no framed photos or art of any kind--not even the Annie Mueller montages he was so fond of, where the Fox melds into Tara and such. The beds were made with hospital corners and there was nary a drop of water in or around the kitchen sink. Even I was not this compulsive.
Day one, he refused to let me take him to work. He thought I should just walk around, get acclimated, meet some of the neighbors. Oddly enough, the place was deserted. The guys who lived there had to work to pay their child support. I called my friend Ann. She came over with a six-pack, and we sat in the driveway and drank. That night, my father took me over to Cheers, a local bar he frequented enough to have become friends with the owner. He wanted to introduce me; he thought it would be a good place for me to work. And it was in walking distance too!
For the next two weeks, the white walls squeezed in on me. There was always some reason I couldn't use the car, and the job applications were collecting on the counter. I couldn't do anything without getting busted for it. He'd come home from work and ask if I'd sat on his bed while I talked on the phone. There was a wrinkle in the spread. Had I used his razor to cut a thread? (How could he know?!!) I hadn't put it back in exactly the same spot. Did I leave the downstairs bathroom door open? It was unsightly to see a bathroom so close to the kitchen. After he took the inventory of offenses, he'd leave again to charm some woman out of her pants.
Bored and desperate, I agreed to go out with an obvious Lothario I'd met while jogging on the grounds. He was twice my age and wore Jordache jeans. When he came to pick me up in his candy-apple red Mazda, he brought me a half-empty bottle of white zinfandel. At the first stop sign, he informed me that he had a rule: a kiss at every stop sign or red light. The date was downhill from there. I was lucky to get out alive. No doubt, he is registered in every state. I called Hossain in Athens: "Please come take me home."
The next day was Sunday, the third one in June. My father left early to drive a cart around on the golf course and get wasted. I left him a note: 'Happy Father's Day. Don't contact me.'
Back in Athens, I had to find a cheap short-term place to live. I'd be paying for half that sublet as well as my temporary residence. I could move back in the house September 1st.
As it turned out, a guy I knew from the gym, Jay, was renting a sublet for the summer. It was a two-bedroom, and he was only paying half the rent (He had the same arrangement hippie girl had). All I'd have to pay, then, was half his half, about $80. It was great, too, a sweet apartment over the old Hodgeson's Pharmacy--hardwood floors and lots of windows. I could see my house from the screened-in porch.
Jay was only 19, but he was the ideal roommate. Our bedrooms were adjoined by the one bathroom in-between. At night, we'd sleep with the doors open and talk through the bathroom. His mother was dead and he didn't know his father. He'd been on his own since he was 16. He had the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. He never bothered me or came on to me, except to say one time in the darkness, "You know if you ever want to come over here, you're more than welcome." When I passed out drunk on the couch more nights than not, he'd cover me with a blanket and leave me unmolested. That is a courtesy I never forget.
He was a good basketball player and a wealthy woman in town had hired him to privately coach her 14-year-old daughter. The woman, Pat, who was married to some big-shot attorney, was specially nice to Jay. Not only did she pay him extremely well, but sometimes she came over and cooked fried chicken for dinner.
Eventually, I'd find her in the kitchen on weekend mornings, making blueberry pancakes. I started to get a little suspicious, but I believed Jay when he laughed off my inquisition. Seriously, why would she risk it? And what would he want with some broad in her late 30's? Anyway, the pancakes were awesome, and I could throw them up with no problem, so I stopped asking.
Imagine my surprise, though, when I got cut early from a shift one afternoon and came home unexpected. I could hear the shower running and assumed Jay was in it. He hadn't shut the doors, so I could see his bed from my room. Pat was lying at the end of it, feet on the floor, skirt over her head, nothing under her skirt.
Next thing I knew, Pat and her husband had talked Jay into joining the Army. I don't know if they did it with threats or money or how. I'm sure her husband had found them out; he wanted Jay far away.
I tried every argument I could think of to stop Jay from leaving, but he was too contrite, accepting it as his fate.. He sent me a letter from basic training. He said he kept a picture of me and told the guys I was his girlfriend. He hoped I didn't mind. That was the last I ever heard from him.