Copyright is held by the author.
THE DAMN memory won’t quit. Like a song set to re-play, flashes of old Bernie and the what ifs keep jamming my brainwaves. When I worked retail, suppose I’d slapped him but good the day he groped me on the back stairs? Screeched blue murder the second his knobby left hand found my left breast and yelled before his casual squeeze was over?
I hate diamonds because of the large, gaudy, solitaire diamond in Bernie’s wedding ring and the way it flashed, its heart caught in the one beam of sun that penetrated those dark back stairs. The way he dropped his hand and continued on his way like that grope was nothing; I was nothing. From that day, until the day I quit retail, I feared using the back stairs in case he did it again. What if he did worse?
There have been other times. Times when something knocks me sideways and I stand with my back to the wall, palms sweating, paralyzed with fear and I wonder what I’ve done to draw these trials to me. Might be simply my curiosity, I wonder about things. My friend, Mae, she gets curious too. She’s asked more than once, “Louisa? Why do you stay with Tom? He’s dead wood through and through.”
I just smile and say, “Mae, I’ve tied myself to him with a daisy chain and I can’t break the hold. I say, Tom’s my biggest ‘what if’. Like, what if, one day Tom turns kind, the way you see men and women be with each other on television. He’ll come through the door carrying flowers; the house will smell delicious ’cause I’ve been baking butter cookies. I’ll be excited, watching the clock, waiting. It’ll be love in the afternoon. What if that’s love Mae?”
And Mae, she looks at me like I’ve lost my marbles and says, “Honey, that’s not love, that’s a whole different thing.”
She doesn’t have to tell me, I recognize an obsession. But this obsession is a two way street. Tom’s a fascinating man. I believe he’s the one for me. It’s not his silver-blue eyes or the way his black hair’s a touch too long, Tom just grabs me. He can take me to the top and over in a heartbeat and I know I hold the same sway; I make his heart beat like a hammer because I know his dark little secrets and that gives me the whip hand. If I was short, or plump, or someday cut all my hair off, he’d still want me, whip and all.
I know what Mae thinks, she thinks that’s just sex. But I know it’s more, the fire between me and Tom makes time burn. Mae doesn’t understand the way it is, but she patches me up when I need patching and mostly Mae keeps her opinions to herself. I can see the questions in her eyes though, she wonders when the day is going to come that I start to ask my own questions of him.
Like, lately where’s he been till four in the morning? How come he smells like some place he shouldn’t have been?
I know she’s waiting for that day but it’s going to be a while.
I admit Tom’s character is questionable but he’s no whim to me. He’s the place I hide myself from the Bernie’s of this world. There’s no place for me to go alone, so we’ll go together. I can’t start asking the what ifs with him, he might come up with answers that would be too painful to bear.
Someday I might hit the junction of here and gone and, when that happens, there’ll be a whole new set of decisions that I don’t want to make now. Tom, he’s my compass point, the vane I use to get and keep my bearings. I’d be lost without him.
Two years passed before I told Tom about the groping old Bernie laid on me. He offered to go downtown and teach one of his lessons. I was afraid, so I held him back. Bernie could have pulled that man trick. You know the one? The one where he says to Tom, “She was asking for it man, wearing those short skirts and those low cut sweaters that skim the top of her breasts and draw your eye.” And Tom, well, he’s a guy. What if Tom sees it Bernie’s way? I don’t tell Tom anything these days either. I keep my troubles to myself. I’ve got a boss with twitchy fingers and he’s thinking frisky thoughts but he’s my problem to solve. All mine.
My mother always said, “Marry in haste, you’ll repent at leisure.” but these days nobody gets married. The hasty decision these days is moving your underwear to a single drawer so he’s got room for his socks and boxers. And then, about a month in, the closet’s overcrowded. The air in the apartment gets harder to breathe, but still, you stay because emptying the drawer was a promise. Living together is the new commitment; you make your bed and you lie in it. So what if he hits you now and then? Life’s not all daisy chains and butter cookies. Sometimes life is like, watching out for the what ifs.
On the dark days, the thoughts go round and round and I think about old Bernie. Think about my boss and his frisking and twitching. Tom and his wandering ways. I wonder what in the universe brings disregard to me? Or is it me? That’s the worst what if. What if I draw badness to myself?
Last month I bought a suitcase. If a day comes when Tom’s too much, the sway goes away, then I’ll pack that bag, I swear I will. What if it turns out the best thing I ever did?