Say hello

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Smile (edited)

It was well into the late morning of her work day and her sleep heavy eyes kept flying up to the old dusty clock near the rafters of the furniture factory. The morning had been unbearably cold, and her workstation near the shipping room doors kept getting the occasional blast of frigid air through, each time the doors were opened to receive more freight. Already, she began to dread that the rest of the day would be dragging by at the speed of the clanky old garbage truck that woke her even before her alarm sounded this morning. Katie had slept a whole hour last night due to the drunken antics of Thomas, the man in her life, who had decided to park his truck in her driveway and start playing his country music so loud that she was afraid her neighbors would call the police out to quiet things down. At one point she had gone out to the truck to sit with him and try to convince him to go home. Nothing worked. Thomas had stayed there well into the early morning hours with his bottle and his tapes blaring though the speakers. She sneaked out one last time around 4 am to find him passed out, and she was able to turn off the nerve shattering noise and creep back to her bed, dropping off to a fitful sleep.

Katie ached all over and was so clumsy with her furniture assembly that the foreman kept giving her glowering looks every time he walked by. She mused to herself as she worked, wondering where this obsession with Thomas had begun. She felt she must be losing her mind, to be so lonely for companionship that she would accept such a relationship with someone who could bring nothing to the table but aggravation and abuse.

Her mind was full of thoughts of last night and the weariness that consumed her, when she glanced up from where she worked and let her gaze absentmindedly wander across the great expanse of that noisy, dusty room. That's when she saw him. He was straightening up from a stack of table tops he had been sanding and he looked right at her. The smile that flashed across his face sent shock waves throughout her whole body, bringing it magically back to full life. Suddenly the room was quiet, the light streaming through tall, dirty windows spotlighted his slender body and for a moment, time stood still. The two of them stood motionless, with nothing between them but that smile.

There are moments in your life that burn forever into hard drive of your brain. Moments that you rehash repeatedly because they affect you so profoundly. That was one of those moment for me. I am the Katie in the story and the man with the smile was someone I'll call for now, Richard Logan. After that eternity of a smile, the buzzer sounded off in the plant, signaling it was time to stop work for our thirty minute lunch break. The sound was so startling to me that it distracted my gaze for a split second and when I looked back, the smiling man had disappeared just as quickly as he had materialized. Panic seized my being and I hurried to the door on the other side of the plant that would lead me to our cafeteria. Holding my breath, wondering if I had dreamed him up. As I passed quickly through the double doors, and tried to adjust my eyes to the change of light in the darkened corridor leading to the cafeteria, there was a strong sense that someone had fallen in behind me and I turned around so quickly that we collided, throwing each other off balance, and he grabbed my shoulders to steady us both. He was more impressive close up, and the smile that so readily spread from his full lips, revealed perfectly aligned, white teeth, and dug deep crevices into his cheeks, brightening up the tender eyes and illuminating the whole corridor. He spoke, his voice deep and fluid. That Southern drawl, comforting. “Hello, my name is Richard and I've not been able to keep my eyes off you ever since we came to work this morning.” I had to catch my breath. The surprise at my reaction to this man was unsettling. “I'm Katie.” I couldn't say anything more. “Will you sit with me in the cafeteria and will you let me buy your lunch?” He asked. “I would like that.” Was my only reply. I tried to pretend some semblance of calm, as we continued down the corridor to the bustling cafeteria where other coworkers were hurriedly getting their noon meal. I don't remember what we ate, or what we talked about. I only remember his smile and his easy manner. I don't remember getting off work after our shift, nor of whether or not we even said goodbye. I do remember the days and weeks after that encounter, learning that he was housed at the prison complex in the town where I lived and that he was on the work release program. He was brought to the plant every morning for work and returned on the prison bus to his confinement every evening, while I went home to my empty house and an emotionally abusive and controlling Thomas, who would visit when he thought about wanting my company, or a place to hang out to drink and make my life a torment. Richard would call me from the prison every evening and we had 10 minutes to talk intimately without enduring the curious glances of our coworkers at the plant. He was scheduled to be released on parole in a few months and we both counted the days and the hours until that day came. When it did, he was released with only the clothes he had on his back along with a couple pairs of blue jeans, and shirts in a small backpack filled with other personal items. The prison gave each released inmate some of the cash they had earned on their jobs. It wasn't much because inmates didn't earn even minimum wage at the time and I wondered how he was ever going to survive on that, and get back to his home in a county that was over five hours drive away. None of his family nor friends were present to pick him up on his release, but I was.

I had taken a bold move to find an apartment for Richard to rent in order to give him time to think about his next options, even providing household things to make it more comfortable. By this time, Richard was claiming to have fallen in love with me, but I couldn't break my destructive obsession with Thomas. Then fate, being kinder to me than I deserved, intervened as Thomas got ready to move out of State for a job. Ironically the job was at a prison. He was to be a manager at a furniture production facility at one of the Federal prisons in Florida. It could have been the perfect answer to my dilemma and my conflicted mind and heart.

After Thomas left, Richard and I moved forward into a more intimate relationship. We were happy for a time. He wasn’t thrilled that I still insisted on keeping our relationship a secret, but he never pushed. As I think back over the last twenty years since we parted, of my multitude of failed relationships, it seems that Richard was the most gentle, accommodating, forgiving man I have ever had the fortune of knowing. And I blew it!

I blew it because I refused to acknowledge the jewel that I had found. Even though he had gotten in trouble and spent time in prison, I still believed him to be a keeper, and yet, I threw him away.

While Thomas was in Florida, I got letters from him declaring himself to be a changed man. Professing his love for me, he wrote many times that he missed me terribly and wanted me to move to Florida to be with him. I believed that my years with Thomas should not be spent spent in vain, so I said goodbye to Richard and packed all my household belongings, put them in storage and took the bus to Florida. It didn't take long for me to regret my decision. Thomas was the same, drunk, abusive and absent partner he'd always been. He worked 6 and a half days a week, gone before the sun came up and home long after dark. I was left alone in our tiny apartment with only my books and my own imagination for entertainment. There was only the one car, Thomas's, and the Florida weather was too harsh and hot for me to get out much on foot. We were midland, so no beach trips for me to ease and feed my soul. Next door to us was a high rise retirement home and I was able to find some part time work doing housecleaning and errands for the residents there. On the day when one of my clients would need grocery shopping done, I would ride to the prison with Thomas which was an hour long trip one way, and keep his car. After a month there, it looked like I could make my life work, especially if Thomas could eventually work fewer hours at the prison. He promised me one Saturday evening that he would only work half a day next day, Sunday, and that we would spend the afternoon and evening together. It sounded like heaven to me. That morning, I got up early to clean the apartment, do laundry and pamper myself, getting ready for our “date.” I was ready and waiting by 11, and kept running to the window in anticipation of seeing his car pull up to the parking place in front of our apartment. When he wasn't home by 2 pm, I just took to pacing back and forth in front of the apartment, even walking to the lake and the surrounding park, eventually hibernating inside because of the intense heat and humidity. As the day dwindled into evening and I hadn't even heard the phone ring, I became angry and disappointed. Richard filled my thoughts for the rest of that evening and I needed to go somewhere. I was dressed for going out and immensely angry that I seemed to be stuck. I remembered that there was a movie theater within walking distance in a shopping mall and determined to walk in the cooler evening air to watch a movie, alone. And of course, I cannot today remember the movie. When it was over, close to about 10 pm, I called our apartment because I didn't want to walk home alone in the dark. In my crazy head, I imagined that Thomas would be home and he'd come get me and would be frantic with worry as to where I could be. There was no answer. So I called a taxi and went home. Walking through the door of our apartment I was devastated to see Thomas passed out drunk on our living room floor. My anger was burning so hot that I kicked him in the ribs so hard, I was afraid his ribs broke. His grunt sounded like some kind of muffled gurgle. Disgusted, I locked myself in our bedroom and didn't come out till morning. Thomas was up by the time I crept out for my morning coffee, but hazily informed me that he was off for the day, yet he was so hung over that all he would be doing would be resting. He never mentioned his broken promises, only commented curtly that a coworker had invited him to go for drinks at a local bar after they got off work and he lost track of time! When I asked him why he didn't call to tell me what he was going to do, he simply mumbled, "A guy doesn't call his girlfriend to ask permission to have drinks with a friend." By evening, I told him that I was going back home to North Carolina.

Thomas and I said our goodbyes at the bus station and I rode for eleven hours with a broken spirit and heart. I could think of nothing but that I wanted to find Richard still in his apartment. I dared to hope that he would forgive me for leaving. It had been a long two months.

Arriving home to my Grandmother's house after my bus ride, it was too late to drive back into town to find Richard. But the next day, I drove in. It was a sunny, cloudless day in May. Lush, leafed trees lined both sides of the roadway that led to Richard's apartment creating a shady canopy. Getting closer to the complex, the radio was playing some smokey saxophone tune and I saw a figure walking, slack shouldered along the edge of the roadway looking like someone carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. I knew that form. It was Richard and my heart stuck in my throat. Passing him, I found a place to pull over to the shoulder of the road and he approached my car. Poking his head in the passenger side window and flashing that infamous smile at me, he drawled, “You're home.” “Yes I am, do you want a ride?” Climbing into my car and folding his long legs into the too small space in front of him, he reached over to give me a whisper of a kiss on my cheek. We drove back to his apartment and the rest is a blur of blissful reunion. I couldn't imagine at that moment why I would ever leave him again.

Our time together had to be short lived, because Richard needed to return to his home county. He was still serving parole and needed to find permanent work. One day he told me he'd made arrangements to take a taxi home, but that he would call me. And he did, many times. Always telling me he loved and missed me. But before he left he took one of his earrings out, a tiny musical note, and asked me to wear it while he would always wear the other one. It was to be a promise that we would always be connected he said. And that is what I did. But then, Thomas returned home, and the turmoil began anew. I bounced back and forth between these two men so many times that my head is spinning to just think about it. When Thomas asked me to marry him, I went against everything that screamed inside my spirit to say no, and answered instead that I would!

I don't understand why I rejected Richard and chose Thomas, other than maybe I was being a complete snob about being with someone who had served time in prison for breaking and entering with a weapon, regardless of how wonderfully sweet and attentive he was. There was an ever looming belief with me that I couldn't let my family know that I was with someone who had been in that kind of trouble. However, I didn't seem to have any doubts about spending my life with an alcoholic jerk. And then there came that dreadful day when I was sitting at home with Thomas and Richard called me. The hateful, and harsh way I ended that conversation with him, haunts me till this day twenty years later. I barked into the phone that he was never to call me again, that I was getting married. The silence on the end of the line after that tirade was deafening. I can only imagine now what kind of gut wrenching pain it must have caused him to hear that because I know he cared for me deeply. He didn't deserve that. And Thomas didn't deserve me. Our marriage ended after only one year and it was a brutal one year.

Now after the passing of twenty years, as I am here in my home, far away from Thomas, and missing Richard still, I have searched for him through online computer searches to no avail. Like the sun falling out of a clear blue sky, I know that I have lost a jewel of great price. Every search I make turns up nothing. And I am reduced to sending out telepathic messages to him with my plea for him to somehow find me. Find me so that I can at the very least, know that he moved on to have a good life, and so that I can apologize for my brutal brush off. A brush off that was unwarranted.

Somewhere Richard is out there. Living what I hope is a carefree and happy life. My lesson is starkly real and a hard one to live with.

No comments:

Post a Comment