I was invited to read for a public event, for the Storytelling Meetup, on the topic of Do Over. I’ve never read for this group before, but I decided to write about my ex-husband, George. I am always a nervous wreck when I read in public, so I wrote everything out and will practice all day. I get so nervous I actually have to ask people afterwards how I did – I have no idea how my writing goes over in the crowd. It’s kind of funny, my friend Marilyn who is a psychologist, says I’ve perfected the art of disassociation for public readings 🙂
Anyway, here is my very rapidly written performance piece for Do Over:
My ex-husband, George, was the funniest, sweetest man on earth. He would literally give you the shirt off his back. So why did I end up leaving him after I had our baby? Well, maybe it was the alcoholism. Or maybe it was because he was the biggest marijuana dealer in the northern realm of Florida. Which I wish I had known before we met 😊…
We’d seen each other a few times at various parties around town and whenever he saw me, he was very attentive, polite, funny, courteous. He made other people move so I could sit next to him. I went to his house, which always seemed to be party central, and he played my favorite songs on his jukebox. Yes, he had a jukebox in his house. And fluorescent lights. You would think that the barroom décor would have set off alarm bells in my nineteen year old brain, but noooooo.
But the first time we really got together was when he invited me to a party at Crescent beach in a huge house right on the ocean. I drove over by myself from Gainesville and when I got there, the place was so packed I couldn’t even find George. Everyone was dancing to the Rolling Stones song Hot Stuff, and I wandered around in the crowd, looking for him. Then I realized that the room was filling with smoke. I started to panic – “We’re on fire,” I told people. “We need to get out – the house is on fire.” Finally, one of the guests took my hand and dragged me over to a nearby hibachi, a little barbeque pit. It turned out someone (three guesses who) had thrown a pound of pot on the hibachi. You could literally not avoid getting high if you were breathing. In no time, it seemed my feet were barely touching the floor.
I had to get away. I went outside and stood on the beach, watching the waves roll in, totally hypnotized. When I went back inside, I drank one beer after another as people handed them to me. Completely lost count. The next thing I knew, I was throwing up in the bathroom, totally humiliated. Imagine my surprise when George came along, threw everyone out of the bedroom, and helped me to bed. I was terrified about what would happen next. Then this craggy forty year old man who knew I was basically paralyzed covered me up with a sheet, lay down on the floor next to me, and slept there all night.
Eventually, I dropped out of school and moved in with George. I was an old soul, one of those people who had never done youthful, crazy things. But with George, I could be totally spontaneous – skip work and go camping, leave class and head to the Ocala National Forest, skip my exam and head to the beach. My parents hated him, but I loved my new life.
Except, it was a little difficult for someone who was an introvert. We were never alone. The party went on all the time. George worked three nights a week at a beer and wine drive through and it took me a while to realize that the way he really made his money was through selling pot. He was always surrounded by a crew of guys. I called them the lost boys. They literally waited on him hand and foot.
One man who moved in with us was a huge, muscular ex-con named Victor. I thought it was so sweet of him to give Victor a place to stay and a job after he got out of prison. Of course, it turned out that the job wasn’t just working at the Beer and Wine mart – he was George’s bodyguard!
George liked jokes. One day about ten of us were coming back from the beach in his station wagon. (Yes, back in the old days, when you didn’t’ have to have a seatbelt). Even though we thought he was crazy, he picked up a hitch-hiker. The hitchhiker was young and handsome and began to flirt with me. George asked him what he did, and the kid said he was a student and a surfer. “And what do you do?” he asked George.
“Me, I’m a shrink.”
“Huh?” the student surfer said. This fuzzy-haired, bearded, balding old man was a shrink?
“That’s right,” George continued. “I wanted to give the kids a little break today.”
“Huh?” the student surfer said.
“Yes, a good beach break is perfect for their mental health. You know, get them out of the facility.”
“I don’t understand,” the student said.
George waved at us “These are my patients.” The kid didn’t flirt with me anymore…
When my daughter was born, I thought George would change. He said he would. He said he’d get a real job, that he’d quit drinking, that he would change his ways. Duh. I believed him. Youth is wasted on the young.
The day we came home from the hospital, George threw a huge party for all his friends. There I was, trying to learn to nurse a new baby, and the house was filled with wild, crazy people, some I didn’t know, who were all there to see George’s new child. George went out to get firewood, leaving me alone with this drunken, celebrating crowd. And he didn’t come back all night.
On her first birthday, George went out to get firewood, and he didn’t come back all night. Now, I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to relationships, but I realized that if I didn’t change my life, this was the way my daughter was going to grow up. It’s one thing to make that decision for yourself. It’s another to dump your child into such a situation.
So I packed up my stuff and drove away the next day.
I was never going to get married again. I ended up living with my parents for a while, in Birmingham, Alabama. I dated a few people. One guy said to me, “You know, you could give the kid to your parents.” “When?” I asked. He kind of waved his hands and said, “You know, like – “ Duh. Like permanently? Did not see that one again.
I was very depressed. I had a great job in Birmingham, I was going to college, my parents were very sweet and welcoming. But I felt so out of place there. One day I went to a shrink – a real one. He said, go home and do something you really want to do. I went home and thought and thought. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do. Except move back to Gainesville. So, I packed up and moved back. My mother kept following me around the house as I was packing, saying, “That’s not what he meant, that’s not what he meant.” Whatever. The only thing I could think of that I wanted to do was go home.
I was a single parent, I was not the least bit interested in getting married again. I was doing my best Greta Garbo – I want to be alone. But I had to get out once in a while. After all, I was 25 years old, alone with a 3 year old, and I had no life. So one night, in a bar called Eddy C’s, I met a handsome, bearded young man, and had a one night stand. I never expected to see him again.
The next day, he showed up at my work and asked me out. I was stunned. But I went out with him. And I even introduced him to my little girl. They hit it off right away. It turned out that he and I had gone to high school together. Of course, I didn’t know him back then – he was captain of the football team, prom king, a basketball player. I was on the literary magazine and the newspaper – and two years younger. But we had passed within a few feet of each other for over 10 years. In fact, one of my best friends found a note with his phone number on it in her bedroom!
We kept dating and he asked me to move in with him. Even though by this time I adored him, I was really nervous. But eventually I decided to give it a try. We lived together for two years. During that time, he asked me to marry him a couple of times. Each time, I said no. “Why don’t we just keep things the way they are?” But eventually I gave in and we decided to marry. And then I got pregnant again.
My new husband, Ken decided he wanted to adopt my daughter so that she would know that she was his child just as much as the new baby. We asked George to give up custody, and he said no. We were in a panic. We’d spent so much money on the lawyer, we were in school, both working two or three jobs, and had a new baby and a five year old. The lawyer was very smart. She sent George a letter that read, “We understand how difficult it must be to imagine giving up custody of your child. Therefore, please send five years of child support as soon as possible.” He signed the adoption papers.
Whenever I saw George around town, he was always sweet and wonderful and welcoming. I liked talking to him. But I had finally realized that some things don’t change. Just for the record, a 45 year old alcoholic dug dealer is not likely to suddenly become a pillar of the community, no matter how sweet or funny he is. I’ve been married to my husband for over three decades, but I still appreciate George. He took a fragile, damaged, old-before-her-time kid and showed her how to loosen up, how to live for the moment. And I appreciate that knowledge every single day