To be honest, I don’t know what I was thinking. I just wanted to spend an uncomplicated day on the lake—to take a deep breath and clear my head. I didn’t realize it would lead to a bigger headache.
My plan for that afternoon was simple. I had a new Jet Ski to replace my older one, and I was going to ride it. It didn’t matter how far I went, or for how many hours I rode it. As long as I could taste the fresh air and hopefully keep the splashes out of my mouth, I’d find my happiness. When I’d bought my Jet Ski a few weeks earlier, the watercraft dealer told me how best to enjoy it. He told me, “Ride far, ride fast, and never look back.” I took his advice.
Problem was, I wasn’t looking forward, either. That’s what happens when you run from the past. I was too focused on my bubble to look anywhere beyond it. I should’ve looked forward. But maybe I was too afraid it would drive me to look back.
I couldn’t look back. There was nothing for me there.
Forgive me for sounding pessimistic, but I have no other way to describe it.
I was fighting depression. They say it’s chemical. But for me, it’s always been situational. I was out that day to avoid my pain; in fact, I was trying to obliterate it. Too often I’d tried to succeed at something. Most of the time I failed. Stronger people get up after failing and explore new avenues, seeking alternative paths toward the reward they seek. I wanted that for myself, so I intended to follow their lead. For some reason, I thought jet-skiing would’ve brought me closer to peace, closer to my own personal treasure. Perhaps I was naïve.
Not to sound pathetic, but I was depressed over the continual disappointments I’d faced in life, disappointments over losing my simple hope to find a job that didn’t involve waiting on cheapskates, or finding a parking spot close to my building, for example. It felt like trying to climb the Himalayas with an ice pick while wearing a jogging suit. Sometimes I’d ask myself if I was aiming too high, but I realized that sometimes asking the mailman for punctuality was aiming too high.
For two years I gave up on life’s simple things and cried every chance I got, no longer expecting any satisfaction. I mean, if I couldn’t even expect a neighbor to hold the elevator door open for me whenever I’d race for it . . .
My therapist used to tell me that life was just life, and that there was nothing unusual about mine. And I guess to some extent that was true. But my therapist had problems of his own. Like, there was one day he entered his office with a cup of coffee in hand and dark bags under his red eyes. I asked him if everything was okay, and he just sort of nodded and sipped his drink. Before I could challenge him, he countered by asking how I was doing. That’s when I cried again.
I wish it were possible for me describe my state before the crisis began, but I was so foggy in those days that I can’t remember all the details. I do recall the smiles being present at times and that I’d occasionally anticipate the next day of existence, but somewhere along the line, all of that faded. Sometimes I believe my blatant irresponsibility was what had brought me to my low point, but I’m sure it had more to do with my heart shattering after I’d found out the guy I loved had a secret life.
Probably no surprise to people with brains, but he was married with three kids, or pets, or a trio of something that left me too stunned to listen to his confession. I’d gotten as far as “And my wife and my three . . .” before I shut down and collapsed into myself. So much has cascaded since then that narrowing it to a singular event might be counterproductive to the truth, but I’m pretty certain that’s how the spiral started.
When my therapist once asked how the whole attraction to the wrong man began, I described it as having happened by chance. The events that brought me down that path should never have occurred, but they did because it was my time to live in pain. My answer garnered a look that branded me as insane.
The question should’ve been a simple one, involving the recall of a historical moment that had happened not long ago. But every time I dwelled on it, it brought me nothing but sorrow. Maybe I’m a crybaby at heart, but I think any girl in my situation would’ve reacted similarly. After all, that was the day I hit my gutter—the day when I dropped my standards to the floor and swept them under the rug. Granted, I didn’t know it back then, but it sure became obvious to me as time moved on. I had fallen so hard from perpetual loneliness that I was ready to invite anything into my heart: as long as it could quench the pain. That was the point when Harry entered the picture.
* * *
I couldn’t see my mistake at first. Harry’s talent was to deflect from his flaws by exploiting his strengths. He was the type of guy who flashed a lawyer’s smile, even if his teeth were smoke-stained and his lips were cracked. Big picture over details. His tastes included mock Italian suits from Walmart and cheap colognes from the local drug store. To his credit, he had a way of selling them. He’d remind me, and anyone he’d meet, that it was better to look cheap today and have money tomorrow than to dress for success today and fall naked tomorrow. And I fell for it. If he were anyone else, I never would’ve considered him striking. But he had that gentle touch that caressed my skin with excitement. And that was enough to enrapture me. Looking back, I can see I was desperate for attention—the sad face marking the fool. But when that slick phony found me crying by a park bench that fateful day, he discovered the right buttons to push. That was his talent.
Just to clarify things, I cried in public where families walking their dogs could openly witness. My heart was that beaten. I forget what triggered the drama, but I remember it had to do with the ongoing emptiness I’d felt since college.
When I was a freshman, I flunked out of my classes for partying too hard, too often. I either attended class inebriated or flat out failed to attend at all. Even though my friends supported my lifestyle, my instructors were less than understanding. After a spell, my math teacher advised the dean to kick me out because I was “wasting the campus’s resources.” When the dean summoned me to his office to make it clear I either shaped up or shipped out, I laughed at him, puked on his chair, and flashed him my headlights. I thought I was trying to reveal my attributes to appease his disappointment in me, but in my heart I was just trying to salvage what little future I had left. Either way, it was a poor decision. When the dust cleared, my reaction stunned him for a minute; then he closed his eyes and pointed to the door.
I cleaned out my dormitory the following day.
The disparaging loneliness set in a few months later when I realized my friends weren’t coming to rescue me. They had their own lives to live—far away, I might add—and the fun we used to share died away. I continued to go to bars and clubs, because that’s what I knew, but the thrill weakened when I realized going anywhere by myself sucked. Then one night, as I sat under a strobe light with a bottle of Zima in hand, I stared at all the animated dancers pulsating with their eyes glazed over, wondering what their lives were like before dark. Somehow I concluded they had spent their sunlit hours thinking about coming to the club, which was exactly what I did each day while I waited on the diner’s lunch crowd to leave. At that point, my heart broke, and I questioned where my life was going. When I realized I had no idea, I set the Zima on the floor and walked out of the club forever.
Needless to say, I was ready to change my life from head to toe and actually pursue some honest ambition. But doing that meant changing everything about me.
So I returned to college—a campus a little closer to home—and made another attempt at my future, this time without the parties, or the drinking, or anything that didn’t revolve around studying. In fact, anything that sounded close to fun had to get the big red “X” because I wasn’t about to get kicked out of school again.
But as irony had it, my lack of a job led me to financial disaster, and I had to drop out anyway. And though I was sober, I left without making friends.
And that’s what ultimately brought me to the park bench that introduced me to Harry.
* * *
Harry didn’t seem like the wrong guy at first. In fact, I found him quite charming. His presence lifted my heart, which was great considering he made my tears vanish. He took me to dinner, bought me the usual romantic stuff, and touched me in the usual romantic ways—hair, thigh, hair, lips, repeat where appropriate. The whole package felt wonderful for five straight months.
But one night, when we were planning our first exotic trip to the Bahamas together, his wedding ring fell out of his pocket.
I spent the next few days and nights crying on a different park bench, occasionally returning to my dingy apartment to erase my phone messages. Somewhere in that time I’d hoped another prince would come and rescue me, but I gave up when I concluded that all the charming ones had something gold and circular buried in their pockets.
So, that was the time I went for total losers.
I admit I was nervous about the thought of dating guys with beer breath and greasy armpits. Nevertheless, I was too numb to care anymore. They weren’t attractive, and they certainly weren’t respectful, but they also weren’t married, so I tolerated them. Of course, they all broke me eventually, to which I had to search for yet another. But, thanks to them, I never had to worry about loneliness. That was the one thing they were good for. They always hung around. Even when I wasn’t home, they’d hang around . . . eating my food, putting their grungy flip-flops on my couch, putting their huge, filthy dogs on my bed, putting their used utensils back in the drawer . . . and I was okay with it because . . . because I was afraid to be alone . . . .
I was afraid to be alone.
Truthfully, I hated my life, hated every moment of it. Because I couldn’t be alone. I wanted to be alone—believe me, I was sick of those drunken, scrubby guys coming around, bringing six-packs of beer into my apartment, drinking up a storm . . . pissing all over the seat. I wanted them out of my life once and for all. But I couldn’t because I wouldn’t have anyone. And that was something I could not handle.
So I kept inviting them over because I knew they wouldn’t leave, even when I asked them to. They’d insist on staying day after day, night after night, headache after headache, and I’d pretend to be thankful because I had another body to keep me company. Sometimes there would be two guys overlapping shifts. That would often break into a fight, of course; while one guy claimed dominion over me, the other called the police claiming assault. But the new guy would always win, and I’d have to put up with him until the next one entered my life. And I would never be alone—yet I would pray for the day I could handle the solitude.
And now I suppose I should mention the Jet Ski. The original one.
Shortly before Harry dropped his big revelation on me, he had bought me a special gift. He knew that I loved the outdoors but never had the proper equipment to keep them memorable. I’d study in open courtyards and under trees at the park, yet I was limited in my resources beyond the books. Going to the park was refreshing but not entertaining. So he thought I’d enjoy a little outdoor machine action. That’s when he covered my eyes and walked me outside to reveal to me a lump of tarp in my parking lot.
When he shed the covering, out popped a sexy little two-person Jet Ski with the Kawasaki brand name and a racing stripe emblazoned on the side. It had a flower insignia and my initials inscribed underneath on the front.
I fell in love with the watercraft the moment Harry taught me how to use it. The thrill of the speed, the splash of lake water against my face—it was nasty, but oh so exhilarating. Immediately, it became my second love. Each day I’d hop a few waves before breakfast. I’d go out again after work, and stay until night fell when Harry would come over with flowers and we’d watch a movie.
But the night Harry shed his scales was the night he managed to take my love for the watercraft with him. Though the thrill of hopping water lingered, I no longer had the heart to put his machine between my legs. After two weeks passed, I wanted freedom from the reminder, so I put a for sale sign across the handlebars.
I stuffed the money I’d made from the sale into my bank account so I’d have something to go back to college with. But as time passed and deadbeat men came and went, I started thinking my return to school would never happen in my lifetime. The income trickled in slower than a boat on land, the guys cleaned me out of resources, and I still had bills to pay. Eventually, I had to put my academic dreams to bed. So, with my ambition for a degree vanished forever, I spent my money on something else.
Since my love for the lake had never wavered, I invested in my own personal watercraft—free from Harry’s wallet.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t sell my old Jet Ski for the full price that Harry had spent on it, so a sport model large enough for two people was out of the question. I looked through the classifieds for a nice used personal watercraft but realized the prices were too low for comfort (some people advertise hot items, and I can’t bring myself to buy something stolen), so I invested in a new solo. And sure, it was expensive enough to break me, but it was still cheaper than my first. My only real concern was that I had learned to ride sitting down, and this one required me to stand.
I’ll admit that the two-person sport was easier to ride, but the solo offered unparalleled freedom. It was like skipping a motor scooter across the water. The experience carried all the benefits that my old one had provided, but added an extra thrill with the whole butt-suspension thing. Needless to say, I felt free to love again.
And that’s what made me happy. I had my own Jet Ski, bought with my own cash, ridden on my own passion, unattached to any man. No one could steal it from me. This was my true love. No greasy stranger would intercept my heart now that it was spoken for.
But then came the event that relapsed me into my newest oblivion. Richard entered my life.