Maria challenged the readers of her blog a few days ago to write about one of their loves. I thought about this one a lot, wondering which one to write about. The love of my life? I don’t even know if I believe in that, and won’t my life have to be over before I can tell who that might have been? Writing about either of my marriages didn’t appeal to me; the first is old news and the second…well, there are places even burly men don’t tread willingly in the dark.
But one day, a couple of years ago, I was craving a Dr. Pepper and said so. My youngest daughter asked why as I almost never drink sodas anymore and when I did it was almost as rarely that I’d drink a Dr. Pepper. I knew why but said that I didn’t. This is the story of why.
I met A sometime in 1997, I think; I do know that I disliked her almost immediately. She and her husband M were bartenders at one of the local bars when I was a cop. A fight or something had happened at the bar one night and we had them and a bunch of others at the police station for interviews. I remember M was being a dick, so was I, and A was defending her man and being a real bitch in the process.
Somehow though we all became friends, I guess through repeated contacts (we did a lot of bar checks back then) we decided that the other wasn’t so bad. Not long after my first wife and I separated A set me up on a date with one of her friends. We were all to meet at the bar and I arrived before my date. I hadn’t danced in something like ten years then and A offered to give me a quick refresher so that I wouldn’t step all over her friend’s feet. As we two-stepped around the small dance floor A became the first woman whom I had held since my separation.
The date itself was a flop, A’s friend and I had absolutely nothing to talk about. She and I danced a couple of times but there was no spark. A and I danced a couple of more times and sometime later she and M got into an argument and that pretty much ended the night. I don’t remember how things progressed from there, but by spring A and I were pretty strongly attracted to each other.
Sometime around the beginning of summer I had a little bit of a breakdown. I was a single dad of an seven year old and twin five year olds, I was working graveyards, shuffling the kids around to friends for babysitting, and living on four or five hours of sleep a day while the kids were in school. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and I was not doing a very good job of being a father. My parents offered to keep the kids for the summer and I took them up on it, driving them to Oklahoma the next week.
With no kids to worry about I did what most single men do, I started spending a lot of time in bars, on duty doing bar checks, and off just to talk to A.
One night I went in for a bar check and A wasn’t there for about the third night running. We didn’t call each other then, we just talked when I was in the bar. M was working, but I asked one of the other girls where A was. She glanced over her shoulder before whispering that M had hit her.
I drove to their house and knocked on the door. A answered and we both kind of started when she opened the door. I think she because I was the one standing there, and I because of the sight of her with a bruised face and broken nose. Yeah, he hit her alright. We hugged and she pulled me inside where we sat and talked about what had happened. They had been arguing for days and she did what a lot of domestic violence victims do to have some amount of control over a situation in which they feel powerless, she provoked her tormentor until he struck out, thus controlling the time and place of the attack. It had worked. She begged me not to do anything, not to file a report or charges, which, by law, I was required to do. I looked at her for a long time before saying that I wouldn’t, right now, but if it happened again…
We hugged again, long, at the door before I left.
After that we were on the phone every day. We talked for hours between when M left for work and when I’d get ready for work myself and then I’d ask her if she needed anything. Usually she’d ask for a large Dr. Pepper, sometimes a pack of Marlboro lights. It was nothing but an excuse for us to see each other and I’d drop by her house soon after I started my patrol and we’d sit on the couch and watch TV and talk. Each time when I left we’d hug and each time it was a little harder to let go.
One night, standing just inside the front door of her house, we stood holding each other, he head against my chest, my cheek touching her hair. We pulled away, but not all the way and stood looking into each other’s eyes. We both knew that we were about to kiss, we both wanted to but we both knew that it was wrong. I smiled, kissed her lightly on the forehead and left.
I justified what was to happen by telling myself that M didn’t deserve her, that by hitting her, by messing up her perfect nose he had no rights as a husband. The next time we parted there was no hesitation. We hugged and when we parted I reached up to her cheek as we stared at each other and I leaned down and kissed her.
So far in my life it is the kiss. Warm. Firm, yet yielding; shy, yet knowing. Sweet with just the right amount of smoke. I have measured all other kisses against it since, some have come close, but none have matched it.
After that it was more of the same, clandestine meetings at night while M was at work, me stopping by her new job at the hospital to drop off her Dr. Pepper, walks around the golf course at night, running through the areas where the sprinklers could reach the trail; a picnic in the forest so we could have lunch without the rumors and sidelong glances inevitable in a small town and, always, the long, long phone calls where there were no silences while trying to think of what to say next. It was wonderful; it was horrible. It was passionate, brave, foolish and wrong.
By then we were in love and we wanted to be together, but she didn’t want to leave M, she still loved him. One night she was out driving around and called me at home. We talked about what she was going to do and she told me that she couldn’t leave him, the marriage was too important to her. I asked her to come over – she declined, she was having an attack of conscience. I knew where she had been driving and that she would have to drive by my house on her way home. I walked down the driveway and waited for her. She stopped.
Later, we held each other in bed and then started to kiss. To her credit it didn’t go any further. She couldn’t, so we stopped, held onto each other for a while longer, she apologizing, me telling her not to, and then she left.
I guess I decided then that she wasn’t going to leave M, that I was just hurting myself for no reason. So, soon after when a pretty waitress flirted with me during my dinner break I flirted back. Desperate to feel normal (or was it just to get laid, I don’t know) we were soon dating.
One night while the new girlfriend and I were in bed, almost asleep, A called. She was out driving again, getting her head together, and wanted to talk. I told the new girlfriend that I had to go to help a friend who was having a hard time. “Go ahead, if your friend needs you go help him,” she said.
“It’s a her.”
I drove to where A was and picked her up and we drove around in my car. I don’t remember the conversation, it was really just a how-are-things-going type of talk, but after that we didn’t see each other or talk anymore, it was time to move on.
I didn’t stay with the new girlfriend for very long and soon after starting dating the woman who would become my second wife. I was happy and the next time I saw A she was pregnant with M’s baby and seemed happy. I was able to tell myself that all was right in the world.
After that I would only see her periodically, it’s a small town so we’d run into each other and it was always a little awkward, the attraction was still there.
She and M separated, then divorced and I briefly wondered if maybe I hadn’t waited long enough, but things were really, really good with my new wife. A moved out of state and I completely lost track of her. As time went on the feeling that I had made the right choice grew stronger.
Until things fell apart. Seven years later I was divorced again and of course I started to play the "what if" game when I ran into A for the first time in years and felt that little ember start to flare once more. She and M are married again and have more kids and their lives are good. I even made it a point to talk to M one day when he came in for lunch where I now work. He was alone and we made small talk. He has known all along what happened and I’ve felt for years that if he decided to kick my ass I would have no recourse but to just to take my richly deserved beating. Before he left I apologized, surprising him. As he said, it’s too small of a town for grudges.
So, destined to not to be single at the same time, and determined to not commit the same old sins I have nothing of her but the memories now written down, a picture of her on an old cell phone that I recharge from time to time so that I can see it, and Dr. Pepper.
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