I fell in love for the first time in the back of Kmart in Urbana when I was 17. I was working freight one evening with the new guy with warm chocolate coloured eyes. I was stripping the plastic covering off the clothes and he would scoop up the plastic and take it to Igor (the trash compactor that smelled of mould and vomit). I felt DJ’s eyes on me and thought I saw movement towards my belly. I thrust my arm out and down and hit – nothing. I was caught! DJ said “What was that?” Um…. Embarrassed, I explained that I thought he was going to touch my belly but I was obviously wrong…. I may as well have put a neon sign on my head saying “Idiot!” Oh he was so cute! Perfect posture. Great shoulders and a bum that you could fling money at. I was instantly smitten and intimidated. Here was a man and I’m still in high school. He wouldn’t be interested in me, would he? I got his phone number.
He and I arranged to meet for a movie – Scrooged! In the car when he took me home, I bounced with a happy heart and sang “Put a Little Love in your Heart”. After the movie his eyes smouldered at me.
One evening, I don’t remember what started the problem but I was bound and determined not to go back to Mom’s: I’d finally had enough of the overbearing accusations, the constant pressure, the ice. DJ and I talked. Just talked. Nothing physical happened. A policeman came to the door of DJ’s apartment and asked me to go home to Mom. I called Mom and said that I was not going home. I would go to Dad’s but I wasn’t going home to her. Absolutely not. She said that she had called the police and that I was now on some sort of register of children in trouble – which I knew was a lie. If I was really in trouble, the policeman would have taken me away. If I absolutely had to leave, I would go to Dad’s but not Mom’s. Not ever again – as far as I felt at that point. So I piled into my car – a 1978 baby blue Chevy Monza wagon – and drove to Dad’s.
I think, over the years, Dad must have expected my coming to stay with him. He welcomed me with open arms and no questions asked. He and I sat up the rest of that evening – I talked and he listened.
The next day I went to school and then back to Mom’s. Maybe she would understand? I went to bed early because I’d been awake for over 24 hours. Then at breakfast the next morning Mom said “Did you sleep with DJ?” I said no. She said “How many boys have you slept with??” I told her that I’d slept with one boy. Just one. My high school sweetheart who graduated the year before I did. She said “Is that all??” I collected my things and left.
Looking back, and to be fair, because I’d lied to her so often in the past, she had every right to think I was lying to her – even though I was telling the truth. However, in some respects she had brought it on herself because, she was so overbearing that I couldn’t ever be myself around her. Of course, she had her own reasons for being a control freak. In raising me, she acted in response to her own unhappy (and sometimes violent) childhood. What she could not have known was how profoundly lonely I was and how intensely I needed to feel loved. Maybe that is why, to this day, when I fling myself into love, I do it wholeheartedly – abandoning all sense of conserving my delicate heart.
My 18th birthday was difficult. (Understatement of the last century!) I went to Mom’s purely for my sister’s sake. Mom bought an elaborate cake and I blew out candles. That was it. I expect I must have stayed for a piece but I certainly don’t remember it now. I had cut Mom off in order to spare my soul more pain.
The summer before I moved in with DJ, I listened to the Joe Jackson Live cassette while the rain incessantly beat down against the windows of my efficiency sublet. It was so humid at night that I slept with the fan on at the end of the bed. I owned so very little but everything I had, I treasured: hand-me-downs of all sorts – a plywood bookcase, a thin unicorn blanket, Mom’s old plates and a couple of bowls, one knife and a whetstone.
My relationship with my mother improved partly due to a discussion that Mom had with her niece – the relationship between Mom’s sister and my cousin was terrible and Mom didn’t want us to go down the same route. Although Mom made the first moves with the olive branch, I did most of the heavy lifting thereafter because, tragically, Frank was diagnosed with cancer. My mom and sister needed me. I wasn’t about to turn them away….
I moved in with DJ and we started settling into another new normal. He began driving a bus locally. He started an N scale train model and I loved him so much that I sculpted and painted N scale people to go with it. I gave my people names and wrote improbable adventures for DJ’s mother and youngest brother in letters. But there was trouble in paradise. DJ began to ignore me. He drove the bus at night, which didn’t marry well with my university schedule. Instead of growing closer, the relationship changed. It began to wilt. I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to hold DJ down and show him what was happening. Instead, when I tried to talk to him, he would say “When I do something that upsets you, just tell me and I won’t do it again.” But the problem wasn’t a matter of a couple of badly thought out actions…
It was around this time that I had a particularly vivid dream: I was watching a softball game on some bleachers. I had a Bible in my hands. Then, from the left, a glowing spirit walked in front of me. I wish I had words to express what I saw… But I knew it was God. So I clambered down the bleachers and stood in front of this being – not daring to look at its face. I heard the words “I Am in Awe” and I collapsed in front of the being and said to my knees I Am in Awe! There was a bright woosh! I next found myself asleep in bed next to DJ. At first I thought he and I were in his room at his parents’ house – a room that had darkly painted walls. The light didn’t illuminate the room the way that sunlight or a lamp does. The light was so bright that everything in the room was dark. I felt I had a vision of God. If God’s big toe is as bright as what I saw, then God is indeed great!
After my dream (vision?) of God, I carried a New Testament with me. I asked Dad if I was baptised. When he said no, I asked him if I could be baptised. He was delighted. At the time his Parkinson’s symptoms were bad enough that he couldn’t work full-time, but wasn’t so bad that he needed full-time living assistance. So Dad was there when, on a snowy winter’s day, I stepped into a tank of cold water and came out a fully-fledged Christian.
For the rest of the time I lived with DJ, the more he pushed me to be atheist the more Christian I felt the need to become. He did this by playing that Rush song, “Freewill” and pointedly singing the lyrics at me; by reminding me of George Carlin’s diatribe of “Not needing a lift in my shoe” and telling me on more than one occasion that when we die, we die. That’s it.
Whatever other qualities I have, I am stubborn. As many have discovered, if I am pushed too far, I end up going the opposite way to the intended destination. The final straw was when DJ asked me what the actual appeal was to Christianity? I told him – You mean besides eternal life? I made him cry. I’m not proud of it now but I couldn’t let him bully me into something I didn’t believe.
I was growing and he wasn’t prepared to understand why. I felt disrespected because, if he didn’t love me for who I was, and he didn’t care enough to get to know me, then he didn’t love me. He might have loved the illusion of me, but not me the person. I realised that I had to leave.
Initially I arranged to leave DJ’s apartment to stay somewhere else for the summer. I needed some space. I wasn’t sure if I would go back but I wasn’t prepared to stop loving DJ. DJ took the opportunity to start sleeping with other women. So I went ahead and slept with a Frenchman who was nice but leaving at the end of the summer. Francois was not the marrying type. He was a rebound and I used him to try to forget DJ. When Francois left the country (and I took him, tearfully, to the airport in Chicago) I struggled to stay away from DJ.
One evening I went to visit DJ, he had moved to a trailer to be closer to his work, and we almost reconciled. I say almost because I wanted it and he said he wanted it but he still didn’t know how to love me. After we were physical, he showed me the door and I rode my bicycle to my apartment. When I got there, I called him to let him know I was OK but his line was busy. And busy. And busy. I was reminded of all the times when I needed him but he wasn’t there. Not for Frank’s funeral. Not for my transformation to Christianity. Not for me. I wondered if he went from me to the arms of another. I wondered if he loved me. If he ever loved me? As with my parents, I wondered if he ever loved me. And, for the sake of my sanity, I cut him off.
After I married the first husband (which I will get to in due course) I sent DJ a letter saying that the last time I saw him he only wanted to punish me for leaving him. I wasn’t prepared to stick around for that. What I didn’t tell him was that I still loved him. I didn’t want him to get his hopes up that I might one day be available for him. But I loved him. Despite the fact that I cut him off, I was attached by my soul to him. He was my first love and, in a loveless marriage, it was hard not to compare the two… and despite DJ being a complete and total arsehole, DJ was the one I loved.