Today I’m watching Dr. Phil and he’s talking to a couple of newlyweds and the bride’s sister. The groom’s Jamaican and the couple had a pretty quickie courtship (ten days), which began when the bride was vacationing and met him on the beach where he was working as a lifeguard. Her sister believes he latched onto the bride for a green card. So far the bride has put out all the money for the wedding, he’s not working and she’s forking him over cash. He claims when he finally gets a job, 90% of his income will be sent back to his family in Jamaica. Bride just sits there holding his hand, listening to him call her “my lovely lady” and all other kinds of buzz sweetie words island men know desperate American women eat up like a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Everyone–the audience, Dr, Phil and his staff, her sister, the groom, 95% of viewers–know she is being taken for a ride. Probably she does, too. But somewhere inside she tells herself it’s worth it, she can handle the consequences of her foolishness. The payoff–whatever it is–is worth the price she believes she’s paying. Of course I, in my infinite wisdom, shake my head and send pity waves through the television set, even though this program was taped a while ago and she’s somewhere now feeling the aftershocks of its airing. Oh, but I would never be so foolish, I tell myself. Then I think about it. Maybe now, at this age and with this experience and the confidence that comes with all that, I wouldn’t be a target for someone like him. I think his kind is shrewd, and possesses a finely honed skill to know who will give him what he wants with little effort as possible. I definitely have the look of someone who requires some effort. Some still try: I am overweight, and that, sadly, affords me the appearance of being an easy target. But one of my seriously, as if sideways glances is usually enough to stop a predator in his tracks. Not getting what you want here, babe. Move on. But there was a time, beautiful babies, when I wasn’t so sure. About anything. About what I wanted, what I deserved, what I would tolerate, what I could handle, what was worth it. You walk through the love jungle like that, with that expression on your face, in your actions, your posture, the wrong person is going to get through. It’s what they look for. I was targeted, and I gave in up to a certain point. But watching that Dr. Phil episode, I wondered if I could have been taken further. Was it me who was smart, or the guy who was inept? Let’s examine.
The year was 1996 and I was feeling good. I had a bad gallbladder and therefore was watching what I ate. Yep, you read that right. I was feeling good with my bad gallbladder. Who cares if your body parts are rotting out as long as you’re thin? Summertime I was a single curvy blonde prowling the Wildwood boardwalk. Now, anyone wise to the ways of the WW boardwalk will tell you it’s no great compliment to have at least twenty guys hit on you as you walk from Mariner’s to Morey’s, but I felt like there was a spotlight on me. I could choose the loser who wanted me. One in particular was relentless. He had a friend, I had a friend, and they approached from behind, walking on either side of us. Mine called me beautiful. The other one was Ken. Funny how I can remember his name, but not mine. He was foreign, from Greece or something like that. Can’t remember that detail, either. But let’s call him Stamos, in homage to the finest Greek actor to ever pitch Oikos. Anyway, these fools asked the usual opening line of the romantically challenged (I guess it worked enough for them): “Are you two sisters?” Now anyone who’s ever seen Lisa and I would know immediately we are not related. I mean, I’m almost 5’6″, blonde, blue-eyed. I’m Swedish. She’s just over five feet, dark hair, hazel eyes, Jewish. We look nothing alike. So I roll my eyes at Stamos and basically start to criticize his game, tell him to back off, laugh in his face. Maybe he likes abuse; maybe he liked a challenge. He was skinny, tall, balding. Something was sexy about him, but I’ll just chalk that up to that thing that makes girls like me attracted to guys like him. Girls like me will know exactly what I’m talking about, so I don’t need to expound. If you’re not a girl like me, lucky you for being oblivious to what I’m talking about. Go treat yourself to a Juicy purse. You probably have the dough required from not spending it on guys like him. Anyway, back to me and Stamos–
. Lisa and I end up walking the boards with them and going to a bar. We all have sodas, talk, flirt, and that Don Juan DeMarco theme song comes on from Brian Adams about have you ever really loved a woman. Stamos starts singing it, says he loves that song, it’s so true. I’m laughing in his face, at myself, I’m in on the joke. I know what a fool he is. But as he’s talking about life in Florida, not Greece, I am thinking of ways to go visit him in September. Let me set this up for you, in case you’re not getting the full picture: I am on to him. He struggles with his English, which is sort of a problem for someone like me who loves to talk in big words and writes stories she hopes her lover can read and enjoy and offer feedback on. He’s on a lower tier financially. Education-wise. Oh, he may know the big wide world better than I do, but in that moment I considered myself smarter than him. Which is a problem, because I like to associate with people who know more than I do because there should always be something more to learn. I’m in love with someone else. Madly. He’s not reciprocating it at the moment, but we are circling each other. For all these reasons, I can’t fathom why I let it go as far with Stamos as I did. In my mind, and in reality. I took him back to Cape May, in separate cars, he and Ken following me and Lisa. We went to Washington Street Mall and walked around. We held hands. He kept asking me if we could go back to my house. Uh, no. He honestly thought he could talk his way into my body when I wouldn’t even let him through the front door of my house. I did make out with him in the parking lot, though. Let him feel me up. He stopped when I told him sex wasn’t happening. I was totally in love with someone else. Like any woman, I replayed the night in my head while I was in bed. I didn’t like him, in any lasting sense, but he was a good kisser. In my girl-head I thought I could turn him into someone I could love. It’s like that song by Keane, Spiraling: “When we fall in love, we’re just falling in love with ourselves.” So true. I was so in love with my visions of the way it could be. He was just a body: I was superimposing over him a different face, education level, ambition, status, understanding of what I catch I was, future. In my mind, he was everything I could make him into. I was that good. Did I stop to think that maybe if I wanted these qualities I should just go find someone who had them already?
. I knew where Stamos worked on the boardwalk and I went there with my mother to say hi to him. Yes, I wanted my mother to see him. He tongue-kissed me right in front of her in the middle of the boardwalk. I felt a whoosh in my belly. Yes, he was a good kisser. I established that. But everything else: it’s a testament to how strong the biological pull is. And the need for women to feel desired by any man, regardless of whether or not she desires him. Sometimes the fact that he desires us is reason enough. Even if what he’s temporarily desiring is a warm, slick spot. Sorry. That’s what I was to him. And when it became clear I wasn’t that for him, he lost interest. I went back to see him, he said he’d come walk the boards with me when he was done work and told me to come back. I did. His shift wasn’t over. I came back again. He was gone. If I was so much better than him, I was asking myself, then how come he dumped me? If this fool had some patience, some real game, some eye on the future, could he have convinced me to marry him? Would my own illusions of what was going on, my arrogance concerning how smart and in control I was, have led me into a whole lot of WTF? Was he believing I would take too much time to groom, or was I un-groomable? I’d like to think I was un-groomable. I’d like to think there was only so far I would go, and he knew it even though I didn’t. So who was the real smart one?
Oh, that dreaded Wildwood boardwalk. The following summer I was working for Harry’s as a waitress and let me tell you, there was no shortage of men. I was still in love with the same guy from Philly as last summer, and at least now we were on a dating and talking on the phone basis, but I was a single gal down the shore and liked flirting. There was Spooky Joe who worked the haunted house. There was Irish Gerry, an adorable waiter from–yes–Ireland. And then there was someone I will call Yusef from Algeria, a pot-smoking, womanizing shifty character. Guess who I got involved with?
. In my defense, when he first tried to talk to me, with his glassy eyes and broken English (“You don’t speak English,” he was fond of telling one guy in the kitchen, “you speak American”), I told him to get lost. Literally. I was in a booth talking to Lisa (who also worked there. She was after Tommy that summer, the owner’s brother) when Yusef slid in next to me. “What are you talking about?” I served him such a look of scorn. “Get lost.” Who the hell was he? He wasn’t good enough to wipe my table, let alone sit at it. I knew his kind and sent the message, loud and clear: STAY AWAY. Well, that opened up the challenge, and he came hard. It took him a month, but there I was at three in the morning at Phil and Eddie’s making out with him. WTF? I actually fell in love with this one. He got another girl pregnant, he sold and took drugs, he played me like twenty frigging fiddles. Lisa was worried. My mom was worried. I wasn’t. I was oblivious. I was actually sitting in a diner in Chicago during a cross-country road trip when the fall rolled in, lamenting to Lisa about Yusef: why didn’t he love me, why wouldn’t he talk to me? See, at this point Yusef was freezing me out, hadn’t talked to me in two months, even though we worked together five days a week. What started it? Because after he told me he got that girl pregnant I gave him a stank face. I guess my face had the courage to tell him what my mouth couldn’t. “That face,” he said. “How dare you look at me that way.” I apologized over and over again for my face. My face, on the other hand, still hasn’t forgiven me for such betrayal. There, in Chicago, Lisa said to me, “Listen to you. Going on and on about Yusef. Poor–” and she said the name of the guy I was in love with, the guy I’d been in love with for six years. A good guy. A great guy. A smart guy, with a good family. Those words of hers slapped me back into reality. Almost instantly, Yusef’s hold on me released. He slipped right out of my heart.
. Could Yusef have convinced me to go to Algeria? Oh my God, without a doubt. I was so in love. I was so involved. I was so twisted up in knots. I was consumed. I was so in love with myself. I was that poor sucker sitting next to her Jamaican Yusef on Dr. Phil.
I can look back on who I was those two summers and armchair-analyze myself. On the surface, it was exciting, I was young, I was hormonal, I was gathering experience. But how do I explain how deep Yusef got in? How I allowed him to wreck me? Not allowed, but facilitated? In all probability, it was me wrecking myself; he was just the instrument I chose. And I chose a good one. A devastating one. No self-sabotaging half-measures for me. Here’s another quote from Dr. Phil, albeit a paraphrase: you won’t have a problem with trusting the men in your life if you trust yourself. Deep, huh? If I trust in my ability to choose and handle and do the best for me, then I don’t need to worry about trusting his. If he shows signs of being another Yusef or Stamos, I only need to trust myself to send him on his way.
Fittingly, as I sign off on this blog, The Biebs has come on. You ain’t gotta make your mind up right now. Don’t rush; no pressure. Words of wisdom, beautiful babies. Honor your thought process. Take the time to fall in love with the best parts of yourself.