Friday, February 29, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Tried My Best

We had a party on Easter weekend anyway. We called it the ‘Thank God I didn’t marry John’ party. My girlfriend and her family still came from Guelph and we had a marvelous weekend. As the party progressed – someone yelled out “Who’s glad she didn’t marry John?” and I waved my hand as hard as everyone else present. It was a wonderful party – and exactly what I needed.

I had cried for weeks after he left and wasted hours going over every little detail I could think of to see what I had done wrong. But in the end it wasn’t me who had been in that hotel room with the ex-wife. I hadn’t stepped out of line and into someone else’s arms in the weeks before I was to be married. I raised a glass to his wife’s efforts. She had been furious about his upcoming marriage and had tried everything to keep him from going through with it. And she had won. More power to her.

Cid was happier than happy for me. During the party he stood with his arm around me as he hugged me to him. His eyes twinkled every time he looked at me and I hugged him back. I knew I had almost lost him and my heart paused every time I thought about it.

Those six weeks had brought about many changes. While I slowly healed from the surgery and the mental anguish, my father was slowly losing his battle with cancer. Although they had removed the cancer and his esophagus, the cancer had come back and was attacking the rest of his body. He had spent the last year and a half doing what he loved best. He had opened another store in a mall in Calgary and had spent his days running it. I gave him credit for doing this at this time of his life. He could have so easily spent his last years doing anything at all.

Although almost five years had passed since he had last spoken to me – he hired a man to do the mudding and sanding of the top floor of the barn when I was too sick to continue on my own. He had heard about the failed wedding plans and this was his way of letting me know how he felt.

Now, as we rejoiced over John’s infidelities, my thoughts were on my father as he lay in a hospital room during his last days. During that weekend, I asked my best friend to go with me when I went to visit him. I couldn’t go into the room alone after all the years of silence between us. I thought a visit from her would help in so many ways and I was right. His eyes widened when we walked into the room and I kissed him on the forehead.

“Look who has come to visit!” I said as cheerily as I could and babbled on about the party. I was so nervous I was shaking and tried to cover it up by fussing about the room. It was obvious that he was in a lot of pain and I called a nurse to see if it was time for any of his medication. They brought a cocktail of different painkillers and we sat quietly as he drifted off to sleep. When we left my girlfriend took my hand and held it tightly.

“I know he’s been nothing but a prick to you – but nobody deserves to die like that.” I nodded and let out the tears I had been holding back.

My mother had hired nurses to sit with my father around the clock. I called her and told her I was taking over the job and that I would stay with him 24 hours a day. When I walked in with my little bag, his eyes widened again but he didn’t say anything. I helped with feeding him and moved his legs when it became obvious that he couldn’t. I worked lotion into his feet to ease the bedsores that had suddenly appeared and called the nurses for a cocktail when he couldn’t take the pain anymore. I sat for hours and held his hand, sometimes resting my head on it, unable to speak.

The sister in Ontario had been calling endlessly and I had to field the calls as he didn’t want to speak with her anymore. Without a phone in the room, the nurses forwarded any phone calls to one that hung on the wall in the hallway. During one of those endless calls from the east I listened to instructions about telling Dad about all the prayers that they were doing and the ones he should be doing himself. As I leaned my head against the cool wall I heard him calling my name over and over. Throwing the handset on the receiver I raced to the room where I found he had half-fallen out of bed. I winced as I helped him back into bed knowing I was hurting him. But hearing him calling my name – after all those years….As he closed his eyes and rested, I went into the bathroom and sobbed.

His pain was taking over quickly and he often thought he was back fighting in the war. During one of his more lucid moments I talked to him about the wedding plans falling through.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll meet your future husband in a ditch somewhere.”

I turned my head slowly and looked at him but he had closed his eyes and slipped off again. I couldn’t believe that he would talk to me like that on his deathbed.

He died on April 5, 1997. I wasn’t in the room at the time. My mother and sister had arrived and sent me home for some sleep. When the phone rang at 2am I roused my brother and we went back over to the hospital. Dad looked like he was sleeping as we stood around the bed. His shrunken body was not the one that had towered over me in the kitchen that day while his fists pounded my body. Those fists were still now, never to open and close in response to his anger. While the family stood around helplessly, I removed his slippers and covered his exposed feet. Lifting his head gently I removed my mother’s special pillow as I whispered, “Oh Dad.”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

'The Man' Tales - From I Do to I Don't

If I look like I am struggling again – I am. I am hurrying through this as it is very hard for me to write and for reasons I do not wish to divulge.

“There is one thing I want you to do if you are going to marry me,” he said one evening as we sat in his big chair together. “I want you to quit chatting with your friends on the internet. I especially want you to quit chatting with that guy in Ottawa.”

I felt numb as I sat there and thought about D. I didn’t want to do it and it must have been written all over my face as he sat there watching me.

“I want you to tell him you are marrying me. If you don’t – then you obviously don’t want to get married.”

Writing that letter was the hardest thing I have ever done. I cried endlessly as I put the words on paper that would let him know I was getting married. Having to explain that I could never speak to him again was just as hard. When I went to post the envelope – I almost tried to snatch it back. Not only was it going to be tough for D – but he was going to get that letter right around Christmas. I felt terrible that I would be ruining it for him as I knew it would. But once it was done, I also had to let Cid know.

“It won’t change anything,” I tried to tell Cid.

“It changes everything.” he said.

My mother did not like John which wasn’t anything new – she didn’t like most of the guys I dated, but I didn’t care. The unusual diamond didn’t impress her, and impressed my father even less. I thought my marriage might change the way my mother saw me, but it didn’t. One morning as I arrived at work she screamed at me for using the internet for my personal use. She informed me that she had called the internet provider and had the service terminated. Little did she know how happy that made John.

We decided to get married sooner than later and I set about making wedding arrangements. John left everything up to me and I started looking for a Justice of the Peace to marry us in the barn. I wanted to go to Mexico for a honeymoon and John had to apply for his passport. We took a day and went down to Calgary so he could get it quicker. From there I let my best friend know that we were going to get married at Easter. She bought tickets for her family of four to come for the long weekend and everything was beginning to shape up. John moved a few things into the barn so he could be closer to me and to his children who lived in the same small town. He began working on his house in the big city with the idea that he would rent it out once we were married.

I still spoke with Cid as often as I could, but he was calling less and less. John didn’t say much when he called but I could tell he didn’t like us being friends. I was still having trouble with the old hernia repair and the doctors decided one more surgery was in order. I opted for having it right away so I would be recovered by the time the wedding took place. John took me to the hospital and stayed beside my bed when I came out of recovery. His gentle administrations were endearing and he almost carried me to the car when I was finally allowed to go home. It was almost impossible for me to walk and he got a wheelchair for me to use around the barn. I was restricted to the second floor, but he hardly left my side for the first day I was home. He followed me to the bathroom to make sure I didn’t fall, and then stood anxiously outside to check on my progress. The recovery was long and difficult and I was continually wracked with pain.

I continued to work on the wedding and honeymoon plans – happy to be distracted. I was so distracted that I barely noticed the varying times that my fiancée would arrive back from work. One day he didn’t come home for supper and I worried that something had happened to him. His children added to my worry with their phone calls. They were looking for their dad or their mother. Apparently both of them had been unavailable all afternoon and evening.

The ex-wife ran a restaurant in town and John often stopped off to visit with her and ‘talk about the children’ on his way home. The fact that neither could be found got me wondering and when John walked in at 9pm, I was waiting for him.

“I’ve been wondering about the wedding John. I’ve been wondering if you actually do love me or if it is something else.”

“I’ve been wondering about that myself,” he said. “What do you think about putting the wedding off for a while?”

I could feel a coldness creeping over me and I knew I didn’t have much to lose anymore.

“You’ve been with your ex haven’t you?” I didn’t need his answer in words – his face gave it all away. I sat in the wheelchair as he packed his bags and watched him walk out into the night. The following day he came for his furniture and clothes. I sat on the steps and watched him as he hauled everything down the sidewalk and out to his truck. I could feel the loneliness sweeping back in and taking over once more.

“We were supposed to get married in six weeks.” I could hardly force the words out of my mouth as I tried to make sense of it all. “What happened John? Why did you do this to me – to us?”

“I’m sorry,” was all he said.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

'The Man' Tales - Love is in the Air

“We’re getting married!”

I hugged ‘N’ hard and we did a little dance around the backroom. It had been obvious from the start that ‘N’ was looking for a husband and her cowboy not only fit all her requirements, but had fallen for her hard.

“Will you be my Maid of Honor?” she asked with tears in her eyes.

I was flattered and we celebrated long and hard during Ladies Night at the bar. ‘N’ flashed her ring at whoever wanted to look and they clung to each other on the dance floor during every song.

“At least the sign that said ‘I’m looking for a husband’ has gone from over her head,” the wannabe said as he twirled me around the floor.

“You saw that when you first met her?” I asked incredulously.

“Every male in the room did,” he laughed.

“Do I have a sign over my head?” I asked intrigued.

“No. There’s no sign, but I don’t think anyone can figure you out.”

The upcoming wedding put romance in the air and I saw more and more of the wannabe. He’d call me at work just to say hello, or be waiting for me after work. Flowers were delivered for no reason at all or I was asked out for supper. On Thursday mornings I began to pack a bag with my dance clothes and a change for the next day. I justified this to myself as a place to stay when I shouldn’t be driving home after a night out dancing. On the day I was invited to meet his daughter and youngest son, I started to get nervous.

I was still emailing Dragosani every day and often stayed after work to chat with him. I didn’t want to give up what we had, but he was so far away. One night, I stayed and chatted with him until 10pm before calling it a night and heading home. As I left the side door of the mall, a figure stepped away from the building and followed me. I let out a gasp just before I recognized John’s (the wannabe) face in the streetlight.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him.

“The question is – what are you doing here at this hour of the night?”

Images of Dragosani flashed through my brain and I felt incredibly guilty. I passed it off as ‘work’ but I knew he didn’t believe me. I had mentioned to John that I had friends online and that I chatted with them on the store computer. He didn’t say anything more, but I could see he was thinking about it.

The weekend of the wedding was full of romance and love. As the vows were exchanged, I glanced up from my place beside the bride and caught John staring at me with a look I hadn’t seen before. After that weekend, he let it be known that we were dating and that he was ‘hands-off’ to the rest of the girls at the bar.

We still went dancing every Thursday night, even though ‘N’ and her husband were busy with their own life. John’s three children were still evaluating me and I often spent time with him at his house while his children were present. I always felt awkward about this, but I knew he came with luggage and I tried hard to be accepted. His ex-wife was another problem. She was often at the bar and would ask him to dance or stand caressing his face and kissing him. Even though they had been divorced for 3 years, he was total mush around her. I always knew when she was on the phone as he would turn his body away to speak with her, or suddenly have to be someplace. I couldn’t understand why they had divorced when they carried on like that all the time, but I tried to ignore it and her.

One day John took me for a stroll through the mall and dragged me into every jeweler. He started out telling me he was looking for a chain for himself, but his obvious interest in what I liked in rings told me something was up. I told him I didn’t like diamonds as a rule until we came across one that was so uniquely set that I gasped. When he asked me to marry him a few days later – I gasped again.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Meet Someone

It wasn’t long after I returned to work that I was back out on Thursday nights with ‘N’. I had left my heart back with Dragosani, and I went out looking for a way to drown my sorrow or find something to take his place. Every Friday morning my mother made comments about the ‘smell’ that came off ‘N’ and me. She claimed we smelled like booze and cheap women. Some Fridays we came in hung over, but we always denied her claim that we were cheap. We had our price. ‘N’ had a definite price when she went out looking on Thursday nights. She wanted a man with money who could give her the life she had missed with the doctor.

One Thursday night turned out different from all the rest. As we sat with our free drinks and yelled at each other over the noise of the music, we saw two men enter and head to the bar. They stood there chatting with their boots resting on the rail while they casually checked out what Ladies Night had brought in for their perusal. One was obviously a real cowboy while the other was a ‘Thursday night only’ cowboy. They don’t call bars ‘meat markets’ for nothing, and sitting at our tables with our free drinks felt like we were cattle waiting to be culled.

‘N’ had noticed the tall cowboy as soon as he entered the bar and she made sure he noticed her. Her beautiful smile and laugh rang out loudly – like a siren’s call – and it drew the two men closer and closer to our table. Soon ‘N’ was up on the dance floor with the cowboy while the wannabe hovered for a minute and then moved off. That was the beginning of a new life for ‘N’.

While ‘N’ was falling in love with her cowboy, I was still trying to carry on a long-distance relationship with Dragosani. I accompanied her every Thursday night so she could be with her new man, while I ended up spending some time up on the dance floor with the wannabe. Dragosani would laugh as I described my attempts at two-stepping or recalled something stupid I had done after my five free drinks. However, as time slipped away and I watched ‘N’ falling in love, I became aware of how lonely I was. D seemed like another lifetime when I thought back to those two weekends. I wanted someone in the here and now instead of years down the road.

The Saturdays with Cid didn’t help either. I yearned to be more than friends with him. But my yearnings left me empty and Cid didn’t notice how I longed for him to see me as more than his friend. I had told him little about my trip east and I told him even less about my Thursday nights.

One night, as Garth Brooks sang “If tomorrow never comes” and I danced with the wannabe, I felt something different in the way he held me. Because he had taken dancing lessons we usually joked about my technique. This time, as we slow danced, he held me tighter and cupped my hand a little more protectively in his. Looking up, I saw a soft look come into his eyes as he bent his head and kissed me. My heart hurt as I thought of Dragosani, but my mind kept reminding me of all the lonely years ahead. The next time he kissed me I blocked all of those thoughts and gave in to my loneliness.

Monday, February 25, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Leave Happiness Behind

I have Shakespeare and Chaucer to thank for the quotes that ran through my mind as I drove out of Ottawa on Sunday night. “Parting is such sweet sorrow” seemed especially cruel and the oxymoron the statement is. As the miles passed beneath my wheels I added “All good things must come to an end.” Neither of these helped and a whole box of Kleenex wasn’t enough to make it to Sudbury as I took the northern route west. Another 48 hours with Dragosani was a small drop of happiness in the ocean of my pain.

As I drove I remembered how frantic we were to capture as much of each other as we could so we could keep it with us forever. We had turned the clocks to the wall in an attempt to deny the inevitable, but it found us anyway. On Sunday evening, as I once again drove him back to his parent’s we had tried for some humor to sweep away the clouds of agony that had settled on us. I laughed when he told me his mother and father were five and six years older than me. We tried to imagine what they might think but Dragosani had said it perfectly. He just didn’t care. On my part, I didn’t know them, and it wasn’t them I was interested in anyway.

Our parting was nothing less than heartbreaking. Never in my entire life had anyone treated me so kindly or with such adoration and sweet love. We vowed to stay in touch by e-mail and the phone, but the years left until his graduation stretched like a gaping black hole in my mind. Even then, his degree would probably take him to a city where the future of computer technology was the core of all existence. I knew it wasn’t in the small prairie town where I lived and loved my big blue barn. We clung to each other in our final moments together, and when he finally drew away and I felt his fingertips touch mine one last time, I let out a small gasp as the coldness crept back in.

When I reached Sudbury I toured around the entire city visiting all my old haunts. I had even stopped at Lake Nipissing to see the changes that had been made to the tourist resort we had owned there. Braving the gray day I took a swim as well, knowing it was the last time I would ever do that again in this lake. I sat for a long time against a tree and thought about the past and all my dreams I had here leaning up against this same tree. None of them had come true so far and I wondered if they ever would. The changes to the resort tore at my heart and I wondered who had coined the cliché ‘you can never go home again’. With my camera in hand I wandered the grounds and took some pictures to show to the rest of the family. I didn’t know if it was a good idea, but I felt it was something we needed to see.

Staying any longer would just compound my sadness and I headed off to visit a friend I had made at 6 years of age. We had met in front of my house as she passed on her way to school. We were in the same grade and in the same class and we have remained friends.

That visit cheered me up and I headed west from there, crossing at ‘The Soo’ and carrying on again across the northern states. I called Ayns on my way by to let him know I had met Dragosani. He was happy for us, but could tell I was upset at leaving D behind. It was too early to know if a long-distance relationship would work and we both knew it.

When I was still two days from home, I called Alcide. His soft, warm voice flowed into my ear and melted me into a puddle of tears. My friend had missed me.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

'The Man' Tales - One More Time

I arrived back in Ottawa in the early evening and drove directly to the university. I had arranged with Dragosani to meet there, but I had again miscalculated and I arrived later than I planned. The parking lot was empty and I searched the halls where he had taken me the previous weekend, but I couldn’t find him. Back then, cell phones were not something everyone had, and it was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Neither could D. So I sat in the parking lot, alone, and watched the rain blurring my windshield. All I could think of was the possibility of spending the weekend searching for him and just missing him every place I looked. I pounded the steering wheel with my frustration and my tears matched the rain as it streaked down the windows. I begged for a mightier intervention – to at least let me see him one last time. Please!

An hour passed and I took another chance and ran into the school and down the stairs to his locker area. Nothing. I searched in the labs that he had pointed out to me, but the rooms were empty. I ran back to the car, but he wasn’t standing beside it. I drove until I found a payphone and called his house, but his siblings had no idea where he might be. I drove slowly back to the parking lot and checked the school once more before giving up. Sliding behind the wheel I started my car and sat staring at the rain on the windshield. The parking lot lights were distorted through the wet glass and I rested my head on the steering wheel as I tried to decide if I should just keep going or get a hotel room for the night. I didn’t want to leave the area where he might be – in fact I didn’t even want to go back home again. I let the car idle so the defroster could clear the fog that was creeping across the glass and put my head back on the headrest while I waited.

When I opened my eyes I could see a figure walking up the road that led to the parking lot. I couldn’t make out who it was through the rain and the space that separated us, and I held my breath as the figure topped the hill and started across the parking lot. As the person drew closer, I could see a knapsack slung over the leather jacket with the university logo on it. I put the car into 1st and slowly drove forward, closing the distance. When he looked up and smiled, my heart leaped and my breath caught in my throat. I threw the passenger door open and he slid in, soaking wet.

I couldn’t get enough of the taste of his lips or the feel of his arms around me as we clung to each other. I laughed as the water dripped from his hair onto my nose and tickled it. Inside it felt like something detonated and I could feel a warm tingly sensation that spread through my body, touching every single organ and making it sing. Drawing back from him, I reached out and touched his face in wonder.

“Where were you?” I whispered, my voice hoarse from emotion.

“I went to get something to eat. I was so busy I hadn’t eaten today. I didn’t realize it was such a long walk or that I would be gone so long.”

“I was afraid I was going to miss you and never see you again.”

“I would never let that happen.” He folded me in his arms and it was a long time before we left the parking lot and found a hotel room once more.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Return to Guelph

Back in Guelph my best friend welcomed me with open arms. She was hurt when I told her I had only waved from the highway as I bee-lined for Ottawa. Her mouth fell open when I told her of my past weekend with Dragosani. With a son the same age she was totally against it. But she had been there to help me get away from The Beater and she had known me for a long time. She just didn’t understand or like my reasons for visiting either Ayns or D. The great thing about her – it didn’t change our friendship at all.

She ran a day care out of her home and while kids howled and played around us – we sat at the kitchen table chatting and drinking tea. We didn’t need to ‘holiday’ in the usual sense of the word, we were happy just visiting. Sometimes I took a break from the kids and drove around my old haunts. I went and looked at all the places I had lived and the house I had owned. I drove past my old stores and marveled at what had taken their places. I still couldn’t understand why the woman bought my business and then never reopened it after we did inventory.

One of the biggest changes to my past was the hotel. My old boss had sold to a large hotel chain and opened a bowling alley on the outskirts of the city. The old hotel had been remodeled and the strip joint was now just a memory. I took some time and wandered about the hotel marveling at the chandeliers and new carpeting. The new owners had restructured the entire site and its appearance stunned me. Gone was the smell of stale beer and puke and what enveloped me now was the smell of new furniture and wallpaper paste. When I was asked if I needed help, I stammered that I had once worked in the old hotel. The woman behind the reception desk just smiled sympathetically and looked through me. I knew it was time to move on.

I found my old boss and manager at the bowling alley enjoying their new life. They had tales of many of the other old employees and before I left I arranged to meet my boss later that night for a drink at his favorite bar. As we sat at the bar and reminisced, I finally told him the truth about The Beater. Tears rolled down his face as he stared into his glass and pressed his lips tight together.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked me so quietly that I almost didn’t hear him.

“I didn’t tell anyone.”

“But I could have done something about it! In fact, I could have done several things about it. I guarantee you that if I had known – that bastard wouldn’t have been able to hurt anyone ever again.”

We must have been quite the sight as we sat at that bar, our chins in one hand, our shoulders touching as we leaned against each other, and both of us lost in our memories. A wave of guilt washed over me as I watched the tears running down his face.

“I was always a little in love with you,” he said as he shook his head and swiped at the wetness. “I never understood what you saw in him or why you kept going back each time you had a huge fight.”

“I wonder why I did too,” I said and downed my drink. “Thank God I finally did though. I might be dead otherwise.” Later, as I tried to get to sleep, I thought about my old boss. He had always treated me special, but I had assumed it was because I made so much money for the hotel. I hadn’t known.

As the end of the week rushed towards us, I started making plans for the long drive home again. I had many options open to me, but I only considered one of them. With the car packed and the usual tears, I waved good-bye to my best friend and turned my car towards Ottawa for one last weekend.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

'The Man' Tales - Behind Closed Doors

Another note here before I carry on with the story. Softinthehead has given me the "Keep up the good work" award. Thank you SITH! Another reason to keep the story coming....

I am not going to go into detail about the events that followed that phone call. I will however, fill you in on a detail I have omitted so far and that is that Dragosani was 21 years younger than me. Having said that I will also say that his experiences with the basics of life had been through what he had garnered on the internet. His wide-eyed wonder at his new discoveries are now precious memories for me that I drag out and review on days when I need a soft smile to caress my face. His inexperience turned into a fascination with a partner that was willing to teach and experiment. At some point though, the teacher became the pupil and I was happily surprised by some of the lessons I learned.

Time slipped away easily and at some point I had to call the front desk and have them turn off the phone, his mother's calls to the room were going unanswered and were annoying. When Dragosani announced that he was getting weak from hunger, we were surprised to discover that 24 hours had gone by since we first entered the room. We were almost strangers when we had first thrown our bags on the spare bed, but we sailed out into the world again with a different look on our faces.

Our meal was filled with longing looks into each other's eyes and even though we wanted to linger over our food, we felt it was only a necessary distraction from what interested us the most. We didn't sleep much that night either, but when the sun lightened the room we decided we should get some sightseeing done. After we toured the parliament buildings, we sat on a bench and watched a man go over the massive lawn with a metal detector. I was so contented leaning my head on D's shoulder and feeling his arm wrapped around me. I picked at the fringe on his shorts and tried to soak in the experience and make it a memory I would never forget.

From there we repeatedly drove past the prime minister's residence in our effort to make sure we were at the right place. When the guards posted at the gate started noticing us, we decided we had better move on and headed for the university and the other sites. Knowing that he had to return home at the end of the day, we stretched it out as long as we could. But all good things always come to an end, and I finally had to take him back home. We were quiet as we drove down the country road that passed in front of his parent's house. He held my hand as I drove slowly along, unwilling to face his leaving. We promised emails and phone calls, anything to span the distance between us, anything to stay in contact. With the driveway in sight, I pulled the car to the side of the road and threw myself into his arms and kisses. Frantic for even a little bit more, we ignored the vehicle that crept past us and turned into his parent's driveway. The sounds of the other vehicle slowing got D's attention and he recognized his parent's car.

We laughed briefly at being 'caught' but we were soon overcome again with our need for each other. When we could no longer put off the inevitable, and when we figured his parents had gone inside – I shifted into 1st and drove into his driveway. With the living room window like a huge eye on us, D grabbed his bag and quickly kissed me good-bye before opening the car door and getting out. I watched as he waved from the doorway before pulling away and heading for Guelph. My eyes were watching ahead, but my heart had stayed with the tall young lover I had left behind.

Monday, February 18, 2008

'The Man' Tales - What Came Next

I didn’t have a clue what to expect when I met Dragosani. I knew he was a university student at Carlton University and that he was living at home until the end of the term. Without a car he relied on his father to drop him off at the university on his way to work and then to pick him up afterwards. I knew he was shy and a whiz when it came to computers, and he was working towards his degree in computer sciences so he could write computer programs. But – I didn’t have a clue what he looked like, nor had I formed an idea in my head over the last 6 months.

What I met was a young student in long shaggy cut-off jean shorts wearing a large checked loose fitting shirt over a t-shirt to hide his size. His hair was shoulder length – that awkward stage when you are growing your hair – and it was a light brown with a hint of red and it parted in the middle and flipped up at the ends. His face was covered with a short reddish beard and a mustache and his lips were full. He wore black running shoes and the laces were neatly tied over his black socks. I know I couldn’t get my hands around his calves they were so large and his head brushed the roof of my car when he sat down while his knees knocked the dashboard. At 6’2” he was too big for my car and we had to work at the passenger seat to get it to go as far back as possible so he could be comfortable.

At first I couldn’t look at him. His appearance to me was so strange and I concentrated on the road and thought of all the wonderful conversations we had enjoyed together. I thought about his soft words and how I had always known he was a remarkable person. I reminded myself that outward appearances meant nothing and that he could have easily felt the same way about me. But he didn’t. Every time I glanced over he was looking at me. I concentrated on the road some more until I could put my finger on how I was feeling.

I wondered how we were going to make it through a whole weekend when Dragosani’s physical appearance threw me off so much. I fought with myself over this fact and finally nailed it down. He looked funny to me because he was a nerd. All he was missing was the glasses and the pocket protector – but he was a nerd.

We stopped for a snack at a fast-food restaurant and while we ate he babbled on about everything and anything. When the meal was over – I reached across and squeezed his hands. “I’m so glad I have finally met you,” I said. He smiled at me again and squeezed my hands back.

As night was drawing on I found a hotel and checked us in. As promised he called his mother and informed her of the hotel we were in and of our plans. We were going to have a tour of the parliament buildings and go see the prime minister’s residence. Or at least drive past it. He wanted to show me the university and some other sites around Ottawa and have a look at the famous Rideau Canal. When his mother was satisfied that I wasn’t going to drag him off and slay him, he hung up the phone. I had been busy unpacking during the conversation and trying not to laugh. It had become increasingly obvious to both of us that we were not going to get far from the room for a while.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Another Thank You!

Awards are falling from the sky - like pennies from Heaven - and I have a few more people to thank today for thinking of me.

Debra has given me two awards - a lovely cup - which was also given to me by Retired and Crazy and another big E for Excellent where I have added her name.

I truly appreciate the thoughts and I am - again - humbled by their generosity.

Thank you to The Man for his patience in teaching me how to do this - they would be sitting in a drawer if it wasn't for him.

Friday, February 15, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Finally Meet Dragosani

Crossing back into Canada I was on a mission. To get to Ottawa as quickly as I could. The visit with Ayns had been lovely and he really was the delightful man I thought he was from all our chats in the Parlor. I understood all about wandering eyes and testing the waters to see if you are still attractive to others. Our self-images and egos need boosting more often then we think. Enough time had passed that I didn’t hold that first heartbreak against him, and I knew we would always have a lovely friendship.

Now as I flashed past Guelph I was overwhelmed with guilt that I wasn’t first stopping to visit with my best friend. I knew that if I did – I would never make Ottawa. So I waved as I drove past and stopped instead in Toronto where I rented a shower in a truck stop and freshened up. I expected to be in Ottawa in four hours and wanted to arrive clean. Those four hours turned into eight with all the construction on the major highways and the delays. In Kingston I helped some students raise money and let them wash my car.

I had called Dragosani when I was in Detroit and told him I was at the border and that I would call when I got closer. His parents lived in the country and he had arranged for me to meet him in a little village close to where they lived. His parents were beside themselves that he was meeting someone from the internet and his mother insisted that she meet me to ensure that I wasn’t an ax murderer. I didn’t know how I was going to prove that I wasn’t, but I thought I might come up with something on the spur of the moment.

When I knew I was about half an hour away, I found a payphone and called again to get detailed descriptions of the meeting point and of the car to look for. As I drove into the tiny village I started to sweat. I was nervous about meeting Dragosani even though I had talked or emailed or chatted with this person nearly every single day for the last 6 months. We planned to spend the weekend in Ottawa and see the parliament buildings and the other sites. But - I didn’t have a clue what he looked like and now I not only had to meet him, but I also had to meet his mother and prove I wasn’t going to kill her firstborn.

The car seemed to slow of its own accord as I frantically worked out in my head why I had arranged and agreed to a whole weekend with someone I had never met. What if I didn’t like him after all? What if he wasn’t who he seemed to be in the chat room? What if we just didn’t get along? What if he was weird? What if I did want to turn into an ax murderer by the end of the first day? Ayns had been safe with his family behind him and I knew that and hadn’t been nervous at all. But this was an entirely different matter.

Feeling like I was going to throw up, I edged my car in towards the country store where we were suppose to meet and turned off the ignition. I looked into my mirror and studied my eyes to see if they looked calm or were more like huge screens, revealing my inner turmoil. I also checked to see if I looked like an ax murderer or not. I figured the answer was not. I freshened my lipstick and tried to reassemble my hair after I had run my fingers through it nervously a million times. I waited.

A red car pulled into the parking lot and my heart leaped to my throat. I held my breath as the two people got out and headed into the country store. I exhaled. Just as I started to relax once more another red car pulled in and I knew it was Dragosani who got out of the passenger seat and turned and grabbed a knapsack. A blond woman got of the driver’s seat and started towards my car with a firm look on her face. I took a deep breath and went to meet my fate. Dragosani shook my hand and introduced me to his mother. She looked me over and I did my best to appear calm and ‘nice’. On the spur of the moment I opened the trunk and showed her my lack of an ax and tried to raise a smile on her face. She gave me a half-smile, but that was it. After severe instructions to ‘call home’ which were obviously a repeat, we got in our separate cars and I watched as she pulled away, that look on her face seemed set in stone now.

Turning to Dragosani I said, “So you fight vampires do you?”

He smiled

Thursday, February 14, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Meet Ayns

I drove to the mall and parked my car, dressed in a long flowing summery skirt and tight top. Walking through the mall my heart was pounding and I looked at every single man trying to pick out Ayns before he saw me. My sandals made a loud clacking noise on the tiles and I thought I would have to tiptoe to avoid the stares that were coming my way. The mall branched out and formed a circle overlooking the lower level. A man in a suit stood there holding something behind his back and looking my way. I eyed him cautiously as I passed and gave him an answering smile before stopping in my tracks. “Ayns?” I whispered.

Pulling a long-stemmed single rose from behind his back he bowed deeply before taking my hand and kissing the back of it. He looked deeply into my eyes for a long moment before taking me in his arms. He danced a few steps and then dipped me long and deep before returning me to my feet and hugging me.

“How did you know it was me?” I asked him incredulously.

“Your style, the way you walked, the way you smiled. How could I not know and be so certain from the minute I saw you enter the mall at the other end.”

I flushed with embarrassment and self-consciousness and fell into step beside him. “Where are we going?” I asked him as we walked back past the shoe stores and booksellers.

“I have some things for you that I left in the car,” he said and gave me a broad smile with an even broader hint of mischief in it.

We chatted about my trip as we threaded our way through the car park. When we got to his vehicle he gave me a beachtowel and a travel mug with his company logo on it and a box of chocolates. I laughed with delight and he stowed them away and ushered me into the front seat.

“I’ve made reservations for lunch at a little place downtown,” he said and pointed out some landmarks and his office as we made the short journey. At lunch we sipped wine and ate crab salad while we looked each other over. In my mind he had danced me around the Parlor in a crisp light blue shirt and single pleated pants with shining slippery shoes. In real life his suit and tie was such a contrast to what I had expected and he eventual took off the jacket for me. Sitting across the table from each other we talked about the Parlor and all the people we had met because of it. We talked of Dragosani and I told him that I was planning to visit him next.

When lunch was over we took a drive down to the lake and sat on the huge rocks along the shore and looked out over the choppy water. Ayns told me about his family and admitted finally that he had been a little tired of his married life when he found the Parlor. Meeting me had tempted him, but in the end he had decided that he had too much invested in his family to change at this point in his life. I was tempting - but he couldn’t.
He had even stood outside my door for half an hour the previous night before deciding it was best if he just went home.

I kept my face turned slightly away so he couldn’t see the tears that slid down my face. At one time I had desperately wanted this man to be the one, and his words only reinforced how futile that dream had always been. When we got back in his car he took my hand and held it fiercely as we drove aimlessly around the city for a short while. Ayns made it look like a sight-seeing expedition but I knew he was still uncertain about his own choices. When we got back to my car he pulled out his laptop and he showed me how he had kept all my emails and all our chats in a separate folder. We looked to see if anyone was in the Parlor before he closed the lid and sat looking at me.

“I was going to loan you this laptop so you could keep in touch with me, but I don’t know how we would ever arrange to get it back to me short of having you return here on your way home. Besides, I know you are going to be fine.”

I hugged him and thanked him for his generous offer, pointing out it was time for me to get on the road. I wanted to make the good-bye easier for him than for me. Leaning forward I kissed him once – hard - and then opened the door and got out. Ayns led me out of the city and made sure I was on the proper exit before waving good-bye. I smiled bravely and blew kisses, aware that he couldn’t hear my sobs or see my tears. Turning my face to the east - I headed for Ottawa and Dragosani.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Take a Holiday

On the day my brother took back his computer I was devastated. “How am I going to chat with my friends?” I wailed. He pointed out that we had a computer at the store before leaving with my connection to the world where I wanted to be. It was the only choice open to me and I set about getting online at the store. Now instead of logging on at 11pm, I stayed after work and chatted until 11 before heading home. It was uncomfortable and I was often interrupted by the security guard in the mall, but I didn’t have a choice.

With the onset of spring came the river guides and I opened my house to them and offered them a warm, dry place on the days they weren’t on the river. Most of them didn’t have cars and were dropped off at the barn at the end of the weekend. Then they were either picked up or I took time and drove them the hour out to base camp for the next weekend. On a day when I wasn’t feeling too well, I let one of the guides drive while I relaxed in the passenger seat. As we took the long hill down into Sundre, the guide shifted from 5th into 1st and blew the timing chain on my car’s engine. I was left without a vehicle. My brother drove me back into town and I had to decide what to do. It was a choice of spend money on an old vehicle, or invest in a new one. I left the useless car at the farm and borrowed my mother’s so I could get into the big city for work. Reluctantly I shopped for a new car while my mother fumed over the loss of hers. I couldn’t afford to rent while I waited for my new car and she knew it, but she never let up. They handed me the keys to my new red sporty 2-door on the day she insisted I give her's back. I would have been without a vehicle if they hadn’t been able to deliver that day.

With a new car I decided it was time to take my holidays and drive across Canada to my hometown and visit my girlfriend. My mother didn’t deny me the two weeks I asked for and I told no one of my ultimate plans. I would first meet with Ayns in Wisconsin before heading on to Ottawa and meeting with D. From there I would return to Guelph and spend some time with my girlfriend before heading home again.

There is nothing I enjoy so much as driving long distances and seeing whatever there is to see. Cid was worried about my traveling alone and gave me as many last minute tips as he could think of. My mother told me I better show up on the Monday immediately following my two weeks – or else. Leaving the barn and my cats in the capable hands of my nephew, I set off with great anticipation. In Montana I was so stunned by the sight of a group of guys getting into a car with their beer that I missed the speed limit sign and promptly got a ticket. It was pay up or go to jail. I had just crossed the border and was already $100 out-of-pocket. My new car was fast, but I behaved myself. I drove for long periods of time and stopped in busy rest stations when I needed to. I slept for short periods in the car before continuing to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Ayns had given me directions to a mall where we would meet and I had done some research before I left for available motels in the same area. On my arrival I checked in and phoned my friend to let him know. I was early enough to have supper with him but he informed me he had to go home to his family but was looking forward to meeting with me the next day as planned. I was so eager to meet him and was disappointed when he chose his family over me. A leisurely bath helped settle me down and I lay on the soft bed and reveled in the luxury after my days on the road. I wanted to look as good as I possibly could the next day and turned in early. I dreamed that Ayns had come to the door and stood outside, torn between knocking and walking away. The next day as I left to make my rendezvous with him, I found his note saying he had been there.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Juggled Life

I have been given two more awards this past weekend and have them displayed on my sidebar. I would like to thank Colours of Dawn and Rotten Correspondent for their generosity in bestowing these awards on me. I am humbled and overwhelmed once more. I have also been awarded a second Mwah from lovely Belle and a second Excellent award from Mzungu Chick. I have already posted Belle's name under my lovely kiss and will get The Man to put in Mzungu Chick's name as well. Thank you all for thinking of me. And again - Thank you to The Man for all his technical help and patience.

Even though I was going out every Thursday night, I still spent all the rest of my time in the chat room. I felt I knew the people better in my virtual world than I did down at the Country bar. I loved the dancing, and looked forward to my girl’s night out every week, but my heart belonged in the chat room. I hadn’t met anyone at the bar that caught my attention, but I had good friends inside my computer.

As the summer drew near I became anxious that my brother would be taking back his computer. I couldn’t afford to own one of my own and there was no way I could keep my brother’s. I didn’t want to give up my contact with my friends in the chat room and I began wracking my brain trying to figure out what I would do when the inevitable happened.

Chatting with people every night for four months forges bonds that are exactly like real life friendships. You learn who you can trust and who is honest, and you learn who isn’t. I didn’t want to lose Ayns and Dragosani because I didn’t have a computer and it looked like it might happen. Dragosani had become D for me because it was so much easier to type. When I entered the Parlor all I had to do was type D? and I soon had my reply. His ‘Yeah?’ still thrilled me every time and we would escape to a different room or stay and chat with the rest of our friends in the Parlor. Both D and Ayns lived in a time zone that was 2 hours ahead of me. Ayns invariably toddled off to bed after ‘typing quietly’ while his wife slept. D never tired and stayed until we had to shut it down for the night.

One night I had D call me on my brother’s 800 phone number just so I could hear his voice. I pressed the earpiece to my ear as tightly as I could to try to be close to him while I listened to his soft voice. I spent days thinking of our conversation and replaying the sound of his voice over and over in my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I learned he was in university studying computer science and lived at home. I was intrigued by his intelligence and wanted to know more about him. On Friday nights, both D and Ayns listened to my tales of the dance floor. Ayns sometimes made jealous comments about being held close by a stranger, but D only asked if I had enjoyed myself.

Every weekend, Cid took me out for at least one of the days; either Saturday or Sunday. We would drive around the province and visit sites of interest that Cid had heard or read about. Sometimes we took a picnic and we would find a picnic table along the way and spread out our lunch. One Saturday, Cid decided we would go to Ram River Falls. These falls were about an hour and a half west of the barn, but to get there you had to cross what they called ‘The Corkscrew’. Cid loved sightseeing and often drove the car where he was looking, making the thought of crossing ‘The Screw’ rather scary for me. Thankfully he paid attention to the road knowing I was scared and we made it across the mountain and down onto the flats. As we drove he told me about a friend’s wife who drove a long distance on a flat tire and ruined the rim. He just couldn’t understand how someone couldn’t know they had a flat tire. As we drove along the shale covered road he suddenly decided to pull over as the car was driving funny. Sure enough we had a flat tire. Cid also carried half of what he owned in the trunk of the big Buick he drove and it took forever for him to get to the spare tire. With a chainsaw, a skillsaw, tools, a tennis racket, golf balls – you name it – strewn down the side of the road – he finally managed to get the tire changed. Driving on the spare we again crossed ‘The Corkscrew’ and drove into the nearest town. At the only service station that was open on a Sunday, the attendant told Cid he had another flat tire. Two new tires later we headed back home and I sprang for supper. Cid had spent enough money for one day.

Monday, February 11, 2008

'The Man' Tales - Shall We Dance?

Dressed in my black jeans and stomping boots, my belt with the silver studs and my silvery top – out we went. Now ‘N’ is a stunning woman with long dark hair and a definite ‘come-hither’ look to her. Not only did her large breasts catch the eye of every cowboy in the bar – but her laughter and gaiety were infectious. She was obviously out for a good time and to hell with everything else. You couldn’t tell that her private life was a killer and I admired her for that. I tried to play the bump on the wall but she would have none of it. When the men flocked to our table like flies to sugar, she made sure I was included in all conversations. As each drink went down faster than the last one – we got louder and louder.

I didn’t have a clue how to two-step, and I spent my time studying the dancers out on the floor. ‘N’ on the other hand was busy studying every man in the room and was always nudging me in the ribs to check someone out. The place was sheer bedlam. If you didn’t arrive early enough to stake your claim to a table or a place at the bar – you had to stand against the wall with your drink. Cigarette smoke often made it hard to see across the room and the country beat pounded in your guts and escaped out your lower back.

This was just something I was not use to, but ‘N’ and I pounded down our 5 drinks and then pulled out our money for more. ‘N’ was asked to dance again and again while I refused anyone who asked me. I was so afraid of looking like a fool and tripping over my feet and probably stepping on my partner’s. But I was more than happy to watch as they circled round and round the center pillar, the lights strobing and the cowboy boots stomping.

I made ‘N’ teach me how to two-step in the store one day so I would be prepared for our next night out. I could dance – in fact I use to ballroom dance every weekend with a long-forgotten boyfriend who came before The Beater. My parents hated it – but they allowed me to go to the sock hop at the high school with my brother – as long as I was home by 11pm. Music made me want to dance – to fling my arms about and give in to some primal urge to move my body. I would have been a wonderful dancer as long as no one else watched me.

Needless to say our Thursday nights were the topic of conversation the next day at work. Mom thought ‘N’ was a hussy with her ways and that she was corrupting me. I laughed long and hard when she told me this. We had so much fun together and ‘N’ never judged me in any way at all. But Mom sure hated the days following our nights out. Sometimes I would catch her watching ‘N’ as she made her way out to the showroom to make a sale. Her eyes would be small and narrowed and you could just see the thoughts going on behind those glasses. I would shake my head and turn away.

The next time someone asked me to dance I was ready. My low cut boots made a satisfying sound as I stomped my two-stepping way around the dance floor. I was so proud of myself that I could follow my partner and keep up a conversation as well. I was more than delighted when I got a good partner who could steer me around and dip and sway me with the best. But I couldn’t even hold a candle to the regulars who ‘performed’ out on the floor every Thursday night. And I didn’t want to. I just wanted to have fun.

When the ‘ugly’ lights came on – ‘N’ and I were still there – still wanting to dance. Depending on ‘N’s’ night she had a ride home and I drove the 20 minutes back to the barn in our little town. Depending on ‘N’s ride home, I sometimes stayed with her – I had probably had too many drinks to be driving. But sometimes I drove – and I shouldn’t have. The second time I did this scared me so badly that I decided I would never do that again and made sure I had a place to stay in the big city – even if it meant sleeping in the back of the store.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Hire A Friend

My life in the chat room was becoming more interesting nightly. I entered the room searching for my friends, but especially for Dragosani. Sometimes I found him there, and sometimes I found him in another chat room where his name was Ghost in the Machine. I would lurk and reread previous chats to see what he had been up to and who was interested in him. When the green-eyed monster settled in my chest I stopped and had an honest talk with myself. The talking didn’t solve anything – I just knew I wanted more of him.

In the Parlor we sat on the couch and Dragosani would hand me a golden key. This key took us to a private room where no one could see us or know what we were doing. It was still a chat room and I didn’t understand how he did it – but I grabbed that key and went along willingly. Sometimes when he posted the key – someone else would grab it and then the room would not be available to me. I never knew who did that – maybe it was Ayns or perhaps it was Sean. We always found another room where we could chat in private.

Most people went off to a private room to have virtual sex. Dragosani was not like that. He refused to ‘talk dirty’. Instead we got to know each other. Slowly I learned of his real life and he learned of mine. It was like being on a date – the kind where you sit on the bench and hold hands or share some lunch. He was quiet and shy and he made me feel peaceful.

In the real world there was anything but peace. My doctor had an office in the same mall and that was the only reason I went to him. His wife stored her fur coat with us – maybe for the same reason – and we had become friends over the years. She was his nurse and I looked forward to going to the doctor so I could visit with my friend. One day she appeared in the store and told me she had left him and was looking for a job. I hired her right there on the spot – knowing she would be an asset to the store even though she had never done any selling in her life. She was bubbly and happy and vivacious. My mother was furious! I had to explain and justify why I had hired her and inside I was praying that my friend would be the salesperson I thought she could be. She proved me right and my mother dead wrong.

The doctor was furious as well. The first appointment I had with him after I hired his wife was tense. I told him that how I ran the family business was my business and not his. He was my doctor and that was all. He retaliated by telling me the abdominal pain I was suffering was because I was an unmarried fornicator and that I needed to get on my knees and talk in tongues for half an hour a day and I would be cured. I changed doctors.

‘N’ loved to party and was looking for a man. She had to make up for the years she had wasted with the doctor. Who better to help her with that quest than me – another single woman on the lookout for a man. She didn’t think I should spend my evenings in the chat room and insisted that I go out with her and enjoy some real life. At first I dragged my feet, afraid of what would happen. She enjoyed a drink and I had been staying away from it after all the years at the bar. But she insisted.

We decided that Thursday nights would be our night to howl. It was ‘ladies night’ at the country bar in the big city. The first 5 drinks were free to the women and that had our attention and plenty of other women’s as well. And where there were plenty of women – there were plenty of men.

Friday, February 8, 2008

'The Man' Tales - The Couch

I was so intrigued by the enigma that was Dragosani that I could hardly wait for 11pm to arrive so I would be able to dial-up and get into the chat room. I was still answering the phone for my brother’s white-water rafting business and it helped to pass the hours away once I got home from work. With Mom at home looking after Dad, work seemed much easier and more relaxed. When Cid made his daily afternoon phone call, I was more at ease with him without my mother listening and pursing her lips, pointing at the clock. He called again every evening, at least once and I would listen to that beautiful soft voice and melt. Every day I yearned to hear him say those special words – the ones that went beyond ‘I love you – as my best friend’. But every night I crawled alone into my bed without hearing them. Sometimes I pretended my pillow was Cid as I cuddled it to me, other nights I just cried into it – calling his name.

As the weeks crept on after Dad’s surgery, we began to come to grips with the concept of the years of life left for him. Perhaps his weakness and the way he had to eat afterwards reinforced that. Or perhaps it was how he was fading away. I didn’t go out to the farm to visit after he made it plain he didn’t want me to come to the hospital, but I heard about his daily life through my brother. A little part of me thought he deserved his pain, but a huge part of me was crushed. That part that still begged for my father’s love.

Cid, being the lawyer, talked circles around my head about buying the family business. Every night he called and we hashed through my finances and different ways I could buy it, and every night I ended by saying I just didn’t want to. This continued until Cid had exhausted every possible plan he could think of. In the end, I just didn’t feel like I wanted to take on that massive responsibility. I knew my parents would not ‘give’ me the business. And I didn’t expect them to. But I also knew that if I mentioned it to them that they would go for every single penny they could get out of me – and more. I also knew that if any of the other siblings wanted to buy the business – it would be different for them. I accepted that.

Sometimes I wondered if it was because of I was the third child out of four, and not only the third – but the middle girl of the oldest and youngest. I never begrudged my brother for being the only boy, in fact I often felt sorry for him. I knew he was tied to our parents for more reasons than he gave and my heart ached for him. With this storm raging in my life, I almost lived for my escape into the chat room.

Dragosani and Ayns waited every night for Ani to sweep into the Parlor, and I did so with my own hungry eyes searching for theirs. Ayns flirted dramatically as I sat on the couch and chatted with Dragosani. At first Ayns was jealous of the newcomer and it showed in everything he did and said. But it never seemed to affect Dragosani. He chatted with everyone, including Ayns and refused to be goaded or to fight. I still danced with Ayns, long slow aching dances where we stared into each other’s eyes. But the couch was comfortable and verbal dancing with Dragosani was even more fun.

Chat rooms are not the land of the free and easy and totally safe. Not at all. There was another person in that chat room during that time who called himself Sean. Of course this was not his real name but he told me he had chosen this name because it attracted women. Being new to the game I didn’t think much of giving my e-mail address to either Ayns/Yak or to Sean. The emails and phone calls from Ayns/Yak were safe, even though he was married. He wasn’t a stalker. Sean, on the other hand, was another thing. Emails turned into phone calls and flowers and suddenly this guy wanted to come spend his holiday at the barn and he was hounding me. I started ignoring his calls and emails and in the Parlor his comments turned nasty. When the Parlor situation became extreme and I got upset, Dragosani told me how to click on a few buttons and I never saw another comment from Sean. Thankfully the emails and phone calls stopped as well and he either changed his name in the Parlor or just quit going there. Too me it was another brush with the kind of guy I usually attracted. To others it was that ‘terrible internet stuff’. I shrugged it off and moved on.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

'The Man' Tales - I Meet Dragosani

The next night I waited patiently for the newcomer while I chatted with Yak who had changed his name to AYNS – All Yak No Shack. He thought he was witty – but it barely made an impression on me. I had moved along in the ‘wanting’ him division anyway.

As soon as the name Dragosani appeared on my screen my whole body thrilled and I sprang into action. Dragging him to a couch in a secluded corner I made him talk to me.

“What does Dragosani mean?” I asked him.

“It doesn’t mean anything.” I thought of clobbering him but I restrained myself.

“Then what is it about?”

“It’s not ‘about’ anything either.” I could see I wasn’t getting anywhere – like usual with this person.

“I give. Is Dragosani a who?”

“Yes. It’s my name.” I – almost – left. I was so frustrated by this person’s actions that I could have screamed. I pounded my desk instead and tried once more.

“Did you base your name here in this chat room on a specific character?”

“Well – now that you put it in the proper manner – Yes I did.”

“Okay – great. Who is it?”

“Dragosani is a necroscope in novels written by Brian Lumley. If you are really interested – go have a read.” And with that he vanished – again.

Ayns was beside himself as he watched us chatting in the corner and tried to dazzle me with some fancy footsteps out on the floor. I let him lead me around the room and watched as he did his best to attract as much attention as he could – but my mind was on the enigma of Dragosani. Ayns knew I was distracted and finally bade me goodnight. I barely noticed as I reread the short and frustrating conversation with the newcomer.

The next day I slipped out of the store and made my way to the bookstore in the mall. It didn’t take me long to find Brian Lumley. I was stunned by the number of books that were based on the necroscope, so I made sure I got the first three before I headed back to work. That night, between 6pm closing time and 11pm sign on time in the chat room – I read as much as I could of the first book. When the newcomer signed in – I was ready for him.

“So you fight vampires do you?”

He smiled.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

'The Man' Tales - What Does One Say?

My mouth fell open at my mother’s statement of complete and total rejection by my father. In my head I replayed my caring help at his bedside the night before and wondered what was so wrong about it. Should I have stood at the end of the bed while he feebly fumbled for the Kleenex – almost choking to death?

I turned my face to the wall and resumed my work, unwilling to show my mother how deeply hurt I was. The salesladies who had been in the backroom had suddenly found work to do out in the showroom and had sidled past me, unable to look at me. I found myself clenching my teeth together in an effort not to cry and I refused to run to the bathroom in case my mother thought I was.

At the end of the day I was free to go home instead of to the hospital. Without the anguish of a sick father to distract me, I logged on to the internet and went in search of my favorite chat room. Michael Bolton’s voice filled the confines of my bedroom as the conversations reflected off my eyes. With my nephew still at his grandfather’s bedside, I had the house to myself and I cranked the volume and sang along, tears of anguish streaming down my face. Yak sidled up to me and asked me for a dance and I whirled out onto the dance floor in an effort to stomp my father’s horrible words into the ground.

As Yak and I danced and chatted, a new name flashed on the screen. I watched the newcomer out of the corner of my eye and I only managed one small silly comment to one of his before he left. Yak noticed my interest and immediately stepped up his attentions, but he was taken and I knew it.

The next night the stranger appeared again and I watched him as he sat quietly in a corner. His comments were few and far between, but they still caught my eye and I attempted to draw him into a conversation. His answers seemed almost flippant, or like he was brushing me off, and that incensed me. This continued for the rest of the week and in the real world Yak sent me flowers. In the real world my mother had also taken time away from the business to look after her husband and I was relieved of listening to accounts of his health. I didn’t want to know, and I didn’t want to care.

I spent my days waiting to get back to the chat room. I was antsy and annoyed at the daily grind and my friends started saying I spent too much time on something that wasn’t real. I disagreed loud and long, saying that maybe the chat room didn’t exist in ‘reality’, but the people in it were real. They argued that they all assumed ‘personalities’ – they didn’t give their real names. I argued the assumed names meant nothing and that everyone was a real person. My friends pointed out that Yak was in the chat room as a single man and I just waved that away. It didn’t matter to me any more. His flirting was just flirting now and we had become friends.

They couldn’t understand it at all. To me it was a place where no one knew my background. No one knew my family. I could only be judged by the words I typed. Here I could dance with a stranger and not be physically abused. I felt welcomed and part of a crowd that didn’t judge. Maybe some were not who they said they were – but I didn’t care. There were people in there that I never spoke to and some I knew I would never be interested in. But there were a few who cheerily called my name when Ani made her entrance. And it made me feel like I was a part of a ‘family’. So unlike my real life.

Monday, February 4, 2008

'The Man' Tales - A Father's Love

The family reeled with this news and my mother started to fall apart under the crushing certainty the man she had shared nearly her entire life with was going to die. With one sister in Toronto on the phone, the rest of us huddled together in the family room while he underwent this massive surgery. My younger sister and mother prayed together and passed a bible between themselves, pointing out chapters and verses and nodding. The older sister in Toronto was beside herself and phoned continually. Unable to take any more stress, my mother insisted I deal with her. I listened as she quoted bible texts and tried to justify her behavior over the years. With the phone pressed to my aching ear, I nodded wearily and let my mind drift away.

I was overwhelmed with guilt. Sitting in that little pastel-colored room with its soothing lavender and yellow couches and chairs, I flogged myself. Everywhere I looked I could see the words I had written about his funeral and I wondered if destroying those disks would cure him. My stomach felt like a whirlpool and I almost gagged at the sight of the food the hospital had brought for us. Every time the phone rang, I glared at it with abhorrence and fury. The only thing that kept me from ripping it out of the wall was the sorrow on my mother’s face. She didn’t need the incessant frantic questions from Toronto. What she needed was a call from her God to tell her everything was going to be all right.

When the doctor walked into the room, he was met with eyes that begged for hope, yet were filled with despair. He explained the operation had gone well and that Dad was in the recovery room and would be taken to intensive care when he awoke. Approaching Mom, he took her hands in his slender, talented grasp and held them tightly. His kindness broke through my agony and brought tears and I left the room and stood out in the hall as I wept. He patted me on the back as he left and I shook my head in amazement as I watched his green-sheathed figure disappear into the doctor’s lounge. Behind me, the phone rang – again.

As Dad lay in intensive care, intubated and sedated, I watched my mother anxiously. I worried the stress would be too much for her damaged heart and I tried to ease the strain for her. I tried to insulate her from the every day operations of the store, and drove her to the hospital when she wanted to visit. On the day we arrived and he was conscious, I hurriedly found a chair for her in case she collapsed. She sat patting the back of his hand and crying and I gave them some time alone. It was a good excuse to go and find a phone to let my siblings know that he was awake.

He remained in the intensive care unit for another day. When they took the tube out of his throat and he could swallow water, they moved him to a private room. The doctor called the family together once again and we gathered at the foot of the hospital bed. He told us about the cancer they had found and how unique it was. We were then taken through the steps Dad would need to go through as he healed from the operation.

When the doctor left the room, the family hovered at the foot of the bed. I watched as Dad coughed and coughed, trying to hack up the phlegm that plagued his throat. It was heavy and sticky and the Kleenex he used in an attempt to wipe it all away was useless. Entering the bathroom, I ran a facecloth under warm water. Standing beside him, I wiped his face and took the sodden Kleenex away each time he coughed. Looking down the bed it was obvious the rest of the family was horrified and disgusted. They remained there until a nurse came in and told us he should rest. I wiped his face once more and put the facecloth on the nightstand. After moving the Kleenex to within easy reach, I bent and kissed him on the forehead and whispered ‘I love you Dad’ before leaving the room.

I stood outside with my brother for a moment as Mom said her goodbyes. She was going to ride home with her son and I just wanted to share a quiet moment with him. Finally, with a small smile of hope, I touched his arm and left.

The next day I sat at my desk trying to catch up on paperwork and problems that had occurred while Mom and I were busy at the hospital. Around noon Mom entered and sat down at her desk, almost worn out. I knew she had been to the hospital and I was anxious to hear of his condition today. When I heard he was improving I was torn with emotions. Even though he hadn’t talked to me in almost four years, I couldn’t stop caring.

“By the way,” Mom said in a strange voice. ‘He doesn’t want you coming back to see him again.’

‘Does that mean all of us Mom?’

‘No.’ she said. ‘Just you.’

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Another Thank You For Today

I have received yet another award from Potty Mummy. I have posted it in my sidebar with pride as I take these awards very seriously. I am supposed to send it on to at least 10 people - but I am opting not to do this for the time being in order not to make it look like a chain letter. I will, however, do this in the future. Again - Thank you to a woman who makes me smile every time I visit her blog.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

'The Man' Tales - We Get The News

I’m hoping that by now everyone understands that I am writing a story whose main character is Ani Black and that I am writing it as Sarah. Ani and Sarah are both me. I wrote in this manner because I was afraid that The Beater would find out and find me. I also did so because of the furor over any author that claimed they were writing truth. It seemed that if you did not get a sentence exactly correct – then it wasn’t truth. James Frey comes to mind here. He created quite a controversy with his writing and it caused an attack on all autobiographies etc. I wanted to avoid that. I carry on here with something I sat down and wrote shortly after we got the news. It sits in a special folder waiting for its place in The Wailings. I hope this helps to tie in my posting the first chapter of The Wailings – my book in progress.

The insistent sound of the operator’s request finally captured her attention.
“Please hang up! Please, hang up now! If you are having difficulty, please hang up, and then dial ‘0’ for operator assistance. Please hang up now and try your call again!”

With unfocused eyes, Sarah replaced the receiver in the cradle and remained sitting on the edge of the bed. The plaintive cry for attention from the silky Persian that wrapped and re-wrapped itself around her legs went unnoticed in the eerie stillness of the room. Sarah tried to think about the conversation she had just heard but her mind refused to focus on it, and instead drifted up against the flotsam of her life as it replayed itself in her brain. A small frown crossed the stillness of her face as the hum from the computer broke into her reverie and finally drew her attention.

Without even glancing at the fluorescent green words that glowed across a black background, she saved her work and shut down the machine, the distinct absence of its humming registering somewhere in her brain as she turned away. She undressed in the soft glow of the bedside lamp, then slipped into the soothing comfort of her bed and stared at the ceiling. The insistent bump of the Persian’s nose brought a small smile to her lips as she raised the covers so the small animal could curl up against her knees. The small glow from her telephone screen replaced the soft white light of her bedside lamp as she turned the switch off. The last caller showing on the screen abruptly brought the conversation back to her.

“It’s your Dad, Sarah. The doctor just called about his last test and he says it’s not good. Your father has five days to get his life in order, and then he has to report for surgery. He has cancer of the esophagus.” There was a long pause. “Are you there Sarah?”

“Of course I am,” she replied, but her eyes had automatically strayed to the computer and the black disks neatly stacked beside it. She had half listened to the sketchy details that followed about the need for a lawyer and wills, of the day he was to report to the hospital, and of the scheduled date of the surgery.

“The doctor wants to talk to all of us before the operation. That includes you Sarah. Will you be there?”

“Of course I will Mom,” she had replied as she continued to stare at the disks.
Now as she lay in the dark, she let herself think about the reality of what lay ahead, and the guilt that had immediately washed over her as she registered the fright and sorrow in her mother’s voice. Was there a link between what she had recorded on those disks and what was now happening to her father? Were the written words soon to become a reality?

Wave after wave of guilt washed over her as she struggled with the absolute absurdity of assuming responsibility for her father’s cancer. She knew deep inside that there was no such possibility and just as she drifted off to sleep, her mind asked a simple question. What has happened in my life that I would automatically assume that anything I have done would be the cause for this illness?

Sarah stood in the hospital room with the rest of the family, trying not to stare at Jerome in the hospital bed. The doctor had just arrived and was telling the family of the seriousness of the operation that Jerome would be going through. He explained slowly that because of the type of cancer that Jerome had, that he would be removing the esophagus and pulling his stomach up to attach it directly to his throat. He said the operation was very risky and that Jerome’s chances of survival and a life afterwards were slim. Her mother and her sister were wiping tears away as her brother unconsciously picked away at his fingernails.

She stood off to the side listening to the doctor and thinking of the anguish this man had put her through during her life. With renewed pain she thought of his refusal to talk to her these last four years, and now he lay with his life in the balance. Her stomach wrenched with the flood of memories that overtook her and then just as suddenly left. A wave of pity washed over her for the man in the bed and she hung her head to hide her surprise.

Friday, February 1, 2008

'The Man' Tales - Part Two

Ani Black sat in front of a roaring fire staring into the flames, seeing nothing. The click of the answering machine as it took all incoming calls occasionally punctuated the sound of the wood snapping and sparking. On arriving home, she had moved immediately to the machine, turning off the ringer and lowering the sound. Tonight she wanted to be alone. No bereavement calls or angry voices from the family that had stood without her at the graveside today. There was plenty of time to deal with that later. Tonight she had to deal with the man who lay beneath the crush of soil that covered his casket.

The stillness of the house wrapped itself around her. Like death, Ani thought. This is how quiet death is.

She sat staring into the fire then suddenly reached and poured herself tea from the yellow earthenware teapot that sat like a shock of color in the almost bare room. Steam escaped from the mug as she eagerly clasped it with both hands, seeking to ward off the chills that flashed through her body. Just like death, she thought again. Gulping the hot tea she leaned back and felt it rushing into her stomach, spreading its warmth as it went. She closed her eyes and deliberately recalled the image of her father. Now is finally the time to do it, she thought. Then she forced herself to think back to the beginning. To the first thing she could remember.

* * * * *

Wow! I’m doing it! I’m actually doing it! Sarah thought as she peered at the last words on the screen.

The word processor hummed faintly and its glow seemed surreal against the backdrop of the small room. It sat on an old table that had seen better days before it had succumbed to time and multi layers of paint. Running her hand over its surface suddenly brought back memories of her grandfather. The table had once been his paint table before she had liberally covered the splashes and daubs with her own testimony to change with its top and spindly legs a bright pumpkin orange. How it managed to hold everything on top, she never knew.

Pushed to the back of the table was an old manual typewriter. Beside it pens, pencils and highlighters sprung from an old toothbrush cup. Erasers and a pencil sharpener lay next to the opened dictionary and Thesaurus that was within easy reach of Sarah’s hand. Paper lay scrunched and discarded like some early thought thrown away. Beside the old table a box sat newly opened, the name of the glowing instrument stamped boldly on all sides. The wastebasket overflowed with Styrofoam popcorn and packing tape that had bits of cardboard ripped from the box in haste, still attached.

The soft gray walls and creamy lace curtains and bedspread seemed an odd setting for the rest of the room. Bookcases lined the walls, their contents spilling over the sides; too full to hold anymore. A special hardcover edition of everything Stephen King had published sat like a shrine beneath a picture of King’s house. Some years ago, Sarah’s sister Peoria, had taken a trip east with one of her many husbands, Sarah could not remember which, and they had made the effort to get a picture of the author’s house. They’d had it enlarged and encircled it in an old wood frame and Sarah could never tell her sister how much she cherished it when she had unwrapped it that Christmas, years, and husbands, ago.

The room faded away again as Sarah focused on the screen in front of her. She had always wanted to write. She read everything that she could get her hands on, only spurning romance novels. Her life had been so devoid of any special love that she hated the fairy-tale world portrayed beyond the gorgeous guy and pencil-thin young women always draped across the book’s covers. After graduating from high school, she had gone to university to study English, but had given up under the pressures of real life. A lack of funding and the question of what to do with herself firmly closed the doors to those hallowed halls behind her after her first year. Now she looked back and reflected if that mattered. Had not her experiences taught her more than her Norton Anthology ever did?

Friends and family had always encouraged her to write, so perhaps this was the way to do it. To write a story about someone else who was actually her. Well, almost. What would her family think if they ever got wind of it? There was shame in washing dirty laundry in public, no matter whose laundry that was. She looked at the white Persian cat sleeping on top of a stack of ruled paper and thought of the constant inner torment that hounded her days and chased her endlessly at nights.

No. She could not let her family stop her. She had to exorcise the demons that hunted her constantly. Some she had created herself, and others loomed out of the shadows that chained her to her family and her past.

Frantically she looked about the small room again, desperate to grasp onto something that would help firm her resolve. The jumble of her past and present surrounded her. The picture of her and Peoria as they stood in front of Sarah’s new orange MG Midget rested on top of her dresser. How young and adventurous they looked, posing for the camera before starting on their driving holiday across Canada. There were other pictures too; of best friends, nephews, boyfriends, a special place in the Badlands of Alberta. Her favorite was of a black cat she had called Taboo who had been her constant companion for eight short years.

There were old perfume bottles lined up atop a musty smelling sea chest that had belonged to her grandmother. One bottle captured the essence of orange blossoms from Florida and Sarah couldn’t bear to use any of the precious contents as intended. Instead, she saved the fragrance for those days she desperately needed to escape. She would remove the tiny cork and would suddenly be standing back in the Everglades, the smell of orange blossoms and the glades’ humid night air washing over her.

She smiled briefly at the thought before her eyes finally settled on the row of journals lined up like sentinels beside her bed. Protectors? Yes. They had been her escape and her guardians when she couldn’t bear the agony of her life. She had written her thoughts down; sometimes scattered, sometimes detailed, filling book after book as the years went by. Hidden behind their black hard covers was a truth that revealed itself only in the haunted look she saw in her mirror.

It all mattered.