Early On - with edits

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. You see, I’ve been busy clearing my closet of ghosts. It’s not just about finding the door, though it’s an important first step. It’s that once your closet has been located, you are then compelled to open it. To stick your head in and investigate.  But they’re ghosts, right?  So forget about using your eyes to see them. You only need feel the breeze as they sweep past. The electricity. The energy. It’s all quite physical: the hairs on your forearm standing at attention; the shiver that darts up your spine as the temperature drops. Breathe in their sour pasts, and choke on the lingering stench of regret they leave behind. They may be relieved that you’ve opened the door, they’ve been trapped, after all. Or maybe they’re angry at you for doing it – and will haunt you, visibly, until the day you become one of them. Until you become a ghost yourself.

There are some pretty cool places to stay out there. Places for young (and old) people from all over the world, offering up adventures by day, and a safe place to rest heads at night.  Each hostel is a microcosm unto itself – lobby, dormatory, common space, cantine…  Spaces that repeat themselves over and over, so that one day you wake up, and realize you’re now the expert.  You’ve become aware of the spoken and unspoken rules through osmosis, and are now responsible for imparting that knowledge to anyone wandering with wide eyes and an agitated look about them. And that one commonality you share with everyone sitting at the dining table, that you’re all from out of town, becomes both the icebreaker, and the easy goodbye – all in the space of 5 days or 5 minutes.

I’ve been travelling a lot these past few months, and actually, this past year– taking classes, searching for reasons to write, half-heartedly looking for work, and getting to know my ghosts from that closet. At each locale I’ve searched for the same things – routine, order, safety, balance. Notice I’ve not said kinship. Nor have I sought connection.

This isn’t that kind of adventure.

It’s an internal journey, if you must label it. So let me apologize right now:  to all the Asian gals I’ve literally shared all my rooms with…  I’m sorry I didn’t converse with you, other than a polite hello – or goodbye, and I’m sorry for flushing during your jet lag.  To the expectant Brazilian gentleman (and any other dude, really) that I met and breakfasted/lunched/explored with…  Thank you…and I’m sorry, but I will never call you back.  To the German girl with the wad of cash, who felt compelled to text me 37 times within the space of 4 hours… I’m sorry, but we will never keep in touch, because you are a fucking zombie freak.  To all the “Don’s” I’ve met, like a proportionately uneven number of men whose first name was “Don”: thank you for introducing yourself and feeling compelled to share your sad stories of mayhem and loss…I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. To the American ladies of color at the Plasma center, I’m sorry for crying. I was completely embarrassed when you made me roll up my sleeves to look at my veins. When you already knew you wouldn’t be able to take my blood. I’m sure all the folks watching from the lobby understood that I was an ineligible non-resident, and not a junkie, when you turned me away.  (Perception is kind of a bitch, isn’t it? – Also, is this what an apologist feels like?)

The place I’m at now is very nice. Entrepreneurs are starting to realize there is a market for low cost, safe, yet well-designed, pleasing accommodations.  It’s a brand new hostel, built inside an historic structure – still, I’ve no doubt there are old ghosts that roam here.

It’s a beautiful Fall Sunday here in Chicago, much like the very first time I visited. I was 19 years old. The Old Ghost was about 34 – 14 years my senior.  We had met during a college break at St. Catherine’s. It was an all-girl Catholic college out of St. Paul, Minnesota.  I had gotten entry there because of my SAT’s and a pitiful essay, I’m sure - as my grades in high school were certainly nothing to cheer about.  Old Ghost (O.G.) seemed jubilant to be introducing my chubby, juvenile self to his brother, a long-time resident of Rockford, Illinois.  We all met for drinks and dinner at some dive bar, and I remember ‘Brother John’ being nice enough, and much older it seemed. His wife, Rosie, was this colossal woman, yet John seemed enamored, deferring to her as ‘The Boss.’  It was new to me. A new experience, having a man care about his wife like that, especially in public.  I remember John saying, specifically, that if he ever met another girl he wanted to be with, he’d make sure to ask his wife first, expecting- she’d say something like “Well, sure honey, but make sure you bring her home so I can check her out!”  It became an unconscious way of being, a relationship model that I didn’t know I would continue to seek for many years after. 

The problem with that whole scenario, of course, was that Old Ghost wasn’t a very nice man, after all. Especially toward women. Our nearly three years together were wrought with physical, mental and emotional abuse. Old Ghost would leave our apartment for days on end, leaving no money for food, much less other bills.  Being the hungry, entrepreneurial person that I am, I was then compelled to agree to help him start a business.  So, using my credit – we opened a merchant account and a few credit cards. I earnestly helped him write and publish a “Guide to Betting Horses,” along with advertisements in the local newspaper. He was very adept at keeping any other business ventures he was working on to himself.  Sometime toward the end of our relationship, I realized that he and a friend had put together a rentals scam – in which you place an ad to rent a house, collect deposits and application fees, from everyone, and then disappear – only to let the applicants find out that A) 10 people showed up to move in at the same time, and/or B) someone was already living there, as you never owned the property in the first place. By the time that I found this out, the fear I felt about him, about the relationship was very real. It behooved me to keep my mouth shut, until I could find a way out.

Someone might wonder where my parents were during all of this. Trust me, I wondered as well. But, there was far too much history, and pride, and a desire to break free from my childhood as well, that it didn’t occur to me to be more forthcoming, to ask for help, to trust them – indeed, it’s exactly what Old Ghosts count on.

The brutality didn’t begin right away. From what I understand about abusive relationships, it never does. There’s a method to an abuser’s madness. Handed down from generation to generation, I suspect, but it’s certainly not fucking rocket science. They do it unconsciously perhaps, or perhaps it’s with perfect intent.  Our arguments were intense. I always used logic and reason, and Old Ghost hated that.

Old Ghost. Obviously not his name…so let’s just call him “Phil.”

Phil was a lanky sort. 6 foot even, with auburn hair, green/brown eyes and prominent nose. His skin color was quite ruddy, fairly typical of someone of Native American decent. Choctaw, I think, or was it Cherokee?  He seemed both proud of his heritage, yet repulsed by it.  There was a simmering anger there, but I was too naïve to think it anything but good ol’ fashioned Rock and Roll anarchy. Something of which I felt myself: Rebel through music and art! My idea of “sticking it to the man” was skipping school, running away from home, dating a man 14 years my senior and piercing my ears (twice). It was pretty far removed from the good girl cheerleader act, after all. Anytime I felt myself edging toward a place of no return however, with drugs or alcohol or sex, my instincts kicked in – and I would retreat.  It’s what made me both a friend and an enemy to my peers. I never got in trouble for anything, cause I never crossed that line – but I certainly watched others do it.  And if I liked you, I argued with you about it. And if I didn’t like you, I smiled and waved and watched with curiosity as you cross your own line.

I think Phil was like that. He didn’t drink, but certainly watched others do so to excess. He talked about doing drugs, but I’d only ever seen him smoke a joint. His other vice was sex, obviously. He carried around this stack of European pornography. The gross stuff. The pissing and the shitting and weirdos of every shape and size and color, doing IT in the most awkward, nasty fashion. I looked at the magazines once or twice, and although I was completely disgusted, I believed him when he said they were collector’s items. I remember shrugging and shaking my head. I was fucking Nineteen. Remember that. I was thinking that this was my awakening to the real world, to sex, to growing up and breaking free from my family’s abuse – It didn’t occur to me that he was treating me disrespectfully. It didn’t occur to me that he was “grooming” me, or trying to.  It didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t fulfill every dream that I wanted to pursue.  And to be honest, I got a little thrill at surprising him, upsetting his preconceived ideas. I was smarter, stronger, and more willful than he expected. And I fucking loved that.

Phil had to choose wisely when it came to “fighting” – or trying to break me down.  It didn’t work to call me names, or disrespect me in public.  I would do it right back, only faster and more vehemently.  Not that I was all that patient, or controlled back then. But I did believe “What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.” It became my motto.  It became a game.  If he treated me badly, I would find the most inopportune times to embarrass him while he was with his friends or colleagues, or I would ask “innocent” questions that I knew he couldn’t answer.  I couldn’t help it. If there was anything all that psychotherapy taught me in high school, it was that I really was worthy, that I had a brain – and could fight back.

Because you know, I thought I was in love.  And if you’re in love, you try and work things out, right? Nothing else matters. And he counted on that.  I mean, even after my mother found out that her husband had been getting drunk and sneaking down to my room at night, she still stayed.  Even after she found out his little brother had been sexually abusing me since I was eight, she still stayed.  For ten years, she stayed – and made everyone’s life miserable. Including mine.

How fucked up is that?

Juxtaposition.  The fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.  Or so says Google. 

It’s 1982. Imagine a girl riding her bike in the surburbs. She’s sporting long blonde hair, a pair of 1970’s sport shorts with white piping and those blue striped, knee high athletic socks.  Maybe she’s a bit developed for her age. Maybe, even at the tender age of 14, she could pass as 16, or even 18, and with a wink and a nod, be able to get in to see her favorite heavy metal band (flogging molly) at some local dive.

Tooling around on my bike was a favorite pastime. Hanging out at my girlfriends house, making up dances to Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” – getting in jealous girlfriend fights, sneaking out at night, making out with the most popular boy in the hideout – these are things, the good things that I remember. 

These memories are only marred by a white van pulling up beside me one late afternoon.  The one guy in the passenger seat had rolled down his window, wondering if he could ask me a question.

I agreed. With caution.

The van door open, and inside sat an older lanky fellow. Not too much older, mind you. He had longish auburn hair, and a prominent nose.  He wore the brightest smile, and a pair of shorts that were so short, his rather mature, hairless sack of balls were hanging out. 

The passenger guy started asking me a question about “Where could he find…?”

I could only stare at the saggy testicles.

It was probably 20 seconds before I realized something really, really bad could happen here.  I looked up at the passenger and began to engage his conversation, before suddenly darting off on my bike.

Without finishing my sentence.

Imagine.

Some place outside Rockford there was this amazing shopping mall. Twenty-five years ago it may have been brand new, I remember it practically sparkling – beckoning shoppers to come in and spend their hard earned cash at places like The Limited, or Montgomery Wards.  Old Ghost took me shopping, which meant looking – not really buying anything – as I imagine he had to keep up with his façade of being penniless. He did however, offer to spring for me to record a song at one of those one-off retail studios. You could pick a song, then record the vocals track and receive a cassette tape of your rendition.  Having no vocal training at all, I of course chose the most difficult song to perform, Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” – it was off key, and a little warbled, but I was proud of myself to even have attempted it. Looking back I wondered if it was also some kind of unconscious message to OG. The lyrics are quite poignant.  He was a musician, you see. A pretty good guitarist, and I wanted desperately to help him write songs. At that point in our relationship, however, I wondered why we were even together. I had felt awkward around his older friends, older friends that had children my age.  Indeed, there was this aura of animosity coming from most of the people we met. Old Ghost didn’t seem to care at first, but I could feel it wherever we hung out.  After a year or so, we stopped hanging around his friends so much. I had gained 20 pounds since high school, and was weighing in at about 170, so thought that’s what it was. But the truth was, he was 34 years old, and even though I was 20 – I looked like a chubby 16 year old. Something that I think he secretly liked.

I mentioned that we were pretty poor in those days. Old Ghost seemed to always have cash, however, and I got pretty good at asking him for money. He was always able to buy music gear, or even cars.  One night he came home and said he bought a car for me. I walked outside and could see this crumpled VW rabbit underneath the lamppost. I was thrilled. Seriously. No one had ever taught me how to drive, much less buy me a car – Old Ghost stepped in and did both, acting the proverbial dysfunctional father figure. Later I found out that he had bought the car off of a woman he had barreled into earlier that night. He didn’t “believe” in car insurance, so he gave her cash for the car instead.  I cleaned it, pounded out the bigger dents, and spray painted it metallic green. I drove that thing for almost two years before it conked out. 

That was 1988, and besides Old Ghost, I had only a single friend.  You see, when you start dating someone 14 years your senior, you tend to get in arguments with friends – no real upset from my parents, mind you – but my friends couldn’t understand it. I went from college cheerleader to chubby housefrau in a few short months. They were wanting to hang out and party. I was wanting to hang my kitchen curtains. I’m sure any psycho-therapist would tell you something like I was making up for what I lacked in my childhood, or I had replaced my abusive father with an abusive father –figure – and that psycho-therapist would have been right!  It took me a while before I got bored with all the sex and fake homemaking and being treated like dog shit.  It took awhile before I woke up and wanted … something more. Old Ghost didn’t like that much.

___________________________________________

Margie opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling before looking around. Rolling over, she studied the empty pillow lying next to hers, it looked alone and pathetic, like it stayed empty all night. As she moved to sit, her belly twinged, and then began throbbing with a dull pain. Obviously, something had happened to her the day before, but in her morning head fog, couldn't yet recall what it was. Looking down at her lap, she peeled away the covers, and then…  Blood.  The previous days events began rushing back into her mind, dark and bloody, achingly surreal. Phillip Truhart. A wave of fear and anxiety washed over Margie as she got out of bed to make her way to the bathroom.

            "How can he accuse me of cheating on him when I never leave this apartment?" Margie mumbled as she began a hot bath.

            Yesterday's events were still surreal in her mind. Phillip bringing her to the abortion clinic, then leaving her there after picking a fight. "Two abortions within a year, and that man still won't spring for contraception." She remembered sitting there, at the clinic, for hours until her mother came to pick her up. She didn't speak to her the whole ride home, and then as she pulled up to the apartment, a terse "get a job, Margie." Margie stared at her mother before getting out of the car, then smiled abruptly. There was no way to describe to her the gut wrenching anxiety of being with Phillip, of even hinting to him that she needed her own life. Especially when he'd be "on tour" with the band for days on end, leaving her 20 year-old self to her own devices. Oh sure, she had plenty of food, clothes, and alcohol to get by - and gas money whenever she needed it. But the whole idea of being "taken care of" or "protected" had turned, well, almost absurd.

            As she sat soaking in the hot, bubbled bath, she began reflecting on the first time she met Phillip. She had asked him for his order, he looked at her with lust in his eyes when he spoke, "California. Medium. French." She didn't miss a beat when she nodded, half smiling and left the table to put the order in. Later, he had sauntered up to her to ask her out. She didn't care if he and his buddies had just made a wager about it. He was an older man, by almost fourteen years, "of Choctaw decent" he claimed, and touring with a local band. His long hair gave him a defiant, almost criminal, look to him.  Margie thought it was love at first sight. Which was probably typical for an 18 year old. No one had ever asked her out like that before, it was thrilling, and risky, and far removed from her high school, good girl, Cheerleader persona.

            Over the next two years, Phillip became her everything. Her provider, her mentor, her lover. She even quit after a year of college to devote herself to making him happy.  All the partying had made her grades less than scholarship-worthy anyhow, and her reputation for dating an older man didn't exactly make her a sought after study partner at the all-girls Catholic college she went to. But, it was her first serious relationship, and she intended to make it work.  The "garden level" apartment they rented together was a dream in her eyes - it was their escape. "Us against the world," he always said. He taught her how to drive, and even gave her the car that he had bought off some lady after plowing into it one night. She knew he was proud of her. Proud of the way she made the threadbare carpet and shitty furniture look beautiful even before 'shabby chic' was a thing. And when he gave her an engagement ring, she told herself that she didn't care that the diamond was merely a speck of cheap glass, it meant something. It was a promise.

            Phillip was the one who convinced Margie to get an abortion. Both times. She truly wanted to start a family right away. Indeed, after reconnecting with her biological father, Jack, a few years earlier and spending time with his family - both of she and Phillip even living with them for a short while during that year after college - she wanted to get back what she had lost growing up.

            Things started changing after they moved in together, of course. Phillip was away touring more often, and he became increasingly jealous after "that night."

            They were out celebrating their engagement with Phillip's best friend, Yuri, a Ukrainian-born business man who frequently took them out on the town after Phillip's gigs. That night was no exception. Margie's first taste of Escargot at a famous French restaurant downtown, and champagne…really good champagne, that didn't burn when it went down. It was like a dream being with the two of them, being young and sought after, the center of attention, having every whim answered.  Being introduced to everyone that stopped by to greet Yuri and Phillip. She thought she might have even recognized a few faces as local celebrities or sports players.

            That night happened to be a quiet one. Phillip and Margie were getting cozy across the table from Yuri when Phillip casually whispered in her ear "Yuri looks so lonely over there, doesn't he? Maybe we should find him a girlfriend. He is very handsome, isn't he?"  Margie was looking up smiling at him, deciding if she should agree, when she felt a very persistent stocking foot making its way up from her ankle.  Her eyes must've widened, because at that moment Phillip whispered in her ear again "It's okay, Princess, just let go - you have my permission."

            Yuri moved to sit closer so Margie was immediately between he and Phillip. Phillip began kissing her neck and Margie pulled away slightly, becoming conscious of their surroundings. They were still in a public place, even if their table was in a faraway corner. She sat up and looked around before relaxing back into the deep armchair. Yuri picked up her right hand and began caressing and kissing it. Margie's breath was heavy, and her voice deep as she looked into Yuri's eyes and asserted "Take us home, Yuri." They all rose after a moment, and Margie broke off to use the ladies room.

            As she walked past the bar, she looked up and saw a familiar eyes staring at her. She pretended not to remember her high school crush as she ignored him and picked up the pace. His eyes followed her all the way to the restroom.  Once inside, Margie gasped, "What was he doing here?" A rush of embarrassment washed over her as she recalled the last time she saw him. It was at a house party the Summer after graduation. She had still been working at the café that summer. The party was one she'd like to forget. Getting drunk, and hooking up with one of the hockey players in a room just above the party room. Everyone heard. She was devastated. But this situation was far worse. She was keenly aware of how it looked, how she looked to him - and what he must think.

            "Fuck it," she told herself, "we're not in high school anymore."

She smiled and winked at Jason, who was still staring from the bar, as they all walked past him, arm in arm out the door.

            "Do you know that guy?" Phillip asked.

            "Nope," she denied. It was the first time she would lie to him.

            The night of hours long lovemaking in the fog of patchouli and marijuana changed something in Margie. She gave herself to both of them that night. First one, then the other - then all of them together. It was as if her eyes were opened. She felt power over them, of being the object of their desire - and yet she couldn't yet own it. It scared her, and later led her to begin questioning her relationships. Not only hers and Phillips - but hers and Yuri's, and the relationship between the two men as well. She was no longer content to sit home alone. She felt she had a bargaining chip, somehow, and ignored the silly jealousies that Phillip grumbled about Yuri. She pressed him to move into a bigger apartment in a better neighborhood and to allow her to start working again, temporary jobs at least. She wanted her freedoms as much as any other American girl deserved to.  He even agreed to pay for real estate school during the evenings.

            She never questioned the days in a row absences, or his buddies showing up at their place with girlfriends other than their spouses, until the day she happened to spot him across town walking with another woman. It wouldn't have been a big deal, except for the fact that he was also carrying a young girl - and the woman was holding the hand of a young boy. She knew instinctually that it was Phillip's family. However, she let herself believe Phillip when he explained that he was sorry he never told her about his ex-wife and two children. She was 20. She was still dumb and happy, sipping from the cup of her girlhood dreams, using her favorite romantic movies and novels to refill it every time she found it empty.  Plus, she had learned not to bring it up again, as he had a tendency to get violent about it.

            It wasn't until after she had an interview with a real estate agent that things started going downhill rather quickly. The broker couldn't keep himself from laughing, stating "Do you honestly think someone would buy a house from you? What are you, 20?  You look like you're twelve. Now my son, he's 20, but he looks older. I'd buy a house from him."

The broker leaned back in his chair as he lit his cigar, "My advice to you, honey, would be to go back home and have a couple babies. Come back when you've matured a little." 

            She walked out of his office quietly seething, and certain that she had heard that line in the movies somewhere.

            Phillip was pissed when he found out. Margie thought he seemed more mad about spending the money on the school, instead of finding out her hopes were dashed. He blamed her for not investigating the career fully and demanded that she increase her hours at her waitress job to pay him back. It didn't matter that she had let him use her name to open up several lines of credit and a small business bank account for his dreams of writing and selling a "Tips For Betting at the Races" booklet. It didn't matter that the business went bust and she owed thousands of dollars to her creditors - her career choice was wrong, and she was going to pay for it.

            One night, as they were headed home from a visit with his sister, she carefully asked about a house he was helping his friend rent. She had helped the two of them with their real estate dealings, and thought that this house had already been rented - but happened to come across another ad for it in the paper. Phillip suddenly fell into one of his rages, screaming about how much of a slut she was, that the guys at the trailer were noticing the "vibes" she put off. And that she dressed too provocatively, and wore too much make up. Barreling down Highway 35 at 70 mph in his pickup, he grabbed the polo shirt she was wearing by the neck and attempted to tear it off of her. And when he couldn't, he just started flailing his arms to hit her. Margie had had enough. Enough of his jealousies, and rages and abuse. She turned to face him, reared up against the passenger door - and started kicking him. She nailed him in the face and in the chest before he finally stopped trying to get at her. She saw the fear in his face, the pain in his eyes, and figuring she must have broke something, stopped kicking. He slumped over the steering wheel and veered into the lane over without looking, she heard screeching tires and blaring horns behind her, and when the truck stopped on the side of the freeway, she got out and started running.

            She didn't see Phillip again until a couple of months later when he had sent Yuri to negotiate a meeting so he could apologize. He didn't want to get back together, just wanted their special friendship - so she acquiesced - and ended up back in his bed.

            It went like this for another year, until she turned twenty-one, the fighting and making up.  One time, he pushed her down the stairs and smashed her windshield in because she had been accepted to go to flight attendant school in Florida.

            "I would take this as a lesson well-learned, young lady," the officer scolded. "I won't bring you in, or make a report this time, but make sure you stay away from this guy - he seems dangerous. Just make sure you get on that flight tomorrow." It was a kind gesture, but the swollen ankle, and a 13 hour flight, an extended landing delay causing extra time in the air, caused her ankle to swell so much, she was unable to walk when she deplaned. And thus, failed the physical required for training. She was sent home the next day.

            "At least it was First Class," Margie told herself.

            The day she was offered a Receptionist job at the Medical Crossroads, was the same day the Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbee, Scotland. Margie and her family sat glued to the television set, as they watched the local news. She remembered the screen flash with an image of one of the crew members on the New York to London flight. A local girl, very blonde, very pretty. The very same girl she sat with on her way to Pan Am flight attendant school not six months earlier.

            Her family said nothing, except to widen their eyes at her, simultaneously, in a huge "I told you so" coup.

The receptionist position was one of Margie's first real jobs after her years with Phillip. The area was affectionately known as the “Medical Crossroads,” being home to several prestigious firms specializing in, well – you name it: surgical equipment, stents, drugs, penile implants, data warehouse software – you could say that the state was the Hollywood of Medicine, and back in the late 80s and early 90s, the champagne flowed freely. Regulations were low, R&D budgets were high and anyone with any kind of medical knowledge could get in on the action.

The Conference Table Derby became Margie's specialty, those “intimate” work nights with the VP of Marketing, holding him at bay whilst not exactly saying “no”:  able to dodge physical advances at the speed of light, sexuality more powerful than a locomotive and maybe she couldn’t leap tall buildings, but it didn’t mean she couldn’t still get to the top by climbing the corporate ladder. Surely it couldn’t be that easy, could it?

However, at the same time she craved career success, she had also fallen in love with one of the brightest engineers in the company, despite being in a relationship with someone else. She unfortunately, found that not only could she not say "no" to Michael, she didn't have the self-esteem to say really much at all. The words "I have a boyfriend" didn't occur to her that night he asked her to come out.

For a while all she could console herself with were the stories she heard as a teenager: “All it takes is one time, one bad decision, one choice – one, and you can get pregnant, or contract a disease and ruin your reputation forever.  Either that or God just has different plans in mind for you.”  Margaret Brandwick became a living example of “fate” and “destiny.” Twenty-one years old, and missed her daily dose of the pill. Once. She and Michael had sex. Once. They didn’t use protection. Once. And although she did imagine having babies with him, she didn’t imagine that she would actually ever have babies with him.

The phone call letting him know was the worst. Standing in the conference room, dialing his extension - not being able to breath.

"I need to talk to you."

"Okay---" his voice trailed off, cold. She could almost feel, over the phone line that he knew what she was going to tell him.

"I'm pregnant. About eight weeks."

"Okay---" Then silence, before, "how do you know it's mine?"

She knew then, that if she decided to keep the baby, they would never be together. Well, there was no deciding - she would never be able to abort his child. He was like a god to her, she respected his intelligence and his beauty without reciprocity. They were the thoughts of an immature, overly sexualized twenty-one year old girl lacking in any kind of self-worth, and too naive to realize that most days of her life she had been taken advantage of. Just thinking about the phone call still made her cringe with humiliation.

A few months of pregnancy, and living with her carefree, single girlfriends made Margie take stock of her situation, from more of an adult point of view; so when another one of her co-workers stepped in to take care of her, she didn’t question it. She knew Patrick loved her, and that was enough at the time. She would grow to love him back one day, wouldn’t she? And she would, but not in the way people think. Eventually, their first go round ended because he loved her. Margie remembered thinking it was fucking ironic. The relationship started because he loved her, and ended because he loved her.

"Why Scarlett," she mumbled to herself as she packed Patrick’s things for the moving truck, "I do declare ‘that’ is the alpha and the omega of not loving yourself."

They became a team, Callum and her. Anything bad that happened to them didn’t matter, they got through it together because she loved him. The realities of making choices back then hit her hard:  finally give in to her boss’ advances to keep her job? Yes. Keep her mouth shut even though everyone in the company now thought she was the biggest slut to walk the Earth, and treated her that way? Yes. Finally quit her job so that the government could sue Callum's father for child support because she couldn't afford to procure the "proof" he needed to claim responsibility? Yes. Start dating a string of losers because they took her out, gave her gifts and helped put gas in her car? Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. (Well, maybe not a thousand.)

Even as an attractive single woman, her dating pool was limited. Margie couldn’t recall ever having really been asked out on a date. In fact, she usually seemed to “fall into” her relationships – always being the pursuer, never really knowing if her partners were all that interested. So finally, she just gave up dating altogether. Especially after getting pregnant. Especially after getting a very strange phone call from a former lover who'd just been deployed to the Gulf.

"Wow, long time no talk, Brian. Or should I call you Lieutenant Thomas?"

"Ha, yes, thank you. I know, I know -- well - you know then I got my orders."

"Yes, I heard. I guess that's why I'm surprised to hear from you."

"Well, I need a favor. It's very important. I need to know if you've had an HIV test recently."

"No… not recently. Not since we were together.  Why, is something wrong?"

"No, not at all. We're just, I mean, everyone that's getting deployed needs to write up a history of their sexual partners and to get tested before going overseas - standard procedure. So here I am…calling you…from my list."

Margie smiled, "Ah, you have a list - a long one?" She chuckled and then, "Nah, don't answer that - I knew what I was getting into, you heading out to sea and all…  I can tell you right now, you're safe. I just had a baby. But I will still get tested if you want."
            "You have a baby?"

"Yes, don't act so surprised…     So, do you still want me to get tested?"

"Would you mind? I would so appreciate it. I'll call you back in a couple of weeks."

And so she did, and it was negative. Those tests always came back negative.

When Callum was just a year old, she had begun regularly dating a pilot, Tom.  Not the best looking guy, but he sure was smart and to her, that was sexier than your typical, over-promoted, chiseled features and dazzling smile. Call it evolutionary fitness if you want, it was his brains that her genetic code seemed attracted to – so she didn’t question it, (even though other people did).  Plus, he seemed to like her a whole lot. He also became quite attached to Callum; which she thought was an admirable trait. They had a lot of fun, the three of them – and so she began to wonder if Bob loved her enough for a commitment. They had become quite attached to each other, and afterall, neither of them were getting any younger.  Margaret wanted a family, a home, and a career, just like everyone else in America. She wanted the American Dream.

Every time she went over to his empty, non-decorated, big house in the suburbs, she wanted the American Dream. Compared to the one bedroom apartment she and Cal were currently living in the run down part of Young America, his was a mansion. Of course, when she wasn’t at his house, she was busy living her life – teaching aerobics, taking the improv classes that Tom had recommended, auditioning for plays, or gathering enough courage to begin auditioning for plays. Stage fright is a curse, but certainly could be conquered while finishing the basement of a four-bedroom cape cod.

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