Collateral Damage

The first man I ever loved I loved so passionately, so … I started to say unconditionally. But that’s not true.

He had rules for me. I was not to ask where he’d been (he might be gone for hours or days or even weeks), or who he’d been with (I knew he had other women. He was open about that.), or what he’d been doing, or where he got his money from, and of course I was not allowed to be with other men (That was fine with me, I was so in love with him I didn’t want anyone else.) … There were other rules.

I had two rules for him. Don’t mess with other women in front of me, and don’t ever lift a hand to hit me. So you see, my love was conditional. He eventually broke both rules and I left him when he broke the last one. But before that I went for the ride of my life.

I was barely 18 and he was 18 in the body of a 35-year-old man. He was beautiful. This is how I met him: I arrived home from a hard day at work when he came with my cousin’s friend to deliver some piece of furniture. I glanced up and our eyes connected. It felt like an electric charge passed between us. Everything disappeared but his eyes and the vague sense of his dark hair, goatee, and smooth good looks. Don’t ever let anyone tell you there’s no such thing as love at first sight. Despite my normal shyness, I knew immediately I had to have him.

“Aren’t you going to ask me out?,” I said. No coyness. No flirtation. Just a simple question. We went out later that night and every night after (except when he stayed with other women), until we moved in together. For a year he paid for everything: the furniture, the apartment, the utilities, the bar bill, the entertainment, the education. …

From him I learned that beautiful 6’5″ prostitutes that prowled the strip were not women–they were men–and that not all male prostitutes were gay. Some were straight guys trading on the only thing they had to pay for their food, or rent, or college tuition, or their next fix–same as the women, who also often needed to pay for their children’s upkeep. I learned some men love men, and some women love women. I learned about the prostitution industry, the porn industry, bondage and S&M. I also learned of the darker side of each of these. … (I said I was in love with him, I never said he was good for me.)

Being a fairly open and tolerant person to start with, as well as being endowed with an excessive curiosity about all things regarding humans and life in general, I was the perfect student and that was enough to keep him interested. He was the perfect mentor, because he kept me safe. I always trusted him, and he was always honest with me and kept his word, never pushing my boundaries, and never farming me out as one of his “stock.”

 

When I became pregnant he seemed to lose interest in me. Longer periods of time went by between his visits home. I was showing but still doing singing gigs, though dressing to minimize the obvious. One evening he and a mutual friend showed up at one of my gigs. During a break between sets, our friend asked if I was pregnant, and lover man bragged about getting me and some other woman pregnant at the same time. It was hurtful, but I understood how much his machismo needed that kind of stroking.( I told you, I was crazy crazy head-over-heels in love with the man.)

One of my gigs was at a nightclub where his brother bartended. During one of the song breaks my guitarist drew my attention to the bar where my lover man was sitting and feeling up the barmaid in a very public and familiar way. She was apparently enjoying his attentions. He glanced my way and realized I had caught him in the act. I could see it in his expression, guilt followed quickly by anger.

Later that week I was sleeping when he came home drunk and dragged me out of bed and started hitting me and accusing me of sleeping with other men and slamming me against the furniture and the walls. I guess the neighbor on the other side of the wall got tired of hearing me slammed against her wall, because the cops showed up. Before he answered the door he told me exactly what to say and threatened to kill me if I said anything else. One cop took him outside, another stayed with me in the living room and offered to take me to a shelter. He could see I was pregnant. He could see the beginning of bruises on my face and arms and chest, so it was pretty obvious what happened. But I stuck with the story. Lover man left for the night to “cool off,” on the advice of the police. The rest of that night I packed my belongings and when the sun came up I left for good.

Within a week I lost our daughter. Her name was Miriam Leah. I still mourn her. Not as intensely as I used to. Not all the time. But sometimes … Especially on the anniversary of losing her, or of what would have been her birth month. Or when something reminds me of what could have been.

I know it can’t be the same as losing a child you’ve raised and loved throughout their life. But there was life in me and I felt it. I had hopes and dreams for her. I couldn’t wait to hold her in my arms, to give her all the things I never had. Most of all to protect her and to love her absolutely unconditionally.

I hope there is such a thing as reincarnation. I hope she had another chance with better parents. I hope she knew how much I loved her and wanted her. I hope she felt that to the core of her being.

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