We had drank too much, really, and that wasn’t rare back in the day. I had this vague memory of beer and music and now there was a woman sleeping next to me and I couldn’t remember her name. I eased out of bed to go to the bathroom and then went into the kitchen to get some water. Summer was just getting cranked up and it was warming up but not viciously so. I went back into the bedroom and contemplated going through her purse to find her name. She had golden red hair, insanely curly, beautiful hair, really. The sun cut a thin beam onto the bed and illuminated the left side of her head. This was a photograph, a painting, some memorable work of art waiting to happen, but it never would. I didn’t own a camera, couldn’t paint, and wouldn’t have believed I could write for another ten years or so. The woman stirred in sleep and having no other viable ideas as what to do with the moment, I got back in bed with her.
She awoke with a start and sat up suddenly. She looked at me, looked around, looked back at me, and said, “Where am I?” I told her she was in my apartment, and she started to get out of bed. “Where are my clothes?” she asked. I told her she had taken them off as we came in, which was half true; I had helped. I realized she wanted to get out of bed but didn’t want me to see her naked. I wanted to see her naked. I didn’t volunteer to help find the clothes. She tried to slip out of bed with the sheet but I pulled her back.
“Look, uh, I had a great time last night, really I did, but I have to go…to work.” She said this and made the intellectual leap it was better to be seen naked than to be in bed naked, if getting away was what was wanted. She got up and found her jeans near the door. The woman had an incredible body. Also, she was a real redhead. She found the rest of her clothes and came back for her purse. “I had a great time.” She said and bolted for the door.
Damn. Okay, I was twenty-something and a serious drinker. I lay there and thought about the night before and tried to piece together where I had been and with who. She had a very nice body. I got up and slipped on a pair of shorts and decided I had to eat at least one meal that day. There was a knock on the door.
“Yeah?” I said without answering it.
“It’s me.” She said. “Deborah”
Ah! I remembered her name now that she said it. I opened the door which wasn’t locked. Deborah stood there red faced and looking really cute in an embarrassed sort of way.
“Do you know where my car is?”
She had forgotten she had ridden with me so I had to drive her back to the bar. “I had a great time last night” she repeated as she got out but I had the feeling she had gone too far too fast for her sober self. I stopped and got some breakfast biscuits and went back home.
I tried to backtrack as much as I could about the night and realized there was a good portion of it missing. Valdosta was, and still is, a college town where very young men and women are let off the leash for the first time in their lives and some of them make better decisions than others. Deborah wasn’t the first young woman in that bar to allow herself to be talked into a one night stand and she wasn’t going to be the last. Honestly, as much as she might have pretended to regret it as she left, the truth of the matter is she was excited and energized by the idea of sex for the sake of sex. That I did remember. I didn’t remember exactly how we met or when she showed up, and I was a little hazy on when we had made it back to my place. As tawdry as this all sounds I wasn’t very successful with women. I was very awkward in public and that has never really left me.
A week or so later there was another knock on the door. Deborah stood there, reddened again, and I held the door open for her.
“Really, I just want the locket back.” She told me. “Please.”
“Huh?” I had no idea what she was talking about.
“I lost a locket. Is it here or not?” Now she was beginning to look mad.
“I haven’t seen a locket but I can look.” I left the door open and looked back. She hadn’t followed me. I lived in a very old, very run down, but very large apartment. I went back to my bedroom and looked in the bookcase that was built into the headstand of the bed. Sure enough, there was a small wristwatch and a locket on a silver chain. I took them back to Deborah who had stepped into the doorway.
“Here you go.” I said. “Would you like to come in for a beer…or something?”
“Thank you.” She turned and left in a hurry.
The bar in question was one of those neighborhood bars that was close enough to the college to have a good mix of locals and intellectuals. One of the unspoken rules was if there was someone too drunk to function we would try to get someone to come get them rather than let that person stagger off. Mostly this rule applied to women because guys are pretty hard to stop when they’ve been drinking. But one night there was a very loud and very drunk woman who landed on the floor and we finally got out of her where she lived and her phone number. I called her roommate and told her to come get this drunk person before someone else did. Half an hour later Deborah showed up and eyed me very suspiciously and I got another very quick thank you before she left with a drunk draped across her.
Now, against all odds, Marla, the drunk roommate, was grateful to me for finding her a way home. She saw me in the bar one night later in the week and bought me a pitcher of beer for helping her when she was too drunk, and yes, that sounds weird now but back then it seemed natural. Marla sat there, with Deborah present, and heaped praised on me for helping a damsel in distress rather than trying to take advantage of her. Deborah sat there and tried to control her blushing and discovered that getting angry made things worse. The anger part came in when Marla invited me over to their place for a cookout. Oh, yes, of course, I would be happy to attend.
“I have never in my life done anything like that.” Deborah told me abruptly at the cookout. “And to be honest I am more than a little embarrassed.” I had sat down at a picnic table with her, after she had gone to great lengths to avoid me all night long.
“So because we’ve been intimate we’re supposed to be strangers?” I asked. I thought that was cleverly said, and remember the exact words even today.
“As long as you don’t bring it up or think it will ever happen again,” Deborah said, “or make any comments in front of anybody about…” There wasn’t enough light for me to see her face clearly but she wasn’t having a good time with the aftermath of our tryst. “…is there any way at all you cannot speak to me again?”
I eased away from the angry woman. Angry women were to be avoided at all costs and it wasn’t costing me very much to escape this one. Marla, on the other hand, thought I was valiant and gentlemanly and she retold the story to anyone who would listen. To toss some more gas on the fire her boyfriend, Doug, arrived from their hometown of Rome, Georgia, and he was more than just a little grateful for the rescue. Deborah sat at the picnic table and glowed red. Matters were made, much, much, worse, for Deborah at least, when Doug invited me to go with them to Providence Canyon the next day. Deborah had talked them into going so she could take some photos and Doug thought me going along was perfect.
The next morning the phone rang. “Dude!” It was Doug on the other end of the line. “So you totally bagged Deborah? That is awesome as hell, man, I thought she had that thing sewn up or something!”
“What?” I was still half asleep.
“Deborah says she doesn’t want you to go because you two go drunk and banged on the floor until the people downstairs banged on the ceiling!” Doug seemed elated for some reason.
“She said that?” Now I was awake.
“No, but from what she told Marla you put something on her.” Doug sounded like a man who was on the verge of screaming with laughter.
“She’s intense” I really didn’t know what to say. Doug went on to say they were going, I wasn’t, but he’d drink with me, any day of the week, and back then, that was something.
That was that, or so I thought. I ran into Doug at a bar one night and we drank ourselves into a coma because he was buying. The story lost nothing in the telling and unfortunately, Doug was not only buying but telling people why he was buying. This is the way he set it up: Deborah was one of those never say yes women who was going to go through college without a dent in her reputation. Well, along comes Mike and he turns her into a screaming panther with just a couple of beers! Okay, as the night went on the story got a lot stranger, but what the hell. We’re all adults here and I never said a word about what happened one way or another. Honestly, I thought I had seen the last of the woman.
And then about a month later Deborah shows up at my door one night with everything but a gun in her hand. “I’m late,” she tells me as she walks in, sits down, and starts sobbing. “Late, I didn’t even know you were…ooh, that kind of late, oh damn oh damn oh damn.” Then I felt like crying, too. I knew better than to say something about us having options because I could tell she wasn’t going to respond well to that. For that matter, Deborah was in a state to respond poorly to anything I said or did so I just sat there while she cried. I started to put my arm around her and stopped, arm hovering in midair, and my hand looked at me as if to say, “Dude, this is goodbye, it’s been good!” and I decided against it.
“I did the EPT. It’s positive. Go get the damn bloodwork done, if you’re going to marry me,” Deborah said as she stood up, “and don’t bother speaking to me if you aren’t going to be a man about this.” And just as suddenly as she walked in, Deborah walked back out. Every bit of about five minutes had passed.
I went and got some beer but decided to sit around and be sober for a change. That woman, who I had spoken to enough to count all the times on one hand, was going to have a baby. My baby. I was going to be a father in, I did the math, holy shit, March or April. I didn’t even so much as have a dog, a cat, or a snake at that point in my life. At the same time, I had known a lot of guys who hadn’t done right by the women they had gotten pregnant and dammit, I was just not going to be one of those guys! I knew a guy who had ran off on the woman he had been with for a few months and all the while claimed she had cheated on him, that she was a slut, and there was no telling whose baby it was. I knew better. I knew her better. I thought I knew him better. But there he was out drinking like nothing had happened and some woman carrying his kid was out alone and likely scared as hell about it. I opened my first beer and resolved to become a father to the child, even if Deborah hated me. I would go do whatever had to be done, first thing in the morning, which was about eleven for me at that point in my life, and I faced the future with a little less than a twelve pack in me.
It’s easy, ridiculously easy, to get married. Sunday night I found out Deborah was pregnant, and by Wednesday it was all over but the rice throwing. The blood work would come back by Friday and I could be a married man on Sunday. I went to her place to talk to her after getting the license and she looked all the world like a woman who was about to have her transmission changed by a stranger who was going to charge her after the work was done, in her bedroom. Doug was totally silent but he looked at me differently, that death row, stage four cancer, or you’re going to get married because you have to look. I don’t know how it is these days but back then for a man to marry the woman he had gotten pregnant wasn’t a sure thing. We hadn’t known one another but a month or so. Marla hugged my neck hard and she was teary eyed. I had to call my family but I just didn’t know how to explain it. After telling Deborah I had gotten all the details covered I started to leave. She got up and followed me out. “I guess I better start getting used to you,” she said with a sigh.
She wasn’t drinking so I wasn’t either. It made me feel itchy and weird. We sat down and talked about the due date, what we would name the baby, and how I planned to support them. This was long before health insurance was available at most jobs and I was working part time at the time. I had to get a real full time job. I had to stop drinking so much. We had to move into a kid friendly place. I had to meet her family and she had to meet mine. But mostly we had to have money. She had gone to the hospital to get an estimate and I remember it was well over ten grand. Deborah asked me if I had any money saved and I told her I had about five hundred dollars. Suddenly, that sort of money looked very, very small. But Deborah was just getting started. If we really wanted to do right by the child we were likely going to have to both work and that meant day care. She had made a list on a legal pad of the requirements she thought we ought to have for the kid’s future and it was scary as hell. I was going to have to work two jobs. Three or four maybe.
I needed some time to think. This was all mind blowing. Deborah said that we ought to live together, and we might as well start, well, now. She was going to get a few things and come back. Tomorrow we’d move the rest of her stuff over. “Let me have the keys to your car,” she said. I sat on the sofa in a state of shock until she got back. Girl stuff, hair stuff, and a lot of other stuff. My bathroom disappeared.
We went through the want ads and she circled jobs she wanted me to apply for the next morning, zero six hundred sharp. Deborah’s game plan was for me to get there before the managers did so when they did arrive my name would be the first thing they heard. We dragged my suit out and she told me she would iron it before we went to bed that night and then it struck me; she was spending the night. I needed some time to sort things out but…
When you’re in your twenties sex is never short of incredible. Yet there was something different about being with a woman who was pregnant with my child. As much as I wanted at the moment there was much more going to be demanded of me in less than a year. In three months she would be showing. Deborah would be as big as a house in five or six months. As we lay in bed together, neither of us ready or willing to sleep, there was a lot to think about. I put my hand on her belly and wondered who was there. Would this be someone who loved me or hated me? Would I be able to grow this person into a baby? I didn’t know anything at all about kids except they were smaller than adults. Morning came very suddenly and I found myself in a whole new world. The morning sun in her hair looked a lot different now. The beauty was still there but now there was something else. This wasn’t an artistic moment to be enjoyed anymore. This was as serious as it was ever going to get.
“Yes, sir, my girlfriend is pregnant and we’re getting married, yes, our first, yes, I can start right away, oh no, I have no experience but…” and I hit a good solid dozen places in one day. I was exhausted mentally. Deborah was there when I got home. She had more than a few questions for me as far as what had happened during the day. She had suggestions.
“I can’t stand seafood, by the way,” she Deborah said suddenly, in a very sudden change of subject, “and I don’t eat very much pork.”
“Wow,” I said, “and I kinda love both.”
“We have to start shopping together,” she said, “so we have to find out what we both like.”
“Wow” I repeated.
Then we talked about music; she liked top forty and I hated it. We talked about television shows, I didn’t much like television and she loved “Murder She Wrote”. We both liked Sci fi movies and Westerns, and we both liked a lot of the same books. Deborah was deathly afraid of snakes. I couldn’t stand gospel music. I liked women with long hair. After the baby arrived she wanted to cut hers all off. She asked me if I had any real job skills or any sort of training or anything at all that might help get us rolling before the baby arrived. This was the thirteenth interview of the day for me and I felt like I had pretty much failed this one too.
The next day was a clone of the day before; more job interviews and more rejections and more interviews. I kept thinking about the guy who had skipped out. It was easy. All I had to do was walk through the door, tell Deborah I wasn’t ready to do this, and she would get pissed off and walk away from me. I really didn’t want to do this. I hated the idea of getting married and being a father. But it was an either/or situation. I could be that guy that denied his child or I could be one of those men struggling to make ends meet and working his ass off forever. There was only one choice, really, and I knew it.
“Ready to tell your parents?” Deborah asked. She had cooked supper and honestly, it looked pretty good. She had baked a chicken and there were a lot of veggies. There weren’t any mashed potatoes, but clearly that was not going to be a problem. There were much more important things being served.
“I guess so, yeah, we better.” I swallowed hard. This made it even more real. “When do we do the meeting of the parents thing? Where do your folks live?’
“They live in eastern Tennessee, a little town called Oakville, it’s a small community, really. I think we ought to invite all the interested parties over and everyone get to know one another all at once.” Deborah paused. “How does next Saturday sound?”
“Wow,” that was my new favorite word, “okay, let’s do it.”
“When are we getting married, Mike?” Deborah asked suddenly. “You are going to propose aren’t you?’
“I thought…” I started to say something about just going down to the courthouse but after two days with this woman I realized that look on her face meant something. “I’ll try to get it right.”
The third day of intensive job search meant going back to a couple of places that I had already been to before. It was different now. I usually wasn’t going to put up with anyone’s attitude when looking for a job but I needed the job a lot more than I needed to mouth off at some secretary with a goddess complex. I swallowed my pride, said yes ma’am and smiled.
Dinner was waiting for me when I got home and I realized I like it. All in all, I liked Deborah and she seemed to like me. She had fixed leftover chicken, and I knew I was going to have to get used to leftovers in a big way. I told her the job at the boat factory looked good, paid well, promised overtime, and she wouldn’t have to put up with me for about twelve hours a day, six days a week, but there were no benefits. Deborah had already made up the list of places to look the next day and none of them looked any better, but certainly no worse, than those before.
“So, Mike,” Deborah said in a tone of voice that I had learned to pay attention to, “do you want your life back?’
“No,” and I was serious, “it’s going to take some getting used to, but I can do this.” I said it and I meant it, but I had no idea if I could actually do it.
“I’m not pregnant.” Deborah said. “I started my period two days after our first night together.”
“What?” The chicken fell off my fork and hit the plate. My lower jaw followed.
“I’m not pregnant.” Deborah repeated. “I was never even late.”
“What?” It was my new favorite word now and I meant it.
“So you pick a woman up at a bar, drink with her, have sex with her, and then you do it all over again, and not once do you stop to consider what is going to happen if she hasn’t made plans for birth control. I wasn’t on The Pill.”
“What?” I repeated the word as if there might be something said that made sense.
“I went to that bar because after studying for a test for a month I thought I might get out and meet someone I could talk to about accomplishing something important to me. You wanted to talk to me about my looks. I tried to lure you into a conversation about what you liked and you wanted to talk about my tits.” Deborah didn’t look mad at all. She looked…happy. “All I wanted was for some guy to sit across a table from me and tell me that what I had just done impressed him. You were so drunk you couldn’t remember what subject the test was on. And you were doing great as far as what you were doing. How many times have you gone through that spiel to be able to get it right when that intoxicated? A hundred? A thousand? It’s like watching you guys play football or darts or anything else you men do. It’s a game. It’s a competition. You sit there and lap up the attention other guys give you when you have sex with a woman and you never stop to consider that there are consequences, large, small and in between, to the woman. It’s a small bar, Mike. People are watching you. People know what kind of person you are when you’re drunk, and when you ask a woman to go home with you it reflects on her image when you leave with her.”
“You aren’t pregnant?” I tried to think. “Why did you do this to me?”
“Are you listening to me?” Deborah laughed but it didn’t sound like she was amused. “Why did you do this to me? What did you do to me? You got lucky, we got lucky, and the next time you get hammered and think an easy woman is a good thing, well, you might want to think about how the last week or so has felt.”
“All of this just to teach me a lesson?” I was stunned.
“No, all of this to teach you a lesson and for me to get sex on my terms. I used you, Mike. How does it feel now? I wanted sex with a man who was going to work hard at doing the right thing. I wanted sex with a man who would stand by me if things were tight. I wanted to have sex with a man who would work his ass off to be responsible and that’s what you did. I made you feel like you had an obligation and I made the people around you feel like you had an obligation. Those are my terms, Mike, those are the conditions under which I like to get a man in bed with me. Now, you may thing those conditions are a little harsh, but how did it make you feel? Do you feel better or worse than, let’s say, fondling a woman’s breast in public while you’re too drunk to stand up?”
“But your roommates…I could have told my parents, I’ve…” I was stunned.
“So what about the parents of the women you’ve slept with? Ever think you might have gotten some girl pregnant and never known it? When I came back for the stuff I left here did you think about anything other than getting my jeans off again? That’s when all of this came together. I knew right then I was going to do this.”
“You’re a bitch” I said it but I didn’t meant it. I tried to remember the last woman I had slept with while I was drunk and couldn’t remember her name.
“You’re a harmless little creature, Mike, all in all, just like most men, but you still carry that one threat, that one bullet in your gun, and you haven’t a bit of care in the world when someone gets hurt when it goes off.” Deborah stood up. “Honestly, I could fall for you. You are a good man, deep inside, and I started hating myself for what I did. I was going to make you sweat for a while but you really were going to do the right thing and now I have to apologize for what I’ve done. But the sex was good enough to stay another night for, but you know what? I don’t think it will work. Thanks, bye.”
I heard the door close and for a moment I wondered how on earth someone could have done something like that. But I remember the guy who told me the kid wasn’t his. I remembered how it felt to hear him say it. The phone rang and it was the goddess secretary.
“I have spoken with your wife and we have decided to hire you.” She said in a voice that was meant to make me feel small. “We start work at seven.”
“Yes ma’am.” I said. “I’ll be there.”
I sat on the sofa with a beer in my hand. I wasn’t going to be a father after all. I hadn’t told anyone and in reality, there was no way on earth I was ready. But the thought had formed, embryonic and real to me. I had been used. I had been played. And something I thought was there wasn’t.