Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ken and Barbie

Barb was one of those people I remember the first time I met. Not because she was notable in any way, other than she was dating a friend of mine named Ken. Yeah, Ken and Barbie, and she always hated that. I think she always hated me for being the first to say it that night, but she had a lot of reasons to hate me before it was all over, and it is now.

Barb went to college, unashamedly, to find a husband and a father for her three kids, when she had them. There would be a white wedding. There would be a Honeymoon. There would be a Good Job. And finally, after all these things were in their proper sequential order, there would be children, three of them, in point of fact. They would be well taken care of, she wouldn’t have to work if she didn’t want to, and her children would want for nothing ever. Her husband would be a man with real energy and ambition, and he would provide for her all the things that had always been provided for her, because, once more unashamedly, she was her Daddy’s Little Girl, and she was accustomed to having nice things.

When she arrived on campus from Sandy Springs Georgia, Barb had to find her feet quickly, or she realized they would spend much more time in the air above her head than she wanted. This was her first time away from her parents and the idea that she could get sex anytime, from practically any man she wanted, was a lot like the idea that cocaine could be had easily by pretty women. She backed away from the party scene quickly and began her quest for very good grades, and a very good husband. She met Ken through her roommate who was putting the term “Freshman Fifteen” to a whole different definition. Her roommate was an Art Major, and that was a waste of time, Barbie thought, and mentioned more than once aloud.

But Ken was interesting. He was from a modest family but he was charming, and he was good with people. He was a business major. He drove a sensible car. He spoke of the future as if it were something that he controlled and desired. Ken worked with a local real estate agent and Barb realized what Ken was doing before Ken did; he was building business contacts. Ken was heading into real estate as a very young man with an idea of what it took to get people to invest in him and buildings. Barb looked upon this and saw that it was good.

There was a lot of drinking, of course, that came with college, and Ken also had friends who were art people, destined to poverty and alcohol as a future. These people, friendly as they might be, were obstacles to The Plan, and they had to be eliminated. Or avoided. The pressure for Ken to quit the party scene increased over the first year of their relationship, and then it got downright ugly; Ken was using his low rent friends to help cover his dalliances with even lower rent women. Barb was nothing if not a woman of action. She went straight to the one person who Ken would not and could not, cross or betray, at least openly; his mother. Barb, by appealing to the family for help, secured her place as a member of the family and by throwing herself at the feet of the woman who she hoped would be her future mother-in-law, appeased the woman’s fears that Barb was there to steal her son away from her. They formed an alliance. Ken could either abandon the relationship with Barb or he could zip his pants back up. Or at least be a lot more discreet.

Barb realized that there was an unspoken agreement now. If she was to limit Ken’s access to other women she was going to have to make sure there was no reason for him to seek any other woman for anything. While she enjoyed immensely his sexual aggressiveness, she began to realize that it thrilled him to take her in places where they might be caught; in the back room of bars, dressing rooms in stores, and the place that she thought most odd, the top of the library at the college. Yet she learned to enjoy these spontaneous sexual encounters and even helped facilitate them for her man was a risk taker and she was all in for being along for the ride.

Sexually speaking, Barb wasn’t opposed to anything at all that was demanded of her, and she liked the idea that he demanded of her, but she wasn’t going to trade partners with anyone no matter how drunk she got, she wasn’t interested in sharing a bed with a woman, and anal sex was painful as hell for her. By this time it was 1987, and in October of 1987, just a few months before Ken graduated with his Master’s, the stock market plunged like a rock in cold water. Barb’s father took an enormous hit. Barb was stunned. Ken’s business friends were shocked. Only Ken was unfazed. He told everyone to buy, and buy as much as they could afford. Ken took her home that weekend and Ken spent many hours talking to her father. There, Barb, told me, right there, was when it happened. That was the moment that her father began to listen to Ken, to respect his knowledge, and in this, she was bonded to one man because of her love for another. If her father could and would accept Ken then this was it. This was the passing from being Daddy’s Girl to be the Dutiful Wife. Barb realized that sexually speaking, she was going to have to offer more because that was what she was supposed to do.

They got really drunk one night and the party lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Barb had lost, and lost badly at a drinking game and the room spun. There was some cocaine, but not a lot, and graduation was just weeks away. Ken got on top of her, turned her over, and Barb realized if she was ever going to be able to handle it, this was as good an opportunity as she would have. Ken was very slow and very patient with her, and Barb realized as bad as it hurt, she could endure it. Not enjoy it, not like it, not even so much as be indifferent to it, but she could stand that level of pain for as long as it took. She knew him well enough to know that her excitement fed his so she allowed herself to make the noises she knew he loved and in five minutes it was over. She had, at last, given him something hitherto unobtainable in his own home. But it had hurt like hell.
Ken drifted over into bondage right after they bought their first house. It was not only a nice house but a very nice house. Her parents were impressed, his parents were impressed, his employer was impressed, and in her heart of hearts, Barb knew she would begin to conceive children in this new home, in this new bed, and if she was impregnated while handcuffed to the bedposts it wouldn’t make a bit of difference at all. Ken began to realize that a very drunk Barb was a much more accessible Barb, and Barb began to realize that when Ken started trying to get her drunk, there was something on his mind. They never talked about it, never set the rules, never mentioned it out loud, but Barb figured that once a month she would have to get drunk enough to let Ken chain her to the bed, face down, arms and legs spread wide for him, and he would as gently as he could, enter her, then as his excitement grew, pound her. Barb would bite the pillow, moan at the right time, move her hips to facilitate the action, and be sore for a couple of days. Being pregnant stopped the drinking, but ever else could be said about Ken, he was otherwise a good husband and partner; when Barb was pregnant he treated her as if she were fragile and he treated her like the mother of his children.

Twice in four years Barb got pregnant, both girls, and Ken was a dutiful father, much like her own, and Barb’s attention was distracted from where and what Ken might be doing. One night a friend called her and said that Ken was down at a bar, a college bar, with a woman, and the friend came over while Barb went out to catch her husband with a much younger woman, who was dressed in a ratty tee shirt, a pair of cut off shorts, and boots that went up to her knees. Barb knew that the social conscious Ken would not risk his place as one of the pillar of the community types for this sort of woman so she pitched a very public fit. She threw a pitcher of beer in his face, screamed obscenities, and then, once again, called his mother. Ken was the consummate pragmatic businessman; he realized that if Barb left him and took the kids with her, he was ruined. Once again, Ken mended his ways, and even the drinking stopped, along with those things that went with it. For nearly a decade there was smooth sailing, PTA meetings, memorable Christmas mornings, and then, out of the blue, another daughter was conceived.

The third child seemed to confound Ken. For some reason this late child weighed on him. They had stopped drinking, the handcuffs came out less regularly, and Ken seemed very happy with sex stolen with his wife while his children were finally asleep and they both had the energy to do more than talk about the next day’s schedule. Yet Ken seemed more distant and moody.  The new child was starting all of this all over again. But it was good, it was all good. The child was seven, in the first grade, the two older daughters looking at college, good colleges, and one of them had attracted the attention of a worthy young man, full of ambition and from a very good family. Barb was calculating her grandmotherhood, grandchildren, and perhaps an empty nest in another ten years, and suddenly, Mike Firesmith appeared once again.

Ken and I met by accident, in a hardware store, I hadn’t seen him in twenty something years and he came over and drank with me a couple of times. I went over to their place, a very nice house, and Barb and I were at peace. After all, I was just an old drinking buddy, and I had stopped drinking so much. Her daughters mirrored her good looks, her blonde hair, and even the youngest seemed to be a clone of her. I didn’t see it coming, Barb didn’t either, but Ken showed up at my house at two in the morning, parked his truck in my yard, and when I went out to see what the hell was going on, he had some twenty-five year old women he met in a bar with him. I went back inside, picked up the mobile phone, called Barb, and then walked back out and handed the phone to Ken. “Your wife wants to know why you aren’t at home with your kids.” I told him, and it pissed him off. But we had all been through this back in the eighties. I had eaten at that woman’s table and I had made peace with her and the past. I wasn’t going to do this again.

Ken left Barb for this woman in less than a month. Barb showed up at my house one night and we had a very, very long conversation. It was part confession and part plea. I think she truly believed that if she just told me everything, everything and everything, somehow, I could convince Ken to go back home. It’s where most of this came from. Ken married the young woman and she dumped him less than a year later when he found another woman in another bar. He was divorced three times in eighteen months. He picked up three DUI’s. The last time he as over here drinking with me he nearly tripped over Sam and then went after Sam, as if it was Sam’s fault. I picked up a fireplace poker and told him he could sleep in his truck, but not to come back in my house.
Barb sent me a text message last night. Ken was killed in a car wreck somewhere in Indiana a month ago. He was working in a cabinet shop in some small town, living with a waitress who didn’t know he had a family, and it took a while for anyone to really care to look.



  1. That's one of the saddest things I've ever read.
    "and it took a while for anyone to really care to look."

    1. He devoted himself to alcohol. It's a poor substitute for family.

  2. Alcohol is great if you don't live too long.
    Actually, the same goes for family.