"Please don't ask no questions
And I won't tell you lies
Diggin' in the dirt, only gonna hurt
It's time you realized

If you got somethin' to say
Go ahead n' fire away
No matter what card you play
It's you I've always needed

Our love will never die
(Never die)
Don't know why
It's a feelin' inside"

- Krokus - "Our Love"




         The night my past finally caught up with me


Friday, March 26, 2010
Old Athens Gyros
Hattiesburg, MS




I slowly drove the red ’91 Z07 Corvette through Hattiesburg, lamenting the fact that a ZF six speed manual in heavy late night traffic kept me from doing all that much hand holding with my wife Cindy between having to constantly row gears and dance on pedals.   Our two daughters were at my parents.  Our hotel reservation was made.  
And ... we were just going to take it easy and take our time getting to where we needed to go.  I had wanted to take Cindy to Slidell, Louisianna ... I'd wanted to be down there about four hours ago, around five, to give us enough time to check into our motel, eat at Young's Steakhouse and catch the new Johnn Depp movie "Alice in Wonderland".  Tomorrow we had tickets to see "Wicked" which Cindy had been waiting for several years to see.  She had once made me promise that if "Wicked" the musical ever came within 500 miles of Hattiesburg that I would take her to see it.

I was living up to that promise now but here, in my Corvette, in heavy traffic, four hours late and all of my plans for Friday having fallen through ... yeah, it was times like this when I was really glad that I was a stoic.  I mentally switched Young's Steakhouse from Friday night to Saturday night, maybe early so we could still go see "Alice in Wonderland" and then spend another night together back at our hotel there in Slidell ... just the two of us having time together that we never seemed to have any more.  Cindy, a little dejected, agreed to just roll with the situation and like that life got a whole lot better because I started doing what I do best when plans fall through ... I improvised and I made it work regardless of the cost.  Instead of going to Young's Steakhouse on a Friday night, I took her to one of my favorite local restaurants in Hattiesburg ... Old Athens, a Greek gyro place across from the University of Southern Mississippi; the school itself an icon in our lives where we had both graduated within two years of each other way back in the early to mid-'90's. 

Fifteen minutes later the Vette was locked and parked and we were walking into the restaurant.  I paused at the front door and looked across Highway 49 at the Pan Helenic dormitory for women, for sororities.

"What?" Cindy asked, following my gaze.

I smiled.

"Just remembering ... Spring '94.  Old South.  You in your Antebellum dress, at walkout there on the steps."

"Long time ago ..." she said.

I remembered it like it was yesterday.  Kappa Alpha's Old South celebration ... Cindy in her blue and white Antebellum dress and hoop skirt, white gloves pulled back to her elbows, her hair done up in a period style ... blue eyes to match her dress.  Yeah, that afternoon had been sixteen years ago but I remembered it like it was yesterday.  Cindy had a natural beauty, the kind that didn't need makeup or a lot of prep when she left the house.  That day ... that afternoon ... sixteen years ago ... Cindy had been literally breathtaking in her beauty.

"Come on." she whispered and I pulled myself out of my memories.

This late at night there wasn't a problem with crowding at the restaurant and the hostess sat us at a secluded table in the front right of the restaurant.  Small talk, Cindy looked over the menu.  I was a regular so I knew what I wanted.  The waitress had just brought our drinks and taken our orders and like that, after so much having gone wrong this afternoon and tonight, with all of our plans for a fun two night get-away having been muddled up here we were, at last, just the two of us, together.  I looked down at my large glass of sweet tea, took a drink and decided it wasn’t sweet enough … at least not for my preferred taste.  I had just added five packets of sugar to my cup of tea and was stirring it when Cindy gave me a sultry look and held her hands across the table, snapping her fingers indicating that I should take her hands in mine and hold them. 

I took her hands in my hands and squeezed. 

Hard.

She cut her eyes at me and smiled, shaking her head to send her hair flowing across her face to match her sultry look …

God!

Cindy was beautiful, always had been, but she was even more so tonight than she normally was.  There was magic in the air, the kind that two people share when they haven’t shared much with each other in a while out of imposed circumstance rather than mutual choice.  Cindy had taken extra time to fix herself up; she had worn her boots, some tight fitting jeans, a tight fitting shirt, she’d spent extra time on her hair and makeup and had broken out some jewelry that she only wore on special occasions … even her perfume had been chosen to excite and entice.  In a word she was stunning.  Yes, she’d gone all out to look good for me tonight and I was appreciating every second I spent with her while anticipating the rest of the night to come. 

Cindy and I had been together for a long time now, in fact, in four months we would be celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary. 

Soon.

Fifteen years together married ... that was an accomplishment in today's society where marriages were more disposable than the paper bag that your fast food burger came in.  Fifteen years ... with the same woman.  I could also remember when most of my relationships didn't last fifteen months let alone fifteen years ... but then I'd never met anyone like, never been with anyone like Cindy.

Cindy and I had met in the fall of 1992 after I'd graduated from USM and right after I'd started working at Magnolia Federal Bank in downtown Hattiesburg.  One thing led to another and by December of 1992 we were rattling sabers at each other, flirting with each other across the department boundaries and doing that slow pace of each other that two people do when they're eyeing each other up and down and trying each other on for size to see how the other person is going to fit their life.  I was seeing someone long distance and when that went down in flames at the end of December '92, Cindy began to be even more interested in me.  In the spring of 1993 Cindy had made up her mind; she began her hostile takeover of my heart in earnest but it wasn't until August of 1993 that we really became a couple and started dating each other exclusively, commiting to a relationship with each other.  In November of '93 I moved to Meridian, Mississippi to start work at a small software company and suddenly Cindy and I only got to see each other on weekends ... it was back to a long distance relationship.  Cindy came after me like a heat seeking missile but I held her at bay for almost a year, just not wanting to commit to the level of relationship that Cindy was expecting and then I almost lost her ...

Fall 1994.

We'd been together thirteen months ... the usual amount of time that my relationships lasted.

Cindy had come up to Meridian to stay for the weekend.

We were riding my '93 Honda VFR750F.

Riding slow, late at night through downtown Meridian, heading back to my apartment.

Cindy and me.

The wreck.

My Honda destroyed by a careless driver who had run a red light.

Cindy's crumpled, motionless body in the intersection.

Me picking myself up out of the intersection and hobbling over to her as fast as I could.

Thirteen months.

We'd been together thirteen months.

The usual time that my relationships lasted ... it took me that long to make up my mind that it was Cindy that I really wanted.

God was with us that night and we were spared any serious injury; the '93 Honda VFR750F was destroyed.  

Thirteen months together and it took her nearly getting killed in a really bad motorcycle wreck to make me realize that Cindy was my soulmate.  

The summer of '95 we were walking down the center aisle of the church that she grew up in on our way to being joined as husband and wife.   All told Cindy and I were coming up on eighteen years of knowing each other and of being together, fifteen of those years being married to one another, and it just kept getting better with each passing year.

Ups and downs and all arounds and we were both in it for the long run.

Memories.

I held her hands and she held mine. 

It was times like this that I truly lived for and worked my ass off so I could have the time built up to take off and enjoy being with her … just her.  I stared into her eyes.  Cindy had really beautiful blue eyes ... I had a thing for girls with pretty eyes ... and I found myself just losing myself in her eyes.

“So … " she started, smiling that smile she always smiled when she was in a playful mood.

"So ..." I repeated, half taunting her, half a question, not sure where she was wanting to go or what she was wanting to lead into.

"So ... Tell me about the others …” Cindy said in a sultry whisper.

And like that ... the night came to a silent halt.

“The ... others?” I asked, blindsided and not sure what she was asking me for.

“You know ... The other women in your life.  The ones that I don’t know about."

"Uh ... there are no ... other ... women ... in my life ..." I said not entirely sure what she was getting at.

I was confused for a second, blindsided out of nowhere.

"Yes, there are other women in your life.  The women before me.  I want to know about the ones that you haven’t told me about yet.”

... and that's when my night got really interesting.  

Whenever we were alone like this Cindy always liked to ask me questions about my life, about my past, the life and past that I had before I ever met her and for the most part I told her what she wanted to know.  For the most part.  Tonight I’d left my mind open for a whole lot but that was probably the last thing that I had expected Cindy to ask me.   Fifteen years of marriage, eighteen years of being best friends and lovers; it had been a while, a long while, years in fact, since Cindy had asked me about my past, the past that I never really talked about to her, the past that I never really liked to talk about to anyone who wasn't a part of it and those who had been a part of it were long gone and far away. 

Dust.

It was all dust ... just dust in the rearview mirror.

So much damn dust.

I told Cindy a long time ago that I hadn’t been a nice guy before I met her and that I hadn’t been a very good boy.  In fact, when I'd graduated from USM I'd basically swore off a lot of my old habits and started a new life, from scratch.  I became a good boy, hard as that was to do, and in doing so I realized that being a good boy was really and I mean really overrated.  I gave up the whiskey and bad girls and bar hopping and rowdy friends (all of which had moved away by then) and decided to try to make a good living by playing by the rules, dressing nice and trying to be normal.  It was the most boring change I'd ever made in my life and ever since August 1992 I'd slowly been moving back towards being the bad boy, just a well tempered, well rounded bad boy.   I felt a certain kinship with Ray Liota's character, Henry Hill, in the movie "Good Fellas", especially the last part of the movie where Henry Hill has to adapt to a normal life and he says "I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook."

Oh ... Cindy knew of some of my past ... some ... but the vast majority of it I just preferred to keep from her.  I don’t know why, I guess I just didn’t want her to judge me by who I was before I met her, only by who I was after I’d met her.  Part of this is because when I'd tell her that I wished I could go back in time and meet her years before I did, that I'd skip out on a couple of real losers and a lot of misery in my life, she was always quick to say "I probably wouldn't have dated you when you were in that part of your life."

Cindy had glimpses of my life before her ... and she didn't like who I was or how I lived my life ... but it intrigued her nonetheless.

I'd kept a lot of things from Cindy and I'd done it on purpose ... she once told me that keeping things from her, like my past, was lying to her and I told her it wasn't lying if I never told her about my past, about the time before I ever met her, and she would always reply that it was lying by omission.  Semantics.  Cindy was like that ... she had a razor sharp mind ... just one of the reasons why I fell in love with her and married her.  There was an old saying; ignorance is bliss and what Cindy didn't know couldn't hurt her.

What Cindy didn't k now couldn't hurt me either. 

No, I wanted Cindy to judge me by who I had been for almost the past two decades of my life … time I’d spent solely with her at my side, not for who I was before I ever knew her because none of who or what I was before I met her, none of what I'd done, none of who I'd been with, none of what I'd done while I was with them ... none of that mattered.  Over the many years that we'd spent together Cindy had pried bits and pieces of my life out of me, not much, just enough to quickly satisfy her curiosity or scare her away from wanting to know any more for the time being but she always came back for more.  She had chiseled away at hard set scabs, uncovered ancient ruins, missing persons and dug up buried skeletons.  Cindy liked to dig into my past ... but she didn't always like what she dug up.  Curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought her back, as the old saying went and Cindy was part cat if she was part anything.

I guess my expression said volumes because Cindy was still sitting across from me, my hands in hers, waiting.

"So there were others that you haven’t told me about." she said, chewing her lip and nodding.

"Yeah." I said, reluctantly, because I wasn't sure if this was worth fighting over or if this was even gearing up to be a fight.

Right then I was still lost from having been blindsided by the conversational topic and everything felt so surreal, so out of sync.

"Who were they?" she asked.

“Just ... women.  Why does it matter?"

"Because I want to know." she said.

I really wasn't sure where this was going ...

"Why do you want to know?  Why are you asking this ... I mean, come on, ... We've been married for almost fifteen years ... Why are you asking me this now?” I said.

She leaned closer to me, over the table, her perfume strong and beckoning in the low evening light scheme of the restaurant.

“Why?  Why does it matter?” she asked.

“Yeah.  Why?  Why does it matter?” I said, leaning closer to her, repeating her.

Cindy smiled and a sultry look came over her.

“Do you remember the first time that we were together?  That first night?"

Remember?  

That first night with her was something that I'd never forget ... 

Memories.

... I'd spent all day racing back to Hattiesburg from Washington, D.C., me calling the Honda dealer on my car phone getting them to stay open almost an hour late on a Saturday afternoon just so I could pick up my brand new white 1993 Honda VFR750F sport tourer (otherwise I was going to have to wait until Tuesday to get it).  The bike had been a special order and since I'd waited almost two months for it so far I really wasn't wanting to wait two more days.  Me riding my brand new '93 white VFR750F over to Bill's apartment, walking up those wooden steps to the second level and me with a decision to make ... to finally let Cindy into my life and give her a chance or push her away forever and take my chances with Sabrina.  Go left at the landing and choose Sabrina ... go right at the landing and choose Cindy.  I guess I had my mind made up for me because before I could get to the landing in the middle of the steps the door to Bill's apartment was flung open and Cindy came running out to see me.  She must have been watching for me at the front window to his apartment.   It was a moment that had all the makings of some romance movie.

"Hey, you." she said, stepping up to me, close.

Expectant.

Excited.

Happy.

"Hey, you." I said, stepping up to her, close.

... and that was all that needed to be said between us.

I remembered the hug and the deep kiss that we shared, each a product of having been a week apart from each other.   A deep kiss that told me everything that I needed to know right then and there; I'd chosen Cindy.

I visited with Bill and Melanie for a while, hung out on their sofa with Cindy and caught them all up on my trip to Washington, D.C. then Cindy and I said our goodbyes and headed off for our own time together, just the two of us on a brand new three quarter liter Honda sport tourer.  I remember showing her the new Honda and I remember handing her my spare helmet, the red, white and blue Bubba Schubert Bell M1 full face helmet, while I put on my new white Bieffe full face helmet.  I'd brought my spare helmet because I guess I'd made up my mind before I'd ever admitted to myself that I'd made up my mind.  We rode over to McAllister's Deli on Hardy Street for dinner on the patio and caught up on being apart for an entire week.  Cindy played with me under the table, her foot moving up and down my leg, my foot doing the same to her.  

Touching.  

Teasing.  

After dinner we rode on over to the Cloverleaf Mall to see the new Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery crime drama "Rising Sun" at the Cloverleaf Mall cinema.  I remember how we traded slow, soft kisses in the dark, how her hands roamed in the dark during the movie and mine roamed as well.  I guess I didn't realize how much I wanted this woman not just now but for the rest of my life.

My mind was made up ... I was going to give Cindy a chance, just one chance and if the way her hands were roaming there in the dark was any indication I think the feeling was mutual. 

I remember the movie lasting a long time, longer than I thought it would.  When it was over I was gladder than I should have been.

I remember going back to her place in Oak Grove afterwards ... just a slow ride, the mechanical whine of the gear driven overhead cams of the three quarter liter liquid cooled V4 Honda and Cindy snuggled up close behind me, her arms tight wrapped around me, her legs locked tight to the sides of the Honda, helmet to helmet.  My hand reaching back to hold her leg, her knee, running my hand up the outside of her leg as we drove, reaching behind her to pull her in tighter to me.  The warm night air made cool by our speed and the roar of the slipstream past our helmets.

Just ... us.

Cindy had really beautiful eyes and she had that look in her eyes ...   

I'd seen eyes like that before ... many times in the past few years ... I just hadn't ever seen eyes with that look framed in a motorcycle helmet like that.  Yeah, I'd seen those eyes on a woman before; Cindy was mine and all I had to do was take her.  I guess she had made up her mind in more ways than one during the long week that I was gone.  When we got to her place I leaned the VFR750F over to let her off the back, dropping the side stand, shutting down and locking the Honda in her driveway next to her silver '91 Buick Skylark while she walked up to her front door and unlocked it.  Her standing there, jeans and a white T-shirt, sneakers, her helmet held in both of her hands ... waiting ... anticipating.  

Cindy had really beautiful eyes and the look in her eyes told me everything I needed to know ... Confident and nervous, having made up her mind but not sure how to go about getting what she wanted.  Offering herself not knowing if the offer would be taken or rejected.

Anticipation.

Something new.

Something never before done.

She was about to offer something that she had never given away in all the years of her life, something she had been saving for just one man.

There were candles in her bedroom where candles had never been before.

The sound of a match, the hiss of wood giving birth to fire and soon flames were flickering in the dark of her bedroom, casting shadows.

Casting our shadows.

She was 22.

The youngest woman I'd ever been involved with.

I was 24.

I was her first.

She was my eighth ... and last ... and that night we made memories ... the kind of memories that you never forget the rest of your life.  

Yeah.

I remembered that night. 

God, I couldn't forget it if I tried because somewhere in the time that we spent together, somewhere in the time afterwards when we were skin to skin, holding each other, I knew ... deep down I knew that Cindy was the woman that I was going to spend the rest of my life with ... but I wasn't ready to tell her that because knowing something for a fact and believing something is true are two different things and often it takes a long time going from knowing to believing.

Me.

Her.

Bare skin to bare skin.

At her place.

In her bedroom.

In her bed.

Candles flickering, shadows dancing, as she slept there next to me and me awake, next to her, watching her sleep ... thinking about her, about us, about the choice that I'd just made and the bond that I'd just committed myself to ... a life long bond.

Cindy said something and I pulled myself out of my memories.

"What?" I asked her.

"That first time that we were together you were so ... experienced.  I had nothing to go on but you knew … everything."

"And that was a problem?" I asked.

"No.  It wasn't a problem but it always bothered me that you were so much more experienced than I was.  All these years later, I’ve come to realize that you had a lot more experience than you've ever let on and you had to get that experience somewhere which means that there were other women in your life, before me ... other women that you haven't told me about.  Yet.”

I thought about that and I could see her logic and reasoning.  Yeah, guilty as charged.  Cindy was no dummy, in fact, she was one of the smartest women I'd ever met which, like I said, is one of the reasons why I married her.

“So ... if there were other women in my life, before you, then ... I guess I still don't understand ... why?  Why do you want to know about them now?  You're talking about our first night and that was almost seventeen years ago.” I said, still not really believing that I was having this moment with Cindy, here and now, when we were supposed to be getting away and making new memories instead of exorcising old ones.

"Why now?" she asked.

"Yeah ... why now?" I asked.

“Because these women, whoever they were, were a part of your life and I’m a part of your life and I want to know everything I can about you.  You are my life and there are parts of you, parts of your life that I still don’t know about … Parts of your life that you've kept to yourself, parts that you've kept from me ... parts that you won’t or haven’t told me about and I’m curious.  That's all.  I'm just curious.   I want to know about the others, the ones who were with you before I ever was.”

I guess that my expression gave me away.

How many?” she asked.

I looked down at the table, at the space that existed between our outstretched arms and our clasped hands, and I thought back across the span of a quarter century of my life.  I stared at the flickering candle flame like my prehistoric ancestors must have stared at cave fires.  The flames flickered.  Images formed from my past.

Memories. 

Vicki.

Kim.

Pam.

Elizabeth.

Debby Lee.

Lacey.

Suzanne.

Katrice.

Joy.

Kelly.

Sabrina.

Cindy.

Was it even worth mentioning Lacey?

Probably not.

Why did I lump Suzanne in with the others when there'd been so little between us?

I don't know.

Did Vicki and Kim really count at all?

Sort of.

Kind of.

They had been training wheels at best, nothing to ever last past puppy love and awkward emotions.

“How many others haven't you told me about?” she asked again.

I snapped out of my memories.

"Now ... just to define some limits on the topic, do you mean the other women before or after we got married?" I said, trying to joke with her while keeping a straight poker face when I said it.

Cindy smiled a sarcastic smile then kicked me in the shin under the table, hard.  

"I'm being serious." she said as I grimmaced.  "I want to know.  How many?"

"Okay ... Who do you know about?  Tell me the ones that you know about and I'll tell you the names of the others." I said.

Cindy thought for a minute.

"Pam.  Suzanne.  Katrice.   And ... Sabrina.  That's four." she said.

"Four." I said.

"Yeah.  Four.  That's what I said."

“No, doll.  Four.  There were four others that you don't know about.” I said flatly.  “There were four others before you, four others that you don't know anything about ..."

There was an instant there when she almost looked hurt, like I'd punched her as hard as I could.

“Four?” she asked, breaking eye contact with me and looking down at the table as she contemplated what I had told her, my hands still held tight in her hands.

Silence as she took all of that in.

"Wow." she said flatly.

"Yeah." I agreed.

"You're serious?"

"I'm serious."

"Four others?  Four?!" she asked, looking up at me finally, eye to eye.

"Yeah.  There are four others that I never told you about.  Four other women that you don't know about." I said.

"You're telling me that there are four other women that I don't know anything about?" she asked.

"Four others that you don't know anything about ... four others that count, in the scheme of things, for what you're asking."

"They all count for what I'm asking." she chided.

I shrugged my shoulders.  Cindy took the number I gave her well but I could see the gears in her head spinning as she tried to understand what I'd just told her.  It was more than she had known but probably smaller than she had expected … or feared.  I sat there, holding her hands across the table, watching her.  She looked up and we stared at each other.

"Four.  That's ...  Okay.  Four.  That's twice as many as I know about ..."

I shrugged my shoulders because some things are better left unsaid.

"So ... Why didn't you tell me about the other four?" she asked.

A question I was kind of asking myself right then as well but then I realized ... what did it matter?  What did my past matter when I had a past, a separate past, with Cindy?  What did my time before I met Cindy matter when what she and I had was built only on our time together.  Cindy and I had been together for over a decade and a half now ... what Cindy was wanting to know about was dust, years BC, Before Cindy, it meant nothing to what we had, or what we shared.

"Why haven't you ever talked about these other four?" Cindy asked, still holding my hand.

"Because what's to talk about?  They were before you, because I'm with you and not with them, and because when everything is said and done they didn't matter.  One way or another, I'm here with you instead of somewhere else with one of them and so they don't matter." I said as I shrugged my shoulders.

“Pam.  Katrice.  Suzanne.  Sabrina.  That’s the four that I know about but who were the other four?”

“You got them out of order.  Katrice was after Suzanne.  I never had much with Suzanne.  Katrice was a really bad mistake and Sabrina was pretty much just a one night stand.” I said quietly.

"And what order do the other four follow?" she asked.

"All together, in correct order, it was Vicki.  Kim.  Pam.  Elizabeth.  Debby Lee.  Uh ... Lacey ..."

Damn.

"Lacey?  That's ... who?  Another one?!"

I sighed.

"Lacey was a friend of one of my teacher's daughters, first year of college.  My teacher set me up with her.  Lacey was just a blind date I had my first year of college, second semester ... we went out like six times.  Kissed and held hands was about it.  Sorry, hadn't thought about her in years now.  She counts ... but she also doesn't count because nothing really happened between us ... nothing serious.  It was just two people going out for dinner and a movie, wasting time together and it was over before I ever came back to Hattiesburg."

"Uh huh.  Okay.  Vicki and Kim?  Those were your first two ..."

"Yeah.  I told you about Vicki and Kim ... my first two girlfriends back in tenth grade, way back in 1984 and 1985, back when I was fifteen and other than some hand holding and kissing that was about as deep as it got for those.  I don't count Vicki or Kim as anything other than training wheels and cute memories.  There was about a half a year gap between Kim and Pam."

"Okay ... if I give you that ... so ..."

"All together, in correct order, it was Vicki.  Kim.  Pam.  Elizabeth.  Debby Lee.  Lacey.  Suzanne.  Katrice.  Joy.  Kelly.  Sabrina.  You.  That's the order even though technically I met Joy before I met Suzanne ... just didn't have anything with Joy until after Katrice." I said.

"So ... four.  Four others."

"Yeah.  Four serious ones ... or ones I got serious with." I nodded.

"And that's all?"

"That's all.  Just those other four."

"Elizabeth?"

I nodded.

"Who was Elizabeth?"

"She was an older woman I was involved with my junior and senior year of high school ..."

"An older woman?"

I smiled.

Memories.

Damn good memories.

Really damn good memories.

"How much older?  Three ... four years older?" Cindy asked.

I shook my head.

"Best as I can tell ... she was about twenty six years older than I was."

Cindy took in a deep breath and a look of utter astonishment came over her face.  Her expression was priceless, a picture perfect example of utter dismay.

"She was twenty-six years older than you?!" Cindy asked in a voice that was more than a whisper and less than a shout.

I nodded.

"My God!  ... and you had sex with her?!" Cindy asked in a whisper that, again, almost wasn't a whisper.

I nodded.

Memories.

"How old were you?"

"Sixteen ... almost seventeen." I said, quickly adding the last part.

Cindy had the greatest look on her face ... utter and complete shock and that look was just one of the reasons why I'd probably never told her about the others.

Utter and complete shock.

"You were ... sixteen ... "

"Almost seventeen.  Three months shy of my birthday." I corrected.

"You were sixteen ... and she was ... forty-two?!" Cindy said / asked, doing some quick math in her head.

I nodded, probably a little more enthusiastically than I should have.

"That woman raped you!" Cindy whispered out loud.

I shook my head and smiled, almost laughed, which probably would have been a bad thing.

"You can't rape the willing." I said, smiling.  "Besides, age of consent in Mississippi is sixteen and I was almost seventeen when I met her so ..."

Cindy just stared at me ... disbelieving.

"Forty-two?"

I nodded.

"And you were ... sixteen ... and don't give me that almost seventeen crap ... you were sixteen and she was forty-two?

"Yeah." I said.

"So ... how did that happen?"

I leaned forward and put my hands together, closing my eyes to sharpen my memories.  This was a bad thing ... I could easily get lost in my memories, some of which were still quite vivid.

"Well, it was my first speeding ticket and the park ranger who gave me my ticket was in such a hurry to write tickets to as many people as he could as fast as he could and he put down the wrong date of birth on my speeding ticket, put down that I was born in 1967 instead of 1969 so when she got my ticket by mistake, she must have looked at the year I was born and thought I was eighteen."

"And you never told her you weren't eighteen?" Cindy asked.

I shrugged my shoulders again, a sheepish smile on my face.

"Elizabeth had some secrets of her own that she was keeping and I had a secret that I was keeping.  I was always older for my age.  What we shared wasn't about age ... age had nothing to do with it and age wasn't a problem between us.  At least not for what we were seeing each other for."

"And ... how long did you date ... Elizabeth?"

"Not sure it was dating, you know.  More like we'd just spend what time we could together, when we could.  All in all, I was with Elizabeth about thirteen months ... from March of 1986 to April of 1987 ... up until right before I graduated Petal high school."

"And ... then?"

I bit my lip, staring at the flickering candle flame on the table until it hurt my eyes.

"Hey!" she said, taking my hand in hers.

"Yeah ... and then she just ... disappeared." I said, putting my hands together and slowly moving them apart and up into the air.

"Disappeared?"

"Yeah.  I lost contact with her and when I went looking for her, her apartment was empty ... she was gone.  No note.  No goodbye.  Nothing.  Just ... gone."

"Wow." Cindy said.

"Yeah." I agreed.

"Okay.  I want to know more about ... Elizabeth.  She was twenty-six years older than you?" Cindy asked, still looking shocked.

"Yeah.  Best as I can tell, give or take a few years and I guess I won't ever be able to tell for sure because I'm just guessing her age based on information I got from someone that knew her and that was a few years after she disappeared.  Age wasn't really something we talked about, you know."

Cindy took a moment to think that over, started to say something then obviously thought better of it.

"So who was Debby Lee?"

"A very unhappily married woman I had an affair with my first year of college."

"Unhappily married?"

I nodded.

"And how old was she?" Cindy asked.

"Eight years older than I was."

"Sheesh!" Cindy said, shaking her head.

"I was eighteen, she was twenty-six.  What can I say?  I like older women."

"And ... Joy?  You never told me about her."

"Yes, I did." I chided.  "I've talked about Joy before ... TJ ... the hair dresser, the big tall girl with tattoos that I used to hang out with in the late '80's?  The one that could have been a roller derby girl?  The one I said was an Amazon and that Tina at Magnolia Federal reminded me a lot of ..."

"Vaguely.  Yeah." Cindy agreed.

"Yeah, well, I've told you about TJ before ... just maybe not to the extent of what TJ and I had there for a while and you may not remember it but I've talked about TJ.  We were friends that turned into more and then she was gone and that pretty much was the end of that."

"And TJ was ... older than you?"

I nodded.

"Five years older.  I was 23 and she was 28 when we got serious.  Age was kind of a problem with her ... in that she didn't think that I'd like or be interested in an older woman."

Cindy smirked.

"She didn't have you figured out at all, did she?"

"No, she didn't and ... I don't think I had her figured out either which is why I guess it just never worked out for either of us." I said as I shook my head.

Cindy took a drink from her tea then went back to holding my hands.

"So ... What happened to TJ?"

"Gone." I said.

"Gone ... gone as in dead or gone as in disappeared like Elizabeth?"

I shook my head.

"No.  Gone as in left out of state.  TJ left home after high school, threw in with some undesirables and spent the next decade trying to make it on her own.  I met her in '88 and we played around, became friends, got a little close, maybe a little too close, and then came Katrice and you know how that worked out.  After Katrice I hooked back up with TJ, thought things might work out there between us but she was already in the process of going back to Florida and I wasn't going to stand in her way of getting back with her family so ... she left.  Gone."

"And Kelly?  Who was Kelly?  When was Kelly in your life?"

More memories.

God, this was really stirring up some dust.  Part of me was happy to be discussing this and part of me was just really sorry the topic ever came up.

"Kelly was right before you.  I met Kelly about a month after TJ left.  Kelly was a systems field rep for a computer company way up north.  I met her at USM in June of '92 when she was down here doing a case study for the university and her company and we just kind of hit it off right from the start.  We had June together then she went back home and we had a long distance relationship.  I wrote to each other, called each other a few times and I saw her on a layover in New Orleans in October after I graduated USM, spent the night with her down in the French Quarter and I thought it was going somewhere ... "

"And what happened there?" Cindy asked.

"Do you remember that day that you shot me with the rubber band?"

Cindy nodded, smiling.

"Yeah, well, I'd just hung up with Kelly, long distance ... she called me to tell me that it was basically over, that she was scared of what we had and how fast it was going and that she just needed time and a whole bunch of other BS so ... you know me ... no second chances.  That's why I was in a bad mood and ... then you and Al were playing around in your cubicle and you tried to shoot him with a rubber band and you missed ..."

"... and hit you right between the eyes." Cindy said, making a gun finger and laughing at the memory.

"Yeah and then I go to lunch to think how my life has basically fucked me over again and when I come back there's this note from you saying you're sorry for accidentally wounding me with a stray rubber band and now ... seventeen years after you shot me with that rubber band ... here we are, married for a decade and a half, sitting across the table from each other and you're asking me about women who don't matter ..."

"How old was Kelly?" Cindy asked.

"Ten years older than I was." I said.

Cindy laughed and hung her head in overstated disbelief.

I shrugged my shoulders, again, guilty as charged.  I just liked older women, always had.  I'd lost my virginity at sixteen to an eighteen year old and after that I'd never dated a woman who was younger than me or even my own age.  No, they'd always been older than I was ... all of them except Cindy.  Cindy, two years my junior, was the youngest woman that I'd ever dated, ever been with and now, seventeen years later, maybe dating older women had been the problem all along.  Or maybe it had just been the women that I'd dated ... maybe age hadn't been a problem at all.

"You're the youngest woman, the only younger woman, that I've ever been interested in let alone had a relationship with."

"Was Kelly married?  Like the other one?"

I shook my head.

"Divorced.  Two years when I met her and I was her first since her divorce.  I really thought that was going somewhere ... Guess I was wrong."

"And Sabrina was ...?"

"What?  You mean besides a huge mistake?  She was older, divorced, ex-cruise ship stewardess, redhead, long hair, long legs, body of an Amazon and ... she was a mistake.  She fit all the criteria on my checklist for bad girls and I went after her because I was trying to prove something to myself.  I made a mistake with her and after that one night with her we pretty much didn't have anything else to do with each other.  I think we tried each other on for size and found that neither one of us fit what the other was looking for so it was just this awkward ... audition ... that we both walked away from and kind of agreed never to talk about again.  I knew real quick that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life with Sabrina.  She was definitely high maintenance, low output.  She went her way and I went mine."

Cindy laughed.

"So ... you didn't want to spend the rest of your life with Sabrina but you'd spend one night with her?" Cindy asked.

I shook my head.

"No.  Like I said, that was a mistake.  Look, doll, if I could go back and undo that night with her I would.  Trust me ... it wasn't a good memory and if I had the chance to do it over again ... I wouldn't.  If I had a chance to do June and July of 1993 over again I'd never get involved with Sabrina.  I was stupid.  I admit it.  I realize that now."

Cindy nodded.

"Yeah, you were stupid ..."

"But you married me." I said, smiling.

"Yeah, I married you ..." she agreed, smiling and holding my hand tight.

"Which makes me think that you were either desperate ... or retarded."

"Or maybe I just wanted a pet." Cindy smirked and stuck her tongue out at me.

"So ... that's the other four." I said.

"Those are the ones I want to hear about so ... tell me about the other four.” Cindy said with that sultry look again.

"I just did." I said.

"No.  I want details."

Details?

"Why?" I asked, laughing a little.

"Because they were part of your life ... and I want to know about them.  They mattered to you ..."

"Some of them, yeah.  At one time ... long ago ... before you.  They don't matter now and some of them I haven't thought about in years now."

"You still remember them."

Well, that was a given.  

Most of them ... from time to time.

"Yeah.  From time to time."

"Good memories?"

"For the most part." I said as I nodded.  "Some are better memoires than others.  Sometimes I don't get to pick and choose which memories pop into my head.  Sometimes I have a dream about one of my ex's, sometimes I hear a song from that time and I remember one of them or remember something that we did together or I see a car just like the one they drove."

"Sex?"

I shook my head.

"It's not about sex ... it's like that doesn't pop into my memories.  Just other stuff that we did together.  Places we went.  Things we did."

"And you just ... remember ... sometimes."

I nodded.

"It just happens.  Good memories.  Bad memories.  Just ... memories."

Cindy squeezed my hand and smiled.

"That's what I want to hear.  Tell me about the good memories ... tell about the others."

I sighed and knew I wasn't getting out of this one so I let go of Cindy's hand, sat back and started telling Cindy about Elizabeth and even though 1986 was almost a quarter of a century ago that one year in particular seemed like a thousand years ago ... and like yesterday.  So much had changed, not just in my life but in Hattiesburg as well.  The Cloverleaf Mall was gone, it's shops closed, most of its interior now rented out to businesses like call centers for name brand companies and office space.  County Market where I used to work, where I'd met Jeanne and Pam and Elizabeth, was gone ... turned into a sprawling medical plaza and the woods behind County Market was now a paved parking lot with a Walmart Supercenter and a strip mall.  Looking back on that one area of Hattiesburg and it would be unrecognizable to anyone who had been gone from the area for a quarter century.   So much of what I'd grown up with was gone now, bulldozed down or changed hands or just ... gone. 

Dust. 

Heraclitus was right ... you can't step into the same river twice.

"Hey!" Cindy said.

I shook myself out of my thoughts.

"What?" I asked her.

"You left me there for a second."

"Yeah, went deep." I said.

"What?"

Cody.

"Nothing.  Just ... Something that Cody and Joy used to tell me that I did.  I was just ... thinking.   So ... where do I begin?" I mused outloud.

"Elizabeth." Cindy said.

"Elizabeth.  Why her?" I asked.

"Because, if I get this right, she was the one you spent time with after Pam and I know about Pam but I don't know about Elizabeth so ..."

"Leave it up to a teacher to want to go in order." I smirked.

Cindy nodded.

"Okay ... well, like I said, it was March of 1986, my first speeding ticket ... Paul B. Johnson State Park ... and ..."

Cindy listened to every word that I said.  Sitting there, across from each other, looking into her eyes, waiting on our food to be served, that’s when I started to tell her about the parts of my life that I'd never shared with her ... the parts that I had kept from her because I thought they didn't matter to her and in doing so we drew even closer to each other and to what we shared in our lives with each other.  That was the kind of relationship, the kind of love, the kind of marriage that Cindy and I had and it took something like this, like us getting away, like Cindy prying into my past, to make me realize again just how much I loved the woman that I was sitting across from and as I told her, that night, about the past that I'd kept from her I realized, reliving my memories, of just how lucky I was to be with Cindy and I realized just why the others no longer mattered to me. 

The candle flame on the table flickering.

Casting shadows on the nearby wall as we talked.

Casting our shadows.

Holding hands.

Leaning close over the table.

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