"Her Last Words ... Remembered"
March 13, 2012
"You will always be blue collar, Christopher T. Shields. Always."
It was Friday night, March 13, 1992, and these were the very last words ever spoken to me by Katrice as she stepped out of my red '88 Corvette and walked away forever. Like most of the things she had told me while we were dating this, too, would also never come to pass.
Fast forward to that exact same night two decades later, Tuesday, March 13, 2012.
20 years after the fact.
20 years to the day.
Wow.Has it really been 20 years since that night?
was October 1990, the fall semester of my junior year at the University of
Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. I was 21 years old, a full time college student, I was
having the time of my life and I
worked three, count them, three part-time jobs:
County Market – The crown jewel of R&M Foods, a huge discount grocery store where I worked as a stock clerk / cashier Monday through Friday from 4pm to 10pm or from 5pm to 11pm with a variable schedule. I usually worked two or three nights a week, six hour shifts. Sometimes I worked on Saturday or Sunday nights but not often as that tended to interfere with the schedule of my other two jobs.
Puckett Pathology Labs –dedicated lab work used to be an expensive endeavor and a lot of hospitals and clinics could not afford their own labs or the equipment necessary so independent labs sprang up that catered to those who needed lab work done. Puckett was just such an institution and I worked there as a weekend medical supply and specimen courier on Saturdays and Sundays from 7am to about 2pm. My first route took me from Hattiesburg to Vicksburg and back. Later I switched to the McComb route which was almost as long but of a wider, more western nature and circuit. I hauled everything from Hepatitis to AIDS to even a still born baby that rode with its complete afterbirth, belted in the passenger seat next to me in my little red Honda three door hatchback Civic courier-mobile.
And finally …
Cook Library at the University of Southern Mississippi – here I worked as a night time data center operator from 10pm at night until 6am the next morning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend. Sometimes County Market would work me on Tuesdays and Thursdays and when they did, I worked from four or five at night until six or seven the next morning, usually a twelve plus hour shift … then I got a shower, some breakfast, and went to my morning classes at the university.
As such, working this many jobs and going to college full time meant that my personal time was limited and what little personal time I had I cherished. Of course, I had plenty of money … I lived at home with my parents rent free and I had some really nice toys to show for it.
I had two groups of friends; the counter-social, wrench swinging, hell-raising, liquor swigging, gear throwing, illicit pharmaceutical abusing group consisting of Flynn, Cody, Joy and occasionally Griff and the more straight edge, intellectual, miniatures painting, Starfleet Battles playing, GURPS role playing game campaigns, weekly Star Trek - The Next Generation watching, Apple Macintosh using and computer game playing, VHS renting, pizza party having nerd group consisting of Bill, Eric and the most recent addition, Melanie. I tried to alternate between these groups as time and interest allowed and I saw most my friends a pretty good bit of the time. If I wasn’t going over to their places to hang out before or after work, they were usually stopping by my place to hang out for a while or pick me up and take me along for the ride to some misadventure or the other.
Life was good.
No, life was really good ... and then everything changed.
The change was two-fold ... You see, I'd met Joy back in the summer of 1988, in fact, Flynn and I almost ran her over in my '79 Pontiac Trans Am (but that's a story for another time). Joy was quickly absorbed into our group and became a part of my life. Our friendship was always just on the edge of becoming something else but she and I, I guess, were always just a little scared to take that extra step into a relationship. We'd both been hurt before so we flirted at arms reach and were friends and there was always that invisible barrier keeping us from becoming more than just really good friends. I guess it was the fact that we'd both had a long string of bad relationships and we were just scared of messing up a good thing and right then Joy and I had a very good thing. Whatever it was between us, that certain something started to dissolve in the late spring of 1990; Joy started to get closer to me and I started getting closer to her. It culminated in a summer filled with a lot of time spent together. The more time we spent together, the closer we got and the closer we got, the more time we spent together. It was one of those rapid spirals, an emotional funnel down which we circled each other, getting closer, getting faster as we dropped.
To make a long story short, there came a misunderstanding between Joy and I, it was one of those stupid things that involved mixed signals and dashed hopes, two jagged edges that always seem to tear people apart in any relationship. Seeing what I thought I saw and thinking that I was about to get hurt really bad (again) I backed away ... no, I ran off and I took some time off from my rowdy group of friends ... confused, unsure ... I found solace in being by myself throughout the month of September but that wasn't going to last long as my second group of friends were about to kick into overdrive college level nerd activity that September way back in 1990.
I remember it was the second
Tuesday in September, 1990, when my best friend Bill called me up and
asked me to come over to a study group he had started at his place. I
made some kind of weak ass excuse not to go over mainly because I just
didn’t feel like being part of a bunch of students that I didn’t know,
all studying stuff that I wasn’t taking but Bill twisted my arm and I
told him that I would be there in a few minutes ... if not for anyone
else other than just to see one of my best friends again and spend some
time with him. At that time Bill lived with his mother and their
house was literally about half a mile away in a straight line down the
road from where my parents lived. Literally, a half a mile away in a
straight line down the road. The only thing that kept me from
going there in a straight line was a creek and a cul-de-sac at the end
of my road, one that had never been extended into the opposite circle
or the neighborhood beyond. Other than that, Bill and I had actually,
on occasion, stepped out into our respective front yards while talking
on our air phones and been able to see each other from where we stood.
It wasn’t a long ride over to Bill’s house but it was a cold October winter night so I threw on my black leather jacket, my full leather gloves, grabbed my black Bell helmet and rode my black ’85 Yamaha Maxim 400 cruiser the block and a half over to Bill’s house. There were a few cars and trucks there and about twelve to fifteen people already inside from what I could tell. I parked my Yamaha up in Bill’s driveway near his red Nissan Sentra, slid the kickstand down, locked the bike, took off my helmet and gloves, and unzipped my leather jacket. Short of Bill, his girlfriend Melanie and Bill's friend Eric I probably wouldn't know anyone else inside.
I took a deep breath, wondered again what I was doing here, and walked on in like I owned the place.
One look around all the gathered college students was enough to tell me that I was right … short of Bill, Melanie and Eric (my regular intellectual group of friends) I didn’t know one other single person there. However, Bill’s mom had set out snacks for the group, chips and candy and soft drinks, on the kitchen table and I saw that she had put out a bag of Hershey’s Miniature chocolates. Now I was a big fan of Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate and after shaking Bill’s hand / hugging him in greeting I made straight for the snacks and the hopes that I could score a few of the Special Dark chocolate miniatures. I stood there by the table for a second, moving my finger through the chocolates, not finding what I was looking for. That was strange … usually everyone avoided the Special Dark chocolates … they were kind of a niche favorite.
“Hey! What are you looking for?” came a timid voice from across the room.
I turned to see who was talking to me. She was a skinny brunette, dressed preppy, her hair pulled up on top of her head, glasses and kind of nerdy looking. I didn’t know her name because I’d never seen her before. She sat cross legged on the floor with her back to the living room wall, facing the kitchen and from the empty space to each side of her and in front of her I could tell that no one else was helping her study.
“I’m looking for the Special Dark bars.” I said, moving my finger around the assorted miniatures and not finding any.
“Oh! Sorry!” the nerdy girl said. “I ate all of those! I didn’t think that anyone else liked them!”
Huh? I guess my expression gave her a little insight into my obvious ire at what she had just admitted to doing because she started to blush and seemed a little embarrassed.
“You ate all of the Special Dark
bars?” I asked, looking at her and pretending to be mad.
“Sorry!” she squeaked again and put her book up to hide every part of her face but her eyes which continued to look at me from over the top edge of the book.
I growled at her in a teasing manner, got a red Solo cup full of ice, topped it off with Coke poured from a two liter and walked on back into the mingling people to find Bill. I probably wouldn’t have thought to give the nerdy girl another thought but after about twenty minutes of mingling I realized that I was really was the odd man out tonight. I took my cup of Coke, topped it off again from the two liter and found the only seat available in the house … it was on the couch, about six feet from where the nerdy girl still sat with her back against the wall. I got comfortable on the couch, drinking my Coke and losing myself in my thoughts … mainly wondering why I was there in the first place since I hadn’t brought anything to study or work on, I didn't know anyone here besides my hosts and all I was doing was staring at a pair of sliding glass doors, nursing a Solo cup of Coke and trying not to be little more than a couch decoration ... and that’s when the nerdy girl started trying to make conversation with me.
Her name was Katrice.
had just graduated from Mississippi State University the previous
spring semester and was now working on her Master’s degree in Library
Science at USM. Since she and Bill worked at the Cook Library together
he had invited her to come over that night to study and do homework and
to just hang out and maybe meet new people and make friends. She
continued to make small talk with me throughout the night, enough so
that when she left we were on a first name basis and I felt comfortable
enough with her to offer to carry her backpack full of text books and
walk her to her car parked out on the curb in front of Bill's house.
Her car wasn't very much … a four door mid-80’s Oldsmobile
Cutlass Supreme, white with a blue cloth interior and it wasn’t in the
best of shape … As I walked her to her car I actually felt sorry for
her for having to drive it. I held the driver’s side door open
for her, said
goodnight to her as she got into her car, told her to be careful and
watched her drive off.
I had the weirdest feeling right then. Just weeks ago I had been thrown for a loop in what I thought was the beginning of a relationship with Joy and now here I was ... what? Meeting someone else? Being plunged into something else?
Where was my life going?
I didn't know ... All I did know
was that I was feeling good ... and happy ... and I hadn't felt like that in a
few weeks now so I milked it for all it was worth, trying to bank some of that
feeling away for when I didn't have any. Two nights later, Bill called and
invited me to attend yet another study group at his mother’s house. When I
started wavering again he told me that Katrice would be there. He had to
remind me who she was, that it was the nerdy girl that I’d talked to the other night.
Shy nerd girl.
honestly forgotten about her in the last two days. Still, she had
been kind of interesting and maybe she was going to be a new member of
my intellectual friends group so ... why not. I hung my head and told him I was on
my way. I don’t know … there was just something about her that I liked to be
around and I guess the feeling was mutual because the only reason that
Katrice had agreed to come back to the study group was if Bill made sure
that I was going to be there. I learned that bit later that night after she
and everyone else had again left and it was only Bill and I standing around
in his front yard, taking turns standing on a big wobbly rock that we called
“The Philosopher’s Stone” and talking about my interest in Katrice and his
interest in Melanie and we talked until well after midnight, outside, despite the growing cold.
Katrice and I continued to meet every couple of nights at Bill’s study group through the rest of September, through October and by November of that year the friendship was clearly turning into something far more. I now had a reason to go to the study group over at Bill’s house with Katrice being there and I tried to help her study after I had finished my own work. This invariably led to even less studying being done by either of us. When Katrice and I showed up for the weekly study group we weren’t really there to study, no, we were there to see each other. After the first few weeks I don’t think that either of us was studying anything but each other and school work became just an excuse to show up and see each other.
After a while, the study group broke up as far as being a study group and it was just Bill, Melanie, Eric, Katrice, me and maybe one or two others irregulars and we didn’t really study as much as we just spent time together eating pizza or take-out, watching rented VHS movies from Blockbuster, Videophile or Ray’s Rent-A-Movie and having a lot of fun. If Katrice wasn’t sitting next to me on the couch she was sitting in front of me letting me massage her neck and shoulders, letting me run my fingers through her hair and she would purr, like a cat, all the while I was doing this. Other times it was my turn and I’d sit on the floor with her on the couch behind me and she’d rub my shoulders and my ears. I couldn’t purr like a cat like she could but I could sigh and moan softly and that used to tickle her to no end.
After November, as we started into
the semester finals and the upcoming Christmas holiday break Katrice began
to really become interested in me, using my best friend Bill to do so and he
was a more than eager accomplice to the crime since Katrice and I did seem
to be a nice couple. After my history of horrid though adventurous
relationships with women Bill really did want to see me find a “nice girl”
just once and maybe finally get it right with someone who wasn’t going to do
me wrong. If anyone was long overdue for a good, steady relationship with a
nice normal girl then it was me and Katrice seemed to be that nice normal
girl. In fact, Katrice was pretty much everything that the other women in my
life before her hadn’t been.
True, Katrice wasn’t like any of the other girls that I’d been with before … she already had a four year college degree from Mississippi State and she was working on her Master’s degree. I took this as a sign of her maturity, as a sign that she could stand on her own, that she was successful, that she knew how life worked and that she had her head screwed on tight. I thought that she was the nerdy girl from a small Mississippi town who was bound and determined to do something with her life and who was well on her way to getting there.
Overall Katrice came off as kind of a bookworm, a wallflower, and a social misfit. I didn’t know that I would fall in love with Katrice, I didn’t really plan on it either and at that time in my life, out of the seven other women that I’d ever been with she would be only the second woman that I would ever tell her that I loved her. The first woman I’d ever told that I loved her was, of course, also my first piece of ass but that didn’t really count. That wasn’t love as much as it was lust and just a primal desire to keep on getting something that I’d never had before. Guys always tell their first piece of ass that they love them; we can’t help it because it’s our first piece of ass and we just don’t know any better.
Katrice wouldn’t be my first piece of ass.
She wouldn’t be my second, third or even fourth piece of ass
but she would be the second woman that I’d ever fallen in love with or ever
told her that I loved her and unlike my first piece of ass this time when I
said those words to Katrice they would count and they would matter because I
now had the experience and the maturity in life to tell the difference
between something deep like love and something completely shallow like lust.
Love wasn’t something that I took lightly, it wasn’t a word that I just threw around because it sounded good or because I thought I could use it like a rope to swing into some girl’s pants. It had to be a serious relationship for me to tell you that I loved you and I eventually felt that way when I was with Katrice … not at first and not for a while after we started dating but it eventually happened. It took a while and some serious effort on her part, along with some tears, begging and pleading from her, to get me to say that word to her and I didn’t say it until I was sure of it myself.
Hell, the first time that I went out with her I only did it because I was bored and I really and truly felt sorry for her. She seemed so not loved, so starved for emotional and physical attention that she just generated this kind of black hole of neediness. When she was around Bill, Eric, Melanie and me she just soaked up any attention that we gave her ... I felt that she had led a very sheltered, very boring existence before I ever met her and I wasn't too far from the truth.
As far as her body went, she had a chest and ass that were almost flat enough that a blind person might have trouble reading them but she had that nerd chick kind of cuteness, she wore glasses, she was going to be a librarian and I thought that was kind of cool since I'd heard so many naughty stories about librarians being not what they seemed (boy, were those stories wrong ...) so at the time the attraction to her was far from just physical. In fact, as far as looks went, Katrice was pretty much the typical girl next door … if your next door neighbor was a cow farmer and he had a daughter that hadn't been off the farm except to go to school. Overall she didn’t stand out, she wasn’t particularly beautiful and if you put her in a room with a bunch of other girls she’d be the bench warmer, the girl that got picked last to dance, if she got picked at all.
Story of her life.
Katrice certainly wasn’t the rough
and tumble type girl that I was used to, in fact she seemed to have led a
pretty sheltered life which I guess also intrigued me because she just
didn’t understand a whole lot about this thing that the rest of us called
“life” and I guess that’s also why I felt sorry for her. Life, it
seemed, for the most part, was a bully to Katrice and when I first met her
life had been particularly mean to her for a while even then. She seemed to have
bad luck a lot more often than most other people did and she didn’t handle
tough situations as well as you would think someone her age would. Katrice
acted like a kitten that someone had just dropped off in a busy downtown
intersection … timid, easily frightened, and not entirely sure of either
herself or the big bad world around her but looking for someone to take care
of her, to protect her, to give her love and attention and a home to call
Katrice was, for all practical purposes, a stray.
I guess that more than anything endeared me to her there at the start of what we had. I wasn’t looking for anything beyond friendship and really didn’t think that I had any spare time to give to anyone but myself. A somewhat frequent friendship, at the time, was about the best that I thought that I could do. Katrice was looking for a whole lot more than that from me and she made it pretty evident her desires and what she wanted from me there in the last two weeks of December 1990.
I had misgivings on her advances since I’d been hurt before, bad, when it came to relationships and at that time I was more than just a little bit misogynistic in my nature. However, Katrice seemed different, she seemed honest and genuine and sincere and against my better judgment I let her into my life a little bit at a time. When I finally gave in to her advances there at the end of December 1990 and agreed to date Katrice I told her straight and up front that she had one and only one chance with me and that if she ever left me for any reason, if she ever walked out on me, if she ever lied to me or ever cheated on me that anything that we had would be over and there would be no second chance.
That’s just the way that I lived my life and I’d lived it that way for the past four years (at that time) thanks to a really bad relationship that I’d had in 1986. My philosophy was that life was just too short to give habitual losers and emotional retards second chances at disappointing you, at letting you down or at screwing with your heart and I made sure that Katrice knew that up front. Yeah, I’d be willing to take a chance with Katrice, to maybe get romantically involved with her and see where it went but she only had one chance and one chance only. I made sure that she knew that up front, before we went any farther than being just friends.
Understanding that fully from the start and eagerly agreeing with my rather simple but steadfast stipulation for having a relationship with her, Katrice promised me over and over again that she wasn’t like the other women that I’d had before her, she promised me that she would never lie to me, never hurt me, never cheat on me and never leave me.
… and so our new relationship really began with the start of that new year, January 1991 and it looked like it was going to be a pretty good year. While Katrice and I didn’t share classes together at USM we always met when we could between or after classes to talk or to get something to eat. We’d sit around the campus of USM, especially the courtyard of the Cook Library and talk or hold hands or find a quiet place around the corner to make out and enjoy a few stolen moments amid our busy, hectic college lives. I spent that time being devoted to Katrice because while we were together we were happy. I knew this because I felt that way when I was with her and because she constantly told me she was happy being with me. I believed what she told me mainly because I had no reason not to.
Katrice really did seem different than the other women that I’d been with. She was the second college graduate that I’d ever dated and the first that seemed to be on the path to somewhere while knowing where she was going. That interested me as well. Since I was on my own path to somewhere and since we seemed to be heading in the same direction it just seemed natural that we should walk our paths together, hand in hand, and try to see if our paths merged into one single path somewhere down the years to come. Katrice sure seemed to like that idea because our future together was something that she constantly talked about in her letters to me, her notes to me and when we were alone.
Things really began to fall into place between Katrice and me, in fact, those first few months together seemed almost magical.
I remember that Bill had his birthday party in late February. I had to work that night at County Market and I couldn’t get out of it but Katrice went on to the party without me because now she was one of my group of intellectual friends and Bill, Melanie, and Eric had accepted Katrice as a regular. After the birthday party Katrice was supposed to show up after work and meet me at County Market but she was late and that worried me. When she finally did show up, nearly twenty minutes late, she apologized because while they had been cleaning up after Bill’s birthday party she had accidentally dropped her car keys in the trash can and it took them nearly half an hour to find them which is why she was late.
When I asked her how the party had been she said that it had started out as a birthday party for Bill but had soon turned into a kind of tribute to me … a kind of absentee roast where stories of all of my adventures were freely swapped and told and Katrice was a willing audience listening with rapt attention to all the tales of situations that I’d been through in my life. When she held me tight there in the parking lot that night she told me that she’d never had anyone like me in her life before and that she couldn’t believe how lucky she was to have me, that she wanted her life with me to always be an adventure and I told her that it would be … all she had to do was hang on tight. She told me that she had no intention of ever letting go.
Katrice seemed like she had been emotionally starved most of her life. Her apartment bedroom was Spartan in decoration but one thing that she did start was what she called her “Christopher Shrine.” The wall above her bed was filled with every single note, letter, or card that I ever gave her … a vast romantic collage that kept growing as our days, weeks and months together passed by. When I say that the first few months of our relationship were really good months you have to understand that they were really good months ... for both of us.
One time in particular I remember was in the late spring at a party thrown by one of her library professors who owned an apartment down in the French Quarter. While we were in New Orleans, she and I went to Victoria’s Secret there on the Riverwalk and I bought her a complete set of really naughty black lingerie … bra, gloves, panties, garter belt, stockings … the works. Like I said, she never had any money, she never had anything nice, I had an American Express card with my name on it and three part-time jobs to pay the Amex bill when it came due so …
Katrice tried the lingerie on there in the dressing for me and modeled it, strutting around and posing. For someone that hadn’t had much previous experience with her clothes off before she met me she took to being naked or enticing rather quickly. From what I could see standing just outside the dressing room door she was doing a damn fine job of prancing around in next to nothing. I told her that she really did look sexy in the black lingerie and she continued to arch her back, running her gloved fingers through her hair and looking mischievous with her reading glasses. She said that the lingerie made her feel sexy, that it made her feel wanted, and that wearing it for me made her feel special. A few minutes later she got dressed in her day clothes, we bought the lingerie and left to find a nice restaurant to eat dinner at before heading back to Hattiesburg.
On the way back home that night Katrice surprised me. It was just after dark and we were driving on Highway 59 North. She undid her seatbelt and before I could ask her what she was doing, she grabbed her Victoria’s Secret bag and crawled into the back seat of my black and gold Eddie Bauer edition ’88 model Ford Bronco II and dressed in her new black lingerie while I drove. Quick peeks in the rear view mirror were met with playful admonitions and finger wagging then she crawled back into the passenger seat and rode like that for most of the trip, lingerie clad, teasing me, rubbing her stocking clad feet over me, posing for me in the passenger seat, trying to get me to take my eyes off the road and playfully scolding me if and when I did. It had been a good day there in New Orleans, spending time with her. It turned out to be an even better night later on when we got back to Hattiesburg and to her apartment.As for her emotional state, Katrice ate up every single kindness that I ever gave her and hungered for more. If I wrote her a poem or bought her a love card or brought her a rose she would go to tears and cry over it. She wrote me quick little love notes and love letters all the time, mostly on torn out spiral bound notebook paper, department memos or anything that she could find. She’d fold them, sealing them with the imprint of a lipstick kiss and leave them on my ’84 Honda VF500F Interceptor or my white ’89 Chevrolet IROC-Z on campus, at my three jobs or if she just happened to be passing by and saw my car or bike parked somewhere.
Love letter from Katrice, written on a
sheet of notebook paper, folded and left
under the windshield wiper of my '89 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z the third week in January 1992.
In case you can't read her handwriting, here is her cursive translated ...
I love you more than anything in the world. You are my everything!
I am so happy with you and I hope we spend the rest of our lives together. Don’t’ be scared of growing old – we’ll be together and we’ll always be young when we’re with each other.
Dating you has been the most fun that I’ve ever had. No one has ever made me feel like such a lady. I’ve always wanted a gentleman. My Kappa Alpha Southern Gentleman. And you love cats, too! I can’t ask for more.
Loving you has opened doorways in my mind that I never knew existed. I hope that in our life together we will have many exciting pathways to explore. I can say from experience that life with you will be the most exciting and thrilling relationship any woman could ever hope and dream of.
Christopher Todd Shields … you are the man of my dreams. I love you, I love you, I love you … forever and ever.
My happy heart ... bursting with love.
Her notes and letters were full of
her endless and tireless devotion to me, how I was the best thing that had
ever happened to her, that she couldn’t believe how lucky she was to have
found someone like me and how she couldn’t think about ever being without
me. We often talked about our future together, more at her behest than mine,
and everything seemed on course for the great big happily ever after. We’d
both graduate from USM in August of 1992 and from there … who knew?
One thing that we did know was that we would be together … for the rest of our lives.
That much was pretty certain because she told me this and she never failed to reassure me of this fact in her letters, her phone calls and the little things that she did for me all the time. I believed her … because I wanted to believe her. I guess after all the other bad relationships that I’d been in that I really needed to believe in Katrice and in everything that she was promising me. I really needed to have finally found a woman who was not only different than all the other women that I’d had in my life but to have found a woman who was both genuine and honest because up until I met Katrice I seriously doubted that such a woman even existed.
this once, I prayed, please let me have found someone real and genuine,
someone that I could both trust and trust my heart to. Please let Katrice be
everything that she said that she was, please let her be everything that she
appeared to be. After all of these years just once let this be the
relationship that works out and let this relationship be everything that I
hoped it would be. Let me get out of this relationship what I'm willing to
put into it. Let what we have keep on going and growing and let it end
happily ever after. I didn’t think that was too much to ask from the powers
that be or the universe at large, not given my dating history and all I had
been through in the last few years.
And do you know what?
When I was with Katrice my luck really did seem to have changed and for the better.
During that spring semester, Katrice
was at my side at all of my Kappa Alpha fraternity functions. She was my
date at both Convivium and Old South, resplendent in her blue antebellum dress
and hoop skirt when she walked out from the Pan Hellenic sorority dorm with
the other southern belles and ladies at the start of the three day-long
party-celebration. Every time we had an open fraternity party, Katrice was
there at my side from start to finish. She loved being put on a
pedestal and worshipped, she loved being treated like a southern belle and a
lady all the time and since I was a southern gentleman, treating her that
way just came natrually.
Later in the spring semester I started working more and more at both County Market and the Cook Library and that meant that there was less time to spend together in our schedule but we adjusted. Early that summer Katrice moved out from her shared two bedroom apartment over at Peppertree to a single bedroom apartment on Lincoln Road where she lived alone. Her new apartment was literally within walking distance of where I lived and things seemed to just keep on getting better.
Late in August of 1991 my position as weekend medical courier at Puckett Labs was dissolved. In fact, all part-time medical couriers were released in favor of giving those hours to the full-time couriers … which was funny because just a year ago it had been the full time couriers which had been bitching about having to work weekends and that had led to Puckett creating the part-time weekend courier positions in the first place. Suddenly, with only a week’s notice, I was back to just two part-time jobs which meant that I had more time to spend with Katrice and that’s exactly what I did. It was something which she seemed to really appreciate.
Like I said, 1991 was a good year,
all told, and the only rough spot came in the mid to late fall of 1991,
around the second week in November. I was having a hard semester with some
pretty tough courses. Finals were coming up and the December holiday break
could not begin fast enough to make me happy. It was during this time that
Katrice got an offer of a co-op job at the public library in Gulfport and
she moved into an apartment down in Long Beach at the end of the fall
semester in order to take that job, a job which would become permanent once
she graduated with her Master’s degree in August. With my heavy job work
load and my classes getting harder, I had to give Katrice less time than I
would have liked but I helped her find an apartment in Long Beach and I
helped her move her stuff for the second time in six months.
That third move to yet another new apartment separated us by over seventy-five miles and Katrice cried a lot about that, worrying even more about what was going to happen to us now that we were in two different cities and couldn’t see each other nearly every day like we had been doing … like we were so used to doing. I told her that I didn’t have a problem with a long distance relationship. She admitted to me that she was so scared that I would find someone else in Hattiesburg while she was so far away and that I would leave her, that she wouldn’t be around to defend her stake in my life and that a long distance relationship would never work between us because she was scared that I was going to find someone else to replace her. To say that she was scared of this was an understatement … for a while there she was terrified of me breaking up with her or leaving her just because she was so far away and she couldn’t spend very much time with me. I assured her that none of that would happen, that I would be faithful to her, that she was the only woman in the world for me and that we would work through the distance thing like we had everything else.
Absence makes the heart grow fond, or so I thought and I figured that a long distance relationship would not only strengthen what we had but it would also only be for a little while, just until we graduated and I could find a job on the coast and move closer to her.
The fall ’91 semester at USM ended and the holiday break began … like this time the year before, Katrice went home to stay with her parents in Flora and I went up there to visit her and her family a few times during the break … taking extra time to enjoy a few days with my own family there in Hattiesburg. I remember going to North Park Mall one night with Katrice and her younger brother … just spending time with her made me happy because with her either there in Flora or way down in Long Beach on the Gulf Coast I felt like Katrice was always just at the edge of my fingertips and any chance that I had to be with her I took and cherished for all it was worth.
A new year began in January of 1992, the one year anniversary of our being together, and our relationship was still going strong. Katrice went back to her apartment in Long Beach and her Monday through Friday job at the Gulfport library. She took a single night class on Tuesday nights, driving up to Hattiesburg and USM after she got off work, and since I worked Tuesday nights, I’d show up at the library well before my work schedule just to see her, just to spend a few minutes with her during the week on the only week day that we could see each other. We didn’t visit long, she had an hour and a half drive back to her apartment, after dark, her car wasn’t the best car in the world and she had her job to go to early the next morning.
After that I only got to see Katrice on weekends, and between my two jobs and all the extra shifts that I was working, it came about that I could only see her about every other weekend. I remember seeing her for her birthday that month, she was 23 and it was a good day. Since her birthday fell on a Monday I made sure to drive down there on that Sunday and to rearrange my work schedule where I could have the entire Sunday off to be with her.
That was Sunday, February 9, 1992 … just five days before Valentine’s Day, our second Valentine’s Day together. That instant when she told me that it was over and then hung up was probably the lowest point of my life because it signaled the end not only of what we had together but of what we were going to have together. I looked at the phone in my hand and slowly returned it to the receiver.
I felt numb …
I had trusted her.
I had believed in her.
I had worked my ass off the last eight months of my life just to make her dreams come true.
And … as it would turn out I had
been stupid for doing any of that. Yes, true to my more than well earned
pessimistic and misogynist leanings, eighteen months after I first met Katrice
and thirteen months after we started dating she had broken just about every single
promise that she’d ever made to me and topped that by up and suddenly
walking out of my life, our life. Katrice left me exactly a week after I had
met “John” at the gas station near her apartment.
I didn’t think that was just a coincidence.
Katrice was gone, five days before I could show her what she really meant to me, to show her how serious I was about our future together. Valentine’s Day, 1992, was going to be the day that everything that we shared came together because that was going to be the day that I asked Katrice to marry me. I had it all planned out … it was going to be a proposal to remember and one that she would never forget.
Eight months of hard work … gone for nothing.
You see, one of the reasons that I had worked so many shifts the past eight months had been to save up as much money as I could in order to buy Katrice an engagement ring and put a down payment on a ’90 red Mazda Miata MX-5 convertible … a car that she had always talked about wanting to own since I’d known her and a car that was in a lot better shape than her piece of crap four door Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
When Katrice had adamantly told me that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with me, when I was sure that she had meant it, and when I was sure that I had wanted to spend the rest of my life with her then I had started to make plans to make those dreams a reality. I had asked for and worked as many extra shifts as I could at each of my three jobs to make enough money to see that those plans became reality. I had worked my ass off to make her dreams, our dreams, a reality and it was all supposed to come together Friday, February 14th, 1992.
Our second Valentine’s Day together.
I had already asked off in advance from both of my part-time jobs for Friday and Saturday nights to give me plenty of time to handle this really special event in our lives. I planned on getting out of my afternoon class early, driving down to Gulfport, dropping my white ’89 IROC-Z off at the car dealership, picking up Katrice’s red ’90 Mazda Miata, driving the convertible over to her apartment, parking it next to the curb at the beach and then jogging back up the block and a half to her apartment to get ready for what I had worked so hard for since last May.
With everything in place but the two of us, I would have gone upstairs to her apartment, knocked on her door, took her by the hand and swept her into my arms. Then I would have carried her laughing and giggling, piggy back, on my back the block and a half down the street and across the highway to the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. She wouldn’t have had a clue but because I was spontaneous she would have had to tag along to see what I was doing and where it was all going.
It would have been perfect.
The sun would have been setting by then, capping the waves in white and gold and her long hair would have been blowing in the evening breeze. While she watched, I would have unrolled a pair of long white taper candles, placed them in the sand, lit them then dropped to bended knee there in her shadow, presented her with an engagement ring attached to a keychain holding the keys to the red ’90 Mazda Miata MX-5 convertible and asked her to marry me in the fall after we had graduated together.
That’s what she had said that she wanted … to spend the rest of our lives together and I had just spent the last eight months of my life busting my ass working every extra job and every extra shift that I could to make that dream of hers, of mine … of ours … a reality. Yeah, I had it all planned out, I’d even rehearsed my proposal to her quite a few times.
It was going to be a surprise.
No, it was going to be one hell of a surprise.
Katrice didn’t know.
My parents didn’t know.
Her parents didn’t know.
None of my friends knew.
Working hard, saving up everything that I could and getting all of this together in time for February 14, 1992 was one of my greatest achievements yet. I had worked so hard and so long to pull it all together and it was going to be the greatest Valentine’s Day ever … and it would have been if it had actually come to pass but then I guess we’ll never know. We’ll never know because it never happened. Five days before Valentine’s Day, five days before I could propose to her, Katrice just up and walked out on all that we had shared.
Katrice and I had talked about marriage a lot, especially in the last eight months of our relationship, even more so in the last four and every time that we talked about it she became more and more sure that I was the man that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Her letters and notes to me always said something about how happy she was to be with me and how much she was looking forward to spending the rest of her life with me, about how we would grow old together and about how she had finally found her one true soul-mate. Believing her, and believing that what we had was that kind of love that would last for the rest of our lives I had willingly worked as hard as I possibly could for eight straight months, from May 1991 to January 1992, working three then two part-time jobs, taking extra shifts and doing without in my own life when I could just to save up enough money to buy her the engagement ring and put a big down payment on the Mazda, all the while going to college full time, keeping my grades up semester after semester and spending what free time I could with her to keep alive the love that we had.
I figured that since Katrice and I were about to graduate together in August 1992, me with my BS degree in Business Administration and her with her Masters in Library Science, since we seemed to be so well paired and since we had been talking about marriage for the last several months that a marriage in the fall wasn’t that hard of a concept to plan forward to. She already had a job and was established in that area. With me getting a BS degree in Business Administration I didn’t think it would be too hard to get a good paying job in Gulfport or Biloxi since that area was thriving with new development and the casino industry. The beach wasn’t my favorite place to live but if she was happy there I could adapt to that and Long Beach wasn’t that bad a place to live … after all, we had a beach in walking distance of her apartment that we could have spent our afternoons after work sitting on the sand, sipping red wine, watching the sun go down in the Gulf of Mexico and just talking and growing old together like she had always said that we would.
But all of that was gone now … eight months of dreams, sweat and hard work all for nothing with her saying just two words; “It’s over.”
I was tired.
I was empty.
I was completely empty from doing all of that, from trying to make a dream into a reality, and now it was all for nothing. I never told her any of this. I never told anyone any of this. I never told her what I was doing because what kind of surprise is it if you know what it is and when it’s coming? I never told her, not even when she complained that I was working too much and that she wasn’t seeing me as much as she would like. I never told her that the time that I was spending away from her was time that I was spending making money and saving that money up so that I could make a future for us, so that I could give her something far nicer than anything that she had ever had before in her life.
Katrice had never had anything really nice in her life, hell, she barely had anything to her name and I really wanted to surprise her on Valentine’s Day but I guess I was the one who got the surprise, five days early, for that particular Valentine’s Day.
Story of my life.
Katrice said it was over and I believed her. After all I had no reason not to. If Katrice didn’t want me in her life, if everything that she had ever told me had been just empty words and broken promises then there was no way in hell that I was going to beg. If she didn’t understand what I felt for her, what I was willing to go through to be with her and how hard I was willing to work to do all of that … then she wasn’t the woman that I thought that she had been and she certainly wasn’t the woman that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. If she said it was over then it was over, it was her decision, she had made it and I was going to live with it.
Katrice walked out on me five days before I could propose to her and even though it hurt like hell I remembered my promise to myself, I remembered the lesson that I’d learned the hard way a long time ago in 1986, six years earlier in a relationship that had ended pretty much the same as this one had and I stuck to the one rule that I had promised myself that I would always live my life by; no second chances, not for anyone … not even for someone that I had loved as much as and worked as hard for as Katrice.
For me, my love for Katrice had been a commitment, one that I would have honored for the rest of my life. For Katrice, her love for me had been nothing more than a convenience for her, something to hold her over until someone better came along.
So, a week after Katrice walked out on everything that we had, a week after she had kicked all of my … all of our … hopes and dreams right square in the nuts I took the money that I’d put down on the little Miata, along with the refund from the engagement ring, and I used all of that money as a down payment on a toy of my own … a really nice toy; a low mileage fourth generation 1988 red Chevrolet Z51 Corvette with a tan leather interior and I didn’t even worry about putting a bow on it.
She had all power seats, telescopic / tilt thick padded steering wheel, four wheel disc brakes, performance competition package, anti-lock brakes, quick ratio steering, ten bolt Dana 44 rear differential, seventeen inch aluminum wheels, aluminum D-port heads, 4+3 speed manual transmission with automatic overdrive … 350 cubic inch small block V8, TPI Tuned Port Injection, 240 horsepower, 155 miles an hour top speed and she’d do every single bit of it turning any bit of open road into a blur the likes of which would give even my jaded soul a hard-on.
You see, I’d wanted a fourth generation Corvette for years now, ever since I’d seen a brand new one way back in the fall of 1984 at a local car show there in Hattiesburg … Katrice and I even test drove several used ’85 to ’89 Corvettes in the last few months that we were together but even then it was just wishful thinking on my part. I knew that I couldn’t afford a fourth generation Corvette for myself, not if I was going to be buying an engagement ring and a drop-top Miata for Katrice so I put aside my wants and desires for her wants and desires … I was stupid because I had always put her desires, her wants, and her needs before mine. I was stupid because I had mistaken her wants and desires with my wants and desires and I had thought that they were the same.
The red ’88 Corvette was beautiful and with the stroke of a pen putting ink to paper she was mine. I tossed the keys in the air, caught them in my driving gloved hand, hopped over into the open targa roof of the Corvette and drove it all the way back to Hattiesburg. I had the biggest smile on my face. As Journey once sang way back in 1986 on their Raised on Radio album … “be good to yourself when no one else will.”
Yeah, I thought to myself, it was time
to be good to myself for a change and right then and there that shiny red
’88 Z51 Corvette was just the ticket.
In the weeks following Katrice walking out on me I started living my life on the edge once again. I grew my beard back, dusted off my black cowboy hat, put my black leather jacket back on and started mingling with the kinds of people and hitting the local scenes that I had avoided while dating Katrice namely because she would never have approved of who I used to hang out with or how I had lived my life before I ever met her. Smoke filled bars, whiskey neat, long nights turning into early mornings, seeing the sun go down and come up at the same party, heavy metal, fast cars, fast bikes, handfuls of green, flashing blue lights and burning the candle at both ends …
It wasn’t long with me frequenting my old scene that I eventually linked back up with some of my old friends that I had inadvertently alienated when I had started dating Katrice; Flynn, Cody, and … Joy.
I was free.
It was my senior year in college.
I was going to graduate in six months and I was living my life to the fullest and having fun every chance that I could. I had started 1992 with a lot of plans and hopes, with the burning thought in my heart that in just six short weeks I would be presenting Katrice with the most important day and memory in her life. I’d be marrying the one true, honest and genuine woman that I’d found at last, the woman who wanted to be with me for the rest of her life.
Who was I fooling to think that something like that would ever happen to me?
Barely six weeks into 1992 all those plans and hopes were gone. Six weeks into the new year I was alone again, with a new red Corvette, getting on with my life and determined not to let Katrice leaving me keep me from graduating on time or going on and doing something spectacular with the rest of my life.
Of course, it never hurt to
have a whole lot of fun while doing it …
… and that’s just what I did for the next three weeks and I loved every single minute of it.
March 11th, 1992
I was working my late night job at the Cook Library, catching up on my homework and looking forward to spending some time with Joy the next day. I was happy, probably the happiest that I’d been in the past few weeks because Joy and I had run into each other at the Mahogany Bar the past Friday night and we’d been seeing each other nearly every single day since then. It seemed like things were starting to happen again between Joy and I and that maybe we might be starting to pick up right where we had left off two years prior.
Joy was single … still.
I was single … again.
… and I was looking forward to seeing where what we had was going since it was obviously going somewhere because just yesterday Joy had invited me to a party at Cody’s apartment on Friday night. I hadn’t seen Cody in nearly a year, not since I’d bought his ’84 Honda VF500F Interceptor when he decided to move up to a brand new ’91 Suzuki GSX-750. Joy had told Cody about running into me again and Cody had been pretty adamant that Joy bring me to his party.
I had to work a 4 to 10 shift Friday night at County Market but Joy was patient and besides, Cody’s parties didn’t usually get really going until close to midnight anyway. I agreed to pick Joy up after work and carry her to Cody’s party and she made it more or less understood that she was going with me and with me exclusively. Thoughts of Joy, of being alone with Joy at Cody’s party or maybe afterwards filled my head and I smiled … something I hadn’t done in a while.
Life was good … that is, until the telephone in the library data center rang at 1:30am that morning. I answered it on the fourth ring and not without a lot of initial regret in doing so because deep down inside I knew who it was that was calling me ... the only person who had ever called me while I was working at the library.
Yes, nearly four weeks after she had walked out of my life with no explanation given Katrice was calling me up here at my place of work. When I asked her why she had called she said that she wanted to talk about what had happened between us. I told her to start talking and she said that she couldn’t explain things over the phone. No, she wanted to meet with me in person. When I asked her why she needed to meet with me, in person, to talk about something that was already resolved she said that she needed to tie up several loose ends that we had. Several loose ends that we had? That was news to me. What those loose ends were she wouldn’t say.
I thought that was strange since I didn’t have any loose ends that needed to be tied up with her … I’d done that in the week after she left when I had gotten rid of all of my obligations and commitments to her. I’d taken care of all of my loose ends when I’d used the down payment that I’d put down on her Mazda Miata along with the refund from her engagement ring and used all of that money as a down payment on my new red Vette.
Leaving the dealer lot that day, each shift of the 4+3 speed Doug Nash manual transmission had been like saying goodbye to a different part of my past.
First gear … goodbye thirteen months of her empty words and all of her broken promises.
Second gear … goodbye eight months of working my ass off, of neglecting my own wants and desires just to make someone else’s dreams come true.
Third gear … goodbye Mazda Miata, engagement ring, sunset candlelit proposal on the beach, and a wedding in the fall.
Fourth gear … goodbye Katrice and hello to the rest of my life.
The automatic overdrive kicked in and I tapped the cruise on at 70 miles an hour, watching the Gulf Coast get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror until it finally vanished completely from sight.
There were no loose ends, not that I could tell, at least not any loose ends that I had to deal with. Katrice had made her decision and I had made mine and that was that. We were two people getting on with our lives now and I didn’t see any real need to talk about something that I considered being over and done with. Whatever her mindset had been when she made her decision to leave me, whatever reason she may have had for walking out on me … I didn’t care. If there was an explanation for what she had done then I didn’t need to know it.
I really didn’t because no explanation in the world was going to change anything between us. I explained this to her but Katrice remained adamant that she meet with me to explain what had happened between us. I was really tempted to just tell her “it’s over” and then hang up the phone on her like she had done four weeks ago but even my jaded heart wasn’t that cold. Apparently, Katrice had some very real need to talk to me, in person, and so, reluctantly, I agreed to meet her one last time because I realized that if I didn’t meet with her now she would just keep hounding me over and over until I eventually did meet with her.
I didn’t want her ambushing me at work one night and causing a scene or ambushing me on the campus between classes or worse … showing up at my parents’ house demanding to talk to me. My parents, in the weeks following Katrice leaving me, had expressed rather strongly that Katrice was no longer welcome at their house. In fact, I was told in no uncertain terms that Katrice had better not ever show up there again otherwise my parents were going to say quite a few unkind things to her … things mostly along the lines of questioning her parentage, questioning her upbringing and explaining to her just how she had turned out to be exactly what they had told me she would turn out to be from the very start. Apparently I wasn’t the only person that Katrice had disappointed but then I don’t think that disappointing people was something that was new to her … or to those who had once known her.
It was over, what we had, or I thought it had been over four weeks ago. Now all I wanted was Katrice out of my life for good, forever … and if meeting with her one last time was my guarantee of just that then I was more than willing to get it over with and the sooner the better.
Besides, she couldn’t do anything worse to me than she already had … that much I knew for a fact.
I asked Katrice when she wanted to meet and she told me that she would be up Friday, passing through Hattiesburg on her way to see her parents in Flora. I told her that I had to work Friday night at County Market and that I had plans for the evening after work. She said that it wouldn’t take long to talk, that she would stop by County Market to see me when I got off from my work shift and we could talk then. I didn’t tell her that the last time that she told me that she was coming up from the coast to see me that she hadn’t ever shown up … the irony would probably have been lost on her.
Oh, and she wanted to meet on
Friday the 13th … the irony of that date certainly wasn’t lost on me.
Friday the 13th, March 1992
I got off work from a long 4pm to 10pm shift at County Market, regretting who and what I knew was waiting for me out in the parking lot at the end of the shift. I had a party to go to and Joy was waiting on me to pick her up and take her to that party. I walked out to my Corvette parked by itself there up on the hill in the parking lot. Katrice was waiting on me there, standing by my ’88 Vette but her piece of crap four door Olds Cutlass Supreme was nowhere to be seen.
Great … just great.
When I asked her where her car was she said that she had parked it over at her friend’s apartment just off the university campus. She told me that I’d have to take her there so that she could get her car after we had talked. I really wanted to tell her that I was going to take her back to County Market after we were done talking or that she could call her friend to come get her after we were done talking or that I hoped she felt like walking because I wasn’t going to be her damn taxi service anymore … but that wasn’t me. I’d be her chump one last time … just one last time if it meant that it was the very last time.
Apparently, now that she had broken up with me I not only had to give her some more of my free time so she could tie up her emotional loose ends but now I was going to have to carry her somewhere else so she could get her car and leave for good. It really infuriated me just how out of the way I’d gone to be with Katrice during our relationship and just how much I had given up to be with her. In hindsight I began to realize just how one-sided our whole relationship had been and who had actually done most of if not all the hard work in that relationship.
Standing there, right then, looking at her standing there on the other side of my Corvette I realized that all that we had shared really hadn’t been worth anything … not here at the end … not when you measured the work that went into the relationship with the outcome of the relationship.
What a waste.
What a damn waste … of my feelings, my time, my energy and my money. I looked at Katrice standing there beside my Corvette. At one time Katrice had been everything to me but now she was a stranger.
I didn’t know her anymore.
I didn’t feel anything for her, not any more, not at all.
I just felt … empty … and numb, all the way down to my soul and, like that first time that I had seen her at the study group, I truly felt sorry for her.
“I figured this was your car.” She said quietly. “I didn’t see your Honda or your IROC and this is parked in the same spot that you always park in so I figured that it was yours.”
I didn’t say anything, just nodded, walked around and opened the passenger side door for her to let her get in. I looked at my watch … 10:20PM. I was supposed to be picking up my friend Joy, my date for the night, in ten minutes and going to Cody’s party at 11PM but that wasn’t going to happen now. I’d called Joy yesterday morning and told her about Katrice, about having to meet with her again, one last time and Joy had been pissed … so pissed that I almost expected her not to want to go to the party with me later. I told Joy that I’d be about thirty minutes late Friday night, that I’d pick her up around eleven that night because I didn’t intend on giving Katrice that much of my time.
I looked at Katrice and she looked at me, maybe expecting me to say something but I didn’t … I felt nothing. Once again here was Katrice wrecking my plans for her own convenience, for her own selfish needs and once again I was going out of my way to accommodate her all because I was a nice guy and I felt sorry for her.
All because I was stupid.
“The hell with me.” I muttered.
“What?” she asked, not sure if she had heard me correctly or not.
“I said that I need to get some tea.” and with that I closed the passenger door before she could say anything else.
I had planned on just talking to her in the parking lot there at County Market then after about thirty minutes I would have explained that I had other plans and someone waiting on me then closed it off quick and left hoping to never see Katrice again. As it was, that wasn’t going to happen and since I had to take her across Hattiesburg to her car anyway, I might as well drop by Sonic on the way and get me some tea while I was at it.
I slid into the leather driver’s seat, buckled up, cranked the Tuned Port Injected L98, put the 4+3 speed stick into first gear and slowly drove out of the parking lot, merging onto Highway 49 North and heading for Sonic over on West 4th Street. Neither of us spoke at first and I let her be the first to break the silence since I really didn’t have anything to say to her and I was kind of pissed at her for both demanding my time and making me drive her back to her car.
I bought a Route 44 sweet tea at the Sonic. I didn’t offer to buy her anything and she didn’t ask for anything which was probably for the best. Once we were back on the road I turned the radio on and tuned it to WHSY 104.5 FM, setting the volume low enough that I could hear the music and just high enough to make it easy to pretty much ignore anything that Katrice was going to say. About half a block away from Sonic, Katrice started to talk.
She recognized that the Corvette was a new addition to my stable and asked when I had bought it. I told her that I had bought the Corvette a week after she left … I didn’t tell her about the Mazda Miata or the engagement ring, I didn’t tell her about the plans that I had made, the plans that had fallen through for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t tell her that I had used the money that it had taken me eight months saving up for her to help buy my Corvette because I didn’t want there to be any confusion about her chance of coming back or of us ever having anything more to do with each other. Like I had said, she had one chance, she threw it all away and I wasn’t going to try to work things out because it just wasn’t worth it.
I’d tried that before, years before, and it had taught me a hard lesson.
The engagement ring, the Mazda Miata, my proposal to her … all of that had been a surprise that Katrice hadn’t stuck around long enough to be part of. I felt it was a surprise that she didn’t need to know about either … she had lost that privilege when she walked out the way that she had, not able to tell me that we were finished face to face, hiding behind a long distance phone call and then hanging up on me after telling me it was over and all with no explanation. Let her live her life not knowing what she missed out on … how close she had been.
Four weeks later and I still just couldn’t understand why she had done me the way that she had … there was no excuse for that, not after how I had treated her, not after all that we had looked forward to, to all that we had planned for and not after all that I’d done for her while doing without for myself.
It wasn’t the breaking up that I had a real problem with; it was how she had done it. If there had been real problems in our relationship, if she was having second thoughts, if she had come to me, if we had talked, if she had simply asked that we break off what we had, if we had done any or all of that in a decent kind of way then yeah, maybe I would have told her about the plans for Valentine’s Day if only to show her how much I had really cared about her …
Now she’d never know.
If Katrice wondered how I could have finally afforded a 1988 Corvette, a much newer and much nicer example than the ones that we had looked at together … if she wondered how I could afford a Corvette like this now that I was only working two part-time jobs (grocery store and university library) and being a full time college student she didn’t ask and I certainly wasn’t going to tell her.
Let her wonder about it one day and see if she figured it out.
I’d traded up, from the Mazda and the engagement ring to the Corvette and being single. Overall, at that point in time, I thought I had come out on the better end of both deals and that wasn’t far from the truth.
No second chances.
Not even a second chance for a woman that I had been just days away from asking to marry me, for a woman that I had been ready to spend the rest of my entire life with and for a woman that I had worked so hard for and so long for just to make happy by giving her everything that she had ever wanted and everything that she had never had. If I wasn’t good enough for her four weeks ago then I wasn’t good enough for her now and no amount of her explaining things was ever going to change that. No, it was time to move on and just forget her … like she had done with me four weeks ago.
I drove around Hattiesburg and she did most of the talking. Just four months ago she would have been holding my hand, putting her head on my shoulder and telling me how lucky she was to have me in her life or how great I was or how happy she was that we were together. Now she sat there in the passenger seat just talking. It was the usual post-breakup crap talk mostly designed to pin any problems in the relationship on me and give her a free skate to walk away with a clear conscience for what she had done. The fact that she had come slinking back a month after she left, desperate that we talk, was evidence enough for me that she needed to shift the blame from her to me in order to live with herself and be able to sleep well at night. A guilty conscience will do that to you. I’d seen it too many times before not to recognize it, especially when it was sitting there right in the passenger seat next to me.
So, I drove slow and listened to the radio (WHSY Rock 104.5). I let her talk and I pretended to listen because anything that she said was simply just air that she was moving my way. If she needed to pin the blame on me in order to get on with her pathetic life then so be it. I had a thick skin, made thicker by the fact that we weren’t together anymore. My disappointment in her was more than enough to shield me from any blame that she might try to put off on me.
Katrice continued to talk and I began to think of Joy. I had told Joy that I’d give Katrice half an hour of my time and just like she had in our relationship Katrice took all of that and demanded a whole lot more. As it was, it took two hours and a quarter tank of premium from the moment that I met her there in the parking lot of County Market until the time that I dropped her off at her friend’s apartment near USM for her to clear her conscience and tie up all of the loose ends that she needed to.
She tried to be cordial during her ranting but she got in more than a few emotional jabs every now and then which I thought was kind of strange given how I had treated her. It was almost like she was trying every now and then to be mean to me, to hurt me, to beat on me emotionally just to beat on me. Sometimes the things that she said had no other basis than to be vindictive on a personal level and that’s when I began to see the real her … the real Katrice … for exactly who and what she really was.
After all, here was a woman who, just days before she walked out on me, was promising me that I was the greatest thing to ever happen to her and was telling me how happy she was to be planning on spending the rest of her life with me. Now, here she was, explaining how it was all somehow my fault and I was to blame for pretty much all of her problems and all of the unhappiness in her life.
That’s when I realized that the person sitting beside me there in the passenger seat of the Corvette wasn’t the woman that I had fallen in love with all those months ago. This wasn’t the woman that I’d worked so hard to be with … No, the woman that I had fallen in love with, the woman that I had worked so hard to make a life with, that woman had merely been a figment of Katrice’s imagination, someone that she had created, someone that she promised me that she could be but never would be. Riding around with Katrice that one last time made me realize just what a monumental waste of my life those eighteen months with her had been and just what a loser Katrice really was … what a loser she had been and what a loser she always would be.
I pulled into the parking lot of her friend’s apartment, parked and left the Corvette idling. I thought that would be that but she spent the next few minutes talking, I spent those minutes listening and when all seemed to have been said that could be said by her, Katrice reached behind her seat, grabbed her purse and got one final jab in saying to me:
“You will always be blue collar, Christopher Shields. Always.”
… and with that she got out of my ’88 Corvette and she was finally gone from my life ... hopefully forever. The fact that she wasn’t walking away fast enough to make me happy was something that was lost on her.
Suffice to say that at the time that Katrice said this to me I was anything but blue collar and she was nothing but. I had never been blue collar nor would I ever be blue collar in my life so where this bit of idiocy of hers came from I’m still scratching my head … even twenty years later.
Katrice drove a piece of crap four door mid-‘80’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that was falling apart. It was the kind of car that an elderly widow might drive. Katrice had a cheap bed, an old night stand, a beat up old dresser, a coffee table made out of ceramic bath room tiles and half a small closet of clothes to her name. She had come from a low to mid level at best blue collar family and blue collar was all she had ever known in her life. Hell, the closest thing to white collar that Katrice had ever been around in her life was either her family preacher or me and when I had first started dating her I had actually gone slumming, both socially and economically, just to be with her. Maybe that’s why I had felt sorry for her that first time, maybe that’s why I had been so slow to warm to her … we had been from two very different worlds.
“You will always be blue collar, Christopher Shields. Always.”
These words, coming from her, struck me as terribly funny at the time as I sat there, alone, in my '88 Corvette. Blue collar? Did she mean … blue collar as in hard working or blue collar as in poor? I had always been a hard worker, I’d had two jobs since I was fifteen years old mainly because I didn’t mind working, I didn’t mind hard work, I liked money, and I had expensive hobbies.
I damn sure wasn’t poor.
Never had been and never would be, not if I could help it.
I made more money in a month than she ever did and unlike her, I could at least hold down a part-time job and go to school. In fact, while she was struggling to hold down a part-time job (as a delivery clown for Mr. Charlie's Balloons, a local balloon and candy delivery service, no less), I was holding down three physically grueling part-time jobs and all she had ever done was complain about her one clown job; a part-time job as a fucking delivery clown for a local balloon and candy shop.
Katrice was poor.
She had always been poor and I could tell that from the day that I first met her; the way she dressed, how she acted, what she drove.
I thought back to how Katrice
never had any money of her own and if she ever had any money to her name she
never spent any of it on me. Case in point: our last Christmas together, a
Christmas now just three months in the past. This past Christmas I had to
buy my own Christmas presents to give myself from her … seriously, I kid you not ... I had to
buy my own Christmas presents because she had no money to buy me anything
but she put her name on those presents and wrapped them to give to me so I
knew what I was getting. Lucky me and yes, it was a good Christmas that year
if I do say so myself but then I was buying my own presents so naturally it would have
to be a good Christmas. I remember that I had bought Katrice some books that
she had wanted for her personal collection and my parents had bought Katrice
some boots that she had told them that she liked, some really nice $70 black
leather dress boots.
Katrice’s parents gave me nothing for Christmas, not even a card … I really don’t think that they could afford to.
I smiled because I hadn't thought about it until right then but I guess the Corvette was really a going away present, from Katrice to me. Of course I had to buy it myself but I put Katrice’s name on the gift card … just like I’d always done before with every other present that she had ever given me.
Suffice to say that Katrice came from nothing, she had nothing, she was nothing and nothing was all that she was ever going to be the rest of her life. I guess that much was obvious to everyone but Katrice. The only way that Katrice would ever be anything in her life was if she married out of who and what she was and into something better and that was going to take two things ... a man with a whole lot of money and a man who had a lot lower standards than what I had when it came to what he would accept in a woman. I realized that now that she was gone. Looking back on what Katrice and I had made me realize that I was guilty of making four huge and rather obvious mistakes with her. Mistakes now, in hindsight, not so at the time but isn’t that life?
The first mistake was that I had actually dated someone like her
in the first place let alone somehow got myself talked into having a
monogamous, serious relationship with someone like her. The truth is
that when I went out with her it was me that had gone slumming, not the other
The second mistake that I had made with her was that I ever actually trusted her in the first place especially after all that I had been through in the previous four years and especially after she had entered the relationship with the ever familiar warning signs you should look for in every girl you date. What are the warning signs? Namely her telling you that she isn’t like the other girls you dated, she won’t hurt you, she won’t lie to you, she won’t cheat on you and she’ll never leave you. If a girl ever tells you any or all of those things, run away as fast as you can … leave rubber in the parking lot of her apartment or the driveway of her house if you have to.
The third mistake was giving Katrice everything that I had and finding out there at the very end that it either just wasn’t good enough for her or she just wasn’t smart enough to see it for what it was.
The fourth mistake that I ever made with Katrice?
Well, that’s the one that hurt the most …
The fourth mistake that I ever made with Katrice is that I actually fell in love with her so when all was said and done I guess I was the only one in our relationship who actually held up my side of the bargain, you know, being the good boyfriend, not cheating on her, not trying to get something on the side as well without her knowing about it, not looking at other women while I was dating her, being totally devoted to her, putting her on a pedestal and worshipping her every chance that I got, being faithful to her when more than seventy-five miles of distance separated us most days of the month ... that sort of nonsense that women always want but never seem to recognize when they have it and never appreciate it if and when they do get it. You know, the whole for better or worse, through thick and thin, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health clause but then that was, as my romantic history will clearly show, how things generally went when I got seriously involved with someone else.
The truth is that
I had been stupid for
ever dating her but then any stupidity that you can walk away from
(and choose to walk away from)
isn’t really stupidity, rather it’s a
learning experience and Katrice was definitely a learning
experience. Regardless, I made myself another promise right then
and there that I’d never work that hard ever again for anyone but myself.
I realized that I had believed in Katrice and put my trust in her not because she was ever actually worth believing in but because I had really needed to believe in her. After all I had been through, after all the failed relationships, I had really needed Katrice to prove me wrong in my misogynist views of women and my dim outlook on relationships but she hadn’t because my time with her had, ultimately, only reinforced those particular views. Katrice hadn't proven to be the exception to the rule, no, she had proven to be a textbook example of everything that I had come to loathe and despise in women.
If I'd known then what I knew now I would never have paid any attention to her that first night I met her at Bill's ... I'd never have gone back to see her and I'd spent all the energy and time that I could to work things out with Joy instead.
A good part of my life wasted with someone pretending to be someone they could never be, making promises they could never keep.
All of that was stuff that I could never get back and I realized that with more than a bit of heart ache and sorrow.
I reached behind the passenger seat and pulled out my cassette storage case. I flipped it open, running my finger down the first row of cassette cases and then up the second row. I needed to hear something right now, something appropriate, something that would match the mood I was in, something that would close off this moment. My finger stopped on Tattoo Rodeo’s “Rode Hard Put Away Wet” cassette and I tapped it twice … yeah, a little bit of slow country hard rock blues seemed to be called for right now to ease the tension still in the air. I pulled the cassette out of its case, shoved the tape halfway into the cassette player first side down and put the cassette storage case back behind the passenger seat.
That's when I thought of Joy, looked at the time, saw how late I was then threw my head back hard into the cushion of the driver’s seat and blasphemed loudly to no one but the Corvette around me.
Thirty minutes my ass.
It was 12:53 AM.
I was so late and Joy was going to be pissed. No. Joy was going to be Amazon pissed which would be kind of like Wonder Woman with PMS and Tourette’s Syndrome at the same time.
I picked up the handset out of the cellular phone cradle behind
the passenger seat and tapped out Joy’s phone number. I felt it was better
to let her know what was going on than keep her waiting.
The phone rang four times on the opposite end before Joy answered.
“I’m done.” I said, noticing that I hadn’t said “We’re done” because that kind of went without saying.
There was a pause.
“It’s almost one in the morning. What took so long?” she asked, her voice … concerned … not angry.
That surprised me because I hadn’t expected that from her.
“I’ll tell you about it on the way to the party.”
“You do still want to go out tonight, right?”
I hoped that she did because at that moment in time I really wanted to be with Joy more than anything else. I had no right at all to be in her favor for how I had acted, for what I had done to her and after all that I had done, to do this, to meet with Katrice again, tonight, and put Joy and my plans aside for Katrice’s own convenience. I had really messed up my life the last year and a half and in doing so, Joy had been caught in the wake and had paid the price as well. Joy owed me nothing and if Joy said no to us going out tonight, hell, if she didn’t want to have anything else to do with me ever again then I would completely understand.
"Do you still want to go out
tonight?” I asked again since she hadn’t given me an answer.
“Yes.” She half whispered … she sounded tired or frustrated?
My heart jumped into fast idle.
“Then I’m on my way to pick you up.” I told her.
“Where are you now?” she asked.
“Some old apartments on the far west side of USM.”
“Apartments? Why are you at some apartments?” she asked, concern rising again in her voice.
“It’s not what you think. I had to drop Katrice off at her friend’s apartment where she left her car. Her friend dropped her off at County Market then left her so I had to give her a ride back to her car. Just one more inconvenience she hustled off on me at the last minute.”
There was a pause on the other end, as if Joy was trying to put all of that together.
“How long will you be?”
“Give me fifteen minutes, depending on traffic.”
“Hurry, Cowboy. Ride fast if you can.” Joy’s voice was soft, almost wounded.
“Like the wind.” I said and pressed the END button, dropping the call on my end and returning the handset to the docking cradle behind the passenger seat.
I put one foot on the clutch and one foot on the brake, put the Corvette into reverse and slowly backed out of the parking lot of the apartment complex. If only it was as easy to back out of emotional dead ends as it was to back out of dead ends in real life … if it had been I would have thrown my heart in reverse, looked over my shoulder and stomped it, backing out of eighteen months of my life and starting over again … this time with Joy … as fast as my spinning wheels and burning tires would carry me there. But life wasn’t like that or at least my life wasn’t like that so I put the Corvette into first gear and slowly drove out of the apartment parking lot.
I nonchalantly pushed Tattoo Rodeo’s cassette all the way into the Delco-Bose and keyed up the music search to find the third song on side one of the tape. A few seconds later, Tattoo Rodeo began to pound out the lyrics to "Been your fool" and I found that the words matched my situation and mood … exactly. In fact, I found myself singing along, out loud, and I had the biggest smile on my face when I did. I didn’t even look back when I drove away because everything behind me was just dust and that’s all that Katrice, her empty promises, our broken plans and our never happening future together would ever be … dust.
Katrice was gone.
She was finally gone.
She was out of my life.
She was finally out of my life.
Joy and I never made it to Cody's
party that night and
we didn't have any regrets in not doing so either ... but then that's another
story for another time.
After that Friday the 13th, I never talked to Katrice again and I counted that as both a blessing and a certain great kindness from above.
And with a toss of the old tasseled square board high into the air college was over!
It was finally over!
I had graduated.
Degree earned and diploma in hand.
What had begun way back in the fall of 1987 was finally over.
Five years of college were complete and I had graduated.
Seventeen years of being in school non-stop, of having to put up with schedules and teachers and school books and homework and tests and bullshit day after day after day.
It was all over.
I was free.
I was finally free.
Suddenly I felt tired, exhausted, and drained. I felt like I had run a race and just crossed the finish line … a seventeen year long race and a three foot wide finish line. In fact, I felt even more drained than what I had felt when Katrice left me. I didn’t see Katrice that night although I did run into her younger brother in the slowly dispersing crowd afterwards but he didn’t (or wouldn’t) talk to me and I began to wonder what kind of story that she had told her family when she had let them know that we weren’t dating any more.
It must have been a really good one, seeing how her
brother had looked at me like that …
After graduation I took a much deserved week-long vacation in the mountains with the knowledge that I already had a job at Magnolia Federal Bank in Hattiesburg, in their IT department, waiting on me when I got back. It was a good paying job with really good benefits, a white collar job that required me to wear a suit, coat and tie every single work day and I parked my ’88 red Corvette in the executive parking area with all the other Corvettes, Mercedes, BMWs, Volvos, Cadillacs and other high end toys. I worked Monday through Friday, from 7am to 4pm. I didn’t have to work nights or weekends (unless there was some kind of special project or an emergency) and I made a whole lot more money in a month at that one full-time job than I’d ever made in a month with all three of my part-time jobs combined.
It felt so weird and so good to have just one full-time job instead of a lot of part-time jobs that overlapped each other and that one full-time job was everything that I had ever imagined that the “real” world would be like after graduation and more. Life was good … no, life was really good and it only got better during the next four years as I rapidly climbed the white collar ladder of success. In fact, six months after I last saw Katrice I met Cindy Bullock, the woman that I would eventually marry and writing this now 20 years after the fact, I'm still married to Cindy, about to celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary in July. I guess when it really came down to it, what surprised me the most about what Katrice and I once had was the fact that not only was Katrice easy to replace but that it didn’t take long to replace her either but that's what happens when you fall in love with a figment of someone else's imagination. That's what happens when you bill yourself as being indispensible when you're really easily replaceable.
Katrice had been only the second woman that I’d ever told her that I loved her. When it came to love I meant what I said and I said what I meant. The way I saw things, life was just too short to go around telling every woman I got involved with that I loved her when I didn't. Love, at least for me, was a commitment and it was long term. Love was something to aspire to, not something you earned after being with me for six weeks.
“You will always be blue collar, Christopher Shields. Always.”
To this very day I still get a special kind of chuckle out of remembering Katrice saying those words to me on that night long ago, remembering those as her very last words to me ever the last time that we met. What she said was almost as good, if not better, than Pam's "I thought you were some kind of saint ..." line from way back in the spring of 1986. Even now when I get together with friends from that time in my life one of them will invariably drop Katrice's catch phrase during conversation and we'll all have a good laugh, twenty plus years after the fact.
The only way that I could ever have been blue collar in my life was if I had actually married deep into blue collar; namely Katrice and her rural, small town family. Looking back now across two decades at all the great things that I’ve enjoyed makes me realize that the happily ever after part of my life wasn’t lost when I didn’t drop on bended knee to slide that engagement ring on Katrice’s finger there at sunset on the beach that long ago, never to be Valentine’s Day ... No, for me happily ever after actually began five days earlier when Katrice walked out of everything that we had and everything that we would have. It certainly didn’t seem that way at the time but that’s how it all eventually worked out and it didn’t take long to work out for the better either.
Life is funny strange like that
sometimes, especially my life.
Yes, contrary to all of her soft spoken words, her tear stained love letters, her lipstick sealed happy notes and her sultry promises whispered when we were bare skin to bare skin, my happily ever after, apparently, really didn’t involve Katrice being in my life at all. Even now, twenty years later to the exact day, looking back on everything that has come and gone since that Friday, March 13, 1992 oh so long ago I have to admit that Katrice actually did manage to keep one of her promises to me … just one … and it was the very first one that she ever made to me way back in December of 1990 when she first started to really come on to me ...
Katrice really was different than any of the other women that I ever dated simply because Katrice turned out to be the
one of them all.