Finding the Road Back…

Pic - Road Back

“Each day of human life contains joy and anger, pain and pleasure, darkness and light, growth and decay.  Each moment is etched with nature’s grand design – do not try to deny or oppose the cosmic order of things.”  ~ Morihei Ueshiba

A year quickly passed since my grandfather’s death.  Being a hard year for me, I kept my concentration on my new job, which was doing administration work for a bag manufacturing company in Evanston.  I had also graduated from Wilber Wright Junior College, earning myself an Associates Degree. By this time, Bill and I had been dating for a very long time and we were about to celebrate our ninth year together. Young sweethearts we were, dating since the seventh grade. Throughout our relationship, Bill and I became engaged, talking about marriage, kids and spending our lives together. After my grandfather’s passing, I had decided to continue living with Sophie, renting a bedroom from her, which allowed me to save some extra money for the future. My heart was healing and I finally felt that my life may be heading in a positive direction.  I had a pretty good job and great friends. I was extremely in love and I was very happy in my life, but as the old saying sometimes goes… “Don’t rock the boat.”  Well, my boat was about to be rocked!

One afternoon, Bill came over and said he wanted to go to the park, which wasn’t too far from Sophie’s house. Summer had started and there was warmth to the day. Bill said that he needed to talk to me about something. Driving over to Horner Park, Bill seemed quiet, almost lost within his thoughts, but I didn’t think much of it at the time.   Bill pulled into the Park’s parking lot, by the main baseball diamond just off of California Avenue. He turned off the car and this is when I realized that Bill was serious. Bill started to fumble for words, surely wanting to make sure that they were soft, gentle and not harsh.  But, regardless of what words he chose, I knew my heart was about to be chattered.  It was there at the park, the same park where I grieved every day over my grandfather’s death while walking to work, that my life would be, once again, forever changed.  Bill shared with me that after nine years of being together, he wasn’t happy anymore; he wanted to see other people.  His words stung as I sat there in the car trying to make reason for what he was saying. I thought we were happy. I thought he was happy. I had no indication whatsoever that Bill was feeling this way.  I truly felt our relationship was doing well and I couldn’t understand why he was telling me all of this.  My mind was swimming and then sinking at every word that Bill was throwing at me, along with my heart. I felt like I was drowning. We had been together for so long, through grade school, high school and even college. What Bill shared with me completely devastated me and no matter what I said, how much I pleaded with Bill, or how much I begged, he did not want to continue our relationship any longer.  Bill started the car up to take me back home, asking me if I was going to be okay, but I knew I wasn’t. I was numb from my mind to my heart. I absolutely never saw his words coming. At one point while talking with Bill, I was peacefully calm and, then the next thing I knew, I would get hysterically angry, pounding on the dashboard, the door, myself. Bill once again asked me if I was going to be okay, but all I could think of was getting away from him and out of his car as fast as I could. I felt as if my heart was going to explode!

Bill dropped me off back home, at Sophie’s house, and watched me as I went inside. If there was ever a time that I felt so relieved not to have Sophie at home, it was then. I knew that I would be alone and have the whole house to myself, allowing myself to justify what the hell just happened without having an audience around me.  Shutting and locking the front door behind me, I started walking toward my bedroom, but I only made it as far as the main hallway, as there I stood, with my hands now molded into tight fists, as I began to pound the walls around me, crying uncontrollably, screaming at the pain that was haunting my heart.  It was at that moment that I began my mental breakdown.  The man that I loved for so long, the young boy that I grew up with throughout our young years; sharing experiences with each other for the first time, the man who I depended on to always be there in my life, has now decided that he wanted to see other people. I wasn’t good enough for him anymore. The man that I loved and wanted to be with no longer wanted to be with me. I felt like my world was suddenly falling apart. My heart ached so much, as I now realized that I lost another important person in my life; first my grandfather and now my fiancé.

It didn’t take long for the news to spread through Bill’s family that he broke off our relationship. Living with Sophie started to make things a little uncomfortable, as there was a constant state of reminder of Bill. Sophie’s daughter, Josie, lived in the basement apartment, along with her husband, Tim, who was Bill’s older brother.  Sophie was the mother-in-law to Tim.  Everyone was related in one way or another to Bill; everyone except me. I started to feel like the outsider.  I was in such a state of depression that I had no desire to go anywhere, do anything, nor did I want to be with any friends. I stayed mostly in my bedroom behind closed doors.  Sophie would have barbeques in the backyard, begging me to come out and be with everyone, but I would just shut myself away in my room. The last thing I wanted to do was socialize, especially with the family that I knew I would never be a part of.  Finally realizing that my life would not be going back to the way it was I knew I had to make some important and immediate changes. I was tired of crying, I was tired of hurting, and I was tired of constantly having the reminders of Bill and his family all around me.

Months had passed and I felt it was time for me to move out of Sophie’s home.  I would see Bill’s brother and other family members and I was starting to feel very uncomfortable being there; it was almost as if they would look at me and ask themselves, why is she still here? In order to heal my heart, get on with my life, I had to move on. I started looking through the newspapers for an apartment of my own.  I knew that I didn’t want to share an apartment with anyone else nor did I want to have the responsibility of having a roommate. I knew I couldn’t afford much; therefore, I looked for the cheapest apartment I could find.  Looking through the neighborhood paper, I found a one room studio apartment on Leland just off of Western Avenue that sounded perfect. It wasn’t long after having a tour of the place that I decided to tell the manger I’d take it! It was a big building that consisted of three floors and I was on the top floor – penthouse level!  I loved my first apartment. It was all my own and I was very excited about decorating and fixing it up. When entering the apartment, which faced south, there was one main large room that greeted you, where the windows wrapped all the way around, bringing in a spectacular ray of light.  There was a small kitchenette to my left, along with a bathroom and a walk in closet on my right.  The apartment came unfurnished, so a new sofa sleeper was in my future, along with a kitchen table and many things to make it look homey and lived in.  I had begun my first steps of being on my own, my own independence and not depending on anyone.

Settling into my new apartment, I went on with my life, working and, on occasion, dating a few men here and there, but nothing that ended up to be a relationship or anything serious.  I was enjoying myself, having fun and it felt wonderful having other men show interest in me.  I even went on a trip of a lifetime with Donatta and her family, even sampling the Mexican pleasures that Cancun was offering. Once back home, I concentrated on my new apartment, settling in and getting to know the neighborhood. Getting ready to go out one evening, I decided to take a shower. Once done, I walked completely naked out into the main living area of my studio, totally forgetting that I forgot to close the blinds to the windows that completely wrapped around all three walls.  Standing butt naked, it dawned on me that somebody could be looking out their window at that moment, starring directly at me. The odds were probably slim, but to my mind and naked body, my instincts took over and I immediately doubled over as to suddenly hide what I was advertising to the neighborhood! I started backing up, crouching toward the other room, aiming to get my naked ass back into the bathroom.  It was then that I tripped over my shoe, losing my footing and falling backward, with my ass landing directly up against my apartment radiator that was hotter than the Devil himself! Snapping back up to attention, I screamed every profanity that my tongue could roll off. Feeling the sizzle, I realized that I had just given myself an ass branding from the radiator that left me with more bars than my current cell phone carrier! I had the marks of the radiator bars branded against my ass crack! My ass could have been known as 50 shades of red!   From that moment on, I had learned to make sure that all blinds were closed prior to me entering the shower and I stood far away from the radiator that not only heated my apartment, but was also capable of leaving a lasting impression… on my ass!

It was an early spring day, when I received a phone call from Bill. Although very unexpected, it was pleasant to hear his voice just the same. He asked if I had time to talk and asked if I wanted to meet up for a drink, which I kindly accepted. Bill and I went to an Irish pub called Paddy’s that was on Montrose Avenue, not too far from my apartment.  It was quaint, loud and full of energy. The thought of catching up with Bill seemed rather nice and I was excited to see him, as I haven’t seen or spoken to him in way over a year. I even had a few butterflies in my belly, as I was getting ready.  Spotting him at the bar, he looked good, put together but, mostly, he looked happy.  We grabbed a table and started sharing our updates with one another and what had been going on in our lives since we last saw each other. It felt strange being with him; like I had never dated him for nine years, almost as if he was someone new I had just met for the very first time while sitting in the bar.  After our updates were coming to an end, it was then that Bill asked me a question; obviously, the main reason why he asked me to have a drink with him.  Bill raises his voice over the deafening noise of the crowd, asking me his question… “Jack, have a baby with me.”  Bill must have seen the astonished look on my face, as my eyes widened more and more with every syllable that came sliding out of his mouth.  “…have-a-ba-by-with-me.”  Again, with a confident smile on his face, he repeated himself once more, “Jack, let’s have a baby together!”  Bill was so excited, standing there, as he was trying to convince me that it would be fun, exciting and a great idea, as if I just won a free trip to a far away land! Finding my words, I asked him why he wanted to have a baby so bad because I found it odd that a single man in his twenties suddenly wanted to have a baby and, of all things, with me, his ex girlfriend! Bill shared that he wanted to have a child in his life and he was asking me to share this with him, but still not completely understanding why.  I told Bill that I couldn’t have a baby unless I was married. It was at that point that Bill decided to throw in a marriage proposal and a round trip ticket to Las Vegas, offering to marry me over the weekend.  There was so much information to take in at the moment that I asked for another drink.  The thought of being with the man that I once loved sounded enticing, but yet I was cautious of the young man he obviously became over the past year.  The Bill that I knew growing up would never have wanted a baby and, when we were together, we made every cautious effort known to man to make sure that nothing like that ever happened.  Therefore, I didn’t know what to make of this new Bill standing before me.  Again, he said, “Let’s do it. Let’s fly to Vegas, get married and have a baby!”  Bill made it sound all so easy, as if we were going to run to the store for some milk and cookies. Bill had a way of making it sound thrilling; drawing you in with every pitch he made. Obviously, he was working the salesman that was within him; something I’ve seen his father do many times before.  Bill’s father, Jim, always had a way of making something sound exciting, always pulling you in and making you want to be a part of the action.  Exciting as Bill made it sound, I told him that I would have to think it over, as I wasn’t about to make any hasty decisions over a couple of cocktails while sitting in an Irish Pub that could affect my life forever.  He dropped me back off at my apartment, where I had the whole evening to think of his proposal. I had told Bill that I would call him the next day to share my decision with him.

Feeling reminiscent, I started listening to a Neil Young album while I enjoyed a few glasses of wine. Sitting on my sofa, I started thinking back to our nine year relationship; the good times we had, the love that we had once shared.  It’s amazing how quickly one forgets about all the bad and hurtful times.  My thoughts bring me back to the music, as I sat listening while Neil Young sang the words…

“Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.”

It was at that moment, while listening to the song Harvest Moon, that I had made my decision. Yes, Bill, I will marry you and have your baby!  I was content with my decision, very happy, but yet nervous, wondering if I was making the right decision.  My heart was telling me to say, yes, as I was thinking of the relationship we once shared, but it was my mind that was questioning.  The next morning, while at work, I kept rolling Bill’s proposal around in my head. I was thinking of how my life would change. Was I ready to be married, to be a wife? Was I ready to have a baby, to be a mother? Was I doing everything for the right reasons? Did Bill really want to be with me on that level or was I just the means for him to get what he really wanted, which was baby?  After some long hard soul searching, once the music had stopped, I knew deep within my heart and mind that I could not marry Bill or have his baby. I haven’t seen or been with Bill in over a year. Why now?  I had realized that there was nothing personal about his proposal whatsoever.  It felt like I was under a contractual agreement or as if I was ordering a nine month subscription to American Baby Magazine. That afternoon, I phoned Bill and broke the news to him that I wouldn’t’ be taking his offer, that I wouldn’t marry him, nor have his child.  I’m not sure how he took it personally, but I knew that it wasn’t the right time for me to make such a commitment in my life.  Although I still loved Bill, there was a difference… I loved Bill; I just wasn’t in love with him.  With saying no, it became apparent to me at that moment that I actually had survived my little breakdown from the year before, from when Bill and I broke up. I had recovered, matured and I had moved on with my life. I felt proud of myself knowing that I was, once again, a survivor.  Little did Bill know that I accepted his proposal just by listening and reminiscing over a love song by Neil Young; a song that we had made love to so many times before.  It was the song Harvest Moon that made me want to be with Bill once again, that convinced me that it would work, that our relationship could heal, recover and continue.  But I felt in my heart that Bill wanted a baby more than he wanted a wife, wanted me and, for this, I said no.

Months had passed and the summer was in full swing.   I had moved from my studio into a one bedroom apartment on Ainslie just off of Damen Avenue.  Baby, I was movin’ on up!  I was making more money at my job in Evanston, which allowed me to upgrade to a larger apartment that was actually on the first floor and no longer on the third. Walking in, the bathroom was on your left while the bedroom was on your right.  There was a very large living room that also shared a small separate sitting area toward the front windows and I thought it would make a beautiful spot to house a small studio, to paint and creating my art.  There was a non-working fireplace that had a mantle extending from one end of the living room to the other. The kitchen was a nice size; much bigger than the one in the studio, and it had the most unique china cabinet that was built into the wall.  The piece was lovely and added charm to the room and all the radiators were covered!  It was apparent that I was going to need more furniture, but until then, I settled comfortably into my new home.

The only thing I didn’t have in my new apartment building was a laundry facility but, there was a laundry mat just down the street and around the corner from me.  It was there that I once again bumped into Bill. Making small talk while doing laundry, Bill asked if he could come over and visit for a while to catch up, seeing that he was in the neighborhood. I told him where I lived and that it would be fine. Shortly thereafter, Bill knocked on my door and I had invited him in.  I asked Bill to take a seat in the chair, but he opted to sit on the floor instead.  It didn’t take long before my instincts kicked, as I felt something odd. I had the feeling of uneasiness as Bill walked into the room. He asked if I had any photo albums of us from when we were dating.  Handing them over, I let him go through the pages, as he commented on particular photos from our past. I felt his behavior was slightly unusual, almost odd and it made me feel very uncomfortable.  Sitting on the couch opposite of Bill, my intuitiveness suddenly kicked in and I got a weird impression that Bill had other intentions for his visit, but I wasn’t sure why.  We continued talking about our lives and, once again, catching up what we had been up to for the past year. I shared that I had met someone and was very happy, as well as still working in Evanston and Bill shared with me that he was working for a frame company.  We asked about each of our families and how everyone was doing.  I did miss Bill’s mother and father. They always treated me as if I belonged. Still having my bike at Bill’s house in the basement, I thought, perhaps, I could visit with them for a while picking up my bike.  Bill thought that would be a great idea and to just give his mother a call.  We continued our small talk and Bill’s visit ended less than an hour later. I couldn’t shake the uneasiness and guarded feelings that I had. Bill seemed so much different to me, especially from the last time we saw each other when he “baby proposed” to me.  Perhaps, he just needed to stroll down memory lane one last time.

Later that week, while at work, I decided to call Bill’s mom, Elaine, to make arrangements to pickup my bike. I figure I could at least ride it back and forth to work or even use it for errands.  Dialing her number, I anxiously waited for Elaine to answer the phone.  It had been such a long time, years actually, since I had spoken to her. I announced who was calling and asked her how she had been. I could tell that Elaine was rather reserved with our conversation, as if almost to say, “Why are you calling here?”  I mentioned that I had seen Bill just days before and I was wondering if I could pick up my bike over the weekend, as it was still in her basement. Elaine said that it wouldn’t be a problem and she would make sure that it was ready for me when I came. Hesitating, Elaine proceeded to ask me a question of her own; a question that was totally unexpected; a question that I will never forget. She asked, “You do know that Billy is married now, don’t you?” I sat there as if I just got the wind kicked out of me. Her words kept echoing in my ear, but I was quick to respond, “Oh, why yes, I do. I just wanted to get my bike out of your basement.” Elaine went on to tell me that they just got married and that they both were very happy. The only thing I could do was to agree with her. After hanging up, I sat back in my chair and my mind drifted back to days earlier when Bill was in my apartment taking his stroll down memory lane. It was at that moment that I felt as if I had literally been slapped in the face by deceit. Not once did Bill mention to me that he was married nor was he wearing a wedding ring that would have confirmed that. Perhaps, he slipped it into his pocket prior to coming over. During the whole time he was with me in my apartment, Bill did not bring up his wife at all or the fact that he recently got married. None of this was mentioned during our time of “catching up.” Bill never even shared with me that he was even in a relationship.  Bill wasn’t honest with me and it hurt. Looking back, I believe that this is the reason for Bill’s strange behavior while visiting with me.  After picking up my bike from Elaine’s house, I went home and had the sudden urge to tear up every photograph that I had of Bill. Taking all the photos from their albums, I begin ripping each picture of Bill in tiny little pieces. With every rip I made, satisfaction set in. I continued until the last picture was shredded. Placing them all into a manila envelope, I wrote a note that accompanied my jigsaw puzzle… “Do not ever attempt to contact me again!”

The last time that I ever saw Bill was back in the laundry mat about a year later.  Conversation was at a minimum, as I stood there folding my pants and blouses for the work week ahead and while Bill was folding nothing other than little baby clothes, piling them on top of the other, staking them ever so neatly.  He shared with me that he had a baby girl that he truly adored. Bill was simply elated. He couldn’t stop talking about his daughter and I could see the sparkle and love in his eyes whenever he spoke of her or mentioned her name.  It was at that moment that I was content with the decision that I had made for myself just years before, not taking him up on his baby and marriage proposal. But, most importantly, I was so very happy for Bill for he got what he wanted. He found the love, happiness and peace while looking into the eyes of his little girl.

 “Babies are bits of stardust, blown from the hand of God.” ~ Barretto

It was twenty years later that I heard from Bill.  He randomly sent out emails to all the Jackie Lamberts he found on the internet, in hopes to make a connection with me again.  His father, Jim, was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS, a ruthless and debilitating disease that leaves no mercy on its victims. I have fond memories of Jim, as we would all sit around the dining room table listening to the stories he would tell, each one with more excitement than the last. I still see his mannerisms, as Jim sat in his bathrobe, expressing himself with his giant hands, as he maneuvered his metal framed glasses by using the tips of his finger and thumb, one on each side of the frame, simultaneously pushing them back up on his nose.  I was always invited at their dining room table, whether it was for humble conversation, dinner or planning the next season’s strategy for the Chicago Bears to win the super bowl. I remember the season after Bill and I broke up in 1985, the year the Chicago Bears won the super bowl. Sitting in the arms of another man, watching all the excitement on TV that filled the stadium, I couldn’t help stepping back in time to the days when I had once been a part of it all.

Jim advised Bill that he should try and find me, to make amends, to make things right between us, and with the way he left our relationship so many years before. I have to admit that I was very taken aback when I saw in the subject line of an email that read something similar to “This is Bill Dooley, I’m looking for Jackie Lambert.”  I replied, letting Bill know that it was me and that he had found me.  It was very nice to hear from Bill after all these years and to learn that he was doing well.  He shared with me that Jim was slowly dying of this horrible disease and my heart was saddened to hear such news. We caught up with each other’s lives once again, learning that we both had children and that our families were doing well.  On occasion, we exchange emails to see how the other is doing, sending updates or if a certain memory comes into play. We both realized that we have matured since we last saw each other, moving on, with the harsh and painful feelings of the past faded away, but the special memories we shared staying strong.  I no longer look at the negative things of the past. What lies in the past stays in the past. In order to move forward, where one can cherish memories and a friendship, your heart must be cleansed and open to forgiveness.  I have forgiven. Now, with families of our own, we both cherish the people who we have in our lives today.  I believe that this was our destiny, the road that we were meant to take.  Innocent children we once were, exploring a love and a friendship that will remain in my heart always.

 “There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all”

~ John Lennon

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