exes anonymous, volume five.
When picturing an ideal mate, most women imagine a man in some sort of sports uniform, complete with hidden six-pack and deep, manly voice.
I’ve never been “most women.”
Instead, when I picture my ideal man, the qualifications are simple: well-educated and well-spoken, attractive in a bookish way (aka: no bulging muscles necessary), and able to hold an interesting conversation about something unrelated to sports, the weather, or The Bachelor. Ergo, my type of man isn’t typically found on ESPN or at the gym. Rather, his natural habitat is: where else? The bookstore.
Siren (noun, origin: Middle English)
1) From Greek Mythology: Each of a number of women or winged creatures whose singing lured unwary sailors onto rocks.
2) A woman who is considered to be alluring or fascinating but also dangerous in some way.
Visiting my family in Texas the summer after my first year of college was a nice idea. Visiting my family for the entire summer was a lethal one.
By the time Bryce broke my heart the first time, I was out for blood.
Fights with my parents were just the beginning. I snuck out of the house, lied to my father, spent too much money, and worst of all, I met Frankie.
One peculiar weeknight, I met my friend, Kelley, at a Barnes & Noble on her side of town for some catch-up time. We had gone for dinner prior, and I had few friends who loved going to bookstores for reasons other than for magazines and free wi-fi. After much browsing and laughing, Kelley looked at her watch and saw it was time for her to go back home.
“Yeah… I guess I should probably get back, too…” I sighed. I knew my parents wanted me home by 11, but didn’t they understand I’d been out until at least midnight, if not later, with my friends when I was at school? My rebellious inklings sizzled.
We hugged goodbye in the parking lot as the sun was starting to set. I looked at my watch as I began walking toward my mom’s mini-van, which she’d leant me as she did the entire summer in the evenings. Lucky me.
It was nearly 8:30; I still had plenty of evening to spend away from my parents’ house. As I got in the car for the long trip home, I began to think to myself: I wonder if Frankie is working tonight?
Frankie was a prime example of my idealized man. The first time I saw him, he was placing books on a table labeled “Summer Reading,” and looking studious, yet distracted.
My dear friend, Lauren, and I were at the double-decker Barnes & Noble located within our city’s largest mall. Once again, we had gotten together to catch up at the beginning of my first summer home from college. She was one of my closest high school friends, though she was younger than me.
“Dottie? Are there a lot of hot guys in college?” she asked as she sat on the floor, sifting through manga. It was our tradition to read a copious amount of comics when we went to bookstores, partly because we loved them and partly because manga is freaking expensive.
I laughed, though strained. “Maybe at the college you end up going to…” I said with a pang in my chest, thinking of Bryce and the fresh wound that was still imbedded in my stomach.
“I’m sooo ready for college guys. High school boys suck,” she sighed deeply, her eye twitching slightly as though she, too, was feeling a fresh pang of hurt.
“Everyone deserves a chance to start over,” I said. And I meant it, too, as I thought that was what I had originally set out to do in college. However, my next set of actions would prove otherwise.
“Guys don’t really like me,” Lauren spat. “Just the weirdos I don’t wanna talk to.” Lauren had low self-esteem since the day I met her, and no matter how beautiful she was to me and our other friends, she had never been beautiful to herself, not really.
I contemplated for a moment as she flipped page after page from right to left in her manga. I stood up and began to put my books back where they belonged on the shelf, a simple pleasure. Lauren continued to read and chip away at her black fingernail polish.
For whatever reason, the comics were located next to the theatre section, and I began to wander near the Shakespeare plays.
That’s when I saw him.
Immediately, I speed-walked to Lauren and said, “Lauren. Come here.”
She could tell from a certain glint in my eye what I was up to: that special glee that shows up exclusively when a fine male specimen is in the vicinity. She got up and tip-toed with me to the shelf of tragedies, and we both gazed upon the Barnes & Noble worker with the shaggy black hair and dreamy cappuccino skin.
“Whoah,” was all Lauren could say. I agreed.
I watched him organizing the table of books with care, while also sneaking peeks at his cell phone on occasion. We snuck our own peeks at him from behind the shelf. As Lauren drooled slightly, I began to ponder our prior conversation.
“Hey, Lauren,” I whispered.
“Let me teach you a life lesson. Wanna learn how to pick up a guy?” I asked. Why I said that, I do not know, in retrospect. For whatever reason, I needed to remind myself I had powers, and I needed someone to witness them.
I dusted myself off and wandered toward the Shakespeare shelf closest to the worker. I tried to sneak glances at his nametag, but it was flipped over, showing only stamps of skulls where his name should be.
“Can I help you find something?”
Without turning around to face him, I asked, “Yes, but I’m not sure what; what’s your favourite Shakespeare?” It was then that I turned slightly to glance at him, who had put his books down to wander toward me. I could feel Lauren’s watchful, impressed eye from behind the shelf.
“Umm… well I’m a big fan of A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he began. I held a copy of Macbeth in my hand, my personal favourite.
I coyly laughed. “I don’t know what that says about you,” I said. He laughed. “But then again, I’m the one who’s holding a copy of Macbeth.”
Truth be told: I have never actually read A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even when I saw it on stage, I still didn’t absorb any plot whatsoever. Yep; I’m a terrible person. But wait: it gets better.
I placed the book back on the shelf and tousled my straightened hair seductively, planning my next move. “Actually, could you tell me where to find the Jane Austen section?”
Like I didn’t know where to find Jane Austen. Please.
Hook, line, sinker.
He led me to another table on the other side of the store that held stacks of paperback Janes. “Are you looking for one, specifically?” he asked.
I had just recently purchased a copy of Persuasion, as I intended to audition for my school’s stage version in the fall. I did not actually need any copies of Jane. It was all a ruse. “What’s your favourite Jane?” I asked.
His eyes widened a bit more. “Well, I mean I’ve read Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice, obviously…”
“And how do you like them?” I asked, running my fingers over copies of the books.
“I liked them,” he began. “But I’m more a fan of French literature.”
“Oh really?” I asked, intrigued. “Like what?”
He seemed slightly giddy, as though he’d dreamed of someone asking him this question when he started working in a bookstore. “Well, my favourite book is The Count of Monte Christo,” he said. “It’s actually my life goal to read it in its original French.”
Was I crazy, or did I just sense him sticking out his chest a little more as he said that?
“Yeah; I’m actually double-majoring in French and Literature at UTSA.” Yeah, there was definitely some preening going on here.
Which meant I was winning.
We talked a bit more about our studies thus far, and eventually he got called to work at the registers. Lauren bolted toward me.
“That. Was. Awesome.”
For a while we laughed at the absurdity of the entire situation. Neither of us could believe that had actually happened. Who was I?, we both thought.
“Dottie, you have to buy something! He’s working at the register!” Lauren whispered.
Nonchalantly, I grabbed a copy of Sense & Sensibility and headed downstairs to check out. He and one other older woman were working at the registers, and I began praying fervently that I’d get his register. Meanwhile, Lauren hung back near the stationary, still watching and learning.
He smiled as I walked up to the register to buy my Jane. He smiled, slightly, and I thanked him for his help.
“So you’re a big Shakespeare fan, hm?” he asked.
“There’s this other book you should check out sometime. It’s partly told from Shakespeare’s point of view and partly from a random guy named Will’s point of view. So good.”
“Wow! That sounds great,” I said. It really did. I wasn’t making this up.
“Here, let me write down the ISBN number for you.” He started looking up the book in the system and scribbling down a number for me to look up later.
Passing the note to me on the desk, I slowly reached over to grab it, both our hands still gripping the small piece of paper. I finally saw his name on his nametag: Frankie. With hearts.
“Do you have any other numbers to give me, Frankie?” I asked.
He stared at me, bewildered, which I took as my cue to leave, though with only one number in tow.
Back to Kelley’s story. I had left the parking lot with one thought: I wonder if Frankie is working tonight… So even though I had just spent nearly two hours in one Barnes & Noble, I left to stop at another before the night was over. As I drove, a certain gaiety began to race like ice through my veins.
Would he be there? What would I say? Did I really want him to talk to me? What the hell was I doing? All very relevant thoughts.
I pulled into the parking lot, checked my hair (why, oh why hadn’t I worn makeup today?), and slyly crept into the store. I peered first over the aisles of DVDs, no Frankie. I did a round among the bestsellers and stationary, no Frankie. I checked at the registers, no Frankie. Losing some of my nerve, I took the escalator up to do a check upstairs and to get a better vantage point of the downstairs. Nothing.
Deflated, I headed back downstairs and began walking toward the door.
Until, that is, we made eye contact. He did a double-take as I sped toward the music books. He was here. He saw me. Oh. My. God.
I wasn’t quite sure what, if anything, would happen next. I picked up a book of Bob Dylan lyrics and attempted to appear completely engrossed. My heart was racing. So he hadn’t been working, but he was here with a few other people. He wasn’t wearing his nametag, and he didn’t have that “work-mode stress” kind of appearance.
Eventually, I got my answer.
“Hey,” I heard. Deeeep breath. “I remember you.”
“Oh, hi!” I said, as if I hadn’t just seen him and panicked moments before. “How’s work going?”
“Actually, I’m not technically working at the moment,” he said. “I’m just here with my mom, hangin’ out.”
“Oh, cool,” I said.
“Bob Dylan fan, hm?” he asked, noting the book I held.
We began more small-talk, just chatting about our musical taste and books. I felt comfortable, and I noticed how attractive he really was. I didn’t know what to think of the conversation or if it was going anywhere, but nevertheless, he eventually said, “So, could I give you my phone number?”
Well that’s a weird way to ask that question, I thought. Not “Can I get your number?” but “Can I give you mine?” In some way, perhaps that’s a smaller form of rejection.
I programmed his number into my phone, eventually giving him my name. He smiled and told me he hoped I’d call him sometime.
The first person I called was Lauren, of course. Then I headed home.
I waited three days to text Frankie, because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Do girls have to abide by the three-day rule like guys do? I played it safe, just in case.
At first, the way we spoke was quite charming, especially when he’d text me in French. I’d have to translate about 75% of anything he texted me, which I enjoyed. Responding to him in Spanish didn’t seem quite as special, somehow.
We began talking so much that eventually he wanted to see me outside of work and talking through texting. He wanted to take me on a real date.
Unfortunately yet unsurprisingly, my parents weren’t as enthused.
One night over dinner, I gleefully told my mom and dad the exciting news: a guy from the bookstore wanted to take me out on a date! I anticipated confusion, eye-rolling even, but there was no way I could have ever anticipated this.
My dad smiled, “Oh really? Wow.” His usual calm overshadowed any of his true feelings he might have buried.
My mother, on the other hand, remained silent. This was unusual for her, I thought. Usually she was more verbose about my personal life than even my father.
I dared to inquire. “What do you think, Mom?”
“You always do this, Dottie,” she began, just starting to sneer.
“Do… what?” I asked.
“THIS,” she raised her voice, chilling me. “You always start dating someone after we lose someone in the family.”
What the —
“You started dating Josh after my dad died, and that really hurt me,” she spat. “And now, this? Right after Becky died?”
No words trickled out of my mouth. Not even one.
Even my dad seemed slightly taken aback. It was as though we were both left thinking, what’s happening?
“Mom. I had no idea. Where is this all coming from?” I had hundreds of questions, but the beginnings of her angry tears and the start of her curling upper lip frightened me too much for me to pursue asking any of them. Instead, she grabbed all the dishes out of my hand, leaving me to run into my room, furious and hurt.
My aunt had died earlier that summer, just after the fourth of July. She was my father’s only sister, Rebecca. Living with two younger brothers had made her tough and an excellent caregiver.
My aunt Becky had two children, one my marriage: Mercedes, who was my uncle’s daughter from a prior marriage, and Dylan, who is two years my senior. Becky and her family lived in the dumpiest little house in Texas you could imagine. It had been some semblance of a mobile home, at one point in time, but had evolved into the country’s hangout for wildlife and wild people, namely, our family.
My uncle Gil collected rocks: a self-proclaimed geologist/truck driver combination. Many of our family’s memories of camping and traveling are peppered with voyages to the river to pan for geodes and other special rocks. Lucky for us, Gil also was an excellent cook, making tortillas and other Mexican staples from scratch for his family every morning. He was also experienced in the ways of frying up the perfect frog’s legs, which seldom frequented our Christmases, much to his chagrin.
As for my Aunt, she lit up a room without even having to say a word. It wasn’t so much as her beauty, but her being that transformed an evening from fun to memorable. Many holidays and road trips have solidified in my childhood memories exclusively because of a special art project she’d bring camping or because of a funny joke or saying she’d whip out in casual conversation.
To many people in my family, Becky was their favourite relative. No one else in my family sat with me patiently to teach me how to sculpt or paint or sketch. No one else would spend precious one-on-one time with me to tell me stories of when she was a kid, just because she knew I treasured time with her but wasn’t good with large groups of people. She made me, as well as every other person in our family, feel special, because Becky loved them.
Unfortunately, special things are so because they are not permanent. My aunt Becky died of Lupus, among other serious health concerns, when I was 19. An image that haunts me to this day is the last time I saw her in her hospital bed, a shriveled semblance of the whole she once was. She truly was one of my favourite people in the world. Because of her, I learned to love art and camping; actually, because of her, I learned more things about the treasure of life than I’d learn from anything or anyone else.
As for my grandfather, he had died when I was a freshman in high school. He was older and had died from many health-related issues. I was not as close with my mother’s parents, as they lived out on our family’s ranch, and my mom loved time with her in-laws more than she loved time with the more dysfunctional pieces of the Duncan puzzle.
My grandfather was a true cowboy, through and through. He had lived on our family’s ranch from the day our family purchased the land until the day he died, and he loved every second of it. He and my grandmother had lived and breathed the ranch lifestyle, complete with cows and longhorns, patio swings and barbed wire. Being there was like visiting another world, one that smelled of cigarette smoke and that sounded like cicadas and beer bottlecaps.
My grandmother had died several years prior of emphysema, as my grandfather did when I was 14. I had started dating Josh in November of my freshman year of high school, and I had never connected the two. To me, having a guy interested in me was enough reason to say “yes.” It had absolutely nothing to do with a strange kink in my personal mourning process.
Nevertheless, I was left to ponder my mother’s claim: did I date men to avoid grieving a serious loss?
So my mother and I fought, as we often did, over this idea, eventually ending in a sentence forbidding me to see this stranger, Frankie. I was too broken and confused to debate the issue further.
But that didn’t stop me from taking action anyway.
I can solemnly swear that I’ve only cognitively lied to my father once in my entire life. When I was little, he said to me that the only request he had of me was to never lie to him. For whatever reason, Frankie was the only thing that garnered such rule-breaking.
It is my biggest regret to this day.
Frankie and I started meeting in secret at coffee shops shortly after we started talking and after the dinnertime incident with my parents. The first few times we met were at a Starbucks close to where he worked and I shopped, which made a great excuse as to where I was going. He and I would sit and talk about the films, etc. in which we were interested, and he’d brag about one of the many film sets on which he had been. I had never met anyone like him: so dark, well-read, confident, and multilingual. One thing was for sure: I sure wasn’t going to meet anyone like him at Concordia.
I didn’t feel too much guilt at the time, especially considering how earnestly he seemed to like me. Our late-night conversations became later and later, often lasting until 4:00 in the morning.
I felt as though I were in high school again, giddy and stupid.
Perhaps I was regressing to high school dating again, but I didn’t feel that at the time. Frankie seemed like an interesting, intelligent, somewhat Godly man who had his act together and just so happened to enjoy sneaking around with me. I loved showing up at Barnes & Noble and teasing him, walking around the check out where he was working, drawing him near where I was hiding behind a bookshelf. One particular evening, I even got him to sneak into an elevator with me, stalling it at the 2nd floor, my back pinned against the button panel.
Eventually, the elevator door would open, I’d casually walk toward Fiction, and he’d adjust his belt and nametag as he walked to the customer service desk.
Customer service, indeed.
It wasn’t until a month or so into our tryst that I began to see a frightening side of him.
Our late-night phone calls were typically innocent, ranging in topics from our insomnia to our families to our favourite books. However, as I spent more and more time on the phone with him, I began to see new facets to this man who, to be honest, I knew about next to nothing.
One thing about Frankie that I learned: knowing a person’s interests and sexual interests does not equal truly knowing a person.
Several nights in a row, he’d call me after work and we’d talk for hours, which was great. What wasn’t great was when he’d beg me to stay on the phone with him; ACTUALLY beg.
“You can’t!” He’d say as I was half-asleep. “Please!” And this wasn’t some little kid fake-begging. This was legitimate, painful, pleading, as though I were leaving him to die in the Sahara without food or water.
Still, some strange part of me liked being so needed, so important to someone. It was as though I was keeping him afloat. How Mother Theresa of me.
Occasionally, our conversations would actually pertain to “real stuff.”
“Dorothy, let’s tell secrets,” Frankie whispered to me one night. “You go first.” I always loved these opportunities with my boyfriends (if you could call him that), as they made me feel like I was truly known and understood.
On a night such as this, I revealed something to Frankie that I had never told anyone else prior. “Ok, I know this is kind of weird, but when I was younger, I used to have night terrors and often felt like demons were around me in my room.” This was very personal to me, and other than my therapist from almost ten years before that, no one else knew.
I breathed a deep sigh of relief as this pent-up secret was released from my lungs.
Only to be met by… silence.
“Did…you hear me?” Panic. Sweat. Fear. Isolation.
Finally, something. “Are… are you serious?” Frankie finally whispered.
Nervously laughing, I said, “Well, yeah. You asked for a secret. That’s mine.”
Silence. Fear. Regret.
“This is serious, Dorothy.”
“I mean, this was ages ago. It’s not an issue much anymore…”
“It’s just that I… I have struggled with that too.” he responded.
“So you understand then,” I said. “That’s so good to hear. I was nervous there for a second.”
“Frankie, you can talk to me about this if you want…”
It was then that an uneasiness began to seep through the phone, like a cold, unsettling cloud floated out of my phone and into my bedroom.
“Frankie…?” I whispered.
A deep growl began to hum through my speaker. It was very low, and most certainly sounded inhuman. The disturbing rumble sounded as though it were far away, but I felt it as though it were there with me in my own room.
“Frankie, stop it. I’m not kidding. Please don’t do this to me…” Tears had begun welling in my eyes.
Fear. Regret. Isolation.
The Voice that responded to me was unlike any I’d ever heard before. I could feel the darkness in It; the heat seeped through my speaker, leaving me stone cold.
“You can’t leave,” It said.
Goosebumps began to prickle up my arms. “Frankie? Stop! Please, you’re scaring me!”
A demonic laugh trickled through.
I’d had it. I hung up the phone.
Gasping for breath, I panicked about what had just unfolded. What just happened? Was Frankie just pulling my leg? Was he trying to scare me? Was it… something else that couldn’t be explained?
My phone rang seconds after. I declined it.
But it kept ringing. I should have simply turned it off, but I was still curious.
Frankie answered the phone, gasping and angry. “Dorothy, you shouldn’t have done that,” he said.
“What are you doing, Frankie? Please tell me what’s going on!” I pleaded.
Silence, all but the drop of what I assumed to be his cell phone on the floor.
Suddenly, an unintelligible scramble of words overflowed. The sound was in the same tone as the “Voice” I’d heard earlier, but this time was louder and more haunting. I couldn’t understand a single thing that leaked through my speaker.
I began crying hysterically. Praying. Anything to stop what I was hearing.
Then the sound of a dropped call.
After not much of a night’s sleep, I awoke scared and embarrassed. How the FUCK had I let this get so far?
The day went by normally with work and such, though dreamlike visions of the night before occasionally trickled into my mind. I didn’t hear from him throughout the day, so I had some time to process the events and determine if I wanted any part of this “relationship” with Frankie.
The truth is, we never actually hashed out if demons were visiting/possessing him or if it all had been some sort of sad, manipulative late-night circus act. Instead, we swept it under the rug, as two desperate, lonely, and sexually frustrated 20-something’s are wont to do.
At one point, Frankie even begged for my address, so that he could come visit me in the middle of the night. For some reason, this offering was not as romantic as many a Taylor Swift song made it out to be. Looking back, I did many things wrong when it came to Frankie, but at least I had the common sense to not give this near-stranger my parents’ address.
We kept seeing each other occasionally in safer, more public places, though something had changed. No longer did I feel comfortable with late-night heart-to-hearts. Rather, the “sexual etc.” began to permeate the majority of our conversations. Perhaps this was the last straw for our relationship that I should have seen coming.
Late one evening, Frankie had been texting me on his night shift at the bookstore. He was dying to see me. He needed me. Loving the feeling of being needed, I wanted to see him too. Plus, I couldn’t deny how good of a kisser he was. And those eyes.
The only problem: the 175-lb. obstacle known as my father.
As our “relationship” was still very much on the down-low, I had contrived a series of excuses taken as nothing other than legitimate from my parents. For all they knew, this Frankie tomfoolery was foregone.
“Dad, do you mind if I go hang out with Christina and Steph at Christina’s house? I want to see them before we all have to go back to school.” I nonchalantly tossed in my father’s direction. It just so happened that Christina was one of the few friends I’d kept from high school, and it also so happened that she was my father’s friend’s daughter.
It also also so happened that her house was closer to the mall where Frankie worked than I might have admitted. But I didn’t utter a word about Frankie being a part of the equation to my father, so that little fact wasn’t important anyway.
“Umm…” my father uttered. “What time are you thinking you’ll be back?”
“Not sure yet. When we finish watching some movies or something?”
A moment of consideration over a bowl of sunflower seeds passed. “Sure, just be careful on the roads,” he said.
As I aforementioned, there has only been one time I’ve cognitively lied to my father. This is that time. However, just like the demonic phone conversation confusion, I buried it so deep that no one could have found it but myself in my late 20’s over too many self-induced whiskeys.
With the best excuse and the best outfit a girl could hope for, I hopped in my parents’ minivan and took off for La Cantera mall.
The time was about 9:45 p.m., just a few minutes before the mall officially closed. I waited outside in the parking lot, trying to look as sexy as I could sprawled out on the hood of my parents’ silver Honda Odyssey, gazing wistfully into the night sky.
Eventually he arrived, and eventually, we were in the backseat. He was a great kisser, but something was lost — the romanticism of tucking away behind bookshelves didn’t transfer so easily to tucking behind bucket seats.
My hands were tangled in his hair when suddenly, I realized where his hands were: his belt loops.
In my mom’s minivan.
“What are you doing?” I asked, lipstick smeared on my face like a drunken graffiti scene.
The clock flashed on the dashboard in the front of the car: 10:45. 10:45. 10:46.
Frankie latched onto me, “Touch it.”
God, the romanticism.
Then bam: the second dick I’d ever seen. Or first? Does the tip count?
It was smaller than I’d expected, considering the passion he was allegedly harboring.
And very underwhelming.
Aren’t I supposed to be overwhelmed with longing at the sight of a man’s penis? I thought to myself. Yet, looking at the weak erection beginning to sag onto the grey leather seat, I found myself disgusted and unamused.
“Get the fuck out,” I said.
“It wants you to touch it.”
Frankie laughed. Suddenly, I was climbing into the front seat and turning on the ignition.
That didn’t seem to change his mind. At this point, what was left of his erection was sagged into an abysmal stump.
“Don’t you love me?” he asked, eyes wide and desperate.
“If you loved me, you’d do this,” he clichéd.
Before I knew it, I was climbing back into the backseat to physically remove him from the vehicle. My hands grabbed his shirt and tore him, exposed dick and all, from the seat and out onto the parking lot asphalt. The automatic doors hadn’t fully closed before I hit the ignition and took off.
Driving back to my parents’ house, I felt waves of disappointment and regret building up within my throat. On the edge of vomiting up bile and cheez-its all over the freshly-vacuumed carpets, I pulled over to the shoulder on the highway. My cell had been buzzing incessantly since I’d pulled out of the parking lot.
Voicemail: from Frankie.
Voicemail: from Frankie.
Text Message: from Frankie.
With my warning lights flashing, I listened to some of the voicemails.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
“You just make me so crazy sometimes.”
“SHIT, Dottie — I almost just got into an accident because of you! I was so upset about what happened that I almost plowed into the wall on this on-ramp. Look what you’re doing to me! Call me back.”
For a moment, I legitimately began to think, “Shit. Since I didn’t give Frankie a blowjob, he almost died. What was I thinking?”
Nevertheless, I drove the rest of the way home, not looking back once.