His apartment was on the second floor of a house near Tulane University. The house was the kind of old where the hard wood floors slant to one side and the bathrooms will never be clean because mildew and mold will never die in Louisiana.
It was Junior year of college and we had been dating at least 4 years by my count. Spring break 1993. The drive from Roanoke, VA where I attended college, would have been scary without my Alaskan Malamute. Glory made even the roughest gas stations seem doable. I had driven through multiple states to visit my high school/college boyfriend that I called Critter and he was worth every mile.
I have told this story a million times. The first 20 times I told it I was talking in between hyperventilations and tears. With the years, the story got funnier and funnier. It became the story I tell to warn young girls about cheating boyfriends or the cautionary tale I give when girls think a high school sweet heart will last a life time.
To me, Critter was adorable with his dark blue eyes that hid behind his overgrown wavy bangs. He played guitar. Swoon. That fact alone swayed me. High school stage. Talent show in a sweaty gym playing Driver 8 by REM- be still my heart. He drove an electric blue Beetle. He hid his tall skinny frame under multiple polo shirts with either a flannel on top or a North Face windbreaker.
When he rarely visited, forgot to call or didn’t write me letters back, I explained to my friends that he loved me as much as he possibly could. My analogy was that my heart was like a kid’s sand bucket and his heart was more like a Dixie cup that the dentist offered to swish out the yuck from your mouth. I didn’t think it was bad that I loved him more and was the one who called and visited him. My cup theory worked for me. Both of us loved each other. Our cups were full for each other. It is just my love filled a bucket and his a little more than a thimble. We were both at capacity and that worked for me.
I arrived in New Orleans ready for a week with my love. He was watching out his second floor window and saw me park my brand new used steel gray Jetta. He was as cute as ever.
I clearly remember, he said “I thought your Jetta was dark red.”
“No, silly. Dark gray.”
That first night after I feel asleep, he went to shoot pool because he couldn’t sleep.
I kept myself busy during the day while he had class. I know New Orleans pretty well and with my dog, his dog, and his roommates dog I was busy.
I was counting on Friday night for his classes to end so we could have a nice dinner date of shrimp po’boys (which would have been an unusual event). Unfortunately, he found out on Friday that he had to go camping for the weekend because his camping class required an overnight camping trip and this was the last possible weekend and he had to go with the only classmate who hadn’t gone on any camping trips yet either.
I was heart broken but I totally understood because at the wise age of 21, I understood everything.
There was a panic about 6:30. He couldn’t find his keys. His camping classmates were on their way to pick him up. From his homemade loft bed I called, “Did you look in your backpack?
“Of course, I looked in my backpack.” He said as he frantically searched.
I jumped down off the bed and unzipped the camping backpack. He grabbed the backpack out of my hands a few seconds too late. It was full of bottles of wine. He said “the keys aren’t in there” and I looked puzzled at the bottles of wine.
“Everybody knows wine is lighter than beer, so you always take wine on a backpacking trip.”
And now I saw her through his window. Her dark red Jetta parked right in front of my dark gray Jetta. A quick kiss good bye and he locked the bolt door with the found keys.
I didn’t watch out the window. I didn’t want her to see me. I didn’t want anyone to see me.
There was no way I was staying in this dirty apartment with his little dog Whiskey who Critter claimed admiringly was part Basenji and his roommates’ dog, who I honestly can’t even picture now. I gathered my bag of stuff and used my hip and one leg to hold back his dogs as Glory and I would squeeze through. But the door was bolted. It was the kind of bolt that you need a key to unlock from the inside and from the outside. I was bolted into a dirty apartment that wreaked of boys and stale beer. Playboy magazines, dirty ash trays and quarter full cups of stale cheap beer. I couldn’t stay and hope that one of his roommates would return and free me from my Tulane prison. His roommate would know that I was locked into this place while my true love was camping with a blonde wearing sunglasses in her red Jetta.
Picture no cell phones. Locked into a dirty fortress with only dogs to fend off the roaches that were sure to come out when it got dark. Utter desperation. Complete heartbreak.
The window had a porch roof under it and the second story wasn’t high at all. I threw my red monogrammed Land’s End duffle bag out the window. I pushed Glory out next. It took all my strength and I sincerely hoped I didn’t rip my Laura Ashley romper that I had bought for my vacation. Glory unwillingly stumbled and fell down through the overgrowth attached to the rod iron railing into a big bush. I clung to the prickly vines and railing until I could drop on clumps of thick monkey grass.
I am horribly afraid of heights but apparently I am afraid of dying of embarrassment more.
One time when I retold this story, I saw bottles of wine AND a box of condoms in the backpack. I can’t really remember how many of the details are real. The Jetta colors and the wine in the backpack are true facts and so is the bolted door and being trapped. In another version of the story, I had to climb back up the rod iron railing because I forgot my keys in Critter’s room. I doubt that one is true.
I had been made a fool.
I vowed that no one would make me a fool again.
That vow has not been realistic.
I told this tale so many times as an attempt to avoid repeating my mistakes. I believed that I could protect myself from forever playing the ingenue. I laughed through my tale knowing how inexperienced and gullible I had been and my listeners laughed with me- astounded at how bad it had to get before I realized I was the fool.
I have this mantra that love has no pride– as in the Bonnie Raitt song and yet I hate nothing worse that somebody making me a fool.