Career development and lasting relationships
My mother claimed I laughed after hanging up, but the information received wasn’t funny. Gerald was dead, and I felt some responsibility for his decision to end his own life.
My mother had called me to the phone and stood by, curiosity etched on her face. “Well, what was that all about?”
I said, “My cashier’s husband shot himself.” I distinctly remember saying my cashier, not the cashier at the Paramount, or calling her by name, Carol.
“But you laughed.”
“I didn’t laugh,” I replied. “At least I didn’t mean to.”
“Were the two of you friends, this man who shot himself?”
“No, as a matter of fact he was very jealous, and I think he wanted to hurt me.” I had already said too much, but she tucked that incident away with the other mysteries surrounding my life away from home. “That was my manager on the phone and he wants me back right away.”
I had been summoned, but more important, I needed to talk to Carol, the first person I ever had intimate sex with.
The thirty-mile drive from my parent’s home to my college apartment seemed to take forever, with emotions ping ponged from guilt to relief and back to guilt. My unplanned one-day trip to visit my parents was to avoid a conflict with Gerald. Carol and I had been counting the box office receipts, when he parked across the street, got out of his yellow Buick, and glared.
Against Carol’s advice—he had obviously been drinking—I crossed the street rehearsing a question that I hoped would break the ice. His features were shadowed from the overhead streetlight and gave no indication of his temperament, but the strong odor of alcohol offered a clue.
“Are you willing to talk to me?” I chose my words carefully, opting against the blunt can we talk?
I accepted his snort as yes, because I hadn’t a prepared response if he refused.
“I’m so sorry about what happened between Carol and me. I would give anything to change that.” Silence. I chanced what only a naive young man might attempt. I held out my hand and said, “I’m hoping we can get past this and still be friends.”
The double irony of the situation, we weren’t friends before the incident. From the details Carol told me about their relationship, he wouldn’t be the kind of person I would want as a friend.
He stared at my hand and said, “And to think I was just beginning to trust you.” He stepped off the curb and headed toward the Paramount. Carol scrambled from the box office and disappeared into the theater. Gerald paused in mid street and headed toward the Sportsman Bar. I felt a sigh of relief when he bypassed my uncle’s bar in favor of a more rowdy bar a few doors down.
Later, as I was taking the receipts to the night deposit at the bank, a huge yellow Buick swerved, jumped the curb and came directly toward me. I froze, not knowing which way to move, but it swung back into the traffic. Gerald’s last words through his open window, “You fucker.”
I didn’t go to my apartment that night, but decided to pay my folks a visit. The next day was my day off and I didn’t care if I missed a day of school.
The seduction began a couple of months earlier when Carol and I were counting the matinee receipts. I joked that my landlady painted the toilet seat without telling me.
She laughed and said, “My sister’s fixing up an apartment in her basement you could rent. I’m living upstairs with her for the time being.”
Separated from their husbands, both sisters could use the extra money; it seemed like a logical decision. I moved a couple of days later, just before the storm of the century. When I woke up, I found approximately four inches of water covering the floor. Sloshing to the toilet I thought about the painted toilet seat, my reason for moving to this swimming pool. I retreated back to bed, the only dry spot, and pondered my predicament.
A light knock on the door and Carol’s voice, “Are you awake?”
She entered before I could answer, standing in the open door with the sunlight behind her. Her long blond hair usually tossed over her shoulder and spread across her left breast or braided and trailing behind her, was rolled tightly into a circle on top of her head. The few errant strands glittered.
She sat on the edge of my bed and said, “I’m sorry. We never expected a flooded basement. I wouldn’t blame you if you want to move out.”
I lay on my back grasping the single sheet tight to my neck. “Does this happen every time it rains?”
“It depends on what you mean by this.” She crossed her arms, lifted her negligee and thrust it aside. She stood and pulled the cover from my grasp. I remember her cold wet feet against mine, barely recovering from my trip to the bathroom. We were side by side, naked.
I can’t remember what happened, or didn’t happen, but she said, “Maybe if I let my hair down it will help,” so I assume our first attempt wasn’t a total success.
I didn’t need her to let her hair down to appear more sexy. That wasn’t the problem. I couldn’t tell her that the stretch marks on her stomach disturbed me. I knew she had children, but I had no idea what pregnancies can do to a woman’s stomach. To this day I imagine, if she thinks of the incident at all, she will assume letting her hair down did the trick. Actually, I shut my eyes, and it worked.
I hesitate to tell what happened next. Gerald burst into the room, sloshed to our bed and cuffed me across the face. He pulled Carol up by the hair and dragged her through the water and upstairs.
About a minute later Carol’s sister came down and said, “He’s gone, but you better get out of here.”
After a night in my car, my friend Del Hoppe and I located an apartment above Harry’s Bar at the opposite end of St. Germain from the Paramount. Del, a fellow college student, worked as a relief projectionist at the Paramount. We maintained our friendship to the present.
I suffered bouts of anger and guilt, the first against Carol and second against me, and our relationship never recovered to the openness we once shared. She got into trouble reselling tickets and pocketing the money, a somewhat common practice at the time, and agreed to quit. She remarried one of my college buddies.
I stopped at their apartment one evening after work to share the details of my promotion and was surprised at her protruding belly. I resisted asking if the wrinkles disappeared, and then began to mentally count our months of separation, although nearly a year had lapsed.
She grinned and patted her tummy. “It’s my husband’s baby.” She cast her gaze to the floor. “I miscarried Gerald’s baby.”
Gerald’s baby. I again began to mentally count but had no beginning or ending reference dates.
“You probably figured out that we reconciled before I quit at the Paramount, but you and I weren’t talking much at the time.”
My turn to stare at the floor. “I’m sorry.” For allowing her to take the blame or for the loss of her as my confidant, I couldn’t express at the time.
She ignored my apology. “Gerald took advantage of my guilt and forced himself sexually on me until I got pregnant. After the doctor established my due date, he shot himself.”
“He wanted you pregnant? Why?”
“I would have three kids to support, not an attractive situation for finding another husband.”
“Well, I guess you proved him wrong. Where is Gary?” When I had called she said he wasn’t home but I should come over anyhow.
“He hasn’t left me, if that’s what you’re thinking, nor are you going to get a repeat performance. We’ve hurt each other enough.”
“You didn’t hurt me,” I lied.
“Good. Now tell me what happened to Sammy?”
Sammy had been fired as manager of Paramount’s sister theater, and I was promoted to his position, the news I intended to share with Carol that evening. Theater business dominated our conversation the remainder of the evening. I wish we could have dug deeper into our relationship, which, except for one incident of sex, was like a brother sister. Had things worked out different, my seduction could have been a positive experience.
Like an older sister, Carol cautioned me about stumbling into a forced relationship by getting a girl pregnant. “Always carry condoms,” she had advised. “Look at me. Pregnant at age seventeen and forced into a bad marriage.”
I refused her advice because the sin would be premeditated. Ironically, she hadn’t offered a condom that morning in the flooded basement.
I believe her intent was my initiation to sex and wanted to make the experience a positive one for me. Another gift of irony, it turned out to be the least safe sex of all. The incident ultimately blended with all my other growing-up experiences and helped shape my character.
I only wish Gerald would have shaken my hand that night in front of the theater.