I was 32 years old. Cory and I had been together for seven years. I guess some would have said that I had the seven year itch, but, in truth, I had been itching for the last two years of our love.
When I met her, it was like...quicksand. I was 25 and in med school. I had gone to a women's basketball game with some friends, even though I was totally knackered out from work and still had several case histories to study for my meeting with the resident the next day.
But, the gym felt warm and cozy in the chill Winter's air and it felt good to watch the pounding feet and lithesome grace of the women playing. It was a simple Y team, yet there were some hotshot players.
I picked Cory out instantly. Tall, with muscular arms and legs and long blonde hair tied back in a lazy braid, she was very...watchable.
My friends and I were directly behind the team and our eyes met once during a time out when she should have been listening to her coach but snuck a glance at me instead. And smiled a toothy grin at me. I smiled back and ducked my head, shy.
She played nearly the whole game, was taken out only when she needed a few moments to catch her breath. She was a fearless player, quick to foul for taking a chance, but the kind of player who makes points and mostly...the chances paid off. Whenever she'd sit out for a few moments, I'd watch her slug her water bottle and wipe down her sweaty neck and lick my lips. Yum.
Once, she twisted around deliberately and stared at me until she got me to look at her and then we smiled at each other. I was still in my hospital greens and looked down alarmed to see that on one of my knees was a blood stain leftover from an emergency room sprayer as we called them. My hair was wound around my head in braids, something I did to keep it out of my eyes. No makeup. I didn't exactly feel sexy.
But, something about the way her eyes took me in...well....she made me feel very desirable.
After the game, we all stood to throw on our coats. One of my friends reached out to one of Cory's teammates to congratulate her on her win and then came back to say that everyone was meeting at a local pizza place. Did we want to go?
Normally, this is where I would have ducked out to scurry home and study. Instead, I said HELL YES!
We went to the pizza place and grabbed the biggest table available and ordered pizzas and beer. About a half hour later, several members of the team showed up. Cory was with them and while I could feel her eyes searching for....and then finding me, I didn't look up. Not until she pulled out the chair next to me and said, "Anyone sitting here?"
I nodded no and smiled up at her, feeling suddenly shy and tongue tied. Totally not like me.
We didn't have to say much; the group was a loud, feisty bunch. Once, she tipped her beer glass up and then wiped the foam off her lips and I felt my pelvis contract with desire. She began, in a surprisingly soft voice, asking me about myself. I answered her questions, asked some of my own.
I found out that she was from Iowa, a native, like me. That she dropped out of school in the 11th grade and now worked at a candle shop in a mall and played for two different women's basketball teams. She said that school was just too hard for her. Later, we would discover that she wasn't a slow learner, but dyslexic. But, honestly....I was 25. I was too young to be snobbish yet about education and all I could feel was the occasional jolt of her jean coated thigh against mine and my heart would fly up into my mouth.
We stayed in the pizza place until it closed and then when others went to bar, I said that I needed to get home. She asked me if I had a car. I said I didn't, but my apartment was in walking distance. She offered to drive me since it was so cold. I said okay.
We both knew what was going to happen next.
And it did.
We were barely inside my woefully shacky apartment before we were shucking off our clothes and undoing each other's hair. We didn't even make it into the bedroom the first time, we ended up on the kitchen floor, giggling as I warned her about the hole in the floor that actually looked down into the apartment below. As I said, my apartment was pretty awful. We avoided the hole and then after our first romp, we half walked and she half carried me to my bed in the next room.
The next morning, I was barely able to disentangle myself from her as she kept seducing me back into the bed with her. We ended up with her driving me to the hospital while we frantically kissed at every red light. I went careening into my group meeting with the hospital resident and he took one look at me and drily commented that I looked as if I'd just had a decadent night. Lucky for me, he liked me a lot and I didn't get in trouble for my tardiness. I knew that I looked exactly like who I was: a woman who had been up all night fucking wildly and not studying any of my case histories.
Within two weeks, I had moved into Cory's apartment and we were a couple. We were madly, crazy in love. The kind of love that you can only abandon into when you are 20 something and so hungry.
Cory had no real ambition to go back to school, but I talked her into getting her GED and she did. She worked at the candle shop and played on her teams. I finished up med school.
When I won a residency to Baltimore, we moved there. We bought a car that wasn't too banged up and drove there with all our belongings easily fitting in a U-haul that we dragged behind us. She found another job, this one at a jewelry store in a mall. She found another women's basketball team to play on.
We were always a day late and a dollar short and blissfully happy together.
Finally, I was out of school and into my career. I was 28 years old and working at my first real job as an on call psych consultant in an ER.
We were happy, I swear that we were. We found a new set of friends, mostly mine from work and hers from her basketball team. Money was sometimes a sore spot with us. I made almost four times what she did and she felt as if she wasn't holding her end up, I knew that. And sometimes...I wished that she would consider going back to school and getting a degree. I was...okay....a little embarrassed about her speech. She tended to use double negatives and there was an ain't in her sentences from time to time that made me cringe, just a little. I swear it was just a little.
My friends and her friends were woefully mismatched. Mine tended to be...welll....educated and hers....weren't. I called her friends the beer girls and she called mine the debutantes or, for short, the debs. It began to annoy me that Cory never seemed interested in world events or wanted to see any movies with subtitles.
But, our love hung on. She never seemed to lose her passion for me and often reminded me that she knew me when I wasn't a success, a money maker.
Our sex life began to stale. Small things came up. I suddenly had a hard time reaching orgasm. I found myself developing a crush on a male co-worker. Nothing huge. Small things.
And then, well....things began to just BUG me about her. I hated the way she talked, seriously. The poor grammar, the way that she couldn't carry on conversations that involved politics or world events. She had never voted and while I used to find this kind of cute, I now found it extremely annoying.
At night, when we used to put our Seals and Crofts or Dan Fogelberg albums on and dance together in our living room, eventually culminating in some really nice sex....now, well...I was tired. Worn out from a long day at work. I stopped going to her basketball games, bored out of my mind by them.
She would go out with her friends after the game and stumble in drunk at 2 a.m. while I lay completely oblivious, zonked out in our bed.
By the time I was 30 (she was 31), we had moved back to the prairie. I was now working in a hospice for AIDS patients. We had hooked up with several of our old friends from earlier in our relationship. Same problem. Our friends didn't mix well. Beer girls and debs. I woke up one morning and looked over at Cory's face and felt....nothing. Nothing but a slight annoyance that she had beer breath again. This terrified me. So, I did what a lot of us do when we fear our love is dying.
I suggested that maybe it was time that we bought a house together. Cory was thrilled. We finally could afford it and she thought that maybe we could get a cat or a dog...or.....maybe we could toy with the idea of one of us getting preggers (she actually used the word preggers and I wanted to roll my eyes at her stupid trailer park slang)..........
I smiled prettily and said, "One thing at a time, baby. One thing at a time."
So, we spent several months house hunting. And then, after we found a perfect little two bedroom starter house, we spent several more months decorating it and landscaping it. Cory found that she was talented with flowers and decorating. I found that I could have a garden and lose myself in it.
This kept those ugly I'm-not-sure-that-I-love-you-anymore thoughts away for a while.
But, then...the house was purchased and turned into our home. Cory worked at another jewelry store, was made assistant manager, but had no desire to go to college. And why should she, she would argue...I made more than enough money for both of us to live well.
This irritated me to no end and I became critical. Didn't she WANT to educate herself a little bit, even just a bit? No, she said. She didn't. She was HAPPY. Why couldn't I be happy WITH her? Why was I trying to change her? Didn't I love her as is?
Two years had passed and not much had changed. I felt vaguely restless ALL THE TIME. Like I had the heebie jeebies. I felt absolutely NO desire for her at all and she was hurt by this, would go out and buy sexy lingerie, talk dirty to me in bed (which I found even more revolting), tried SO hard to turn me on. I would end up faking it just to get her to LEAVE ME ALONE.
She pressed for a puppy. She knew better to even talk about a baby. I think she knew that I was fading away and hoped that a pet would bring us together again like the house had for a while.
I felt guilty all the time, like I was failing her. This led me to have even more sexual feelings for more co-workers, mostly male ones. It was like I wasn't really betraying her as long as I flirted with men and not women. One time, I allowed myself to be pulled into a janitor's closet and kissed fervently by an oncologist. Another time, I accepted an offer to go get dinner with one of the building maintenance men and let him kiss me in his car. I never let things go far, just enough to hurt their feelings and make me feel even worse.
Feeling horrid, I decided to stop at one of Cory's games after work one night. When I got there, the game was over already and she was walking out with her arm slung over the shoulders of another player. They were looking at each other like they were each girl scout cookies. Thin mints. Cory looked up, saw me and broke away from the other woman as if she were on fire. The other woman looked over at me and burst out laughing before she scuttled away.
That night, Cory tearfully confessed to me that while she hadn't cheated on me, yes, she had been flirting a lot with this fellow team member. She solemnly vowed to never stray again and spent the next three hours making sweet love to me.
I didn't have the heart to tell her that the thing was....I just didn't care. That I almost hoped that she would just give me a really good reason to end this.
The next day, I came home to find two concert tickets on the table.
Seals and Crofts were coming to our city to play a concert. We had seen them once before when we were newly in love and spent the entire concert swaying on the main floor together, holding each other and dancing dreamily. Cory obviously thought that we needed to be reminded of better times. Happier times.
I hoped so too, but I really had so little faith. I was just going through the motions by then. But, I tried. I dressed in tight jeans and tucked them into those ankle boots that Cory thought I looked sexy in. I brushed my hair until it shone. Put on lip gloss and blush. This time, Seals and Crofts weren't playing in a big auditorium, their popularity had begun to wane. They were playing in a more intimate venue. We had great seats, just off to the side of the stage and in the second row.
Cory worked hard to woo me that night. She told me again and again how beautiful I looked. She listened attentively as I talked about work. Then, the lights lowered and the crowd hushed. She took my hand.
And there they were. Older, yes. But, still....well....the same. They sang the same songs, the ones that Cory and I loved. Little by little, I felt something rising in me. Something...not good. Something hopeless and scared and unsettled.
By the time they reached that one song, I was weeping quietly into my hands. Overcome with dread. With pain. With remorse. With worry.
And with resignation.
We weren't going to ride this one out, she and I.
It was over and I needed to end it. I needed to end us.
As the song went on, Cory squeezed my shoulder, obviously thinking that I was crying with memories or nostalgia. Something nice. Something sweet. Not the gut jarring pain that I really was feeling.
The words dug into me as I felt as if I were the one singing, trying to tell Cory that although I loved her, yes I did...that my life was but a song and I had written many ways just to try to say to her what needed to be said. That while the microphone was on and the lights were shining, I would play for her. But, that it was short lived and that I would go my way and she would go hers when the song ended. That the magic on that stage when the lights went down was the beginning of us and that the concert's end, the wave goodbye as they walked off the stage, was our demise.
We didn't talk much after the show as we walked to our car. Our new car. We were a two car family now. Living in a sweet little bungalow. But, it had become a farce.
Halfway home, as I drove....she finally asked me about my breakdown during that song. I tried once to speak. Once more. Kept choking up. Finally, I just found my nerve and said it.
That I wanted to break up. That I didn't think I loved her anymore. That I was so so sorry, but that I just couldn't do this anymore.
She looked at me, stunned speechless for over a minute.
And then she violently yanked off the ring that I had given her several years ago, rolled down the window and threw it out hard. She screamed that she was going to jump out of the car, would kill herself. That she couldn't live without me. I snapped the locks shut on my side of the door and looked frantically for a parking lot to pull over into.
I thought about Bing, then. My best friend who now lived in New Orleans. How we'd stayed in touch, but quietly so. She and Cory had never gotten along. She thought Cory to be unintelligent and boring, way below my caliber. Actually, she had told me that Cory was an imbecile and
as boring as a doorknob and had hinted more than once that the sex must be stellar because she couldn't see what else could keep me with her. When I had confessed that I wanted out of the relationship, Bing had said, "That girl will kill herself or you before she lets you go, Maria. God, plan this carefully!" Cory had disliked Bing intensely, said that it was obvious as hell that she had a mad crush on me and I was blind not to see it.
I pulled over. Tried to hug Cory. Hold her. She sat shivering in my arms, rigid with either anger or pain, I never knew which. Finally, she went limp and said quietly, "I'm fine. Let's just go home and talk about this later, okay?"
I breathed a sigh of relief and restarted the car.
We didn't talk of it again. I tried to bring it up, but she would dodge me, go outside, leave in her car.
A few days later, she tried to kill herself.
The next day, as I stood by her side in the hospital, terrified over what she had done, I numbly agreed to try again as her family sat in chairs glaring hatefully at me, the villainess.
Five mind deadening months later, Cory came to terms with the fact that I was sleepwalking through our relationship and she moved to Colorado to take a job in a friend's jewelry shop. She finally realized that while I was present, I was long gone.
I vowed that I would NEVER fall in love again. And for a very, very long time, I kept that promise to myself. I would spend the next 8 years in a drunken, drug addled haze. I never drank on the job, was always sober at work. But after work and on weekends? I would anesthetize myself mightily.
Cory called every few months, drunk dialing, always telling me how I'd ruined her life, how much she hated me. How I was a very bad person, not worth spit. I would listen silently, letting her talk, terrified that she'd tell me that she was going to kill herself. She only mentioned it once, telling me that she couldn't believe that she had almost taken her life because of a loser like me. I cried then and I think she felt triumphant, but I wasn't crying because she hurt me, I was crying because I was relieved, glad that she wouldn't do it again.
Eventually, I healed. Or tried to. I stopped drinking, stopped drugging. Well, didn't completely stop but toned it down to almost nothing. I pulled myself up, found myself, went on to the life that I was meant to live instead of the life that I almost lived.
Became a mother. Fell in love all over again. This time with my soulmate. The one who was always there in the shadows just waiting for me to realize it. Realize it was her.
Now, life is so good, so full, so lush and beautiful.
My nieces talk of being in love, how he is THE ONE, they just know it. I tell them that maybe he is, maybe he isn't. When you are young, love is more hormone driven than soul driven. They think I'm kind of old fashioned, that I don't understand.
The trouble isn't that I don't understand. It's that I do. Some of us are lucky, some of us find the one the first time. Others of us don't. Not right away. Sometimes not ever. Sometimes not for a long time. Sometimes not the first or the second time, but the third. It's just luck and circumstance. However we write our song.
I still can't hear this song without weeping, yet I feel thankful for it. It propelled me towards....myself.