Thursday, October 09, 2014

Toads Among the Princes

Our last Life Writing assignment was to make a list of all our old boyfriends and say a little something about each of them. I'd done that several sessions ago when the writing topic was "love," so I flipped the topic on its side and wrote this:


Some people say you have to kiss a lot of toads before you find your handsome prince. I say it’s just too much trouble to figure out the difference between them. My first husband didn't seem at all like a toad until I married him, then all I heard for the next six years was "Ribbit! Ribbit!"

Richard, my second husband, was a prince of a man, albeit a prince with a wandering soul. Seven times in twelve years my daughters and I followed him on his quest to expIore what was over yonder hill. When we got to Small Town, Louisiana, I said, “Enough, already!” and he promised we‘d stay. Two years later he left for California. He tried to lure us there with tales of constant sunshine and a remarkable absence of mosquitos, but we chose to stay behind.

That’s how I ended up alone and princeless in the land of the good ol’ boys, where the average guy drives a pickup truck with a shotgun mounted in the rear window and would rather die than be caught reading a book. To be truthful, I have met some above-average men over the past thirty years, even a few princes, but never that special one whose hopes, dreams and lifestyle matched up with mine.

Now that I’m retired, I don’t go out much, preferring the comfort of my own modest castle. Unless an elderly gentleman who likes assertive fat women shows up on my doorstep, my chances of falling in love again are slim. And even if I were surrounded by eager, eligible suitors, it’s exhausting just to think about the amount of time and effort it would take to distinguish a prince from a toad. A toad like these I once knew:

Toad No. 1 - Let’s call him Jake (rhymes with flake):

I’d known Jake years earlier. We’d been neighbors when Richard and I still lived in Texas, and I’d liked him a lot. When he called me one day out of the blue, said he’d been divorced for a while, would be in Baton Rouge the following weekend and would love to see me, I was thrilled. I’d always admired Jake’s calm, cool demeanor and looked forward to a pleasant reunion. And it was pleasant--for an hour or so. We talked as he drove through LSU football traffic. I learned that he was not only divorced from his first wife, who’d been my friend, but from two other women he’d married in the 16 years since I’d last seen him. The third wife had been the widow of a co-worker and good friend who’d been killed on the job. Jake had married her, he said, because his dead friend’s spirit had inhabited his body shortly after the funeral and compelled him to take care of the widow and her children. The widow had left Jake after a couple of years, but I wondered if the invasive spirit might still be around. Perhaps it was he who was driving aggressively, short-cutting through corner gas stations, driving over curbs, cutting people off right and left, swearing loudly and making rude gestures out the window. That sure wasn’t the Jake I’d known before.

Toad No. 2 - Let's call him Herbert (rhymes with pervert):

My good friend Jean and I were just starting dinner in a Baton Rouge restaurant when Herbert walked over, introduced himself, pulled out a chair and sat down at our table. I thought at first that Jean knew him; she thought I did. His dark hair, black-rimmed eyeglasses reminded me of Clark Kent. He was mild-mannered, too, pleasant enough that we didn’t ask him to leave. Over our protests, he insisted on picking up our dinner tab. Jean and I talked afterwards about how weird that was, but we agreed that he seemed harmless.

The three of us had discussed our jobs during dinner, and a day or so later Herbert looked up my work number and called to invite me out dancing. I loved to dance, so I ignored the little signals my brain was flashing and accepted. Herbert took me to a dimly lit neighborhood bar that was decorated with smoked mirrors and red-flocked wallpaper where most of the patrons were older than we were. A small combo played crooner tunes next to a stamp-sized dance floor. In between dances, Herbert ordered cocktails; I stuck with my usual, Diet Coke. Even before his hands began to wander, I’d decided I didn’t like him at all. I wasn’t sure a fake headache was enough to get me home, so I pulled out the big guns and told him I had a bad case of cramps.

At my doorway he asked if he could come in for a cup of coffee. I told him the truth: I didn’t drink coffee and didn’t keep it in the house. He said, “Well, can I at least come in for a minute and use your bathroom?” I let him in and showed him to the downstairs bathroom. He came out of it bare-chested, his shirt and undershirt draped over his forearm. I told him to get dressed and get out, and he got angry, calling me names, yelling that he hadn’t spent his good money on dinner and drinks for nothing. He made a grab for me, but I ducked out of his reach, snatched up the phone and started dialing. He threw on his shirt as he stormed out the door.

Toad No. 3 - Let's call him Peter (rhymes with cheater):

I didn’t date for about a year after Richard and I split up. Peter was one of the first men I met after that. His shiftwork schedule limited the amount of time we could spend together, but I was in no rush to move things along. Most of our so-called dates were low-key events. Sometimes we’d drive around town and talk for an hour or two, sometimes he’d stop by my house for a short visit after he got off work. I was delighted when he had a whole Saturday free and took me to the Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales. We danced, enjoyed the music, and saw a lot of people either he or I knew. We’d been dating about six weeks when I invited him to escort me to a company dinner. Peter looked nice in his coat and tie, and I was proud to be seen with him. It did pique my curiosity when he walked across the room to get a drink and spent several minutes chatting with my co-worker, Rosie (rhymes with nosy).

I was still in bed when Rosie called early the next morning. “Did you know Peter’s married?” she asked bluntly. I was stunned. I remembered the tiny sneakers I’d seen in his back seat. When I’d asked about them, he said his roommate had borrowed his car the weekend before, that the shoes must belong to his roommate’s kid. Rosie continued: “I’ve known Peter and his wife for years. I asked him last night, ‘Do you know that that’s my boss you’re with?’ and he said, ‘Well, don’t tell her nothin’, and I’ll put in a good word for ya.’”


Note: I had to edit this piece for posting here, losing a couple of funny lines in the process. One never knows who'll get their feathers ruffled if they happen to stumble across themselves in someone else's true story on the internet. Also, there was a Toad No. 4 in the original piece, but I've already told you about that one in an earlier post, so I won't repeat. 

Final thought: I love going to this class and listening to other people's stories. They're all so different, yet there are always common elements, bits that strike a familiar chord and remind one or more of us of another story yet to be written.

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