Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"YOU CAN NEVER JUDGE A BOOK........"!!!

What the hell was I thinking?? Obviously I WASN’T THINKING ANYTHING OR THINKING STRAIGHT! If I had been in my right mind, I promise you, I never would’ve bought a ticket for THAT ride! In case you think I’m being melodramatic read on--you might still not believe me; nonetheless, this is the way it actually happened--no embellishments--no literary license--I promise you that, too!:

[By the way, in defense of myself I want to preface this remembered incident by reminding you, my readers, that I AM, of course, Bipolar. When complying with my medication schedule, I am as normal as you are! (well, er, um, maybe that’s not a good example?) Nevertheless, whenever I have slipped from my med regime for more than ten days, my judgment leaves a lot to be desired. As a result, I am at risk for getting myself into the difficult, hazardous and dangerous circumstances, which in turn have provided ample fodder for stories such as the one which I am herein about to relate to you. This memory is real, every word, as unimaginable and incredible as it sounds!

Please remember as you evaluate my actions that my judgment was more than extremely impaired, not by the common culprits you may expect: drugs or alcohol; but the result of one entire year with absolutely NO medication! The following series of REALLY bad judgments perfectly exemplifies this statement. Just in case I flip a switch in your "normal" brain and trigger a "Why?" reaction, please understand that often after a period of meds working well, we "Bipolars" feel "cured" and quit taking the numerous, costly, and debilitating, side-effect-producing medications. Bad decision. Big mistake.]____________________________________________________________________________________ At first sight of this man I, obviously tossed that old adage, "You can’t judge a book by its cover!", completely out the nearest window! I should’ve "noticed" and taken a clue from the fact that he sauntered in with an open "40" (40 oz.), of Bud swinging rhythmically, like the paint can "Tony", (John Travolta), swings in-sync with the Bee Gees’: "Stayin’ Alive", (..in case you’ve been on the moon for awhile, I’m referring to the opening scene of the movie, "Saturday Night Fever")!

But I really didn’t notice, at first, at least not what was in his hand, no kidding, really! Although our work-day was over, we were having our fiscal year-end meeting to determine the future direction of the company--boring stuff at best. But I mentally left the meeting the moment I found myself visually following the angles and curves of his physique. So handsome, young and obviously muscular, I’d say 5’ 11" or 6’ tall. Wooohooohoo! He was staring back at me! It was like the Fourth of July when our eyes met.

Over the few minutes to follow, I was trapped, mesmerized by the attitude emanating from his rhythmical stroll. I felt as if I were watching a movie in very slow-motion. On second and third glances, I decided it was more like he’d stepped out of one of those shampoo commercials! His long, straight, black hair swung down his back, side-to-side, brushing over, and barely teasing his waist. Gawd he was sooooo good-looking and the contrary message in his ebony eyes made him appear almost shy and unassuming. What woman could resist? I may have been 46 but I wasn’t dead yet! Holy crap! I was supposed to be contributing my two cents but I’d totally lost my train of thought! Precisely what did she just ask me?..I had no idea! The meeting had become blurred for me at that point anyway!

Oh well............... Wait a minute, my thoughts halted! I had just noticed the ‘whale’ lumbering awkwardly behind him. What the heck was he doing with that slob? She was almost on top of him, now and then skipping a step to stay in-sync with his confident stride. It was almost comical: the sight of "Gwen’s" dumpy, frumpy, really, really fat ass, juxtaposing his gorgeous, sexy physique! No matter, the question was quickly resolved when she mouthed a query to our secretary, Jennifer. Nodding in reply, Jennifer reluctantly gave Gwen the OK to have a doughnut from the humongous pile of, still-warm, Krispy Kremes, just delivered to our coffee bar. I pondered the statistical possibilities of this particular man being the one who responded to Jennifer’s call to Labor Force. We merely required someone to repair the fluorescent overhead fixture in my office. Hmmmm, I decided since I had a vested interest in this man’s purpose...I should keep an eye on him from my most excellent vantage point in the meeting room.

Yes, he was definitely a sight for sore eyes, (but certainly not dressed for the job?)! The red suspenders delivered the knock-out punch as they rested firmly over an almost-see-through, black pin-pleated dress-shirt. His long sleeves were casually rolled up to the elbows, and the shirt-tails had been neatly tucked in at the pleated waist of his tailored khaki slacks. Ahhhh! and such a nice fit in the bum too! Nothing like a "sharp-dressed man", I assured myself! (Oh man! How could I possibly imagine that in that instant, my entire life was hanging half-way off the "Cliff of Change For the Worse"?) Keeping an eye on him as he worked was quite a chore, of course; but I WAS a trooper about it! I watched attentively and noticed how he was quite at ease climbing the tall step-ladder he’d retrieved from our storage room. I remember mentally listing all of the possible repairs around my home that required just such "handling" ...ESPECIALLY those requiring me to steady the bottom of my rickety old step-ladder! Oh yes, it was a LONG list! (TeeHeeHee......)

He’d only just opened the ceiling fixture when the old bulb seemed to pop in his hand, sending a hail of slivered shards in every direction. Ooooh, he was bleeding-- apparently he’d "accidentally" sliced his palm. Witnessing this, I hurried over to tend to his wound, because, of course, I did have a pocket first-aid kit in my desk. (I knew that motto: "always be prepared" would come in handy one day or another!--and THAT was the day..) Anyway, after I nursed his wound he finished the repair in spite of the frequent interruptions by Gwen (the aforementioned "whale") who kept vainly trying to entice him to pay her singular attention.

Nevertheless, not a moment was wasted during the short time we spent getting to know each other, (away from the others...and Gwen). But I was already running late and needed to get home to my kids, so I agreed when he offered to take my bulky packages, (from that day's run on the Sears store's sales), to the car. Of course secretly I recall thinking, "Alright, he was a gentleman to boot!". We must have chatted at my car for another half hour during which time he literally begged for my phone number. (I was feeling quite proud of myself, 14 years his elder and he seemed quite enamored of me.) As the meeting wrapped-up there was a stampede to the coffee bar; but, sadly, after Gwen had considerably dented the pile, there weren’t enough doughnuts left for the rest of our staff.

Out at my car he just kept talking and wouldn’t allow me to leave. When I reminded him he’d arrived with Gwen, (whom he’d left back in the reception room), he acted more than a little embarrassed and sort of stammered in his explanation that "Grape-Ape" meant nothing to him whatsoever! (He’d tagged Gwen with the nick-name "Grape", because of her apparent penchant for wine---and the "Ape" was self-explanatory when you saw her). But I was more focussed on her Ape-ness’ muttered threats to me as I brushed past her moments earlier. She’d growled something about: "...fixin’ to kill [me]..."--so I left.

There were already nine messages from him by the time I drove the 20 minutes to my home. When I finally spoke to him he seemed very interested in every little detail of my life; but gave me only a sketchy mention that he lived "with his mother and sister" in mid-town Memphis. When I confessed I had a menagerie of dogs and cats, he responded that he had a pit bull, a cockatoo, a turtle, a snake and a tarantula!! (It was most unfortunate---and would have revealed more of the bigger picture, if only he’d thought to mention the fifteen thousand cockroaches that shored-up the walls in that house). Somewhat relieved to hear he was an "animal-lover", I assumed it indicated that he must have had a kind heart. (I supposed I thought it was also a flimsy excuse for his not ‘murderizing’ those roaches!)

The first time we talked on the phone, dawn had actually broken before we got off the phone. There seemed very little under the sun or the moon that was not discussed that night. But of all the subjects we DID talk about, how could I have known what he was NOT talking about!!! From our first meeting I had been totally mesmerized by his charm. It would eventually turn out t hat he was the best controller I'd ever experienced, and believe me, up ‘till then I’d had the ultimate. (Yes, I said "controller".)

Several dozen hours of phone conversations later, I pulled up out front of his mother’s house to pick him up for our first "date". When I saw him sitting on the front porch I stepped out and started towards him. He jumped right up and, hurriedly urged:
"Lat’s go, c’mawn, lat’s gat outta hay-er, raght naw!" (that’s what he actually sounded like!)
"Do you want me to come in and meet your family?"
Brushing it off as though it wasn't a real priority at the moment,
"Naw...lat’s jist gat outta hay-er!"

I walked around the front of my late model brown Camry and started to get in on the passenger side--motioning for him to drive, (sort of "old fashioned"--but I didn’t intend to de-masculinize him by insisting "It’s my car so I drive!").
"Naw, naw, uh yew drayeve us, May-reeee!" His lazy southern drawl was intoxicating!
"No, it’s OK..I don’t mind, you can drive."
But he cleverly insited--which struck me as quite odd; however, I just let it slide--and drove. Off we went to all native Memphians’ favorite pizza joint, an intimate little hole-in-the-wall hang-out over by the fairgrounds. Ah ha! I recall thinking how great it was that we had the same tastes--i.e. Italian food! I thought it peculiar that he excused himself the moment the waitress brought the check, but I just let it slide--and paid it.

"Wha’ d’ya wanna dew naw?"...he slid the honeyed words past my ears... Somehow we ended up riding the monorail over "Old Man River", to Mud Island...and I noticed that the parking, transportation and entrance fees also, curiously enough, came out of my wallet. I am all for liberty and equality, but I just couldn't understand that if he was working construction, with all that overtime, (and apparently had no expenses), why the hell was I putting gas in the car and paying for everything wherever we went?? I suppose these "little" annoyances just didn’t bother me enough at that point to answer my own queries--so I let them slide and didn’t question him.

The first time I brought him home to meet my kids I’d given them no prior warning about what to expect of him. When we got out of the car I recall my 10-year-old daughter and her girlfriend standing in the front door visibly shocked and giggling, no doubt about his really long hair! He quickly endeared himself to my children...oh how he appeared to "adore" my wonderful kids, (and naturally they reciprocated)! My daughter, Drew, told me she thought he was wonderful, and even at her tender age, her judgment of people, (especially men), had always been much better than mine. (I've always loved that about her.) The "ultimate friend" and "surrogate dad", Dennis even played Nintendo for hours on end with my son, Brandon, (then twelve),and his friends.

One thing about which he was absolutely adamant was that he had never raised his hand to a woman and he’d "kill anyone who did"...ahhh...the magic words that reassured me I would never be abused, battered or hurt again. (The operative word there was "again") He told me he never hardly drank alcohol, only the occasional beer maybe once a week. Perfect! I thought, he’s perfect! And he’ll never, ever hurt me, or my babies, etc. etc.--you know the story...go ahead, but you only think you can predict the ending! Then little by little he "let slip" some of the difficulties he was having with his living arrangement. So it only seemed a logical leap when he asked me to marry him. (I never imagined he was just looking for another place to hang his ball cap, free-load---or worse!)

Apart from the "sweet nothings", we were mature enough to discuss the logistics of a marriage. Of course, between us we made plenty of money, (he apparently had a great construction job--at least that’s where I’d dropped him off and picked him up a couple times after work), and his suggestion that I could semi-retire and go back to part-time teaching...made it an even more tempting offer, (almost "too good to be true"!...and I know YOU KNOW what that meant...). I can't even believe what I did next, (and I hope you are able to withhold your judgments of me); but I remember offering him a place to stay in my home. I had been terrified of re-marrying and didn’t want to just jump right in again.
[Aside: You couldn’t know this but I was still reeling from loving Mike, (my childrens’ daddy), throughout our 12 year marriage; and I had just sprung free of Max’s trap. (Max was the Con Artiste Par Excellence!!!--and getting out of that seven week marriage, well that’s definitely a whole ‘nuther story)].

Anyway, I was "rebounding", as they say. If I was looking at all, I was searching for the cosmic opposite of Max---not old, but young, not frail, but strong, not dependent, but 'self-sufficient', not a loafer and user, but a hard worker and a great guy who’d not only be a super role-model; but also a "replacement" dad for my vulnerable children. At least that was what I thought, hoped and believed would happen. Like any accomplished "controller" Dennis knew exactly what I wanted to hear. One important fact he'd concealed from me up to that point was that he had conned other women, many women before me, and had honed his craft to perfection. I wondered if I were really falling in love again or was I just thinking of making my home more stable for my children. I opted for "...love again". Although I had fought this concept, it was too little, too late, and being a Cancer, I was a sucker for love and easily hooked again. (Actually to be more fair to myself, since I had been un-medicated for over a year, I had become a very spur-of-the-moment, flighty and fanciful kinda gal.

OK, OK, so I was really so totally crazy and I was in one of my "We can do anything we try, all we need is each other and love!!" mentally ill, MANIC PANICS. I suppose you can see how easily I was duped--and the only place where this fiasco could possibly go?) Well, without any "ado" we drove up state Tennessee to Tipton County, where after a hurried stop in Germantown, Tennessee to pick up a quickie license, we were unceremoniously married in the judge’s chambers.

We sped through "Mempho" to Horn Lake, in north Mississippi, to my comfortablly inviting three-bedroom solid brick house. It was such a great house and I had bought it by myself with no help from anyone. I saved the down payment from the outright sale of my little home in Independence, Mississippi--and I outright owned everything in it. We, (that is the children and I), really weren't doing badly at all. The electricity, gas and water were never cut off, and I always had enough fuel in the car and food in the fridge. We even enjoyed movies, mini-golf or fast food whenever we felt like it. If I only knew then what I know now.....

It was virtually immediately after we got home on our "wedding" day, that Dennis began dreaming up new excuses for not going to work every day. I had been dropping him off and picking him up at a new housing development sight where he claimed his job involved putting up dry-wall, doing roofing, painting and building trusses. Suddenly he came up with this insane story right out of left field! He said that his boss had been murdered and people were pointing the finger at him! (This was so far beyond my comprehension but Dennis’ personality was so strong and determined that when he said he didn’t want to talk about it, "mum" was the word!) Elaborating only a little, he said he was under suspicion because of an argument with his boss during which co-workers witnessed him "sort-of threaten" the older gentleman.

What I didn't know was that he might truly have been a suspect since he had started an actual brawl with his boss and since, (something I wouldn’t know until three more years had passed), his long "career-criminal" background marked him as a violent recidivistic felon!! Of course not aware of Dennis’ previous Brushy Mountain Tennessee State Prison "address", I could not have guessed what this self-professed pacifist had really done that would make him suspect. He did remind me about his "connections" with the Memphis Chapter of the Hell’s Angels Motorcyclists who were sworn to "take care of" threats from anyone outside of the club (did that include his "boss"?). Now, this "fact" had slipped my mind because right when we first met he mentioned he had a "Harley" but it was "out-of-town being re-chromed". Of course it was! (Oh, he was good!) In fact, I believed him about everything, why wouldn’t I? I didn’t lie and I ASSUMED the same about everyone else in my world--including him!! I had "bought" the lie!

Soon he began leaving the house around the same time every day to "make phone calls to a Hell’s Angels’ member named 'Crazy'"...(and for a good reason, apparently!). He didn’t want Crazy to be able to trace calls to our home because there was some kind of issue between the two of them. He had already told me that although he had been riding with the gang, he was ready to sever those ties now that he was "married with children". So he was "laying low" so as not to be "found" by Crazy, and he was "not showing up" at any construction sites for awhile because, he said, the finger of guilt was pointing to him! Oh yeah, a project for me! He WAS a real bad-boy and now, (presumably because of my wonderful, loving influence) he wanted to go straight. Riiiiightttttttttt! ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ [Now I will give you the benefit of hindsight. I couldn't possibly have fathomed the secrets Dennis concealed from me. To follow are some of the things I DIDN'T know that were actually going on that afternoon, and/or in his past--and much of this information I would not find out for years to come:

1.Though he repeatedly affirmed that Gwen was only an acquaintance, she was in fact some sort of jail-groupie and had, for one year, been writing to, and phoning Dennis at the Shelby County Penal Farm (where he had be imprisoned for repeated, habitual DUIs).
2. Since Grape-Ape was also was a Cocaine addict weighing 350 lbs, give or take, her volatile personality made her perfectly capable of carrying through with any threats to me.
3. Dennis was on the hunt for a place to live and a lady with a good job, (i.e. C’est Moi!!), off of whom he could sponge; and someone to chauffeur him around since had his drivers’ license revoked--permanently!
4. He was a closet "controller" setting me up to exert his control over my naïveté, trust and inabiliity to structure my life with firm psychological "boundaries". His control manifested slowly and insidiously, taking me years to recognize his behaviour as such.
5. Once married, he would completely shun the concept of work--forcing me to pay all of our family’s expenses, (including his)!
6. He had been living in a two-bedroom shot-gun house with his alcoholic family: "Mama", his "retarded-when-convenient" sister, another older sister, her felonious husband and his "on-and-off-homeless" older crack-head flake of a brother.
7. Dennis covered up the thirteen year-break in his past lying that he’d studied carpentry at the local Community College and had been "in the service", (but "didn’t want to discuss any of it").
8. Dennis never divorced his second wife!! I discovered this tid-bit after our escape from Dennis, six years after "marrying him"..if only I’d known in the beginning that this meant we were never "legally married" I could’ve ditched his battering ass at any time!!!!!
9. During those years he couldn’t account for he was incarcerated at Brushy Mountain, (where he served part of his twenty-year sentence for an "Especially Aggravated Assault" and "Robbery"--He stalked a restaurant owner making the weekend deposit, and shot the man in both knee-caps, before robbing him!)
[As you can see Dennis concealed some very serious secrets from me, for the first three years of our marriage. Once I was informed of his past, without his knowledge, I was too terrified of what he might do to me or my children that I never disclosed any of this to them. I avoided fights at all costs
and I believed his threats to kill us all if I ever tried to leave him!.............................................................
___________________________________________________________________________

Of course, not having the slightest clue that he’d been lying to me all along, I believed everything he told me, unconditionally. It had only been a few weeks into our marriage. I was still going off to work every day and I expected him at least to be job-hunting while I was gone. He’d come up with one excuse after another why he couldn’t apply for this or that job, and then came the moment for him to play-out his ultimate drama! He made the decision to "allow himself" to remember something so horrific that he had supposedly pushed far down in his psyche for many years. He claimed to really have forgotten the worst incident of his life. So he had a problem and wanted to "share"...oh, how I was sure I could help him through anything. (Hey, even if I wasn’t thinking straight...I did have a degree in Psychology, after all!)

This is what he told me: [Warning: graphic details, stop reading now if you are easily grossed-out!---I’m serious, trust me!]
Dennis said he... "was at work on that fateful day several years prior, when [he] got the call to go home right away", (yeah right "at work" at what bar?). He described arriving "at his apartment building in downtown Memphis, and the small parking lot was buzzing with jam-packed emergency vehicles of all sorts--lights flashing wildly". He said that "when the police discovered it was [his] apartment they were attending, they tried unsuccessfully to keep [him] away from the scene. Once inside [he said] the fire-fighters had extinguished the flaming kitchen curtains which had caught a breeze from the open window and landed in the living room"... and that "paramedics were attending his wife whose arms and chest were burned by floating pieces of the fiery curtains". Then he noticed that "there was a lot of panic and activity in the kitchen" so, rushing in there next he witnessed "the scene [he] could never erase from [his] memory"--(nor could I once I heard this "story").

As he continued to relate the story, he said that his wife, in her usual valium stupor, had passed out on the couch. Their only child, Michael Eric, 4 years old, was playing in the living room. It seems he’d gone through the swinging door to the kitchen. (It is difficult to piece together exactly what happened because of Dennis' emotional breakdowns, (obviously staged for my benefit). He continued: "poor little Michael climbed up on a chair he'd pushed over to the stove, and must have played with the stove knobs, accidentally turning the gas on. Somehow there was a huge explosion which set the kitchen curtains on fire."

[If you think this is gruesome and beyond belief, read on.] According to Dennis: "The force of the explosion severed Michael's frail little body in half sending the top half, (from his waist up), across the kitchen and splattering it in an unrecognizable mess, all over the wall." But the "bottom half of [the little boy] was still 'standing' on the chair, sort of leaning against the stove." (For only a millisecond a little voice in my head asked how that was even possible?) Regardless, he continued explaining that throughout the explosion, fire and ensuing tragedy his wife remained in a valium "coma" and not only was she oblivious to the entire incident; but also, "she never awoke when pieces of the flaming curtains were burning her flesh".

This appeared to be such a shocking memory, he vowed to never again speak of the incident--and insisted I not tell my children. Anyway, Dennis described "the pain and anger [he] was trying to cope with" and gave the memory of that trauma as the "reason for his not being able to work"....and I "bought it!!!". (Oh yeah, you'll never find a more understanding, caring and empathetic gal than me. In fact the large tatoo on my forehead that read "DUMP HERE" was actually dwarfed by the one on my ass that screamed "KICK HERE--PLEASE"!)

Fast-forward......Very curious that over the six years we were "married", he never showed me a photo of Michael, you know like one you'd normally carry in your wallet. He claimed it was too painful to keep remembering...so he never carried any photos. (If you are sitting there smugly saying, "Well, that should’ve been a RED FLAG right there...ha! You are seeing the whole story from a safe distance....But I, on the other hand, had been locked into and barely existing in a terror-filled, nightmarish cycle of physical and psychological battery and abuse at the hand of this husband, {which in itself is another "whole ‘nuther story"!}. And I didn’t have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight!)

I always noticed and, of course wondered about, the conspicuous absence of little Michael’s photo on any of the walls of "Mama’s" house. My reasoning?..Because in that house there was barely a square inch of wall space, (including the bathroom), that wasn’t papered with family photos...only a few of which were actually in frames---(the rest being actual photos stuck up on the wall with duct tape!). There were photos of family members and even their dogs, cats and cars. And, it had been pointed out to me on many occasions that there were several of "David", Dennis’ sixteen-year-old nephew who had been shot and killed the previous year by another teenager, over a drug-deal gone awry! No sentiment disallowing the sad reminders of David’s existence..so what of Michael’s?

Not even the slightest hint of Michael anywhere; of course I had never inquired of the family, (in fear of sparking Dennis’ rage at {supposedly} having to remember the trauma again...) But it just so happened that two days before the night the children and I ended up escaping from Dennis, he and I were working in mid-town Memphis. (I had developed a Mobile Mechanic Service that we operated for five years---which also required that we work in Memphis virtually every day). That day Dennis had one too many tacos at lunch and, refusing to use public washrooms, demanded a quick side-trip to Mama’s house, where he would be more comfortable using her bathroom.

The scene was the usual, predictable one. There at the "dining-room" round table sat Mama (about 70, drinking whiskey with a 40 oz. of beer chasing it), Susie, 50, (Dennis older sister, "retarded" when it was convenient to receive a disability check--sipping a beer), Brenda, 53, (Dennis’ older sister lining up three empty 40’s, a fresh one in her other hand--and already three sheets to the wind), Brenda’s husband Bob, (a convicted felon, just released from a 17-year stint for rape and murder--in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman State Prison, also drunker than Kooter Brown), and Dale, 57, (OMG--what a piece of work, Dennis’ oldest brother who bragged about his choice to be a "homeless beggar", staying high on Crystal Meth and Crack Cocaine on the streets of Memphis--and diving the dumpsters for items to sell to his dealer!)! Three of the four were smoking pot and Mama was busily rolling fresh cigarettes from the several ash trays full of nasty butts...arguably one of her favorite past-times, of that I was convinced.

"(How the hell do I get myself into these situations??"...That awful question kept creeping over me EVERY TIME I gave in and went along with him to Mama’s house! I didn’t belong there and could barely stand it for more than a few minutes at a time. I saw to it that my children NEVER stepped inside that house! I did not drink at all, nor had I ever used an illegal drug in my life; and I had asthma so the cigarette and pot smoke got to me very quickly. I’d even have to run outside to catch my breath.. (Now, if you’re tempted to judge me again, you must understand ‘control’, ‘battery’ and ‘abuse’ and how this type of dysfunctional relationship creates so much fear--a person becomes trapped, then meek, and soon lacking the emotional strength to attempt to change the circumstances or get away.....google: Stockholm  Syndrome)

I surveyed that pathetic excuse for a family and standing in their presence I debated the main thought clouding my mind. Though my conversations with "the family" had always been limited to the weather, I recognized I was being afforded only a brief opportunity to speak with them seriously. I decided it would be "now or never" if I were ever to learn the truth. I was trying to be polite by pretending not to notice Dennis’ grunts and groans coming from the bathroom down the hall; while trying to appear relaxed and disinterested in my real purpose.

Because I had been months secretly preparing for the inevitable, eventual escape from Dennis, I knew the time for our freedom was close at hand. Although I couldn’t know exactly when, I was acutely aware that all we awaited was for opportunity to knock and open the window to safety! I kept this fact in mind, while also counting-down the minutes before the toilet would flush. I would soon have to shut my mouth or else Dennis would fly into a totally ballistic rage at me if he thought I’d discussed "Michael" with his family...

Soooo...At a moment’s break in their conversations--I jumped in..and quite delicately posed that question I’d been dying to ask for years:
"Ummm..where are y’all’s photos of little Michael?"
"Who?" chimed the unified reply.
"Do y’all have any photos of Michael?"
"Who?" Again, several people responded in-sync.
"Michael, you know little Michael"
"Michael whoooo?" came the query again.
"Michael Eric, Dennis' little boy."
"There's NO Michael--May-reeee.", Brenda retorted. (Geeeze, my mind and my stomach started doing flips...)
"Uh, I know he's not in this world and all about him dying in that awful explosion at Dennis’ apartment! But I just kinda wondered what he looked like, that’s all."

Mama started laughing under her breath making herself cough, choke and gurgle whiskey-tainted beer bubbles. With her head down on her chest and her manly, raspy, slurred voice she sucked-back the saliva, sputtered and blurted out to me in that low, gravelly, monotone, too-much-whiskey-cigarette-and-hollering voice:

"May-ree, you know Dennis, (cough, cough), never had any kids."
My soul was frozen with that statement! But, so as not to pass out from the dizzying thoughts roller-blading around inside my head, my focus was immobilized on the hairy wart over Mama's wrinkled purple lip.
"Whaaaat-ever made you thank Dennis had a kid?" Brenda snapped.
"He told me all the horrible, graphic details of Michael's accidental death."
Susie, the 'slow' one, was laughing at that moment, and started getting loud and sing-songy, repeating over and over,
"There ain't nooooo Michaelllll..." ,"There ain't nooooo Miiichaelllllllllll...."
Dale, the older crack-head brother, spent his 2 cents to affirm the family's position. In his usual stilted monotone delivery he insisted:
"There ain’t no such person as Michael, naver was, neaer will be. Dennis made 'im up. Sure sucked you in too, didn’t he, May-reeee?"
Taking a pull on the joint Bob handed him, he summed up with:
"Good one, Denbo---Gawd you’re a stupid sucker for balieving thaaaat stary, May-reeeee!"

No Michael? Oh My God! No Michael? How could he have lied so? No Michael!! I was really mad then at all the wasted energy and empathy with which I’d pampered poor Daddy Dennis....! Damn, I was really, really angry...but...but...God my head was spinning so wildly I think I would've passed out for sure, but for the sudden flushing of their noisy old toilet, I became paralyzed with terror! What if they mentioned to Dennis that I’d asked about the phantom child?! I decided it was a good time to make my speedy exit using the excuse that I needed my inhaler I'd left out in our company van----

Oh God, I was petified he’d discover what I’d done..I really DID need that damn inhaler by the time I got to the van!!! Shaking uncontrollably, partly from the rescue inhaler, but mostly from ABSOLUTE SHEER TERROR..I waited for Dennis and the third degree..He walked with sharp, determined steps, never taking his eyes off mine:
"What’re yew shakin’ fer thaasss tahm?!", he demanded while climbing into the van.. Oh hell, was my papable fear outwardly visible?
"Uh", I was stammering..."Uh, it was the smoke in the house....I had another asthma attack..you know that awful inhaler makes me shake so badly...."
He acted satisfied, I prayed he’d bought it, anyway he didn’t backhand me upside my head, so I guessed he’d believed my explanation... I knew with certainty then what I had only surmised up to that point. Oh Lord, it was an epiphany--I totally realized that every breath out of Dennis' mouth for the past 6 years had been a totally fabricated LIE!!!! (just to make me feel sorry for him and 'take care of him', poor, pathetic 'father' that he claimed to have been). I still wretch at this memory.

The cartoon light-bulb over my head had turned --and stayed after that new revelation! Dennis was not only a psychotic sociopath, but the epitome of a compulsive, pathological liar! Every instance in which I came to his rescue, including the fluorescent bulb in my office ‘breaking’ in his hand, was contrived, planned, controlled and/or lied about, as he felt the situation required of him--in order to manipulate me. My resolve and determination were cemented, and this made my plan for leaving him, most certainly, the right thing to do---and " the sooner--the better".

Two days later, through a sheer miracle, a most unusual opportuntiy presented itself to us. Under cover of darkness my children and I were able to get safely away and out of his life, and Memphis, forever! When we were finally a safe 3000 miles away we never looked back...that was eight years ago.

Dennis has been back in prison in Memphis since 2001, immediately after our escape, and he will continue to serve a minium of another ten years!...and that, of course is, as they say, a whole ‘nuther story...)
.......see what I mean, you can never judge a book by its cover!...and most certainly you can NEVER judge a man's character with your heart on your sleeve and your hopes in his hands!!

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