By Gotham Grit
All I ever wanted was a normal life with the expected progressions that are supposed to happen in a certain way and in a certain order. But, unfortunately, my life never seemed to happen that way. The things that happened for other people, the simplest of life events which comprise moving from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood which most women are able to take for granted - puberty, dating, boyfriends, marriage, kids - never seemed to be in my stars in any kind of typical way. It was as if I were living outside some sort of bubble, or watching life happen for others through a glass partition and I was not worthy or allowed to take part in any of it. I could never seem to gain access into the club.
I was 27, and all my friends were getting married and having babies. I felt like that was what was supposed to be happening in my life too, yet as usual, my experiences were not up to par. I couldn't even get a decent date, let alone a boyfriend that might propose to me. There was this constant sense that something was very wrong with me. I was exceedingly tall and excruciatingly skinny, and I always felt like I could never get a 'normal' guy to look my way. I always seemed to attract the losers, the wannabes, the ugly friend of the cute guy who wanted my friend instead of me. I had had one real boyfriend once, but I had ended that upon realizing he would have been a mean father to our children, were we to ever have any. After that, I was on my own for a very long time.
Perhaps this had more to do with my low self-esteem than my awkward appearance, but at any rate, I was always alone and very, very lonely. I just couldn't understand how it happened for other people - what was the magic secret that everyone but me seemed to know? I had friends, including male friends, so I knew it wasn't my personality or intelligence.I knew I was fun and witty. But there were many times perfect strangers would uninhibitedly share their unsolicited opinions with me about how I needed to gain weight. (In NYC, strangers share their opinions with strangers quite commonly.) They would tell me, "You have a beautiful face, but you are way too skinny!" I absolutely hated my stick-like body and my six-foot plus height! Girls were jealous over what they imagined men desired (lots of ungrounded, catty comments and fights) yet men were undoubtedly turned off - it was incredibly confusing and difficult.
Then one Saturday night in a neighborhood bar at the end of Spring in the late 1990's, a tall, handsome man tried to speak to me. He introduced himself shyly and said that he thought I was pretty. I'd felt so crappy about myself I could do nothing but freeze up and turn away. I was sure he must be messing with me so I completely snubbed him, and he just walked off. I sat there terrified and wondered if I had just blown an opportunity to meet someone new, or if he was setting me up to mock me, or if he was just some weirdo - he was interested in me after all. I told myself it was better to play it safe, but simultaneously berated myself for being so insecure. I felt like I just couldn't win, trapped inside such a bean-pole of a body.
Two weeks later, I crossed paths with Tall/Handsome again, in the backyard of the same bar. This time it was a Sunday afternoon. The weather was beautiful and I had gone there by myself because the walls of my dank basement apartment had been closing in on me. He and his friends were sitting at one of the outdoor tables, and I went and sat alone at another table, watching them sidelong between sips of beer, until one of the friends invited me over to sit with them. From that day on, Tall/Handsome and I became a couple. The fact that he was fresh out of prison was something I consciously pushed aside, convincing myself it was a small inconvenience. He became the new, long-awaited Boyfriend.
I knew all along that he wasn't the right guy for me, but I allowed myself to fall for him anyway. He was 34 and had just been released from a 7 year incarceration that began with a 3 year sentence for car theft, which then got extended to four more years for manslaughter because he had killed someone in self-defense with his bare hands while inside. He was honest about all of this from the get-go, and I appreciated that. I didn't want to judge him. I purposely ignored my instincts which told me he had dark demons I should run like hell from and had way more going on inside him than met my too-lenient eye. I was so grateful to finally have an attractive man's romantic attention and company. I was an easy mark for an Irish, blue-eyed, bad-ass with no fear of anyone or seemingly anything.
Boyfriend swore to me up and down that he was on a mission to make a clean start. He yearned to leave all of the illegal activity and chaos behind him and to start anew. A friend hired him as a truck mechanic and Boyfriend embarked on the unfamiliar journey of making a legal, honest living. I told myself this was good, solid proof that his intentions to reform his life were honest and true. I was proud of him for that. I wanted to show him good faith and support, that he had someone on his side on the outside who believed in him. But what really won me over, was how protected he made me feel. I had heard from people around town that once you were a friend of Boyfriend's, he had your back no matter what. He was a loyal guy that way and he took his friendships very seriously, and it didn't take him long to prove this to me either.
There had been this group of Hispanic guys who hung around together in the neighborhood. It seemed no matter what street I walked down, or what corner I turned, there would be some combination of these guys lurking about, lying in wait to make my life miserable. They taunted and made fun of me constantly by laughing, calling me names, imitating the way I walked, and generally making a spectacle of me so everyone else on the street would turn and stare. Some of them were only teenagers who stupidly followed the older guys' examples.
There was one young one in particular who would actually follow me down the street saying all sorts of nasty, personal things, whom I'd dubbed Rat-face because of his pointy nose and beady eyes. Though I was well into adulthood, many people still treated me like a kid because I was so skinny and these guys harassed me like if we were all back in the seventh grade. They were ignorant, immature and had no idea how to act like men. They had no respect for me as a woman or an adult and everywhere I went there they were, waiting to victimize me. Once I got with Boyfriend, all of that changed.
You see, as I soon came to learn, Boyfriend was the Alpha-Dog in our neighborhood. He had been so when he left for prison, and now seven years later, his reputation even exceeded where it had left off since people now knew he'd killed someone inside with only his fists. Though he was a large and broad dude, he was a quick and seasoned street-fighter whose skill no one could deny or surpass. No man, black, white, big or small, had the nerve to step to Boyfriend, and if they did, it was usually some drunken, out-of-town ignoramus who would quickly be schooled on exactly who it was that ran those streets. Boyfriend was not a person on whose bad side you wanted to be.
I will admit I loved that. I loved that everyone knew him, loved that he was feared and respected and now boney, doofy, reject me was his girlfriend and no one fucked with me either. I even started to think that maybe I actually was kind of pretty. And despite the fact that Boyfriend was such a tough guy, he was incredibly silly and goofy. He loved a good joke and a good gag. He was affectionate and very sweet to his friends and to me. And true to his reputation, he always looked out.
One day we were out walking, and I saw him acknowledge a couple of those guys who always bothered me. I saw them look worriedly from Boyfriend to me and back again, and I suddenly I knew I now had the advantage! Once we passed them, I asked Boyfriend,
"Do you know them?"
"Yeah, why?" I wasted no time filling him in on as many lengthy details as I could remember about all the numerous times they had bullied and humiliated me, especially highlighting the lovely comments from Rat-face, though Boyfriend was a little fuzzy on exactly which guy I called Rat-face since I didn't know any of their real names.
"I'll take care of it", said Boyfriend. I'm not even sure what he ever did or said to them, but just like that, all the torture and harassing stopped. Done. Over. Like a bad magic spell had been lifted off my life. From then on, whenever I passed any of those guys on the street, they dared not even look at me.
A few days later, Boyfriend and I went into a local 7-11, and there was Rat-face standing by himself at the magazine rack.
"Him," I hissed to Boyfriend, pointing. "That's the one I told you about. That's Rat-face."Rat-face saw me pointing and his brown face went pale.
"Wait here," said Boyfriend and went over to give Rat-face his own individual message.
'You see that?" Boyfriend asked him, pointing to me, still near the front counter. Rat-face had looked like he shit his pants, right there with a Sports Illustrated in his hands."That's mine, you got it?" Rat-face nodded and looked down, paralyzed with fear. Never in my life had I ever felt such gratification. When Boyfriend came back over to me, I said to him,
"And don't refer to me as 'that'." This amused Boyfriend greatly and he playfully pinched my nose.
I felt like I had charmed and tamed the wild beast, and that gave me a sense of power as well. Actually he let Rat-face off pretty easily, because normally if I gave Boyfriend the signal, he had no problem attacking.If anyone disrespected me, all I had to do was say so, and Boyfriend would pop them one, without even so much as a question.To Boyfriend, it was merely amusement, and I was so caught up in his power, that I failed to see how scary that was. Unfortunately, protection from bullies was one of the very few positives Boyfriend brought to our relationship. I was to learn there was a huge to price to pay for being under his watch and much of it I convinced myself to ignore.