(Click here to read Part I)
Pauline and I continued to get together in our irregular way–once a week, then maybe not again for a month. Then back to once a week, or at least every couple of weeks.
Once she called to say she was having a Halloween party next weekend, and she really hoped I could make it. (It was very unusual for her to call. Even when she was upset with her life, or simply wanted to see me, she’d just show at my apartment, or stop by where I was bartending. A phone call meant this was important.)
I went dressed as a tourist, with sunglasses, a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, and a tourist’s map of Boston stuffed in my pocket. I was totally out-done by everyone else.
When I arrived at her place late, it seemed they’d all put in more effort. One guy came as this giant dildo, encased in a full-body, flesh-colored tube complete with flashing lights. (It must have cost him a fortune.)
I really didn’t care. I had arrived late on purpose; I was only there to make an appearance. These were all her friends, and I only knew one or two of the people, other than Pauline.
Maybe because I arrived late . . . or as an outsider to the group, maybe I was “the new guy in town” . . . but for whatever reason Pauline was acting a little different. In public we were always just having fun and clowning around, like we were good friends. Now she was acting like I was her boyfriend.
As soon as I walked in the door, she gave me an overly-affectionate hug, and kissed me for a long time. She looked absolutely gorgeous.
(There’s something about women when they get all dolled-up for Halloween–every one of them looks fantastic with their elaborate make-up and in costume, and the ones that look great normally now seem like movie stars.)
Within half an hour of my showing up, Pauline wanted to go straight to the bedroom. She practically dragged me there. And we stayed in her bedroom for the rest of the night; all night, even as the party was going on.
“What about your guests?” I asked at one point.
“It’s my party, my apartment,” she laughed, “I’ll do what I want . . . things were winding down anyway.”
When we were taking a break, she got up to get us more drinks. Through the bedroom door I heard her talking with some of the guests as she made her way back.
“It’s only round two in there!” she told them laughing, and she went to say they were fine without her, and that I wasn’t through with her yet.
Truth of it was, she wasn’t yet done with me.
So Pauline’s and my relationship continued at the same pace. But then came a month that for whatever reason we hadn’t gotten together at all. It stretched into two months . . . but because of the haphazard way we were, it took me that long to notice something was different.
Now I was beginning to wonder what was going on with her. I missed her, and I was thinking maybe I should call, if only to make sure she was OK.
Before I got to it, one night she was ringing my apartment buzzer.
“God, I’m so glad you’re home . . . !” She hugged me close.
In my apartment, I was thinking she must have been doing a lot of coke again during our little break. She was definitely wound up. She tossed her jacket aside, and she didn’t actually pace the floor, but it seemed like she was frantically pacing around inside of herself.
She’d lost some weight since I’d last seen her . . . not too much, she was still a knock-out, but her face looked a little thinner now.
“I don’t want to have sex tonight,” she said, as she sat on the couch. She had just finished one cigarette, and now she immediately lit another. “I just want to chill out for a bit.”
“Is that OK?” she asked.
That was fine with me . . . I really did like her, and was happy to be just her friend for the night, if that’s what she needed.
She talked a little about how screwed up her life had become lately, and that she felt everything in her head was spinning in circles . . . but she didn’t offer any specifics.
After a couple of beers, she wanted to go into the bedroom and just lie down, and that’s what we did. I held her until she finally drifted to sleep.
In the morning, the hormones took over for both of us, but this time the sex was different. It was much quieter, and more openly affectionate. And even though we were having sex, it was as though this time it was only another way for her to be held.
Then once more, after that night, I didn’t see her for a month or so. She surprised me with a phone call three or four weeks later.
“Can you meet me today . . . this afternoon?” she asked, “I really need to see you.” Her voice seemed shaky.
We met at Government Center, and walked around for a while, then sat on one of the low brick walls that circle the small groups of trees decorating the area.
“I’m so stressed-out,” she said, “I thought I’d be able to handle this better.”
She sighed with both hands in her lap, looking up at the skyline. Her eyes were filling with tears. She was barely short of crying.
Her voice broke as she started to say something more, and she seemed to slump a little. I put my arm around her shoulder.
Then she told me that she’d somehow gotten pregnant, and she’d just had an abortion.
We were sitting side by side. She was sobbing quietly with my arm around her shoulder.
“I’m so overwhelmed,” she said, “It’s all that Catholic guilt.”
Now she reached into her purse and pulled out a card, sealed in an envelope. “Don’t read this until you get home,” she said. She looked at me with the saddest eyes.
Later, when I opened the card at home . . . she had written on both inside pages of the card and then over onto the back. I could tell by the shaky handwriting that she was seriously upset when she wrote it–it was a lost, rambling, stream of consciousness note.
She wrote about her life and how she had been living it, and how she felt so hopelessly lost and was making so many mistakes. And now what she’d just done . . . the abortion, or if she hadn’t done it . . . either way both had seemed such terrible, irreversible choices, but she’d been forced to choose one or the other. And now she felt she was about to melt into a sobbing pool.
On the card she thanked me for being her friend, and said it should have been different for us, our timing . . . our ages should have been different.
She wrote that she knew none of this was making any sense, but she felt she had to write it anyway.
At the bottom, she’d drawn a picture of her face, with a tear dropping from one eye.
As we sat together at Government Center, I didn’t know what was on the card yet . . . but I knew right now she simply needed someone who cared about her.
“I didn’t think I could handle having a child at this point,” she said. She couldn’t stop quietly sobbing. “I didn’t think I could handle it . . . it wouldn’t be right to raise a child that way. My life is so screwed up. I’m such a mess . . . I know that.”
I had no idea what to say, or do. I had one arm around her shoulder, and with the other hand, I was holding onto to her hand, squeezing it tightly.
“You’ll be OK, Pauline,” I told her, “You’re a strong woman.”
She continued to cry, and I tried to keep talking.
“You’re a really good person, Pauline,” I continued, “I know this has to be unbelievably tough . . . I know it’s hard . . . terribly difficult.”
“But you’re one of the strongest people I know, Pauline . . . and you’re going to be all right.
“Give it some time,” I said. “You’re wounded, and you’re so very hurt . . . but you have to realize all this pain will wash away.”
“You’re going to be OK,” I said, “This too will pass . . . you know that.”
Side by side, I pulled her even closer against me.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I just so needed to see you today. I guess I need to be alone for while . . . but I really wanted to see you first.”
“Thank you,“ she said, trying to smile as she looked at me. “Thank you.”
A long time later, when she said she’d better be going, we both stood.
“Pauline, are you OK?” I asked. Now we were standing face-to-face, holding onto each other. I had my arms around her.
“It wasn’t yours,” she said very quietly into my shoulder. “I don’t know what I would have . . . .” Her voice caught again, and she pulled me closer.
“You’ll be OK, Pauline,” I told her, “You’re a really good person, and a strong woman.”
“I’ll be home all night,” I told her. “You can call me anytime you want . . . you know that. Call me later if you want.”
“Or just stop over, like you always do . . . .”
She smiled and gave me a quick kiss. As we turned to go our separate ways, we were still holding onto each others hand. And we kept holding on until both our arms were stretched to their full length . . . and then we let go.
[Pauline ended up moving back to the mid-West not long after that. We kept in touch by snail-mail, and an occasional phone call. She eventually settled down, got married and started a family. She opened a business in real estate, and did exceptionally well. (Of course she did . . . in something like that, her energy, her personality must have totally floored them.)
The last Christmas card I got from her was one of those with a family picture on the front. There was Pauline, and her husband (she had told me that he knew everything about her time in Boston, and still absolutely adored her). They were in the living room with their three young children, two girls and a boy. That photo might be the favorite one I have of her . . . and I feel a little foolish for saying this, but that photo still warms my heart. They all look so very happy.]