AFTER THREE MONTHS of adjusting to the climate as best as I could, mostly by staying in the air-conditioning, fall arrived, bringing welcome relief. I lived within a few miles of Miami International Airport, so cab fares were quite inexpensive. I loved the pastel colors of Coral Gables and the lushness of Coconut Grove. It seemed as if everywhere I went there was a body of water; the ocean, lakes, canals, and blue swimming pools were everywhere the eye could see. Sometimes I even sighted a flock of beautifully multicolored wild parrots flying overhead. South Florida was truly a beautiful place to live.
Stealing had never been one of my early-life transgressions—except for twice when I was under the age of ten. While I dreaded the thought of being caught and losing my dream job, I began to sneak one or two miniature bottles of booze off the plane to soothe myself during our layovers. This violation was sure to get me fired if I were caught.
Since the rape, I just couldn’t seem to get myself into any type of feeling of normalcy, (as if my behaviors prior to that time were “normal”). If a door closed loudly, or something dropped on the floor, I would jump as if a bomb had exploded or stand frozen on the spot.
On several occasions while flying, other stewardesses commented on my jumpy behavior. I tried to laugh it off, but felt even more nervous realizing they noticed. This left me constantly believing I was going to be found out. I didn’t have a clue as to what it was that someone might find out about me, but that did not stop the internal alarm. Magnifying my discomfort were my recurring nightmares. In these dreams, people were laughing at me while I ran in tiny circles, trying to escape, but I could never find the door. Every day I told myself to just hang on, just hang on, just hang on. I had no idea, how long, or in what way—I just knew I should “Just hang on.”
I knew nothing about grieving in those days; I just knew that my heart ached for Joey. My Joey, the boy I talked with for so many hours and thought about when he wasn’t with me. I missed the tender kisses and the words that I used to hang, one by one, on the imaginary clothesline in my mind. They were treasured words, not unlike beautiful fragments of fine linen that I might want to pull out and save when I was alone. I wanted to feel, touch, even taste the deliciousness of each word. I sat at his feet, wide-eyed and adoring, perhaps the way Marilyn used to do with Arthur Miller.
I truly missed our far-too-brief friendship, and Joey’s expressions of wisdom. I thought a lot about our failed marriage. Reminiscing as I often did in those days, I recalled the evening when I severely cut my right thumb and severed the tendons while washing dishes, which required an emergency room visit and many stitches. Within four weeks I had created another accident by lighting a match to a gas oven that someone had already turned on, which resulted in second and third-degree burns on my face and arms. Joey got so mad at me.
He hollered, “Stop hurting yourself, Dawn! You’re subconsciously causing these things to happen to yourself.”
Shocked at his words, I replied, “What are you talking about, Joey? All of these things were accidents. Why in the world would I do it on purpose?”
“I don’t know why you keep hurting yourself, but you have no idea how powerful the mind is. We create our experiences by our unconscious beliefs.”
His words gave me pause, adding to my idealized beliefs that he was brilliant and wise beyond his years. Oh, how I would miss him.
After a long three-day training flight, I was glad to be home. I closed the front door and looked at the calendar on the dining room table. I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes! I saw that my three roommates would be out of town for the next few days on training flights. Smiling to myself, I felt grateful for the much-needed time alone. I decided to celebrate with a hot bath and a can of chicken noodle soup that I had hidden from my roommates.
Weary from the training flight and difficulties with sleeping, I also planned on getting some deep rest. As I hung up my coat, anger coursed through me: one of my roommates had taken my other uniform. We were each issued one uniform upon completion of flight training and had to purchase a second one, which was quite expensive. My mother had scraped together the money for my extra uniform. Trainees were perpetually on standby, so we never knew when we would be called out on a flight. A clean backup uniform was imperative. Irritated that I now had to take my dirty uniform to the dry cleaners on my one day off, I wondered how my roommate could be so rude and selfish.
While thinking how I could wring her cute little neck, I jumped, bumping my head on a wooden shelf, at the sound of the doorbell.
Looking through the front door peephole, I was shocked to my core. It was Joey!
He had driven our little VW wagon across the United States from Los Angeles to Miami, and announced that he had come to “take me back.” After his three-thousand-mile journey, he looked as exhausted as I felt. I was elated to see him, and we fell into each other’s arms.
We spent a delightful afternoon and early evening walking and talking with the same kind of ease and wonderment we experienced the first week we’d met two years earlier.
“How are your parents, Joey?”
“Oh, you know, everything is kind of the same. I haven’t talked with my dad since way before you left California. And Dorothy, well, not much communication there either. She and Bob have sure been drinking a lot lately. They’re uncomfortable to be around.”
“Jeez, Joey, it sounds kind of lonely for you.”
Joey, changing the mood, picked me up by the waist and swung me around. I loved the feel of his hard, muscular body close to me. I could tell he had been working out again because his white sport shirt barely fit around the muscles in his arms. “Yeah, Babe. That’s why I need you back in my life. I need my buddy.”
At that, we both laughed now with that hollow kind of laugh you do when you know you’ve just skipped right over a river of painful feelings.
I loved his brown eyes and strong jawline (when it was relaxed, as opposed to the too many times when he was angry or just not communicating). Stroking the tiny, fine, golden-brown hairs on his arm, I couldn’t let go of him. Over pizza at a little Italian restaurant, he told me some hilarious stories about his adventures during the past few months, and kept injecting into his narrative the words of how much he had missed me. That day we were stuck together like glue. We kissed, ate, talked, kissed, laughed, walked, and kissed. So happy to be with him again, I never once considered where this encounter was leading, or how it would inevitably end.
Long after sundown, we drove to the beach and were caught by the Miami Beach police while snuggled in the comforting, warm sand and necking. After convincing them that we were indeed married, as proven by our matching driver’s license names, they merely scolded us before telling us to leave the beach at once. Giggling at each other, we drove back to my place, blissfully unprepared for the ugly last scene that was about to unfold—the final chapter of our lives together.
Back inside of the apartment, I started getting nervous. Sure enough, Joey pulled me into the bedroom, pulling off my shirt and simultaneously undressing himself.
My stomach began to churn with fear as my mind began showering me with past film clips of our bedroom history. I walked out of the bedroom.
“No, Joey, let’s not start this. Okay?” “Don’t be silly, you’re still my wife.”
“No, Joey, I’m not coming back to the bedroom.”
“God damn it, Dawn, quit acting stupid and get back in here now!” “Noooooo! I’m not coming in there!”
Angry, with hands on his hips in a defiant posture he said, “Listen, Dawn, if you don’t stop this crap right now, when I get back to California I’ll tell the authorities that we lived together during our interlocutory period and our divorce process will be nullified immediately. Then what’ll you do, Miss High-and-Mighty?”
I muttered something unintelligible; but then, instead of my usual, shame-filled, compliant, little-girl attitude, an ire began bubbling in me, like the pressure building in a geyser soon to erupt.
He threatened, “D-o y-o-u understand me?”
With equal anger I shouted, “If you do that, Joey, I’ll tell the news- papers the truth about our sex life. I swear, Joey, I’ll tell it all.”
“You wouldn’t do that, Dawn. You didn’t tell that magazine anything even after they offered you all that money to talk about your impressions of the great “Joltin’ Joe.” Come on, you know you’re way above that sort of thing.”
“You stop threatening me, Joey, or I swear I’ll tell!”
“God damn you! I trusted you. What’s happened to you these past few months anyway? You’re not the Dawn that I knew. In fact, you’re acting just like all the rest of the people in my life.”
“Joey, I want you to leave now. Please, I beg of you, just go.”
We argued, cried, and then argued again. It was ugly and painful for both of us, but I could not bring myself to repeat the cycle of tenderness, passion, and failed orgasms, only to be followed by harsh and demeaning accusations. Becoming a stewardess had given me new strength and more than a little of some much-needed self-esteem.
I begged him over and over to leave. Finally, spent from anger and grief, we stood at the doorway, sobbing in each other’s arms, knowing full well that we would never see each another again. I was engulfed in an anguish so deep that I fell to my knees, sobbing, “Joey, Joey,” as he walked out the door. I lay in an inconsolable heap until I remembered the bottle of vodka under the kitchen sink that belonged to the roommate who had taken my clean uniform. She owed me.