Monday, November 25, 2013

Sex, Lies, and Amputation

I’ve written quite a few blog posts about my health crisis thus far. In my very first essay, I mentioned that at the time I got sick I was dating a Hottie, a man twelve years my junior. Here is a sampling of some of the comments I’ve received via email loops and social media from my fellow romance writers.
“We want to hear more about the Hottie!”
“Details, please! Don’t keep us waiting!”
How much younger did you say he was?”
“Are you still with the Hottie?”
Sigh . . . All right, already. Let’s do this thing. Here’s the story of the Hottie. 
He came into my life after I’d been divorced nearly six years. During that time I’d had only one relationship and it had drawn its last wheezy breath almost a year prior. Let me be blunt – full-time writers don’t get out much, and I certainly wasn’t getting any younger waiting for a man to magically appear in my office as I typed, alone, for up to fourteen hours a day. Besides, my FedEx guy was married.
By the Summer of 2011, I was ready to find someone special. Strike that – I was ready for someone spectacularly special. So I did it. Lord help me, but I tried online dating.
I had mixed results. By “mixed” I mean that one percent were nice men; two-thirds were pathological liars; and the balance collected taxidermy knives and dwelled in the crawl space beneath their mothers’ porches.
Then I met him.
I was late for our first meeting at a little tapas place near Baltimore and the rain was coming down hard. I raced in the door, umbrella dripping, and saw a man stand up and smile at me. I think I might have gasped out loud. He looked so . . . young! He was so freakin’ adorable! And his . . . oh, hell . . . he had the kind of body that belonged on one of my fictional romance heroes!
I did a quick survey for the 20/20 camera crew or some bitch standing behind me who had been the intended recipient of that killer smile, but found neither. So I smiled back. Many months later, while lying prone in a hospital bed, I revisited this moment over and over in my head. I felt so far away from the woman who had walked in that restaurant. But once upon a time, I really had felt smart and pretty. I’d worn dresses and heels. My hair had occasionally looked halfway decent. I’d had two legs.
The Hottie came on strong that first date and all the ones that followed. He repeatedly assured me that our age difference meant nothing to him. We clicked on every level. He was intelligent, communicative, fun-loving, insightful, athletic, in touch with his emotions, and incredibly affectionate. Almost immediately, we were in a relationship.
Yeah, I know. I know, I know, I know. Really. I get it. I was stupid. I admit it. But he was so cute!
So there we were in this relationship. He went with me to my daughter’s theater performances. He met my ex-husband. My kids jokingly referred to me as a “cougar.” I had a lot of fun with him, though I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked. But I understood that he had to travel a lot for his job, and for the marathons and 10Ks he often ran to raise money for charities, and to spend time with his teenage boys, who lived in another city. I was ok with all of it because, hey, I had a busy life, too, and besides – I was already g-o-n-e, gone.
Plus, he was so cute!
The Hottie came to visit several times in the early stages of my illness, though I was unconscious. He even hung out in the Shock Trauma waiting room with my brother, my kids, my best friend, and my ex-husband. At Christmas, he dropped off a present and a card in which he’d written that the only gift he wanted that year was me. I was too spaced out to appreciate it but, I do remember him being there.
During one hospital visit, the Hottie climbed into the hospital bed with me and managed to reach around all the IV lines and probes and sensors to get his arms around my diseased body. He kissed my chapped lips. He stroked my balding head. He held my swollen hand.  Arleen wrote an email to my dear friend Celeste Bradley in which she praised his attentiveness. (“Good man,” she told Celeste.)
 The Hottie came when he could, but it wasn’t regularly. As soon as I was able to put a coherent sentence together, I told him that I’d understand if he was no longer interested in me. After all, he hadn’t signed up for a one-legged, pacemaker-wearing chick who hadn’t showered in recent memory. He dismissed my comments as ridiculous. The Hottie was a deeply religious man. Every visit he would pray with me and read Bible verses for encouragement. Since he happened to be a huge nerd as well,  he would recite lines of Star Wars dialogue to cheer me up. When I’d ask him (again) if he was sure he wanted to be with me, he’d respond with this quote from Yoda: “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”
As my hospital stay dragged on, the Hottie called and texted sporadically, but his visits became infrequent. Just before Valentine’s Day he stopped by and I gave him a card I’d made with notebook paper and colored pencils, the only supplies I had on hand. He stared at it like he was embarrassed. (And rightly so – he’d brought nothing for me.)
Things really began to fall apart when I got home. He said he wasn’t sure where he fit into my life now that I needed to concentrate on my health and rehabilitation. I told him he fit in however he wanted to, and all he had to do was claim his spot. I made sure he understood that what I needed from him I couldn’t get anywhere else, not from family, friends, or physical therapists. I told him that his love, strength, and faith in me were important to my recovery.
When the Hottie visited, he made comments about how relieved he was that I was looking more like myself. “I wasn’t sure you’d ever be the same,” he said, no doubt remembering the bright-red balloon of infected flesh he’d encountered in the Shock Trauma unit. The visits became less frequent, but I was still g-o-n-e – gone. Besides, we were building something. Right?
One evening, as we snuggled in my temporary single bed in the downstairs dining room, I asked him one last time if he was absolutely certain he wanted to be in this with me. I reminded him that I could learn to walk again and do all the physical therapy in the world but my leg would never grow back.
“Susan,” he said, looking into my eyes, “I didn’t fall in love with the lower part of your left leg. I fell in love with you.”
Oh, thank God! I finally started to relax. He really did love me. He was going to hang in there and help me get my life back. Of course, I told several romance writer friends about this achingly tender exchange, and they all let go with deep sighs of satisfaction.
The Hottie dumped my luminous ass the next week.
He called and said he wanted to visit and insisted we go out to dinner, even though I had to hop around with my walker, which was embarrassing. (Later, I would realize this hadn’t been about doing something special for me. He insisted on taking me out to dinner so he could break up with me in public, a move that gave him some protection against an emotional meltdown, no doubt.)
So there we were, in public at a nearly empty restaurant. The Hottie and I sat across the table from each other and the vibe was so awful that neither of us were eating much. I told him that it was obvious he had something to say and that he should come right out and say it. He seemed relieved that I had given him permission to cut to the chase.
The Hottie said he couldn’t be what I needed, that his schedule made him a lousy boyfriend and I deserved more. He said our relationship was not “sustainable” for him because he felt guilty that he couldn’t be everything I needed. It had nothing to do with my amputation, he assured me, and promised we would be friends for life.
We went back to my house. We sat on the couch for a few moments. Then I gathered the running shorts he’d left in a drawer and the Christmas gifts I’d purchased for him and kept forgetting to give him. He took his stuff and walked out. I heard him sigh with relief as he opened his car door.
I cried my guts out for a month. I realize the sorrow and grief that came pouring from me wasn’t about the Hottie. It was about the loss and pain and horror I’d already been through and everything that would be required of me in the future – without a man who loved me at my side. As of this writing, I haven’t heard a peep from him. I never will. Despite what Yoda said, I can’t help but think my crude matter has something to do with it.
All this happened a long time ago, and I rarely think of the Hottie nowadays. I didn’t know it then, but I had other love lessons ahead of me, and I couldn’t get to them until the Hottie was a distant memory.
Just wait until you hear that story. I never would have imagined such a strange turn of events, and I dream up this shit for a living.


Liz Flaherty said...

I have to know--are you making your own story into a book? These blog posts--aside from ripping my heart out--are just flat-out interesting. I'm sorry for the Hottie thing, though it sounds like an interlude worth having. Can't wait to read about the next "love lessons."

Bestselling Author SUSAN DONOVAN said...

Yes, Liz. I plan to expand on these essays and write a book. I'm still waiting for an obscenely large contract offer from New York. Barring that, I will self publish. :)

Gail Barrett said...

You test your characters all the time in your novels so they can learn and grow, and that's what happened with the Hottie. He got tested and failed. Some day he will realize that.

Bestselling Author SUSAN DONOVAN said...

Gail - Thank you, my friend. I do wish the Hottie well. but I doubt he gives this incident much thought, one way or the other. :)