Friday, January 30, 2009

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, CONCLUSION

What follows are random afterthoughts from a true story. However, names and other identifying details have been changed, because of that fact.

* * * * *

And saving the best for last... Whatever happened to Bella?

She and I didn't see each other for several months after I stopped visiting the other streetwalkers in Worcester, as it turned out. I did cruise up and down Main Street once in a while, usually after work, just to search for her, but... nothing. Not for a while, anyway.

Bad timing, I guess.

When I did finally find her, I couldn't help but notice that she was now walking with a pronounced limp. Her right calf now had a slight bow shape to it.

When I picked Bella up, she matter-of-factly told me that not long after she and I had last been in touch, she'd ripped off a vic to the tune of close to $200. A few weeks later, he was in Worcester again, spotted Bella, and purposely rammed his car into her.

She almost died.

"Every one of those guys is potentially dangerous, and every one of those guys only has to remember one face. Yours," I'd told her. And for once, I hated the fact that I'd been so right.

In spite of how close we'd been the last time I'd seen her, I almost felt like she'd forgotten who I really was. Bella talked to me like I was one of the many customers she'd stolen from in the past. She told me, almost cheerfully, that because of her deformed leg -- she called it her "Frankenstein leg" -- she wasn't able to run from vics like she did before, so if I actually wanted to do something for the money...

It was at about this time that I reminded her of what we were to each other, or at least, what we had begun to be...

And the friendship -- the real friendship -- resumed.

As it did so, I was struck by the contradictions in Bella.

Here was a young woman who'd steal a man's money, if she could, and if she couldn't, would passively -- as opposed to willingly -- be his plaything. But this was the same woman who'd make the sign of the cross every time we drove by a church, and the same woman who was in tears the day she was picked up by the police for an outstanding warrant... because later that day, her son was scheduled for his First Communion, and she was going to miss it.

Here was a woman who'd literally been without a place to sleep on several occasions. I'd been told about times she'd broken into condemned buildings for shelter. But this was the same woman who would be borderline insulting to a waitress as she gave her oh-so-specific meal order, as if she'd been accustomed to receiving the very best service and accommodations all her life. (And by "oh-so-specific," I mean... well, did you ever see Meg Ryan's character ordering a meal in "When Harry Met Sally... "? Just ordering a tuna sandwich was a project for Bella.)

Here was a woman who would tell me all sorts of creative stories (i.e., lies) in hopes of talking me out of as much money as I could possibly see fit to give her. (Years later, I told her truthfully that I'd known that these scams were indeed scams, but was basically making her work for money I would have given her anyway. I told her I'd been paying for the entertainment. She was amused and furious at the same time, if such a thing is possible.) But this was the same woman who -- once we were firmly established as friends, I should add -- wouldn't steal so much as a dollar from my wallet if I casually left it on the bureau.

During the next three years or so, I fell in and out of touch with Bella several times. We'd usually see each other on a regular basis for a few days or weeks at a time, and then follow each of these periods with one where we didn't see each other at all for months.

But it was rarely dull.

She had an on-again, off-again relationship with a guy named Ronnie. He was never overly friendly to me, but he did accept me as being just a friend of hers. Most men in his exact position would only have tolerated me if they thought I was a trick. He knew that I wasn't, so thankfully, Bella didn't need to produce money every time she visited with me.

Outside of Ronnie, she didn't seem to like men very much. And that extended to almost all men, not just her vics. (There were some molestation issues at some undefined period in her past, as is far too often the case with women I've known.)

But she and I had something special, and in case you're wondering, it stayed platonic between us. The closest we ever came to anything "romantic" (and not sexual), for lack of a better word, was one day in my kitchen, during a period when she'd spent a few days staying with me at my apartment.

She asked me, "David, how do you kiss?" And by "you," she meant me specifically, of course.

Well, the obvious answer to that would be, "It's not really something I can describe... I'd have to show you." But I only said the first half, waiting for her to "pick up the spare," as it were. My hesitation was to avoid seeming even the slightest bit manipulative. "I don't like perverted men!" she had once told me in response to a silly but otherwise harmless joke I'd made where I'd supposedly taken the word "fork" to mean the other, much more popular "F" word.

But she didn't follow through.

Usually, when we were at my home for any length of time, we spent a lot of time watching my boxed sets of "Highlander" episodes on VHS. She enjoyed the series quite a bit, but until I corrected her, thought that the character of "Methos" was named "Meatballs!"

And there was a day when she and I had arrived at my place, both dead tired for one reason or another. We sat on my very small bed, talking for a bit, and before I knew it, we were both reclining, with our heads on the pillow. I don't know which of us dozed off first, but it wasn't long at all before the other one followed.

We awoke at roughly the same time. I thought of making a crack about our having "slept together," but since I generally walked on eggshells when discussing anything remotely sexual with Bella... I didn't.

She told me that she'd never trusted anyone -- outside of boyfriends, naturally -- to the point where she'd allowed something like that to happen. But she felt safe with me.

Her attitude was remarkably upbeat for someone who had lived through -- and was living through -- so much outright crap in her life. When I commented on that one day, she laughed and said "Hakuna matata, baby!"

"Excuse me?"

"Hakuna matata."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It's like... " She paused. "It's like, everything's cool, no worries for the rest of your days, you know?"

"That's obviously not Spanish. Where'd you pick that up?"

"You're kidding, right?" I shook my head, no. "It's from 'The Lion King!' Haven't you seen that?" I shook my head again. "Really?"

"Hey," I replied, rather defensively, "you're the one with two kids, not me."

Bella tried to explain what a good movie it was, for adults as well as children, but I wasn't interested.

If it'll make you feel any better, I did eventually see it, and loved it. Especially the sex scene ("Can You Feel the Love Tonight"). And don't tell me you didn't know that that is what's really going on there.

Bella and I even had a huge falling out, somewhere around 1996. I was going through a short-lived but exasperating financial pinch, but stopped in Worcester to see her.

She asked for money that I couldn't -- not wouldn't -- give. I told her I couldn't help her.

She immediately turned into an outright Bitch. (Yep, with a capital "B.")

I'd dealt with Bella the Addict before, but never like what I dealt with that day. She pretty much accused me of lying to her, of "holding out" on her. "You just got out of the flea market," she said -- this was a Sunday afternoon -- "so don't tell me you got nothin'."

"What I have is going toward my rent," I told her truthfully.

She demanded the money.

Again, I couldn't have afforded to give her anything if I'd wanted to. But telling me to give it to her was showing more gall than she'd ever shown me before. I began to get angry.

"What is this sense of entitlement you have about my money?" I asked her. "Just because I have some doesn't mean I can afford to hand it to you!"

We were in my mother's car that day. (I must have been "in between" cars, since this was more than a year after I'd bought the car which gave me the freedom of mobility that allowed me to move from my sister's house in Southbridge to my own apartment in Webster.) Out of respect for my non-smoking mother, I didn't smoke in her car, nor did I allow anyone else to do so. Knowing this, Bella lit up a Newport and absolutely and childishly refused to put it out.

Well! Disrespecting me was bad enough, but disrespecting my mother, even indirectly... ?

I pulled over and told her to get the hell out of the car. She refused to do that, too.

We drove around some more. I pulled over again. We argued some more. She was still demanding money.

While we were parked in an otherwise-empty parking lot, Bella opened the door to throw out her cigarette (only because she'd finished it). Why she didn't just throw it out the open window, I'll never know.

The parking lot we were in was a fenced-off lot for a strip joint that wouldn't be open for a few hours more. I decided that sitting there for any length of time was probably not a good idea. "Would you please close the door so we can get out of here?" I asked.

Of course, she refused to do that, too.

"Bella, close the door," I repeated. She ignored me. It was only ajar by a little bit, so I reached across her to grab the inside door handle so I could pull it closed, but she braced her leg against it, which opened it far too wide for me to reach it.

I was getting angrier by the minute. "Fine. Be that way," I said, starting the car. I put the transmission in "drive" and drove to the lot's exit. "Are you going to close it now?"

"Nope." She was acting like a four-year-old!

I pulled out of the lot, and into traffic. "Are you going to close it now?"

"Nope."

"Okay, have it your way," I said, with a deceptively calm tone. I took a side street which ended on Main Street.

"Where are you going?"

"Main Street." I paused. "You realize, of course, that if you keep that door open, a cop will spot us, and stop us." She didn't answer. "I'm not doing anything illegal. But the cops know you." She didn't speak, nor did she look at me. "I sure hope you don't have any outstanding warrants or... "

She closed the car door.

I drove across Main Street, and onto a side street beyond a convenience store. I stopped the car. "Get out."

She didn't actually say "no," but the defiant look in her eyes said it for her.

"If you'd like, I'll give you three different reasons why you'd better change that 'no' to a 'yes' and get the fuck out of this car, now."

That's the thing about me. When I do get angry or am otherwise determined about a particular subject, I brook no argument. And I'm usually so agreeable and easy-going that people don't know how to deal with it when I'm not. But that's their problem.

Her features softened. She looked defeated. And she was. She opened the door and stepped out, but before she closed the door -- gently -- she sadly said, "I just know you're never gonna stop for me again," like she'd done nothing wrong.

Well, "never" ended up being several months. I was in Worcester for legitimate errands once in a while during those months, and I saw her a couple of times, but after purposely making eye contact with her, I drove right by her.

Eventually, though, I stopped. And she apologized. Repeatedly. Profusely.

Finally, she said, "So, we're back to square one? Clean slate?"

"Actually," I said, "I was looking forward to having you kiss my ass just a bit more before I give in and forgive you completely." She stared at me, wide-eyed. "Kidding. Only kidding."

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"Remember when you said you could give me three good reasons to get out of your car?"

"Yesssss... "

"What were they?"

I laughed. "Who knows? I just made it up to sound threatening." I was tempted to check out the look on her face, but didn't. "Worked, though, didn't it?"

She didn't reply. I suppose she didn't dare.

It took a little while, but our friendship did eventually get back to where it had been. I suppose that's a good thing, too, because Bella actually ended up saving my life. And not just once, but maybe even twice.

No, really.

Hell, it'd be three times if you were to count that time she showed up while I was having my little confrontation with Jeff, but I don't count that. I may have been in a tight spot there, but I never really thought that my life was in danger.

Denial? Perhaps. But it's all mine, baby!

Anyway, let me explain that "maybe even twice."

My friend John had owned a large, heavy television with all sorts of cool options. One day, it kinda/sorta went "snap, crackle, pop" and died. John replaced it with a new set, and told me that if his old one was able to be repaired, I could have it, as long as I footed the bill to fix it.

Sounded good to me.

The repair costs were hefty -- somewhere over $200 -- but according to the cool old guy who ran the repair shop, the manufacturer no longer included half the features (for free, that is) on newer versions of this model than the one that I had. So I ended up saving several hundred dollars.

The TV stayed in my car for a few days after I'd had it repaired. On the day I decided to move that big bastard into my apartment, Bella was with me.

"Want some help with that?" she asked.

"Nahhh, I can handle it." I made it from the car to my porch, up the six or seven steps and across the porch itself, through the kitchen, and into the hallway... where I stopped. The living room -- the TV's ultimate destination -- was only one room away.

But something inside of me was saying, "Put the set down here and now, or both it and the idiot carrying it are going to fall... and land badly."

I didn't like the way I was breathing, and my chest felt like someone was standing on it.

"Are you okay?" asked Bella. I turned to face her, and I don't know what she saw other than my gorgeous self, but she looked like something had scared the crap out of her. She took one of my hands and yanked me toward the bedroom.

"Lay down," she commanded.

Somewhere in my mind, I remember composing a feeble joke to the effect of "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache," but the words didn't want to make the long journey from brain to lips, so my mouth stayed uncharacteristically shut.

I'd had several instances of chest pains before this one, often after episodes of physical or emotional stress. This time, however, I thought back and couldn't recall any prior experiences that left me in so much pain, as well as being somewhat breathless and relatively light-headed.

Bella asked me once more if I was okay, and started talking to me. At first, my thinking was a bit fuzzy, so whatever she was saying didn't really register. But after a while, I started picking real words and sentences out of the calming sound her voice was making.

She told me about how she'd tried her hand at modelling when she was in high school. From previous conversations, I knew that there were a lot of unhappy moments in her childhood. But during these few minutes, as her soothing voice regaled me with events of her past, it was as if all the bad things had never touched her.

I've read enough about heart attacks to know that one of the pieces of sage advice they give you when you think you're having one is to relax and remain calm.

Relax and remain calm.

Riiiiiight.

I don't know about you, but my general reaction to the remotest thought that I may be having a heart attack is to think, "OHMIGOD!!! I'M HAVIN' A FUCKIN' HEART ATTACK!!! I'M GONNA DIE!!! I'M GONNA FUCKIN' DIE!!! WAAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!"

...or words to that effect.

But Bella distracted me, which did a better job at calming me down than anything else probably could have.

It was only later, when I was returning her to Worcester, that Bella told me about the day her mother had had a heart attack. Bella stood there watching for a few moments... completely panicked... and left the house!

The only reason her mother ended up being rushed to the hospital that day was that a neighbor chanced upon the scene and called an ambulance.

But when I evidenced heart attack symptoms, Bella sat with me, held my hand, and "talked me down," as it were.

However, since I'm not 100% sure that these "symptoms" were a bona fide heart attack, I call this the day that Bella "maybe" saved my life.

There was another time, a year or two later, when she definitely saved my life. A real personal story. And although I hate doing this to you yet again, because it's so very personal... I'm not going to tell it.

Sorry.

No, I really am.

But suffice it to say that if she hadn't been there for me, I honestly wouldn't be alive to be writing this.

So. That's my Bella. A manipulative, selfish, uptight, demanding, untrustworthy little drama-queen/hooker/thief...

...whom I happen to love.

I'm not one of those people who says "I love you" and expects or demands that the sentiment is immediately returned. So the first couple of times I said it, I didn't expect to hear her say the same to me. And she didn't.

But it was possibly the third time I said 'I love you" to her that she replied, "I love you, too," and I was floored.

"Really?"

"No, fake," she replied sarcastically.

Damn. She'd really meant it. "I... just never expected to hear that from you," I said, truthfully.

In 1998, Bella wound up incarcerated in MCI-Framingham. During the months she was there, I wrote to her, visited her, and sent money to her, just as I had written to, visited, and sent money to Dawn three years earlier.

After Bella got out, she moved in with her mother (and Bella's two sons), got a real job at a Worcester restaurant, stayed "clean," and seemed to be getting her life together. I called her as often as I could -- which was difficult for me, as I didn't get a telephone in my Webster apartment until three or four years ago! -- and saw her two or three times, before we fell out of touch again. And this time, it was for a long time.

The next time I saw her was about three years ago. Unfortunately, she was using drugs again (which insured that she was no longer at her mom's). I quite bluntly pointed out to her that at forty years of age (or thereabouts) she needed to clean up her act once and for all. Predictably, my unsolicited advice fell on deaf ears.

She and I followed our usual pattern, meaning that we were in frequent contact for several weeks until falling out of touch, as always.

And now? Well, after briefly being in touch with Bella's sister Corrinne, I was told that Bella had landed back in MCI-Framingham on a robbery charge. I don't have any details about the robbery in question. It could have been a somewhat standard theft, or maybe some vic had the gall to complain to the police after being ripped off by Bella.

For various reasons, I haven't written to her in prison. I keep telling myself I'm going to, but keep procrastinating.

I'm famous for that.

So, as with the "ending" of my "hangin' with the hookers" gig, the story of Bella ends, not with a bang, but a whimper, as the old saying goes.

At least I know she's alive, and relatively well. And for now, I'll settle for that.

And here's a little bonus for y'all:

In the middle of 1994, when I was a part-time comic book dealer, I chanced upon the following illustration of a character in a title called Harem Nights.

Amazing.

Without ever having known her, penciller Yanick Paquette and inker Michel Lacombe had combined their talents to provide what I can honestly say is a strikingly-close image of Bella as she was roughly fifteen years ago!

Enjoy... and thanks for your time.

4 comments:

  1. Where to start with this. Great movie reference on the food ordering. I was thinking if it was something to do with, say, decorating an apartment or house, I'd've referenced Myrna Loy's scene in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House"( the wallpaper ).

    That fenced off parking lot wouldn't happen to be by the old Lamplighter, would it? Now known as Hurricane Betty's

    I know all about those chest pains. I get a lot of them myself. But after my last doctor visit, I've kinda stayed away from the medical field, except where my Mom is concerned.

    And a "vic" actually complaining to the "MAN" he was shafted? Too funny.

    To bad Bella regressed. It realyy souned like she was trying to get it together. But I guess some old habits are hard to break,right?

    I think I have a couple issues of Harem Nights. If Bella looked like that...never mind. Great story, David. And so was yours.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "That fenced off parking lot wouldn't happen to be by the old Lamplighter, would it? Now known as Hurricane Betty's"

    The same. I have readers from various parts of the country, even the world, but it's nice to have a couple of people like yourself who know the areas I write about.

    "I think I have a couple issues of Harem Nights. If Bella looked like that...never mind."

    There were only a couple of shots that reminded me of her, in spite of the fact that the art team was good enough to keep the characters looking consistent from one panel to the next. But it was only the one picture I reprinted that really slapped me in the face with its similarity to Bella. And yes, "Harem Nights" was a very well-written story, too. Better than most in its genre.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like to dive into a story, become a part of it at times. Knowing the area is a bit better 'cause I can relate to it. Most times, however, I just go with the ol' imagination machine.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So, it's been a couple of years since you posted this and you know I have to ask...Have you been in touch with Bella since then?

    ReplyDelete

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