"The Love I Almost Died For"
Now at last I can talk about it. Because I'm free of it. Free of a love that almost destroyed me. Her name was Belle. Let it go at that. I would have died for her. Does that sound wild? It's true. I almost did. I came within seconds of dying for her—and with her. I went through the tortures of the damned for her. I loved her in a way no 18-year-old kid is equipped to love a woman. Then she walked out on me. Or I drove her away. It doesn't matter.
For a year and a half I went into a shell. I became bitter and cynical and uncommunicative. In six months I'd aged from an innocent teenager to an angry old man. I had a stone for a heart. Only time could help me, and time is awfully slow medicine when you hurt that badly.
Even three years later, when a sort of scab had grown over them, the wounds still kept throbbing with pain. I'd buried myself in my work, gone out with other girls, but it was no good. It had been sordid and ugly and degrading, and I still couldn't get her out of my system. I honestly thought I'd never get over it, and I cursed myself for thinking of her.
Then one day I went into my old hangout, Hansen's Drug Store, in Times Square. And there she was! Out of the past, untouched by time or conscience, as far as I could see. And as beautiful as ever, which I could see only too well. She was the same angel faced blonde who'd tried so many times to destroy herself and who'd come so close to ruining me. The second our eyes met I could see that she was not angry and disgusted with me, as she was the nightmarish day we parted. There was a 13 year difference between us! She was 31 and I was 18 when we met. Now, as she stood smiling at me in Hansen's, it seemed that only I had gotten three years older.
For three years I'd kept hating her and everything she stood for, and secretly hoping that somehow I could hold her in my arms again. I should have come unstuck at the sight of her, but I felt a strange calm. We talked as if what had happened never had happened. She'd never qualify for any medals for coyness, and she hadn't changed.
"It would be just like old times," she laughed.
I doubted it, and I feared it. But I had to find out.
We went somewhere where we could be off by ourselves. It was like reliving a dream. It was all so familiar. Only this time, somehow, the trap didn't swallow me up. I was laughing inside all the time I embraced her and kissed her. I was laughing because suddenly, once and for all, I didn't care. I really didn't care! I didn't hold back. I wanted to test myself all the way. And nothing happened. It was like a cathartic. All the festering poison had been flushed out.
"So long, honey," I laughed. I was amazed at how released I felt. "It was nice seeing you again."
She didn't know how nice—because this time I walked away, and I walked away whistling, not heartbroken.
I was no longer sorry for myself, no longer sorry it had happened, no longer sorry for anything. I was cured. And I knew I would never be hurt again.
I don't have to hide from it anymore. I can think about it and talk about it without any sweat. All the hurt is gone. Gone for keeps.
Four years ago, I was a kid with wide-eyed dreams of crashing show business. Days I attended Hunter College in the Bronx. Most nights I used to end up at the Spotlight Cafe on 78th Street near Broadway. I knew the guitar player in the combo there, and they used to let me diddle on the drums and sing some Calypso songs. It was kicks sipping cokes, relaxing and performing—even for free—in a night club.
Then one day while I was noodling on the drums, this traffic stopping blonde came in and looked at me with laughing, appraising eyes. I turned red. I saw her lean over to talk to the bartender. She motioned in my direction. I found out later she was asking who I was. He told her. She introduced herself and asked if she could talk to me a minute.
"A minute?" I thought with the brashness of my youth. "Lady, you could talk to me forever."
I dug everything about her—the flashing pearly whites that went so great with those baby blue eyes and her baby-faced beauty. This was a gorgeous doll. I could see that she had ten years, maybe more, on me. But on her it looked just right.
"I like the way you handle the drums," she smiled. "I'm trying to get up an act, a double. I need a partner. A bongo player-—like you. You'd have to learn a couple of simple dance steps. And you'd have to travel. We open with a tour of South America. Interested?"
Interested! It was everything I'd dreamed of. I was as eager as a kid the night before Christmas. She warned there would be no shortcuts, no easy way. There would be long, backbreaking rehearsal to get the act in shape. How was I to suspect she was conning me? She made it sound so plausible. Naturally, I believed her —every pathological lie she uttered, from lie one on.
We worked out the first day in a Manhattan rehearsal hall. At the end of the second day's rehearsal she suggested I go home with her to her apartment in New Jersey so we could talk over some ideas for the act. We started to go over a few routines when she suddenly grabbed her side, turned pale and fainted. I caught her just as she was about to hit the floor. After a minute she opened her eyes and smiled weakly at me.
"Are you all right?" I asked. I was really frightened. "Is there anything I can do?"
"I'm fine," she smiled, putting her hand behind my head and pulling my face to hers. "Kiss me, Bobby."
I nervously helped her to a chair and went to get her a glass of water. She took a sip and said, "I'm afraid we can't do anything more today." I waited to make sure she was okay before leaving. She started to get up, and ignored my warnings that she was too weak.
"I'm all right," she said as she walked me to the door. "Kiss me good night."
I gave her a light peck on the cheek. I assumed uneasily that this, as the saying goes, was show business.
"You can do better than that," she whispered.
The first thing I knew she had her arms around me and gave me a kiss that took my breath away. Then she took me by the hand, and led me to the bedroom.
It was my first experience with the outside world. Nothing like that had ever happened to me. I didn't realize until later—until too late, as a matter of fact—the full implications of the torrid romance into which she had initiated me.
Even though Belle showed up for rehearsal the next day, I noticed that she was pale and kind of listless. I didn't doubt her for a second when she said she didn't feel too well and once more asked me to take her home. We weren't at her place long before she doubled up and began groaning. She started to retch. Her face grew livid.
I felt panicked. I wanted to call a doctor, but she shook her head. "You're going to have to help me, Bobby," she said.
That's when she told me that her appendix had been acting up the past couple of weeks. She asked me to keep applying ice packs, and said not to call a doctor unless she couldn't stop screaming.
I broke out in a cold sweat. I was scared. I'd never had anyone that sick on my hands before, and I kept wishing she'd let me get help.
The ice packs didn't seem to do much good. After a while, she got completely hysterical. I had to slap her to calm her down. I didn't like the looks of things, so I called a doctor anyway. The minute he got there, he sent for an ambulance. They said if she'd reached the hospital ten minutes later she would have been a goner. Her appendix would have burst.
Going through something like that with someone makes you awfully close to them. When Belle got home from the hospital, she kept telling me she didn't know what she would have done without me. And she insisted on showing her gratitude.
It was only a few days later that we also resumed rehearsing. Belle never lost sight of the act. I'm sure it was that, more than anything else, which enabled me to rationalize my bizarre relationship with her. My prime purpose, or so I kept telling myself, was still to get into show business. Belle said she needed me, and proved it by deeds as well as words. At my age that made me feel twelve feet tall.
I was her lover and her nurse. I watched over her like a puppy. I sat with her through spells of irritability and depression. I held her hand when she was moaning. I comforted her when she cried. And I returned her kisses when she put her arms around me.
"You saved my life," she whispered. "I belong to you."
We became inseparable, rehearsing by day, never tiring of each other's embraces at night. Without fully realizing it, I had fallen in love. I thought it odd when she took turns introducing me to people as her brother, her cousin or her nephew. A couple of times she even introduced me as her son—and didn't laugh about it until later when we were alone.
"I like to see the expression on people's faces," she explained. "It's just a joke. You're not going to deny me a little fun, are you?"
How could I deny her anything— let alone suspect her?
Soon I was so hopelessly gone on her that I kept asking her why we didn't get married. She would just press her cheek against mine and put me off.
It also struck me in passing that it was kind of peculiar that while she was supposed to be in love with me, she kept taking money from a friend of mine who knew her before I did, and who kept staring at me in a strange way. But I wasn't eager to look any gift horse in the mouth— particularly such an angel faced one. I just put it out of my mind. She also was insatiably affectionate, and in my inexperience even that didn't make me wonder too much. I had no basis for comparison. I not only gave Belle the benefit of every doubt. I didn't even give my doubts the benefit of consideration.
All this time, she kept up the pretense of preparing the act. Every now and then she would tell me about new deals she had cooking. She carried the hoax so far that we even auditioned for a couple of agents. Meanwhile things got rough. I had no income and had to borrow from friends. I didn't even want to think about how Belle got her money, except that I knew this friend of mine was staking her. I wanted to believe it was just friendship, so that's what I believed —as long as I could.
No extremes of deception were too great for her. Once to keep up my interest she even drew up a phony movie contract. She came up with a phony picture title, and convinced me that they wanted us for a featured part that would give us six weeks work in Hollywood. She must have gone through a lot of trouble, too, because the forms were very legitimate looking, and they bore the signatures of well known agency men and producers. She named two big stars who were supposed to play the leads.
As we kept working on the act, our love grew to a point where I was practically never away from her side. The longer we knew each other the more erratic she became. But by then I was hooked. I couldn't pull out if I wanted, and I didn't want to. I became dependent on her for every move I made, every breath I took.
She got so possessive and irrational that I didn't know which way was up. One day I said I thought I'd take a day off to see my family. She screamed and yelled that I didn't love her anymore or I'd never think of doing anything like that. It took very little to trigger a depression jag. We had terrible fights—mostly when she accused me of looking at other girls. She was uncontrollably jealous—not because of me, I know that; but because of her feminine ego.
Twice after such arguments she actually tried to kill herself. Once I was sitting on the couch waiting for her to come in from the kitchen. She called out, "I'll be in in a little while."
There was something in her voice that wasn't quite right. I don't know what made me do it. but I got up to see what she was doing. As I reached the kitchen, I could smell the gas, and found a chair jammed against the door. I pulled the chair away, shoved open the door, and found her with her head in the oven.
I dragged her to the window for fresh air, and gave her artificial respiration. Finally she came to. I should have walked out then, but I didn't have the strength or the sense. Instead I wept and apologized to her. I begged her to live. I promised never to do anything to make her unhappy. I told her I'd never look at another woman. At the time it didn't even occur to me that if I'd dozed off on the couch we'd both have died.
Her fits of despondence came more often and lasted longer. Another time she ran to the bathroom and tried to kill herself with a razor. My life was a nightmare. At 18, I found myself a spellbound captive of a manic-depressive 31-year-old woman.
I seemed unable to convince her that I cared enough for her. It was crazy. She was crazy, and I nearly went out of my own mind trying to cope with her.
One afternoon we were in her car, arguing while she was driving along Columbus Avenue in Manhattan. I couldn't reason with her, so I got out.
"I can't go on like this anymore," she shieked. "I don't want to live. I'm going to kill myself."
I ran after the car yelling for her to stop.
"Okay," I said. "I don't want to live without you, either. I'm going with you. We'll die together."
She turned down a dead end street, and pushed the accelerator to the floorboard. The car roared toward the building dead ahead. In a minute it would be over. We'd ram head on into the brick wall, and all the agony would be blotted out.
We weren't ten feet from the building when Belle had a sudden change of heart. She swerved on two wheels. The car screeched like mad as it barely avoided the building and almost overturned in the process. She fell over the steering wheel and sobbed like a baby.
"I couldn't do it with you in the car, Bobby," she wept. "Not with you in the car."
The torment might never have come to an end if not for the auto accident the day Belle was supposedly going to a meeting to work out the phony Hollywood movie contract she had me all stirred up about.
She and the man with her were thrown from the car and hospitalized for a week. He turned out to be my old buddy, the guy who was supporting her all the time we were getting up our act. If not for the accident, I might never have found out. Naturally I visited them both.
When I saw Belle, she had a story all set. She warned me not to listen to anything my friend had to say.
"He's full of vicious lies," she said.
I believed her—for a while. Then the evidence got too strong to ignore. I found out how she'd been playing both of us for suckers, how she'd lied to him and lied to me, how she'd lied to her ex-husband and bled him dry before running out on him.
A couple of days after she was out of the hospital, I couldn't stand it anymore. I confronted her with all the lies and deceptions, the lies about our act, the phony movie contract, the other men, the shabby tricks. All the dirty lies came out, the big ones, the small ones, the green ones, the white ones.
I threw them all up to her. This time she didn't even bother to deny them. I was so sick and disgusted that I even threatened to tell the police she'd forced her ex-husband into a life of crime in order to get money for her.
"You do," she said, "and I'll have you killed."
She didn't show an ounce of remorse.
"You don't know how to love a woman," she sneered. "If you don't like it, why don't you leave?"
So I left. I went home, and it should have been like a breath of fresh air. But it wasn't. I discovered that I didn't care how she'd lied and deceived me, how she'd double-timed me, I missed her so much I broke down and cried.
A week passed, and I was a wreck. I went to her house and found her packing. She was going to Florida. I pleaded with her to stay. I told her how much I loved her, how wrong I was. She was untouched.
"No you don't love me, little boy," she said. "We're through."
It was three and a half years between that day and the next time I saw Belle at Hansen's Drug Store.
The first year and a half without her I was the most miserable, unhappy human being. I had a craving for her that I thought I'd never be able to lick. My involuntary withdrawal was a worse agony than my addiction. I cursed Belle and longed for her at the same time. I brooded and torched in a single twisted emotion. Since I couldn't take out my hate on her, I took it out on the world.
But time, which laughs at all afflictions of the heart, worked its slow cure. I began to discover compensations taking the place of bitterness. I realized that my inner strength had survived a great test. It occurred to me that if I ever was going to crack up, my six months with Belle would have given me all the excuses I needed. I could have turned to drink, anything. But I didn't.
Now I can look back and take it for what it was—a great lesson in life. It took me three and a half years to get over it, but it speeded up my maturity and pushed up the timetable in my career. I have Belle to thank for that, if for nothing else. She taught me that this is not an easy world. When she walked out on me, my career became an outlet for, all my pent up aggressions. In an effort to forget what I couldn't forget, I went at my work with savage single-mindedness. I think that's one of the reasons I'm where I am today at 22 instead of having to wait until I was 38, both as a person and as an entertainer.
I talk about it now and nothing happens inside. A year from now I may not talk about it anymore—not because it's apt to bother me again, but because, except for what I learned, it has lost all importance to me. Day by day, Belle becomes a more shadowy figure. The suicide attempts, the whole unbelievable mess used to give me nightmares. I used to get clammy thinking about it. These things are hazy now. That's the great thing about time.
And there's a great thing about experience. It teaches you so much if only you let it. One thing I know. I'll never be hurt again. You can make book on that.
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