This is not a stroke story.
It's an emotionally painful romance.
The only sex that approaches explicit is phone sex.
My life was lonely but safe. The safe was important to me. Especially with women.
I was only window shopping Tuesday morning when I saw it. I'd been single for a long time and intended to stay that way.
The ad on the bulletin board outside the co-op read:
SWF seeks housemate. Must be
patient & kind and willing to be a
father figure for my daughters & son.
Everything else is negotiable.
Leave a message @ xxx-xxxx
My first reaction was a sad chuckle. Single mothers with kids are at a serious disadvantage. Not many guys are looking for an instant family. I sure as hell wasn't.
My second reaction was to notice every mom with kids in the co-op. Her ad left me hoping that each one of them had a patient and kind man in their lives. Anyway, it was when I was leaving the co-op that the insanity hit me like a stroke. (Maybe it was a stroke, most of my brain definitely stopped functioning and I'm still not sure how much I've recovered.) So I wrote down her phone number. Just in case.
About five hours later, there was no doubt that I was losing it. I left her this message:
I saw your ad for a housemate. I'm
pretty sure that at fifty I'm older
than you have in mind. Unless you're
just looking for a decent man to
become a small part of your family
life. My number's xxx-xxxx. Just in
I was calling myself a fool and an idiot and hoping that she wouldn't call when I logged onto XNXX that evening. I was looking for a sexy romance, they're so much less trouble to read than a real one is to live. Believe me, I know.
I was most of the way through an exellent story ("ELLEN" by ELaken-Palmer) when the phone rang. My "Hello" was answered by an unfamiliar woman's voice. I suddenly and completely forgot the story.
"Hi, are you the man that answered my ad for a housemate today?"
"I left a message but I didn't really expect you to call, I thought..."
"That you're too old? You're older than I had in mind but when you said 'Just in case.' it made me hesitate. So I replayed your message and thought about it. You sound like a good and caring person and if you're offering to be our friend, the kids and I can use all the friends we can get. My...our lives have pretty much been hell for way too long. My name's Hope....are you still there?"
God but she talked a lot.
"I'm still here. My name's Don and I've been lonely too long. Every since the ex left, I've pretty much kept to myself. I have to admit that being friends sounds a lot less scary than being housemates."
I still don't know why I opened up so instantly and completely. Maybe because she sounded like a fighter with a good heart. Maybe saying they'd been through hell had something to do with it. Or maybe it was just the result of my suspected stroke. Now it was my turn, "Hope, are you still there?"
"I was just trying to think. I need to tell you a little bit about our troubles. Kind of a warning. We've got some emotional issues. Two men got in serious trouble. I've been telling myself that the worst is over but the scars are pretty deep. I'm still trying to pick up the pieces. Hello?"
"Sorry, you shook loose a few memories. I've got some issues too. I'm not so good at trusting. When the ex left, I kind of fell apart. Pretty bad. What I miss most is being needed. I've just been taking up space for an awful long time now."
Then she started laughing. Hysterically. I was thinking about hanging up when she started squeaking out "I'm sorry" over and over. It took her at least a minute before she could talk. I didn't say a word.
"I'm so sorry. I wasn't laughing at you. It was just that when you said that you miss being needed, I thought that we are just about as needy as you can get and still have hope..."
She was suddenly so quiet that it took me a few moments to realize that she was very softly crying.
"Please don't cry. I know I'm not what you..."
"Thank you. I thought you'd hung up when I couldn't stop laughing. It only occured to me when I said 'hope.' My own name's become a curse. It's gotten so hard to even think about hope, let alone feel it. If you really want to be needed, you're talking to the right person."
"It'd feel good to feel needed again. It sounds like we're both walking wounded. Maybe we can understand and encourage each other a little."
"That sounds good. Thanks Don. God, it's getting late already. Would it be okay to call you again tomorrow night?"
"I can't think of anything I'd like better." And I really couldn't. It made me feel kind of pitiful.
"Thanks. I like how you said that. I'll talk to you then."
So we said our goodnights and hung up.
Wow. I felt almost like I was in love. It was like I was her dad. If she hooked up with a loser for a housemate, I'd want to kill him. If she found a good one, I still might want to kill him. And I didn't even know how old her kids were.
As I sat there and thought about Hope, it seemed kind of odd that she'd be surprised at how late it was. We'd only talked for about five minutes. Then it dawned on me that it was probably because I wasn't going to hear from her again. I was sort of relieved. It'd hurt a lot when the ex left and it still did, even after all these years. I didn't know if I was hoping she'd call or hoping she wouldn't call.
Her first "Hard thing:"
By Wednesday night I'd convinced myself that she wouldn't call and that I'd be better off if she didn't. I reasoned that my life wouldn't get all shook up and stressful. I could stay relaxed and safe. The word "unfulfilled" stayed completely out of my mind. I didn't answer the phone until the third ring and my voice might've wavered a little when I said, "Hello."
"Thank you for answering. I didn't think you would. I was so sure that I almost didn't call. I know that you need to know at least the basics of our troubles. I'm hoping that we can mostly talk about easier things for a while and get to my hard things a little at a time. It isn't easy for me to talk about the hard things. I get pretty nervous and it always makes me talk too much. I'm trying to relax but it's not easy right now....Don?" She didn't sound nervous, she sounded terrified.
"It's okay, I think I understand. If it'll help, try to pretend that I'm holding you and gently stroking your hair."
She was quiet for a little while and then said, "Thank you, that was nice." After another long pause she went on, "The kids and I are sort of alone in the world. I'm thirty-three and we just moved here last year. My parents are out of the picture and it's pretty much just me and them."
"How old are they?"
"Lisa's eighteen, Christine's sixteen, and the twins, Sarah & Peter are fourteen."
"I guess I can understand why it's so hard, single with four..."
"No, that's not it. The kids and I have problems but they're good kids and they take care of me nearly as much as I take care of them. Can you take a turn talking for a little while now? Please?"
"Sure, my story's pretty simple. Several years after the ex left, my son moved away. And I'm not very good at keeping in touch. I've got a few good friends that I see from time to time when they need a hand. I get a small disability pension and my needs are modest. I probably shouldn't say this but I grow a little pot too."
She laughed again but this time it was a gentle relaxed laugh. It made me glad that I'd mentioned the pot.
"You don't sound like a pot grower." Another pause, then she really surprised me, "I kind of need to ask. Can you tell me about yourself...sexually?"
It was one of those rare moments when the perfect thing to say just fell out of my mouth.
"I'm pretty self-sufficient."
It took her a little while to respond but I was proud of my answer and just waited.
"That's more reassuring to me than you can imagine." Another pause, pretty long this time. "Lisa's dad raped me."
As gently as I could I said, "I'm really sorry."
In a strangled rush she said, "I'll call again tomorrow." And she turned off her phone before I could even open my mouth.
I was beginning to understand why she said she'd gone through hell for way too long. I'd also figured out that I was hooked and wanted to talk to her again. Like I'd told her, I needed to be needed. And she needed a friend.
Trust gets shattered:
I felt really good Thursday, full of anticipation. Until she didn't call.
Friday I went to the co-op again. Mostly to look at her housemate ad. It was gone. For the second time I thought she probably was too. By the time I went to bed I was sure that she was gone and that made it my turn to quietly cry. I couldn't stop. My eyes leaked until I thought they'd never stop. The pillow was wringing wet when the phone rang. I only answered it to wish her well as we said goodbye. I could barely croak when I tried to say "Hello."
She sounded even worse than I felt.
"Thank you for answering." A tiny sniff. "I'm sorry I couldn't call last night. I tried to but I just couldn't. I started thinking about the hard things. Don, do you think you could talk about holding me and touching my hair again? Please?" Then she started to really cry.
My heart melted. She was in worse shape than I'd realized. "I can try. Do you have a pillow or something to hug?"
Another sniff, "I've been hugging my 'Scruffy Bear' for over an hour."
"Okay, scoot over a little so I can sit beside you. Now lay your head on my shoulder. Tell me if I'm squeezing your shoulder too tight. Your hair is so soft. Your cheek is so smooth. You can put your arms around me if you want to. It's alright. I won't leave you. I'll be here as long as you need me to. Your hair smells so good. You feel warm and nice. I could hold you like this forever. I want to hold you like this forever. God you feel good." I went on for quite a while before she finally managed to settle down and relax.
"Thank you. You'll can't possibly know how good you make me feel when you do that. I do pretty well during the day. It's at night, after the kids are in bed, that I get lonesome and afraid. I get so scared that I have to curl up and close my eyes and just hide inside my head. I just lose control when I think about the hard things at night."
She lost it again and I gave her another long distance hug, comforting her and gently smoothing her hair back and telling her that I wanted to hold her like that forever. I was starting to get better at giving phone hugs and I knew how much she needed them. God, it felt good to feel needed again. She didn't know it but the phone hugs were as important to me as they were to her. Then she ruined it.
She said, "Thank you. I really am a lot better during the day, pretty close to normal I think. I could even meet you somewhere during the day. If you want to."
It caught me completely off guard.
"Don, are you there?"
"Yeah." I barely got any sound out, I didn't know if she even heard me.
"What happened? Was it something I said?"
"Sort of. It kind of caught me by surprise." I could barely talk.
She figured it out before I could explain myself. "It's okay Don. I don't need to meet you. All I really need is to talk to you and let you talk to me like you're holding me. So I can pretend I'm okay and not afraid and not alone. I really don't need to meet you, at least not any time soon. Please talk to me." She was really sounding desperate and I had to try to explain myself.
"I'll be okay. I'm okay. It was just a shock. I didn't even realize it but now I'm not sure I'm ready to meet you." She'd started to quietly cry again.
"Can you tell me why?"
"I've got this picture of you in my mind and it's perfect. You're not so pretty that I'm afraid you'll leave me. And not so plain that I'll want to leave. And I'm not sure there's anything in between. If you're attractive, I won't be able to trust you. Do you understand?"
"It crushed you when your wife left you."
"Yeah. More than I realized. Until just now. A lot more. It's kind of a shock."
"You really care about me don't you?" It was barely louder than a whisper.
"Yeah. More than I want to. More than I should. I think that's why meeting you scares the hell out of me."
"Can I call you again tomorrow night?"
"I'll be miserable if you don't."
"Don, sometimes you say exactly what I need to hear. I've been thinking. If it's okay with you I'd like to try to tell you a secret instead of saying goodnight."
"Does that mean I should say goodnight now?"
"Yes, if you're ready, I think I am."
"I miss you already. Goodnight."
"My dad raped me, he's Lisa's dad too." Then she was gone again. And I couldn't have talked anytime soon anyway.