This is not a stroke story.
It's an emotionally painful romance.
The only sex that approaches explicit is phone sex.
I was still upset Saturday morning. I thought she probably was too. I was pretty sure that she'd call but I didn't know when. I sure didn't expect it to be in the middle of the day.
"This is a nice surprise, I didn't expect you to call until tonight."
"I was just hoping to talk a little during the day. When I'm not such a mess. I wanted to show you that I really am better during the day. Can you talk for a little while?"
"I can talk for as long as you want, but I've got to warn you, I'm just as screwed up during the day as I am at night."
"It's okay, I just called to talk a little, that's all I'll ever really need."
"Hope, can I ask you a question? It's kind of important to me."
It was a few seconds before she answered, "I can't talk about some things. Not even during the day."
"You weren't really looking for a housemate when you put your ad on the bulletin board were you?"
I started to panic when she hesitated again.
"I told myself I was. But you're right, inside I knew better. I'm not even ready for a real boyfriend. I just needed to find someone that could care about me. And the kids."
After a few moments she went on, "I only got two other calls before yours. They were both looking for bedmates. I took the ad down Wednesday morning."
"I'm glad. Do you feel okay talking about what's going on in your lives right now?"
"There're still some things happening that hurt. But they're getting settled and slowly moving into our past."
"If it's okay to ask, how are you doing financially?"
"I'm pretty self-sufficient."
If my mouth had been full, I would have sprayed it all over. I think I giggled. "That's about a perfect answer. Exactly what I hoped to hear and a payback too."
"Aren't you going to ask me how I make a living and take care of the kids too?"
"I was wondering."
"Brace yourself, this may be a little shocking."
"I get a little child support, I sell stuff on the internet, and I work as a surrogate mother."
She was right, I was shocked.
"Are you working now?"
"I'm almost seven months along....and I'm getting a substantial bonus for twins.....are you okay with that?"
"I'm okay with it but I've got to tell you that it turns me on. Are you okay with that?"
Now she took a turn giggling.
"Aren't you going to ask me what I sell on the internet?"
"The surrogate mother business kind of distracted me. What do you sell?"
I was nearly speechless. The term "pregnant pause" exploded in my head. I wasn't far from another explosion about three feet below that one. "You've got my attention now, Mr. Happy's waking up too."
She giggled again, "I was pretty sure that if pregnant got to you then breast milk would too...Don, I'm not frigid, I just can't trust men, at least not anytime soon. If you want to touch yourself, it would turn me on too."
"Hope, this is going to be over way too quick for you."
"All I need is for you to talk, sort of like when you hold me at night."
So I told her exactly what I was doing until I made my mess. Then I started telling her what I'd be doing for her, if I was with her. It didn't take her very long to get just a little noisy. When she quieted down, I gave her a long, slow phone hug, this time with kisses. Then she ruined it again.
Very quietly she said, "I love you."
It felt exactly like the day before. And she figured it out in about three seconds.
In exactly the same quiet voice, "I really wish I hadn't said that."
"I love you too." It was all I could do to force the words out. They scared me shitless.
"Thank you" Then she laughed. "I've got a mess to clean up. Can I call you again tonight? It means a lot to me."
"I missed you when you didn't."
There was a little pause and then in a rush, like before, she said, "Dad's still in prison and I'm still glad."
And she was gone again. I just hoped that it was her last secret.
When the phone rang Saturday night, I'd been thinking a lot.
"I'm laying on my bed naked and my breast pump just broke. What should I do?"
I was so screwed and I knew it instantly. My head was full of mixed up feelings and there was no way I could be what she needed right now. So I did what I'm good at. I bent over and stuck my foot in my mouth, right up to the knee.
"Hope, I need to talk a little first."
After a long pause it was my turn to say: "I really wish I hadn't said that."
After a heart stopping moment she started laughing. And I started to breath again.
"I think I can meet you if you can be patient and help me work up to it....if you still want to. I've sort of got a plan."
"Okay, I lied. The breast pump is fine, let me hook it up and I'll call you right back."
Fifteen long minutes later the phone rang.
"I got what I deserved for lying. The damned breast pump really is broken now. Can you tell me about your plan?"
"If you can tell me what you look like I think it'll help."
"I can try but it might make it easier if you can tell me what you want me to look like."
"Mostly, I just hope you're kind of average. And you aren't real heavy." I almost said "Oh shit" out loud. If she thought she was even a little overweight, I'd really stepped in it.
"I'll start with the worst. My chest is about normal for a woman that's been lactating for fifteen years. They're big. And I'm about as heavy as the average woman that's seven months pregnant with twins. Otherwise, I'm not really fat or skinny, so I think that's good. I'm a little short so my breasts look bigger than they are. I've thought about getting them reduced and I still might. I think you could call me pretty average if I do. I've got brown hair and brown eyes.
"The thing about me that's screwed up is the me that's inside. I'm not kidding. I may never be able to be alone with a man. I get panic attacks. I think I'll get better, but I'm not yet. That's why the phone is such a big deal to me. Could you give me a really good hug now? I need it bad. I feel like a cow. A really scared cow."
So I did. I told her how I had a thing for pregnant women. And how much I loved big breasts. I told her how good it felt to hold her and comfort her. I took a long time doing it. Then I asked her to give me a hug back and she made me feel safe and loved, and it was wonderful. After a while she reminded me that she was still naked and that her breasts were leaking something awful. Next she told me to do what she was doing. She started by unbuckling my belt. One slow step at a time she undressed me then laid down on the bed beside me. Then she said it was my turn.
I picked up her left breast using both hands and did my best to replace the broken breast pump with my lips. When she giggled I gently reminded her that this was important to me and I not only enjoyed it but wanted to do it to make her more comfortable. Her lips were my lips and their touch on her breast was full of love and tenderness. As we took turns talking softly it slowly led to each of us having another mess to clean up. It was quite a while after we'd made our messes when I said goodnight as lovingly as I could. In her usual rush of words she said, "My twin brother's name is Chris and we fell in love. And he's Christine's dad." Then she was gone. And I instantly missed her again.
It was raining when I woke up Sunday morning. Hope called just before noon. The first thing she said was, "Now it's your turn to tell me what you look like. I just hope you look as kind and gentle as you sound."
"Okay, I'm fifty and I look like it. I've spent a lot of years in the sun. I used to work hard and was in pretty good shape then. For the last ten years I've had to slack off. I'm pretty average now, in every way I can think of except maybe height. I'm 5'9" and about ten pounds overweight. I've got light brown hair and hazel eyes. I don't think I look scary or threatening or anything. Does that tell you what you wanted to know?"
"I told you that my breasts are big."
It took me a couple seconds but I finally figured it out.
"Just barely seven inches on a good day when I was about sixteen....And I told you how I feel about the size of your breasts."
When she finally stopped laughing she said, "That's my favorite size." And started laughing again, just as hard.
When she'd settled down she said, "I'm really sorry that I can't get naked right now and do what we did last night again." After a little pause she went on, "Have you thought any more about meeting somewhere eventually?"
I answered very quietly, "I think I'd like to exchange some pictures if that's alright. Can you send one with your kids too?"
She said, "I was hoping you'd want to see what the kids look like. All the pictures are about six months old. They're already in an envelope with a note, all I need is your address."
We exchanged addresses and she asked me if she could call me that night. She lived less than ten miles away, about five miles outside of town.
I told her I loved her and that I'd miss her until she called.
She was quiet for so long that I started to panic again. Then she choked out: "Chris was killed by a drunk driver just before Christine was born. I died with him." And she was gone again.
I'd never heard so much pain in my life.
After her last words earlier, I didn't really expect her to call again Sunday night. My "Hello" was a quiet one.
She asked me to hug her forever and I did my best for what seemed like hours. Eventually she said very softly, "Thank you. I love you. I'll call you tomorrow night." And that was all. She'd quietly cried the whole time.
I mailed her two pictures Monday morning and spent a very unpleasant three hours with my therapist in the afternoon. Five minutes after we got started he canceled his other two afternoon appointments. He basically tried to make it into one long suicide prevention session. He warned me that two people with serious issues very seldom produced a happy or well adjusted couple. I knew he was right and I hated him for it. He told me that a woman that had bore children both by her father and a brother was not likely to ever recover emotionally. Even if she hadn't been raped. I hated him even more.
I told him what had happened to me when she offered to meet me. He told me that he didn't think that I was ready for a serious relationship. That just made me feel pathetic. He told me that if he hadn't been my therapist for so long he wouldn't be giving me his personal cell phone number. In case I had a crisis. I just sat there while he wrote it down on a business card and handed it to me. That was when I started to wonder if Hope might be better off without me. I was holding his card in my hand, staring at it blankly when he asked me what the relationship between Hope and her dad was like now. Before I could say anything the word THERAPIST on his card came into focus and morphed into: THE RAPIST. That was when I realized he really was right and I asked him if he could help me make ending it as easy as possible on Hope. He had several suggestions and the last hour of the session went slightly better.
I left scared shitless and stayed that way. In spite of my therapist's best advice I had no idea what I was going to say when Hope called.
She sounded seriously stressed when she finally called that night. I'm sure I did too, I sure as hell was. I was amazed that she was so quiet, she usually talked a lot when something was bothering her. I finally told her that I saw a counselor every Monday. (There was no way that I was going to say THE RAPIST to her.) She was quiet for too long then said that she saw a counselor every Monday too. She said that every once in a while it made her feel a little better. I asked her if it helped her with the hard things and instantly regreted it. She said, "Not really." and started quietly crying. I started to panic when she didn't want to be held. I asked her if they'd talked about me. She said, "Yes, did you talk about me?" I told her that we did. We were both quiet for a little while then she softly asked, "Did your counselor say that we shouldn't try to get together too?"
That was when I suddenly realized that we both might never get another chance to not die alone. And both of our counselors could go fuck themselves.
So I lied. "Yeah, just before I stood up and quietly told him that he had room in his schedule for a new client at 1:00 next Monday." Then I held my breath and prayed like never before to a god that I didn't really believe in.
I nearly passed out before she said, "When I fired mine I didn't do it quietly." I still think she was lying too.
Then I told her that I loved her and she did the same for me.
After a minute I had to say, "I'm still scared to death about seeing your pictures and meeting you."
"I wish I could tell you that I feel safe enough to be alone with you soon. I can only say I'm doing the best I can." She sounded both afraid and quietly determined.
"The thought of trusting anyone to never leave me just terrifies me. If it's humanly possible, I'll learn to trust again."
"Thank you for trying so hard. If we make it as far as a chance to be alone together, I want you to know I'll be trying just as hard."
I really meant it when I said "Thank you." Then I had to ask, "Is there any chance that I'll get your pictures in tomorrow's mail? The waiting is killing me."
"You should, they left here in today's mail." She was quiet for a few seconds and then added, "I can't seem to get my new breast pump to work right. Can you think of anything I could try?"
At least we both used towels to catch our messes. We talked about nothing for a little while and then she told me that she had something important to say. She paused and then she said: "Don't interrupt me until I'm done....I got the kids together earlier today. I told them about you. I told them about your fear. I told them that I thought that we were both falling in love. I told them that you knew that I can't be alone with a man. I told them that I had hope for you and I. I told them that I was scared, bad. Don, I wrote all these things down so I wouldn't forget to tell them something important. Then I asked them how they felt about you and I trying to get together. They all took turns talking and when they were done each one of them had said their own version of: 'I'll walk on hot coals for you if it'll help.' Then we all held each other while I cried....I'm done now."
I was kind of stunned and I couldn't think of anything to say so I just said, "Thank you."
Then she very quietly said, "I love you...goodnight." And was gone. I was so in love and so scared. And I still didn't even know what she looked like.