Little Cardboard Men, Part II: Jeremy



At last I felt like I might really have been able to move on. I had done my best with Lane. (If you haven’t yet, you might want to read Little Cardboard Men, Part I: Lane, which you can do by clicking this link -----> https://www.scriptoriaproofreading.com/post/little-cardboard-men-part-i-lane). But, you can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed. Loving an addict can make you a very lonely person. It isolates you. I was tired, and in need of the company of good people, so I started spending more time with the people in the next office over from mine. I, unfortunately, also started spending time with a married co-worker from my own office. Just another knucklehead move on my part. I love that term - knucklehead. In boot camp, drill sergeants weren’t allowed to swear at us, or use profanity when referring to, or screaming at us. They did it anyway, of course, but when we were out, marching around post, or in the chow hall, the worst we got was, “What’s the matter with you, knucklehead???!!!” But, anyway, yeah, I was lonely and looking for the attention. A lonely knucklehead. My short-lived affair with the married dude — Did I mention he was also my boss? Eeek. — came to a screeching halt, however, when I met Jeremy.

Now, I feel like I should interject here for a minute. It probably sounds like all I did was jump from man-to-man, with little else happening in my life, and with no breaks in between. This is far from the truth! You can suffer with me later through what will be “The Drought” - a tremendously long break in-between men. And if I thought you’d find it at all interesting, I’d tell you all about the co-ed volleyball team I played with on-base, or maybe share with you my time spent playing my violin with the Phoenix Pops Orchestra, but my gut tells me that the reason you’re still reading this blog is because, as they say, misery loves company. You can relate, I know. And maybe hearing these stories makes you feel a little bit better about your own. If so, I am succeeding, so let’s go ahead and move right onto my next move that came just weeks after Lane was finally out of my life. Well, at least for the time being. Remember, he walked in the door after being out and high all night? “Hey, baby.” I packed up my stuff, and Kit Cat and I found another place to live. Lane tried in vain to stay in my life, leaving notes on my car, calling incessantly, pleading with me on my answering machine, the whole ugly bit. After a few weeks, he finally gave up, packed up his car, and went back home to Brooklyn, New York. It would be years before I would hear Lane’s voice, or see his face again. And, as you now know, I would do both. Enter Jeremy.

Jeremy and I were friends right from the start - good buddies. He worked in the office adjacent to mine, in a different unit, but the same building. To get to my workplace every day, I had to walk right by his desk. Every time I did, he said or did something that made me laugh, and we clicked immediately. He had a lot of friends because of his goofy, good-natured way, and so it wasn’t long before there was a whole gang of us. These kinds of groups are very common in the military - close, tight-knit, do-everything-together groups. Each of us knew all too well that time was an enemy; that before too long someone would get deployed or relocated, new people would come in, and the whole group dynamic would change, if the group even survived at all. When you found what we had - the perfect combination of personalities - you clung to it tightly and enjoyed it for as long as you were going to be allowed. We were lucky; we were going to have months. And do everything together, we did. We went dancing at Hootin’ Annie’s on Friday nights. When the temperatures got to be too much (which was nearly year-round), we got on inner tubes and floated down the Salt River - with one inner tube dedicated solely to toting our coolers of beer, of course. The whole gang came to one of my violin recitals (and surprisingly behaved themselves throughout the entire performance, well, except for Tom, our fearless leader who rarely behaved in any situation, and we loved him for it.) We all spent a lot of time together, and each time I found myself more and more drawn to Jeremy, and he felt the same way about me. It was all very sweet and innocent. He conducted himself as the perfect gentleman, always, and I played a little hard-to-get, which, by the way, isn’t my usual M.O. I thought, “This might be it! He could be ‘The One!’” I had said and thought that about others, sure. Before Lane, there was Stephan, another Staff Sergeant I had no business with, but boy, did I conduct business. Prior to my arrival in Phoenix, I had spent a few months in Biloxi, Mississippi going through training at the Air Force's weather school. Stephan was attending the same school, but outranked me by two stripes. That's probably what I found so appealing about him. It was a thrill the day he spoke to me in the coffee break room. I was so caught off guard, terrified actually, that a Staff Sergeant was making eye contact with me, much less speaking directly to me. We could have both been disciplined for fraternizing, which is probably the other thing that appealed to me so much about the situation. It was dangerous. It was fun. And that was about the extent of it. The feelings I had for Stephan didn't go much beyond gratitude for keeping me, a poor airman, well fed. He didn't love me either. He owned me. When it came time for me to leave Mississippi to head to Arizona, things got ugly when he tried to also get assigned to the base where I was to be stationed. A big dramatic scene ensued on the side of the road along the Gulf Coast highway. Stephan was driving my car while we were discussing what our future would not hold. In a rage, he pulled the car over, hopped out, and tossed my keys about thirty yards away into the brush, and stomped off down the road. I was frantic, on all fours, feeling around for my keys.


"Where are my keys??" I shouted at his back as he got smaller and smaller.


"Open your blind eyes!" he shouted back.


I was infuriated, but finally found the keys, jumped in my car, and took off. And, ironically, my blind eyes were opened. His form got bigger and bigger again as I approached him from behind, and for the first time in my life, I understood the term "crime of passion.” I was stunned to realize that I could have run him over with my car just then. Just run right over him - "THUMP! THUMP!" and kept right on going. I didn't, of course, instead I chose to scream, "I FAKED EVERY ORGASM I EVER HAD WITH YOU!!" at the very top of my lungs as I drove right by. It was the truth, by the way, but I wasn't sure why that was what I settled on for my parting words. Years later, I was watching a movie when a similar scene played out on the screen. The scorned woman shrieked the very same words. Years before I would have thought that was the silliest thing in the world, but after my scene with Stephan, it made perfect sense. His angry, dejected face in my rear view mirror was the last I ever saw of him.

Anyway, this time, with Jeremy, it seemed different. For starters, he was the first guy I had ever been interested in who was younger than I. Secondly, for the first time ever, I was friends with someone first, and the romantic feelings came later. It was different, so I thought it was “right.” We made it official and began dating.

That was June of 1997. I was more than halfway through my military commitment. I had met a nice guy, had a great crowd of friends, and was having lots of fun. Life was good. Jeremy and I were still spending lots of time with our clan, but, for the first time, we were hanging out alone, too. We finally had the chance to really get to know each other. Quickly, though, I began to have mixed feelings about who I was discovering in my new boyfriend. He was the youngest of three brothers who grew up under the shaky authority of two alcoholic parents. Although he was only three years my junior, it actually seemed more like he was, well, young enough to be my son, and I don't mean that in a disparaging way. He had gotten a bum deal as a kid, and around twelve-years-old or so, he had simply stopped growing up (and started drinking, I was to later discover). I think that may have been the part of him that made him so fun. He was afraid of nothing, and everything was a game. Unfortunately, it was also the part of him that made it very hard for either one of us to maintain the relationship. The bickering got worse. Soon, as misery set in, we were hardly able to even stand each other anymore. So, we did what we thought was best, and we moved in together. (My twelve-year-old man child wasn’t the only one with issues.)

The red flags were there, and they were painfully obvious. Why had I chosen to ignore them? Was I that lonely? Was my biological clock beginning to tick, and I feared nothing better would ever come along? Maybe. I don’t know. I mean, he was a smoker which I found so disgusting, but actually decided that it wasn’t so bad because, hey, it was cigarettes this time, and not crack, so.....why not? I should have known we were all wrong for each other then. Or at least when, for my birthday, he gave me a card. A card is a great gift to receive, don’t get me wrong. And the fact that it was the only gift he would give me for my birthday wasn’t really the problem, either. The problem was, was that he gave me the card with such fanfare, you’d have thought he had traveled the world far and wide, on foot, for a thousand days, without food or water just to find this particular and special birthday card. All for me. Apparently, birthdays were celebrated a little differently in his family than they were in mine, and that’s okay. I mean, I don’t think of my birthday as a National Holiday or anything, but gee, at least take me out for a burger. Is that expecting too much? Actually, it was. He didn’t do that much better for Christmas. Oh, there were gifts this time, but they were what you might call backhanded gifts. It was like that scene straight out of “Father of the Bride” when the groom bought his bride-to-be a blender for a wedding present. She was devastated over the message he was sending her with that gift. “What, does he think I’m going to stay home all day?” the bride exclaimed. “Does he want a wife from the 50s?” She overreacted, of course. She also had one thing over me, and that was that at least her man was thinking about her when he bought the gift. For Christmas, Jeremy bought me a new alarm clock (I had one I liked just fine, but he hated), pots and pans (I really did very little cooking, and he knew I liked it that way), and a vacuum cleaner (seriously, need I say more?) I was encouraged that at least the effort was made to shop this time, but still, I was utterly disappointed. I’m pretty sure he was disappointed, too, but we hung right in there anyway.

Our times spent with our group of friends became less and less frequent. Pretty soon the time came - and we all knew it would, sooner or later - when someone got a TDY assignment, and then someone else got discharged. And, just like that, those friendships went down in the history books of our lives, and like fruit flies when you finally get rid of those rotten bananas, we scattered off into thin air. Jeremy and I scattered off, too, but we did it together. We were holding on by a thread, holding on so desperately, and I’ll never truly understand why. Another thing I’ll never understand is why, one night while we were watching Raiders football on TV and eating burritos, Jeremy proposed marriage, and I accepted. It was fun, I’ll admit - going into work the next day, showing off my beautiful full-carat diamond, listening to all of the other single women “ooh” and “aah” over the ring, over Jeremy, over how lucky I was and how happy I must be. I was happy, wasn’t I? Well, I did everything that “happy” must do, with a look on my face that felt like it might appear happy, and I began planning my happy wedding. So, why wasn’t I happy? Ohhh, yeah, that’s right. Wrong guy! Again. I felt like Forrest Gump. “I got to meet the President. Again.” I’m getting myself all mixed up with the wrong guy. Again. But, because I had done this so many times before, I knew what to do! With my happy face on, we packed up the car and drove the four hours to Los Angeles so that his family could meet his new, happy, soon-to-be bride.

I wasn’t even nervous about meeting his parents. There was a huge part of me that knew in my heart this would never last, that I would never marry him, so I really had very little to lose. It was dishonest and ugly. You didn’t think Little Cardboard Men was going to be entirely all about how all I ever got was stomped on and never did any stomping myself, did you? This time it really wasn’t a deliberate stomping, on my part. I wanted it to work - willed it to work. I kept trying to, as my sister would say, “fake it” until I “made it.” I’m a horrible faker (even while in bed with Stephan; He was just so stuck on himself that I’m sure he believed my flamboyant cries of ecstasy surely were authentic), but apparently, I could have won an Oscar for my performance that weekend in California with Jeremy’s family. At one point, right in front of his whole family, Jeremy and I had one of our classic blow-out fights that we had both grown accustomed to. I was mortified. Humiliated. But they all laughed it all off as if it were no big deal - business as usual. I guess when you grow up with alcoholic parents, scenes like that really aren’t a big deal. I guess that’s just “normal.” How cozy. Well, I didn’t have to worry about being on my best behavior anymore. Other than being terrified that an earthquake was going to strike at any moment, I was able to relax and have a good time.

We all went to Disney Land together, his brothers took us out to all of the happening bars, and I got my picture taken with the Hollywood sign. It really was a good time! By the end of our visit, his parents were madly in love with me, and very excited for our upcoming nuptials. We were all very excited - so excited, in fact, that we made plans to all meet up in Las Vegas a month or so later. My family would also be expected to make the trip, and as one big happy family, we would shop for and find our wedding venue...for the wedding that would soon take place.

Now, the next big challenge set before me was something that had never been a challenge in my life before - sharing news with my family. We were a tight-knit little unit, my parents, my sister, and I. There were open lines of communication that were regularly used, no one was out of anyone else’s loop, no matter how far apart we lived from each other. Bearing in mind, that we were living in the pre-Internet world. Technology wasn’t what it is today. Mobile phones were just beginning to make an appearance, but really only in the form of car phones, and it was really only the very wealthy who had them. The World Wide Web was coming about, but I was just learning how to use my first email address issued by the military. Keeping in touch with family was galaxies away from what it is now. Despite that, my family stayed well-connected via landline phones and, imagine this, handwritten letters - on paper, put in envelopes, stamped, and sent on their almost week-long journeys. So, why hadn’t my family, especially my Mom, heard a single thing about my new “friend” Jeremy who I had been dating for six months already? Good question. I was sitting at my desk at work one afternoon, contemplating that very question, when the phone rang. This was also the age before Caller ID, so I was surprised to hear my Mom’s cheery voice on the other end. Instead of contemplating some ridiculous question I already knew the answer to, I really should have been using my time more wisely. I don’t know, maybe I should have been trying to figure out how I was going to keep my voice from giving me away. I was dreading the news I had to deliver. Yes, I know - the red flags have been popping up so frequently that they are basically one giant red flag wall. And still, I just keep bobbing and weaving around them. And, while I was able to fool my fiancée's family into thinking everything was just hunky dory, my Mom saw right through me - right through the phone line! - in about three seconds flat, and then it went something like this:

Mom: “What’s the matter?”

Me: “What? Nothing. I’m just at work. What?”

Mom: “No. What’s wrong. Something’s wrong. You sound funny.”

She was right, of course. I sounded funny as Hell, even to myself.

Me: “Ok, so......I have some news! (I probably sounded terrified rather than the “excited” I was struggling to get across.)

Mom: “Oh, Lord.”

Me: “Mom, it’s ok. Is Katie there? Have her pick up the other line.” (Lots of rustling about here.....now we were ALL frantic.) “Hi, Katie. So, you guys.....I’ve got a great, big diamond on my finger!!!”

Seriously. That’s how I chose to break the news. That whole ripping-the-band-aid-off-quickly approach didn’t do a thing for me. I guess I could’ve helped myself out a whole lot more by perhaps mentioning Jeremy’s name even once before today. My family didn’t even know he existed. It was no big surprise when, after a very, very pregnant pause, my Mom said, “Well, who gave it to you?” And in that moment, I felt like such a piece of shit - for not telling my family about him sooner, for not even wanting to, for the fact that I had already met his whole family, for accepting a proposal from a man I did not love, and for now dragging those I did love right down the shitter with me. As if feeling like a piece of shit were my true motivator, I didn’t stop there. I invited my whole family to jump on the train with me - a train that was over-crowded, kind of smelly, headed in the opposite direction, and about to jump the tracks and go careening over a cliff, and so, of course, they willingly climbed aboard. I’m such a piece of shit. However, let me ease off on the self-berating for now. If you’re hating me right now, too, I don’t blame you one bit. I’ll let you hate me enough for the both of us while I get back to the story.

Our Las Vegas weekend loomed large while I constantly vacillated between the bitter and the sweet. The bitter part was obvious. I was playing around with everyone’s lives in the hopes that at any moment my heart would turn around and follow. And the sweet part? I was homesick and missing my family so badly that I was willing to drag them across the country under false pretenses and at their own expenses. The guilt over it all was killing me, but I was so excited to see them again. It had been too long. Bittersweet.

If there is one thing my family does well, it is reunions. I’m not talking about the boring party where everyone gets together once a year or whenever, and no one really wants to be there, and the same characters do their same acts, over and over again. What I’m talking about is the literal reunion; the act of gathering together again after a period of separation. No matter the occasion or circumstances, the joy is clear on every face, and it’s a true celebration of our family and the love we have for one another. This particular reunion was no exception to that rule. I could easily read the reluctance and uncertainty on their faces, but what also came through was how happy they were to be with me. I know they could read that in me, too. And so, celebrate, we did. We did Las Vegas up right. We ate like kings and queens, stayed in fancy hotels, and shopped until we dropped. We also found our wedding venue. There were negotiations concerning the drive-thru chapel, and an Elvis impersonator was involved, of course, but we eventually settled on the same little chapel in which the likes of Michael Jordan, amongst other celebrities also said their vows. The reception would be held at a beautiful resort on the Strip. We had so much fun together and our families got along famously. Yet, all the while, every second, I was saying to myself, “Am I really doing this?? I’m never going to go through with this. How could I be doing this???!” Did my family know? Was this something they could read on my face, too? Were they, too, going through the motions for an event that they, too, knew would never take place? Several times over that weekend, my parents would say to both Jeremy and me, “If at any point either one or both of you wants to back out, or postpone things, or whatever, IT IS OKAY. Don’t worry about any money that’s been spent, don’t worry about anything else except what it is that the two of you want.” And then they asked me if I understood, and didn’t drop it until I said, “yes.” And then they did the same thing with Jeremy. It took everything I had in me in those very moments not to shout, “Yes! Thank you! Whew, that was close, huh???” and imagine everyone dissolving into relieved laughter. I mean, they were giving me that opportunity, making it as easy for me as it possibly could have been. But, I didn’t take the bait, and neither did my fiancée, even though I believe that we both knew there wasn’t a chance in Hell we’d ever get married. I could’ve been wrong about that, though, at least as far as Jeremy was concerned. I’m not sure I’ll ever really know what he thought and believed during that crazy time in our lives.

The weekend came to an end, and it was, just like the beginning, bittersweet. I was so sad to watch my family all return home (without me), but I had to admit to being relieved that at least for now, I could stop working so hard to keep up the facade. It’s exhausting pretending to be something you aren’t, pretending to feel something you don’t feel, and worse yet, trying to make yourself feel those things you think you’re supposed to be feeling. I couldn’t truly relax, though. There was still the fiancée, a wedding, a marriage to plan, after all. So, we did what any couple in our situation does. We signed up for pre-marital counseling.

Of course, right? I mean, doesn’t that appear to be the next logical step? If you’re insane. Maybe I was. No, I had my wits about me, I was just stuck. Stuck, and for whatever reason, wishing, hoping, praying, willing and defying something to be that clearly didn’t want to be. Our counselor was a nice enough lady. We didn’t do much talking that first session. She wanted us to complete a couple’s survey, so that we could talk about the results in a follow-up appointment. We were placed in a room and at desks positioned so that our backs were to each other so that we couldn’t “cheat.” It was actually rather fun. I’d hear Jeremy chuckle about a certain question, perhaps about his friends and how well I get along with them, and I would get my own amusement out of questions concerning his hygiene habits. It was all good-natured, and when we completed the survey, we were anxious to come back for the results. Of course, I knew the results already, didn’t I? I did, and yet, still, I was hopeful. And I don’t know why. The follow-up session a week or so later was very abrupt. It seems like our time with the therapist was over before it really even got started, and I guess it was. We sat before her, awaiting our sentence, uh, I mean our results. There was a lot of shuffling through papers, throat clearing, all kinds of things that felt to me like major stalling tactics. At long last, she peered at us over the glasses that rested on the end of her nose, and as if she were choosing her words very carefully, said, “Well…the...uhh..prognosis..is...well, good.” GOOD? The prognosis is good. Hmm. Interesting. I felt the need to ask her to elaborate some, and given that we were paying out the ass for her to hand us a load of shit, I also felt I was justified. And, I have to admit, I was curious as well. As she went into detail about our “prognosis,” it became more and more evident that it really wasn’t “good” at all. She refused to used the term “weaknesses,” and instead insisted that what we had were “growth areas.” I was all done with this lady, but I had to remember that in my frustration with her assessment, she was actually doing what I needed her to do. She was validating for me that the relationship was not fulfilling any needs and/or desires, and that it was, in fact, killing me. It wasn’t doing a whole lot of good for Jeremy either. The little test we took confirmed my suspicions that my partner and I were about as compatible as water and electricity. For once, Jeremy was beginning to accept it, too. I don’t know, I guess, for him, he needed the professional opinion, and I totally respected that. We never went back to that counselor to work on our growth areas, but we didn’t part ways either. After all, we had a wedding to plan. Yes, I’m serious. Go ahead, you can stop reading if you want. Whatever label that just came into your head to describe me, I can assure you, is 100% accurate. It’s okay. I completely understand. No, wait, don’t stop reading. Please, hang in there with me. If you are fed up with me, just imagine how fed up I was with myself.

Jeremy and I spent the next few months fighting and bickering. He even moved out (and then back in again) during that time period, and then one day, we got a reprieve. Orders came, and Jeremy was headed overseas for three months. Smash cut to my reaction and the look on my face which must have been pretty bizarre. The soon-to-be bride, devastated that her betrothed is being sent away from her for ninety days right in the middle of wedding planning. Well, that was the look I was hoping for, but I’m afraid the look that was taking over was my outright glee. I would have the summer off from all of this madness, and in truth, it was the happiest I had ever been since knowing Jeremy. And I felt terrible about that at the same time. He spent the summer in Hungary, and I spent it getting ready to separate from the military because my commitment of four years was finally coming to an end. The wedding was “postponed,” but all of us knew what that meant. I wore his diamond ring while he was gone. I wrote to him everyday. I was faithful to a fault, and to the very end, but we both knew. We finally knew, and accepted that we had done the best we could, but that it was never going to work. When Jeremy returned to the States, he moved in with our buddy, Tim. I gave him back the ring, gave him my blessing for a good life, and once again, I packed up my things and my cat, and hit the road. Good-bye, Arizona. Good-bye, military life. I was going home.

I would be completely remiss here if I didn’t share one parting thought about Jeremy. The two of us did a great deal of harm to each other. I took him for a ride, was dishonest and unforgiving. He stifled me, smothered me. He was never really interested in bringing out the best in me (and he clearly did not). Not that I was any better in return. I wasn’t. But, he was pretty jealous and possessive - rarely letting me spend time with girlfriends or engage in any other activities that didn’t directly include or affect him. When I signed up for the volleyball team on post, he whined, “But what about me?” As my time commitment to the military was coming to a close, right around the time we were knee-deep in wedding planning, I also had to search for a new job. One of the major airlines at the time had their headquarters right near our apartment. They were looking for new recruits for their flight attendant course, and it sounded like the perfect thing for me. I’m terrified of flying. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but I thought it would challenge me to overcome my fears, or at least desensitize me. After all, if Jeremy and I had moved back to Los Angeles after we had gotten married, I would have been doing a lot of flying back to the East Coast. This would’ve been a cheaper and easier way of accomplishing that. When I brought the class to his attention and showed my interest in it, he immediately shut down. “No, no way. You would be gone too much. No. That’s final.” Suffice it to say, I was pissed! At the time, anyway. Flash forward to September 11, 2001. Thousands of people, including several flight attendants from the very airline I was hoping to join, on the very route my flights would have taken, perished. That day, and many times since, I have wondered if that wasn’t Jeremy’s one and only role in my life, to keep me off that airplane on that fateful day. If that is true, and I have chosen to believe it is, I am forever grateful to him. It sounds like a back-handed compliment: “Thanks, Jeremy, for being such an outright dick,” but I actually mean,


“Thanks, Jeremy, for saving my life.”

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