Was I in the Red Light District?

As the man with the talking car drove me home in silence, I wondered if I will see him again. I looked at his profile, memorized his features, the contour of his nose, the glasses, the chin…Did I want to see him again? I didn’t know much about him, but I wanted to know his very soul, probably because on a subconscious level I knew it would be difficult. He was not offering his soul on a platter for me to see and love or judge…He was a challenge. Definitely mysterious… or was I reading too much into it?

“Have you ever been in love?” I asked  abruptly and he was startled. My timing was always off…but to my surprise he answered this most intimate question.

“Once, only once with my college girlfriend. That was ten years ago.”

“…and what happened,” I probed some more.

He kept driving and without looking at me, continued:

“She was Japanese and her parents wouldn’t let her marry an American… I mean, because I wasn’t Japanese. She obeyed her parents…”

My mind was racing, a handsome man, my age who hasn’t been in a serious relationship for ten years and seems available…what happened with him for the last ten years, I wondered.

“I am a confirmed bachlor!” he said as if reading my mind.

“Oh, I see…  no serious relationships for all these years, I guess. Then, how do you spend your time. How does a handsome man like you escape the traps of marriage?”

“I work hard, I work  in commercial real estate. I have an MBA in finance, you know… not much time. But when I  play, I play hard, if you know what I mean. Most nights, after work, I go to Nick’s Pub on 13th Street and have a drink or two… meet friends…”

He played hard… whatever that meant, I didn’t like it, was definitely not a good sign, but so what? I could fight the “play hard,” no matter what that meant, didn’t seem to agree with him. He was a sad man and I was going to change all the wrongs in his life, if he only let me!

We were getting closer to my house and my mind was racing, should I ask for his phone number if he doesn’t ask for mine, or let go of the man in a talking car…

The car stopped. He looked at me, and seemed slightly impatient to leave me. I wasn’t done, I wanted more:

“What color are your eyes?” I asked.

My timing was really off…

“Hazel, if you look in the sunlight, but probably brown now, in the dark.” He answered politely, but it was clear he really wanted to leave.

He wasn’t asking anything about me, he wasn’t asking for my number and when I saw him going around the car to come to the passenger door to let me out, I panicked  I’d never see him again.

I stepped out of the car and he held my hand lightly. We stood there in the street for a moment and I was out of words. It would have been his turn to say something if he were interested, but he kissed my forehead and said:

“It was nice meeting you, may be we’ll see each other again sometime…”

Oh, this didn’t sound like here’s my number, what’s yours, it didn’t sound like he cared whether he’d ever see me again. With my mind of today, I’d say he wasn’t “into me” but then, I concluded he was shy and needed help. He was still hurt from the fiasco with the Japanese girlfriend. Definitely he needed my help specifically to express again all those emotions trapped inside of him! I just knew somehow  great feelings were burning under the icy waters he was showing to the outside world.

“Would you like my number?” I dared, what was he going to say, no? he was too well-mannered to do that!

“Sure,” he said, and I handed him my number on a piece of paper.

He didn’t offer me his and I didn’t ask, it would have been totally inappropriate by the standards of a woman from Eastern Europe.

He kissed me again on my forehead and I felt tingles all over.

“Would you like to come up for another drink or coffee or… something,” I tried to prolong the agony of saying good-bye.

“Thank you, no… tomorrow I have to work, it’s already late” He seemed slightly impatient. No, it wasn’t work that was taking him away from me, I knew it in my bones, it wasn’t work, this was an excuse to leave me, but I didn’t have the right to ask. We parted.

A week went by. No phone calls. Every evening, I rushed home, waiting. Nothing. No signs that the man with hazel eyes would ever call me again.

“Did he call you yet?” Jody kept asking and I had to admit he didn’t.

He was clearly not interested. Most men would have called me by now. He was different, he was mysterious and I couldn’t help but be attracted to him!

“You have to be more aggressive, honey. Women here take what they want, they don’t just wait around! What’s his number, we’ll call him, invite him to a barbecue at my house.” Jody was definitely a woman of action!

“I don’t have his number!” I confessed.

“What? He has yours and you don’t have his? What’s his last name?”

“I don’t know… “

“”You’re telling me you like this guy and you don’t have his number or his last name! Girl, you hopeless!  What do you know?”

“I know he is a regular at some pub on 13th Street in Philly…”

Jody was silent for a moment, than she giggled:

“13th Street? Not best of neighborhoods, but fun, some men say…I guess if he doesn’t call you by Sunday we’ll have to go there, I wouldn’t let you go alone, it’s not for girls like you.”

Another week went by and still nothing, no calls.

“If he didn’t call, he is not that interested, “I told Jody, but she felt responsible to help me see this guy again. After all, it was her who almost fixed me up with a married man.

One Wednesday evening, after 7:00 P.M. the two of us ventured to find the Pub.  We saw a few women, walking slowly, here and there, heavy make-up and short skirts. It was still early. I couldn’t remember the name of the cross street. We saw two Policeman  standing at a corner.

“Officers,” Jody asked,  “is this a safe neighborhood for two ladies like us to walk?” and she giggled.

The officers looked at each other and smiled.

“What are ladies like you doing in this neighborhood, anyway?”

“Looking for a Pub, Nick’s, to meet a friend there.”

The officers exchanged looks again.

Oh, Nick’s! Sure they knew where that was, and they directed us telling us one more time to be careful.

Nick’s was a small, smoky corner bar, and to my surprise, towering over everyone, I saw Mary, the wife of my proposed blind date, taking drink orders from behind the counter.

Jody elbowed her way to the front of the bar and I followed.

“Hi Mary,” She said, and Mary was friendly.

We ordered two screwdrivers and munched on the nuts on the counter, which later I learned one should never touch because everyone with dirty hands leave their germs in there.

“Is he here?”

We scanned the crowded room. No… he wasn’t!

“Mary,” Jody asked, “Do you remember Kevin, the cute guy we had dinner with when you guys opened? Is he coming here?”

Yes, he was a regular, but it was too early, he usually showed up after 8:00 PM she assured us, and closes the place down.

“Strange guy,” she assured me, and I wondered how did she know I might be interested…

“Yeah, handsome, but damaged,” Mary continued,” ..but I love him, we’re friends.”

It was after 8:30 PM and we were getting ready to leave when the door opened and Kevin, with his long hair and dressed in a suit appeared in the doorway.  Yes, Mary was right, he did look strange, rather unusual, making one wonder how well could someone with that hair do, fair in the clean-cut business world? But what did I care about the business world, I just felt there was so much under his facade of indifference and he definitely needed me to bring it all out. I just knew I could make him happy. I just knew I could make him get overt the Japanese girlfriend and stop coming every night in a Pub in what I had learned was The Red Light District.  I didn’t see too many red lights, but a lot of dubious women walking the street in their short skirts and smoking. For a moment, I wondered if he was ever tempted by any of them, but the thought was too painful. I chased it away.

I walked towards him and his eyes flickered from behind his glasses. Was he happy to see me, I wondered.

“Hi, remember me?” I asked, and hugged him lightly.

“I am surprised to see you here… “

“But are you glad I am?”

He hugged me back and said, “Let’s get out, this is not a place for you.”

Jody came with us and excused herself. She left us alone and we drove to a small Italian Restaurant a few blocks away.

“Why didn’t you call me?” I asked after we already ordered dinner, so he couldn’t just walk away. I was doing exactly what all the articles in women’s magazines told me not to do! I couldn’t help it…

He continued to eat in silence and didn’t answer immediately. My heart was pounding. He was taking too long, he was just going to say he wasn’t interested, attracted to me, he was  still in love with the Japanese girlfriend or the illusion of her… He was definitely a man of few words, I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t want to seem pushy, invade his life, but on the other hand,   I was sure in my heart I could make him happy, change him to be a better person…a happy man, living to the fullest of his  God-given gifts.

In those days I thought I could change people I loved just because what I was suggesting for them was a healthier, better way of life. I was, as my therapist friend David said, a rescuer. David was right, because I had a bad relationship with my father I also liked teddy-bears, symbols of  good fathers and protection.  I was also in danger of getting into violent relationships because this was my comfort zone, but not what I needed, David also said. Kevin was definitely a man with great potential. Intelligent, handsome, and seemed so calm. Violence? David had no idea what he was talking about! Kevin was the embodiment of calmness, all he needed to be happy was to be shown love!  I was willing to put myself out to show him my love and how deserving he was.  I was convinced I could make him the happiest man in the world, if he only let me! I didn’t know then, that happiness comes from inside and one has a relationship with self which first must be happy. No, I didn’t know then…that I didn’t have the power to make someone else what they didn’t want to be.

“I was afraid to call you,” He finally answered, “…  I thought of you… I am not sure your life-style and mine match… I thought of calling but wasn’t sure.”

Oh, so he did think of me, he liked me but just as I thought, he was still too hurt from the Japanese experience…he was fearful and I needed to be brave for the two of us.

“Do you like me? Do you want to see me again?” I asked and couldn’t believe I was asking these questions of a man I barely knew. Thank God my mother was already dead, because she would have been so ashamed of me…

“Yes, I like you very much, you are the first woman I liked in the last ten years…  and there are things about me you don’t know… I have not had a real relationship in so long… I told you, I am a confirmed bachelor, unlike my two brother who are both married and have children. It’s enough for me to play with their kids.”

I put my hand over his and felt the coldness of his hand traveling into my warm hand, into my arm, all the way into my heart. Which was it to be? My warmth taking over his coldness or the other way around?

A year later we moved in together. By then he had quit smoking  and his permanent cough stopped. He also cut his hair. His business was doing well  at last. His boss and co-workers were stunned at the transformation. Nick’s Pub lost a client and I earned a long-term partner who was no longer sure he was a confirmed bachelor.  I was  determined to make him the happiest man in the world,  David was a fool telling me I was a rescuer! Such nonsense. I loved him and he loved me! I believed that   “quiet waters run deep” and there was so much  good in him that he was hiding because he didn’t want to be hurt again. I just knew it was my destiny to uncover the treasure in this man’s heart, so that he would be happy again.

Yes, I was in the Red Light District and took a  jewel by hand, gave him the hope and the confidence to be back in a better place, where he really belonged. Where, perhaps we belonged together.

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