“I’m working the graveyard shift Friday night if you can come by, maybe bring something for dinner and we can eat together on my break?” my boyfriend at the time flashing me that smile that only he could, the one that made me vibrate, like from the balls of my feet, in a way I was just beginning to discover was even possible. We had been dating just about six months, our first date being my 21st birthday…..just months after his 42nd, and we worked together. Talk about your recipe for painful and gloriously dramatic disaster. Howie, his name was Howie and despite his horrifically archaic ideas about women even though he had been raised by a single mother, in south central Los Angeles, and the fact that he was “sort of" married and had 5 kids, (none of which from the wife on the way out by the way) he had…well he had me tightly spun around his dark and calloused fingers.
Howie wore the swagger of a confident man but not at all like I’d seen in the high backed, educated rigidness of my mother’s father, and not in the way that the guys I snuck out late at night to run away from where I was from, and get lost in a world where I didn’t belong did. It wasn’t fake and it wasn’t inspired by righteousness or the belief he was better than anyone. He spoke low and mostly when spoken to. He spent his lunch breaks, before he met me, taking a quick run and doing pull ups beneath the tarp covered scaffolding that he would wheel from one refrigerated shipping container to another to make the repairs his union paid him to. Big grin, firm dark body that looked, and felt, like it was at least fifteen years younger than 42. And that swagger….
One night after far too many gin fizzes I felt a large rough palm gently grab my jaw in the elevator ride as I was being walked back to the, “No guests allowed” apartment where I lived with my mother, son and sister. A warm mouth sucked in the bottom half of mine that was left agape and stunned…terrified with wanting and fear. My lip growing as swollen as my desire and absolute terror as to what was to be waiting on the other side of that door when I returned from the date my mother hated, seriously hated, me being on. Powerful hands digging at the fabric of my shirt, the sounds in the tiny elevator shifting from wanting soaked groans to the banging of a vintage box carrying us up the shaft of a dumpy apartment structure. The vitriolic spitting of humiliating rage from a sad woman, the scent of hair wax and fresh sweat and for the first time actually craving something to make me feel good. I didn’t really drink, didn’t fuck around with drugs and before that moment I had only craved sex as a means to my own power, this time what was biting at me was the willingness to give into his. My fingers stretching and trembling as I flipped the toggle that would suspend us, in time and between apartment floors.
“Erica let me borrow one of the pickups and I got us some Carl’s Jr for dinner” big smile as I flipped up the thick blue canvas to Howie’s scaffold and was met with that grin that oozed sheer primal want and the mild arrogance that came with knowing he was going to get. I had driven the borrowed pickup truck, the one he taught me to drive as my mother would not, the length of the terminal. It was dark for the most part, just a few graveyard guys working on chassis and reefer units as well as the guys working the towering cranes that plucked stuffed steel containers from the massive ships that rested upon the docks. I could hear the bits of chatter over the truck’s intercom system as the soft wheels of my chariot drove me to find the man with the hunger I was desperate to feed. I rested the oily sack on the planking of the scaffold and pulled myself up to him by tugging on the thick metal bars that would hold our night in their grip. As I climbed back in the tiny pickup truck an hour later, my entire body saturated, weary and leaking the kind of exhaustion that was actually exhilarating it dawned on me, Howie’s confidence wasn’t in the money he was making down there at the harbor, it didn’t come from being better than so many at his trade, (although he was) or even in the fact that he had a woman, (at least one) half his age breaking all the rules she knew to be with him. No, it was in his knowing how fucking good he was. At working hard, traversing hardship and adversity, at staying focused and driven, at teaching a young girl that she was worth the effort and fight he would endure with coworkers and her mother….showing her what it felt like behind the wheel of a car, the freedom to push against the possible life crippling shackles of “Oh I came from here and made these mistakes so I’m fucked”. Howie taught me that if you are willing to work just a little bit harder, like stretching for that toggle switch, life can be so fucking worth it. A man about a thousand miles away from perfect, especially for me, but in that time and place….we belonged.
“Samantha, do you remember this?” I was just settling my ever-chunky rump into one of the, “Oh for the love of cheesesteaks don’t let me break this fucker” chairs in the artfully draped and fairly hip salon at Marion-Bosser in Hautvillers, a rather fancy but still quite tiny and charming village in Champagne. Elodie Marion, young, beautiful, fit, never having to worry about busting an antique chair, and winemaker for Champagne Marion-Bosser, was handing a hardcover book in my direction. The hardwood floors, the smells of melting butter, seared whitefish and asparagus spinning around my already dizzy head as I glanced from a richly red saturated painting on the wall to the glossy pages in front of me. There I was, big dumb grin, stoopid flat blonde hair, button up black shirt with The Wine Country emblazoned across the top of the shirt pocket…a picture of me standing with Elodie back in the shop when she had come to visit and thank us for stocking her wines. Right there in high resolution color and hard cover, my ugly mug in a book that sat upon a table in a salon in Champagne showing all that come to visit the Domaine one of the people that work with and support the wines.
Invited to come to Champagne by an importer that wanted, valued and asked for, my opinion in finding some new grower Champagne, sent there willingly by the bosses that have allowed me to make our Champagne department mine, at that dinner table with forkfuls of white asparagus that had been dashingly slathered with some rich creamy sauce prepared by Elodie’s father, glasses refilled as we discussed the region and the plight of the small grower. The first night of several with Aline in Champagne that would prove to me that while never easy, this fight has always been worth it. Not sure I ever had a groove to get back but that night, as I sat in a quiet guest room in Hautvillers sipping the last puddle of bone-dry and mouthwatering Rose Champagne, I sure as hell got my swagger back.
I belonged there.
To Be Continued....