The moment I realized I was pregnant was at the gym with one of my best friend’s Courtney. I was running on the treadmill, looked over my shoulder outside into the plaza at the Duffy’s and thought to myself “Damn, I really could go for a quesadilla and a beer right now” As soon as I thought it, I KNEW it. I almost fell off the treadmill. I hit the emergency stop button and jumped off. Court looked over at me and said “mama, what’s up?” I’m pregnant. What?? I’m pregnant. I have to go get a test. “shut the fuck up, no you’re not” Yes, yes I am. We both left right then and there, drove to Walgreen’s, picked up like 4 pregnancy tests, two bottles of red wine and drove straight to my house. I ran inside, didn’t say a word to Gio and went to the bathroom, peed on every stick, poured a huge glass of wine and proceeded to guzzle it like water. I sat outside with Courtney on my back patio until it was time to look. Positive. The quesadilla told me so. I knew it. I cried for hours. I did not ever want to have any more children. Gio didn’t want children. We couldn’t afford to have another child. My mind was made up but I felt like such a freak. I had successfully avoided pregnancy for over 12 years. We used condoms. How could this happen? How could I be 31 and pregnant? I finished the 2 bottles of wine and in one of my not most proudest moments, I made Courtney take me back to the gym so I could work out for another 2 hours. I was in absolute shock. Gio was in shock. Courtney was the only one that night with a level head. She managed to get me out of the gym, home in bed. She made all the phone calls for me. She called my OB/GYN and then the numbers they referred me to. She made the appointment for me and drove me there the following Saturday. She handled Gio for me and my mother. She was an angel because I was devastated. Making the choice to have an abortion was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It came with alot of guilt, crying, feelings of loss, grief and relief. It is a personal choice that is judged by many. I lost friends over that choice. It is not for the faint of heart. It wasn’t a form of birth control. It was the best choice for me at the time. I don’t regret it but I think about it, often. I know by revealing it there will be negative thoughts and feelings by some I call my friends even now. I was in a bad place that summer. It was my “dark period” as my friends & family named it. I was struggling with my own demons then and would not have been healthy enough to sustain a pregnancy and I knew that. It was the only choice for me at the time. Gio and I made the choice and we were okay for a while.
So after my first disastrous valentine’s day with Gio I decided I would no longer celebrate that day with him or anyone else for that matter. I knew that he cared for me and we were moving forward and that was enough for me. I had tried to do the traditional chocolate covered strawberries and champagne just out of sheer pressure from the day itself and he had done the same. Only instead of just going through the motions, he wanted to be clear where we stood….it was quite brave of him now that I think about it, he was trying to be nice and acknowledge that the day was supposed to be for couples and was acknowledging us as a couple, but the “L” word was not in play yet. It became a log running joke in our almost 10 years together. Every Valentine’s Day I would host a black and white party, guests had to attend wearing black & white, all the food was black & white, no hearts, flowers or boxes of chocolates. No cards were to be exchanged, no gifts, just us celebrating with our friends and family. It was a very successful event every year. We had married couples, new couples and singles all mingling together playing games, laughing and drinking the night away. That was always one of the great mature things about my relationship with him. We could always find humor in the situation and diffused each other effectively. We almost never argued. We could turn any negative experience into a reason to poke fun at each other or throw a party and name an event after it. We were able to laugh at ourselves and not take things too seriously. We really only had a few defining moments in our relationship that changed us. The first was when I found out I was pregnant.
I had decided to take a step back for a little while so I could regroup and focus on my family. We had a major transition take place for my daughter. She moved to Tampa to start her life independent of her family here on the east coast of Florida. She got herself an apartment with roommates, signed up and transferred her college and got a job managing a Starbucks. I am extremely proud of her fierce independence and awed by her competence. My son also got his official acceptance into the United States Air Force. It seems it isn’t as easy to enlist as I remember. They don’t NEED anyone right now and are even more selective of their members. It is a huge step for my son Josh and I am proud of his decision to serve his country and take after my grandfather. So we had a big family BBQ to say our goodbyes and celebrate their accomplishments and enjoyed what is most likely one of the last times we will all be together. It was incredible. It was much needed time off from reflecting on the past and allowed me to live and enjoy the moment. Now back to writing. I finally got what I wanted. I finally after many many months heard the words I knew he felt and I knew were there but that he was too stubborn and hurt to admit. He said “I still love you, I care strongly for you, my feelings for you run deep and I had never in my life have anyone I cared that much about be sick or diagnosed with anything that could take them from me. I didn’t know how to react and I know I handled it poorly. I was pushing you away myself so that something out of my control wouldn’t be responsible for us being apart. I am sorry. I want to give this one more shot.” I knew he felt this way, knew that was why he couldn’t handle what I told him on Christmas, knew that was why he shut me out and I have waited months to finally hear it. I thought when I did finally hear those words that there would be some grand romantic feelings that swept over me and we would have our movie moment kiss, yea that didn’t happen. I kinda went blank or numb. I wasn’t sure how to handle it. For once, I couldn’t find the words. It felt so weird. I’m not sure if it’s because I had imagined him saying those things so many times that when I did hear it, it wasn’t like hearing it for the first time. I’m not sure if it is because I always KNEW that that was how he felt and what had happened that maybe it wasn’t a surprise to hear from him. I don’t know what happened. It was just weird. It’s been 4 days since hearing it. It’s still weird. I have no other word for it. I have nothing really to say about it. I’m still processing. I know part of me thought to myself…and how will I explain this to my family, and then I think, I don’t have to explain anything really….I’m grown, 38 years old, these are my choices that I have to live with, but my family is so close that I will have to explain, I will have to say something….It’s just weird….I really am at a loss for words.
When I tell you I did whatever I could think of to land that man. I did. I pulled out all the stops, played every game, performed every trick (sexual and otherwise). I found out his favorite food and would stock my refrigerator if I knew he was coming. I cooked like a mad woman. I was always tanning, whitening my teeth, growing my hair out, shaving and waxing in ridiculous increments. I would wake up earlier than him if he spent the night to pinch my cheeks, brush my teeth, comb my hair and spritz perfume. I remember one day going to Publix and getting a rotisserie chicken and vegetables, putting them in the oven and pretending that I had made the meal so he would think I could cook. I remember him looking at me and saying that it tasted exactly like a Publix chicken (at the time I had no idea he ate them on a daily basis) I lied and said it was their recipe, from their recipe cards. We had been dating and spending the night at each other’s place since April 2002, it was now Valentine’s day 2003. Valentine’s fell on a Friday that year and we were going to the club we met at, they were always doing some promotional thing for the holidays and we had agreed to go. I had picked out a sexy black dress and heels to wear with a red flower in my hair. I was going to stop and buy champagne and chocolate covered strawberries from Hoffman’s to have before we set out for the night. Giovanni was still at my house when I left for work. I had given him a key. I worked all day like normal, picked up the kids and took them to my grandparents so we could have our big night out. I flew back to the house to jump in the shower and get ready. He was going to come right from work. I threw the strawberries and champagne in the fridge, dropped everything in the laundry room and ran into the bathroom to shower. When I got out and went into my bedroom for the first time I was blown away. There were roses on the night stand and dresser. There were balloons with hearts on them attached to one of the arrangements and there was a bear with a card on my side of the bed. NOONE had ever done that for me before. It was so sweet. I jumped up and down in my towel, made punching motions with my hands and squealed like a schoolgirl. I jumped across the bed and snatched up the card. Gio and I had not said I love you yet. I was positive he was waiting for this,his grand romantic gesture. I opened the card slowly, savoring my moment. Happy Valentine’s Day pre-printed and there handwritten was what I had been waiting for….I don’t really love you yet, but this was all they had. WHAT???? I read it again and again. Seriously??? I just stared at it.
My relationship with Giovanni was probably and still is the healthiest relationship I have ever had. He is a good man. He was an excellent provider. He stepped in, when two others checked out to be a father and a role model. I will love him forever. Not only is he beautiful to look at, his soul is absolute perfection. He has this thick Spanish accent which is a source of entertainment for me. I have known him and adored him since that first meeting in Spring of 2002 at the club. He was supposed to be a one night stand. So after learning his name was Giovanni and me walking away like an idiot, we started talking. My girlfriend M dragged me back over to the bar. To be honest, I could barely understand him. It was loud. His accent was so thick, I thought at first he was Italian. He told me he was 24. That was ok, I was 28. We danced, we drank, we talked and we kissed. He was coming home with me. M and I shared our prospective houses. We were both single with two children and we made room for each other at each residence. We spent so much time together it only made sense that she had things at my place and visa versa. One this particular weekend her children were with her father and my children were with my mother. I was staying at M’s. I remember bringing Giovanni back to her place and having quite a good night with him. I remember the next morning having to be up pretty early to pick up my children from my mom’s and waking him up to leave. He wanted to grab breakfast. He lived in Port St. Lucie about 45 minutes away. He had given his brother his car because I apparently had agreed to take him home in the morning. There was NO way I could do that. I told him he would need to get a ride. He couldn’t reach his brother, it was too early, he would be sleeping. I remember M offering to give him a ride and being relieved. He asked me if I wanted his number as I was leaving, I answered No. He just looked at me funny. I didn’t want anything serious. I was coming off of marriage number 2. I left. M ended up driving him home and unbeknownst to me, asking him for his number. We would be going back to Club Safari in 2 weeks and wanted to surprise me by inviting him to show up and meet us there, which he did. We were inseparable after that.
Dive right in. I sit trying to piece together a clever or witty way to describe this time in my life. Dive right in, keeps repeating over and over. There is no “nice” or tidy way to describe it. It was awful. It was 100% me. All my doing. I had settled in for a long time as live-in girlfriend to Giovanni, mother to Joshua and Laura, employee to the plastic surgery office. I was the party girl, always laughing, smiling, having fun. I was obsessed with the gym. Gio worked all the time, morning, noon and night, overnight and weekends. Sometimes he would travel for work and be gone for weeks at a time. It was very lonely. I was very lonely. That is until I was introduced to it. I think it was my birthday and we were on my way to my grandparents house for a family dinner and me, my brother and Gio stopped at the Kennel Club in Palm Beach to play poker. My brother had started going there a few times a month after work. Our family always had poker nights, but this was the first time that I was playing for real, with real money and strangers. It was so exciting. We all sat together at the same table and started gambling. I was HOOKED. I was surrounded by men, getting attention, they served alcohol there and I was putting my poker skills to good use. I think we all left with a little more money that day than we started, not much, but enough. Gambling quickly took the place of my eating disorder, by this time I was abusing laxatives, diuretics and diet pills in addition to going to the gym but I found that time spent at the poker room took the place of that. I couldn’t take laxatives and diuretics there. It would mean to much time away from the poker table, in a public bathroom. I would go after work with the intention of being gone only an hour or two, but I would quickly get sucked in. I could play for hours, I thought of nothing else, my mind was totally clear and focused. I could drink and play and flirt. I was witty and charming. At the time before the World Series Of Poker became huge, I was one of the very few women playing there and by far the youngest. I could manipulate the men around me, very much in the same way I did dancing. I would wear low cut shirts, bat my eyes and would often tip the waitresses very well to bring me a plain diet coke, regardless of what I ordered out loud. I found that if men think you’re a bimbo or a drunk they are more likely to call your play, essentially parting with their money. I did really well for a long time, but like any disease, you are tricked into believing YOU have control. I got comfortable there. I knew all the dealers, waitresses and floor managers. I started actually consuming drinks there. I didn’t eat very much during my work day, if I ate all. Bacardi and diet coke became dinner. I started losing money. Gone were the days walking out with a rack of chips, head held high. Now I was leaving trying to figure out how I would explain one hundred missing dollars in our checking account. It didn’t stop me from going back. Any time I needed an escape or an outlet, instead of going out to the club and dancing it off I would play poker. My saving grace was that I wasn’t addicted to the GAME or the gambling, I was addicted to the escape from my life and my thoughts. It could have been sailing or movies or squash for all I cared. It just happened to be poker.
The club, Club Safari, became MY everything. It was where I would go if I was in a good mood, to celebrate birthdays, New Year’s Eve, bachlorette parties, divorce parties. It was where I would go if I was in a shitty mood and wanting to escape into a sea of people and alcohol. It was where I would go, looking my best, dressed to the nines to flaunt myself in front of the latest guy I had been seeing that didn’t work out. It was my steady guaranteed Friday night date. I could go with M or all by myself and either was just fine by me. I discovered my love of Bacardi there. I became the quintessential party girl. I immersed myself in that lifestyle. No drugs though, just drinking and club hopping. I was waved past lines, velvet ropes opened up for me all over. I was that girl. I met my third husband at the same club. I saw him across the floor. He was GORGEOUS. Breathtaking really. He could dance, he was dressed casual. I thought he was on spring break, it was March. I watched him all night, never got up the courage to talk to him. He didn’t show back up for months. The second time I saw him, I was just as attracted and just as shy. Shy was something that I had abandoned, except with him. I simply could not bring myself to go talk to him. M did the dirty work. She walked over to him and introduced herself, asked his name and walked back over to me. Sure he’ll meet you, he say’s go talk to him. I was mortified. I wanted to leave. Surely this beautiful man doesn’t want anything to do with ME. M dragged me over to him and I will never forget this exchange as long as I live. He looks at me through these thick dark lashes, extends his hand and in the sexiest accent introduces himself as Giovanni. I shake his hand and say in my most annoyed sarcastic voice “Oh my God!, Of course that would be your name” and walk away as fast as I can.