Dateline: February 1998
“But he’s so… little,” Sonya whispered when I pointed out Gary, in the supermarket. Gary was the store’s manager and that’s how I’d met him in the first place, as Sonya well knew.
“Shut up!” With a quick, fierce movement, I dug my elbow into her side. Gary was already making his way toward us, his honest, open face clearly showing his pleasure. True, he was only about five-feet‑five inches tall, tops, but he had nice brown hair, laughing eyes, and a grin to die for.
“My favorite girl,” Gary gave me a quick peck on the cheek. After all, we were in public.
“Hi. I want you to meet my friend, Sonya. Sonya, Gary.”
Gary shook hands, giving Sonya his five-thousand-watt smile. “Good meeting you. Grace has told me wonderful things about you.”
“Nice meeting you, Gary,” Sonya said graciously. She towered over Gary by at feast five inches, and so did I. And it would have been worse if I hadn’t been wearing sneakers to cut down my height.
“So, pick you up at eight?”Gary asked me.
We were interrupted by the sound of Gary’s name being called over the store’s PA system. He touched my arm gently. “Have to go . . .” He seemed reluctant to tear his eyes away from mine. “Nice meeting you, Sonya.”
“Same here,” she muttered but he’d already rushed off.
Sonya and I walked out of the huge supermarket toward the parking lot. She was uncharacteristically quiet as we looked around for my car. I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.
“Well?” I demanded,
Well, what? He’s nice-looking, all right, but, Grace—are you serious? He’s a shrimp!”
“Yes, you’ve mentioned something to that effect already.” ‘My teeth were on edge, ‘He’s also the nicest man I’ve ever met.”
“Sure, I mean a date, what’s that?”
“It’s being with a guy who doesn’t pull moves on me the minute we are alone; it’s talking with someone for a change, without ever having to wonder what to say next,”
“Hey, take it easy!” Sonya held up her lands, palms out. “So you date the guy and it’s fun, so? It’s not like you’re going to marry him!”
Wasn’t it’? How could she know? I was really furious with Sonya, but I knew I had no right to be. She was my best friend. We’d known each other since high school. We had double-dated, cried on each other’s shoulders, shared our deepest secrets. And Sonya had stood by me when my mother died at a young age of breast cancer.
Sonya knew that I had just come off a three-year relationship with a guy who suddenly decided he had to go back to his former wife for the sake of his two children. I had to admire him for that, but I’d wasted all that time on a divorced guy who didn’t know his own mind. Since then, I’d been leery, if not distrustful of men. Not that they were knocking down my door. It’s not easy for a twenty-six-year-old woman to meet men unless she hangs out at singles’ bars or joins some dating club. I wasn’t into that. I went back to school to get my degree, which kept me busy nights and weekends. I was studying library science because to me, books were my friends, they were living and breathing things for me.
Meeting Gary was a fluke. One night, realizing I had forgotten to buy milk for my cat, Lacy, I dashed out to the supermarket just as it was closing.Gary personally unlocked the door to let me in, and after I bought the milk, he said he’d walk me to my car. I didn’t know it then, but someone had tried to hold up the store that week, and Gary was being kind. I didn’t even notice that he was short. I thought it was nice of him to walk me to my car.
“By the way, my name is Gary,” he said as he waited for me to unlock the car.
“Grace.” I held out my hand. “Thanks for this special valet service.”
“Glad to do it; drive safely,” he said.
My mother always said that. It brought tears to my eyes as I drove away, watching him in my rear-view window. I suddenly felt so alone and vulnerable. I missed my mommy—does anyone ever get over missing a mother? My father had joined his widowed sister inTexas, but I still clung to the town where I had grown up.
On top of everything, I was still hurting from a relationship I ought never to have started. There were signs. During our dates, Larry would invariably bring up one of his children or tell me Sue had gotten a promotion at the office where she worked. Did I care? I liked his kids, two young boys, well enough, but when he had them for a weekend he wanted to do what he called “father and son things”—meaning, my presence was unnecessary. I didn’t mind. I kept myself busy, too. I loved him, I needed him, but he dumped me one Friday night over Chinese noodles and, like a fool, I cried. I let him see me cry. Shameless, stupid.
Although I had managed to put it out of my mind, the scars remained. I wasn’t about to let anyone else into my life. I didn’t need an aching heart on my sleeve.
Until Gary. We ran into each other again at the bank one day. He was very friendly and we spoke a few minutes. I saw him at the market again and he came over to say a few words. I began to feel at ease with him. I didn’t think of him as a boyfriend or even a friend, just a very nice man I knew.
In the meantime, Sonya had eloped with her longtime boyfriend. When she came back they invited some of their friends to a celebration dinner at the Elms, a very nice restaurant by the river. There were sixteen of us, including Sonya and her new husband, Wayne.
I was sipping my coffee when Gary walked up to our table. Apparently, he knew Wayne. The two men shook hands and Gary was introduced all around. When he saw me, he grinned with pleasure.Wayne invited him to sit clown for a drink.Gary was there with friends, but he took a few minutes to sit next to me. It was all very casual. Before he left he asked if he could call me sometime. I said sure and gave him my phone number.
Sonya teased me after he left. “Looks like Shorty likes you,” she laughed.
I didn’t like that. So Gary was short– was that any reason to make fun of him? I was surprised at Sonya; she was a good person, but maybe she’d had too much wine and wasn’t in a really great mood.
I didn’t think any more about Gary until he called one night. I had been reading in my bathrobe, annoyed by the interruption, but once we started talking on the phone, I completely relaxed with him. We must have talked for an hour. I can’t remember what it was all about, except that it was interesting.
That’s how it started. Gary was not exactly a rah-rah guy on a date. We went out for quiet dinners, mostly. Once, we discovered a book shop in a historic section of town and we browsed. Gary bought me a tiny, worn book that had a haunting inscription on the fly leaf: To Victoria, from her mommy and daddy.
“I wonder where she is now?”Gary mused as he fondled the book “I find people fascinating. Who are they? What are their dreams, their fears? Things like that.”
I laughed. “Hey, am I someone you find interesting?”
“I find you to be a good person,” he replied.
A good person, what an odd thing to say. I thought. But I liked it.
We didn’t hop into bed, nor did we declare undying love for each other. I dated Gary for over six months before I let him stay over in my apartment. I wanted to be sure. I needed to be in touch with my real feelings and make sure that I was not jumping into another relationship just because I wanted to erase the hurt inside me.
Gary was an amazing lover. He didn’t think of me as someone to have sex with. He treated me like I was a fragile flower to be gently touched and admired, and to become one with him when I pulled him close with an eagerness I had never known before.
“Marry me,” he whispered one night. “Marry me and have children with me.”
I was touched by his proposal, mostly because Larry had never once mentioned marriage during our long relationship. But more than that, Gary was the kind of man who treated me like I was the most important person in his life.
One day, he brought up the subject of his parents. He wanted to take me to meet them. He wanted them to get to know me. His parents lived in a nice ranch house outside of the town. I have to admit that the first thought that flashed through my mind when I met them was that they were both short, sweet, little people. But they greeted me with big smiles and made me feel very welcome.
“You have such pretty eyes,”Gary’s mother said as we had coffee. “I think eyes tell so much about a person. Your eyes are kind.”
“Thank you. My mother’s eyes were like mine.”
“She’s gone?” she asked gently.
“Yes, and I still miss her.”
“What child does not miss a mother, even after she’s gone?” She patted my hand. “You are a good person.”
In the car later,Garylaughed and said his mother was known for her sentimentality. “When I was a kid, God forbid a stray cat or dog wandered into our yard, she took them right in.”
I sensed that about his mother. They were decent people who obviously worshipped their son. But I wasn’t ready for marriage. I needed to complete my education, and Gary agreed. We sort of drifted into being together whenever both of us were free.
Sonya asked us to dinner one Sunday night. She served her famous “mock chili,’ as she called it, and we sat around eating and drinking beer. Sonya seemed to be observing me closely. Later, when I made a trip into the bathroom, she was right on my heels.
“Listen. Is this thing serious, or what?”
“Well, I mean he’s nice and all that—”
“But?” Already, I felt myself getting testy.
“All right, you’re my best friend, right? I love you and want you to be happy but . . . Grace, he’s so short. I mean, what would happen to any kids you might have? I mean—”
“I’m surprised at you!” I interrupted her angrily. “You measure a person’s worth by how tall they are?”
“Well, no . . . “At least she had the grace to be embarrassed.” I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Then accept Gary for the person he is.” I left her in the bathroom, calling over my shoulder as I closed the door, “I’m really disappointed in you.”
Gary and I left soon after that. The evening was spoiled for me. I didn’t say anything to Gary, but suddenly I did feel kind of funny about his height. Was Sonya right? Would we have abnormally stunted children? And would they succeed in a world that puts so much emphasis on looks?
I didn’t stop to think how unfair I was being toGary. How stupid. He was a man of goodness and character. When I came down with the flu he stayed with me. He wouldn’t put up with my reassurances, and when my coughing reached alarming proportions, he bundled me up and took me to one of those medical clinics that look at you right away. I had pneumonia.Gary was so worried about me, he wanted me to go and stay with his mother for her tender loving care. I almost gave in on that, but was too sick to pack and leave my place.
Gary didn’t press me to get married. I sort of drifted, anxious to finish my studies and begin applying for a job.
That’s how I met Marshall. He was tall, handsome and thin, the owner of a small employment agency. I had seen his ad in the local paper. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to start job hunting before I graduated, just to get a feel for what might be available for somebody with my training. That first day Marshall spent over an hour with me. He took my phone number and said he’d begin scouting around.
One night, he called and left a message on my machine. “Call me, I think I might have something interesting,” he said.
I called him immediately. He had left his home number, as well as that of his office.
“We have to talk,” he said. “How about six o’clock tomorrow night? I want to lay out something for you.”
Six. I had a date to pick up Gary at the supermarket, have a quick dinner, and then see the latest blockbuster movie. But this was more important. I called Gary and explained that I couldn’t make it, I was being interviewed for a job.Gary offered to meet me later, but I didn’t want to hold him up. I told him we’d see the film the following night. I was not putting him off. I really did need to research whatever job prospects were out there.
Marshall was waiting for me in his office, He was genial but definitely not the corporate type. He seemed like a nonconformist, so I wasn’t unduly surprised when he grinned and said “Why don’t we take this stuff over to Papa Louie’s and talk? We can relax there to map out strategies.”
I thought it was a good idea. We walked two blocks to the restaurant, I noticed that Marshall ordered wine for both of us without asking me. The wine was light and dry, the food was delicious, and so was the fawning attention the waiter paid Marshall. Obviously, he was a regular there.
“What would you think of a serious move?” he asked,
“Relocating to the city, where there are truly big opportunities. I can place you with a corporation as librarian…”
He talked on in a charming and attentive manner. I noticed when we left that as I walked beside him, I had to look up at him. We got to my car and he leaned over and he kissed me.
“You should not look so kissable,” was the way he asked for permission. Then he pulled me into his arms, my nose nuzzling against his broad chest. When Gary pulled me into his arms, my nose usually hit the top of his head.
Was I making comparisons? Subconsciously, yes, Marshall was tall, Gary was short, Gary was a good man, Marshall was exciting.
I honestly had no intention of seeing Marshall again, but I did. I lied to Gary and pretended to be busy studying when, in reality, I went out to a restaurant bar with Marshall. Why did I do it? I’m not sure. Or maybe I am. Maybe I was such a weak person I couldn’t fully commit myself to a man who was so short.
Later that night, Marshall brought me back to his apartment—a townhouse right out of a magazine, with color-coordinated beige rugs and cream-colored furniture. I was afraid to sit down on anything.
“My wife did all this”, he said as he mixed us cocktails. “She’s in the design business.”
“Oh? And where do you hide this wife?” I asked
He laughed. “Very funny. We’re having a crisis, a trial separation, you might say. These things happen, nothing lasts forever anymore, does it?”
“I don’t know, how long have you been married?”
“Um, about seven months.”
I was stunned. Seven months and already they were having a trial separation? I sipped my drink and then got up to leave. But as soon as I stood, he pulled me into his arms.
“Come on hon, what’s your hurry?” he whispered in my ear. “We’ve got all night.”
I actually laughed. Marshall was shallow, selfish, a man who flitted from woman to woman looking for instant gratification; but he’d never find any kind of real happiness, because his head was screwed on wrong.
I started for the door. I didn’t care if I had to search for a bus stop or call a cab, I wanted out of there.Marshall got angry.
“Listen, life is you help me and I help you, get it? You want me to help you find a job? Well, I want something in return for my trouble.”
“You do get something. You get a commission—but not from me,” I stated. No wonder your wife dumped you after seven months. What took her so long?’
He slapped me then. He slapped me so hard, he brought me to my knees. I was stunned and then scared. But Marshall just pushed me out of the door, tossing my purse after me.
“You’re nothing but a tease,” he said. “You women make me sick!”
I staggered to the elevator tying to pull myself together. And then I couldn’t help it, I started to cry. I staggered through the lobby and outside. Down the street and around the corner was an open gas station. I found a phone and called Gary.
“Come and get me please,” I cried.
He didn’t ask a question.
“I’m there,” was all he said.
Fifteen minutes later, he pulled into the station. I was waiting outside in the rain that had suddenly begun to fall.
Garywas beside himself. He jumped out of his car and held me, “Did someone attack you? We have to call police!”
As he spoke he was wiping my tears with a handkerchief. Yes,Gary was the kind of man who carried a handkerchief, a good man. Haltingly, I told him what had happened. He listened grimly.
“You want me to go back there and whack him?” he asked.
He’d do that, my Gary, half the size of the brute who had slapped me? I never loved him more than at that moment.
“I’ll call the police,”Garysaid, “Tell me what to do.”
“Oh,Gary,” I sighed. “Take me home. It was my fault. I never should have gone to his apartment. I was so stupid. I really believed he was going to help me find a job.”
Go ahead, lie, I told myself. Maybe that was part of the truth, but the other part I wasn’t mentioning was that I had liked being with this handsome, tall man, the kind of male women looked up to, even though he was a rotten human being. I am not saying all tall men are rotten, but for a while I was measuring worth with height. I was not seeing beyond looks.
“Gary, will you marry me?” I sobbed.
He stared at me for a moment in disbelief. Then a wonderful happy chuckle rose up from deep inside. “Are you proposing?”
“Then, yes, too.”
When we kissed I never felt more safe, secure and happy in my life.
He took me home and stayed with me that night. Knowing how upset I was he made me tea. Then he undressed me, put me to bed, and lay down beside me, cuddling me but not pulling any moves. We slept curled around each other.
A few days later I called Sonya.
“How would you like to be my matron of honor?” I asked.
“Better make it soon,” she shouted, “I’m pregnant!”
“Fine, we’ll do it up fast!”
Gary’s parents, especially his mother, were so pleased. Gary and I assured her we wanted a very small wedding, but it would be in the church with an organist and flowers and friends. Because I had no family, I was going to be adopted into Gary’s family—his parents, two brothers, aunts and uncles.
I have pictures and a video of my wedding. Gary and I are walking back down the aisle, arm-in-arm. He looks handsome in his tuxedo, and there I am in my white satin gown, half a foot taller than Gary, and we’re both smiling, proud, radiant. I chose a short man, and I’m sure lucky he married me.
Copyright © 1998, 2012 by BroadLit