The other night I was working on a story about the recent human trafficking arrest in West Atlantic City when it triggered a memory from my youth. It’s amazing how you can remember things differently with the wisdom of age and experience.
I wasn’t always the suave and debonair ladies man that I am today. In my youth, I was a sheltered, gawky and awkward teen who had no self-confidence and no game at all when it came to the ladies. So imagine my surprise when a real live girl took a liking to me.
The year was 1987 and I was 18 at the time. Being under 21 at the South Jersey Shore during the off-season left us kids with very few recreational choices. Every once in a while my friends would drag me to an under 21 club. I hated this place because the music sucked and fights always broke out. I kind of lived in fear of everything back then.
At the club, a friend of mine introduced me to a short and curvaceous girl with a beautiful face. A slow song came on and she asked me to dance. Of course, I said yes. Dancing with her was a little cumbersome since I was 6’2” and she was 4’11”. I was staring out into space trying to act like I’ve been there before. She said something to me that I didn’t hear and when I looked down to ask her what she said I was met with ‘the look’. I leaned in for a kiss and for the first time in my life I didn’t screw it up. She put her arms around my neck and drew me in like she had been waiting for me all her life.
We spent the rest of the night in the club in each other’s arms. When closing time came neither of us wanted to leave the other. I didn’t want to leave her at least but, both of us had to go home.
I drove her to her home in Atlantic City. I expressed my concern about her living alone in such a rough part of the city but she said that her landlord looks out for her. That should have been my first clue.
The next day I picked her up since we were both invited to spend the weekend at a mutual friend’s house. We all had a great weekend-long party and her and I spent the entire weekend together. We never bumped uglies that weekend because I was inexperienced and had no idea how to seal the deal. I used to regret never pulling the trigger but my naiveté might have saved me in the long run.
As the weekend came to a close we got in the car to go home she asked me to take her someplace else. She asked me to drop her off at a seedy motel in West Atlantic City. She told me that she had to go there to visit relatives that just arrived in town. That should have been my second clue.
Before she got out of the car I asked her if she wanted to come with me to Philadelphia the next day. I had some family business to attend to. She said that she would and told me to pick her up at her place in the morning. After she got out of the car I pulled a Ted Mosby. I told her “I know we’ve only known each other for a couple of days but I think I love you.” The amazing thing is she said it back to me. Even though she said it back for years this is where I thought I made my most grievous error with her but as I look back with the knowledge of a much older man, that may have not been the case.
The next day I went to her place and knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked on the door again. This caused her landlord to come out of his place. He asked what he could do for me and I said I was just looking for the girl. He asked me who I was and I introduced myself as her boyfriend. Since we exchanged ‘L’ words I thought it was reasonable to assume that I was her boyfriend. The landlord let out a laugh in a scary Samuel L. Jackson sort of way and choked on the question “Boyfriend?” He caught his breath and told me that she never came home from the night before. My young and sheltered brain didn’t think that this was an issue. I stupidly thought “Golly gee gosh, this will be a piece of All-American apple pie. She must still be at the motel with her ‘relatives’. “
I stopped at the motel on my way to Philly and knocked on the door I thought she went into. Someone peeked out and when I asked for her and they said I had the wrong room. “Gee, how odd.” I thought. I took off for Philly, worried as hell about her.
I got back from Philly and she called me. I was thrilled to hear from her. My heart was elated. Then I was greeted with “Did you tell my landlord that you were my boyfriend?’
“Uh…yeah. I am your boyfriend right?”
I wasn’t prepared for her response.
“That’s not the point.” Then she let out an exasperated sigh. “I can’t see you anymore.”
No explanation. That was it. We were done.
A few months later the same friend who introduced us told me that he ran into her and she was working as a cashier at a clothing store. I thought “I’ll go to her store and that will make her take me back.” Like I said I was naive and stupid and didn’t know any better. Going to an ex’s job unannounced is never a good idea. Luckily New Jersey has stringent gun laws.
Anyway, not surprisingly she was not happy to see me and blew me off. I took the hint and ended up carrying a grudge against her because of it.
A couple of years later some friends of mine invited me out to a night at the Atlantic City Race Track, horses not cars. They also invited her along and didn’t tell me about it until it was too late for me to do anything about it. I have no idea if they were trying to get us back together or not. That night I would hardly look at her and I wouldn’t talk to her, We exchanged pleasantries at the end of the night and that was the last I ever saw of her. That was over 20 years ago and I probably haven’t even thought of her since long before I got married,
Fast forward to a few days ago. I was researching a human trafficking arrest that had been made in West Atlantic City. One of the articles I read had mentioned the very motel that I dropped her off at. That must have unlocked something in my mind because the memories came flooding back to me in great detail. Then it finally clicked. After all those years I think I finally figured it out. Her landlord was her pimp, the hotel was a job, and I was lucky that I didn’t get shot in the face.
She didn’t dump me per se. She was trying to let me down easy before I found out. That was probably best for both of us because I would have tried to play the hero and rescue her which probably would have gotten us both shot in the face.
Do I think my friends knew they were setting me up with a pro? Maybe. As tight as we were we did tend to keep big secrets like that from each other. Do I think she was working me? Not at all. The only money that left my pocket was for gas and the ubiquitous Jersey toll booths. Do I feel better after coming to this realization? Not even remotely. I feel worse since she was trying to help me and I was too stupid to realize it. Am I 100% sure this is what really happened? No, but, you have to admit it makes a lot of sense. Am I projecting my current life onto my old one? Could be.
My point? Well, I haven’t run in those circles in many a year so I never heard what became of her. If she was in the life I hope she got out safely and I hope this somewhat makes up for me being an ass all those years.