Adventures in Dating: Helen – Part XI

¡Viva La Vida Loca!

Start the Mariachi, as we trudge onward to meeting a little Latino man, Manuel. Before this instance, I had never dated a Latino man seriously. I am not sure quite why, it just never seemed to happen. Not totally true, however, because David was Mexican. However, due to the fact that David had been born and raised in the United States, he seemed more American than anything. Alas, Manuel was my true introduction to the Latino world.

It was a rainy day and my son was with my ex-husband. I had a ton of laundry to do, so I went to a little laundromat by my apartment. As I walked in, I naturally surveyed the room, as we all do when arriving somewhere. There was no one who I would even give a second glance to, so I continued on my merry way and began my laundry. I started four washing machines (I told you I had a lot!) and found a little table where I could spread my vocabulary cards out to study. That day, I happened to be studying Spanish, preparing for my God-forsaken teacher certification test for the state (it would be my 8th time taking it. Eighth! Hey… I am a horrible, horrible test taker but I rarely give up on anything, especially when it will affect my employment. .

It was at that moment when I heard from across the room, “¿Hablas español?” I looked up to see Manuel looking at my cards with a curious and hopeful expression. From there on, we conversed in Spanish until our laundry was done. I noticed that although he was not drop-dead gorgeous, he certainly was not ugly. He seemed to be physically fit, was my height and had beautiful chocolate-brown eyes.

Manuel’s laundry was done first and I desperately tried to hide my “unmentionables” while folding, as we talked. It was no use; I was about as graceful as a hippo in ballet slippers. My tie-dyed blue underwear nearly hit him in the face, as it flew out of the dryer before I could catch them, as I opened the door. I blushed and looked at Manuel for a reaction. He discreetly smiled and continued talking as though nothing had happened, as I retrieved them and stuffed them in my laundry basket, not even bothering to fold them. I was impressed that he never mentioned that incident again, nor teased me about it. As the minutes flew by, we talked about our lives and who we were.

I was actually having quite a lot of fun. I hadn’t had very many adult conversations in the past year with someone that was a clean cut, professional and decent looking man, at least not one that didn’t involve crayons or bodily functions of a student. The closest I had gotten to that was conversing with our family doctor who is coming up in a chapter all his own.
Meeting Manuel was refreshing and fun. I was happy to have made a new acquaintance, even if it only meant practicing Spanish conversation for an hour. When Gideon’s last tiny sock had been folded, Manuel helped me carry my three laundry baskets and soap out to my car. I admired how physically fit he was as he told me that he was a runner. The only thing that I would have loved to have change was again, his height! Why in the world am I a magnet for guys that are either shorter than me or the same height? The most annoying thing is, I see a majority of tall men with really short women. It’s one of those annoying little anomalies that I will never get over. Ugh.

Nevertheless, our laundromat time ended with a conversation that was confusing to me. As I loaded my car full of my laundry, Manuel began, “Helen, I would love to tutor you. Just as friends. Don’t worry, I am not interested in you romantically, I think I can really help you with your Spanish for passing your test. And again, don’t worry, I am only interested in being friends,” he said.

“Okay, Manuel. That would be fantastic,” I said as I knew, deep down it was a lie. Truthfully, I couldn’t imagine ever calling him, let alone dating him. I don’t know why, but when opportunities arise like that, I don’t usually take them. Perhaps, I was adverse to inviting him into my home for tutoring. I mean, this guy could turn out to be anyone, right? People in this world anymore are just so unpredictable and scary sometimes. (As I have learned the hard way and you have read in my past stories).

I realize that you are probably thinking, “Well, you could meet at the library or somewhere to study, why not just do that?” That would make sense in any normal person’s schedule. But, remember, my life is a life of duty, as I have full custody of my son. The only time that I ever get to myself is about an hour at night, which mainly consists of packing lunches and showering. I am now learning to trust friends to spend an hour or two with Gideon to give me time to myself once and awhile, but in the same vein, I have this irrepressible guilt that I am being a bad mother if I take that time. I cherish every second with my son and would never, ever want to give that up. I am growing as an individual in that respect, but doing it slowly. Hey, it’s all about baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Anyway, it was then that the Manuel chapter of my life began. I had two months to conquer this insanely hard test that had in fact, conquered me mentally in the past. After all, how many times had I taken it? I know that I am a competent Spanish speaker, but when I went into the test each time, I forgot everything. I panicked. One time, I even forgot my birth date and could barely remember my name. I needed something. I needed help. I needed… Manuel.

That night, I called Manuel and he happily came over to my house. From then on, we began studying on a regular basis, two to three times a week, for hours at a time. I would speak, read, write and conjugate verbs in Spanish for him. Each time I made a mistake, he would nicely correct me and tell me to try again. My brain felt like mush, but finally, my confidence began to grow with the help of Manuel. He was sweet, patient, and very knowledgeable. With each study session, my liking for him grew more and more.

After studying with Manuel for about two months, he asked if he could bring a movie over one night rather than study. I agreed, telling him that I loved comedies and that we could even watch a movie in Spanish if he wanted. I was looking forward to a break from studying and perhaps having a laugh or two while we enjoyed a good movie.

When Manuel showed up that night, I had already made old fashioned butter popcorn and asked him what he wanted to drink. “Oh no, Helen. On the weekends, I actually don’t eat much. That popcorn you made is full of fat. Perhaps you could get me some strawberries or something.”

“Okay”, I thought. “I guess I will just eat this entire bowl of popcorn by myself?” However, as we sat there watching the movie, he eating his little bowl of strawberries and me, munching away at my popcorn, I began to feel like a cow. Keep in mind, I had a baby a little under a year ago by this time and Manuel was not only my height, but he was actually, I believe, thinner than me. It’s laughable now, but then it wasn’t. I would agonize over actually being able to feel secure with him if we ever actually went out.

That night, we watched the most depressing movie that nearly brought tears to my eyes. It was about a couple that had gotten married, and then the husband fell ill and he encouraged her to go and have “relations” with other men and come back and tell him about her experiences to fulfill his and her happiness. The whole movie continued on with the woman gallivanting all over town and telling her husband about her experiences. In the end, she gets killed by some drug dealer. Needless to say, we kind of sat there, I in a stupor and he, looking at me expectantly. So much for a good laugh, huh?

We talked about the movie for awhile and he went into this ridiculous explanation of what love really is. How the lady in the movie truly loved her husband so much, that she became promiscuous with every man in sight, just so she could tell her husband about it. Out of obedience, out of love. Okay, maybe on some small scale, he was right, but, come on. That is not true love! If you had seen the movie, you would agree that it would be describing a mental illness.

Even now, when I think back to the conversation, I can’t make sense of whatever bullshit he was pedaling that day. Now, I know his one goal that he had that night, as he finished his sentence on how the movie portrayed true love. He explained that because the woman was willing to do such a thing for her husband, it had to have been love. As he finished his explanation, and I opened my mouth to disagree, my breath caught in my throat as he lifted my hand to his lips and kissed it. I tried not to jump as he did this, because it was he who had claimed that he was only interested in friendship. It was he who wasn’t interested. Or was he?

This dance continued on for hours, as he complimented me, kissed my hands, talked about what he wanted in the future, etc. His kisses continued as he wheeled and dealed, as all men do when they want something. I squealed when he reached my neck and planted little kisses all over it. That is the most ticklish part of my body and it was making me crazy. We ended up collapsing in laughter, as he went for my neck again and I deflected his attempt. After bashing his head with mine accidentally, as he once again tried to kiss my neck, I decided it was time for him to go. I didn’t want him getting the wrong idea. We laughed at our clumsiness and set up another night for tutoring.

The tutoring continued over the next months and when I finally took the exam, something rather rare happened: I kept calm when I walked in through those doors of where the certification test was held that I had grown to hate. I wrote my name, date and all of my information down without shedding a single tear. Thank God. Finally, I kept my cool and finally, I did another monumental thing… after four hours of testing hell, I passed the exam!

I know that I have Manuel to thank for finally passing the test. He and I whooped, hugged, hollered and cheered in celebration of this momentous occasion when I found out I had passed. After that, we began to see each other more often. Although we would still read poetry and write together in Spanish, our time no longer just involved tutoring in Spanish. He was also tutoring me in other things, (ahem) that of which I wish not to divulge details. However, let me just tell you that Manuel taught me things that I never knew were possible. I will leave it at that… and just say that I feel sorry for any man that ever has to follow in his footsteps, for I don’t think they will do it justice.

Overall, I really cared for Manuel; I thought I even loved him at one point. Eventually, we got to the point where we would text back and forth throughout the day; “Te necesito”, which translates into: “I need you”… and he even threw in “I love you’s” every now and then. Over the months, after spending time with him and getting to know him, I actually began believing that yes, perhaps, I loved him back. But then again, what is love? After being out of it for so long and jumping through hoop after hoop, you begin to wonder what actually constitutes love? I know that I loved my first boyfriend, Andrew. I know that without question because he still pops up in my thoughts from time to time. I know that I loved my husband, and we all see where that got me.

Although it was spread out over a year’s time frame, I would wax and wane with Manuel. He was almost forty years old and looking to finally settle down and have children. I was still very much running from my past and scared to commit, in fear of someone leaving me again. Did I love Manuel? Or was I too scared to actually put myself in the game fully and find out?
Eventually, things ended up fizzling out with poor Manuel. We were actually toying with the idea of staying together forever. He would talk about marriage and how our future children could have dual citizenship (as he was from Mexico). I seriously thought about the possibility.

With time, I found myself screening his calls and only allowing him to come over when I felt lonely, or felt as if he would leave forever if I didn’t let him. It just began to fizzle. He was getting tired of what appeared to be “games”. I was getting tired of being confused about it all. Overall, I believe I knew deep down that he wasn’t the one and I was just wanting that companionship. I liked aspects of him, but not everything. He was just so serious, that my main worry was that I would never laugh again. I was scared that a part of me would die and I wouldn’t be my jolly old self anymore.

For weeks, tension had been building up and the day he said, “Helen, something has to happen soon with us, or not at all,” I officially freaked out. I felt like I needed more time to date him and figure out if he was “the one”. He felt as if he were trying to beat a ticking time bomb and get married before he turned forty. Both of these things were not a good mix for us.
The one incident that brought us to the end of our relationship, however, was when Manuel showed up for a visit after not seeing him for a month. My son had been in the hospital and could have died from what he had been treated for. It was very serious and I was beside myself with worry on a daily basis, hoping, praying that Gideon would be alright. Thankfully, in the end, Gideon and I went home to our simple, little life that we had grown to love.

When I arrived home, I called Manuel and invited him over, apologizing for being so distant while Gideon was in the hospital. After Gideon was in bed, I sat down with a snack and waited for Manuel to arrive. I tend to stress eat to deal with pressures, as do many people in my family. Thankfully, none of us are overweight, we are just healthy looking. So, because of the added pressures and worrying about my son, I suppose I had gained about five pounds since Manuel had seen me last.
I heard the doorbell chime and got up to answer the door in sweats and my hair in a ponytail. We were at the point of being comfortable with one another, so I thought his main worry would be about spending time with me, rather than what I was wearing.

That night, when he walked in, I gave him his usual hug and kiss at the door. I told him how I missed him and how happy I was to see him again. I asked him how he had been and after a short response from him, I began my tales of how stressful it had been with Gideon. As we stood at the door, still in an embrace, I went on about how scared I was but he interrupted me. “Helen, what is this? You seemed to have gotten a little bit fat in the month that I didn‘t see you,” he said, grabbing my sides.

“Seriously?!” I asked him, pulling out of the embrace and looking at him with fire in my eyes (Keep in mind, I was just coming out of sheer stress that had lasted for about a month. I was ready to unload on someone, guns blazing). “Well, I have been really stressed and I tend to stress eat. Also, these particular pants make me feel… wait a minute. Where in the hell do you get off asking a woman that, anyway?!” I practically yelled. “Just in case you want to chalk this up as a cultural difference, I will let you know how we women in America deal with those kind of comments.“

“Wait, Helen,” he interrupted, “I didn’t mean to offend you, you just look a little bit fat. I just don‘t want you to go gaining a bunch of weight.”

My jaw dropped in horror as my mind replayed what I just heard. “Okay, Manuel. Thank you for the lesson in our difference of cultures and your inability to learn this particular lesson. You can go now,” I said as I pointed towards the door. “You have no idea how stressful everything has been with Gideon being in the hospital and how sick with worry I have been. Instead of being concerned with how we have been, you are concerned with critiquing my body. You can go now,” I said, as I began collecting his things.

Again, he interrupted my tirade, “Well, I don’t know what else to say, Helen. Mexican women are so easy to date. American women, you are so hard to predict. To a Mexican woman, you can tell her that she looks a little bit fat and she will go on a diet…” he began.

“Look, Manuel,” I said, cutting him off and disgusted at the fact that he thought I would believe that any woman would graciously accept a man telling her she looks fat. “I am not sure what the hell you are trying to start with me here, but in any culture, I can imagine pinching a woman’s sides and telling her that she is getting fat would not be kosher. Just go. You can go and find a very predictable little Mexican woman that you can boss around. Thanks for tutoring me, but I don’t want to go out with you anymore. I have had enough stress in my life without having a man point out something I am insecure about anyway.”

With that, I opened the door for Manuel and ushered him out to put his shoes on in the hallway. Weight… ugh. What kind of man would comment on a woman’s weight anyway? Why didn’t I point out the fact that if he and I were in the Ice capades, I would be the one throwing him up in the air for the double axles? Oh, never mind. Some people just aren’t worth it. As I closed the door, I thought, “Manuel can take his tiny Mexican self and find his señorita. But, it’s not going to be me.” For months, Manuel continued to text and call me with no return response. I even deleted his number in my phone to resist the temptation to let him back into my life.

The reason why this affected me so badly was that my ex-husband used to critique my looks so much that I eventually morphed into someone that I hardly even recognized. Eventually, my long, blond locks were dyed a mousy brown and cut short above my shoulders. I began wearing clothing that my mother-in-law would wear, never wore jewelery and wore glasses instead of my contact lenses all of the time. When it came to the point of my divorce and I looked in the mirror, I saw another woman staring back. Not only was I exhausted, heart broken and dismayed, I also had become an old woman. I realized that I needed a serious transformation not only mentally, but also physically. To become again, whom I had been in the past and to like myself once again; to again become Helen.

Unfortunately, for Manuel, all it took was that one smart-ass comment to me that day. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been such a bad guy to end up with. However, like any person who has been slammed into the dirt time and time again by love, I tend to hold everyone that I date now accountable for past love’s penances. Is it unfair? The answer is yes. But, so is life and for damned sure, so is love.

Looking back on it now, I am proud for my reaction that I had to Manuel that day. It was a stepping stone for me, as I have always been a number one pick to be a door mat for men. Whether the way I treated Manuel that day was fair or not, as far as I was concerned that day, once I closed the door to my apartment, I also closed the door on my heart to Manuel.

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