I met Lena---a sleek, rather attractive, black woman of 40 years of age--- at South Miami Hospital. I was there to conduct a session on relaxation techniques and she was there to attend a meeting of Overeaters Anonymous.
We met in the hospital cafeteria, where she was eating a small bowl of dry cereal and I was drinking an iced tea. Lena possessed an addictive personality. She could become addicted to almost anything in her environment that might be of interest. A year prior to that time Lena had been 60 pounds heavier. She was a compulsive eater and especially liked foods that contained sugar. Many alcoholics who have achieved some degree of sobriety have a craving for sugar. If she encountered bananas, she might eat the entire bunch. Once I offered her a piece of candy and she recoiled from it just as Dracula would recoil from garlic or a cross.
Lena was also an alcoholic and a drug addict. At the age of 14 she smoked mari-juana and drank Guiness Stout, hanging out with older black men who provided her with these substances. Later she graduated to cocaine and hard liquor. Back then she had almost no money and today she still has very little money. She has no car and doesn't drive, so she often travels around Miami on the city buses. She even does her grocery shopping via bus. Sometimes friends provide her with transportation and I am one such friend. She likes to refer to me as her white chauffeur. I should mention that my own drinking was somewhat out of control.
Among other things, I would take her to the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. When we went to these meetings we would often get there early. I would then read her the poetry of poets such as Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas. I even played her a tape of
Dylan Thomas reading his own poetry with his wonderful voice sometimes referred to as "Welsh Singing"Although she hadn't finished high school, she just loved poetry. Lena especially liked Thomas's poems "Fern Hill," and "I See The Boys of Summer" His "A Child's Christmas In Wales," which is perhaps second in winter seasonal popularity only to Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," also delighted Lena. Occasionally she asked me the meaning of certain words, and after a while I found that I had to carry a dictionary in my car. I also read some stories to her that I had written---ones that I thought she would like.
One day she said, "Make up some more exciting stories, Richard---spice them up a bit" So I told Lena I could tell her a story about Basketball Betty. I warned her, however, that the story would be very sexy, and that if it were a movie it would be X-Rated. She appeared shocked. "Don't you say another word about this. I don't want to hear it. I am still a good girl and I attend mass every Sunday, Richard" She said that every day she practiced meditation and prayer. She said that meditation was listening to God and prayer was talking to God. She especially liked the Serenity Prayer, which is as follows: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
So I said, "O.K., Lena, I won't tell you about Basketball Betty"
We were driving along Kendall Drive at the time and continued on for another 10 minutes in silence. Then, in a very quiet voice, Lena said, "Richard?"
"Tell me about Betty"
"Betty who?", I said, teasing her.
"You know which Betty," said Lena.
"I just want to be sure," I said.
"Betty Basketball," said Lena.
I said, "Oh, you mean Basketball Betty"
Lena said, "Yes"
She listened to my story in silence, giving no particular reaction to it. But then she said, "Do you know any other stories about this Betty?"
When I met her at South Miami Hospital the addictions had loosened their grip and she was a good-looking, relatively, happy woman. But as a buffer or a protective device she continued to attend meetings of Overeaters Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. She was always fearful of relapse, or "slipping," as it is sometimes called.
On a hot, muggy day Lena and I were driving west along Bird Road. The traffic was bad---cars were jamming on their brakes and tires were squealing. The screeching occurred again when they accelerated. I think everyone was in a bad mood and there were accidents. This kind of behavior is sometimes called "road rage" Somehow I momentarily lost my concentration and crashed into the car in front of me. It in turn crashed into the next car, and a chain reaction occurred, much like knocking over a string of dominos. Neither Lena nor I had any personal injuries, but fenders and other portions of my car were lying on the road. The drivers in the two cars in front of me were so deeply engaged in a vicious argument, all the insults being hurled in Spanish, that they didn't even seem to notice me, and there were no cars behind me. I heard a few curse words that I recognized---words such as culo, mierda, cono, etc. A sly smile came over my face. Why not drive off and avoid much of the unpleasantness, such as the police, insurance, lawyers, and cutthroat body shops? I threw the damaged parts of my car which were lying on the road, into my trunk and back seat and drove off, saying to Lena, "Hang on babe, we are on our way" Lena reminded me that we were leaving the scene of an accident and I said "de nada"
My cousin, Karl, is a good mechanic. He studied my car carefully and, taking into account the scattered pieces, he proceeded to put it together, using some parts from a junk yard. The result wouldn't be mistaken for a new car, but it wasn't bad. It ran pretty well.
A week later I was again driving along Bird with Lena and we came to the very place where the accident occurred. I said, "Lena. This is where we had our accident"
And she replied, "This is where you had your accident. I had nothing to do with it"
I said, "Well, if you hadn't had your hand on my thigh I could have concentrated better on my driving"
"Richard, I never had my hand on your thigh. You'd better not tell anyone that I did"
One day while driving Lena back to her apartment she asked me to take her to Sears. She needed to pick up a few items---some lipstick, perhaps a skirt and a blouse. We went directly to the women's clothing section and Lena started sifting through skirts, blouses, and sweaters. She told me to hold my arms out straight in front of me with my palms up. Lena then began laying the clothing across them. As they piled up, they became heavy and it was difficult to keep my arms out straight in front of me. Lena then led the way to the clothes changing rooms and I followed. When we arrived there it was awkward for me as I was the only man and most of the women were Black or Latin. Signs on the doors of the changing rooms said "Enter with only five garments at a time" Lena removed them from my arms seven at a time and vanished into the changing rooms. It seemed to me she disappeared for a half hour each time and there I was standing among the chattering women. Finally she ended up purchasing only one red sweater.
We moved on to the lipstick section and it became more complex. I found myself crawling on my hands and knees, as the lipsticks had been placed down low. Lena was crawling along in the next row. She had told me the code numbers we were seeking.
In other words, we were attending more to codes rather than to colors. After 25 minutes we were unable to locate the lipsticks she desired so we left Sears.
Although I had chauffeured Lena from place to place around Miami for some time and spent a great deal of time with her, I had never made a pass at her, as I felt she was having some personal difficulties but was making remarkable progress. She was an attractive woman. Every time I took her home we sat in the parking lot outside of her apartment and talked for a while but she had never invited me in.
But the evening did come when she said, "Would you like to come in for a while, Richard" I answered in the affirmative, and when we entered her apartment she sat on the couch and I sat in a straight-back chair across from the couch.
"How about a drink, Richard?"
Well, neither of us wanted an alcoholic beverage because for an alcoholic, one drink is too many and a dozen drinks are not enough. We settled for a glass of Acqua di Nepi, an inexpensive carbonated natural mineral water. Lena topped our drinks with a slice of lime and a swizzle stick to give them the appearance of a mixed drink. Lena put a CD of Duke Ellington on her player, scooped up her fluffy cat, and sat back on the couch.
As The Duke's orchestra was playing "Take the A Train," I stood up, walked to the couch, and reached down to Lena with my glass. She reached up, clicking my glass of soft drink with hers, and we said, "post time" This reflected the time we had visited the Gulfstream Race Track.
Lena said, "Richard, would you like to pet my pussy?"
I said, "I would love to if you would get that cat off of your lap" I sat on the couch near her and we kissed---a deep satisfying kiss. Then the telephone rang. She took it in the next room. Although the conversation was lengthy, I couldn't hear much of what she said. When Lena hung up and returned to the couch she was crying. I thought it would be best if I remained silent and let her tell me the nature of the call if she were so inclined.
"Oh, Richard, it was Orvil"
"Who is Orvil?"
"Orvil is my husband," said Lena. "We are separated. He is still insanely jealous of my seeing other men and has threatened to kill Whitey"
I said, "Who is Whitey?"
Lena said, "You are Whitey! He has seen us together"
I held her until she stopped sobbing, saying, "He cannot ruin our relation, Lena. I doubt that he will try to back up his threats"
When I left her apartment I was in a good mood, but as I walked across the parking lot to my Toyota Echo, a band of ghostly figures donned in white robes and white hoods circled me. They were drinking from tall cans of Budweiser, emitting high-pitched laughter, and attempting Rap music. Their pointy-toed black leather boots kicked up some dust, which sullied the edges of their robes. I saw that they had punctured the tires of my car.
Their leader, which I presumed to be Orvil, said, "Who do you think you are?"
"Nobody special," I replied.
Then I saw Lena on the terrace to her apartment. She screamed at them saying, "I have just called 911. Orvil, take your pseudo-KKK thugs and get out of here"
At that moment I heard the siren and saw the twirling red and blue lights coming down the road toward us. The white robed villains scattered and I was standing alone.
The police captured Orvil and two of the other white clothed figures. Orvil had constantly been in trouble since the age of 12 and the rap sheet on him was lengthy. He was going to be in prison for many years, as he was one of the prime suspects in the murder of a policeman.
Lena and I eventually grew closer together, falling into a serious love affair. She talked me into joining Alcoholics Anonymous.