Valentine's Day EvebySlirpuff©
February 13th...Valentine's Day Eve
"Shit," was the first word that came to mind. "She didn't even have the guts to tell me to my face," I murmured, leaning back and pushing my chair away from my laptop after reading the e-mail from what was now my ex-girlfriend, Toni.
"Dear Steve," is how she started, and it went downhill fast from that point. Reasons and all the other excuses were eloquently written out in black and white, but in the end, she was dumping me on February thirteenth, the day before Valentine's Day—of all things. Incompatibility, not meeting her needs, and my working most weekends, were the three big reasons she listed.
"I hope we still can be friends," is how she ended it. That was a nice way of saying she didn't want me to go off on her the next time we saw one another.
If this was the first time I'd been dumped it wouldn't have been so bad, but it wasn't. It was becoming the norm rather than the exception, and I had no one but myself to blame. You see, I could only do my second job between Friday night and Sunday afternoon. I am what you would call a budding photographer, who for the last two years had done more than four-dozen social events. It seemed like every Friday, Saturday, or Sunday I was doing a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, anniversary, or some other function that people wanted a remembrance of.
Without an established company name I wasn't raking in the big bucks, so I ended up doing as many events as I could cram into my tight work schedule and declining social life. But how else do you build up a new business? It takes a lot of hard work and more than a few sacrifices. But at this particular moment I wasn't sure if it was all worth it.
Toni had lasted the longest of my last four relationships. I would tell them upfront what I did most weekends, and every one of them said it wouldn't be a problem. And at first it wasn't until they wanted to go here or there and I couldn't make it because I already had a booking.
With Toni things came to a head when I couldn't accompany her to a good friend's wedding.
"Steve, I told you to keep that date open," she yelled at me. "You promised!"
"Toni, it's a huge wedding, and I was recommended by someone who can throw a lot of business my way. Look, why don't I meet you there after I'm done?"
"Don't bother!" I heard the dial tone.
I thought maybe she'd come around. I had even picked out a special Valentine card and present for her. I hope I kept the receipt.
"You graduated college with a hobby," my father liked to say. "Son, an Art Photography major with a Graphic Design minor isn't going to take you far in the business world." When I couldn't find a job of any kind, he pulled a few strings and got me one.
You see, my dad works for a large insurance company. He wasn't in top management, but had enough friends there so when something did open up, he was the first one to know about it.
"Steve, it's nothing special, but it gets your foot in the door. Work your ass off and I can guarantee you'll move up in the company." So began my exciting job in the Accounts Receivable department.
If you didn't make your monthly premium payment you got a letter from me or someone in our department. If the letter didn't work you received a personal phone call.
"Steve, you've got to be a hard ass and develop a thick skin," is how my dad explained it to me. "Remember, it's just business, nothing personal. Hell, you'll never see any of those people you'll be calling anyway." I got good results without having to be an ass or threatening anyone.
"Mrs. Connors, you're two months behind on your policy," I explained to her over the phone. "I really don't want to cancel you because they'll never rewrite your policy at these low rates in the future. But in order to do anything, I need some type of good faith gesture on your part showing you're at least trying to catch up. If you can see yourself clear to make, say, half a month's payment, then I won't have to cancel you." Most people sent in something each month after I worked out the details with them. Some of the clients I had to talk to had been laid off, or had lost their jobs entirely, but were relieved to have someone work with them until they could get back on their feet. It pissed off accounting, since they had to do more record keeping, but I made points with upper management because I'd thought outside the box.
"You've got a real future with this company," I was told by my boss, when he was given part of the credit for what I had accomplished. "We need more people friendly individuals like you around here to keep the existing business we have in these tough times." But truth be known, I just didn't have it in me to cancel anyone. Everyone was struggling to make ends meets, and I didn't want to be the one to add more stress to their lives.
However, photography was my true love. Outside of work I always had a camera in my hand no matter where I went. It first started when I was just a kid and my mom gave me a Kodak instamatic camera for my tenth birthday. At first I thought the crummy, second hand camera was a stupid gift, until I started taking pictures. Soon after, that's all I did.
People, places, and things are what I shot. My mom encouraged me at every turn, but my dad thought it was a complete waste of time, especially since it was costing him money every week for film and developing.
"Steve, a boy your age should be playing ball or something. All you do is play with that stupid camera of yours." It was nice that he was taking an interest in what I was doing—NOT... But my mom encouraged me.
Becky lived next door to our house. She was two years younger than I, and a royal pain in the ass. Whenever I had my camera in my hands, she was there wanting her picture taken.
"Steve, I'm going to be a model some day and then you'll make a lot of money taking pictures of me." She'd smile, strike a pose, and I'd take another picture of her. It went on for years.
When I got my first 35-millimeter camera with interchangeable lenses, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. If I took a hundred pictures before, I took a million now. Back then everywhere I went, my shadow went too. Sometimes I'd take a couple of pictures of her just so she wouldn't bug me every two minutes. After a couple of years I had a couple hundred pictures of Becky. She would take the copies I gave to her and plaster them all over her bedroom walls.
Somehow we became close, and when she wasn't around I kind of missed her being there, especially when she got sick.
It started off as just a chest cold that never went away and got progressively worse. She seemed to be hacking all the time and me being a guy told her to keep her distance, I didn't want her damn germs. She gave me this look, walked up to me, and kissed me on the cheek.
"There, whatever I've got, you've got it too." I wiped off my cheek as she struck another pose, and like always I took her picture. Her cough got worse.
When she didn't come around for a couple of days I went next door to check on her.
"Mrs. Thomas, is Becky around?"
"Steve, honey, she's sick in bed with a bad cold, but I'll tell her you stopped by." She got better, but it wasn't long before that hacking cough came back again.
"How do you expect to be a model when you're always sick?" I said, harassing her as always.
"Don't worry, I will be a model, and I'm going to be famous too. Maybe I'll let you be my boyfriend, then you'll be able to get into all the cool places models go." I told her she was dreaming again. And as far as being her boyfriend, that was the last thing I needed or wanted.
By the end of January Becky was in bed again. As loud as she sometimes coughed, I was surprised I couldn't hear her from my bedroom window. I saw her a couple of times but now her mom thought it would be better for her not to come in contact with anyone else. Hell, I didn't have any germs.
When they put her back in the hospital I got worried. Being a kid and not being allowed visitors, she was beside herself and bored as hell.
"Bring me some of my pictures so I can work on my scrapbook, I'm in room three twenty-five and going crazy," she begged me, calling from her bedside phone when I got home from school one day. I tried to sneak into her room, but got caught.
"Becky's not allowed any visitors," her mother admonished me. "We can't take the chance of her picking up anything else, Steve." I knew she was right, but I was a kid, and kids never listen. However, in spite of all they did to try to get her better, she got worse.
When they put her in an oxygen tent to help her breath easier, her father snuck me into her room one night, so I could see her.
"Hey Becky, how you doing?" She didn't look good and I could hear her labored breathing even from outside the tent. "I was going to bring my camera, but I figure a high price model like yourself wouldn't want a picture taken of her in an oxygen tent." She smiled, but it wasn't the one I'd come to expect.
"Can you be my boyfriend?" she asked out of the blue. Her voice was strained and raspy. "All the nurses keep asking me if I've got a boyfriend, and I want to be able to tell them I do."
"Sure, no problem. You're the only girl I hang with anyway. But I don't have a ring or anything, so just tell them we're going steady." Her smile was a lot broader this time around. "Becky, you need to get better, I don't like coming to the hospital to see you. Besides, I'm saving for a new portrait lens and I can't very well try it out on my favorite model with her being in here."
Five minutes later her dad told me it was time to leave. We touched hands, or did with me out here and her in there. Just before leaving I told her again to get better, she smiled and waved.
There were a lot of cars next door when I came home from school the following day. I had stopped off at the park and was trying to take pictures of the ducks but they weren't co-operating. After about a half an hour I left and worked my way back home.
My mom was in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee when I bounded in through the front door. I said hi and raced up to my room to put my books and camera away. A snack is what I needed. I flew down the stairs into the kitchen. She just watched me saying nothing. I grabbed an apple from the refrigerator and sat down at the kitchen table across from her.
"Honey, there is something I have to tell you," her eyes were red and she was hanging on to a crumbled piece of a tissue. "God took Becky home to heaven last night. She was so sick and there wasn't anything the doctors could do." Tears started flowing from my mom's eyes.
I ran. I didn't know where I was going, I just ran out the front door, through Becky's yard, and down the street. My heart was pounding against the wall of my chest, and I was soaked with sweat before I finally had to stop. I'm not ashamed to say I cried. She was more than just a friend, she was someone special, and I was hurting.
It was dark by the time I finally went home. My mom was frantic with worry wondering where I run off to, and my dad—well, let's just say he wasn't too sympathetic. If I heard him say, "Suck it up and be a man," once more, I don't know what I would have done.
Mom and I went to the funeral. I was glad when my dad said he had to work. The previous night I'd put together a collage of pictures I had taken of Becky over the years and brought it with me to the funeral home. Her teacher and a lot of kids from our school were there. After we walked in and signed the book in the back, we saw Becky's mom waving at us, motioning for us to sit up front with them.
I was bound and determined not to cry. My eyes got wet but I fought it hard, my dad would have been proud of me. That was until her father, during his little speech, mentioned me by name. He called me her 'special' friend, or as Becky had started to call me, her 'boyfriend.' It was at that point I couldn't contain myself any longer and the tears flowed freely down my face.
We were almost the last people to leave the funeral home. We went straight home after the service because I wasn't about to go to the cemetery to see her lowered into the ground. I don't think I could have handled it and still kept myself in one piece.
I spent that night in my room looking at all the pictures I'd taken of Becky over the last couple of years. I gathered them all up and put them away in a box with the exception of one. It was a picture my mom had taken last summer of the two of us in my backyard. It wasn't particularly good, but it was the only picture of us together. It was the thirteenth of February when I sealed up that box. Dad said it was closure, but in reality, I was locking away my memories. I didn't want any of them to escape.
I learned at that young age even when you're sad, life goes on. Three years later Becky's dad took a transfer and her parents moved away. It helped a lot with me not having to look at them everyday and think about Becky. Over the next couple of years my memories of Becky started to fade. What didn't fade was my love of photography.
I honed my skills in high school and against my father's wishes I majored in photography in college. It was in college I first learned the old school methods, working in a wet darkroom on black and white prints. I can still remember the first time I saw a picture appear in my developing tray as I agitated the paper in the developer liquid. Magical, is what it felt like. After that first day I was hooked. My friends could always tell it was me just by the smell of fixer exuding from me. I was spending every available hour in the photo lab.
As I said, the lab was old school and most professionals no longer worked in a darkroom. It was great to learn the basics, but the new technology had already taken hold. Digital was now where it was at. No more developing roll after roll of film and doing contact sheets. You just popped the memory card out of your camera, plugged it into a reader, and there on your computer appeared your pictures. If I thought it was magical in the darkroom, can you imagine what it felt like to enhance photographs through Photo Shop software? I could equate it to something like a wet dream.
Four years went by in the blink of an eye. Everyone I dated was like me, a photography nut. We talked shop, swapped ideas, and when I had sexual fantasies, they also had photography undertones about screwing in a darkroom, or having a photo shoot turn into an orgy. However, most of my relations were nothing more than serious dating at best. There was nothing long-term about them.
When I got out of school I planned to take the world by storm, but that didn't quite happen. Even though my work was good, so were the hundred or two hundred others who applied for the same job. I picked up a few bucks here and there doing side jobs or building websites, but that wasn't what I had gone to school for.
"When are you going to give up that damn hobby of yours and get a real job?" my dad asked over dinner about eight months after I had graduated.
"I'm looking, but jobs are tight right now."
"There are a hundred jobs out there, and if you weren't living at home and eating our food you'd have one by now." He wasn't wrong about that. "Let's make a deal. If you don't have a full-time job, in say ninety days, you will take any job I find for you."
"Dad, I'm not going to wash dishes or be a damn fry cook," I immediately replied, annoyed that he thought I'd been sitting on my ass all this time.
"I didn't say anything of the kind. It may not be exactly what you're looking for, but it'll be good enough that you'll be able to support yourself." We shook on it, and I was confident I'd be rubbing his nose in my new job any day now.
All right, I was wrong. I found jack shit. My dad found me a pretty decent job in the insurance agency he worked for, and I had no choice but to take it. Like I even had a choice? We'd made a deal. I did though, start my own photography business. I was going to call it S.M. Photography but after looking at that title in print I reconsidered. It sounded too much like S&M, and I figured I'd be getting too many calls for that type of group gatherings. I ended up calling my company Moore Photography.
A website is great, but a ton of work for my kind of business comes from word of mouth.
"Who did your wedding, and was he any good?" Were the typical questions a bride or mother of the bride wanted to know. Every time I did a wedding I would make sure I had a million business cards with me. Hell, it took me almost a month to come up with the right business card. It had to be unique, professional, and one that people would keep, not throw away. They cost me almost a dollar apiece, but they were plastic, colorful, and well worth the cost to say the least. They brought me in more than a few jobs.
Over the next two years my business grew and although my love life started off hot, it cooled off rapidly the busier I got.
Sue was a bit of a nut and loved to dance. We found ourselves at one of six different dance clubs whenever I had a night off. After about three and a half months I found her dance card a lot busier than mine. When I had a cancellation and went looking for her one Saturday, I found out I was one of three guys she was juggling. When I confronted Sue at one of the clubs the guy she was with thought they were exclusive like I had. I was angry, he felt like he'd been played, and Sue? Well, she left with some other guy.
I thought Kathy was the one. We'd dated for almost six months and I had even brought her home to meet my parents. So we could be together more often sometimes I even took her to a wedding I was working. She didn't like the phrase 'assistant,' but took everything with a grain of salt. Free food and most of the time free booze, which ended up being her downfall.
Drunk is what she got at one particular wedding. Some guy had taken a fancy to her and gave her drink after drink. I was getting pissed, but I also had a job to do and couldn't baby-sit her all night. When she got sick on the dance floor and made a huge mess, everyone started asking who in the hell was this girl. Can you say, embarrassed? Her 'new' buddy told me not to worry he would drive her home. I wasn't happy but what choice did I have? He ended up not only driving her home, but also spending the night with her.
She told me it was my fault things got out of hand, admitting truthfully she couldn't recall if she'd actually slept with the guy that night.
"Maybe we should just wait until we see if you end up pregnant." In retrospect that probably wasn't the smartest comeback line in the world. A week later she returned my pre-engagement ring with a note saying that she did sleep with the guy and figured I'd never forgive her, but it was still my fault.
Connie and I started slowly, very, very, slowly. She also liked taking pictures so we had something in common. Against my better judgment I started taking her with me on a few jobs. Sometimes she took her camera and sometimes she didn't. If the bride wanted an intimate style photograph, Connie came in handy being a female. A couple of times after this wedding or that one, she would tell me about the hot and naughty photographs she had taken for the bride's husband. We'd both get so turned on we'd spend the rest of Saturday night and Sunday morning in bed. We were compatible, or so I thought.
When I'd lost two jobs in a row I knew something was up. I was told a certain 'Lady' undercut my bid. When I showed up at one of the weddings at which I had been underbid, low and behold, you'll never guess who I saw—Connie. What really pissed me off was that she wasn't even sorry about it.
"Nothing personal, it's just business," she told me. She'd gotten the bug taking those naughty photographs and was going behind my back underbidding me whenever she could. What a bitch. And believe it or not, she had the gall to call me after I caught her and ask if I still wanted to go out. After my reply she never called me again.