Never trust a man over fifty
who wears a mullett
He combed his hair so it presented an odd fashion statement; the back grown out six, seven inches longer than the front. Balding on top, thinning on the bottom, Dave's hair-do looked a bit like a toilet seat with the lid up.
If Dave had a little less gray and a little more hair, a person might have thought he was trying to emulate Little Joe Cartwright from the early years of the television program, Bonanza.
But Dave was no Michael Landon and we were not living in the 1970's.
Still, underneath the bad hair cut, Dave seemed to me to be a decent, honest fellow. And in those early days following my divorce, I wasn't asking for much more than what he offered.
He made me a little nervous, however. From the first date Dave wanted to marry me.
He loved my cooking, he said. He thought my kids were terrific. I raised them, he offered, with the right values, the right approach to being female. Dave was raised by a single mother and knew, he said, how hard it could be.
"A lot of women fall apart," he told me. "Drink, do drugs, sex around. But not you. You're a terrific woman, Kristine."
No one else called me terrific. When Dave asked me to the movies week after week, I said yes.
The more I saw him, the more he talked about marriage. The more he talked about it, the more I thought marrying him might be a logical solution to my loneliness and impending poverty.
Looking back, I can see how I slid into a relationship with him. Dave was a generous, loving man in basic, caring ways.
When my oldest daughter wanted to visit colleges on the east coast, Dave passed me a credit card and said, "go for it."
Whenever he visited, Dave bought three, four bags of groceries. When he said good-bye at the door, I always knew that I would find a fifty dollar bill stuffed in my cookie jar for an "ice cream cone with the kids."
And he was kind. He called each day to check on events at my work, followed up when he knew I had a worry or concern about my children or my home.
I guess that's why I believed him when he said he loved me. I loved being "the sweetest woman in the world."
Even so, something held me back. Dave was different from all the other men in my life. Nothing about him was familiar. My former husband was elegant, educated and refined.
Dave faced challenges in those areas.
To start, there was his nasty reoccurring problem with ring-worm. When his skin wasn't infested with the grubby nibbling parasite, Dave struggled with some weird, invasive brand of body acne. These unfortunate circumstances put the skids on any discussion of romance. Worms, disease and his chronic halitosis insured our physical relationship was limited to warm handshakes and an occasional wink at the front door.
He had an odd living arrangement too. Dave shared a place with Frank and Jane, two old friends from high school. Frank and Jane had big hearts. Stray friends roamed their apartment and so did stray animals. Dave lived in the middle of all of it. His mullet and beard often smelled of rancid kitty litter and fresh, warm dog dung.
Any one of these horrendous shortcomings would be, to a rational woman, a reason to dump poor, parasite-laden Dave and call it even. Why then, did I continue to spend time with him? Did I consider this a serious relationship? And if I wasn't serious about Dave, what was I doing?
Sometimes, when I was alone with my thoughts, I struggled with my ambivalence. Sure, Dave was a little rough on the outside. But underneath the repelling body odor, his addiction to fresh, violent tattoos and the missing index finger on his right hand, I saw a good, good man.
When I admitted this to Frank and Jane, they affirmed my judgment. Dave needed me, they said. His former wife, was notorious in her neglect of the poor guy.
All he needed, they assured me, was a loving, good woman. Someone to show him a new path. My good housekeeping, my excellent mothering, and my terrific social skills would be Dave's ticket to ride. Sheltered by my affection he would shed the toe fungus, trim his thick nose hair and perhaps learn to shower.
My children? They hated him.
"Something fishy about a man who wears a mullet," my youngest said. "Check it out, mom. The guy combs his hair like some kind of retro biker, for crying out loud."
"You can't take him seriously," my older daughter accused. "I mean, what if I brought home a guy who looks like that? Get real..."
I tried to assuage their complaints, but I couldn't. I too wondered about the weird hair, the tee-shirts ripped at the shoulders, the goatee placed at the center of his chin. I never understood why, when we went to dinner at The Lavender Inn, he wore steel chains around his ankles; some sort of Jail-Bird chic, I assumed.
But a lonely, divorced mother of two, trapped in a small Minnesota town can make some odd choices.
And so I chose to continue to see Dave.
The weeks turned into months. We celebrated our six month, one year, eighteen month anniversaries.
When New Year's Eve arrived, I knew we faced a critical point in our relationship.
My daughters watched with disdain as I dressed that night for dinner and dancing at the Castle Rock Supper Club.
"He's not going to ask you to marry him, is he?" my youngest asked.
"And if he does, you're not going to marry this guy, are you?" her sister sat on my bed and hugged my bed pillow in despair.
Nice-enough guy, I thought. Good to me. Good to my kids, in a odd, nice-enough-guy way.
But would I marry him?
"I don't know," I said as I wrapped my shoulders in my cashmere shawl and touched-up my lipstick."Wouldn't our lives be easier if we had a big, strong man around here to help out?"
"Good lord, no!" my baby said. "And let's get clear here, right here and now." My children circled as I mascaraed my right eye one more time. "You marry. this mullet-head, and we're moving in with daddy."
"Oh, my darlings" I assured them both. "I won't marry anyone without your approval."
My daughters sighed and closed in for a hug.
They loved me, they said. They wanted the best for me, they assured. They knew, they proclaimed, that this guy was bad-cheese.
"Don't let him seduce you," my oldest said. "Give yourself the same advise you give me. Watch out for this guy."
At the restaurant, Dave ordered a round of stiff, hard, cold martinis and stared at me, love-sick and terrified.
"I have something to tell you," he said. His hand trembled as he held the martini glass.
"I know," I sipped the strong drink and felt my feet tingle.
"You know?" he asked. "How could you know?"
"Well," I fluttered the mascara, "I've been paying attention. I know what's been going on here."
"You do?" Dave took a long drink of his martini. "Did Frank tell you?"
"I don't need to hear this from your friends," I said. "I knew it all along."
I reached for his hand, certain the diamond ring was somewhere; dangling on his pinkie perhaps, lurking in his shirt pocket; perhaps all ready slipped into my martini glass when my eyes were averted.
"If it makes it easier, I know what you're going to tell me," I smiled.
"Yes," I glanced at the gin, searching for something shiny.
"Well then, I'll just say it," he cleared his throat. "I'm married."
"There," I said, not missing a beat as I pulled back my hand. Something in my chest turned cold. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"
"No," he said, relieved. "Thank God that's in the open."
"So, tell me everything," I finished the martini in one gulp.
"I didn't mean this to go so far," he stammered. "I mean, I was just fooling around on Match.Com, you know? I didn't ever expect to meet someone classy like you. You're the best, Kristine. The best. I mean, you're the real deal."
"Thank you," I said, and felt my hands begin to shake. "What about Frank? Jane? What about them?"
"They went along with this," he said, "because they like you too. We all think you're great. And hey, I'm going to leave her. I am. I really am."
I rose from the table, picked up my purse, shawl and cell phone.
"Will you excuse me?"
In the bathroom of the Castle Rock Supper Club, I looked long and hard at the woman in the mirror.
"Kristine," I said, "what in heaven's name were you thinking? The man wears a mullet, for God's sake."
Within minutes, my daughters were at the back door of the bar; my waitress standing guard in case Dave discovered my exit.
My oldest held my hand and the baby patted my knee as we drove the pick-up truck down back roads to our house.
"You'll be fine," my youngest said. "Chalk it up to another lesson learned."
The hard way.