Creamy Tomato Parmesan Linguine with Peas and Prosciutto, and Part 22March 5, 2014 at 8:49 pm | Posted in Dinner, Lunch, Pasta, Pork, Vegetarian | 69 Comments
Tags: alfredo, linguine, pasta, peas, Prosciutto, tomato parmesan sauce, Tomato Sauce
Is anybody still out there? I hope so.
I’m so sorry for the exceedingly long delay of this story and my absence from blogging in general. I truly, truly feel awful about it, and I’m so happy and relieved to finally get something up. As many of you know (that is, whoever decided to stick around, and again, so, so sorry), I’ve been sick for some time and it’s been extremely difficult to pull off even the most mundane tasks.
Since last June, for about 5 months, I could barely write, much less peel a carrot. I was able to get in a paragraph or two maybe once a month and that was what I called a good month. Around January, I felt a little better so I started writing a little more. Upon first preview, I was startled to see how much I’d written.
I decided to split it into two parts because if I posted it all at once, it would literally swallow up my tiny blog. Normally, it would be about three or four parts, but I can’t do that to you all after such a long wait. Since it’s completely finished, once this post marinates a bit, I’ll put the last part up. I’d say one week, give or take a few days.
Of course I couldn’t put this post up without a recipe, since it is a food blog. Much to my disappointment, I couldn’t play and had to choose something basic and simple (with a little help), but basic and simple doesn’t make it any less amazing. In fact, it usually makes it more amazing and difficult because every single facet must be spot on, and every ingredient top notch, since there are no extraneous components and preparations to hide behind.
Furthermore, this recipe sort of ties into the story since it’s a derivative of an alfredo sauce I make via cutting down the cream and adding tomatoes. But, I shouldn’t refer to my favorite alfredo sauce as alfredo because true alfredo does not contain even a speck of cream. To digress somewhat, authentic alfredo is a remarkably creamy amalgam of just butter, parmesan cheese and pasta water, – and, when done right, it’s actually better than alfredo made with cream. I know, shocking, but it makes up for it with twice the butter!
I would have much rather posted one of the amazing cakes, pastries or breads that have been blistering my brain for 8 months running, but due to my current circumstances, those ideas can’t be fully executed yet. I miss playing with batters, dough, fillings and frosting, so much so, it literally breaks my heart to tears. Not being able to cook or bake feels like someone brutally ripped a pacifier from my mouth and won’t give it back. SO, hopefully sooner than later.
On another note, I forgot how awful it is not having enough natural light to take photos in. Heavy duty bummer moment when I uploaded these photos, especially after months of pinning other blogger’s gorgeous, naturally lit photos. Why did I think it would be any different this time? Well, I’m mostly to blame because I let my tower of pasta sit too long before snapping away.
Now that I’ve waxed kvetchic, I want to share with you one of my favorite and most requested pasta dishes. If you don’t like prosciutto and/or peas, of course you can eliminate them. This sauce is perfection on its own.
Creamy Tomato Parmesan Linguine with (or without) Peas and Prosciutto (Tomato Alfredo)
4 – 6 servings
Peas and prosciutto optional since the sauce is phenomenal on its own
Print - Highlight the recipe, then right click on it and choose print. in the drop down menu. Voila..only the recipe prints, nothing else.
1 pound linguine (any other pasta is fine and fresh is ideal since sauces cling better to fresh pasta)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 shallot, chopped finely
1 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) with liquid
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas*
1/4 lb sliced prosciutto (taste it before buying, you don’t want it too salty)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or freshly grated Parmesan cheese..
red hot pepper flakes (optional, the amount depending on how hot you like it)
chopped fresh Italian parsley (optional)
* I couldn’t find any fresh peas, so I had to use frozen. However, I highly recommend fresh since the frozen just don’t compare in flavor, unless I just got a really bad box of frozen peas.
1. In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water plus a generous pinch plus of kosher salt to a boil (about 1 tablespoon per 2 quarts water, so 3 tablespoons in this case). Taste the water, it should be salty like the ocean.
2. While waiting for the water to boil, pour the can of tomatoes with juice into the work bowl of a food processor. DO NOT turn on the processor at full speed because you will end up with pink foam. Just pulse until you have a smooth puree.
3. Over medium heat, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, deep pan or skillet. Add the chopped garlic and chopped shallot to the oil. Saute until soft and translucent, then slowly pour in the pureed tomatoes and their juice. Bring the tomato sauce to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, seasoning it with salt and pepper to taste as it simmers (go easy on the salt because of the cheese that will be added). If you’re using the red hot pepper flakes, add them now. Simmer until it reduces a bit about 10 to 15 minutes tops.
4. While the tomato sauce simmers, add the linguine to the boiling pot of water and cook until al dente (about 6 to 8 minutes, keep checking by biting into a strand). In the mean time, once the sauce has simmered for 10-15 minutes, stir the 2 tablespoons of butter, then add the peas and let them cook for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on their size (fresh peas are bigger). Slowly pour the cream into the sauce, swirling the pan and stirring, then add the sliced prosciutto, stirring to distribute it evenly.
5. Immediately drain the linguine, pouring some of the pasta water into a cup in case you need to thin the sauce once the cheese is added. If your pan or skillet is big enough, dump all the linguine right into the sauce and toss, adding all the parmigiano-reggiano cheese at once and tossing over the heat until it coats the linguine. If your skillet or pan isn’t big enough, dump the pasta into a large bowl and pour the sauce and cheese on top of it, tossing until all the pasta is coated.
If the sauce is too thick once tossed with the linguine, thin it out with some of the reserved pasta water.
6. Top with the chopped parsley (if using), some extra fresh ground pepper, and serve immediately, passing extra Parmigiano-Reggiano or freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Now, and finally, part 22. This one was so incredibly hard to put up. In fact, it took me a week to gather the courage to hit publish, once it was ready to go . I could go on about the reasons why, but I’ll save that for another day.
If you’re tuning in for the first time, here are the previous parts to this story. Part One is HERE, Part Two is HERE , Part Three is HERE, Part Four is HERE, Part Five is HERE, Part Six is HERE, Part Seven is HERE, Part 8 is HERE, Part 9 is HERE, Part Ten is HERE, Part 11 is HERE, Part 12 is HERE, Part 13A is HERE, Part 13B is HERE, Part 14A is HERE, Part 14B is HERE , Part 15 is HERE, Part 16 is HERE , Part 17 is HERE and Part 18 is HERE, and Part 19 is HERE., Part 20 is HERE, Part 21 is HERE.
Dreamboat turned around slowly to face the cement wall and put his hands against it, the same wall he had been kissing me against just minutes ago. It was amazing how quickly a romantic night could turn into a night behind bars. While I watched the cop pat him down, I couldn’t help worrying that he might have a joint in his pocket or wallet. My stomach tied a new knot every time the cop’s hand patted then disappeared into a pocket. Four on his jeans, three on his jacket. Seven knots total. Then I remembered he sometimes slipped one in a sock. Nine knots. Bile started to rise up my esophagus as the cop snaked his fingers beneath each hem, literally patting down his socks.
Obviously Dreamboat’s three second slice of attitude didn’t sit well with this cop, and he was going to make him pay, even it meant patting down his socks.
The cop stood up and stepped back..seemingly satisfied. Okay, I thought, nothing on his body, so far so good. I felt the bile that was slowly creeping up my throat, temporarily pause, then watched helplessly as Dreamboat was cuffed regardless, so the cop could search his car. He would definitely find something in his car! I thought in a wild panic. The bile started creeping again, looming dangerously near my lower wisdoms.
I couldn’t take it anymore – I was scared out of my flippin’ mind, so with a big, fat side of tears, I started to beg the cop not to arrest him;
“Please don’t arrest him, officer, he’s in a bad mood, he didn’t mean to respond to you in that tone, I swear! He’s a really good guy..a law abiding citizen!” When he’s not occasionally sucking on a joint, that is.
Yes, I really said that, minus the marijuana jab.
The officer ignored me, and Dreamboat shot me an icy look. Macho BS. No guy wants his girl begging a cop not to arrest him.
Thankfully, there were no illegal substances in his car, which the cop searched for what seemed like an hour. He was looking for anything to arrest him. I watched him rifle through some of his CD’s. I could hear it now;
“You’re under arrest for the possession of loud, obnoxious music by a band that hasn’t been together in a million years.”
Instead, he looked over at Dreamboat, holding up a CD, and said “This is my favorite.”
I unleashed a huge sigh of relief as he walked over to Dreamboat and unlocked the cuffs.
“This is now private property, you can’t hang out here anymore” He muttered gruffly while turning the key. The loud click of the handcuffs opening soothed me like no binky or blankie had before.
Geez, he couldn’t have said that in the first place? Dreamboat looked pissed as hell. His jaw was clenched, which was a big time warning sign that he could blow a gasket at any moment. To avoid another confrontation, which would most certainly result in his arrest, I intervened with what I thought would loosen his jaw and soften his steely glare;
“I’m ready to start looking for a place, baby…if you still want to.”
I wasn’t being entirely truthful, but at that moment I would have done/said anything to calm him down. He turned to look at me, a small smile cracking at the corners of his lips. I could almost see the anger slowly seeping from him, like a drag from a cigarette exhaled ..curls of smoke unraveling, then slowly evaporating into the night air.
“You sure?” he asked. “Yes, I’m sure.” I answered, feeling a just tiny bit queasy as I watched the cop drive away slowly.
Yeah, I know..an anticlimactic end to that situation after months and months of waiting, but believe you, me…it was a relief of epic proportions.
The following Saturday morning, we went to see some funny car races down the shore with his brother, P, and a few of P’s friends. I’d never been to one before, but saw the commercials on TV. Are they supposed to look or be funny? They just looked like pimped out race cars to me. Regardless, I was always up for new experiences.
We drove in Dreamboat’s car, which was a two-seater, while P went with his friends in a beat up SUV. By the end of the races, rife with Italian Jersey guys morphing into tobacco chewing, JD swilling, NASCAR fanatics, replete with faux southern accents and aphorisms (“Doggoneit, you go now, boy!”), every single one of P’s friends was drunk, including the driver.
P begged Dreamboat for a ride, which would render his lap my new seat. Dreamboat would have none of that. Instead, he took the keys from the driver, told them all to wait there and that we would be back with a neighbor’s pickup. I loved him for that, until P said…
“Sorry we’re gettin’ in the way of youse guys lookin’ for a house.” …while nervously kicking some dirt in front of him. Apparently, the parent-child dynamic between the brothers was still in full effect years later.
Huh? I looked at Dreamboat, confused. He said nothing until we were on the road.
“I wanted to surprise you with a few houses I thought we could look at.” He said as he shifted into 5th gear, not once taking his eyes off the road.
So, we were going to live down the shore? The decision had already been made? WHOA, we were really looking at places now..and the rest of the weekend? And, what was this stuff about a house?
Then I remembered that night on the beach, the summer before my junior year of college when he asked if we could live down the shore because it was his dream. I remember it felt safe to say yes (I was a little tipsy, if you recall) because I had two more years of school and it seemed so far off. For all I knew, I would be ready by then.
Apparently, I wasn’t.
Now the moment was here, reality smacking me in the face with houses. But, I did tell him I was ready to start looking, even though it was mainly to chill him out. Wow, there was no backing out now. I loved him madly, but again, wasn’t quite sure I was ready to shack up with the intent of marriage and babies. I had dreams to fulfill, goals to chase, many more girls night outs and Tower Records runs. Add to that, cobalt blue and lime green face masks, PMS zit popping, and the comfort of late night repeats of classic TV sitcoms to fall asleep to while my half-eaten pint of Ben and Jerry’s melted in the carton on the dresser.
Plus, how in the world was I going to explain my random need for feetie pajamas in the winter? Even worse, how was I going to dance to bubblegum pop music in them?
After he borrowed a shore neighbor’s pick-up and unloaded the guys at their destinations, it was time for the inevitable. It was getting late, so he could only convince one landlord/owner to show us one of three places he’d looked up in the classifieds.
We pulled up to a small, white shack, the type of house a bunch of 18-year-old to early 20- somethings would rent for the summer. I looked at Dreamboat, gauging his expression. It was blank. He had a knack for hiding his true feelings with a blank stare.
I was still baffled as to why he never bothered telling me that he wanted to go straight for a house.
“I thought we were looking at apartments?” I asked nonchalantly, although what I was feeling was miles from nonchalant. Somehow, an apartment seemed less foreboding, less of an immediate life commitment, than a house – an actual house! I was only 22! Each surprise was getting harder and harder to digest. I swallowed hard, trying to dissolve the lump in my throat and metabolize the blocks of fear in my belly, blocks that were stacking up quickly.
He squeezed my hand..”Why go for an apartment when we can have a little house of our own..you know, a starter house? The price is really good, much cheaper than back in North Jersey.” He said, his voice oozing with first buyer pride.
One of the blocks shot up my gullet. I unconsciously rubbed my chest and throat.
North Jersey…we hadn’t even looked in North Jersey, where I’d still be near my friends and family, maybe living in one of the pretty high-rises along the Hudson, or even a walk-up nearby, alongside other couples not ready to take the plunge and pop out rugrats like Pez candies. I think.
My scary thoughts were interrupted by the oncoming headlights of a car. It was the owner/landlord.
The landlord was a woman in a housecoat, my nightmare couture. She couldn’t have been more than late 20′s to early 30′s, but looked 40. She was wearing raggedy flip-flops and her housecoat was dabbed with faded pink peonies, although some of them may have been spaghetti sauce stains that didn’t come out in the wash. Her over-bleached hair was striped with dark brunette roots where it parted, almost the same shade as the dark circles under eyes which is what aged her most, probably from five kids hanging at her feet most of the day. Yep, five kids! “Sorry I’m late, I had to wait for my neighbor to come watch my five kids.” She sort of mumbled as she led us to the door.
Young and stuck, I assumed. I couldn’t help wondering if her husband was a ‘Dreamboat’ whom she fell head over heels for and made a life-changing decision to hold on to. Maybe she was regretting it at times, possibly demonstrated by the weariness in her voice as she wrestled with the key to unlock the door.
“I think this this key is rusty.” she said with a dull finish, pent-up exasperation oozing with every attempt to turn it.
When she finally opened the door, the smell of dampness and must hit immediately, sea air contained in a small space for too long. I could see many a party had been had by the marks on the walls..parties by carefree kids, like I once was – no pressure, only here to enjoy the shore for a few weeks, not live permanently.
“Here’s the living room, and you’ve got two bedrooms and one bathroom in the back. The kitchen is small, but it’s workable”, she said quickly, dying to get this over with.
I looked at the kitchen and then Dreamboat. He was hoping for some kind of approval, anything. I felt horrible because thus far into the tour, I couldn’t give it to him. He started talking about what we could do to make it nice, sounding like the incarnation of Bob Vila - adding on, gutting, plastering, painting and then selling it for two or three times the price when we could afford something bigger and better a few years down the road.
I surveyed the surroundings, looking for something to change my mind. Nope, it wasn’t going to happen, especially when I saw a hole in the floor of the second bedroom – well, let me rephrase that, the big closet with a ratty sofa bed.
I unconsciously wrinkled my nose as I shook my head no. Damn, that was a spoiled brat move. I was ashamed of myself. This didn’t deter him one bit;
“That’s alright, I had a feeling you might not like this one, but it was worth a look, right?” He said as he hugged me to him with one strong arm, kissing my forehead. I relaxed for a moment. Then it hit me, there was probably more of these types of shacks coming the next day.
When the tour de shack was over, we were famished. What felt like the longest day ever was finally over. He wanted to stop at this cheesesteak stand on the boulevard in Seaside, a place that held fond memories, memories of our early days together on his day off. He would order a giant, drippy cheesesteak sub loaded with perfectly grilled, tender slices of steak. caramelized peppers and onions, and gobs of gooey cheddar and mozzarella cheese. Since there were only a few stools, he would sit on a stool (or vice versa) and I would stand between his legs (or vice versa), sharing this dream of a sub, seeing who could take a bigger bite, wiping each other’s mouths sloppily and laughing our asses off . I kind of wished I could transport us back to that time, just so I could get back some more time before the big move in decision.
I closed my eyes and tried to make it happen. No dice. I pondered astral projection, but only for a second. Then I realized I’d have to do college and our brief, albeit super painful, breakup, all over again. Download aborted.
I snapped back into the present. Food. Hungry. At first I was more than game to revisit the old cheesesteak place, but then I had an idea. I’d been cooking and baking a ton at home and wanted to put together a nice meal for us back at his shore house. We knew P wouldn’t be there because he had plans to go to Atlantic City with a local girl he was seeing.
We headed to the market where I gathered the ingredients for a romantic indoor picnic. A variety of cheeses and fruit. some fresh fettuccine (I had not even attempted homemade pasta yet) and, at his request, the ingredients for my ‘famous’ alfredo sauce with fresh peas, crab meat and prosciutto, which I’d conquered a few months before after loving it at a restaurant back in North Jersey. His eyes widened in shock and he let out a low whistle when I chose the really pricey jumbo lump blue crab meat plucked fresh from Barnegat Bay earlier that day.
I was well on my way to culinary freakdom..
Some diet coke and a bottle of cheap white for me and beer for him, and we were good to go.
After cooking, I set the scene for our romantic picnic, pushing furniture out of the way so I could spread a huge blanket over the center of the wood floor, lighting candles at a safe distance around it and on some of the end tables. My inner Suzy Homemaker was dialed up to 10, and he loved it, most likely because he was picturing me doing it in our own house, for him and our 5 kids.
We dug in ravenously, barely speaking, just enjoying the ambiance and food, waiting until the first sign of fullness before uttering a word other than ‘Mmm, good’. While I was entrenched in twirling a few stubborn strands of fettuccine around my fork, he spoke;
“The few places left to see aren’t much different than the one we just saw..you know, fixer uppers, starter houses. If you want to start off with an apartment back in North Jersey, I get it…it’s okay.” He said softly, as he ripped off a hunk of bread and used it to wipe the sauce off his empty plate.
I was so elated by his change of heart, I bailed on the fettuccine fork and hugged him, almost knocking him backwards. Then I saw it, just as the hug broke, a flash of disappointment in his eyes. It was so quick, I would have missed it had I not been watching his beautiful baby blues for a reaction. Then he smiled and it seemed so genuine, that for a brief second I thought I might have imagined it. But, deep down I knew that that brief, cloudy moment in his eyes was probably more genuine than his million dollar smile. I wiped it from my psyche fast, I wanted to pretend it never happened.
Then he cracked a joke about how living in a litter box would be a step up from the house we looked at.
The minute he said that, I felt awful. I hoped he didn’t think my reluctance was due to the place being a complete dump because that didn’t matter to me, and I told him so. It could have been an opulent, 20 room mansion with a theater, tennis court and pool, and I still would have been spooked. It was too quick, too much at this moment in my life.
“As long as we can move forward, I don’t care where it is.” He said cheerfully.
Big time brownie points for blue eyes. I decided I would make him brownies the next day, a huge pan of brownies, enough brownies to wipe away the guilt I was feeling.
For the rest of evening, I tried hard to erase that momentary shadow in his eyes, still trying to convince myself that his latter reaction was the real one. But, it remained there like sticky sludge and no matter how hard I scrubbed, it wasn’t budging. I just hoped my love for him was enough to eventually melt it off. Then again, why couldn’t my love be enough to make an immediate life commitment to him?
To this day, fettuccine reminds me of that 1 second of sad eyes. Oh, look at that amazing plated fettuccine photo on pinterest! Sad eyes.
Later that night, well, morning, around 2 am, I woke up dying of thirst, completely parched. I figured I’d OD’d on all that cheese we bought. As I poured and took my first sip of water, I heard a car drive by slowly, the rumble loud and heavy on his ‘pin drop’ silent street. I thought nothing of it and continued to drink my water while leafing through a makeup catalog addressed to his mother. A few minutes later, the car rumbled by again, this time stopping briefly, then continuing on. Maybe someone is lost, I thought, still thinking nothing of it. By the third time, I grabbed a cigarette and went outside for a smoke, and maybe an investigation.
Yeah, I forgot to mention that I smoked on and off back then. Disgusting habit and he hated it, so I mostly refrained when with him.
I sat down on one of the front steps and lit up, waving my hand to bat away the curls of smoke with each drag, watching and waiting for this mysterious car to take another lap. Just as I stood up and stubbed out the cigarette in a patch of soil at the bottom of the steps, I heard the rumble, then two beams of approaching headlights illuminated the street from about about a block away. The slow rumbling became louder as it got closer. I jumped up and opened the screen door, keeping my finger on the outside light switch. I was going to blast it so I could get a good look at who it was.
Sure enough, the car slowed down when it hit Dreamboat’s shore house, followed by a flash of beady, bright red lights as whomever it was tapped the breaks to slow down even more. I quickly turned on the light in my ‘GOTCHA!’ mode and caught a fleeting glimpse of long, light brown hair beneath a baseball cap. That was it. She was too quick, a seasoned stalker. She hit the gas and peeled out with a high-pitched screech, leaving a stream of exhaust in her wake.
I ran up to the bedroom and dove belly first onto the bed, percolated and perky from my detective work. Dreamboat opened one eye, then rolled over to go back to sleep. I nudged him in the ribs a few times. He had to know immediately!
“Hey, wake up, some chick is stalking you!” I whispered excitedly as I continued to nudge him.
He rolled back over slowly, groaning a bit, then rubbed his eyes and opened them as best he could. “What?” he asked in a gravelly voice.
“I said, some chick is stalking you! She just drove by four times – FOUR times! I said, my voice rising as I held up four fingers on one hand to emphasize it, almost pushing it in his face.
I continued to regale him with my brilliant investigative prowess; “SO, I turned on the outside light just as her car pulled up and…” He interrupted me before I could finish.
“You smell like smoke.”
“Who cares?! Some girl is stalking you!” I said again, increasingly impatient with his lack of interest.
“Go guzzle some mouthwash.” he demanded playfully.
“But, some girl is stalking you! Don’t you care? I do!” I blurted out loud this time.
He raised himself up on his elbows and just looked at me, his eyes still at half mast. Then asked, “Did you even think it might be for one of my brothers?”
He had a point. I surrendered.
“Now go brush your teeth.” he said as he lowered himself back down and rolled over on his side facing me, his cute, come-hither smile too hard to resist.
I got up and did what I was told. Not that it was anything I wouldn’t have done anyway, but now the incentive had a reward attached it. From that moment on, the stalker girl was forgotten and never brought up again.
The next morning, we went out for breakfast/brunch. One of the waitresses in the restaurant had such pretty, super-duper long hair, that I couldn’t help mentioning it to Dreamboat. I told him that I was going to let my hair grow to that length, as I twirled a strand of my slightly longer than shoulder length hair around one finger.
“Your hair is nice, but it isn’t thick enough to get that long. Her hair is super-thick and coarse, yours is medium-thick and silky.” He said nonchalantly while spearing a piece of sausage with his fork.
I just looked at him, a little befuddled by his response. Since when was he an expert on the science of hair? Was he secretly moonlighting as a hairdresser? After a few barbs like “Who are you, Vidal Sassoon?” and how I was going to try anyway, I dropped it and went on to enjoy the rest of my meal, but it still lingered a little because it was so out of character for him.
Suddenly, a picture of the drive-by stalker girl flashed in my head. She had that type of super thick hair, so she could probably grow it that long, I thought. The thought disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, and I happily returned to my meal, never thinking about it again.
Back in North Jersey, we looked at apartments but they were pretty pricey, and the affordable ones were dumps that made the shore shack look like a palace. Yes, we could have tried harder, but it was almost as if it wasn’t as big a deal to him as it had been just weeks before. I felt a slight sense of relief, but at the same time, worry. He wanted to live down the shore more than anything, and I was squashing that dream temporarily. So, I chalked up his lack of enthusiasm to that and prayed we found something that would satiate him enough to put that dream on the back burner, at least for a little while.
Not too long after spending what snippets of time we could fit in looking at more apartments, it sorted of petered out and everything returned to how it had always been – enjoying the summer with him and a few nights a week with my friends or a combination of both, especially if there was a party in his ‘hood. The discussions about moving in together were fewer and further in between, and we continued to see each other minus the pressure..well, pressure for me.
I was still working part-time at the tanning salon, which was 20 minutes closer to his town than my hometown, so when I was done with work, around 10 pm, I’d take the top down on my car, crank up the music and drive to him. I still remember how happy and free I felt on those warm summer night drives. The weather was typically Northeast humid, the air weighing down on my skin like warm, damp clothes, but I liked how the muggy breeze felt as I drove. My hair, however..
When I got there, he’d be waiting, his arms opening for a hug. He’d run his hands over my slippery skin, always asking; “Why didn’t you drive with the top up and the AC cranked?”
“Because I like feeling dewy!’ I’d respond, every single time. Sometimes he’d take the opening and run with it, cracking a dirty joke or whispering something sexy. Sometimes he’d say nothing and just continue to hug me, never caring how sticky I was.
There was always something raw and seductive about a steamy, muggy night in his inner city like town. I still remember our slippery embraces on the crumbling sidewalks, arms sliding on contact with any shift of movement, and cool, damp sweat against my lips when I kissed his forehead or cheek. The smell of thick exhaust from loud, souped up cars on the avenue, and hot asphalt, permeated the heavy air, and distant shouts of profanity laced diatribes, peppered it. It sounds strange, but the grittiness was truly glamorous, an ambiance only second to our nights on the beach.
This was all I needed at this point in my life. No more living together, marriage and babies talk – just love and fun each night until near dawn. I still wanted to make that commitment to him, but figured I’d be ready in about a year or two..and told him so.
“Don’t worry, baby..take your time.” he would say, which although comforting, was starting to disturb me a little. It was too easy…way, way too easy.
Around mid-July his parents hired his construction crew, shrewdly taking advantage of the familial discount, to start building an addition onto their shore house since they would be moving down there permanently within a year. He figured it would take about two weeks, give or take. We decided I would come down on the weekends, switching out my Saturday afternoon gig at the tanning salon.
I got so caught up in work and friends that I never did make it down. However, it’s not like he was calling and begging me to come, so I assumed they were working like dogs, and I didn’t want to be a distraction. There was a lot of summer left and sometimes a little break is a good thing..or so I thought.
We’d talk on the phone once a day or night, so everything seemed cool, but I sensed a little distance at times. I attributed that distance to him working hard and being tired, not to mention the return of the ‘phone hating’ guy from my early college years. I honestly didn’t think there was any cause for alarm. Besides, I was never the nagging type, and I wasn’t about to become the naggy girlfriend.
Once the two weeks were up, he called and said they needed to stay a few more days to finish up some painting. I was so distracted by the fun I was having with my friends, I was actually okay with it, never thinking anything could possibly be off-kilter or worthy of suspicion. I missed him, but knew all would be fine once we were face to face again, especially since he told me how much he missed me.
When he finally came home, we made plans to meet at the bottom of his hill in a parking lot because his street was so narrow, you could stand in the middle of it, arms outstretched, and almost touch two car doors on each side. We’d started doing this a few months before when we watched a car come close to ripping off my car door handle as the driver skedaddled around a truck on the other side of the street. Unfortunately, his driveway only had enough room for two cars..usually his parents and one of his brother’s, and the garage was tiny and used for storage. Dreamboat parked his on the street – confident nothing would happen to it, and nothing ever did, but if it did, it wouldn’t have mattered because as he put it;
“It’s old, a scratch or dent won’t seize the engine. As long as it gets me from point A to point B…”.
I left work, excited to see him, but that excitement was not quite at the level it had been years before. Typical long-term relationship familiarity. Regardless, it was still enough to bring on the butterflies. Tiny butterflies, but butterflies nonetheless.
I pulled into the lot, and he was already there in his usual position – leaning against a car with his arms crossed, a big smile on his face when he saw me. I parked and got out of the car. Suddenly the butterflies swelled to twice their size. Whoa, Nellie! Having not seen him for over two weeks, I finally noticed how much of a man he had become. His hair was shorter, no longer brushing his collar, but still long enough that I could run my fingers through it with a little room to spare. He wore a black t-shirt, emblazoned with the logo of his construction company, tucked into faded jeans. The t-shirt accentuated the broadness of his shoulders and fully showcased his perfectly muscled, lightly tanned arms. His body was thicker now, from all the construction work, and well, getting older. He looked freakin’ amazing.
I stood demurely in front of him, my hands clasped behind my back, waiting for him to make the first move. I felt shy. I started to blush. Geeez…what this man could do to me was unreal. Here I was thinking I had grown into a confident, young woman, yet here I was blushing and feeling like a teenager again. Out of sight, slightly out of mind – in sight, crazy out of my mind. I guess absence does make the heart grow fonder, I thought, and then I felt my legs gel a little.
Yep, grownup, confident, now experienced, lipstick wearing woman slowly fades to black – enter love struck, cherry lip glossed, teenage girl.
He leaned forward and pulled me to him by the front waistband of my shorts..wrapping me in his arms tight, then gave me a huge, playful kiss on the neck, blowing to make a noise, like a parent does to their small child’s belly. He’d never done that before, but I thought it was cute and returned the favor. He smelled so damn good, although it was a new scent..a more mature scent, perhaps? No matter, all was good again, we were back.
And then he kissed me.
It didn’t feel right. We usually melted into each other and it had been like that since that very first, magical night when I was 15 , squished together in his refurbished Beetle, parked facing Barnegat Bay. He was kissing me differently..so much so, I felt like I was with another person, another person who was an absolutely atrocious kisser. It was almost sloppy, definitely awkward, and worst of all, no love, passion or heat. I pulled away and looked into his eyes, waiting for him to laugh and tell me he was just having fun with me, then pull me in for the real kiss. It didn’t happen, His eyes were question marks, begging – what did I do? I couldn’t help myself..I just blurted it out;
“You’re kissing me weird..it’s different.”
“What are you talking about?” He asked, his blue eyes laced with amusement. “What’s different?”
How could I tell him it sucked? How could I word it?
“It’s just different. It’s not how you usually kiss me. It doesn’t feel right” I answered, tentatively.
Instead of responding, he turned me around, pushed me up against my car and started kissing me passionately. At first it was still off, but then it slowly reverted back to the way it always was, mostly because he followed my lead. Soon I forgot about the dreadful ‘stranger’ kiss and we were walking back up the hill to his house, his arm firmly around my neck, my fingers entwined in his dangling hand. Once we got there, he lifted me up, threw me over his shoulder and marched my rag doll body up the stairs while I chirped away in fake protest stippled with laughter. He turned the corner to his bedroom and plopped me gently down on the bed. A tickle fight ensued, and again, all was good, until it got serious.
He was touching me clumsily, like he was unfamiliar with my body, reaching for things that weren’t there (yep, I wasn’t blessed in the upper region), fumbling and rushing, It was rough, uncomfortable and incredibly disconcerting. It was as if I was one of those bimbos the guys on the Jersey Shore TV show picked up at the clubs, but only if they were DTF (If you ever watched the show, you know what that stands for..if not, it’s an abbreviation for an easy lay – Down to F**k), and didn’t care that they were being used..just a ploy to get on TV. Fame whores and gold diggers whom they treated as such.
Yes, I did watch the show, mainly to see Seaside.
After about 20 minutes of this..I’d had enough. I pushed him off of me and sat up.
“This doesn’t feel right.” I said, searching his face for clues that might explain this sudden deviation from the man I knew and loved.
He looked at me, but it was if he was looking right through me, his eyes wholly devoid of any emotion. I remember thinking his pupils looked like pools of cold, dark, polluted water. East River pupils. He told me, in a slightly irritated tone, to relax and stop analyzing everything. It was so unlike him..who the eff was this person?
I stood up and told him I wanted to go home. He tried to pull me back and dissuade me, but it was a little too elaborate to be genuine. Something was up and I didn’t like it nor feel comfortable enough to continue or even hang out with him for the remainder of the evening. He finally gave in and let me go, walking me back down the hill, although I walked a good two feet in front of him. My emotional state was a combination of anger and confusion, overwhelming any desire to talk or look back at him. He didn’t try to catch up with me…just walked slowly behind with his hands in his pockets.
Again, who the eff was this person? Suddenly, the love of my life was a complete stranger.
After a few minutes, I wanted to turn around and look at him, but couldn’t because all I could see was red, a deep, hot flaming red, and I wanted him to feel its burn so he would react in some way, shape or form. How could he have treated me like that and be so indifferent about it?
I was cognitively pleading with him. Do something, say something, come walk beside me..react, dammit! But he didn’t.
As mentioned above, he had been a little weird on the phone when he was away so my optimism and what I thought was logical reasoning, was so off base, I would have been tagged out with nary an effort. That phone person was the one who had fumbled me roughly and carelessly, like an attempt to hold onto a wobbly thrown football in a game that didn’t matter. At that moment, I had been an object, not the supposed love of his life.
My thoughts were scattered during this suddenly long, uncomfortable walk. He smelled different (he was not a cologne guy, but knew I loved one in particular and always wore it for me. This night, for the first time in a long time..he didn’t.), looked different, felt different and acted different. Invasion of the freakin’ Dreamboat Snatchers, I thought.
When I reached my car, I still refused to turn around, just got in, slammed the door shut and peeled out of there as fast as I could. I didn’t even look in my rear view mirror to see if he was watching. I’d show him!
After I calmed down a little on the drive home, I figured I’d overreacted due to a PMS lager monster brewing in my belly, its little pincers pulling at every last nerve, and it was probably just an aberration. Maybe he was tired? Maybe he felt weird after not seeing me for two weeks? Wait, scratch that, I thought as I took a right past a couple fighting on a corner (hmm..was there a full moon out that night?), he was away from me for much longer periods of time during college and was never like that when we reunited. Regardless, I was sure there would be an apologetic and loving message on my answering machine when I got home.
And there wasn’t the next day either, but caller ID let me know that at least he made one attempt, but why wouldn’t he leave a message?
That night at the tanning salon, spurred on by the fact that he had tried to call, I decided to call him. His brother P answered.
“Hi, P..is Dreamboat there?” I asked, hoping Dreamboat would run to the phone once he knew it was me.
“Hey, Lis..sure, hang on a sec.” He replied casually.
I listened as he yelled to Dreamboat that I was on the phone. Then something weird happened. I heard what sounded like muffled whispers. P obviously had his hand over the receiver. Then, instead of Dreamboat’s voice, P came back on.
“Uhh..I think he went out, Lis, not sure when he’ll be back.” He said, unconvincingly.
I knew it was bullshit, I knew Dreamboat was there. I felt sick.
“Really, P, or does he just not want to talk to me?” I asked, suddenly feeling desperate and incredibly vulnerable.
“No..he really isn’t here.” P said, again, unconvincingly. I could tell he wasn’t comfortable lying to me.
I said goodbye and hung up. I was really feeling sick now. I had to know the truth, so I called Raven and asked her to call in a few minutes and ask for him. Different voice, different result?
10 minutes later, Raven called back. This is what went down.
Raven: “Hi, is Dreamboat there?”
P “Yeah, hang on a sec.”
Raven hears Dreamboat whisper “Who is it?” in the background. P says, “I don’t know, just talk” and gives him the phone. P didn’t want to deal with this screening crap anymore.
Raven: “Hi, Dreamboat, it’s Raven..obviously you ARE home, could you call Lisa?”
Dreamboat: “No..I wasn’t home, I had to go to the bank, just got back.”
Raven: “Okay, whatever..just call her.”
As soon as she finished telling me, the call waiting beeped. It was him.
“Hey” he said nonchalantly..”I just went to the bank, no idea why P made it sound like I was out for the night.” he lied “I tried to call you at home a few times, did you see?”
“Yeah, I saw, why didn’t you leave a message?” I asked, my guts twisting into tight coils. This was NOT my Dreamboat.
“I dunno..you know how I am about the phone and answering machines” He said, his voice saturated in cool.
Answering machines too? It was complete bull because he had left plenty of messages before, and I told him just that.
“Well..I guess I’m still a little pissed about what happened the other night” He sort of muttered, trying to convey anger with a faux edge to his voice. I knew when Dreamboat was mad and there was no anger here, just ambivalence.
Oh man, this was bad.
I decided to let it go because I wanted to make up and try and find out what had gotten into him.
“Okay, well..I can come by after work and we can talk about it if you want.” I said as I spun a pen around and around on a piece of paper, ripping it from the pressure, hoping his response would be a positive one. Say yes. say yes, please say yes.
His voice softened a bit and I braced myself. “I’m sorry, baby, after what happened, I thought you needed some time to cool off, so I made plans to go to Virginia Beach for a 4 day weekend. We’re leaving in a few hours – driving there.”
Virgina Beach?? WHAT? Who did he know in Virginia Beach? He’d never mentioned Virginia Beach ..ever. In fact, outside of Jersey and NYC, he never expressed an interest in traveling anywhere. Heck, he never even came to Boston when I was there, although, at the time, I was okay with that.
The thing is, I didn’t even ask who he was going with..I just assumed it was probably one of his construction crew friends who had a house or relatives there. I still can’t fathom why I thought that.
“You’re going to Virginia Beach?? Why?” I asked frantically.
“I dunno, never seen it before, just decided to go.” He replied, still trying to sound edgy, but this time with a hint of cool again, as if I wouldn’t pick up on this subterfuge of vocal tones.
Instead of asking the usual questions any girlfriend would ask, I saw it as him blowing me off to make me pay for what happened that night. I was positive he just made it up off the top of his head, not unlike when you spin a globe and wherever your finger lands is your travel destination, or made up destination.
Years later, I still occasionally wonder how I could have been so damn naive.
“Okay, if you go to Virginia Beach this weekend, don’t bother calling me when you get home, because we will be OVER!!” I shouted with authentic anger. Ugh, I had turned into that girl.
He immediately shifted his tone into soft gear aka placate her, taking aim with his tranquilizer gun;
“Baby, I’ll call you the minute I get home and we’ll get together and talk, okay?”
Then “I love you”, which seemed so out of place and so, so wrong in this awful moment. He continued to repeat, “I will call you as soon as I get home.”, over and over, obvious filler to my sudden, shocked silence. I finally snapped out of it and sliced through his repetitious chant with a jagged edge of bitch;
“NO! Do not call me when you get home, we’re through!” then slammed the phone down hard, wishing he could feel it physically.
Now I was that girl and then some. Dang. I was not handling this well at all.
I attempted to build a linguine tower with a fork and tongs. Obviously, it didn’t work out too well. With natural light, it would have looked magnificent just dumped on a plate. Without it, you need to get creative.
I waited, hoping he would call back, but he didn’t. I sat there staring into space for a few minutes – completely numb. I knew I couldn’t call him back because once I lifted the folded flaps in the corners of our relationship, he wanted something I was not ready to give him and that’s what I thought it was all about. It was him pulling away because he thought he’d never get that from me, right?
I still hadn’t cried. I was grateful that there were no more appointments and I could close up. I locked the doors, then grabbed a bunch of clean towels for the tanning booths and beds and started folding them, not feeling a thing – terry cloth anesthesia. The numbness was more than welcome – a warm, cozy blanket that swaddled me tight and soothed, keeping me from breaking down into a heaving, sobbing mess. As I continued folding, the blanket began to calcify, hardening into an impermeable, granite like shield.
I think I’m going to be okay.
Once done, I started walking from room to room to place them on the chairs. I felt lighter, and in fact, did I just detect a slight bounce in my step? Yeah, I was going to be okay, I thought, smiling to myself. Damn, I was stronger than I realized!
Then the opening guitar chords to Stairway to Heaven softly whispered through the speakers - almost enjoying what it was gonna do to me. My bouncy legs turned to jelly, but not in the way they did during those wondrous, early years with him. This was bad jelly, weak jelly, rip my heart out and carelessly toss it in the trash like an apple core, jelly. The granite like shield cracked, then crumbled as I slid down a corner wall, dropping the towels..and cried for a long, long time, a heaving, sobbing mess.
He called when he got home. I didn’t answer. I didn’t answer subsequent calls the next day either. He even left a message once; “Hi, it’s me..I’m home, call me.”. None of the usual ‘I love yous’ or sweetness. He was cold, but at least he said something.
I decided to wait a bit before returning his call because I did end it, (even though I didn’t mean it) and didn’t want him to think he could treat me like that and get away with it. I hated myself for playing this game, but desperately needed to hold onto that last vestige of pride somewhere inside of me.
I finally broke and called him 3 hours later, completely wimping out on the the tough girl 48 hours I wanted to simmer in to save face. His youngest brother answered and said he was working down the shore for the rest of the week, so I called him there.
A female answered and it wasn’t his mother. I did a quick equation of deduction – both of his brothers and parents were back in North Jersey, so this female was his.
Part 23 coming soon.