Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Magic Mermaid Man

Neil was a rebound guy for me. Maybe I'll never forget him because I'll always feel guilty about him.

I was nursing a recent heartache when I met Neil. I had been beating myself up, emotionally, feeling rejected by Mister Extremely Good Looking and Perfect - a handsome, muscular, and very straight-appearing blue collar guy. He was so butch he even had an entire collection of John Wayne VHS movies.

Neil was also handsome, with blond hair and blue eyes. But blue collar he was not. He owned a floral shop and he was one of the designers for a fundraiser known as the Headdress Ball in Anaheim (picture society women in glittery evening gowns and displaying huge fountains of flowers from their heads, like Vegas showgirls for the Rose Parade).

My dance teacher, as choreographer for the fundraiser, had recruited me to dance around one of the headdress wearing participants. I was a shirtless faun, complete with pan flute and horns. The flute and horns were Neil's, as were the fur pants and tail, an old Halloween costume of his. He also offered to let me wear the three inch black stiletto heels that had been part of his costume but they were the wrong size for me (luckily . . . I wasn't that good of a dancer).

Neil was pretty obvious in his pursuit of me. I wasn't interested but I enjoyed the attention. He took me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I don't remember much about our date but I must have been my usual self, dominating conversation. Part of why I feel guilty, now, is that I must have talked on and on about myself, including the recent rejection I had been feeling from Mister Extremely Good Looking and Perfect.

And Neil listened.

I can't remember if I remembered to ask Neil questions about himself, even if only as a return of courtesy. Neil must have had the gift of knowing the right questions to ask, knowing how to get someone to open up.

I told him about one of my favorite library books in elementary school, The City Under the Back Steps, a story about two children who shrink and live in an ant colony.

I told Neil about a beautiful and expensive handmade mermaid doll I had seen in a Laguna Beach boutique, in the mid-80's, and how I had always wanted to have one like it.

A few days later Neil gave me a used hardback copy of The City Under the Back Steps. This was in 1994, before the Internet became available in most people's homes, and I was impressed that he was able to find a copy available for sale. The book came in wrapping paper that had a red and white checkered table cloth print, like the ones used in storybook picnics. The picnic blanket wrapping paper even had a few black ants marching across it.

And a few days after that, a large pink gift bag was waiting for me when I went to dance class at my teacher's studio. Inside was a lovely handmade mermaid, with a shimmering, green tail, and pale curly hair the color of corn silk. The mermaid's tail had a few glass beads attached, like glistening dew drops. In her soft cloth hands, the mermaid was holding a pearl.

I still feel guilty about Neil today because he had made such heartfelt effort. I've thought several times about how he truly listened to me. It showed in his gifts.

I couldn't keep the mermaid doll. It didn't feel right. But I couldn't just throw it away, either. It was a labor of love on Neil's part, and I couldn't be cavalier about disposing the beautiful doll.

I gave it to BFF Kathy to hold onto. This made sense because she is the mermaid in my life. After seeing the movie "Splash" in the theater, I felt that I just had to meet a mermaid (it took me a few years to realize that I already had met one, and that it had been Kathy all along - as real as a mermaid can be on dry land).

Neil was not the man I had wanted to meet, but I will never forget him. He included a short, sweet note along with the mermaid doll. He wrote:

Dear Peter, I'm sorry you had to miss the John Wayne film festival.

That still makes me smile today.


TS Hendrik said...

I'm pretty sure I read that ant book as a kid and it gave me nightmares. The horrible byproduct of an overactive imagination.

KK said...

Keep your stories coming Peter. They're delightful and sometimes heartbreaking at the same time.

I think we all have our own "Neil"s.

Cheryl said...

I loved that book as a kid. I still remember how the kids thought they'd been gone for months, but it only turned out to be a day or two. I console myself with the idea that ants have a different sense of time than we do every time I kill one.

Neil sounds like a catch...I'm sure he made the right guy really happy, just like your right guy eventually did for you.