I stood in line at the bank like I always do the last Friday of the month to deposit the cash I made from moonlighting as a waitress.
This was the last place I wanted to be after suffering through a day of teaching teenagers with non-existent parents and working for a redneck principal.
I filled out a deposit slip in my checkbook using my knee as a desk. When I finished and looked up a man in another line was staring at me. I looked away and thought, “God, it’s just like being at Hooters, but without the short shorts and tight tank top.
But when I looked again he wasn’t staring at my body, but my face. He smiled and then looked away.
It was his turn at the window and while he made his transaction I checked him out. He was tall, probably close to six feet, had dark blonde wavy hair – clean cut, wearing a navy blue short-sleeved polo shirt, Levi’s, a cell phone on his belt and dusty black ropers.
In spite of the cowboy attire, he seemed out of place in this border town. He smiled and said ‘thank you’ to the teller before he walked away from the window and past me. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hello.”
“Next,” said the teller. I smiled at him and stepped up to the window and while she was punching numbers into a computer I watched the cowboy hold the door open for an elderly woman. Then he was gone so I looked at the woman at the next window. She was small and thin, with long shiny black hair. A man stood beside her holding a sleeping baby boy in his arms, arms that looked like bent loaves of braided bread. “The perfect family,” I thought, and then wondered if he hit her when she burned his tortillas, stayed out all night sleeping with women he met in bars or came home drunk and penniless whenever he got a paycheck.
Hmmph. That’s why she’s cashing her check.
I couldn’t imagine a so-called normal relationship. All I’d seen were the worst kind and the men I’d dated usually fell into at least one of the three categories my grandmother warned me about: “Si no son borrachos, son mujeriegos or golpeadores. Ya no hay hombres buenos.” (If they’re not drunks, they’re womanizers or abusers. There aren’t any good men anymore.)
As I was remembering my grandmother’s take on men the cowboy from the bank appeared in front of me in the parking lot. “Excuse me, but I’m new in town and I can’t seem to find any place that has some decent machaca. Do you know any place that has authentic Mexican food?”
What, is he so desperate that he’d use that old excuse to hit on a woman? I just stood there for a few seconds while he smiled at me stupidly, waiting and looking like he really wanted to know.
“Kiki’s on Piedras,” I said. “It’s a dive but they have the best machaca in town.”
“Piedras?” he sounded puzzled. So I gave him directions. He looked more confused, but I never said I gave good directions.
“I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you join me for dinner? My treat. I hate to eat alone. I could just follow you in my truck.”
I wrinkled up my eyebrows and thought about an excuse as I imagined resting my head on his broad shoulders after a long day at school.
“Just dinner,” he said, “You eat don’t you?”
“Yeah, but I have to pick up my daughter. I can’t.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to…I didn’t know you were married. You don’t have a ring.”
“I’m not married.”
“Well, then could I give you my number and when you feel like going out to eat you could call me. Maybe we could go to Kiki’s,” he said, sounding like a man who was, as he said, all alone in a new town.
“Okay, you can give me your number,” I said, my grandmother’s three categories still in my head. He wrote his name Paul and his number on the back of a receipt. Which one of the three are you Paul? The drunk, the womanizer, or the abuser? I thought pessimistically. But then I looked again at him and that lonely look in his gray eyes. “He seems like a nice guy,” said the lonely part of me that still believed it was possible for a man not to fall into a category of lousiness. But the part of me that remembered another handsome man in cowboy boots who in return for my heart had pushed a needle into his arm and shot imprisonment into his life took the paper with his number and started walking to my car.
“Will you call me?” he asked.
“Maybe,” I said as I got in and as soon as I shut the door, “maybe not.”
I wasn’t always this cold. I took years to get this way and now at thirty-three years old, I didn’t want to waste any more time hoping my life would somehow become a fairy tale. After all, fairy tales were for little girls.
The whole way to the daycare I thought about the fourth category of men. There was the “Three-dollar loser,” as my friend Jean called him. He came on a bus from Arizona to spend the weekend with me with three dollars in his pocket. And I was just as stupid; I paid for his bus ticket!
Before that, there was Mike, who lived with his brother. The first time I saw what I thought was his room I looked around at the Star Wars posters and curtains with swirling blue planets. I cringed and said, “Are you a Trekkie?” He slept in his nephew’s bedroom when the boy was at his mother’s house, and when he was home Mike would stay with his other brother in Juarez, Mexico.
Mike had a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering but neither he nor his car worked. He would tell me, “I’m going to drive you to work tomorrow and borrow your car.”
Before him, there was Travis, the fiance who was a realtor but spent most of his time drinking beer and sitting around while his two teenage kids would stare hungrily into his empty refrigerator until I bought some food for them. Travis said, “When we get married we’ll pay the bills with your check and I’ll give you an allowance.” I laughed and left him immediately. An allowance!
My grandmother forgot the most common type of man, the fourth category – the parasite. But how do you say parasite in Spanish? Oh Abuelita, you were right. I grabbed the paper with Paul’s number crumbling it into a ball. I sat at the red light holding the ball in my hand that could turn into something beautiful. Maybe I should try…just one more time. Maybe this one won’t just take from me and what he gives won’t be in the form of purple bruises or a black eye.
The light turned green and I threw the ball out the window. As I sped up the wind caught the ball and tossed it back in the window, landing it on the passenger’s seat next to me. I kept going, a smile spread across my face and I laughed a little. Okay, you win cowboy. One shot!