Shelby Spires, 45, lives in Macon, Ga. He told me this story:
I spent my career as a newspaper reporter and editor. I’ve done OK for myself — I own my house and car outright, I have enough investments that I can be picky about what kind of work projects I take. But there have been many times when I’ve found myself editing some crappy copy or changing a car tire, and I thought: “What would have happened if I married Naomi?”
When I was 19 I dated a 52-year-old widow. She was very attractive and dressed like she was 20. Naomi grew up with money and married money and was a successful real estate developer herself. I grew up middle class, and while I never really worried about having food on the table, it was thrilling to be courted with U2 concerts in Atlanta, sex and booze with what I considered a sophisticated older woman. That is what passed for erudite when you’re a teenage journalism student who grew up on James Bond novels.
But it wasn’t all glamour. One evening I was enjoying a Jim Beam in what was considered an upscale restaurant in Macon, Ga., (meaning they had linen napkins and a well dressed hostess) when Naomi literally cursed the waitress, calling her a “slant-eyed bitch.” It came out of nowhere. This was what first opened my eyes to her temper and racism. Aside from my literal drunk uncle, who had been shot up by the Japanese during World War II, I never heard racial slurs except on television or the movies.
But it wasn’t just how she treated other people. Naomi physically scared me. She’d grab me by the lapels of my jacket, throw me down on the couch, and say, “Fuck me!” Today I’d love that, but when I was 19 it was terrifying.
After a month or two she asked, “What do you want with your life? Where are you going? I want you to know that I’m here for you.” It was her way of putting the ball in my court, to let me know she wanted a serious relationship. Eventually I just let things drift apart.
I went on to marry and divorce twice – neither time to women with money. I sometimes think: If those relationships ended, why didn’t I marry and divorce and walk away with some cash? But then I work through the regret fantasy. If I had stayed with Naomi I would have wound up as some boy-toyed manager of a real estate company, become an asshole and got myself shot. Like I said – she was mean. We would have wound up in court – either criminal court or divorce court. She had money and connections and could have really come after me.
The regret pops up every now and again, but then I snap out of it after 5 minutes. If I had gone that route when I was so young I wouldn’t have pursued my career – written books and partied with astronauts and traveled all over the country. I wouldn’t have created the life I have for myself. To this day, I don’t really care for Jim Bean.
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