Chapter 7: Young Urban Professionals
Some time around 1988 I finally broke up with Casey for good and moved into a house with my brother, who had now graduated high school and moved to Memphis. I was working as the assistant to the sales managers at a car dealership, which meant I sat up on the sales desk with them and did all their paperwork. One of the salesmen was a guy named Kent who looked an awful lot like Mikhail Baryshnikov (who I once had this poster of on my wall when I was in high school). Kent was two years older than me and had a degree in finance from Memphis State. He had Trump's The Art of the Deal on his nightstand and big dreams of making his first million during this decade of excess. He was biding his time at the dealership waiting for an open finance manager position. I guess in Memphis, that's your way into the big-time financial world.
As the only young woman on the sales floor, I received quite a bit of attention from the younger sales guys. I remember there was this other guy who looked just like Paul from Young and the Restless. But everyone knew I had a serious boyfriend and was hands-off. After Casey and I split up, I would often retreat to Kent's cubicle in the corner of the showroom late in the afternoon, under the guise of hiding from my boss. It didn't take long for me to work into the conversation that I'd left my boyfriend. It took him even less time to ask me out.
Kent and I were serious from the get-go. When some of Casey's stoner friends found out I'd moved, they started showing up occasionally at the house I was renting with my brother. They'd say they just wanted to say hi...see how I was doing...then eventually they'd ask me out, and I'd have to explain that I was already seeing someone else. Whiplash ensued.
Kent lived in an apartment with his roommate, Joey; his girlfriend was Kathy, and she looked like Elisabeth Shue. The four of us fancied ourselves Yuppies in the vein of the Thirtysomething friends. We were only twentysomething and not nearly as professional as Hope and Michael's group, but it's what we aspired to.
Kent introduced me to a Memphis that I had not known with Casey. Kent and Joey had lived there all their lives, so they knew the old-school places like getting burgers at the East End Grill and pasta at the original Coletta's on Summer Avenue. As upwardly mobile young professionals, we'd often all meet at Kent and Joey's apartment for lunch on work days, go out to eat one weekend night, and otherwise hang out at home drinking a few beers.
If there's one thing Kent felt strongly about, it was that I should finish college. I had started taking classes at Memphis State soon after Casey and I moved there, but I was not in school at the time that I met Kent. I'd probably run out of money. As Kent and I became more serious, he made it clear that he would never marry me before I had my degree. I re-enrolled as an education major in night school (because I had a day job). I remember telling him that I thought so many of my life's issues were due to the fact that my parents had not instilled confidence in me and I just wanted to be able to make a difference in children's lives by giving them confidence.
Clearly the current generation of trophies-for-participating Millenials was raised by people JUST LIKE ME.
I was promoted to receptionist at the car dealership's corporate office. Every morning, all their dealerships - they had about 25 across the southeast - would fax in their morning report. I would cut them out, tape them together into one loooong report and then fax them out to all the locations. This was back in the days when fax machines had rolls of paper that would continuously print. Also back in the days of fax machines.
Somewhere around the fall of 1989, Kent decided there was no million-dollar future for him at our Memphis car company and took a job with his dad's insurance agency in Corpus Christi, Texas. I couldn't go with him because I was enrolled in school. I believe by that time I had switched to pursuing a nursing degree. I'd been accepted into a hospital R.N. program and was completing my pre-reqs at Memphis State. Kent and I decided I would stay at Memphis State through the end of the following Spring semester and then I could join him in Texas. That was a long and difficult winter but I really, really loved this guy and was willing to wait it out. I think for his part, he was just so focused on work and trying to succeed that he maybe barely noticed that he didn't have a girlfriend by his side.
Literally the weekend after spring semester ended, I packed my little Honda Civic hatchback to the roof with my personal belongings and drove myself from Memphis to Corpus Christi. That's about a 14-hour drive (no cell phone for safety back in those days). But I was on a mission. The only specific thing I remember about making that long drive alone was that when I drove through Austin, I thought, "Wow, this city is so green." I later learned, while living in Texas, that Austin had a Tree Ordinance that mandated a tree be planted every so many feet.
In Corpus I moved into Kent's apartment and got a job waiting tables at a popular local restaurant called Crystal's which is not the same as Krystal's. I made some good friends there - Holly and Mary and a cute gay boy named Michael who we all just adored but Mary was especially hung up on. She later ended up dating a waiter named Javier who was way tall, way dark and way handsome and way more her type. Holly was a physical therapy student at Texas A&M doing a summer internship in Corpus. I remember she used to teach us about all the A&M traditions (there are a lot of them). Mary and Michael were from Corpus and in school there. The four of us became fast friends for that summer. I attended my first drag show there with the group of them. If there's one thing you can always find in coastal cities, it's gays and drugs. I don't know why that is but Gulfport/Biloxi was the same way.
I lived in Corpus with Kent from May until December. During that time, I took classes at the local college to finish my nursing pre-reqs. But the Texas reqs and the Tennessee reqs didn't match up identically and it turned out that I could save about a semester of school if I went back to Memphis to finish my certification. So by January, I was back in M-Town. I was not 100 percent sold on the plan, but Kent insisted. I got a townhouse with my brother and his girlfriend (who he later married).
I clung to the hope that I was going to finish school and reunite with Kent. I got a job waiting tables at Chili's at night so I could load up on classes during the day. I was surprised to learn I could make more waiting tables than I'd made in minimum wage day jobs. I made some good Chilihead friends, Susan and Julia being my besties.
One Sunday night at work, late in the spring semester, the hostess sat two football players from Memphis State in my section. One of them was flirting with me and wanting my number. Then she told me there was a table of two other guys in the bar asking for me. It was Kent and one of his college fraternity brothers.
This is the one moment in my life that could successfully translate into a sitcom. (Only Andrea Savage is allowed to steal this, because I luff her! Anyone else I will sue for intellectual property.) Late on a Sunday night, I was bouncing between a table with a footballer who could legitimately be in the NFL, and the sort-of-ex who had been the love of my life up until this point.
I'm no fool. I got the footballer's number and I arranged to meet up with Kent at an after-hours bar after work.
I put on a pretty good impression for Kent of how GREAT my life was now. He probably did the same. We went to Newby's on the Highland Strip and had a few beers. He told me that he'd been seeing a girl in Corpus. (Mary and Michael had already let me know since he'd regularly shown up at Crystals with her.) She was studying to be a teacher. He refused to get serious with her until she had her degree.
I loved seeing Kent again and I definitely regretted that our relationship clearly wasn't destined to get back on track. He was my first real, adult love. I was devastated when it ended. My mother told me, "Now that you've experienced it, you know you're capable of it." I'm not sure that made me feel any better. But what she said makes a lot more sense now that I'm in my 50s.
I had two dates with the footballer, but nothing clicked there. Later there was a slight flirtation with one of my managers at Chili's, but he dumped me last minute when a bartender suddenly became available for a Spring Break trip with him. All my Chilihead friends were headed to Florida for that trip. I felt so betrayed by him that I bailed on it altogether and decided to visit Corpus instead.
Mary picked me up at the airport and we went for lunch and drinks. I'd been gone less than a year but I had missed her so! She really was a good friend. Later I hooked up with Michael and we hit a few bars. I came home late. Kent and I argued. Big, big fight. He needed me to be serious and finish school; I still wanted to party and have fun with my friends. To be fair, the whole big fight might have been instigated by the fact that I'd taken his car out for my night with Michael and maybe put a few dents in it. So that's on me.
I was meant to be in Texas the whole week but by Tuesday morning he was done with me. I was on a plane back to Memphis. I cried a bit on the phone to get a bereavement fare home.
Upon return to Memphis, my life all felt a bit turned upside-down. I needed to up-end things, to make them right again, so I moved out of the townhouse I'd shared with my brother and his girlfriend. I rented a house in midtown Memphis with my friend Susan from Chili's.
I was 24 years old and had not finished college. The love of my life had let me go because I could only pretend at adulting. It was clearly time for some things to change.
More to come...