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If I Can't Have You, No One Can
By Don Lasseter
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Don Lasseter
All rights reserved.
"He's Going to Kill Me"
Turning to the first page of a blank spiral notebook, Sarah, age twenty-one, took a deep breath to control her trembling hands. She entered "3/27/03" in the upper right corner, then began pouring her emotional anguish into the new journal. On blue-lined sheets, Sarah neatly printed words revealing her torment over a convoluted love affair. In sentence after sentence, she spoke of fear that clouded every waking moment, gripping her because of the man's repeated threats:
"He told me that he had a gun in his car under his seat. He also told me that I'd better not tell anyone what's going on because if I do and if he goes to jail that he was going to find me and kill me."
During the next few days, Sarah filled eleven pages with dread that she was going to be murdered by a man who had already taken everything she had to give.
On March 28, she noted, "He told me that I better not get a restraining order on him because then I will be making a big mistake. He also told me nothing had better happen to him otherwise he was going to kill me when he gets out of jail."
Describing a recent confrontation at a community college, where Sarah took night classes, she told of being accosted by the man she had entrusted with deep affection. He had grabbed her with enough force to bruise her arm: "I opened the door to my class and he just pushed it shut. He then put his hands around my neck, choking me." She had managed to escape into the classroom, where a fellow student summoned a security guard.
Just a few months earlier, Sarah's meticulous printing had reflected something far different. Her words, in notes and letters, expressed passion and excitement rather than terror-filled predictions of doom. To the person who would eventually threaten her life, she wrote: "I love you so much ... I love it when we are together." She decorated the paper's borders with cartoons of flowers and punctuated her sentences with happy faces.
While children under her care at a preschool took afternoon naps, she penned romantic letters to the man who was already a father: "I have 8 kids here. Hey baby, how many more kids do you want? I want 2 or 3! Gosh baby doll. I love you so much. I wish I were laying down with you right now...."
Sarah didn't know how many women he had dated or bedded before they met, but she did know that one of them had given birth to this man's baby.
In sharp contrast, Sarah had previously experienced only one serious romance. A few weeks before the start of her senior year in high school, August 1999, she had fallen in love with a young man named Matt Corbett. In the previous semester, more than a few randy classmates had made passes at her, attracted by her budding five-foot figure, waist-length dark hair, luminous brown eyes, and ever-present smile. According to Sarah's mother, "she could light up a room with her smile."
Instead of all the potential suitors in her own school, Sarah chose Matt, who attended a separate school across town. He stood a sturdy five-ten, and was masculine, athletic, and powerful, which appealed to Sarah. Yet, he was gentle and considerate. It all began when they met because she dialed a wrong number.
Puppy love drove them at first. Before long, it blossomed into what playwrightpoet Ben Jonson called "spiritual coupling of two souls." Their attachment inspired endless telephone calls, visits to each other's families, movie dates, and their attendance at her senior prom. After graduation, in 2000, when Matt acquired a car, and traded it for a power pickup, the couple found the freedom to spend even more time together. Now it was unequivocal love.
Sarah and Matt shared future dreams and plans. Computers fascinated Sarah and she spoke of entering the field of graphic design, but decided to teach in the preschool alongside her mother while attending college classes part-time. Matt planned to work after graduation, then attend college later.
Friends of the handsome couple felt certain they would stay together into marriage. But midway through 2002, Sarah found herself wondering if it was a good idea to make a lifetime commitment without the experience of dating others. From somewhere deep inside, she felt a stirring need. It grew steadily and screamed for fulfillment. Then, as summer dwindled away, she met a man who seemed to hold the answers to her restlessness.
It started with physical attraction, as most hookups do. Flirtation, a faster heartbeat, arousal, and something else captivated her. This mysterious guy, several years older than Sarah, didn't show the patient respect exhibited by Matt Corbett. He seemed more raw-edged, unpredictable, almost dangerous in some ways. She sensed secrets in his existence, and felt a challenge to unravel them. And it surprised Sarah that these characteristics excited her. His moodiness sometimes frustrated Sarah, but it didn't prevent her from seeking to fathom the perplexity of him.
When she learned that he had fathered a child by a previous girlfriend, Sarah at first felt the flush of jealousy. The urge to lash out boiled inside her, and she struggled to avoid making threats of breaking up. Before long, though, a maternal urge edged out the resentment, and she began wondering what it would be like to bear her own child. It surprised her when she found the thought arousing.
For Sarah, this new turn in her life may have been kick-started by infatuation, but it grew to something beyond that. It was a new kind of love: thrilling, sexy, and fun. Like a ride on a high-tech roller coaster, it reached thrilling heights, then plunged downward with speed that sucked the air from her lungs. Those sudden drops in the new relationship sprang from temperamental outbursts by both of them, something new to Sarah. It hadn't been that way with Matt. Of course, it bothered her when she and her paramour argued, and especially when he appeared to be on the verge of slapping her. She hated the altercations, but making up was filled with warmth, desire, and intimacy.
Shadows of confusion sometimes pestered Sarah. Gradually she realized that this brooding fellow seemed capable of physical violence. Yet, for the first time in her life, she understood something she had heard about other women — that some were actually attracted to danger.
How could this happen? Why would she stray from a solid, happy relationship with her longtime boyfriend? What would drive a young woman to risk losing something wonderful to pursue a dangerous course?
A prominent Los Angeles marriage counselor, Cosette D. Case, suggested certain possibilities:
Women who stray often rationalize their behavior. "I'm bored ... If men can cheat or play the field, why can't I? ... I'm not getting the attention I want from my current partner." It is also possible that Sarah was raised in a protective family with no conflicts or temperamental outbursts. If so, this might have made her so naive that she simply wasn't aware of the danger in this man. Even if she was, she may have just wanted to act out her sexual curiosity.
Trying to analyze a woman and understand the motivations for her behavior — for most men — is like gazing at the calm Pacific Ocean during sunset on a summer evening. It is beautiful, inviting, mysterious. But hiding under that resplendent surface are sanguinary creatures and hazards beyond all imagination.
Perhaps Sarah was driven by an unfulfilled need, desire, or the lure of adventure. Maybe not. In all probability, not even she understood exactly what sent her spinning into something poet Robert Browning described as "interests on the dangerous edge of things."
Evidence exists to reveal that she had intimate relations with her lover. The first time she saw him nude, Sarah was probably amazed by the bold, giant tattoos that wrapped across his legs, a few inches above the knees. She had already seen the blue-ink inscription on his right inner arm. It spelled out the name of his five-year-old offspring. On the other arm was the child's birth date. But enlarged cryptic block lettering on his thighs, filled in with geometric designs, likely mystified her. Her attempts to ask about them were met with sullen silence. She didn't want to believe they were gang-related, but couldn't think of any other explanation.
Other parts of his body presumably sent Sarah's temperature and libido soaring to different heights. If so, their lovemaking taught her new meanings of sexuality and released an inner self she had never known. All inhibitions vanished. When he wanted to photograph her in the nude, she acquiesced.
Sex games frequently produce consequences. By early September, Sarah found herself pregnant, and she expressed certainty that her new lover was the father. Not ready yet to bring a baby into the world, Sarah opted for an abortion.
All love affairs move through phases, and this one was no exception. In the fourth month, latent alarm signals that Sarah had perceived earlier, but ignored, grew in her mind.
His possessiveness seemed romantic at first. Little by little, though, his controlling demands began to annoy her. She tried to rationalize that his adoration drove him to insist on her complete devotion, yet she found herself flushed with anger.
Sarah sometimes tended to blame herself for misunderstandings between them. In a note to him, she said, "I really do love you so much. You really do make me happy. Honest. It's just me when I get mad. It has nothing to do with you. It's just me. ... I get mad at myself and then I just end up taking it out on you and I'm sorry for doing that."
It became increasingly difficult for Sarah to pretend that certain aspects of his behavior didn't bother her. She tried to rationalize that the only thing of real importance was the future. Grasping for a way to change his attitude, Sarah considered moving away with him. She fantasized about places she'd like to live someday. In one love letter, she wrote, "Baby, are you really going to move with me when I go to Texas or Washington? I hope so...."
As autumn weather embraced Southern California, and the sun dimmed in hazy, late afternoons, she discovered something else about him, something even more disturbing. He had been arrested and placed on probation for assaulting another woman. And his need for drugs, which she perceived as recreational, was habitual. It hadn't surprised Sarah when she first learned of his drug usage, and she had even consented to experiment with them herself. The thrill of forbidden pleasure faded, though, when it struck her like a slap on the face that his need for drugs was hard-core addiction. The realization left her disillusioned.
A notion seeded in Sarah's mind, took root, and grew. The whole thing had been a gigantic mistake. She should never have let herself get involved with this guy. After months of hiding the affair from her real love, Matt Corbett, she wondered if he could ever forgive her and start over.
It is not uncommon for a man to place the woman he loves on a pedestal so high that she inevitably must fall. Such men often have difficulty in accepting that the angel they love is subject to human foibles. She might harbor veiled sexual cravings or perhaps feel a need to escape outdated images of purity and innocence. The urge to explore carnal interests was once a privilege allowed only for men, but in modern times, women, too, have seized the freedom to sample forbidden pleasures.
Matt Corbett's gradual discovery that Sarah might be spending time with another man at first confused him, then hammered at his emotions. His beloved Sarah couldn't do such a thing. In view of the fact that he spent at least five evenings a week with her, he didn't see how she could find the time for secret meetings with someone else. He asked her what was going on, but she danced around his questions with vague answers. Several arguments between them just fanned the flames of hurt. Rather than lash out emotionally, Matt tried to analyze the predicament. Maybe Sarah needed some space for a little while. It was probably just infatuation. That's the term Matt chose for her involvement with this new guy. It had to be nothing more than infatuation. He rationalized that Sarah was just acting on curiosity that most young women experience. It must be a phase she would go through, and then realize what a mistake she was making. Maybe it would be best to keep quiet while she got it out of her system. Still, it was difficult to conceal the pain engulfing him.
As Sarah grew increasingly dissatisfied with the thorny treatment from her second beau, she developed a new understanding of how much she adored Matt Corbett. She realized that she wanted to resume their idyllic romance. But a major problem stood in the way. Every fiber of her being was paralyzed with terror that leaving the second lover she had ever taken would result in him killing her.CHAPTER 2
"You Can't Hit Girls"
Most young men who find themselves adrift are spawned from indigent, dysfunctional families and miserable poverty, or abusive treatment by families and peers. A few, though, may grow up in lives filled with wealth and privilege, while others might simply rebel at nothing more than parental authority. Parents know that it is not an easy task to administer life's lessons along with appropriate punishment for misdeeds. The term "tough love" has been popularized to represent certain levels of discipline in child rearing. Such treatment may be misinterpreted by children and adolescents as an absence of love or unfair cruelty. Responsible parents can only hope that their treatment of offspring eventually molds the youngster into a responsible citizen who is grateful for the lessons, rather than a sociopath who turns to crime.
In the small western Massachusetts town of Agawam, nestled near the state's southern border, across the Connecticut River from Springfield, a baby arrived into a large Irish family on February 9, 1959. Dennis John Conway was the sixth child born to Mary and Donald Conway, who struggled financially to make ends meet. Within eight years, five more brothers and sisters would be added for a total of eleven offspring.
Early childhood memories, usually sparse for most people, are like tiny, faded snapshots. Few can recall anything about their first three or four years of life. Dennis Conway's earliest recollections relate to the dismal events in November 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Even though Conway was only four, he remembered seeing everyone in tears. Irish Catholics in Massachusetts, according to Conway, canonized the Kennedys, making JFK's death even more profoundly tragic. In the Catholic school Dennis attended, the nuns held the president's family in particularly high esteem, so the grief made an indelible imprint in the youngster's mind.
Of course, to a young child, the murder of a U.S. president was only a mysterious blur of events. For young Dennis, death was an abstract concept with little emotional effect. He would later say that very few deaths impacted him emotionally. Some would evoke a feeling of melancholy, such as the slaying of John Lennon in December 1980. In his memory, the heaviest blow from the Kennedy assassination fell on Mary Conway, Dennis's mother. He recalled that she was "deeply upset" by it. His mother's moods, personality, and her behavior would turn out to have a major influence on Dennis's life.
In Dennis's retrospective view, Mary Conway seemed to be from the same mold as President Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline. Her carriage, dignity, intelligence, love of the arts, and her interest in education all mirrored the popular First Lady's characteristics. Perhaps these comparisons made it even more difficult for Dennis to understand why the relationship with his mother turned abrasive and painful from the very beginning.
Education was a pillar of importance to Dennis's parents, and his began quite early. He was placed in school at the age of four, probably because Mrs. Conway was overwhelmed at having so many children around the house. He felt that his mother and father were polarized in their affection for him. "I was my dad's favorite son," he would recall, "but I sometimes felt I was my mom's least favorite kid."
The youngster found himself not only in the middle of the pack of eleven children, but also sandwiched between five sisters, two older, three younger. Dennis recalled, "Girls mature sooner, so when I was little, my sisters would kick my butt. Most of them were good athletes. Then, when I got a little older and big enough to give them a little payback, I learned you can't hit girls. My big brothers would kick my butt for hitting girls."
This uncomfortable position in the pecking order would be a continual source of agitation for Dennis during his hectic, mischievous childhood. Gradually he began to feel that he was the target of his mother's frustration. Fractious relations with her would lead him into rebellion and a vow to leave home as soon as possible.
Work was a top priority in the value system of Mary Conway, so all of the children were required to help in the house and yard from a very early age. Wasting time simply was not allowed. Chores were assigned, and she would "white glove" everything to make sure it was completed satisfactorily. Sometimes, when Dennis attempted to hide it from his parents, but with rare success. "I would overestimate, in my mind, their reaction to whatever I did. Then, when I would realize that a few things had leaked out, they got madder at the lying and the covering up, more so than being angry about whatever the infraction I had committed."
Excerpted from If I Can't Have You, No One Can by Don Lasseter. Copyright © 2006 Don Lasseter. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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