Sunday, January 29, 2012

Me and Mr. Phillips

I am barely 16 when I meet Rick. I lie to my mother about an urgent Girl Scout meeting and instead, sit pretty in the back seat of my best friends, boyfriends car - a 1969 Lemans blue, 4-speed, Chevy Camaro convertible. It has a white soft-top, two wide, white stripes down the hood, and pristine, pearl white leather interior. Damn, that car is pretty.

We are headed to a drag race. His opponent drives a plum purple, Plymouth Duster with a black hard top. It is jacked up high in the back, has open headers, and in my opinion, it's ugly.

It is summer and I am shivering. I stand in the shadow of my best friend and watch her kiss her gallant boyfriend good luck. They are racing title for title and I am urgently trying to figure out how we are going to get home if he doesn't pull off a win.

I am focused on the piercing sound and smell of dueling, high powered engines, and the sick feeling in my stomach as they peal down the road.

When it is over, the Camaro comes in a distant second. The winner approaches us and says, "Keep your car, I'll take the girl." To my surprise, he is pointing at me.

It feels like a scene from a movie. Boy wants girl, boy gets girl. Only he is no boy. He is brazen and tenacious. At 20, it is clear to me that Rick is a man.

I decline giving him my number but my best friend gives him my name. He knocks on my door the following day, with a single red rose in his hand.

Our courtship is fast and furious. Our game plan is simple - I will get pregnant on purpose. It is the only way my father will sign the parental consent forms - legal requirements for a minor to marry in the state of Pennsylvania.

After the papers are signed and before our wedding, we move into a trailer Rick rented deep in the countryside. His best friend Alex, lives across the road along with his bride, Debbie. They are childhood sweethearts. She was their high schools Homecoming Queen and he, her only prince. She is tall, thin, blond, and gorgeous. I hate her.

A week before our wedding, Rick and Alex go hunting. I am home cleaning when I begin hemorrhaging. We had yet to hook up the phone, and Rick took our only car. I am overcome with fear when I pound on Debbie's door - begging for help. I have no idea what is happening, all I know is that I am in terrible pain. Debbie leaves a note on her kitchen table before driving me 45 minutes to the nearest hospital.  

Get Rick 
at hospital 
with Shannon

I am in the recovery room by the time Rick arrives. I wake to find him kneeling beside me. His hands cup my hands. His downward gaze weighted in guilt and sorrow.

We cry for a long time after that.

It is the first day of spring when we marry, in the little white church at the bottom of the hill - a short walk from his parents house. Here, Rick swears he will love me forever and I believe him.

Rick is more present in my life than my father has ever been. He is gentle, nurturing and devoted.

To make certain I attend high school, Rick buys me my first car and teaches me how to drive.  It is an orange, Ford Pinto station wagon with wood-grain on the side.

Later that summer, I am driving windy roads with my windows rolled down and my radio up high - wearing nothing but a rainbow striped bikini. A police car pulls me over. I am ordered to exit the vehicle and after a brief search, accused of being a communist.

"Why do you think I'm a communist?" I ask.

The officer points to the upside-down red, white and blue,"USA 1" Chevy license plate on the front bumper of my car. This is Ricks way of expressing his disdain for the baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet brand.  

"My husband can't stand Chevy's" I explain. "Says they're nothing but a pile of shit."
"Really....who's your husband?" asks the officer.
"Rick Phillips," I tell him, with a smile full of pride.  
"Ricky's your husband? He's a great guy. Well then, we'd better let you go. We don't want Ricky wondering where you are."

Everyone knew Rick. Everyone respected Rick. And I felt like I had struck gold.

Rick was the first man that cooked a meal for me. And he was the first man I cooked a meal for.

Rick taught me how to fish - which meant more than just catching a fish. He made me hook the worm, hold the fish in my bare hands, and remove my catch - even if it swallowed the bait.

Rick taught me how to play cards - how to bluff and when to bet it all.

Rick taught me patience, how to sit in silence, how to breath deeply, and how to appreciate simple moments.

Rick taught me kindness. He was considerate, generous, and loyal. He defined what a good man meant. Because of him I expected these qualities in all men, later realizing they were few and far in-between.

Rick was a good husband. I was not a good wife. As much as he wanted me to stay, he knew I would leave him. I wanted to see the world and he was comfortable in his back yard.

We lived together for less than two years but we stayed married for almost twelve. Our deal was simple - we'd leave things as they were until the next big catch came along. The time it took to finalize a divorce would give us enough time to make certain it was the right choice.

I was 4 months pregnant when I called him - the same as I was when we lost our child. I had no intention of getting remarried but I knew I owed him an explanation. Rick was still, legally, my husband.

After a long drive into the countryside, we parked in a desolate baseball field where Rick offered to raise my child as his own. "Come home," he said. His eyes focused on mine. I could feel the pulse of a full moon. "I'll make a wonderful life for us," he promised, and I believed him.

I did not go home to Rick instead, determined to raise the child on my own, settled in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Eventually my mother persuaded me to contact Terry, the father of my unborn child. "He has a right to know," she said. He was living in Southern Florida at the time and was not happy to hear the news. Towards the end of my pregnancy he moved to Pennsylvania and we agreed to raise our child together.

I went into labor at the tail end of Valentine's Day, while watching the Johnny Carson show.  We borrowed my mothers car and drove through a snow storm to reach the nearest hospital. It was an hours drive across icy, back country roads. Once there, my labor stopped. When it didn't progress after twenty-four hours, I was induced. My son, Kerry Ryan Magann was born on February 16, 1979.

Filling out the birth certificate was... complicated.
Mother:  Shannon Kennedy Phillips
Married:  yes 
Age: 19

Father:  Terence Allen Magann 
Married: no 
Age: 31

Rick was the first to remarry. I never met his second wife. I wouldn't see him again until 1997. By then he was single again. I was in town for my 20th High school reunion. We bumped into each other at a bar where his brother Paul was playing the guitar. Rick and I talked for hours in the parking lot. We were honest about ourselves and about the mistakes we made along the way. We cried about our unborn child - Ricks only child.  I asked him to stay with me. To sit in the car with me. To hold me. But instead he left me, shaking.

I wouldn't see him again until the summer of 2009. He had bought his parents house - just up the hill from the little church where we married. He was happy, he was in love, and the object of his affection - his girlfriend, Phyllis - was at his side.

It was their families annual, Forth of July party. I showed up with Miss Lucy - my 5 pound shi-tzu, and a big smile. I know I was invited but I'm not certain if Rick knew I was coming.

Again, it felt like a scene from a movie. His country cozy home looked exactly as I remembered it. Still vibrant and full of life - only the color had changed. True to form, Rick was surrounded in loyalty, laughter and love.

Alex, forever his right hand man, was by his side. Mocha, his chocolate lab, was at his feet.  Phyllis was gracious and attentive to everyone, including me. His nieces and nephews were playing baseball in the backyard and everyone wanted Uncle Ricky on their side.

The only thing I remember Rick saying to me that day is, “Tell your dog to stop chasing my rooster or I'll sick my cat on him."

I laughed. We all laughed. Rick looked me in the eyes and smiled.

Rick died of a massive heart attack a year and a half later.  He was 56 years old.

The night before he died I dreamt we were together again - in the parking lot outside the bar.  I thanked him for all he had done for me and then I hugged him, hard. It was a long, deliberate embrace. I could feel his tears on the nape of my neck and I knew not to let go.

Later that day, in the classified section of the local paper, I spotted a 1972 purple Duster - in mint condition.  It was listed at $25,995.00.  What a deal.  

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Thank you for encouraging my JOY of writing. By reading and commenting you are feeding my soul, stroking my heart, and in the end...making me a better writer.

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison