Trouble was brewing at my church. You could sense the silent rumblings every Sunday, the precursor to a forthcoming disaster. People were unhappy. My family and I were unhappy.
We had attended this church for 3 years. We knew everyone in the church and everyone knew us. I was friends with all the girls and I was looked up to as the eldest unmarried girl there. It had been a sanctuary, a place for me to grow and blossom with the respect of my peers and older adults alike. But discontent was growing, both in my family and in the other families of the church.
The problem was the pastor. The church was set up to be run only by the pastor and by people related to the pastor. There was no accountability, and an increasingly deaf ear was turned to the pleas of his congregation. The issues were myriad, from the lack of direction in the church activities to the iron-fisted control on every issue to the constant brow beating sermons that were increasingly bitter and condemning.
All the people wanted was for the pastor to be accountable to elders in the church as patterned in the Bible and that the activities in the church be run in a God honoring fashion. The crux of the problem was that the pastor refused to listen to anything anyone said. He ruled the church with an iron fist and was often far from Biblical in his approach. What he said went—and if you didn’t like it—there was the door.
The outcome of our battles with the pastor weighed heavily upon me. I was best friends with the pastor’s daughter. She was oblivious to anything her father did as being even slightly questionable. He ruled his own home with an even harsher command then he ruled his church. I pitied his family. Every Sunday during prayer time, his wife would burst into tears and all she could say was that “It’s so hard. It’s just always…so hard.” She always looked miserable and was painfully insecure, despite her obvious beauty and irreproachable character.
I picked at my fingers nervously, waiting for my Dad to return home with news of the outcome of the latest church meeting. There had been a long series of meetings with all of the men of the church trying to reason with and talk to the pastor. Very little needed to change, but those changes were critical to the healthy growth and survival of the church body. I felt sick, worrying about what would happen. The church had a long and messy history of just such conflicts. In the past, the pastor would refuse to listen to anyone and the entire church would leave. Only a precious few loyal followers would remain, and slowly the church would rebuild until it was full again. This process had happened three times before we started attending, I learned this from a friend who had left the church years before me.
Finally, the door opened and my dad and brother walked into the house. “What happened, Dad? How was the meeting? Do you think he is going to listen?” I asked eagerly.
My Dad looked tired and disheartened. My heart sank. “No, Lotte, it was about the same.” He sighed. “The pastor refuses to listen to any of us. He thinks he has everything figured out the way it should be and he doesn’t want to be accountable to anyone. No matter what Scriptures we bring up or how loving we try to be, he is stuck on stupid.”
I wanted to cry. If this doesn’t get better and not so dysfunctional, we are going to have to find a new church. I’ll lose all my friends and have to start over. The prospect was depressing. This was the first church I had ever been in where I had connected with all the people. It was extremely hard to find likeminded people in church.
“Do you think he’ll ever listen and stop trying to micromanage everyone?”
My Dad sank into his favorite armchair and slowly shook his head. “At this rate, I doubt it, but we will keep trying. All the men of the church are in agreement. This pattern of brow beating and micromanaging and a refusal to be accountable has got to stop.”
I nodded. The number of times the pastor and his kids had interfered in our family’s personal affairs was countless. From movies to books to the way we spoke and the phrases we used, everything at one time or another had been nitpicked and criticized. There was one way to live—and that was the pastor’s way. Almost all of his “religisms” were grey areas, things that were open to each person’s personal convictions and interpretations. He never addressed anything that was blatant sin—it was all subjective. We were all so sick to death of being hen pecked about everything that we lived in a constant state of dreading the next email from the pastor or his self-righteous offspring.
I left the living room and went to my room. Tears leaked from my eyes as I thought about leaving my beloved church. Despite how miserable the pastor and his family were making everyone, I still loved all the other people in the church. The congregation was made up of loving, conservative, godly people who I looked up to and respected. I had never found that in a church before. The last thing on earth I wanted to do was leave.
I decided it was time for a distraction. Grabbing my laptop, I got comfortable on my bed and decided to get back on my dating site. I could use some positivity right about now. I logged in and felt a zing of excitement when I saw a new message. His name was Marco, he was Italian, and he was 28 and lived in Washington. Ten years older than me, I can handle that. He called me “Miss” and told me my profile blew him away. In my profile, I had spelled out my Christian values, that I stood for purity, and listed some of my hobbies and passions.
We exchanged messages, and set up a time to instant message that night. I was excited! This one had potential, and I preferred older guys. Not OLD, just older. Guys my age seemed immature.
The time rolled around for our scheduled chat. I couldn’t wait! I didn’t have long to wait before Marco messaged me and launched our 2-hour long conversation. He was obviously intelligent and recognized my intelligence immediately. I soaked in his praise, something I had desperately craved for so long.
“You are the kind of woman I’ve been waiting for. Your values, your purity, your beauty. You intrigue me. I would love to have the honor of getting to know you further.” Marco wrote.
I had to contain a squeal of excitement at his words. I appreciated them, slowly reading it over and over. We exchanged email addresses and agreed to message a few more times before exchanging phone numbers.
“Hey Mom! Want to read this?” I called out, scooting off the bed. I trusted Mom’s opinion implicitly and also valued her input given my complete inexperience with men. I needed all the advice I could get.
“Sure!” Mom came in and perused Marco’s messages and approved. “He seems like a good guy so far. Keep me posted!” She smiled at me.
Now I know it seems weird that my Mom read my messages and kept an eye on me but you have to understand. To go from ZERO contact with guys to all this guy attention was a big deal. I had no idea what I was doing. I was naïve and easily persuaded. I needed a balancing influence, someone to see with an experienced, objective eye. Mom was just such a person.
A little over a week went by and Marco still impressed me with his conversation and appreciation of everything I said. I gave him my phone number and arranged to have a conversation. He worked as a private investigator. I was enamored with this. As a child, I had wanted to be either a detective or a private investigator, largely due to my obsession with all things Nancy Drew.
The clock ticked by the time ever so slowly. I waited by the landline for Marco’s first phone call. I didn’t have my own cell phone. Since I worked from home and rarely went anywhere without someone from my family with me, there hadn’t been a need for my own cell phone. The phone rang and I pounced on it.
Marco was interesting to talk to. He spoke of books he’d read and places he’d been and his work. He spoke rapidly in staccato bursts. I had to be careful not to speak during one of his bursts or he wouldn’t hear a thing I said. Marco was respectful and kind, complimenting me on every level I desired, but especially the important ones like my intelligence and my values.
I enjoyed the conversation and we promised to talk as often as he could from then on.
A couple weeks passed and though I continued to enjoy talking to Marco, I struggled with feeling like we weren’t connecting. Despite his intelligence and admiration for me, he didn’t open up at all on an emotional level which made our conversations become a bare bones exchanging of factual information. One great thing about Marco though: He was very generous.
For my birthday, he sent me two cards and a beautiful Scentsy pot with several different scents. I absolutely loved the cards and the gift. It was amusing because despite our multiple correspondences via email with my name prominently displayed, he misspelled my name on both cards. Both my first AND my last name. He also sent my present to the wrong address. Despite me trying to give him my address, he said it wasn’t necessary because he was a PI and he could “easily figure it out.” So much for those private investigator skills. I couldn’t help but laugh.
I kept trying to connect with Marco because he had everything going for him that I desired. He claimed to love God, he had evidence of good character, and he was established in a career.
I developed a short form of what I was looking for in a man. I called it the three C’s. The three C’s encapsulated what I sought. The three C’s stood for Character, Compatibility, and Chemistry. I had to have all three in a man. If one of the three C’s was missing, the relationship floundered. Marco had two of the C’s, character and compatibility, but since we hadn’t met in person, chemistry was yet to be determined.
Marco told me he would call this evening. I looked forward to it all day. I worked on my laptop while I waited for the phone to ring. Thirty minutes passed. Then an hour. Then two hours. I shut my laptop a little more forcefully then I should have.
“Apparently, Marco has no intention of calling me tonight!” I called out to my family. Never mind that he had promised he would multiple times. I didn’t care if he called me or not, but I DID care if he said he was going to and didn’t keep his word. In my family, if we said we were going to do something, you could take it to the bank. We meant it. If we couldn’t keep our word for some reason, then we would let people know. It was the code we lived by. I couldn’t fathom someone not keeping their word or even letting me know. I went to bed very frustrated.
This continued to happen multiple times. Marco would promise he would call at a certain time and he would flake out and not call or even apologize afterwards. I was getting tired of being disappointed but I said nothing, just wanting to observe him.
One evening, he called unexpectedly. We exchanged pleasantries and then he shocked me.
“What do you think about me flying out to Missouri to see you for a couple days?”
I was floored. “I-um, that would be awesome! I would love to meet you in person, Marco! It’s really hard to tell if you’re attracted to someone without meeting them in person.”
“Yes yes, definitely. You are a woman of character, Lotte. I love everything I see in you and I want to meet you. I can come down on a weekend and I will get a hotel. Talk to your folks and let me know when a good time is.”
I hung up feeling dazed and excited. I talked with my parents and decided on a weekend. I was less nervous meeting Marco than meeting Kevin. I had a little more experience under my belt.
The weekend for Marco’s arrival came quickly. I made myself as pretty as possible, climbed in the car with my Dad, and off we went to meet him. Mom and I had prepared an excellent dinner that was waiting for us and we were going to guide Marco back to our house.
Marco had flown in, set himself up in a nice hotel, rented a car, and was going to meet us at a McDonald’s close to where I lived. We pulled into the parking lot, and barely moments afterwards, I recognized Marco’s car.
My heart pounded as I got out of the car and my hands began to shake. This is so nerve wracking! I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this…My thoughts abruptly stopped as Marco stepped toward our vehicle.
He looked a little heavier than his pictures but was not unattractive by any means. He was stocky, with sleek brown hair that was neatly groomed. His eyes were hooded by dark sunglasses. His attire was immaculate, khaki slacks and a button up long-sleeved shirt. He looked professional and in charge. My interest was piqued, but I waited for him to take off his shades.
He smiled at me, reaching up to remove his sunglasses. I nearly jumped as my eyes met his. It was like an electric bolt ran through my body. His gaze was bold and blue, unnerving in its piercing intensity. I felt rattled to my bones. It was as if my spirit recoiled inside me. No words came to my mind except one: Darkness. There was no light in Marco’s eyes. I was puzzled and disturbed by what I saw, feeling bad for judging him so harshly but unable to squelch my impression.
I tried to tamp down this severe impression and introduced myself, smiling. Surely he can’t be all that bad. He has treated me with nothing but respect and honor. Why did I see darkness in him? It made no sense. I must get to know him further, but with care.
We guided Marco back to our house and conversation flowed easily between us. Introductions to my family were made and Marco smoothly complimented my parents on how beautiful and virtuous I was. I was flattered but embarrassed.
Dinner was to die for. A Mexican smorgasbord with enchiladas, homemade guacamole, and chocolate cake for dessert. We all held hands and bowed our heads to say grace and I tentatively slipped my hand into Marco’s. His touch revolted me. Ugh, why am I so hard to please? I felt horrible. His palm was soft, his skin softer than mine, and clammy to the touch. It was obvious he’d never done a hard day’s labor in his life.
To my delight, he ate with gusto and complimented us profusely on the cooking. He was genuine in his compliments, I could tell. This guy actually enjoyed food, unlike Kevin. The evening passed pleasantly and we all went to bed full and content.
The next day, Marco awoke with a migraine, due to us not having any caffeinated coffee in our house. He drove himself downtown to get coffee while I prepared a breakfast of French toast and real maple syrup. It was mouthwateringly delicious. Marco praised me for my cooking and I loved it.
The bad news was that my Mom had woken very ill that morning with a nasty stomach virus. I was disappointed because I relied on her for a second opinion, an impression of Marco, but she could not rise from her bed.
After breakfast, Marco insisted that he take me to the city. “I want to spoil you, Lotte. I want to take you shopping!”
“Really?” I grinned with excitement. “You’re sure you won’t get bored?”
“No! I want to spoil you. You’re in desperate need of some spoiling.” He smiled indulgently.
I never had a guy offer to take me shopping. I was thrilled!
We loaded up in Marco’s car and my Dad climbed in the backseat. Even though I didn’t blame him for wanting to keep an eye on us, given that we didn’t know Marco at all, I wanted to die of embarrassment. There we were in the front seat, with my Dad right behind us listening to everything we said and watching everything we did. This is beyond painful! I looked over my shoulder. Dad sat very erect, with his gigantic Bible open on his knees, peering over his bifocals at me. If ever there was a Kodak moment in a homeschooler’s life, that was it. To his credit, Marco showed no hint of irritation at my father’s presence.
“Miss Lotte, where would you like to shop today?” Marco asked, winking at me.
“I-um, well, I really like a lot of things in Mardel!” I stuttered.
“Then to Mardel we shall go!”
Marco’s driving made me sick. He would accelerate and brake, accelerate and brake, creating a stop and go constant motion that made me queasy. It was hard to stomach. He said it was from driving in heavy Washington traffic.
Once at Mardel, I picked out a music book I had had my eye on for a while by Casting Crowns. I was proficient in piano, having had lessons since I was 12 years old.
“What about these, Lotte?” Marco asked, pointing at the apparel. “Do you like any of these?”
I shrugged. “No, the clothes here are overpriced. I would like to try Ross if that’s ok.”
Once in Ross, I managed to find a couple pretty blouses. I modeled them for Marco and he approved. I stayed away from the fancy dresses and expensive items because I wanted to be sensitive of how much I was costing him. I was determined to keep it under $100. In my mind, that was a lot of money.
Our last stop was JC Penney’s, and I found another shirt I liked there. We settled back in his car with my Dad in the backseat and headed back home. I was content. I had fun, Marco seemed happy, and he bought me pretty things! I was thrilled. No guy had ever been this nice to me.
The remainder of the day passed quickly in conversation with Marco. He gave my parents phone contacts in case they wanted to call his friends to find out what he was like. I still felt badly about my impression of him. He was behaving in a perfectly respectable, honorable, generous way. I liked him, but I felt no inclination or attraction towards him.
We concluded the evening with a movie, and I went easily to sleep. My sleep was not peaceful, for I began to dream…
I was standing on a pier, and mist floated about me, forming ghostlike shapes as a gentle breeze teased it. The air was pungent with the scent of the sea. Looking down, I saw the ocean lapping at the boards beneath my feet. I leaned over the end of the pier, peering into the murky depths. Why am I here? I wondered. I recognized the pier as the one in California at Cayucos beach.
The sound of a low, masculine laugh startled me. It was familiar somehow, and ominous. It sounded evil.
“I’ve got you now Lotte. I’ve got you right where I want you.”
To my surprise, Marco stepped into view from the mist, grasping me with both hands around my waist. I squirmed in his grasp but he lowered his face to mine and kissed me lingeringly. I gasped, revolted. His kiss was demanding and wet, his lips slippery and slobbery. I cried out for help but Marco just laughed.
“There’s no escaping now, Lotte. You’re mine…”
I bolted upright in bed and gasped. My face was covered in cold sweat. I took several deep breaths, trying to calm my rapidly beating heart. What an AWFUL dream! Why do I keep having these mean thoughts about poor Marco?
I lay back down in my bed, sleep far from me now. A memory resurfaced. Something Marco had told me.
In one of our conversations past, he had revealed a disturbing event. He said he’d had…episodes. He would be lying down, and a shadow would pass over his room. He said he would break out in a cold sweat but couldn’t move. The shadow would speak to him in a low voice. Then a current like an electric shock would run through Marco’s body, an intense overwhelming sensation that he could not resist. It was painful and powerful, he said. Then it would leave, he would scream, and black out. One time, the shadow was in the form of a Muslim woman, another time, a man. This had happened to him more than once, he said.
I felt chilled remembering this. I didn’t know how to feel about what Marco had told me, nor my impression of there being darkness in his eyes. I felt that despite his best intentions, Marco was a danger to me. Somehow, something wasn’t right. It took me hours to fall back to sleep that night.
The next day was Sunday, Marco’s last day with us. We didn’t go to church but slept in. I had no intention of repeating the awkwardness of the last church attendance with a guy in tow. I packed us a lunch, and we went out for a picnic and a fishing excursion.
The afternoon passed pleasantly enough. Marco was the picture of courtesy and respectful behavior. I couldn’t reconcile my gut feelings and what my eyes beheld. Day turned to evening. I dressed in my most smashing outfit and got myself ready to go to dinner with Marco, my first fancy date. I was more excited about dressing up and going to a nice restaurant then I was at the prospect of going with Marco, though I felt bad for feeling this way.
My parents drove in a separate car but followed us to the restaurant. We went to Charleston’s. They had my favorite steak in town. True to his word, Marco spoiled me. He ordered creamy artichoke dip and fresh chips and told me to get whatever I wanted to eat. I ordered my favorite meal: Filet mignon, a baked potato, and a salad. It was melt-in-your-mouth good.
As we ate, Marco looked at me with a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth.
“What?” I asked, feeling a little self-conscious with him eying me.
“After you get married, would you dress a little sexy for your husband, do you think?” Marco asked coyly.
“Um…do you mean sexy in the bedroom or sexy in public? There is a difference.”
“I mean, for example, if we were to get married and go out like tonight, would you wear something a little sexy. Show some leg, some…chest?”
I gaped at him, shocked. I looked down at my outfit which was the picture of classy and sexy and looked back up at him, confused. I KNOW this outfit is sexy. It hugs my curves and it’s above knee length so there’s a little leg shown but my boobs aren’t hanging out. I guess this isn’t sexy enough for him? Why not? His question bothered me.
“Marco, I would love to wear lots of sexy things for my husband in future—in the bedroom. As for going out in public, I would still like to look sexy for him, but that doesn’t mean I am going to let my boobs hang out or be ostentatious in my dress. That’s not me. I strive for classy but sexy. When I go out in public with my future husband, I don’t want to draw the attention of other men. There are certain parts of me that should be reserved for his eyes alone.”
“Ah, I see.” Marco said no more.
Apparently, he wasn’t exactly satisfied with my answer and it disappointed me. What is he wanting, a trophy wife? Someone to show off to all his buddies? I was less than happy with his response.
Dinner concluded and we headed home, stuffed with excellent food. Once home, I offered Marco a dessert of homemade cookies and milk—his request. He loved it.
My parents arrived home and Marco asked if he could speak with them alone. My interest was piqued but I acquiesced.
Luckily for me, our house was only 1,400 square feet and the walls were thin, enabling me to hear most of what was being said. I couldn’t help but listen.
“Mr. Graham, I just wanted to assure you of my financial position and of the great respect I have for your daughter.” It was Marco’s voice. He continued, “I want you to know where I stand financially, and that I am fully capable of providing amply for Lotte, should our relationship continue to progress. I have amassed a small fortune, both from my own earnings and from family holdings and property which I possess. Currently, I have over $500,000 in savings and the property holdings I have are worth a substantial amount also. Managing my money well and being a good provider is extremely important to me. I just wanted you to know where I stand.”
My parents were silent for a moment, surprised by this volunteered revelation. They had not asked for a rundown of Marco’s finances, he had eagerly volunteered.
No doubt he is proud of his accomplishments. Geez, I would be! He’s probably worth over a million dollars already, and he’s still in his prime! I knew Marco had money based on his generosity towards me, but I had no idea he had that much. Coming from a family who had lived comfortably but simply, it seemed like a lot of money to me.
Their little meeting concluded and I was called back in to join them. The evening slowly came to a close. I went to bed and lay still, staring at the ceiling. Though my conversations with Marco had been engaging and interesting, he had still yet to engage me on an emotional level whatsoever. I kept trying to bond with him, to get to know him on a deeper level, but I was beginning to wonder if he was avoiding the intimacy. And then there was the lack of physical attraction. I thought about him touching me with his squishy, soft hands and shuddered involuntarily. I think this is a no go, but I will give it more time. Eventually, I drifted to sleep.
We were off to the airport first thing the next morning with Marco. Mom was finally feeling better and she drove me to meet up with Marco there. Marco and I sat together in relative silence. I was bored. I didn’t know what to say to get the conversation going. I tried interjecting a few comments but it didn’t seem to help so I gave up. Time crawled.
Finally, it was time for him to go. I hugged him and thanked him for coming. “I enjoyed the visit Marco, and I appreciate everything you’ve done. I look forward to getting to know you better.” I smiled. Hopefully, it goes better soon.
“I have enjoyed it too, Lotte, and before I leave, I have something for you.” Marco pulled out his checkbook and began to scribble something. I was puzzled when he tore out a check and handed it to me.
The check was made out for $500.00. I gaped at it. “B-but Marco! That’s a lot of money! What is this for?”
He grinned. “When I took you shopping I wanted to spend a lot more on you! You are a jewel, one of a kind. I wanted to bless you for the gift that you are. Spend it on whatever you’d like. It’s my gift to you.”
I was floored. “I-I don’t know what to say! You don’t have to do this. I already felt spoiled with the fancy dinner and the shopping trip!”
“Take it, Lotte. You deserve it!” Marco smiled at me. “It’s time for me to go. I will be calling you. Take care, Lotte.”
I hugged him again and watched him disappear from sight as he went to board his plane. Hurrying back to Mom who was waiting for me, I showed her the $500.00 check and she was as shocked as I was.
“Wow, he must really like you and want to impress you!” She laughed.
“Well, it worked!” I giggled. “That was soooo nice of him! I can’t even believe it! No one has ever been this nice to me.”
Still, despite his over-the-top generosity, it felt empty to me. My feelings couldn’t be bought off. I wanted to fall in love, to be passionate about someone, not to be his trophy with opulent gifts lavished upon me instead of intimacy.
I discussed this with Mom on the ride back to the house and told her about the troubling dream I’d had.
Mom frowned. “That is very strange. I had a dream on the same night, and very similar.”
“No way!” I stared at her. “What was the dream, tell me!” This can’t be good. We never have dreams like that, especially not on the same night!
“It was a short dream and rather vague, but I just got the impression that Marco was somehow near me but I couldn’t see him. He was laughing and he said, “You Grahams think you are so smart. I’ve got Lotte now, and there’s nothing you can do to get her back.”
Chilled, I stared at Mom. “That can’t be a good sign.” I related my dream to her. “Why would we both have similar dreams in the same night like that? Do you think it’s God trying to tell us something?
Mom shrugged. “I don’t know. I would be very careful, Lotte. Listen to your gut.”
I heeded Mom’s advice, and for the next month I was careful with Marco. We would talk fairly often, but it still lacked the emotional depth I sought. After three months of getting to know Marco, I decided he was not the man for me. It just didn’t feel right. I agonized over this decision, as I always did. I had to be sure I wasn’t making a mistake or judging someone inaccurately. Marco was a great guy—just not the guy for me. It was time to end it.
I got ahold of him on a Sunday afternoon and tried to break it to him as kindly as I could. I told him what I appreciated about him and how wonderful he was in many ways, but that I just wasn’t feeling that he was the one for me.
Marco listened without interrupting and when I was done he said, “Ok then! We’ll be in touch!” With that, he hung up.
I never heard from Marco again. It kinda hurt, the abruptness of it. On the one hand, it was healthy, but it did surprise me that he had nothing to say. He just accepted it and moved on. No questions, no “I’ll miss you’s.” It was better this way, I supposed.
Without another word, after three months of getting to know each other, my rich Italian was gone from my life. It was almost as if he never existed, but every day I saw the Scentsy pot in my room to remind me that he had been there. I was disappointed to realize I honestly didn’t miss him. I wished I could’ve connected with him, but it wasn’t meant to be. At least I can say that one time in my life, I had a rich Italian come after me! Two guys down, and I hoped it wouldn’t be very many more before I found my Mr. Right. If only I knew what was to come.
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