From Dallas Doctor’s “World Without Love ~ Part Two ~ A Collection of Short Stories that Together Tell a Story” (pages 176-180):
Integrity Is Important
by Dallas Doctor
The only skirmish of any significance that Mila and I experienced during our almost two years of going steady (first day of junior year to last day of senior year) happened at the Lloyd Center in northeast Portland during our senior year, just before Christmas of 1970.
“Where’ve you been?” She seemed a little miffed, “we said we’d meet above the skating rink at 3:15.”
“Yes, I know,” I explained, “the line was long. I was trying to get here.”
“Well, what’d you get?” She seemed almost over it already.
I handed her my shopping bag.
“What’s this?” She pulled out a trinket.
“It’s a barrette, you know, it goes in your hair.”
“I know what a barrette is. Who’s it for? The baby? He’s a boy!” Mila looked perplexed.
“It’s for Karen, of course,” I explained.
“What? She’s fifteen. She doesn’t want a pink barrette. Oh My God! What are you thinking?”
Maybe Mila wasn’t quite over me being late, after all.
“I don’t know what she wants. I’m not a girl,” I looked around for an exit.
“That’s not the point,” Mila declared. “How much did this cost? 19 cents?”
“About that,” I guessed.
“What? What else did you get?” She began digging through my single bag of gifts to see what other evidence of my incompetence she could discover.
“You don’t understand,” I had a feeling where this was headed.
“This is all crap,” was her verdict. “This is just a bunch of junk. An army man? A top? A plastic car? There’s nothing in here that cost more than a dollar. What are you doing?”
“You don’t understand,” I plead my case, “there are twelve of us, counting Mom and Dad. We got ten kids in my family. For you, it’s just you and your sister. I gotta buy presents for eleven other people just in my family alone. And that doesn’t count you,” I tried to get on her good side. “I’m saving my money for something nice for you.”
“Don’t you worry about me,” Mila was unmoved. “How much money did you plan on spending for your family?”
“Well, I don’t have that much to spend. And there are so many.”
“But you had all those shows the first two weeks of December. You played two nights at the D-Street Corral and you played two proms plus that Christmas party. You said you were going to make good money this year.”
“Well, that party didn’t pay that much, but the proms paid pretty good,” I admitted.
“What happened to all that?”
“That money is promised for something else.” I knew I was in trouble now.
“Not for me. It better not be for me.” She was adamant. “You’re not going to treat your family this way and then blame it on me.”
“No, no it’s not for you,” I should have changed the subject, but I didn’t.
“What then?” She raised her eyebrows.
I took a deep breath. “I promised Guy Manning’s dad I would buy his guitar. He has a 1953 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top that he bought brand new from a shop in San Francisco when he got back from the Korean War. It’s been in its original case under his bed for its whole life. It’s a beautiful guitar and he said he would sell it to me for $300.00. I promised him I’d buy it.”
“What? A guitar? You already have a guitar.” Mila couldn’t believe it. “You’re not really that selfish, are you?”
“But it’s a 1953 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top with the original P-90 pickups and ..”
“I don’t care if it’s solid gold and plays itself,” she was unmoved, “you can’t treat people this way.”
“But it’s the deal of a lifetime. It’s an absolute dream guitar. You don’t understand.”
“You’re right. I don’t understand.” Mila was getting angry now. “I don’t even know who you are. How could you do something like this?”
“What? What’d I do?” I hoped I could still wriggle out of it. “So I spend a little less on everybody else and take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can’t pass it up. I can’t. You just don’t get it.”
“No. YOU don’t get it.” She shoved the shopping bag back at me. “Now take all this cheap crap back where you got it and try again. And try to be a little less selfish this time. If you think you can be.”
“But Mila.” I still hoped I could reason with her.
“Wait! Are those roasted nuts in your pocket?”
“They smelled so good.” I was busted.
“I don’t believe you!” It was official. Now she was angry. “You bought roasted nuts for yourself and worthless bobbles for everyone else? You’ve seriously got some growing up to do, my love.” Now, go return this junk.” She folded her arms. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
“I can’t take it back. I gave my word. I told Guy’s dad I would give him the money tomorrow at church.” I stayed right where I was.
“You better take it back.”
“I can’t Mila. I gave my word.”
I didn’t speak my next thought out loud to her. I didn’t dare. But there was no way on earth I was going to give in to her demands.
Because to be honest, it wasn’t about giving my word. Or keeping my word either.
I had to have that guitar.
If Mila was mad about it, well, that wasn’t fun, but it was a price I was willing to pay. I couldn’t make her understand, so there was no point in trying. I knew she would get over it. I would just stand firm on the “I gave my word” excuse. That way, my integrity would still be intact. And we would survive. It was a whole lot better than missing out on a 1953 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top in its original case.
I bought Mila a tiny white-gold heart on a chain with the world’s smallest diamondelle embedded for $36.00 and I gave Guy’s dad $300.00 cash at church the next day. He had my Gold Top Les Paul guitar in his trunk.
I loved that guitar.
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