The year was 1989. I had recently moved to Las Vegas and a mixture of new and old friends had decided to throw me a birthday party. Just about everyone I knew was there except for one friend working as a cocktail waitress at the old Aladdin hotel. My buddy Gary and I decided to make a night of it and go down to the hotel. While we waited for Allison to finish serving her drinks, Gary and I had a drink and listened to the lounge band. During one of the breaks, an attractive redhead sitting to my right engaged me in conversation. It was a conversation that wouldn’t end for twenty years.
What was truly amazing about our relationship was that it grew at all. As I soon learned, Lesley had a basic distrust of people, and men in particular. Although very outgoing and gracious, she rarely let anyone get too close. Over time, she told me of growing up in a well-to-do neighborhood in El Paso, Texas. Her stepfather, Frank, was in the fashion business and her mother, Joyce, was a stay-at-home mom. She lived there with her sister and a horse. That horse would become her friend and confidant during her almost daily rides. To the outside world it was the idyllic, upper-class 60s household. But looks can be deceiving and what happened behind closed doors would change Lesley’s life forever. Hers was a home-life of adultery and a stepfather who preyed upon her, in an effort to satisfy his sick perversions.
The 60s were a time when suspicions of child abuse were spoken of in hushed tones. Child Protective Services did not exist and if you had money and influence, which her stepfather did, almost anything could be covered up. When Her mother turned a blind eye to what was happening, she tried telling a neighbor. It was then that she was accused of being mentally unstable and institutionalized for a short time. She never spoke of her home-life to a stranger again. The actual abuse ended when she stabbed Frank in the leg with a pair of scissors. Although The physical abuse ended, the wreckage left in her mind did not.
Lesley escaped through alcohol and erratic behavior. She frequented the wrong places and ran around with the wrong people. She told me about how she had fallen in with organized drug runners who eventually ended up in prison for killing a federal judge. She said the murder occurred after parting ways with them. She talked about this time of her life in such detail, that I had no doubt she was telling the truth.
She used men for food and shelter. They usually had money and were inexperienced or insecure when it came to relationships of the opposite sex. She would be there until she wasn’t, at which point she would move on with her quest to find a small degree of Stability in her world. Ironically, she was looking for something she couldn’t give… until she met me.
I became a member of a very small circle of trust. Other members were dogs and cats, of which we had several over the years and, of course, horses. I remember picking her up from work one day, only to take a detour to visit an old horse she found who had been put out to pasture. I watched as she carressed his head and fed him sugar cubes. I don’t think I ever saw her As happy as she was in that moment. But the charter members of her trust Circle were her godparents, Ted and Verlie. They became her real parents as far as she was concerned. Her love for them ran deep. Ted was the stereotypical tall Texas car dealer down to his cowboy boots. Upon his death, all Lesley asked for were those boots.
To this day, I’m hard-pressed to explain why she chose to include in this exclusive club. Maybe she viewed my handicap as non-threatening. Or maybe it was the fact that I’ve never tried to be something I’m not. I’ve never felt the need to have to impress anyone. Maybe that’s what impressed Lesley the most, and allowed her to unlock the door that she had worked so hard to keep sealed.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not perfect and Leslie could point that out in painful detail. We had our ups and downs, over the years. There were some things we agreed upon and a lot that we did not. There were moments when our disagreements would sound downright silly to an outsider and on those occasions, we would invariably hear, “So, how long have you two been married?” Those silly disagreements could also turn into arguments that would, At times, get down and dirty. But that was between us. In the end, I always knew she had my back. If you so much as looked at me the wrong way, you’d better be sure your affairs were in order because she would take you out. Perhaps, more importantly, was the fact that she knew the feeling was Mutual. What kept our relationship going was the fact that we knew each other better than any other people on the planet knew either one of us.
Leslie’s earlier life had made her street smart, but she was also very intelligent and could read people like a book. She knew what they expected from her and she never disappointed. She dressed as if she had just stepped out of a contemporary fashion magazine, but her last words to me, as she left home for work, were usually “It’s showtime.” The rest of the world saw what they wanted to see. I saw her. It was a private performance.
The last time I saw Leslie was the morning I woke up, and she didn’t. The coroner said she died from a heart attack while sleeping. She was 53 years old. I can only hope she was dreaming of a life that made her happy, a life with the animals she loved and, hopefully, with me. I will always be thankful that we were able to build a trusting relationship from a foundation that was anything but trusting. She was my best friend and I miss her every day.