In Maddy's Men, I explored the fictional male characters Maddy dates before and after Ken's entrance into her life -- all of whom were based on actual people and circumstances. With this follow-up post, I want to touch upon one not previously mentioned, and expand upon one I already covered, Mark Donnelly, since the character merits more than two paragraphs. Ironically, he is also connected to Tag Russell, both in real life and fiction. It's only through flashback however, that readers learn of this association.
Chapter 26 opens with Madeline approaching the Guard Gate at Journey's End, a lovely community of single-family homes in Lake Worth, Florida. Her dear friend Audrey Solomon (based on an actual person, my treasured friend Martha J. Solomon) has arranged a luncheon in Maddy's honor, to celebrate her new work promotion as a Content Manager for an e-marketing firm in downtown Fort Lauderdale (in another post, I will explain how this is a fusion of fact and fiction).
Being in the neighborhood again reminds Madeline of another joyful memory -- that of her 40th Birthday Party, which took place in the Journey's End Clubhouse:
Though initially not quite thrilled about reaching that particular milestone, Maddy perked up when she and Audrey developed the celebration's original theme, incorporating a lifetime of the birthday girl's most cherished things, from the Philadelphia Eagles to Italian wedding cookies. The catered event also included a deejay and personalized decorations, including Madame Alexander dolls, original "books" written by Madeline as a child, and even well-placed packages of Tastykakes.
And yes, the above paragraph is true-to-life; Marti (Audrey) gave me the idea for the party's theme as we sat around the kitchen table over coffee one night at her house. As one creative idea led to another, I kind of got over the significant "number" aspect of the birthday, choosing instead to celebrate all of the people, places and events that had shaped my life up to that point. Besides, a girl can never get tired of hearing people say, "You're how old? You look like you're about 28!
Also true: my collection of Madame Alexander dolls; two journals I'd used to write my first "books" as a nine-year-old, complete with illustrations; Philadelphia Eagles & Phillies memorabilia, Tastykakes, soft pretzels, Italian wedding cookies and photos in Lucite frames everywhere.
More on all of this in another post, including the female friendships of Water Signs. But back to the men.
As she continues through the entrance on her way to Audrey's, Madeline also remembers the recent past, specifically Tag Russell, a man she'd met soon after purchasing her new condo in Boca Bayou. A loan officer at the bank for which she worked at the time, Maddy knew him for nearly a year before ever actually going out with him:
For almost twelve months, she regarded his constant flirting as nothing more than a pleasant workday diversion; after all, Tag never behaved inappropriately, nor did he initiate any gatherings outside the office.
Here's where a significant public event makes a personal impact on Maddy's life. When the horrific events of September 11, 2001 unfolded, she -- like so many others -- was engaged in what she thought would be another typical day at the office. Overcome with emotion, a hysterical Madeline seeks out the comfort of Tag's embrace. In the aftermath of lingering fear and worry about the future -- coupled with an intense desire to have someone special in her life -- she embarks upon an ill-fated romance with the handsome charmer, who in the end breaks her heart:
The relationship's failure had mainly been a function of Tag's inability to move beyond the dissolution of his marriage and an early childhood tragedy -- two events that had rendered him emotionally unavailable. A handsome man with wavy brown hair, blue eyes, a mischievous smile and ready sense of humor, he and Maddy shared an intense chemistry, along with a mutual affection.
...But no amount of concerts, Marlins games, Harley rides or pool-playing sessions at Gatsby's could save this doomed relationship. Whereas Madeline fell in love with the highly successful, hard-working loan officer, the most he could offer was an occasional good time -- on his terms of course. And when his insecurity about being twelve years her senior finally got to him, he ended the dalliance altogether.
This is all very reflective of real life, down to the physical description of the character. There were moments -- albeit fleeting ones -- when this guy would let his true feelings out, which, while indicative of genuine affection for me, were also admonitions to run as far away as I could, since he would only end up hurting me.
I should have listened the first time, but unfortunately an intense physical attraction tends to obscure the underlying, critical facts.This is also where Tag Russell and Mark Donnelly have much in common.
How else to explain why Madeline (like me) even has anything to do with Mark after he stands her up for a SunFest date he himself initiates just the night before? Well that, and being just too damned nice to begin with. But I digress.
That "Hey, I changed my mind about taking you to SunFest" scene in the novel mirrors my real-life experience, happening just around the time the married guy at the pool asks Madeline if she would go out with him if not for the small matter of his lifetime commitment to another woman (sorry to say, also true). At that point in my life, based on my dating adventures both in Pennsylvania and in Florida, I was beginning to think all men were vile creatures -- with the only exceptions being my father, brothers, assorted family members and friends. To some extent, I still feel this way, although thanks to having a solid foundation of faith and engaging in constant spiritual development, I've managed to keep from turning into a bitter man-hater -- something I once feared might happen.
While I could find lots of women (and even men) to validate such a personality transformation based on legitimate grievances, the last thing I would ever do is give anyone else the power to change who I am. Not even a man who has hurt me deeply and in most cases, unnecessarily.
But back to the connection between Tag and Mark. Through Maddy's reflections, readers discover that Tag and Mark had once worked together many years prior, and it is this acquaintance that ironically solves a mystery for her:
...Maddy had briefly reconnected with Mark Donnelly, who at first appeared to be very impressed with her budding banking career and obvious maturation. However, after three wonderful dates wherein they shared meaningful conversation as well as endless, passionate kisses, he disappeared again from her life. No goodbye call or farewell visit -- just an abrupt departure after promising to contact her upon his return from California, site of his "all-boys" motorcycling vacation.
In an interesting twist, Tag had unknowingly referenced Maddy's former flame many months later when the two of them attended that year's SunFest (another irony right out of real life). Turned out, Tag and Mark had worked together in the lending department at First America Bank. And as Tag and Madeline browsed the multitude of artists' tents at the West Palm Beach festival, he told her all about his unexpected run-in at Publix with the newly engaged Mark, who'd happily announced his impending fall wedding. Though she did not disclose the details of her brief romance, Madeline silently pondered if Mark's fiancée had been the real reason for his disappearance the second time around. If so, it was certainly a strange and recurring pattern.
Interesting Side Note: Over a year ago, I met "Mark's" first wife on Facebook via some mutual friends. And after getting to know her, I am still scratching my head over why he'd ever leave such a beautiful, vivacious woman in the first place. I don't think I will ever figure out some men and I have given up trying. Learning the other side of the divorce story and tales of the various other women he's hurt over the years (much more deeply than me) was rather eye-opening, to say the least. But as with "Tag", I do wish him well.