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Occasionally co-workers dragged him to bars, but since he hates bars, he didn't want to meet a woman who likes them. Four years ago he placed an ad in the Greensheet. Then 30, he wrote that a "kinda boring" single white male in Waller, who liked eating dinner and going for walks, was looking for a woman. "Must like animals," the ad read.
The first girl "sounded too wild," Gregory said. The second was Deborah. He liked that she seemed just as skeptical as he was about meeting someone through a want ad. She told him she didn't like drinking or doing drugs or going out either. They sounded like two lonely people who might be a little less lonely together. "I was just depressed, and I wanted a date," Deborah said. She had been with a guy for 12 years before he met another woman, told Deborah he didn't love her anymore and left. "I was just sitting at home with my world falling apart," she said. "I would kill myself, but I would go to hell."
They talked on the phone for two weeks before their first date, at the Tomball Wal-Mart. Gregory said he was nervous and wanted to meet someplace where there would be a lot of people. Deborah said he was cheap. Afterward they went to his place, where he fixed her an omelet and they watched TV. Deborah said Gregory seemed nice, quiet and harmless. "He wouldn't hurt my babies or nothing," she said. There was never an official second date; he said the next day she brought over some clothes and then some pictures and then she started moving his stuff out to the barn. Before he knew it, she and her daughter were living with him and he was in love.
When they met, Deborah outweighed him by about 40 pounds. He liked her long pretty red hair, but what he liked the most about her was that she liked him. He couldn't believe she thought he was cute and wanted to be with him. Deborah, then 34, told him she couldn't have more children. "Carolee was my first miracle," she said. Gregory wanted babies and figured someday they could see a fertility doctor. Six months later Gregory was ecstatic when she told him she was pregnant. They married at the Conroe Courthouse, then rented a renovated barn for a weeklong Fredericksburg honeymoon.
Deborah convinced him that fresh eggs taste better than store-bought, so he turned the carport into a chicken coop. She told him she'd always dreamed of a house with hearts on the shutters, so Gregory made white wood shutters and cut out the hearts himself. He broke five jigsaw blades and messed up the first 24 before he got them exactly right. He didn't want to give her a broken, imperfect heart.
Jerry Springer was on while Deborah gave birth to Hallie Rose on March 10, 1998. The day Hallie was born, Gregory sat up all night holding the baby's finger. He changed her first diaper and gave Hallie her first bath. When she got her shots, she cried and Gregory threw up.
Gregory worked 12- to 16-hour shifts Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights and one Saturday a month. His wife had a nine-to-five job as a deputy title clerk at the Harris County tax assessor's office, so on the afternoons Gregory worked, his mother-in-law cared for Hallie. The rest of the time Gregory stayed home with the baby; he put her high chair in front of the screen door so she could watch the birds while she ate.
He played Indian flute music to relax her, and she wouldn't fall asleep unless Gregory was carrying her, humming and patting her back. "I spoiled her," he said. "I didn't care." She slept in the bed between her parents, clutching a fistful of Gregory's hair to make sure he was still there.
Hallie's toys are scattered throughout the house and yard; there's a pile in the toolshed so she can be with him while he works. Together they rode his old three-wheeled motorcycle around the yard in first gear and took spur-of-the-moment fishing trips -- usually catching more turtles than catfish. Gregory supplemented his income by buying a $300 knife collection off the Home Shopping Network and reselling them individually for a profit. The money he made he put in Hallie's piggy banks.
Last year Gregory bought four baby ducks and a ten-day-old goat he and Hallie bottle-fed. They took carrots to Desie, the neighbor's horse, and played with the green-eyed kittens. All the chickens were gentle enough that Hallie could scoop them up and carry them around the yard without getting scratched or pecked. At night Gregory and Hallie stood by the chicken coop listening to the hen that snores.
During the last year Deborah and Gregory talked less and less, he said. He thought Deborah needed more time to herself, or maybe she was tired of being with him and Hallie. He said he told her to go out with her girlfriends and he'd take care of Hallie. Deborah said she didn't notice any changes in their marriage or their life. She went to work, she came home, and often Gregory wasn't there. They lived in the same house but saw each other only two nights a week, she said. They never went out to dinner because she was dieting; when they were together they argued, mostly about the daughter from her first marriage.