My last creative act as official press secretary for Ross Perot's Maryland campaign was to draw great black gashes -- in international just-say-no-style -- across his red, white and blue vTC campaign buttons. My second-to-last act was writing the office answering machine message that invited callers to our ''Perot-NOT'' picnic. As spokeswoman, I was aware that this carefully crafted message was not particularly inclusive: many of my former brethren are still faithfully waiting to re-draft Perot.
Not me, though. I think that's because I take things so darned personally. When reporters asked Thursday whom I'd vote for in November now that my man had opted out, I heard myself saying things like, ''the divorce just dropped on me like a bombshell, and I couldn't possibly think about dating yet.''
Friday, when the questions shifted to interest in rekindling Ross's desire to re-enter the campaign, I allowed as how, no, I wasn't interested. We had been engaged, after all, and he was the one who had gotten cold feet. Even if he wanted me back, I didn't want him back. Can't trust a guy like that.
I wasn't alone. One woman wrote on our flip chart used to welcome new volunteers: Fool me once/shame on you,/Fool me twice/shame on me. Another volunteer had scribbled: Ross, but will you write every day?
The men, on the other hand, ignored metaphors of love and relationships and used metaphors of violence. Ross shot himself, he shot his partner, he shot us, one man said. I could just punch him out, said another. Another bought a $4 hat and stamped all over it in fury, leaving it in tiny white pieces.
A sailor I worked with once told me he really preferred to work for men rather than women because women take things so personally, even their jobs. I took my job as press secretary personally; I took Ross' defection personally.
My husband understood. When I came home Friday night he was ready with some favorite Tejano music: just for the occasion, he'd put on Carmen and Laura's ''Que Cobarde.''
Que cobarde, me ensenaste a querer, the song begins. What a coward, you taught me how to love. Y luego me dejaste. And then you left me, Que cobarde! When I was most in love, the song goes on, you abandoned me without pity.
I told a national columnist back in June that the only thing that would shake my faith in Ross Perot would be to discover he was a scoundrel and a cheat. That was unthinkable then, and I'm sure I laughed as I said it. I was in love. I'm not anymore. I discovered my man wouldn't stand by me.
For the first time in my adult life, I didn't feel cynical about an election. Ross made me feel that way. I had no doubts but that we'd win the election together. Ross didn't listen. He told me not to worry about polls, they were just goofy. So I didn't worry about them. But he must have allowed himself a glance or two. Maybe he cared about those polls more than about me, even.
He left me sadder but wiser. It really is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Ross made me feel like I was somebody important, like I could make a difference in this world. Ross broke my heart, but I want to give it away again, and I'm going to find the right person to give it to. No more sitting at home alone Saturday nights, no more whining. Like my mother always said, there's more than one fish in the sea. I had fun in this campaign; Ross showed me a good time.
But Ross, don't bother calling or writing. And please don't talk to Larry King or Barbara Walters about our relationship anymore. Let's just be friends.
Carol M. Feldmann was Ross Perot's Maryland campaign press secretary.
Ross Perot: He Loved Us, Then Left Us