A Love Story...
I am a strong enough woman to admit I needed help putting myself back together after I had been left in pieces by a destructive relationship. (Actually - really the other person in the relationship was destructive. I just wasn't very good at being tape.) I didn't just need the help of friends, strong women friends, which I was fortunate enough to have been surrounded by at the time. I needed the help of a man, who would love me strong enough to fix some wounds in a short enough time then send me on my way. I was lucky enough to find that. (We kind of f*$&ed up the 'sending me on my way' part, but that's an entirely different story.)
During said destructive, and eventually (thankfully) failed relationship, I was in the strange position of having my pick of many many men, which at some other point I will delve into. (To summarize - I was a never-married childless woman with a bachelor's degree and all her teeth who didn't cheat nor had ever been a stripper, bartending at a not sleazy bar in one of the bigger military towns. I am sadly not exaggerating when I say I was a rare item.) But the point is that I didn't take my pick - I met the man I'm about to tell you about days after I finally broke up with my former.
I was bartending on a weeknight, it was slow and comfortable as usual, and I was in full on I-don't-give-a-shit mode - I had a baseball cap on, dirty hair underneath, and not special jeans and t-shirt. Late-ish in the night a pair of guys walked in who hadn't been there before (which didn't happen all the time on a weeknight - we had a pretty loyal group of regulars), one tall with dark hair and broad shoulders, and an open, happy, and striking face. The other a little shorter, a little bulkier, and a little more roughhouse. That one had a sandwich in his hand which I immediately yelled at him that he couldn't have (we were a restaurant, you couldn't carry food in), to which point he said ok but ate faster. I yelled at him again, he yelled back OK and shoved the rest into his mouth. Classy start for these guys.
These two, we'll call them Tom (tall, dark, happy) and George (sandwich), sat at the bar and I asked to see their ID's. ID's were something we took really seriously at that bar and so when Tom started making a joke about which one did I want to see because he had all these fake ones from work (and remember - I'm in the no-bullshit mood) I told him that wasn't funny and he could either show me his real ID or not get anything to drink, or leave. He said something like geeeeeez, ok, here it is. At which point they both got a beer and the disagreeable part of the relationship came to an end.
I don't remember a lot more about that evening other than I sat and talked to Tom for a lot longer than I probably should have. It dawned on me during the course of the evening that not only was I flirting - but that it was ok. After a year and a half of being painstakingly careful about how my behavior might appear too flirty or too suggestive (it's a weird environment this military town), this was unbelievably liberating.
At the end of the night, Tom paid the tab with a credit card, left me a nice tip, and after a long conversation about the game "Scene It" also left me his phone number saying we should really see who's better.
Now the next part is a little fuzzy, but I tried calling the number at some point in the next week, it turned out to not be the right number, and the next time I saw him was more than a week later at my bar, on a Friday, when I was dressed in a tight black miniskirt, an off the shoulder hot pink t-shirt, and a side ponytail for my friends '80s-themed birthday party. He walked in the bar, again with George, and it was crowded and busy this time, but in my mind he had this light around him - I immediately saw him and felt those telling butterflies.
At some point I told him that I had called, he looked alarmed, we checked the numbers, confirmed I had misread, so, in the middle of the night, busy busy busy, as I was writing on someone else's tab, I wrote my phone number down and slipped it to him discreetly as I was my way around the bar. As discreet as I was, was as indiscreet as he was as he pulled out his phone immediately, was extremely and loudly grateful, and called my number. Thankfully my phone was put away. They left at some point, and I pulled out of the bar at around 3 am to a voicemail saying wonderful things. So, I thought f*$# it, I'll call him. I did, he actually answered, and we stayed on the phone for about an hour. We covered all the basics (family, home, history, kids, education, plans) and said maybe we'd see each other over the weekend.
The next day, a Saturday, I bopped around the house with my roommate all day, dyed my hair, cleaned, drank a beer in the sun, and texted with Tom. At a certain point, I texted him something like "You're waffling. Ask me out." So he said "Sushi at 7:30?" and that was our date. Which will go down in history as one of the best first dates ever start to finish, which was 36 hours later.
Now, obviously, one must sleep in 36 hours. And we did. Just that. Twice. Very innocently and blissfully. Woke up to coffee and breakfast prepared by him - twice. He cooked dinner for me and my roommate the next night, at his house, and we watched the Sopranos. The date officially ended when he had to go check in at work Monday morning. At which point I sat and drank more coffee and watched his Tivo til he came home for lunch.
This went on for almost two months. For almost two months, I didn't spend one more night (when he was in town) at home (well, at my roommates home). If I was working he'd come by, and when I got done I would let myself into his house and slip myself into bed next to his cozy sleeping body. For the first time in my life I was truly and completely taken care of, and I know part of that was me allowing it to happen - for some reason I immediately and completely trusted him. I never doubted in that time that we understood each other, that he wanted to be around me and take me out and then take me home, and he truly desired me. He told me about his kids and talked to me for hours on his drive up north to see them, and I loved it. I wanted to meet them.
He offered to help or not help with my ex and moving me out of the house (I was already living elsewhere, but out of a suitcase.) He helped - just enough, not too much to intrude. His roommate (George) and I had nicknames for each other and I helped him pick out, and pick on, girls at the bar. George and Tom helped clean out most of the heavy and army stuff when my ex finally left town. When I would be ready to go out somewhere, Tom would stare at me in amazement and tell me how beautiful I was, and then at bedtime when I washed all the make up off he'd tell me how beautiful I was, and that he hoped I knew that I really didn't ever need make up.
When we walked into anywhere together people noticed us. More than one friend remarked, "My you are a good looking couple." We could capture everyone's attention with a perfectly shared spotlight. Within the first weekend people were guessing we had been together for months if not years.
We had plans one night that I happened to have a surprisingly upsetting doctor's appointment earlier in the day. Although I offered to drive to meet him at the restaurant (which quickly became 'ours') or his house, because they were minutes away from each other, he came to where I was living (which was around 35 minutes out of the way) to pick me up. Upon arriving at the restaurant he came around to my side of the truck to let me out, but decided to just carry me the whole way instead. They didn't mind that we showed up so late because we were friendly and happy and polite, and left a big tip. He carried me back to his truck and we went home and sat on his porch and drank wine til way past bedtime.
That night, on the way to the restaurant, he finally said out loud what we were both ignoring - that he was leaving. Soon, within months. So was I, but I didn't know when or where yet for sure.
As we were sitting at the table and had just opened a bottle of wine, I don't remember what we were talking about, but I was overwhelmed by something and I found tears in my eyes and I didn't hear what he was saying for a moment because all I could hear were the words in my head saying "I love you."
We had inside jokes. I still remember them all. We had nicknames. I still miss them. He left before I did and I cried for a solid day. I remember thinking, I will never have anything like this again.
He moved one state west so I saw him a few weeks later for a few days on my way to California. He was my first stop with my car all packed up full of my life. We had, as we knew we would, a perfect three days in Tennessee. It was different from before - it was a little sad. We knew there were things we couldn't say, or shouldn't say, so we didn't. I left in the middle of a morning and as I pulled out of that parking lot I couldn't look back.
He told me later that he kept waiting for me to look back, that all he wanted and needed was for me to look back, and I told him the truth about why I didn't. I told him that if I would have looked back, I never would have been able to leave.
Two years later I am still grateful and I still wonder, and I still know I couldn't have looked back.