So, anyway, back to our regularly scheduled love stories.
That last blog took me a really long time to write, mostly because I spent a lot of time contemplating and telling truths to myself, and coming to some realizations. (And also, a lot of deleting took place and I know there are still two places where a word is missing) That is one thing I have always loved about writing, it sorts out your head.
Also, it makes you live in your head, a lot, which is a less favorable symptom. When I am writing fiction, the story is always there in my head, no matter what else is going on around me. It’s always working itself out, it has to do that before you can put it on the paper and not edit it six million times. There is always a certain part of your brain that is not focused on the task at hand because it is wandering through the novel in your head. The desire to “go down into the well” as author Jane Hamilton called it, is always there.
When I am writing about my life, it causes me to go back and think about things I haven’t thought about for years. I recommend it to everyone. It’s an exercise both my parents did, writing their “life story”, as part of our family therapy when I was a teenager (four teenaged girls my poor parents had) and they both really enjoyed it. It’s good for the soul to remember where you came from and remember how you felt.
So, like I said, back to the love story.
J and I were “set up” by his older sister, someone I worked with for twenty years and who for a time within those years was my boss. She was the first person to give me a break and hire me as a leader. I interviewed FOUR TIMES for the same job before someone finally gave me a chance and after that my mission was to be the best leader I could be because I was definitely not going to let them down. Joy was a mentor and a friend and the manager who took the chance. We worked together in that capacity for almost seven years, at which time she took a promotion and moved to a different department.
During the time she was my manager, Joy had a bright idea that I should date someone she recommended, who also worked for our company. I said he was too young (He was five years my junior and I was still young enough that five years mattered), and immature and I was a grown up and a mom and it would never work. She let it go.
Fast forward five years to me agreeing to go on a date with said guy, and walking up to Joy’s office to tell her that her instincts were panning out.
“Guess who I’m having dinner and movie with on Friday?” I asked, sticking my head in her door.
She waved me in. We didn’t talk as much since we worked in different areas, so we hadn’t seen each other for a while.
“Remember that guy you thought I should date a long time ago?”
Joy gasped, which I thought was a little dramatic. It wasn’t THAT big of a deal.
“You should date my brother!” she said excitedly and completely unexpectedly.
“Uhhh, did you not just hear me tell you that I have a date on Friday?”
It was as though I hadn’t spoken, “He’s kind of got a girlfriend right now, but they’re not like all ‘I love you’ or anything.”
“Ok well I have a date with someone on Friday who does NOT have a girlfriend so, no offense, but I’m going to go with that.”
“Let me know when you’re done with all that,” she paused and waved her hands around to indicate the “all that”, “and I’ll fix you up with my brother.”
“Ok. I guess?” She was not really giving me a vote of confidence for my date on Friday. “I prefer my dates to not have girlfriends, though.”
I walked out of her office totally confused. My Friday night date went fine and so did the next three after that but then Mr. Five Years Younger and I made a decision to just be friends. To be honest, we had been coworkers and friends for too long and it was awkward and uncomfortable to try to be romantic. We were meant to be friends. I went on a few more dates with a few more guys as time went on. Then one day I ran into Joy in the work cafeteria.
“He’s almost ready,” she said to me.
I rolled my eyes, it had been like nine months since she originally suggested I date her brother, and as far as I knew the girlfriend was still a thing.
“Well, lucky for you I’m still single,” I joked.
“I think you should wear that outfit when you date my brother,” she said. I was wearing a black skirt above the knee and a black top with red and white polka dots. “You’ve always had the best legs.”
I walked away, again shaking my head.
Later I would find out that J was pretty offended when, on a walk with his sister, she told him she had the perfect girl and suggested he date me. He had a girlfriend, after all, and he was “not that kind of guy”. Joy was not one to give up easily.
“I like her so much,” Joy told him, “that I want you to marry her.” Wow, no pressure or anything and also, did I mention he had a girlfriend?
Then one day I met her in the lunchroom again, and this time she stopped me all excited, “Guess what? His girlfriend broke up with him!”
I was still not confident this was going to have one ounce of bearing on my life.
“He’s not quite ready, he has some things he wants to get in order in his life, but then he’s open to dating. There’s just one thing, though…” she paused and kind of chewed her nail.
“What?” I was prepared for the worst at this point. My brain started reasoning what could be worse than a girlfriend.
“He’s a smoker…” she grimaced.
“Oh, THANK GAWD,” I answered.
I know, it seems wrong but when you are a smoker there is no bigger pain in the rear than dating a nonsmoker. Please kiss me, I smell like an ashtray. When a smoker dates a smoker, you don’t notice you smell like an ashtray because you both do and yes, that makes it better.
Joy frowned a little bit. “I don’t think either one of you look like smokers and you should both quit.”
Not very long after, she asked me to send her a picture of myself. I had no electronic pictures, except for the picture we had taken for the office Christmas card. (It was December) I sent her the card, which featured me and all my employees proudly showing off our jazz hands. (Because we’re dorks)
A few days later, she sent me an excerpt of an email he sent her, telling her that I was hot (“Are you sure she’s single?” he asked) and that she could give me his email address. (Apparently, I passed the picture test). She also sent me a picture of him. I passed it around to all my friends and we voted that he was handsome and very sporty looking.
I waited a little bit before emailing him. My mom had ingrained in me that girls do not call boys but Joy hadn’t known that when she set up the arrangement. I waited as long as I could, until I knew that if I didn’t do it that day, it would be delayed until January because I would be away from work, and email, until after the holidays. So, on December 23rd, 2007, at the very end of the day, I sent him an email.
He sent one back when he returned to work on January 2nd. Mostly chit chatting, finding out things about each other the easy way, through email. He worked up to asking me out on a date for Saturday January 5th. I said yes.
He came with good references. I trusted my mentor, my former boss and my friend not to set me up with someone I should be afraid of. But I was still a nervous wreck. I played my favorite pep me up songs as I waited for him to ring the doorbell.
When he finally did, and I answered the door, he introduced himself and presented me with a bouquet of flowers. (FYI, you get big points for bringing flowers on a first date.) I had to put them in water, but my house was still a disaster area from Christmas, with toys and wrapping paper all over and two kittens who were also good at making a mess, so I made him wait in the entryway. Then I grabbed my purse and we left.
I already told you before, how we did not even make it to the restaurant yet, almost- waiting in the left turn lane, when I asked him why he got divorced. I sort of felt like it was better to just get it over with. I already knew from his sister about the custody battle, the stress, the dirty and underhanded way his divorce was being played out, but I didn’t really know what the underlying root cause was.
My question threw him for a loop, for sure. He kind of chuckled a little nervously. The light turned green and he pulled us into the parking lot at Buca di Beppo, and Italian restaurant I had never been to.
They seated us in what was sort of a separate room. We had the far back corner booth. The whole entire rest of the room was there for “Grandpa’s 65th birthday party”, and was all part of one family.
It was loud and fun, and the waiter kept saying to the whole room, “Hang on, I have to go check on my romantic couple in the corner!”
We made it through the “why we got divorced” stories from both sides. When J waggled his fingers at the waiter and said, “Now, what about the bread?” I watched his hands with a weird kind of feeling in my stomach. I had a thing for his hands starting exactly then, I still do. They are big, manly mitts. Sometimes J will hold my head and look me in the eyes to say something sweet and I will be like “WHAT?” because his hands completely block anything I might have otherwise heard.
We finished our dinner, and then headed back out towards my house. We were maybe half way there when he said, “Wait, did you want to do something else?”
I had been having a nice time, and I have to admit I was thinking that maybe I thought the date went better than he did since it was like nine o’clock and we were heading home already, so I said, “Oh, sure, if you do.”
We went to a little place called The Narrows that doesn’t exist anymore, and we listened to music and talked until closing time. It should be noted that we sat in the booth on the same side, so we could both see the band, yet J never even touched me once, something I noticed straight off. Not his thigh against mine, not his shoulder to my shoulder. He was the perfect gentleman.
I found it kind of distressing.
When we pulled into my driveway, I was anxious. On one hand I did not want the date to end but on the other, did I mention my house was a DISASTER from Christmas and I didn’t really want him to see it?
We sat in the car in my driveway like teenagers.
“Did you want to come in?” I finally asked.
“Sure,” he said instantly and next thing you know we were headed inside.
I made one million excuses for the mess in my house (well first it was Christmas and then you come home from family and throw everything down and then we got these two kittens…). I left the lights off on purpose, not to be romantic, only to try to hide the mess, and plugged in the Christmas tree lights. I offered him a drink, made one for each of us, and we sat on the couch, admiring the lights and talking and talking and talking. Ever since, I think Christmas trees lit up in the dark are soooo romantic.
Eventually, he said he should probably go. It was going on three am. He was heading back to his house, where he had recently moved, which was only four miles from mine it turned out, and where all the carpets were still wet and he didn’t even have a bed moved in yet.
Before he left, he followed me to the kitchen where I returned our glasses, and it was there, at the kitchen counter, where he kissed me the first time. And the second time. He put his hands on my hips with a very light touch (finally!) and every single cell in my body wanted to invite him to stay the night.
BUT he was my friend’s brother and I knew she would find out if I acted like a ho just because of a hot kiss, so I refrained from inviting him to stay.
This is a topic we revisit from time to time.
“I totally could have stayed over that night if I wanted to,” he says.
“No, you could not have. I would not have let that happen, because I knew I would have to report to your sister and I would die if I had to tell her I let you sleep over on the first date.”
“I know I could have stayed if I would have tried.”
“You could NOT have,” I insist, “Even though you tried to get me to feel bad for you with the ‘oh, the carpet is wet and my bed is not even there yet’.”
He grins sheepishly.
Sometimes out of the blue he will say, “Remember on our first date when I slept over?”
And I will smack him on the arm and tell him again that he DID NOT sleep over.
“We both have our own version of how our first date ended,” he told his sister Joy, “she wanted me to stay, but I was a gentleman.”
“That is NOT TRUE,” I argue.
A year later, we went for our first anniversary date, to the same restaurant, and J asked that we be seated at the same table in the corner. This time the entire room was empty except for us.
When the waitress had taken our order, and we had told her about our anniversary, J stood up and pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. He read me the sweetest love note and wedding proposal ever. He got tears in his eyes as he read, and then he asked me to marry him and pulled out a ring.
I said, “YES!” and jumped up to throw my arms around him so excitedly that I accidentally head butted him really hard in the head, something he also still teases me about. (I am a never-ending source of good teasing material)
We celebrated our anniversary every year for the next eight years at Buca, at the same table in the corner. We got to know the waiters and waitresses and they got to know our story. One year, the heat was out in our room and the staff at the restaurant, knowing it was a special occasion and a special table, put space heaters and candelabras out in our room to try to make it warm for us. That year I ate with my gloves and my scarf on, but we felt really honored that the staff had gone to all that trouble to make it nice for us, even under not the best of circumstances. The waiter Jose brought us an extra-large piece of red velvet chocolate cake.
When we decided to get married, we didn’t really want to change our anniversary date. We had traditions. And we didn’t want to go anywhere but Buca. So, we didn’t.
Joy, the matchmaker, read a short piece of writing about love for us during our wedding service, and she got all weepy (something she is not prone to do) so that she had to read part of it again.
Later she said, “I would have been fine if I didn’t look at you guys. But I looked at you two, and thought about everything you had been through in the last nine years, and I was with you every single step of the way, and there you were, standing there with all your kids, and it was beautiful.”
Jose, the waiter, came into the party on our wedding day and led the entire room in a song. He pointed at J across the tables and said, “That’s my cousin” and everyone laughed. Only we knew how long Jose had been a part of every January 5th.
We didn’t sit in our corner booth, because we needed to sit in a bigger, more centralized place, being the guests of honor and all. But later, when people started to leave, we slid into our booth and had the photographer take our picture, husband and wife at last, at the table where it all began.
(I’m never in my lifetime going to be able to repay Joy for the year she spent trying to get me and her brother together, so we could live happily ever after.)