This, the account of when I first met my now-husband, was first written on October 23, 2007 – Edited (lightly, for clarity and re-published in August 2018 as we come upon our 9th wedding anniversary. Very brief back story: I was in a long-distance relationship of around 3 months with someone who lived in the US Virgin Islands while I was still in Pennsylvania. I referred to him as “The Chef” because he was a Chef and manager of a well-known restaurant in the V.I. I had recently returned from 3 years of living in Prague. “The Chef” & I had been planning a trip together to Spain as well as talking about my moving to Napa with him once he left the Virgin Islands. He had a young daughter who was there – hence, my reference of becoming a “step-mother”. But then I met this other person and chaos ensued. This other person and I have now been together for over 10 years, married for 9 and we have an 8 year old son. The end. *smile* Note: Don’t try this at home!)
“I disregard the proportions, the measures, the tempo of the ordinary world. I refuse to live in the ordinary world as ordinary women. To enter ordinary relationships. I want ecstasy. I am a neurotic — in the sense that I live in my world. I will not adjust myself to the world. I am adjusted to myself.” – Anais Nin
I crashed into someone recently – figuratively speaking. Very recently. You know, the kind of person you meet and there’s instantly an almost visible white lightning of chemistry crackling between you? The kind of energy that’s always gotten me into trouble in the past. A connection, a desperately needed fix that can’t be turned down. I’ve always been magnetically pulled towards these types of things. They’ve always involved bad boys, or troubled souls, or men who couldn’t/wouldn’t be in a relationship for sundry reasons. This recent one, for example. A man who’s returned to the States after an explosive breakup overseas (a cheating girlfriend… their mutual boss…) Over coffee, as we regressed to teenagers recalling our days spent here in the same hometown (but different high schools), and our experiences overseas, the adjustment issues being “back home,” I told him I’d have a hard time coming up with a moniker for him. “I’m just going to call you The In Transit Guy,” I said, lamely. I still don’t know what to call him. Shocking, the number of things we have in common, including fleeing the European countries we’d lived in for years due to a traumatic breakup. Our home towns. Our family histories and misspent youth. The fact that we’re both staying with our parents for the time being, and being driven nuts by not having our own space.
He had lived in London for two years, I in Prague for three. He’s a sound engineer for video games, of all things, and apparently slightly famous to anyone who knows video games and sound. He’s only here in Pennsylvania for a month, then heading West to LA, a new job. I certainly could use some like-minded company here, for awhile. He thought it would be fun to have someone to hang out with during his stay.
We met online, where I tend to meet everyone. He came on hard and strong. I wrote him an email one afternoon when I realized that we were getting a bit too flirty. “I’m kind of involved with someone,” I wrote and added, “Well, no, not kind of. I AM involved with someone.”
He wrote back that I had surprised him with my last email. But after some thought he decided that it’s all cool – for the best, since he had just gotten out of a 5 year relationship and was in transit yet – London to our hometown to LA. We had exactly one month – this month – to hang out.
The first night, we met at a diner. An old diner in Allentown that I used to frequent after I’d just gotten my driving license so long ago. Diners and proper greasy spoons were something we had both waxed nostalgic for while living overseas. We met at 7:30 in the evening and spared no time launching into conversation. We could barely keep up with ourselves with all that talking. Free from the constraints of considering this a “date” or some such, we let it all hang out. We took turns topping each other’s previous “what I’ve been through” anecdotes. We compared fucked-up family notes and therapy stories.
After a couple hours, he said, “Let’s go get a drink.” I knew what was happening. So we left and went to a local bar. I was feeling it all night – the it that was careening back and forth, around the air between us. But once I got a couple drinks in me, I found myself leaning into him, across the table, a little too closely. Holding eye contact a little too long. Touching his foot with mine under the table. Sharing all the enticing, dirty little secrets, watching his eyes light up as he told me, “We are so bad for each other. And I am so fucking turned on right now.” We stopped holding back, being polite and proper.
Finally, at 1:30 in the morning, we left the bar. We didn’t want to, didn’t want to stop talking and feeding off of this insane energy between us, but I had to get up at 6:30 am for work. He drove me back to my car, which I’d left at the diner. He parked right next to my car and got out to walk me the two feet to my car door. We said good night and made plans to do brunch, or the movies or whatever. He told me he had a blast with me that night and was glad I came out (I’d considered not, because I was tired after work that day.) He moved in to hug me and then as he stepped away he kissed me. Quickly, but significantly. I was already weak in the knees but any resolve I had collapsed right about there. “That was a really bad idea,” I said, weakly.
“Why?” he asked. I started to say, “You know why,” but then he lunged back towards me, pushing me up against my car and going in for the kill. Yeah. No, I didn’t resist. Well, occasionally, when we came up for breath I made noises about “bad idea” and “you should go now.”
After about half an hour of this little make-out session, he started cracking up. “We’re in the parking lot of the Hamilton Family Diner, standing next to the cars we’ve borrowed from our mothers, making out. And our glasses are all steamed up. I’ve been back 2 days and I’ve already regressed 20 years. FUCK! We lived in EUROPE for christ’s sake!”
We laughed. And then we made out for another 20 minutes. Finally I pushed him away. “Ok. I have to go to bed now,” I said. He gave me a look. “ALONE,” I added. I was breathless. He was… well. You know.
The thing is, it was all I could think about. During the few hours of sleep that I managed, I dreamt about him. I woke up with the previous evening’s kissing on my brain. And when he im’d me early in the afternoon, we lapsed back into flirting.
We can’t keep meeting like that, I said, seriously. He agreed. But then we met up again on Friday night. Had dinner, hung out… had a pretty crazy evening, actually. I won’t get into details. We tried to keep things normal, though, and made plans for movies, for brunch, for keeping each other company here. He wants a new tattoo, so I made an appointment for him at the place I go to, for a consultation.
A random moment in a hotel room. (Yes.) He looks over at me and says, “I’m not falling for you, you know. If that’s what you’re thinking.” I freeze up. I laugh, nervously and knowingly. All I say is, “Uh-huh” and then, “Don’t. That’s not a good idea.”
“I’m not,” he repeats.
Then, an hour or so later, he holds up his fingers, he holds up his hand, almost pinching his index finger and thumb together. “What?” I say.
“Maybe just a little bit,” he says. I roll my eyes. It’s not that I’m not feeling all the molecules exploding off each other, between us. It’s that I’m old enough and wise enough now to not mistake this chemistry for something that is worth risking something else that’s deep and lasting. It’s that I understand the limitations – he’s leaving in a month, and I’m involved and we’re both unsettled and lonely in this town right now – add fuel to the fire. It’s that I understand, if I let this go to my head, I’d get involved with another man who has things to figure out and work on, and that sooner or later I’d get bit in the ass by the “I-Need-Time-Alone” bug.
He asked me, out of nowhere, to go on a road trip with him, to drive with him across the country when he goes to LA. I laughed and asked how on earth that would be possible. “What? I’m just being spontaneous.” He looked wounded. He didn’t let up, and when I went with him to test drive cars, he prattled on to the salesman about our road trip, periodically nudging me with his arm. When all he got from me was a blank stare, he sighed and said again, “Just a little bit…” I say I can’t to LA anyway, because I’ll be in the Virgin Islands. He asks when I’m getting back, makes a mental note of the date and says we could totally go when I get back. I shake my head, no.
He mentions it again later, and I say, “No. I’m working on something permanent, lasting.” He backs off.
By now it’s Saturday, and we’ve gone out for breakfast (at a diner, again) and coffee and too many cigarettes (as usual.) We had coffee at the coffee shop I recommended, the one that serves an amazing Guatemalan blend. We sat on the couch along the window, to drink said coffee. As we were talking, a family came in – mother, father, two young children (a boy and a girl.) We watched the kids for awhile and then got into a lengthy discussion about our conflicted desires about family. One of the kids made a cute face. We both laughed and he said, “Yeah. Having one of those paternal-feeling moments right now.” He told me about the property on Lake Michigan that’s been in his family for generations, the house he wants to build. I told him of my fear of losing the chance to live abroad again. He said, “Well… I’m not going to say anything. I can’t be objective.” We sat there in a coffee haze, bonding, and I started to feel conflicted.
We then went on a long drive to the tattoo shop, where the friend works who did my neck. This guy – The In Transit Guy? The Chemist? The Near Explosion? What the hell do I call him? In any case, he wanted a new tattoo, so I took him to the shop for a consultation. As we’re driving home, he says, “Maybe I’ll just go to New York or something then. While you’re in the Virgin Islands with that other person. To distract myself.” I tell him he’s not going to guilt me into going with him. He drops me off at my house, and kisses me goodbye. I tell him that’s the last time he’s doing that, or we can’t hang out anymore. This is getting out of control. He holds my hand – “But… just a little bit… Aren’t you falling for me, just the tiniest bit?”
I send him an email later, that while part of me would love to go on this spontaneous road trip, I can’t. I’m an incurable romantic, but uncontrollable urges can’t be mistaken for romance. I say that while there’s still that very wild streak in me, he’s right when he described me as a good girl with a bad girls’ facade. I’ll never calm down or settle down completely in the way that I live my life, but I want to be settled as far as people go, a significant other. A best friend with benefits. A partner. And I say that I’ve been in this situation so many times before, crashing into someone and both of us getting high on the chemical reaction, then me getting wrecked as I tried to make a relationship out of it while the other person remembered that they were not ready or able to do such a thing yet. When prodded about driving to LA, I consistently responded with something about how I wanted something lasting. I pointed out that the very fact that he had no response to this, that he was in no way willing to put up any fight for me or even suggest that, who knows, this could turn into something, told me that I was right. (Not that I wanted him to fight for me, that’s not what I meant.)
(Thank God, though, there’s a reason to hold me back, because if there weren’t, I would be my old spontaneous, risky self and take a road trip with this person… Under different circumstances, this might be a fabulous thing. We might be amazing together. But most likely… I’d have gone with him to keep him company on the trip to LA and then once we arrived, I’d have said, “Now what?” I would want more. And I would be left putting my pieces back together again.)
I also wrote that I want to be with someone who is free and able and wanting to take a running leap into me. Or with me. I’m tired of people who need to hold back or keep away or stop short of really giving anything of themselves. I remind him that though he claims to be a romantic, and claims to love my company, he JUST got out of a bad relationship. It’s so easy to confuse hurt and loneliness with clicking with someone new. At the very least, our situations are amplifying any of the good stuff between us.
It rattled me, for a day or two. It rattled me because this started me having such thoughts as, “I’m potentially giving up living abroad to live in Napa Valley, to deal with someone else’s past.” Talking, for hours and hours, with someone who’s had the experience I had, living in Europe and wanting to travel, and talking about our favorite haunts in Amsterdam, in Prague, transatlantic flying… it got to me. It made me wonder if I’ve really changed all that much, and if I was capable of giving all that up. Explaining the situation to this man who was currently In Transi, I said, “If all goes as planned, I’m moving out to Napa Valley and I’ll wind up as someone’s step-mother.” And then it hit me. I sat back in the couch, with my coffee, and said, “Woah.” Then I looked at him, offering me this spontaneous, seemingly romantic, fly by the seat of your pants road trip. He had previously said, “Let’s go to Amsterdam in the Spring!” And thats when I started to get confused.
I had a full 24 hours of getting cold feet and wondering if I was biting off more than I could chew. I didn’t think about the fact that The Chef is exactly someone who wants to and can take that running leap into me, and has put forth great effort in moving us forward. Not to mention, we also have an uncanny amount of things in common. All I could think about was, “I’m not going to live in Thailand. Ever. All this spontaneity will end. There will be no more impromptu invites to drive across the country.”
Then I woke up this morning, at 8:30 am. My phone was ringing. I picked it up and saw The Chef’s on the display. A wake up call in more ways than one. I answered, not able to hide the sleep in my voice, but he also heard how happy I was to hear from him. He laughed at me for still being in bed. And then I felt the distance between us, this annoying divide, and I felt for a minute how it would be to not have him as part of my daily routine anymore. It hit me, hard. I said, “You’re right, you know – I’m going to have to be down there no later than Spring. This seeing you once every month or two isn’t tolerable any more.” (By way of explanation – he’s committed to living in the Caribbean until the end of 2008 due to financial and work obligations. In talking, he said that he really hoped I’d be living down there “already” – “already” being by the time we went off on this Spain holiday. Then he’d have to go back to California because of his daughter. Originally, we had talked about all the places he & I could live after the Caribbean. I thought we might go to South America, or Thailand, but his ex has been giving him nothing but trouble, so he realizes he’ll have to go back to CA.)
The Chef then told me about a guy he knows, Cuban, who drops in to eat at his restaurants quite frequently. The Chef said, “He has his own plane – I thought about telling him to go get you. Hey, would you go pick up my… my… super hot chick in Pennsylvania?” He clearly fumbled over what to call me, so I started cracking up. Your WHAT? “Well… I don’t know what to call you…” he faded out. I said that I certainly feel like more than just his super hot chick. Though it has been kind of ambiguous. We’ve been dodging labels and letting ideas hang up in the air without really talking or solidifying anything. (Which is what I keep reminding myself of when I start to feel overly guilty about this weekend. It’s a lame excuse, I know, but. But.)
I sent him an sms later, that said Considering we’re planning a trip to Spain together, and I’m thinking to movie to Napa Valley in lieu of somewhere more foreign, I think it’s a safe bet to call me your girlfriend.
I could tell that he was happy. And just like that, I became a girlfriend again. Bona fide.
Which, actually, yes, does make a huge difference in what happens next with this other man? Actually, it even makes a huge difference in the chemistry I feel around him. Suddenly, it seems gone.
There was this spiel that Zach Braff’s character gave in the movie Garden State. About “home,” that really resonated with me. He said,
You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some place where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone. … You’ll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.
My point being, I haven’t had a sense of home or somewhere to anchor me in a very, very long time, probably since before my teenage years. Not even with The Big Ex. With him I just felt like I had someone to be adrift with. The Chef is the first person who makes me feel like I might be getting kind of close to it. To feeling something close to “home.”
And this umm… In Transit person (still no proper moniker) and I were talking about the things we learned to appreciate about what it means to be American, from living abroad. Things that a lot of Americans don’t even understand. The really good things. He said, “Well, you know, you just really have to get away from a thing to learn to appreciate it.”
Those are my two lessons. That feeling of home doesn’t come from a place. I know this. I’ve always known this. So, will I be OK if maybe I need to settle in California? Yeah. I think I will. It’s never been about location for me, when you get right down to it. But I did have to go away, a little bit, to come back to knowing that.
Addendum: Nope. No, still confused. I didn’t talk to Mr Chemistry at all yesterday and I dammit if I didn’t miss talking to him, and then was thrilled to death when he popped online and we started chatting. We have this weird vibe between us. Not weird, but… well, weird considering the short time we’ve known each other. We were, are, like immediate best friends. That’s how it feels. Best friends with a little hormonal flurry. It could just be a bond over familiar experience – having left our lives behind and now finding ourselves lonely and wanting company in the place we grew up, but shared experiences can be stronger than crazy glue. Multiple times over the weekend, he said to me, “You’re too good to pass up,” and that he hit a grand slam in meeting me. This morning I woke up wondering if I’m completely insane, or if he’s too good to pass up? In my mind, I’m already jumping ahead to when he leaves on December 1, and I have to say… my heart feels kind of funny-bad thinking about it…