Shortly before I gained the courage to walk away from my ex, I met a guy. I was working at a bar, and he would come in with his friends, hang out and have a pitcher of beer, shoot some pool, all that jazz. After the first few times that I saw him, he started asking me if I wanted to hang out after work, and I would politely decline because I was stupidly attached to my ex (and because my dad conditioned me to believe that EVERYONE was a secret rapist/serial killer just waiting to make me their next victim. TRUST NO ONE!!!)
Even after I broke it off with my ex for good, I was reluctant to start up with anyone new. I had been through alot, and I needed to spend some time just focusing on myself and my daughter, not with some strange guy who didn’t know anything about me anyway. So every time he asked me out, I always had to cover a shift for someone or a super important test that I needed to study for, but I was absolutely, 100% not available for any dates.
But then he extended an offer that I couldn’t refuse. A mutual friend was getting out of prison, and he was having a party for him. The guy getting out of prison had been a really good friend of mine whose release I had been looking forward to, and there was no way that I could miss this party. If this guy was a serial killer, I was going to fall right into his trap.
So, the night of the party rolls around and I load up my shitty little Ford Taurus with as many girls as it will hold so I have witnesses for when I inevitably go missing so they have plenty of people to help identify my mangled body. I took it as a bad sign that I got lost on the way there; it seemed to be out in the country in the middle of fucking nowhere. Great, where no one would hear me scream.
So I’m lost in the middle of nowhere and I call this guy for directions. He offers to come meet me and guide me the rest of the way there. My brain is throwing up all sorts of red flags, screaming that if he wants me there THAT badly, I’m almost certainly dying tonight, but I came this far (and my friends are pretty amped for the party at this point, the powers of peer pressure), so I might as well face my death bravely.
We get to the house, a nice middle-class, country home, and immediately do a round of shots. Ahh, liquid courage. We hang out, we drink, and over time I’m able to let my guard down a bit. This guy….. he genuinely seems interested in what I have to say. He’s interested in the things I’m interested in. He’s interested in ME. He’s smiling at ME. And when other people come around, he acknowledges them, but keeps his focus on ME (instead of immediately treating me like some kind of leper that he shouldn’t be seen talking to in public like my ex did).
It was over an extremely dry strawberry Philly that I fell in love with him. I knew I shouldn’t, but I was half drunk and I didn’t care. He listened to me and he made me laugh. He was smart. Who cared if it was too fast? I wanted to believe there was a chance that someone could genuinely care about me.
We smoked the world’s shittiest blunt, then someone came up with the genius idea that we should get in the hot tub. Outside. In our underwear. In February. In Nebraska. If you aren’t familiar with the weather in February in Nebraska, it’s fucking cold. The water may have been 112 degrees Fahrenheit, but as soon as it touched our hair it was frozen. We had fun out there drenching all of our phones in the hot tub, but we also drenched our clothes and none of us had been smart enough to plan ahead and grab towels on our way out. As a result, when we made it back into the house we looked like we’d been mugged by Mr. Freeze and were probably on the verge of hypothermia.
As soon as we got inside, my new guy friend wrapped me in a blanket and snuggled with me on the couch. I was drunk and a human popsicle, but I felt SAFE with him. That was something I had never felt before. I wanted to feel that way all of the time, for the rest of my life. I fell asleep with his arms around me and my head in his lap.
Nothing about our relationship has ever been easy. The next day when I had sobered up we talked and I told him I wanted to be with him, but he needed to understand that being with me would never be sunshine and rainbows. I’m crazy, and I can’t always help that. I work really hard to deal with my shit, but if I’m being honest, being with me is hard work. I love hard, and I love fiercely, and all I can do is hope that the ferocity of my love can be enough to outweigh the burden of my darkness.
I know that frequently it isn’t. I don’t think that anyone means to be selfish, it’s just a natural part of the human condition that it’s easy to get carried away with. But even in my darkest moments, I am someone who is always searching for a brighter tomorrow, and I found my tomorrow when I met my husband. Fast forward to 9 years later, and I absolutely would not have any of what I have now without him. He gave me the safety and stability I needed to find myself when no one else was offering me anything even remotely close to that. He stood by me while I broke myself down, built myself back up, and repeated the process so many times I lost count. He put up with me when I was unbearable and couldn’t even put up with myself. He gave me the freedom to both get my degree and prioritize being a mom to our 4 kids. Our marriage is far from perfect and we both have made our share of mistakes, but I’m glad he was so damn persistent even though I was so damn fearful and stubborn.
And what do I have to show for his sacrifice?
I am a strong, intelligent woman who, despite chronic pain and mental illness, is raising 4 beautiful, wildly brilliant little people.
But I want more. I want to be proud of me.
So while this is what I’m doing now, I’m always vigilant, always looking for the next big thing….