The Meeting (part 1)

When N and I met, I was in a serious relationship. Very serious. I was engaged. And guess what? N was too. It wasn’t planned, but that’s how it happened.

I got engaged (the first time) Christmas Eve, 2003. R got down on one knee, after church, in my family’s kitchen in Pittsburgh while we were home for Christmas. I had never been more excited. I think I cried for an hour. So, fast forward to May, 2004, and I flew home to Pittsburgh from Portland to start wedding planning. Every girls dream, right?! While I was home I bought my wedding dress, chose the venue,  planned the bridal shower and asked all my bridesmaids. The date was set for almost one year later.

But after all of the planning, I wasn’t ready to go back to Portland. R was going to be out of town for a week when I got back, and I really wanted to spend more time with my friends and family back home. So I called the boyfriend, but he didn’t think it was a good idea. He wanted me to come home. Fine. I leave. I arrive back at our apartment early evening to find it an absolute mess. Clearly he had had a party. Clearly the authorities had shown up. Clearly I was pissed. So when I call him to ask him about what happened, he tells me he’s done. He wants me out of the apartment by the time he gets back or he’s going to hurt himself. Fine. Done.

You may be thinking something like, “Wow! I can’t believe that! He ended their engagement over the phone, just like that?!” But, he did this before. He had been drinking and he really did say things like this all the time, and then the next day apologize and send flowers, etc. And it was getting really old. This was the first time he had done anything like this since we were engaged, and I was really upset but ready to follow-through this time. I mean, I had just planned our wedding! And my mom was going to absolutely flip on me. But, this was what I had chosen. I knew that he could be like this, act like I didn’t matter, and say things that were almost unforgiveable and I still stayed. This time was different.

After I cried for another hour or so, I looked at myself in the mirror and said this was the last time I would cry over this relationship. The last time. And I meant it. And then I asked my grandmother to send me a sign that this was how my life was supposed to be. I was alone in Portland, OR. I had just left the most important people in my life and went back to an empty apartment and a relationship that had reached its ending. I needed to talk to someone! And I believe she was listening.

After I pulled myself together, got a shower, put my clothes away, I called my girlfriend to come over and help me clean up the apartment (and lets be honest- my life). She made me feel a little better and told me that I couldn’t sit in the apartment all night, I had to go out with her and her boyfriend and their good friend, E. I politely declined, finished cleaning, said goodbye, and laid down on the couch to try and forget the day. And I started thinking about how I was going to tell my parents that I wasn’t getting married anymore.

And if they’d get their money back from all the down payments.

And where I was going to live. What part of Portland should I look in?

Who was going to help me move?

What did I get to take?

What were my friends at home going to say?

Do I just leave the ring?

What’s he going to say when he comes home and I’m not here?

OMG I had to get out.

I jumped up, called  J, did my hair and make-up and walked down to meet her and her friends.

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The Unexpected

My cell phone rang on a Tuesday evening.

“Hi!” I said to my best friend, T.

“Hi. Are you home?”

“Yep. Just got the boys in bed, what’s up?” I asked.

“I don’t know how to say this.

A friend called me and told me something, but I don’t know if it’s true or what, but I didn’t want you to find out online or something.”

“What are you talking about? What?” I asked.

“R died. He died earlier today or yesterday, I’m not sure. I don’t know the details, but I wanted to let you know.”

I couldn’t move.

I think I winced. I think I sat down on my green microsuade couch. N sat down next to me and asked what happened. And then I said the words,

“R died.”

“Are you okay?” T asked on the phone.

“Yeah. Yes. I’m fine. I can’t believe it, but I’m fine. I promise, I’m fine.”

“Okay, well, I’m here to talk if you need me. You know that, I’m always here.”

“I know. Thank you. And thank you for calling me.” I said. “I’ll call you back tomorrow.”

She hung up. And I sat there. N apologized and kept packing for his work trip with one eye on me. I held back because I didn’t want him to think that I was too upset. Even though I wasn’t really upset at that moment.

 I immediately called my cousins. After talking to three or four, I called my mom. I don’t know if you’ve ever experience dialing phone numbers and going through conversations and movements like a robot, but that’s what I did. It’s like some kind of autopilot took over my body and just did all of these things for me while I stayed safe in my head and didn’t have to think about anything. I didn’t cry. I don’t think I could cry at that moment. I just knew I had to call people and let them know. So after I did that, I went to bed.

And I dreamt that he sat on the side of my bed, and grabbed my hand and we were out with all of our friends, like it used to be. He never let go of my hand. We must have talked to hundreds of people, but I held his hand as he talked to everyone and just stared at him. He was smiling and joking and acting just like he used to. And then we were back in my room. He was sitting on my bed again, and he pointed to a small door across the room and said, “Please, give my mom that ring.”

My eyes shot open, I walked over to the door, opened it and saw my old jewelry box in a box on the floor. I opened it and wouldn’t you know there was a ring in there that he had given me? And that’s when I started crying. I cried and wailed and sobbed the entire way to work. I called T on my way, leaving her a message that was utterly incoherent. I couldn’t think or breathe. I couldn’t believe that this was happening. 

And this is when life gets so complicated that you can’t really put it into words. I love my husband. I can’t say it any other way. This man that I married is the man who made me a woman and a mother and who supports me and who I could not live without. And here I am, in the car, unable to control the heartache of an ex passing.

Life.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the book. I couldn’t stop thinking about his smile. How he taught himself to play the guitar by listening to Sublime and Stevie Ray Vaughn CD’s. How he made friends with everyone if he wanted to, and how he made enemies if he wanted to. He loved my writing. And he laughed at stories I would write when I was 17 and we were bored on summer nights. He was so wreckless. Everyone knew not to let him drive their new car, he would definitely, unintentionally, do something to damage it. I thought about how we drove across the country together. Our first apartment. When he asked me to marry him in my parents kitchen. All those times he made me laugh until I cried. How he made me feel safe when we were out. And how sad I was that I never got to talk to him about any of these things. When we broke up, it was so awful. It was like losing a best friend. When I left our apartment for the last time, I thought for sure I would see him again, be able to talk to him again. It was just too painful at the time. I didn’t want there to be any doubt that we were through. So I changed my number a few days after I left. And I never told him where I moved. I just cut him out of my life. That was it. And here is life, creeping up on me in a way I never thought.

The weird thing is I did see R alive before he died, four days before. I took my son for a walk one evening, to get him out of the house because his brother had hand foot and mouth (you don’t want to know if you don’t know and if you do know, bleh). I had on black yoga pants and a pink jacket with my hair pulled up. And we walked down our street, toward the park. And as we got closer to a group of people talking on the sidewalk, I heard his voice. And then I saw his face under the hood of his black sweatshirt. I didn’t know what to do, it had been six years since I had even spoken a word to him. I wasn’t up for it. I reached out to get my son and barely caught the tip of his hood to pull him back to me. He was mad. I’m pretty sure his screams made the group look over, but I can’t be sure. My heart was beating out of my chest and I was mad, scared and faint all at the same time. I couldn’t do it. Too much history. Too much to say, or maybe, nothing left to say. I was happy. And seeing him brought back memories and feelings that I had forgotten.

The following Tuesday, I got a phone call.

I can’t help but think that was my chance to talk to him about life and everything that happened, and maybe put some closure on things. But I’ll never get that. And now I have to live with the fact that I didn’t even say hello. Or goodbye.