The Date

Did you ever walk down the street with your boyfriend and think, “I’ve got this figured out! I get it!”

I did! I had that feeling! N was back after a couple months away, and it was like we just picked up where we left off. This particular afternoon, I watched him pack his backpack with strawberries, whipped cream, brie, a baguette, a bottle of champagne and two champagne flutes. We held hands walking up the scenic, winding streets to Washington Park for Symphony in the park (I can’t make this shit up- it really happened). He spread out a light blue blanket on the ground in between two pink rose bushes and smiled as he sprawled across the grass. I stood there for a minute wondering if this was real life. The musicians started playing Mozart, and we ate our strawberries and drank our champagne, laughed as we shared stories about our lives. It was absolutely perfect. I truly thought to myself, “Wow, my life could not get any better than this moment.”

Around what I can only assume was the middle of the symphony’s set, we started to notice that a senior care home had brought some of their residents to enjoy the day as well. They had brought chairs and were setting them up wherever they could fit in the rose garden. Many of them looked tired from the trip, but eager to get settled and relax. Before we knew it, N and I were surrounded by wheelchairs. Not that it mattered. We had been there for well over an hour already, it was time to share the space. We pulled the blanked in and moved closer to each other so that more people could fit. A lot of these men and women thought N was military because he was sporting a buzz cut and was coming off of running season. He was telling them all that no, he was not in the military, he was here from Ireland. Loneliness is probably one of the worst things a person can experience, and some were felt so lonely. So we talked to all of them, listening to where they came from and finally wishing them well, as it was time to go. But just as N leaned in to kiss me over the last of the champagne, Fred, one of our new friends, leaned in to talk to us and tipped over sideways in his wheelchair, landing on top of me. He apologized profusely in my ear while he was trying to get up, pushing his hands into my back and through my hair, and though pinned to the ground, I appreciated the kindness. N helped him off of me and back into his chair. The aids checked to make sure he was okay, and I tried to play it as cool as a girl who just got unexpectedly crushed during one of the most romantic moments of her life.

N knelt down in front of me and said, “How’s your head?”

UGH!!!

All I could mutter was, “Fine.” I tried to smile but I wasn’t really fine, my head was killing me. I pushed myself up on to my knees, then made myself stand up. We had become the entertainment and much of the audience was now looking at us. N quietly packed up what remained of our picnic, I offered Fred the rest of our strawberries and then we bid him adieu. That was a long, awkward walk home.

The next day N took me for a walk downtown. He pulled me into a jewelry store and, nodding at the woman behind the counter, turned to me asked, “If you could choose any ring, which one would it be?”

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The Balloon

“Time to get up,” N whispered in her ear.

She didn’t move. He tried again.

“Babe, Hil, time to wake up.”

He kissed her cheek and wrapped his arm around her.

“What time is it?” she managed from the pillow.

“It’s 5 A.M. Taxi will be here in a half hour.”

She didn’t move.

“Come on.” He rubbed her back, making her want to stay there even more.

“I can’t. Just tell me what it is we’re doing and where we’re going and I’ll get up.”

Then it hit her- he had planned something!! He had actually made plans without her knowledge and wanted to surprise her. She was smiling now. But it was 5 A.M.

“I’m serious, you need to get up. If we miss this cab we could miss it all together.”

She moaned and rolled out of bed completely naked. She managed to make it to the bathroom and flinched as she adjusted to the bright, fluorescent lights. Maybe one drink too many last night. Her curly hair was everywhere. How could she possibly be ready in 30 minutes? She quickly showered, to get the bar smell off of her, and brushed on some mascara. She didn’t have time to wash her hair, so she just swooped half of it back with a clip. Not too bad. Not great, but not too bad either. Now clothes. It was early morning, so it was cool outside. N was already dressed and ready. He sat in a chair looking out the window at the city below. He looked so handsome. She felt an overwhelming urge to drag him back to bed. She walked over and sat on his lap and kissed him. A deep, open mouth kiss that would have normally lead to more. He moaned and grabbed both of her arms and stood her up. He was insistent on making this taxi. Who in their right mind plans something for 5:30 in the morning?

“Fine.”

She finally threw on her jeans and a white tee-shirt, grabbed a sweater as the clock turned to 5:30. They held hands down the hall, and he kissed her on the elevator. The taxi was waiting outside the apartment building. This is when H actually started to get excited. They drove through the city, got on the 405, and before they knew it, they were in Aurora, Oregon. As they pulled into a field, H read the words Portland Rose Hot Air Balloon on the side of a box truck.

“N, you wouldn’t actually book a hot air balloon ride, would you? After I told you I’m deathly afraid of heights? You wouldn’t do that, right?”

“Surprise.” He was very excited and it showed all over his smiling face.

They paid for the cab, walked out into the field and were instructed to take a piece of colored fabric from the truck, and walk until it was stretched across what looked like an acre of land. H saw a man pull out a wicker basket from the back of the truck. Other couples were doing what they were told, helping to put this monstrosity together, but she stood shaking.

Her chest was tight, her legs were numb. She could feel herself getting lightheaded. She started having flashbacks to those red-eye flights from Portland to Dallas, Dallas to Pittsburgh; Portland to San Francisco, San Francisco to Dallas, Dallas to Pittsburgh; Portland to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis; Portland to Denver; all alone and absolutely terrified as the plane shook over the Rocky Mountain Range. She looked at N. He was beaming. She cringed. She was sick to her stomach. The entire field started to spin. She started to think about possibly placing one foot in the weaved basket, and then the other. If she could just visualize herself there, getting off the ground with N by her side, and landing safely, maybe she would be okay. But there was the whole, what’s going to happen once the balloon is off the ground? She started to feel the sick rising in her stomach. Her palms were sweaty. Her forehead was starting to pound. The field was spinning faster and faster. She looked at N.

“N, I’m not doing this. I’m telling you, I’m not going up in that thing. I can see through the freaking basket. I’m not going.”

“Relax, it’s supposed to look like that. It’s fine. You’re going.” He smiled. But the look on her face made him think she might not go.

In a matter of minutes, everything was together- the fabric, the nuts and bolts, the basket- and the balloon was standing tall, heat being thrust into it, ready for passengers.

“Okay everyone, it’s time to load up! You’re about to become members of a very special club!” Our balloon crew man, Derek, was eager to get in the air.

“Okay, well, I’m not going,” H said. Everyone just stared at her from inside the balloon. They had all crawled over the side and into the basket. Derek looked at her incredulously and said, “I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and I’ve never had anyone not go! Hop in, you’ll love it!”

“No.”

All eyes on her, even N.

“No, I’m not going in that thing.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the middle of that grass.

“Well, what do you want to do?” Asked Derrick, “You can’t stay here.”

“She can come with me! If she doesn’t want to go, she can come with me,” a woman driving a ford pick-up yelled from the truck window behind her. “I follow the balloon and pick them up when they land. If you want, you can ride with me.” The woman was talking directly to H, and she was very grateful.

H looked N. He was furious. But that didn’t stop her from running to the truck, opening the passenger side door, and climbing in.

“Wait, you’re going?” N asked incredulously.

He ran after her in the silver pick-up.

“Yeah, I’m not going up in that thing.” She felt better just saying it! Whew. Now she felt guilt. “You go, you’ll love it. You love flying. I’ll see you back on the ground.”

His face fell even further as he realized she wasn’t going to be persuaded. Then he got mad. He had spent an obscene amount of money on what he thought was a once in a lifetime surprise for the woman he loved, and it had backfired. Maybe she really did hate flying. I guess this was one of the downfalls of only knowing each other for two months.

Derek stood in the middle of the two of them, watching this girl drive away with Sarah, and her poor guy climb into the basket of Derek’s favorite balloon, alone. I’ll let him pull the cord, he thought to himself.

H had a great time talking with Nancy, the woman who drove the truck. She thought it was great that H didn’t go up in the balloon, and H was happy to see some of the Oregon landscape outside the city. They went to a couple farms and enjoyed a coffee. And the entire time, she could look up and see N in the clouds above.

N was in the sky by himself, pulling the cord that pushes heat into the enormous balloon above. He was angry with himself for thinking this would be a more romantic morning, but he couldn’t deny the spectacular views. He would certainly never forget the day.

An hour later they were back on the ground. Once the trucks had been loaded up with everything (including the balloon), they headed to Derek’s farm. There waiting for them was a champagne brunch. Derek, who had done this at least 100 times before, made a toast to the new members of the balloon club, and to the one person who defied 15 years of reason. H raised her glass and smiled. She had shown N that she wasn’t perfect, and allowed herself forgiveness for her fault. If this relationship was going to last, they needed to truly know each other. Flying was H’s deal breaker. At the very least, today had shown N the truth about herself. They were both better for it.

The Meeting (Part 6)

You deserve to be happy.

You deserve to be happy.

You don’t have to stay in a relationship that you know will fail in the end.

You don’t need anyone in your life to be happy.

These are things that I needed reminded of. N was in town, having returned from a trip with his brother to Vegas, and I was in my apartment, alone, wondering what I should do. Of course I was going to see him. He made the trip back to Portland and we had a lot to talk about. R wasn’t home wondering where I would be anyway. He was out. He didn’t care. He hadn’t mentioned a word about what happened in Austin. And I didn’t care.

A couple of my work friends were meeting at bar 15 later, and I was supposed to join them. I’m not sure why I keep saying “work” friends because they are the only friends I’ve got. And I chose to have these people in my life, they weren’t forced on me. Maybe that’s why I never feel alone. I’m confident in the choices I’ve made here, friend and career wise.

I glanced at the clock. It was after 9 P.M. Shit. He would be in his hotel by now. I need to just get up and go meet him. It was only ten blocks away. I was so nervous my hands were shaking as I grabbed my yellow flowered clutch and headed to the door- that still hadn’t been fixed yet.

I stepped onto the sidewalk from my front door and the cool breeze and mist of rain made my hair sticky, but felt amazing on my skin. May in Portland. I took my time walking the ten blocks and was there in no time. I didn’t have anything planned to say. My head was rocked that I had actually started thinking he flew in all this way just so he didn’t have to end things on the phone. I walked through the entrance to The Governor Hotel on SW 11th around 9:20. I half ran through the lobby, hit the button for the 5th floor with my elbow, and followed the signs to room 501. Just around the corner. I knocked on the door.

Holy shit this place was nice.

He answered the door beaming. I hear Damien Rice playing from somewhere.

“Hi!” he said.

Holy shit this guy looks and smells amazing. My knees shook.

“Hi.” I was struggling to make words into sentences.

He held the door open for me, and I rolled my eyes at myself and walked in. It was a corner suite, with windows almost completely around, and everything was white or navy blue (including the carpet). There was a sitting room with a TV and white double doors with brass knobs that lead to a bedroom. The view of the city was amazing, and the sight made me feel a little less queasy.

“Wow, you got a good room.” Good job, you made some sense. Keep it going.

“I booked last minute, they only had a couple rooms left because of the parade and everything this weekend.”

Shit. Totally forgot about the Rose Festival. MAX is going to be a nightmare this week.

“Oh, yeah.” WHAT?! Stupid. Stupid. Think of something else to say!! Quickly…Come on now!

“So, how was your flight?” YES. Wait.

He laughed.

“Good. It was fine.”

He sat in the white chair across the room and was just looking at me- smiling. I smiled back- a closed lip, awkward smile. Should I take my shoes off?? I walked to the chair opposite him and sat down. Decided against taking my shoes off.

“Oh. Good.” UGH. Why do I even open my mouth?

“So. Are you happy I came back? Or is this just too awkward?” He wasn’t the slightest bit nervous.

“Of course I’m glad you came back.” Yes, Hilary, keep it going…

“I just don’t know what to say right now.” This was true, but he was looking at me like he expected me to go on…so I did.

“No one has ever done anything like this for me- flown back from a family trip after I tried to end whatever it is we have going on here over the phone. And, and-” I was having trouble just saying what I wanted to say.

“I just feel like there’s still so much to clear up, and sort out, before we can actually say we can keep trying to make this into something. Not to mention, I’ve planned an entire wedding- just two weeks ago- and I have no idea what I’m going to do about that scenario. I wish everything was easier, but it’s just that we’ve got two other people to think about as well. You are engaged, and I know that I don’t think I am anymore, but he’s still in the picture too.” That all came out really quickly.

He paused and looked at me with a hard stare, then took a deep breath and seemed to relax even more before talking.

“I know, it’s not the best situation. I knew the minute I saw you that I wanted to be with you for the rest of my life. This is what I want. I’ll do whatever it takes to make it work. I want you to come to Ireland, I’ve told you that. And I know that your family may find it hard at first, but they’ll understand. They don’t want you to marry someone out of convenience.”

This man clearly doesn’t know my parents. But he was so sincere. And he was right.

I still didn’t say anything, so he continued.

“Look, let’s just say we want to make it work, and just go with it. Let’s just sit back, and see what happens. If we commit to being together, then everything else will just fall into place.”

He grinned and I laughed.

“You really aren’t worried about anything, are you?” I asked.

“Just you.”

I laughed again. His smile faded, and he looked at me with a straight face.

“I mean it. I’m just worried about you. From here on.”

My smile faded.

Uh-oh.

He got up from his chair, walked over to me, knelt down, took my face in his hands and kissed me.

I’m not quite sure how I left that hotel room later that night, but I did. And I was elated. I was so happy. N was the person who made me happy. And I made him happy.

I walked the ten blocks back to my apartment in the rain, and my hair had pretty much taken the brunt of that decision. I jumped in the shower and tried to think about where things go from here. I couldn’t have been in more than five minutes when R walked in the bathroom, flushed the toilet and turned off the light.

“I hope that burns!” he yelled as he slammed the bathroom door shut so hard it made me jump.

I exhaled, closed my eyes and let the water run over my face.

Fan-fucking-tastic.

The Meeting (FIVE)

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N went into the bathroom to answer the phone call. I heard his muffled voice through the door, but it ended pretty quickly. It reminded me that I wasn’t just making decisions that changed my life, I was choosing to change others lives as well.

I hadn’t been really, heart stopping, sing in the shower happy in a long time.  I liked holding hands and feeling electricity again. N brought me to a local vineyard one afternoon, where we sat outside drinking our wine flight, toured the cellar and fought off insects. It was so fun because there was zero expectation. He wore a white, collared France rugby top. He was funny, and calm, sitting with his legs crossed and looking so relaxed. I wanted to take him away from what he was used to, from the person he was used to seeing every day, and keep him all to myself.

A little timeline check: N (and a month or so later, M) moved to Portland in January, when Intel asked him to train on a new system. He proposed to M while hiking in April (with TIFFANY- don’t ask me about it, I’ll get really angry and then weep for hours), and we met May 13. At this point in our relationship, it was May 21, eight days after we had met.

I’m a bitch. A perfectly rational, intelligent Irish woman gets engaged to her responsible, intelligent boyfriend of two years in Oregon, USA, and when she leaves, a perfectly normal, already engaged American woman decides that life just needs to be different and tries to take the man from her. It is in really poor taste, and I’m still embarrassed about it. M didn’t deserve anything like this. And yet, I didn’t stop it.

N was only in town for a few more days at this point. His brother and a few friends were flying over to Portland see him, and they had decided to all drive from Portland, through California and then to Vegas. Irish people go hard when they vacay. From there they were all flying back to Ireland together. The day we met I knew our time together had an end date. He was scheduled to leave his apartment on the 23rd, and boxes had already been packed and ready for weeks. The shipping company was coming any day now. Obviously I was still working, and sharing an apartment with R. Judge away. Time was running out for us.

It’s hard to try and lead a double life. I wanted to spend every second with N, but I was too scared to start the conversation with R. And I didn’t want to know what he was going to do to me. I’m not saying that he was a bad person, he was just unpredictable. And he wasn’t the biggest guy in the world, but he was tough.  Or scared. Ever. That kind of unpredictability is intimidating. So I just left everything as it was and waited for him to figure it out. I know, total bitch.

I told N that I really hoped we could keep talking when he returned to Ireland, and he surprised me.

“I thought that’s what we were doing? I thought we were planning on meeting again soon and seeing this through? Trying it out?” And I smiled and just couldn’t believe that this was happening. I really, truly loved him. In all honesty, I loved him the second I met him. The instant that our eyes met, I was done. In a normal situation, I would have ended things with my fiancé, requested that N end things with his fiancé, and then met up and allowed our relationship to develop. But again, there was always that ticking clock in the background, reminding me that he was leaving soon.

And of course the day came for him to go, and he went.

I called him, like he told me to do whenever I felt like I was losing my mind and doubting everything that happened. He didn’t pick up. So I called again later, and he didn’t pick up. And then I realized what was happening. He didn’t want this to continue. He just wanted to move on, enjoy the rest of his time in the US with his brother and friends, and then fly back home and act like it never happened. I was devastated.

The following day, he returned my call.

“Hi!”

Blah. He sounded so happy.

“Hi. Hey, I just need to end this here and now. I can’t do this. I’m not like this. I don’t really think this can last, and I know you feel the same way. We need to just end it here.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“You know that it wasn’t going to work. You live in Ireland and I live here. You’re engaged. I have a lot of things to sort out here. It’s just bad timing. There’s just no way it could have ever worked. We’ve been wasting each others time.”

“Do you mean this? Really?”

“Yes.” No.

“I just booked a plane ticket back to Portland. I miss you. I can’t take it. I just want to see you.”

Whoops.

I was sincerely shocked and completely, for a lack of a better word, gobsmacked.

“But, but you didn’t answer my phone calls for two days. And your brother and friends are with you, and you’re in LasVegas…are you staying longer?”

“I’m at the airport, my brother just dropped me off. I just booked a flight back and called to let you know.”

I told you, I’m the biggest bitch ever.

The Meeting (part 4)

It’s so hard to put into words what’s happening inside your head at a turning point in life. And I know this is not going to make me look great, but at the time, the day after I met him, I wanted N to call me. I wanted him to ask me to meet for lunch, and dinner and drinks, and dancing…I really just wanted to relive the night we met over and over again. But R was coming home in two days. We had talked this morning about needing to have a conversation about where we go from here and if there was a future for us. But I already knew the answer. I wasn’t willing to compromise my sanity, peace of mind and happiness for what we had. I couldn’t take the lies anymore, I couldn’t take him always putting himself first, and I really couldn’t take the lifestyle. R never really wanted to settle down and get married, that was all me. I realize that, on some level, he must have felt like it could work out. But it wasn’t real enough. And it was hitting me like a ton of bricks as I leaned over the sink and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror that morning. I was shaking. My entire identity was tied to this relationship. Honestly, if I wasn’t R’s girlfriend, who was I? Here in Portland it would be easier for me to adjust to the break up. But at home, it was going to be a gossip fest and division of friends. I couldn’t go back there.

The phone rang. It was N. He wanted to know if I wanted to go “out on a speed boat” with him and a few friends. Of course I wanted to hang out but a freaking speed boat? On the river?? I wanted to think about it and then again I just immediately wanted to say yes, but they were leaving in a hour and I was warned not to be late. So I did what any excited, high maintenance girl would do, and instead of getting ready, I ran (really) up the street to 23rd for a new outfit.

I made it home just in time to put on mascara and lipstick. Phew. They didn’t leave without me. That would have been so embarrassing.

We arrived at OMSI, bought tickets for the boat, and headed to the Willamette River. And I was pleasantly surprised! It was really cool! The boat was a big kind of jet boat, with rows of seats throughout the entire thing. And the important thing to note here is that there were small kids on board as well, so I couldn’t cry or freak out even if I did get scared. Poor things had life jackets on that were clearly for adults. I couldn’t help but give them the “sorry the adults did that to you, I know you must be umcomforable” closed mouth smile. They looked pissed.

But I had never taken a tour of the city on the water, and it was an absolutely beautiful spring day in May! I say Portland is a lot like Pittsburgh all the time, but Oregon is not anything like PA. Oregon has houseboats, and green landscapes all winter long, and salmon runs, and naked bicycle rides, and desert, and oceansides. And from most places, the residents have mountains and volcanoes in plain sight. I love this state, and especially this city. And that day, I got to see more, from a different perspective. I really appreciated it, and I was so happy that N was there with me. He just had a calm about him. Every time I made eye contact with him he was smiling. And just happy. Ah!! What was I doing?

After the river tour, we headed back to the cars. I sat with N for a few minutes, just talking…and laughing.

“Do you want to come for lunch? We’re gonna head to Kells. You’ve got to go.”

He looked dreamy at that moment.

I snapped myself out of it and told him I had to go home and take the dog out (who I haven’t mentioned before- huge, white American Bulldog and the sweetest thing to ever have separation anxiety). And it’s a good thing I did, because that meant I got to redo my hair and change clothes for the night!! You didn’t think I could stay in light blue plaid capri’s all day, right? Nope, frilly white mini skirt will do quite nicely.

I caught the MAX down to the Yamhill bar (if you know this bar and are judging me, then I know you never really lived in Portland because you’re missing out). I hopped off the train and looked through the bars front glass window and there he was…still smiling as we made eye contact. I walked in and realized that our small party of five from earlier had grown to about 20 more Irish guys (and some strippers). It was a little overwhelming when I walked in, having everyone say hi and introduce themselves.

I sat down next to N.

“So, you must work out.”

Everyone looked at him and then each other quietly, before exploding in laughter. I blushed.

After that it’s just a blur of G&T’s, pints, pool and dancing. The Irish guys loved the east side, but I wasn’t all that familiar with the bars on that side of town. I could walk to all my downtown favorites (I’m pretty sure we hit them all), and again, he stayed by my side the entire night. And we ended at Darcelles. We danced (honestly, he actually dances- like hold my hand and spin me ACTUALLY dances).  I was smitten. And he knew it.

And before I knew it, it was 2 AM.

On our way out, he held my hand. The night air felt so good. While everyone was hailing taxis, he just looked at me.

“Do you want to come to my place? We can watch the Big Lebowski and have a couple drinks. Promise I’ll get you home before sunrise. ”

If he hadn’t smiled when he said it and looked me straight in they eye, I probably wouldn’t have gone.

But I did. I hopped in the cab next to him, and he grabbed my hand again.

The next morning I woke up in his apartment, but I didn’t sneak out like the last time. I laid there wondering what the fuck I was doing.

And just when I was about to ask myself why I was still there, his phone rang. And I was reminded that he was engaged too. It was M.

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.

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.