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.

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Christmas Recommendations

In case you’re visiting Ireland this Christmas (or you live there and you really want to see what I’m going to say), I wanted to share a couple recommendations with you.

Lullymore Heritage Park (http://www.lullymoreheritagepark.com/) has an absolutely charming Christmas experience for you and your family. They’ve got an elf hologram, an illuminated walk through the woodland, and an absolutely amazing winter wonderland, complete with Santa (and a SNOW QUEEN!!). Yes, I’m biased, but you’ll thank me for it later.

If you’re going to be closer to Dublin, please, please, please don’t miss a stroll down Grafton Street. You will be mesmerized by the strung lights above and the cobblestone below. Gaze at the Christmas window display at Brown Thomas (and all of the pretty things you can’t afford) and then grab a whiskey at McDaids Pub  (https://mcdaidspub.com/) to warm up!

Kildare Town is home to so many sites worth visiting (The National Stud and Japanese Garden; St Bridgid’s Well), but they’ve also got the most amazing high end shopping experience (but it’s an OUTLET, so no MSRP!!). It’s like a shopping “village” in the middle of a gorgeous Irish countryside. Seriously, that’s what it is. Kildare Village(https://www.kildarevillage.com/en/home/) is clean, relaxing and makes you want to stay. Amazing. My personal favorite is All Saints, but other than designer clothing stores, you can shop for kitchen accessories to designer baby clothes. There are a couple restaurants, but lunch would be better spent at Hartes uptown. The Village also has an outdoor kids area.

And one other thing. When you’re there, enjoy the smell of turf burning in air, the selection boxes, and most importantly, the people.

The Meeting (part 3)

It was easy to follow R to Portland. He got a job with a really great company, and moved in October, 2001, not long after 9/11. He was so scared to fly that he took a train across the country. I was still in school in Ohio, but I flew out to visit a couple times a year. He was really homesick at first. I know it got easier for him as the months passed and he made some new friends. It’s hard for anyone.

I moved out a year later, after some major relationship challenges. R was really great at being the person everyone wanted to be around and making everyone laugh. He was also really great at making me feel safe when I was with him. But this isn’t a story about how my life worked out with R, because it didn’t. As much as I thought I knew what I wanted for the rest of my life, I was wrong.

I walked into a bar right on Burnside (The The Marathon Taverna) on a rainy Saturday night, met with friends and was introduced to an Irish guy.

“H, this is N, he’s engaged to M,” she said.

“N, this is H, she’s engaged to R.”

And I looked up.

And I remember seeing his face for a second.

And then I saw stars. Actual stars. Like I got smacked in the face really, really hard (I have had that feeling before, but it was when I got hit in the face with a softball on the third baseline because I wasn’t paying attention…it hurt).

And then I smiled at him (he was the most gorgeous man I had ever met).

At first he didn’t smile or anything, he just looked at me, straight faced.

So I said, “Hi. Nice to meet you.” And stuck out my hand.

He smiled (finally) and shook my hand. And then we started talking. We talked about where we grew up, went to school, where we worked. It was really nice. And everyone wanted to leave and go somewhere else, so I got my things together (engagement ring in my clutch after all) and walked to the door with him. And then, walking to the next bar, he didn’t leave my side. We kept talking, and walking. And at the next bar we sat next to each other and kept talking. It was like we had known each other for years (yes, I know that sounds cliché). And as the night went on, I didn’t even remember that we were out with other people. I mean, I did, but I didn’t really feel like I was there with anyone but him.

And that’s when I started to get worried. N was looking at me smiling, telling me about his recent safari, and I awkwardly wished I had this in a real relationship, so I excused myself. I gathered my thoughts in the ladies (like ladies do) and came out level headed and composed again (kind of).

The night flew by.

It was wonderful.  That night, N texted me and asked if I wanted to go out with some friends again the next day. Um, yes.

The Meeting (part 2)

You may be wondering how I got here- walking around Portland, Oregon, with my family and friends across the country in Pittsburgh, PA. It’s not an uncommon story.

In high school, I saw a boy walking down the hall. He had light blue eyes, eyelashes for days,  a handsome face and an athletic build. He was always smiling and laughing, except when he looked at me in the hall that day. He stopped laughing and just stared at me walk by. I was new, having come from catholic grade school, and super intimidated, so I just stared back and walked by.

A year later, in mid-fall, he asked me if I wanted to go to a party with him.

“Sure,” I said.

I decided to bring a friend. He showed up alone.

We went to the party, spent some time together, and really had fun with other people who were there. After that night, he called me to hang out a lot. So I would go, because he was so much fun, and hang out with him and his friends, sometimes both of our friends, sometimes just us. We went to the park, we went to the mall, we drove around, he attempted to take me four-wheeling (I got out of the car and refused, as he laughed), we went to lunch. We had a lot of fun just going places together and hanging out with each other. It was really fun. This went on for months, until summer rolled around and he kissed me. I didn’t know what was going to happen after that, and I was really nervous. But, everything just kind of stayed the same, but became more romantic. We were a couple. And we started doing things as a couple, not just as friends. I introduced him to my family (as my boyfriend now), I met his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. We went to family functions with each other. My siblings and cousins grew up with him there as part of the family. Our first official Valentine’s Day together, I had to work, and he filled my car full of pink balloons and left a bouquet of pink roses on the drivers seat with a note that said, “Can’t wait to see you later.” And when I did finally see him, he had a HUGE box wrapped for me. And he just stood there grinning and said, “Open it!” Inside were a million little things he knew I liked, like make-up, cd’s and clothes. He loved to spoil me. And I really enjoyed it. We spent more and more time together. I was now in college, so it was easy to forget about friends when he was around. And we got really serious.

But the following Valentine’s Day, he did something different. He had wrapped ten, individual boxes for me. He told me to open them in order, so I did.

The first box held a single rose, three pieces of red ribbon, and a page with three holes punched down the left hand side. It read, “R and H” in magazine cut out letters. I was confused. I laughed, and so did he, then he handed me another box. In the second was another rose, and another page, but this time, it said, “Our First Date” and he had written the story of our first date (which he claims is the day I showed up with a friend because I didn’t want to be alone with him). It was written from his perspective, how nervous he was, and how he would never forget it. I was shocked. It too had three  holes punched down the left hand side. Then he handed me another box, which held another rose, and the story of our first kiss. Each box held a page of our relationship together. And after the last box was opened and the final page placed behind the others, he tied them all together with the three pieces of ribbon. He had made me a book.