Sunday, August 28, 2011

Our Fairy Tale

If I hadn’t started smoking, I might never have met J.

My best friend H. and I started smoking when I was 15 and she was 16. No one in our families smoked, so we had to be careful not to smell like smoke too often (and to have an excuse if we did). We started hanging out at a pool hall. One day, I saw a guy walking towards us, with a friend tagging along behind. He was cute, and I remember rolling my eyes because I assumed he was coming over to talk to H. (as was often the case). Instead, he talked to me. I was 17 and J. was 20.

Over the next several months, I saw J. at the pool hall. He’d occasionally call me, but we never got together. In early 1994, J. told me he was looking for a job, and I helped him get one at the restaurant where I was working. We worked with a great group of people, and had a ton of fun. J. was a player, and usually had several girls hanging around, in addition to his on-again, off-again girlfriend. I didn’t care that he had a girlfriend, so we often snuck into the walk-in cooler to make out. One night at work, J. asked if I wanted to go to the park with him after we got off. He says now he didn’t think I would go, but I was wild back then. It was very late when we got to the park, and we ended up having sex on a park bench.

I was a senior in high school, and had zero interest in getting serious with a guy. In fact, I deliberately dated guys who had girlfriends, just so I didn’t have to deal with a full-time boyfriend. Still, there was something different about J. He had a way of getting under my skin; I hated the fact that I liked him so much. We spent a lot of time flirting and kissing, and a lot of time arguing. I even threw a heavy ceramic platter at him in the restaurant kitchen one night. I just couldn’t get him out of my system, no matter how crazy he made me.

In December 1995, I left Dallas to attend university. J. and I lost touch, but I never forgot him. I still remember exactly what I was wearing when we met. I’d think of him at random moments several times a year. And I always thought of him when I saw a pool table.

In early 2008, my life was in shambles. I’d gotten divorced, moved away from Dallas (again), and been dumped by my loser boyfriend. One night, while thinking of how happy I’d been when I was younger, I thought of J. I immediately looked him up on Myspace, and before I could talk myself out of it, I sent him a message. I honestly wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, but he replied to my message within a day, including his phone number and asking me to call him. I was so nervous before calling, I almost couldn’t do it. Over the next two months, we talked as much as possible. One day, I was talking to J. during my lunch break, and a coworker asked who I was talking to that made me glow, which of course, made me glow even more.

J. had moved to Illinois to be near his older son, who was 19. In early May, he asked if he could come visit me, and we planned for him to come down over Memorial Day weekend 2008. He would travel by bus from Illinois, through Dallas, down to Bryan. I was excited about his visit, but I was also very nervous. Even though I felt a real connection to J., I hadn’t seen him in over 13 years. Now we would have three full days together! When J. was somewhere in Iowa, he received a message from me telling him not to come. Of course, he couldn’t just get off the bus in Iowa, and he didn’t know what was going on in my head, so he thought he could change my mind. J. continued on to Dallas, where his family is. I also drove into Dallas that weekend to see my mom. I never replied to any of J.’s text messages or answered his calls.

J. went back to Illinois after the weekend in Dallas, miserable. He’d had a horrible trip, first with me bailing on him, and then spending the entire weekend arguing with family. He kept trying to reach me, and we finally talked a little. I couldn’t explain why I had canceled on him, and he was understandably hurt and upset. Somewhere in the conversation, he let slip that he was staying with a girl. When I pushed, he admitted that he’d been seeing her before he came to Texas to see me. I was furious. I called him every name in the book, and told him he hadn’t changed one bit in all those years. He said that he hadn’t made any commitment to me; hell…we weren’t even dating! He couldn’t understand why I was so angry. I told him it didn’t matter, because I’d obviously made the right choice by telling him not to come. I said I didn’t want to talk to him anymore.

Over the next seven months, J. would occasionally send me a brief message on Myspace. I would reply, but I was still hurt and didn’t want to talk to him. I’d gotten back together with the loser boyfriend, but things were really, really bad. He and I finally broke up for good in January 2009, and he planned to move out of our apartment while I was in Dallas over a long weekend. By chance, J. sent me a text message on that Friday, and asked when I was planning to be in Dallas again. (He had moved back a few months earlier.) I told him I was coming on Saturday afternoon, and he asked if he could see me. We made plans for Sunday.

I was very nervous that day. The date with J. was a big deal, and I was scared to death. My relationship track record was awful, and my ex was moving out of my apartment that day! The timing couldn’t have been any worse. We went to a local area with lots of bars and restaurants. We sat and talked at a couple of different places, but after a couple of hours, I started to panic again. I told J. I needed to get back to my mom and grandma. I know now that he was very disappointed, and went home that night thinking I didn’t like him at all. We sent texts back and forth all evening, and J. asked if he could take me to breakfast before I left town on Monday morning. I agreed, and we had a great breakfast. When I was leaving, he took my hand and said that he knew I had a lot on my plate, and that he didn’t want to complicate my life, but that he liked me and wanted to see what might happen. We shared a very brief kiss, and I was gone.

That was January 19, 2009. It was all downhill from there.

J. and I talked on the phone for hours every day during the next week. We were brutally honest with each other about all the baggage we were bringing into the relationship. We both knew that this wasn’t the beginning of an everyday relationship, and we put everything on the table. I drove to Dallas again on Saturday, January 25, 2009, and we said “I love you” that night.

J. proposed to me on February 14, 2009 in the park from all those years ago. The bench was gone, but we still managed to find our spot. It was so romantic – I couldn’t have imagined a better proposal!

After much back-and-forth, we decided that J. would move to Bryan. I had a stable job, and his job was about to end, so (we thought) it made sense. J. moved to Bryan on April 5, 2009. We were married on August 28, 2009.

Our first year together was very, very hard. It was extremely difficult for J. to find a job, and the loser boyfriend had ensured I was behind on all my bills. We had no money. J. was struggling with a chronic illness. Life was overwhelming, but our relationship was strong. We never argued, even during the most stressful times. In April 2010, with the help of our families, we moved home to Dallas, and our life improved incredibly fast.

We now live in the area where we had our first date. Our family has grown to include three cats. J. is a full-time student and spends all his spare time tending to our home and family. I have the easy job of going to work every day – I wish we could stay like this forever! In many ways, I’m glad that our first year was so hard. It was hell at the time, but we got through it together. If a brand-new relationship with as much baggage as ours had can survive that, then we have a real shot at “til death do us part.”

I know now that when J. was on the bus in 2008, he never intended to return to Illinois. The girl he’d been seeing loved him, but he didn’t feel the same. I know that I panicked and told him not to visit me because I saw the same thing he did: once we were together, we would never be apart again. After my divorce and relationship with the loser, I didn’t ever want to love again. I thought my heart would never heal; if it did, I sure as hell wasn’t giving it away again.

But here’s the thing, and I know it sounds so corny, but J. and I both believe it: we were meant to be together. I sometimes wish we’d gotten together when we first met. We could be celebrating our 15th anniversary by now! But if we’d been together then, we would not be together now. We weren’t ready in 1994. And we weren’t ready in 2008. What we have now is so good; it was absolutely worth waiting for.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking this is a strange fairy tale. Every girl grows up watching romantic comedies and Disney princess movies, but it doesn’t take us long to figure out that real life isn’t that way. I was jaded about love before I graduated high school. Then, when I was 32, I learned that fairy tales *do* happen. They don’t involve glass slippers or poisoned apples or mermaids with legs, but J. is my Prince Charming. We tell each other, “You're not perfect, but you’re perfect for me.” In this relationship, even when things were at their worst, I never gave a thought to leaving, not for a second. Neither did J.

It’s still difficult for me to believe that this much happiness is possible. Sometimes I worry that it will all go away. But I don’t let myself think that way for long. Will we live happily ever after? I don’t know…but we are happy now, and that’s plenty.

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