January, 2010. We meet online — not that we were going to admit this to anyone, or that we have any mutual friends to tell (we do not) but there it is: Truth #1.
After some writing and one phone call, he asks me out. I am surprised to hear a 53-year old man nervous over the phone; maybe because I am 46, a single mother and very little scares me. It is a predictably awkward but not horrific first date. We wander around a small, local museum, alternately checking each other out. While he stares at drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright, I study his shape. I like his height, 6’6″ and the broad expanse of his shoulders. Top to bottom, side to side. He takes up space, being that tall. Where other manfriends and lovers have been lanky and slim, silos, this potential man is a dairy barn. A sturdy, familiar, chipped-paint barn. I like his large hands, his goatee, the tousled salt and pepper hair. He is handsome and rusting a bit, not brand new. His inky leather coat says something contradictory but not insulting to his loden corduroys, and after the museum is wrung, he suggests we might take in some wine.
Seven hours and his six-to-my-two wines later, we part company with a rain handshake and parking lot hug. He smells good. “Well, that didn’t kill me,” I think on my way home to a too-big empty house.
A week later he asks what I am doing for the rest of my life, and asks that I not run away. We are on our second date, riding the train to Manhattan to see Bobby Caldwell at BB King’s. Partly flattered and something marrow-uncomfortable at how willing he is to reveal himself, his loneliness. The train ride begins at getting-to-know-you and arrives at watch-for-more-red-flags as we pull into Penn Station. I also feel sad for him–that he has no quest, no adventure, other than this. Every man needs a quest to keep him interesting; a quest cannot be another person. As sad as I suspect his story, and as much as instinct tells me ‘this is not your man’, our goodnight kiss in my driveway is one for the books and my concerns are shoved to the back of the closet. I am that lonely, myself.
Valentine’s Day. We return to the museum for Spanish music and cocktails, a date of significance I fail to recognize; to me, this is just another date. Later, we prepare dinner at my house; a shoeless, casual supper in formal attire at the Formica kitchen table. On too much free wine, he places a call to his son, asking him to be his best man, saying he has met the last love of his life, that he’d better marry me soon before I disappear. Again, I am surprised how he reveals his hand but say nothing. Later in the month, we attend an 80th birthday party for my father. He is a nice date until I overhear him plumbing my parent’s friends for possible employment. This is off-putting and I resolve to be less available.
March. He attends church with me a couple times. I had not yet met his local family members, and he rarely spoke of them despite their close proximity. It becomes a concern, how he started two different families with two different women, only one of whom he married. He has three now-adult children. I repeat this to myself until it sinks in: he started two different families with two different women…right alongside the realization of me possibly becoming number three. When he brings up “the future” it makes me balk because it is way too soon. He uses my discomfort and accuses me of wanting to break up.
April. Easter. A brief resurrection. We cook an afternoon supper for my family, moving a table into the sunspot in the backyard and have a feast for spring. It is “normal” and it feels right…except that he never heard from his family. Our invitation goes unanswered. He never hears from them, ever. [NOTE: The entire time we knew each other he did very little, if anything, with his family, which I found sad – not in a pity way but in a way that made me want to be his family. Just before the end, I suddenly understood how he wanted to be saved, adopted, absorbed into someone else’s life. I could never be all those people for him, “my favorite people all wrapped into one,” as he often called me. It eventually ruined us both.]
May. I went away with married girlfriends overnight, a well-deserved and needed break at the end of a stressful project. ONE night. He threw us under a bus and broke up with me, preaching it “the beginning of the end.” I’d never dealt with a grown-up who has severe abandonment [like mine]. This frightened me; that he could so easily end things because I was not available for one evening. He stopped answering my calls. I took the next day off from work to find him and talk us back together. (I should have walked away. But since I am familiar with being afraid of being left behind, I didn’t.)
How stupid of me. Really. I took us to lunch. He barely ate. Anytime I paid for us (he never had cash), he barely ate. When we cooked at my home with food I purchased, and drank wine from my wine rack, he ate and drank, heartily. I never said a word but kept watching and waiting for him to stop thinking I was either cheating or not caring, or that I was going to leave.
By June, things were weird and rocky. He became moody, and blamed his behavior on Parkinson’s. My intuition told me there was more going on; more he was never going to say. He asked when I might be ready to be his wife. I joke a reply, he pouts.
July. He wondered aloud if I would let him move in so he could “save some money.” I said no; I have boundaries, and I am raising a girl. His pay would not support any shared co-habitation. Mid-month: I gave $300 to an exterminator who came twice to eradicate the massive flea infestation his two dogs brought to my home. He wondered why I wasn’t inviting him over.
I broke up on a day he was shopping for $200 Red Wing boots and I was vacuuming up dead fleas. Not cool. Later that night, he asked if he can take me out to dinner. This is a first. I declined.
In August, he called, acting as if I’d been out of the country rather than out of his life. He offered me flea money – which he didn’t have; it was an empty gesture.
September. He called, wondering why I was “so busy” with my child, school, my work, friends, as he walked out on his only job and into unemployment — with no unemployment benefits. We did not argue but I asked him to stop calling.
October, I asked him to stop calling, again. He said once he was gone, back to Ohio, he would not call or hover or beg to come back. Yet, he left a stack of thrift and junkshop birthday gifts on the tractor in my garage. Every one something important or relevant to him. Not me, not us. Each gift had a relationship with his past, they had nothing to do with me. It was a guilt maneuver which I saw, immediately. A week later, in the town newspaper, he proposed marriage through a poem published across the center pages. The part of me longing for a good partner wished “yes!” could be an appropriate reply. The meaningless, used items-as-birthday-gifts went to the curb with an ad on Craig’s List, “free for the taking”. They were gone within the hour.
We never spent a Thanksgiving nor Christmas together. I ended things the following New Year’s Day.
He was not a bad person nor a particularly mean man. He was what most people would call “a loser.” 53, no ties to his children nor the rest of his family; talked a decent game about the future but had no idea how to make any plans for himself or with someone he loved. I choose not live with mediocrity; I am honest, vulnerable, I volunteer my time, and my child is the most important person in my life. Those were our biggest differences.
And yet despite all the on/off, the back and forth, I had a hard time letting him go…because I had a harder time seeing how I deserved, and was worthy of, someone better. I wanted to be so deeply in love with the man I met that January: the low-country dreamer, the romantic, who could fix anything – and did. The dog owning down-to-earth art and music-loving cook who loved me strong and close…to a point. But those are not the qualities I seek now…anyone can love dogs or paint a wall, change a tire or take you dancing in the kitchen. I know what was missing: a desire for the other person; confidence; companionship, honesty, trust, loyalty, friendship; like-mindedness; kindness; a flawed but loving, caring spirit, and actions that back those traits.
The last time he appeared, he and his wounded ego showed up in my driveway the morning I was leaving for vacation, alone. He accused me of going with someone. His constant accusations I was seeing someone behind his back made me weary and pained; there was never anyone but him. I knew it was not love. It was control and lack. Maybe it was love when we were very briefly on an even keel, but he never trusted me to stay; he fulfilled his own prophecy, all those times he said I would leave.
And, I did.