Letting Down the Walls

This past weekend, Mr. E, the kids and I took a trip up to Beverly, Mass. where Mr. E’s best friend D and his family live. Their 3-story house should probably be deemed a mansion, but it was built in the late 1800s, paint on ceilings and walls were peeling in several rooms, and only one of the bathrooms was really accessible for showers and baths. Yet the home is a 15-minute walk from the ocean and has a magical charm to it.

We brought with us the 6-person tent Mr. E bought right before the kids came that we’ve “camped” out in several nights before, which gives us a cozy family feel. Mr. E can sleep with all his loved ones in touching distance, and when the kids fall asleep, we can cozy up and talk late into the night. One particular night, after we watched D’s daughter in a play recital, I was feeling especially close and lovey-dovey with Mr. E. Part of it might have been because Mr. E had the video camera to record her and I had my super-zoom camera to capture moments, and afterward Mr. E said something about imagining what it might be like seeing our own child in a play or special event like this. It weirded me out a little just because I had been thinking the same thing.

Anyway, that night after we’d enjoyed some intimate moments, I had my guard down for the first time in a really long time. “Something has changed,” Mr. E said. “You haven’t been able to keep your hands off me all day, and every time you look at me, you’re smiling. You just want to be by my side. You really love me, don’t you?”

“Hmm…maybe,” I teased.

“What has changed?” he wondered, hugging me tightly. I told him that I was finally letting my walls down. For so long, I’d been thinking I didn’t deserve to have this kind of happiness with commitment. All the men I’d been in relationships with over the last several years didn’t offer me stability with passion. It was always one or the other. Or if the men offered me both, I just didn’t feel the same connection back. That’s why it scared and hurt me so much when I felt it deep in my bones so early on that I had finally found it with Mr. E, but he eventually had to return to FDG to see if there was more to their story or not. I became scared I was wrong. I wondered if V-Man was the right one for me after all. He’d been patiently waiting all this time, hadn’t he?

Yet somehow Mr. E and I wound up back together. Both hurt and wary, but willing to give this another try. Each passing struggle made us stronger. When the kids came the last day of July, something powerful and beautiful began to flicker and now, two and half weeks later, we’re at full flame. I told him my fears of ever becoming a mother after I became so sick. V-Man was wary of having kids any time “soon”, and I began to wonder if having kids was that crucial to me any.

Yet with Mr. E’s kids, I found myself in this pseudo-stepmother role. I fell in love, and they took to me immediately. Whether we were monkeying around on the playground or riding all the rides together as a group at the indoor water park the second weekend they were here, being with them has always felt natural. I read them bedtime stories in a British accent and love how they lose themselves in the story and watch me transfixed. His almost 11-year-old son told me I was the only woman who wasn’t a member of his family that he loves. Melt. The 9-year-old daughter loves to snuggle, to touch my hair, to compliment me and want to use my hair products, to have toenails the same color as mine, etc.

I find myself stepping into discipline them when they get out of hand, in a manner that Mr. E can appreciate. “You are a wonderful mama,” he likes to say.

Now what do you think about becoming a mother?” he asked me that night in the tent.

“I know it’s what I still want,” I admitted. “And I can do it.”

“You don’t have to give up any of the things you want anymore,” he told me, stroking my hair. “You don’t have to run anymore and sabotage your happiness. You don’t have to be scared. You can have all the things you want and have ever dreamed for your life. Sure, dreams change their shape over time–when things happen and with whom they will happen change. But you don’t have to sacrifice the things that mean the most to your happiness.”

The thing is, I actually am starting to believe him. Believe in us. Someone does love me that much. Who when I try to run, writes me love songs and brings flowers. Who when I try to hide when I am sick, brings food, a movie, the kids and himself to keep me company. He can clearly see and dearly wants a future with me, and the kids are already seeing summer after summer with me here too. It scares us both a little, but in that excited “could-this-really-be-it?” way. Time will tell, of course. But I like the direction it’s taking now.

The rest of the weekend was magical. Every spare moment alone we could find together, we took full advantage of. We held hands wading in the water. I took photos of the glittering moonlight dancing on the water. We laughed and told stories with his old friends. We fondly watched all the children playing together and running around with dirt caked on their feet. The weekend ended, but we all are already looking forward to this one when we get to head up there again.

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Rediscovering the Hidden Gems in My Closet of Love

It breaks my heart that my morning pages a.k.a my diary for years has been obliterated by an OS meltdown, but maybe I needed a complete emotional reboot as well. V-Man’s been telling me for years that I needed to clear out my garbage, and he was right. Of course, he meant my literal garbage, all those old clothes, old papers, mail that doesn’t need to be kept, literal junk I hold onto for nostalgia’s sake or because I just hate to throw away perfectly good stuff that is perfectly not right for me anymore. More and more, I realize how much that holds true for my emotional life as well.

I also am recognizing how there are some hidden gems in my closet that I complete forgot I had, or that I had become blinded to as gems, for whatever reasons, and so I allowed all the clutter to block my vision of their true worth. It’s ironic that the person who’s been trying to point this hoarding flaw of mine out to me again and again is also the one that I’ve overlooked the most as the greatest gem in my life, though his radiance keeps glimmering in my heart again and again.

After two years of dating, I buckled under pressure. My best friend was a newlywed. She and her husband, despite their marital and financial strife were pushing for having a baby very shortly. Her husband was nearly a decade younger than my boyfriend. She told me, in her blunt way, that after two years together, the V-Man needed to “shit or get off the pot.”

I knew I didn’t want to be like my boyfriend’s news anchor co-workers having their first babies at age 40. I was an arthritic 30-year-old with an autoimmune disease who worried that every passing year was stealing another year of active opportunity to be the hands-on, athletic mom I had always dreamed of being with my kids. I also was aware of the increased risks I would face over the age of 35, even as a healthy mother, so who knew what I was in store for already as a high-risk pregnancy?

I felt the pressure. I watched the vast majority of my friends starting families. I wondered when my adult life was going to move forward to that stage as well. In other words, I made it quite clear to my boyfriend that, after 2 years together, I wanted to know if V-Man was even thinking things like, “I might want to be with this woman for the unforeseeable future, possible marry her, and maybe even have kids together.”

We had some ambiguous talks. He said, “Oh you have five years, no rush then right?” in the cavalier way of a guy with no understanding of my concerns.

He didn’t understand that was only one of the reasons I broke things off. His obsession with house remodeling and yard work to the point of having no other life but that bothered me. I had no problem yanking down a tree or holding up sheetrock for a ceiling every now and then, but when we only did fun things together like go hiking or go the New York City for the day once every six months. The rest of the time I felt like he had me on for free labor.

The sex wasn’t even awesome half the time when we had the energy to do it. I was still ridiculously attracted to him, but the connection was disconnected from emotion so often. I felt we had reached a stale mate. He’d spent time with my family on numerous holidays. I’d never met his mom who lived less than 10 minutes from the house. I thought he was ashamed of his (violently at times) autistic brother. The majority of the kids I work with these days are autistic. I lived at his house 3-4 days out of the week, which meant I lived out of my car shuttling between his house and my place. He innocently said I could move in up to 4-5 if I wanted to.

I thought he was ashamed of me. I thought I wasn’t high maintenance enough for a man who worked in the TV news industry. He claimed to hate that type of woman, but he was attracted superficially to those looks of course. I never got my nails done. I yes, sometimes dressed like I was 40, when appropriate., though I tried to look sexy and hot for him when appropriate (but I wasn’t wearing mini skirt and heels when we were digging dirt in the backyard, thanks). I thought maybe I wasn’t ambitious enough for him. My book wasn’t published (or completed) yet.  The company for which I was COO flopped miserably (though to no fault on mine). I had three different master’s degrees I  genuinely planned to pursue. I thought, to him I surely was a basket case.

So I broke up with him. He didn’t want what I wanted. The idea of a future with me, while he sometimes thought about it, scared him, “because it was so grown up,”—yes, coming from a then 36-year-old. I wanted to know more about him and where he came from, but he didn’t see why meeting his mom mattered. So it went.

The next year and a half without him was a mess. I had an immediate head-over-heels fling with Harlequin Hero. He stomped my heart. I quickly tried to date someone else as rebound—he was completely wrong for me, though a nice guy, an odd fellow. Dated another way too intense for me guy for several months. Finally had the guts to end it. Had a friends with benefits period. V-Man surprisingly came to this show we went to and immediately ignored him and flirted with me like FWB didn’t exist. In that moment, the only one who cared, who mattered, who made me grin, made my heart thump-thump was V-Man.

The next guy who I really did try to make matter was in love with his ex for the first few months as well. But then he fell deeply for me—in his selfish way.  Still fairly early on, when the infatuation and lust was still high and I was heady with his musical talent, he and I went to an open mic to perform individually. Guess who showed up? V-Man. Even seeing the affection I showed Music Man, V-Man said hey, then turned his body and talked to me the entire night. This time he said, the only reason we weren’t together was because of me. That I and my parents had misconceptions about him because of half-truths or straight out lies I had told them about him. I was so confused and wanted to explore this theory, but not there, not then.

Music Man saw the obvious chemistry and was incredibly jealous to see that someone else could make me come alive like that, flirtatious, laughing, and it wasn’t him. I should have followed my heart and ended things then, Music Man wondered if we should as well, but we both stubbornly decided to give it another go.  It was the second New Year’s V-Man wanted to spend with me, and it was the second one I severely let him down. I should have been there at least one of those years, if I had only trusted myself!

Despite our non-couple status, last year, he saw Coldplay with me, Living Colour for the second year in a row with me, saw the Riverfest fireworks for the third time with me, continued to build memories that are part of my tradition with him that I never wanted to just give up. So when I got so sick this January, the first person I sought comfort from besides my parents and my best friend M was V-Man. He hates hospitals, doctors, blood, you name it. But when he heard what I was going through, he got his butt to my hospital room  and stayed for hours. He held my hand, learned what to do during my seizure-like episodes, and talked to my parents to find out what was going on and get angry on my behalf about.

When I got out of the hospital, my musically gigging “boyfriend” was too ashamed to take me to his first solo big gigs. V-Man was proud to take me out to see some interesting shows that I wanted to see. He came to the house and sat with me, holding me even when the whole family was right by my side. He held conversations and played with the little nephew. He didn’t treat me like an invalid. He joked as always. He even found me sexy still. After I broke up with the boyfriend who wasn’t, V-Man started taking me out for little day trips to his house for a change of pace, to keep him company and to keep me company. We realized the chemistry was still very much alive. He reminded me that he still found me irresistible even doing the most mundane things in not even the sexiest get-ups.

I basically asked him, “What’s going on between us?”

He deflected, as usual. “Let’s wait to have this discussion until you’re better. I’m not going anywhere.”

Surprisingly, he wasn’t. He hasn’t. He’s made more efforts to bring me over. One weekend here. A day visit there to help him pick out appliances and paint color. One dinner out there. This weekend I owed him a repair of the curtains my cat messed up the last time V-Man cat-sit for him, plus he wanted my help pulling down a tree and tying up some tree branch bundles. I initially asked him if I could bribe him to take me to the shore this past Friday. He said, yes, if he’ll get some help in return, then asking which bikini I might be wearing. Wanting to have time for both fun (beach state park) and the work, he thought an early start would be best so invited me to spend the night prior as well. I thought about for a half second before knowing that’s what I deep-down wanted to do.

We went to Rocky Neck State Park. It was incredibly hot and sunny. We found cool in the shade of the forest trails surrounding the area. There was an incredibly impressive stone arboretum with tree furniture inside. We walked along the stone cliffs down to the four-mile-river leading out to the Long Island Shore. Finally, when we couldn’t resist anymore, we dipped our legs in the warm water. It was peaceful and enjoyable and I loved how he’d always reach down or up for me on the steep inclines to  make sure I was steady.

When we came back to the house, we decided it was far too hot to do yard-work. So we made dinner together. We watched some Friday night TV. Saturday we set to work. Later we went clothes shopping (wound up with shoes for both), and then grabbed dinner. On my way home Sunday morning, we finally talked, meaning I asked the questions I was afraid to ask and encouraged him not to weasel out of them with humor or deflection.

Did my illness scare him? He hated seeing me sick. He wanted doctors to find a way to get me better. But me being sick was not a deal-breaker or a problem at all even. I asked if my idea of a future scared him. Again he said, if that’s what he wanted too, no it didn’t scare him. What scares him more is his individual future: the security of his job, the threat of losing his stability that he’s had for 10 years.

He sounded more like he had been worrying he wasn’t good enough for me. That he thought he was too boring for me. How could I think he thought I was boring, he wondered. I always had a million different things going on, half of which he didn’t even understand. I said do you ever think about getting together again. He said, yeah, sometimes. I said, do you really like being a bachelor? Your freedom? He told me hasn’t dated. He goes to work, he comes home and works on the house. He goes out with his friends one a month or two. He sometimes likes having free time to himself but he’s usually just messing around on the computer. I said, doesn’t that ever get lonely? He said, yes, of course it does. But he just snuggles with his cat, haha.

So I joked, if I got rid of the rest of my granny clothes and my new specialist in a couple weeks gave me promise, would you consider a trial run of us again? He gave the loudest, most genuine laugh in the longest time. Like, you’re so silly, you don’t need to do anything.  He said he enjoyed spending time with me. We talked about how nice it is to have a balance between fun things like we did at the beach and also being able to get things done like he feels pressed to do. And still find time for ‘me time’. It’s all about balance.

I can accept that. I need to earn his trust back and be more reliable and dependable for him to want to be with me again full-time.

And yes, I know some of you may want to know, the sex we had over those three nights and three days was absolutely amazing. He was attentive, inventive and thoughtful. Not just in the bedroom either. But yes there too. I would say in one day, we had more sex than we’d typically have in the average month in the latter section of our relationship. And it’s not like this is the first time we’d touched since we broke up. I think some walls were just let down and we could let more of each other in.

I’m afraid of this. What if it doesn’t really mean anything? What if this is just how it’s going to continue to be ad infinitum until I say I can’t do any of this anymore, you can’t ask me for favors, I can’t help you pick out things for your house, and we can’t have sex; I need to truly move forward to a relationship if you don’t want to give it to me. I felt real hope this time. He actually revealed his heart to me, which was the toughest thing for him to do especially after the first few months of our relationship. I know I will just go slow, not hope for anything more, and like he said “we’ll play it by ear.”

He may spook tomorrow, and come back in two weeks. Heck, I probably will be the first to go that route.

When A Phoenix Rises From the Ashes

Anger was getting me nowhere. That was always the case. When I was a little girl, my brothers knew that if I got mad at them, it was only a matter of minutes, after cajoling, funny faces, and tickling, before I burst out laughing against my will, letting them back into my good graces again. I was always the first to cave in an argument.

As I got older, the sulking period grew a bit longer, especially depending on how long resentment had been building up, but that negative time was still a flash in the grand scheme of things. After a defensive eruption of harsh words, I would always wind up feeling worse after the initial high of finally getting the pent-up emotions off my chest. The disconnect always left me feeling empty. So much of my life derives meaning from connection.

Some people can hold grudges until the day they die. I have friends who haven’t spoken to their parents in years. Or who, after some harsh words said in the heat of the moment, lost their best friends forever and pride forbade them from ever making up. I never could understand it. No matter how angry I got, no matter how hurt I was over something, I always sought peace, forgiveness, or some other form of closure.

Around the middle of this week, after I got great feedback and commendation at work, very promising leads for the next step in my career, and an awesome writing project for the summer, I was riding high. I had two fabulous dates with The Brit. I was feeling inspired again. I was re-connecting with friends I’d somehow gotten out of touch with.

During one of my daily chats with Tina, the mutual German friend of Mr. Etiquette’s and mine, I spoke of how I just wanted this cloud of negativity between me and him to be behind us. It was the only thing holding me back from really being at peace with the moment. I told her I felt this urge to reach out and lay down the olive branch between us. She encouraged me, smiling, as I sent the following message:

I’m sorry if u felt I was too harsh on u. I want to let go of this negativity. Life is looking so good for me right now & I want to enjoy it fully w/o the shadow of this ugliness between us. I sincerely wish you well.

There was an agonizing five or more minutes where he didn’t respond, and then the phone rang. Mr. Etiquette popped up on the screen. I anxiously picked up. He talked, and I mostly listened for a long time. I heard his perspective. I let him say what he needed to say. I let him talk about Sara without feeling like it was competition. I listened with forgiveness and understanding in my heart.  I felt it when he said he was sorry and that he never meant to hurt me. I said I knew that, but he did. I felt it when he said he missed me and when he told me how much i meant to him and still do. He still confused me with certain words he repeated that I thought still gave hope. I told him why saying those things weren’t fair right now. He understood why it confused me, but he said he didn’t say this things to confuse me. It was just how he felt. He said he really wanted me to still be in his life in some friendly capacity. He didn’t know how we could do it but he asked me if we could try.

After our phone call ended, Tina and I continued our Skype talk. She sounded very happy that we had reconciled to the point of at least making the effort of truly being friends solely this time. Mr. Etiquette started messaging her. He said how happy he was to talk with me and glad we were making amends. He told her he was heading out to see a show. Nosy me asked where he was going. I knew he wasn’t going with Sara, since she only gives him a couple hours on Sunday afternoons right now. They are not boyfriend and girlfriend. They are just moving slowly to start “dating” again.

He told Tina where and asked if I wanted to come. He hated going to the bars by himself. I hemmed and hawed. Thought it was probably a bad idea. But I had just told Tina that the only way I could see us being successfully friends was if we had activities outside the home that kept us positively and constructively doing stuff, not over-analyzing and going into the danger zone of emotions. Tina gave her Swiss opinion. Mr. E and I both deliberated, my dad objected, but finally I decided let’s go for it.

I showed up looking killer. I didn’t intend to. I wanted to just be totally casual in regular jeans and a cute top. Until I realized I had a couple hours earlier put all my clothes in the wash. So I was left with a top I originally had bought for work (but it looked downright scandalous when I put it on tonight), and white tight jean capris. Only thing that went with those were tall wedge-type heels. I decided it didn’t hurt for him to see me looking fabulous, not broken and grieving.

He certainly approved. Unfortunately even in his casual wear, I still found my heart turning over a bit, but I tried to be as blase as possible. Of course, he wouldn’t allow it. We talked of many things. At first he sounded hopeful about Sara, her possibility for recovery. How there were things she was doing now that reminded him of the old Sara he loved, which gave him encouragement. But he admitted he was also scared. He found himself waiting by the phone. Wondering why she didn’t text sometimes. Wondering if he didn’t initiate contact, would she? Wondering if he can trust her to show the next time. I reminded him it’s still so early, she’s not yet getting the treatment she needs, and he’s got to be very patient.

He kept telling me how amazing I looked. How wonderful it was to see me. How much he missed me, my smile, my laugh, how easily we can communicate. “Things are so easy with us. I hope things can be this easy again with Sara again,” he said. Seeing me again reinforced how strong his feelings for me had been and still are. He worried if things didn’t work out with Sara, and I had moved on, he wouldn’t know what he’d do if he lost us both. He questioned whether he was doing the wrong thing, making a mistake to choose Sara now.

I told him there was no wrong choice. Even after he’s proven to himself that there is another amazing woman he was starting to fall in love with, he still can’t fully let Sara go. The only way he will ever know for sure if Sara still is or is not the woman for him is to see a) if she can and will get mentally healthy again to be the happy and wonderful girl he was blissfully in love with for 6 months b) if by then, too much time hasn’t passed that he has given up hope, and c) if they get that far, can he trust that she will stay consistently healthy enough that she won’t completely shut him out again for a year like she did and break his heart all over again. So many ifs I said.

“I have always been a dreamer,” he told me. “What if I’m just deluding myself into thinking she can ever really get healthy?” We talked for a while about the real possibilities that even with the proper medication and therapy, she might not be able to fully conquer this generalized anxiety disorder that she seems to have inherited from her mother. But I reminded him she’s starting to being proactive now and including him in her struggles. That’s a big change in the right direction.

When all the psychoanalyzing got too depressing, talking in circles, we spoke of other things, of the great things going on in my life. He sounded so pleased for me, and I was so proud to be able to share how amazing life was growing for me again even without him by my side. I showed I was strong enough to stand alone from him. I said I was dating again. That made him jealous, he admitted, wanted to know about The Brit. Tough shit. He cautioned me not to move too fast. “Like I did with you?” I asked. And then the music finally started and we got caught up in the joy of just grooving at a show together.

After the show, we talked as he drove me home: “I am a man torn between my love for two different women.” He wondered if the woman he once loved even still existed or could still exist again. Will things ever be as easy with her as they once were, as they were and still are with me? Will intimacy, whenever she allows it again, be awkward and just feel plain wrong? I told him he won’t know until he experiences it.

“There is still more than the wonderful friendship we have between us here,” he said, while we sat in my driveway, unable to leave just yet, very loosely holding hands, possibly for the last time. “You feel it too, right?” I silently nodded. “There was always so much more between us than just the chemical,” he said.

Though this night maybe should have been painful and just opening up old wounds again, it wasn’t. It confirmed to me that Mr. Etiquette wasn’t the completely asshole I’d demonized him into in my own grief over losing him. He didn’t handle things right, but who knows if I would’ve done it better in his shoes. It also confirmed to me that what we shared was real and mutual, and not something I made more of in my head. Somehow that was reassuring. So off we go to be sometimes friends. There’s too much between us now to do more than just touch base every now and then. Yet that’s okay with me now. I have found the peace and closure I needed.

A Tragic Return of An Old Flame

Readers of this blog are now familiar with my theory that old flames tend to dance back into my life in triplicate. When I get a phone call or email from one old flame, I am sure to hear from at least two more in the next couple of weeks. This time, the wait for flame number three took a little bit longer, but it came in a tremendously unexpected and tragic way.

But first, a little back story: A little over a year and a half ago, my friend Sarah and I were reunited after losing touch post-high school, growing as close if not more so than we were as teenagers. After I broke things off with V-Man for the final time, she was there constantly to reassure me that I had done the right thing, and that I was an amazing person who deserved and would soon find better. Of course, being newly married, she saw things from a broader perspective than I could in my feeling-sorry-for-myself-state, but deep down I knew she was right.

A week after the breakup, it was Thanksgiving Day. The night after the holidays, people in our hometown usually gather at the local “tavern” for mini-reunions. Sarah and I decided this year, it might actually be fun to go and see which of our classmates were back in town. When we arrived at the pub, we saw a couple people we recognized, but for the most part, the crowd was much younger than us. Like, class of 2008 with fake IDs young.

We sidled up to the bar for some drinks when this guy whipped around and said, “You’re SoloAt30, right?” He was ridiculously tall, lean, with long, flowing hair. He looked like he should be on the cover of a Harlequin romance novel (on a later date, some stupid hicks would ask, “Hey, are you the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ dude?”), not sitting in the local dive bar, with his bedroom brown eyes and dimpled chin. He was no one I recognized in the slightest, yet he knew me upon sight.

Sarah stared at me, silently demanding an explanation. I shrugged, but I allowed him to flirt and buy us drinks. He told me how he knew my brother. He’d come over our house numerous times to hear the brother’s band and had gotten a couple bass guitar lessons from my dad. “You really don’t remember me?” he asked, feigning hurt. I shrugged my apology. I really wished I did.

Sarah quickly grew bored of our banter and glanced around for familiar faces. “Ah, there’s S,” she said. Harlequin Hero looked over and said, “Oh hey, you know my sister?”

“Yeah, she’s from our class,” I said slowly. Then I put two and two together. “Wait, you’re Harlequin Hero, as in S’s older brother??”  I didn’t remember the face, but I definitely remember the name and the association from growing up. S and I were never close through school, but she had been a long-time best friend of the girl who later also became my best friend, and we got to know each other better as bridesmaids for our mutual friend’s wedding years later. Here I was flirting ridiculously with her brother, who didn’t want to let a familiar (cute and older than 21-year-old) face leave his sight, but feeling a bit freaked, I made my polite goodbyes, and went with Sarah to say hello to S and a couple other classmates.

But the thing is, I couldn’t shake him from my mind. After assessing his dashing looks with Sarah and asking best friend Winnie her opinion of Harlequin Hero, having grown up with him,  I’m embarrassed to say I decided to cyber-stalk him. He raced motocross, so this wasn’t very hard to do. I found him on some extreme sports site. The shameful thing is that I signed up for a profile on this extreme sports site when I hadn’t touched an extreme sport in oh, 8 or 9 years. I sent him a very brief email saying it was really nice meeting him the other night, brazenly gave him my cell number, and said if he ever wanted to do something while he was still in town (for the next month), feel free to call me. I immediately deleted my profile and assumed I would never hear from him again.

A few days later, I get this random text message from a guy saying he’d be up for going out this weekend.  I mulled over the realistic possibilities and realized who this *must* be. So that weekend, Harlequin Hero and I had our first “date” at this bar a couple towns over to hear a band–I think it was a jam band, which is hilarious since all HH listens to are ’80s rock bands like Van Halen.

We spent the whole night talking, and we had our photograph taken by some city scene website. My friend T-dog sent me the link to our photo a couple days later and asked who the hunk was. She said I looked extremely happy. The next day HH asked me what I was doing a day or two later. He had tickets to a college basketball game.

The next couple weeks were filled with basketball dates (included a double date with his sister, who thanked me for making her brother happy after a really rough year), guitar hero dates, karaoke nights, lazy cuddling, stuffing our faces with amazing food cooked by his stepdad, and watching football with the entire family dates, and amazing romps. We laughed over how slightly pervy it was that he had crushed on me when I was just a kid, but now we both could brag.  He completely stunned me by getting me a thoughtful birthday present. And then immediately after, he got terrified, and everything went downhill.

From being the couple in a bar that people watched with envy because of the vibrant magnetism and fun between us to being a moody and distant pair who couldn’t go through two days without a fight, I was at a loss for what I had done wrong. His ex-fiancé had been in touch. He didn’t want to be back together with her. She had been terrible to him and completely broken his heart. But he was still broken, and he wasn’t ready to go all in. I was exactly the kind of thoughtful, passionate, smart, beautiful, funny girl he wanted to be with, he said. Someday. He just wasn’t in the right headspace for me now.

I tried very hard to respect this, but it stung like hell. Especially when he still kept reaching out. When he’d call and invite me over before he left because he needed to say goodbye. When he’d call me to talk about a motocross event we both were watching. When he’d invite me down to visit him in Florida anyway.  But he needed to be selfish, and I needed to move on to someone who was ready for me. So he did what he needed to do to get his career momentum back, and I did what I needed to do to get my groove back. To say falling in love again with someone new was never the same is an understatement. At least, it definitely felt that way until a couple months ago. But that’s a different story for a different time.

To circle back to the theory of threes, Friday night I was flipping through the newspaper and my eye fell across the obituaries. It’s an old habit from being a writer–you find fascinating people and stories that way sometimes–and also just from growing up in a small town–you’re bound to come across a relative of someone you know in there. My heart sank as I read the name of HH’s baby sister. Twenty-one years of age, killed in a car accident early that morning. I immediately jumped to my cell phone to text HH. I sent emails to S and later another FB message to HH. He responded to the FB message with gratitude, saying he didn’t have my cell number anymore. He said he could really use my support and hugs this week, so I’m glad I reached out.

Tomorrow, my brother and I will go to HH’s baby sister’s wake. Winnie and I will go to the funeral together on Tuesday. Less than a year and a half ago, I was giving this baby sister advice about her future. She and her best friend were talking about going to Colorado. She was excited about the idea but afraid to leave home, and I encouraged her to go for it now while she was young and the opportunity was presenting itself. She could always come back home later, and the experiences she’d live through would teach her so much about herself.  Now she’ll never get that chance. She was so fun and full of life. If I had a baby sister, I imagined one like her.

My heart breaks for HH and his family. I will not be there for him in the role of his lover this time. I will be his friend, his shoulder to lean on, a harbor in which he can safely cry. That’s the thing about the kind of love he invoked in me long ago. Whenever, if ever, he needs me, I will be there for him.