(This is Part IV of VI of a series of entries that chronicle my experience of Faith, from my early understanding of it as a kid and my acceptance of it as a teenager, my rejection of it as a young adult and my struggles with it as a parent of a child with multiple disabilities, and what I have come to know and appreciate about it through the acts of others.)
Part I of VI: Richard
Part II of VI: Mark
Part III of VI: Meighan
Part IV of VI: Jennifer
Part V of VI: Bennett
Part VI of VI: You All, Everybody
FINALLY coming back to this. Sorry. Got a bit...well, you get the idea.
It's weird when some of your friends read these posts and comment on events that took place when you were but a young lad, trying to make your way through life as best as you could.
I was not always as, what's the word I'm lookin' for... 'enlightened', as I am today.
Mark, my aforementioned friend, was talking on the phone with me a while back and reminding me of a few of our crazier nights and some of my crazier actions that I used to take to express much of the rage I wrote about in the last entry of this little journey. And although we laughed a lot about those days, I think about some of what I did and I see myself through a mirror very, VERY darkly.
He reminded me, among other things, of the destruction I used to wreak upon the mailboxes of complete strangers.
I'll pause for a moment while you try to figure out why in the Hell I would even bother to do something so juvenile...IN MY EARLY TWENTIES.
I would be out with Mark, his brother, and a bunch of friends, and many times on the way home from whatever function we happened to be attending one of the main attractions was watching Yours Truly do his best Godzilla impression on any of the mailboxes that happened to be between the door I exited and the automobile I happened to be getting into.
Automobile antennae, miscellaneous lawn ornamentation and shrubbery were not off the Menu, either.
It wasn't always complete destruction on the mailboxes. It was usually bending the 'tongue' forward and the flag outward, or punching the mailbox askew on a weak post. For wooden sheathed boxes that looked like miniature versions of homes, I just ripped off the roof. For the very stubborn, stronger models I would put all of my weight into them and tilt them forward into the street as best as I could. During some of the my darker nights, mailboxes were completely ripped out of the ground and hurled into the streets. It was not uncommon for me to comer home at night with scratches and cuts that needed tending.
Mark and I laugh about it now, and we did a mere few years later, when I began to calm down a little. We jokingly named it 'Mai Rage' on one of our computer baseball teams one year...enough time had passed I guess. But we also recognize how dangerously close to the edge I really was.
At the time, Mark just knew and accepted that he had to sort of have my back and allow this to be my safety valve, my pressure release. I think he surmised that if I could let it out, in controlled circumstances like that, I'd figure out how to work through this. That somehow, things would eventually be OK.
And they were OK, sort of. I got by at least.
I wonder how many people from those years who follow this blog are reading this and saying 'Hmm...I always knew that about him.', or others who might be saying 'Wow...now that explains a LOT.'. Because though rage and anger were the fuel that sustained me, for a very long time, they almost rarely ever were exposed to anyone. I kept it very well hidden. Very tightly contained. In fact, so much so that to some I may have even seemed reserved, almost quiet.
In fact, when I think of that second Incredible Hulk film, where the 'Days Without Incident' text would appear on the screen, it reminded me of the reason why that Marvel character is the one I always identified the most with.
Child abuse. Father issues. Fueled by anger. Lost. Bouncing around from place to place, person to person. Always feeling isolated and alone. Bruce in his natural state was a fairly quiet, soft spoken, fairly relaxed appearing individual. Occasionally turning into something uncontrollable. Something ugly. Something out of control. But never trying to hurt anyone intentionally. And nobody ever seeing it because you never did it around anyone who really knew you.
That's primarily the reason why I spent all of my 20's with one failed relationship after another, and started my 30's out the exact same way. Nothing would stick, because I couldn't stick. How could it?
And through all that time, I never once, not ever, not for a second, thought of looking to my Faith for an answer. I kept that tightly locked away, and I would not, for any reason, whatsoever, open that up. Not after what happened to Meighan.
I outright refused.
Some would argue that if I had chosen to do so, things might have gone better for me through those years.
Maybe. I don't believe that God would have stepped in and altered the course of my life, changed Coke to Pepsi or anything like that. But I certainly could have used the community of the Church, the people in it, and no doubt some of the words of Christ as a guiding light through all of that bitterness. All of that chaos and darkness.
But I chose not to.
I blame no one but myself, mind you. Not my childhood. Not others. It is my responsibility alone. I was a grown man, capable of making the decision to either live a life according to a certain set of guidelines and principles and ethics...or not.
Near the end of the 20th Century I was living in Savannah, Georgia, screwing up yet another relationship and going nowhere fast in my career, this after having just spent a small fortune on a Masters Degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design in order to wait tables.
I was struggling to pay rent and I was having a terrible time finding a job in my chosen career field. I had, very foolishly, picked the absolute WORST time in the world to break into the field of comic book illustration, because even though my work was probably strong enough to get me into the business and get a career going, the industry itself was imploding.
I was choking on debt, drowning in it. I was mired in an unreal depression from what was going down in my personal life. I really thought that I was going to just keep heading down this path of going nowhere, I felt so hopeless. Mailboxes were starting to look REALLY good to me again.
Finally my friend Mark reached out to me and offered me a chance to move to Ohio and live in his basement for a while. I could get away from Savannah, start fresh, get a clean outlook on things, not worry about rent or any other expenses, and try to sort out how I was going to fix my life and start putting all the pieces together.
Mark saw his friend struggling and he decided to do something about it... BUT...he knows I will waver, I will hesitate, because I did, very much, love this woman I was living with, even though things had been going badly. So what does he do? He buys a One-Way plane ticket that would have him land in Atlanta at a certain time, on a certain day. Basically saying 'If you are not at the airport with your shit en route to Ohio from Savannah to pick me up, I will be super pissed.'
What choice did I have, really, but to honor my friend? I couldn't leave him hanging in the breeze like that? But you gotta hand it to him, yeah? A very smart play on his part.
So I met him at the airport, with all of my, um, stuff, picked him up, and lived in his basement for an ENTIRE YEAR. I filed bankruptcy to get out from the debt that I could, bought the first Apple Macintosh computer (sniff) I ever owned of my very own (with money I borrowed from my Mom and took YEARS to pay back), used that time to buy to teach myself how to use it, and started hitting the pavement looking for a 'real' job, all with no expenses to tie me down while I searched.
See, this is one of those things I try to explain to people all the time as far as how the whole God thing actually works here. Here in this place. On this Earth.
Mark didn't have to do something like that.
You may be saying...'Well that's not that big of a deal, he just let you come stay at his house.' and you'd be WAY off base. It was the HUGEST of HUGE deals in the HUGIVERSE. Why? Because the selfless act of making the offer of doing that, despite the fact that it ends up putting on him and his family the burden of expense and all the other strains it places on them, it essentially puts in motion all the series of events the lead me to right here, right now.
And I don't think I can say that about any OTHER single thing in my life, specifically. At least as far as the later part of my life is concerned.
Because moving here, to this state of Ohio, is what opened the door on a career for me, finally. It is what opened the door for me to finally let go of so much of my rage and my anguish as I, after spending one year in Mark's basement, finally moved out and got my own place, got on my feet, and during the course of the next two to three years as I started working full-time and spent time focusing on that and on making new friendships and on building something great at ReSaurus as a toy designer and ultimately a Product Manager I found a fulfillment I had never known before. And it did not hurt at all to be around Mark again on a regular basis. Not one bit.
I had rounded a corner in my life at last, one of experience and maturity I think. And perhaps, after almost ten years, I was starting to heal from what had happened when Meighan died.
And the thing is that all of this, the entire experience of coming to Ohio and making this transition, both physically and emotionally, is what ultimately led me to Jennifer.
What are the ODDS...???
You had an attractive young professional woman, a nurse, who was 26, who somehow happened to dodge the marriage bullet when almost none of the rest of the women her age had. She lived here, in Columbus, Ohio, a place I had heard of and only driven past once in my life when I drove my friend Mark from Baltimore to Lima to move there for law school.
You had a man, who was 31 years old, just about to turn 32, who has dodged the same bullet because...well, have you seen any photographs of me? And have you been reading this thing? I got problems. And by all accounts, I should have ended up either staying in Savannah, or going back to Baltimore, the place I considered 'Home', or going to St. Louis, where my Mom was then residing.
What are the ODDS...???
That instead, I ended up in Columbus, Ohio because my best friend from High School just happened to go to a Law School in Lima and get a job in Columbus since he passed the Ohio BAR. And while I am in Columbus with my friend I end up LUCKILY finding a job there, just in the nick of time before I wear out my welcome, and I had to sort of lie to get it. (A whole nutha blog people!)
So I settled down there, and started my life over, essentially. And I made strides, and I got some shit together. And at some point I was ready to start dating. But I had ZERO time to really 'meet' people. So I did something that really was not chic at the time, I went the 'online dating' route.
Love@AOL.com was VERY new, and one of the few places you could actually do the online dating thing in 1999. I had been doing it since 1998, with mixed results and nothing I would consider successful but it did provide a handful of incredibly funny stories and a few interesting evenings, but Jennifer happened to give it a BRIEF shot late in the summer of 1999 just as a fluke using her roommate's account since she did not even have one of her own at the time. But get this...I had become so frustrated by my lack of real success with it? I was about ONE WEEK AWAY from closing my AOL account.
I simply had not done it because I had been too busy at work.
What are the ODDS...???
And what are the odds that she just happened to miss the line I had on there that I smoked? Because she DETESTED smoking! And had she known I did it she would never have even opened a line of communication. And what are the odds that at that particular time, that exact month that we happened to start communicating, I had actually started to quit smoking for a while using a Nicotine patch so I was only really smoking a single cigarette in a day anyway so when we DID meet the smoking thing never even came up?
Weird right? Maybe not. Maybe odds don't have anything to do with it at all.
She was, however, the first person I ever got to know by speaking a great deal to before meeting face to face.
So when we finally did meet, in the parking lot of the Meijer on Route 23 at 7:30 PM on August 27th, 1999 I had a very unusual experience, one I have never had previously.
I wasn't blown away by her.
I wasn't swept off my feet.
I didn't have that mad rush of emotion, that feeling in the pit of your stomach feeling that always sort of sends you in to the Stratosphere when you first get hooked up with a woman.
Don't misunderstand me. I thought she was attractive. I mean look at her. And I liked her. But I thought those things already. I had seen photographs and I had been speaking to her at length for weeks leading up to this date. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you were expecting me to say I saw Jennifer and I felt like the clouds parted and Angels were singing, that isn't really how I felt at all.
I had a very simple and extremely under-stated reaction on that first date.
But I had a great time. We went to Bravo, a fantastic Italian restaurant and then finished off the evening with some coffee and dessert at an outdoor coffee house that has long since closed down, sadly. We talked the entire time, laughed, it was awesome.
There was an incredibly awkward goodnight hug. I think she thought I was going to go in for a kiss, but I would never do that. It's policy for me. I don't typically go for kisses on a first date unless I'm given a green light by She Who Is To Be Kissed. I usually don't get those, though I have on occasion.
As I drove home, I pondered the whole thing. Like I said, I did have a great time, and I did like her, but I thought something was...missing. I just wasn't sure what it was. Couldn't put my finger on it.
Could it be that I just wasn't all that into her after all? Could it be that I didn't REALLY find her attractive now that I met her face to face? I mean, someone can BE attractive and you can just not be attracted TO them. It's possible, right?
Nah...really? Are you serious, Lilly? Are you high? She's HOT.
This was wracking my pea-brain, and I could not for the life of me come up with an answer. No way, no how. I had every intention of seeing her again, and she had said as much as well when we parted ways, I just hoped that by the time I saw her the next time I might be able to figure out just what in the Hell was wrong with me.
We went out again, a few days later, and between the first and second dates we spoke on the phone as we always did. Long conversations. Deep conversations. About all kinds of topics. It was sort of defining for us. And totally new for her. She wasn't used to someone who would talk about...well, about everything. I do. She found it kind of liberating, and I think refreshing, to meet someone who wanted to talk about things that were off the beaten path, but who also wanted to hear what SHE thought about those things.
On the second date, I became officially freaked out.
Again, I was having this strange, un-definable reaction inside my head that I could not figure out. What the HELL!?! Outwardly nobody would be able to notice a thing, and she certainly did not, but inside it was like a room full of Congressman arguing about the National Debt. Why in the Hell was I having such a...pedestrian response to this woman? What does it MEAN?
At the end of the date, she invited me in to show me her apartment. I understood what that meant. A goodnight kiss was forthcoming. I wasn't even sure I WANTED to by this point I was so freaking confused by what was going on inside me. Here was this attractive, down to Earth, charming, intelligent, professional woman with a strong family background and no real drama in her life and my response is almost to turn and run.
When she turned to 'present the opportunity' (You know what I mean, ladies!), I kissed her.
You know in movies like, say, The Matrix, when they have that thing called 'Bullet Time', when everything slows down to a crawl until time seemingly stands still? When objects stop in mid-flight, like bullets or even rain-drops, suspended, and you can reach out and pluck them from the air, effortlessly?
Kissing Jennifer for the first time was like that.
The power and potency of it nearly took my breath away. It rattled me. It might have lasted no more than 60 seconds but it lasted a lifetime. And as I stepped back, I could see in her eyes that she had experienced something similar. Though I am still not sure who among us was more surprised.
But I knew the answer to what was plaguing me.
I loved her.
I had for weeks. The problem was that I had been in a self-imposed emotional lockdown, unable to express it. You simply can't say that to someone you have just met. It isn't workable, not if you want them to stick around. The fact is, we had been talking for so long, every night, every day, for hours at a time, leading up to that first meeting, that I had developed feelings for her long before we had ever stepped within physical proximity of one another.
That's why I was so flat. I was protecting myself. I thought it was crucial to suppress any feelings I might have out of fear that I might somehow screw the whole thing up.
But it all made perfect sense now, holding her in my arms. I had fallen in love with her BECAUSE she was an attractive, down to Earth, charming, intelligent, professional woman with a strong family background and no real drama in her life. She was exactly the type of woman I wanted and needed. Exactly the kind of woman I always used to run from.
Exactly the opposite.
What are the ODDS...???
This computer age we're in, and we were at the dawn of a new era of it then when it comes to 'Social Media'...it is one crazy thing. It makes the world so much smaller. It changes things.
Today, meeting someone on the Internet is commonplace, and falling in love with someone you meet online, but have never met in person before, is not something that you have to explain to people as much as you had to back then.
It happens. Much more frequently now.
But then? Things were so different. Rules for this kind of thing hadn't really been defined yet, because online dating and meeting was still in its early stages. I didn't have a regular 'e-mail' address that I used all the time, or a website. I didn't use eBay to make ends meet. I did not blog. I didn't check my computer every single day. And there were no iPads, Wi-Fi, 3G and all that shit.
I did not even have a cell phone.
Ultimately, like most people, the circumstances surrounding how I met the woman who would become my wife were as unique as I was. As unique as she was. As unusual and perfect and wonderful as all of the circumstances that had to align in the universe to bring the two of to that moment in time, to that place in the universe.
For me, she was my Betty Ross, a sort of foundational rock to the beast I had always carried inside me. Though I had tamed much of him on my own, she was the last piece of the puzzle that I required in my life to finally feel as if I was healed. Finding her at this time in my life could not have been a more perfect blessing.
For her, I was a man cut from an entirely different piece of material than any she had known before, and this intrigued her, and she saw in me hidden strengths I would never believe I had within myself. She had a way of bringing them to the surface like no other.
For us, there were no real guidelines, no rules as to how to proceed, because every aspect of how our relationship began was not at all 'by the book', and not just because we met online. A couple months into the relationship I had to travel to China for 5 weeks, then a few months later I was laid off, then I had to take a job out of state, and through it ALL?
We stayed together.
What are the ODDS...???
So in order to survive, to adapt, we just had to roll with quite a lot, Jennifer and I, from the very beginning, writing our own rules along the way.
To Be Continued...