A month after I turned 18 I went to
Fat Camp The Duke Diet and Fitness Center in North Carolina. I had gone with my mom and it was my every intention that I was going to take that summer to slim down before college.
I had been dating the same (older) guy (the first boyfriend) for a year and a half. I promised him I would miss him, and I meant it. We were serious, after all, right?
How is it possible that the girl who left Long Island at the end of June, who meant it when she said she would miss her boyfriend, who meant it when she said they would be together ‘4eva!’ could turn around at the end of July, and break up with him for an (even older) guy, all those states and miles away? Trading in a sure thing for a guy who was basically anything but?
Life is weird, people. You have to take those unexplainable and seemingly impossible (but at least completely improbable) cues and run with them. They mean something. They are bringing you to the place you are supposed to be at.
That guy who was even older than the boyfriend I’d just left? (He so loves it when I remind him of just how ancient he is) He was 33 years old when I met him. He was in a funky place himself, having been to the same
Fat Camp diet center I was now attending just the year before. He sold his house in Pittsburgh and moved to North Carolina to center himself, to find himself. (I found him instead, stalkerific!)
He had friends who were still attending/re-attending the center and he came to play poker or visit. My mother introduced us. She had met him the year before, and loves to tell people she is the reason we know each other.
I was, at the time, both dating (that guy back in New York) and interested in someone (in North Carolina), but that guy, that old guy… I was enthralled by him. He was completely unavailable in nearly every sense of the word. He was dating around, he was adrift, he was divorced, he was old, he was far away, he was not interested in commitment and he wasn’t interested in a one night stand either. C’est La vie, right?
Wrong. I am nothing if not determined.
A group of us went out on several different occasions and I found myself pushing to talk to him, after everyone else was tucked in for the night we would end up by the pool, talking about books, life philosophies, poetry, movies, friends, family. The expanse of topics we covered was enormous. Often dawn would peek out from the horizon before we would wrap it up.
In my 18-year-old fumbling sense to appear coquettish I told him that I liked him. He withdrew immediately. His hand from mine, from our conversation, from my quasi-normal summer life.
His list of reasons was sensible. We were fifteen years apart in age, we were 400+ miles away in reality, I was going to college, he was divorced, I had a boyfriend, he wasn’t interested in long term any things currently, on and on ad nausea. I hated him.
I am nothing if not impulsive and when I want something I can strike a perfect Varuca Salt imitation. “I want a Golden Egg Daddy! And I want it NOW” (Complete with demon horns and fire background).
I wanted to show him that I was serious. I wasn’t even sure why I was so serious about this ‘he’s-not-that-into-you’ example of a man, but I was. I flew home to Long Island and broke up with my boyfriend. I flew back to North Carolina with a renewed sense of want. Now this had to work, because I had rendered all my bridges burned.
On July 25th after thoroughly liquoring the old man up, I unburdened myself of every romantic notion I’d had. I bartered with him for time, for something easy, just for the summer. It will be fun.
(Before you start to feel sorry for my patheticness, just hold that thought, okay?)
The summer passed by at an impossible speed. The way my infatuation blossomed into fully heated-by-the-sun love was at rate I could not even explain to myself. However, over the giddy days of exploration and jovial adventuring, hung an expansive black cloud of doom. I knew I had to go home and start college. I knew this pretend life could not last.
And so at the beginning of September he packed me up and sent me home with promises that things would be okay but no clear definititon of what those things were. I spent September and October weeping in the car to sad music. I spent lonely evenings filling marble notebooks with my crushed heart bleeding into every nook of my life.
I was truly heart broken. I spoke on the phone every day with my North Carolina man but his voice never gave anything away. It was his eyes, his demeanor, that I was so sure encompassed his ‘tell’. Standing outside of his life, I was positive I would be replaced.
He was kind and reassuring. He told me he missed me. We still talked about books and life and our everyday experiences, but I felt like I was drowning while he was taking a leisurely swim. And he wasn’t noticing my distress.
Still though, Varuca Salt-ing it for all it was worth, I made plans to visit him. He said the right words when I excitedly told him, though he did not offer to pay my airfare. He picked me up at the airport just the same, and I knew when I saw him. He was for keeps.
For ten painful months I visited him as often as I could afford. He never paid my way, he never visited me, and at the end of every visit, I would stand in the airport barely able to breathe, positive that my lungs were going to refuse to work, and he would wave and smile, and drive away, promising me he’d miss me.
In the middle of the winter he broke up with me. “I want children” he pleaded with me. “I want children and you are so young.” Though he had not said it yet, and though it would be nearly a year more before he uttered the words. I was positive he loved me then. And he was killing me.
My ribs, my heart, my entire chest cavity exploded with sadness. I felt scraped clean, completely blindsided by his gentle explanation of my failed readiness. ‘Our timing is wrong.’ he had offered me. ‘In another life…’ But then I was incensed. Since when did someone else get to decide when I was ready for anything? After weeks of phone calls I told him that if he was going to throw this, us, me, away- it was going to have to be for a better reason than that one.
That was in March of 2004, in June I moved to North Carolina.
The pathways you travel are not always easy. You don’t always get to be the hero. Sometimes you look pathetic trying to get where you are going. Those gorgeous positive campaigns on facebook and instagram about life being a journey? They are right. But the journey is not always a person on a sunlit path with wild flowers growing on either side. It’s not a constant good-hair day with an expensive white flowing dress that makes you look fucking incredible. Some stories are like this one. Some stories are filled with longing and floundering. Often the path is filled with muck and you aren’t so much traipsing along as much as you are army crawling through shit.
But there is a reason for the obstacles.
There are moments of glory. It is these moments, stolen from the throat of life that sustain us before being swallowed. That old man, as you might have guessed, has been my husband for eight years and my partner for ten. Together we have brought three children into this world. We have buried loved ones, we have sat in hospitals, at each others bedsides. I have seen him through cancer, I broke him out of the hospital one time, having had to pee for him so the nurse would release him, and it resulted in an emergency 2am phone call and a catheter (remind me to tell you about that some time).
My point is, those triumphant moments happen. They have to be worked for, they need to be earned. And you need to savor every morsel of bone marrow they give up because Life will bitch slap you again.
Remember though, as you are slogging through the muck, wondering ‘why the fuck am I doing this?’ that those improbable circumstances are bringing you somewhere, and it might just be to the Golden Egg.