On the night after the long date, I slept a deep, sad sleep and dreamed that I was on the island from Lost, but there was a huge old city at the center of the island with lots of art to explore. I went into the biggest museum chamber and found the shadow of a statue of Perseus. This seemed especially important since our flower date was during the Perseid meteor showers, which were also a part of my shared traditions with Sweetie. I decided it meant that it was time, past time, really, for me to slay my own monsters.
After I wrote out that dream and its various implications that Monday morning, I found myself deeply grateful to J and wanting to, if possible, leave behind the fears that were getting in the way of enjoying this messy, complicated, beautiful man and the fun we had to offer each other. So I did the most me thing possible: I sent him a thank-you note, for my early birthday dinner and all of the ways he made me feel good. That day as I went about my bookstore routines and filled in Sweetie (not in too much detail) on the weekend’s events, a little flower of happiness bloomed in my nether regions and in my heart. I decided it was okay to just go ahead and like him.
The next day, I got something in the mail back, an early birthday present he’d clearly sent the second he had my address: a blue canary night light for the birdhouse in my soul, for the song we’d sung together in the garden that night. I hadn’t had such a romantic gesture from a man in the past two decades, if ever. I shrieked and danced around and nearly swooned from touched-ness. I put on Flood and belted out the whole thing and got caught up on the dishes, even fantasized about him maybe wanting to be the only bee in his bonnet. I decided right then and there to let go of all the things that stop me from not being an Argonaut-murdering lighthouse. The little bird was too bright to sleep with him on (I was having horny insomnia and bad headaches.) but I kept him by my bedside.
After a day or so I simmered down and realized that although it really was a lovely present, I couldn’t be sure about what it meant. J. was having a vacation week with the kids and therefore (?) wasn’t as frequently in touch and I started to feel vulnerable, to wonder if maybe I’d been letting my imagination run away with me too much.
The following weekend was our nondate weekend (apparently he was unaware of the concept of babysitters) but I was craving closeness so I proposed that we sext that Friday night. He was hemming and hawing, leaving it up in the air and being not sure if he had time, and my heart fell. I braved up and said: “I’m not an afterthought, not someone to be fit in to the margins of your life.” I admitted that what I was really after was connection, rather than just sex(t). I am so proud of myself for saying that, and I think that admission alone proves that I’ve come a long way since being Steampunk Guy’s “Thing that Happens Sometimes,” his number ten or eleven or whatever I was. Go me for miles and miles of progress.
I asked for a call instead of sexting and that’s what we did—as soon as he got the kids to bed, he called and I knew I had to say all of the things. I told him I didn’t have time to like someone who didn’t like me back, and he assured me that he did. He told me he couldn’t believe that someone as perfect for him existed and if he had, he would have gotten up the courage to divorce sooner. Right now, that sounds like me being rebound girl, but at the time, it convinced me that we were on the same page, that this really was a thing. It’s hard to go back through this story and think that he didn’t like me back; I may have to accept that he did.
That phone call was WONDERFUL, I loved it so much. We stayed up talking about all different things, about his kids and their adventures that week, about my birthday plans (He’d convinced me to invite my church friends to do a birthday brunch, even though I’d been shy to ask since I’d missed the regular brunch the week before. He did push me to do some very good things.) all the things we might hope to do together. I gently told him that babysitters should maybe be a thing, and he said he did want to see me more often and would look for ways. He offered phone sex near the end but I liked the just talking so much that I said no. Just like I used to do during long-distance snuggles with Mr. Sweetheart, I doodled the whole time we were talking and sent him the drawing afterward.
And I felt brazen enough to send my favorite emoji
Which he diplomatically ignored.
We did sext on my birthday night (after Sweetie had gone home from having cake, Chinese food, and Bob’s Burgers episodes) and it was a really good one. He was an excellent sexter, I’m sure that his erotic novels have their merit! It ended romantically, with us writing about listening to each other’s heartbeats.
“Is my heart doing a better job of telling you how I feel than I can?” He asked, and I still don’t know what that meant, but I know that I liked it. It just turned my insides to mush—I was officially bonkers about him.
Monday, when I was at the beach saying goodbye to summer with my cousins and aunts, he sent me a picture of the boys, on a picnic by a pond. What family-oriented girl could stay cool with something as adorable as that in her phone? I’m only human.
On the Tuesday after my birthday, in the interest of slaying my own monsters, I met with a potential new therapist. When I finished the Big Therapy Project, a lot was left undone. there was another memory that needed attention, a trickier, more childlike version of me who needed some love. I put off working on that for all kinds of reasons, mostly being too tired from teaching to think of anything else. Eventually, though she stuck around long enough to help me quit the school district, my old therapist moved away and sent me a list of referrals that sat in my inbox for four months, until J. became the incentive/trigger that made me realize I needed help. If it works, I’ll be forever grateful to him. Probably I’ll be forever grateful to him anyway.
The therapist’s office building was next to a Tiffany’s and across the street from a pastry shop, which I considered to be a very good sign. I liked her immediately and she gave me a lot of hope for healing. We both are people who like to geek out on happiness and wellness, and the bossiness of her seemed like it could propel me off the Lost island, when I was done exploring, of course. The best part, though, was that instead of wanting to go home and crawl into bed after therapy, I wanted to go jump in the pool and make out in the sunshine with J. I knew he was still off from work so I called and asked, and he said yes, with the caution that I‘d have to be gone before the kids got home from school.
That afternoon, though so short that we had to set a timer, was absolutely magical. The sun was hot and bright and the sky was blue and we played in the pool like kids, like people who had no baggage, no fear. He kept swimming under me, lifting me up, and kissing me, and I felt so happy and peaceful and swoony and whole in his arms. He looked so handsome, healthy, and virile in the sun, and I felt like a goddess. I pushed him to the edge of the pool, grabbed the wall, and pinned him there in the most delicious, picture-postcard of a kiss. Right then, those bodies were in love, I don’t see a way around it.
When it was time to go, it almost seemed like he wanted me to accidentally meet the kids. His older son had recently stated unequivocally that he didn’t want J. dating, but J. was slowly trying to warm him up to the idea, an effort I found encouraging. When it had somehow gotten to be ten after three, I ran out to my car and was getting in quick but he insisted on saying a proper kissy goodbye. It felt like he was proud of me, like he wanted to rip the band-aid off and make me part of his life, and though it was certainly too soon for that, I took it to heart.
Writing that afternoon makes it so difficult to not to call him, to try and find a way. I know there isn’t a way, but still. The sunny optimism of that hour and a half in the pool, the unabashed connection, was real and I just love it so much.