I started writing a blog series, “How I Fell,” based on my last relationship. Once the series was finished, I added even more details, and published it as a book. Interested in getting a copy? Get a digital copy here (for Kindle, or iPad using the Kindle App) or order a print version here.
This is for you—thank you for reading my words.
It all started January 2012, or perhaps early February—I’ve never been good with numbers—when I attended a dinner at a local Italian/steak/seafood restaurant.
I had done an interview with the chef a few months earlier, and the manager (at the time) invited me to come back for this Oscar-themed dinner. I didn’t have a man in my life, so I asked my editor if she’d like to join me. She did.
I got dressed up, wearing a form-fitting blue/green/pink patterned dress, picked up Kendra, and we headed to the dinner. It was group seating, so we sat amongst 8 other people we didn’t know—all couples.
The entire night, I remember stuffing my face on nearly every plate that passed me, and gulping down all the wine I could handle. I was chatting with Kendra and talking nonsense to the woman next to me.
But there was a gentleman sitting across from us that would occasionally chime in. He was with a very pretty woman; I didn’t know what was going on. When the night was officially over, he moved seats to sit beside me, and asked us if we’d join him outside for a smoke.
He, D (I’ll explain later), asked me if I’d like to join him for dinner the following night.
“Uh, isn’t that your girlfriend inside?” I asked him.
He said no, it was his best friend, and that she joined him for date-events since he wasn’t seeing anyone.
I was hesitant. I had just gotten out of a long (4-year-ish) relationship that had broken my heart. If I went on a good date, it would make me feel better, but if the date sucked, I’d be sad.
I told him I wasn’t sure.
So, he laid it out for me: I could meet him right back there at 6 p.m. the following night (a Monday). We wouldn’t exchange numbers, so if I didn’t go, I’d never hear from him.
So with that, Kendra and I left—she was convinced I should go on the date and probably marry him.
I wasn’t so sure.
The next day, I still wasn’t sure what I should do. So I waited, and thought, and waited, and thought.
I waited until the very last-minute, and decided fuck it, just go and have fun. After all, what did I have to lose?
So I pulled on a pair of skinny jeans, some knee-high black boots, and a top, and hit the road. When I got to the restaurant, I didn’t see him yet. I figured I would just grab a seat at the bar and wait.
I ordered a glass of Sauvignon blanc and waited…
I wasn’t even half-finished with my glass of wine when D appeared, plopping down in the bar stool beside me.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” he said.
He looked more handsome than I recalled the night before. He was dressed in a collared, button down shirt, jeans, and Chucks…I love Chucks.
“I thought about not coming,” I said. “But here I am.”
He told the bartender we were there for dinner, and she found our waitress—a beautiful woman who had a name fit for a mermaid—who lead us to a table nearby.
We got our waters, and he ordered a bottle of wine for us, The Prisoner, which impressed our waitress.
She returned with the bottle of wine, a decanter, and no menus.
“So, you all are doing ‘The Experience’?” she asked.
“I saw what Chef has started preparing you guys…looks amazing,” she said.
I had no idea what “The Experience” meant, and I suppose I had a look of confusion on my face leading D to explain.
“After you left last night, I found the chef and asked him if he’d be willing to make us something special,” he said. “So, I’m really glad you showed up!”
I was flattered. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I was excited about the meal ahead, but even more excited that a man I didn’t even know would go to such lengths to impress me.
The meal that followed was heaven—5 courses of some of the best food I’ve ever had. The conversation we had was also stimulating; he was easy to talk to, and I found we had plenty in common.
He was open about his past, a divorce, and a daughter who was the light of his life. He asked me if I was bothered by the divorce and his daughter.
Truthfully, I’d never dated someone who was divorced or who had a child, but neither of those things bothered me. He had split custody of his child and maintained a platonic relationship with his ex; both I found respectable.
When we finished stuffing ourselves with dessert, we polished off our second bottle of wine. On that Monday night, the restaurant’s crowd was dwindling to just us.
With only the restaurant manager around to see, he took my hand and asked me if I wanted to dance. I did, despite having no clue what I was doing.
We stayed, dancing and talking, stepping outside into the cold a few times, so he could smoke.
And just then, he kissed me.
It was sweet; a seal on one perfect date.
I drove home at 3 am, high from potential. He was certain a second date was in order.
I saved D in my phone as “D” for two reasons: 1. I have a wild imagination, and 2. I had just finished reading Julie Powell’s second memoir, “Cleaving,” about her sexy affair with a man she called “D.”
A girl can dream.
The day following our first date was a Tuesday, which meant I only got three hours of sleep before I had to get ready for work, with a raging hangover.
Later that morning, D texted me from class (he was in school after being in the air force) saying he, too, was suffering from a terrible hangover. But, he also told me again just how much fun he had and how pretty he thought I was.
I was flattered, and very much looking forward to our next date.
But over the next few days, and even weeks, he never asked me.
He would text me, ask me about my day, work, and sometimes he would even say he missed me, but he never asked me out on a date.
A few times, he would ask me to meet up with him late at night, at a friend’s house. But for several reasons, I declined.
The relationship I was in prior to meeting D, was years of informal dating—meeting up places, often late—it was a glorified booty call. I knew I didn’t want to fall into another similar pattern.
Eventually, D stopped texting me, and that was that. I thought about him often; it was rare to have such a good date and then nothing at all, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
About every 3 or 4 months we would text each other about various things, “Oh, this reminded me of you,” or, “I’ve got extra football tickets if you want them,” but that was the extent of our conversations. I never saw him.
On Valentine’s Day this year, I was chatting with a guy friend of mine online. We were talking about previous Valentine’s Days and people we’ve dated, etc. I thought of D.
So, I looked through my phone (which was only a month old) to see if I still had him saved in the contacts list. There he was: D.
“Was just thinking about you, Happy Valentine’s Day, D!”
I absolutely did not think he would write me back. Up until then, I had no idea why he didn’t ask me on that second date—for all I knew, he hated me.
But, he replied.
“Crazy thing, I thought about you the other day. Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too, Holly!”
…He thought about me? Weird.
“I hope it was a good thought?” I replied.
“Always a good thought when it comes to you,” he wrote back.
Over the next few days, we continued to text. Mostly, it was friendly, until he asked me if it was okay to call me—uh, of course!
When he called, I was nervous, but to my relief, it was the same amazing conversation I remembered. It was easy.
So, if it was so great, why didn’t we ever go on that second date, I asked him.
“I had an amazing time with you, but I wasn’t in a position to date. I hit a slump in my life, had to move back home for a little but, and was embarrassed. I was intimidated by you and didn’t think I had anything to offer you,” he said.
At the time we’d gone on the date, he was in school and was working as a waiter. He never mentioned having to live with his parents to save money.
A year later, he had gotten a promotion to manage the restaurant, had moved into a nice house with two guy roommates, and had taken a break from school.
Here I’d gone the entire year thinking this guy didn’t like me, that he just wanted a booty call, when it was really just him trying to work things out on his end.
After a few days of flirting via phone calls and texts, he was working late one Friday night when he told me he really wished I would have come to visit him at work.
I told him I was big on formal invites—I never wanted to show up any place that I wasn’t absolutely sure I was wanted. So he sent me an email inviting me to his home, right then.
It was 4 am.
My brain was telling me it was a horrible idea; a formal invite for a booty call. But my curious, daring heart told me to go for it, sort of.
So I got in my car and drove. His house was just down the street from my apartment. I wondered if this was a joke, if it was really happening, would he look the same?
I pulled into his driveway, or at least the one at the address I was given. I saw him, standing behind the double wooden doors. I slowly walked toward him, nervous as shit.
He opened the door with a grin.
“Well hey,” he said.
“Oh my God, you’re like… still dressed,” I said. He was wearing a suit.
I, on the other hand, was wearing sweat pants and a tank top, with no makeup…and I also realized I was still wearing my mouthguard (I grind my teeth).
“Well, yes I just got home from work,” he said.
“Fair enough,” I mumbled, stepping inside his home.
It was nice, decorated against all cliche images I have in my head of a typical bachelor pad. There were children’s toys scattered about—evidence of his daughter I’d heard so much about.
“It’s late, let’s go to bed,” he said.
In one giant leap I flung myself onto the bed, tired enough to pass right back out. He paced around the room removing his work attire.
“I need to know something,” he said. “Why did you text me on Valentine’s Day? And please be honest with me.”
I told him the whole story, not knowing what he was so worried about.
He told me a few days before I texted him, he had a dream about me—that we hung out and continued to date. Real, or bullshit? I will never know.
“That’s crazy,” I said.
“Come here, crazy,” he said, pulling me toward him and kissing me, a reminder of the kiss we’d shared a year earlier. It was wonderful.
I pushed him away before anything else happened, and he fell right asleep, snoring so loud…
The next morning, I woke up in time to hit the gym. He walked me to the front door, wearing a t-shirt and boxers with flames on them, reading, “Too hot to handle.”
We kissed goodbye, and he asked me if I would come visit him at the restaurant that night. I said I would.
Many hours later, I was nervous as I got ready to go see him. The place was fancy, and always full of beautiful women… it wasn’t a place I frequented.
But I pulled on some skinny jeans, a blazer, and heels, and headed that way. I sat at the bar, ordered a glass of champagne, and sent him a text.
“I’m at the bar, retard,” I said.
He appeared just minutes later. “I thought you said you weren’t up for surprises this early?” he asked.
“It’s not a surprise, you asked me to come here,” I said. He nodded.
I had two glasses of bubbly, before asking for my tab…which was non-existent. So I left a tip and walked to my car; I didn’t see him around.
“Not even going to say goodbye?” he texted me.
“I didn’t see you,” I said. “I’m still in the parking lot…come out.”
He jogged out of the building, searching for me. I flashed my headlights. He came to my window and gave me a kiss goodbye.
I wanted more as I drove away to meet my friends for dinner.
The following day, a Sunday, we texted most of the day, so I invited him to come over once he got off work.
It was raining by that time, and he wasn’t sure where to park to get to my apartment, so I met him outside, resulting in a movie-esque run in the rain (I was even wearing a leopard-print trench).
Sitting on my couch, he told me he needed to make sure I wasn’t leading him on, because he was starting to really like me. I was a little worried that it was moving fast, but I went with it. That same day, the Sunday of the Oscars, marked one year since we met. He invited me over to his house for the next day, what would be a year since our very first date.
I happily said yes, but only if he’d watch The Bachelor with me. He said he would DVR it.
On the way to his house Monday night, I stopped by a local grocery store to pick up a bottle of wine to bring over. Mid-search, the power went out, sending cursed cries into the dark. I wandered through the aisles, as if there was a way I could feel a bottle that would taste good. Minutes later, when the lights came back on, I was standing in front of a tower of white boxes, with wine inside. I reached down to see what kind it was.
The exact wine we drank exactly one year prior.
Despite its steep price, I decided to go for it. When I arrived at D’s, I told him I had a surprise. I pulled out the wine, and he couldn’t believe it. “Whaaaaat!? Are you kidding me?” he asked. So there we were, sipping on our wine, watching The Bachelor.
And it felt perfect.
Just a few days later, I came back to work after lunch and was aimlessly walking and texting D simultaneously, when the front desk lady said, “Hey…hey you’ve got flowers.”
There was a giant box from 1-800-Flowers on her desk, addressed to me. I figured it was from D, but wasn’t certain until I ripped open the box and saw the card:
It’s been a year since I let you slip away. Now you’re back and I will hold on tighter than ever, my angel. I cannot wait to see what is to come. -D
While my surrounding coworkers thought it was creepy, it was perhaps the sweetest thing that had ever happened to me. I displayed the flowers on my desk and called D right away, to thank him.
The following weekend, I was getting antsy to see D. His work schedule didn’t allow for much date time, and we often saw each other late, once his shift was finished.
That Saturday night, I’d spent the evening out with a few friends, but I was really missing D. I was texting him to see what he was doing, and he said he was still working. It was past 1 am, and on Saturdays he usually got off work around 10.
Kidding around, I told him fine, I would call my plan b.
“If you have a plan b, then I shouldn’t be talking to you, nor do I ever want to talk to you. Have a good one.”
This probably should have been red flag number one of things to come, but I was hurt, and tried to tell him I was just kidding. I didn’t have a plan b.
Eventually, he calmed down and told me to come to the restaurant right that second, hurry, or else. So I hopped into my car, in my plaid pajamas and argyle slippers, and drove across town.
When I got to the place, I walked inside, where a waiter was sweeping the floors.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Oh I’m, uh, here to see D?” I said.
He pointed toward the bar. “He’s been waiting for you.”
D was sitting there, drinking and smoking, talking to one of the waitresses.
D wasn’t mad, but told me he was “testing” me. Whatever that meant.
“Why aren’t we exclusive?” he asked.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “Because you haven’t said anything?”
“Okay well, go ahead, ask me to be your boyfriend then,” he said.
“Why do I have to ask!?” I said.
“Oh you don’t want to?” he said.
So I asked him, 7th grade style, if he would be my boyfriend, and he said yes.
It had been nearly two years since I was someone’s girlfriend. I felt I had done everything right; I played it cool, didn’t sleep with him until we were exclusive, and never pushed about being exclusive.
It felt so right…but things were about to go terribly wrong.
My new boyfriend had yet to meet my friends, and since my parents live states away, meeting my friends was as important as it got.
So me and D planned to have my friends come into the restaurant one night when he was working—this way, he could meet them, but it wouldn’t be some formal sit-down questionnaire type of thing.
That night, I put on my favorite thigh-high boots, met up with my friends, and we hit the road. About two blocks from the restaurant, there was a burning car. Huge flames. Possibly a bad omen.
I brushed it off as we parked and headed toward the front door. I could see D before we stepped inside, as he was standing at the hostess’ stand.
I nodded in his direction, and took a quick right, heading toward the bar. As my eyes searched for three open seats beside each other, a familiar hand reached in my direction.
It was my ex boyfriend.
Long time readers will know him as Matt, new readers just need to know that it was a long, horrible relationship that landed me in a therapist’s chair.
One of my friends, who had never seen Matt, found three open bar stools right beside him.
“Can you join me in the bathroom?” I whispered to my girlfriend. And we bolted.
“Dude! Why is that guy staring at you?” she asked me.
“OH MY GOD, THAT IS MY FUCKING EX, THE EX, THE BAD EX,” I blurted out.
I was shaking. Here was a man who abused me for years, knocked me down to the point I didn’t even know who I was anymore. My friend had picked a random night, in a restaurant out of city limits (in a city an hour away from where Matt lived), at a random time of night, to meet my new boyfriend, and there he was.
It was the first time I’d seen him in more than a year, the first time I’d seen him since he told me “Our relationship only made up 2 percent of my life so what’s the big deal?”
My friend came to my rescue.
“Look, we are here to see your new man, you look hot, that dude is not even attractive,” she said.
“You’re right. You are right. I can do this,” I said. I took a deep breath and we went back to the bar.
After ordering a bottle of wine, Matt approached my bar stool.
“Holly, can we talk?” he said.
“About what?” I asked.
“I would just really like to talk to you,” he said.
“Fine. Let’s step outside,” I said.
I didn’t know what he was going to tell me, but I needed to hear it. I also didn’t think it was appropriate for us to talk at my boyfriend’s bar, so we stepped right outside the glass doors so if needed, D could see that I had my arms crossed and was a solid 6 feet from Matt.
Matt: How have you been?
Me: Great, you?
Matt: Okay, I guess. Look, I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable and I certainly don’t want to force you to talk to me. It’s just been so long…
Matt: I still read all of your stuff and I saw you teach now, I bet that’s crazy.
Me: It’s wonderful. I love it.
Matt: I got a new job.
Matt: I can’t tell if you want to hug me or punch me right now.
Matt: I think that’s a fair question.
Me: Uh, I think you know that I do NOT want to hug you.
Matt: Would you like to go to lunch sometime?
Me: No. No I do not. In fact, my boyfriend is inside and he doesn’t deserve this, so I’m going to head back inside.
Matt: Oh, well obviously I didn’t know.
Me: Right, you assumed I’d still be single and I’m letting you know, I’m not.
I opened the door for myself and marched back to my bar stool. Matt followed, closed his tab, and left the restaurant.
Holly-1, Ex boyfriends everywhere-0
Things were moving right along with me and D. So smoothly, in fact, that it felt weird.
I’d never dated someone who missed me after just a few hours of being apart. I’d never spent so much time with someone where I recognized their smell, or their breathing when they slept. I’d never fallen into a routine with someone.
I’d heard about it, from other couples, but never experienced it.
I’d never had anything quite like this, and I didn’t feel like I had to put on an act around D, so why not spend the few free hours we had together?
The nights he had off from work, which were also the nights he had his daughter, we spent at his house. The nights he had to work late, he spent at mine—3 nights at one place, 4 at the other, so it was as equal as it could be.
After he met my friends, he asked me when I wanted to meet his parents. I was shocked. I’d never had someone want me to meet their parents. He assured me, they were going to love me.
Before I met his daughter, he had an agreement with his ex-wife that she would meet me, too.
We’d talked about meeting my family, which was awkward. Because my family has issues. So there’s that. I told him I see my family once a year, so he was more than welcome to come with me in November when I do so.
“We’ll be engaged by then,” he said.
Because yes, he told me he was convinced I was his wife.
One night, I was at his house enjoying a bottle of wine.
“I still do not get it,” he said. “Why were YOU single?”
I explained to him that I just hadn’t found my guy yet. We talked about the time we met a year before.
“As much as I liked you then,” he said. “I wasn’t ready.”
“Me either,” I said. “Besides, it seemed like you were just looking for a hookup with all of those late-night texts…”
“I was…” he said. “It’s a good thing you didn’t respond or else we wouldn’t be dating right now.”
Ummm…. not really the thing you want to hear from your boyfriend. I took a swig of wine.
“But you dated someone since then, what happened there?” I asked.
“She was crazy,” he said. “She was 19.”
Yet another thing you do not want to hear from your current boyfriend.
“But I do need you to know that she is a waitress at my restaurant,” he said. “I try to schedule her on the nights when I am not working, but I’d rather you hear it from me and not someone else.”
I appreciated his honesty, but felt a little uneasy.
“Before that, I dated this girl…Mary… she was so good to me,” he said. “But… it was right after my divorce and I was in such a bad place. I drank so much…and I treated her like shit. I was hammered all the time and she took care of me.”
I swallowed the rest of my wine and told him I was ready to sleep. We crawled into bed and he whispered to me.
“It sucks you don’t like me as much as I like you,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“You heard me,” he said.
I rolled over. He was drunk and making shit up.
“See? Fine.” he said.
I started to cry, letting the tears fall onto the clean pillow until I fell asleep. The next day, D didn’t remember anything from the night before.
I let it go.
D came home from work one Saturday night and told me the guys at work voted him, “The guy with the best girlfriend.” I laughed, “I believe it, but why?”
He had showed him a picture of the breakfast I cooked us that morning: (my version of “Green Eggs & Ham”)—toasted English muffins, topped with prosciutto, a fried egg, spoonful of pesto, and freshly cracked pepper. I served it with a tamer version of Irish coffee: hazelnut coffee with a shot of Bailey’s, topped with homemade vanilla whipped cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. I served it on a tray, in bed, with a vase of flowers.
Because I really am that awesome.
A few weeks later, D arrived at my apartment one night and made an interesting comment.
“You know, staying at your place every night is really KILLING my hygiene.”
Oh? The standard routine had been that he came over after work (which was usually late at night) and slept until it was time to get ready for his next shift.
He would throw on the same boxers and undershirt, put on a pair of pants and a shirt fresh from the cleaners and head to work.
“I normally like to put on a clean shirt and boxers when I get home from work, you know?” he said.
I asked him if he wanted a drawer.
“Why don’t you bring some things over?” I asked.
He said he just always forgot.
I went into my bathroom and told him I had a toothbrush for him, which he appreciated. The next morning, however, I took a peek at his undershirt size and the number on his pants. I made a mental note, and that was that.
A few days later, I took a rather fun adventure to Walmart.
What resulted was a shopping cart full of things any guy could ask for in terms of showering/prepping for work: face wash, razors, body wash, shampoo/conditioner, Chapstick, a comb, deodorant, aftershave, and mouthwash… I even got a “Man tool” which was a manly loofah that I didn’t even know existed.
Although it sounds like I really knew what I was doing, looking for all of these items was mind-blowing. I had no idea all of the options men had out there! I cannot even describe to you the horror that was on my face when I entered the razor aisle… I didn’t know what razor to get and then I stood there for a solid 10 minutes wondering if he used shaving cream or not. I assumed not, and I was indeed right, he uses hot water.
Taking it one step further, I also purchased a pack of undershirts, boxers, and socks. And then I put it all together in a manly black basket on my bathroom counter.
Yeah. I’m awesome. Or am I? Because in the 24 hours that the basket sat there before he saw it, I was nervous as shit. I was worried he would see it and feel smothered or think I was moving too fast and then he would bolt and then I’d be left with a manly basket of crap.
Instead, he loved it. Because I’m not dating the men of my past.
He showered, got ready, and went to work in his new undergarments, and texted me saying it was a very comfortable shirt, and the socks were “amazing.”
“You did very good; I love my basket,” he said.
He was perplexed on how I got the correct sizes though. And I told him I just looked at his tags… he then concluded that I was a ninja and that my sneaky ways needed to be further reviewed.
Being the great girlfriend that I am, I washed the clothes (including the ones he left), folded them, and stacked them in their very own spot, the boyfriend drawer.
I’ve never given a guy a drawer or anything close. When I sent D the picture, he replied, “Major girlfriend points.”
I was on a roll, and D decided it was time to meet his parents.
I absolutely wanted to meet them, it was just that I’d never had a boyfriend want me to meet his family. When I dated Matt, I had to present him with an ultimatum to meet his parents. I finally did, but never saw them again.
The two boyfriends I had before that, I didn’t meet their families. The guy I dated before that, my first love, I met his parents but I think it was by default since we had been friends for years before we dated. To make it even better, his parents hated me, and I think that weighed heavily on him.
So, I was shocked.
Our original plan for Easter was casual, join a friend of D’s for dinner. I was happy and a little nervous just to meet this friend, but looking forward to it. Then on the Tuesday before Easter, D texts me this:
D: Church on Sunday.
ME: What about it?
D: You are going.
D: Well you don’t have to…
ME: I am happy to go, just tell me when and where.
D: We need to be there at 9:45, I was thinking I’ll stay at your place Saturday night and we can go together.
ME: Sounds good.
D: good, they are excited.
ME: Who is “they”?
When we hung out later that night, I asked D what kind of church it was. Baptist.
Yeah, just sit on that for a moment.
Considering I’m a (barely) functioning alcoholic, have committed adultery, and have had plenty of premarital sex (can you call it that when marriage was never in the picture?), I was imagining this lovely church going up in flames upon my entrance on Easter Sunday.
Then, I asked him, “Is it just church, or…” and he quickly told me no, we would be going to his parents’ for lunch afterward. Then, he dropped one final bomb on me—I’d be meeting his brothers, too, and their families.
After picking out a dress for church, I was ready to roll come Sunday morning (I didn’t drink much Saturday night and went to bed early so I’d be bright-eyed).
We drove to church, which was packed of course, and met his parents and one of his brothers.
Anyway, we go into the church and it’s a concert. No, seriously. There was a singer and a microphone and the lights were off, minus colorful spotlights on the stage. There was a drum set and guitar players and flat screens with the words on them, because the songs they were singing were original songs about Jesus, not the ones we all know.
While I’d never seen anything quite like this at a church, I was thankful that it wasn’t quiet and awkward, complete with Bible verse readings. We were sitting in metal folding chairs in the very back row, an usher had guided us to our seats, and moved us twice already. A third time he came over, saying we needed to move one more time.
“I’m so, so sorry,” he said. “It’s just that, they’re bringing a casket in, and it’s going to be a tight squeeze.”
A casket? I started to get sweaty.
They brought the casket in (it had deer antlers on it) to represent a modern-day tomb. When the pastor opened the casket, it was lined with camouflage. Ha.
After making it through the service, we had a short break from the parents during the drive to their house…
During the quick drive from the church to their home, D called his parents asking if they needed anything.
“We are going to stop at Walmart because Holly needs a case of beer…” he told them (Baptists are anti-alcohol).
I gave him the evil stare.
He laughed, hanging up the phone, telling me to lighten up, that his family knew he was kidding and that they were big jokesters. Still.
D kept warning me that he “doesn’t come from money” and that his parents lived in the ghetto. Upon reaching their driveway, it wasn’t what I would consider the ghetto. It was an old house that needed some work, but I’m no one to judge—it was the house they raised three boys in, and now took care of several grandchildren.
Inside the house, dinner (a large pork roast) was cooking. There were Easter treats piled onto the kitchen table for all 5 grandkids. I found a spot on the counter to put my purse and parked myself there, answering questions as they were fired my direction.
“Holly, you okay?” D asked me.
“Yeah, why?” I said.
“It’s going to be okay if you move from that spot,” he said.
It was awkward. It wasn’t my house, and everyone kept telling me not to be so quiet.
“But I am quiet!” I said.
“Ha! Yeah right, if you are dating my son there is no way you’re quiet,” his dad said.
When the kids asked if grandma would hide eggs for them, I said I would help. I jumped at the chance to get outside for a minute. So I took a bag of eggs (filled with Jolly Ranchers) and ventured into a leafy yard in my 4-inch gold high heels.
“Did you hide them really good?” D asked.
“Meh, some,” I said.
“You know if they can’t find them, you’ll have ruined Easter,” he said.
After lunch, D proceeded to fall asleep, the kids left, and there was just mom and dad and me…
While I was worried at first, this actually poised a great opportunity for me to talk to them without the chatter of the others. We talked about my family, my job, and they told me how they met, how they got their house, and just how much they love D’s daughter.
While I didn’t walk away feeling like it was a home run, I felt I did a good job considering it was Easter and I was thrown into quite a mix, and it was just a month into our relationship.
We drove back to my apartment and it started to rain. We made it inside, opened the windows, and sat in the dark drinking wine and watching a marathon of “Extreme Couponers”…it was quite perfect.
To be honest with you all, part of me thought that jumping into this fun and very sweet relationship would fix a lot of my problems—make me feel better about myself. I wondered if I would even have stuff to talk to my therapist about.
Well, as you can probably imagine, it didn’t fix me, and I still had plenty to talk to my therapist about.
I told him that despite things going well with D, whenever we parted ways (after seeing each other, or leaving for work), I felt this heaviness on my back. Like I could not hold my head up.
It’s not like we fought, or that I was scared he’d cheat, it was just a heavy feeling for reasons I couldn’t quite pinpoint just yet.
I shared with my therapist a piece of my past that I hadn’t yet: 2 boyfriends I had years ago “dumped” me by simply not talking to me. Ever.
The first was a boy named Adam. He was my best friend, and we fell in love one summer during college. We decided to stay together when school started, despite living states away. In October, I flew to visit him for a few days. We had a great time, but when he took me to the airport, we were both really sad.
When I landed back at school, he was weird on the phone. Eventually, he stopped answering my calls, texts, emails… and I never saw him again. I knew it was over when he started posting pictures of him with a girl (his now-wife) on Halloween, just weeks after I saw him.
That was about 8 years ago. I dated someone two years later, who drove me back home so he could meet my parents. We had a great time and laughed all the way back home. But when I dropped him off at his house, I felt the weight.
In the days following, he didn’t answer my calls or texts. I knew it was over. I cried during my walks to class.
When I told my therapist this, he paused.
“You’re reacting to something that was very traumatic,” he said. “It’s like you have PTSD.”
During the month of April, I was trying my damnedest to keep up with National Poetry Writing Month and write a poem each day for all 30 days of the month.
So, when my therapist told me I had PTSD, I took it as great fodder for a poem. I wrote the following:
I was recently diagnosed with PTSD/ A collection of letters I’ve heard/ On CNN/ Paired with numbers/ 9-11/ An abridged version of the alphabet/ That takes me back to a hotel room/ In Austin, Texas/ When he jumped out of bed/ Reached for an invisible rifle/ At the knock on our door/ And the faint, “Housekeeping.”/ I have PTSD/ My dog tags were sold on eBay/ My boots brandish high heels/ I’ve never been overseas/ But I’m tired of swimming/ My ankles are still sore from the chains I wore/ I couldn’t tell you the exact moment/ I earned my set of letters/ What bomb went off/ The IED exploding beside my chest/ When you said/ I’m leaving today/ Like it was an MRE waiting to fall at my feet/ Your rucksack already packed/ No time for a salute/ I was in the trenches/ Your covert operation/ Kicked sand in my face/ I reached for my letters and numbers/ AK-47/ But you, armed with the grenade/ Threw it and ran/ Camouflage/ To my feelings/ Don’t ask, don’t tell/ Ignore my purple heart/ Covered with a patch/ That says it all
My poetry (and participation at a weekly open mic) was something D didn’t really support. He said he did, but often acted jealous when I went, accusing me of flirting with men there. He could never attend because of his work schedule.
I showed him my poem on PTSD.
“Looks like you wrote about something you know nothing about,” he said.
I was silent.
A few days later, I wandered over to Matt’s (my ex that I’d recently run into) Facebook page, and saw a post on his page about “7 more days ’till the wedding!”
Considering I had just seen him a month prior and he mentioned nothing about a bride-to-be, and considering about 14 months before that, he was asking me to sleep with him, I thought there was no way he was about to get married.
So I Googled his name along with “wedding,” and sure enough, up came a few wedding registries and a site on The Knot, complete with a picture of him and his fiancée. The site was created on March 5, 2012, less than 2 months after I told him to get out of my life.
My heart thumped and I swear my jaw traveled through two floors to hit the ground beneath me with a THUD.
It wasn’t the first time I’d found out my ex was getting married. In fact, all of my exes are married. To say the least, it’s never fun news to get. However, in this case, it was a little different.
For starters, it was pretty obvious to me that he was cheating on me with this girl and vis versa. I’m not a genius, but I think it’s safe to say that after we had a conversation on January 9, 2012, he didn’t meet someone the next day and propose before March 5.
The real sting for me was recalling numerous conversations we’d had about getting married—he insisted that getting married was never a plan of his, and this always bothered me because I did (and do) want to be married. Now, obviously, that was just one of his many lies to me, because he did want to get married. And now he actually is married.
And yes, I know. He’s an ass, he’s the worst, he’s a douche, I deserve better. But I’m not sure, even as an award-winning editor, that any words I write can describe what it feels like to know that a person who betrayed you, did so to such a degree that there was a ring in his pocket the last time you slept together. It is sickening.
That day, on Gchat, Matt came online and I decided to send him a message asking him about the wedding.
Me: Getting married Saturday?
Matt: I am.
Me: I am shocked.
Matt: I guess I am too… but I’m excited.
Me: The shocking part is the math. It doesn’t add up. You slept with her and I at the same time?
Matt: No. It was a very quick process. We hadn’t been together in over 3 years.
And that was the end of that conversation. Sure, part of me wanted to tell him all of the times I knew there was overlap in the relationship he was having with her and the one he was having with me. But the majority of me knew that at this point, nothing I could say would make him understand, and really, I felt I was at a good place in my life.
What Matt didn’t realize is that a picture of him and his bride, proves him completely wrong.
In July 2011, I flew across the country to see my friend for my birthday. Ironically, Matt flew there too. He told me he was going with his sister and her husband. But there is a picture on Facebook of him and his then-girlfriend at Wrigley Field. Behind them, is the date on the jumbo screen: July 2, 2011.
On that same date, Matt called me and sang me Happy Birthday and tried to meet up with me several times. Little did I know that his girlfriend was sitting right beside him the entire time. We slept together the following week.
In a way, finding this out answered a lot of my questions. It explains why Matt was never around, why he treated me like shit, and why he hid me from his friends and family. But it didn’t do much for my trust issues.
I knew Matt was fooling around on me. But I didn’t know he was living a completely double life without my knowledge.
The Saturday of his wedding, I spent the day drinking, and for the first time, I cried about it. I never wanted to waste more time on him, but I know I am still dealing with the hurt he left for me.
The Monday following Matt’s wedding, D sent me a text saying he wanted me to meet his daughter. That night.
Considering I just met his parents a week before that, 2 things were happening in my mind. 1. Yeah, things were certainly faster than I was used to. And 2., my nerves were shot.
I was nervous to meet his parents, but even more nervous to meet his daughter. I have about ZERO experience with kids.
Considering D told me she didn’t like The Biebs (absolute bullshit), I resorted to the only other thing I had got: bribery. And I went to Justice.
D gave me about 5 hours notice on this meeting, so I ran to the mall on my lunch break, walked into Justice, bee-lining it for a sales clerk.
“I am meeting my boyfriend’s 6 year old daughter tonight and I wanted to get her a little gift and I am clueless,” I screamed.
Once we determined that I didn’t want to buy clothes, I was directed toward the accessories and told which items were “super popular.”
In the end, I purchased a wristlet (pink and white polka dot covered in glitter, complete with a hot green initial on it), purple cheetah shoelaces, and two rhinestoned pink and purple friendship bracelets. I wrapped it all in hot pink wrapping paper and brought it with me to the pizza place.
Upon arrival, she was super shy, which is out of character from what I’d been told. She didn’t want to look at me, and was asking D things to ask me.
“Why don’t you ask her, she’s right there,” he told her.
Eventually, she came around and we talked about her school and the tooth fairy (did you know when you look at the tooth fairy, she becomes invisible?).
“Holly is a rabbit, she eats salads,” D told her when our food arrived.
She was shocked to learn that rabbits eat salads.
When she was finished with her meal, I handed over the gift. I am convinced it could have been a box of turds and she would have loved it if it, as long as it had a Justice tag on it.
After dinner we walked around some, going to the bookstore. I had fun looking at Barbie books with her (we picked out the Barbies wearing the prettiest dresses). Finally, we went to see Oz.
Of course, our order at the concession stand made me laugh—she made sure she got the BLUE Sour Punch Straws. When we got to the theatre, she insisted on sitting between us, which resulted in a 2-hour long popcorn fight between D and I, behind her back.
According to his daughter, her daddy is “OBSESSED” with butter.
At the end of the night, D told me he was glad to see us get along. He seemed extra sweet, telling me he “just spent a great evening with the two most important ladies in his life.”
I enjoyed hanging out as a threesome so much, I asked D if him and her would like to come over the following Monday night to make pizzas. They said yes.
Just a few days later, D shared some bad news with me—his grandpa was dying of cancer. As he told me, his eyes filled with tears.
He didn’t have much time left.
I told him to keep me posted, and to let me know if there was anything I could do. His grandfather was diagnosed with cancer and was given a few months to live, and then two weeks later, was placed under Hospice care.
D took his daughter to visit his grandpa in Hospice, and they made it to my house for the planned pizza night.
I was excited and nervous to host what we eventually started calling “Family Night.” I had made the dough the day before (from scratch) and purchased every possible pizza topping imaginable.
I even RedBox’d a movie, got some sparkling apple cider, and some ice cream.
D and his daughter arrived late (typical and annoying), to find my dining table covered in flour, with 3 balls of dough plopped in various corners.
“We have to roll the dough?” D asked. “When we go to the restaurant, they have it rolled for us.”
“Do I look like a professional pizza chef?” I asked, handing his daughter the floured rolling-pin.
Despite the initial ‘tude from D and his skepticism of my pizza crust, the pizzas all turned out great, and we all had a great evening.
When they left for the evening, D sent me a text, “Thank you for being a wonderful woman.”
Less than a week later, D’s grandpa was given only hours to live.
It was a Thursday afternoon when D told me it wouldn’t be much longer for his grandfather. I asked him what he wanted me to do.
He wanted me to meet him for lunch, and drinks. So I did.
Needless to say, D was pretty upset. His family was close, his parents and grandparents all live within a 10 mile radius of each other and D.
I am really not good at handling these types of situations. I never know what to say, I just kept telling D I was sorry, asking him if he was okay, and reminding him that I’m always here to listen.
D had gone to Hospice, where the family was gathered around his grandfather’s bedside. According to D, his grandfather wasn’t responding to anything they were saying, and it seemed like the family was just waiting for the final breath.
We stayed at the bar, drinking, and found out that his grandfather passed away around 2 am.
Of course, when D told me his grandfather passed away, I offered to go with him to the services. He was worried about me missing work, which I assured him was not a big deal.
So that Monday evening, I picked him and his daughter up and we went to the funeral home for the wake. There, I saw his brothers, parents, nieces and nephews. But there was also a slew of people I had to meet, including his grandma, now a widow.
It was difficult. You don’t want to be cheery when everyone is sad, but it also feels silly to say, “Sorry for your loss,” when you never even met the guy in the casket. Am I wrong?
Anyway, one person coming to the wake I was particularly nervous to meet was D’s ex wife, and his baby-mama.
She was friendly and honestly seemed like someone I would be friends with; and that was a nice feeling to have. However, other people in the room were eyeing the situation.
“Is it weird to meet her?” his mom whispered to me.
“Mmm…no,” I said. “It’s kind of weird that we are meeting under these circumstances, but not in general.”
Why would it be weird? It’s not like I was afraid they would get back together.
The weirder part for me was when D’s daughter talked about her mom. Not because I had any ill feelings toward her, but just because I wasn’t sure what to say, aside from, “Oooohhh.”
After the wake, the 3 of us (D, his daughter and I) went to dinner. It was there that I felt like a little bit of an outsider.
Anyone ever dated someone with kids? It was cool to hang out as a new little family, but it wasn’t my little family, and I didn’t feel like his daughter would ever accept me. Even if D and I were to get married, she would still see me as that evil stepmom.
I was already feeling like she didn’t want me around. And honestly, I couldn’t blame her. I had no experience with kids. I wasn’t really the most cheerful person around, and I was pretty much trying to move in on her dad… what was there to like about me?
The next morning, we met back up for breakfast and hit the road for the funeral. D was a pallbearer, so his daughter needed a buddy to sit with during the service. She refused to sit with me, and D looked at me, “Wow she really does not want to sit with you.”
I said, “Yeah, pretty sure she hates me.”
D and the woman next to me were sympathetic.
“She doesn’t seem to like anyone,” the lady whispered.
I didn’t know if that’s comforting or not.
The next day, one of my columns was published in the local paper:
BUILDING THE BOAT: LESSONS IN LIFE AND DEATH
When I was a child, my best friend’s father died. It was the first time I’d seen an open casket. I remember my mom telling me that an open casket is a way for some people to say their goodbyes.
Since then, I’ve seen a few open caskets, especially lately.
During a routine cut and color, my hair stylist told me her father was in hospice. The only thing I knew about hospice was what I read in “The Mercy Papers” by Robin Romm. In it, Romm describes a hospice nurse as someone who “builds the boat of morphine and pillows.”
My stylist explained that her father was in such bad shape, he wished for a lethal dose of morphine. But she and I both knew Dr. Kevorkian was dead, literally.
The next night, my boyfriend told me his grandfather was also in hospice. My heart was heavy. I am never good at handling tough situations. Even as a writer full of words, I never know what to say.
A little more than a week later, his grandfather died. At the wake, my boyfriend’s mom took note that both times I’d seen the family, there’d been a casket present. I promise, she meant it in a fun, loving way.
The first time I met my boyfriend’s parents was at church on Easter Sunday. While I went to church and Bible camp as a child, I’m not well versed in religion. My mom will tell you this is one thing she regrets about my childhood — not subjecting me to more Jesus.
We joined his family at a Baptist church that was packed, either because of the holiday or because Jesus is really popular. I was told to expect singing, but upon arrival, our usher informed us that they would be bringing in a casket. My stomach churned.
The casket was fit for Buckwild’s Shain Gandee, with antlers for handles and a lining made of camouflage fabric. The pastor used the casket to represent a modern tomb, and said one day, he’ll need one — he preferred the camo option.
He went on to ask the congregation, “Why do we seek life where there is death?” One of his examples was drinking; there isn’t life at the bottom of the bottle (debatable). He later said life begins at death and when we choose to accept Jesus, we are choosing death.
A few days later, I asked a coworker what that whole “life begins at death” thing meant.
“I think it means you’re supposed to kill yourself,” he said. I promise, he meant it in a fun, loving way.
After the wake, my boyfriend and I went to dinner with his daughter. Between coloring and eating, she sweetly said, “I hope grandpa has a fun time in heaven with God.”
Leave it to a blue-eyed 6-year-old to lighten my heavy heart.
I don’t want to get too deep into the workings of religion here, but right then and there, I decided to translate the pastor’s words as such: “Afterlife begins at death.”
Because, although my visions of an afterlife are sweet, I still want to enjoy the life I’ve got right here on Earth. I’ve got a man who loves me, and includes me in his life. I’ve got friends to lean on and to share laughs. And, I’ve got a family who supports me.
Heaven, to me, isn’t about golden gates. I think of heaven when I’m stuck in a really great moment, enjoying a delicious meal, reading a fantastic book, catching a sunset or sitting on the patio with a mango mojito (see, there’s the bottle again).
Perhaps my heaven will be all of those moments mashed together looped like a Vine video of my life. Or maybe, my afterlife will be like that described by of one of my favorite poets, Chancelier “Xero” Skidmore, a heaven that includes everyone, a house where breakfast (including canned biscuits) is served on the weekends.
I hope I’m done seeing caskets for awhile. If they start showing up at the movie theatre or at California Pizza Kitchen, I’ll take it as a sign. And when my time should come, I want to be cremated and stored in a rhinestone jar of some sort, something reflective.
It was easy for me to admit I was falling in love with D.
We were nearly inseparable, and I still looked forward to seeing him every chance I got. I especially loved our “date night” which was Saturday night. We would go out sometimes, or round-up new cheeses and wines and have a wine night at my apartment.
I loved it.
Although I wasn’t convinced his daughter was a huge fan of me, I was really trying to think of fun things we could all do together on the nights he had her. After the pizza night was such a success, I wanted to do a “craft night” (I swear I’m not obsessed with themed nights). D said she loved crafts.
I asked him if Monday was good. He said yes.
So the day before, I ransacked Dollar Tree, Big Lots, and Walmart, ending up with materials to decorate tin buckets and plant flowers in. I had upwards of 20 bottles of glitter glue, bags of glass rocks, paint, sequins, ribbon, and flowers and soil. I packed everything up and set it beside my front door.
The next day, D headed out-of-town (about an hour away) for a charity golf tournament. He was really excited because he hadn’t golfed in so long. I’ve learned about men and their golf—don’t bother them. So I didn’t.
But when I hadn’t heard from him all day, I went ahead and sent him a text, especially because I didn’t know the plan for craft night. No reply. I logged onto Facebook and saw he posted a few pictures from the tournament, including one of him and a large-busted caddy he “bought” for the day.
“Oh, so you can post pictures on Facebook, but not reply my text?” I said to myself.
Around 6 pm, I still hadn’t heard from him and the amount of anxiety that weighed on me was unlike any other. I paced my apartment, I growled as I paced, I even unleashed a scream.
If you know me, you’ll know this is completely unlike me. It was so unlike me, in fact, that I was starting to scare myself. I went frantic and sent crazed texts wanting to know where he was, why he was ignoring me, what did I do?
He finally replied.
“I’m golfing!!! FUCK.”
I cried, took a shower, and put on my pajamas at 7 p.m.
Was I crazy or were we supposed to have craft night that night? I know I didn’t spend my Sunday buying dumb shit for someone else’s kid just to be sitting at home the next day, watching a Housewives marathon.
I was exhausted from crying; I was drained. I tucked myself into bed around 9. I got a text from D around 9:30.
“Who are you going on a date with tonight?”
I didn’t reply.
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