I began writing this in the spring time. Some pieces get written and published in short order. Some need to sit for a while. This sat.
This year, spring lasted an eternity. We’d been in that liminal space for what seemed like a long time – no longer the raw days of a painful winter, not yet the warm days of a beckoning summer. Somewhere in between the harshness and the beauty.
Even in a difficult and specific time like that, when we were all trying to adapt to a strange and unsettled world, there was that feeling of expectancy that starts brimming that time of year. There’s always a sense of renewal and possibility. The cherry blossoms and green haze seem to appear overnight and, like magic, color returns to a world that has been grey and cold for a long, long time.
You know that feeling, right?
It’s that sense that the light is returning.
Even in that season of new beginnings, I was not looking for him. I was not looking for anyone. I was the opposite of looking, actually, but there he was anyway. I’d seen him around a few times before. I noticed him because he’s the sort of man you notice, but this was the first time I really saw him.
Handsome. Assured. Great smile. At ease. Comfortable in his own skin.
Obviously, I avoided him like the plague.
I did, however, begin referring to him as my crush – but only to people who wouldn’t encounter him. Friends were thrilled – thrilled I even noticed. Thrilled there were signs I was coming back to life. My people are such good people. I’ve become more and more aware every day how worried they’d been about me and for how long. Mary told me recently that in the past year my light had gone out. I couldn’t see it then, but I guess that’s how it goes when you’re in it. You simply acclimate to the darkness.
My friends asked me what my crush’s name was. I told them I had no idea. They asked me what he was like. Same answer. One friend suggested I find out and I recoiled in horror. I said, “What are you, a psychopath? Why would I do such a thing? He is gorgeous, mute, and across the room. He is entirely theoretical. He’s basically perfect right now.” I knew nothing about him other than the fact that he is very, very hard to ignore. Every once in a while we would catch each other’s eye and smile. I assumed it was a coincidence, but he tells me now that’s because he was always looking at me.
I didn’t want to meet him, didn’t want to have a conversation. It tends to be with the talking that things go sideways. It’s when they say the words.
Then one Sunday I heard him talk. He got more attractive. What the hell.
A little later, he made his way over to me and we chatted for a few minutes – it was a nice day out and we both mentioned walking the boardwalk nearby. Then my friend Judy invited him out to breakfast with us. Treachery. He told me later he positioned himself to be asked.
He sat next to me. It was a big group, but there was this gravitational pull between the two of us. I was incredibly aware of him the entire time. I had a hard time looking directly at him, so I looked at his hands a lot. I noticed the way when someone talked he was fully present and gave his complete attention, and when that someone was me it felt like the sun on my face. He asked me a lot of questions. He offered up a lot, too. He seemed to want me to know him. There was something undeniable going on, some magnetic thing drawing us together, so naturally at the conclusion of breakfast I fled from the diner like I was being pursued by a bear.
The next week our breakfast group consisted of me and four of my girlfriends. And him. I don’t even really know how that happened. I suspect Judy. Again, he was totally comfortable. That’s a big thing and important to me. The women in my life are no joke and they are not negotiable.
That time he walked me to my car, which was nowhere near his car. We chatted for about twenty minutes. Then he said he felt like there was an energy between us. He told me he’d thought about me a lot the previous week and that he was already looking forward to seeing me the following week. Didn’t ask for my number, which I really liked even though I 100% would have given it to him.
The next weekend all my traitorous people were nowhere to be found. I was furious. This was not how I’d written the script. I wondered if in the absence of the group aspect he’d pass on breakfast. I wondered if I’d be brave enough to have breakfast with him without the buffer of my people. I did a lot of frantic thinking in a very short time. I was absurdly nervous and preemptively disappointed.
He came up to me with that megawatt smile and asked me where everyone was. When I shrugged he said, “Well then, it looks like it’s just you and me, kid. Let’s go somewhere nice.” It took me two very long seconds to decide to take the risk. “Sounds good,” I said.
We sat at brunch and talked for an hour and a half. We covered many of the things. I dragged it out as long as possible. My omelet came with couscous. I ate it one cous at a time. At the end of brunch, I felt a little forlorn. I did not want it to be over. He smiled that smile at me and said, “I’m not ready to say goodbye to you. Will you come walk on the beach with me?”
I said yes.
We went and walked the boardwalk in the sun on a beautiful day and talked and talked and talked. We talked a lot about healing and growth and what it all means to us. We talked about our families and our pasts, mistakes we made and lessons we learned and God and music.
Then he drove me back to my car. He said, “I’m going to give you my card. No pressure. Call me, don’t call me. Either way, I am looking forward to seeing you next Sunday.”
He did not kiss me, which I liked – although I would 100% have kissed him back.
This was at 1:00. I was tempted to text him before I pulled out of the parking lot, but I did not because I am super cool. I waited a few hours and went for a walk in the park. I sat on a bench with the late afternoon light filtering down through the trees and sent him a text thanking him for a lovely morning. He immediately texted back and said, “What took you so long???? I have been waiting to hear from you all afternoon!”
I spend an awful lot of time looking down at my phone and smiling these days. It’s good.
Later, I was walking Scout and talking to him on the phone and he said he had some places he wanted to show me, some hikes he thought I would like. I said that sounded good and he said, “It would be a date. You know that, right? Are you ready?” It sounded like a genuine question.
I said yes.
He asked me if I like surprises. I said I did as long as I knew what to wear. Might as well be authentically me from the very beginning, right? What’s my outfit? He gave me just enough information to make clear he’d planned a whole day and that multiple footwear options would be necessary.
Surprisingly, it was. I consulted Mary and Matt (obviously) and we came up with a sartorial game plan.
The next Sunday, on a bright gift of a day, we drove up north. He showed me places that were special to him. We talked and talked. Went out to brunch at a quaint little place, sat by a window overlooking a stream and talked some more. He was friendly and gracious to the server. That’s a big one for me. If you’re not kind to people in the service industry, you are unkind. Period.
An hour or so (and one footwear change) later found us hiking in the cool early spring afternoon. He asked whether I wanted to hike the complete loop or double back halfway. I asked him what the difference was and he said that the second half of the hike had more tree cover, so it would be darker and colder. I said I thought it would be fine and made the joke that I wasn’t scared of the dark but if he was, I’d hold his hand.
He looked at me (I have come to love the way he looks at me) smiled, and said, “I think I want to hold your hand in the light.”
And so, he did.
He’s a master craftsman and has the hands to prove it. Strong, rough, and capable. Holding his hand feels like the most natural thing in the world. He’s the kind of man who puts you at ease because he just seems confident things will be fine. He’s relentlessly positive. He’s not trying to prove anything. He’s just… happy. He’s a man of faith and talks easily about God in a language that sounds like home to me.
We went for ice cream and ate it shivering in the sunshine. We wandered through shops and galleries. We laughed and talked and teased each other. We talked about big things and ridiculous things. We held hands the whole time. Finally, seven hours later and much too soon, he drove me back to my car.
It was a perfect day.
And then… Covid 19. When the gravity of what was happening settled on us and we realized normal dating would not be happening any time soon, I bemoaned the timing and he said, “It’ll make a great story someday.”
It’s true. We could have looked at it as terrible, but, as with all things, it is entirely about perspective. In the absence of this forced separation, perhaps it would have been more heat and less light. It feels as though God pumped the brakes for us. Slowed things down. Instead of racing around, going and doing, we’ve spent hours and hours on the phone, talking and being.
We went for a hike a couple of months into the shut down. We picked an arduous trail where social distancing would be easier. He patiently waited when I stopped to crouch and examine moss and mushrooms and smiled at me as I noticed and photographed the moments as they unfolded. He tends to look straight ahead, and I tend to look up and down. He helps me see important things right in front of me, and perhaps I help him see beauty he otherwise might’ve missed.
We came upon a tunnel carved out of the hill. As we approached, the entrance looked foreboding. We walked through and he shined his phone upward so we could try and see the bats that roost there. As we came near the end, the opening to exit was luminous in a way you can only truly appreciate if you are leaving deep darkness.
Together, hands clasped, we stepped back into the bright afternoon.
Farther down the trail, he gestured at a log down by the bank of the river and asked me if I wanted rest for a minute.
I said yes.
The sun moved behind some clouds. The temporary grey was soothing, in a way. Contemplative. We sat a while and listened to the water rush by us. He meditated for a bit. I prayed. One of us talking to God, one of us listening.
We were still and it was quiet. The sun eased out the other side of the cloud bank. The warm light returned, and it was good. I turned my face toward the sun. I said yes to warmth and light. I said yes to happiness and fun. I said yes to connection and adventure and possibility. And risk. Of course.
Yes. Yes. Yes.