Epilogue: Crazy Love

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Remember in Back to the Future, when Marty McFly goes back to 1955 and starts poking around, changing the past? Then he looks at the picture of himself and his siblings that he keeps in his back pocket, and they start disappearing one by one?

I think about that often when I start thinking how nice it might be to go back and re-write history. Wouldn’t it have been so much better, I sometimes think, if Lee and I had just met in a bar? In an elevator? Both chasing the same cab? Anything, really, would have been easier than what actually happened.

We didn’t end up getting the hunky-dory ending that we thought we’d lucked into that night in Raleigh. The outcome we feared, the one where Steve doesn’t speak to us for the rest of our lives, has pretty much come true. I’m not sure what changed from the initial conversation, and I wouldn’t dare speak for him. I’m not sure I even blame him– I would have been mad if I were in his shoes.

Still, it sucked.

But I wouldn’t change it. Not in a hundred million years. Not if it changed one hair on my babies’ heads, one stick in this tiny old house we’ve loved and hated, one minute of the life we’ve built.

We’ve asked ourselves many times over the last eleven years: do you think we’re meant to be together? I always struggle with that sort of question. I believe in God, and I believe that God can lead a broken person like me [and wow I was a fixer-upper] to another broken person, and with time, He can make something whole out of it.  But staying together while you wait for that wholeness to take shape is a choice you make every day.

It’s more of a commitment than a destiny.

***

I wrote Lee a letter once, which he still has, and in it I quoted a passage from The Sun Also Rises, our mutual favorite book.

He smiled again. He always smiled as though bull-fighting were a very special secret between the two of us; a rather shocking but really very deep secret that we knew about. He always smiled as though there were something lewd about the secret to outsiders, but that it was something that we understood. It would not do to expose it to people who would not understand.

“Your friend, is he aficianado, too?” Montoya smiled at Bill.

Aficion is passion, something Lee and I share. Sometimes this translates into fierce tempers, unfortunately. Once [not too long ago, actually] we got into a fight over whether or not something we were arguing about was worth the effort to argue. Apparently it was.

But more often, our aficion is put towards fiercely protecting what we have. I can’t imagine what would happen to make me decide I wanted out of my marriage, but as my friend Laura and I are fond of saying, I would BURN DOWN THIS HOUSE before I gave up on us.

So this might be the longest Valentine EVER, but really, all of this is just to say:

Dear Lee,

Thanks for putting up with me. But if you ever think you’ve had enough, [and I hope that never happens]

call the fire department first.

Love,

Suz

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Chapter 4: Hoping for Raleigh

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We’d made plans for Lee to come back the next weekend for a party my best friends were throwing in Raleigh. But first things first: we had to tell my ex-boyfriend [let’s call him Steve] who, if you remember, was one of Lee’s two best friends from college.

To say that we struggled with this is putting it mildly. Although we dreaded telling him, we both wanted to be the one to tell him. I wanted to do it because I was certain that if I could just pick the right words, I could make him understand. Lee wanted to do it because, of the two of us, he actually still had an existing friendship to lose. I just had the hope of a one-day-in-the-distant-future friendship, when he would eventually forgive me for how horrible I had been to him. This news would obviously make that reconciliation less likely, so again Lee had the most to lose, and therefore, the most to gain by being the one to break the news.

What are you going to say if he says no? I asked Lee, nervous.  But we weren’t really asking his permission, after all. Because Steve and I were broken up, had been for a while, and weren’t getting back together. We were just telling him what was already happening. Regardless, it was terrifying for me to let Lee handle it.

Here’s where the story gets fuzzy, because Lee doesn’t remember parts of their conversation and is loathe to publish the parts he does remember.  But he did come to Raleigh on Friday, he’d definitely had The Talk, and whatever details he provided me at the time made us think that everything was going to be ok, despite all of our worry.

We were relieved, elated, hopeful.

So when we finally had a chance to sit down at the party, it’s no wonder my lips were a little loose.

Someone took our picture, and afterwards I turned to him, still smiling.

I love you is what I said.

What I meant to say was I love that you’re here. As in, I love that you’re here and not on the phone. I love that you’re here and not in Richmond or Jacksonville. I love that you’re here and not with anyone else.

But I did love him, so I let him have it anyway.

[Should I mention that he didn’t say it back?

And leave you with another cliffhanger?

No, I won’t do that to you.]

But he didn’t say it back. Not right away. I didn’t mind though. He took a week to think it over and told me then. And he’s told me every day in the eleven years since.

I think I’ll let it slide.

Chapter 3: Off Ramp

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As summer waned, we knew we were coming to a crossroads [or, to be literal, an off ramp…but I’ll get to that in a minute]. It would be easy to go back to our lives in Richmond  and Rocky Mount and let our new and exciting more than like fade into the background of our busy lives.

Or, we could do something about it.

As he prepared for the drive back to Richmond from Jacksonville, we realized that seeing each other would be as easy as one turn off of the interstate. He would pass less than three miles from my apartment on his way back to school.

But was it worth it? So far, his former Richmond roommate was the only one of his college friends who even knew we’d been in contact with each other. Seeing each other in person seemed like crossing a line somehow. A line which, once crossed, could cost us both some very important friendships.

We went back and forth about this for weeks. We’d gather courage only to change our minds. How would we ever tell people? Around and around we went, up until and including the seven hours he spent in the car on I-95. If he left at noon, he’d be in Rocky Mount by 7pm.

At 5pm, I finally called him.

What’s the deal? I remember saying. My heart was in my throat. I’d been catatonic on my parents’ couch for most of the afternoon, refusing to go back to my apartment to wait and wonder and drive myself crazy.

I don’t know, he said.

Can we find any way to work this out? It was such a loaded question.

I heard him exhale over the phone.

Yes. We can.

The last time I wrote about our first date, I told you that we already knew that it would be marriage and babies for us, or nothing at all.  This is why: because we never would have risked those friendships if we thought there was any possibility that we could walk away. So once that decision was made, and he showed up at my apartment, there was no turning back.

Actually, he says that when he saw me on the balcony from the parking lot, he knew.

I had known back at more than like.

There was just one problem. There was one very important person who didn’t know.

And we had to tell him.

Chapter 2: Summer of “More than Like”

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I say that it was all downhill from there because I think if either of us felt like this was something we could have put the brakes on, we would have. We knew this was going to be a tough pill to swallow for a few people.

But it wasn’t something we could stop. It wasn’t even something we could explain, really.

We spent the summer on what seemed like one never-ending phone call. He was in Jacksonville for his break, and I was back working at Mellow Mushroom in Chapel Hill [may it rest in peace], with the whole of my paychecks going to cover my cell phone bill.

I have no idea what we talked about. We still hadn’t seen each other, so I guess we had a lot to catch up on. But I’ve never talked to anyone on the phone that much, before or since.

I do remember one particularly late conversation, mid-summer. It was maybe three or four in the morning [wow, I could function on so much less sleep then!], and we were talking about US. Was there actually an us? That was a pretty scary concept.

I don’t know, I remember him saying, but I think it’s more than like.

Whoa. Scary, but exciting. I was pretty sure it was more than like, too, but never would have admitted it at a normal hour of the day. That would be crazy. Who falls in more than like on the phone?

But the next day he didn’t remember saying it, which we argued about.

And then a funny thing happened: I didn’t remember his phone number for over a week. Oh! And I didn’t remember how to return his phone calls, either.

His memory has gotten much better since then.

Chapter 1: Four Years Later

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It is not my intention, by fast forwarding through four years, to downplay the influence those years had on us. We had both spent those years in what, at the time, were the most important and long-lasting relationships of our lives. Each relationship ended naturally and for its own reasons, and not because of any sort of involvement with each other.

[This is not to say that I wasn’t to blame for the end of my relationship. I destroyed that thing from the inside out. What I lacked in good judgment during those years, I made up for with complete and total idiocy. I could say (and let’s be honest, I’ve totally typed it twice and deleted it) that I blame this on the slow maturation of my prefrontal cortex.  But that would be letting myself off the hook, and I don’t think I’ll ever quite do that. I deserve that hook.]

By 2001 we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in close to a year, probably longer.  He was in law school in Richmond, and I was teaching in Rocky Mount.  Then one day, when I checked my email after lunch, his name popped up in my hotmail inbox. I’m pretty sure my thoughts consisted of: Whoa.

The email said something like: Is this you?

[This was in the dark days before facebook, young readers.]

And of course, it was me. So we caught up, back and forth. And because we’ve always had a lot to say to each other, our catch-up emails eventually turned into weekly updates. He talked to me about a musician named John Mayer that I really needed to hear. I complained to him about living in Rocky Mount. Nothing exciting, just friendly stuff.

Then one night, at a music festival in Atlanta, I actually saw John Mayer play.

[This was back before he went completely off his rocker. Don’t hate.]

So I decided to call Lee in Richmond to let him know.

I called him at his apartment, which he shared with another college friend.

At 3am. From Lulu’s. After a fishbowl.

I don’t know if it was all the John Mayer? or the fishbowl? or the fact that his roommate, who knew us both, had heard my rambling middle-of-the-night answering machine message about John Mayer?

But I know this: it was all downhill from there.

Prologue: How We Became

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[Yes, there is a prologue.]

[Also, before I begin: do me a favor and don’t ask Lee about the night that we met. His version of the story is a complete and total fabrication except for the fact that we were both physically in the same place.]

Usually, when people ask us how we met, we answer vaguely: we met in college.

People are either satisfied by this answer, or not. If not, then I quickly have to decide: how much time do we have here? Does this person want the cocktail party version, or the sorority house kitchen version?

Because while we did meet in college, we didn’t go to the same college. Nor would we ever have met if not for the fact that I was, at the time, in a serious relationship with one of Lee’s best friends.

It’s not a storyline for a Disney movie, I’m sure. But it’s the truth.

So, it was 1997. I’d heard a lot about Lee [whose last name I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to spell, much less pronounce], but I didn’t meet him until the first time I came to visit my boyfriend after summer break.

Shortly after meeting, we realized we were the only two smokers* in our group, so we settled onto the porch of the dorm for a cigarette** and a chat.

The short story: we were not fans of each other.

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I had done to him to make him treat me so coldly. Looking back on it, I had probably just schooled him in a battle of wits, and he was holding a grudge. But who knows.

Eventually we did become friends. We were both English majors. We both loved The Sun Also Rises [which also later figured prominently in the story of us]. We both loved beer, and parties, and conversations about books.

And, perhaps most importantly, we loved other people.

Tune in tomorrow [Valentine’s Day, get it??!] for Chapter 1: Four years later.

*Dear Mary Bullock, if you’re reading this one day, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T SMOKE! It’s disgusting and hazardous to your health. I’m sure you’ve already figured this out, but your mommy was DUMB DUMB DUMB.  This does NOT give you permission to be similarly dumb one day.

**Dear Mama, you were right and I was wrong.

Free As We’ll Ever Be

So, it’s taken me a few days to wrangle my pictures off of my phone, but the timing of this post works so nicely with the beginning of November, a month for giving thanks! 
Last Thursday we got an email from MB’s Aunt Kay Kay that her friend Emily [hi, Emily!] had [FREE!] tickets to the Zac Brown Band show at the arena. AND the tickets included the Eat & Greet. Did we want them? She asked. 
I think my response was something like: OHMYGODAREYOUKIDDINGYESYESYES.
Did we have a babysitter? No
But we said YESYESYES anyway, and I really prayed it would work out. Lee and I rarely go out by ourselves, and it’s been ages since we had actually been to a concert.
SO I spent Thursday afternoon calling eight thousand babysitters, who were all busy, because last weekend was also Florida-Georgia, and also apparently some people have LIVES [hello, not us!]. 
And just when I was beginning to despair, my friend Laura offered up her OWN babysitter so that we could go. 
And then we met Zac Brown and his band and they served us an awesome dinner and we sat beside some kooky [in a charming way] women and I stealthily took this picture [no photography allowed, I know– I broke the rules] so that Kay Kay and Emily could witness. 
I promise this is Lee’s thrilled face.
This is his super thrilled face.

The only bad part about this is that I tend to get tunes stuck in my head for weeks at a time, so I have basically been singing Zac Brown songs since last Friday. Actually, that’s awesome for me because I love to sing/whistle/make noise with my face, but not so awesome for Lee, who enjoys quiet for several minutes a day and never gets any.

So, I’ll wind down this post/kick off November by saying:
Kaylan: thanks for the email
Emily: thanks for the tickets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Laura: thanks for the babysitter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lee: thanks for putting up with my musical mouth diarrhea. I could be singing like The Spice Girls or something, so it could be worse.