He sits across from me as we wait for our food. The restaurant is noisy but I can hear him. He is talkative, giddy, and I like this. It is our first date. In three weeks of online dating, I’ve had four dates, no second dates with anyone.
I lean in.
He happily tells me about a recent adventure with his adult son, a friend, and a camper that caught on fire before they reached their destination: an oil rig in Fort Lupton, Colorado in search of employment. He was not alarmed or in shock about the fire, only relieved his son noticed it and they were able to put it out in time and repair the camper to head back to Denver. He is cavalier, amused by the opportunity to have had the experience.
I laugh, believing a second date is imminent. I don’t know another person except myself who laughs easily at his or her mishaps and quickly finds the humor in things gone awry.
I tell him about my work as the software administrator at a community college, teaching English Composition, that I’ve been divorced for a dozen years, and a little about my son, who is 15.
We have a good rapport and at the end of the evening, he kisses me twice.
I am hopeful.
What I Didn’t Say and Why
What I didn’t say is during my most recent dates I cried a little when the subject of divorce came up and that I had a hard time keeping the floodgates from opening. I wasn’t upset any longer that the marriage had ended. I was the one who had left and I was 34 when it happened. My son was two. I didn’t regret leaving. It was time. I also didn’t say that my father had died four months prior, nor that my fiancé wouldn’t respond to a text, answer my phone calls, or reply to email in the last three weeks.
He knew I needed him and this, unfortunately, predictably signaled his retreat. And that was my point of no return. We had been in and out back and forth and up and down for twelve years. I loved him more than any man I’d ever known, but what stared me in the face was insurmountable. I couldn’t tolerate his resistance to healing his circuitous wounding from a military tour in Vietnam and a career as an EMT any longer. My bottomless well of patience sealed, just like that. I needed all of my physical and emotional resources for what lay in store for the care of my son and myself.
I didn’t say that a month prior,
I had found out my ex-husband was diagnosed with the same cancer he had had seven years before, liposarcoma. This time, however, it came on like a storm. By the time the surgeons opened him up, the tumor was the size of a football and had spread. Chemo was his only option as he had already had his maximum of radiation the first go-round. No one was hopeful, but he was trying to buy a little time, as were his wife, her family, his family, and our son.
I didn’t mention.
that a tidal wave had risen up and frozen in front of me, threatening to capsize the rhythm we had orchestrated with the care of our son, the ease of our 50/50 arrangement.
I didn’t say that,
anything I had ever been afraid of before blanched in comparison to this. The enormity of it swallowed me. It was inconceivable I would be solely responsible for the person I loved more than anyone else. At the same time, I had been steadfast in my care of my son all along. I left the marriage to spare him growing up witnessing my misery and his father’s passivity in our relationship.
Breaking up disrupted this and gave me permission to create something new but there would be no replacing my son’s other parent. I could also not realistically expect my ex-husband’s family, my family, or my son’s step-family to rise up in any meaningful way that would alleviate my fear of the unknown. A lack of any sincere effort to build a relationship with my son in his young life was a blockade along with physical distance. Many members of my ex-husband’s family lived out of state and my family, who lived here, hid behind the camouflage of busy, too busy to make an effort. I knew where I was. Being alone was no longer a flirtatious game I kidded myself about. It was no joke. It was here.
Why didn’t I mention any of this to my jovial, self-deprecating new suitor?
I needed him to laugh and tell me inane stories. I did not hope he could be ‘the one,’ a savior, a prince. I had not given up on attracting someone who could be a good fit for me in many ways, but I also knew this moment was not the time to believe it could happen. I couldn’t focus on attracting that man into my life.
Desperation dictated a need for company and a vacation from describing the minutia of this maelstrom. I was not ashamed or embarrassed to know this about myself. I pursued what was going to be a salve right then. Laughter was my drug of choice and I was going to take it as much as it was available.
He calls me the next day.
“I am man without toilet,” he says as though introducing himself.
I chuckle, fully aware he is in the midst of remodeling his bathroom. “Is this your birth name or your given name?”
“Are you ingratiating yourself with the neighbors, or taking care of things out back?” I ask.
“I’m at a McDonald’s right now. I have to keep asking for a token because I took the diuretic and have to go every fifteen minutes. I’ll be here for a few hours,” he says, deadpan.
I breathe in the sweet air of laughter as my shoulders go slack. For another moment I feel saved.
Jane Binns grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and now lives in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of Broken Whole: A Memoir (She Writes Press, Nov. 2018), and the recipient of the Jack Kerouac Award for Prose from Naropa University, 1998. She shared custody of their son with her ex-husband until his death in 2014. www.janebinnswrites.com