Thursday, May 03, 2007

Why I went ring shopping (the long version)

"Please, God, don't let him quote lyrics."
~ President Haney, "My Fellow Americans"

"Had you been there tonight,
you might know how it feels
to be struck to the bone
in a moment of breathless delight.

Had you been there tonight,
you might also have known
how your world may be changed
in just one burst of light,

and what was right seems wrong,
and what was wrong seems right..."

~ Marius, "Les Miserables"

I'm pretty sure back when I started dating Marisa I promised this wouldn't become a relationship blog. Because, after all, who wants that?

Trust me, I'm not so far removed from abject loneliness that I can't remember what it was like to gaze upon happy couples with something that falls between sheer bitterness and complete hatred.

But the thing is, in the three months since our first date - three months today - my entire life is changed.

And not just because I got the promotion I've been working toward for seven years today, effective in a few weeks. I don't even want to think about the stress that's going to add.

No, I'm talking about how my life has changed away from work.

Which in and of itself is a change. After all, when you have nothing waiting at home but some DVDs, beer and a stuffed monkey, there's really no reason to hustle out of the office at the end of the day.

Still, I had a pretty good life. Make good money, own my own house, had my nice set little routine. Everything just so. What I wanted, I bought, and put it exactly where I wanted it. The routine of an empty life trying to be filled.

For those just catching up, I was engaged once, a long time ago, from the time I was 19 1/2 to about 22. I believed in my heart and soul that I knew what love was, that I was one of the lucky ones who got a chance to know how it felt, even if things didn't quite go as I planned.

That was the memory that sometime between my 30th birthday and Feb. 3, I decided was probably enough to be some small comfort as I grew old alone, that guy at the office who people always whispered about behind his back: "He's such a nice guy. Wonder why he never got married?" "I heard somebody broke his heart." Etc.

I won't insult the memory of that love by saying it wasn't any such thing.

But over the past three months, I've found out that love has depths, levels, that go far beyond anything I ever imagined. Ever understood.

I was in love a second time, I think, back when I was 25. It also ended badly, and I suspect part of the reason - and most of the reason it ended badly was my fault - I suspect part of the reason was that I was gun-shy. Holding something back. Or maybe wanting so badly to believe, that my emotions were as out of control as the rest of my life back then. Or maybe just that my broken heart hadn't quite healed.

One three-month girlfriend in seven years, spiced with countless disastrous dates, changed all that.

In some ways, I went from a coward to a quitter. I drank my ass off at Mardi Gras a couple of weeks before my 30th birthday.

"29, you think I'd know better, living like a kid..."
~ Gin Blossoms, "29"

There I was, down in NOLA, God bless it, bleached-blonde spiked hair, shitfaced drunk, dancing with college girls and hitting on bartendrixes and just cherishing every touch, every bit of human (female) contact.

Because when I got home, in the midst of the movie and a vague case of clinical depression, somewhere along the way, I'd lost hope.

I often like to think, in my melodramatic way, that life is game. One I used to think I could win. And when I thought I couldn't, I'd change the victory conditions.

So love stopped being something that mattered. Because it was never going to come. I spent my money on toys and DVDs and video games and limited-edition horror fiction and prescription drugs to keep me sane.

And I found a quasi-happy medium. Life was good. Not great, not wonderful, but good. I could live with good. It beat bad. And on the nights I cried, alone in bed in the dark, thinking of my sins and karma and wondering where I'd gone so horribly wrong and if I deserved my fate... well, I lied to myself until I believed it was truth. I was going to be fine.

I had my best friend's kids to play with. It was what I'd settle for since I knew I would never have any of my own. I joked about my parents' desire for grandchildren, since I knew I would inevitably disappoint them.

I realized that I could add something to my list of fears: Being that old man who dies alone, and no one misses him, so the mail piles up until finally some bill collector kicks in the door and that's how they find him, mummified, still in front of the TV. Unwept, unloved.

I realize I'm rambling a bit, but I don't know if I can explain where I am without explaining how I got here. Hell, I don't know if I can explain it at all.

The point is, three months ago today, my life changed.

I may not have known it at the time. I was too busy being scared of opening up, being overanalytical about my body and hers, trying to remember if I'd told the damn joke on this date or one of the many Matches of the past.

But I met a girl. We'd talked on the phone and had a great laugh, and e-mailed every day, but this was a date. Meeting in person. Face to face.

Trying not to get those damn lentils on my shirt.

We talked so long they kicked us out of the restaurant. We talked at the bar until it got so loud we couldn't hear each other.

I got a second date, and that glimmer of hope. I went home and pondered and overthought and lied to myself in the dark. It went well, but first dates had gone well before.

I didn't know.

The second date, wasn't so good - turned out she wasn't feeling well - but I left it kicking myself and expecting bad news when I e-mailed my usual thank-you/prayer the next day.

But I got a third date, and still baffled by that, I went balls-out as far as showing off. I took her to the best restaurant I knew of in the area and figured I had nothing to lose but a bunch of money. I was tired of the dating game and, frankly, if this wasn't it, I was about ready to quit.

Heck, I was e-mailing another Match at the time, and couldn't even bring myself to ask her out to dinner.

The dinner went well. I walked her to her car, and we were chatting in the cold. And freezing. So I gritted my teeth and asked her back. I swore my intentions were anything but nefarious. I just didn't want to stop our conversation.

We talked all night. And I do mean all night. When I walked her to her car, again, it was something like five in the morning, and we'd barely touched. Just talked. And laughed.

And there, at the car, we kissed. Nervous as a fuckin' schoolboy, I. I don't know why. It's not like I never kissed a girl before.

I lied. I do know why, I think. I think it was because I never wanted to kiss somebody well in all my life. I never wanted a kiss to be perfect more.

I don't know why, exactly. I think I know, but I don't have the right words (me, a writer, hah!).

What I know is, I'll never forget that kiss as long as I live. Just a little kiss, there in the cool dawn. A little shy, maybe a little embarrassed that I'm out there kissing a girl on my street at that hour.

Just a little kiss. My first thought was that she had the softest lips I've ever felt. My second thought, well, that just went all to hell because...

My life changed.

Right there, on the street, in that wee hour of the morning.

I don't even know if I knew it at the time. You know what they say about that feeling in the bit of your stomach just turning out to be indigestion?

I was scared. Confused. Hopeful. All wrapped into one. That's a lot of emotions all at once. A lot of emotions I hadn't felt in a long time.

For years, I'd told myself I'd be cautious with my heart. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. I told myself I'd be prudent. Careful. I'd rushed into love twice and been hurt both times.

I swore so many times, alone in the dark, that it wouldn't happen again.

And it didn't.

Because I stopped believing in love at first whatever. "The one." All of those things I used to believe that got beaten out of me by fate, or whatever you want to call it.

Then it hit. Like a bolt of lightning. Love. And I never saw it coming.

I try to look back at three months and figure out when, exactly, I fell in love.

I'm going with that kiss. I don't know if that's the exact spot, because I don't know anymore what was me lying to myself and trying to protect myself from something in my head, and what was real and I just didn't let myself recognize it.

But I really think it happened somewhere along the way, not much later, when I wasn't alone in the dark anymore, but with someone.

With her.

I wrote something on my Match profile that said something about what I wanted most was to lie in bed, in the dark, and put my arms around someone and feel like home.

I don't know if that's a turn of the poet's phrase, a pathetic sort of honesty, or a Hallmark card waiting to happen.

But the damndest thing happened.

My wish came true.

I'm still scared. I'm scared I'll wake up. And it won't be real.

I'm not a religious man. But I pray every day now. I thank God because I'm not so sure I deserve this. But I dreamed of it, and it's here, and sometimes I think of all the things I've done, and all the nights I prayed for forgiveness, prayed for redemption, prayed for one-last-chance-and-I-swear-to-fucking-God-I-won't-blow-this-one-prettyplease.

I found love. In all of its wonder, all the wonder I thought I'd known only to find out I knew nothing of the sort.

And she's beautiful, and kind, and generous, and endearingly goofy and the most amazing thing is, she loves me, too. Every bit as much and more. I can see my future - ours - in her eyes.

I used to say that the best day of my life was the day I got engaged, because no matter what happened afterward, that day was wonderful. I meant it, too. Right up until somewhere around mid-March.

But I swear, it feels like there's a moment every day these days that's better than that. Because of her.

And trust me, I've (over)thought it all. Is it loneliness? Desperation? Has it been so long I'd forgotten? None of the above.

To hug her. To kiss her. Just to hear her voice on the telephone, brings a smile like you wouldn't believe. A feeling of comfort, safety, peace.

You could take everything else in my life, save my family and friends, and she'd be enough.

I used to say I'd seen the gates of heaven once. Once upon a time, that glimpse might've been enough.

But this time, I think they let me in. And I found an angel.

I think of her every moment we're not together. At least, that's the way it feels.

And when we are together?

The best of it is, I can put my arms around her in the dark, feel her body next to mine, feel her very soul wrap itself around mine to keep me warm, and it really does feel like home.

She's the best in my life.

I don't know what I did to deserve this, and I pray every day, please God, don't ever let this end.

Because sometimes, when we can't be together, I'm alone, but I can feel in my heart, in my soul, that I'll never be lonely again.

I'm in love. And I never want this feeling to end.


I never want to let Marisa go. Because it's not love that I'm in love with. It's her.

So that stupid look that's been fixed on my face for weeks? It's joy. Joy so great, I think my face doesn't quite remember how to make the right expression.

And that's the long version of why I went ring shopping.

Because I've found the woman I've waited my life for. I've found the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. I know it in my heart, my soul and everywhere in between. I'm not a boy anymore, I'm a man, and I know the difference between what's now and what was then.

So, 32 years after I left a war zone for the American Dream, I've found peace. I've found that dream, complete. I've found someone to share it with, too, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Thirty-two years of living, and my life climbed the ramp to perfect in about 14 weeks.

Three months ago today, my life changed forever. It's a great day. These days, in my life, every day's a great day.

Isn't that wild?

(* Disclaimer: I'm not writing this to show off or brag, I swear. I wish you all could feel the way I feel, if you don't already. I've just thought of it so much today that I can't help but write it down. Like if I don't let some of the joy out, I'll just burst from sheer happiness. Thanks for indulging me.

** Disclaimer 2: No, I haven't actually bought anything yet. Much less given anything. But I'm really enjoying looking. Mom.)


Stewie said...

I can't think of one reason why you wouldn't deserve this, man. Not one.

Well, this post did make me throwup some in my mouth, but I don't think that's reason enough why you shouldn't be happy.

Happy days, man. :-)

Marisa L. B. said...

I love you too, Hon!!!! Lots and lots and lots!!!

Ace said...

Stewie: Sorry, dude. I told you it was an indulgence. But thanks!

M: Love you, too! Obviously. :)

Freak Magnet said...

That made me cry.

First an "awww, you're not alone" cry, and then a "awww, you're not alone!!" cry.

jin said...

That is sooooo sweet munkee.
Geez...made me cry too.
(I'm such a girl sometimes :-S)

That Marissa is one lucky lady!
AND you are one lucky munkee!!!

You both deserve it.
*Insert cheesy group cyber hug HERE*

jin said...

Damn...I spelled it wrong.
I meant Marisa.

Lesley said...

Okay, I didn't cry but I am very very happy for you both. I hope the not crying doesn't make me less of a girl. Yikes.