Tiggers Don’t Always Bounce

Posted in memory of Michael R. Fronheiser who died on 4-14-2001. I always wanted to get this published… But I never really knew where to submit it. So here it is on my blog. At least it didn’t go to waste.

It happened while we were making love. Being newlyweds, we were always making love. My husband’s last moments were spent expressing his love for me, knowing that I loved him. People tell me that I should be happy about that. At least he didn’t die alone, right? We knew exactly where we stood with each other at that moment in time. No questions. It’s more than a lot of people ever get with their dead loved ones. But I find no comfort in it.

The fact that it happened while we were making love makes the betrayal even more bitter. It makes levity of his death, turning it into a scene from some stupid Hollywood comedy. It’s everyone’s favorite joke when facing the thought of their own mortality. “I want to die while having sex,” they pompously announce as though they were the first person to ever come up with the idea. “That’s the best way to go.”

My husband said it once too. A few weeks before he died, in fact. Not that there’s anything to that. People say that kind of stuff all the time. He’d probably said it before, but I had tuned it out. The last time stands out in retrospect because of its timing.

For some reason, I’ve never found this joke funny. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’d rather imagine my death as occurring in silence, away from the sight of those I love. I always thought I’d die when I was old, which was worlds away from the twenty-six year old I was then. I had fallen into the invincibility trap of youth. Though I had a fair idea of how life really worked, I never honestly believed either of us could die.

When people ask me how my husband died, I am usually vague in order to avoid the snickers and facetious grins that are sure to follow. Each jeer pierces my heart. That even one person could dare to find humor in what was possibly the worst day—the worst event—of my life drives me absolutely mad. But then, most of the people my age also believe the invincibility lie.

It was the Saturday morning before Easter. The forecast had predicted unseasonably warm weather for Northeastern Ohio. Mike and I were planning to meet up with a friend later to go bike riding along the towpath in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which was just about ten miles from our house. We were both training for the MS 150, an annual two-day 150-mile bike ride to raise donations for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Mike traveled during the week for his job as a software trainer. He usually came home on Fridays and left on Sundays. So Saturdays were generally our day, our time to spend together. As usual, he was scheduled to fly out the following day.

We woke that morning to yellow sunlight flooding our bedroom despite the blinds over the windows. Almost immediately, Mike slid his hands under my t-shirt and caressed my back. I leaned into his touch. His hands were always warm, but his gentle touch made me shiver. He’d taught me the sheer pleasure of skin against skin.

“You always wear too many clothes to bed,” he teased in my ear, impatiently tugging my shirt up.

Sex was always the last thing on my mind when I first woke up. I usually wanted more sleep or food or at least some mouth wash. I was more of the spontaneous mid-day sort of seductress. Yet he always managed to persuade me, however groggy I was, because eventually I would forget being hungry or having stinky breath. He knew how to awaken my inner vixen.

This morning, the tone of our love-making was gentle, sweet. Amidst the passion, our hands sought each other as if to find every possible way our bodies could connect. As our hands clenched, our wedding rings struck together with a small melodious ring. The sound thundered in my ears.

You better remember that sound, some omniscient voice cut into my thoughts. It is the last time you will ever hear it.

I tried to dismiss this utterly ridiculous thought, drown it in some dark spot in my subconscious where all my randomly fearful, insecure thoughts lingered. I had probably heard that noise a million times before when our hands clenched during our intimate moments together. But this morning, I noticed.

A moment later I had almost forgotten the thought when Mike stopped. He slumped against the head board, a dazed look in his eyes.

“Oh, no,” he said rather evenly. There wasn’t much surprise there, just calm recognition.

“What?” I asked, half a giggle still ringing in my voice.

“I can’t hear my heartbeat,” he stated. Again, nonplused. But yet, far away too.

I felt my smile fade, my own heart thumped in my ears. “Are you okay?” I asked tentatively.

“I can’t hear my heartbeat,” he repeated in a whisper. There was a note of panic this time.

Shock is paralyzing. All I could do was look at him, speechless. For moments, I waited for him to say more, to give me some instructions that told me what he wanted me to do. I couldn’t tell what was going on, nor how badly he hurt. Surely, it couldn’t be that serious, I rationalized. I thought he was okay. Maybe he had heart burn, indigestion, I didn’t know. I was dumb with fear, helpless.

I did the only thing I could think to do at the moment: I leaned down and tried to listen to his heart myself. But my ears were roaring with the sound of a raging river. My own blood rushing through the veins in my ears? His blood desperately trying to push through his own veins in search of oxygen? I don’t know. I will never know. Unable to determine what was going on, I looked back up into Mike’s face.

His face was blue—literally blue. Like how they described asphyxiation in health class. I had always thought that “blue” was some sort of metaphor for the condition; I had no idea that it was an actual description.

I jumped out of the bed. But I was naked. I had to find clothes. More time passed as I fumbled for my nightshirt and shorts. I don’t know why I did this. My mind could only force one thought through at a time and I was determined to get my nightshirt on before calling 911. In retrospect, it seemed like I wrestled with my clothes for an hour; in truth, it was probably no more than two minutes. Regardless, I would curse myself over these actions in the days and years that followed. I would always feel—and still feel to this day—that my delay cost precious seconds that could have saved Mike’s life.

My hands fumbled with the phone as though I’d never handled one before. I was like the main character in a horror movie, struggling to complete a menial task while the killer sharpened his knife in the next room. You always think that if it happened to you, surely, you’d move much faster. My brain was frozen dumb in shock. I was no better than the mocked horror movie character.

I don’t remember how the call was answered. The line clicked twice and suddenly someone else was with me in this nightmare.

“Something’s wrong with my husband,” I fumbled, my tongue huge and bloated in my mouth. The panicked sound that emitted from my throat revealed much more fear than I felt. “He was complaining about his heart.”

“Is he conscious?” the all-too-calm voice droned in my ear. The female dispatch operator sounded far too deadpan. I got no comfort from it. Why did they always sound much more sympathetic on television?

I forced my eyes to return to the bed and my husband. I didn’t want to look, but I did. His face was so dark—not blue anymore, but a dark, dark red. Like dried blood. His chest was jerking up and down, erratically punctuated by deep, gasping wheezes. It was the worse sound I’ve ever heard. It didn’t sound human at all. Suffocation.

“No,” I croaked. I felt like I should be crying, but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to over-react. At the same time, I vaguely worried that the operator would think me completely unmoved. Crying was like admitting the seriousness of the situation and I didn’t want to do that. It was going to be okay. I kept telling myself that it would be okay.

“Is he responsive?” that other voice pressed.

“I don’t think so. He hasn’t said anything since it began.”

Passive as ever, she asked me to confirm my address. I gave the information to her, waiting for her to give me some sort of instructions like they did on Rescue 911. Isn’t that what they do? Wasn’t there something I could do?

“Okay, a crew is on the way. Are you somewhere where you can let them in?”

“Yes,” I replied impatiently. Where were words of reassurance?

“Good. Just hang tight. They’ll be there as soon as possible.”

As soon as possible? How soon was that?, I wanted to scream. I wanted something more consoling than a vague assurance that an ambulance was on the way. There was a click on the line as the operator hung up. Weren’t they supposed to keep me on the line until the ambulance arrived? This didn’t seem like how it was supposed to work.

Feeling let down, I set the phone on the night stand and let my eyes wonder to Mike’s convulsing body again. He was naked, as I had been, and it occurred to me that I should get his boxers back on. I found them in the bed sheets, towards the footboard, wadded up as carelessly as they had been tossed off. I slid his legs through the pant legs.

When I got to his waist, the task became much harder. I never realized how heavy he was. Not that he was a heavy guy; quite the contrary, Mike was very trim, healthy. But in all my previous experiences, I was dealing with a conscious Mike. When you are conscious, there’s always some part of you still holding your own weight. Unconscious, I found, there was nothing preventing his weight from bearing full force against the mattress.

“Misha,” I crooned, using my nickname for him. “I need to get your boxers on.”

I knew he couldn’t hear me, but I said it anyway. Hearing my own voice out loud brought me comfort somehow, made me feel real.

“Mike, the ambulance will be here soon,” I promised.

There was no response, but I felt a little less alone. I yanked on the boxers, pulling them up as close to his waist as I could get them.

In those next torturous moments of waiting, I paced. I bit my nails. I reassured Mike that help was on the way even though I wasn’t all that sure. I paced some more. How long had I been off the phone? Mike’s chest movements slowed, and then stopped all together. Our bedroom fell utterly silent.

“It’ll be okay,” I chanted over and over again to cut the silence of the room. My eyes were still dry. “It’ll be okay.”

I began to hear the distant whine of sirens, almost imperceptible. It was 9:30am on a Saturday so there wasn’t the usual murmur of cars moving on the busy road outside the window. Like thunder in an advancing storm, the wail of the sirens grew louder as the seconds passed. Soon they were on my street. Then just outside the front door. The sickening toll of salvation.

I left the bedroom when the paramedics began to resuscitate Mike. I saw them pull out the defibrillator paddles. I couldn’t bear to watch. I just hoped they would do their job and he’d be okay. I busied myself with gathering all the medication Mike had been on. Having asthma and severe allergies, he required a daily regimen of medications. It was really his only physical weakness, and he didn’t like to admit it to himself.

I was the fastest white guy on the track team, he had boasted to me on several occasions, a proud gleam in his eye. He ardently took care of his ailments, but he didn’t let them prevent him from doing the things he loved the most. Like the pole-vaulting he’d done in high school and college.

I thought that maybe he’d had an asthma attack. I’d never witnessed an asthma attack before, even though my own mother had asthma. I hoped it was something as simple as that. People survived asthma attacks.

It was a long time before they carried Mike down the stairs on a gurney and wheeled him out the back door. By that time, I’d managed to think clearly enough to grab my address book. Some logical part of my mind, almost rational now that I had left the reality of the bedroom, told me that we would need the numbers to contact family. It was probably my smartest move all morning.

One of the paramedics hung back to walk me out the door. He didn’t seem too communicative, but I kept waiting for him to tell me something about what was going on. He only said, “Where do we take him? County or City?”

“City,” I replied immediately, remembering my bout with food poisoning a few years back. Mike had said to me back then that the county hospital was closer, but a “chop shop.” Of course, a hospital is a hospital, and taking him to County probably wouldn’t have made any difference. But my mind, in its frozen state, could only make decisions from habit and learned mantras. We never went to County. It had to be City.

I followed the paramedic team as they rolled Mike’s stretcher across the strip of lawn that was our backyard and into the back of the ambulance. Dave, the neighbor from two doors down, stood outside the gate to our porch, shirtless as usual despite the chill of the April morning.

“What happened?” asked Dave as I passed him. This was the first of many times I’d be asked this very question.

“I don’t know!” I snapped and pushed ahead. I was afraid he’d try to engage me in a conversation. It felt as though he were intruding on some private moment. I focused on my goal of the ambulance without looking at him.

I started to walk towards the back of the ambulance. My paramedic tugged me by the elbow and directed me towards the cab. I looked back, confused. On television, the spouse gets to ride in the back of the ambulance.

“Listen,” my paramedic said. “You have an important job. You need to watch the traffic and make sure we’re clear. Let me know if you see someone who isn’t pulling over.”

At the time, those directions somehow made sense. Looking back, I realize how ridiculous they are. I was being treated like a child, given a meaningless distraction to occupy my mind from the situation. And it worked. My eyes stayed on the road, though I did not say a thing to my paramedic as he drove.

One of the guys working on Mike in the back opened the curtain between the two compartments.

“Ask her if he’s taken any drugs we should know about,” he shouted over the loud rumble of the ambulance as it and all the equipment bounced with the grooves of the road. I’d never realized ambulances were so bouncy.

My paramedic, not missing a beat in his battle with driving, repeated the question as though I hadn’t heard.

“Drugs? Just his allergy medications. The ones I gave you.”

“No,” my paramedic said. “Not those kind.”

“No!” I was shocked at the suggestion. “He doesn’t do stuff like that. He doesn’t even smoke cigarettes.”

I glanced down at the paramedic peeking through the curtain. He looked back at me incredulously. Then, he slid the curtain shut again. I was left with a feeling of guilt not unlike the time I told my dad that the pack of cigarettes he found in the glove compartment of my college car belonged to my best friend. In this case, however, I’d told the paramedic the truth. He just didn’t seem to believe me. Maybe I was just paranoid, maybe the question was just standard. Yet I felt as though I were being blamed. Maybe I was to blame. Could he tell that I hadn’t called 911 the instant the attack began?

The ambulance was noisy and I couldn’t hear what was going on in the back. I didn’t know what they were doing to Mike. I kept picturing him waking to those austere men, hoping he wasn’t scared. I just wanted to hold his hand so he’d know I was there, that he wasn’t alone. Though just a few feet and a curtain separated us, it felt as though he were on another one of his business trips. I couldn’t touch him, I couldn’t comfort him. I felt completely and utterly useless. Whatever was happening to him was beyond my meager first aid knowledge and my ability to do anything to help.

Dammit, Misha, I silently screamed. I was on the verge of tears I still wouldn’t let come. Crying wouldn’t help. I had to keep myself in check, though my insides were twisting into knots. Dammit, Misha, don’t you leave me here. I’m too young to be a widow.

I felt myself blush with guilt at the thought. Why was I always jumping to the worst case scenario? It was going to be all right, I told myself. They’d fix him. That was their job. He’d be fine.

Regardless, the thoughts continued to form words in my head.

Dammit, Misha. I love you. Don’t leave me here. Fight. It was the silent prayer I repeated over and over all the way to the hospital. It was probably the first—and only time—I had prayed in my entire life.

***

At the emergency entrance to the hospital, I was again immediately diverted from following the Mike’s gurney to its destination. About a year prior, I’d taken a different ambulance trip to this very emergency room when Mike threw his back out. That time, I’d been allowed to follow him to one of the segmented rooms where I’d waited with him for several hours until a doctor finally got the chance to examine him. The contrast between this trip and that one blared before my eyes. Everything was familiar, yet wrong.

I was escorted to the intake desk where I gave the all-too-cheerful secretary Mike’s insurance information. Her manner, a stark contrast to my turmoil, confused my senses. I wanted to be calmed by her demeanor because I thought perhaps she knew something I didn’t, and that I was, as I suspected, being a bit irrational. My stomach was tossing itself into knots.

Another attendant entered the room and looked right at me. “I’ve got good news,” she said.

My heart jumped into my throat. I knew it!, I thought with relief.

“He’s going to be fine,” she said with a smile. But before I could respond, she wrinkled her brow in thought. “You’re the mother, right?”

“Huh?” My heart drummed a single, loud thud that popped in my ears.

“You came in with the 13-year old boy…?” she continued.

The secretary interjected, “Oh, no. This is Mrs. Fronheiser. She’s in here with her husband.”

“Oh.” The attendant blushed. “I am sorry. I thought you were the mother.”

With that, she was off, leaving the chaos she’d created behind.

I tried to bury my disappointment by making light of the situation. “Do I look old enough to have a 13-year old?” I asked in mock disgust.

“Well, no,” admitted the secretary with a chuckle.

“I’m only 26,” I stated. Too young to be a widow.

Stop! chastised the voice on the other side of my mind. Everything is okay.

Between my inner dialog and the urgent need for information about my husband, I could barely concentrate on the terse conversation with the intake secretary. I distractedly gave her the information she needed while anchoring my eyes on the green and black glow of her computer monitor. I just wanted to get through this paperwork so that I could join Mike at his bedside, hold his hand, feel the reality of him. Even if he were unconscious, just the connection of our two hands would bring me comfort. And I didn’t want him to wake up alone.

As we finished up, I began to move in my seat. I was hoping they’d take me to him now, but I suspected I was going to have to wait in the gloomy room beyond the intake desk where all the people with less immediate illnesses and injuries waited their turn for treatment. However, before I could gather my things and move on to the next room, I was intercepted by a lady in a casual pantsuit.

“I’ve got it from here,” the newcomer said to the secretary. She then turned her eyes to me and extended her hand.

To this day, I don’t remember what her name was. I am not good with names and my brain was already in a sort of meltdown. The only word I retained from her introduction was her title: the chaplain. And that is the name I have always used to refer to her in my memory.

“We’re going to go to a quieter room,” she said as though this were the most normal thing to do in a hospital.

But I knew better. I’d been to the emergency room enough in my life—both as a patient and in support of someone else who was a patient—and I’d never been taken to a separate room. I didn’t even know the hospital had separate rooms, besides the rooms for the patients. People in movies weren’t taken to separate rooms. I started to feel light-headed.

“So, what’s going on with my husband?” I asked tentatively. “Do you know?”

“I don’t know. They are working on him, but I couldn’t see what was happening,” she replied. She was lying. I knew it instantly. I could just feel it. She didn’t even bother to try to make it sound convincing.

The room to where I was lead wasn’t any more impressive than the waiting room. It was the typical dully lit white-walled room for which hospitals are famous. Bright, uncomfortable furniture left over from the 70s lined with the walls, leaving the middle of the room completely bare. An old, pea green, dial telephone with a worn number pad sat on a cheap end table made of particle board and wobbly metal legs. I immediately took a seat on the couch next to the phone, folded my arms across my chest protectively, and put my feet on the beat-up coffee table in front of the couch. My eyes fell on the door the Chaplain closed behind her.

“It’s been a busy morning,” she commented. “Some days are like that.”

I didn’t respond. I had nothing to say to that. Something about my husband being a part of an abnormal influx of patients into the hospital bothered me.

I felt the Chaplain’s eyes scanning me up and down. “How long have you been married?”

I knew it was a tactic to distract me. Yet I fed into it. I needed to talk.

“A little over a year,” I replied.

“You have any kids?”

“No,” I said somewhat defensively. “We’re waiting.”

“Well, that’s a good idea,” the Chaplain said. “You’re still young.”

“We like to travel,” I said as if that explained everything.

The door opened and a pudgy woman slipped in. She glanced around the room nervous, didn’t meet my eyes. I can’t remember her name either, but she introduced herself as a social worker (which I had trouble believing given her state). I suddenly felt as though my head was being pushed under water.

The Social Worker didn’t say much. She occasionally added a comment or two, but she seemed more uncomfortable in the room than I did. The Chaplin quickly filled her in on the situation: wife is young, newly married, no kids.

“I’m not religious,” I stated evenly to the Chaplain. It was a warning to her that I didn’t need her to start in on any Bible-thumping. I also just wished she and her social worker friend would leave the room.

“That’s all right,” she said with the typical happily-Godified smile all religious people seemed to have. “I’m just here for support.”

“Well, I don’t believe in any of that stuff.”

“That’s fine,” she affirmed.

Silence.

The Social Worker picked up the conversation. “So what do you do?”

“I’m a technical writer,” I replied.

“And your husband?” prompted the Chaplain.

“He is a software trainer,” I replied. Is? Was? I suddenly couldn’t figure out what verb tense to use. Again, I felt bad for thinking that.

The Chaplain again. “You like to travel. Where have you been?”

“A lot of places. The Virgin Islands. Mexico on our honeymoon…” I said, slightly distracted by the mental image of the cruise to the western Mexican ports. “We want to go to Europe sometime.”

We want? We wanted…? I want…

The drowning feeling was getting worse, pressure was building in my ears as I sunk deeper. At the same time, I could see the faint shimmer of the surface light ahead of me. I wanted to swim towards it, but I couldn’t move.

“I hope he’s okay,” I said, looking helplessly at the door.

The Chaplain nodded to the Social Worker. “Why don’t you check up on him.”

The Social Worker slid quickly out of the room, seemingly grateful.

“Where do you live?” the Chaplain continued to press.

“Stow,” I said. “But we want to move to Colorado. We like to climb mountains and ski.”

I just couldn’t stop myself. I felt like the more I said about my life with Mike, the more I could keep him in it. If I just kept talking, kept affirming all of our plans and ideas for the future, everything would be okay. I could submerge that pessimistic voice in the back of my head, the one that kept spouting false prophecies. It was a twisted nightmare I was having with myself. I just had to talk myself through it.

“That’s really exciting,” the Chaplain said, smiling encouragingly. “My son moved to Alaska—just up and left, after graduating from college. He loves it there. He says he’d never move back.”

“Too cold.” I even mustered a slight smile. “I couldn’t take it.”

“But it’s beautiful country up there, I hear. Probably like Colorado. But I’ve never been there either.”

And the small talk went on a few more minutes. I felt like I was being torn in two directions between utter calm and complete fear. My patience was wearing thin. I kept picturing someone of authority bursting into the room, telling me it was a close call but my husband was all right and I could go and see him now. I saw myself walking into the large, partitioned area of the emergency room towards a bed on which Mike lay, his eyes grinning up at me even if the rest of him looked worn.

It’s okay, he’d whisper hoarsely. It was a close call, but I am okay.

Misha, don’t ever scare me like that again, I’d reply with relief. I love you.

He would give me a tired, but assuring smile. I would take his hand and squeeze it. What did I tell you, Fritzy? Tiggers always bounce.

He identified with the character Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. It was his typical response to anything that happened which might appear troubling to someone else. His training as a pole-vaulter made him capable of surviving falls that could seriously have injured most people. He consciously applied the same principles to survive the emotional falls he’d taken in his life. In truth, he did have the amazing ability to bounce where others would belly-flop. I guess I believed, like he did, that he was unbreakable.

I kept focusing on that scene, knowing it would come. I kept telling myself that I was being completely irrational in thinking that something was really wrong. We were young. We still had plenty of chances. Bad stuff like this never happened to me. It would turn out okay. I always found ways to cheat the rules of life. I would cheat this out too. I was smart, a hard worker; only good things could come to me.

I tried desperately to convince myself that everything was normal, despite what it looked like. I tried to rationalize being in a separate room from the rest of the emergency room clientele. It’s just precautionary because it’s a serious problem, I explained to myself. But he’s fine. You’ll see.

I tried to find a reason, other than a solemn one, why a chaplain and a social worker had been sent to babysit me. It’s because they think it’s a domestic dispute, I thought. They want to make sure I didn’t hurt him.

None of these explanations added up. I didn’t want to see the facts in front of my nose. My mind kept finding ways to explain around them:

They’re offering prayer services just in case I think it will help.

They’re just making sure I am not alone.

It’s just someone to talk to so that I don’t have to be alone in a hospital when my husband is unconscious.

I rationalized until I could rationalize no more. And then I waited, vaguely stumbling through polite and meaningless conversation with the Chaplain. Waiting and waiting and waiting for someone to give me some piece of information about my husband. It was a continual game of “beat around the bush.” Why couldn’t one person just be frank with me?

The door opened. I don’t know how long it had been since the Social Worker left, or even how long I’d been in that room.

A middle-aged balding man dressed in sea green scrubs entered the room. The Social Worker, worn and broken-down, followed close behind. A second woman followed at her heels and closed the door behind them.

The man nodded nervously, didn’t meet my eyes. “Mrs. Fronheiser?”

I nodded affirmation.

The man introduced himself as the doctor who was working on Mike. He asked, “Can you tell me what happened this morning?”

I sighed, confused. I summarized the ordeal as best as I could.

The doctor thought to himself for a moment, and then he asked, “How much time passed between your husband’s loss of consciousness and when the ambulance arrived?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know… five minutes? Fifteen? It seemed like a long time.”

He shifted in his chair. Still no eye contact. “I am not sure, but he may have had a brain aneurism.”

But he’s okay, right? I wanted to ask. I just waited in silence for the doctor to continue.

More silence. More waiting. All eyes in the room were on our conversation. Seconds ticked away as my mind soared. I knew what was coming, I could feel it. But I wasn’t at all prepared for the truth of the words.

“Mrs. Fronheiser,” the doctor uttered quietly, staring at his own feet, “your husband died.”

The world came to a grinding halt around me. Or so it seemed, as I sat there, just waiting to hear the next beat of my heart. Motion blurs obscured the walls like the background of Munch’s painting, The Scream. A dirty shade of yellow just passed over my eyes like someone pulling down a shade. The lights seemed dimmer. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

No, I thought defiantly. This is a dream. It’s not real. You’re still sleeping.

“No,” I moaned as if making a sound could tell me where reality lie. I can fix this. Just let me start the day over again. My mind was full of illogical thoughts. I kept thinking that I could change the outcome if given the chance to run through the morning again. Somewhere I had taken a wrong turn, selected the wrong choice. My thoughts raced to every detail of that morning.

Dead. Mike couldn’t be dead. We’d been in bed just an hour ago, making love. I could still feel his lips warming mine and his fingers running through my hair. Our hands had been intertwined. I’d felt his breath on my face. He couldn’t be dead. Not so quick, not without warning. He’d just been here, alive as ever. And now, they told me, he was no longer here. How could things change like that so suddenly?

This is not my life, I told myself. This is some other reality. I am not here.

The room truly seemed to dissolve around me simply out of the mere suggestion. I may have closed my eyes—I am not sure—but I lost visual image. Static pounded in my ears, matching the heartbeat I couldn’t feel in my chest, and dizzying me. I knew I should cry, but I couldn’t. It was like wanting to vomit because you felt sick, but only getting dry-heaves.

I wanted to be left alone. I was aware of the people in the room, though they were silent. I wanted to run away, go some place where I could think without an audience, where I could beg the Fates to rewind the morning and let me start over.

Someone touched both my shoulders and I yanked away. “Don’t touch me!” I yelled. “I am not like that.” The last thing I wanted was to be hugged by some strangers who did not know me or Mike or anything about my life other than what I told them.

“Okay, okay,” a voice came back. The Chaplain.

I open my eyes against the waves of static crashing in my head. I was curled sideways on the couch. I didn’t even remember moving. The room still looked dim and off-color in my eyes.

“Now, Mrs. Fronheiser,” the doctor—he was still there?—said. “The nurse here has some things to go over with you. I know you don’t want to do this now, but you have to.”

“Mrs. Fronheiser,” the nameless nurse interjected, “do you want to donate his organs? If so, we need to know quickly.”

“Donate his organs,” I again echoed dumbly. I was so confused. What if they just thought he was dead and they were wrong, and they started cutting up his body….?

“Mrs. Fronheiser?” someone prompted.

I blinked. “Can you… use… anything?” Everyone sounded like they were speaking to me through a phone made of tin cans and wire.

“Some bones, some ligament tissue… his eyes…” she stated. “Stuff like that. Not any major organs, though. We can’t use those.”

I couldn’t imagine it. I always thought it was a good thing to be an organ donor, but I never knew I would have to make the call. I didn’t know what Mike would have wanted. He wasn’t an organ donor on his driver’s license out of an irrational fear that a hospital would harvest his organs while he was still alive. For a moment, I entertained this fear too, wondering if he really were all right and I was being lied to in order to use his body for someone else’s life.

I thought about it all for a moment. We’d never discussed organ donation. Or funerals, burials, or anything else related to death. I think I’d told him once that I wanted to be cremated. He probably would have known that much. He’d never told me what he wanted, except that once he said he wanted to be released to wander in a backwoods wilderness when he ceased to be “useful to society.” Romantic ideas of the young. I had pictured wandering the wilderness with him when we were both old and grey. What was I supposed to do?

“Mrs. Fronheiser,” the nurse prodded. “We are also going to need to release his body to the coroner since we don’t know how he died. You need to sign this release.”

The nurse shoved a clipboard into my hands. I stared blankly at the paper, unable read it. This was happening too fast. I was feeling smaller and smaller by the second. I fumbled with the pen, managing to scrawl my name on the designated line.

“Are you going to donate?” pressed the nurse.

My mouth was dry, speechless.

“Perhaps,” interjected the Chaplain, “she’d like to see her husband.”

“Would you like to see your husband, Mrs. Fronheiser?” asked the nurse.

I didn’t want to really. But I knew I had to, or none of this would be real to me at all. I would keep thinking that it was a big mistake, that there had been a mix up and they had the wrong man, the wrong wife. I didn’t want to believe any of it.

I nodded numbly. It was all I could do. Coroner, donating organs, stroke—this is was all too much. Static continued to undulate in my ears. Little did I know, but this dizzying noise would continue to plague my brain from that moment forward whenever I was experiencing stress. Three years later, the static still pounds my ears from time to time, a harbinger of an arising situation I can’t control.

***

I slowly entered the small, empty, and isolated room. The only light in the room streamed from the hall through the window on the door, and Mike’s shirtless body lay on a gurney in the shadows. Lifeless, he was neglected there, his would-be saviors having moved on to the next patient in need.

He would have looked like he was sleeping, except I could see that his chest wasn’t moving. His body and his face were randomly splotched with red patches—his blood, no longer moving, pooled. Someone must have closed his eyes. He couldn’t have been like that.

The tears I’d sought so desperately suddenly pushed themselves out of my eye sockets. These tears were not driven by sadness, but instead a rage like none I’d ever felt before. I felt the rage climb like fire through my legs and push up my body to my head.

“YOU BASTARD!” I shouted, feeling and welcoming the anger that bubbled in my veins. It felt really good to scream. Even if my anger was directed at the person I loved most in my life. “How could you do this?! How COULD you!”

I wanted to hit him. I wanted to kick the walls and stomp my feet. I wanted to pull all my hair out. I wanted to punch those stupid, useless, glowing panels on the wall.

I continued, “Dammit, Misha! You’re a fighter! You were always a fighter. You said we could beat anything. Why didn’t you beat this?!”

I glared hard at the unmoving body on the bed, demanding it to tell me why it had let go. What had I done to make him give up? The naivety of my age led me to believe that we could conquer anything, even death itself, if we held onto life with all of our strength and refused to let go. Therefore, I reasoned that something I had done had made him want to leave.

“What did I do?” I demanded aloud. “What did I do to make you leave me? I know I was a horrible wife. I could have been a better wife! I am SORRY.”

Another incongruent belief I’ve always held: The word “sorry” could erase all mistakes.

My shouting echoed off the walls, probably reverberated out of the room and into the halls for all to hear; yet, my shouting stirred no reaction from the body on the gurney. The anger gave way to sadness; the sadness to self-defamation. I began to helplessly list all the things I was sorry about in our marriage—any fights we’d ever had, all the times I’d worked late when he wanted me to come home, the several times I neglected to call him when I was staying out late with friends. I was begging, bargaining my apology for his life. I kept thinking I could get him back if I just said the right things. Someone was trying to teach me a lesson, I reasoned. And now I knew how important he was to me. Lesson learned.

I approached his bed and threw myself against his chest. His body felt cold and stiff. How soon the body lost its temperature. His skin still smelled vaguely like the man I’d slept next to for the past three years, though with the stale odor of a hospital melded in it.

“I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

My tears made puddles on his unmoving chest.

“What am I going to do now?” I whispered. “What am I going to do?”

For the first time in my life that I could remember, I felt completely and utterly helpless. The unconquerable faith I had in myself to surmount all of life’s obstacles drained from my veins and oozed onto the white-washed floor of the hospital room. I watched my dreams—the dreams I had of my life with Mike—evaporate into the air. There would be no trip to Europe, no Colorado, no daughter named Sabine Patrice and no son named Korbin Michael; there would only be me and the fading memory of a dream I had once when everything seemed possible.

At that moment, I passed from whimsical youth to the reality of adulthood.

Skanky Girl

I don’t like to pretend that it was always smooth sailing in my relationship with Mike from start to finish. Like every other relationship, there were a few bumps. One bump so big that it almost resulted in our permanent breakup. When I recall this particular incident–which involved a woman who Mike and I later dubbed “Skanky Girl”–I always feel inevitably embarrassed. Surely, all my girlfriends would think me a fool for letting Mike back into my life after this incident. I hold the same guilt towards it as I do to the morning Mike died before my eyes and I did not know CPR… I feel as though, when told, the world judges my reaction and finds me guilty of being completely stupid. So I write it down, at last, to absolve myself of the guilt in the same way that writing about the morning my husband died absolved me from the guilt of not being able to prevent his death.

October, 1998. My cousin held a second party that year–another, bigger “G-Bash”–to celebrate his birthday. Because his birthday is so close to Halloween, it was a costume party. Mike and I, feeling particularly theatrical, chose a theme from current events and went as Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. I wore a blue dress that I strategically splattered with Elmer’s glue, a black-haired wig, and beret. Mike painted his hair white with one of those spray-on hair coloring cans that only come around during Halloween and wore a dress shirt with jacket, complete with an obnoxiously patriotic tie with an American eagle on it , the end of which he slipped through the open fly of his pants. We had worked out performance art piece where we’d disappear into a room and Mike as Bill would come out with more lipstick marks on his clothes. We were received with great enthusiasm at the party.

Mars Girl & Mike as Monica & Bill

As the party began, we were hanging out with others on the porch. We’d just started to get a little lit from drinking. Mike and I were giggling about how much attention our costume was getting. In mid-sentence from whatever it was he was originally saying, Mike said, “And, you, Mrs. Franchester…”

I did a double-take. Did I hear that correctly. “What?!”

Mike blanched. Then, he smiled dazedly and leaned in to give me a kiss. “Well, I mean,” he breathed, “the future Mrs. Franchester.”

This was the first time he’d ever mentioned anything about us getting married in the nearly five months we’d been together. I’d never mentioned anything, even though the thought had crossed my mind, because like I felt about our first I-love-you’s, I was convinced he needed to bring it up first.  “Do you mean that?” I asked, shocked/excited/elated.

“Yes,” he said, and then bounced away to follow one of my cousin’s friends into the house. I turned to my best friend, Melissa, who was standing several feet away from me laughing at something else going on. I told her what Mike had said.

She nudged me in the arm. “That’s a good sign!” she said. “Guys don’t say that unless they mean it.”

So my thoughts exploded with the possibilities that lay ahead. When would he propose? What would he say? Who would I ask to be in my wedding party? Of course, I knew he’d had a few drinks when he’d said it. Still. He’d said it. He’d smiled when he said it. It had to be the truth. I didn’t know if I was yet ready for that kind of commitment, but it felt right. I loved him; he loved me. Was anything going to change with more time? It didn’t matter that he hadn’t yet proposed. The possibility was out there and I was happy. I’d been so careful not to mention marriage at all in the past months. I was doing everything I could to prevent being the worst example of a girlfriend, from resisting the urge to say “I love you” until  he did to carefully avoiding the word “marriage” in any of our conversations. Perhaps it wasn’t completely honest, but I really didn’t want to mess things up with him. And now my patience had paid off.

***

One of the other demons I’d fought my whole life in relationships to beat is what I call the Big Ugly Green Jealousy Monster. I’d seen the Big Ugly Green Jealousy Monster cause the destruction of one or more of my friends’ various relationships and I just didn’t want to be the kind of girl who could not trust her boyfriend. Love at its core is about trust and I knew this, always.  Still, it’s not an easy feat to keep your baser emotions in check when you feel threatened by the presence of another woman. And I’d had other women move in on a boyfriend in the past, though those had been less serious relationships, such as my first boyfriend at age 16. Still, I knew that in most cases the person you were with was more likely to cheat on you the harder you pulled on the reins. Therefore, I always strived to suppress my initial, hormone-based reaction to women who flirted Mike. I knew he loved me; I didn’t need any other reassurance. So if I felt jealous, I knew that the problem was with me and not him. I strove to suppress the Big Ugly Green Jealousy Monster within me.

I immediately knew something was wrong–something out of the ordinary–when I kept catching Mike talking to Skanky Girl at G-Bash. But I thought it was the Big Ugly Green Jealousy Monster taking control of my brain. After his confession on the porch, I’d seen sparingly little of Mike. He’d disappeared into the crowd somewhere and began socializing with other people. I figured I was being an extremely cool girlfriend by not following after him and demanding constant attention, though I was irked that he didn’t want to spend his time with me. I hung out with my own friends, giggling, chatting, drinking. But at the corner of my mind, an alarm kept going off in my head. Where is Mike? Why isn’t he coming back here? I struggled to ignore the alarm. I took deep, cleansing breaths, tried to relax.

One such awkward moment happened when I opened the door to the basement, which was where my cousin was storing most of the beverages. Mike and Skanky Girl were standing on the landing, talking. As I looked down at them, I felt as though I were intruding on something. They both looked up, surprised, at the open door.  They had been talking animatedly to each other and they suddenly stopped. Mike looked up at me, his eyes shining, as he said, “Hey, sweetie!”

A rage burned in my veins that wanted to come out. My instinct was to grab Mike, pull him along with me somewhere. No, no, my inner voice tried to sooth my qualm. You’re just letting the Big Ugly Green Jealousy Monster out. Relax. I looked at Mike’s sincere eyes. He seemed happy to see me. It was all right. He’d called me “sweetie.” The problem was me, not him. Skanky Girl, however, gave me the primal look like a dog guarding a cherished bone. There was a look of satisfaction there. She knew I was uncomfortable and she was loving it.

I’ve never been too good when challenged by another female in any sort of dual. Not knowing what else to do without sounding like a completely horrible person, I backed down. I figured Mike could take care of himself. And he would because he loved me.

“I’m just going to grab some more drinks,” I said, closing the door on them. I didn’t want to stumble past them to the basement. I figured my possessiveness would be too obvious. Instead, I headed towards one of the other locations in the house where there was a cooler full of beer. I tried to drown my thoughts in alcohol and laughing with my friends. I kept hoping Mike would show up again at my side. He never quite did, except for a few short periods of time.

***

The party was winding down. People were leaving. Mike had been missing for what seemed like hours, but I wasn’t sure because I’d been drinking and time had slowed to a grinding halt filled with laughter, paranoid and jealous thoughts I tried to suppress, and kicks of energy. Our performance as Monica and Bill had gone to the wayside. I was looking for him again. It seemed like I was always looking for him that night.

I turned the corner into my cousin’s kitchen, a side entrance that led to a little private area between his cabinets and the entrance way into his dining room. Mike stood there with Skanky Girl, leaning in close. As I watched, in slow motion, their lips touched for a kiss. They didn’t see me. I stood there, too flabbergasted to speak. Betrayal: A sharp pain like a machete ripped through my heart, guts, loins.

“Come with me,” Skanky Girl cooed, yanking on his shirt sleeves.  She gestured towards a plump woman dressed as a bumblebee who hung on a tall, skinny man. “Come on. We’re going to another party.”

Mike gave her an earnest look. In his eyes, I could see a yearning to go with her mixed with conflict. He was interested and he wasn’t entirely resisting. “I came with someone,” he said. To me, it sounded regretful. “I can’t.”

“Come on,” she pushed. “Who cares?”

At that point, I just couldn’t take it. Bile welled up in the back of my throat, the room spinned. I made my presence known. “What the fuck?” I screamed, not caring who else was in that kitchen at the moment to hear me. “Mike, what the hell?”

Skanky Girl and Mike turned around. Mike looked shocked, embarrassed, ashamed; Skanky Girl, triumphant. I turned on my heel and spun out of the room. I ran upstairs into my cousin’s bathroom where I expected to–what? I didn’t know, but I just had to get away. I’d seen my boyfriend kiss another woman. It was over. There was no way I’d let a man I was dating using me like that.

Mike’s footsteps pounded on the stairs after me. He called my name, but I shut the bathroom door in his face. Tears pushed from my eyes with the urgency of a sudden summer thunderstorm. I hurt all over my body; pain like the atoms in the air burst around on every surface of my skin. I was bleeding on the outside. I sank to the floor.

“Heidi,” Mike called from beyond the door, his voice mournful. “Heidi, let me in.”

“NO!” I shouted. “Go AWAY.”

“Please let me in,” Mike begged.

I stood up and opened the door. I suddenly wanted him to hurt as much as I was hurting. It was time to scream.

“WHAT?” I shouted. I wanted to be unrelenting, cruel, unforgiving.

He looked at me, his eyes dull. “I’m sorry.”

“WHAT? That’s all you’ve got?”

He pushed past me into the room and headed straight for the toilet. He began to heave into it. I watched his shoulders convulse and I felt no pity.

“Why?” I demanded. “What the hell did you do that for? What have I done to make you want to kiss some other girl?”

Mike’s head bobbed, but he did not turn around. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” I raged. “How could you not know?!”

Mike slumped against the toilet seat, heaved again, and then responded, seething, “I. Don’t. Know.”

“Well, fine.” I replied. “But it’s over. I’m leaving.”

I didn’t really have any way to leave; we’d come in Mike’s car and all my over-night things were at his house. But I sure as hell wasn’t going back home with him. And I couldn’t stay here at my cousin’s, not after that scene in the kitchen. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. How many people had seen Mike–the man they all knew I was dating–kiss another girl? I am not even sure to this day who all witnessed it because no one ever speaks of it (thankfully) to me. We all share a conspiracy of silence.  The truth of the matter was, I was too embarrassed to even leave the bathroom.

“No,” Mike said, suddenly sounding regretful and childlike. “No, don’t go.”

I stood there, looking down at him as he dry-heaved a few more times into the toilet. Despite my anger, rage, unbearable sadness–all of which he was the cause–I felt sorry for him. Against my will, I felt my heart warm slightly at his obvious distress. I wasn’t sure if he was sick from repentance or drunkenness, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. He had the crumbled hunch of defeated man. He truly understood that he’d colossally fucked up. I didn’t need to rub it in.

“Okay,” I relented. “I’ll drive you home. But I’m not staying the night.”

“Okay,” he agreed, struggling to push himself off the ground. I leaned over to help him up. He put his arm on my shoulder for support and we walked together out of the bathroom, down the steps, and to the back door. My cousin was standing there, jovially flirting with a skinny blond girl I knew he’d been crushing on. If he’d seen what had taken place earlier, he was not letting on; I couldn’t even read anything in his usually expressive eyes.

“We’re going,” I said, trying to sound casual and nonplussed. “Mike’s not feeling well.”

“Okay, Cuz.” Gary smiled, gave me a hug. “It was good having you here. Thanks for coming.”

It was probably the best acting role I’ve ever performed. Somehow, despite the hardness of dried salty tears on my cheek, I managed a smile, a hug, and a level of nonchalance that seemed convincing enough to me. I wasn’t about to let the world see how defeated I felt. Somehow, I could leave that house holding my head high, as if I never saw the oncoming train that had hit me. I wasn’t sure at that moment what was worse: being cuckolded or admitting to knowing I’d been cuckolded. I exited that party as if I were merely escorting a drunk boyfriend home. The half hour back to his place, however, was the longest drive of silence.

***

I found it in my heart to help Mike get changed and into bed. I couldn’t just leave him. He really did seem to be experiencing a horrible hangover or crippling regret. As mad as I was at him–and I was fuming–I couldn’t find it my heart to just leave him at his house and drive home. He was morose and silent. I could tell that he was perhaps sharing some of the physical pain I was feeling. That made me feel better, part out of vengeance and part out of empathy. He asked me to stay the night and I did. I even slept next to him his bed, though I was careful not to touch or brush up against him throughout that long night of nightmares and unrest. As I look back, I realize I was going through the grieving process; three years later, I’d have experience a similar sleepless, nightmare-filled night, alone. Both were equally as painful.

The next morning, Mike got up first and slumped downstairs into the kitchen. I gathered up my stuff and started packing it. I was totally prepared to leave the house, head back to the room I now rented in my best friend’s basement. When I got downstairs, Mike stopped me. He was fiddling with some CDs by his boom box on the floor.

“Wait,” he called. “Don’t go.”

He hit play on the boom box and I recognized the first few notes of Billy Joel’s “So it Goes.”

He put his arms out, gesturing for me to take his hands to begin a slow dance. Despite my better judgment, I put down my bag and slid stiffly into his open arms. I initially held myself at a distance, but he pulled me in as the lyrics started. A verse played before he spoke, “I’m sorry, sweetie. Really, I am.”

“But why?” I asked, hard. I didn’t want to give in so easily. I felt like crying again as I remembered the sight of he and Skanky Girl kissing. “Why did you do it?”

“I don’t know. I drank too much. Or I maybe buried myself in the Clinton role,” he said. It was a kind of dark joke we often used as short hand to describe to each other what happened that night. “But I’m sorry. I don’t want to lose you. I really don’t want to lose you.”

My resolve was melting. I hated myself for it. This was not how liberated women acted. I’d seen girl friends cheated on by their boyfriends before and I’d sworn I’d never take a guy back who did that to me. Yet, here I was, dancing in the arms of a man who was sweet-talking me back into his good graces. I had to be stronger than this. Yet, his body, his eyes begged me to forgive him. And, dammit, I loved him. Conflict brewed in my mind. I had to be stronger than this.

He began to sing with the music. He sounded so earnest.

***

In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along

I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self-defense

And every time I’ve held a rose
It seems I only felt the thorns
And so it goes, and so it goes
And so will you soon I suppose

But if my silence made you leave
Then that would be my worst mistake
So I will share this room with you
And you can have this heart to break

And this is why my eyes are closed
It’s just as well for all I’ve seen
And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows

So I would choose to be with you
That’s if the choice were mine to make
But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break

And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows.

***

How can a girl resist a serenade? I sighed.

“Okay,” I said. “This is your one and only strike card. Your ‘get out of jail’ free. If you ever–and I mean ever–do something like that to me again, I will never come back to you. Never.”

Mike nodded solemnly. “I know. I wouldn’t expect anything less from you. It will never happen again,” he swore.

“I won’t be played,” I continued. “I won’t let myself be used. You only get one strike. It’s not baseball.”

Mike shook his head fervently. “I get it. I know. If I ever do that to you again, I deserve what I get.”

“Okay,” I said. I leaned into him and let him hold me as the last lines of the song faded into the music.

“I love you, Fritzy,” he said. “Really, I do.”

***

Several months later, when Mike and I were actually engaged, I talked to Mike’s best friend Jonathon about what had happened. We’d been to another party–the second annual Woodchuck we’d all attended–and Skanky Girl had been there, this time hitting on Jonathon. Mike had pulled Jonathon aside and quickly gave him a summary about Skanky Girl. What exactly he said, I don’t know but Jonathon backed off all initial interest he’d shown in her. Later, he and I had a heart-to-heart while Mike was in another room. I was still a little baffled about that night Mike had betrayed my trust. I told Jonathon that I couldn’t believe that the same night Mike had first mentioned he wanted to marry me, he cheated on me with some other trampy girl.

Jonathon just shook his head and gave me a knowing look. “It makes complete sense,” he said. “He had just realized that you were the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. That’s a big, scary step. He didn’t know how to handle it. He had to make sure he wanted to totally give up the freedom of being single.”

“That’s a pretty lousy way of sewing his wild oats,” I grumbled.

“I didn’t say it was smart. I just said that it made sense that he did it.”

Jonathon was the only other person with whom Mike and I had ever discussed the events of that particular G-Bash. It was a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders. The fact that he didn’t seem to think the entire incident was as big of a deal as I still saw it made me feel a little better. It was only a kiss, after all. Still, my heart was cautious for a long time. And even after Mike’s death, I wondered if he ever dallied from me again. Grief makes you imagine some pretty crazy scenarios. I even entertained the oddball thought that he’d faked his death to be with another wife he’d hidden somewhere across the country, that he was leading a dual life like one of those crazy news stories you hear about or those plots they make Lifetime Movie Network movies out of. It was possible; after all, he traveled a lot. Trust is a hard thing to earn and a much harder thing to earn back after lost. I prefer to believe Jonathon’s words. And they did bring me comfort at the time.

***

Once, a few years later when we were married, I brought this incident up again to Mike. He threw his hands up in frustration and exclaimed, “Are you ever going to forgive me for that?”

Every time I sat down to write this story, my hands were stopped at the memory of Mike chastising me. I can almost see him hovering about me in an ephemeral realm, rolling his eyes, muttering, “Dammit, you’re never gonna forgive me for this. Now the whole world knows.”

I merely record it to assure myself that I don’t only remember the beautiful parts of my relationship with Mike. There were ups and downs; more ups than down. Maybe sometimes I don’t forgive myself for being so easy to persuade back into his love. But love is complex. It’s easier to look on the outside of something and think you’ll know what you’d do. We went on to have some great times after and, despite my initial mistrust, I never really did think he would stray again. From that time on, whenever we were together at a social function, he hung at my side. I didn’t make him; he chose to. He said that the only way to remove temptation was to control the ability to be tempted. I initially thought that by staying at my side, I was confining him. Confinement seemed a sorry excuse for staying with me. I realized later, however, that he was choosing to stand next to me because that was really where he preferred to be. If he needed a constant reminder of what he had to lose, then so be it.  A relationship is a constant, conscious effort.

Despite my fearful musings in the wake of his death, I did forgive him. He never proved me wrong again; I had no reason to believe he had. What’s done is done and I’ve let go. It was just another drunken folly of youth. And it was, after all, only a kiss. We had the vow of a life together.

I love you… I think

July 4th weekend, 1998, Mike and I decided to take a trip to Put-in-Bay in attempt to make up for the trip we never took on our first date. Because we wanted to stay over night, and I was still battling with my mom over whether or not it was decent to go on over-nights with just my boyfriend, I asked my friends Diane and Bonnie (not Mike’s step-sister, but a friend of mine by the same name) to join us. We got a camp site on the main land in Port Clinton right by the lake. We planned to spend the day on Put-in-Bay, maybe catch the fireworks, and then return to our camp late in the evening. Mike and I had been dating for over a month now and, while my friends had met him at various social gatherings, they really didn’t know him quite well enough to consider him anything other than the guy I was dating. This weekend, I felt, would give them the opportunity to get to know him better and likewise he, them.

Bonnie, Mars Girl, and Diane at camp - July 4, 1998

The weekend started off pretty nicely. We arrived the evening before the fourth and set up camp with enough time to cook a meal. Then, looking for adventure, we hiked down a busy road to a restaurant that we hoped served drinks so that we could chill out and relax. The walk turned out to be much longer that we’d realized from camp. The proprietor of the restaurant seemed really miffed to have us there drinking and chatting–not eating–and he kept coming around leering at us as if just waiting for us to do something that would give him the excuse to kick us out. We weren’t being obnoxious or even loud, just enjoying quality time among friends. I suppose it was perhaps our age that made him suspicious of us.

We left the restaurant right before its early 12am closing. We left money on our table for the tab but we unintentionally underpaid. We were halfway down the street when the proprietor shouted after us, running to catch up. He’d finally figured out what we barely over 21 (with the exception of Mike) “juveniles” were up to–we were trying to dine (drink) and ditch! Mike jumped in to smooth things out–perhaps being the oldest amongst us he felt he was the best fit for that part–and paid the difference in the tab. The proprietor accepted the money with a grunt, and then turned back to the restaurant. We laughed about the incident the whole way back to camp (and sometimes years after), making fun of the proprietor–a grumpy old man–who’d hated us from the moment we walked into his restaurant. It seemed funny to us at the time because we were the complete opposite of “young trouble.” I think this was a shared memory that bound us together as a group–the moment when my two closest friends accepted Mike as a mutual friend as well.

The next morning, we hung around the picnic table at the camp, eating breakfast and chatting. Things continued to go great between my friends and Mike. And Mike was being incredibly affectionate towards me, sitting behind me, his arms around my waist and occasionally resting his chin on my shoulder. I was trying to control the public displays of affection around my friends for their benefit but his sweetness towards me was irresistible. Something was shifting between us, intensifying, and it was thrilling.

Affectionate Mike at camp, July 4, 1998.

When we finally decided that it was time to hit Put-in-Bay, I walked away from the camp to clean my breakfast plate at the water spicket. Mike followed me. I don’t remember quite what we were chatting about, but I turned to give him a quick kiss on the lips and as I did, he took both of my hands in his.

“Be careful,” he said, his eyes glowing with this new intensity. “I might fall in love with you.”

A warm feeling passed from my heart down to my knees. I’d been waiting for Mike to bring up love for several weeks now, since I’d first started having true feelings of love for him. However, having been burned in the past by too soon professions of love, I’d vowed to myself that I was not going to be the first one to say it in this relationship. No, I was going to let Mike arrive at the conclusion himself. I figured that when a guy said it first, he really meant it, instead of feeling obligated to say it merely because I’d said it first.

I was taken a little off guard, though, because I’d not expected him to say anything remotely close to admitting he loved me. Not on that weekend, the least romantic of all, when we were hanging out among friends. Still, it was a delight to hear and I lived from the high of his confession. Throughout the day, whenever we had a moment alone, he’d repeat his statement. Each time, it was a word of caution, this partial admittance, as if all I had to perform was one, temptation-filled act, and he’d lose all control of his emotions and become hopelessly no-holds-barred in love. As if he hadn’t already fallen in love with me. Each time he repeated the statement, I just smiled and kissed him. I wasn’t settling for a half-confession; no, I was determined to not admit anything until he stopped hiding behind hypotheticals and full-out admitted it.

It was becoming harder and harder for me to resist revealing my feelings for him. My stubborn resolve was starting to melt. But if I said something first, if I admitted to even agreeing with his statement, then he’d have the upper hand over me. My previous dating life, though relatively simple, had left me slightly jaded in regard to men and love. I was afraid that if I let him know how I felt first, then he would back off from his own statements in fear. It had to be him first.

That evening after we watched the fireworks, an abrupt wind storm swept through the Erie coast. We arrived back at camp to tents buckling in the wind, dangerously close to collapse. We decided to call our trip short and hurried to pack up the camp and leave.  Since my mom expected me to be gone all weekend, and she didn’t know about our evacuation from camp, I decided that I would spend the night at Mike’s house. He would be going out of town again for work the following week, so it was our last bit of private time together for a few days. I hoped this time alone would give us the opportunity to talk more candidly about the topic of love he’d so cavalierly brought up while we were hanging out with Diane and Bonnie.

Mike cooking a meal at camp. (I like this picture--he looks cute.)

He never so much as brought it up again, though. Not even the “threat” of possibly falling in love with me. I figured perhaps I’d missed my opportunity to respond. A little voice in my head began to nag me to bring it up. But how does someone bring something like that up if the subject never presents itself. Should I just slide in an “I love you” off-hand, hope it had the desired effect? No, I needed to wait for him to bring it up again. The rest of the evening and throughout the next morning, it never came up again.

The drive from his house to my parents’ house was about 45 minutes. Two voices in my head–one emotional, the other protective and logical–fought with each other over whether or not I should bring up the topic in those long moments on the road. I’m sure we talked of a lot of other things, but I can’t recall what, because my mind was focused on the memory of the words he’d spoken to me while we were at Put-in-Bay. I had to say something.

It wasn’t until we were five minutes away from my parents house when that “now or never” moment arrived. I still remember that we were on passing beneath the highway bridge on the route into my home town of Brunswick. I took a deep breath, and then blurted, “Um, Mike? You know that topic you brought up this weekend? You know… about… um. Possibly. Um. Loving me?”

His eyes on the road, Mike’s mouth twisted into that amused smirk I had grown to love so much. “Yes…” he said, cautiously.

I swallowed. Hard. “Well. I. Um. Think I might be falling in love with you too.”

There, it was said. For better or for worse, my cards were all out on the table. He could cast them away or pick them up as he saw fit. There was no turning back now.

Damn, I silently cursed myself. I still said it first.

Mike’s smirk stretched a little further and I could see him glancing sideways over at me. “I’m glad to hear it,” he replied, his voice faltering slightly to reveal his own unease at the revelation. I hoped I’d said the right thing. I hoped I hadn’t forced a confession out of him.

There was no time to expand further on the topic because we had arrived at my parents’ house. In the driveway, he turned off the car and we sat back in our seats, passing a few words of small talk between us. This was the hardest part of our weekends–taking leave of one another. Not only was I never able to spend the nights with him as I wanted under normal conditions, but even when we did have an entire weekend together, there was always an end to it. Because he worked out-of-town during the week, there were often long five-day stretches of not seeing each other. Such as the one that was following that weekend. Even though our time together as a couple had not been long (or maybe because of), we found it harder and harder to part at the end of our dates.

In those early days of our dating, and much later when things started to head down the path towards marriage, I remembered something my mom had once said: You get married because you never want to go [back to your own] home. I’d never wanted my dates with anyone to end–especially not in the early chapters of a relationship– but with Mike it just seemed an easy, natural thing to live with him. I wouldn’t move in with him, I knew, unless we were married. However, when I later started living in my own apartment, we both would end up spending very little time alone when he was in town–we’d either be at my place or his.

We didn’t kiss or anything at that moment–we couldn’t because my dad got angry about public displays of affection between me and a boyfriend in his driveway–so we just procrastinated our goodbye with idle chatter. Finally, I reluctantly opened the door. Mike also got out, helping me pull my gear from the trunk. We hugged and gave each other a quick kiss on the lips. Then, Mike slumped back into the driver’s seat, but did not swing his legs into the car. He confessed to not looking forward to the coming week.

I tried to provide a positive tone. “Well, at least you get to go somewhere else for a while. That’s always fun,” I tried.

Mike nodded and, with a sigh, said, “But it’s all by myself. That’s no fun.”

He reached out for my arm and pulled me back towards the car. He wrapped his arms around my stomach and, still sitting in the car while I stood, his head fell below my chest. I wound a finger through one of the curls of hair at the back of his head. Then he let go and we parted again.

“See you later,” I said, trying again to sound cheerful though my heart sank. I was going to miss him.

“Yes,” he replied. There was a pause and he looked boldly into my eyes. “I love you… I think.”

I felt the heat rise from the pit of my stomach to my cheeks. “I think I love you too.”

And then he swung his feet into the car, closed the door, started up the engine and, flashing a quick wave goodbye, he rolled out of my driveway and was gone. That was the last time the words “I think” were ever applied to our exchange of “I love yous.” When he called me the next evening after work, he ended our phone conversation with a casual, collected “I love you” as if we’d been saying it to each other for years. Despite the precarious start, “I love you” was suddenly the most natural words we said to each other. We vowed to always mean it when we said it. I know I always kept that vow.

My date, your step-brother (part 2)

I couldn’t help but grill Bonnie with questions. She had insider information about Mike, after all.

“He’s not some kind of crazy ax murderer, is he?” I asked, continuing the theme I’d started with Mike the night before. It was the only way I could express what should have been misgivings with my immediate comfort towards someone who was practically a stranger. I was more inclined to just trust my instincts–which were telling me to just go with the flow of this whole thing–than listen to the voice of caution–which sounded suspiciously like my mom–in the back of my head.

Bonnie chuckled, amusement in her voice when she answered. “As far as I know, all of his ex-girlfriends have survived the experience.”

“So should I go on this trip?” I asked.

“I think you’ll have fun.”

I knew I’d have fun. That wasn’t the question. But was I really willing to leave the country with a guy I barely knew? Of course, by August, I’d undoubtedly know him better. But would we last that long? Oh, how I hoped we’d last that long. There was no reason we wouldn’t last that long. Or so it felt. Maybe it was just my hormones talking. Still, there was something very special about this man. More special than I’d ever known. Who had ever made such bold moves with me? Was it our age difference? Was I simply not used to the progression of dating in the adult world? Whatever it was, I was breathlessly swept away by the romantic quality of it all.

Mike called me once that day to prod me to give him an answer about the trip. We exchanged a few email messages. Things started to roll along as if I’d already accepted. I just had to turn in a vacation request. And then tell my mom. Ugh. It was all too much. In the end, however, Mike was always a good salesman.

***

Date: June 10, 1998 12:15PM
From: Heidi E (Work)
To: Mike F (Work)

Subj: Request Submitted

Okay, after putzing around all morning, nervously trying to convince myself to back out, then relaxing myself, then telling myself “NO YOUR MOTHER IS NOT GOING TO KILL YOU,” then making a few snide remarks to Bonnie about whether or not you were a mass murderer, I FINALLY submitted my request to my boss, and it really didnt seem like it was that big of a problem to her.  Good… so I probably have it, but you still have to hold your breath until the paper is signed (We’re like a military operation in here).

Next mission:  to make this sound like nothing to my mom… I’m probably getting all nervous for nothing….  (she might only grumble something about “Looks like you are getting exclusive w/ your dating again.”  [she doesnt like it when I date one person at a time, rather than 50 at once… but nevermind that… ])

Well, I’ll “give you a ring later” (after my mother abuses my ears with shouting and/or my body with physicallity ;)

Always,

Heidi

***

I was such a kid back then. I wonder, sometimes, how Mike had patience for me. We lived in two separate worlds, practically, in those days. Though he was only six and a half years older than me, these years often seemed a bigger gap than they should have. Maybe it took me a longer time than most to mature. I felt very young back then; when I look back at that time, I realize I was even younger than I felt. I’m not sure I’d have much patience for me, or someone like me for that matter. Years later, in a small discussion group affiliated with my church, I would meet a girl about my age back then and I’d see the younger version of myself reflected in her as she talked about her problems understanding and communicating with her parents. I’d remember what it felt like to be that young, to be trying so hard to assert myself as an adult in the world, when I still felt more like something in between teenage and “grown up.” It wouldn’t give me the patience always to listen to her complaints; however, I would understand where she was coming from, at the same time understanding what everyone else dealing with me must have felt. The duality of adulthood, maturity. May the Universe favor everyone who had to put up with me back then. I know I wasn’t easy.

Anyway, the die was cast and I would be going to the Virgin Islands later that summer with Mike and his married friends, Mike and Betty. But there was still almost an entire summer to live between then and where I was that day in June.

My date, your step-brother

On our third date, Mike asked me to go on a trip to the Virgin Islands with him. Some friends of his–a couple–had invited him some time before he met me and, since he wasn’t dating anyone at the time, he originally intended to go with his sister. I think he’d even gone so far as asked her, tentatively, to go. But in the time between the initial suggestion of the trip and actually beginning to make plans, he’d met me. And suddenly, he no longer wanted to take his sister but the girl who he’d met across the foosball table at a party called Woodchuck.

Our third date was in fact just a few weeks after Woodchuck. Our second date had been to my cousin Gary’s party–also famously named–G-Bash. We had been quite a shocking hit there, arriving at G-Bash together, discovered kissing in various locations around the house, not a one of them very private, which wasn’t saying much considering the party had well over 200 people sprawled over every space of the house and lawn. My cousin, who had not been privy to my change of heart on the goal to date as many men as I could, had cautioned me, “Um, this is very nice with you and Mike. But I think you’re scaring away your other potential suitors.”

I had laughed, patted his shoulder reassuringly, and replied, “That’s okay. I think I’m going to see what happens with this particular suitor for a while.”

For our third date, we decided to go hiking by the ledges in the Hinkley Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks. We hiked an easy trail, then climbed with the glee of children to the top of one of the rock walls. There we rested, sitting together, surveying the world below. He put his arm around my shoulders and started telling me about his family. His dad had just bought a theater in Colorado he planned to restore and direct shows within; his sister had just moved to California; his mother and little brother lived in Florida. Though Mike had grown up in Ohio, his family had scattered to the winds, which made me wonder what had kept him here for so many years. I’d always sought a way out of Ohio and though I had not done it yet, I hoped that the first opportunity I got to leave, I would.

I admit I was a little intimidated by his descriptions of his family–he made them sound so worldly, especially his father. I wondered how I could fare in a family in which a father had the money and time to invest on owning and running a theater. I didn’t know much about his mother or his sister at the time, but he made them sound like bourgeois wanderers who just went wherever they felt the urge. Because Mike had a careful, confident demeanor, he seemed very knowledgeable of the world himself. I was impressed by his suave and careful language. He thought before he spoke and I could already tell he was not one to–as I’m so often prone to–find himself chewing his own foot. He almost always seemed to know the right thing to say. I admit also that I was quite impressed with his apparent worldliness which, on my part, was a bit immature, like a pupil harboring puppy love for a teacher. I’d just graduated from college; I barely knew anything of the world. And here, in Mike, was someone six years older than me who seemed to have it all figured out. I was undeniably lured by his charisma and the sense that he could take easily care of me–not with money, but with a physical stability that I didn’t think I had at the moment. I was so impressed with him that I even began to fret that he was completely out of my league.

This fear intensified in the moments after he’d asked me to the Virgin Islands. “I have this opportunity,” he said. “My friends are renting a villa on St. John in August. I’d love it if you came with.”

My dating life heretofore had been simple. In high school, no one could afford to go anywhere; our dates consisted of roller-skating rinks, driving around in a car, hanging around at friends’ houses. In college, dating had been chatting until the dawn hours in dorm lounges, walking with each other to class, late night Taco Bell runs. Those were the years when we barely had enough money to pay for simple pleasures such as laundry and food. I’d never in my life dated any man who’d asked me to go anywhere with him–not even out of the state–and now–at the age of 23, just newly a full-time employee for the law firm–a man was asking me to leave the country with him (well, technically, still within US boundaries as the Virgin Islands are a US territory). I was really enamored.

And, at the same time, disappointed. How was I going to explain this one to my mom? Unfortunately, I still lived with my parents and, though I was an adult, I still felt like I was under their jurisdiction because I lived with them. I didn’t truly have the will to stand up to my parents and tell them I was going. I had to ask permission to go. Which made me feel like such a child in front of a man who was so much more experienced than I was with dating. He was an adult, he’d dated women as an adult; meanwhile, I still dated men like a teenager. This relationship would never work as long as the tables were tipped so heavily. I would have to grow up to be a match for him.

“Well…” I replied slowly. “I will have to see if I can get the time off. I don’t know if I can.”

Mike grinned, shrugging nonchalantly, not realizing that his casual tone just made the struggle within me worse. “If you have the time off, you’re allowed to take it.”

So easy for him. Though as a full-time employee of the law firm I now had two weeks of paid vacation, I’d never actually used the time yet. At that point in my career, though shoddy as my career was at the moment, I felt indebted and devoted to my employer. I felt guilty asking for time off, even though it was mine to take. I hadn’t been in the ranks of the employed long enough to realize how vacation time actually worked–that I could ask for it at will and would most likely get it. I worked 6 days a week voluntarily to make extra salary. I worked hard. Up until this point, it had never really occurred to me that I could take a week off to do something as ordinary as go on a vacation.

“I really want to,” I admitted to him. “August, though. That’s two months away. How do you know we’ll still be dating?”

Mike’s grin got wider and he shrugged again, “I don’t know. But I’m taking a chance.”

I laughed. “I’m sure you’ll be sick of me by then.”

“If anything, we could still go as friends,” he said earnestly. “But if we’re still dating, then it’s a chance for me to get to know you better. You said you’d love to travel.”

“And what if you’re some axe murderer?” I teased. Then, more seriously, I pointed out, “I barely know you.”

Mike laughed this time, “Well… I could give you some references if it would make you feel better. But obviously this trip would give us both a chance to get to know each other.”

How I wanted to just throw all caution to the wind and run off with this man to the Virgin Islands or anywhere at the drop of a hat. I probably would have immediately agreed had I been living on my own and not had a very protective mother to deal with at home, though I still would have done so pensively, feeling as if I were partaking in a slightly scandalous activity. It’s funny how looking back on this situation from the perspective of an older, more experienced woman, I realize taking a trip with a boyfriend is no big deal. After a second date is still a little soon, but his invitation would have had less of an impact on me as a thirty-something than it did back then.

“I need some time to think about it,” I told him. I began plotting a half-truth to tell my mom in order for her to condone the trip.

* * *

The next day on our walk from the Terminal Tower to the Key Bank Building where we worked, my friend Diane inquired about my date. I could not contain the smile that radiated in wide, shiny pulses from every cell in my body.

“Oh. My. God.” I breathed, struggling to contain all of that energy. And then the words just started gushing from my mouth like a river released from a collapsed dam. “This guy is perfect. He loves to sky-dive, backpack, travel. He’s got tickets to the theater. And, last night, he asked me to go to the Virgin Islands with him!”

Diane screeched. I screeched. Two college graduates screeched together in unison like teenagers.

“What?!” she shouted in surprise. I was startled to see that her exclamation was congratulatory and impressed, not accusatory or disgusted as I had expected. I could tell in an instant that if she’d been asked to go to the Virgin Islands, or some similar trip, with a man she knew for only a couple of weeks her answer would have been an immediate yes. Since Diane tended to be conservative about dating–we shared a similar upbringing–I tended to look to her reaction for guidance in seeing a situation more clearly. Had her reaction had been more cautionary and less supportive, I might also have started to look more cautiously at the situation. But her reaction was a green light indicating to me that there was really nothing unusual about going on a vacation trip with Mike.

“I know!” I replied, feeling braver.

“What did you tell him? Are you going to go?” she asked.

Before I could answer, another girl–a coworker from our office who both of us barely knew–interrupted. She’d been walking behind us from the Terminal Tower, having gotten downtown on the same train as us that morning. “Excuse me. But–can I ask?–what’s this guy’s name?”

I hadn’t realized she’d been listening to our conversation and I felt a little put off by the interruption. A little panic set in as well. I barely knew anything about Mike and, if she knew him, did she know something awful? Was she about to burst my bubble, giving me that one piece of the puzzle that would destroy this bastion of the perfection I saw in him? Or, worse yet, what if she was an ex-girlfriend?

“Mike F——-r,” I replied uncertainly.

The girl blanched. Then laughed slightly. “Oh my God, that’s my step-brother!”

“WHAT?!” Diane and I screeched yet again, in unison this time.

“Yeah,” she replied. “His father is married to my mother, Kathy. You are the girl he’s been talking about.”

He’s been talking about me!? I thought, that warm, giddy feeling of ardor balling up in my stomach. I wanted to say it out loud, but it sounded too childish, too vain to ask. Instead, I exclaimed, “Wow!”

“I heard ‘sky-diving’, ‘theater,’ and ‘Virgin Islands’ and I knew you had to be talking about the same person,” she explained. “It was too much of a coincidence.” She shook her head as we started walking again. “Oh, I can’t wait to tell my mom about this…”

It was the oddest sort of coincidences. Synchronicity. First, our meeting in which my cousin, Mike’s best friend Jon, and Mike shared the history of having gone to high school together. Now, the new girl in the office turned out to be Mike’s step-sister. It was enough to make an atheist believe in destiny…

***

Date: June 9, 1998 9:55:55 AM
To: Mike F. (Work)
From: Heidi E. (Work)

Hey Mike,

Good morning (for me;).

All my items of identification pretty much read “Heidi A. Emhoff” with the exception of my passport, which I think has my middle name.

Now I need to know a few things.  First of all, I looked at the department calendar, and there are a lot of people taking vacations in August, which is bad.  We are only allowed to have two operators gone from the department at a time.  I need to know which week exactly we are talking about.

I guess we should talk about it some more Friday or something.  I can’t think of all my questions right now.  Too groggy, haven’t had coffee…

You were right, though.  People at office (including my friend Diane) say GO.  Ummm… especially one person who overheard me talking…. She’s our new PDS coordinator… Name of Bonnie L——–.  Sound familiar?;)

I was innocently talking to two of my friends this morning on the way to the office.  Bonnie, who also happened to be following with us (she rides the same train), pales and asks, “What a minute.  What’s this guy’s name?”

I answered appropriately.  She tells me that she is your step sister!  Weird. Small world.  She then launched into a summary of the sort of activities which you, your father, and Melina (sp?) have done over the years… ;) She also said that I should go to the Caribbean with you… ;)  I guess that’s a heavy vote in your favor.

Well, gotta do my work.  I’ll call you later — as soon as I find out about Friday.

Always,

Heidi

Mike’s reply, pieced together from excerpts in a later message from me to him, time-stamped 11:36 AM the same day:

As for Bonnie, Tis amazing how I have you followed. :)  That is Kathy’s daughter.  Kathy is may dad’s current and last wife. :)  You should listen to complete strangers.

As for the dates, we are looking at Aug 8-15.  That can change if you need it, but I need to know when is better.  Betty [the wife of Mike’s friend] called last night and they have already started to make arrangements, so sooner is the only way this will work.

The brutal truth of art

One of the reasons I’m such a U2 fan is because their music, though heavily laden with Christian spirituality, speaks to my soul. The kind of Christianity–humanity–Bono (the lead singer/songwriter) pedals, I can buy. Even when the images are so clearly Christian, I get them too. Bono’s lyrics speak of hope, faith, loss, questioning, fear–so clearly examining every aspect of human life with brutal truth spoken from the heart. I respect brutal truth. I’m brutally honest too. I, as the artist I often pretend to be, can’t hold myself back from expressing the truths of my heart. It gets me into trouble a lot. It makes my friends cringe. (“You wrote that on the internet?”) To be other than what I am, to suppress my inner thoughts, is a crime. Art does not touch when it is comfortable, polite, and fake. Art is beautiful when speaks a truth we as the viewers can relate to. That’s where I’ve always felt I’ve related to U2.

“There’s a point where you find yourself tiptoeing as an artist, and then you know you’re in the wrong place,” says Bono on this same subject. I loved this quote so much I put in my mail signature from my email account. I use it as a reminder to myself when I’m trying to write my memoir and my inner voice begs me to not write a detail down in fear of the criticism I might have to face when other people read what I’ve written. I picture people getting uncomfortable, people who know me and have to imagine these scenes. I can just hear them saying, “How can she tell all this embarrassing stuff to the world? Shouldn’t she suppress it just a little? I would never tell anyone this stuff. What would they think of me?”

Yet. When we think of the best books we’ve read, the most emotionally stirring movies we’ve seen, the music that soothes our aching souls, aren’t these the words that speak from a place of intense honesty? And doesn’t the honesty come from the authoritative voice of experience? And, even if we’ve never walked in the same shoes as the artist, don’t we glean something from the experience because we know they aren’t holding anything back?

To be an artist is disrobing yourself in front of a watchful audience. It’s very hard. Fortunately, I can hide behind a computer screen and hit “Publish” without ever having to see the emotion behind the eyes who read what I write. It’s only when someone talks to me in person about something that I’ve written do I squirm. But if I only wrote what made me comfortable, would anyone have any emotional affiliation with what I’m saying? Would I reach anyone at all? I’d be irrelevant. Another boring “feel good” blog on the internet.

I don’t know if I’m going to post to my blog everything that I’m going to put in my memoir. There are some things that are just too raw and too painful to admit in such an informal setting. Some things are, frankly, too shocking. Somehow having them published in a book is a better way to present them. Not everyone reads books, right? Not everyone reading my blog would necessarily read my book. So I’m safe.

Ooops. I’m tiptoeing, aren’t I?

Regardless, when you read what I’ve written, and when you cringe because you think I’m just too honest, remember that the uncomfortable feeling you’re experiencing is perhaps because on some level what I’ve described is something you understand and, because you understand, what I’ve written is the truth. At least how I saw it, experienced it, lived it. I couldn’t tell my story without telling the truth. All of it. No matter how painful the truth is to admit to. And know, also, that whatever you’re feeling, it’s nothing compared to how I felt when I lived it. So be glad you’re only reading about it.

I’m not trying to drudge up dirty laundry. I’m just telling you a story. About a girl and a boy. Who fell in love. Had some dreams. Were torn apart. The girl made some mistakes. The family went nuts. And the girl still struggles to find peace and make an honest connection with other people. Sometimes having too large a heart can be a burden. I wonder if Bono would agree about that….

Couches

(Continued from my pre-Seattle retelling of my first date with my husband. The date is, remember, Saturday, May 30, 1998.)

Our first date was the night that never ended. The night we never wanted to end. From the drop zone, we went to a bar in Kent and played pool. After that, we went played miniature golf at a place just down the street from his condo. Night was closing in fast and even though it was summer, it was getting late. We were trying to avoid the inevitable, which was the end of the date and our departure from each other. And who knows when we’d see each other again? If.

Despite the fact that Mike kept coming up with other things for us to do, I still wasn’t sure he was interested in me at all. He hadn’t made any overt passes–no attempts to hold my hand or touch me other than the quick back massage, no lean-in to kiss. It was all very innocent and playful. We played pool and miniature golf with playful competitiveness and taunting. We were on the edge of something, but what, I didn’t know.

When we returned at last to the parking lot of his condo, I expected him to say goodnight.  My heart sunk as I pulled into one of his parking spaces.

“Do you want to come in?” he asked instead.

“Sure,” I said. I hoped I didn’t sound too desperate. What if he was just trying to be polite and I was overstaying my welcome?*

I followed him into his house and sat down on the couch where I’d momentarily sat at the start of the date. We were again at the place at which this day had started.  Mike sheepishly assumed a position on the arm rest next to me. He fiddled with a laser pointer which he was using to taunt his cats. Nicki seemed more interested in me; however, Tanya was jumping wildly all over the place trying to catch the illusive red light.

I laughed watching the play. We were having a light conversation, but about what I’m not sure. Small talk, chit-chat. After approximately six hours together, we’d expired every topic. The room became silent. Pregnant with awkward expectation… of…?

Then Mike said, his voice echoing in the absence of conversation, “I’ve been… um… thinking about kissing you.”

I felt heat rise to my cheeks. Embarrassment.

“Yeah,” I admitted. “Me too.”

Neither of us moved. I fumbled to bring up another topic. Quickly. I felt like an inexperienced girl who’d never kissed anyone before. Suddenly, with all our cards out on the table, I was so nervous that the thought of actually kissing him made my stomach churn.

I made some absent-minded remark about Tanya’s fascination with the laser pointer. Mike responded with a (unmemorable) half-hearted remark. He dropped off the arm rest, falling neatly into the tight space between me and the end of the couch. (“Couches”)

I looked up at him silently. Just like they had across the volley ball court at Woodchuck, our eyes met. And locked. The intensity burned like hot electricity between us, racing through my veins, jolting my heart, and flowing sharply to the ends of my feet. He leaned in. Our lips drew together as though they were magnets. We kissed.

And we continued kissing. For several hours. Yes, that’s it. Just kissing. Like two teenagerson our first date ever.  I swear, this is not just the rated PG version of the story; we honestly did nothing more than enjoy a very long, lusty make-out session. More or less, anyway. And he was a great kisser. (But, then, who isn’t when you’re really attracted to them?)

We parted that night at around 2:30am. He walked me to my car, a lot more relaxed. I was starting to see glimpses of the side of Mike a person could only see once he or she pushed passed the shyness he hid well behind a bold and confident exterior.

“Well,” he said, holding my hand, his arm around my shoulders. “We’ll just have to see how you handle distance. I travel a lot with me job.”

I laughed. “I dated a guy in the Navy. Being gone during the week for work ain’t nothing,” I boasted. And meant it.

“Really?” said Mike. “It will be interesting to see how this works out.”

He kissed me goodbye before I slid into the car. He promised to call me. As I drove away, I was already anticipating the next time I heard from him. Days could last forever. Especially at the start of a long, interesting summer.

* In later conversations about our first date, Mike revealed to me that a guy never invites a girl into his home at the end of a date be polite. He assured me that if a guy invites you in, he’s interested.

Date: Sunday, May 31, 1998 22:50:15
To: Heidi E. (Home Account)
From: Mike F. (Home Account)

Subj: Making of Plans???

Greetings,

Well, I hope that you got home all right.  No one showed up at my door looking for you. :)

I forgot to ask you about some play tickets.  I am a season ticket holder at the Palace Theater, and therefore have tickets to see “RENT”. It is on Saturday, June 20th at 7:30PM.  Interested in attending?

Let me know,

Mike F.

Date: Monday, June 1, 1998 23:55:47
To: Mike F. (Home Email)
From: Heidi E. (Home Email)

Subj: You don’t have to ask me twice :)

Mike!

Hey, I am so glad to hear from you!!  I’ve got to tell you, I spent all day Sunday talking my best friend into going parachuting this summer.  She’s always wanted to do it (which I didnt know).  What I had to talk  her into was the money issue.  But tonight we read further down the flyer and noticed that the rates are cheaper if you go during the week.  So I said, “Hell, I could use another vacation day and do it.”  We went to a concert tonight at Blossom, and every opportunity I could get I plugged, “And we could always go parachuting…. July??”  It’s funny because she was talking about our Cedar Point trip that we are taking June 25th.  I told her that we could just cancel that since we havent bought tickets and GO SKYDIVING… I’ve almost got her sunk!  I even offered to pay half of hers.  I know that if she went, I’d jump for sure.

So how’s that for salesmanship?  And YOU thought I looked bored there! I was absorbing the whole picture.  And I liked it.

>Well, I hope that you got home all right.  No one showed up at
>my door looking for you. :)

Heh ;)  Didnt you get the email I sent from work on Sunday?*  Erm… maybe the ole THF server was running at its regular molasses pace again…

>I forgot to ask you about some play tickets.  I am a season
>ticket holder at the Palace Theater, and therefore have tickets
>to see “RENT”. It is on Saturday, June 20th at 7:30PM.
>Interested in attending?

Sure, I’d be interested!  I love going to the theatre (I’d better, with an English degree!).  I’ve heard of “Rent” too.  That’d be fun!

Well, it’s almost 3am (I just got back from the concert), and even though I work at 1 tomorrow, I still need to get to bed.  Take care…

Always,

Heidi

*Lost in the ether: The following message was sent Sunday May 31st from my work email account but, due to some weird burp in the infant internet, Mike did not actually receive until Monday June 1, 1998 at 8:34:51.

Date: Sunday, May 31, 1998 8:35:51
To: Mike F. (Work Account)
From: Heidi E. (Work Account)

Subj: Made it home alive

Mike,

Obviously I made it home okay.  Not that it matters now and all since you are probably reading this on Monday.  I am at work, and not too tired! Incredible.  It’s going to be a slow day, though, I can tell already!

That check engine light on my car was on the whole way home, but then it didn’t come back on this morning when I started it.  I’m going to have someone look at it anyway.  There’s obviously something up with it.  Which kind of ticks me off since I just had a wheel allignment and new front tires put on it.  Guess you won’t have to worry about stuff like this on your car for awhile! ;)

Anyway, I had a great time Saturday.  Just wanted to make sure you knew it.  Probably won’t be quite so shy the next time we cross paths!

Taking it easy on overtime this week for some much needed rest.  See you later.

Always,

Heidi

Sky-diving

I’m going to marry this man! I thought about thirty minutes into our dinner at El Compesino’s. We had dispensed with the small talk, gotten through the “getting to know you” questions and I’d already learned that he loved to backpack, ride a bike, travel–all the things I’d always wanted in man. In college, I’d made a check list of the qualities I was looking for in a husband. All my girlfriends had told me that I was being a bit too picky; I couldn’t possibly know what qualities I’d disqualified that might compliment mine in ways I couldn’t imagine. But I knew. I’d made that list after a significant breakup with boyfriend with the directive to to help guide me in my future choices. It helped me define what qualities I thought were most important to me in mate–separate the minor from the major. As I sat at that booth talking to Mike, I saw the list in my head and as he revealed more of himself, huge check marks materialized next to every item. Oh my God, I thought excitedly, the man from my list really exists!

“You’ve been sky-diving?” I mused, impressed.

Mike nodded. “Three times.”

“I’ve always wanted to go sky-diving,” I said. I was convinced I wanted to try sky-diving after my first ride on the Demon Drop at a Cedar Point–a vertical roller coaster that dropped you straight down from a 131 feet, allowing you to experience free fall for a few seconds. I’d been deathly afraid of the ride until my best friend Melissa made me go on it with her, and then after that it was my favorite ride in the park. I figured if I enjoyed that thrill, I’d probably enjoy a longer free fall from a greater height. A few times in college, some friends and I had talked about going through a sky-diving course at a drop zone that wasn’t far from the school, but the plans had never actually materialized, probably partially due to lack of funds since we were poor college students. The idea had been pushed off to a corner of my mind where all the things I’d like to do before I died lived.

“The drop zone I’ve jumped at is just over near Parkman,” Mike said, referring to the very same drop zone my college friends and I had toyed with visiting.  “We should go there next so you can watch the jumpers and decide if it’s something you’d want to do.”

By the time we left the restaurant, the date was going quite well–comfortably so. Some of my nervousness had dropped off and we were easily chatting back and forth, probing thirstily for more information about each other. Nothing is more exciting than those first hours of discovering a new person, someone who hasn’t heard your stories and knows nothing about you and likewise, listening to new stories you haven’t heard. The mystery begins to unravel like opening a present on Christmas morning. It’s even more thrilling when what you find inside the beautiful wrapped gift is even better than what you asked for.

My radio was playing softly in the background of our conversation as I drove my old Honda Civic to the drop zone. Mike had already marveled that I drove a stick shift–he did too!–and was, as men most often are, impressed that I know how to drive stick. I had the station tuned to some alternative station that we weren’t paying much attention to. Suddenly, Mike stopped mid-sentence and reached for the volume dial.

“Oh! I love this song!” he exclaimed, turning up the volume. “It reminds of me Europe.”

It was “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head from the musical Chess. I’d never heard the song before, but ever since that moment, it has become a theme in the soundtrack of my life that reminds me of that first date with Mike. I jokingly call it “our song,” despite the fact there is nothing at all romantic about it. In fact, the song is laden with tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo–mostly of the homosexual and transsexual variety. Mike knew all the lyrics and was merrily singing them as he performed exaggerated dance moves in the passenger seat. “The queens  we use would not excite you,” he quoted theatrically with a glint in his eye. His performance, to me, represented a comfort with his own sexuality and bespoke of an open-minded attitude towards LGBT issues. I know it was just a song–and one that was making fun of the seedy underside of an Asian city–but it represented, quite accurately I would learn, a socially liberal attitude. Another check mark to add to an important item on my list.

Besides, he looked so cute as he playfully moved and sang, almost as if making fun of himself as he did so. He was obviously very confident and comfortable with himself (I, for one, would not have offered to subject him to my singing voice quite yet). I liked that he could cut loose a little, be goofy, even though I was still restraining myself somewhat.

When we arrived at the drop zone, I was immediately under-impressed by the complete casualness of the setting. From the road, it looked like any other farm house on a nondescript road in rural Geauga County. A small hanger, which one might mistake as a barn at first glance, and a large white house were the only two structures beside a large grassy field from which planes were taking off. There were a lot of people milling around, chatting and hanging out, including a group of Amish sitting beneath a tree picnicking. It was not quite what I imagined a drop zone to look like. I imagined it to look more like an airport–busy, professional, by-the-book.

Mike animately began explaining in detail each stage of the jump as someone parachuting by static line (a line that automatically deploys the parachute of a student jumper) would experience. We watched as a group of student jumpers cram into a little Cessna and the wobbly little plane took off from a landing strip cut through the grass of what looked like any old country field.

“Look. Grab. Look. Pull. Pull,” Mike explained, demonstrating the maneuver of checking for the handles to a main parachute’s cut-away and the reserve parachute,  and then pulling the cut-away and deploying the reserve in an emergency. “That’s the mantra you will remember after the course.”

We sat down on the porch of the house overlooking the air field which was where the planes took off and the jumpers landed. We watched the Cessna packed with students making circles around the air field, gaining the altitude necessary to deploy the static line jumpers. Mike chattered beside me, describing how he felt in those moments while the plane climbed before he made his first jump. I could imagine it felt similar to the Demon Drop car ascending the tower to its final destination while my brain screamed, I want off of this thing!! His description of moving his body out the door to grab the strut of the Cessna’s wing reminded me of those seconds the Demon Drop car would sit above the track before it dropped, the whole world laying below you, no turning back. I could almost imagine the moment of letting go of the strut–of flying, falling, floating–and the shocking seconds that seemed to stretch to hours before the parachute deployed.

The jumpers were released from the plane, one by one. Tiny parachutes sprouted from barely perceptible little dots in the sky. I had to squint against the sunlight to watch them as they wafted down under canopy, directed over a radio–which we could all hear through the speakers on the house–by a man standing in the middle of the field watching each jumper. Being under canopy was apparently the most relaxing part of the process of jumping. Like flying, Mike told me. Goosebumps formed on my flesh at the thought of it. I couldn’t imagine anything more thrilling, more adventurous, than jumping out of an airplane. I knew right then that I wanted to do it. That I would do it.

I relayed my inspired thoughts to Mike who only smiled knowingly and patted my back. He had no response. He knew because he’d felt it too. The calling to an overwhelmingly frightening challenge. We understood in each other that yearning to break all molds of conventionality, to do those things most people would fear to contemplate. We shared that lust for experiencing every moment to the fullest, to try everything once and to never hold ourselves back. We had the very spirit of life in our veins.

We stayed at the drop zone for several hours, watching student jumpers and professionals alike. I marveled at the way the professionals made tight, quick turns that seemed to swing their bodies sideways. They came down under canopy much quicker than the students, their turns executed frequently to increase speed. They landed on their feet while the students were taught to force a tumble upon landing. They made jumping and handling the parachute easy and effortless. It was thrilling to watch. I wanted to be like them.

Meanwhile, I kept wishing for Mike to make some sort of move on me. I thought he was interested by the way our conversation was going, but he wasn’t trying to do anything I’d expect, like grab my hand to hold it or touch me in some lingering way that indicated he craved the contact I was starting to desire. Was he just humoring me? I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. I was too timid to make the moves myself, though I did occasionally bump his arm with my shoulder or “accidentally” touch his hand when we walked side-by-side. He just wasn’t picking up on my subtle attempts at flirtation. Or maybe he wasn’t interested.

Finally, he reached out out and massaged my shoulders, his manner casual as if he were doing me a small favor. I tried to hide just how much I enjoyed that physical connection, fearing he perhaps saw the move as more platonic than I wanted to interpret it. His hands were gentle, but firm, as he actually worked from my shoulders a few knots of tension that had formed throughout the course of this date.

“Well,” he said at last as the sun was starting to lower in the sky and the number of planes taking off began to decrease. “What do you want to do next?”

(Oh my, welcome to post 500!! I’ve been writing away at this blog for over three years and now, at last, we come to post 500 with the continuing saga of my first date with Mike. My, how that seems singularly appropriate being that I started this blog as a concept to discuss how cycling helped guide me through the journey of grief. However, this blog has become so much more to me. Even if no one else ever read it, I would be fulfilled in knowing that I have some place to go to express myself where maybe, just maybe, my voice is heard…)

Compy’s

Whenever I drive the stretch of highway on Route 8 between Route 303 and Graham Road, I think of the first time I drove it to pick up Mike at his townhouse for our first date. Sometimes on a warm day in early summer, with my windows open, and the world alight with sun like it was on that day, I can almost remember being that 24-year old year girl excitedly anticipating the outcome of that evening.  The road, like my life, seemed to stretch out endlessly before me, each exit leading to a new and different possibility. The exit at Graham Road would lead me to both the greatest happiness and the greatest sorrow of my life–the impossible duality of our relationship that I always battle to embrace. It’s hard to love the happiness from the depths of sorrow. Even now with the perspective with which to look back.

Driving towards that exit when nostalgia strikes, I can simultaneously see Mike with the eyes of the girl who did not yet know him and those of the woman who most intimately did. I can almost feel that tumbling and turning of my stomach, my sweaty palms holding the steering wheel tight, the shallow breathlessness of every inhale of breath. I know the outcome of that first date, but I can still remember the thrilling ecstasy of the unknown. I embrace this ghost of my former self with both bitter sadness and painful longing. I still exit the highway at Graham Road for my home–a quarter mile from where I lived with Mike–but the road no longer leads me to the life I once I knew; it leads to a place where I’m still emotionally stuck. A dead end.

Our first date was on May 30, 1998. I know this because Mike later programmed a reminder in his Palm Pilot so that he could always commemorate the day. I thought he had a great memory until I was going through his Palm Pilot after his death. He had titled the reminder “Compy’s, Sky-Diving, Couches” which identifies, in a language we both understood, the special events of our first date. It’s these little details that I come across among the possessions he left behind that I get glimpses into Mike’s mind; I’m warmed as I realize what a tender heart he had. I always knew he was a romantic, that he saw our date–as well as certain events in our life together–as just as special as I did. But it wasn’t until I was forced to rummage amongst his possessions that I fully could see the extent of his love for me in the small things he didn’t always say.

When I stepped out of my car into the parking lot behind the row of townhouses of which Mike’s unit was a part, Mike was standing at his back door. He called my name to ensure I knew where to go as the house numbers were at the front of the building. I walked to the gate that surrounded the tiny patio and he motioned me into the house. He was dressed casually in a t-shirt and pair of shorts; his feet were bare. I crossed the threshold into what was obviously the living room. My first immediate thought was, Is he gay?

Having only recently graduated from college, I was used to the spartan decor of young, poor men: posters on the wall, milk crate tables, ratty couches and futons, dirty walls, clothes left carelessly on the floor. Mike’s living room was spotlessly clean and contained a couch and two smaller chairs, a fire place, and a nice throw rug at the center of the room to protect the white bur-bur carpet in the most trafficked area of the living room. Three M.C. Esher reprints hung on the walls–framed, even! The only part of the room that looked makeshift, like the younger men I’d been exposed to, was the small TV which sat upon what looked like two end tables. Still, not even that looked tacky or out of place. I was impressed by the sophistication his cleanliness and decor represented. I knew he was older than me–though how much older, I wasn’t sure–and the stability of his world was attractive to me, especially since my world as a recent graduate had barely gotten started. His living room showed me exactly what I imagined I could have in my own apartment some day. My own welcoming space.

I sat down on the couch as Mike reached down to grab his tennis shoes. Out of nowhere, two cats converged at my feet. The black cat, sleek like a panther, walked with deliberate caution towards me, giving me a look mixed between mild curiosity and disdain. The black and white cat approached cautiously as well, but as I looked down at her, she lifted a paw and waved. I reached down to pet her and she waved again.

“Be careful,” Mike warned. “The black one nips.”

Mike introduced the black cat as Tanya; the black and white one as Nicki. Later, as part of our story, Mike would remark that Nicki’s waving at me was her way of saying, “This one’s a keeper, Dad.” The truth is, Nicki waves at everyone to get their attention. I later taught her to do it on command so that I could show off her talent to any and all visitors who came into our house in an attempt to make her endearing to even those heathens who don’t like cats. I’d always loved cats and Mike immediately got points in his favor by having two of them. In my experience, it was very unusual for a single guy to have cats as pets. This was not helping ease my initial reaction that questioned his sexuality.

“So do you like Mexican?” asked Mike as he put on his shoes.

I shrugged. “Sure.” To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever had real Mexican food at that point in my life. Taco Bell was probably the closest thing to Mexican I’d ever eaten. But I’d never been a picky eater and I was always read to try something new.

“There’s a great place down the street,” Mike said. “We can go there.” And that was restaurant called El Compesino’s. The “Compy’s” part of Mike’s Palm Pilot reminder.

Two outs, bases loaded

Then, as today, it was my habit to check my email first thing in the morning. An email from Mike awaited me the morning of our planned date:

From: Michael F.
To: Heidi E.
Subject: PLEASE CALL ME NOW!!!!!
Date: Fri, 29 May 1998 22:40:36

Greetings,

I guess GOD does not want me to take you to Put-In-Bay.  He blew-up my car.  Ironically it DIED 1.25 Miles east of I-71 and I-80.  Isn’t that your neck of the woods?

So. please call me as soon as you pick this message up.

[reiterated his phone number]

I am sure I will be here, I am now a pedestrian.

Mike F.

Ugh! Thwarted again! It was starting to seem as though a date with Mike was never going to be. At least this time the reason for our disconnect was not my fault. But still, all of this back and forth was placing a lot of stress on my already over-stimulated nerves. It did seem as though the fates were against us on this pairing. Unavailability certainly does make a person attractive for the longer we failed to connect for a simple date, the more desperately I wanted this date to happen.

It’s funny that it never occurred to me that this date could really flop. All the things I have learned in the years after Mike to expect from a date with someone I barely know or don’t even know never occurred to me: that we might share nothing in common, he may have some weird quirks I can’t get over, he may be completely boring; or worse yet, he may be dangerous, violent or a psychopath. Somehow I had this clear assurance that something wonderful was about to happen if we connected. I suppose that’s mostly the carefree imprudence of youth.

Still I felt caught in the mesmerizing force of the little bit of his personality I’d already seen at Woodchuck. When our eyes had briefly met on the makeshift volleyball court, I saw in his eyes a tender shyness that asked quietly to be noticed, a calm kindness, contrasting with the confidence with which he held himself outwardly.  And then there was that mischievous grin–the look I’d come to learn was classic Mike, the expression that was left on his face in death–that seemed to alternately laugh out loud at the silly, inane circumstances of life and proclaim, “I’ve got it all figured out.”

I couldn’t help myself. I was intrigued. And now I was left frustrated, for our date was now most likely delayed for another day or, worse, he was lying to me to back out of it. Judging by the time stamp of the email–10:40pm the previous night–I was already running late on my call to him. Maybe there was still time to salvage this. Nervously, I picked up the phone and the dialed the number. But all I got was his answering machine. I left a message, this time remembering to actually include my phone number, and I spent the next hour or so waiting for a response while trying to pretend–and convince everyone else in my family–that I wasn’t waiting for anything.

Then it came. The phone rang, my mom answered and handed it to me. I could hear the muffled sound of people in the background and muffled voices over a loud speaker.

“Hi,” Mike said. “I’m at the dealership buying a car.”

Huh? I thought. “Okay…” I replied, confusion in my voice. Most people take their cars into a shop to get repaired. But I didn’t know him well enough to inquire further into this strange venture into impulse buying. Even though now I was slightly worried that perhaps this man had a spending problem, a part of me didn’t care what he had to do to make sure the date would still go on.

“I’m crunching numbers with the salesman right now,” he went on. “I’m sorry about Put-in-Bay.”

“That’s okay,” I replied. I felt myself on the verge of a nervous stutter. I was afraid of the answer, and I didn’t want to come off unsympathetic or selfish, but I had to ask the question anyway. “Do you, um, think we might be able to do something together later this evening instead?”

Mike’s voice became a little more animated. “A spontaneous woman,” he said approvingly. “I like it.”

I silently let out my breath, relieved. He’d accepted my suggestion not as the desperate act of a lunatic woman, but instead the laid-back spontaneity of an easy-going woman. If only he knew the truth…

“But I don’t have insurance on this car yet,” he sighed. “So I wouldn’t be able to come pick you up.”

“I could drive out and pick you up,” I said, a little too enthusiastically.

“You’d do that?” Mike asked, sounding impressed and relieved.

Of course I would, I thought quickly. I’d do anything to keep this date today–not tomorrow, not next week. Today.

“It’s  no problem. I’m a woman of the 90s.”

“Well, then I definitely owe you dinner,” he said. “And somewhere nice. Not McDonald’s.”

I wondered who he had ever dated who suggested a dinner date at McDonald’s. “Oh, I can’t be bought off with McDonald’s,” I retorted.

Mike chuckled at that remark and continued, “Well, think of some place you’d like to go. I’ll call you back when I get done here at the dealership.”

As I hung up the phone, I was again filled with bubbling excitement. An hour or so later he called back and we arranged to meet up at his house in the early evening. Having woken up early for the original date, I now had a lot of time on my hands to be nervous before I even needed to head out. I spent my nervous energy being a complete girl, going through all my casual shorts and tops and ultimately deciding none of them would do. So I went shopping and bought a few new pairs of shorts and matching tops. One of those outfits I wore to the date. It’s sad that I can remember exactly what I wore: a pair of navy dress shorts–with a belt, which I rarely wear–and a navy, blue and black tank top. I wonder if he remembered what I wore that night… Most men probably wouldn’t remember such details. But, as I would soon learn, Mike wasn’t like most men.