It is October 2009. I am 22 years old. I have had what most would call an Interesting Year.
2009 is the year I go through so many changes and life lessons, my head is constanly spinning trying to keep up.
I graduate college after the most soul-sucking, insane semester of my college career. At one point, I actually consider quitting the semester. Between my four upper level lit Classes, the usual German workload, running dance company, editing a creative writing journal, and dabbling in theatre — I am already exhausted and stressed with a ridiculous work load. That is before my grandfather passes away and I must watch my mother grieve, before I “break up” with a best friend of years after a stupid fight that took place during my 22 birthday party, and I have to mourn and struggle with that lost relationship, and then there are other family members in extreme emotional situations I won’t discuss here.
By the time I graduate in May, I feel like a shadow of myself. Absolutely running on fumes. And yet — I don’t know that I’ve been prouder of myself. As I walk across that stage to accept my diploma, I am delirious with pride and shock. I seriously consider quitting in March — and I stick it out. I pass all the classes and pull together all the shows, turn in my final portfolio and write the last German Aufsatz. It’s not all my best work. Most of it is not my best work. But I get it done. I graduate in May, and I come home with a nervous twitch in my right eye, and a determination to rebuild my family ties and have some sort of new adventure.
I go to Germany in July. I love it there, and I hate it there. It is everything and nothing that I expect it to be. On the one hand, I feel like I make deep connections with a few people there. On the other — I feel like a complete outsider, and I realize, I have never done anything this hard without my emotional support system before. I realize this is a great idea but a bad time to do it. It is a damn brave thing to do, moving to Germany alone. Turns out I wasn’t ready for it yet.
(And you know what? That’s OK. I was 22.)
So I come home, in late August. I feel more empty than ever. I feel like I failed. I feel like I have no direction in life. The plan was a year in Germany, then grad school — but in August, I feel like I have completely lost my way. I don’t feel confident I am able to do anything, at all. I feel like I have embarrassed myself and everyone I love.
I decide to lay low for a bit. I decide just to let it breathe. I have no expectations and honestly no hope. 2009 is the year I feel defeated by everything I try, and by fall, I am just determined to get my life in order. Not make waves or come up with any more wild schemes. I live with my mother and my younger sister after Germany, I apply for every single job I can find. I mop the kitchen floor twice a day because I feel so ashamed, and this little thing, this keeping the kitchen floor spotless for my mother is the one thing I can succeed at.
I am an ambitious perfectionist, and this lack of accomplishing chafes at me. In late September, I get two interviews, and end up taking the job at the transportation company. It is supposed to be a temp job, and I feel like I can hang out there safely for a while, at least earning some money, while I figure out what to do next. I am told the job will be done by January of the next year, 2010, and at the time, that sounds perfect. I will make money and I will feel some sense of accomplishment, and I will bide my time until the next step becomes clear.
It is October 2009, and I have worked at my new job for two or three weeks. It is fine. It is not riveting, it is not my soul’s passion – but it will suffice for the time being. Mostly I feel astounded to have a Big Girl Job at all, that my name is labeled on the phone, that I have two screens and an extension.
But I still feel that sense of being lost, of floundering. On a Friday in October, I take a halfday, and I go shopping for professional-ish clothes for my new Big Girl Job. I finish of f the day by inviting a friend to go grab a beer with me downtown.
Now – for the sake of this story, I will not name this friend. I have a feeling she’d rather stay annoymous, so we’ll just call her M.
I ask M to meet me downtown to grab a beer at Fat Moe’s. Over the summer and into the fall, M and I get a lot closer. We have been friends for a long time, but this fall is the first time she and I are back in our hometown, and find that everything has changed and yet not changed since we were high school girls together. The town is the same, we are not, and we both realize we have no other friends in town except each other. She feels a similar sense of no direction to my own and so we cling to each other, in those months we have no one else. We grow closer than ever before as we try to figure out how to be an Adult when we certainly don’t feel like one.
The evening is – fine. It’s nice to be with M, it’s easy and fun and we’re both feeling kinda frayed and loose and eager to be pretty young girls who don’t have a care in the world, when in fact, we have many. We go to a bar we’ve been to many times, both in and out of college, we find a little table indoors, and we have a beer.
I am feeling grumpy. I can’t explain why – I have a job, finally. I have enough money to buy myself some clothes for work, and now a beer with M. I am with one of my good friends who (largely because of this night) will grow to be a best friend. I am young and relatively carefree, and I have a decent future ahead of me.
But something inside me still stings. I have accomplished much this year, but I feel so battered and bruised by the emotional hardship. I feel fragile – this year is the first year I feel like I really started to doubt that infallible youthful confidence we all have growing up. That confidence that comes from being well loved and cherished in a good community as a child and then a teenager – that we are good and safe and beloved despite the nature of the world. Most of us lose that confidence, growing up – becoming an adult, we see that we are actually fallible, that we make mistakes or that the world can hurt us no matter how good our intentions.
On this Friday night in October, I feel deflated. I feel like what little I have accomplished lately has been by fighting tooth and nail. I am used to being an overachiever for whom things come easily, and the last few months of being sent through the wringer, nearly failing at school and actually failing in Germany make me feel like I kinda suck at this adulthood thing.
I text my friend Will, because it is October and I got back from Germany in late August, and I haven’t seen him since I got back. I invite him out to join M and me, and he accepts eagerly – largely, I discover later, because he wants to maybe get with M, and welcomes the opportunity to join us. He arrives, and it is good to see him. For the last, oh, five or six years, he has been one of my boys that are like brothers to me, whom I’ve grown up with since at least middle school if not earlier.
I tell myself I’ll drink one beer and I’ll go home. The grumpiness sticks with me and suddenly, I just want to be home, in my pajamas, cuddled and safe in the house I grew up in.
You can’t go home, Will says, my friend Shaun is coming.
We’ve heard different versions of this story from Will since – he’s told us sometimes that he wanted to hang out with M more and needed a wing man to come hang out with me while he flirted. We’ve also heard a version of the story where Will thought Shaun and I really needed to meet, that we would get along well, that he wasn’t exactly aiming to match make us, but he thought we’d like each other. Maybe both versions are true.
Regardless, the night of, I do not buy any version of this story. In fact, I’m pretty sure my sassy reply to Will was, I don’t give a shit about your friend Shaun.
Between M and Will cajoling and wheedling me, I decide to stay for one more beer. If Will’s friend Shaun shows up during the time I drink one more beer, fine. If he doesn’t, I am back on my pajamas at home plan, and nothing M or Will says will convince me otherwise.
And then – Will’s friend is off my radar. I have absolutely zero expectations about him. At this point in my life, I do not expect good things. In spring, almost every day I awoke to more bad news, bad situations getting worse – by fall, I do not expect things to work out, boons to be given freely to me.
I excuse myself while we’re waiting for Will’s friend Shaun. I go outside. I call Laureny, because she is living in Bowling Green and I miss her, and I feel wretched inside for some strange reason, and talking to her always makes me feel better.
We talk for close to thirty minutes, about anything and everything. All that weighs heavy on my heart that evening, trying to suss out exactly what it is that’s bothering me. We don’t get a lot figured out in that phone call, but her listening and reassuring me everything will be OK helps in its own way, as it always does.
After telling each other we miss each other and love each other about a hundred times, I hang up the phone. I go back inside.
There is a boy – a young man – sitting next to M. He is cute, even though I will myself not to notice. He has shaggy brown hair, longer than most guys wear it. He has enough scruff on his chin to call it an actual beard. He is wearing a grey t-shirt with a bright watercolored skull on it, jeans, and a pair of Converse on his feet. His eyes are green-green-green and his grin is undeniably charming.
Whatever, I think, trying to drop the observation as soon as I’ve made it, he’s cute, but he’ll probably go after M instead, she’s the cute blonde.
Will’s friend Shaun does not, in fact, flirt with M. He is kind of quiet and amiable at first, but all of us are chatting as I finish my second – and I swore, last! – beer.
And damn it, he is funny. Funny will get me over cute every time. Worse, he’s witty – smart and funny together. He is cute and he is funny and he is clever. Within in fifteen minutes, he and I quip back and forth, setting up a joke and letting the other take the punchline. We have undeniable chemistry, somehow our sense of humor hits the same notes – and Lord knows I have always been fascinated by a quick and clever person. I like to be challenge in my own wit and humor and timing, being around someone funny makes me up my game and not rely on easy jokes and stories.
M is two-beer drunk, and even though she drove us there, I can see I’ll be driving us home. She is precious and adorable, and this is one of the many precious and adorable things about her at this point in her life. She needs to pee, I need to pee, we excuse ourselves from the boys and wind our way back to the bathroom.
Together in the biggest stall – because we are girls in our early twenties, and we don’t want to stop talking long enough to pee – she whirls on me, eyes bright. She has noted the chemistry between Will’s friend Shaun and me, and even after two beers, she can see I’m being a little quietly coy.
You loooooove him, she tells me, y’all are hitting it off! He liiiiikes you and y’all are gonna get married and I’m gonna be in your WEDDING!
I roll my eyes, but I can’t stop grinning. Suddenly, something feels different. Everything feels different. An hour before, I feel like I can’t do anything right and never will again. Now, I feel just the faintest glimmer of hope, and it frightens me. Suddenly, I almost feel like that sign I’ve been waiting for has landed in my lap, that the big sign I needed to point me in the right direction is now sitting outside the ladies room with a beard and a grin and green-green eyes.
I doubt myself. I have learned to doubt myself this year, and I feel that doubt now. Surely I’m misreading things. Surely this boy with the shaggy hair and artsy shirt will end up disappointing me just like everything else this year has.
We go back to the table. We finish our beers. And – Will wants to go to KC’s, a different bar, next. M agrees. Will’s friend Shaun agrees.
And I – who an hour before insisted she’d be going home to pajamas – agree. I can’t help myself. I feel like I have to see this through. For the first time in my dating life, I don’t feel scared to try and pursue someone I’m interested in. I don’t act like a fifth grader and hope that he will just magically sense my interest despite me saying nothing about how I feel. For the first time, I want to fight to get what I want.
We all go out and get in Will’s big sedan. We pick up his roommate, and we all head to KC’s.
M has had another beer since her two-beer drunk, and she is hysterical. Will’s friend Shaun and I continue to bond over teasing her for her mispeaks – she asks what the time clocks says and we ask her what other kind of clock there is besides a time clock. Shaun makes a joke and she doesn’t hear him and makes the exact same joke 20 seconds later.
We get to KC’s and it is dark and loud, as always. Will and M go off to play pool, and I wait to see if Will’s friend Shaun will follow. He doesn’t, so I stay put too. There is a frothy pitcher of beer between us and the floor pulses with the bass line and the table is the slightest bit sticky from all the beers that have come before ours.
We talk. Over the throbbing music, we talk, half-shouting to be heard. We talk and talk until we are nearly hoarse. We learn we both love the new M.I.A. song and hummus and our favourite movie of all time is the Princess Bride. We seem impossibly compatable, almost as if someone plucked him straight out of my brain and out of my heart. By the end of our evening at KC’s, I am aware that I am half in love with him already, and despite the shaky, fragile fear and doubt and self-loathing that still blossoms in my chest – I know whatever I feel for him is worth pursuing. I am determined not to let this good thing slip through my fingers. We’ve talked enough, and alone, that I wonder if he will ask for my number at the end of the night. I hope that he will, and if he doesn’t, I know I will ask Will more about him.
We all get back in the car to drive us back to Will’s house, and our cars. I am crammed in between Shaun and M.
M is irrepressibly happy about the turn of events the night has taken for me. M thinks she is being subtle.
She is not.
Get! His! Number! she whispers on one side of me – at least, she thinks she is whispering. Get! His! Number! She is not whispering, she is hissing loud enough for everyone in the car to hear. Get! His! Number!
I am mortified, keenly aware of the him on the other side of me, who has to be hearing everything M is whispering.
I do not, in fact, get his number.
Not that night, anyway.
I don’t get his number but after I drive home, I text Will, ask him about his friend Shaun. Was he as good a guy as he seemed, did he have a girlfriend, did he have a rap sheet or a murder charge I needed to know about – that last one, obviously joking. Obviously trying to make light of the fact I was maybe sorta halfway in love with his friend, already.
(For the record, Will’s reply is something like, yeah, he’s nice, no girlfriend, tell M she looked really pretty tonight.)
I do not get his number that night, but I do go home and have a dream that we got married. A few days later, he adds me on Facebook while I am on a business trip in New Orleans. I do a happy dance in my hotel room. I come home, we hang out in a group at Will’s house again, and later everyone teases me about how Shaun and I sit in a corner by ourselves and talk non-stop the entire night. After that, I gain the courage to message him and ask if he wants to hang out, one-on-one. A week later, we hang out alone, just the two of us, at his house for the first time. We watch the Princess Bride and eat pie he has baked for me.
A month and a half later, he kisses me for the first time. In the next year, I move in with him. Three years after we meet in that bar, he asks me to marry him. A year later, we are married, and now, three years after we wed and seven after we’ve met, we celebrate our anniversary month with our sweet daughter, the world’s most perfect baby.
In October 2009, I am lost. I am floundering without direction. And then I meet a man who doesn’t exactly fix me – but shows me it’s possible to fix myself. A man who shows me a happy ending is possible for me. A man who teaches me that that I am lovable and worthy and strong, and makes me believe it.
We don’t end up maybe exactly where I expected, back on that Friday night in October – but we end up in a place where I am grateful, each and every day, that we ended up there together.