Part Eleven–FML … No, No, No, It’s “Fix My Life,” Not That Other Acronym
After my date with the felon, I took two months off from the dating sphere to rest, reset, and regain my faith in humanity. When I ventured out again, it was with heavily-vetted Mad Man, an advertising executive who lived not far from me and used to work with Taller Me’s ex-husband until the ex-husband fired Mad Man.
Mad Man and I met at a nearby Mexican food restaurant and sat at the bar. He drank beer, I ate a torta, and we talked. He told me all about working with Taller Me’s ex-husband and went into great detail about the firing. I’m not sure if we really talked about anything else. Oh wait, yes, now I remember. He discussed his ex-wife and how they shared custody of their dog. He also happened to ask me how dating was going so I told him the story about the felon.
“Well, now,” he said. “Since I don’t have any felony convictions, I’m looking like a good catch!”
Overall we had a fine time together–plenty of good natured ribbing and laughter–but as he told me in a text message afterward, no chemistry. Truth. There was none. Human chemistry is real and I’d yet to feel that type of connection with any of my dates. The last I heard from Mad Man was a drunk text a few nights later to give me props for telling him about a bar in downtown Phoenix where he was having so much fun playing darts and, obviously, drinking quite happily at 1 a.m. Update the tally to Dead End #11.
Next up was Strezazzled, a former architect who was now a lawyer. And a stressed one at that. At our first dinner, as he was describing his litigation work, he kept running his fingers through his hair but not in a light, airy, or sexy manner. Rather, he continuously raked his scalp with frustration. I wondered how he had any hair left on his head. Additionally, in this technologically saturated age, he was difficult to get in touch with. He had a burner phone that he infrequently used for texting, never answered if it rang, and it was so old that it did not display emojis which, apparently, I tend to use more than I’m willing to admit. So when I texted Strezazzled, I ended up typing out a description of the emoji I would have used if he had a smartphone. Here’s one example of my response after he called me a unicorn and invited me for a second date: “Unicorns do like coffee, often in the late afternoon on Saturdays but only if the unicorns are buying. (Insert unicorn and coffee cup emojis here).” He instructed me that if I wanted to get in touch with him during the work day, I was to send a message to his work email. I only did so once and his response included the fact that he was exhausted, a state of being about which he frequently complained. There was something almost charming about his Luddite ways yet at the same time they eventually became unsettling. Often people forego technology to alleviate stress and anxiety but in Strezazzled’s case, his nearly digital-free existence seemed not to matter. The man was seriously flaberjoobled. Nevertheless, I thought he had some potential because 1) he didn’t have a single felony conviction; 2) he wasn’t a raging alcoholic or drug addict; and 3) he was a dedicated cyclist and seemed to enjoy being outdoors as much as I do. So I agreed to meet him for that coffee and then a lunch and, finally, a pizza dinner at his high-rise condo where we had joked that we would fold his laundry since he was months behind. If you know me very, very well, you know that I love the process of washing and folding clothes–the repetitive nature of it, the making order out of chaos of it, the OCD compulsion of it. It is my own personal form of meditation. OxiClean is my mantra.
I brought the pizza. And the plates. And the plastic utensils and cups and napkins plus some cans of Perrier because Strezazzled had previously mentioned that he had moved into his condo several years before and had never unpacked his belongings, save for his often unwashed clothes. He claimed to have one coffee cup on his counter and a single bottle of champagne in his refrigerator. Nothing else. As a runner, the thought of not having any food in the house was terrifying to me. What if the pizza wasn’t satiating enough and I got hungry afterward? Would it be weird to gnaw on the pizza box? Surely, I told myself, he was exaggerating. But because I was a Girl Scout way back in the day, I had learned to always be prepared and so I brought the paper goods as well as energy bars to avoid having to eat a greasy cardboard box.
Meeting him at his condo was complicated. There was no guest parking, just street parking around the building and he’d explained that the street parking was sometimes in short supply. So he told me to text him when I was on my way and he’d stake out a parking spot on the street. En route, I texted him but, as usual, he didn’t reply. When I pulled up to his building, he was standing in a passenger unloading only space.
“There aren’t any other spots. Just park here,” he said, motioning to the well marked space that I wasn’t supposed to use for long-term parking. “It’ll be fine.”
Well, no, it was not fine by me. That space was dedicated for people unloading boxes or groceries or anyone who needed to use the nearby wheelchair ramp up to the building. When my mom used a wheelchair at the end of her life, I saw firsthand how difficult daily existence is for people with mobility issues. I wasn’t going to add to that difficulty so I waved off Strezazzled, drove a street over, and found a space. I schlepped the pizza and supplies to him. Strezazzled card-swiped us into his building and then we waited for an elevator. When the elevator arrived, we stepped into the cab. I noticed a family of four with a baby in a stroller walking quickly toward our elevator. Strezazzled noticed them too so, naturally, he pushed the … door close button. And not once by accident. But over and over purposely. “What the?” I thought. Without saying a word to him, I stuck my foot in front of the door sensor and held the elevator until the family boarded and then we went up, up, up to Strezazzled’s floor, accompanied by silence, except for the cute baby who was babbling in the stroller.
We walked down a long hallway to his unit. He opened the door and I immediately was glad that I’d brought the plates, et al. This man told me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He had not a glass, not a fork, not even a pot holder because he did not have a pot. There were no books on the shelves and just one poster on the wall. There also was no fire in the kiss he stole from me as I prepped our paper plates with food. It was a dry peck that caused me to lower my head and concentrate really hard on sliding a wedge of pepperoni pizza from box to plate. Again, chemistry is real and still there was none.
Strezazzled didn’t have cable so we watched “60 Minutes” old school, by antenna, and with the attendant TV snow. We talked about our families–he had a brother he was close to and one who he didn’t speak to–and discussed some of the travels we’d each recently taken. And then it was time to throw away the plates and get busy. No, no, not that kind of “get busy.” I mean get busy with the three baskets of laundry piled high and in need of folding. While Strezazzled likely expected more from this date, what he got instead was T-shirts crisply folded, a tower of shorts, and a pyramid of matched socks. He did not want me to touch his underwear. I did not want to touch his underwear either. And that brings the total to Dead End #12.
Summer 2017 arrived and with it the relentless Arizona heat. My phone alarm woke me up each morning at 4 to run before work. The grind was on. But I had met a runner on Match so at least we could commiserate about our somewhat miserable summer running routines. The-Guy-I-Was-Beginning-to-See was in an exceptionally transient time–legally separated although still living with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, in the midst of divorce proceedings, looking for a new home, and beginning to date. Meanwhile, with a divorce that was 6 years in the rearview mirror and nine months of thoroughly unsuccessful dating experiences, I seemed like some old veteran of the romance wars. This is to say that we were in very different places in our lives. And those differences would become more heightened just weeks into our new relationship.
As a longtime Arizona resident with pale and overly-sensitive Irish skin, I am diligent about visiting the dermatologist annually for skin checks. Over the years my dermatologist removed a couple of suspicious moles that were benign and one wart-like lesion on my wrist from an encounter with a cactus during a trail race. But in 2017, my dermatologist found a spot on my shoulder blade that concerned him more than I’d seen him concerned before. He biopsied it and called me a week later with instructions to set up an appointment for MOHS surgery because the mole was “trending to melanoma,” he said.
I told The-Guy-I-Was-Beginning-to-See that I was scheduled to undergo the procedure.
“Are you concerned?” he asked me.
“No,” I told him. “Not unless I eventually need to be.” Worry is a time waster and if this situation ended up being more complicated than the dermatologist expected, I would deal with whatever it was whenever it happened. So I didn’t go on WebMD to freak myself out. And I only told my two closest friends because, really, what was the point. I didn’t have much more information to impart other than the date of the surgery. But I would be lying if I claimed that my mind was totally at ease. My parents and my aunt had all died at relatively young ages from different forms of cancer and I didn’t want to be the next member of the family to follow in those footsteps.
The good news was that my surgeon was wildly experienced, gave me a pre-surgical rundown of what was going on with my not-playing-nice dysplastic nevus, and what would happen during the procedure. The bad news was that the surgery was longer and more invasive than I expected. The surgeon had to cut deep and wide to get clean margins. I was left with a two-inch long incision on my shoulder blade, two layers of stitches, instructions not to run for two weeks (although I heard “two days,” except I will not swear to that claim on a Bible), and the promise of a pathology report in 10 days.
Let me preface my next remarks by saying that, on the continuum, my surgery was minor. It wasn’t like I faced down death, had a near-death experience, or that the word “death” even came up that day except for in the car on the way to my appointment when I listened to my Death Cab for Cutie CD. But in the days afterward, something about feeling my shoulder blade aching, the wound pulled tight from the layers of stitches, and the skin throbbing as the platelets sealed the wound and the white blood cells fought off infection, triggered major thoughts around the theme of cutting things out. And not just aberrant moles. I’d been cut out of other people’s lives and I’d done some cutting out in my own life over the last handful of years. Many were difficult, sad, and uncomfortable cuts. A marriage. A long-term relationship. A job I really liked and was good at. But all were necessary and helped propel me down the new path I was trying to blaze toward a healthier, happier life.
Ten days later, while at work, I received a phone call from the dermatologist’s office with the news that my pathology report was blessedly clean. I sat down at my desk, cried for about 15 seconds, and then I had to get myself together and go to a meeting. But when I returned home, I sat on my couch and thought about what had happened over the past few weeks. I had received confirmation that I was on good footing with the healthier part of my life plan but the reality was I wasn’t happy. Not at all. And I hadn’t been for a long while.
My current day-to-day existence was on autopilot: wake up early; run; head to a job that was gutting my emotions; return home and fix dinner; go to bed. Wedge in a date or two and repeat. On weekends, I’d go on a long run, head to the grocery store, do laundry and then, with the curtains drawn, sit quietly on my couch for hours to recuperate from the work week. For three years I had been working for a homeless healthcare clinic in various capacities, the last as a community health worker. I had no background or experience for the position other than a desire to help. I connected our patients with social services, taught an art therapy class for a time, attempted to educate the patients about their complicated health conditions so that they better complied with our medical staff’s directives, and helped them register for health insurance and other programs. I also hugged a patient for several hours so she wouldn’t fall off the exam table while she was in the throes of a heroin high. I drove two addicts at the same time to rehab, one of whom was so drunk and belligerent that he kept trying to exit the car in rush hour traffic, and the other who was a quiet young pregnant woman who sat in the back seat. I kept checking on her in the rearview mirror, her big brown eyes staring at me from above a face mask that she wore because she was terribly sick from the flu. She was also horribly addicted to heroin. Both patients checked themselves out of the rehab facility within 24 hours of me dropping them off. Each day I saw similar situations and listened to life story after life story about how each patient ended up on the street, in their car, or couch surfing. While the job was rewarding for the work being done, the people I was privileged to call my colleagues, and the patients I served, I didn’t have the capacity to withstand the sadness of witnessing people whose lives and bodies had been terribly broken, often irrevocably.
I recently looked back over an entry in my journal from that time. I had made notes of topics I wanted to discuss with my counselor, who I hadn’t seen in a year but with whom I finally made an appointment. I started the entry with a quote from the song “Elizabeth” by The Airborne Toxic Event and then, in a mixture of upper and lowercase and all caps letters depending on whether or not I was yelling on paper at my own self, I rewinded almost 10 months earlier to Fall 2016 and the events that, dang, I was still emotionally mired in and unable to get past:
“I’ve never known love
This is just my best guess.”
EMPTY NEST: sadness, depression
COUPLED WITH: house flood; E. coli; being dumped by him and other friends who were really not friends but the common denominator is me; job change, good but the sadness, hurt, and a loss of confidence in the organization as a result; J’s death and D’s difficult situation + fact that I don’t have family here; awful online dating; my social awkwardness; general inability to pull myself together and DO SOMETHING, BE SOMETHING. (Note: J was my sister-in-law and D is my nephew)
BUT I’M RUNNING REALLY F***ING FAST–IF I DIDN’T HAVE RUNNING RIGHT NOW, I’D BE IN THE TANK
I JUST DON’T GET THE POINT OF ALL OF THIS … there doesn’t seem to be one
On the next page of my journal, I took notes about what my counselor told me during the session:
TURN THIS SHIP BIG
SEE WHAT’S AVAILABLE WHEREVER AND GO
see her for strategizing
What I’m experiencing is not unusual and it’s what happens when there are clear standards for normal behavior. It’s easy to connect through dysfunction, alcohol, and drugs. IT’S HARDER TO FIND WHAT I WANT
After that session, I realized that I had some more cutting out to do as well as some adding in. So I became The-Guy-I-Was-Beginning-to-See’s Dead End #Whatever in a most ungainly and inexplicable way, a slow unwinding of unavailability. I’m sorry for any confusion or pain I caused but I couldn’t yet put into words for him what was going on in my head and my heart and my life. Now, with time and some clarity, I understand that I had decided to see someone else, someone who needed my attention, someone who needed my quality time, someone who needed to be valued, someone who I had ignored long enough: me.
Next Time: Part Twelve–My Late-in-Life Romance with Running