Twenty years ago yesterday, Tim and I went on a date.
We’d gone on dates before, awkward, blushing dates where holding hands is terrifying and you’re sure all your friends are watching. In high school, we dated for six months, and went beyond those innocent hand-holding dates, but in the beginning, it was Norman Rockwell, varsity jock dates nerdy musician. It ended like many teenage relationships end, with romantic tunnel vision and a broken heart.
But in 1999, Tim drove 350 miles from Chicago to Carbondale to take me on a date. He took a day off of work, put gas in his car, stopped to buy me flowers, introduced himself to my kids, played chess with my son and giggled with my daughter, and the next night, dressed up in a jacket and tie took me on a date.
That night changed our lives permanently, setting events in motion that we spent the better part of two decades handling/managing/overcoming. Two weeks after that date, after my ex-husband staged a terrifying freak out, I left Carbondale for good. At the university, I’d had a good job in my chosen field, I was using my degree, I was supporting myself and my kids, had great benefits, my kids were in the best school in town, and I was slowly building a support network that could take the place of my absent family of origin, but the situation with my ex became untenable.
We haven’t looked back much on that pivotal time, what with the raising and launching of three kids and moving to Oregon. Lots to look at right here in our daily lives. But that moment was a fulcrum, the balance of my past outweighed by the heft of the future. We were launched into the phase of being a blended family almost overnight. Tim proposed (in his way) on February 20 of that year. Three weeks later. We didn’t live together until a couple of years later, but we did everything together; meals and shopping and weekend outings and family gatherings. It was a lot, and it was fast.
Both of our families told us we were making bad decisions. Tim was told he going from the “frying pan into the fire,” (his ex-wife was the frying pan, and I was *much* worse), I had sinister motives ; Tim wasn’t suitable because he wasn’t Catholic, he wasn’t a Christian, he wasn’t, he wasn’t, he wasn’t. We’d never last, we were wrong for each other, it was a bad match.
And then it was 20 years.
Whatever it was that compelled Tim to look for me, send me a letter, start a long-distance conversation with me and then make that effort for a date with a woman he hadn’t seen since high school was powerful stuff. Maybe he knew something in his gut I didn’t know yet. Maybe that’s just the guy he is, a locomotive chugging along to the destination at the end of the tracks.
Very little stops this guy. He’s all planning and purpose, focused on making stability happen.
That forward energy has carried us a long way from that first date. The life I had built over the last nine years was demolished in two weeks, and nothing was ever the same. It was better, fuller, richer, more challenging and, in some ways, more painful. Being woven to another person with whom you navigate a family’s route to adulthood is complex and demanding.
But I have never been alone in that struggle. I’ve always had a partner for the work of growing children into adults, and making a life with contentment.
I wasn’t content in Carbondale. I was succeeding, but I was not content. Destroying that life may have been the only way I would leave that discontent.
Twenty years ago, I went on a date with a man who was all wrong for me.
It was the best date of my life.
Tim sent me a mixtape (!) with this song on it when we were pen pals. It’s the first Bruce Cockburn song I ever heard, and I fell madly and permanently in love with it, and with him. It matched precisely my circumstances of that departure.
Pushing up its glistening dome
I kiss these departing companion
Take the next step alone
I just said goodnight to the closest thing I have to home
Oh, and the night grows sharp and hollow
As a junkie’s craving vein
And I don’t feel your touch, again
But, the magic of a lover’s touch is what makes my spirit sing
When you’re caught up in this longing
All the beauties of the Earth don’t mean a thing
Oh, and the night grows clear and empty
As a lake of acid rain
And I don’t feel your touch, again
A hint of chanted prayer now whispers from the fresh night wind
To this shattered heart and soul held together by habit and skin
And this half-gnawed bone of apprehension
Buried in my brain
As I don’t feel your touch, again