May 10, 2012

Catch and release

When I talked to my dad a week or so ago about relocating, he told me he understood better, having read the blog post. That he'd suspected the whole truth wasn't being shared, but still had no idea things were as bad as they were. And he reminded me that everything in life happens for a reason.

Still, I worried that I let him down. Not career-wise, necessarily - I think he honestly feels that sacrificing the job is worth my sanity - but because I didn't meet someone out here. Or, because I did, but it didn't work out with a fairy tale ending.

Because when I left Connecticut in December, the last thing my dad said to me was Do you ever wonder if Justin is the one? You, know, the one the lady talked about? And I quickly said yes and changed the subject back to goodbye.

When my dad and I drove from Chicago to California, it was a long three days in the cab of a pickup truck. Poor radio signals for the most part. No CD player, no cassette tape deck even. So it was a long three days of conversation - about what I'd left behind in the Midwest, and about what we foresaw in my life on the West Coast. He'd met Bobby briefly the night before my interview, and seemed to not think the kid was worth staying in touch with, let alone dating long-distance. Dad's eyes were on the future, on creating a fulfilling life with someone in California. He hoped I'd meet someone at the university, another teacher maybe, to get to know and hopefully end up with, making a happy life and family for ourselves in the little city we were headed to.

I heard what he said, but wasn't really listening.  I didn't want to think about the future, I could barely focus on the present. My mind was going a thousand miles an hour after a whirlwind week of getting a cross-country job offer, taking the offer, saying goodbye to my family/friends/a good portion of my possessions, and wondering what future I had with a boy I'd met only a week or so earlier.

I had a day and a half to leave Chicago. To find an apartment to move into when we got to California three days later. To pack everything I owned, discarding anything that didn't fit in the back of my father's pickup truck. To say my goodbyes. It was frantic and exhausting and emotional; I'd been awake and running boxes to the truck from my second floor apartment for nearly 36 hours. Luckily, I found a fairly priced, decent-looking apartment on Craigslist right away, and spoke with the complex rental office about renting it sight-unseen. The rental manager, Florence, had an overly cheerful personality, and when I met her a few days later, she looked exactly how I had imagined - right down to the bright red lipstick marks on her teeth.

Florence said she needed me to fax some signed papers to the office, so I ran down to the check cashing place a few blocks away. As the cashier handed me my originals and a receipt, I called the office to confirm the forms had arrived. Florence said they were still transmitting, just hold on one second. And we made small talk.

What brings you to the valley, anyway?

Well, I got a job teaching at the university, and classes start in a week.

You know, I just moved in a young man who is going to be working at the UC.

Then, she said something that floored me.

I can't tell you where he lives exactly, but I predict the two of you will fall in love and get married.

I started sobbing, right there in the middle of PLS Check Cashing. I was mentally and physically drained, my heart was broken, I was leaving the wonderful life I'd worked so hard to create, and here was this woman, making some ridiculous claim. When I got back to my apartment, I told my dad and my cousin Sarah, who were there waiting, and then I forgot about it.

Until about a week after I moved into the apartment, and my dad and I went for a night swim in the complex pool.

There were two guys in the pool, and a girl sitting to the side, all talking. So we went in the hot tub. Then we switched. When we got out of the pool, it was chilly, and one of the guys called out, saying they'd scoot over if we wanted to warm up. Dad got in and sat next to one guy, who introduced himself as Adam. And I sat on the side with my legs in, between my dad and the other guy, who introduced himself as Justin.

He was cute, without a doubt. A fisherman, though I didn't know it at the time. And he kept looking at me while my dad and Adam talked baseball, which totally threw me off guard. Boys don't look at me. Especially not in a bathing suit. But there we were.

A few days later, Dad and I were in the pool again one afternoon, and Justin came over and sat along side me in the hot tub.

Hey, I'm Justin, remember? From the other night?

Yes, of course, I remembered. He said the group would be getting together for dinner later that week, and can I have your number? I assumed it was for the dinner, but a few days later, he texted and asked if I wanted to go for a swim. Even that, I assumed would be the group. But he showed up, alone, with his cooler of beers.

He was cute, but I was still talking to Bobby, and didn't think anything of the invitation. Before I headed to the pool, though, my dad (who gave me three days of driving's worth of talks on why I shouldn't get upset if the Bobby thing didn't work out), asked

Remember what the office lady said? What if this is the guy?

And I wondered. And as we sat in the hot tub, drinking and talking, I felt a wonderful connection to Justin. He listened intently, he told fascinating stories, and he looked at me in a way that felt incredible. Like no one had ever looked at me before. I felt held by him, even without his hands on my body. He asked what I liked to do after work, and I said I wasn't sure yet, since I was still in the relocating process, but in Chicago, I'd go to the gym after work. He said I didn't need to go to the gym, and I assured him that yes, I did - and then blurted out that I'd lost 150 pounds in the past twelve months. He was shocked, amazed, impressed.

Well, you look great.

jcollmann79And we went back to his place, in the building right next to mine (interesting, since the complex has dozens of buildings), and we had another drink. And he showed me the table where he tied his flies for fly fishing, and he pinned one on the collar of my shirt, and I knew, in that moment, that this had to be the one. The one Florence was talking about. the one I'd always wanted - someone I met organically, not online, someone curious and fascinating and wonderful. Someone who knew who I was and what I had been, and still liked me and wanted to be around me.

You're beautiful, you know. I know you’re recovering from a time when you didn't believe it, but it's true.

My dad couldn't have been happier. A week in California, and I meet a handsome 30-something clinical psychologist who made the first moves. And I was happy too.

For a while.

I've never met anyone like Justin, and that's a loaded sentence. The person, and the way of meeting him, were both interesting firsts for me. I've never been asked out by a guy I didn't meet online. I've always felt this compulsion to go on the Internet and explain to boys why I'm worth spending time with. I can't drive, and I'm super obese, but here is a list of hopefully redeeming qualities. Justin didn't know either of those things when we met. Or when he asked me out. He found about about both, and still kissed me. Touched me. Cared about me.

For a while.

I cared about him an awful lot, and I loved spending time with him and getting to know him. But so many of his actions were confusing. We had dinner at least once a week. We went away together for Thanksgiving break. He spent his birthday with me - cried when I gave him his gift, and then said he'd be staying here another year so don't get fired or quit, okay? We told each other about our lives, shared our secrets. He was the only one who knew about the weight loss, and even before he knew, he called me beautiful. And, of course, we were occasionally physically intimate. But I misread it all, apparently, because all along, he was still going on dates with other people. Still actively searching for someone who wasn't me.

It was exactly what I'd gone through with Matt a few months earlier - a good guy, but entirely disinterested in making any sort of even short-term commitment, namely exclusivity with dating. They both crushed me - I've been hurt like this so many times before, but I never learned. I've been cheated on. I've been cheated with. All I've ever wanted is to be the only one for someone. To be enough. Even though I knew he was still looking, and it hurt, I turned a blind eye to it. The time we spent together felt meaningful, and I honestly believed he would come around.

Until I ran into him as he walked back from who-knows-whose place at 7:15 in the morning wearing yesterday’s clothes. And I couldn't wrap my arms around myself tight enough - a defense mechanism I've developed in the past year or so, trying to protect my body since I no longer have as many layers of fat to keep me safe.

I felt like a failure. When it happened in Chicago, shame on him. But when it happened a second time, in California, with someone else ... shame on me. It had to be a personal flaw: something is clearly wrong with me, I can't satisfy someone entirely. If I were enough, then a boy would be happy and content, the time between visits wouldn't need to be filled with other people. I'm nice, I'm smart, I'm funny, I'm any number of positive qualities. But there's something else, something apparently quite crucial that's missing that makes me undesirable. I know it's not right to think in that negative way, but when it happens time after time, with guy after guy, in Connecticut and in Chicago and now in California, I can only fixate on myself as the common element, and decide the fault must be my own.

It's not my fault. I'm not deficient. None of us are. We deserve wonderful things, and one of those wonderful things is someone who loves and respects us.

My dad was right: getting the job in California was good, but letting go of it for the right reasons is better. I'm not leaving California entirely because of Justin, though we haven't spoken since December, and I have no idea if he still intends to stay for his post-doctoral fellowship year. And I'm not heading back to Chicago entirely for Matt, with whom I have since reconciled and have been making efforts to forge a new beginning. My decision to relocate is based entirely on myself and my need to be in a place where I feel comfortable and have the support and resources I need in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

California clearly isn't where I'm meant to end up, but it was an experience I needed to have on the path to what I'm truly meant for - in terms of career and relationships (with myself, and others). What is meant to be, will be. Someday it will be there, possibly surprising: the perfect result of all the experiences I've had up to that point.