July 22, 2017

Hoppin' John

There's a tradition in the South to eat a stew of black-eyed peas and collard greens on New Year's Day. It's called Hoppin' John, and it supposedly brings a year of good luck and prosperity.

This year on New Year's Day, my son and I were in the South Carolina upstate, excited to walk the first of our 5K hikes for the year. My ex-husband was with us, and his welcome had been worn out long earlier. I was beyond ready for him to leave, to get back to what had become the regular, normal routine for Noah and me.

At the race start/end point, someone brought out a little crock pot full of Hoppin' John and invited everyone to partake. I took a paper cup and ladled a bit in; I'm not much for superstitions, but I'm also not one to avoid any opportunity to turn tough things around.

2017 has had its share of downs, but certainly more and more ups as the days and weeks pass. We went camping and hiking and explored so much of South Carolina, I finally got an offer for a new job that got me out of the South and out of a very difficult work environment, we got to see family, we got to go on the roadtrip of a lifetime with my mom, and now we're here in California.

California never fails to surprise me.

...

I met someone.

I've been thinking a lot about how to talk about this all, but I have struggled to come up with the right words. Me! Someone who can talk - and write - on and on and on ... and I'm at a loss. I try to be poetic, and I lose my entire vocabulary. I'm really amazed still, entirely in disbelief. Dizzy with excitement and hope, but also entirely sober regarding the realities of the bigger picture situation of my life. I'd like to think I've found a lovely balance of cautious optimism.

Daniel is incredible, with the sense of the word of being unbelievable. I keep finding myself stopped in my tracks, amazed that this is real, this is happening, this isn't a dream. I keep wondering if it's some sort of universal karmic re-balancing, because everything about him is entirely opposite of the man I divorced last fall. Kind, compassionate, respectful, affectionate, caring, supportive, sweet, gentle - just absolutely everything I have prayed for.

I promise, though - I'm staying level-headed. It's quite hard, because we get along amazingly well and our personalities are a terrifically complementary fit. One day at a time, I keep saying. Enjoy where we are, don't stress about anything but here and now.

Daniel knows I used to be heavy, and that then I wasn't, and that now I am again. And he's inspired by my ability to reach a goal I've set, and he encourages me to pursue my healthiest and best self - on my own terms. He doesn't make me feel like a failure for regaining weight, but rather, like someone who is capable of remarkable things. He sees the best in me here, now, as I am, rather than seeing what I could be if only I x, y, z...

I'm disoriented by being treated well, by having someone want to hold my hand and listen to every word of my story. I'm still in awe of his incredible respect and understanding - he knows I am incredibly hesitant about a physical relationship, that I was badly hurt by poor decisions in my last relationship and am exceptionally cautious to not repeat them. Is this alright? he asks before placing his hand on my back as we stand together at the grocery store counter, trying to decide on lunch.

Our dates have been wonderful - iced chai and talking for hours at a local coffee shop, a Mexican grocery store for produce and spices before cooking lunch together, a 3.75 mile walk and then playing a board game ... always fun, with terrific conversation and no pressure for anything other than an adventure.

Daniel knows I have a four-year-old, but they have not yet met - I am being very cautious with this as well. I will introduce them sooner rather than later - I want to make sure they get along with each other before I get too attached - but there is no pressure either way from him. He is very excited to meet the little boy I am always raving about, but reassures me that he wants it to happen when Noah and I are ready. He knows we are a package deal, and that Noah is not negotiable to me. He understands what reactions Noah may have, and he wants to make the introduction as smooth as possible. Noah knows I have been seeing someone while he is at school, and that he's a good friend of mine, and that he would like to be a good friend of Noah's as well.

I have no worries at all that they'll get along very well - my greatest concern is with Noah reacting to having to share the attention that has, as long as he can remember, been undivided - focused solely on him. I don't want to thrust either of them into too much too soon - something fun and low-key at first, then seeing how things go from there. One day at a time. One day at a time.

Daniel knows nearly everything about my ex-husband - I'm sure there are still stories to tell, but the heaviest secrets have been shared, and his reactions have made me intensely emotional. It pains him that someone in the world would talk to their wife that way, hurt her that way, make her feel so worthless ... and it's harder still for him to believe that it happened to the girlfriend he is incredibly smitten with. I told him about Matthew coming back for the first time after our separation - I asked if we were sure divorce was what we wanted, if we wanted to give therapy a try and see if we could work things out ... and his response was to tell me that being married to me made him want to kill himself. And Daniel cringed, and held me close, and let me cry as I told him, I keep waiting to wake up, because I'm still recovering from this traumatic relationship - I still struggle to believe that I deserve love, that someone could possibly want to be with you. I want to be with you, Mary. I want to make you as happy as he made you unhappy - and more, he says to me.

He knows I've been hurt, and instead of exploiting vulnerabilities like my ex-husband did, he wants only to help me heal, recover, and grow. And the tears come back, because I just can't believe that this is my life. And he lets me feel my feelings, but is also there to dry the tears.

You can count me among those who are happy to see you feel cared for, and you absolutely are. There's so much more that I want to say than I have the words for right now. You are amazing, you make me feel incredibly lucky and happy, and I want so much for you to be happy too.

I'm keeping my feet firm on the ground, which is incredibly hard when all my heart wants to do is dance all the time. I'm being careful, but also enjoying so much for the first time - sweet words, a hand that wants to hold mine, tender kisses on my forehead and cheek. It's unlike anything I've experienced before, in the most incredible way.

I'm so, so happy to finally be in the place I was meant to be all along - the little city in California, of course, but also - just right here, in this glowing moment of joy.

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