For TueNight.com by Annette Earling
January's East Coast blizzard, now manifested in little more than a few snow piles that continue to lull me into thinking there are more parking spots up ahead at the local Target, brought back memories of the Blizzard of 1996. As the weather 'bots on TV attempted to roil up panicked shopping at The Home Depot, recollections of that monumental snow dump informed many of my decisions in preparing for the blizzard of 2016. While checking on generator fuel and access to the snow shovel (try digging out your shovel when it's across the yard and all you have on hand is a large spatula), I marveled at how my circumstances have changed in the interim between storms.
In 1996, I was recently divorced, confused and in terrible psychic pain. What I can now blithely refer to as my "starter marriage" had gone horribly wrong after I had ignored one of the basic tenants of relationship advice, which is to actually listen to what your partner is telling you. My ex-husband had made no bones about his lack of commitment to commitment, and if I had simply paid attention when he spoke I could have saved myself an ocean of heartache.
I remember one particular conversation over drinks with a friend in a decrepit garden in Rome. We were talking about a mutual friend of his, who was one of my ex's former girlfriends.
Friend: "How is L--?"
Ex: "I don't know. I haven't seen her in years."
Friend: "But you were together for a long time, weren't you?"
Ex: "Yes, we were together for five years"
Friend: "She was so great. Why did you guys ever break up?"
Here my ex leaned forward a bit and cocked his head to the side: "I just told you. We were together for FIVE YEARS."
The friend and I looked at one another and exchanged wide-eyed grins. That was my ex; an Italian jazz guitarist who rocked skinny jeans and big attitude, and I was certain that his sentiments didn't apply to me. I was different, after all -- the perfect American girlfriend, smart, talented, cocky. He loved me to the stars and back and would never, ever leave me.
Looking back on it, the words "Italian," "jazz" and "guitarist" should have been my first clues.
By '96, the marriage was over and I was doubly heartbroken by one of my rebound boys. I faced the blizzard alone in my Philadelphia row home, where I was trapped inside for days with copies of The New Yorker, a carton of cigarettes and two cats. It was sort of lovely.
Of course, the snow eventually melted, the weather turned warm, and one balmy night I found myself at a roof deck party on South Street. It was the birthday of a good friend, and I knew everyone there so it was convivial and relaxed.
Then a friend arrived with a stranger who was wearing a white muscle tee, skinny jeans and wrap-around mirrored sunglasses. He had darkly tanned skin and impressive biceps and carried a motorcycle helmet.
Yummy, I thought. Mexican motorcycle drug lord. Come to mama.
Then I gave myself a mental slap on the wrist and thought, Down, girl. We are DONE with the bad boys.
And so I ignored him for the rest of the party, only breaking long enough to engage in a brief argument about something that neither of us knew a thing about, i.e. the housing market in Berkeley, CA.
And I promptly forgot him.
Yay me for "listening" to what this man was saying with his garb.
A week or so later, I was lying in bed and thinking about the fact that I was ready for a new relationship. I like being alone, but I'm happier as part of a couple. I had the idea to write down exactly what I wanted in my next relationship.
I made a list.
I was super specific. It was my list, after all, and there was no reason why I should be vague or wishy-washy about what I wanted. I wrote that I wanted someone who was a bit of a geek, like me. But he should also be an artist. Someone who had been married and divorced. Someone who already had a child because I didn't have any interest in being a parent myself (at the time). I even said that I wanted a man with dark hair.
This entire tale is all true of course, but it's important, dear reader, that you know that this part is ESPECIALLY true, if there is such a thing:
The moment I set down my pen, the phone rang.
It was the friend who had been on the rooftop party. The one who had brought along the apparent meth kingpin. He said, "Annette, do you remember my friend Dave, from the party? He would like to take you out."
"Nope," I replied, without so much as a polite pause. "Thanks, but not a chance."
"Hold on," he said. "Let me tell you a little bit about Dave."
And he began to tell me about a man who was divorced after an early marriage and who had a ten-year-old daughter whom he adored. Who was a poet and the publisher of an online poetry journal that was soon going to a print version-- the first in the world to do so. A man who had a good job at the University of Pennsylvania in their computer networking department.
He wasn't describing El Chapo. He was describing a geeky divorced artist dad. This man ticked the boxes on every single item on my list, right down to the brown hair. It was at that moment I realized that you can't ask the universe for something and then ignore its delivery man when he knocks on your door. This time, I really, truly listened.
He went on to tell me that Dave was one of the nicest men he was acquainted with and that he hadn't been in a relationship for a very long time. And he had two tickets for the upcoming Cezanne exhibit and would love to take me.
"Give him my email address."
Over the course of the next few years, I spent a lot of time listening to that man who would eventually become my husband. By the time we married, I felt I knew most of his faults as well as his charms and I was prepared to accept them. We waited out the most recent blizzard together, along with our 12-year-old son.
Now, whenever the discussion turns to desire, or to love, or to planning for the future, I advise friends and family to follow my lead and simply (and literally) make a list. Then, when fate comes knocking, listen carefully.
And always, always know where you keep the snow shovel.
TueNight is a weekly storytelling publication for women in life's middle. www.tuenight.com