When I met my husband I didn’t mean to.
When I met my husband I had never dated a man who didn’t try to control, manipulate, or take advantage of me. I was so jaded that I had completely given up. I couldn’t fathom the thought of opening myself to another person because I had never seen it end any other way than the fiery mass destruction of my heart and soul. But that is a bitter story, on with the love story.
I was in my Junior year of college at Baylor (back before it was cool). My life consisted of studying, cocktailing, partying, sleeping, and repeat. I had been treating the men that attempted to get to know me like I had been treated by every man before – like an unnecessary plaything, an accessory there for my entertainment and disposal. The minute they showed any real feelings for me I dropped them and moved on, sometimes in the most cruel of fashions.
So when my friend, Tracy, told me that I should meet her boyfriend’s twin brother I laughed in her face. One, because, what was the point? I had never been on a blind date and had no intention of subjecting myself to such an awkward situation that would be like every other – a hollow, boring interaction with an unchaste end-game. Two, because, well, I had met her boyfriend (my now brother-in-law, Ryan). She jokingly reassured me “don’t worry, you’re getting the better looking twin”. I don’t know how many times she prodded, or exactly how she tricked me into agreeing to the blind date, but she eventually did.
The day before he came into town I decided to drop some karma. One of my previous boyfriends favorite form of manipulation had been to control my appearance – my clothes, my accessories, my hair – and in a moment of complete freedom I decided for myself that I no longer needed my hair, but someone else might. It was the first time I donated to Locks of Love, and it was a drastic change. I went from thick, curly, waist-length locks to a cute, chin-length springy bob. I felt so light and the world full of endless possibilities! I hadn’t expected to meet the man who would turn my life upside down the next day, but looking back it seems like it was cosmically inevitable.
The fateful day arrived. I went to meet him at Tracy’s apartment, with low expectations. He had driven in from Houston with Ryan and had slept on the couch there the night before. Ryan gave me a curt, begrudging nod – I think that may have been the extent of his communications that evening – and Tracy formally introduced me to Royce. He was attractive, quiet. But the thing I remember the most from those first few moments was meeting the puppy that Royce had fallen in love with and rescued at the local animal shelter the day before. He was a welcome distraction from that awkward moment. He was a beautiful catahoula leopard dog, just a few months old, that they were lovingly calling “LFD” (Little Fucking Dog). A few weeks later he would get a proper name – Bud. Bud dog, the dog that would, in just one short year, become our dog.
We all went out to eat at my favorite restaurant, which was next door to the Drafthouse where I worked. The familiarity helped ease my anxiety, I felt safe. He seemed different. Refreshing. We ate well and happily walked the ten feet next door, where I found comfort in being surrounded by my co-workers. We ordered a giraffe of beer, played shuffleboard and had a surprisingly good time. I don’t remember much of what we talked about that night, just that he made me feel lighter in a heavy world. However, I had zero clue as to what he thought of me because my husband suffers from what some people like to call “Resting Bitch Face”. Whether he was having the time of his life or completely miserable, I would never have known from looking at him.
I found out at the end of the night when I drove him back to Tracy’s apartment when he kissed me goodnight. It was sweet, more tender than I had expected. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I found myself wanting to spend more time with him. I put my uncertainty aside and offered to let him come to my place and share my queen-sized bed. – JUST so that he wouldn’t have to sleep on a couch another night, I swear. He said NO. I was so confused! To this day he still accuses me of using my womanly ways to try to get him in bed – and who knows what might have happened if he had said yes, but I assert here and now that my invitation was extended for his comfort and no other reason. Sometimes I wonder, if he had said yes, if would we be together now. Who knows, but he paid for it.
Because for the next few months I called him when I felt like it, told him I would call him back “tonight” but would call him back days later. I didn’t care. Not because I wanted to toy with him, but because my hardened heart saw no potential. He lived far away, had no car and no job. As much as I enjoyed his company what could really come of this? Even if we tried, it probably wouldn’t be worth the pain.
Slowly we started talking longer and more often. He quickly got a job and bought a truck (things I like to think he did solely for me, though they were really just a happenstance of his situation). Soon after, I moved to Dallas for a summer internship, making the drive even more arduous. But still, we had a blast no matter what we were doing. No cliche’ date night was safe from us. We went to every museum, zoo and restaurant there was to visit. We climbed on the displays at the wax museum
and did inappropriate things in parking lots. We had so much fun. He was even quick to forgive when I accidentally dumped an entire Sonic chocolate banana split on his lap. I felt horribly embarrassed, but he laughed and seemed content to spent the rest of the night with chocolate all over his pants. We would find remnants of that chocolate still years later when cleaning out my car. With every visit we grew closer and then one day he said the scariest word I could have fathomed at that time: Girlfriend. In passing, he called me his girlfriend.
He could not have predicted the cataclysm that would ensue. I had vowed to protect myself, I had built strong, thick walls around my heart, and somehow he had dug his way in while I wasn’t paying attention. Hearing that word started an avalanche of fear and pain that caught me up like a cartoon character in a snowball. I couldn’t un-hear it. I couldn’t ignore that there were feelings between us, and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take the risk.
I called him a few days later and gave him the famous “it isn’t you, it’s me” line, except for maybe the first time in history it was the truth. We both cried. We barely spoke for three weeks.
During those three weeks I drove my friends crazy, constantly at war with myself over the decision I had been so sure of. The Aunt I had been staying with in Dallas reacted with disbelief when I told her I had dumped him. “I thought he was the one, Mandi?!” Her words echoed relentlessly in my head.
So when a friend asked me to accompany her on her drive home to Oregon I went with her, elated for the distraction. As we took turns at the wheel I started hashing my feelings out loud on the long, LONG, drive. She became my captive, my caged therapist. I’m pretty sure she regretted asking me along. As I flew home alone I realized I at least needed to talk to him, and explain myself. I owed him that.
When I got home I called him and asked to see him. I invited him to come see me here, in Austin, over my birthday weekend. He must have thought I was crazy. I was. So was he – after everything I had done to him he still made the trip.
Our reunion was timid. I was ten times more nervous than I had been at the blind date that I had been so sure would lead to nothing. We went to County Line BBQ and ordered more meat than any two people should be able to consume, and it was there – among the ribs, brisket and bread – that I laid it all out on the table. Every detail. The horrible, mean things that had been done to me, and in turn every vindictive thing I had done in the name of my heart. He didn’t bat an eye, in fact he took his turn. That night we put every regret, every painful part of our past that could come back to haunt us, out for each other to see. It was hard work, but…. we were OK. We were better. Somehow having all of that out of the way opened up something for us. It gave us the ability to forgive ourselves – each other – and start something new.
We walked down by the water after dinner and, even though it seemed a silly question, I looked him in the eyes and asked him to be my boyfriend. That night he said yes and when called me his girlfriend there was no more fear, just love.
Next month it will have been eleven years since that blind date. Last month marked our six year wedding anniversary.
Time has flown by, feeling simultaneously infinite and fleeting, as life has changed drastically but it feels like we found each other just yesterday. We celebrated our legal commitment with a giant soiree where we shared spirits and danced while our talented friends honored our union by playing music, belly dancing and spinning fire. Tracy, who is now my sister-in-love, likes to remind us every year on our anniversary that we should never have doubted her. Bud dog passed away at the young age of four due to cancer, but we rescued two more LFD’s, also catahoulas. And another cat. And some turtles. And some fish. Royce’s truck was totaled after spinning out in the rain and he now drives the family SUV (no minivans here!). We no longer eat at Sonic, mostly homemade meals these days. We traded our cliche’ dates for family time with our two tenacious and spunky little girls who are soon to be two and five. (But don’t worry, we still find time to do inappropriate things in parking lots)
As we go through this journey of parenthood together I realize that when we unpacked our pain and regrets that day my husband and I established a bond that gave us the fortitude to withstand our greatest challenges in life on a united front. Like the terrifying prospect of raising children who show us everyday that they are growing up to be just like us.
Not once since that day have I ever questioned my husband’s love for me. And still, even over ten years later, we continue to put it all out on the table with no fear of judgement. He has shown me the beauty of authenticity in life and the unconditional love that can spring forward from it. He gave me the space to feel and be human and he proves to me every day that love was, and still is, worth taking the leap.