You can immediately gauge my happiness level by the state of my apartment. Dishes lined in geometric form in the cupboard, towels folded hotel-style, dust-free baseboards, laundry immediately ironed, Lean Cuisines alphabetized in the freezer. Yup, Sunny is stressed and miserable.
When no laundry is available for ironing because a string of gabardine and lacy unmentionables litter the hallway (begging for the washer), when spoons and bowls teeter in the sink, when the bathroom is cluttered with open makeup containers, and the towels… Where did they disappear to?!
Disaster – ah, beautiful mess! The very result of joy.
Well, recently my towels were MIA. I’d been subsisting on toast because it can be eaten without dishes altogether. Toast crumbs dotted my kitchen, my closet, and my bathroom.
There I was. Toast in one hand, shimmying into clothes quickly. Bite. Munch. Toast switched to other hand, mascara swiping one lash. Two. Bite. Lip gloss. Munch. Shoes? There they are! Next to the door where they were kicked earlier. First sneaker. Lick fingers. Second sneaker. Grab keys.
And off I went.
This has been my life recently. Let me catch you up.
Just before Christmas, I got a new job. Upon hearing the good news, I hung up my phone. On wobbly legs, I snuck into the janitor’s closet – since I was at work – and leaned into the mop and bucket, swiping at happy tears. I’d been given advance notice of a lay off, and finally – in the space of a two minute phone call – life was no longer on hold.
Drying my eyes, I returned to my desk. I saw the view of the mountains from my cubicle, knowing I’d miss my window. Chest suddenly tight, I heard my boss’s voice from her corner office, yelling at someone on the phone. The grumpy lady I’d spent over four years being stressed by… she’d no longer be my boss. Chest tighter still. My friends Coco and A.W. would no longer be down the hall. I gingerly lowered myself into my comfy, ergonomically designed Herman Miller chair. That would no longer be mine.
Despite how much I’d been frustrated by the world of real estate, I wasn’t leaving this company by my own accord. Having to leave hurt more than I’d expected. Having to leave was more terrifying than I’d imagined.
My boss, done with her conversation, stomped to my desk. She halted. Shoved a pen behind an ear. ”Why the hell are you crying?”
“Because I got the job.”
And she started crying, too.
Longest two working weeks ever. Letting go was hard. Saying good-bye painful. Moving on, scary.
But I did it. I’m now working for a non-profit that funds medical research. I’m combining my fascination of the health care field with my accounting skills. Three months later, though, I still struggle with nostalgia. I needed this change, as difficult as it’s been, and it’s shown me how taking chances, and making changes, is necessary. It’s lead me on a wild ride that I could’ve never predicted.
During the holidays, my new job reeked of quiet, and the loneliness was overwhelming. I struggled with the loss of human contact, an unavoidable aspect of commercial real estate. Each day, at my old job, I talked to at least fifty people. Phone calls, meetings, the fire department.
I shared my loneliness with my friend Amy. ”Maybe,” she said. ”You need more people interaction in your personal life now. Balance things out a bit.”
As always, she made an excellent point. So, during a phone conversation with my friend Coco a few days later, I told her my plan.
“I’m going to a bar.”
“Oooooookay,” she waited for the punch line.
“I’m serious.” Phone tucked between chin and shoulder, I put blush to the apples of my cheeks. ”I’ve got bar clothes on and everything.”
Bar person, I’m not, but that Saturday, to the bar I arrived. Alone. Adrenaline pumping. Oh, yeah, I thought, this is why I don’t bar hop anymore. Walking through the doors of a bar makes goosebumps sizzle down my neck. I feel completely gauche. There I was, though, and I wasn’t about to waste my perfectly arranged cleavage by turning around.
Technically, it was a brewery, not a bar. This meant no strobe lights – phew! Just raucous conversation and welcoming bar stools. I accepted one of the stool’s invitations. Discomfort melted after I chatted the bartender, who gave me several free samples. Stout. Amber.
“This is pretty good,” I said of the honey wheat.
“Wanna try the IPA?”
This wasn’t the bartender’s question. I glanced to the right, toward the voice – smooth like my honey ale, deep like the stout.
My eyes widened. I squeezed my beer mug. Breathe, Sunny, I told myself.
He pushed his beer toward me. ”It’s bitter, but give it a try.”
I swallowed past a dry throat. Where had he come from?
The beard. I noticed it first. Mountain-man Colorado beard, perfectly cropped to hug the strong outline of his chin, silver specks glinting along his jaw. Eyes blue. Hair dark. He grinned at me while I stared at him, and the corners of his eyes crinkled in the most charming way.
I straightened my shoulders. “‘Sure, I’ll try it.”
While sipping, I stared into his eyes. He stared into mine. Gulp. Five minutes later – miraculously – our stools were closer. Ten minutes later, an IPA for me, another for him. Fifteen minutes, all personal space disappeared. Thirty minutes, he made me laugh, and I tipped into him. He reached out to steady me, but not before my nose grazed his beard. It tickled. The spiciness of his aftershave tickled, too. We talked about everything and nothing. His work as an engineer. My philosophy on why it’s important to name your electronics.
When one of the bartenders began to play the fiddle, it seemed perfectly natural to dance with the Bearded Engineer. After the beer was gone, the dancing done, and the stools stacked upside down on all of tables, it was easy to hop next to him on his tailgate – in the middle of the empty parking lot – while the fresh air cleared our minds.
“Can I take you to breakfast tomorrow?” The Beard asked.
“No,” I answered without hesitation.
“First, I’ve told you way too much about my personal life, which is the unfortunate result of having more than two beers,” I said. ”Second, it’s incredibly embarrassing to meet someone in the light of day after you’ve told them, in great detail, all of your eccentricities.”
“No.” I bit my lower lip. Shifted closer to him until we were only two breaths apart. “It’s also because I’m gonna kiss you.”
He moved the one breath, I moved the other. It was an innocent meeting of lips. When they parted reluctantly, he whispered, voice husky, “How’s this a problem?”
“Because I don’t normally kiss strangers in a parking lot.” I hopped off the tailgate. ”I’ve given you a terrible and inaccurate impression of myself.”
“I promise not to remember,” he said. ”I’m not looking for anything serious. I just want to have fun. With you. So, have breakfast with me tomorrow.”
Usually I’d walk away. To heck with him, I’d say. I want serious. No fun. But serious hasn’t been working all that well. Wouldn’t fun be….fun?
Under this rationalization, I met The Beard for breakfast the next morning. Over a couple of weeks, we did, indeed, have fun. We danced at heated Cuban bars. We soaked in his hot tub under the Colorado stars. We spent an entire Saturday watching a Rambo marathon (long story about that) while eating nachos and hot wings, chugging beer whenever Rambo said more than three words at a time. Who says you’re too old for drinking games?
Dating The Beard wasn’t something I’d normally do. He wasn’t a sure thing. What is? He was trouble, it’s true. A small heartbreak. But hearts are built to break. Race. Open.
Life is one big chance, broken into little chunks of uncertainty. If nothing is certain, why not take more chances? Take the chances that use our hearts for what they were built for? Breaking, healing, loving.
I’ve realized that change and chance aren’t very different. To change is to take a chance. To take a chance, you often have to change.
My new job, for example, has nurtured change. Because I don’t work until 9 am, I now wake up earlier. Sometimes I brew coffee and burrow under my quilt next to the fireplace. Other times I order a latte at my favorite cafe, listening to the world waking against the sound of steam and clinking cups. Having the day begin at a leisurely pace is a change I appreciate, and as life has settled a bit, I’m even spending mornings writing the manuscript I’d abandoned last summer. Finishing a manuscript is definitely creating chance.
My new job, great opportunity that it is, also weighs heavily on me. It’s no longer the quiet office from December. The work load could fill a moving truck. Not only do I manage the accounting, I haul around odd things like 26 cases of Coke (that topple onto my innocent feet) and 50 pound boxes of buttons and tee shirts. I’m starting to show more bruises than pale Scandinavian skin. Taking this job was a chance, one I sometimes question. Although difficult, I’m learning a whole new kind of business that will allow me to take another chance (job) in the future. Good or bad, I’m moving in a direction that feels right.
It’s true, some chances are called “mistakes” and bring regret. There’s no way to avoid mistakes. Even, sometimes, the ones you’ve made several times before. Being alive means doing things imperfectly. You’ll say the wrong words. You’ll do the wrong thing. You’ll move to the wrong city, date the wrong person, take the wrong job, extend a benefit of the doubt too many times. Isn’t it awesome, though, to be making mistakes, living life, and taking chances? And recovering from those mistakes, appreciating what you have, finding new motivation to do better and feel better - because mistakes are an incredible motivator, aren’t they?
Going back to The Beard. Our relationship, short-lived as it was, revolved around booze. Vodka tonics. Jameson on the rocks. Winter Warlock stout. Tanqueray and lime. In my long years of dating - too long, it seems – I should’ve known better. A lot better. After each date we had, ridiculously hungover, I’d wonder why. Why was I doing this? I knew my values weren’t being honored, but he was The Beard. A much stronger personality, and I allowed myself to be overpowered. Dating him became un-fun.
Whenever I think things can’t get worse, I’m proven wrong. Take my last night with The Beard.
“Coco,” I whispered into my cell phone. ”It’s Sunny.”
“Why are you whispering?” My friend asked.
“Because I’m hiding in the pantry.”
“You know, nothing you say shocks me anymore,” she said. ”Whose pantry are you hiding in? And why are you hiding?”
“The Beard is having phone sex in his bathroom.”
“Um,” she paused. ”I need a moment for that to register.”
“I’m hiding in the pantry because I can hear everything he’s doing, and I don’t want him to hear me.”
“I’m gonna guess that he’s not having phone sex with you, then?”
“No, it’s some girl he’s been texting all day. I gotta say, he’s not really good at phone sex, which is oddly satisfying to me.”
“Why aren’t you in your car driving a hundred miles away?”
“Because my purse is locked in his truck. It’s a long story. We were only supposed to pick something up quick, but he’s been in the bathroom for forty-five minutes.”
“Wow.” She paused again. ”You really don’t believe in living a boring life, do you?”
“Yes!” I protested. ”I’d love a boring life!”
The pantry door opened. The Beard peered in. ”What are you doing?”
I hid the phone behind my back. I picked up the closest object on the shelf, glanced at it quickly. ”Cream of mushroom. Good stuff.”
He lifted a brow. Shrugged a shoulder. ”Are you ready to go?”
We’d planned to grab drinks downtown. I swallowed. I wasn’t ready to go anywhere with him. Ever again. ”Sure.”
Reluctantly, with heavy feet, I followed him to his truck. Hopped into the seat. Grabbed my purse and clutched it to my chest.
“I’m thinking martinis tonight,” he said, sending a quick text – to his recent phone partner, no doubt – with a grin.
I stared ahead, thinking what I’d like to do with his martini. I don’t know why I drove downtown with him, instead of running away when my car keys were in hand. But I did. When we entered the martini bar, though, I turned to him and said, words rushed and panicked, “I can’t date you anymore!”
Then I ran like hell onto the street.
Around the corner, a block down, I spotted the most beautiful vision – a golden yellow taxi parked at the corner of Arapahoe and 16th.
“Taxi!” I screamed, gaining on it as quickly as my legs would move. Thank God I wear sneakers
. “Taxi!” I screamed again, not bothering to slow down, letting the car door stop me with a thud. I yanked it open and dropped myself inside.
Enter the Colonel. The man in the opposite seat. ”You run pretty fast.”
I scowled at him. ”Look here, this may technically be your taxi, but I’m not budging.”
“Wouldn’t hear of it,” he assured me. ”I’m headed to the Tech Center.”
I turned my attention out the window. ”That’ll work.” Wrong direction, but surely I could bribe Coco to pick me up.
“You ready?” The cabby asked, giving us a wary look over his shoulder.
“Yes,” the Colonel answered.
The car swayed down the narrow streets, merged onto the Interstate. Maybe it was the swaying, or my long-standing exhaustion, or the fact that I’d been hiding in a pantry an hour earlier, but without warning, I started to cry. Not girly tears, either. I think I snorted once. Or twice.
The Colonel turned sideways in his seat. ”You okay?”
I swiped my face with the backs of my hands. I looked over into his face. A kind face. Also a worried face, for which I couldn’t blame him. He probably thought I was nuts.
“It’s a crazy life, you know?” I said without expecting an answer. ”I followed my dream of moving to Colorado, and it amazes me. Colorado amazes me. Being in the mountains and wearing my sneakers, it makes me so happy. For the first time I have friends. I have a life here. But still, every time I think I’m getting ahead,” I started crying again. ”I think I’m just about to make it, really get somewhere, and then I need a root canal, then the brakes go out in my car, and then I lose my job. And I miss my old job. My new job is exhausting.” I tried to stop the tears but they had their own agenda. ”I’m just tired. Tired of vodka tonics and dates with people who have phone sex in the bathroom.”
He half-smiled, but without mockery. “I think I need to buy you a cappuccino,” he said. And we wound up talking until 4 am, becoming inseparable from that morning.
The Colonel gave me a love affair. Interlocking fingers. Knees. Elbows. Lips. Skin. Shallow breaths. No breath at all. Saturday nights of Breaking Bad episodes and Xbox. Sunday morning drives into the mountains, up muddy roads while listening to Mraz. Feeding the deer from his back porch. Making banana cream pie, eating it for dinner. Sleeping until noon. Not sleeping at all.
Before we knew it, his trip to California arrived. Early that morning, before he left, I leaned over him and traced the outline of his jaw. Traced the shadows of his tattoos, needled long ago, now half-removed. Telling a story that I wanted to hear. Traced the scar on his chest, a night surely he remembered and I wondered about. ”I’m afraid that you’ll go to California and I’ll never hear from you again.”
“It’s only five days,” he reminded me. ”And we’ll keep in touch.”
Day one, no word. Day two, no word. I didn’t want to bother him, so I didn’t call, either. Day three, no word. Day four, I assume we aren’t dating anymore. Day five, I gave into my fear. The Colonel was gone.
The Beard, et. al., they were lessons learned. They were evenings that glittered, sure, but fizzled. They each represent pieces taken from me. Pieces I’ve had to work at getting back. But the Colonel, he was like Kansas. Endless blue sky, slow sunsets, outstretched roads. His beauty, as my friend Coco would say, lay in the minutiae. Like when I’d get nervous around him, he’d let me clutch both of his hands, and he always squeezed back. “I gotcha,” those squeezes said.
The hundred moments we shared – the minutiae - will remain private, but will replay endlessly in my memory - they’re why my heart is breaking now. And, most especially, these moments are what gave me one of my greatest regrets.
See, the Colonel hadn’t forgotten me, but there were misunderstandings, hurt feelings. No ugly parting, just text messages gone politely awry. I told him our personalities were too different and that we shouldn’t see each other any more. We haven’t seen or spoken to each other in two weeks, since he left for California.
This past Sunday, I cried – yeah, with the unattractive snorting again. “Oh, God,” I lamented to my empty apartment. “What have I done?”
In the midst of this affair, that’s when my towels went missing. Toast crumbs decorated the carpet. Work was still tiring, sure, but something wonderful waited for me at the end of each day, so every hour ticked by excitedly. I missed that chaos. I missed the feel of our hands clutching together. Missed his energy, the way he took two steps at a time up the stairs. Wished to be in his kitchen once again, washing dishes and pans, him stepping behind me and wrapping both arms around my stomach, nudging my head to the side with his head before sliding a languorous kiss from earlobe to collarbone. The dishes never got very clean.
Why had I ended something so wonderful? Why had I not just called him in California once to say, “Hi!” Who cares if I bothered him? We were dating, for heaven’s sake! By definition, I was supposed to bother him. I didn’t call because of uncertainty. Nervousness. I’m not gonna be all needy and vulnerable, I told myself. That’s not my style. It makes much more sense, obviously, to hide and run away. I wasn’t willing to take a chance.
That Sunday, after my snorting cry session, I did take a chance. I sent him a message (admittedly not a particularly confrontational or daring chance as far as chances go).
I don’t have any reason to think that you’d want to talk to me or hear from me, but I can’t stop thinking about you. I’m sending you this message because life isn’t about the chances you don’t take, it’s about the chances you do take, even knowing you might fail. I keep remembering our last weekend together and ….
For the record, I was completely sober while writing my lengthy note to him. I hit send, heart beating faster than the first time he kissed me. Hands shaky. Tears welling up. Then
I had a much needed drink
Two hours, no answer. Six hours. Twenty-four hours.
I called Coco. “Hello? Coco? Is my phone working?”
“Yes, so please stop yelling into it.”
“The Colonel didn’t write back.”
In typical Coco fashion, she didn’t see this as a big deal. “Then camp out on his doorstep until he lets you in.”
“But, but…” I considered it very seriously. “Isn’t that a little much? What if I get arrested for stalking?”
“You get one call from jail. Just let me know how much your bail is,” she said. “Anyway, who cares? Do what you feel is the right thing to do. Call him until he answers. Sit at his door. If you really want another chance, you’re gonna have to do something. Look,” she took a breath. “If you get there and he sees you in the driveway and starts throwing rocks at your head, then I’d say you’re outta luck. Until then, you’ve got options. It’s your choice whether you use them.”
I swallowed. “Rocks at my head?”
“Or, you know, some variation of violence.”
I didn’t find that particularly encouraging.
Later that night, I sat cross-legged on the floor. I stared at the Colonel’s name on my phone, finger poised on the call button. I’m not good on the phone, especially in these situations, and my nerves buzzed painfully. I hit the button. Pulled the phone close to my ear. Ring. Buzz. Ring. Buzz.
The click of voicemail. His voice came to me for the first time in two weeks. It shot down my spine, settled into the pit of my stomach. I remembered how much I loved the sound of his voice, especially late at night when all his words were slower and deeper.
I left no message.
Phone still glued to hand, I slipped onto my balcony. The night air cooled my heated cheeks. A long, quiet while passed.
Then, somewhere between cursing my stupidity and then cursing his stupidity, because both of us could’ve handled things better, I realized there was nothing left for me to worry over. I’m human and made a mistake. I apologized and lay myself bare. I wrote to him. I called him. I did what I could, took a chance in saying that I was wrong and that I was sorry, and for this reason I could no longer wallow in self-pity and regret. (Wallowing in heartbreak, however, was and is still acceptable.) On my balcony this past Monday night, I accepted my humanity and released my regret.
Since then, I’ve thought about how to prevent myself from feeling regret ever again. Because it’s mighty unpleasant. I don’t believe all regret can be circumvented, but I’ve decided there is a cure. To say you’re sorry. To admit you’re wrong. To see where you are at any given moment, without judgment, and change course as necessary.
There’s another cure still – an even better one. To lay yourself bare from the beginning. To admit your weaknesses. To share your feelings the moment they’re hurt. To say what you want, what you need – without apology.
This morning I awoke to perfectly dusted baseboards. Freshly ironed clothes. Bathroom grout gleaming. I miss the toast crumbs. But, from now on, I won’t be missing another chance. Even knowing I might fail.