My boy doesn’t like to have his picture on teh intarwebs, but there we are.
It has been one year since Al and I met at a reading our friend Paula was giving in Chicago. Paula and Al had both come down from Minneapolis for it. I showed up at the reading with a date — this tool I’d met on the internet and realized I would never be dating again about half an hour after meeting him in person. The kind of guy who insists on speaking Spanish to the waitress, even while she’s blatantly giving him a look like, “Please, just… don’t.” There’s your snapshot. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to shake him politely, so he came along to the reading, and for drinks afterward, and to The Green Mill after that.
Over the course of the evening, as my date continued not to impress me, I noticed that Al — in addition to having an awesome ’50s-Dad look with the Buddy Holly glasses and the short, perfectly groomed Man Hair, and a chest built for hugging, and eyes that betrayed both a boatload of intelligence and a deep shit-disturbing streak — was funny as hell. And that he teased Paula in ways that felt very familiar to me — coming as I do from a family where teasing is both a high art and the sincerest expression of love — and, just as importantly, laughed at himself when she threw it right back at him.
But, not only was I on a date, I thought Al was, too. He’d come down from Minneapolis with a lovely woman (hi, J!), and I automatically assumed they were together. This stopped me from allowing myself to develop any designs on him — for about an hour.
Then I dragged Paula to the bathroom and, smooth as silk, said, “So, how long have Al and J been together?”
Paula: They’re not.
Me: OH MY GOD I HAVE SUCH A CRUSH ON HIM.
Paula: EEEEEEEEE! I WAS HOPING! I MEAN, I DIDN’T WANT TO ASSUME, BUT… I WAS HOPING! EEEEEEEE!
The night and the alcohol consumption wore on, and around midnight at The Green Mill — my internet date still hanging around, even though by that point I’d gotten bold enough to say things like, “You know, IT’S REALLY OKAY if you want to go home” — I stopped next to Al on my way back from the bathroom and whispered in his ear, “I just want you to know I have a little crush on you, and I wish I’d gotten more of a chance to talk to you tonight.”
Al, smooth as silk, said, “Neat.”
I went back to my date. The next day, I woke up hungover and mortified. I do not tell strange men I have crushes on them! Especially not when I’m out with other strange men! What the hell is wrong with me?
When she got back to Minneapolis, Paula called me and said, “Okay, I have to tell you a story.”
Paula: We were sitting in a truck stop having lunch on the way back, and Al got all quiet and pensive, and then, out of nowhere, goes, “So… Kate seems nice.”
[2 minutes of Betty and Wilma giggles]
Me: EEEEEEEEE! Give him my e-mail!
The next day, he e-mailed. I didn’t get it right away, because it went into my spam folder, which might just be my favorite part of the story. But I found it, and I wrote back (after two more phone calls with Paula and an hour of freaking out over what to say), and three weeks later we were rendez vousing in The Dells (WOOOOO!).
I told him about the “So… Kate seems nice” conversation with Paula.
Al: Wow. She read that exactly right. I thought I was being so slick!
Me: Yeah… no.
Three months later, we lived together in Chicago. We knew intellectually that things were going ridiculously fast, but it never felt like it. It felt like that thing you hear about all the time but never believe will happen to you, until it does: we just knew. It just automatically felt right. It just made sense.
Still, I’ve read The Gift of Fear enough times to be wary of any relationship that moves that fast. My gut feelings about Al were all good, but even more persuasive than my own instincts were my friends’. First, Paula, who admitted she’d been hoping we’d hit it off all along, but also the girlfriends who listened to me squee about him, just as they’d listened to me squee about umpteen boys before. For the first time in my life, they weren’t saying things like, “Well, he sounds good, but just be careful,” and “I’m glad you met someone, but keep your wits about you.” They were saying things like, “Oh my god, he sounds fucking awesome,” and “I have never heard you sound so happy.” I knew that if my hyperprotective girls were getting such good vibes from the way I talked about him, I really must not have any secret reservations I was willfully ignoring, for fear of being alone again. For once. What a concept.
And now, we’ve made it a year. Kind of a shitty year in some ways, what with him giving up his entire life in Minneapolis and moving to a new city with a new job, and me having a charming depressive episode right after he moved in, and neither of us having known how the other argues or what little things the other cannot stand or how frequently the other farts before we moved in together. But mostly, a fucking glorious year. Mostly, the best year of my life. A year in which 99 days out of 100 were infinitely better than they would have been without him, and the other days were damned close.
Fuck if my gut didn’t get this one just right.
In the week before Valentine’s Day, I asked him if we were going to get each other stuff. He shrugged and said, “I dunno.” He doesn’t like receiving gifts, as a rule — that’s one of his little things I didn’t know about before. On top of that, the previous Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend at the time had said, “Please don’t get me anything. I mean, please, really, don’t even get me a card… It would just make me feel weird.” We broke up about a month later — never could have seen that coming.
Based on historical evidence, when a guy shrugs and says, “I dunno” about gifts, I take that to mean, “NO, I don’t want to deal with this stupid sentimental girly bullshit, but I will if I have to.” So I didn’t plan to get Al anything. Then I realized he had gotten me something, and I scrambled to enroll him in the Bacon of the Month Club. (I may not have been on top of the gift-giving, but at least I know what my man would appreciate more than anything in the world.)
You’d think I might have learned my lesson from that. But no. Last week, I said, “Are we getting each other stuff for our anniversary?” Al shrugged and said, “I dunno.” And again, like an idiot, I took that to mean, “I have not one whit of interest in your maudlin girly shit.” Old habits die hard.
Yesterday, while he was at the office, I signed for a package addressed to him. I thought it was new business cards or some shit, and I threw it on the hall table and forgot about it. When he came home from work, he saw it, opened it, and handed me — are you ready for this? — a motherfucking little blue box. The ribbon covered up the logo, but they don’t call it “iconic packaging” for nothing.
Me: Are you fucking kidding me with this? TIFFANY’S?
Al: How do you know that?
Me: It’s a LITTLE BLUE BOX.
Al [who I always forget is color blind]: Is that their signature color or something? Is there some green in it?
Me: Oh my god, I love how dumb you are.
Inside the box was a gorgeous, subtle silver necklace, exactly the kind of thing I would pick out for myself — except that I would only ever pick out the $9.99 Target knock-off for myself.
Me: Motherfucker. You know I didn’t get you anything.
Al: I don’t want you to get me anything.
Me: I hate you.
And the thing is, he means that. He’s the kind of guy who won’t give a straight answer to, “Are we getting each other stuff?” because it shouldn’t be some agreed-upon, expected transaction; it should be something we do if the spirit moves us. He doesn’t expect gifts from me, and he doesn’t expect ass-kissing because he got me one. He didn’t stand there waiting for me to flip out over a little blue box, because he didn’t even know the little blue box was a thing. (And yes, for the record, I completely hate myself for both knowing it was a thing and squealing when I saw it.) He just got me something nice I’d never buy for myself, because he felt like it.
Meanwhile, for the second fucking time, I came up short because I was so afraid of getting him something and finding out he didn’t get me anything, didn’t want to celebrate something so dumb as a dating anniversary, didn’t want to get all mushy and stupid. ‘Cause that’s pretty much all I’d ever known before a year ago today.
Even after a year of seeing every day that this guy is different in so many ways — and ways so deep and important that an awesome anniversary present is actually a really pathetic, superficial example — I still can’t believe it sometimes. I still can’t believe he really is who he is. I still wait for the other shoe to drop. I still gird myself for disappointment.
And the bastard just keeps refusing to meet my expectations.
So here is my last-minute, Little Drummer Boy-esque offering for our anniversary. I have no gift to bring, but I can tell the whole internet that I lucked the fuck out one year ago today, and I am more in love than I ever thought possible. Pa rum pum pum pum.