Every once in a great while, someone comes along and changes the way you feel about life, the world, the secrets of love. This is that story, told my own way, with hope and confusion and frustration all around.
My story begins seven years ago; a number I've checked and rechecked this past week. Seven years ago, I was working at a retail-type job with a boy I fancied but barely knew.
It was adorable.
We laughed and flirted and created all sorts of giddy cuteness. Quickly, this coworker and I began dating, but not before I made friends with a customer of ours, Steve. I remember the very first conversation I ever had with Steve. He’s that kind of friend.
There was drama from the beginning.
My coworker and I were each being kicked out of our houses, both seeking roommates, so we moved in together, a process that forced us to become exclusive. Hard not to in a one-bedroom apartment, which was all that we could afford.
Steve, believing he was simply helping me move, helped us move. Steve became friends with the two of us, laughing, having fun being included. He helped us keep our cars on the road, invited us to family parties, and found ways to show me that he had my back - no matter what.
We - The Three Stooges - worked together at a nightclub a few nights a week. I’m sure I was quite a trip – 20, female and not exactly scary. I had my team, though. Who cared? Those were the good times - I felt amazing.
So it started. No, rather, it continued.
Steve and I - from the moment we met - were smitten. We were those people. Meanwhile, I was still dating my coworker. We'd had a fling – though it didn’t feel like a fling – Steve and I, the first time my coworker broke up with me. Alas, Mr. Coworker and I still shared a one-bedroom apartment, our reunion was inevitable.
That reunion changed so much of my life.
Steve, my coworker, and I all worked together, at another retail store. This was the place I earned the nickname "Girly Eyes." Oh, how my eyes twinkled!
Everyone knew. It was hard not to. Even my coworker. The jealousy, the tension, felt GOOD. My coworker knew about the fling. He'd known it would happen.
Then I turned up pregnant – a pregnancy that occurred during my reunion with my coworker. I knew that Steve wasn’t the baby’s father, but oh did I wish he'd been.
I still look for pieces of Steve in pictures of that child.
When I moved, Steve was in a pretty bad position himself.
His fiancee was pregnant, still married to - and living with - her ex who was a police officer. Her ex didn't know he wasn't the DNA match for her growing pregnancy. I didn’t know this until later, but we were both living in hell.
One day out of the blue, Steve called. He was now the father of a beautiful little girl. My heart grew that day just as it did when I'd birthed my son. There was a certain pride in his voice I’d never heard before. He finally loved something more than himself. I desperately wanted that baby to be ours.
My joy was hard to hide; news did not make my coworker nearly as happy. The news was hard to share, my coworker was (understandably) biased against Steve.
I had my own frustrations with Steve – for a long time he was the boy no one could pin down: he was here and there and everywhere. Full of fleeting truths and whatever it took to get him what he wanted, still giving me the butterflies. When he had a baby, he wanted a family. Oh that ache - I knew that ache. Steve's voice told me that he did, too.
We talked occasionally that year. I bought clothes for his daughter but couldn't bring myself to send them. He didn’t get to play Daddy anyway, another complication that broke my heart.
We’d talk about his daughter, my son, how much we wanted our kids to be ours. He became one of my best friends, someone that understood what many others couldn't. I'd been dating my coworker for four years by now and I was still unhappy.
Steve and I spoke as often as I could steal the time away. Steve split with the mother of his child and the baby went with her. We fell out of touch, both hurting, both scared.
The next summer we reconnected.
I'll never forget the feeling of the sun on my shoulders, the laughter in the air. We'd talk for hours. We'd daydream, talking about we wanted from life. We talked though his break-up with another woman he'd loved.
We talked about my son, the heartbreak for a child I don't know; likely never will. We planned to meet each others children: he'd meet my son through our open adoption, I'd meet his daughter during his weekend visits. Our friendship glowed.
That, I think, is when I really fell in love.
Contact waxed and waned awhile. I visited home and got a tour of Steve’s new house. I took a third wheel with as I knew I would never leave the state if I didn't.
There were sparks when we touched. He was magic. I was strong; stronger that I could've imagined. I left without a single thing to feel guilty about - I was still dating my coworker, unhappily as ever. He'd previously cheated on me; I didn't want him to feel the way I did after he'd done that.
The desire, the possibilities, the hope - oh how I can still taste them.
We finally split, my coworker and I, in a manner he deserved - leaving in a police car. Meanwhile, my spark with Steve grew forever stronger. He owned my heart, a heart more broken than he realized.
Here it was again, dancing in front of me: what was I going to do about it?
Like an idiot, I did nothing. I planned to move - I quit my job, lined up a new one and rented an apartment. The plan, however, was to move home to be with my coworker. What an idiot.
I was in love, yet couldn't shake a bad habit. Looking back, it was probably my last chance.
The move fell through. Time and again, Steve's asked me to move home; to start OUR family. For two years, I've seriously thought of it.
I said something to him, during that first fling, that I tell him now, when he is beyond the walls I built around my heart. "Don't tell me that," I say, "or I just might believe you." It's true. I've given him the chance to wiggle out of our relationship, but he always comes back; still meaning it.
Now here I stand.
He is engaged again. We've both lost all contact with our children - six months apart in age. I'm still oh-so far away.
Last week, my phone jingled.
A text, from a number I cannot forget. Like always, we picked up where we left off. There was no dancing around it this time.
"Marry me" and "I love you." I'm in a relationship now; one that's winding down and away. One I cannot stand to fight for anymore. How does Steve manage to show up when I need a reminder that someone loves me?
Then it happened.
His fiancee found out that he was talking to me and threw a fit. Apparently, he tells women who've never met me about me. Whatever it is that he tells them, they feel threatened.
I can't begin to blame her. His ex, the mother of his child, tried to get Steve and I together when they split. It's obvious. I had to play the friend card; to act like he hasn't held my heart for many years. My skin jumps at the thought of him, yet there I was, telling her how proud I was that he's finally settling down.
That’s what a friend does, right?
I decided upon that I'd have a new role as his friend.
But I'm in love with him. I love the idea of us with a future together. I'd been entertaining the daydream of moving back for years.
But I can't.
Right now, my job is to be his friend, to support him as he he starts a new chapter of his life. They haven't set a date, I don’t believe he will marry her, but (for now) I need to be supportive. For now, love means being bigger than myself.
I say that, I mean that, yet you haven't seen the way my face lights up when I hear his voice. The "girly eyes" are certainly not gone. I simply know that no matter how in love with him I am, no matter how in love with me he professes, right now this is what we are. Friends.
Maybe, maybe one day I'll get to live out our daydream.
After all, he told me (again) that he's not putting a wedding ring on a woman's finger until it is my finger.5 Comments