It Started With an Email

I was working as a long-term substitute with my own computer log in when the email came through: “Hey. Is everything Ok?”

I stared at the computer screen and then minimized my email, turned to the incoming students, and went about teaching for the morning because no, everything was no Ok. Nothing felt Ok.

When I had a minute to collect myself, I re-read the email. It was from my friend, Cortney, who shared an apartment with my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend. He was concerned because I had come over on Sunday and rather than using my key, I had knocked. I then disappeared into my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend’s room and he could hear serious discussion going on.  And my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend had seemed tense and weird and when Cortney asked him if everything was Ok, his answer was, “no,” and that was it.

So he emailed me because he couldn’t stop worrying about us.

I ended up spilling the entire sad sack story of the weekend and how it ended in the demise of my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend’s and my five-year relationship.

His response? “Don’t take this the wrong way, but that is actually a relief. I thought you were pregnant.”

Thanks, yo.

From there, we emailed back and forth sporadically for the rest of the school year. He had a tendency to worry about me–we had been friends for years, after all–and he wanted to check in to make sure I wasn’t making destructive choices (I was) and that I was eating (I wasn’t) and that I wasn’t holing up in my house feeling sorry for myself by crying to the cat (I was).

For awhile I only responded to his emails and didn’t initiate any threads because thinking about him made me think about my ex-boyfriend and it was just too much. But once school got out and I didn’t have a regular job to go to anymore, Cortney and I started emailing more often. He would stop over after work with a pizza to hang out–his way of making sure I got a decent meal since he knew I was broke and living on vodka and Doritos if left alone to make my own choices.

It wasn’t my proudest moment in life, Ok?

After my summer of wallowing, I ended up getting the full-time teaching job I am in now, and shockingly (to us anyway) Cortney and I started dating. The emailing did not stop; in fact it increased now that we weren’t seeing each other all the time due to my actually having to go to work. If I could look back on those emails, they were probably so sweet and carefree. It makes me smile to think about how young and starry-eyed we were back then.

We still email back and forth every day and I have been in this job now for almost fourteen years. One of us will start the daily thread with a “Good morning!” or “Hope you got in Ok!” Some days–like when my students are working on a test independently and Cortney is at his desk all day, we will go back and forth rapidly exchanging silly jokes or thoughts about anything from what next week’s dinners should be, when we should have our own date night, or even what is going on with our kids. Some days we only have the morning check in and then not much for the rest of the day because I am on my feet with students all day or he is out of the office or busy with calls.

Some days the topics get pretty serious. I tend to write out my feelings better than verbalize them, so there have been times I have spent my lunch period on my email typing out long messages about my mental health or other serious topics that I need to make sure I get my words just right. He will do the same. It has always been a way to give each other our thoughts and then let them sit before we respond either with another email, or in person later that evening.

We don’t do everything right as a married couple, but one thing I am proud of is our communication. Long before that first email, Cortney and I were friends who shared with each other and empathized with each other. We celebrated the great things, but we also cried about the bad things. His reaching out to me that day was just an extension of that.

We still reach out to each other every day. When Cortney was traveling for work recently, the loneliest I felt was during my work day when there were no emails coming through. After fourteen years of check-in’s and random banter, going a few days with complete silence was hard.

People who know us sometimes like to give me a little grief about how “chatty” Cortney and I can be–how we tell each other everything and send each other photos. When I was in Atlanta, Cort and I texted constantly, and my friend The Pastor’s Wife teased me a bit of being like a teenager. I know she was kidding and that it was actually out of love for us that she said what she did, because really, it’s that goofiness that has carried us for this long. It’s the easy way we communicate with each other that has made our relationship not just survive the past fourteen years, but actually build it up.

being forward

We had had the conversation, but had not acted on anything since it had been left sort of open to interpretation.

We went on as we normally did: he came over a few times a week for pizza and beers and hanging out.  Sometimes we sat outside, sometimes we watched TV, sometimes we sat at my kitchen table.

One night we were sitting next to each other on my couch watching TV. I don’t know what we were watching or even when it happened. That whole summer was a blur. What I know is that at some point his hand found mine.

Fingers intertwined. His thumb softly rubbing my my thumb.

There was none of the awkwardness that comes with holding hands for the first time.

No sweaty palms.

None of that thing when both of you are afraid to move so your hands just sit there, losing blood flow to your finger tips.

If someone had to shift, she/he shifted.

Fingers tightened around the new hand and released.

If someone left to get a drink or go to the bathroom, without a word our hands re-found each other upon return.

No one spoke about this new action in our relationship. No one had to.

And then…the weight of my day and my feelings and all that was going on fell on me and I drifted off to sleep on his shoulder.

He continued to hold my hand.

And gently glide his thumb over mine.

I don’t remember him leaving that night, but I know he did. He had to work early the next day.

When I finally got up in the morning and logged into my email, there was one from him…just like every day.

“I’m sorry if I was too forward last night. Please forgive me.”

All he had done was hold my hand, but he was concerned he had taken advantage of the situation and of me.

That is the moment I fell for him.

Cortney still holds my hand almost daily. If it’s not while we sit on the couch or while we are walking somewhere, it’s as we fall asleep at night.

His thumb still lightly rubbing mine.

on our honeymoon...where he held my hand a LOT.

on our honeymoon…where he held my hand a LOT.

just not you…

Cortney and I met in high school, but we were not high school sweethearts.

We were not even college sweethearts, although he did go to my college for a year before transferring to where his girlfriend went.

At some point in college, during the summer between my sophomore and junior year–the last summer I would come home and not stay in my university’s city–I began dating a mutual friend of ours.  I dated this friend for five years before he broke my heart.

After I graduated from college, but before the horrible breakup, Cortney found himself living with this friend.  This is where this part of the story begins.

*************

He was already about six Bud Light Bottles into his  night when I got to the apartment.  Neither of us remember why in the world he was sitting home drinking alone, but there he was.

I had used my key to get in. I used my witty sense of humor to laugh at his slurring words.

I thought I would be alone watching TV, waiting for my boyfriend to get off his third shift job.  He didn’t usually work Friday nights, but sometimes if they had mandatory over-time, he would need to put in a few hours.  This was one of those nights.

“How many have you had?” I asked Curly.  He was already slurring and giggling at nothing.

“About six.”

And that is when I started laughing at him. I wasn’t drinking, unless you count the 20-ounce Diet Coke I had with me.

“He’s not home,” he told me for no apparent reason.

“Yeah, I know. He had to work. I was just coming to wait for him to get off work.”

“Well, now I’m not drinking alone!”

“But I’m not drinking.”

“But I’m not alone!”

I rolled my eyes, but was happy I wasn’t going to have to stare blankly at a TV waiting for the boyfriend to get back.  One of us decided sitting on the deck would be a grand idea. Probably to get him some fresh air.

I don’t know if you have ever heard the term “zero to drunk,” but that is what I watched happen to my friend, Curly that night.  He went from sober (zero) to D-RUNK in like 20 minutes.

And it was hilarious.

At one point while we were chatting outside, he warned me to get to the side of the deck because he was going to attempt to move a chair.  I was no where near getting hit with the chair. And he may have almost fallen over the deck edge trying to move said chair…for no apparent reason.

This was when I guided him back inside to the safety of the couch.  It was also where our conversation turned from the usual Pearl Jam, concerts, TV, movies, friends talk to deeper stuff.

If you’ve been following our story, you know Cortney gets very…truth-spilling…when he’s had a bit to drink. And if you have been following this blog, you know he isn’t much of a vocally communicative person otherwise. But this evening, was different. I don’t know if it was just the booze, or if it was also the fact that we didn’t get a lot of chances to hang out just the two of us, but he felt like talking, and I let him.

We discussed religion and church and what our parents were like when we were kids.  It was then that I realized that compared to all our other friends, he and I had the most in common as far as our background.  I also realized that he had the same basic beliefs about Christianity, religion, and church as I did.  This was big because at that time, I had found no one  who was that similar to me in beliefs.

Drunk or not, I was enjoying the chat we were having.

And then we started talking about how hard it was for him to find someone in our town to date.  He wasn’t a very forward guy. In fact, he was pretty old-fashioned when it came to courting the ladies.  Unless you were into meeting people at church or going to the biggish city nearby to the bar scene, our smallish city was not exactly known for happening places for singles to meet. He had been living there for three years and only been out on a handful of unsuccessful dates.

He was discouraged. He was heading into his mid-twenties with no one. And that was scary.

And that is when he started telling me how jealous he was of my relationship with my boyfriend. It seemed so perfect, he said. We were a “cool” couple.  Then he started telling me how lucky my boyfriend was to have such an awesome girl like me. I knew he wasn’t trying to be all seductive; he was just working through his thoughts.

“Kates, basically I want a girlfriend who is exactly like YOU….but NOT you. Because, you know…just…NO.”

I laughed.

I knew what he meant…he wasn’t trying to be rude, he was just being truthful. He thought I had great qualities, obviously, we were friends.  But also, we were friends. I was not who he wanted as a partner.

You know…until the very next year when he did  get a girlfriend exactly like me.

Me.

December 2003 - dating

December 2003 – dating

Can’t Lose You


He looked so ridiculous.  He clearly didn’t belong at this concert.  In fact, I am pretty sure he only knows two songs that may or may not be performed.

He was there for me.  He knew I needed to get out of the house.  I needed to not drink this day away.  I needed to NOT sulk about that guy for awhile.

So he was there with me.  At a Type O Negative concert wearing a yellow Aeropostale hat and a polo shirt with cargo shorts and Adidas sneaks.  Amongst the black hair, black clothes, giant boots, black eyeliner (on guys as well as girls), black nail polish, black lipstick, well, you get it.

I was not quite that extreme.  I had on my jeans and black tank top, but i am a far cry from goth.  I just really like heavy music.  Or I did then.  It was sort of a leftover effect from the ex (another post for another time).

Anyway, he (the non-ex, but the friend) was here with me.  And I told him that I would drive so he could have some drinks.  He deserved that much after putting up with me night after night as I drank my dinner and cried.

There we were.  Quite a mismatched pair.

The heavy music started and he had some captains and cokes.  and after awhile, he got silly.  I had not seen him this silly in a while…it had been all about me and I hadn’t cared about what anyone else had going.

But now I was seeing him.  Seeing what a good friend he was to me.  He consistently put my needy needs before his own.  Shoot, I didn’t even know WHAT his needs were that summer.  I knew he needed a new vehicle.  And that was the extent of it.

And here he was, letting off steam, getting all silly on rum and coke at a concert where he TOTALLY didn’t fit in, all for me.  He was such a great guy.  How does he NOT have a girlfriend?  I was just deciding that I would have to be a better friend and try harder to help him find a lady when it happened.

He leaned in to me as if he was going to tell me a secret.  He was all smiley and smelling like the inside of a captain morgan bottle.

“Hey,” he says.  “you wanna know something?  I think I am starting to find you attractive.”

Ok? What the hell?  Did he just use the phrase, “find you attractive?”  He had to be kidding, right?  RIGHT?

He couldn’t be serious because A) we had known each other for eleventy billion years.  B) this just doesn’t randomly happen at a Type O Negative concert. and C) he is my FRIEND.

So I started to laugh.  Of COURSE he was kidding!  Bwhahahaha!

Oh. Ok.  Phew.  He was laughing too.

We didn’t talk about it again.  And that night, I drove him back to my house, but he still couldn’t drive home, so he slept on my couch.

In the morning, he was gone.  We hadn’t talked about it.  But we would.

*************

I originally posted this on my now abandoned creative writing blog, Exploded Moments.  I wanted to bring it back here since it’s part of our story.

coaster buddies…again

In an effort to write the story of Cort and me for our children, I’m trying to put up a weekly (or whenever) post telling a new chapter in our story. I have added a new tab on the menu called Cort + Kate  if you want to follow our journey as a couple.

All of our friends were going to Woodstock ’99.

Ok, not all of them, but enough.  Enough that we were jealous of the road trip, but not of the camping on an old Air Force base with no shade.

Although, damn.  The bands playing?  Fricking awesome set.

We would show them.  We would have our own road trip that weekend.

Just the four of us.

A couple’s weekend.

We decided to drive to the other side of Chicago and spend two nights near Six Flag.  We even bought the “twickets” so we could come and go as week like over the course of two days.

That weekend it was about 104 degrees.

In the shade.

The four of us piled into his Buick Regal.  Yes, he was a 20-year old driving an old man’s car.  A smooth old man’s car that was roomy for a four-person road trip.

As soon as we got to the Holiday Inn, we brought out things in and walked over to the amusement park.

We all road The Iron Dragon since the line was short, and the boys, for whatever reason, thought they should IMMEDIATELY get on the ride that spins in a circle at the speed of light and the bottom drops out while you are plastered to the wall, defying gravity.  And all logical reason.

Trisha and I opted out.

No way were we putting ourselves on a spinning ride in 100 degree weather after riding a roller coaster.

We were not dumb.

Our boyfriends?

Totally dumb.

In fact, I think her boyfriend, a Mr. Cortney Sluiter, may have turned green.

Neither walked straight.

And both announced it was time to leave the park for awhile.

Awesome.

On our walk back, we made a detour to the Ponderosa adjacent to the hotel.  We delighted in the air conditioning and ordered only waters.  Then we sat there.  For what seems now like it was hours.

The rest of the weekend is a blur of roller coasters and laughter.  Sweat and amusement park food.  Walking and waiting in lines.

At some point it was decided to get on the newest, biggest ride in the park: The Raging Bull.

I love roller coasters, but that one seemed maybe too big to me.  I told them I would maybe sit this one out and have a snack on a bench somewhere.

This is when the term “Coaster Vagina” was born.

As in “don’t be one.”

I was yelled at convinced by my fellow Coaster Buddies that it was unacceptable to go along to an amusement park as part of an even numbered group and punk out on a coaster.  It would leave someone buddy-less.

And the Raging Bull is a FOUR person ride, which would mean they would get stuck with either an empty seat (best case scenario) or someone would have to sit by a total stranger who could be a crazy.

I was told to get over myself and get on the damn ride.

So I did.

And then we rode it about 50 billion more times even though the wait was NEVER less than 90 minutes.

In the evenings, we showered and relaxed in our lovely air-conditioned hotel room and watched the fools on MTV at Woodstock ’99 getting hot, sunburned, dehydrated, and riotous.

Our road trip was totally better.

Plus Cort and Trisha and my then-boyfriend cured me of being a Coaster Vagina that weekend.

So there was that.

And I got to listen to Cort giggle like a 2nd grade girl when he was nervous on the big hills.

That did not escape endless hours of mockery.

Cort and I haven’t been on a roller coaster together since that day almost 13 years ago.

We should maybe change that.

my michigan adventure

Seventeen years ago I was a high school junior.

I was taking physics.  The class was all seniors except for me and two other junior girls.

Each May, Michigan Adventure–an amusement park here in West Michigan–has a “Physics Day”.

Each May, my teacher, Mr. Janssen, took the physics class to participate with other area schools, but my junior year, we got rained out.

May of my senior year rolled around.  Physics Day was during the seniors’ last week, and I got it in my head that I should be able to go.

Throughout my four years of high school, I had Mr. Janssen for three math classes and for physics.  We were tight.

(Ok, if you know Mr. Janssen, you are rolling on the floor laughing at that statement.  I simply do not know how to describe him other than and introverted math teacher with an incredibly dry sense of humor. Who stands in front of class tossing the chalk in the air saying, “ah, umm…well…” when he is answering questions because he is so much smarter than you are, dummy. But he would never say that.  And he smirks, but never all out smiles.  I loved that man.)

Anyway, because I loved Mr. Janssen, and for some reason I decided we were tight (which he found humorous.  shut up, he did), I went to him and begged requested that he get me out of class for the day and let me come along to Michigan Adventure with his physics class.

I totally expected him to say no.

I mean, it’s not like I would be doing the packet of physics problems…I wasn’t in the class.  It would be nothing but a super fun day off from school for me.

There was zero educational value in having me go.

Also I was absolutely math dumb.  I, to this day, do not know how I even passed physics.

But he said yes.

And this is when I realized I had no idea who was in the class or if I would even have fun.

It just so happened that about a day after he said yes, I had to go to his classroom for something for a teacher.  I walked in to what happened to be the hour he had his physics class–mostly juniors, but some seniors.

And ALL dudes.

Not one girl in the class.

What had I gotten myself into?

But I wasn’t going to back out of a free day to ride roller coasters instead of being in school.

So on Physics Day I showed up to the bus, climbed those black tread steps, and stood at the front surveying the possibilities.

Which of these lucky dudes was going to be my new best friend for the day?

As I made my way down the long bus aisle, I flashed a smile, gave the obligatory “dude nod” to a few of the senior guys, did the finger point at a couple fellas who had zero chance of having me sit down, and finally stopped next to a seat with a junior in it that I knew a little bit through mutual friends.

He smiled back and I said, “move over, Curly.  You’re my friend for the day.”

He shoved over to the window and I plopped down next to him.

Before we were even out of the parking lot, I broke the ice with the big question the answer to which would set the tone for the rest of our day: “So, do you have a girlfriend?”

“Sort of.”

“How do you ‘sort of’ have a girlfriend?”

“Well, she doesn’t go here.  She lives 45 minutes away.”

And from there we chatted for the entire hour drive to the amusement park, deemed ourselves “Coaster Buddies”, and made let his lab/project partner do all the work on the packet problems.

Curly was one of the nicest guys I have ever met.

We became super great friends very quickly.  I met his girlfriend, Trisha, and loved her too.

Fast-forward approximately 14 years.

New Year's Eve 2009: Ben & Trisha with pregnant-with-Eddie Me (don't worry that is non-alcoholic) &"Curly"

I’m so glad Mr. Janssen said yes to my going on the Physics Day field trip sixteen years ago.

 

the reoccuring walk

Because so many people felt that I left you all hanging with this post,  I jumped forward a couple years to show how that friendship deepened.  You know,  once I knew it wasn’t going to be romantic.

Enjoy.

*************

Even though I have spent my life surrounded by testosterone, he was the only one who ever offered to walk me home.

He said it was so he could use a smoke, but that was partially bullshit because everyone just smoked in the dorms rather than go all the way outside.  I knew he worried about me.  I knew he wanted to be courteous.  I knew he saw me as a girl who wasn’t as tough as she acted.

We always ended up on the steps of Harrison where I would sit on the top concrete step and he would lean on the black metal railing, smoking one last dog before I went in and he went home.

Our conversations wandered and rambled.  He was the only one I talked seriously to about my feelings of inadequacy and doubt.  He was the only one who talked openly to me about his fears and struggles.  One evening he would listen as I talked about feeling unworthy of a committed relationship and the next He would open up about his inability to love college and his lack of motivation in choosing a career.

He more than sort of had a girlfriend.  In fact many times we talked about how much he missed her by being at a different college, but how he wasn’t sure if a lifetime commitment was the answer either.

He never said much about his parents’ divorce, but I knew it bothered him that people so in love for so long could just…not be anymore.  He was afraid it would happen to him.

It never occurred to me to use those conversations to insinuate myself.  That wasn’t what it was about.  But  almost every time I asked him the same thing:  Why did he feel like he needed to walk me the short distance from their dorm to mine?

And he always told me, “because it’s the right thing to do.  It’s what a gentleman does.  Those other guys are dicks for not ever offering.”

His answer was genuine.  Neither of us was angling for anything more than just friendship…for someone to trust and have each other’s back.

And that is what we got.  Each other’s back.

*************

It would be another seven years before we were married.

Do you need more?

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