In the years following my divorce, I made a point to explore my adventurous side. Adventurous might be a polite word for rebellious or dangerous. At 39, my poor mother who worried about me on a boring day was out of her mind crazy scared for me as I dated with abandon. Dated being a polite word for meeting up with men I’d interacted with on a number of dating sites. To me, I was trying my hand at this new Zen mentality of ‘anything goes and its all good’. I’d spent so much of my life, as in almost all of it, being careful and learning of my mother’s disapproval when I struck out on my own. With my ex husband far in my rear view mirror, I had taken the wheel again and was racing laps without the safety gear most prudent minded drivers would wear. I was the one with the windows down, the wind in my face, hair whipping around, my tunes blaring and me belting out the lyrics at the top of my lungs. I had busted out and nobody was stopping me from enjoying this joy ride.
As was to be expected, each of these dating experiences taught me a lesson. Lessons that I might have learned at an earlier age had I been allowed out from under the over protective wings of my mom. She had her own issues with men and sex having been a 15 year old mom, a 16 year old bride and a 17 year old divorcee. Instead of teaching me to be smart about men, she tried to instill fear of them in me. It didn’t stick, much to her dismay. To my dismay, I didn’t press my independence more when I was under her roof. For reasons that I attribute to helping to keep her sanity in check, I pushed against her authority selectively.
This one summer weekend about a year or two after being single again, I traveled by train to NYC to meet up with a man whose name I don’t remember. I do remember that he was tall. Like Jolly Green Giant tall standing at seven feet seven inches. He could see over city traffic like a human periscope. I admit that if nothing else, I felt safe walking with him, my not usually tiny hand in his porterhouse steak of one, and him being able to stop me from stepping into oncoming traffic before I even knew there might be an issue. I also recall that he wasn’t as bright as I had hoped he’d be. As I joked that he could be a linebacker and he replied with a knowing smile stating that he had in fact been to college on a football scholarship playing as a linebacker, I wondered if he had taken one too many hits without a helmet in his glory days.
It was an unusual date in that we had made plans to be at one of the local museums and gardens, but before that we hooked up in the hotel room I had reserved for myself. Precautions were taken but I admit I was wishing I’d stayed at home that weekend. I really wanted to see the city and had lied to myself that this was a way to do to it knowing full well the naked grown up activities would be what transpired.
He left for a few hours stating he had to check on his ill mother, something he had prepped me about before I arrived. It felt odd even with the warning, so I showered and dressed up super cute in a flared cotton skirt, yellow pumps and light summer shirt to order drinks in the hotel lounge. I seated myself directly in front of the window so he would see me when he approached. I figured anyone else who wanted to look could, too. How he missed me sitting there when he came in the front door I don’t know, but I liked that he’d gone to the room and, not finding me there, was a bit panicked wondering where I was.
On a tip from one of my coworkers, we made reservations at a theme restaurant which would prove to be an interactive experience as well as an amazing meal. I had packed my favorite multi colored maxi dress with those yellow pumps and a lightweight sweater just for the occasion. He was changing into dress pants and a jacket.
As we dressed for dinner, I caught him admiring me from across the room while I checked my appearance in the room’s full length mirror. I looked at him and smiled. He was smiling, too.
“What is it?’, I asked.
“You”, he said. “You look exquisite.”
Much of my time being divorced and dating was lying to, and learning about, myself. Everything was a part of my journey, the process of me unpacking the baggage of my own life and the married life I’d lived for eight years. I learned that bad guys send roses as easily as good guys do, that married men are only as married as they choose to be, and that guys who’ve taken too many hits to the head can still recognize a lovely woman when they see one. I also learned that beauty isn’t just for the gorgeous moments in our life. There is an exquisiteness in our pain.
As I looked back at my reflection in that hotel mirror, the word exquisite hung in the air like a trick puff of smoke from a smoker’s cigar. In that mirror I saw a woman who had been neglected and unloved for most of her marriage. She was a woman who had been resented by her then husband for reasons she still didn’t know or understand. This woman was holding down her life and making a new way for herself. There are names some would ascribe to a woman like her, one who is freer than others deem appropriate for her, yet she lived outside their judgement. No one knew what is was like to be her, to see disdain in her ex husband’s eyes while she remained faithful to his dishonorable behavior. To be the breadwinner while he refused to take a second part-time job, or change-up for one full-time one. Who drove everywhere all the time as he refused to get his license which he needed in the States having moved here from England.
In that hotel room, the ugly pain of my life came into focus through the eyes of a not too bright former linebacker giant. Maybe he was smarter in that one moment than I was giving him credit for. He didn’t know my heartaches, but he had said I looked exquisite. And exquisite I was. I am.