“Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.” Former President Jimmy Carter, our country’s 39th
“You get what you settle for.” Thelma and Louise, two of my favorite gals on the big screen.
I took a trip last summer to an Idaho resort town where I’d never been before, but a place that will forever be on my list of beautiful vacation spots. The difference about this little getaway from the others I’ve taken in the past four years? It was my first foray outside my comfort zone with a man–a straight, single man whom I met through mutual friends. We had emailed and talked on the phone for months, so I knew he was who he said he was, and that I wasn’t heading into an ax-murderer situation that some of my peeps fretted about. Still, it was a big ol’ leap for me to commit to spending time alone with someone that I’d met face-to-face only once.
As my bff JP says, if everyone comes home from a trip and nobody lost an eye, it’s a success. And the new friend, I’ll call him JR, and I came down from that mountain retreat with eyes and limbs intact. But I wasn’t prepared for the cascade of emotions and reverberations from my relationship with my ex, mr. invisible, that went up that mountain with me–and came back down with both of us.
JR is a sweet, thoughtful and calm individual who’s been divorced a couple of years longer than I have. The difference is that the end of his marriage was a fleeting skirmish, with no deadly shots fired, while mine was akin to Hiroshima. And therein lies the problem–the nuclear burn is still there, but not visible, lurking just below the skin. Much to my surprise, during a candid conversation with JR after a couple glasses of wine, the stinging pain of my annihilated marriage came out of nowhere as I exposed one after another scorched wound to the crisp mountain air.
To be fair, there were moments during the trip where JR would reach out to hold my hand or drape his arm across my shoulder and pull me toward him for a little hug, and I felt protected and peaceful…and other times where the same motions triggered balls to the wall panic, making me want to escape to another world where I could just be–alone. Suffice to say, this vacation was as chaste as a virgin margarita, hold the salt. As much as I hoped there’d be amorous feelings for this guy, I couldn’t scare up hot and bothered to save my life. In the stunning townhouse where JR and I stayed on the banks of the Wood River with its soothing whoosh seemingly meant just for us, romance was DOA.
Turns out JR was pursuing a serious relationship, and a few days in, he mentioned the M word and a house and–whoaaaa sister. I just wish I could have seen my face as my eyebrows arched so high they nearly climbed off my forehead. Even if I’d felt that elusive spark, the talk of matrimony and a mortgage would have left me shaken. I’ve said dozens of times since my final standoff in divorce court that I know one thing for sure: I’ll never marry again.
And until last week, a winning lotto ticket wouldn’t be enough to change my forever single status. But something happened about 10,000 miles as the crow flies across the ocean in eastern Europe on the crowded streets of Budapest and along the winding and picture perfect banks of the Danube River. A cruise with 100 of my travel buddies from the desert stirred something that I thought died the day a broken version of myself faced a civil court judge, and I saw my husband for the last time.
A couple of times on this trip, I felt the ache of wanting to enjoy a sight or sound or smell or taste with someone where it’s just me and my dear one–like a shared secret. I’ve had that feeling more than a few times since my divorce, but the longing felt more intense this time, no doubt because invisible and I had made two river boat trips together, the last one in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary. So last week, surrounded by the ever present laughter of a gaggle (group? bevy?) of gay boys and a handful of good-natured and tolerant straight gals, I felt the twinge of wanting to recapture that coupled feeling I’d had with invisible–to share the mesmerizing lights of Budapest that shimmer and dance on the Danube–reveling in that magic with one person, not dozens. To be able to say, “Remember when we…,” and he finishes the sentence, recalling that exact moment, sealed in time for just us two.
If I had a hormone left in my body, I’d scratch it up to an imbalance. But this felt fresh and real, like a tiny door cracked open after being sealed shut by time and decay.
One of my gay friends on the trip is a guy I describe as tall and intelligent T. We shopped and laughed, took selfies and got lost then found again on our last day in Budapest. A real mensch, there was nary a complaint each time I led him into another shoe store to slip into an almost perfect pair of sandals. By the time we sat down on a bench to devour flaky sandwiches whose contents weren’t exactly as expected due to a loss in translation, I felt for the first time in four years the remote chance that I could open my arms just enough to embrace the thought of a partner, to let a straight man get close enough to see those burns.
And if I find the guy who can look without flinching, there may be a chance for a new possibility.
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