July 9, 2012

Modern Love

    I'm not sure exactly where this story best begins. Maybe I should just start it with my trip to Seattle. My decision to go there was prompted after I was dumped by a short, ornery musician who I had been dating on and off, mostly off, for a few years. I always knew he wasn't the one, however, I did enjoy spending time with him. I wasn't heartbroken by the break up, just left with that feeling that I needed a big change in my life. It was a feeling I had been suppressing for a while, and that break up unleashed it. This big change wouldn't come from some new hairstyle, a new job or some sort of detox regiment. It had to be bigger. So I bought a plane ticket and flew to Seattle to visit some old friends and check out a new city. I loved the West coast and had been toying with the idea of moving there for a while. I really wanted to move to LA where some of my best friends were living, but I didn't know if I was ready for it yet. New York City had chewed me up and spit me out just a few years earlier. I think I was checking out Seattle as a possible buffer city that I could move to first in order to ease into an eventual move to LA. That logic makes no sense to me now, but it really did at the time.

    This story could also begin about five years earlier, in the fall of 2003, when I first moved to Chicago from Minneapolis. I moved to Chicago with my boyfriend of three years, who would later become my fiance. I got a job at a neighborhood coffee shop in East Lake View. I generally worked the morning shift, which meant I had to be up and out before the sun even came up. It was there at that coffee shop that I first met the man who would become my husband. He would come in right when we opened usually wearing the same outfit; carpenter pants and a white t-shirt covered in dirt and paint. His hair was long, dark and messy, and he had a thick beard. I would later learn that this was the period when his mother would tell people, “My son looks like a terrorist.” I was introduced to him just like all of the other regulars when I started, “Mandy this is Ryan.” Of course they weren't all named Ryan. There was something that was very different about him. He gave off the energy of some sort of intense feral being. He was always staring at me while he waited in line to order his cortado. I could feel it. Then he would sit down, quietly read the paper and leave. He intrigued and scared me at the same time. I thought he might be crazy, and now I know that I was right. He is, in fact, definitely crazy. I didn't think much more of him at the time, but now I love thinking about my first impressions of him.

    For the sake of the story I think it's best to start with my trip to Seattle. When I first arrived I met my girlfriend CC for dinner at the restaurant her sister worked at. It was downtown and connected to some posh hotel. The kitchen was open to the restaurant, so you could watch the chefs while they worked. CC's sister asked me if I had a boyfriend, one of the chefs wanted to know. I did not, so she began bringing various foods to our table before we even ordered. It turned out it was all compliments of the cute, heavily tattooed chef. After our dinner CC, her sister, my friend Bradford and a few other people sat at the bar drinking. The chef eventually came over and introduced himself. Bradford commented on how cute he was, and then invited him to a club in Capitol Hill that we were going the following night. That night Bradford also let me know the theatre he worked at was hiring a wardrobe assistant, which was perfectly suited to my field of work. He said if I was interested he could set up an interview while I was in town. I said Yes! This may be exactly the big change that I needed. I Slept on CC's couch that night and wondered if this was a city I could see myself living in.

    The next morning I woke up and saw CC sitting outside on her patio, with a cup of coffee, writing in her journal. We got ready and went on a long hike around Discovery park, which was basically her backyard. It was enchanting, with its assortment of giant old trees, moss covered ground, rustic beaches and light house. This was the first experience in Seattle that made me stop questioning the possibility of living there and made me begin to really want to live there. I met up with Bradford later and he showed me around his neighborhood. The weather was beautiful and tons of attractive young people were outside walking around. I could feel that the city had a great energy to it. It was so different than Chicago. That night we went to the club. Bradford's ex-boyfriend was bartending, and they were talking about something. I wondered if the chef would show up, and then suddenly he was standing right in front of me. He bought me a drink, and we stood on our own and just talked, or rather yelled back and forth into each other's ears until the club was closed. We discovered that we had a lot in common, and I wasn’t ready to stop talking to him yet. Bradford invited him over to his place, and we all sat on the back porch and drank wine together. I told him that I was considering moving to Seattle, and that I had a job interview the next day. Bradford got up abruptly, announced he was going on a booty call and told us to make ourselves at home. We ended up making out all night, taking occasional breaks to ask each other random questions related to our previous conversations. In the morning he asked me if I would hang out with him again before I left. He wanted to take me to the spot with his favorite view of the city. I said yes, he kissed me goodbye and left. I got up and found Bradford on his back porch wrapped in a comforter, smoking a cigarette and yelling a his neighbor who was mowing the lawn. It was far too early to make so much noise, and it was the weekend. Bradford and I got into his bed and talked about the chef, and about old friends and Minneapolis.

    I'm getting way off track here. This story is not about Seattle at all, but that trip to Seattle is a big part of this story. I ended up getting the job. The catch was they wanted me to start in a month. This meant I only had one month to sublet my apartment, quit my jobs, get rid of most of my possessions and send the rest of my things to CC's place where I would be staying until I figured out where to live. There were also a million other tiny details that needed to be taken care of before I could leave Chicago. In the meantime I was turning the thirty and my good friend, Matt, was having a going away party.

    This story could also begin at my friend Matt's going away party, it actually really does begin there. Matt was another close friend of mine moving to LA. He was the first friend that I made when I moved to Chicago. We worked together years ago at the coffee shop in Lake View. I worked at my nannying job during the day of his party, and when I got home fell I asleep on my couch. It was one of those nights that I really had to force myself to leave my apartment. I almost didn't go out that night, but it was Matt. I loved the guy and couldn't miss saying goodbye to him. On my way to the the bus I remember seeing a bunch of little bunnies hopping around on the sidewalk in front of me. I actually couldn't ever remember seeing rabbits in Chicago. I once heard that this was a sign of good luck. So I saw it as a sign that moving to Seattle was going to be a good thing. When I first arrived at the bar where Matt's party was I didn't see anyone I knew. I ordered a beer and walked outside to the back garden. The first person I saw was Ryan, the regular from my old job at the coffee shop. I knew that Matt and him were friends, Ryan and I had a lot of the same friends. He smiled and waved at me from across the garden. I waved back. Then we didn't talk to each other. This was pretty much how we had been interacting for the last five years. I found Matt and some of my other friends and told them about Seattle. I also couldn't stop thinking about how good Ryan looked that night. He had slowly and steadily caught my attention over the past five years, but unfortunately he was in a relationship with a girl that everyone thought was crazy. That night Matt made sure to let me know that Ryan was now single and had been for a while. I decided that night that I was going to make out with him before I left Chicago.

    Later I found myself sitting alone at the bar. I just needed a few minutes to myself, going to crowded bars really wasn't my thing anymore. Ryan came over and sat next to me. We had never actually had a real conversation that I could remember. So there at the bar we began having our first real conversation, and he was now becoming someone more than a regular at the coffee shop, a guy at a party and a friend of a friend. He was funny and smart. I told him that I got a job and was moving to Seattle in three weeks. He looked a little disappointed. I asked him if he wanted to hang out later, and gave him my number. He biked over to my apartment that night. We sat on the floor and talked for hours until I was about ready to fall asleep. I told him that I really wanted to hang out with him, but I was tired. He left, and we never even kissed. I wondered if he got the wrong impression and thought I was blowing him off. That seemed to be the impression I gave a lot of guys.

    The next day, while I was working at my clothing store job, he texted me the words Little Wing. I called him on my break, and he told me that Little Wing was the name of the Neil Young song that he couldn't remember last night. We made plans to hang out again that night. He met me at my neighbors' apartment. We all played games and drank wine. Then the two of us went back to my apartment again. We sat down on my couch and had our first, very awkward, kiss. It was the sort of kiss where neither one of us could believe it was actually happening. So it felt like it was happening in slow motion with a few awkward pauses to check to see if it was really happening before our lips had ever even touched. It was very real, and we slept together that night, too. He had a huge smile on his face every time I stopped to look at him. I was usually pretty good at waiting a while before I slept with someone new, but with him I just couldn't help myself.

    The next day I had plans to go out with some girlfriends. When we woke up Ryan suggested that I call and tell them I had been kidnapped so we could spend the day together, which is exactly what I did. First we had brunch at my favorite diner in the city, then we walked to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients to make cookies. We went to his apartment, where he had a little pot butter stashed in his freezer. We were going to make pot cookies and go canoeing on the Chicago River. This was technically our first date. When I got to his apartment something started to happen. There in his little apartment I began to see him as someone I could be with for a while. I discovered we had very similar taste, and his place immediately felt like home to me. We baked together and sat on the floor eating cookies. He played me Little Wing. I loved Neil Young, but had never heard that song before. In that moment it felt like it was our song. Once we were feeling the effect of the cookies, we went outside and walked to the river to rent a canoe. We spent hours on the canoe talking, rowing, appreciating at the various wildlife and taking in the unusual perspective of our city. I slept at his apartment that night, and I could feel I was in trouble. It had been years since I felt this way. I was once a very romantic person, but I had my heart broken a few years back when I was living in New York. As a result I had given up on this feeling. It was back now intensely and unexpectedly. He was so tender and sweet to me, and I felt completely safe with him. He was quickly becoming one of the most interesting people that I had met in a long time.

    The next day I went back to work at my nannying job. I met up with my mom friend, Paula, and her daughter at the park. I told her about my weekend with Ryan while we pushed the girls in the swings. I told her that I wanted to keep hanging out with him, but I wasn't going to because I was afraid that if I spent more time with him I wouldn't want to leave. She told me to just enjoy myself and that I was lucky to have these experiences. I listened to her and called him when I got off work. He wanted to see me that night, too. We ended up seeing each other every day until he left to visit his family, and then he called me everyday while he was away. It started to feel like he was my boyfriend. He told me that he had a crush on me ever since he first saw me. He reminded me of times that we spent with our mutual friends going on walks around our old neighborhood. He said that I once randomly told him to untuck his shirt, and that ever since then he stopped tucking in his shirts. He made me breakfasts, brought me flowers and took me to nice restaurants. We spent our nights in bed listening to music, drinking wine and talking.

    I ran into him on his bike one day while I was nannying. I took Ella on a walk, and we stopped near the park while she picked dandelions and tried to shove them into my pockets. I looked up and Ryan was standing in front of us. He was so sweet to her and told her the names of the flowers and plants around us. I loved that he knew all their names. One day he told me that his mom was coming to the Chicago. She was going to be his date for a film festival he had written some music for. He asked if I would like to meet her and be his date, too. He had also begun helping me with the final arrangements of my move to Seattle. I still had a lot to do and obviously had become very distracted. Ryan brought the four boxes full of what I decided to keep with me to be shipped across the country. As I watched him carry each one of those heavy boxes into the store, I couldn't help but stare at his strong arms and wonder how I would ever leave this incredible man. This was when I began calling my close friends and analyzing what I should do. Should I stay for love or move for my career? I spent hours on the phone trying to figure out if I should listen to my head or follow my heart. It wasn't as though I had never experienced this dilemma before. In fact, I have moved to a few different cities while leaving men behind. This time it felt different.

    Then I met his mom. They picked me up on the way to the theatre, and she was tiny and so warm and kind. I immediately felt comfortable around her. I know it may sound strange, but I could just tell she was a good mom. She had all sorts of snacks in the back seat of her car. It just seemed like a thoughtful thing to me. We sat in the theatre with Ryan between us and watched the short films. Ryan's music reminded me of Jon Brion, and I was so relieved that I liked it. Afterwards we went to a little bar downtown for a party. His mom and I sat together and talked for hours. She felt like an old friend. I felt like I could tell her anything and pretty much did just that. I knew that I was really in trouble now, because not only was I falling hard for Ryan, but on top of that I really liked his mom. I could see all of us hanging out together in the future. His cousin was also in town visiting some friends. We picked her up and went out to dinner. I could feel the love and playfulness within his family. They were so close, this was something that was very important to me.

    I secretly began smoking cigarettes again. I hadn't smoked in years. I felt sick thinking about leaving Ryan, but I also couldn't deny that Seattle was very tempting to me. It was a chance for me to get my career back on track and begin a new adventure. Cigarettes seemed to help calm me. One night Ryan and I had the talk, we decided that when I moved we would continue our relationship. He said that he would come visit me a few weeks after I moved. I knew he was serious. As much as I wanted this, I also knew that long distance relationships didn't work for me. I had been in one a long time ago. I knew that staying with him would make me not like Seattle as much, because I would really want to just be back in Chicago with him. I knew that in reality it would be either I stay in Chicago and be with him or be single in Seattle. I never told him that though. It was down to my last few days in Chicago, and I had no idea what I was going to do. My apartment was nearly empty and I was now staying with him every night. I had a backpack full of clothes and a few random things left at my apartment. Just a day or two before my flight to Seattle, I asked Ryan what he thought about me staying in Chicago. Without hesitation he told me I could stay with him, I would be homeless after all. I decided that's what I would do. I took a risk and chose love. It really came down to a gut decision for me. 

    The next day I worked what was to be my last day taking care of Ella. It was sad. I really loved her. In the middle of the day I started feeling more and more nauseous and eventually had to run to the bathroom. I started to throw up while Ella stood next to me watching. I sat on the bathroom floor and called, Mara, Ella's mother. Then I called Ryan. Mara came home from work, and I told her I wasn't leaving Chicago and that I was staying with Ryan. She was surprised and happy for me. She drove me to Ryan's apartment. I ran up the stairs of Ryan's building and into my new home, headed straight for the bathroom and proceeded to throw up repeatedly. I walked out feeling embarrassed and weak. Ryan put me to bed. He poured me some sparkling water, and then he went to my apartment to meet up with my neighbor and take care of the last few things I had left.

    This was the real beginning of our relationship. I was now his live-in girlfriend, sick with the flu, jobless, homeless and living out of a backpack. We were so in love, only we hadn't said those words to each other yet. I now realize that those bunnies were not there to bring me good luck in Seattle. They were there because that was the night I would start dating my husband. I now truly understand the saying, “Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.”

This last one needs to be played with the bass way up.