Ten years ago today, I met my future wife at a bar in Chicago, Illinois. I was in town for a online writing conference (back before we had a word called "blog" for the kind of thing that we were doing), and I was going around catching up with old friends and having a good time. I had not met or talked to Ann in any way before that night, so she wasn't even really on my radar when I was in that room. I was wearing a pink cowboy hat and drinking amaretto sours with big umbrellas in them, so Ann simply assumed that I was a very gay man and was sad that someone so otherwise her type wasn't in the game for her.
We talked a few times by the ashtrays outside of the hotel, chain smoking cigarettes and chatting. Ann insists that I didn't appear to be interested in talking to her at all, but I don't recall it that way. I may have been distracted at the time, thinking about being in a new city and interacting with people in meatspace for the first or second time ever. But we did talk, and Ann says she developed a little bit of a crush on me then. I didn't pick up on this at all, being generally oblivious to when people are attracted to me or flirting with me.
We sat together at dinner and went for cigarettes and chatted some more. The group then moved on to karaoke, where we again sat close and drank and talked. I remember doing a song with my friend Rick, but for the life of me I cannot remember what it was. Ann did a rendition of "Like a Virgin" during which her feet did not touch the stage at all; writhing around and attracting the attention of several of the scarier patrons. She wanted to leave, and asked me to pretend to be her boyfriend on the way out of the bar to keep the others at bay. And so I did, and she drove me back to my hotel.
The whole way back, I was trying to figure out how I would invite her upstairs. I had no experience doing anything like this. I am not and have never been suave or able to read people well, so I wasn't even sure if she was interested in me at that point, only that I was feeling it and wanted to take a shot. Even now, writing this, I still feeling the anxiety and nervousness of that moment welling up within me. Rick and I had bought, as a joke, a Nerf basketball hoop the day before just in case our room at the hotel became the party room. I invited her up to play Nerf basketball at one in the morning because it was the only idea that my feeble brain was able to pull together. She said yes before I had even finished uttering the sentence.
From my perspective, it was only her merciful benevolence and her willingness to overlook my awkward advances that led to us getting together that night. I am sure that she would say something different here about how I was being awkward and cute, but on my end it was failure after failure that didn't seem to take for some reason. I was nervous as hell, not making any move to advance things and instead deferring and deferring. She finally just broke whatever tension there was by kissing me and uttering the most upfront and blunt laying-of-the-cards line in the history of human sexuality:
"Let's fuck, okay?"
Okay as we rolled around on a hotel bed shedding clothes. Okay as she explained that she had psoriasis on her legs and that it wasn't something to worry about. Okay as a condom was summoned from the aether. Okay as things began slowly. Okay as I was still nervous and trying to figure out what all of it meant. Okay as this had suddenly happened. Okay.
I felt bad about keeping Rick out of the room. We needed to smoke. The room had this weird crowded dimension to it. I took the sign off of the door and went with her to her apartment, over in Wicker Park and across town from the hotel in Lakeview. I felt like we were driving forever through this low flat city until we were through an alley and parked on the street and headed upstairs again. It was dark and I could hear the el rolling along a few blocks away. Eventually we tried to sleep, but my brain was way too wound up to even get close to sleeping. There were new noises and new shadows and this new person next to me. I cuddled with her because it was what I did after sex, and I didn't realize that was a weird thing to do until she said something about it, laughing so that my embarrassment wouldn't take over the moment.
On the trip back to drop me off in the morning, that was when the weird feelings started to pop up. My brain wanted to start asking all of these questions, to get to know her and to start building some kind of bond. But I knew that this was just one moment in time, and that I was probably acting inappropriately. I wanted her to think that I was cool with everything, so I hid myself behind words that weren't pure. She dropped me off and said goodbye, and I went into the hotel to figure out what was next. I thought that moment was over, and that I would probably never see her again.
But, of course, the story doesn't end there. Rick and I went back up to Michigan that night to stay at my brother's house before we flew back to Syracuse. That night, standing in the driveway smoking and looking at the stars, I couldn't stop thinking about what had just happened and what I was going to take away from that night. I thought that I didn't want that to just be the end of things, and that I owed it to myself to contact her and if I was the only one that was still stuck in that moment. I couldn't bring myself to just walk away and be cool with things, even though I thought I was really exposing myself by confessing such a thing.
So I did write her when I got back home, and told her that I was still thinking of her and that I wasn't sure what that meant but that I wanted to talk and see what this feeling would turn into and I was sorry if I was being all weird about it. And as I sent that email to her, she was sending an email to me saying nearly the same thing. I wish that I still had those emails, both sent from accounts long gone. That exchange was part of the realization that we were both on the same page, and that there actually was a lot more there than a one night stand. As the weeks went by, it became clear that our connection was so massive and so intense that it couldn't help but overwhelm everything else that was happening in each of our lives. It was exactly like those stories go, where people just knew that they were right for each other and joined hands and wandered off to live the rest of their lives together. I was living that in real time, and it was the most surreal thing that has ever happened to me.
I moved to Chicago on New Year's Day because I couldn't stand the thought of her going home and leaving me hundreds of miles away. I was back in that bedroom in that apartment in Wicker, and it felt right. It felt the most right of anything I have ever done.
In a lot of ways it feels like that happened just yesterday, and the last decade has been this blur that went by dream-like. That, somehow, we are still stuck in that moment and still figuring each other out and sometimes living in the wonder of the bond that popped up in our lives. I can still remember those moments vividly, aware of wondering what it meant and trying to be cool and failing and being awkward. And in some ways it feels like it was a moment out of some legend, like there was no way I could have possible had that experience since it hinges on such a surreal set of circumstances that reality would have certainly crushed whole. But here I am, a decade later, still living in a world where that actually happened. Sometimes the world is exactly as beautiful as we would like it to be.