There are few things more humiliating than getting stuck inside your car in the grocery store parking lot. It had been one of those “no good very bad days” where so many little things had gone wrong and when I got home to find my refrigerator door hanging wide open, my dog Koda hiding guiltily under the bed, my frustration level reached its peak. Some people say that dogs will take on the traits of their owners. In my house, I know this to be not just someone’s humorous opinion but an absolute fact. My dogs are sweet and mellow and the most sensitive animals I have ever come across. Just like me, they can very easily pick up on the emotions swirling in the air around them. If you even look at Lily with an unhappy glance, she visibly shrinks and comes to you for a cuddle. Fairly often, during the early days of my break-up, I would lay in bed crying and Lily would actually start crying with me. These sad whimpers and what sounded like actual cries, would sound from her throat..she would jump up into bed with me and lay across my whole body and I would hold onto her tightly, pressing my face into her soft fur until my tears quieted. She was my own personal stuffed animal. Koda, not sure of what to do with all these female emotions, would lay at my feet like a sentinel. Angry voices raised at a football game on tv often sends Koda into my bedroom where he makes a nest in the pillows. They were both rescue dogs and I imagine they still have scars from past experiences. I know how they feel.
Coming back to the open refrigerator… Now whenever Koda feels upset, maybe I’ve been out of the house too much or he is picking up on my emotions, he does what many humans (mainly females) do. He eats his feelings. That’s right friends…he goes to the fridge, opens it up..peruses through the drawers and selects things that will serve to comfort him. It is a constant source of amazement to me that this dog, can get a container of tomato basil soup off the top shelf, bring it into my bedroom and eat it without spilling a single drop. I’m convinced my dog is part ninja. I can picture Lily sitting beside him, encouraging this and reminding him not to forget about the Vermont sharp cheddar cheese hiding in the meat drawer. And so, worried for their health (and my grocery bill) I went out and purchased a baby lock for my fridge. It works really well! When I remember to latch it.
That day I had forgotten to do just that and so, with my dinner for that night (a really yummy spinach salad with strawberries, glazed pecans, and goat cheese..no one can say my dogs don’t have excellent palates) no longer an option, I was headed back out to the store. I was lucky enough to find a spot right up front, said a silent thank you to the parking gods, grabbed the door handle and pulled..except…nothing happened. Now my car (a Honda CR-V) is about 14 years old…I love my car..she looks great for her age and has almost never failed me. That day, she did. I kept tugging and still nothing happened. I hit the lock and unlock button hoping this would wiggle something loose..still nothing. Now before I tell you this next part, keep in mind the emotional storm that had been gathering all day.
Right there, in the grocery store parking lot, I lost it. I started banging on the side panel of the door, tried slamming the side of my body into it and seriously contemplated pounding on the window and yelling for help. In my defense, I am not usually a “lose it” kind of girl. It takes a lot to get me upset or mad and I rarely ever display irrational/out of control behavior..clearly I had just reached my limit. Any other day, when my brain wasn’t clouded with a fog of emotion, I would have realized that I could have just rolled my window down and opened the door from the outside. I mean really Julia..get it together..Instead, in my skirt and heels, I climbed over the center console and through the passenger door. More than one person in that parking lot gave me a curious stare.
It was right about that time that I got a text message from a guy named Chris. We had gone out once before to a Bob Dylan concert and while he seemed like a nice guy, I wasn’t sure if we had any chemistry. He was also pretty quiet and was going to be moving to northern Virginia in a few months for a new job, so I pretty much had written him off. He texted asking how I was and I told him about my car troubles. Within a few minutes he texted back letting me know that he had done some research and that seemed to be a fairly common problem with my car. He offered to come take a look at it for me once I got back from the store and I figured why not? It couldn’t hurt to have him check it out. He showed up in his big silver Jeep, carrying a tool bag and wearing jeans and a baseball hat. “Wow,” I thought..”He looks kinda hot.” Call me old-fashioned, but there is something about a man that can fix things that totally ramps up the attractiveness.
I sat next to him on the pavement while he proceeded to take my entire door apart. He found the problem almost immediately. Some little plastic piece had come unglued. It was an easy fix and Chris had it back together in minutes, thus saving me from future embarassment. He left a little while later and I sat in my car, opening and closing the car door, thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have closed my own personal door on him quite so quickly..there could be something to this guy and I wasn’t going to write him off just yet.
He took me out to dinner for Restaurant Week and there came a moment where he was talking about his family..he spoke of his parents..hardworking, solid people..his brothers..one of which was autistic and suffered from seizures and OCD. He talked about them with such love and care that I found myself reaching for his hand under the table. He drove me home and we sat in his car outside of my house talking. Neither one of us wanted the night to end. He asked me what I was doing the next weekend and I kind of smiled and hesitated. “I’m actually going to the beach with my girlfriends.” I told him. “That sounds like fun,” he said. “is it a special occasion?” “Kind of. Um..it’s Freedom Weekend.” He laughed. “Freedom Weekend? That sounds like fun. Freedom from what?” I hesitated again. I always feel unsure of whether or not to tell guys about what happened with Jeff and I. I want to be honest and upfront, but I also don’t want them running for the hills thinking I have a UHaul truck full of baggage. There was something about Chris though..he was so quiet and steady, and he had shared some pretty personal things about himself..it made me trust him. “It’s actually for me,” I told him quietly, my eyes on my hands in my lap. “Um, I was actually supposed to be getting married next weekend. Things didn’t work out, but it was really for the best. The girls are taking me out of town so we can have some fun and celebrate me being free from ending up with the wrong person.” I sat..braced for his reaction..and he was quiet for a minute. “Good for you.” He said and reached over for my hand. “That’s gotta be hard going through something like that, but that’s great you have such good friends to help you through it. Let me know if you need me to watch the dogs or anything while you’re gone.” I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding and turned to look at him..felt his warm hand covering mine and almost without thinking, I leaned over and gave him a light kiss. I don’t know whether I felt grateful for his understanding or maybe I just wanted to kiss him or maybe it was a combination of a lot of things. I started to pull away and he tugged at my hand, pulling me forward again and putting his hand on my cheek. He gave me the sweetest kiss I think I’ve ever had. And there in the soft glow of my street light, I felt my heart stumble in my chest.
That weekend, I sat on the beach, with my girlfriends talking and laughing behind me..and listened to the waves crash on the shore. I took deep breaths of cool salty air, felt the sun warm my face and watched as the water smoothed the sand. I had a moment to be sad..to miss a person who had given me so many moments of great joy and devastating hurt. And then I let the moment go..knowing that I, just like that sand, would one day be washed smooth again and all my damage healed..That life would go on and on just like waves crashing endlessly on a beach, until Jeff was just a memory and a small piece of my life that couldn’t hurt me anymore. And maybe even one that I could eventually look back on and be grateful for the good moments we had and the lessons it taught me. I stood up, brushed the sand off my skirt and went to join the girls, feeling like I had climbed some great big mountain and come down the other side just a little bit stronger. It felt awesome….
When I got home, I found Chris in my backyard burning leaves..He had watched my dogs for me while I was gone at the beach, took them on long walks, put new strings on my favorite guitar, fixed the broken latch on my back door and got my garden ready for planting. The garden was something Jeff and I had always done together and I was considering letting it go for the summer. It was a tangled mess of weeds and dried up tomato plants and honestly I didn’t even know where to begin. Not only was it such a good feeling to come home and have someone waiting for me, but to see that garden smoothed out and all that rich brown earth tilled up and just waiting for me to get my hands in it, well it made a perfect end to a great weekend. Chris had come to my rescue in more ways than I could describe and I knew that no matter what happened with us, I would be grateful to him. It sounds silly, but he kinda felt like my knight in shining armor.