Nearly a decade ago, on Derby day, I was working a Kentucky Derby Hat promotion at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville, waiting impatiently for the promotion to end so that I could change out of the dress and into some casual-yet-fancy traveling clothing that I’d put together. I was going to drive, that night, to Columbus in what would become the first of many visits with a friend that I’d had for ten years but, at least right then, had never actually met. It was to be the culmination of ten years of talking, of waiting, of hoping – a summation of the undercurrents that had, in one way or another, been brewing between us, influencing every relationship I’d ever had with any other man (even minimally) up to that point.
It was also the day that I irrevocably ended my marriage.
I don’t want you to read this and think that it was this quick decision that I came to while I was working a promotion. By the time May 2, 2008 had come around, the marriage had already (practically, verbally) ended. We came home to each other, and that’s as much as anyone else needed to know – no one else knew about the holes in the walls, the broken furniture. No one else knew that, aside from an occasional moment of tenderness, we slept in separate places, on separate floors of the house. We were married in name only – and I hadn’t even wanted that.
Mr. Ex and I had maintained a façade – the familial disappointment and disapproval that would go hand in hand with that divorce was almost too much for me to contemplate, regardless of the amount we fought (verbally and physically). I also knew that, with that, I’d lose everything that had made me comfortable, as he was the only source of income. I saw the years and years of unhappiness stretching before me, but I didn’t know what to do with it.
Then there was New Years Eve of 2008. The first and only New Years that my now ex-husband and I spent together (he normally worked). We got into an argument. He left me at a bar (without my phone, without money, nothing). He came back for me, but if anything made me begin to seriously contemplate divorce (at least beyond a flicker of something I’d entertain) it was that night. Still, I went home when he came to pick me up. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t feel like I had anywhere else to go.
Emperor Slade (a.k.a. Buttface) and I chatted, regularly, on Yahoo chat during the day when he was at work. Normally about stuff that was so mundane that I can’t even remember what it was anymore… and, see, I didn’t have any intent of telling him what had happened, or that I was even contemplating a divorce. I wasn’t going to open that stupid box… he was married. There wasn’t anything I could, or would have, done about it. My problems were not his problems, and since he lived in Bradenton and I lived in Louisville, there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about them anyway.
But then he told me that he and his wife were divorcing. Maybe it was coincidence. Maybe it was a nudge from the universe. I don’t know. To this day I don’t know. But it made me say (or type) for the first time that I was considering it too… and to tell him what was happening. I guess seeing someone else start the process, someone I knew so well, made it easier to put a name to.
To make a very long, novel-sized story (and there will be some day) short, Slade and I spent a lot of time on the phone for the first four months after that revelation. It was, literally, the first time in the history of our friendship that we’d had unlimited access to each other (previously, we’d been limited by parents, significant others, work schedules, etc.). He gave me his cell number. I gave him mine. I had a Razr in those days. We talked about… well… everything. We caught up. We got to know each other. And we were a support system for each other, as we were going through the same things at virtually the same time. We needed each other. We needed the promise of the “after” to get through the present.
He decided, that February, that he needed to leave Florida and set his sights on Ohio, where another friend and fellow WoW guildie lived. I willfully chose to ignore how close he seemed to be to her and believed him when he told me that he’d be sleeping on her couch when he went up to scout the place. She was, after all, in a relationship. And he had told me, multiple times, that he loved me. That’s what counted.
Except after February, he never said it to me again. Again, I willfully ignored it.
Because May came. And he told me, while driving up, that he was moving up there for me. I pulled an on-the-phone all-nighter with him, talking to him to keep him awake, on his drive up. 2 days later.
There’ll be a whole book, someday, about how I made this happen… the jobs I took, the saving I did, the lucky apartment I found on Texas Avenue that I planned to move into over Memorial Day weekend. Suffice it to say, though, that nothing I did prior to that Derby day was irreversible. I could have stopped all of this at any time.
Except I didn’t want to. When the promo gig ended, I got in my car and started driving further than I’d ever driven on my own before. I had a momentary lapse of resolve as I passed the exit for the I-65 bridge that would take me back to my house, back to my old life, back to what was comfortable (if unhealthy). But I took a deep breath and I kept going. And, four hours later, I was there. And he was there. And we were face to face for the first time. And it was awkward as hell (at least for the first twelve hours or so).
That was the first of many stays… we hung out a lot, and for the first few months, it was everything we had always thought it would be. We enjoyed each other’s company. I loved hanging out with someone I didn’t fight with all the time. He enjoyed teaching me to play WoW… something his ex-wife would never do. I threw him a birthday party for his thirtieth – one to make up for all of the ones I’d missed over the last eleven years. He bought me the Lich King Collector’s Edition expansion pack for mine and took me back to Florida for Christmas with his family. We chatted about having “superchildren” together – they never came to fruition but we spent a lot of time practicing (with birth control). Our wedding anniversaries were one day apart, in June, so we celebrated an “unniversary.” Our divorces were final on the same day – in November – on my birthday. We didn’t celebrate. We just… existed… together.
Then the wheel turned, though, as it so often does. He began to change… to pull away. I saw it, but didn’t understand it. When I asked him why, many years later, he said it was because we were too close. I wish he’d said something then… early… when it could have been fixable. But he didn’t. And because I was young, and because I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong, I kept pushing (and he kept pulling).
Eventually I found his Myspace profile (to this day I don’t know why it suddenly became searchable), and saw that he had a girlfriend. A seventeen year old girlfriend from Oklahoma. It was a slap in the face (and really kind of sick when you think about it – he was 32 by this time). I couldn’t have known how young she was… but maybe I HAD known there had been others. There’d been a lot of evidence that I’d chosen to ignore.
I got angry. We didn’t speak for a year. I moved on with my life, literally, to Florida and, in the process of that move, found some of his things. I emailed him to see if he wanted them, and, well, we started chatting again.
I can’t say we were ever an item again. We fooled around some. I visited Ohio. He visited Florida. If either of us were interested in the other, it was probably him that was more interested in me – and I may or may not have played that up a little, in revenge of what he had done to me not so long before.
But that fizzled out quickly, and this time I didn’t fight it. We settled back into a friendship. One that had a history, sure, but one that was comfortable. That friendship was like coming home at the end of a long day, knowing that a comfortable couch was there to fall back into when everything else went to shit outside.
I had relationships after that. He dated some… but never seriously… until, oh, I guess about two years ago. See, when Slade gets into a relationship, he pulls away. I knew this – he’d done it when he met his ex-wife. I don’t know, this time, if pulling away from the friendship was his idea of hers – my gut tells me it was hers, because I am not a threat and I like to think he knew that. But we haven’t spoken since October of 2016. And to some degree I get it. I don’t want to sabotage what he has… to create drama and problems for him.
And, I guess, there’s also the realization of the possibility that he, and our friendship, always meant more to me than it meant to him.
That’s a possibility I’ve dealt with – I’m not sad about it anymore. I want him to be happy. I love him still, and I always will (in a platonic, bestie-with-a-lot-of-history, you fucked me over but I forgive you kind of way). Still, the possibility stings. History can do that to you.
But, when May rolls around, I still think about it – that may be because of anniversaries, it may be because of WoW, it may be because that blasted Facebook throws up memories whether you want them to or not… it may also be because I recently discovered his mother’s obituary (because I am now only a few miles from where his family lives – and where he grew up).
I wish I could hug him and tell him I’m sorry about his mother. I wish I could tell him about all of the WoW achievements, and how I survived Irma last year. I wish I could have called him last year, or visited, when my own life was going to shit.
I don’t miss the hard decisions I’ve had to make, the confusion of “are we or aren’t we” that probably could have largely been avoided if one of us had just grown a pair to ask/tell the other what was going on. I don’t miss the old days, because I know that we idealize the past… and that going back wouldn’t be in my best interest, even if I could. I’m happy if he’s happy. And I believe that he is – it’s just that it’s a world that he, and/or the universe, has decided I really have no place in anymore. Maybe I never did
It just seems like “places” are harder and harder to find as you get older.
I could live in the delusion that we’ll see each other again, that the wheel will turn and he’ll text or email. But I’ve changed my number. And he has a bad memory. And, honestly, I just don’t see that happening.
I guess I just miss my friend.