The first time I saw him, I thought to myself, “Is that for me?”
He was the last person off the plane, and I was the last person waiting at the gate, so there was no doubt that he was the man I’d been waiting for and that his wide smile and wide open arms were for me.
Yes, he welcomed me with open arms, literally.
That had happened only once before, and that man happens to be in the adjacent room as I write this.
But in the airport that day, I didn’t know how the love in my life would come full circle.
I only knew relief that sunglasses hid my treacherous tears and that I was leaning on a wall because my legs had turned to Jello.
Over a decade later, he’d reveal that he thought I was playing hard to get, shades on, placid expression, unmoving.
When I told him I was in shock, we laughed at the misinterpretation, the misunderstanding, because disconnects are funny until they’re not.
We’d spend the next 14 years together with him thinking he knew me instead of getting to know me, assuming the worst, treating his guesses as facts.
But in that moment, we didn’t know we’d be together for so long or how badly and sadly it would end.
We only knew that we’d jumped a hundred hurdles to meet in person after 3 months of talking on the phone, and now we were here, together, for the first time, with just a few days in each other’s company.
We hugged long and hard, then walked away from the gate holding hands, and it was so easy, so natural, it felt like we’d been together forever.
We walked and talked our way past the exit and into another terminal, and it took a few flustered minutes to orient ourselves and find our way out.
It felt too good to be true — which it was … or at least I think it was? More than 20 years later, and still I don’t really know for sure.
But back then, it felt so impossibly good that I dared to test the Fates and introduce him to my mother. If he was no good, she would know.
When she heard some strange man was flying in from the other coast to spend the weekend with me, she joked that she wanted to see some ID and a list of his distinguishing features.
When I told him, he took it seriously and faxed over exactly that: His driver’s license and office badge and a handwritten note about the large scar on his left temple.
She was amused and charmed by that, so he wasn’t coming in cold to a dreaded meet-the-parent moment, but still. My mom is a hard sell and if she didn’t like the look of him, it would be uncomfortable for everyone.
Of course, she adored him.
She adored him from Day 1, from Minute 1, and she doted on him every day he and I were together.
And 14 years later, he walked out of our marriage and her life without even saying goodbye.
There’s a saying, “Don’t mess with my mama, my money, or my man.”
He did all three simultaneously on that Sunday night in September, but it’s hurting my mother that I’ll throat punch him for.
The rest of it doesn’t matter. I’m glad he’s gone, and my finances are still a disaster, but I’ll get that cleaned up somehow.
But he became the son my mom never had, and when he left, particularly how he left? Well, it broke her heart as sure as it shattered mine.
But standing in her kitchen shaking hands and sharing their first hellos, there was no hint of that.
My uncle happened to be there, too, another skeptic, and I watched their brotha handshake with hope and dread — Would they like him? Would he like them?
Or, as with my first husband, would I be stuck between the hostile apathy of two parties who didn’t know each other, didn’t like each other, and didn’t really much care?
No chance of that.
He was already sitting at the kitchen table and gabbing with my family as if he’d known them forever. As if he would know them forever.
A year or two later, a mixed bag of friends and family were hanging out at my grandparents’ house, and my gramma said to her gal pal, “Oh, we love Dan. If they ever break up, we’re going to keep him and let her go.”
I was pleased and appalled to hear it, lemme tell ya.
And when we did break up, they didn’t get the chance to choose.
They were left with me, shocked and devastated that I’d come home from Sunday shopping to find him at the curb with his SUV packed to the ceiling with his stuff, waiting to say goodbye.
He’d called me to see when I was coming home, which I took for concern, when really he was just impatient to leave.
Misunderstanding. Misinterpretation. As ever.
Not our last or our first, but definitely one of the worst.
In the early days of telling the story of his departure, I’d say that he left me without warning, without much money, and then ghosted me without a word.
The second two are true, but that first one?
His walking out as he did was unexpected, for sure. Absolutely no one saw it coming.
I’d bump into an acquaintance on the street or at someone’s house and they would ask where he was, looking over my shoulder as if he’d appear at any second, as he had for years.
And I’d paste on a rueful grin and say my practiced, “I don’t know,” then tell them when and how he’d left. The why is something I kept to myself, but the when + how was a short and simple share I’d distilled to a few words.
I can’t lie. The shock on their faces was damned satisfying.
You know as well as I know that if there’d been a glimmer of what he did on the horizon, that I’d have heard about it after he left me.
“Oh, girl, I didn’t want to say anything, but I had a feeling…”
“Oh, Crystal, I’m so sorry, but you know…”
There was none of that. From anyone. Ever.
I could almost see the news bounce off their brains, yeh? There was no folder to file it in. It simply did not compute.
Their smile would falter then fall, their eyes would glaze a bit, then they’d blink away their confusion and lean in to ask in a whisper, “What?”
I learned to shrug and change the subject, because there was no short version to the story, no one wanted to hear the long one, I didn’t know the whole story.
I still don’t. I never will.
But it’s important to tell what story I have, to unload the memories I’ve been carrying around as if there’s more I can learn from them (there isn’t), as if they’re still precious (they’re not), as if I still have any use for them (truly, I don’t).
I used to fondle and fiddle with my memories of life with him as if I could somehow rearrange them and change the outcome…
Now, I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I could.
Dan Williams was everything to me, back then. In a world of people who saw me as odd, weird, and too smart for my own good — or anyone else’s — he was one of few who accepted me just as I was and loved what they knew and saw.
As I often told him, I’d never laughed so much as I did after we’d met.
And after he walked out and ghosted me, ghosted all of us, I’d never cried so hard for so long.
The next 2 years were horrible, and I’ll carry his scar on my heart to the grave.
Yet still, I’m so damned glad he’s gone that on the rare occasion I think of him, my lips purse with a whew of relief, and I smdh.
At the beginning, I felt welcome, I felt safe, I felt accepted, I felt loved.
By the end, I felt tolerated, I felt shit on, I felt ignored, I felt despised.
And today, many years later, I feel what I felt 6 months after he left and every day since…
I feel lucky.