San Diego, CA
It had been an ordinary day. The June gloom that plagues the Southern California coast had extended well into July, making us all long for the heat we'd condemn come August. We walked awkwardly through the crowds of the county fair, Mike looking back to make sure I was still there. It was our second date. The first one had been so-so. We were making our way to that terrible Zipper ride, which for some reason I had agreed to go on. I suppose I wanted him to believe I was easygoing about such things. (He’d learn later that this was not true. At all.)
Mike had picked me up on time for our first date the week before and we’d made small talk as we waited for our table at PF Changs, me sipping on my Pinot Grigio as I stole glances at his kind blue eyes. We’d feasted on crispy honey shrimp and Mongolian beef as we shared our stories--me of my ex (I know, totally bad form!) and he of his family. We made fun of a guy wearing camo pants. He took me home and politely walked me to the door. He was handsome and sweet and funny and everything the friend who set us up said he’d be.
But I wasn’t sure he was the one for me.
You see, I’d made a nice little career of dating assholes. I was very attached to the thought that I could take a bad boy and reform him. I’d watch Sixteen Candles and hold my breath as Jake pulled up in his Porsche and surprised Samantha, a small tear sliding down my cheek as they leaned over her birthday cake and kissed for the first time. I had cheered when Molly Ringwald had once more defied the odds and tamed the rich and selfish Blaine in Pretty In Pink. If she could do it, why couldn’t I?
I could tell from the minute Mike came to my door that he was different. Maybe it was the gentle way he opened the car door, or how his eyes never wandered from mine when I spoke. There was no question, there was not one ounce of bad boy in him. And that scared the eff out of me. I mean, if he wasn’t going to pretend to be disinterested and play games and make me feel badly about myself, then what would we do together? The thought perplexed me.
Still, I found myself leaning slightly into him as we stood in line for The Zipper. I may have let him hold me as we spun round and round a few minutes later, him assuring me it would be okay as I screamed.
I didn’t protest when he grabbed my hand after that, even though my stomach flipped in protest. Mike was nice. Really, really, really nice. And if I held his hand, if I dated him, that meant that someone might actually love me wholly and completely. And I had told myself for a long time that I didn’t deserve that. So yes, a part of me wanted to drop his hand and run through the maddening crowds and hail a cab home. Maybe I’d even call one of the ex-assholes on the way home to meet me. So I could remember all the reasons that I didn’t deserve someone like Mike.
But I didn’t. Instead, I gripped his hand harder to silence the doubts in my head. And on my doorstep that night, he leaned in and placed the sweetest, softest kiss on my lips. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that kiss would change everything. Back then, I had no clue it would lead to one marriage, two children, three dogs, a couple chickens, some annoying guinea pigs and several pet mice over the next seventeen years. That kiss became the fork in the road that led me to rest of my life. And I’ll always be thankful for it.
Liz Fenton lives in San Diego with her husband and two children and has co-authored three books, including "The Year We Turned 40", with her best friend of over 25 years.