Chapter 8, april
Some say the first impression is the most important, but I am not so sure I fully agree with that.
Humans are not likely to show their true selves within the first five minutes of meeting someone new. The night I met my new neighbors made me believe that statement more than ever before…
On a warm July night, we decided to celebrate Independence Day a little early. Roy was being stationed in Japan and would not be home for the holiday. As we began getting things set up for the big lights show, I was asked to knock on our neighbor’s door to provide them the common courtesy of letting them know what we were doing. Being as painfully shy and introverted as I am, I reluctantly walked over and rang their doorbell.
They had barely been living next door to us for a month. I had only seen them in passing and never formally introduced myself. The woman, young and beautiful, seemed very full of energy and always had a smile on her face. I would see her leave and return home, but that was the extent of my interaction.
The man was tall, dark, and handsome, always polite, yet mysterious. He had the kind of demeanor that naturally drew you in. I had noticed him several times out in the yard playing with their three darling little boys or taking them on nightly walks through the neighborhood. I shared five words with him when he asked to get a soccer ball that his son kicked over the fence into my backyard a week prior.
Seconds after ringing the doorbell, the man answered. I explained who I was and apologized for the loud noises that would soon occur. I extended an invite, letting them know that they were more than welcome to join in the festivities. He turned to ask his wife if she would like to join, and about that time a little brown haired boy appeared in dinosaur pajamas. He begged his parents to let him partake in the fun, and they obliged. We introduced ourselves to one another, John and Loren meet April and Roy.
As Roy set off his explosive masterpieces with the assistance of John, Loren and I gave sparklers to all the children in attendance while attempting to find out as much as we could about one another. We chatted about marriage, children, and wine – you know, the usual things women tend to discuss. She seemed like someone I could forge a friendship with. Since the evening was short, and the blasts did not provide many quiet moments, we agreed to meet up for a glass of wine in the very near future. It appeared that we had several similarities in our lives and many things in common. They were a military family - just as we were, they had three children - same as us, they had moved around often - much like we had. Those were your normal, everyday similarities. However, the one that became most interesting was the secrets we all were keeping.
Little did I know; I would be sharing a lot more than a glass of wine with Loren…
The previous year of my life had been a bigger nightmare than prior years. I started a new job, lost my closest friend of 17 years, my marriage was ending, and my father was murdered. I would say that was enough to send the strongest woman over the edge. Barely managing to hold things together, I realized I needed to get away from everyday life. Florida was calling (along with my best friend) and I answered. It was just what I needed! I came back so refreshed and ready to take on anything life was willing to throw at me…or so I thought.
As I was preparing dinner, unpacking, and getting ready for the week ahead, the doorbell rang. I answered, and much to my surprise stood my neighbor – John. The first words out of his mouth were, “Hello ma’am, I just wanted to let you know that I cut your grass. I did not come inside the fence because no one was home to give me permission.” If I had not been so shocked to see this stranger on my front porch, I would have probably said the first thing that came to my mind – ‘Really, you think I did not know my grass was getting tall? Do you think I am not capable of doing it myself? For your information, I have a guy that does that for me because I am too busy trying to conquer the world!’ Instead, in true ‘me’ fashion, I thanked him 264 times and embarrassingly asked how much he charged. How much he charged? Seriously? Could I be more awkward? My face was already ten shades of red, but it was about to get much worse. As he turned to leave, I remembered that I wanted to have wine with his lovely wife. So, I said, “Hey John, please tell your wife that I would love to come over and have a glass of wine with her.” It looked as if the wind had been pulled from his sails. His shoulders dropped as he turned to face me and he simply said, “She left me. She told me she did not love me, packed her things and left.” I was speechless. No matter how hard I tried, nothing would come out of my mouth. Not one single sound. For what felt like hours, I just stared at this sad man. I finally managed to tell him how sorry I was and that I had no idea. He assured me that he was not offended and told me to let him know when I needed my grass cut again. I went inside and had a glass of wine - just me, myself, and my embarrassment.
The next day, I returned home from work to the sounds of lawn equipment. I walked out onto the back deck to find John mowing inside the fence. It was summer in North Carolina, which meant he could die of a heat stroke at any moment. I went to the fridge to get him a drink – juice box or stale beer were the choices. I opted for the stale beer, thinking - as long as it was cold he would not care. I offered again to pay him and again he asked that I not insult him. He was happy to help. I racked my brain on what I could do to repay him. I knew nothing about him, except that he was a man, a Marine, his wife just left, and he apparently roamed the neighborhood looking for tall grass to cut for fun.
My southern roots emerged with a vengeance and I began whipping up one of my best meals. I made a plate, wrapped it in foil, and marched over to his house – not having to march far because he lived right next door. I rang the bell, he answered, I shoved the plate in his hands and said, “I made you dinner, I figured you were hungry.” He smiled, and I turned and walked as fast as my little legs would carry me.
The next morning when I went for a run, on my porch sat a bottle of wine and a letter. It simply read, “That was the best meal I have ever eaten.” I knew that was a lie, but was willing to let it slide, just this once. The letter also included his phone number and a quick note saying I should let him know when I needed the grass cut again. (I was beginning to think he had a thing for my grass…see what I did there)
Throughout the next several weeks, we had a routine going – John cut the grass and I cooked the meals. He even joined my kids and I for dinner some nights. It was nice having some adult interaction with no strings attached. We started to develop a very strong friendship rather quickly. He was like the best friend I always dreamed of having – he listened, he shared, he did not judge, he was funny and kind, but most of all - he was interested in what I had to say. When we talked, it felt so familiar, like we had known each other for a lifetime. It was not awkward or uncomfortable, it was organic and natural. The best thing about our friendship was that there were no expectations of anything resembling a romantic relationship. That was not something that neither of us was in the market for at that time. Although both of our marriages were ending, that was not a subject we broached often. We spoke briefly of our previous relationships, as they were part of our biography, but nothing past simple details. Another reason and the most important - neither of us were legally divorced.
As time went on, our bond became stronger and stronger. We spent nearly every single day together.
If we were not sitting on the porch listening to music and having a glass of wine, or watching scary movies and chick flicks, we were sending each other funny memes or innocent text messages. Looking back now, I think I was in a fog, maybe we both were. Our relationship was purely platonic. There were absolutely no romantic feelings involved. What we were developing was something much stronger, a bond that could never be broken. When we were together, nothing else mattered. The sadness, darkness, and pain subsided. It was replaced with laughter, sunshine, and music, sweet music. I had a small feeling that maybe there were some romantic feelings developing, but neither of us ever acted on them. I am not sure if it was fear of them not being reciprocated on the other side or that we were still not ready for a new relationship. Whatever the reason, that was uncharted territory that we were not prepared to explore. Everything was going so well. It was going too well, in fact. Little did we know, there was a storm brewing, and I do not mean the kind that forms in the Atlantic. This storm was far more powerful than any hurricane you could imagine. This storm came in the form of a phone call…”I am coming back home.”