Friday evening, Wisconsin weekend rental in the middle of a polar vortex, I leaned, cocktail in one hand, phone in the other, against the backdrop of an Alice in Wonderland art installation created for the 50th birthday of a friend we were out of town to celebrate, when I saw on Twitter that three of my poems had just published in an online journal. I shouted to anyone in the room who would listen—no one listened—so I texted the link to my two current romantic interests and posted it on Facebook and Twitter. I wanted to be seen. This was my first publication of poetry after a hiatus of 20 years, and I felt like a “real writer.” But there was more–writing did the heavy lifting of my grief after my divorce; the rebuilding, the defining, the claiming and reclaiming. I needed someone to see me laid out on the page, and I needed someone to let me know they’d seen me.
Within an hour my phone began buzzing. Walter responded first; was, in fact, the first person I know, besides myself, to see my poetry in print. Walter and I had been “kickin’ it,” as he put it, for about seven months. We’d met on OkCupid, and in the beginning texted a little before losing touch. A month went by with no word, then Walter texted an apology and an invitation to “go out sometime.” I responded immediately, “How about tonight?” That week I’d both endured 10 to 15 critical emails a day from my boss and tried to end a year-long romantic relationship that started with, “I’m slow, it takes me awhile,” and evolved into, “I like you, respect you, enjoy you, I’m just not in love with you.” I knew the dead-end relationship was no longer good for me, but I was involved in a desperate job search and I was afraid to upend everything at once. Maybe I was growing out of my historic flair for the dramatic break-up, maybe I was tired, but with this on my mind, and a I-need-to-avoid-what-I’m-feeling wild-streak settling in, Walter’s text hit with precision timing.
On our first date, Walter told me how he slept on a couch for months before his divorce was final, thinking his wife would change her mind and invite him back home, and how, just after his divorce, he hung stockings for his grown and almost-grown sons by a Christmas tree even though he spent the holiday alone. Processing his loss was what we did for about 25 percent of our first several dates. This was actually OK, since about 50 percent of each of those dates was spent eating great food, dancing at a Dead Milkmen concert, and partying in new hotspots around Logan Square. The other 25 percent… let’s just say, Walter had skills. Walter’s vulnerable honesty, combined with the delicious tour of new experiences he invited me on, helped me transition through the chaos I was experiencing. I had needed Walter, Walter had needed me, and over several months, we’d created something both emotionally intimate and refreshingly without expectations. Something, apparently, called kickin’ it.
This was the landscape of our relationship when Walter sent several texts, in quick succession, in response to my poetry:
“You are ONE HOT BITCH!”
“You are really getting it out there!”
“I’m sorry I used the B word. I know you don’t like that. I meant to say one hot woman writer.”
Walter had come through, B-word and all. “One hot bitch,” I laughed.
Within minutes, “Ping!” Pause. “Ping!” Timothy. Timothy was a very recent OkCupid acquisition. We’d messaged several times, moved to text, and then a phone call, an hour-and-56-minute call during which we discussed his research on the environmental damage of oil pipelines to Native lands, my take on the #MeToo movement after 28 years of domestic and sexual violence work, and why a writer doesn’t say, “when I have more time,” but has to write even when there is no time. He glowed with promise; all 6’5” of him. Our date brought him out in a huge snowstorm, driving to meet me close to my home on the one brief evening I was back in town between trips. We kissed as big snowflakes covered our hair and coats; so desperate not to end our romantic evening that we made out in my vomit-scented car that had been recently defiled by an unruly teenager. Timothy’s text about my poetry took a completely different direction:
“Congrats! I liked the poems and read all of your posts in Rebellious Magazine, too. I’m looking forward to talking with you… to learn more about what an ‘us’ would look and feel like to me.”
“To me?” HIS RESPONSE TO MY POETRY WAS TO WONDER ABOUT HIMSELF? Then came the next text:
“Reading this again, I see that I may have come across as less than optimistic about the ‘us.’ I am, and hope you are too!”
Whoa… an us? AFTER ONE DATE?
In true extrovert fashion, my immediate response was to read both sets of texts out loud to my friends. Decorating and mixing drinks for a birthday celebration had left no space for reading poetry an hour earlier, but now cocktails and party music were the perfect backdrop for processing dating drama.
“Given the opportunity, which one would you choose?” I asked the room.
“Walter!” was the immediate response.
Yeah, Walter. I guess kicking it was not such a bad place to be.