First off, I came with a lot of baggage.
I don't mean a suitcase or two. I mean a train of enormous elephants, linked nose to tail, in a giant parade of shame, carrying traveling cases FULL of baggage.
(Remove 3/4 of the sparkle, and add about half a dozen more elephants, and you're got a good idea.)
I was 31 years old. I had just moved back home with my mother, after doing my best to douse the flaming wreckage of my most recent marriage. 'Flaming wreckage' can be defined here as: 'Anything inflicted upon you by your spouse that lands you in the hospital.' So, without going into TOO many details (---He was by NO MEANS innocent. But people can change (*I* have) so I feel it would only belittle ME to belittle him in this forum.---) Suffice to say that he was drunk (a nightly occurrence), I walked into the kitchen where he was cooking, and picked up a rag to wipe up the drunken mess he had made on the stove I had just cleaned. And then he hit me. Punched me in my temple a few times, then in the ribs, choked me (at this point I thought I would most probably die), then flung me into a closed door where my spine hit the doorknob in a none-too-pleasing manner.
In my bathrobe, sockfeet, and nothing else, and in the pouring rain, I ran. But not before grabbing my phone, car keys, and an empty wine bottle from atop the fridge (thinking ahead, I felt it was a pretty safe bet that I would need a weapon of SOME sort). I fled for the the car; he was right behind me and took my keys out of my hand before I could even get the car door open. I backed away from him, slowly, like I imagine an antelope might back away from an angry lion. But this was no lion; this was Fury, and I'd never battled Fury before. I had never felt like less of a Super Hero in my life. As I was steadily backing away-- again: in the parking lot, in the rain, in the middle of the night--he was just as steadily advancing. I was trapped and I knew it. So I tapped the wine bottle on the asphalt parking lot. Lightly. Just hard enough to break it. Actually, thinking back on it now, I am amazed that it actually broke into a usable weapon, instead of just shattering into a thousand pieces. With no other choice, I pointed it at him. He was only 5 feet away. I think my message was fairly clear: Don't . Come. Any. Closer.
Ahh, but his demeanor had changed now---Hooray! =)
It was just a big misunderstanding, after all. NOW he was apologetic. (Now that I was standing there with a broken bottle in my hand and ready to eviscerate him.) "Let's just calm down and go inside. I'm sorry. We'll work it out," he said. . . or something like that---I must admit that I wasn't really listening. I was contemplating the bottle in my hands, and wondering if I would have the fortitude to cut him up if I was forced to. . .
It only took me seconds to figure out that I did not. No matter what happened that night, it was simply not in me to cut up another human being. So I tossed the bottle, ran inside, fled straight down to our bedroom, barred the door with my desk chair, and grabbed my phone and started dialing furiously.
The chair broke with a big *CRACK* noise. Louder than I expected, for some reason. . . The door splintered and fell off its hinges and to the floor just as I got the 911 operator on the phone. He just stood there staring at me as I talked to her, describing what he was wearing, how tall he was, what color hair. . . I think he was probably considering if he could get away with killing me. All I did was stare back. For some reason, I was more or less completely calm. . . .Curious.
Then I called my mother. She and my step-father arrived before the police. I had stopped crying. In my mind, it was already done, and over with. So strange to think of now, but we sat there, the four of us, in our living room and calmly discussed what had happened. But--for the sake of privacy, we'll say his name was Joey--Joey sat in a chair as far away from us as possible, very unnerved and fidgety, and still (I'm sure) quite drunk. By the time the police got there---Joey was gone. In a nerve-induced strangeness, I suppose, I began to furiously tidy up our townhouse. And as I was throwing an afghan over the back of our blue chair, that's when I found the enormous butcher knife he had hidden in the folds of the chair . . . Mama said, when I picked it up, aside from a face filled with complete confusion, that I went white as a ghost. (And I am already QUITE pale. I've mentioned it before. It's an affliction, and I'm dealing with it.) It took a few days to get my brain together, but he went to his mom's and (thank God) did not come back.
So in the hospital I landed, with a bruised larynx, cracked ribs, black eye, and slightly concussed. The nurses kept flashing pictures of me, and I felt so much like an extra on Law and Order that I almost laughed out loud. And, except for court dates (of which I did not miss ONE, even though it took all the guts I could muster to do it. . ."Screw your courage to the sticking place", right?), I never saw the bastard again. Fingers crossed, I never will.
So that's ONE trunk on the back of one elephant.
My mom was gracious (or worried) enough to take me in. I didn't have a job; I didn't have a car, I didn't have anything to my name. (And good LORD, I was so very tired of being there again.) . . .Well, anything, that is, but a bitchy grey cat that had a tendency to overeat and be incredibly demanding (as pictured below---that's his "happy" look. . .),
a few notebooks filled with my writings, and a habit of looking out my window every night, terrified that I would see his car there.
After several months, and what seemed like DOZENS of court dates, it was all over. Divorced. I was FREE!! But still plagued by nightmares of that hateful man. But the last day I walked out of the courtroom, I had a No Contact order in place. And that means exactly what it means. The nightmares have abated now, but have still yet to go away completely.
So, without a job, without a clue as to what I was supposed to DO, and with an overwhelming sense of shame at another failed marriage, I settled with the bitchy grey cat into one of Mama's upstairs bedrooms. It was June, 2008.
I tried to help out around her house as best I could, but I was basically useless. Also, it was around this time that I developed radial palsy in my right hand (brought on by the beating from that dear ex-Joey), and for those of you that don't know, that meant that I couldn't move my right hand at ALL. I mean "at ALL," at all. For about a month. I was a wreck. . . .Funnily enough, the hardest part about the situation was that I couldn't write. It took me FOREVER to scrawl something even BARELY legible with my left hand, and most of the time it just wasn't worth it.
So I read a lot, I stared into space a lot, and I just didn't give a shit a lot. And also, and this is where the story gets good, I got on the internet a lot.
One day Mama decided to take me to my cousins' farm so that I could visit with them, ride their horses, get out in the country, and clear my head. It worked. =) And, while on the back of a horse named Zip, I asked Mom to take my picture. I was smiling from ear to ear, for the first time in MONTHS. (This was also before mom went on her I-Love-Horses-And-Need-To-Own-Every-One-On-The-Planet stage.)
Later, I opened my Myspace account, and used the photo of me riding Zip as my profile photo. And this is where it gets interesting (stay with me here).
Meanwhile, fresh from a move from Atlanta, Georgia, a man named Michael Turberville had just gotten divorced and moved back to Birmingham. He, too, was on Myspace, and was doing a search to hopefully find old friends that he knew from when he lived here years ago. He said he saw my picture and all he could think was: "Who is this woman with all that HAIR?" (It was down to my waist at the time. Wish I'd never cut it. Like for real---serious Tomb Raider hair.)
(DISCLAIMER: I did not LOOK like Angelina Jolie (I WISH) at the time. I just had the same hair.)
And, out of the blue, he sent me a message, introducing himself.
This was July, 2008.
I thought from his photo that he was handsome, of course,
but (ESPECIALLY after the experience I had just had) I was NOT going out for drinks with a total stranger I had just met online.
He was kind. And persistent. And we wrote long, rambling, (I like to think hilarious) letters to each other almost every day for a month. I looked through his photos. And lo and behold!----We shared some of the same (good people) friends!! And so, choking back my at-times paralyzing shyness, I decided to quit being a chicken-shit and just go meet him.
He lived in a loft downtown that he shared with his good friend, Buck, and I swallowed (and almost choked on) my fear, and drove to the corner of 2nd and 23rd Street Downtown to meet. I parked the car and called him. . . ."Is this Michael?" I asked when he picked up. Yeeeeessss. "I think I'm here."
It was August 23rd, 2008.
Believe it or not, it was the VERY FIRST time we had ever even spoken. No phone calls, just letters. Almost like a WWII couple or something. . . and I wouldn't have had it any other way.
So I got out of my car (in the rain), and window-browsed at What's On Second as I waited for him to walk around the corner to meet me. When he walked up, I had my back turned, and was utterly and completely terrified. It honestly took all I had just to turn around.
"Danielle? . . .I'm Michael. It's so good to meet you!"
I, awkward beast that I am, went to shake his hand. But he went for a hug instead, and I ended up pegging him in the face with my umbrella. For some reason, these many years later, that's still a happy memory =)
So we walked to Metro, the local pub that we eventually ended up frequenting a LOT, and had a cocktail to help me get over my shaking-like-a-leaf nerves. Before we met up, Michael had mentioned getting a cocktail before we went to dinner, and I was actually so nervous about meeting him that I planned out what drink I would order. . . nothing too girly, nothing too strong. I finally decided on a Whiskey Sour. And, as he did not point at and mock me, I guess it was a suitable choice. It worked well enough, and while it was medicinally healing my nerves, we talked.
We had SO much in common! He had a GREAT sense of humor, he loved music as much as I did(!!!), he was kind, funny, and FUN! We both worshipped The Jerk, and he loved the fact that I listed (on my myspace page) under "People I'd Like To Meet"---Nigel Tufnel. It also just so happened that we both happened to be completely in love with the band, The Flaming Lips. This song will forever make me think of him:
We left Metro and went onward for some Chinese food. (But not before I called my mom to tell her that he was NOT, from what I could tell, a homicidal maniac, and that she could relax.) The food was great, the company was great, the conversation was great. And, more than a LITTLE spooky, my fortune cookie said: "YOUR FONDEST WISH WILL COME TRUE IN ONE YEAR'S TIME."
. . .fortune cookies are NEVER that precise! EVER!! So I laughed and thought it was cute. And then we left for Oasis, to see some live music. I got to meet some MORE of his friends---ALL of them AWESOME, and COMPLETELY enamored with, and protective of, him (I liked that a lot)---and I can honestly say that it was the BEST first date of my life.
As he was seeing me to my (borrowed from Mom) car that night, he asked if he could see me again tomorrow. For a movie, lunch, hanging out. As I have NEVER been adept at playing coy, I jumped at the chance, and drove home feeling like I had just had the most wonderful dream.
The next morning over coffee, when my mom asked how my date went, I quite honestly said that my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. (I couldn't stop smiling even then =)
Best first date I ever had, and I hoped there would be many more.
That was the beginning.
We met for lunch the next day, and I couldn't even tell you what I ate. I was too interested in the man seated in the booth across from me. After lunch we went to see 'Pineapple Express', and we both laughed so hard, and at the same times, that I realized I was liking him a little more every time I saw him.
After that, the Birmingham Art Walk was coming up, and since he and Buck lived right in the center of the Art Walk district, they used their loft as an art gallery/party. I got to meet Buck's future wife, Stacy, and Michael and I had our first photo taken together.
Then we walked around and checked out the local art and had a blast. Buuuutttttt. . . after about 2 cocktails (I am a COMPLETE lightweight when it comes to drinking), I decided that I would do best not to drive home. So I called my mom to tell her just this, and that I would be staying at his loft for the night, and not to worry.
. . . I remember later Michael said he was impressed because most 31 year-old women wouldn't call their moms to tell them not to worry. I responded in my usual self-deprecating manner with: "Yeah, but MOST 31 year-olds don't live at home." =)
It was our first sleepover-date, and he was a total gentleman.
I was falling. Already. I was terrified and thrilled and happy and leery and filled-with-that-breathlessness all at the same time.