Valentine’s Day, 2000. A day that will live in infamy.
Ok. Maybe not. But, the events of that day changed my life and sent me on a trip that taught me some life lessons.
In 1999, my social anxiety was starting to affect my work as a detail carpenter for Village Homes. I started looking for a job where I could work on my own and have minimal contact with people. I ended up landing a job as a pizza delivery driver for Pudge Brothers. Pudge was a very small local chain. And before I knew it, they were asking me to manage the store (I showed up every day). But, the owners, who I liked, sold out to some losers. So, I moved on and found a job closer to home delivering pizzas for a Domino’s franchise very close to my house.
Delivering pizzas isn’t exactly the most glamourous job. But, I knew I couldn’t be around people. And I certainly wasn’t ready to go back to school. So, I looked to escape. And it worked. I spent most of my time alone in my car. And I had minimal contact with customers. But, that doesn’t mean it always went well. I remember wanting to just get away from more than one front door simply because the person standing in front of me wanted to engage in the very dangerous game of small talk. But, it didn’t take very long for me to come up with a script of sorts and learn that I could just nod and laugh at most of what they were saying before bidding farewell and run back to the safety of my car. After all, I was in a hurry, right?
Shortly after I started at Domino’s, a young lady was hired to be our new manager. I still remember the first time I saw her. I don’t know what it was about her. The long black hair? Her eyes? Her smile? Her glasses? Yes, I said glasses. She was approachable and very nice. I thought I was feeling love. I thought I was attracted to her.
Before long, we were spending a lot of time together. I was looking to work as much as possible. So, every time someone called in sick, I volunteered to take their shift. Before long, I was a six night a week closer. And she was the closing manager. That meant we were the last one’s in the store. We got to know each other very well.
When Valentine’s day rolled around, one of my coworkers had made a heart shaped pizza to take to his girlfriend (How romantic?). While he waited for it to cook in the oven, he asked me if I had a girlfriend. I said no. But, I didn’t want to admit that the last time I had a girlfriend was ten years before in high school. I don’t remember exactly how he brought it up. But, I tried to laugh off his question about sex and just say it had been awhile. From that point, it became his mission to be the cupid between me and our manager.
The night I asked her out, I was incredibly scared. I couldn’t remember if I had done it before. I wasn’t sure if I knew how. My coworker must have tipped her off. She seemed to know what was coming. And she could sense my nervousness. So, she suggested we go outside. She just stood there leaning against the building coyly smiling (that was what I still remember fondly about her) as the words struggled to leave my mouth.
Sure, I felt peer pressure to ask her out. But, I also felt internal pressure. I was 27 years old. And I was a virgin. And I was running away from my internal feelings of believing I should have been born female. Here was the perfect opportunity to test myself. It all seemed to fall into place. I didn’t have to meet a girl in a bar. We spent a lot of time together getting to know each other. I felt something. I was just mistaken in what that was. I had never felt sexual attraction before. In hindsight, I know that what I was feeling then was friendship.
There was also something else. She was a mother. She was single mother to a 22 month old son. My own father left when I was 5 years old. Besides all the other reasons to date this girl, I decided that I was going to be a better father figure than my own father.
Our first date was at the Denver zoo. And before long, I was spending most of my time outside of work with her. Later on, she and her son moved in with me. And shortly after that, we moved into a townhouse. We were quickly becoming a family. But, there were strains. We had differing views on parenting. I didn’t like how much pot she was smoking. And she drank alcohol to excess. But, I was also having internal problems. The gender stuff wasn’t going away like I thought it would. Instead, once we started having sex, it got worse. I hated sex. Absolutely hated it. It didn’t feel right. She knew I was having a hard time with it and took it personally.
It wasn’t too long before we were fighting. And it wasn’t too long after the fighting started that she started sleeping with other people. One night, we tried to talk about our problems. I didn’t feel comfortable being at home with her like everything was ok. So, I stayed at my grandparents empty house down the street and told her I would call her the next morning. I called the house the next morning and was greeted by a man’s voice. When I opened our front door, there was the Domino’s commissary driver putting on his shoes at the base of our stairs.
I wanted to take a baseball bat to his head. I really did. But, looking back the anger I felt at him and her should have been directed at me. I was angry at them for ruining my perfect family. I was mad at her for straying. But, she wasn’t happy. It doesn’t make what she did right. But, I really should have broken it off then.
I did move back to California for about a week before she coaxed me back. We started to see a counselor to see if we could patch things up. The original idea was to be in the same room at the same time. But, the counselor wanted to see us individually first. After she talked to me, she called off any joint meetings saying I had some individual things to work on.
It was during these meetings, that I discovered what social anxiety was. It took awhile. But, I finally agreed that I was clinically depressed. She couldn’t prescribe. So, I started hunting for ways to get on the right anti-depressant. When the gender stuff came up, she referred me to another counselor.
Near the end of our relationship, my grandmother asked me if I was still in love with her. I was taken aback by that question. Had I ever really been in love? By this point, I had started to compare the feelings I had for her with friendships I had with other women. As much as it pained me, I had to admit that I had never really been in love with her.
The hardest part of the break up was leaving behind her son. By the time I left, he was 5 years old. The same age I was when my dad left. That was extremely hard to deal with. But, with help from my family, I found the strength to leave a very bad situation.
We didn’t talk for a couple years. But, since she worked down the street for a competitor, I eventually started calling her to compare numbers. I think we both knew that each of us was lying about our nightly numbers trying to out-guess the other to make ourselves look better. But, what eventually returned, slowly, was that friendship that we had when we first met.
Not too long ago, we became Facebook friends. We don’t talk much. And we purposefully avoid talk about her son. She makes fun of my use of the words “all sorts” and I patiently listen to her unload about her crazy family drama.
Not everyone of your friends will be in your life for the majority of your time here. People come and go. And most of the time, I would wager we don’t learn something about life or ourselves during anything other than really close friendships. As painful as some parts of that relationship with her were, I walked away with an encyclopedia set full of life lessons and I know myself far better than before I met her.