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He was all I could think about. And we hadn’t even kissed yet. We’d been talking for a little over a month, but I could already tell I was changing. The moments I allowed myself to feel happiness were more frequent, even when he wasn’t around. The thought of him, our time together, and the exciting possibility of moving forward were, at times, terrifying and exhilarating, and I was able to identify and understand my fears more clearly than ever before. A year of therapy had truly shifted my thinking, and I was so thankful he came into my life. Had it been any earlier, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to be vulnerable with him.

Vulnerability. It’s a bitch, right? We live in a world where our decisions are driven by our beliefs AND fears. How many of us have decided against doing something we love, in order to take a safer path? I was scared my writing sucked, so I didn’t pursue a degree in it. I was scared I would be rejected from a more prestigious university, so I didn’t apply. It’s in these moments that we question values and beliefs about ourselves, even if the doubt is unnecessary. But it was different with him. I felt safe to make mistakes. I felt safe to show him happiness. I didn’t need or want to pretend. I needed him to see how scared I was in order to show him how happy he made me. And that’s exactly what I did.

****

Joey arrived at the airport, parked, and came inside to carry my luggage to the car. I wanted to stay with him for much longer, but knew I needed to return home to re-pack my bags for the next day. I was unable to sleep on the plane ride home, thinking of him.Thinking of the story of when Joey’s dogs were puppies, and they ripped apart the arm of his microfiber couch. He hadn’t replaced it yet. His dining room set was a hand-me-down, too. The seats were neon green vinyl. They clashed with the red interior wall he painted. Joey is practical. The household items still served a purpose, so there was no need to replace them because they weren’t aesthetically pleasing.  It was noticed but not criticized: all I wanted to do was be near him, even in his bachelor pad. Who the hell was I to judge? At least owned his place (and had for five years). Responsibility is much sexier than being skilled in interior design.

He was happy to see me. We were closer now, even though we hadn’t seen each other in a week. I was more comfortable, resting my head on his chest and pulling his waist closer. This was the first time I felt the strength of his arms around me. And I loved it. Thank you, universe, for not fucking it up again.

“Tell me about your trip,” he said.

I replied, “You know everything. We talked every day, remember?”

And the conversation about my trip ended abruptly when he sweetly added, “Yes. I remember. I loved every second of it.”

15 minutes later, we were in Florissant. He popped the trunk of his Envoy and grabbed my bags, refusing to let me get them.

“You must be tired. Plus, you have a long couple of days coming up. I’ve got this.” he said.

I’ve got this. His favorite words to say to me even to this day. Every time I’m sad, anxious, or stressed, Joey always takes care of my needs and reminds me he’s here to help me.  

Continuing, he said, “Here are your keys. Go unlock the car and I’ll drop these straight in for you.”

I walked across the driveway, through his freshly mowed lawn, toward my car. Once there, I unlocked the door and immediately began pulling at the driver’s side door, hoping to clear a spot in the back seat for my luggage, without him seeing how much work it would take. I recently moved from my south county apartment into south city. The distance between the two places was only about a mile and a half, but the rent was cheaper and I’d always wanted to live inside of city limits. My car was always a victim of me mistreating the interior (I’m disorganized), but the move proved to create a bigger mess. Although my car was parked at his house for the week, I didn’t want him to see how messy it was, if he hadn’t already. But as soon as I opened the door I knew something was different. I smelled Armorall.

“I know you were going to be busy, and you’ve been working so hard to get into your new place. I hope you don’t mind that I cleaned your car. I did mine, too.” he said, standing a few feet behind me.

My face was warm from embarrassment.

“You didn’t have to do that.” I told him.

“I know,” he said, calmly, “I wanted to.”

I was mortified. My car was really disgusting before I left. Now, it appeared to have been taken a shop and detailed by a professional. I was so thankful, but I was so confused. Why would anyone want to do this for me? So, I asked him. And he responded:

“Because, Fina, you were so upset about Mike and so stressed about your next trip. I wanted to do something nice for you. When’s the last time you let anyone do anything nice for you because they wanted to?”

Acts of kindness. Thoughtfulness. I was home for less than an hour, and he was already making me smile again. This guy. He’s such a charmer. And the best part of it all? Once again, something from my past had surfaced. Joey didn’t care. In fact, instead of ignoring my feelings or waiting for me to bring up the conversation, he acknowledged them. Not only was he okay with me talking about my past, fears, and regrets, but he wanted to discuss them. Never once did I feel as if he felt sorry for me, nor did he ever make it seem like my healing process was a burden. He looked at me as a whole person, one worth loving.

And, suddenly, I started feeling like I was, too.

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