Pushing past the wall of humanity leaving the coffee shop with their steaming cups of gourmet brew, I walked to the counter, ordered my simple hot chocolate, and found a seat in the back corner by the window. White swirls against the glass reminded me of another winter day, many years ago, when a question was asked, an answer was given, and one simple word changed my life.
I began my journey blindly, not realizing when I heard the music, stepped into his room, and looked into those soft brown eyes, I was taking the first of many steps into the biggest mistake of my life—
It began like most relationships do, with common interests. I was mesmerized by his music, and the smile that welcomed me, inviting me to sit down— to belong. Soon the room was filled with others who had also been drawn into his circle. He was a Pied Piper with a guitar, and we were under his spell.
Initially, it was a group thing. He would come home from classes, pick up his guitar, and randomly start picking out a variety of tunes. Those who resided in the house, and visitors alike, would begin to gather. After an hour or so, most of them would drift back to their own common rooms to study before dinner, but I had nowhere else I had to be, so I stayed. My roommate was a regular visitor. She came to study with her classmates who lived there, but she would bring me along because she didn’t want me to be alone all of the time.
I had been tagging along for a year or so before I met Asher. To most of the guys there I was like an unofficial little sister, but with Asher it felt different. One young man in particular had taken a brotherly interest in me, teasing me from time to time about how I should mingle more, and not spend quite so much of my time with only one person. I understood what he was trying to tell me, but I was a moth drawn to the light and I couldn’t stay away.
We had known each other for about a month when he started organizing groups on Friday evenings to go and hear a local guitarist at a nearby coffee shop. At first, there was a large crowd taking up several tables, but gradually the novelty wore off, and each successive week there were fewer of us until, at last, it was just the two of us. We never officially called it a date, but each week we were there, enjoying the music and each other’s company.
I knew it couldn’t last. In another month he would be graduating, moving on to get his master’s degree at a school on the west coast, and except for the look in his eyes whenever we met, nothing had been said which might indicate that he saw me as more than a friend, and then it happened. We were sitting alone in the TV room, watching a movie. I was perched on the arm of his chair, joking with him when, without warning, he pulled me into his arms and kissed me. Kiss after kiss, holding me in his firm embrace, occasionally pulling back to look into my eyes, only to resume as if he couldn’t get enough of me.
I had accepted that Asher was an unusual person, somewhat geeky and eccentric, but then in my own way, so was I. He was a bit socially awkward, trying to fit in with his guitar, knowing it brought people together, and I was shy and unsure of myself in group gatherings.
He allowed me to be myself and treated me with a respect I wasn’t used to. This was almost as intoxicating as his kisses, and I allowed myself to believe we were a couple even though in the back of my mind I didn't know how it was going to work once he left and we were 3000 miles apart.
Then, he graduated. He gave me his forwarding address, much the same as he would have given it to one of his fraternity brothers, and then he was gone. I wrote, he wrote back. We even spoke on the phone a few times, but those letters and phone calls were staid and platonic, with no indication of the intimacy we had previously enjoyed.
Was I simply a college fling, or did he care for me the way I cared for him? One thing I realized for sure: I wasn’t going to find out through our present means of correspondence, so, with the encouragement of my roommates, I made an uncharacteristically bold move. In one of my letters, I suggested that I come out to visit. He responded enthusiastically, so I arranged for transportation, and he reserved a guest room for me in one of the dorms on campus.
A month later, I was leaving the frozen north and soaring across the continent to sunny California. It was quite an adventure, and I was ready for it— I thought.
He met me at the airport and took me on a tour of the area before driving us to the campus. It felt very friend zone and I began to question myself. Had I imagined that his behavior earlier in the year had been that of a lover? If not, what happened? I was starting to feel a little foolish, but I was determined not to let him see it. If this was to be nothing more than a nice vacation, then so be it. At least I would enjoy myself.
Once we arrived on campus, he took me to his dorm room where I met his roommate and he pulled out his guitar. After a short while, his roommate left to go study at the library and he suggested we take my luggage over to my room so I could get settled in. Walking toward the door, he reached for my arm, and I found myself in a passionate embrace, his warm lips pressed against mine in one of the longest kisses I had ever had in my life. Reluctantly, he pulled away, smiled a bit sheepishly and picked up my suitcase.
Our time together during the week was limited due to his class schedule, but we spent the weekend driving along the coastline, sightseeing, and talking, recapturing what we had felt for each other before.. He became more relaxed and halfway through the week, while we were stopped in my room between his classes, he drew me to him and kissed me deeply.
I kissed him back while he slowly pushed the door closed. My pulses raced and my breath quickened, but when I felt his hands slipping inside my shirt, I instinctively pulled back. I was mere inches from the wall, however, and there was nowhere for me to go when, in less than a moment, he managed to unfasten my bra and was cupping my breasts in his hands, his kisses seductive, and demanding. My body filled with passion, and I longed to give in, but I am neither cheap, nor am I easy.
With a great effort, I pulled myself free and pushed him back. The look of shock on his face was almost comical, as I don’t think he had expected me to resist. I should have been angry, but I wasn't. After all, I had been eager to renew the romantic side of our relationship, perhaps he had gotten mixed signals from me. To his credit, when I explained that I was not ready for this, he apologized and seemed truly embarrassed.
It was awkward for a while afterwards, but by the end of the day we were back on firm ground again. We had a really good talk about our expectations, and when I left for home a few days later, we knew where we stood.
We resumed our letter writing and phone calls. He graduated and took a position with a company on the east coast. It was closer, but not close enough so I looked into getting a transfer at one of the offices my company operated about thirty minutes from his new location, but they only had part-time positions available, and I knew I couldn’t make it on half pay.
So, I drove out to his place twice a year, and he drove back to visit me whenever he could.
If I were to say it was easy spending the next four years in this holding pattern I’d be lying, but for some reason I couldn’t let him go. A long-distance relationship isn’t all the romance books make it out to be, but we were determined to make it work.
As we got to know each other better, we discovered there were a few hurdles we would need to get over if we were going to make this relationship permanent.
First was his parents' objection to me as a prospective marriage partner for their son. I tried to be understanding, but the fact that I didn’t come from their cultural background and didn’t go to their church seemed like rather shallow reasons to me.
No doubt they weren’t happy about it, but the truth was, their son had stopped going to church long before he met me, and he had no interest in returning. In fact, religion turned out to be one of the hurdles we were going to have to get over because I was a religious person, and he didn't know what he believed. We both wanted to get married and have a family, but no matter how much I loved him, I couldn't bring myself to raise children in a divided home.
We compromised for the time being by deciding to stay together while he investigated my church to see if it was something he could take on in his life. I didn’t expect him to feel the same way I did about everything, but I did want us to be on the same page for the important things, so our children wouldn’t have to feel like they had to divide their loyalties between us.
I had known other couples who tried to make marriage work with opposing views on religion, and it hadn’t worked out very well for any of them. I wanted better than that for us.
As time passed Asher seemed reasonably content with our long-distance arrangement, but I felt like I was wasting my life, and came close to breaking it off several times.
As promised, he was attending church and had even made several friends there, but he wasn’t ready to commit to anything and I was beginning to feel that he never would—
Looking up from my hot chocolate, I stared at the delicate snowflakes that had adhered themselves to the glass. The intricate patterns blurred as I heard his voice in my head—
We had been sitting in a Pizza Hut on a snowy evening, much like this one, he was kissing me gently and pushing my hair back from my face. “If it weren’t for this religion issue,” he had assured me, “I would marry you tomorrow.”
I don’t know if he actually meant it or if he was merely pacifying me so that I wouldn’t leave, but I didn’t want to be a jerk, so I let him think that I was okay with it.
When I returned home from that visit, however, I decided I was going to stop waiting for him and move on with my life. If he ever decided to make his choice, well, he knew where to find me.
A girl in my office had recently mentioned to me that one of the guys we worked with was interested in me, but he was unsure if I was available. I made myself available. Was I being unfaithful? No, at least I didn’t feel like I was. Asher and I weren’t engaged, and with all of his stalling there was no certainty we ever would be.
If I continued to wait for him I could easily end up with nothing, and that was a risk I was not interest in taking.
I went out with my office date for about six months. He knew there was another guy who lived out of state, but he asked me out anyway, repeatedly. I think he thought I would dump my first partner for him. Unfortunately, when that didn’t happen he got a bit nasty about it.
I was sorry he felt the way he did, but I hadn't kept my other relationship a secret from him, and the truth was we weren’t very well suited to each other.
We didn’t have very much in common, which made spending quality time together difficult. I’m an intellectual who is into nature and the arts and it didn’t take long for me to discover that he was an armchair jock who spent more than half of his free time in front of the TV watching one game after another, while drifting from one season to the next without pause.
I liked him, but I wasn’t in love with him, and he had begun to assume too much. All things considered, I couldn’t see us getting serious, so eventually I broke it off.
The truth is, I was ready to throw in the towel and start over. I was even considering a transfer and moving someplace new where nobody knew me and I could start with a clean slate.
I suppose I was giving off an aura, or something, because just as I was getting ready to call everything off with Asher, he decided to join my church and bought me an engagement ring. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have gone through with it, but I’m not that heartless. I had made one stipulation, and even though he took four years to make the decision, he did follow through. After all, I still loved him, but I was beginning to have some serious second thoughts about it.
To make a long story a little bit shorter, we married six months later. We bought a house, and over the next ten years we had several children. Like with most marriages, the dynamics between us shifted and changed, but I was determined to make it work. He had several career changes as his field evolved with the changing technologies. The stress began to take its toll, and what I had once thought of as slightly odd, nerdy, eccentricities soon became clear indications of multiple, deep-seated, personality disorders. While in college where he had life under control he was fine, but when faced with the unpredictable, and uncontrollable forces of real life, the veneer began to crack and little by little his inability to cope took over our lives. No matter what I did, the situation went from bad to worse until he became abusive and I was forced to separate from him to protect our children—
Not for the first time I have found myself alone, in this very same coffee shop, wondering how my life would have been different if I would have said one simple word— “No”. But we can never know how things might have been, we can only know what is.
If I would have said no when he presented me with that engagement ring, I would have been spared the decades of stress dealing with my in-laws who had never accepted me into their family. I would’ve been spared watching my marriage deteriorate as his mental health declined, and I wouldn’t have had to endure years of mental, verbal, and even physical abuse by the man who had once been my champion.
Indeed, if I would have said no, I would have been spared a lot, but if I had said no, I wouldn’t have had the good times, in the years before things began to go wrong, and I wouldn’t have had my children, who are one of the true joys of my life. I might have found someone new who would have loved me the way I deserved to be loved, but I guess we’ll never know.
Perhaps I should have said no, but I didn’t. I’ve had to take the good with the bad just like everyone else must do, as the choices they make play out over time. For now, I will enjoy this snowy winter afternoon while I sip my hot chocolate and I will remember the good times, letting the bad memories fade, as they should.
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Clapping. This had some parts that I had to turn the volume down for my neighbors. Lol I like that you made gotta send her a part of your life in this story because it pretty much sums it all up. The colonists ask Abby said that religion is the number two reason for divorce after money.