When I was 21, I worked two jobs with the goal of saving up enough cash to travel for a while. I also wanted to pick a new place to live, but I wasn’t sure where. My best friend and I packed up my car, converted most of our cash to traveler’s checks, borrowed my dad’s 6-person tent and took off. We stayed for a month on Mackinac Island to earn some more cash. After that, we cut across Canada and started at Niagara Falls and camped our way down the entire east coast. It was my first encounter with the ocean.
I almost set up residence in Hilton Head Island, but I kept seeing all of the hurricane evacuation signs and they freaked me out. As we looped back up and cut through Tennessee, I considered Nashville, but then I figured all of the country music would make me want to jump off a tall building. Later we cut back through Missouri and headed to the southwest, and I finally ran out of money in Albuquerque, so there I stayed. Within a short amount of time I landed two jobs and a place to live. My friend opted to go to the Everglades in Florida to live and work.
A year later, she made her way back to New Mexico, and I was happy to have a good friend so close after floundering for a year with trying to make friends. We decided to take on dating together. Back in 1996, the best way to meet the opposite sex besides getting tanked at a bar was either posting or answering personal ads published in newspapers. Let me take just a little time out and post an ad that I found, clipped and saved for these almost 20 years:
SPM, 31, seeking female amputee, age 18-99, for romance. Your beauty and grace astounds me. Box ID 23394.
Talk about a fetish!
My friend and I placed an ad saying something to the effect that we were looking for double dates. The ad was free, but to initiate a call to someone is where the fee kicked in. We got a couple of bites but they were from men who didn’t have single buddies. One was a guy I will call Bear; he had a really deep voice and was very articulate, so after talking to him we agreed on a date.
Bear was tall, 6’2, with glasses and a bookish manner – or if you prefer, he was geeky or nerdy in general. Our first date was right after Christmas that year. Immediately, we hit it off. We hardly spent any days apart and were on the phone constantly. I remember telling him one time that I couldn’t get close enough – I wished that I could crawl under his skin and live there.
A month after we started dating, we were at a restaurant eating dinner in the middle of some serious winter weather. We looked around the place and noted all of the kids having meltdowns and said, “I’m so glad we don’t have kids.” Bear then said, “Why don’t we go to Las Vegas?” We both had never been and Bear liked to play blackjack. He revealed that he had saved up a wad of cash (something like $600, which was a pretty good chunk in early 1997) and decided he wanted to use it to take a short trip with me. We ran to our respective places and quickly packed backpacks and called for tickets. We didn’t even take time to book a hotel.
When we arrived, we realized our mistake – it was the electronics convention, and EVERY hotel room was booked. However, our chain smoking cabby with the biggest, flashiest earrings told us that the Happi Inn was a sure thing – she always took people there for situations like these. Sure enough, they had a room. And what a room it was! Mirror on the ceiling, garish orange bedding with a bed sagging horribly in the middle, one TV station and cockroaches in the bathroom. We were also being price gouged because of the convention, $80 for the night. We did the best we could because we were flying out the next day.
It was a fun day. We played slots, and Bear got three blackjacks in a row, which was noticed by the pit boss, and we were rewarded with two tickets to the Ceaser’s Palace buffet. We took many pictures around the strip and visited M&M World. We even saw our first Cirque du Soleil show, “Mystere.” It was a fun little trip…or so we thought, until we tried to fly back. Because of snow storms all over the U.S., we couldn’t get a flight home until the next day at 1 p.m. I left a message on the work answering machine to tell everyone I was momentarily stranded and that I would be back to work Tuesday. The managers didn’t think to check the messages when I didn’t show up to work Monday morning, and they were in the process of calling the police to do a wellness check on me when I called in to make sure they got my message.
It didn’t take long for Bear and I to move in together. He was my first love (though he had had other loves before me). I loved him deeply. He was a patron of the arts. He wrote me love letters. He talked about the future.
However, there were problems at his workplace, and he decided to try to land a job closer to the Midwest or east coast. He almost took a job in Allentown, PA, but decided to take an offer in Cincinnati, OH instead. It was still early in our relationship and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, so I moved with him. I figured I would get a job after we relocated. We rented an apartment on a short lease without seeing it first on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River.
Shortly after we moved to yet another city where I didn’t know anyone else, Bear told me to make my own friends because he wasn’t going to be my entertainment. So I did. First I went out a few times and partied with a lady I met while working a temp job as a proofreader. Later I partied a lot with the people who worked with me at the large law firm. It seemed that his declaration was the turning point in our relationship, and nothing was ever the same after that.
Bear also became somewhat addicted to the internet. His nerd side was strong – his mind was blown with the potential the internet held at that point – and that meant that he was on it constantly. Part of the problem was that resources were available that never had been before, like being able to buy video games that weren’t always sold in the immediate vicinity. Oh, and the porn…
So the problem was that money that was supposed to go for rent was being used up by video games and porn. I was unhappy because there were a few times when Bear would blow his portion of the rent on games and I would have to pay for everything. He also spent money and time on porn instead of joining me. There were so many times I would beg him to come to bed, and he would refuse. I felt ugly and undesirable. Since I was living with a nerd, I was becoming more computer and internet savvy myself. I started to go to chat rooms, and then I began talking to men in private chat sessions.
My first trip to Europe was in May of 1999. I was visiting a university friend who lives in England for ten days. I had been saving and saving, knowing that even though I had a free place to stay, there would still be lots of expenses. A week before leaving, Bear revealed to me that he didn’t have the rent money again because he had purchased video games. I was absolutely furious. Like a true daughter of an alcoholic, my brain went into dissociation mode and I completely forgot what Bear’s face looked like. In fact, when he picked me up from the airport at the end of my trip with a fist full of flowers, I walked straight past him like he was a stranger – he had to call out my name and grab my arm.
A few weeks later I met up with one of the men from the chats while Bear was working. I was so eager that I failed to properly turn off the computer, so the message box was still there for Bear to see when he got home from work and the house was empty. Of course he read it, all of it. When I got home, he was sitting on the edge of our bed, looking absolutely crushed.
We broke up but continued to live in the same apartment and sleep in the same bed because we were still obligated to the lease we signed. Luckily it ran its course within two months and we could move on. We actually stayed friendly through the breakup – he helped me move into my new apartment, and he joined me at a friend’s house for Thanksgiving (my friend’s mom introduced us as, “This is Kiwi and this is Bear and they were dating and now they’re not, so I don’t know”).
Bear later went on to marry one of our mutual friends and have two sons – the two sons we used to discuss when we were a couple and talking about our future. He even named them the names he had picked out then.
Today I had a chance to trade messages with him and catch up. Bear is now divorced and in a relationship with another woman, and his sons have adjusted well to the major shift in the household. We exchanged information about our families and friends. I also sincerely apologized for cheating on him, acknowledging that I did not have the best tools at age 25-26 to deal with my anger and disappointment, and I hurt him deeply. He very graciously told me that it was forgiven and forgotten. I cried big, fat tears.