This is a continuation of the post Meeting Julienne. It will make more sense if you read that first, but I’m not your supervisor. Unless I am and you’re reading this, in which case I really hope you aren’t reading this during work. I’m going to write this as if you read the other one, so any confusion is all your own fault.
Some cliffhanger, huh?
I hope it was as unsatisfying and frustrating an end as it felt to both me and Julienne at the time. Now imagine me waiting a year to post the second part of the story.
So, there I was. I’d just ghosted the most beautiful person I’d ever met. Who approached me and asked me out on a date. Who was kind and witty and charming and gorgeous and smart and loved renaissance festivals and dressing up and didn’t care about my age and did I mention wanted to take me out on a date. What was I, an idiot?
In a word, yes. In a few more words, I was an emotional basket case facing an unknown future that I felt completely unprepared for. I was working a new job that I quickly grew to dread. I was mourning the ending of a 17-year marriage, the loss of my dogs (she kept the house, my apartment only allowed dogs under 20 pounds, which incidentally are actually just called “cats”), the abandonment of a shocking majority of my friends (somewhat self-inflicted; when I get depressed I retreat into my shell, so many people who didn’t know what to say or do stopped communicating with me. But not all self-inflicted, and I’ve never forgotten that), and living alone for the first time in my life. I didn’t have baggage. I was a fucking Samsonite warehouse.
In those circumstances I knew a few things. One, that I wasn’t ready for a relationship with Julienne, because she didn’t need to deal with that shit. Two, that I had an awful lot of shit to wade through. And three, I needed to deal with that shit in order to move forward with my life and maybe, just maybe, come out of it all as my own person, someone worthy of love and respect, because at that time, I didn’t feel like I deserved either.
My divorce happened in December. I’m not going into that for the same reason as before, because who fucking cares. I’ll only say that it brought both relief and sadness. I started seeing a therapist, who honestly wasn’t very good. She actually fell asleep during one of our sessions. I shit you not. I completely forgot about this until just now. She was an older woman, very nice but not very insightful or particularly helpful. So one session I’m sitting there on the couch, droning on about some dumb thing or another, and she’s in her easy chair facing me, and I look up and see that her chin is on her chest and she’s breathing heavy and it’s obvious that she was asleep. Like, asleep asleep.
I had no idea what to do. I can be painfully polite to my own detriment sometimes, especially with strangers (one time, I walked into a Ronald McDonald House and waited for the receptionist to finish what she was doing before quietly and apologetically saying to her, “I’m sorry to bother you, but do you have a fire extinguisher? My car is on fire in your parking lot.”). So I sat there. Quietly. I didn’t want to embarrass her by waking her up. I DIDN’T WANT TO EMBARRASS MY THERAPIST WHO FELL ASLEEP DURING A SESSION I WAS PAYING A NOT-SMALL SUM FOR. My politeness really is a problem sometimes. After a few minutes of me sitting quietly on her couch she woke up and apologized for falling asleep as she’d been up late the night before and I told her to please think nothing of it. Julienne and I both share an absurd concern for what people think of us, and the more of a stranger they are the more concerned we are. It makes no fucking sense whatsoever.
Anyway, I was seeing a therapist, which was better than nothing. Probably. The holidays were rough, but one of my small circle of remaining friends that spoke to me convinced me to put up decorations and try to enjoy the holiday. Christmas was always a bit melancholy for me after my mother died in 1999. She’d loved Christmas so much that it became the time where I missed her the most (still is; I can still hear her singing “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” any time I want to, because she sang it all the time and it’s always right there in my memories) so I always got a little down anyway. But it was nice to put up holiday things and try to enjoy the holiday as much as I could. I spent it with two of the best people on earth, two of the seven people that were there for me throughout that whole dark time, and still are in this one (love you, Christian and Allie).
I started drinking a lot. That’s not news to anyone that hangs out with me. I’ve always enjoyed alcohol (basement bar enthusiast, remember) and drinking with friends and having a good time. It’s a very different animal, though, when you get home from work and start drinking by yourself. And not a glass of wine, or a bottle of wine, but two or three at least. I did that quite a bit. It was ugly, and thankfully no one had to deal with it but me. I didn’t miss work or let it interfere with my obligations, but it wasn’t good. I was depressed and lonely and learned that I couldn’t trust a lot of friends because anything I said to them would get passed on to my ex-wife who was more than happy to contact me to let her know what she thought about what I’d said.
It was a dark fucking time.
But with the help of some very very good friends, I gradually came out of this hellhole. I stopped getting through every day by telling myself that I could always kill myself tomorrow (something I literally did, and it honestly helped me through it, like a dark twist on the “one day at a time” mantra I’m currently using to get out of bed every morning while sobbing) and started just getting through the day. I started exercising again, drank less (mostly – Game of Thrones, which I’d decided to try to watch again, had me drunk every Sunday because you can only handle watching people drink wine for so long before craving red wine yourself. Or is that just me?), got more sleep, and felt a little better about myself.
By the time Spring was in full swing, I was better. Not whole, not by a long shot, but I was better. I stopped going to therapy, because honestly I wasn’t getting much out of it anymore, and started thinking about the idea of maybe trying to meet someone. I thought about Jules, but the idea of just texting her out of the blue seemed… wrong, somehow. I knew I’d blown it, blown my shot with that incredible woman who undoubtedly had moved on to bigger and better things. Better to have her as the Perfect One Who Got Away that I could bore some other old drunk with at the bar.
So it was that in May I created… an online dating profile. Here is a picture of me! Here I am saying things about how interesting I am! Here are things that I, an adventurous fun-loving dipshit whatever of a guy who was completely lonely and desperate for human interaction, was pretending to be interested in because I just wanted someone, anyone, to like me!
Online dating is rough, man. Like creating a resume for romantic partners but leaving out references for them to contact.
Anyway, I had my OKCupid profile and I think one other one (the free ones – I’ve always been cheap) and I was ok with how it looked, although I would shudder to read it now. I’m sure the neediness and miladyness of it all seeped out like water from dank basement walls. I would look at people and their profiles and think, oh this person seems nice and I would like things or however you interacted on there. As June rolled around I had a couple of brief conversations with people on their message service, but not much. I wasn’t very popular. By then I was ready and excited for the Ren Faire to come around. I was ready to….
By god, I was ready to put on my nicest acid-washed jeans and a button-down and my tennis shoes and spats or whatever people wore when they dated and go out like an adult to a place where food and drink are served and be charming but not smarmy and approachable but not too eager and witty but not off-putting and all of those magical things that happen when adults date.
Then someone I was messaging suggested that we meet somewhere for a drink. I read the message twice, slowly, then took my account offline and never looked at it again until I deleted it completely some time later.
I was, apparently, not ready to date.
What I was ready for was a return to the Festival. I wanted to work every weekend there. As the end of August came, I had some new clothes and was ready for my favorite place.
Meanwhile, in the world of the most magical person in the universe, Julienne had moved on. She’d sent me two messages after I stopped responding, then stopped reaching out. It bothered her, and at first she wondered if she’d done anything wrong, which was her unfortunately usual reaction in situations like this one. She’d blame herself for being too eager, or too pushy, or too something. Thankfully (and I was grateful to learn this), she thought about the situation and determined that she hadn’t done anything wrong. Whatever had happened on my end that made me stop talking to her was on me, not her. It still bothered her, but she held herself rightfully blameless.
She’d finished her second year of law school, aided of course by the redoubtable Spaniel Day Lewis. She dated other people and did a lot of things. Jules spent her 25th birthday in London, seeing Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston (the cool, pre-Taylor Swift version) and making a certain hotel regret their decision to give free mini-bar service to certain guests. She met celebrity chefs (by far her favorite was Geoffrey Zakarian, which makes a lot of sense because he seems like a super nice dude), welcomed her niece to the world, and found the Winnie the Pooh of dogs named Posy for her parents.
Julienne also did something that was very important to her, and changed her life for the better. Like many, too many, honestly most if not all, women in our society (and all over the world as well), Jules struggled a lot with her relationship with her body. She was never skinny enough, this part wasn’t right, nor this one, and don’t even talk about this one over here. Diets and more unhealthy ways of dealing with it had her cycling through a lot of health fluctuations, emotional distress and despair, and mental health struggles throughout her life.
One day, she decided that she’d try to change that. She didn’t want to fight with her body anymore or view it as her antagonist. She wanted to work with it, accept it as not something she was unhappy with and just as part of herself. She wanted to do things with it, difficult things, challenge herself and become strong and capable of tough physical tasks. It was less about what she would look like, and more about what she could do.
Being Jules, she didn’t choose a 5k or anything like that. Oh no. She signed up for a half-marathon. As an incentive to herself, she signed up for the Disney Princess half-marathon. Disneyworld is a place that is so special to her, so magical, so meaningful, and she wanted to make this statement to and for herself there (also, any reason to go to Disney was a good enough reason). She started running and training and working towards this goal, this challenge, this peace treaty between her body and body-image for herself.
On February 23rd, 2014, Julienne ran the half-marathon, by herself and for herself. She was always proud and happy about that moment, and she deserved every good feeling about it. She would do another half-marathon six months later at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It changed her life and her relationship with her body. Running and doing things wth her body became a part of who she was. It was this act that made her so open afterwards about eating disorders, body-shaming, and other struggles that women endure every day. One of the greatest joys of the last few months of her life was seeing the rising voices of people like Jameela Jamil speaking openly and honestly about this, and, most especially, rocking out to Lizzo every opportunity she could.
(This is a tough place to insert this, but it belongs. Obviously, having fucking cancer really threw a King Kong-sized monkey wrench into this aspect of her life. Her oncologist speculated that, due to the slow-growing nature of her disease, Julienne had probably had it ten years prior to its detection. At sixteen years old. There is much to be said about the failures inherent in our medical system, especially for young women, and she said a lot on her blog about it. But one of the earliest and hardest struggles after her diagnosis was the acceptance of the betrayal of her own body against her. It opened a lot of old wounds, but Julienne is so incredibly strong mentally and emotionally that she came to peace even with that. An uneasy and difficult peace, but peace nonetheless. She is the strongest person I will ever know.)
Since she was getting her Master in Music Business and Entertainment Industries degree she was also doing a lot of interesting things like helping to direct and produce concerts, going to the Grammys, and lining up a life-changing internship in LA with a company that represented film composers. Julienne’s dream job, the thing she was in law school and getting her Masters simultaneously for, was to represent classical composers.
Julienne was a passionate supporter of classical music, and as a classically-trained opera singer, she wanted to give exposure to the music she loved to a wider audience. Movies and video games had become a great way to give composers a chance at mainstream recognition, and that’s what she desperately wanted to help accomplish. Stage fright disabled her own chance at performing, but she would use her experience to help make that type of music accessible to a wider audience.
So off to Los Angeles she went, for a three-month internship at an agency. It was everything she’d hoped it would be. She loved the office, loved the people she worked with, and Julienne knew she’d made the right decision. She spent a fantastic summer there and by the time she left, the agency had a standing offer: when you’re done with school, come back and work for us. She’d made connections, helped produce a concert with her then-boyfriend, broke up with him (happily for me, and for her), and she was riding high as the summer closed and she headed back to school.
By the end of August, I was in the best place I could remember being in, well, ever. My childhood had been tumultuous. I’d struggled to find what I’d wanted to do besides drink in college (I think I had a different major every semester I “attended” college. I finished exactly two semesters in 5 years). I’d married youngish and not for the very best of reasons (sometimes, the most attractive trait someone possesses is their attraction to you). I’d lost both of my parents by 27 and didn’t have a lot of confidence or faith in myself in anything except in surviving everything that happened to me. My whole life I’d wanted to be a good person and most of the time I just wasn’t.
In August 2014, though, I was OK. No, I was better than OK, I was good. My job still wasn’t the best but I could deal with that. I was seeing my friends a lot, leaving my dull apartment to happily crash on a couch near people I love. I felt at ease with myself, comfortable with who I was. I’d learned to analyze my emotions and reactions to understand them and to try to combat my own worst reactions and impulses. I had learned emotional intelligence, I’d come to learn, something that would have been both alien and laughable just a year prior. I was, for the first time in my life, an actual person in and of myself.
On Friday, August 29th 2014, Matt picked me up from my apartment and we headed to Holly’s. I remember that ride very well. I was in a good mood. It was Labor Day weekend, which meant three days of the faire and I was really looking forward to it. I’d come to an important, and comforting, realization and I felt good about it. I told Matt.I’ve realized that now that I’m OK without dating anyone. I don’t need anyone in my life but me. He was happy to hear that, having seen the twists and turns of the last couple of years. He told me so.
Working the faire was better than ever. I was comfortable there, comfortable in my role. People would come up to the booth and ask if I was the blacksmith, and I would smile and say that I was just the Pretty Face. I could laugh and talk with just about anyone (again, I was allowed to have a couple drinks while I worked). Just like last year, we sold a lot of stuff. Oftentimes the booth looked bare because we were running out of things to sell. Rorik was even nice to me! Sometimes. It was, I felt, about as good as life could get.
Then, Labor Day itself.
Last day of the three-day weekend. I was tired and little sore from standing all day working the booth (again, any seat was covered by the ass of one of the Old Guard, and if it wasn’t and I sat down something needed to be done immediately, according to someone else), and I was a little bummed that the weekend was coming to a close. But the day was bright and beautiful, I had my jaunty hat on, and tomorrow’s workday was tomorrow’s problem.
And then. Oh, and then.
I saw her. I saw her. I saw her.
It was déjà vu all over again. The crowd parting. The sunshine on the golden hair. All the world dim but her. She was walking arm in arm with her mother. Julienne wore the same outfit as last time (this was before the days of having a dedicated room for all of our garb. Plus, you know, she looked spectacular in it). Just like before, they were walking diagonally across the front of the booth.
And just like before, I stared. I was entranced and enchanted and just waited for her to turn her head towards me. Just one look into her eyes, a chance to convey in a glance my regrets, my apology, a chance to explain what had happened and why I’d done what I’d done. That was all I needed, just one instant of connection with the most incredible, desirable, beautiful, wonderful, funny, punny, brilliant, resilient – goddamnit, I painted myself into a corner on this – charming, alarming (?), intelligent, and elegant (fist pump, stuck the landing, yeeeeah) person I’d ever met in my now-forty-two years of existence on this Earth. That was all I needed.
She walked right past the booth. Never turned her head. Not a fraction, bit, or iota. The perfect vision of beauty and love walked right past me like the unimportant gnat I suddenly became.
I was crestfallen. The finest smiths and artisans of the land worked to make me a new crest and hung it from the highest tower just so watch it fall again. I was crushed. I will never forget looking at her perfect profile as she sailed past me like a queen passing an out-of-favor courtier. Which is essentially and exactly what she and I both were. Every bit of regret and sorrow over what I’d done and how I’d handled everything hit me right in my lip-quivering mouth.
(Aside time. At one point on day Julienne passed, her father and I were alone, sitting with her and talking about her. He told me the story of that moment at the faire from his end. Jules told her parents that she wanted to walk past the blacksmith booth. He didn’t understand why until he was told that “it was about a boy” and no one was to look over at me, after it was affirmed that I was standing there. We laughed about it, thinking about her and how she knew how to get to me even before we really knew each other. I’ll never forget that moment, sitting with him, and when her mom came to us and he told her what we’d been talking about, she laughed and said how adamant Julienne was about “don’t look, don’t look.” Even on that dark, dark day, Julienne could make us smile through our tears. She is extraordinary in every way.)
Matt and Holly saw it happen (and provided the kind of ooooooohhh sound people make when they see something that says that’s gotta hurt). I turned to them and started babbling. What should I do? Should I go find her? Should I wait? Should I go right now? Mr. I’m OK With Not Dating and I’m Perfectly Content With No One But Me had turned in his room key and checked the fuck out while Mr. Holy Shit I Need To Make This Right With This Otherworldly Person NOW NOW NOW SERVICE SERVICE I WANT A ROOOOM ran into the lobby and started slamming his hand down on the little bell.
I wanted to go find her. But what could I say? What wouldn’t come across as, well, terrible in every way. Matt and Holly were kind and listened to me agonize and dither and deliberate and brainstorm at them for probably a good hour. I was ready to give up, let it go, just another spicy addendum to the Perfect One Got Away story. And then it came to me. Something I could say. It would be short, to the point, and give her every opportunity to just say “nope” and walk away. I had it. I’m going to go find her, I said, confidently, with no idea how I was going to find this stunningly gorgeous woman in a crowd of thousands spread over 27 acres. Then another idea came to me. I was going to walk to every bar and tavern at the faire until I found her. That seemed reasonable, right?
My friends wished me luck in the way that you say good luck to that friend who’s had a few drinks and decided to demonstrate, unasked, that he can most certainly climb up and stand on top of a parking meter. My heart was thumping dangerously loud and hard in my chest. Are we really doing this? it seemed to be saying to me. You’re goddamned right we are, little buddy.
Thus I strode confidently terrified into the festival. I went to the White Hart, the closest one. No luck. On to the next. No to the oyster place. No to the corner one by our booth. No and no and no. It was hot, I was sweaty, and I felt dispirited. It’s a stupid plan. You should have gone after her right away. She’s probably gone. She’ll laugh at you. They’re all going to laugh at you.
And there she was. The last place I went (mostly because after this one I didn’t need to look any further). She was standing at the bar at the Boar’s Head Tavern, right next to the jousting fields. I paused for a bit. Am I really doing this? I’d never done anything like this before. Not even close. I was a world class chickenshit. I had asked maybe 2 girls out in my life when I didn’t already know the answer (and in each of those times I had a pretty good idea of the answer). I was going into hostile territory. I was in the Danger Zone.
By the time my brain stopped saying stupid things like that in my head my feet had already had enough and carried me to the bar. The Boar’s Head has a mirror behind the bar. I could see her talking to a tall James Gandolfini lookalike next to her and I realized that it was probably her dad. Cool. Cool cool. Coolcoolcool. I walked up next to her. I watched in the mirror as she turned her body away from me. She must have seen me. And was definitely letting me know what she thought of the sight.
At that point, I seriously thought about walking away. Old Me would’ve done that. Hell, he wouldn’t have left the booth. I had a choice. Gather the ragged tatters of my self-worth and slink away, head tucked safely between my shoulders, free to live a life of The One Who Got Away stories.
Aww, fuck it.
“Hi,” I said. She turned to face me slightly, not directly, but slightly more than her profile towards me. “I’d like to buy you a drink and tell you a story. If you don’t want to hear the story, I’ll just buy you the drink and leave you alone.”
Julienne turned fully towards me then, the look of cool consideration on her face that she had and used so well. Glaciers melted, seas rose, continents vanished, civilizations died and new ones arose to take their place in the three-second pause she took.
OK? It wasn’t a yes or no it was an either or. OK? I mean, either way I guess I’m buying a beer, or maybe cider, or both maybe, snakebites are good, they’re real good, maybe she’ll want wine or whatever I –
I’ll hear your story.
Oh. That OK.
We took our drinks over to a tree next to the Boar’s Head. It has little wooden benches encircling it. They were empty. We sat down and I told her about the phone call, the weirdness, the desire to spare her any involvement in drama around my now-finalized divorce.
Julienne looked at me, thinking about what I’d her, and said the three little words that don’t get said enough, and are too often not meant when they’re said.
I forgive you.
That was it. She understood why I did what I did. She appreciated my consideration of her. She would have preferred to know, but she understood. And she forgave. Just like that.
I honestly didn’t know how to process that. Before she said that, I couldn’t remember a time when I’d heard that phrase, freely given and meant. Not in 18 years, probably. Probably more. It was a lifting of a burden, an absolution, and she did it effortlessly and easily. I looked at her, really looked at her, right in the eyes for the first time since the year before. I could only glance at her before that. Now I was looking into her eyes, her incredible eyes that sometimes looked green, or blue, or silvery grey, and I was smitten.
We finished our drinks and she told me to text her if I found some more free time. I walked through the faire like Scrooge on Christmas, just short of telling a boy to fetch me the finest goose in the city. I was filled with joy and excitement and elation. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I was forgiven and I had a second chance.
What I didn’t have was her number.
I’d deleted it, after all. I found it, thankfully, after some frantic searching and panic, in a different messaging app. I sent her a text that I thankfully still had her number.
I have no idea what happened the rest of the day after that. She had sent me a smiley face! It is entirely possible that every time I opened my mouth the sound of a choir of angels poured forth unto the masses to brighten and illuminate the souls of every person present. It is also possible I accidentally stabbed someone with a sword and my friends were forced to bury them in the back of the booth. Or both of those at the same time. It didn’t matter. I was going to talk with Julienne because she had forgiven me. Like it was a thing that people did for each other regularly.
(I exaggerate only slightly. I literally cannot remember before that moment being forgiven for a single thing I’d done in the prior 20 years. Not a thing. And if it had happened, which I doubt, it was never had been given so easily and sincerely.)
Then she sent me this (and I have to say that the digital age sucks in a lot, a LOT, of ways, but having a record of some of these things really helps me return the long-eclipsed good memories of earlier times. So much of the struggles over the last year crowded out a lot of good things. Stuff like this helps me find those good ones again):
I exploded through the roof of the booth and superhero-landed in the White Hart. She was standing right where we’d met before. We talked, as easily and naturally as before. She told me about LA and the Grammys and law school, and I said things that I have no idea what they were or what they were about but didn’t make me look like a complete idiot. I’m sure we talked about dogs at some point, and I remember telling her about a movie I was going to be in. It was like an audition, each of us getting to show the other our traits and passions and interests through stories and anecdotes.
Just being in her presence and listening to her was intoxicating. I was completed and utterly enchanted, where time seemed to last forever and go by in a flash all at once, and the world seem to spin around us as we stood, just smiling and talking and listening to each other, everything around us rendered to a small inconsequential buzz of shadows and unimportant conversations (and this never changed, none of it, not once, in the years after). Even when one of the obnoxious rose sellers came by and interrupted us to get me to pay for a half-dead flower, I did it happily with a chuckle because I agreed, the prettiest girl at the faire deserved a rose.
(At least it wasn’t the Jack Sparrow wannabe flower selling fuck. God I hate that guy.)
She took the rose from me, and she told me that she would be back at the end of September to visit her parents, and we could grab dinner then. That sounds fantastic.
As long as you don’t ghost me again.
(She teased me about that off and on the entire time we were together. A playful verbal fight would culminate in a Hey, remember that time you ghosted me for a year? She’d bring it up to people we were just getting to know, or people we told our story to, or just to dig at me for fun. I miss that. I miss an awful lot.)
I told her I’d be in touch with her. It was time to part and I wondered what to do. Kiss her? Man, I don’t know, we just kinda reconnected and not to mention Jules’ dad James Gandolfini is somewhere nearby. I settled on a hug and a long look into her incredible eyes and floated back to the booth. I was gushing to Holly and Matt about it to a most likely obnoxious degree. I did the weekend’s closing work in a deliriously happy daze, thinking about what I could say to her through text that could possibly approach how witty, smart, and charming she was.
I’d done it. I’d gone and found the prettiest girl at the fair.
Could I be her hero, or chance to wed
The prettiest girl at the fair?
That remained to be seen. But I was going to get a shot.