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Leslie Whittaker

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Throwing Caution to the Wind (part I)
By Leslie Whittaker
Thursday, December 10, 2009

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You should always tell someone how you feel because you never know when it may be your last chance.

“I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion; I have shudder’d at it; I shudder no more.; I could be martyr’d for my religion; Love is my religion; And I could die for that.; I could die for you.” (John Keats)

 

You should always tell someone how you feel because you never know when it may be your last chance.

Those are the words his mother told him to live by; they are the words she left him with as she died of cancer when he was just a boy. And they are the words he lived by.

If only I had done the same.

#

My camera bag slips out of my grasp, which isn’t a wonder given my trembling hands, almost toppling onto the head of the man seated below before I manage to snatch it back out of the way and safely tuck it into the overhead compartment. I let out a big sigh of relief when he turns and glances up at me in annoyance.

“Are you done yet?” He questions me with raised eyebrows, my mere presence apparently aggravating him.

“Yes, sorry.” I shamefully apologize, taking my seat across the aisle, thankful I don’t have to sit next to him for the next eight hours. I’m pretty certain, at some point, I’m either going to burst into hysterical tears or lose the contents of what I managed to eat at lunch which certainly wasn’t much but I am sure it’s enough to annoy him even further.

As it turns out, I am fortunate enough to have a fragile looking elderly woman, who glances down at me with a compassionate smile, take the seat next to me. Surely she wouldn’t be offended by intermittent bouts of crying during the trip. I gather she’ll probably fall asleep, not even taking notice of my sobbing.

As the captain comes over the intercom to tell us we will be taking off in just a moment, I reach into my purse pulling out a random book I grabbed at the bookstore in the airport and a travel pack of tissues. I grasp the handles on the seat trying to subdue my trembling hands but instead it just manages to make the handles start to rattle with a jittery metallic sound.

“My dear, are you afraid of flying,” the lady next to me gently questions me, “your hands are trembling in a frightful way.”

“No, it’s not that,” I choke back some tears, ripping open the first of my many tissue packs to blow my nose. “I’m just heart-broken.”

I don’t know why I tell her this. I don’t normally admit such things, not even to some of my closest friends and especially not to strangers seated next to me on a plane. Normally I would plaster on a fake smile to reassure her that despite my trembling hands and tear-filled eyes, I am, indeed, just fine. But she has this presence that makes me want to tell her everything, that tells me I can trust her, that she will really listen to my story of heartache.

“Oh my dear, I am so sorry to hear you have a broken heart.” She places her hand on my arm in that affectionate way mothers always do. Letting you know, in the end, everything will be okay. It gives me some comfort but the tears start pouring out before I can stop them, like a pent up damn unleashing all the tears I refused to cry over the past week.

“Now, now, no need to cry. Do you want to talk about it? I’ve been told I’m a very good listener and you look like you need a friend.”

I almost tell her I don’t need anyone to listen, that I’ll be just fine but then I remember why I got in this mess in the first place and right about now, the thing I need most is a friend. She sits there so patient, so calm, and in that instant I know she really does care.

“Thank you,” I reply between sobs, “I just don’t know how to undo all that I have done.” She pats my arm affectionately, leaving her hand to rest on mine, reassuring me. A moment later, I find myself telling her everything that has happened in the past six months.

“It began in January,” I begin to tell her, remembering back only a few short months ago.

#

It started with some harmless, well sort of harmless, messages on Myspace from a military guy who expressed a very keen interest on doing some very naughty things to me. Granted this was nothing new, not on this Myspace account at least. I used this account to blog about relationships, the differences between men and women, and, of course, sex. As such, I tended to get an extraordinary amount of messages from men who were just out to get their rocks off. Normally I wasn’t offended, at times I was, but I was a blogger trying to grow my fan base and as such I made it a rule to respond to every message I received. However, after declining his rather obscene sexual offers on more than one occasion, he continued messaging so I decided to check out his profile to see who he was. He was married with two kids, from Texas, currently serving in Iraq, and obviously quite lonely. But it wasn’t the part about him that caught my attention, it was the guy listed as number two on his top friends list who stopped me in my tracks.

I couldn’t help but click. He was witty, humorous, deeply intriguing and quite attractive, yet I couldn’t fathom how he and this other man were such close friends aside from both of them being in Iraq, not that it mattered; for, he had completely captured my attention.

 I clicked on the friend request, too nervous to actually compose a message because what could I possibly say to him that didn’t seem desperate, needy, or slutty? Plus he was in Iraq, I was in Florida, and even when he wasn’t in Iraq he was from Oregon, what could possibly come of it. We were worlds apart. Yet a few days later, to my unexpected amusement, my inbox contained a message from him inquiring how a Florida gal had managed to find an Oregon guy who was currently living in Iraq. 

His name was Cody and, when he was not overseas serving in the military, he was a police officer in a small town in Oregon who, despite a history of forgettable relationships, was ready to settle down with a wife, a kid or two, and some dogs, and while I had never envisioned myself with a cop, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I couldn’t help but wonder at the possibility.

#

Growing up, I hoped and prayed for love. I wrote endlessly in my journals about how I longed for that whirlwind romance which ultimately lead to settling down with the man who I could still wake up to with a smile on my face when my teeth had fallen out, the elasticity in my skin had given way to wrinkles, and my hair had turned snow white with age. Hopelessly romantic I know. Perhaps my fascination with novels and movies had a more profound effect on me than I thought. I was in love with the idea of love. A love that is all-consuming, a love that you risk everything for, like Robin Hood did for Lady Marianne when he went against the evil Lord Nottingham. Or Romeo and Juliet sacrificing their life for love, not that I had planned on killing myself over love, but you get the point. I wanted the all-consuming, can’t-live-without-you, happily-ever-after love that sweeps you off your feet in a whirlwind of passion. But, honestly, how often does love like that happen in real life? It’s crazy to dream of it, right?

After a long string of bad luck with men, I buried the hopeless romantic in me, resolving to live a single girl’s life since the love I desired was unrealistic. Unlike all the women around me, who were actively seeking out Mr. Right, seeking out the two carat Tiffany’s ring and white picket fence complete with house, dog and two point five kids, I shielded myself from male companionship. Seems a bit contradictory to being a woman, right? I had flings, lots of flings in fact, and two long relationships, neither of which ending too well, but each time it just didn’t seem likely that my happy-ever-after would come true . My years of constantly being hurt by men left me a jaded cynic who saw romantics as weak and vulnerable so I buried my romantic desires beneath layers of cynicism. Kate, my closest friend who had managed to get everything I felt I couldn’t, didn’t understand my new jaded outlook and regularly commented on my flawed perceptions.

“What do you mean you’ve given up? How could you give up on finding love,” she’d say when we managed to accidentally stumble upon the subject.

“What’s the point? Everyone seems to end up hurt. You put yourself out there and bam,” I smacked my hand on the table, accentuating my point, “the next thing you know you are a miserable ten-pounds-heavier mess with a trash bin full of empty Ben & Jerry’s containers.”

“Jenna, you’re only twenty-three, you can’t give up all hope yet. You’ll find someone. And you’ll settle down like you’ve always wanted.”

“I hate when people say those kinds of things, they are just false hope. Love, that all-consuming, passionate, can’t-live-without-you love doesn’t exist.” Even as I said it, I knew deep down I was lying to myself but it was what I had to convince myself of so I wouldn’t continue getting hurt. Knowing she couldn’t change my mind, she frowned at me, simply letting it go.

So, resigned to being a loveless single girl, I formulated a plan to get an MBA degree then move to a big city like NYC where I would forget my true desire for love by filling my life with a prestigious time-consuming career, endless social events with people I barely knew, glamorous shoes and clothing, and a few fickle friends. I thought money and a prestigious career would replace my desire for love. It wasn’t the life plan I had always envisioned, but being the competitive person I am, I figured if I had to envy my friends’ loving relationships and families, then they’d envy my glamorous lifestyle. At least I wouldn’t have felt as if I had lost out.

Ideally, I always envisioned myself as a best-selling novelist living in a small town near the mountains with the man I loved, a handful of dogs, and quite possibly a few kids. I didn’t need the hustle and bustle of the big city; I wanted the outdoors, the fresh air, the sense of community a small town offers, to make my own work hours, and, above all, to curl up every evening next to the man I loved. Yet as I grew more cynical of love and doubtful in my writing abilities, my ideal vision began to fade into a distant unrealistic memory until it was locked deep within the recesses of my mind.

I convinced myself I would be single forever, my good friend Jake and I even joked about how we were perfect together as roommates since we both figured we’d be eternally single. It didn’t seem like a bad plan, hobnobbing in big cities, making money, wearing three hundred dollar shoes, and having a successful career; but as I continued talking to this small town police officer, I realized the plan I was settling for seemed awfully lonely and not at all what I truly desired in life.

I’d like to place the blame wholly on television, or more to the point, a few shows in particular that glamorized the big city life, leaving some of us to feel quite inadequate and bored in our everyday lives. Even though I know it’s not really where I can place all the blame, part of me really wants to. Perhaps I was simply susceptible because I was so utterly miserable living in Florida, desperately seeking an out. Watching shows like ‘Sex and the City’ made me feel as if I was missing out on life by not running around in a big crowded city in the latest Prada and Jimmy Choo’s. And if I couldn’t have love or writing, then maybe I could have glamour, fashion, and a prestigious job to fill my void.

With each guy I met, momentarily my hope would flicker again, only to be let down when nothing seemed to materialize except a date or two or some meaningless sex. Eventually, I couldn’t even bring myself to believe any guy who admitted to having feelings for me, it just seemed like a scheme to get me into the sack. Most of the time it certainly didn’t bother me as I love a good romp in the sack, but behind the sweat, kisses, and thrusts it was empty and hollow. Kate, my rock in times of woe, would often pinpoint my flawed perceptions and hesitations in futile attempts to restore my hopes.

“You never believe a guy when they tell you they like you Jenna. You didn’t believe Morgan, Mike, Evan, or Patrick and that’s just the guys in the past few months,” she expressed over the phone in her ever perceptive way. “You always think they are out to hurt you so you immediately shut yourself off. Ever since Ryan you’ve closed yourself off to any man who expresses an interest in you.”

“I know,” I sighed deeply. But how could I not think that when all they ever seemed to want me for was sex?

“I know what you’re thinking,” she said, interrupting my thoughts. “You let them use you for that because you’re too afraid to open up to them. You’re too scared to let anyone see you actually can be vulnerable so you make sure everyone thinks you are incredibly strong, fiercely independent, and incapable of being hurt.”

“Uh huh,” I simply reply knowing everything she said is completely true . She’s always right on these matters, she seems to possess wisdom far beyond her years, yet I never listen.

“But I know, deep down inside, you still want all those things you claim you can live without. Even if you won’t admit it. Someday you’ll meet the right person and it will all come flooding back. Then you’ll know you can have what you have always wanted.”

Her point hit home, except I was still scared, scared of letting another man in who would simply prove I was only good for a forgettable fling. I knew I had more to offer, I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t find a man who saw it as well, I was too scared of giving someone a chance who would, in the end, simply prove me right on my jaded outlook. So, I maintained my determination to be on my own, to not damage my heart again.

#

Despite all my hesitations, I continued chatting on a daily basis with Cody, each conversation making me more and more enraptured with him, even though we vowed to keep it a casual friendship. Neither of us could possibly see it working when we lived on separate coasts; yet we spent endless evenings IM’ing one another about our hopes and dreams, where we lived, our families, growing up, our jobs, and everything else we could imagine. I didn’t really ever confess my feelings for him, not initially at least, as he had disclosed he was talking to a girl back in Oregon, nothing serious but perhaps it had some potential. And while I harbored feelings for him, I listened and advised as a true friend, not one hopelessly falling for him. Regardless of my feelings, I felt he was simply settling on her, at least from the way he described her, and it seemed he believed the same, deep down.

To keep him amused during the hours I was unavailable, I’d write him short stories while he’d entertain me with his frustrations and his loves for the military, like being able to ‘fuck off,’ as he deemed supervising, since he had five guys beneath him to do all his grunt work.

Despite our attempts to just be friends, we couldn’t help but flirt with one another, slowly allowing it to progress into something even more. Eventually our nightly IM sessions started to include our web cams. We’d sit in bed each evening, separated by miles of ocean, on two different continents, joking, laughing and making goofy faces at one another. I’d do my pouty face whenever I wanted to see a big boyish grin on his face and he’d do what I called his “boobie face” to make me smile. Once he even caught me so off guard with it I ended up clapping in amusement. My roommate told me she’d never heard me laugh as much as I did when I talked to him. And while we had always toyed with the idea of him visiting me in Florida once he returned, we finally decided to make a real go of it, both aware it could lead to something far bigger than we had both initially imagined.

And then it happened, I ruptured my perfect little bubble of happiness when I told an online friend of mine, who had just recently returned to the states from Iraq, about Cody and how much we seemed to be hitting it off. He warned me to be cautious as a lot of guys stuck overseas for the military seduce women online, promising them everything so they can feel a hint of companionship while surrounded by death, desert, and other men. He said he knew multiple guys who had online “relationships” with women to overcome their loneliness; yet, they had absolutely no intentions of meeting these women once they returned home. After they returned home, when their desire for companionship was filled by friends and family, the women were forgotten, disposed of, as they no longer served a purpose. His word of caution poisoned my hopes that what Cody and I had was real. How could I possibly admit my feelings now?

As Cody expressed more and more interest in me, I wondered if what my friend said was true . Was he simply telling me all this to make himself feel better, to feel a sense of companionship? Or perhaps he thought he meant it, only he’d return home and no longer need my companionship? Would he get back home, realize I was just a way to fill a void, and seek the arms of the woman he had pushed aside for me?

I didn’t want to believe what my friend had said but it continued to poison my thoughts. Despite my increasing interest in Cody I just couldn’t bring myself to wholly put myself out there, not to have him break my heart when he returned home. So I kept him at bay, desperately awaiting the day I’d see him coming down the escalator at the airport, feeling his arms wrapped around me, his lips pressed against mine, the whisper of “I love you” in my ear, because then I would know his feelings were genuine. Only then could I reveal how deeply I cared for him.

Gradually, I started to believe him, even though what my friend said still made me cautious, but he seemed too sincere, too genuine to be lying to himself about his feelings. And when I told him about my friend’s cautious advice, he reassured me it wasn’t going to happen with us. He promised he’d always be with me.

I was torn. I was falling for him. And as I was falling for him, I realized my ideal vision of my life actually could come true . I realized I didn’t need a big city or hot-shot job to make me happy, I needed someone. I could live in the small town I dreamed about, spending my days outdoors and my evenings cuddled beside him. And I remembered that was what I desired most in life; a life filled with someone, not possessions and prestige.

Even so, I adamantly continued to tell him I wanted the big city life. He knew of my desire to leave Florida to attend business school so he suggested the University of Oregon. I promised I would look into the school but I also made it clear I’d never move somewhere just for a guy, even though it was exactly what I would be doing. But it didn’t take much to convince me it was the perfect school as it was located three hours away from him, was one of the top schools on the west coast, and relatively inexpensive compared to most others. It was too good to be true .

When he came back from his last week-long mission, I eagerly told him I wanted to move to Oregon. He was ecstatic, informing me he had realized, while deployed on the mission, he didn’t want to live without me. He even asked for my number so he could call me daily from Iraq, and he did, sometimes two or three times a day, claiming his most favorite thing was hearing my pretty voice.

Prior to the mission, he was having reservations, thinking it wouldn’t work between us because I wanted big-city and he wanted small town. I never contradicted this. I never said I thought otherwise. But when he came back, he said he wanted me, no matter what. No matter where we lived.

And while my friend’s word of caution still lingered in my head, I thought he couldn’t possibly be lying or thinking this only cause he was there. Why would he call? Why would he go to the trouble?

Then he went above-and-beyond, he wrote me a story about how he envisioned the first time we’d get to meet in person, when he’d fly to Orlando to see me. I was taken aback. He professed himself to be an atrocious writer, but the story was absolutely perfect, it was the sweetest, most charming gesture anyone has ever done for me. I wasn’t even allowed to mention the story as he was too embarrassed, believing it was rubbish, when it was anything but. Surely what we had was real.

The week of my birthday, he sent flowers and a teddy bear decked in army fatigues, named Hobbie. And it was that week that I knew, I knew I loved him. And I so desperately wanted to tell him but I was too scared, my mouth clamped shut with fear.

What if what my friend said was true ? I couldn’t. I couldn’t make myself that vulnerable. I couldn’t risk him coming back home to not need me any longer. The pain of that would have been unbearable. I couldn’t risk my heart again so easily. So I said nothing.

A few days later, he said he loved me. I bit my tongue so I didn’t eagerly shout it back. My heart compelled me to say it, to tell him, but I simply couldn’t. I was in love with a man I had never met and it scared the hell out of me.

Logic told me I should wait until I saw him in person, I would do it then; except a week or so later, it slipped out. I felt silly at first for saying it but it just felt right. When I sat back down at my desk, there was an email from him simply stating, “Let me tell you...in the history of smiles there has never, ever been a bigger smile than what I've got right now.” I knew, by telling him, I made the right decision.

He asked if I’d wait for him. If I would not see any other guys until I gave him a proper chance to sweep me off my feet, even though he already had; I was his. I agreed. I broke things off with a guy I had gone on a few dates with and cancelled my weekend trip to NYC to spend time with another guy, as neither of them mattered. I thought by keeping other guys in my life until that point, I could keep my distance, that it wouldn’t matter so much if Cody came back and no longer needed me because I’d have other men in my life. Except, the only man I wanted was Cody.

In addition to his plans for visiting me, we made plans for visiting one another in the months leading up to my move out to Oregon as well as how we would continue our relationship when we lived three hours apart. He even hinted at finding a job near the University so we could live together. Everything was mapped out. It was all so perfect.

But perfect has its limitations.

I began to crave sex, not in the typical ‘I need sex’ kind of way where a few properly applied techniques quenches your craving, but in a way that no matter what you do on your own, it isn’t good enough to quench your sexual appetite, you still crave more. It’s like a drug addict being deprived of drugs, it’s all you can think about, the only thing occupying your mind, taunting you, frustrating you to no end, and nothing else matters but satisfying your addiction. I looked at every man as a piece of meat, wanting to use them to quench this all-consuming desire, wanting to calm the beast that had awakened within me. And despite my love for Cody, I did the unthinkable. I asked him if I could sleep with someone else.

I knew it was an absolutely awful thing to ask, especially of the one you love, but I was so sexually frustrated it was making me resent him a little for making me promise to wait for him, especially as there were still two months remaining. He reluctantly agreed, not seeming terribly upset. So I set up a sex date with a previous hook up partner only to cancel a few minutes later. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t betray Cody like that. I could have just done it, without asking him, but I couldn’t betray him like that. Looking back, I can’t believe my own selfishness, of the hurt he must have felt, it pains me to think about it, and I know that while I didn’t follow through on it, I still betrayed him. I can’t justify asking that of him, but I think it was merely another way to try to convince myself I didn’t need him, except I do.

As he began preparing to return to the states, our contact became more infrequent and I became increasingly frustrated and stressed by my job. Unfortunately, Cody’s few phone calls always came during my work day, when my frustration was at its prime. More and more frequently, I found myself replying to his questions cruelly, feeling horrible afterwards since I didn’t want to treat him so badly but the words spewed from my mouth before I knew it. A day after he returned to the states we got into our first argument.

“What are you doing,” he questioned as he phoned me back during my lunch break.

“What do you mean ‘what am I doing?” I rudely replied, irritated as he had asked this question only a few moments ago, before we had hung up for him to phone his sister. It wasn’t him I was upset with; I was just frustrated in general. Except I have a bad habit of taking it out on the people I care the most about. “You just asked me that like 5 minutes ago and I told you I was going to Target.”

“Why are you talking to me like that? I was asking because there was a lot of background noise coming in and I was having problems hearing you.” He replied still keeping his calm as he always did. Despite my horrible behavior, he’d always kindly tell me he didn’t deserve to be treated that way, of course he was right, he was never anything but sweet to me and how did I repay him?

“Well maybe you should have said that.” I hastily replied, my frustration clearly conveyed through my snippy tone.

Our argument continued from there. He tried explaining how no one deserves to be treated in such a way, and while I agreed completely, to myself, I just didn’t know how to fix it so I got defensive, as usual. I can’t say I am fond of snapping at the people I love the most, in fact, I absolutely hate it, I just never knew how to fix it or didn’t want to badly enough. I took what he said to heart, questioning my two closest friends who confirmed my behavior, after which I resolved to no longer be the person my friends had to tread lightly around.

 By the end of the conversation, I, my defensiveness hitting a high, arrogantly informed him that I don’t like when people ask me stupid questions. As soon as it came out I regretted it. I didn’t mean it. But it didn’t matter. He took it to heart. He told me he wasn’t stupid and I wasn’t better than everyone else even though I act like it.

It was then that I realized I could lose him.

I never thought losing him would be a possibility. He seemed to love me far too much. He always talked about the future, once even admitting he’d like to be the one to dance with me at my wedding. He continually told me how much I’d love Oregon as he desperately hoped I would reconsider my stance on being absolutely focused on NYC. And while my stance had changed to remaining in Oregon being a definite option, I never breathed a word of it. I always maintained my self-absorbed attitude of it having to be my way or nothing. Only it wasn’t. I wanted exactly what he offered; I just never admitted it to him.

I made him think I thought his job was expendable, not on purpose, but through my self-absorption, I made him believe he’d have to tag along in my shadow; except, I never saw him in my shadow as I respected him far too much. I was too scared of really letting him in. Of telling him, you’re the one. You’re the one I want to be dancing with at my wedding; you’re the one I want to wake up next to fifty years from now. That the idea of curling up with him every evening, waking up next to him in the morning, cooking dinner with him, taking walks hand-in-hand, and going with his police department in the winter to chop down our own Christmas tree made me smile each night as I fell asleep. How could I possibly tell him that NYC didn’t even compare?

I wanted to tell him in person. In person, I’d know he was for real. That he wasn’t a happy figment of my imagination, that I could touch him and kiss him, and that he would always be with me.

After the argument, I realized I had to tell him but it was only two weeks until he came to Florida; surely, we would last two weeks. I wanted to look into his eyes, my hand in his, and tell him how deeply I loved him, tell him I had no intention of ever leaving him for NYC, tell him I was in it for the long-haul, wherever it may lead us.


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