As I stood in the checkout line of the Eastland Kroger, holding a box of Kleenex and a six-pack of Ensure, the likelihood of ever feeling grateful for my relationship with Jeremy, or its inevitable demise, seemed low. It'd been weeks since I hauled his stuff into the garage one steamy summer morning — after he didn't come home again, and I still couldn't think, work, stop crying or hold down anything but a geriatric nutritional drink. The only thing I was grateful for was remembering to switch from my chicken foot slippers into flip-flops before leaving the house.
Jeremy was a very handsome, sweetly goofy, 6-foot, 4-inch red flag. He was, of course, in a band, and had zero ambitions otherwise. He lived with two other guys in a house where they used take-out napkins for toilet paper. He didn't have a car — it'd been repossessed. And upon learning I owned my own home and car, he called me a "richie with her shit together" with a mixture of admiration and disdain.
My mother claims that long before she officially met my father, she saw him at a late-night hangout, face-down drunk in a pizza. So when Jeremy came to the door for our first date, hungover and holding his arm — which he'd sprained the night before trying to ride down a flight of stairs in a laundry basket — I thought he must be The One.
It wouldn't be fair to say he had a drinking problem —Jeremy had no problem drinking at all. Day or night. Day and night, and well into the next morning. It was like his hands contained special magnets that attracted Pabst Blue Ribbons. I figured he'd outgrow it.
He figured otherwise. "I don't know if you should date me, Danny," he said, rubbing his elbow. "I'm kind of a jackass."
He was giving me an out, but what I heard was a challenge.
And for that I thank C.J., the guy before Jeremy, who basically dared me to date him. C.J. was confident and had a sharp, quick wit. I was convinced he was The One, and told him so after our first date, to which he replied that he'd consider marrying me if I could prove myself worthy. This meant driving him to Pier 1 to pick up a gift for his ex-girlfriend without giving him any crap about it, and keeping my distance, but dropping everything when he called. He'd also want to sleep with other women, but only until we got married. C.J. was the Mr. Monopoly of mind games, and I was determined to win. Unfortunately, he was also my manager, and it's not good to swap spit with a guy who can also write you up for not doing a good enough job of describing the pork sandwich to Table 42. True story.
I wasn't attracted to C.J. physically — his friends called him John Cougar Melonhead — but he had so much personality it didn't matter. He was a refreshing change from Trey, whom I dated exclusively throughout high school and college. Trey was very shy and rarely spoke. While videoing him picking me up for senior prom, my dad said, "Trey, you do know this isn't a silent movie, right?"
That he opened up to me and no one else made me feel special, and to my 16-year-old mind, that made him The One. Plus, in Franklin in the late '80s — when Cool Springs was just a field upon which Civil War nerds re-enacted the Battle of Franklin — you didn't date around, you married.
Luckily I didn't marry Trey, despite my vow to do so in my senior last will and testament. Nor did I marry C.J., though another unsuspecting waitress did. And when Jeremy got married, I sent him a set of crème brûlée torches from his registry and wished him well.
It was my way of saying thank you. Thank you for setting fire to my life so thoroughly that I had to slowly, humbly build myself back up from scratch. If you hadn't, I would have never thought twice about Dominic, the fresh-out-of-college fetus in the sports department, seven years my junior. Never would have been willing to look past his ridiculous chin beard and habit of referring to himself as "The Dom." Never would have agreed to have dinner with the cocky bastard, thinking I could use a few practice dates before I got back in the game. Never would have fallen in love and married him, and spent each day of the past six years thanking God he chose me, and not some other woman who smiles more, yells less and doesn't make him apologize for dream-cheating. Thank you for not allowing me to make you into the person I wanted you to be, and for letting me luck into a good life with a great man who was never supposed to be The One, but is.
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