Her voice lowered to just above a whisper. “Has he…has he killed anybody?”
“Oh my god, Tracey! Nooooooo!” she cried. “What are you doing?!”
“Jesus Christ, Tina, what do you think happens in a war? That they’re sitting over there having knitting contests? It’s a fucking WAR.” I could feel my grip tightening on the phone.
“Yes but…” Her voice trailed off.
“Yes, but what?”
“I mean…,” I could tell she was trying to regain her composure. “Okay. Forget about the military. Whatever. HE IS IN A MOTORCYCLE GANG. A motorcycle gang!! What are you thinking?!” The composure was gone once again.
“Okay, first of all, it’s not a ‘gang’- ”
“Group, club, gang, whatever. I just…Does he hate gay people?”
“Well, you said he was a Christian. Is he like…really Christian?”
I took a deep breath.
She continued. “It’s just…he’s just…not the kind of guy I pictured you with.”
I sat down on my couch and said through gritted teeth, “Well, what kind of guy did you picture me with then?”
“I don’t know…” she said, searching. “Someone creative, or I don’t know, maybe corporate, someone just more…more mainstream.”
“Oh really? What, someone like The Wordsmith? Can’t get more ‘mainstream’ than that.”
“No, no of course not,” she said softly.
I cleared my throat. “Do you have any idea what an ignorant bitch you sound like right now?”
“I’m sorry. I…just want the best for you.”
I sank back into the couch and sighed. “I know. And I’m going to let it slide. Because when I met him, I was even worse.”
To be honest, for the past 6 weeks I’ve been in a terrible funk. I just felt super burned out on everything. I was tired all the time, sleeping my weekends away, not returning phone calls or emails. I just had no energy to do anything or talk to anyone.
So it was perfect timing, when recently I had to go to my company’s All Hands Meeting. This is a yearly conference where all our offices come together in Dallas and listen to the executives talk and go to break-outs and hear future plans and where awards are given out. I love All Hands. I love learning what’s new in the company, eating huge Texas meals and seeing all my friends from the other offices. We’ll catch up and gossip and they’ll give me fierce hugs and I’ll know they mean it.
This All Hands was no exception. Every night, after our meetings, my co-workers and I went out and danced or played golf or played cards or walked around the small town near our hotel. It really was a blast. But after 3 days of this, I was pretty tired. The last night, I wasn’t planning on going out. I wanted to just stay in my hotel room and pack. Maybe take a bath.
“Oh, come on,” said my friend McKenzie, throwing her arm over my shoulder. “It’s our last night. Just one drink.”
“Okay,” I sighed. “But just one.”
“We’ll be home by nine,” she assured me.
Naturally, that hadn’t gone as planned and at about 12:30am, a small group of us ended up at a local bar. We grabbed our drinks and headed out to the patio, where there was a set of inviting, puffy couches and wicker tables. I’m not going to mince words here people, we were pretty trashed. Or at least, I was.
“Hey,” he said, as he approached us. “We just got some pizzas.” He pointed over his shoulder. “Do you guys want some?”
I looked him up and down and then looked at the group behind him. They were all wearing matching leather jackets and there was a collection of women with them. I squinted at him. “Is this…” I waved my hand at them. “This…thing, a motorcycle gang?”
He smiled at me. “It’s not a gang.”
“Whatever,” I said and rolled my eyes.
He sighed. “Do you want some pizza or not?”
“I do!” said one of the girls from my group and she leaped up.
“Motorcycle gangs are dumb,” I muttered into my drink. “It’s like some grown-up fraternity where guys try to make themselves feel good about themselves by being a part of something. Dumb.” I wasn’t really making a ton of sense at this point.
He shook his head. “Suit yourself.”
After a few minutes, I decided I really did want some pizza. So I walked over to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and looked down at me. He was very tall. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry I said that. That wasn’t very nice,” I said. “I guess I was being a little judgy.”
“Yeah, you were,” he said. “But I get it. Here, let’s get you some pizza.”
I’m actually a little unclear on how things unfolded at that point. I know his friends came and sat with my friends and the two of us sat to the side. His friends were talking about the motorcycle club and how they were a group of vets who shared an interest in bikes. “You’re a veteran?” I asked in dismay.
I leaned into him and lowered my voice. “Did you ever kill anyone?”
I was stupidly incredibly shocked. But apparently not shocked into sobriety or appropriateness.
“How? How did you do that?” I said with wide-eyes.
“You see your friends here? The people that you love?” He swept his arm in front of us.
“If it was them, or someone who was about to kill them, what would you do?”
“I see,” I said in a small voice. “Do you…do you ever think about it?”
“Yes. I do.” He looked away then.
“I’m sorry.” And then it was my turn to look away. Because I was ashamed of myself.
The night wore on and we continued talking and our friends continued talking and then we all played a little tabletop shuffleboard, which for some reason, I kept thinking was air hockey, so I just kept shooting the pucks down the lane too hard with no rhyme, reason or strategy.
Then, it was closing time. We all walked out and the two of us lingered behind. I’m not really sure who’s idea it was to go for a ride on his bike but the next thing I knew, he was putting a helmet on my head and I was climbing on the back behind him. Yes, I know there should have been red-flags waving in front of my eyes and sirens going off in my head but Jonathan (as he now shall be known here) made me feel safe. I trusted him completely.
As we sped through the town, I held on tightly to him and laughed as the wind blew my hair into my face. There was no one else on the streets and moving through the emptiness, I found myself feeling freer and happier than I had in a long, long time.
When we arrived at my hotel, he parked the bike and then we sat on the curb and talked. We talked for hours. I asked him a lot of questions that now make me queasy to think about. They were pretty smarmy. I honestly have no idea how he actually sat there and took it. But he did.
And through my questions, I learned a lot of things about him. I learned that he owned guns and carried a knife. It is Texas after all. But that he did not hunt. He did not believe in going after things that were weaker than him and defenseless. And, just like me, he hated zoos and circuses because he felt they are cruel to the animals. I learned why he went into the military. That is not my story to tell, so I won’t, but I will say that he told me being in the military taught him to fight for and respect and represent all Americans, no matter what. So did that mean he didn’t hate gay people? (Yes, I actually asked that too. It’s making me cringe to write it.). He does not hate gay people. I learned that the military afforded him to go all over the world, he’s been literally everywhere, it afforded him to go to the University of Texas, it afforded him a life. I learned he is a part of the motorcycle club because they are all veterans and they can talk with each other about their experiences. That way, they didn’t have to have unrealistic expectations of their friends and families to understand. It was so they wouldn’t burden them.
I also learned that I am one of those people who’s all, “Yeah! Support our troops! Yay team!” And not only did I not have the faintest idea of what these people actually went through, I also saw that, despite my enthusiastic public support, I still held a set of prejudices that I didn’t realize were there. I saw then, I was a hypocrite. And I told him this.
He has a great job that he loves and is passionate about. He is 38 years old. He is divorced with two small children. When I asked him what his favorite part of being a father was, his answer was longer than I expected because he couldn’t decide on just one favorite part. He was funny, smart and kind.
And yes, he asked me things too. But you all here know all about me, so that part of the conversation would not be that interesting to note.
As we parted, just before sunrise, we both realized that our phones were dead and neither of us had a pen. So I said to him, “The blog. You can always contact me through the blog.” Of course I’d told him about the blog. Look, I talk about the blog too much when I’m sober. So when I’ve been drinking, I won’t shut up about it. It’s annoying as fuck.
That morning, I barely made my flight. I was exhausted and red-eyed and so out of it, I didn’t even need to take my Xanax to sleep on the plane.
But it was so worth it.
I rarely check my NotQuiteACougar email as I don’t get a lot of messages there but that night, I did. And this was what I got:
Subject: “Hello From Dallas.”
“Contact made. Surprised? Love the blog.”
I actually was not surprised.
Now, I don’t know what will happen with Jonathan. Perhaps I’ll never see him again. But I do know that, since I’ve been home, he has been nothing but respectful, supportive and consistent. He calls when he says he will. He responds to my emails. He didn’t even get irked when my friend Bree and I texted him pictures of The Cat from our Cava Catch-up Session (or if he did, he didn’t say it). And hey, he’s read every single post of this blog, he now even subscribes to it, and still isn’t scared off. I think we can all agree that counts for something.
Meeting Jonathan changed me in a way that I wouldn’t think one night could. Meeting him made me realize that even with all my bitching about the Speed Dating Cougars, that I was even worse. Not only did I judge him on his outside appearance, I made incorrect assumptions based on things I knew absolutely nothing about. I attached traits to him because I thought I knew what kind of person he must be, since he has a different background than me and lives a different life than me. I will not make that mistake again. Because if I do, I could really miss out.
Another thing that meeting him did for me was – it gave me hope. And man, oh man, did I desperately need that. I see that so clearly now. I really had lost that. Like I said, I don’t know what will happen with this situation. But the fact that someone like him is out there, means that there must be others – other really good guys out there, as well. So maybe, maybe I have a chance.
Look, I’ve watched enough Investigation Discovery to know that going off on the back of a motorcycle with a stranger was stupid and reckless. I know it was only by the grace of God that I did not end up in a dumpster. I know this. It was stupid and reckless. It was.
And it was also exactly what I needed.