I was physically and mentally abused in a dead-end relationship for over 10 years. Throughout that decade, I thought I was completely alone, trapped and isolated by someone who claimed to love me. I eventually got out of the relationship and found the most amazing person in the whole world who changed my life. I’m telling the story of this in a series called “Beaten Not Broken.” This is part two: “The Four Times I Didn’t Meet You” or “How I Met Your Stephen.”
Our First Dance
Karen Oh was wailing in my ears and my feet were shuffling into Old Ironsides. My hair was teased to the ceiling and I had my favorite hounds-tooth blazer covered with as many local bands that I could fit on the collar. I was young and already half drunk from the Mickey I downed in the parking lot. I was worried about my weight and whether or not my last Myspace post was clever enough. What can I say? It was the early aughts.
I was also dating this dude named Nick, who kind of annoyed me but he at least liked to go dancing. We saw our friends in the dark bar, a cache of atypical typicals: the one that loved his horn rims and comic books, the celebrity fashion blogger, the big-deal DJ and the pretty and quiet one with big plans to move to New York (she did eventually). Nick was the metal head and I was… I suppose I was the one who liked to make dresses.
After the round of hugs and hellos and after getting a Captain and diet we sat down and shouted over the Rolling Stones thump-thump-thumping in the foreground. We’d make a big deal out of our small plans and just-fine jobs or brag about how we saw this fun little band play at the Press Club… what was their name? The White Stripes… that’s right (I’m not joking. That really happened.) Or maybe we’d plan a float down the river, which we would gather to do the next day but end up just jumping around the sprinkler and drinking too much Bud Light Limes.
It was a really great time in my life when I could make just a bit of money to get by, hang out with the It hipster crowd of Sacramento, date some dude that I don’t really care about and be validated by it all because I occasionally sold a dress on eBay.
In between joking around with random Gothic chicks in the bathroom and another round of stomping on the tiny, crowded dance floor, I sat at the bar trying to get another captain and diet. While I was waiting for that drink, Stephen sat next to me.
Tall, blonde and new to Sacramento, he spoke with a mix of Jersey and Texas in his low voice, ordering a shot and a beer. But he didn’t speak to me and I didn’t speak to him that night or any other night we both were at Lipstick at the same time.
It wasn’t the way we would meet.
When I lived on 18th and N street in Midtown Sacramento, I did something that most people don’t understand. I took my abusive boyfriend Nick back into my life.
I want to try to explain myself but it will sound like every other victim’s story: He said he would change and he seemed to be changing already. He was terrible because I made him that way so I have to make some changes too. I hadn’t really made a lot of headway into getting closer with my family or lost friends so I was still pretty lonely. They don’t sound like much when it comes to reasons. There was also the fact that he wouldn’t stop calling me or showing up wherever I was… I couldn’t really get rid of him. It’s OK. You can call me stupid for getting back together with him. I call myself stupid too.
One night Nick and I were fighting and I had to leave the apartment. I wanted to get a drink and sit at a bar or something. To avoid familiar faces at the divey Zebra Club, I walked into the bright, shiny, new bar: Capitol Dime.
I thought I would be walking into a room full of sexy girls and sperm-filled dudes talking about the hookup they have with bottle service at the Mix and how impressive their personal trainer was (or something… I don’t know). But it was a dead town. Just one dude sitting at the end of the bar and the bartender.
I sat at the other end with my head down and frowning. I was wearing an old pair of black jeans that faded to a comfy grey and a sweatshirt with a printed wolf howling at the moon. My eyes were likely streaked from crying. I hunched over and had my hood pulled on my head. I was really good at body-languaging my way into avoidance.
The bartender flipped a coaster in front of me and said hello and asked how it was going.
“Been better,” I said not looking up. “A shot of Captain and a Captain and diet. Thanks.”
He quickly made my drinks and tapped on the counter when I tipped him well for leaving me alone.
Stephen, the bartender, went back to dusting the bottles and joking around with they other dude at the bar. I finished my drinks and went back to my apartment.
They Have Food There?
It was still our first year of marriage and everything was bliss. I know I won’t forget our first year because it was a year of many firsts: My first real home outside of my parents house. My first midnight kiss in the middle of Lake Tahoe. My first catering gig. My first time going to (fill in x amazing city in California). Stephen was showing me the life I never had and the life I was going to have and it was perfect. Honeymoon phase was killing it.
We were running errands (So. Much. Fun.) and we drove past a local dive, Simons. Feeling nostalgic, I told Stephen that I miss my crazy times at Simons. His face turned to me and said he used to hang out there a lot too.
“Do you remember when it was?”
Of course, it took me a bit to figure out. It’s common for people in long-term bad relationships to not know what happened in what year.
“It was the year I was single. I lived alone in my apartment and didn’t like the nights so I went to Simons because my girlfriend, Brianna, liked going. I’d meet her there and get a drink. We’d go to the patio and smoke cigarettes and flirt with back of house staff from whatever restaurant they were from,” I told him.
“I’ve been in that patio with those same guys maybe a hundred times and we didn’t speak to each other once.”
“It wasn’t the right time for us,” I mused, “Have you ever had the food there?”
“They have food there?”
I Like to Play
“I am going to learn how to play guitar and play a show this year,” I told my BFF Priscilla. I was feeling pretty bold. I had broken up with Nick (I’d be back with him within a year, so don’t get too excited) and I had my own apartment. I was on fire baby!
Priscilla is the type of friend I wish I could be. Supportive to death, smart, tells it to you straight and somehow still coddling. She was excited for me and offered to make my logo when I’m ready. Priscilla is the most decorated graphic designer in Sacramento. Most Loved Girl Ever logo? Priscilla made.
So I signed up for classes with Ross Hammond who liked to talk about good TV and bad wrestling fights so I was in pretty good hands. I learned the basics quickly and was itching to just perform. So I wrote a couple of silly songs and took my show on the road.
The “road” was Old Ironsides’ open mic. There are about a dozen open mics around town, but this is the most legit. Old regulars like the Martys and young up and comers go to Old Ironsides to hone their craft. I went to make sure I could actually play in front of an audience. Not everyone was amazing but it was amazing to be around people who loved music and were confident enough to share with others.
One time, I was playing with my strings in the corner of the room when I heard a rich, soulful voice singing. His low vibrato gave me goosebumps. It was a Dave Matthews song. I’m not a huge fan of Dave Matthews but the way the singer played it… it had depth and it made me understand what the song was about. He made me feel what Dave Matthews wanted me to feel. When I looked up at the singer, I was confused. I was expecting to see an older black man but what I saw was a handsome, young, blonde cutie pie with an easy smile. He had some dimples too. Cut deep ones. He was dimpling hard. When he was done, I applauded and planned on talking to him. I wanted to tell him how he made me feel what the song really meant. I wanted to say that he did a wonderful job and I hoped to see him next week. I wanted to smile at him and maybe he’d smile back.
But I didn’t talk to Stephen that night. I just performed my piece and went home.
Stephen and I did eventually meet and of course that story has it’s own exact coincidences that make it a miracle.
Knowing that Stephen and I could have started our relationship four times before it actually happened is proof that the universe was trying to make it happen for us. All those years when I thought my life was horrible or my current relationship was a prison or I am so dang lonely I could die… the stars aligned four different times to connect me with my future forever partner.
So, when your dreams have been broken and you’ve lost hope, the universe still believes in you and will present you with solace. Keep your eyes and heart open to the world that wants you to succeed.