Chapter 4 of “A Life Worth Living – The Story of Sassy”
Chapter 4 – The Lost Get Found
(Flashback – 2000)
Although this book is about our time with Sassy, I suppose it would also be helpful for me to tell you how Anne and I first came together — since the rest of the story kind of depends on you knowing that…
Anne and I met on Valentine’s Day, 2000. Although we’d both worked at the same company for years, we had never met before – which was not all that hard to imagine since there were over 2,500 employees in the building. However as luck would have it, we both had the same mutual friend (let’s call her “Elizabeth”) who was rather unlucky in love at the time – she’d just broken up with her on-again, off-again boyfriend and needed some extra support to get through V-day that year. Liz had arranged a sort of “Lonely Hearts” dinner for all the singles in her life ,and that included both Anne and I at the time, along with another girlfriend of Liz’s we’ll call “Cindy,” and my then roommate Tim who was running a bit late and said he would join us later.
“You guys are such good friends.” Liz remarked to the group soon after we sat down. “I couldn’t have made it through this day without you.”
Anne was sitting beside her and gave Elizabeth a squeeze on the hand, while I remarked from across the table, “Ah, Liz, you know we wouldn’t leave you hanging; of course we’d be here.” And I raised my wine glass to lead a toast, “To the Glory of being Single!”
The girls raised their glasses as well while Anne seconded, “Salud, Elizabeth. It takes a strong woman to know who she is – I’m glad to see you join the club, sister.”
Anne and Elizabeth could very well have passed for sisters in the way they wore their hair and dressed at the time. I have to admit that years ago I once had a thing for Liz, but the timing was never right (she was married at the time!) and since then we’d both moved in opposite directions. And while Elizabeth was still as cute as ever, from the first moment I saw Anne that night I was instantly smitten – Irish with a bit of Southern Sass is the thought that struck me at the time — and even though we were all there to support Elizabeth that night, it was Anne who captured my attention.
As the evening wore on, I found myself employing the Seinfeld “Rules of Discrete Observation” as described in The Shoes/Cleavage episode to keep watching Anne — casual glances in passing, don’t focus on her for more than a few seconds, don’t get caught staring at the sun! It was all I could do not to fawn all over Anne and broadcast my attraction to the world. I was captivated by the way her reddish-brown bob framed her face. I laughed at all her jokes without really listening to the words. And I did my best to avoid making eye contact with her for fear that I’d get lost in her sparkling green eyes and end up tongue-tied.
The dinner flew bye.
Midway through the meal, Elizabeth pulled out a small box from her purse — it was a present, still wrapped.
“What’s that, Liz?” I asked, twirling a bit of pasta on my fork.
“Don’t tell me it’s from Him!” Cindy spat. “Why would that dog send you gift – and today of all days?”
“Well obviously it’s from him.” Anne laughed, sipping her wine. “And we all know why he sent it.”
Elizabeth’s hands were shaking a bit as she fondled the paper, “You guys have to help me figure out what this means.”
“Well, go ahead,” Anne cajoled. “Open it up, dear, we’re not getting any younger.”
“OK, here goes,” Elizabeth whispered, peeling off the paper and opening the box inside to reveal… a fragrant Yankee Candle. “What does it mean?” She was quite beside herself. “Does he want to get back together? Is he just hoping for another booty call? Is this just some sort of stupid housewarming gift? Help me!”
“With a gift like that, it’s clear Kris is hoping for option #2 – again.” Anne nudged Elizabeth knowingly. “Whether you are over him again or not, I wouldn’t worry about it too much – after all, a girl’s gotta get hers too, right? So just do whatever feels good to you and don’t worry about what he wants, honey.”
Cindy was not so amused, “I told you he was a dog! You don’t need him, Liz, you’ve got me now anyway.” And she tried to console her friend with a hug.
But Elizabeth brushed Cindy away, “I’m serious, you guys. How the hell am I supposed to interpret a candle?”
Having been a shoulder for her to cry on for some time, I knew Elizabeth’s history with Kris quite well – this same story had been going on for well over a year now; but rather than answer the question directly, I asked softly, “What do you want, Liz?”
Although I think we all knew that she was looking for an excuse to make this work again, Elizabeth never got a chance to answer that question because just then her phone rang — it was Kris. Elizabeth took the call at our table — perhaps too nervous to trust herself on her feet — and despite her breathless whispers it soon became clear that she was agreeing to meet Kris for a drink after dinner. Anne and I winked at each other over our wine glasses, confirming her suspicions about the gift, but Elizabeth was too excited to notice our secret exchange.
“I know. I know.” Elizabeth blushed as she leaned back in her chair and looked at us. “But he said he just wanted to talk.”
Anne nearly spit out her wine, she laughed so hard, “Dear, if he just wanted to talk he’d have called you during the day. Ex’s don’t just talk at this time of night. Who are you fooling?”
“No, no. It’s not like that. He promised me.” Elizabeth struggled.
“Oh yeah, just like he promised to never break your heart the two previous times?” Cindy fumed.
Anne looked at me for a bit of support, but just then my roommate Tim arrived. Like the rest of us, Tim worked at USAA. He and I had recently decided to share expenses by splitting a luxury apartment near work. Although he was a couple decades older than the rest of us who were in our late 20’s and early 30’s, Tim was quite a character and had no trouble fitting in with our group. After having traveled the world during his decades in the Navy and Coast Guard, Tim fancied himself as quite the savvy gentleman (and since he later convinced a woman nearly 30 years younger to marry him, it’s hard to argue with his game). Although he was late for our dinner, Tim didn’t let that stop him from making a grand entrance, “Ladies, please excuse my tardiness. I hope these little blooms make up for it a bit.” And he handed each of the girls a beautiful red rose. “I thought these might be appropriate for tonight’s dinner since each of you are so lovely.”
“Why, Tim, these are just gorgeous.” Anne smiled winsomely, as each of the girls gave him a warm hug.
For my part, my jaw was on the floor, “Yes, Tim, that was very thoughtful of you.” I pretended to laugh, while inside I was fuming that my old buddy had just blatantly violated the rules of Roommate Code — since he had failed to tell me about this little stunt! Not only had Tim instantly positioned himself in the ladies’ good graces, but he also made me look like quite the young fool, so when he sat down beside me, I shook his hand forcefully and begrudgingly muttered, “Well played, dude, well played.”
As if that wasn’t enough, in a short time, it became clear that Tim was also quite taken by Anne — yet unlike me, he was a bit more obvious in his admiration for her. Anne accepted his compliments but didn’t necessarily return them, yet Tim remained unphased. I wasn’t too concerned about all this (after all I never saw Anne wink at him!) but I did think it was rather amusing that both of the men at the table were interested in the same woman — and surely all the girls had to know this too.
In any event, the dinner ended in due time and the only ones who hooked up that night were Elizabeth and her ex while the rest of us went our separate ways. Although I’d never noticed Anne at USAA in the previous four years I’d been there, I soon started to see her at every turn – in the cafe, in the gym, and in the hallways. I even discovered that she was moving into an apartment in my complex – planning to share a place with her mother Rose. It sure seemed to me like she was stalking me – but the way she tells the story now it was the other way around! Eventually I got up the nerve to ask her out — since I fancied myself a budding chef, I offered to cook her a homemade meal after she moved in to her new place. (Tim of course did me one better and actually offered to help her move while I was conveniently busy that day). Although he would never admit it to me, I found out later from Anne that Tim had been emailing her quite a bit after that V-day dinner and asking her out as well – but alas for him to no avail).
Anne and I’s first date was a success – even though my definition of a ‘home cooked’ meal apparently differed from Anne’s; although I can cook Italian quite well after having grown up in an extended family that had multiple restaurants back in my home town, I was a bit nervous that being Irish Anne might like meat and potatoes over pasta, and for whatever reason I had let time get away from me the day of our date so I had to settle for whipping up a store-prepared meatloaf, with pre-cooked veggies, and a $4 bottle of Wild Vines rose wine. Clearly the meal choice wasn’t my brightest idea, but thankfully our personalities were so compatible that we overcame that and still had a great time.
A couple nights later, it was Anne’s turn to surprise me – taking me out for her favorite food: Sushi. Now having grown up in landlocked Pennsylvania, I’d never been exposed to sushi and the thought of eating raw fish was not appealing to me, so although I agreed to the date, I ended up ordering a rather cliche item from the Chinese portion of the menu – “Beef and Broccoli.” (To this day, Anne still laughs at that). I squirmed as she ate her sushi but realized that if this really was her favorite dish I’d have to try it sooner or later and after a few more dates I discovered that I was a fan too.
Anne and I enjoyed many more dates over the next couple months and life was good. She was a regular visitor to the apartment I shared with Tim and he was never anything but nice to her (it helped that Tim had since moved on to chasing another prize and so he never resented me for dating Anne).
But then one evening in mid-April, 2000, as Anne and I shared a drink at the clubhouse jacuzzi, Anne surprised me with, “I really like you, Michael, but I need you to understand that I’ve just came out of a long-term relationship that ended only a few months ago and I’m not ready to get serious with anyone again.”
I wasn’t sure what to say, “Ah, what? But… I thought we had something special? Something different.”
Anne paused for a long moment, looking away, “You are special, Michael. And what we have IS different. It could be very, very good. But the problem is with me. I don’t think I can give you what you want because I’m just not in the same place as you right now. I’ve been in two long term relationships over the last decade and I haven’t had enough time to just be ME. I almost lost my identity in the last relationship and I’m still trying to find myself again. I need time to just enjoy being ‘Anne.’ I hope you can understand.”
I was in shock; not knowing what else to say I resorted to humor to cover my disappointment, “What I understand is that you are giving me the infamous ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ breakup speech from Seinfeld.”
“It’s not like that. I’m not saying I want to break up with you. I still want to see you. But I just need you to know where I am at. I still want to go out with my girlfriends whenever I want. I want my own free time without having to explain to anyone. I know you want a girlfriend, but I’m just not ready to be that for you and I’m so sorry.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Say that you still want to see me and keep having fun when we go out.” Anne smiled winsomely, despite the tears in her eyes. “Say that you understand my situation.”
Now it was my turn to look away for awhile. At last I whispered, “I don’t think I can do that, Anne. I don’t just want anyone to be my girlfriend – I want YOU. So I can’t just go out and ‘have fun.’ I need more.”
And just like that, it was over.
Anne and I went our separate ways, avoided each other at work, and I tried to think of other things. Although we had dated for less than two months, I really thought Anne was The One, but it seemed she didn’t feel the same. I had no choice but to move on. I tried dating a couple other girls but it didn’t help, so to get away from the situation, I traveled back to Pennsylvania to visit my folks and hang out with some old friends – it turned out to be a good idea.
By the time I came back to Tampa, I was feeling more like my old self. May, 2000 was a good month from a dating perspective and I was involved in a lot of local club sports so I had plenty to fill my time and help me move on.
Naturally, that’s when Anne called.
Unable to resist, I accepted her invitation to dinner and drinks. It was like we had never been apart — we had another great time on that date and basically never looked back from there.
Less than a year after we got back together, Sassy came into our lives and provided the glue that would seal us together forever.
Sassy’s Life Lesson #4 – Destiny
The philosopher Kahlil Gibran coined a bit of wisdom I’m sure you’ve heard many times over…
“If you love someone, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.”
In the past, when confronted with the situation where a girl broke up with me I’d always taken it badly — and rather than just let them go, I’d always tried to do something to convince them they were making a mistake…which only seemed to drive them away further. Thankfully with Anne I trusted that things really were different with her and that if we were meant to be that it would all work out. I allowed her the space she needed to figure things out for herself and I gave up my need for control (which wasn’t easy for me!). I let God’s work take its course.
Luckily for me (and for this story), God’s Plan worked out in my favor!
Point to Ponder
Are there situations in your life in which you are holding on too tightly – trusting in your own power and not letting God work things out according to His designs? Perhaps it’s time to do as the following saying recommends… ‘Let go and let God’ — knowing that if it is meant to be that it will be, and if it’s not, nothing you can do will change that. There is a bit of comfort in this when you allow these words to take root in your heart, and I hope you will do just that.