Spend All Your Time Looking
September 19, 2008
Racing in my black 2007 Saturn Sky to meet up with Detective Alex Hill, the dashboard clock read 5:58. Damn, I’m late! I headed north on the Bothell-Everett Highway, slipping the convertible’s tires a bit on the wet road when I hit second gear. Might have been a little on purpose. I hoped the weather would improve so we could take in a walk after coffee.
This promised to be an interesting first date with a man I’d barely met a few days before when he held the door for me at The Spotted Cow in Mill Creek. He’s got five kids, surely he’ll understand being a few minutes late, I thought. Not sure why I was so concerned; I’d nearly given up on the whole dating thing anyway.
At 6:02 pm I calmly walked into the coffee shop and looked around. Alex was not there. My sudden relief quickly converted to annoyance. Oh great, he’s not here—am I getting stood up? That’d be a first. I ordered my drip coffee from the ditzy barista with the obstructive nose ring. I wondered how often she had to wash that thing. Turning from the counter to take a second look around, I saw Alex rushing through the front door, disheveled and as handsome as the first time we met. I giggled cutely at him.
“Nikki, sorry to keep you waiting!”
“No worries,” I said. “I’ll be over there,” pointing to a table near the back window. I pretended not to watch him in my periphery as he collected his americano, added a dash of cream, and gingerly transported the oversized mug to our table with a big sigh. His relief told me some of his trips to the table didn’t end in such a success. His large hands dwarfed the coffee mug.
“My 16-year old, Martin, got in an accident about an hour ago,” he said. “He’s ok, just a little shaken up and upset about his first car. I stopped to help him out on my way here.”
I probed him for details on the accident down to the liability. Needing a visual aid, Alex scratched out a diagram of the accident scene on a paper napkin with a cheap pen he had in his pants pocket. Go figure…a cop scratching out a crime scene on a napkin. All I could think was how this man has full custody of five children and oh boy is he cute! I started to be glad I didn’t hang up the whole dating thing.
Over the course of more than an hour, we talked about how we ended up in our chosen professions. Alex confessed his music education studies were interrupted when he began his family before finishing college. When he and his wife found out they were pregnant, he knew he needed a job that paid more than the $800/month he was making by teaching at a small private school. He looked in the classifieds and found the highest paying job listed that day—Police Officer—and applied.
Up to that moment, Alex had been fairly vague regarding his law enforcement job. It didn’t take much to get him talking. Alex explained he had been out of uniform for 5 years, assigned to a multi-agency task force with the FBI for preventing terrorism.
“What exactly does that involve?” I asked.
“Can’t say,” he said, raising one eyebrow with a sly grin. “Ever seen the show 24 on TV? Sorta like that, without the jumper cables or helicopters.”
I hadn’t seen the show, but I knew about it. Alex didn’t seem like the Jack Bauer type; he impressed me as a brilliant man who also knew how to be real. I never anticipated meeting a man who equaled me in common sense. It’s a superpower possessed by very few.
I shared with Alex how my adult working life had evolved starting in retail and progressed to working with systems and processes for the human resources function. It wasn’t nearly as sexy as the whole cops-n-robbers thing, or terrorists, whatever. He actually seemed interested, engaged.
“Do you know how to read music?” he asked.
“Not a note,” I replied. I had tried playing the bass guitar for a short stint back in the day but it didn’t last long. Neither did that relationship.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said, then began to geek out a little on another paper napkin, showing me the pattern of notes on a scale. “It’s like a language, a code of sorts,” he said. “What kind of music do like?”
“A wide array,” I said, slightly worried now that he may not be my type. “Alice In Chains, maybe some Aerosmith, a little country, but I love some Jason Mraz.”
“I kinda skipped the whole metal scene,” he said.
As our meeting turned to evening, we talked about a group of diverse individuals that had slowly been gathering at a table next to us. We entertained ourselves with trying to figure out what exactly brought them all together. It was nice, being together. Much better than I anticipated.
We outlasted the neighbors and eventually got the not-so-subtle cue to leave when the barista started stacking chairs upside down on the tables. A light mist had settled in as Alex walked me out to my car. We made plans for the following evening, after which Alex leaned in for a hug. I reached my arms around his back and up to his shoulders for the tight embrace, wanting to relieve some of the responsibility I knew he was carrying. He has since reflected on that moment as the best hug he’s ever had. We pulled apart and he gently leaned in for our first kiss. That was more than I ever expected.
Much more. In fact, despite the mist, we made-out in the parking lot until the landscaping sprinklers unnecessarily kicked on a few hours later.
# # #
September 20, 2008
A good way to ignore my twisted feelings was to take out the trash. Or, in this case, steal somebody else’s, usually before dawn. Picking up the garbage of a suspected terrorism facilitator living in Mountlake Terrace at 4:30 am without being noticed had been a marginally successful bi-weekly operation, yielding an occasional hand-written sticky note (literally) or maybe some mail. This week, I had a pleasant task force partner to help sort through it in the dimly-lit loading bay of the nearby QFC grocery store. Today, however, the look on Detective Jim Richardson’s face was anything but pleased.
“Does this guy eat anything other than fish?”
“God, I wish,” I said. “You’re a Scot, you should be used to rotting meat.”
While quietly digging through a week’s worth of refuse sorting for scraps of paper, I couldn’t escape the repeating thought of Nikki. I hadn’t even had a hint of infidelity in the 20 years of being with Holly, but despite how done my marriage was, it was still a marriage on paper. I felt very conflicted inside about my evening with Nikki, like I had broken a sacred rule or violated the very laws of God. The way she held me, her kiss—it had been a very long time since I felt anything like that. I wrestled with the guilt, wondering what my kids would think.
“Bingo!” Jim held up a ripped, dripping…thing. Looked like paper.
“Through September 1st,” he beamed. “Now we have his number.”
I looked at the stained document. “And some of his friends. Good stuff, Jim. Now let’s get the hell out of here before some early-morning dog walker realizes we aren’t a couple of homeless guys.”
“Right,” he said, snapping off his nitrite gloves with a grin. “They might call the cops.”
# # #
I knew I should get a to-do list written or I’d just wander aimlessly around the house all morning. I threw on a sweatshirt, shorts and tennis shoes, gathered my hair in a clip, and headed for Starbucks. It was a top-down kind of mild Saturday in my favorite season. Actually, I think that about every season in Seattle.
As I waited in line at Starbucks I made my to-do list on my phone.
• Vacuum and dust
• Clean out fridge
• Get nails done
• Wash car
I know there’s more…what am I forgetting? I was leaving for a business trip to Burbank Monday morning and I had a football game to attend on Sunday, leaving Saturday to get ready for my trip. Alex was coming over tonight. I was so excited I was finding it hard to focus.
A man in line behind me distracted me from my daydream trying to engage me in conversation. I did the unthinkable: I began to compare this complete stranger to Alex—another stranger. As I ordered my grande drip in a venti cup, he asked for my phone number. I graciously declined the advancement with a white lie. “I’m dating someone.” Okay, it’s not much of a white lie, I was actually dating three men. I’d never been able to date more than three at a time…it became a horrible circus act when I attempted it. Dating three men shouldn’t imply I was sleeping with all of them, usually only one. Hoochie? Eh, it’s really not that way, or, okay, whatever. I’d pretty much written off one of the guys. Intellectually, we were not a match. Number two was a Seattle fireman with all the proper equipment but without the emotional commitment, if you know what I mean.
Now there was Alex, the new man on the block, the one that continued to linger on my mind. Oh, a text!
Alex: Hey! What time tonight would you like to get together?
Nikki: 6-ish? I don’t have anything fancy planned - Just a movie.
Alex: Sounds perfect. I’m looking forward to seeing you.
Nikki: Me too!
Get a movie! I knew I was forgetting something for my to-do list.
# # #
The shower was adequate to remove the odor of used seafood and curry from my body, but my clothes needed additional attention. I managed to stuff a load of laundry into the wash and start breakfast before the kids were awake. By 10 am, the kids were fed and ready for the weekly Saturday visit with their mom. As ready as they could be, anyway. I sat down to take a look at Facebook, the new social networking fad which seemed to have some investigative potential. At least that’s how I talked myself into using it. After logging in, my favorite church lady, Terri Joyner, sent me a direct message.
Terri: Alex! Any trauma this week?
Alex: A little too quiet, although Holly keeps sending long hand-written letters to the kids in the mail.
Terri: Seriously? Like with stamps?
Alex: Yeah. I got a note or two from the GAL this week too.
Terri: What’s a GAL?
Alex: A Guardian ad Litem. Ours is Ron Taylor. He’s the person appointed by the court to watch out for the kids’ interests. He included me in his response to Holly’s texts.
Terri: Are the letters to tug at their hearts?
Terri: Those texts of hers are crazy…I got a few more this week!
Alex: Ron just got assigned to our case 3 weeks ago and is already overwhelmed with her texting anger. I'll show you the texts at church tomorrow. Here’s a sampling: “Holly, I of course take no exception to your right to be angry. I must however insist that you not subject your children to your 'righteous anger' in any way. Try to consider the idea that YOU might be at least a part of the reason limits on your time with the children are necessary."
Terri: Hmm - seems like he isn't THAT harsh to her.
Alex: “…Holly, the boundary re you contacting the children is based on your ongoing choices to villainize their father and to burden them with your feelings re case issues. You have done a lot of this, even after the court order. I would have to see radical change to justify dropping this boundary. I will remind Alex to put kids on phone to you, at least the young ones."
Terri: Wait, so she’s claiming you refuse to put the kids on the phone to her?
Alex: Right. So untrue. I tell them almost every day to call mom. In the evenings if I’m not out doing my Secret Squirrel stuff I make sure they call. There are days it doesn't happen, but in the week, she talks to the kids several times. Anyway....I gotta get back to the salt mines.
Terri: Well, hang in...what else can you do?
Alex: Win the lottery, maybe find a sane girlfriend.
Terri: Keep dreaming, pal.
Alex: Thanks for your friendship and support, Terri. So appreciated. You’ve seen this whole thing from before it began, when you taught the kids their first piano lessons. I truly value your input and perspective.
Terri: We’re all in this together, Alex. I just hope you can find some happiness when it’s all done. You deserve that.
I knew Terri was the one I could trust to talk about Nikki. Eventually.
# # #
Much to my satisfaction, Alex arrived at 6:00 pm on the nose. I gave him a tour of my little shack and got him a run-of-the-mill beer. We began to chat about anything and everything—an even exchange. Something that had not happened for me in a very long time. The movie was playing but I honestly can’t remember the name of the flick. I think I fell asleep well after midnight but that too is a blur. Another parking lot episode sorta took over.
After he left I found a pen on the floor. It was the same cheap pen he had at the coffee shop, a grey Paper Mate. I smiled as I put it on the counter thinking how much fun I was going to have with his little missing instrument.
September 21, 2008
Sunday is my favorite day of the week during the fall for one simple reason: football. Today’s battle put my beloved Seattle Seahawks against the St. Louis Rams. I’d been a Seahawks season ticket holder since 2000 when Seattle built the stadium to replace the Kingdome. Just a mere three years ago, our team made it to the Super Bowl. Despite the rough start this year, I still believed we could do it again!
Elle, my perpetually tardy sister and cheering partner, was on her way over to pick me up. The down-side of Elle driving to the game was her insistence on obeying the speed limit. Seattle traffic literally flew past us as we held up the right lane. It made no sense to me how a woman with a 5.0 liter Mustang would drive it like a gutless hybrid. She was proud of her ticketless record. No fun at all.
In the first quarter, Elle was introduced to a rather rowdy and moderately intoxicated seat neighbor who thought it was a good idea to chest bump my sister after a great interception. It was the goofiest thing I think I’d ever seen.
She turned to me wide-eyed and gasped, “Did you see that? Did you? That was my first chest bump ever,” she announced.
I couldn’t stop laughing. “I think he got way more out of it than you did,” I said.
We screamed, cheered, boo’d, and lost our voices like classic Seahawks fans. It’s quite a feeling to be part of the 12th Man, those legendary fans who cause more false starts than any other fan base in the NFL.
Exhausted and delighted with our first win of the season, we drove back to my house. Elle had decided to stay the night because she was taking me to the airport early the following morning. To say she’s not a morning person would be a gross understatement. After we got home from the game, I started to give her some vague info about Alex. During the conversation I received a text.
Alex: Really. You’ve got to stop taking about me...
Nikki: What? Are you here?
Alex: LOL Not anymore.
Nikki: Stalker! LOL! You should have poked in!
Alex: Is THAT what she said?
I flung open the front door and looked around. Indeed, he was gone, but on the railing of the porch lay a single red rose. Wow…really? It was quite a moment—my sister staring at me with a grin bigger than the one she had from the chest bump. What a sweet thing for him to do, I thought.
In eight hours, I would head to California again for two long weeks of work, unable to ride the momentum of this developing relationship. I showed Elle the pen Alex left behind after last night’s escapade. We quickly devised a plan for the poor Paper Mate. Considering his profession, we went with the terrorism theme, especially since Elle’s profession was in corporate security.
I was probably going to get in trouble for this.