Being a strong, independent woman is not necessarily a bad thing. Yet, it does not always serve one well in the grand scheme of life. Never, will I ever, say that being strong or independent are characteristics that are not admirable or desired. However, there are times in life where we find ourselves at a crossroads in which it is best to just sit back and allow fate to control our paths. It has been said that some of the best things in life are either free or unplanned. The greatest things in life are both.
I was doing pretty well for myself. I had a good job and made a decent living. I had a cute little “hipster” house for myself and my then eighteen-year-old daughter. I was taking college courses to complete my next-level degree. And, I had a pretty rad car, a brand new 2013 Camaro, that I felt like a total bad ass driving around. I belonged to a Camaro car club and went to car shows and races when I wanted to and did not go when I did not want to. I had a friend who had introduced me to gold prospecting, and when I was not off on some car club event or writing six page essays, I was knee deep in some North Georgia creek shoveling out pans of pay dirt to sift through and add to my vial of shimmering flakes of promise and prosperity. Ah, there was something very intoxicating indeed about holding up that glass container full of nuggets and flakes that had not been before touched by human hands. I had a good life. I had it all together. My life was utterly perfect, right?
Enter, stage right. It seemed simple enough, a friend request from a Facebook car group was not an uncommon occurrence. Then, he showed up in my direct message inbox. Also, not altogether an unheard-of occurrence. I checked out his profile. I mean, we can all say we are not, and we can try to pretend and even convince ourselves we are not in the least bit materialistic and reactive to people based on their physical appearance. But all of the pretending in the world does not change the fact that we are human, and we are reactive to people based on their physical appearance and how they can be perceived by the world. He was surely cute, and very small-town country, which lent an air of charming about him that made him all the more appealing. But then there it was. His birthdate. How could this be? I had a child of my very own that was older than him. I mean, sure, it was very flattering to be flirted with by a younger man. But, was this too far? Was he too young? I let reason and logic get the better of me and fought back his flirtatious advances by calling him “small fry” continually reminding him that I had “given birth to people older than him.” It seemed the more I resisted, the harder he pursued. That boy definitely had no quit in him. Eventually, I had given in and gave him my cell phone number so that we could chat with each other on just more than the Facebook app. His voice was so deeply rich in southern twang. I am, myself, from North Georgia and have for the better part of my life been made fun of for my southern accent. But this small-town North Carolina boy even impressed me with how country is twang was. He was charming and opinionated. Over time, getting to talk to him and listen to his infectious laughter became one of my most anticipated highlights of my day. Eventually, we reached that critical point in every online relationship, he wanted to meet offline. Deep down, I wanted to meet him too. Just to be near him both excited me and scared the hell out of me simultaneously. I mean, there was still that giant elephant in the room, and I was not sure how that would play out if we did meet and discovered that we did, in fact, have a real romantic connection. My daughter and her best friend, who, after reading every single text between us and convincing me to put him on speaker for some of our conversations to listen in on us, encouraged us to meet. My daughter’s friend struck the final blow when she told me that, “if he is willing to make that much of an effort, he deserves a chance.” To this day, I still give Lauren full credit for everything that has happened since then.
So, with nervous anticipation, I packed a small weekend bag, and headed out after work for the longest and most nerve-wrecking five-hour drive of my life. What was I doing? Was I really driving two states away to meet a boy half my junior, and for what? What did I really expect to come of this? Did I really think this was going to be some romantic fairy tale? I experienced every emotion imaginable during that drive. When I arrived and I saw him in person for the first time, my hands were shaking. He immediately calmed me as he wrapped his arms around me in a tight embrace. The kind of hug that says, I have waited for this for such a long time. Suddenly, all of the playful banter and flirting became very real. We spent the next two days barely out of each other’s sight. It was magical, and surreal all at once. We went out in public, and I was aware of the questioning and condescending stares from strangers. He did not care, or he was completely oblivious; either way, he had no reaction to anyone and their judgments. He was enthralled in our spending time together. That Sunday morning as I drove him back to his house, it was the most somber and sad drive. He all but begged me not to leave, and admittedly, there was a part of me that never wanted to leave his side. But my life and my job and my family were back in Georgia, and Georgia was where I had to be. I left the radio turned off in the car and just reflected about the weekend and what it meant as I drove south. Once I crossed the South Carolina state line, I was overcome with such sadness, already missing him. I cried.
A week later, there was a huge car show event in Atlanta, and then a big race that every car enthusiast around planned to attend. We had talked about it several times. I had already made plans to go, and we had hoped for him to get to go with me. He decided to. Since he lived a solid five and a half hours away, the plan was for him to stay with me for two weeks and we would enjoy the two car events. I was excited during that week to get to see him again. I had confided in a few of my coworkers about our meeting, and there was, as expected, mixed reactions, given the great white elephant. But, at the end of the day, they loved me and wanted me to be happy, they just also wanted me to be smart about what I chose to pursue that happiness. The week passed and we were back together. It was glorious! We enjoyed both car events, and just spending the evenings after I got home from work being together. I showed him some of my favorite and most special places around town. We talked, and laughed, and held hands, and fell in love during those two weeks. The weeks passed and he continued to stay at my place. At first, I did not mention it, because I was really enjoying having him there with me. One night, we drove to the mountain overlook, one of the most sacred and special places for me. I brought up the subject, given that he had came to stay with me for an intended two weeks with nothing more than a duffle bag full of clothes. As we sat overlooking the city down below us and the stars above, shining incredibly bright against the black sky backdrop, we talked, and we cried. We talked of what we wanted out of life, what made sense, what seemed irrational, and what felt right. We both cried a little as he talked about how torn he was between going back home and staying with me forever. I said little, because deep down, I had come to love him, and I wanted him to stay. But I could not be selfish, so I simply said that it had to be his choice. As if on cue, the Perseid meteor shower began all around the sky overhead. He pulled me in close to him, pressed his face to mine, and I could feel his tears as they washed down my cheek. A great silence filled the air, and I knew no matter what he decided, I had to accept it and simply be grateful for the moment we shared. He pulled back and looked at me. The light from the stars and the meteor shower reflecting in those big beautiful eyes of his as he smiled down at me. He did not have to tell me that he had made his choice, or what he had decided, I felt it in every fiber of my being. We sat for several hours under the spectacular light show the universe had put on for us that night and we talked about our future. Being in a real relationship would not be an easy feat, given the white elephant. There would be many people, even family and friends, who would not accept it or support it. We talked out every scenario and defeated any doubt lingering. Everyone would not agree with it, but we had reached a point where that no longer mattered. We were in love, and we were going to do this.
As expected, a lot of people were not very excited about our relationship. Many questioned it, others doubted it would last past being more than a summer fling. But, over time, everyone changed their opinions of us. My daughter has always been very supportive of our relationship, as she had said once that she has never seen me this happy. It is not about me being unhappy prior to meeting him; remember I had a good life going and had my shit together. I had a good family support system, I had friends both at and outside of work, and I had hobbies and did things that I enjoyed. But she knew, as human beings, it is in our nature to desire being in relationships. Whether they are platonic, family, or romantic, we are ingrained to have relationships. I was not looking to find someone to date when I met him, yet our relationship has provided me so much in ways that I had never imagined. She saw that and has always been our biggest cheerleader. I always said that I never wanted someone to complete me; that I wanted to be complete and whole as a person on my own, then to find someone who would simply add to the quality of my life. I have stuck by that idea. He did not bring anything material to the table, as I had a good job, a nice car, and already lived on my own fully self-sustaining. But what he has added to my life has been companionship, friendship, romance, love, and joy. Things that I would not have otherwise. Our life was shaping up to be something great. One night, over a half a bottle of Everclear and Orange Juice, we talked about making this permanent. We joked about it after the fact, but I believe mainly that was because each of us thought the alcohol was talking for the other and we were nervous to ask each other if we really meant everything, we said that night. Yet, with Brianna’s help, he set up the most incredible scene at the million-dollar view on Christmas Eve, and slipped a ring on my finger. A promise of forever was made under an overcast rain-drizzled night.
Since that night, we have made things official and were married on a sunny September afternoon. We also made another huge leap of faith when we decided to follow my son and daughter in law to Southwest Florida to live. Ironically, my dream for the past ten years has been to live in a condo in the Gulf of Mexico, and the first trip we had taken together for our birthday was to St Augustine Florida, not exactly the Gulf, I know, but it somehow made Florida special for us. Sadly, Ryan and Teresa decided not to stay, and they elected to move the babies back to north Georgia. It was very hard for us, but at the end of the day, we had to respect their choice. For various reasons, we have stayed in Florida. There are days when we hate it and days when we love it. He is more than my best friend; he is my rock. He holds me and lets my cry when I miss my family or want an ice cream date with my granddaughter. He risks an almost guaranteed sunburn to brave the beach with me, because he knows, “that’s what you move to Florida for.” Our relationship has not been without it share of storms, but we have managed to weather them, thus far. Will our age difference defy the odds and our relationship stand the test of time and last forever? Who is to say, really? Only time can tell. But I am not planning to waste any precious time right now trying to worry over whether it will last or for how long. Right now, it is, and that is all that matters. I told him once that regardless of whether we make it or not, and there will always be a chance that we will not, no matter what happens, I will always be grateful for the time that we have had, for the things that we have shared, and for the love created, and for the life that we have enjoyed. I have also told him that we are going to have a great life, and we do have a great life. No matter how long it lasts, if it lasts forever or if it only lasts a few years, I have a great life with Henry, and a life that I will always be grateful for.