As I walked through the door of the sushi joint, I turned to my right and saw her already sitting in the waiting area near the large fish tank. I recognized her immediately, her fine blonde hair pulled back from the center of her forehead and anchored in place with a bobby pin, exactly like in her profile photo. Her dark blue jeans with white stitching matched her white blouse. She rose from the chair and smiled with nervousness that matched my own.
“Hi, I’m Allison,” she said.
The hostess led us to a table by the bank of windows at the front of the restaurant. Because I lived nearby and since it was my favorite sushi place, I ordered for us. When the food arrived, I told her I eat sushi with my fingers—that is, without chopsticks. She later told me she liked that I wasn’t afraid to tell her I eat sushi differently. The truth is, I’m embarrassingly bad at chopsticks.
The conversation flowed easily and she listened more than she talked at first. When she spoke, she was articulate and thoughtful. A warmth emanated from her that felt like home.
I liked that we had both gotten divorced after seven years of marriage and neither of us had initiated it. A strange thing to like, I know, but I doubt if I could’ve connected so deeply and immediately with someone who hadn’t been heartbroken like I had. Her marriage gave her a daughter named Sara, and the more I learned about her, the more I wanted to meet her too. Maybe one day she would think of me as a father figure, I thought.
Sometimes you know when you’re living in a defining moment in your life—a turning point. It’s almost always a function of being more present. More hyper-aware of your surroundings. These moments are rare. They stick in your memory like super glue. You couldn’t wash them out if you tried—you don’t have a choice.
We went to my apartment and stayed up talking past 2:00 am before she left to drive home. I now give her a hard time for tricking me into thinking she was a night owl like I am. But a ticking clock is a pointless human-invented construct when you’re awash in adrenaline and pheromones.
Eventually, you hear the ticking again and it snaps you out of it. Life begins to take on a routine. Days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years. And the years go by faster and faster. There are other defining moments; some exciting, some tragic. A career change, a sick family member, and a pregnancy. A wildfire, a traumatic birth, and a deadly pandemic. And a partner suffering from deep depression, anxiety, and OCD.
You want nothing more than to be her salvation, but you feel out of your depth. The stakes are high. It’s as if everything you say needs to be carefully worded. The last thing you want to do is make life harder for her. But retreating and giving her space doesn’t help either. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You don’t blame her for it, though. It’s not her fault. She doesn’t want to be this way—the “D” in OCD stands for disorder for a reason. She’s getting professional help. Your job is to listen to her and to hold her, and to promise you’ll always be there for her. Her healing will take time and patience and perseverance. The world feels heavy and you don’t know when you’ll get to a lighter place.
But then you think back to the anticipation you felt as you walked through those doors of the sushi joint, and the joy you felt when you saw her smile for the first time, and how you knew you had found someone special. A less complicated time. A time when there was nothing but hope in front of you. Your moment of salvation.
So I remind her of those happier times. We both smile and embrace each other. And for a fleeting moment, we get to relive it together. And I hope she realizes that even though times are more complex now and the scars of our traumas will always be visible, there’s more happiness in her future. In our future.
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