Previously my annoying roommate and now my live-in boyfriend, let’s call him Tom, we were from the same hometown, had graduated from the same university; but hadn’t met until we found ourselves teaching in the Southern California desert, although at different districts. He was teaching in town, where we lived, and I taught about 20 miles further out in the vast, sandy land.
While Tom went home to work construction for the summer, I stayed behind for a few weeks and then drove the 1200 miles to spend a month with friends and family. Tom and I planned to live apart, but still date, the next school year, but for reasons I will not bore a reader with here, we ended up accidentally cohabiting again.
When I look back at myself driving over a thousand miles by my 22-year-old self, long before cell phones, I feel lucky to have made the trek safely, which I did repeatedly over my seven years living in California. At the time, though, I thought my mom was way too nervous.
Tom and I got along well, I thought, for our second year of teaching. During this time, I began my graduate studies for a Master’s Degree in School Counseling. My parents stayed with us for Thanksgiving weekend, the most memorable event having been a tire blowout in the fast lane of the 405 freeway on our way to Venice Beach. Not a very wide median, having to cross traffic to use the call box and return, and getting hooked up for towing, all combined to make for a most interesting ride.
At the end of that school year, Tom again made plans to go home to work for the summer. I was taking classes in my Master’s program, so I was only going to have a few weeks in August to visit home. Tom’s brother-in-law flew down to make the drive with him, and took the opportunity, when we were alone for a few minutes, to let me know he was encouraging Tom to date other people. I fumbled and bumbled because I was so thrown. Our third roommate, a male teacher, took me out to breakfast to tell me Tom was saying very unflattering things about me when I wasn’t present. I must have managed to pack these things away in a box marked, “DENIAL.”
As the heat hovered around 100 degrees and I attended classes, phone calls from Tom became less frequent and much shorter. It got to the point where I was calling and leaving many messages before I’d get a return call. One particular afternoon, I caught him at home. We discussed the weather and he had to go, hanging up after only a couple minutes.
Calling back immediately, I asked him, “What the hell is going on?”
When he replied, “Um, what do you mean?”, I told him it had been getting harder to get him on the phone and even harder to get him to talk.
“I’m not an idiot.” Okay, I was slow to accept what was going on, but not entirely daft, after all. “Have you met someone?”
“And you’re dating her?”
“What? Are you in love with her?!”
Quite a pause and then, “Yes.”
“When the hell were you going to mention this?”
“I didn’t think I should tell you on the phone. I was going to wait until you got here in August.”
“So, you were going to wait and run the time I have with my friends and family? And then what? We just live together?”
“No, I was going to get down there after I told you and move out before you got back.”
I don’t have a clear memory of all the expletives I employed, but I unloaded for sure.
I went out and found myself a cute, little, one-bedroom apartment. Living alone was a scary, new adventure, and that’s a whole different story.
Tom and I met at a park one day. He was bringing a few things I’d left behind and my mail. We made a little small talk. He confirmed that he was still seeing his girlfriend back home. When he drove away, he called out, “It’s a long way to the top, if you want to rock and roll!”
A couple of months later, on my birthday, a dozen red roses were delivered to my school. All it said on the card was, “Every rose has its thorn.”
It took time but eventually I appreciated that I was not spending my life with someone who uses song one-liners to express himself in difficult situations.
Years later we ran into each other at an elementary track and field event, me with my two boys and he with his two daughters. It wasn’t awkward after all that time; it seemed a lifetime ago that my live-in boyfriend got engaged to someone else.