When I was 22 years old, I met a man that changed my life.
I was in the middle of a divorce. (Trust me, that's a whole other story of being young and getting married and divorced while in college. Another day, another day.) I was working at an apartment leasing office and my coworkers teased me about the cute guy that would politely wave to me while getting his mail.
I somehow worked up the nerve to talk to him. He was so cute and Southern and so completely different from my ex-husband. He was actually different from anyone I had ever dated.
And I fell for him. Hard, I fell for him.
I imagined a life with him. A little house in the country. Children and dogs and cats...
We moved in together. We had both been hurt in other relationships. It was a big step to take. And perhaps we should have been a little more guarded, a little more cautious, a little bit slower. But we weren't.
We had two cats and a dog and a cute little townhouse that we lived in. I graduated from college and started my first job in the real world.
And then I found out that I was pregnant.
And when I went to the doctor, thinking I was six, maybe seven weeks along, I was told that I was twelve weeks...and having twins.
I was in shock, but overjoyed. I had no idea how we would ever make ends meet. Or how at 23 (because I was now 23, on the cusp of 24) I could ever be a mother to not one but two children. I had changed only a handful of diapers in my life and it was (obviously) such a horrifying experience that I blocked it from my mind.
My hormones played cruel jokes with me throughout my pregnancy. One minute I was fine, the next minute I was full of anger and sobbing. It was enough to make anyone think that I was a lunatic.
Our relationship had never been completely stable. I think because of our prior experiences we didn't know how to truly trust someone else. The pregnancy just compounded everything and by the time I was put on bed rest at 26 weeks, the cracks in our foundation were winning.
I had an emergency c-section at 33 weeks.
The girls stayed in the NICU for 23 days.
And after months of fighting, I moved home to my parents.
I knew that I couldn't take care of these precious premature babies the way that I needed to if I was also having to work on our relationship.
If I had to fight for something it had to be the girls, not him.
So I left.
He awkwardly came to visit at my parents' house. It never went very well.
One time he gave me $50 and told me to buy myself something nice.
Only I didn't know why he thought I would be able to do that. I had left our relationship with a $200 check that my dad gave me and the promise of WIC vouchers from the wellfare agency. I was teaching full time, but my monthly check had been prorated to subtract the bed rest and maternity leave. I brought home $600 a month...for seven months...just enough to pay my student loan and car payment.
I was 24 years old, living at home, with two babies, working full time and still having to ask my parents for gas money.
It was humbling. And probably the lowest point for me. Ever.
When the girls were two months old, he decided that we weren't the family that he wanted. He said those words to me. He said lots of other words to me too, among them being that the next time I heard from him would be through a lawyer.
Only that call never came.
I never heard from him again.
Years later, Chris and I met, fell in love, got married and he adopted the girls. They know this. We took them with us to the courthouse. They met the judge and we all took pictures together. We celebrated our family of four.
I found out at one point that the man who changed my life had become a police officer in a nearby town.
And then driving to my new job this fall, I saw him. In his squad car, at the light next to me. We stared at each other. He raised his hand. I raised mine. The light turned green and the moment was over.
My heart ached. I wanted to pull over and retch on the side of the road.
But I had a job to get to. A job that didn't quite feel like home. A job where I couldn't lock myself in the bathroom and cry. People might hear me and I didn't know them well enough for tears.
So I joked about it.
But I was shook up and it hurt.
And then the scene repeated itself. Over and over and over. Literally. Some weeks I saw him two or three mornings on my way to work. I saw him when I went through the Chick-fil-a drive thru and coming into the coffee shop as he was leaving.
It felt like he was everywhere and the world was closing in on me.
And then one morning we were in the coffee shop at the same time. He ignored me. I seethed. So I made myself very visible. Like, right next to him, visible, and began a conversation.
His first question to me was to ask if I was following him.
Ten years later, he wanted to know if I was following him.
I laughed and explained that I worked at the school right around the corner. He kept seeing me on my normal route to work.
He welcomed me back to town.
He looked at the floor for almost the entire conversation.
He never asked about the girls.
And I haven't seen him since.