It’s cliché, but I wasn’t looking. After a year-long hiatus from dating, I was happy doing life without a man. Plans with friends filled every calendar square, and the only things I was committed to were two houseplants, and that was half-heartedly. I’d brought them with me when I’d moved out of Mom’s house two years prior. “Take every living thing with you,” she’d said. And so, I was enjoying my uncomplicated life.
Then, one Sunday morning in the fall of 1992, a single man visited my church – a place where an unmarried man stood out like a pimple on your nose the day before prom. One of our elders, Arthur, was known for escorting any available man to meet the single women of the congregation – both of us, me and my roommate, Murphy. This day was no exception. From across the room, I saw Murphy walk away from Arthur, with a stranger in tow. Wearing a broad, devious smile, Murphy was headed straight for me. I knew the old hand-off was coming. She introduced us quickly, then sped off, leaving a cloud of dust behind her.
Awkwardness set in. So I did what I always do: the Barbara Walters interview. “Where do you work? How did you decide to visit our church?” I asked.
I withheld questions such as, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony, or worn argyle socks with shorts?” Now I know that last question would have revealed a “Yes, sometimes, when I get home from work.” That would’ve been a deal breaker for any future interest on my part.
Flash was a computer nerd from Jersey. Part android, part Yankee, I thought to myself. In less than eight minutes, our conversation was over. We had performed our cordial duties for Arthur, and went our separate ways. I didn’t think about the new guy at church after that. I saw him on Sunday mornings with his niece Belle, and when he came to young adult small group activities. But no sparks were flying.
In passing one day, my preacher, Frank, stopped me and asked, “Have you met Flash?”
“Yes, I know who he is.”
“He’s a neat guy. Have you seen the calendar of events he’s publishing for the church?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh, it’s great; he’s going to do one each month. He came to see me when I was in the hospital, and we had a great visit. He’s a great guy.” Everything about Flash, apparently, was great. “You should get to know him,” Frank added. After years of friendship, it was the first time Frank had ever suggested I get to know a single guy in our congregation. Perhaps he’d say his motives were pure, but I think he was doing a little matchmaking.
Then, December came. I was attending a Christmas party at church, and the strangest thing happened. I began surveying the room, looking for Flash. I had no idea why. As I sat there wondering where he was – who on earth would ever miss a Christmas party? - I heard someone ask “Where’s Flash tonight?”
“I think he’s having a hard time without his kids here,” Frank’s wife, Doris, replied. “His ex-wife moved them from here, to Chicago.”
My heart sank. Which was strange, since I’d had no idea it was floating. He’s divorced with kids, I thought to myself. That’s too complicated for me. I went home to my apartment, and deleted him from my invisible people-I-might-be interested-in-sometime-in-the-future list. Prior to that moment, I hadn’t realized he was on my list.
When New Year’s Day 1993 rolled around, my friends Casey and Leona invited me over for cabbage and black-eyed peas.
“So who’s coming?” I asked, meaning which members of the family.
“We asked Flash to come. Have you met him?” Casey asked. Again with the question. “We’ve spent some time with him. He’s a great guy.” Again with the greatness. I stammered out something about having met him.
There was a knock on the door, and Flash walked in. When I saw him, butterflies started a party in my stomach. Butterflies? Don’t they know I scratched Flash off The List? I thought.
We had a great day. Flash was funny, which takes precedence over all other characteristics.
After Flash left, Casey looked me square in the eyes. “Now, that’s the guy you need to be with. He knows where he’s going, and he knows how he’s going to get there.” I was speechless, which is always considered an act of God. Coming from a former preacher and someone who knew me well, I didn’t take his recommendation lightly.
One Sunday soon afterwards, Flash followed me to my car after church.
“Would you like to go eat pizza?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m really sorry. I can’t. I already have plans.”
“Okay, maybe next time.”
Then, on another Sunday, he asked again. “Are you free to go get pizza today?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not. I have to help a friend with something.”
On five different occasions, Flash asked me to go eat pizza with him. And I make a point to never pass up pizza, the only perfect food in the universe. He was persistent, but I was involved in a million projects. There was no time for dating.
Then, he quit asking. I heard the window of opportunity slam shut, and, to my dismay, I was disappointed.
Dare I ask him to go have pizza? I wondered, a couple of weeks later. What if I get close to his kids, and things don’t work out? I’d still see him at church. That could be too messy, too un-fairy-tale like. I hadn’t even been out with the guy, and was already thinking about break-up complications.
And I wanted that fairy tale with every fiber of my being. Of course, I wasn’t thinking of the parents-dying-and-numerous-obstacles-to-overcome-while-fighting-evil-forces aspects of most Disney fairy tales. But I wanted all the good stuff with no complications. I’d never dated anyone with an ex-wife, and wasn’t sure I was up to the task. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that we all have exes of some kind. Ex-lives in many ways - what life was like before we matured, what life was like before finding our own faith, what life was like before we dealt with our pasts. It never stops. As long as we keep growing, something will be an ex.
I prayed a lot. I read literature on divorce and remarriage. One author suggested praying for reconciliation between the person you’re interested in and their ex-spouse. So I asked God to do that, if it was His best for them. In the meantime, Flash was increasingly occupying my brain. During my work days, I wondered how he was doing, what he was doing, and if he was thinking about me. I knew Flash might’ve lost interest after my numerous pizza refusals, but I was compelled to get to know him better. Finally, one night after attending a church class we were in together, ironically a class about relationships, I had a plan. After asking our mutual friends Harley and Cleo if they wanted to go out for coffee, I invited Flash to join us. We’re just four friends going out to coffee, I told myself.
“Sure,” Flash answered, accepting my invitation.
For three hours, we drank cup after cup. It was the beginning of a beautiful, over-caffeinated friendship. Soon, Flash started calling me. A lot. He’d call in the evening, and we’d talk until the wee hours of the morning. Murphy would come in and see me sitting on the kitchen floor with my feet up on the cabinet, chatting away.
Then Super Bowl Sunday came. I was ill that morning, so I’d stayed home from church. My phone rang at 11:45 a.m.
“What are you doing?” Flash asked when I picked up. “I didn’t see you at church.”
“Oh no. I have all this food, and I’m having a few people over. I wanted you to join us.” Being a clever man, he was appealing to my hearty appetite as a way of seeing me. “Want to come over and watch the game?”
“I’m sorry; I’m really sick. I wouldn’t be much fun.”
“I have chips and cheese dip,” the tempter continued. “You come over, and I’ll take care of you.”
I’ll take care of you. Those five words stopped my “No” in its tracks. A male had told me he would take care of me while I was sick. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
After I hung up, panic ensued. Needing to look less sick, I pulled my number one rescue med from my purse: my lipstick. Flash drove over and picked up a pale-faced woman with a bright red mouth, and we went back to his apartment. While we were standing in the kitchen, away from the other guests, Flash turned to me and asked, “So, how do I get you alone?”
I was a little confused. We were the only two people in the kitchen, so I worried he was seeing dead people.
“What do you mean? We’re the only ones in here,” I whispered.
“No, not in here. You’re always surrounded by people. How do I spend time with you alone?”
I was stunned by his straightforwardness, and my heart jumped up into my throat.
“I don’t know,” I replied. It was one of my more eloquent moments. Some guys would’ve taken that as “I’m not interested.” But not Flash. He kept calling me even after that day, and I kept praying for guidance on whether or not to date him. The more I prayed, the more my feelings for Flash grew. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t doing anything to encourage romantic feelings, or trying to control the situation, or manipulating the outcome – but love for Flash was being poured into my heart.
Six weeks after that monumental first cup of coffee, Flash asked me out. Since we were becoming good friends, and I wasn't making a lifelong commitment, I said yes. Finally, we were going out, alone. We had dinner, which was safe, and went to play pool, which was horrifying. I’d never played pool on a date. My goal on first dates was to appear successful, so that meant no bowling, no putt-putt, no darts, no eating spaghetti, and no pool. Being on a date didn’t miraculously give me skills I’d never had before, but that night was the most fun I’d ever had losing. To this day, Flash remembers what I wore.
“Awww. You remember my outfit?” I asked, impressed at his attention to detail, a skill particular to men in the dating phase. Twenty-four years later, I’m lucky if he realizes I’m in the car with him.
“How could I forget? I hated what you wore,” he replied.
I was appalled. “What? You remember because you thought it was ugly?”
“Ugh. Yes,” my flatterer explained. “You wore rayon pants, with a huge flower pattern on them.”
“They were cute,” I countered.
“I hate pants with flowers or patterns on them,” he replied.
We continued to spend time together as friends, both by ourselves and with our church group. Flash was persistent in wanting us to “date,” but I was still uneasy about becoming more serious. I shared my reservations with Flash; he told me about the demise of his marriage - reconciliation was out of the question. Still, I kept praying about what I should do. Finally, a few weeks later, God gave me the “green light” in a way that was unmistakable. Even so, I wanted Mom’s input; she was my sounding board, and her advice was precious. On March 13, 1993, we were driving to our friend Lylas’s wedding, where I would carry on my tradition of being a bridesmaid. On the way, I told Mom, “I’ve been spending a lot of time with Flash lately, and I’m interested in him.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed that,” she replied.
“I’ve been praying about it a lot. I know you never dated or wanted to remarry after you and Dad divorced. I thought maybe you don’t believe in remarriage. So, I want your opinion on all this.”
With a strange look on her face, she said, “I need to remind you of something. I’ve been thinking about it for the last two or three years, wondering if you remembered.”
I couldn’t imagine what she was leading up to.
“Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it lately, and thought maybe you needed to hear it. Your dad had been married before I met him,” she replied.
It’s a scary thing when your world is rocked as you roll down the freeway at 65 miles an hour. “What? What are you talking about? You never told me that,” I exclaimed, making sure I had a firm grip on the steering wheel. “Oh my gosh.”
“Oh,” she said nonchalantly, “I thought I told you.”
She told me the story of Dad’s first marriage. She’d been in my shoes, to a certain extent. As she spoke, the last weight of doubt lifted off my shoulders. I was elated that someone else, especially Mom, understood. Fear had been replaced by joy, and I couldn’t get to Flash’s front door fast enough after taking Mom home that evening.
I knocked on his door, then held my breath. There I stood, wearing a red, hand-made bridesmaid dress, with puffy sleeves and an empire waist, the epitome of early 90s wedding party attire. When Flash opened the door, I rambled for a while, beating around the bush, while he listened patiently. Finally, I got to the bottom line, “Yes, I want to date you.” Flash smiled and hugged me.
Then, I quickly added, “I know what your kids mean to you. I know they are your heart. Are you sure there’s room in your heart for me, too? I don’t want to mess things up.”
His smile broadened, and his eyes twinkled as he replied, “Yes, there is plenty of room for you there.”
I drove home on clouds that night. And, in spite of storms through the years, some tsunamis and some with jolts of lightning, I’ve been walking on clouds with my Jersey Boy ever since.
And, eventually, we went out for pizza.