15. The Soulmate

When I was a child listening to my parents fight, hearing Mom cry, and feeling shameful for all of it, I decided that love equals pain and spent the next thirty-plus years laying bricks around my heart.

“I’m a Navy guy,” he says. “Jeff,” he continues, and holds out his hand for me to shake it as we stand in line for coffee on the first morning of fellowship orientation at the Sheraton in Dallas.

He is the human version of Buzz Lightyear.

Strong jaw line, broad shoulders, and eyes the color of a steel ship.

His voice isn’t robotic though. It’s wrapped in a Texas drawl that makes him annunciate the “h” in “white,” and other short words become two and three syllables as he just keeps talking.

We’re cloaked in diamonds.

He’s going on and on about his work as a mental health counselor and something about horses, but instead of being hyper-focused on what he’s saying like the glitter normally makes me do, I am distracted by what’s happening with my body.

I am a ball of light, hovering in space. 

Our relationship is slow to start.

He lives in Dallas as a full-time father of three children under 12, and I live on the east coast.

We are long-distance for almost a year, taking a few short vacations together, before I follow my wise, confident voice and move to an apartment close to him in Texas.

Soon, the idea of accepting the responsibility that three children would bring to my carefree world becomes painful.

I have little responsibility outside of myself. I am free to go wherever I want to, see whoever I want to, do whatever I want to.

I have a hard time imagining that I should leave Never Neverland for a suburban life that someone else built with Jeff. 

I keep myself from getting close to him and to the kids, and he doesn’t notice because he has a fortress built around himself, around all of them.

We’re both untrusting from scars left by someone else.

close up image of the milky way

We want to be together, but we won’t allow it.

We avoid our feelings with alcohol-filled dates and start to fight a lot.

It’s clear to me that my praying led me to Jeff, yet things become so turbulent I start to question why I was led here.

When I’m alone at my place, I search for answers in the bottom of wine bottles on my patio.

I am trapped in bed for days on end.

My body is like a million pounds of lead anchoring me to that place where shame takes over, creating turmoil in my inner world, leading me to disrupt my outer world so that it matches what’s going on inside, moving me in the complete, opposite direction of harmony. 

I ache to shed my skin.

To get out.

I look for my escape.

I apply for my dream job in New York City.

I get the job.

It’s the night before I plan to accept the job offer.

I’m in the midst of one of my inconsolable rages when Jeff takes my arms into his hands and everything shifts.

I deflate.

He looks me square in the eyes through the glitter.

“Maybe it just doesn’t look like what you thought it would look like,” he says.

image of the milky way

A billion chaotic brain cells calm like an orchestra finishing its warm-up and playing the first note of the symphony.

When I was a child listening to my parents fight, hearing Mom cry, and feeling shameful for all of it, I decided that love equals pain and spent the next thirty-plus years laying bricks around my heart.

The idea of a satisfying, peaceful life with a family at any point would be impossible.

Jeff is right.

This is not at all what I thought it would look like.

We’re standing here for what feels like hours before it clicks.

I want to run to New York because I’m scared of love.

It scares me because I know I have to be vulnerable to feel it.

I spent so long building the fortress, lining up dragons around it and feeding them, and I know the only way to get to love, to get to my happily ever after, is by facing my dragons and tearing down the walls.

I have two choices: I can lose Jeff forever, or I can face myself.

In this moment, I commit to Jeff.

I commit to the work, to doing everything that I can to discover why He led me here.

The point of walking with God is to keep walking, right?

Determined to stop running from Jeff, I call my therapist.