My husband, Nate, and I started “courting” in the fall of 2003. I choose that term because it’s the only one I can think of to accurately describe the bizarre song and dance of our early affection.
This confusing period lasted from the day I noticed our AIM conversations had suddenly turned flirtatious (late August 2003), until we became “official” (late April 2004). Despite many months of obvious interest, the transition to boyfriend/girlfriend was fuzzy. One day I worked up the nerve to ask Nate if he would be my boyfriend and he responded with confusion, “Oh, I thought I already was…”
This long, bewildering period was partly due to the fact that I was terribly awkward, inexperienced in romance, and lacking self-confidence. Meanwhile, my partner in crime wasn’t particularly forward, was purposefully avoiding a new relationship after the relatively recent break up with a long-term girlfriend, and had a hell-of-a-time reading my mixed signals. To add a little spice to this sultry mix, my dad was dying.
My life at that time was dominated by anticipatory grief. I had been readying myself for my dad’s death since childhood. The ultra-smart doctors at Mt. Sinai and other fancy New York hospitals struggled to categorize my dad’s illnesses, so I took it upon myself to try to stabilize his declining health. I did so, between the ages of 8–20, by following a wide variety of daily compulsive behaviors.
Every day, multiple times per day, I forced myself to accomplish meaningless tasks so that my dad would live: get a new high score on Tetris, throw a stone and hit a specific tree, walk along some slippery river stones without slipping, turn off the microwave before it beeped, count to 100 before I saw the school bus headlights bouncing down the street, or walk 4 awkwardly large steps between the patterned colored tiled squares in the hallways of my high school. The dopamine rush of an accomplished goal was short-lived, though. Within minutes of successfully completing a challenge (like unlocking my school locker before anyone…