Pucker Up: How Black Friday, Bald Tires, and Bad Pick-up Lines Brought Two People Together
I didn’t go there looking for the person with whom I’d spend the rest of my life. Most good humans frown on using a memorial service for a deceased friend as a singles’ meet-up for the recently separated. While that wasn’t my intention, nor was it anywhere on my radar, my excitement level for the opportunity to spend a small bit of time in conversation with Cheri was greater than expected. I left the service that evening appreciative of a good group of long-time friends and smiling in remembrance of our eccentric and fun high school classmate. My mind kept drifting back, though, to the invitation I received from Cheri to visit her in Asheville, a town I loved and had wanted to visit for some time. An invitation I accepted. Because, why not? A good friend who could show me around a cool city for a weekend? What’s not to love? (Examples of foreshadowing are often much less obvious…)
Black Friday never had much meaning to me until this particular one in 2014, the day I had agreed to head over the mountain to North Carolina for a fun-filled weekend sampling craft beer, eating at trendy restaurants, touring Asheville, and catching up with a really good friend. So, it frustrated me that I waited until that morning, of all mornings, to decide to get new tires. Which I couldn’t get underway until I finished some laundry and packed. Which I couldn’t do until everyone finished with showers in the one-bathroom house I was sharing with my parents. All three of them. (A good story for another time.) When I finally left town heading east, I already felt behind. Something else was pushing me, though. I wasn’t just running behind. I couldn’t wait to be there.
The drive over the mountain was enjoyable. Being a recent single person, trips in a car alone had become a type of therapy. With music switched up loud, my brain wondered here and there, examining several facets of this new life, a life that allowed me to up and go to North Carolina with no plan or real reason, a life that was wide open in front of me like the road. Everything converged that day—a three-day weekend, a trip to Asheville, and good weather—giving me a freeing feeling and leaving the harder stuff behind along with the bald tires.
On-line dating was so much harder than I thought it would be. Putting myself “out there” after being both single and singly focuses on my kids and building my business was simultaneously hilarious (if I could look at it objectively), ego-bruising (like being on the Gong Show) and necessary (if I was to avoid the almost guaranteed Walmart house dress and consequent 60 house cats.)
But I was doing it.
I was also doing a lot of intentional spiritual work of “inviting” in my ideal partner. Oh yes, going out on dates to show the Universe I was doing my part. On one of these dates, which happened to have been on my birthday, I received a phone call from my life-long friend Mark. He said he had seen it was my birthday and decided to go above and beyond the Facebook birthday greeting and just call me like it was 1987. I was thrilled. I always loved talking to Mark.
In our short conversation, I told him I was coming to our mutual friend Joe’s memorial gathering happening in Knoxville later that week and asked if he was going to be there. When he said Yes, I was thrilled. Okay, my friend had passed, and I was truly sad. But I was also very excited about seeing Mark. Was that weird? Was that a sign? Was that bad? My date teased me a bit about “the man who called me.” I assured him there was NOTHING romantic. And I meant it!
Celebrating Joe with high school friends was a wonderful gathering. But what I loved most was talking to Mark. I had known and loved him for years and I craved a deeper conversation. You see, I had seen certain things on Facebook that led me to believe he was getting a divorce. This made me sad because I hate it any time a marriage fails. Plus, I was worried about him. I wanted to talk to him, ask questions and offer support. But every time we talked and I would have a chance to ask those deeper questions, someone would interrupt us. By the end of the evening, I seriously felt incomplete. I wanted more. It was like I had only gotten one potato chip. Like I had gotten to read the opening paragraph but had no idea what happens to the hero.
When we parted, I asked Mark to come to Asheville for a visit. I was ALWAYS inviting people to Asheville, so this wasn’t particularly unusual. It’s one of the beautiful things about living in a cool place and having every other weekend without my children. I was free to play and entertain and drink beer. So, I extended the invitation to Mark and he said he would do it.
We set the date for Black Friday, November 28, 2014. A few days before he was to visit, I was at dinner with friends and told them about my weekend guest. They knew I had been dating and asked if this was a potential romance. I said absolutely not—and I meant it. This was a visit from “the most wonderful human I ever knew”, but we were only friends. In fact, the idea of a romance with Mark made me chuckle. It just never crossed my mind and when it was put to me, I thought it was even too weird to consider. Mark was my friend. End of story.
But I couldn’t deny I was ecstatic about him coming to Asheville. Like I had told my friends, Mark was the most wonderful human I had ever known, and I was going to spend a whole weekend with him. We were going to have uninterrupted time. We were going to laugh and explore and converse. I wasn’t going to have to share him with anyone. I imagined we might talk about his impending divorce and I was going to be his guide—after all I had done it and got the T-shirt to prove it.
When Friday, November 28th finally came around I couldn’t wait. He had to get tires—that was a stupid thing to do on the day you were planning to travel—so I waited even longer. He couldn’t get there soon enough to start our weekend. I did a lot of looking at my watch and trying to stay busy until he finally pulled into my West Asheville driveway. Finally!
The streets in Asheville are narrow. That’s what I noticed trying to find Cheri’s house. Narrow streets are fine, but then people park on both sides of them, all willy-nilly, taking decent two-way streets and turning them into one-lane (wait for someone else, move two car lengths, wait for someone else, move two more) kind of streets that can be distracting as you try to find a place you’ve never been. So I may have driven right by her house without knowing it. Perhaps I did that a second time. There’s a good chance I did it a third time before I called her, and she guided me, finally, into her driveway.
I was there. And even at that very moment, as I climbed out of my car, gathering my overnight bag, being greeted by Jake and Moxie, Cheri’s dogs, from behind the fence, as I walked up the stairs to her backyard, as I closed the gate and saw Cheri standing there smiling while I was being licked and leaned on by the dogs, as I walked toward her to give her a hug, even with all the anticipation from that night at the memorial service until this very second, there was never one minute I considered this an opportunity for romance. I had always loved Cheri. I had admired her talent, her work, her tenacity to create a business of her own—on her own—while parenting. I loved her sense of humor, her irreverence, and her wide, beautiful smile. All that admiration was for a “friend”, a good friend, a long-time friend, but a friend none the less.
We had never dated, never considered dating. Never even talked to anyone who suggested we should consider dating. She and I were two among a close-knit group of friends. We kept up with each other. We loved when each other had success and felt sad when bad stuff happened. Not once did my brain entertain the possibility that this woman may be important to me in a whole new way.
I remember her showing me into her house, through the back door into the office, and then in the kitchen. She offered me a beer (I accepted, because I’m polite. And because…beer.) I remember looking at her face, her smile, her genuine happiness at having me there.
It was about then, about the time I was lost in her eyes, that the polite conversation we were having became muted and distant. I could hear the words she and I were saying, but it was like the people talking were two other people in another room down the hall. Time slowed a little. I remember this feeling I was being urged to do something. This was an important moment and I needed to not let it pass. This feeling was as strong as it was sudden and surprising. At that moment, as she was telling me all the fun things we could do over the weekend, as I was half listening to her and half listening to this feeling, I made a decision to do something so foreign in concept, so out of the realm of possibility, so unexpected even to myself, I would later tell people some higher power was pushing me along. It was the only explanation.
With not a second thought, I kissed her.
Not to kiss and tell but having someone ask to kiss me or lean over and do so in a moment of shared connection has happened to me a few times. But kissing Mark was different. Seriously different.
No wait . . . I wish I could find a better way or more descriptive words to convey what I mean. To simply say this kiss was different sounds so trite, so “oh yea, we’ve all had one of those kisses”. But this kiss was different. This kiss surprised me to my core. My core, ya’ll.
We’re standing in my kitchen and I’m showing him around to give him the lay of the land. Mark is being sniffed and barked at by my two dogs, Moxie and Jake. Then he looks at me with a funny look on his face and a weird look in his eyes. Then he said the most romantic words that would make any woman swoon, “Well, I better get this over with!”
I swear, that’s exactly what he said! I remember being puzzled and confused (no, I don’t think I swooned—at least not yet) and then I found his lips on mine.
Mark and I belong to a group of people where kissing, even saying we love each other, is common place. In that sense, I’ve kissed Mark many times. But this was a grown-up kiss. A kiss with meaning behind it. I didn’t know what it meant exactly but I knew it meant something.
As he leans in and kisses me, I had no idea what to do. Time slowed down. My mind was going a hundred miles an hour. “Well, I better get this over with”, he says. What does that mean? Was it the best line ever or kind of insulting? Could this possibly be the sweetest kiss I had ever received? A likely contender. Had I given off a vibe that made him think I had something different in mind for our weekend? I didn’t think so. Was this kiss something that had always in our destiny? Who knew?
I swear, all of this was swirling around in my head at the same time. Cue the weird movie scene with the mash-up of scenes from the past, the present and even the future. This is EXACTLY what happened to me.
Mark Honeycutt was kissing me, and it was simultaneously the most unexpected and the most natural thing all at the same time. There was nothing left to do but to kiss him back. And I did.
In the lexicon of love language both written and spoken, there are thousands of examples of romantic words used to ask a woman for a kiss. My brain landed on none of those. What I intended to say was, “I need to do this.” What came out of my mouth was, “I need to get this over with.”
Neither of us knew what in the world I was talking about. In the years since, I’ve only been able to describe a feeling of urgency at that moment. I had to kiss her—I didn’t have a choice. I was being led (pushed?) to find out if all those emotions and feelings that overcame me as I walked in her kitchen were figments of my imagination or if it was happening to her. I couldn’t go all weekend wondering if I should or shouldn’t, trying to find the right moment, the right setting. I had to find out right then why someone (God, the Universe, Mother Earth, someone…) was so sure Cheri and I needed to be open to our relationship taking a different and magical turn. But, good Lord, that choice of words…it’s a wonder there was a second kiss at all.
She kissed me back. And she meant it! In that moment, my mind began to construct new pathways, new landscapes, a new reality. My heart and brain agreed on something, for a change. I didn’t know what it would look like, how we would figure it out. I didn’t even fully understand what it all meant. I only knew it felt powerful and deep.
In those moments after “the kiss”, the world around me and the woman in front of me looked different. I was seeing with a new set of eyes. I’m not sure I stopped smiling for a few hours, if at all. This weekend in Asheville just became more than a visit, more than a diversion from life, more than a fun getaway.
That weekend was all those things for sure. It was a terrific visit, a great diversion, and packed full of fun. We had great conversation at all hours of the day and night. We ate great food and toasted with good drinks. We visited breweries and took walks around downtown visiting shops and seeing the sights. We did all the things we were going to do even had “the kiss” not happened, but now we did them while holding hands. We interrupted meals often with more kisses. Our deep conversations about our lives also included trying to figure out what was going on with the two of us. It sounds like hyperbole, but this was one of the most enjoyable weekends of my life.
The Universe shocked me once more that weekend when Sunday came, and it was time for me to drive back to Tennessee. A little reality can hit hard. We lived in two different states. We had two different lives with commitments and responsibilities. I packed that reality away, though, like my overnight bag, and threw it in the back seat. Because sitting up front with me was excitement, wonder, joyous possibilities, the memory of that kiss, and a feeling that the two hours that separated us along Interstate 40 were no issue at all.
Unlike my drive to Asheville, with loud music and wind as my soundtrack, the drive back to Knoxville was in silence. Or, if you had been sitting in the car with me, it would have been silent. But inside my head, a million conversations were happening simultaneously. It was loud in there. Messy. I drove a hundred miles and then realized somehow, I was already home, hadn’t realized where I was exactly.
I walked into my parents’ house, where I was living at the time, and they asked that question. “How was Cheri? Did you all have a good time?” After listening to me answer that question for hours, they understood. And so did I. I was going to fall in love, it was going to happen fast, and I needed to grab it and hold on to it with all my heart.
Did I fall in love right there and then? Probably not. But my molecules rearranged. The synapsis that had been sleepwalking through my adult life, full of love and loss, popped their little atom-heads up and payed attention. I knew that something was most certainly a foot, as the saying goes. But I couldn’t put a name to it at the time.
My weekend with Mark, if there had never been a kiss, had all the ingredients of a fantastic time. But throw in the unexpected bonus of romance and it was through the roof! However, it was strange. Immensely strange. Before kiss. . . friends for nearly 40 years. After kiss. . . who knew?
All I knew was that right in front of me, and sitting beside me on the comedy bus, and chatting with my dogs in his lap, and toasting the sunset, and eating a meal I had prepared, and looking at me in such a new and different way was “the most wonderful human I had ever met.”
When you decide to start dating, especially if you go the way of on-line dating, you better develop some good people-reading chops. There are some crazies out there. Even the nice and sane ones, of which there are many, require you to be vigilant as you try to figure out just exactly who this person is that you are considering for your future. You can meet nice men, but it takes A LOT of emotional intelligence and maybe even a psychic reading or two to declare them fit. But I didn’t have to do any of this with Mark. I could vet him myself. I knew, with absolutely no doubt at all, that the man before me was kind, honest, not a playah, and a really good human.
This might sound like good news, and it is, but I just eliminated a lot of the work that goes into dating. After that kiss (and maybe a few others) things were put on fast forward. I got to skip the hand wringing and wondering about his past. I didn’t have to do any excavating about his previous relationships and his patterns. I didn’t need to know about his work or his friends or his family. I already knew these things. I could skip over all of that.
What’s the bad news Cheri? Well, with one kiss I was catapulted into the middle of the story. I instantly found myself deep in a romance that just days before didn’t even exist. At least it didn’t exist in my mind. This meant that instantly I was well into the plot of the story line. In some senses I landed 15 spaces into the game and the game had just begun! It was magical but and also unsettling. It meant I could consider the LOVE question much earlier than I would EVER have allowed myself with another man.
Love. Could I be in love? I loved him for sure. Always had. But was I in real love?
On Sunday, when he pulled out of my driveway, that was the thought (although I wasn’t brave or crazy enough to say it out loud) that was on mind.
As I saw his tail lights head down my street, I knew there would be a lot more time with this man. I couldn’t wait for more time.
Then I ran to call my best friend to relive every delicious moment over and over and over.
Mark and Cheri
We’re writing this story, our story, for a few reasons.
First, it’s fun for us to do. Writing about our first weekend together from each perspective is an exciting exercise, if nothing else. We’ve been pushing ourselves to engage in some type of writing process that’s collaborative but hadn’t landed on how to do that or what to write. This began as a way for us to see what might work, without any thought it would be something others would want to read.
Through this exercise, though, we see there’s a larger narrative and perhaps you’ll permit us, dear reader, to share some thoughts about our journey we believe are relevant. To those who, like us, wake up and somehow find themselves in their 50’s, single, wondering how they could navigate the rest of their lives, we may have some encouraging news. How did these two previously untethered souls find the courage and nerve to jump head first into what has become the most important relationship of their lives? Well, we both had done the work ahead of time.
The two of us have talked about this many times. How did we both come to be simultaneously receptive to this magical relationship? Cheri has no doubt it was all the many intentions and wish lists and bad dates she had prior to Mark walking into her kitchen. Since her divorce eight years earlier, she was determined to pick a person who matched her soul, not just fit a check list. Mark had done his own soul searching as well. He had been observing and thinking and allowing himself to identify the things he truly wanted in a partner. Mind you, all these thoughts weren’t necessarily conscious, but they were definitely happening, paving the way for Black Friday 2014.
We think we can boil it down to two things: being ready and being open. Ready and open for the goodness you really want in your life. Ready, so you can recognize the very thing you want when it beckons you to step up and give it a big ole kiss on the lips. Open and worthy and receptive enough to allow it to come to you so you can kiss it back.
Perhaps this story isn’t only about finding love. We think it’s a bit larger than that. Maybe it’s about finding happiness in general. That may be wringing out too much from our little love story, but we’re certainly happier than we could ever imagine. Happy and thankful every day because we followed our hunches (invite him to Asheville), listened to nudges (go ahead and kiss her) and didn’t get deterred by the obstacles (so what, we live in two different cities) that were in our path.
Happiness may just be staring you right in the face. So, pucker up!