I walked into the gym to start my shift at the Workout Zone, just like any other day. I had my laptop in hand so that I can get some homework done during the slow times. And there were lots of slow times. I worked at the front desk of the fitness center, at a branch that was just waiting to be shut down. The job paid just minimum wage, but the people I met there were cool, and it was a fun job.
I waved hello to one of my best friends as she switched over from the treadmill to the stationary bike. I set up my computer and got to typing up my English homework. The front door creaked open, and in walked the one guy in the whole world I'd ever had a real crush on — the one guy I figured that I'd never see again. I could hardly believe my eyes.
He was one of my gymnastics coaches a lifetime ago. But seeing him again, this time at age 20, suddenly opened up possibilities that didn't exist in my 14-year-old mind. He was the cutest thing I've ever seen, and although I knew he's got to be older than me, he looked exactly the same as he did back then.
But how old is he, I wondered.
No matter. An adorable petite brunette walked in after him. She sported a pair of perky breasts that were a little out of proportion on her diminutive body. I glanced down at my chest, struggling to poke through my shirt. I didn't stand a chance.
Months passed, and I continued seeing him at the fitness center. I started getting the sense that he was kind of into me. One day, it just felt right to break the ice — to address the elephant in the room.
“How old are you, exactly?" I ask, peering up over the lid of my laptop.
"Thirty-six," he said.
I'm 20. I guess it's not that bad, right?
Not right. I wanted to be his girlfriend, but if that happened, I didn't want my parents to find out. But the petite, busty brunette got dumped, and we started going out.
We did hit a little speed bump early on. I got invited to a high school graduation party for one of my gymnastics teammates and a few years younger than me. Scott was probably closer to the age of the parents than to her. Nevertheless, he agreed to join me.
We drove home from the party in a weighty silence that had yet to settle in between us up until now. The party was awkward, and we both knew it. When it was just me and Scott, everything felt great. However, to the world, we didn’t quite know where we fit in as a couple.
“Thanks for coming,” I said, my words cutting like a knife into the silence. “I know you were a little uncomfortable.”
Scott cleared his throat and stammered, “Do you think this is going to work?” He was speaking the words I was too afraid to say.
“You know what? We could try taking a break. Maybe just do other things this weekend. Then see how we feel,” I proposed.
“OK,” he said. He smiled and kissed me goodnight as he dropped me off. My heart felt heavy as I watched his silver Chevy drive away.
Less than 24 hours later, I couldn’t handle the separation for another second. We always talked. Every day. I picked up the phone, hand shaking, and dialed.
“Hey,” he said. There was his silky, upbeat voice. The voice I realized I couldn’t live without.
“Hey,” I said. “I miss you. I want things to go back to normal.”
“Good,” he said. “I missed you too.”
And just like that, our trial of "doing other things" was done.
One day, sitting in the kitchen while stirring my soup and debating whether or not to throw the oyster crackers in or keep them on the side, my mother casually muttered, "So, Jess, how old is he?"
"Hmm? What?" I asked. I pretended to have not heard the question.
"Jess, how old is Scott?" my mother continued.
I choked on a spoonful of soup that was still a little too hot to be eating. Spooning some into my mouth seemed like a better idea than answering her question.
At this point, Mom knew I was hiding something. I was going to have to tell her some time, I figured. She already liked him, so that was plus.
"Thirty-six," I said quietly, looking down at the soup. (I really shouldn’t have put the oyster crackers in there. They're so much better on the side.)
"Jess!" screamed my mother. "He's way too old for you. Don't you realize — when you're 50, he'll be 66?"
"Yes, Mother," I sighed. I’d done the math. Trust me, I was concerned, too. "Listen, I love him. He loves me. We will make it work. We are in love. What more can I say?"
She seemed to understand at first, but then she also wouldn't let it go. She kept bringing up "the age thing" over and over again. She invented transgressions that he supposedly committed. One of them involved "stealing" a box from our basement that had a $50 rebate coupon attached.
Really? The man who lent me money countless times when I was trying to get my new business off the ground? The man who donates to the feline rescue society on a weekly basis?
It started to get on my nerves. Little fights about nothing turned into big fights about everything. I was growing more and more confident in my adulthood. I was, dare I say, a little sassy towards her at times. This wasn’t normally like me, but she was really pushing my buttons. My mother wasn't having it.
"Jess, this is my house, and you will do as I say," she said at one point. "If you don't like it, feel free to move out."
I had already talked about this possibility with Scott and he assured me that he would be more than happy to have me move in with him.
"Fine," I countered. "I'll start packing."
I think Mom was taken aback by the ease with which I adjusted to what she thought was the ultimate threat.
"If you leave," Mom said, "you can never come back."
"Great," I retorted. "I won't want to."
Fighting back tears, I began tossing my belongings into cardboard boxes. I started carrying them outside. It was 10 p.m. Surges of angry adrenaline energized my fatigued body. I called Scott.
"Mom kicked me out," I said. "I'm moving in with you." He didn't seem surprised by this piece of news.
"OK, I'll come by to help you pack."
Just like him. Always even-keeled, always going with the flow.
"Mom, can I borrow the jeep to move my stuff?" I ask.
"Fine," she spit out, between gritted teeth.
Fine. It was the last thing she ever said to me.
It's now 11 years later, and Scott and I just celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary. He is the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I still I love everything about him. We bring out the best in each other. He was the only one who was able to help me understand the emotional abuse my mom had put me (and everyone else) through for so many years. At the time, I didn't identify it as such, but today I can see it clear as day.
Sometimes, we need to lose one thing to gain another. I think I got a pretty good deal.