I had a thing where I couldn’t concede, but I’d accept punishment. It has been to my detriment. It defined my second marriage, and if I’m honest with myself, it defined me. I’ve been weaned on love’s bloody battlefield and I have ghost aches of wars long lost and a bewilderment on the rules of warfare.  It was very black and white, disregarding that we live in grey. I have worked so hard to learn to re-love, I didn’t account for re-learning how to fight, and this is necessary. It was only when the garrote was piercing my skin did surrender ever enter my mind. Tim fought dirty, wielding humiliation and ultimatums. He would list what he considered my transgressions, my faults, my flaws, lobbing grenades of spiteful words, ending with, always, do better or he’s leaving. Clean better, cook better, fuck better, don’t want better, whatever better, or he would be out the door. We’ve agreed to be honest here so I am writing truth, albeit awash in shame that I allowed this. But I did. I tried hard to do everything better, like a lap dog doing tricks for table scraps. I wouldn’t concede, I wouldn’t quit, but I took the verbal hits like a champ. This last weekend Viking was angry. This was a different kind of war, but my old self, my battle weary Id put on the old armor, rationally knowing it wasn’t needed with this man, but old habits die hard. This is a story about a fight. This is a love story.

Twenty some odd years ago in a little town in West Texas, I met Birdie and Nina. It was love at first sight.  We were all on our first husbands, simpler times, ah, youth. These women are a part of me, always. Collectively we have been there for one another for nine divorces, eight marriages, two babies, hard times, and some of the best of my life. Reading that, you might think we forged a friendship in a song of sorrow, but that’s not so, it’s been forged in real life, sculpted in authenticity, true in the nakedness of flawed, good women. We have turned 30 together, then 40, and now 50. We met in Dallas last weekend to celebrate my early birthday.

I would be remiss if I didn’t set the scene. Nina and I got to the hotel first and met at the bar. Birdie was a couple of hours behind us. Nina is all five feet of a tornado. She is constant motion. Nina endured a particularly brutal divorce a couple of years ago and has just now has started dating again. She needed something absolutely easy, something with safety wheels – she’s been seeing a younger man, a friend with benefits. She tells me I’m her cautionary tale, she won’t fall for him.  She told me they enjoy one another’s company as she pulled a Plan B packet out of her purse. She opened up the contraceptive and downed it with Pinot Noir while telling me that she is having great conversation and great sex with him, but she’s not falling in love, trying to convince herself along with me. Either way, we will carry on, but I remember thinking at the time, the weekend begins with Plan B at the bar, the carcass of the packaging left on the table,  chased with a $25 glass of wine. There might be a metaphor there.

Mid-life pregnancy averted, Birdie arrived. She is a show stopper, tall and willowy. I’ve walked into rooms with her for 20 years and always, always heads turn, and she just simply doesn’t notice. I don’t know if there is anything better than a beautiful, humble woman. She looks like a model.  She sat with Nina and I. We loved.  I took this moment with me from the weekend. Right there, absorbing these women, time and distance erased, just the acceptance and easiness of friends from way back. We decided to walk across the street to eat dinner. This changed everything.

It was an Italian restaurant and almost empty. We sat at our table and the waiter came for our order. He told us his name is Brilliant and he will be serving us. Seriously, Brilliant. He’s accented and Nina asked him where he was from. He said, “Albania”, and Nina said, “I love Albania”, and he said, “Really, are you sure?”, as he walked to get our drinks. We laughed and teased Nina, “Where is Albania, Nina?” Legit, this was the end of the conversation with Brilliant. Birdie, Nina, and I sipped tequila and ate. I went outside to smoke after. I’m surprised that Brilliant followed me out and bummed a cigarette. He lit it and asked me, like he was talking about the weather, “How do you like to do the sex?”  Two things: one, “the sex”, that makes me laugh, two, I was fucking stupefied at the brazenness, but I laughed. He went on telling me he likes the doggy style. The ‘the’ kills me. He told me about how one of his mistresses likes him to pee on her. Brilliant asked my feelings on “the ahn-nel” (anal). My response was nervous laughter because this was just absurd, absolutely fucking absurd. I was done smoking and started to go in. Brilliant told me to meet him in the ladies’ room in 15 minutes. I told him I have a boyfriend, he told me he has a wife, 15 minutes. I told him I was not fucking him in the bathroom and laughed while I opened the door and went in. My girls and I got the check and walked back to the hotel and laughed about Brilliant and the preposterous conversation. I write a blog about love, dating, and life and I was thinking this hilarious tale will be fun to write. Viking called me and I was a little bit tipsy. I told him all about our weird, wild night and giggled. Birdie, Nina and I sat on the patio of the hotel bar reminiscing, quickly forgetting about the waiter. It was getting late and we looked up to see Brilliant walking onto the patio. He made some small talk, looking to see if he would have any takers. This passed the line from funny to a little stalker-y.

We gathered up to go in, and he left. I told Viking about this, also and then we called it a night. I went to bed thinking it was a weird night, but I’ve known these girls a long time, and we would laugh about this for years to come. It didn’t register as anything more.

The next day when I talked to Viking, there was an edge. He’s didn’t say the words, but I felt the waves of anger radiating off of him. I was armed like Hurt Locker in response, wanting to diffuse this bomb, anxious in the shade of his malcontent. We circled a little, verbally, and then it came. He was irritated, agitated about the encounter the night before. He was incredulous. He didn’t think someone would come in that hot, that fast. He was not being cruel, he wasn’t necessarily angry with me, he was frustrated with the situation, frustrated with the distance, he was having this conversation with me, voicing his feelings and I asked him if he was breaking up with me – my old self went right to the extremes, all black and white. He seemed surprised by my question and immediately said, “No. We are just discussing a situation, talking it out so we don’t find ourselves here again.” Viking doesn’t know it, but his answer released a breath I had been holding, allowed me to stop bobbing and weaving and really listen to him. He didn’t raise his voice and he wasn’t mean, he was frustrated. He asked me if I ever told Brilliant to just leave me alone, and I had not. He asked me if a woman had made the same remarks to him, how would that make me feel, and he assured me that after the first sentence he would have shut the hypothetical woman down. He was right on all of it. There was a tacit consent in my laughter, a compliance in not saying absolutely no, stop. We talked more, a lot more, and the whole thing got behind us, diffused. This is a story about a fight. It’s a love story.

I haven’t said it out loud, but it’s all over the stories I’ve told. I don’t surrender because I’ve always been scared to be left. There is an arrogance in me that believed if I loved better, more, if I did better, was better, I could change a man and he would stay. This has not worked, obviously, and I’ve survived every time, better for the leaving. Security in a relationship does not come from blind compliance, dancing as fast as you can for another. When I was with Tim, I would sometimes wonder just how much would I take, what would be the point of no return. Tim is a broken, cruel man. At the end, the metaphorical garrote around my neck came when he put his hands on me with violence, he hurt me. He called me a cunt. He did this in front of my son. I’ve wondered this since then, if my son wasn’t witness would that have still been the point of no return? Never now, but then, would that have been enough? God, I hope so, it’s heartbreaking to think otherwise. I don’t like sharing this, but I am so you, kind reader, have some perspective on where I came from and where I’m going. A disagreement doesn’t look like a Lifetime movie. I’m learning that the fight isn’t really a fight, productive words are truly  powerful, ultimatums and threats are bullshit and not part of the strategy, and punishment, self -induced or otherwise, are in the far back past. The rules of warfare have changed. There is no war.

Go forth and conquer.