A little known fact about Mark’s and my three-year live-in relationship is that it began because I was trying to say good-bye to him.
We’d known each other, up until that point, for more than seven years, and we’d dated off and on, mostly off. Mark disappeared for chunks of time, then would show up unexpectedly and take me to a movie or a play. Once, we hiked to the top of Iron Mountain.
It was during one such communication dry spell that I – earnestly following some New Age blueprint for forging a new life path for myself – wrote a flurry of so-called Completion Letters. In these letters, I thanked the recipient for being in my life, and wished them well on their continued journey, which would not include me from this point forward.
Mark took the completion letter I wrote him as a come-on. He wrote back that he’d always loved me and now that he knew I was fond of him, too, well, what were we going to do? He was in graduate school in Austin whereas I was in retail sales in Portland.
There was something captivating about being told I was loved, that I had been loved for years. In short order, I moved to Austin.
I had imagined Mark showing me around town, sharing his favorite places with me, introducing me to his friends and fellow grad students. It became clear right away that this was not how it would go. Mark spent most of his waking hours at the University chipping away at a PhD in theoretical chemistry and returned home between 2 and 3 in the morning. His cupboards were filled with Kraft macaroni and cheese, and cans of tuna, corn, and peas. His refrigerator held only Shiner Bock beer.
But, hey, this was fine with me. I’d do the exploring, I’d meet the people, and then they’d be Mark’s friends, too.
Armed with The Austin Chronicle to guide me, I soon shopped for our groceries at Wheatsville Food Co-op, worked at Book People, and regularly suggested we spend our Friday night splurge at Ruby’s Barbeque. For good measure I also discovered the most petite library I’d ever seen, and learned, first, how to push-start my car, and, second, how to shop for a new car battery. Who would have thought I could be so resourceful and independent!
Our fatal flaw of ours as a couple was that Mark felt he must say what was true for him, and I felt I must ignore what he said. Before moving to Austin, I’d told him how much I looked forward to meeting his friends and he’d answered that he couldn’t help me much in that department. Perhaps I thought he was being modest or simply underplaying the truth. The idea of living where one had no friends was unthinkable to me.
At night, I’d wake up at three in the morning to find Mark sitting up in bed in the dark drinking a Shiner Bock before going to sleep. Early on, I’d wake myself up enough to ask how his day had gone, and he’d laugh affectionately before explaining that it had been fine and nothing much had happened. After months of this, when his return from work awoke me, I’d just go back to sleep.
My close perusal of The Austin Chronicle gained me another significant discovery: a women’s support group. After attending for a few short weeks, I could no longer pretend I was happy with Mark’s and my arrangement. I tried to become happier with it by suggesting that we eat dinner together regularly, go on day trips to out-lying areas, get a larger apartment – anything that might shift our slide into a deepening rut.
Perhaps that was my intention one Friday when we sat at Ruby’s in the soft evening air drinking Shiners and waiting for our barbeque to come.
“Mark,” I said.
“I’d like to have a baby.”
He drank a large swig of beer and took his time swallowing it. Then he stared at me, expressionless.
“I want a baby,” I said again. “I love hearing Christine talk about Willa and – I think I’d like to be a mom.”
Mark set his beer on the table. He looked at his hands. He coughed, and picked the beer up again. “If you’re set on it,” he said, “I guess we could do that. But you’d need to understand: it would be your project, it’d be your deal.” He took another swig.
I tried to imagine the life of this child. What would it be like to grow up with such a ghostly father as Mark described? I was aware of the absent father phenomenon, but Mark’s idea took it to a whole new level entirely.
This was one thing Mark said that I couldn’t ignore.
It took awhile to end that relationship but I did and eventually found my exuberant husband who thought the kid idea was a good one – one he wanted to be an active participant in. Recently, I Googled Mark. Hundreds of miles and twenty years from Austin, we’ve ended up in the same town. I live in a ramshackle house with a wacky husband, our kids, and a sprawling array of family and friends. Mark runs a million-dollar company. Three guesses who I think is the richer person.