[While I fail to remember the minute details and the specific words of the conversations that took place, I’ve done my best to capture the essence of each interaction. All names except the author’s have been changed.]

 

“Does anyone want to go on a blind date with one of my friends?” My roommate, Mandy, burst through our apartment door. Mandy was small but loud. You always knew when Mandy was in a room. Beth, the fourth girl in our little home trudged sheepishly in after Mandy and quietly closed the door. 

 

I welcomed the break from my Abnormal Psychology studies; summer school was intense. The unusually warm June weather only added to my struggle to focus. 

 

I walked down the short hallway and made eye contact with my roommate and best friend, Helena. She rolled her eyes and I snorted. Mandy was short, loud, and had strange friends. We had met quite a few of them in the five and a half months she had lived with us.

 

“Come on, guys, seriously? All you do is sit here and watch TV! You never do anything fun!” Mandy dropped her backpack and headed for the bathroom, leaving the door wide open.

 

“K, so Helena, I was thinking of this guy, Benji…” her voice carried easily to where the three of us sat in the living room. It was the living room, the entrance, the TV room, the spare bedroom, the dining room, the piano/music room all rolled into one. I’d only lived here nine and a half months but this was my home. Four young, twenty-something-year-old women in a two bedroom apartment, trying to figure out what they were going to do with their lives. So many possibilities. And so few boyfriends.

 

motherless woman

Me and my roommates. c. July 1997.

 

Mandy was the only one of us with a boyfriend. But that didn’t mean that any of us were jealous. We were still young. I was barely twenty-one. And I had just survived the first year of life without my mom. I wasn’t in any shape to be dating, let alone have a boyfriend, and I knew this at a gut level.

 

Helena reluctantly agreed to go out with Benji, with one condition. I had to go with her. We decided to meet Benji at the movie theatre. The theatre was a ten minute walk from our home, and since it was cheap – it played movies that had been released a while ago – and close to the University, it was a hotspot for people our age. It was a safe place to meet a stranger, er, I mean, Mandy’s friend.

 

“How are we going to recognize him?” I whispered into Helena’s ear as we waited outside the theatre.

 

“Just look for some loser. Of course she’s gonna set me up with a total dead beat,” Marilisa said in her trademark, nonchalant way.

 

“Then why did you even agree to do this?” I hissed. Helena was calm. She was my rock. No wonder God had directed my steps to live with her during the worst year of my life.

 

Helena shrugged. “I dunno. An excuse to get out? Something new to laugh at? Hey, do you think that’s the guy?” Helena raised an eyebrow and tilted her head. I turned a half circle and stood beside her, checking out the nerdy looking guy in the flowery button up shirt. I spun back around, my eyes wide, my lips shut tight to hold in a giggle. It didn’t work. 

 

I snickered. “You really think he’s even old enough to know Mandy?! He looks like he’s thirteen years old!”

 

A nasaly voice spoke up behind me. “Hey, are you Helen?” 

 

Helena reached out her hand. “Hi there, you must be Benji. And it’s Ha-LAY-nah.”

 

The date dragged on. The movie was terrible. Helena and I kept poking each other with our elbows and making rude comments about Benji. As soon as the movie was over, we parted ways and Helena and I walked home.

 

Helena burst into the apartment ahead of me. “I can’t believe you set me up with a teenager!” she yelled at Mandy, who was curled up on the couch with her boyfriend.

 

“Whaaaaat?” Mandy shot back. “He’s your age!”

 

“I’m twenty-one!” Helena retorted. “TWEN-TEA ONE! And, might I add, almost twenty-two!”

 

Mandy’s eyes opened widely and her mouth dropped. “Oh, I thought you were nineteen.”

 

“AND?” Helena roared. “Tell me how old BENJI IS!”

 

“Nineteen?” Mandy cringed and hid behind her boyfriend as Helena whipped throw pillows at her.

 

Helena and I retreated to our bedroom and crashed on our respective beds. We spent the next couple of hours munching on snacks and talking and giggling. Helena would forgive Mandy but we would never forget Benji. What a bad blind date. And unfortunately, my turn was coming up soon.

 

The very next day, the phone rang. “It’s for you-ou!” Mandy sang. She passed me the receiver, a twinkle in her eye. “It’s him!” she mouthed and wiggled her fingers in the air.

 

“Hi?” I said into the phone.

 

“Hi, Angela? It’s Mike, I work with Mandy and I was wondering if you wanted to go out for gelatti on Friday evening?” We set a time, I gave him my address, and I hung up the phone. I immediately panicked. Oh my word, what have I done?

 

I barged in on Beth in the bathroom. “You’ve got to tell me what this guy is like,” I demanded. Beth and Mandy both worked with “Mike”. 

 

“How old is he? Is he a nerd? What does he look like? Is he nice? Is he funny? What is he like?! Should I cancel my date? If he’s anything like Benji, I can’t do this!” A bad movie was stuck on repeat in my head. Benji had come to pick me up and it was just me and him. No buffer. No Helena to poke elbows and giggle with. Just me and Benji having the most horrendous evening in the world and when I got home, Mandy would be there to laugh in my face. I couldn’t do it. I needed to cancel.

 

“Mike? He’s okay. I don’t know, I guess he’s kind of quiet. I don’t really know him that well at all.” Beth shrugged her shoulders and went back to brushing her teeth.

 

“That. Doesn’t. Help!” I clenched my fists. My mother had abandoned me by dying. My dad was living his new life as a Bible School student. My brother was a hermit and couldn’t have a normal conversation with anyone to save his life. I had no sisters, my grandmas were both dead, and I had no aunts that I could turn to. It was just me and myself. And Helena. But even she was going away for the weekend.

 

“Beth! Stop!” I nearly yelled.

 

Beth set down her toothbrush and met my eyes in the bathroom mirror. Beth didn’t know me well and it wasn’t her fault. It was mine because I rarely let anyone in. But I could tell that she knew I was unusually upset.

 

“Ang, he’s a good guy,” she said calmly, her eyebrows raised in concern. 

 

“Are you sure?” I breathed. She nodded.

 

“Would you, would you, ah, date him?” I asked. Beth’s mouth twisted and she lifted her eyes to the ceiling in thought.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I think he would be okay to date.”

 

“You think?” I prodded her. I couldn’t face a disaster. I was too delicate. It had been less than fourteen months since my mom died. In that year, I had started drinking and going to bars. I had even smoked, briefly, and fooled around with guys I never would have hung out with before my life had been turned upside down. Then, exactly one year after she died, I made a huge realization while waiting for the bus one crisp April evening. The one year mark was over now. I had survived. I didn’t have to hide anymore. In my mind, I had grieved. Wasn’t grief simply intense pain that you tried to avoid and never talk about? Surely, I could move on with my life now. I had only started to straighten myself out less than two months ago. But could I handle this?

 

“Yeah, Ang, I’m sure. He’s a missionary, for crying out loud.” Beth smiled and I sighed. Maybe Beth was right. The three of them worked at Youth for Christ in the inner city. You can’t be a freak and a missionary, right?

 

“K, thanks.” I gave Beth the bathroom back and went to throw myself down on my bed. Helena was at work and wouldn’t be home for a while. And when she finally did get home, she told me there was no possible way that Mike could be THAT bad if Beth said he was okay.

 

Two days later, I got ready for my blind date by myself. Helena and Beth had both left for the weekend and Mandy was gone out with her boyfriend. I looked at myself in the mirror. I was pale as a ghost and my armpits and hands were dripping with sweat. I changed my t-shirt again and went to go play the piano until the intercom buzzed.

 

“This is it,” I muttered to myself. “I can do this.” I strapped on my sandals and grabbed my keys and went down the stairs to meet my blind date.

 

Mike was standing at the door. If he was taller than me, it wasn’t by much. He had short blond hair and an easy smile. He wore a t-shirt and shorts, like me, and sandals. I don’t remember the first words we said to each other as we met for the first time at my apartment door. But I remember parts of our very first evening together. We discovered that we had a lot in common. He had gone to the same Bible School as my brother and he even knew my brother. We had both made lists of the qualities we were looking for in a potential spouse. We both liked to be active, and we both valued our personal relationships with God.

 

As we sat talking with paper bowls of gelatti cradled in our hands, I didn’t even stop to marvel that I was speaking so easily with a complete stranger. It just felt…right. Our evening didn’t stop after we swallowed the last of our Italian ice cream. Mike found out that I had never been to the city’s biggest exhibition/festival that was currently going on so he asked if I wanted to go. I said I did so we went and walked around looking at the sites, casually bumping elbows, laughing, and talking. We stood and talked in line for a couple of rides, then sat side by side to ride the rollercoaster and the ferris wheel. 

 

At a certain point that evening, he asked if I was cold and I said yes. He pulled an extra sweater out of the trunk of his car and I slipped it on. When he dropped me off that evening, I forgot to take it off. I ran up to the apartment and spent the rest of the night in a daze.

 

Two days later, Helena arrived back home. “So, how did it go…,” she wiggled her eyebrows. “Was he a serial killer? A punk rockstar? A, ah,…I got nothing else.”

 

“It was okay. I think it was good. I don’t know. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” I answered, trying my best to sound carefree.

 

“Really?” Helena’s eyes lit up. I could tell she was making up all kinds of stories in her head. “So…are you going to see him again?” 

 

I shrugged. “I have no idea…”

 

“ANG! What is wrong with you?” She slapped me lightly on the arm. “Why didn’t you…go get his number from Mandy and call him right now!”

 

I shrugged. “I’ll just wait and see. If God wants it to be, then it’ll happen.”

 

The next evening, the phone rang. And it was Mike. Among other things, he asked if I still had his sweater. We arranged a second date. A second date led to a third, which led to our first kiss.

 

Four and a half months later, he proposed. The following May, eleven months after we met, we were married. 

 

I’ll never forget that warm June when I went on two blind dates. One remains a funny, “I-still-can’t-believe-that-happened!” story to tell between two girlfriends. And the other was the beginning of a relationship, a friendship, and then a marriage that has lasted twenty-two years and counting. 

 

motherless dating

We took selfies before they were selfies. c. July 1997

 

motherless wedding

Our wedding, May 23, 1998.