I met Jen the day I got divorced. The whole day was weird. I woke up to the song “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones. I took a shower and went to the courthouse. I was in line with my wife when the guy in front of me recognized me from high school. I asked him, “How’s it going?”
“Not great! he replied.” Oh yeah, he’s getting divorced too.
The judge gave his speech and the marriage was dissolved. Said goodbye to my now ex and went and bought new tires for my car. They said it was going to be a while so I went to the mall and bought a $100 pair of jeans. I had never really done that before and just figured I needed a “me day”.
That night I went to my home comedy club and handed the bartender my keys and told him, “I just got divorced. You are not to give me these back under any circumstances.” My oldest brother showed up to do his brotherly duties and we started drinking. It was open mic night. They called my name and I got on stage and I said, “I can do my act or I can talk about the fact that I got divorced today. Your choice.”
“Divorce!” they all yelled simultaneously.
And for the next 10 minutes I talked about my divorce that day. How when I got to the parking lot of the court house that morning that my first thought was, “I should have tailgated.” Just grilling burgers and drinking beers at the Bridgeview County Courthouse parking lot? I came off stage and my brother and I clinked beer bottles. It was raw and real and honest and funny. Then Jen walked by.
Jen takes over a room when she’s in it. Like a movie star. All eyes are on her. The first time I saw her I felt like Roger Rabbit seeing Jessica Rabbit for the first time. She has this air of confidence and energy. She floats through rooms.
The open mic ended and my brother and I took our seats at the bar outside the showroom. There was drinking to be done. Much to my complete shock Jen walked up to me and introduced herself. I immediately tried to convince myself that this happens all the time and tried to be cool.
“Did you really get divorced today?” She asked.
“And you just went up on stage and talked about it?”
“Yeah, I’m actually headlining here in two weeks. You should come back up and see me.” said Ken totally keeping it cool.
“Ok, I will.” she responded with a smile.
Then she joined her friends at the other end of the bar. I sat there for a minute and thought about the gravity of the day. I had gotten divorced. The person that I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with was like, “Nah bro” and it was over. I felt guilt and shame and embarrassment. I had failed as a husband and had to start all over again. I had nothing to lose.
I stood up. I wrote my number on a napkin and walked over to Jen and her friends. I put the napkin down in front of her and I said, “I don’t want to wait two weeks to see you. Call me tomorrow.” Her mouth dropped. She just looked at me and said, “Ok.”
To this day I don’t know what made me do that. I had never done anything like that before in my life. I was always too afraid of rejection. She texted me later that night and told me that was the most baller thing any guy had ever done.
Jen and I had our first date Thanksgiving night three days later. We met at some dive bar and had a couple drinks. It turns out that she had just ended her relationship earlier that week too so we were both getting over someone. “Crazy Train” by Ozzie Osbourne came on and we both laughed. “That’s not a good sign.” I kissed her at the bar and I remember thinking the moment that I kissed her that I had married the wrong woman. I had never felt like that kissing someone before.
We only dated for a few weeks. I was too raw emotionally and insecure and we were both on the rebound. We still debate to this day who ghosted who but eventually we got in touch and began a friendship that lasted 7 years. That Christmas I met a girl and jumped right back into a relationship (serial monogamist much?) and Jen eventually met someone and got married as well. We both worked downtown and had lunch occasionally. I told her my girl troubles and she told me her boy troubles. We really got to know each other and I accepted and respected our friendship and the boundaries that came with it. I never had a secret crush. She was just my friend and I really valued that. She even invited me to her wedding and I went by myself. I didn’t stay too long. I said my goodbyes and gave her a hug and walked to my car. I sat in the car and I remember thinking. “This isn’t over. I don’t know why but I think I’m going to be with her some day.” I had no reason to believe that she wouldn’t be happily married for the next 50 years but I just had this vision in my head of her painting while I read a book on a couch. The vision was clear as day. I figured we would meet on some cruise ship in 30 years and she would push me around in my wheel chair till I died.
Her marriage didn’t last long and we re-connected. By this time I was sober and I had figured out who I was and for the first time maybe in my life I finally had self worth and self esteem. I was able to finally be in a healthy relationship and be honest and transparent and let my walls down. The first couple of months we dated we spent hours talking, about our fears, our needs, our wants. For the first time I didn’t hide behind some persona that wasn’t me. The party animal, the life of the party, the false Bravado, Tatonka (long story). Like that night on stage the day of my divorce, I was raw and real and let her see the real me, flaws and all. I expected her to go running for the closest exit but she kept coming back and loved me no matter what and I accepted that love which for me was the hardest part. And slowly we built, one day at a time, a foundation for what would be our relationship.
I am honestly grateful for alcohol. I know that sounds weird but I don’t know if I could have pulled off that move sober that night. It’s called liquid courage for a reason. Alcohol allowed me to stand up for myself at times and to vent my anger. It numbed me from pain I didn’t know how to deal with at the time and it gave me the courage to talk to the prettiest girl in the room. It worked until it didn’t work anymore. But once I got sober and finally let the real me surface and let people decide (without fear of abandonment or rejection) whether they wanted me in their life and more importantly whether I wanted them in my life I finally started to have healthy relationships for the first time. It hasn’t been easy. I know there are people in my life who miss that guy. He was a lot of fun the first few hours of the night but I can’t help but love the gift of being present. When you talk I’m truly listening and when I say something it isn’t some slurred ball of angst. I say what I mean. Alcohol may have been what I needed that night to get Jen to call me but sobriety is what has gotten me to keep her. Seven years ago when we met there is no way we would have made it as a couple and I think we both recognized that quickly. I would have made the same mistakes I had made in my marriage but having gone on this journey I finally realized in order to find the love of your life you must first BE the love of your own life. Until you can truly love yourself unconditionally it is so difficult to be authentic in any other relationship but I have that today… And that makes me the luckiest Roger Rabbit of all.