Originally I considered writing this as a funny account. How the devastation of Hurricane Harvey was an opening for me to start talking to my eventual fiancee. How part of the appealing part of talking to her was her family’s connection to Worcester even before I got to know her. How part of the reason I texted her was because she commented “oof,” on a status I wrote that read, “Alone at work and I just said out loud: I’m trying my best. So things are looking up for me.”
Ultimately as funny and fun our relationship has been, a truly funny essay wouldn’t do us justice. The amount of times we were saying that we missed each other despite never really being face to face at a comedy show is laughable, but our feelings are more real than any hack joke I’ve said on stage.
I had been aware of Mairéad since 2010. I did stand up at Clark University for Wisecracks Comedy Club to help promote comedy in the city. This sketch and improv group, Shenanigans opened for us. Mairéad performed. I hosted the event and as the show progressed one article of clothing was no longer on my body. By the end, I was just in my boxers. It was a dumb trick but I was bored with hosting and I am a giant attention whore.
Mairéad doesn’t believe me but I said to Nick Chambers that I wanted to talk to her that night, but I thought she was too young.
Then this summer the nearly 4 year relationship that I was in, with Kathryn, ended. It ended up being mutual, but at first I was devastated. I was so convinced I knew what we had and what we wanted and that despite some glaring red flags this was as good as it was going to get. Ultimately, she was right to end it. We weren’t actually happy, we were just really comfortable. We both deserved more than what we were giving each other. It was a harsh reality to come by but I know I have, and I’d like to think she has too.
During some of this break up, I did not have a place to stay. Will Smalley, Nick, my brother Mookie and plenty of others including my parents let me crash on their couches. I was living out of a gym bag. I walked and killed time for hours on end, because I had nowhere to be.
Days after the break up and in my deepest of doldrums, Mairéad messaged me. I had liked an Instagram photo, she then reached out and asked me about stage time in Boston and Worcester. “I thought you’d never ask!”
She told me she was going to be at Ralph’s that night and I asked if I could join. I did go to Ralph’s but I didn’t really talk much. I was too sad and clearly not ready to be flirtatious or learn more about someone. They were showing George A. Romero’s Creepshow and specifically when she came up to talk to me we were about to watch one of my favorite parts, involving thousands of cockroaches. We had a little back and forth about it and then she and her friends decided to leave.
I was kicking myself for not talking to her more. I was hooked. There was something about standing in the humid Worcester air, under Ralph’s neon lights and the glow of an outdoor movie and the subtle touch of her shoulder to mine. I played it real cool with her, despite all of my sweat.
We continued to message that night, she told me about being at Café Neo (the 7 day a week karaoke bar) and the free buffet that was there. We talked the next day and then the next day as well when she won a comedy competition. While she was at that competition, she and I were going back and forth about stand up, comedy crowds, and open mikers. It was refreshing conversation was about something I love and not about my past. Then she left for Houston and I continued my life surfing couches.
I had moved to Boston in September and was definitely feeling safe and comfortable but lonely. After a whirlwind of moving and deciding and purging my belongings, I was noticing how bad the damage in Houston was. I also happened to notice Mairéad had made fun of that particularly sad status I revealed earlier.
I figured I should text my new friend from Houston and make sure everything was okay. Luckily she was doing some shows in Austin and was able to have an extended stay there while it rained forever in Houston’s sprawl.
We both quickly realized that we were feeling our own versions of lonely and depressed and quickly started to divulge every feeling and concern we had. The parallel of our emotions, at first seeping into each other’s lives and eventually bursting and flooding into our everyday conversation was of course anything but damaging as it was in her hometown, but uncanny nonetheless. We had this immediate connection of not wanting to keep any of our feelings away from the other person. We told it how it really was, warts and all. Of course, there were also jokes and bits on bits on bits. We would just keep tagging each other’s joke until there was nothing left to say except fish for more details about each other’s mental state.
The beauty of our relationship early on was there was no tension, no pressure to see each other. There was no need for each other, no desire for sex. We talked for the sake of learning about each other. Each day was like an 18-hour date wherein we couldn’t hold each other’s hands, notice the freckles in our eyes, or stare at what attracted us most. Sure, there was Instagram, Facebook for stalking purposes but those were just pictures, and our millions of words, thoughts, and values were worth more than the thousand you get from one snapshot. In addition, at this point, I had no intention of dating anyone let alone be in a relationship with someone. She had made it very clear that commitment in general feels like a prison, so much so that she had received a tattoo on her ring finger of the universal symbol for women. In each of our eyes this was safe and still intimate.
One night when we were both out she texted me that we should visit each other. Of course, this was something I had thought about but didn’t know how to mention it. And there she was sending a picture of herself in the mirror saying, “This is my most fulfilling relationship right now!”
I leaked. It is a term I am using a lot now. It is better than explaining you’re crying, or that you’re emotional. The term spouted from Bryan O’Donnell who noticed, that for the most part I handled the break up very well, but my emotions could sometimes get the best of me. Where I would begin to tear up, for example, while watching WWE wrestlers enter the arena. “They’re just so passionate,” I would sob, as Bryan would giggle at me.
Shortly after the decision to see each other’s face, we started to say, “I love you.” She, of course, initiated that as well. She was asking why I hadn’t bought my ticket yet and she said, “Is it because I freaked you out by telling you I’m in love with you and obsessed with you?” I was wary of telling her I felt the same because of how soon I was out of the previous relationship. I said it directly to her for the first time on the phone the next day.
There was a day early on in those I love yous where we decided we already knew each other better than some of our friends, but if we were truly serious, we needed to dig deeper. This is the day I knew that this was more than love. That what we had was special and different. That the intensity and rapidness of our relationship is worth the frustration of distance. We laid it all out on the table; every flaw said we had whether we found them true or not. The release and reception of that information was so intimate that I felt as though she was sitting next to me.
The days moved so slowly after those plane tickets were bought. Mairéad was getting these pressure headaches and I was feeling immense pressure in my chest. It was only after a wrinkle in our romance and a poem written by me, (it is not worth printing, and just let me just assure you it helped the both of us), that we were able to alleviate the mounting heaviness that was coming with our relationship.
Sure, our relationship up until this point was completely not in person. Sure, there were moments throughout our conversations where we would ask the other if we were catfishing the other because it seemed too good to be true. Sure, the moment we could see each other in person and all of the things that we built up about each other leading to our meeting at Logan Airport could disintegrate on our lips as we kiss for the first time.
She flew in on a Wednesday, landing in Boston shortly after noon. I was waiting for her at the arrivals area in Gate A. My heart was thumping so loud I could feel it in my ears and I was having trouble keeping balance. As I stood out in front of the automatic doors, I watched as people met up and decided how to get to their hotel. I saw two former college roommates embrace and hold each other close in nostalgic elation. Waiting, it felt like every other woman walking out from the terminals was blonde. I kept thinking Mairéad was the next person walking out.
Then, there she was. Confidently, like the beautiful, headstrong, elegant person I fell in love with on the phone, she walked right up to me and we kissed for the very first time. Strangers around us must have thought that she had just got back from a long bit of traveling. Little did they know that we had both been on that same trip.
The next few days were great. We were on shows, we ate good food, and we walked all over Boston and laughed our asses off. On Monday we went to Worcester for an open mic where the crowd was real weird yet we had a blast.. We decided to run over to Ralph’s where it all began just 5 months before. As we sat there at the bar we relived when we were both there in July under the neon and kitschy movie scores. Then we talked about how poorly this visit could have gone. How some of the ideas we thought we had of each other might have been true. How maybe my joke about being “the fart machine” could actually be true and I would just be like Pigpen from Peanuts in a cloud of my own filth. Then she started to sob. I had never seen her cry before. I could see her struggling to say something.
“I can see myself doing stuff with you. Stuff that wouldn’t be fun with anyone else.”
“Like what?” I said.
“Like getting married and having babies.” She went on to tell me about her brother’s marriage and how they had given her an example of what it’s like to be happily married and then she met me.
“Me too.” I said. “I didn’t want to say it but when you were sending me those pictures of Zenita, I was thinking ‘that could be us.’”
Then she stopped sobbing
“Let’s get married. Can we get married? We should get married.”
Of course I said yes and we both cried and kissed, sitting at the Ralph’s Diner bar as The Damned played in the background. We then ordered two celebratory hot dogs cried some more then drove back to Boston. It couldn’t and shouldn’t have happened in any other way.
That week we went to an antique store in Jamaica Plain called Cobwebs, owned and managed by an adorable and knowledgeable older gay couple that they have been together for almost 35 years. We purchased the second ring we looked at. Like everything else in our relationship we knew that this was right. A 1920s era Art Deco ring with emerald and diamond. As the excitement was mounting with the purchase becoming more real an older woman standing next to us spoke up. “But will you make it to 64 years in March?” “I’ll take that as a challenge,” I replied. As if she didn’t hear me she responded, “Marriage is hard, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This generation isn’t willing to put in the work. They won’t make it.”
We laughed and kissed and walked around Jamaica Pond reveling in our love, soaking in our commitment to each other and laughing at the fact that the ring covers up her tattoo for when she was convinced she’d only marry herself. I didn’t think of it at the time but Jamaica Pond is a part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace Conservatory. Emerald: Mairéad’s birthstone, in her engagement ring and under our feet.
The two weeks post our engagement I have received a barrage of messages, texts and phone calls. Most of them, support. Some of them were critique and skepticism and a few were downright mean. Before we even made it completely public we discussed, like we have always done, how we feel about it, how others will see it and how we can best respond to reactions. If I didn’t know already that I should have said yes, this completely sealed the deal. That while simultaneously soaking in our total love and admiration for each other we could also stay level-headed and logical about the real world response to our seemingly wonderful fantasy blew me out of the water.
Shortly after our engagement Mairéad had the brilliant idea of milking it. We agreed at how funny it would to keep getting engaged over and over again each night we went out to go eat and see what we could get for free. In the end though, we decided we couldn’t go through with it. That it was better as a premise. We already had to commit to something much more important than some dumb bit.