No-El Noel


I am in love. Suddenly, astonishingly, sickeningly so. Know that first and the rest of this post goes down a lot easier for the less romantically inclined among you.

It helps avoid that look that I’ve been getting from friends lately, that half-smile that says, “I will be happy for you a few months from now, but right now there’s no possible way this could be happening so quickly for you, so I’m going to make like a hugged cat and try to escape from your company as earnestly as possible, with claws out to help you reconsider the consequences of foolish actions.”

I knew I was beyond any reconsideration shortly after Thanksgiving, when I found myself Googling cheap downtown parking options. For a man who swears he’ll go to his grave with his bottom never having touched a driver’s seat–and with the non-driver I.D. to prove it–my automotive-related search was certainly out of character. Whether during my years in New York or my much happier five years here in Chicago, I’ve always been a virulently vocal transit rider. I grew up on the subway; I live downtown; I sneer at the suburbs.

So what on earth am I doing dating a suburbanite? A Los Angeles transplant who’s never taken public transit in his life, even after nine years in Chicagoland?

It was a great feat when I finally stopped at turns pining over and bitching about Devyn and, for the first time in years, started letting happiness into my life at the end of the summer. Being able to smile for the first time in months without any outside provocation was a welcome surprise. But it didn’t make what was about to happen any less of a shock.

You see, when you really have no expectations, that’s when miracles work most easily.

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Christopher, the heart of this story, was set on coming downtown to see the city’s holiday decorations. I was set on staying home to put up my tree. Opening up my previously non-existent social life in the wake of Devyn, I made a lot of friends this year on the Internet. Chris was one of them. But I had just been snubbed by another Net friend and I was damned if I was gonna spend my Saturday evening being a tour guide.

We made plans to hang out. I waffled. I canceled. I felt guilty. I relented. I saw him standing outside the parking structure at Ohio and Wabash and teased him about not wearing a hat in 20-degree weather.

He laughed, and so did I in spite of myself.

Seven hours later, sitting on my couch and staring at the stalk of an unfinished artificial Christmas tree, I had an inkling of what was happening. I wondered what it would be like to hold the hand of the corporate trainer/pastry chef/blue-eyed bundle of laughter seated there with me. But it was still 20 degrees out, and after two years of Devyn it was going to take a lot more than a visit to the Christkindlmarket to make my heart melt.

He made a persistent follow-up effort. A flurry of calls while away on a week-long work trip. A rapid-fire series of dates in Chicago and his Oak Park stomping grounds. A smile that almost begged for me to want him as much as he wanted me. And inside of me, this gnawing feeling of incipient joy, as if two pieces of a puzzle were finally coming together.

But ooh–ick!–that nasty no-transit thing.

Two weeks before Christmas, we spent an agonizingly romantic 12-hour date in the city. At least, I imagine it was romantic. I was too sneezily sick that day to have felt much of anything beyond the tip of my Rudolph-red nose. Even after seven months, I was still getting my newly single bearings. Yet, Chris was so sure of himself.

So two days later we met again, and I tried my best to have an open mind and an open heart, no matter what ghosts of previous relationships chose to rear their emotionally constipated heads. Even with an ease and affection between us that was impossible to ignore, I was becoming a little afraid there wasn’t going to be a “my half” of Chris and me–at least not one that could match Christopher’s (truly charming) unwavering, puppy-dog attention.

I met him at the Oak Park station on Marion Street. He arrived in a Santa hat and handed me a rose. We spent a very sweet evening baking cookies and watching movies by the light of his Christmas tree, laughing, talking, and cuddling. As we melted into his couch, I realized how unused I had become to someone being able to kiss me and look me in the eye instead of looking away.

Before he drove me home, we paused for a few minutes and talked and held hands in his bedroom. He hugged me and I glanced at our reflection in his dresser mirror. At first it seemed odd to see Chris standing there next to me. I said, “It’s funny, I’m used to being the shorter one.”

Then out of nowhere, I said, “I could get very used to being with you.” As I said it, Chris jumped away like someone had just given him the fright of his life. He gave me this innocent look of surprise and said, “How did you do that? I was thinking that the second you said it.”

And I swear, I almost heard the thud of the final shoe falling from my breakup. It was this weird, palpable sensation, kind of electric, that I felt well up and wash right through me. Like all of a sudden a switch turned on. Out of nowhere, from nothing, there was something.

They say when it’s right you just know, right? I fear this sounds like metaphor, but I don’t at all intend it that way. In a very literal sense, I felt the arrival of knowing. Just absolutely knowing. Like a brick to the head out of nowhere. I can pinpoint the moment, I can still feel the event happen. I’m still warm inside from it.

I pondered that moment the whole drive home, while Christopher and I held hands and talked and laughed as usual. And every time he smiled at me, his still yearning look told me he had no idea that for half an hour I’d already known I was falling in love.

The feeling’s mutual. I can’t explain it, don’t understand it, and find it hard to avoid quoting the Vandellas. We’ve barely met. We’re in love. Not needy love. Not desperate love. The best we can make of it–honest love, the likes of which has never come before for either one of us.

It’s a curious, at-sea feeling. We spend our lives doing unhappy very well. We have second-best, settling, and “I guess this is the best I can do” down pat. But what is it supposed to feel like when you finally get everything you’ve always wanted? When out of nowhere, ready or not, God hands you that missing puzzle piece?

What does it feel like when you find the one?

I wish I could put that into words, but sheer astonishment overwhelms my mastery of the descriptive. I can, however, tell you what it sounds like. Knowing that you’ve found the one sounds like a call I got from Christopher shortly before Christmas Eve (which, with Christmas, and as you may imagine, we shared together).

“I’m on my way. I’ll be there soon…I’m on the ‘L’.”

In the background, I could hear the CTA guy. Ding-dong. Doors closing.

And opening, too. And opening, too.

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