A Door Unopened

A Door Unopened
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Friday, September 24, 2010

Winning the Lottery

My husband, Tim, and I play the lotto. He plays it weekly and I participate only when the stakes are significantly higher than usual. For me to make a special stop, park the car, find my way into an inconvenient convenience store and unclench my stingy fist from some greenbacks, there has to be a sizeable and consciousness-raising amount of money in the offing. He plays the same two sets of numbers and, struck with a smidgeon of OCD, he very rarely misses a week. His devotion to playing is methodical, systematic, and somewhat sentimental. He plays the birthdates and ages of our three children, his mother and the two of us. I usually need a certain amount of prodding and reminding to buy in. He keeps track and tells me when the jackpot has reached a compelling level and I plunk down my money—sometimes as much as a whopping five dollars, or if I’m in a ridiculously extravagant, profligate and spend-thrift-erous mood, ten dollars—to purchase a quick pick and take my chances. No romantic number choices for me, I just let lotto technology be my guide.

The chances are overwhelmingly against us winning. Not only do we know this as the regular members of the general population know it, we know it in extreme depth and punctilious detail not available to the general population. This is because Tim is a statistician; he not only knows the probability of winning, he can give you the probability calculations that describe it. If you’re a statistician, just about everything can—and should—be broken down into an equation. To spare you the pain of thinking about probability in statistical jargon—read: an equation—I’ll just confirm what you already know. The chances of anyone winning the lottery are infinitesimally small. So it’s not as if we think we’re really going to win it one of these days, but it’s true what they say, “If you don’t play, you can’t win.” Because neither one of us can pass up a shot at winning free money, we play. But, we’re almost one hundred percent positive we will not win.

Tim and I met in an unusual way. It wasn’t unusual because we met on Craig’s list, an online listing of everything from pets, to personals, to professions, to politics—it happens all the time these days. Our case was different. We were participants in a rampant case of deliberate and determined serendipity. It was an occasion of conventional, new-age, internet personals perusing, turned unconventional, by way of mistaken identity. It went something like this:

I was trying to make a departure from the divorce doldrums, my twelve-year marriage having ended four years prior. There was a subsequent three-year relationship which had died a drawn out, hiccough-ridden, overdue death. I was ready for something better, something nice, something to get me through some of the yawns and sighs of alone time that inundated my life. I’m not sure why it’s such a faux pas to admit, such a sign of weakness to confess—I was lonely. I wanted a companion, a male companion—someone to hang out with, someone to hang in with. I was not looking for permanence.

My first marriage was a cautionary tale. It had instilled me with enough caution that I could have talked Evel Knievel on mood elevators out of popping even one little wheelie on his ten-year-old grandson’s banana-seated, stingray bike. Savaged by the whole marriage idea, I had absolutely no designs on matrimony—ever—again. Thanks just the same.

I had married my college sweetheart—we met when I was nineteen—affording me little dating experience. Trying online introductions seemed a good way to beef up my dating résumé. At forty, with a seven-year-old son, my chances of meeting an age-appropriate, location-tractable and requisitely single significant other seemed best played out with the help of the internet. I tried online encounters on and off for slightly over a year. In that time, I corresponded with a veritable legion of lonely men and met, in person, something on the order of forty-odd members of the cadre. I’m sure I didn’t break any records. (Are there any records for meeting available men? Is Guinness keeping track of this?) But it did seem to me that I met quite a lot of men in a relatively short space of time.

I had given up the idea of finding anyone with whom I wanted to spend any significant amount of time via the cyber-scene. Although I had met a considerable amount of men, there were none with whom I felt that much talked-about “click”; I hadn’t felt what some of us like to call “chemistry” with any of the bachelors. I called it, “instant intimacy”, and decided that it was just not something I was capable of. I needed to know someone reasonably well before I signed on for any kind of real something. I sensed from the start that some of the men I spent time with were not meant for me, but I gave it a chance anyway, just to be sure I could trust my radar.

There are a few men that stand out in my memory: There was the lovelorn guy, the Italian guy, the Prozac guy, the underwear guy, the gnomish guy, the ambivalent guy, the podiatrist, the optometrist, the contractor/writer, the liar (appeared numerous times in various incarnations), the special missions/ex-Navy Seal, the park ranger, the glom-on guy, the ADHD but super smart guy, and the “I just want to be your friend”—yeah, right—guy.

Most recently, there had been a super nice guy, my first African-American paramour. I had gone the long stretch of two months with him—and, sorry to say, it did feel like a long two months—before I decided to put the kibosh on it. Most of these men seemed genuinely nice, they just were not for me. A few of them were not at all nice and they were definitely not for me.

Having discarded the slim hope of finding Mr. Right-For-Now through internet means, and while breaking off the two month stint with the super nice guy, I was distracting myself by looking at the personal ads on Craig’s list. It’s great entertainment. You can find all kinds of crazy stuff on the site and if you’re a divorced, forty-year-old mom checking the personals, you can get a clue as to how interesting your life is not. There are people looking for hook-ups of all kinds: Friends, friends with privileges, just privileges, just kinky privileges, privileges with you and your hot daughter, privileges with you and their wife, privileges I could not fathom in my limited, middle-class, white bread, pedestrian mind. I wasn’t looking for anything or anybody in particular; I was just looking.

At the time, Lily Tomlin’s one-woman show, “Searching for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” was playing in San Francisco and I wanted to see it but needed a date. So when I saw an ad with the same title as the show, I read it. The man was in the right age range, and looking for a date for the show. There was one thing, however, that stopped me from writing back; he described himself as having a ponytail. Yes, it’s shallow, and yes, I’ve met plenty of quality men who sport the manly ponytail, but given a choice, I’d rather be the one with the ponytail. I passed the ad and read on. A few days back in the file, I found what I thought was the same ad again; it had the same title. In the short space of sixty seconds, I changed my mind. Ponytail? Whatever. All I wanted was a date for the show.

I replied to the ad. My message was short but included the line, “Do you still have the ponytail?”

His brief reply came quickly and included the lines, “I don’t have a ponytail. Are you sure you have the right ad?”

Wrong ad. Right guy.

We met for a drink which evolved into dinner. He was interesting, smart, handsome; and quirky. I’m a sucker for quirky. He was a disillusioned, iconoclastic, ex-academic who lived with his enormous white, furry, drooling dog in a house in the Oakland hills. He was an oenophile, epicure, and gourmet chef. A virtual orphan, (his father passed when he was five and his mom passed when he was nineteen) he seemed like a character in a novel.

At evening’s end he was careful to give me plenty of space. He did not move in for a peck on the cheek or even a chaste hug when he walked me to my car. With nary an offered handshake, there was no physical contact at all between us as we said goodnight. Much later that he told me he hadn’t wanted to scare me off. Standing some distance from me while saying goodnight he asked if he could call me again.

I waved—he seemed so far away—gave a noncommittal smile saying, “Sure.”

In all honesty, I was not thinking things between us were going to run for any significant period of time. I figured he was another of the many nice guys I’d met, a guy not really for me, a guy I might include in a story sometime as “the statistician” or “the guy without the ponytail” or “the guy who kept his distance saying goodnight so that I thought my deodorant had failed.”

He was consistent, persistent, attentive, earnest, thoughtful, and exuded that certain quirky quality that always keeps me coming back for more.

We dated. And as we dated and got to know each other better, I found he was quirkier than I’d anticipated. I like quirky, but you can get too much of a good thing. I wasn’t sure if his quirky cup was running over or if it was merely brimming full and threatening a sticky spill at the slightest jostle. It was still early enough that it didn’t really matter. I looked at our relationship as an enjoyable way to pass the time. I had no expectations other than to have a nice interlude, someone to talk to my friends about, someone to fill my empty spaces. I anticipated a break in the action at some point and to move on to another relationship. I was physically there, emotionally there—in a very limited fashion—but I was unavailable for anything that involved long-term planning.

Weeks passed and we spent more and more time together.

He called me every night—every night. He insisted that he wasn’t good at talking on the phone, but with me, he seemed to have no problem—surprising considering my phone faculties are rather weak. Some weekends we spent together, some we spent apart. As the months went by, we spent most weekends together. Slowly, steadily, like the constant flow of water finding a path into the smallest of pores, he seeped his way into the lives of my son and myself. I wish I could say that I was crazy about him from the start, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t have been crazy about anyone right from the start.

Eventually, the relationship worked itself into a plain, old-fashioned—colored with a shade of quirky—case of love.

There were complications, naturally. Complications are a given with any relationship. We both had wounds to lick and scars to flaunt from prior romantic associations. We each had histories of liaisons, which left us weary, wary, and overly willing to react to one another. We had some distance to cover before hitting our stride. Tim was alert to the possibility of us hitting that stride long before I. There were logistics to sort out. He lived in Oakland; I lived in Novato, an hour’s drive away. I was not flexible about location since I shared custody of my son. There were issues surrounding our children. Tim’s two kids lived in Maine, so while we did not have to surmount the difficulties of living as a blended family, we did have to figure out how we could coexist peaceably for up to four weeks at a time. It took negotiations and behavior modification on all our parts, but we managed.

When Tim proposed, he did it with old-fashioned style. For a flare of drama replete with tear rendering, he made the request in front of my dad and step-mom. We sat at dinner, stunned, as Tim asked my father’s permission to marry me. Dad, apparently never expecting such a question, had to be prompted twice before responding. Undone by the request, he finally sputtered out his approval. Tim then got down on one knee—no, I am not exaggerating for creative license—and asked for my hand. He was crying. My dad was crying. I was crying when I said yes. It was the quintessential Kleenex moment for the three of us. Be forewarned. When Tim proposes you’d better be wearing waterproof mascara.

Wedding plans ensued.

Tim had family in New Zealand and Italy; my family was local. My first wedding had been a big, year-in-the-making wedding event; Tim’s first wedding had been more impromptu. It seemed important that Tim have a “real” wedding this time, with as many of his family members present as possible. In venue choice and planning, I deferred to him. Given Tim’s family’s geography, we set our sights on the Tuscan town of Montecatini Val di Cecina, near his aunt and uncle’s farmhouse. Two years prior, we had attended his cousin’s wedding at the same location—in the open vestibule of a picturesque and defunct copper mine—and were taken with it’s rustic beauty and indelible romance. With quite a lot of help from his aunt and cousin in Italy, the wedding plans gelled.

The ceremony took place with a truckload of hitches and miles worth of storyline. To do it proper justice, our Italian wedding deserves a beckoning, blank page of its own.

We have been married for a grand total of four years. While I’m not making claims that our marriage has withstood the test of time, I can tell you that it’s looking promising, much more promising than the first go around. There are no guarantees, of course, but I’d say that the likelihood of success this time around far exceeds the odds from our first discouraging attempts at working the marriage racket. I’m feeling good enough about it that I would even make that special stop, park the car, find my way into an inconvenient convenience store and unclench my stingy fist from some greenbacks to lay money on it. You essentially do that when you get married; you put your money on the line. But more to the heart of the matter, you put yourself, your whole self and nothing but yourself in the direct line of risk and uncertainty when you commit to another person. It’s a scary prospect for someone like myself, made substantially less scary by plighting my troth to someone like Tim. He tells me the fix is in; we’re going the distance. It’s a sure thing. Not only is Tim smart, he’s usually right.

From time to time, we talk about how lucky we are to have found each other. Tim was my cyber-guy number forty-something-or-other, and I was his personal ad response number two. The probability of me being open to trying a second marriage was even slimmer than the probability of us meeting each other in the first place.
Tim said it first and he says it often, “We won the lottery when we met each other.”
I concur, absolutely.

This is why we think we won’t win at lotto.

The chances of winning the lottery twice are so infinitesimally obscure they flirt with the status of nonexistence. It’s as if when you win once, you’re almost ineligible to win again. I’m not exactly sure what the chances are of winning the lottery twice; I’ve never seen the numbers. It likely depends on which lottery you’re playing. I’ll have to ask Tim about the calculations. I’m sure he’ll know.
The wedding in Montecatini Val de Cecina
photo credit: Catharine Amato

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