"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you." ~Kendall Hailey, The Day I Became an Autodidact
(Confession: I found this quote this morning on Quote Garden. I had to Google Kendall Hailey. And I had no idea what the word autodidact meant until I located it on dictionary.com.)
I met Ocho on Match.com. Many of you probably have never had a Match date, so let me describe for you a few that I experienced:
Tom smelled myseriously of Clorox bleach and wore a fanny pack. I might have been able to handle the fumes (hey, it's a turn-on that a guy can clean his house, right?), but the strain of imagining what was in the fanny pack (Handi-wipes? Anti-bacterial gel? Latex gloves?) was more than I could bear.
Bob, who was as tall as a 4th grader, over the course of two hours and a plate of fettucine alfredo asked me 20 times if I was bothered by the fact that he was so short. Answer: No, but the Lilliputian attention span is killing me.
Joe, who lived in Morgan Hill, a good 90 minutes south, asked me if I thought I could handle a long-distance relationship. Answer: Maybe. With someone who doesn't live with his mother.
Fig, not his real name, but what he looked like. Small head, very large bottom. Took me to get Thai. Over lemon-grass soup, told me his entire life story from conception to the present. Questions he asked me? Zero. An hour later, he shot me a template email that said "no, thanks." And to think, I could have been Mrs. Fig.
Tim, from liberal Marin, was an artist who wore baggy blue jeans and a black beret over his silver hair. We went to the SFMOMA to see the Chuck Close exhibit, then went to get a cheeseburger and a beer at the First Amendment. Fun! The next morning I got this email:
Had a lovely time. So refreshing to go out with someone who hasn't had any "work" done and who doesn't have 12 cats, wear the color purple exclusively, and drone on endlessly and angrily about the fact that her husband left her for someone younger.
It is refreshing because I am half your age. And I applaud the crazy, purple, pissed-off cat ladies. Online dating for women in their '50s and '60s is brutal. The fact that they press on in such a hostile environment makes me incredibly proud of them. Go girls!
Tim, strangely, did not reply.
Naturally, I was delighted on that first date with Ocho in Half Moon Bay to find that he smelled like a guy, broke the 5' barrier, lived solo, and wasn't looking for someone who two years prior to signing up on Match had given her My Pretty Ponies to the Goodwill.
Four months later, and one month after my bilateral mastectomy, I met Ocho's family. I went to his house to celebrate his and his ex-wife's birthdays. The whole crew was there (his ex, his ex's husband, his stepdaughter and her husband and daughter, and his sister, brother-in-law and niece). They were sitting around a coffee table covered in newspaper and fresh dungeness crab, when I showed up with my new pre-chemo bob and a chest as flat as day-old 7-Up.
Usually, when I meet a crowd of people I try super-hard to impress. But when I walked through the door at Ocho's, I thought to myself, just be. I don't know if I'll be able to adequately articulate what I was feeling, but it was an odd and powerful combination of energy/fatigue, focus/detachment, peace/adrenaline. In fact, it was so unlike anything that I had ever felt, I had no choice but to just be still and observe.
And what I observed was this: an incredibly strong, supportive, kind, funny, close, loving family that had already embraced me. Ocho's sister, having never met me, had sent me a sweet card the week of my surgery to let me know she was thinking about me. As we were all heading outside to play croquet in the backyard, I stopped her on the stairs to thank her for the card. She got teary, Ocho got teary, I got teary. And I thought to myself, this is one cool and one real group of people. I felt like I was home.
Last Thanksgiving, Ocho's ex had us all down to her warm and cozy house in Santa Cruz. It was cool and crisp outside. Inside, the house was full of dogs, delicious smells, and warm, lively company. This Thanksgiving, I had the crew up here. And I can honestly say that other than the Thanksgiving where my Dad used baking soda instead of cornstarch to make the gravy (and gravy is the true reason for Thanksgiving), and we all piled in the car to go to the 7-11 to buy a can of Franco-American chicken gravy (it was incredibly fun), this past Thanksgiving is one that will forever hold a special place in my heart. That Ocho's family would abandon tradition to come to my house was beyond meaningful.
I am fortunate. I have three fabulous families: my own, my ex's and Ocho's. And while people joke about the "in-laws," I can honestly say that I'd rather be in their company than in just about anybody else's.
Finding love online is a rare thing (even if you don't have a houseful of cats and wear eggplant-colored pants). Finding someone online who has a family that you not only like but love is rarer still.
I tend to win things: The life-size Yoda from the local Blockbuster. The $500 gift certificate from the new toy store in town. The fake Kate Spade bag (my brother calls it the Kate Spud bag) at my friend's knock-off-purse party. But winning Ocho and his family? The jackpot.
Update on the 31-day plan: This feels fabulous! I feel as if I've left a big, heavy bag by the side of the road. And I may just leave it there...