I met Mike when I was a newly single mom in my early twenties working the customer service desk at Walmart in Denver, Colorado. On first glance, he was quite intimidating. A head full of shoulder-length gray hair, accompanied by a matching gray mustache. A pair of black Levis, black t-shirt, an old torn blue denim jacket and cowboy boots would finish his look. Well, I suppose the god-awful Walmart blue vest would finish his look, but you get the point. Mike had a son a few years younger than me, also working at Walmart. So, yes, if you have not figured it out, there was quite an age difference between us. I never really thought anything of it, because really, why would a guy in his late 40’s want to have anything to do with me, other than the occasional “Do you have my returns ready to go?”
I am one of those people who pays attention to the small things. If you look close enough, everyone has their own routine, their own habits. The Mormon girl I worked with would always smooth the wrinkles out on her dress when she was dealing with a difficult customer. The feisty Asian woman, who was out coworker would come in early to do returns that she never had the receipt for, hoping to catch us at a busy enough time where we would not question her. We never did. I had a fellow New Yorker associate who was just working to get away from her five kids, trying to make some extra money for vacations. Anytime she would complain about the Putz working in hardware, we knew it was a cover-up for an innocent work crush. And then, there was Mike. He would start work at 4pm every day, always making sure to tip his nonexistent hat at me whenever he walked through the Walmart doors seeing that it was only I working “The Desk.” I would give a quick wave or smile, depending on what sort of moronic customer I was dealing with.
Our people greeter at the time, Tom, was a lovely gentleman, in his early seventies. He was a dapper old gent. Always wearing a sweater vest and tie, dressed to the nines. He made the hideous Walmart blue vest work in his favor. As soon as Mike walked through the Walmart doors, tipping his nonexistent hat in my direction, Tom would make his way over to my register. “Jennifer, that boy, he has the hots for you. I have been around, I know. You watch yourself with that one.”
“Ummm, seriously, he is old enough to be my dad!” (Sorry Dad) “I really think you are off on this one.”
As time went on, I started to notice that at exactly six pm every night, Mike would make his way over to the service desk just as I was getting ready to take my last break, and him his first. We would chit chat on the way back to the breakroom about our day at work, music, or the current news stories. Over time, I found myself looking forward to the six o’clock hour.
And then, the Columbine massacre happened.
April 20th, 1999. I was scheduled to work the closing shift. My mother woke me up early in the morning. “Jennifer, get down here, there are helicopters flying overhead!”
Barely dressed, I ran downstairs, making sure that my five-year-old son, AJ, was okay. The news was on. I stepped outside. Helicopters, at least five of them were flying overhead. There was a mass shooting at Columbine Highschool, only miles up the road.
I was called into work early. Our store would be “Ground Zero.” It would the place where people meet to check in on loved ones. It would be the store where donations were taken too, it would be our store that would provide these kids with their belongings that were now used as evidence, that was now lost. Our store, where some of our very own associates were students at Columbine Highschool, Mikes son being one of them.
Walmart was chaotic. It was both a sad beautiful mess. As the store manager was still waiting to hear the fate of his associates, strangers from miles away were coming to see where they could help. I saw Mike in the distance. The look on his face told me his son was okay, and, he was. Mike made his way towards me, asking if I was okay. “Of course I am okay, your son? His girlfriend? Are they okay?”
“They made it out, that’s about as okay as they are for now.”
Once things started to settle down, the community was changed. Thankfully, Walmart did not lose any of their associates in the massacre. But, lives were lost.
I am not sure if it was the tragedy that happened so close to home, or just two lost souls just trying to find their way. Despite our age difference, Mike and I got closer. We started to coordinate our breaks and lunches together. Whether it was fifteen minutes or sixty, conversation flowed nicely. There was no work. Mike had become more than a coworker, he was a friend.
One day after work, we went on our first date. A smokey old school pool hall that played 80’s music. Perfection. Mike and I were face to face on our bar stools. Laughing, talking, eating. It was one of those places that really did not have a dance floor, yet the patrons, found a way to make a work. As soon as the Damn Yankees song “High Enough” came on, I was in Heaven. “I love this song!” Awkwardly, we made our way to the fake dance floor, swaying back and forth, completely off beat to the music.
For the first time, I was getting nervous. I felt that this was THE moment. If he was going to try to kiss me, this would be it. I was not quite ready for that, and as we all know, the first kiss changes everything. I was not ready for things to change. “I have to go, it’s not the right time.”
Without any questions asked, he walked me to my car, with his hand on the small of my back. Seriously, that moves get me every time. I fumbled with my keys, rushing to escape the awkwardness of what was happening. “Jen, I’ll wait. Take your time, figure things out. I will wait.”
The following day when I went to work, I had a dozen red roses waiting for me at the customer service desk. The card read, “You are worth more than you realize.”
I never saw Mike again.
The following weekend I moved to Seattle and started a new life. Not because of Mike. If anything, Mike showed me that although he may have been a good fit for me, I was not a good fit for him. Mike, unbeknownst to him, opened my eyes.
I struggled hard. I had two abusive relationships back to back in Seattle, one that resulted in a pregnancy. Vinnie.
Had I not moved, there would have been no bruises.
Had I not moved there would have been no Joe.
Had I not moved, there would have been no Gracie.
Had I not moved, there would have been no Sofia.
Every now and then, I still think about Mike. It’s been close to twenty years now. I hope he is happy, I hope he found the one that he thought I was.
And, more than anything, I hope he knows that at that time in my life, he was the one who gave me the strength to take a chance. Even though the chance may not have been on him, I still took it……and now, I have a good husband and three pretty cool kids, and that tells me, the chance I took, even though it was not easy, totally worth it.
We met on a blind date, set up by a well-intentioned co-worker, I think. He was older, almost 30, and I was just barely old enough to legally drink. Opposites in everyway. He was outgoing, the life of the party, while I was content to be in the background, avoiding the center of attention at all costs.
That was until I met him.
As I think back, he had a touch of the 80’s hairband vibe without the mullet or tight pants. Some say he was a Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit’s doppelgänger. I guess that was slightly accurate too.
He was a bit on the wild side, but in a good way. He could start up a conversation with a complete stranger, and often did. Working the crowd as I hung back, admiring his charismatic ways. Short of swinging from the chandeliers, he was always up for a good time out on the town, although he preferred the hole in wall karaoke bars, which was a scary place to be for a shy girl like me.
That was until he pulled me out of the shell I had been hiding in and made me go up in the front of a crowded bar and sing “I will survive” by Gloria Gaynor.
“First I was afraid, I was petrified…”
Petrified was an understatement.
I almost shit my pants.
But somehow, I made it through and I couldn’t have done it without his superpowers.
And that’s what attracted me to him. His superpowers. Now don’t get me wrong, he was no Clark Kent but his “Who cares what everyone thinks” attitude was something that I needed at the time. And for the moments we were together, I felt the freedom of not caring what everyone else thought, and I liked it.
We only had one major difference, the whole age thing.
“You have this CD? I love their music,” he said, picking up Jen’s wide variety of music collection.
“Oh yeah. I have ALL of their Cd’s. Have you heard this one too?” she said with more enthusiasm than I had ever heard from her before.
“Oh yeah, this one is good too.”
I came around the corner, wondering what great CD these 2 fools were practically drooling over.
“Who is it?”
“Twisted Sister,” they said in unison.
Instantly, they both stopped what they were doing and suddenly, I felt their eyes burning into my soul.
“You don’t know who Twisted Sister is?”
They were clearly children of the 70’s. I was not.
I still don’t know who Twisted Sister is.
That was another thing. My friends liked him. He was willing to help out around the apartment, fixing stuff that 2 girls and a gay couldn’t because they were afraid of breaking a nail, or a sweat. He was our plumber, maintenance man, bodyguard, comedian, party and chauffeur all rolled into one. Me and the roomies had it made.
More importantly, He was funny and I like to laugh as most of you that know me, are painfully aware of.
His lame jokes and my cackling hyena laugh made for quite a sight if you were a bystander in a bar, which we frequented often.
The bystander probably couldn’t have guessed what was behind these two ‘fun times’ people.
I couldn’t even admit it…
The truth was…
It was never going to be him.
I was never going to be his sidekick, his almost 40-year-old shadow (which would make him almost 50, gulp!) following him around bar to bar, drinking, singing karaoke, holding up a solo cup in every picture posted on Facebook or the Gram.
I wasn’t going to wear band t-shirts and pretend I was still the life of the party as I stood next to him and his beer belly while he and his friends played beer pong and screamed “chug, chug” as they took turns downing insane amounts of alcohol.
We separated for obvious reasons, he was always going to life of the party and no matter how great his superpowers were, they were never meant for me.
I learned a few years later, that I always had my own superpowers.
I discovered them the day that I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. And then again with my son.
Almost 15 years later, I am still using them.
I like mine better.