For all intents and purposes, most people would consider what I did a huge mistake. And, I suppose I can see their point – if you are looking at the whole thing matter-of-factly or through the sharpening veils of logic. But one thing this whole experience has taught me is that logic isn’t the God of the universe, and sometimes you take risks, make sacrifices, and do things that everyone around you thinks are foolish. Sometimes, you have to ignore logic and risk mistakes to take a chance at something that will last.
It all began last August or so, just after I had returned home from a two-week vacation, which I had spent helping my cousin shoot an independent film based on my first novel. I’d been a single mom for almost eight years, raising my daughter completely on my own and forbidding myself all those years from getting involved with anyone socially, let alone romantically – because I was too busy being a mom and an employee and everything else. Who had time for love and laughter anyway? Those two weeks on the film set, away from my demanding job and my daughter and my daily dull routines were a complete epiphany for me. I missed my little girl, of course, but while I was there on the film set, I had the chance to interact with adults – the actors and crew of the film, and my aunt, uncle, and cousin – unobstructed by echoes of “Mommy! Mommy!” in the background.
One night, while the cast and crew were in the house shooting a scene that required exterior darkness, I sat outside at the foot of a huge tree, just listening to the silence and thinking. I thought about a lot of things that night, enjoying the luxury of complete peace and quiet that wasn’t available in my everyday hectic life of daycare issues, time-clocks, making dinner, doing laundry, and making occasional trips to Chuck E. Cheese. Mostly, I thought about how utterly lonely I was. At 35, I hadn’t been on a date in almost nine years. I really hadn’t even been out with a group of friends in all that time either, other than a few church outings, a couple of lunches with the ladies at work, and a few weekend escapades with my cousins, who are all younger than me by at least a decade. It was sitting there under that tree in the dark southern Ohio August night that I decided I just didn’t like being alone anymore. I had been pretending all those years that it didn’t bother me, but my loneliness had been eating away at my core, and I was beginning to feel like a robot or an old maid or both. I needed a companion – or at least a good friend.
When I got home, I started writing again to a penpal I’d had for the last seven years. We had kept in touch over the years via letters and e-mails and the occasional birthday card or Christmas gift. For some reason, up until that point, I had never felt much for him, other than he was someone to talk to – albeit he lived thousands of miles away in a beautiful coastal place called Dorset, Weymouth in the U.K. Now, at this point, you might be thinking that I made the mistake of jumping on a plane with my daughter in tow and jaunting off to England to be with Wes, never to be seen again on U.S. soil. But that’s not the case.
As my British friend, Wes, and I began writing more often, I began to want to actually talk to him – to carry on some sort of back-and-forth two-way conversation instead of waiting on e-mail or postal replies. And, while phone calls to the U.K. weren’t actually in a single mom’s budget, there was another way. Enter the amazing innovation of the Yahoo chatroom.
The first Yahoo chatroom I ventured into, hoping to rendezvous with Wes, was the same one I still visit today. Because, in many strange ways, that chatroom and the people who visit it as “regs” have utterly changed my life for the better.
I went in there originally just to have a way to talk to Wes, seeing as though the internet wasn’t picky about the fact that there were oceans between us. To be honest, I was developing a huge crush on Wes from across the pond. But, thanks to computer problems on his end, and time zone differences, I’d find myself sitting there at all hours, talking to the others in the chatroom while I waited for him to show up, which he seldom did. It might sound ridiculously nerdy, but that chatroom became my social circle of some sort – allowing me to converse with adults and get away from the humdrumness of my job and my single mommy life without having to hire a sitter. I began to make new friends – people I may never meet in real life, but whom I’d talk to on a daily basis, sometimes for hours (and still do). One of them in particular caught my attention at first because I thought his screen name was interesting, as it was taken from one of his favorite books of poetry called Draft of Shadows. We all knew him as “Draft,” but I was quick to discover his real name was “Joey”, and that he was from Missouri – a far cry from Ohio where I had lived all my life.
Around September, after I’d been chatting in there almost every night, Joey started coming in very often. We got along well and began talking a lot in the chatroom and in private messenger, sharing our interests in music and movies and both of us trying to console and guide each other through relationship difficulties we had with others – me with Wes and he with a girl he was somewhat serious about that he had, incidentally, met online. When the day came that his girlfriend broke things off with him, he was crushed, and I was there to listen, as a friend. By then, we had exchanged phone numbers and were talking to each other for hours on end on the phone.
I had no idea that my new chatter friend had any interest in me other than needing someone to talk to – even though I’ll admit I thought he had a sexy voice and found myself getting somewhat jealous when other females would talk to him in the chatroom. He was intelligent and polite and had a great sense of humor, granting him major popularity with the females who frequented the chatroom, so it didn’t even cross my mind that he’d want anything to do with me – a 35-year-old mother-of-one with a dull data entry job and the figure of Jabba the Hutt. But, he did. And he told me so; and, suddenly, I became so silly and giddy about the whole thing that I started acting like some giggly school girl rushing home to call my new boyfriend and even drawing little “I heart Joey” things on my ledger at work.
After some prodding from Joey, I broke the romantic edge off my friendship with Wes in the U.K. It was hard to do, but we still remain good friends and probably always will. Joey tried to convince me to let him visit, but I was leery of it – though the prospect was somewhat thrilling in a way. Knowing that he was younger than me, I even checked out a book from the library called Older Women, Younger Men to see if I was insane. I was rather certain he wasn’t an axe murderer or anything, but the idea of him wanting to meet me and then being repulsed by the woman he’d see scared me too much to invite him to come. At Christmas, I bought him presents and shipped them to St. Louis, hoping he realized how much I cared for him, even though I was too chicken to let him visit me yet.
As luck would have it, something came up a month later that would make the perfect alibi for him to visit. The film we had shot the previous summer was going to be pre-screened to an audience in a nearby town, incidentally, on the weekend of January 26 – Joey’s 20th birthday. So, I invited him to come to the screening with me to see me make a complete fool of myself in front of the audience in a Q & A session that the director had asked me to be a part of. I wanted Joey there for moral support, if nothing else, and it gave me the perfect chance to spend the weekend with him without exposing my daughter to him just yet in case he did turn out to be a lunatic like people warn you about online.
We met at a BP gas station, about a mile from my house, where, at first, I couldn’t tell the difference between him and his younger brother. After driving around for a while, I was surprisingly comfortable with him, even though it had been nine years since I’d been alone with a guy. Joey made all my fear and apprehensions melt away almost immediately because he was just so darn sweet. I didn’t notice an axe in his luggage, either, which was a plus. He even held my hand for our whole drive (no one had held my hand in a decade), and an hour or so later, he asked me for a kiss (and no one had ever kissed me like that). My weekend with Joey was the best weekend of my whole life. Like year’s worth of dating all rolled up into four days of long-lost happiness and companionship. And, so began the chain of the best mistakes I ever made.
When Joey left to go back to St. Louis after the weekend, it nearly killed both of us. I was so upset that I drove around the block in the opposite direction because I couldn’t bear to watch his car drive away. It was like losing a limb. We had determined over the weekend of bliss that we would get married eventually. We didn’t know how or when, and neither of us really expected it to happen as quickly as it did. But five minutes after he pulled onto Rt. 70 to head back to Missouri from Ohio, he called me, sobbing as I was, and said “I can’t do this. I have to come back.” We determined then and there that he’d be coming back the following Saturday, as soon as he could tie up some loose ends at home.
During the course of the four days we were apart, a lot of big changes happened. I met his mother via a long phone conversation. My daughter talked to Joey several times on the phone. I turned in my notice at work because I knew I had to move to be with Joey, and the commute would be too far. I began packing up our belongings, and gathered up whatever money I could find in my accounts and lying around the house. I withdrew my daughter from school and used the internet to find an apartment for me, Joey, and my daughter in a town within driving distance of all of my relatives. And, other than a few select friends online and Joey’s family, I told no one of our semi-eloping plan. Partly because I knew everyone around me – my family, and friends – would try to stop me from making what they perceived as a huge mistake. Everyone in the chatroom who knew about it told me I was crazy. But I didn’t care.
On February 4, just four days after we had spent only a weekend together, Joey’s parents and three of his siblings and his dog Mick came with him back to Ohio. He brought only a duffel bag of clothes, his guitar, and his CDs with him. We had lunch with his family in a noisy McDonalds, and then they said their goodbyes and left their son here in the hands of his chatroom fiancÃ?Â©e. By that evening, Joey and I had paid the deposit on an adorable little apartment in a tiny, quiet little town called Leesburg, Ohio. We made a few nightly journeys back to my old house an hour away, stuffing my little Corolla full of as many of my things as we could, particularly essentials like dishes and clothes and bedding and my daughter’s toys and books.
Just over a month later, on March 10, we were married in a tiny courthouse by a nice judge who wore jeans and a plaid flannel shirt and read our ceremony off of an old faded Xerox copy in front of my dad and sister, and Joey’s parents and five siblings, who acted as onlookers and witnesses to the occasion. Having both left our jobs, we had no money for rings, but Joey’s parents gave us some they had. And, today, as I’m writing this, we’ve been married just over four months – surviving all sorts of family and financial traumas and changes along the way.
Maybe it would seem like a mistake to leave your job, your house, and your family to marry someone half your age that you met in a chatroom and only spent four days with. But, I’m finally happy, and not alone, and my little girl has a terrific stepdad and a new puppy and a new school, and we’ve inherited a great set of loving, accepting in-laws.
Yesterday, when I told Joey I was writing this story about him, he kissed me goodbye with a smile in his big brown eyes and said, “You’re the best mistake I’ve ever made, too.”