A few nights later, working at Outback Steakhouse, my cell phone (flip phone to be exact ya’ll) rang in my server’s apron. I didn’t recognize the number, so I silenced it and checked the voicemail later in the bathroom.
It was Ben. He was asking if I wanted to come hang out tonight at his house, which he shared with a few other guy roommates. My gut reaction was to avoid any man’s house ever again. My gut reaction was to never call him back again and avoid that Starbucks for all of eternity. But I called him back when I got off work anyway. Again, in that moment I did not know why. It was too late to hang out, but he promised to “chat with me about my photography” sometime soon. He did.
It was only a few days later as I was getting off work from Retro Rag. I answered the phone, still wary, still nervous, still totally intrigued.
Ben: Hey. I was going to invite you over to talk photography. But I decided to ask you out on a date instead. Do you want to go on a date with me tonight?
Me: Oh, wow, um, sure?
Ben: Great. So, I don’t have a working car right now, you obviously notice I ride my bike all around town. Can you drive?
Me: Where do you wanna go?
Ben: I’m taking you to the grocery store.
Ben: You know, to go shopping for food. Then we can take it back to my house, cook it, eat it and hang out.
Me: (I was silent for a moment)
Ben: Don’t worry, I live with two other guys. They’ll be there too and we can all eat dinner together.
Me: Okay. That sounds fun. I’ll come pick you up.
And I did. And we went grocery shopping for pasta and seafood and cheap wine. We went back to his house and cooked it and drank the wine and ate in his backyard at the shoddy patio table with his roommates.
One of his roomies, and his best friend, was named John. In the midst of a drunken dinner conversation, John and I discovered that not only had his mother babysat me at their house when I was little, but that John’s cousin Libby was my best friend growing up. Fresno is totally a small world, but this was reallllly small. Ben and I had probably crossed paths at a very young age because he and John were always together as small children too.
I was having so much fun, I wasn’t paying attention to how many hand rolled cigarettes I was smoking and how much wine I was drinking. Next thing I knew, I was vomiting in the bathroom…..so embarrassing for a first date….or any date, really. I was heaving over the toilet when Ben came in quietly and stood behind me, holding back my hair. No one had ever done that for me since I was a little girl. And that person was my mom.
Me: You don’t have to do that. I’m disgusting. I am so sorry.
Ben: Do not apologize. You are not disgusting.
He kissed my forehead and continued to hold back my hair, sweetly, gently, lovingly. I finally sat down on the cold tile floor and let him hold me in his arms as I drank the water he had brought me.
It sounds so gross and cheesy but I had never felt this kind of tenderness from a man that wasn’t my own father before. I had never been treated in such a simple, yet romantic way. It was a pivotal moment in my life. He liked me in the midst of my ugly. He liked me and wanted to help me and hold me and comfort me. He actually really liked me for me.
AND THEN his friend John made up a bed for me on their couch with sheets and a pillow and a cozy blanket….and who were these boys?? They were like little mothers, caring for me, making sure I was safe and happy and comfortable. These were not ordinary men. These men had been raised right.