Then my second phone rang. A multi-family fire in Dallas with possible need for mutual aid from my team. "Don't cancel, Kristen... .Don't cancel, Kristen." I kept saying that in my mind over and over as I tried to come up with a solution to keeping me in the restaurant and out of the field. And out of the corner of my eye I saw him walk towards the front door and politely hold it open for the people walking in before him. I got my coworker off the phone telling him that I definitely owed him one but to please give me until at least 10 o'clock (but if he really needed me to call and I would be there in a heartbeat). I turned the game to just a play by play. Grabbed my keys. Looked in the rear view mirror. Took a deep breath. And said, "Here we go."
I didn't want to make it look like I got there so early but I was mildly excited he was early as well. He didn't see me and sent a text, "In a plaid shirt by the entrance in case you forgot what I look like." I smiled and thought, "I don't think anyone in this place missed you walk through that door." I affectionately referred to him as "The Greek" because pronouncing his name was more difficult for this girl with a mild speech impediment than it should have been. But he was funny. He was incredibly well-read and educated (he asked to know more details about my thesis and it wasn't so he could fall asleep). He was successful and sarcastic. And as I quickly texted under the table "NO EMERGENCY 10-13 TEXT NEEDED!!! ALL GOOD!!" to my sister (saving me from becoming a skin suit) I smiled thinking, "I'm on a good date?!"
It was right after ordering that he turned to me and said, "So what are your thoughts on the storm coming towards Texas?" I laughed and said, "I have been told by many people who have lived here their entire life that this may be nothing. That it could fizzle out in the Gulf and we are making a big deal out of nothing. We'll obviously know more Thursday but my fingers are crossed that everyone is right. I know tornadoes and floods. But I don't know hurricanes." I remember him saying, "If this is a big one you're going to have your hands full." And I looked at him across the table, the drinks being put down in front of us at that moment and said, "I'm feeling pretty lucky right about now."
Wrong. Few people have actually ever been that wrong.
When the date was over and that awkward saying "goodbye" moment came around he asked for a second date. The Greek looked like he walked off of a movie set and was so incredibly out of my league that I kept looking over my shoulder to see if cameras would come around the corner to reveal some sick reality show stunt. This was my first date in years. And it was actually successful. Of course I would agree to a second date. So we made plans to figure out when we would meet up later that weekend and said goodbye. I had a really good feeling about everything at that moment. Things may have been falling into place. I may have finally found myself on a path to good things where my life was making sense and the decisions I had made in the past were playing out as I had hoped they would. Everything was going to be okay for once.
Wrong. How could I be more wrong than I was just a few hours after breaking a record in wrongness?
The storm kept growing and meteorologists were dumbfounded at the size and strength of this new beast heading straight for the Texas Coast. It had a name now too: Harvey. Historic damage and destruction was predicted and the rain totals appeared to be typographical errors. On Wednesday my second phone rang and I immediately answered it awaiting the news on the other end with bated breath, "Kristen, you're officially assigned and deployed. Let's go." I texted The Greek and said, "Well it looks like this storm isn't a joke. Someone has been officially called up to respond." He told me he thought it was just a matter of time before I would get that call and we talked about what I would be doing... and how long I would be doing it. And the answer to that last question was, "I really don't know but our plans for this weekend are probably going to be hurricane-checked." I laughed at my own wittiness and looking back with hindsight I find amusement in that comment still. But for different reasons now.
I walked out of my apartment door that morning and it would be a long time until I walked back into it. I lived inside an Emergency Operations Center working for 36 hours at a time and then sleeping for 3 hours. The news coming from the South on the huge televisions throughout the room was growing worse with every commercial break. In terms of safety: I was in no danger. In terms of what was to come: no one had any idea. People were trapped. Shelters were flooding and there weren't enough places to put those who needed help. So the planes starting taking off and heading to us. Plane after plane landed and brought evacuees into Dallas and Fort Worth. Those that headed to Dallas I would never see. Those that got on the bus to Fort Worth would become a part of my life for the foreseeable future... and then some.
My phone didn't go off hourly... it went off by the minute. And in the mix or calls and messages from volunteers, first responders, emergency managers, my supervisors and teammates there was a text or two daily from The Greek asking me how things were going, how I was holding up and checking to make sure I was getting sleep and at least eating a meal or two.
But I didn't answer those texts. They moved down in succession behind ones asking "how many blankets are you requesting?" and "how many people do you have right this minute?" or "what's the ETA?" or "I need you to do this 5 minutes ago." And the more texts and calls that came into my phone the further down the totem poll The Greek found himself. I had been entrusted with a position of leadership that I had never had before in my career. If I could answer all the questions related to Harvey and the action items needing my immediate attention for him I could reach out to The Greek afterwards. I could text him after that operational briefing meeting.... after I finished that request in the database... after I called the logistics coordinator back... after that volunteer spoke to me about an incident during their shift... after I tried to get a 30 minute nap on the floor of the back room.
And he was one of the most unhealthy relationships I have ever been in. I gave him absolutely everything I had to give and then dug even deeper to find the reserve I knew I had somewhere so he could have that too. We had our moments where I felt appreciated and accepted. We had our moments where I felt like I knew what I was doing and what I was doing was good. We had our moments where I blindly followed him where he told me to go without questioning why or if it was a good idea. They always say when you're in a relationship that the two parties should compliment each other. It should be a 50/50 split. And no outside force should influence your bond. Harvey and I did not compliment each other. The split was 90/10 and that was on a good day. And every single outside force that could influence our relationship found it's way in... and stayed there.
I had been presented with a challenge: The Greek and The Storm. My past was riddled with broken relationships and dead ends that I didn't see coming. My batting average for relationships wasn't even minor league. I was sitting in the stands with the rest of the spectators just hoping for a fly ball. So when given the chance to be with another man who I thought I could at least take control of the future with and have some say in the course of events... I chose that one. The Greek was a first date that seemed improbable and too good to be true. Harvey was a formidable force that I was entrusted with somehow calming and a challenge I wanted to accept.
The first rule of dating is you never going into a relationship thinking you can change that person. I forgot that rule. And in the process of trying to change him I wound up changing myself. And it wasn't in the hair that thinned, the face that broke out or the blood that ran thick with caffeine. It was in my outlook of my priorities. It was in my heart. It was that feeling in my chest knowing I had done something good but my soul is tired.
After a few sparse, "Things are crazy and I'm sorry I haven't gotten back to you!" texts here and there I reached out to The Greek to tell him we were closing the shelters down and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. And this time... he didn't respond. It took a while for my phone to go off with his name on the screen and the message was impersonal and generic. He was a nice enough person to text me back but I knew exactly what I had done. I had pushed him to the side to be with someone else. And when I was through with that someone else and I tried to circle back... he had moved on.
And rightfully so. I didn't hold his decision against him and I never will. The Greek and I were not meant to be (and part of me knew that on the first date) but I needed to learn that lesson and a few more as well. I needed to throw everything away and be broken down to see what exactly it was I was doing wrong and how I could be better. Not just a better date. But a better manager... sister... aunt... friend... and person all together.
I couldn't expect someone to wait for me while I tried to excel in my career but in the process was tried and tested on levels I never thought possible. It will take some time before I can put into words exactly what those 30 days with Harvey were like but until those words are written I can simply say that it was not for someone that was faint of heart. It was not for someone who didn't know how to stand up after being knocked down. And it was not for someone who can't find beauty even in the most horrific hour. I find irony in that the night that I met The Greek for dinner I was so nervous that the Dallas traffic would overwhelm me and I would find myself driving the wrong way down a one way street. Yet that's exactly what I did just a few days later- just not with a car... but with my life. And I was bound and determined not to make that mistake again.
So when the opportunity presented itself to go on a date with someone new for dinner one night I didn't pass up the chance for a new start. The same early arrival. The same baseball game on the screen. But a different pitcher. And different butterflies. And a very different, "Here we go." Because this time I knew what was on the line. This time I wasn't balancing the "what if" with the "what is." I was focusing only on the "here and now."
He sat across the table from me and we shared nachos and laughed about the insanely horrible first date happening over our shoulder (as if this wasn't our own first date we were on). We talked about what I did for a living and I listened intently about what he did for a living and about his family and his friends. And as he talked my second phone went off. I had put it on vibrate but on top of that wooden high top table the sound echoed. He looked and waited for me to answer it. I looked at the screen... hit the ignore button... and turned the phone face down. I wasn't choosing this time. I had made my choice by saying yes to dinner. And I still had more to hear about his two dogs and he hadn't even heard the beginning of my life as an aunt. And whatever that call was about... could wait.
After the plates had been cleared and we sat on the patio laughing a group sat down at the table next to us. We didn't pay any attention to them until one woman drunkenly and loudly declared, "You know what I really hate right now. The Red Cross..." And with that he looked at me and I looked at him and he read my mind. We stood up and left the restaurant together.
I could have argued with her and debated whatever accusations she was making about Harvey. I could have put up a fight and defended what I knew to be true. Instead I put my business card on the table, smiled and walked away. I didn't have to choose. That night was about getting to know a really funny and good looking guy... and my past with another man... no matter who he was... wasn't invited to join.