People Make Us Better: A Love Story

If I didn't meet Jessica, I might still be pursuing what I call Aimless Wanderer Chic, a lifestyle known less for its adoptability and more for its fleas and shirts with more holes than a wedge of Swiss cheese.

Mmm. I love cheese.

That may sound a bit dramatic to you, but just allow me to explain. Before I met her—the Critter Bug—I was mostly preparing for the life of a hermit. Or a semblance of one at the very least. The fact was that it was a real possibility I was wholly content with.

A hermit, you say! How can that be? What does that even mean? Do you even know what a hermit is?! Answer: probably not. But humor me as I process what my frame of mind was at the time through the lens of a dating profile:

Name:

Hermit McSmellyshorts

Age:

Twenty-six

Seeking:

  • Someone to take long road trips with. Or, if for some reason you are actually a long road trip and not a sentient life form, I would also be open to this arrangement.
  • A human person of robust empathic powers, capable and willing to intuit my solemnity, give me time to process and warmth to be okay with it.
  • An extrovert powerful enough in your outward charm to detract all attention from me and place on you (bonus points if your charm includes Elaine-style dance moves, puns, sharp elbows, and/or references to 80s filmography).
  • You must have a cool, kind, emotionally sound dad.

Interests:

  • Long road trips—specifically to quiet, abandoned backwoods-type locales—that feature gargantuan stretches of nothing but me and a moose or bear or some furry creature that doesn't have the intellectual capacity to comprehend my eerie obsession with Angelo Badalamenti.
  • Not sleep
  • Black licorice. If our first date together wholly comprises black licorice (I'll even take licorice-sourced food stuffs), I would be a happy (old) man. Bonus points if you carry German salted licorice medallions or peppermints in your satchel.
  • Relationships that don't prominently feature yelling or hitting or even yellitting ("yell hitting").
  • Shorts. Pants are sweaty, tyrannical leg prisons.

You know, I just described myself in my present form. But wait! I'm much way more balanced, I'm healthier, and totes content with wearing leg prisons if the context warrants it.

Hermit McSmellyshorts

Hermit McSmellyshorts

Back then, I was writing a lot—mostly late at night fueled by licorice and beer. I was a few years out of a period of my life where I lost sixty pounds in an emotional and mental tornado of attempting to mediate my parents' marriage, saying hello to what I discovered to be severe depression, and realizing that there are in fact varying shades of blue.

I had serious doubts about the religious tenets I grew up with. I lived out of my forest green Ford Taurus for a stretch. I dug a moat, complete with blood-thirsty crocodiles, around my heart. I was clearly not ready for any sort of legitimate, lasting human connection.

I had also broken a few hearts.

Heaaaarrrttttt breaaaaakkeeerrrrrrrrrr.

Breaking hearts is emphatically the worst. Why would anyone want to be with Hermit Boy or Fort Knox-Level Guarded Heart Boy? Beats me. But some did, and I found I couldn't reciprocate, and it all just made me feel terrible, bolstering my hermithood aspirations.

Everything changed when I met Jessica though. Suddenly my hyper-romantic independence seemed childish and silly. Not that I couldn't participate in them or daydream about them or that they aren't still a part of me. It's just that they seemed less important when I met her. It represented time not with her, and I just met her! Screw that.

Shared silliness is our jam.

Shared silliness is our jam.

But I still had my wayward wandering plans. One plan in particular I had been baking for years before I met her. I wanted to work as a ranch hand in Montana or Wyoming for a couple of years, chew straw, be the first cowboy in the history of time to wear cut-off jean shorts. But it didn't happen. Drat!

I mean, it makes sense. I didn't have any relevant experience. A horse bit me once when I was eight, but that isn't something I can put on a resume.

Horse Chew Toy, Hills of San Juan Capistrano, 1989.

I did bleed like hell, so maybe if I would have positioned that as a point of manly pride, like those gruff dudes on the boat in Jaws.

But I wasn't that person, all boasty and center of attention. Thankfully, I was still able to satiate my adventure bug with a short-term gig Jessica found. The best part about it? It was only for a few months and didn't necessitate countless failed attempts at being as cool as the titular "man" in The Man From Snowy River.

Okay, fine. I admit that I still do this. It's so fun. Jessica just adores it.

So I went to Alaska (my second gig in the Last Frontier) for a few months to work as a campground/fish camp manager in a tiny town three-hundred miles outside of Anchorage. Jessica and I drove up there together in what we like to call The Very Best New Relationship Test Imaginable.

We were in a car together for 3,500 miles spanning eight days and fewer showers. And we had known each other for just a couple of months. It was pretty damn splendid. And yes, I did hold a few farts in. Road trip farts are the worst.

To this day, I wake up every morning with a flutter in my heart. I'm like googoo in love, people. It's sometimes even annoying to me. And I just feel incredibly lucky and thankful for that.

What's the point of all of this?

It's simple. Jessica helped add direction into my aimless wander. She helped me find myself through it all. She gave me a reason to push forward. She was the key to open the cage around my heart (yuck). She makes this grand, absurd, pale blue dot life of ours so much brighter.

It's the fucking best. And I don't mind saying so. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

So, here's a thing I'll say: cherish your creatures. Hold them tight. Be present. Tell them you love them. Make sure they know how much they mean to you. The people around us make us stronger, more alive, and better equipped to face the darkness.

Giddy up, cowboy

Giddy up, cowboy