Into the Expanse…

Close up of Alicia and Jonah holding hands

Excuse me for a second, but this is new ground here…it’s a little bit breathtaking.

Like all breathtaking things, along with being awesome and life-altering, it’s a little bit frightening as well.

As I stand here on the edge of tomorrow, I look out into the expanse of the rest of my life. What used to feel so sure, twenty years ago, is now a tattered cobweb, hanging in the back of my mind, stirred on occasion by backdrafts of memory.

All That Baggage

A wife…four kids…a family. A life that grew, all too quickly, from passion and mystery into a toxic blend of mental illness and drug addiction. Ten years of it tore me down and left me a raw nub of a human. It took nearly four years of deep introspection and voluntary celibacy before even attempting to date again.

And I had told myself never again. I would never again do a lot of things: lose myself in a relationship, sacrifice my friendships for a partner’s insecurities, put my dreams aside to put someone else first, get involved with another person who’s problems were too big for me to fix…hell I would never again put myself in such a vulnerable state of codependency.

I actually have “Never Again” tattooed on my right wrist.

Almost four years after the end of my marriage, I carefully entered a much more responsible and respectful relationship with a woman whom I still care for very much, but our relationship quickly moved from romantic to platonic roommates.

I figured this was how relationships in your forties are.

After two-and-a-half years, I was sad when we split, but it did not destroy me because I did not let myself get lost in her.

I entertained three other relationships, in quick succession, starting about a year-and-a-half later. Two of them were unrelated polyamorous affairs.

My life grew very full with new and exciting endeavors and these relationships, while fun, quickly burned out. I considered offering marriage as a form of convenience within the framework of a polyamorous relationship…I have a career that pays well and provides nice benefits and it would have felt good to actually be purposeful for someone, but the relationships just didn’t stick. All three women were at various points in their thirties and, myself, nearing fifty…well with each woman, we were just all in different places emotionally and at different points of healing from past traumas.

It was no one’s fault, really. It was all remnants of past hurts that had never really healed right. It was them needing someone to help them and me needing someone to care for. All three were codependency edge cases, but none of them blossomed into the full mushroom cloud of toxicity because none of us allowed ourselves to get that close.

After the last one, I pretty much convinced myself that I would be a lifelong bachelor. A healthy, long-term, romantic relationship just seemed to be something I was incapable of achieving.

That’s just the way it is sometimes.

So I did what confirmed bachelors do. I got a dog. Jack. He’s great. My best buddy, in fact. He filled that empty space. He gave me a warm body to touch and that ambient background life noise…you know what I mean, right? The sound of another body breathing. The sound of someone else’s steps on the floor. It was reassuring. Especially in the dark winter days of Covid, 2021.

Jonah and Jack Jack on the sofa
This Guy Here Saved Me

It was reassuring to not be alone. It was an opportunity to focus on something other than my solitude.

My anxiety lessened. I cared for my plants and for Jack. I focused on holding my own shit together. I hit the gym when it finally opened back up. I worked.

I accepted everything as it was. I made an effort to focus on gratitude.

I got vaccinated when I was able to. I started, finally, seeing my friends again and further strengthening those bonds.

Something happened, then. Something unexpected.

What Is This Madness?

I started seeing her face pop up here and there in Facebook’s People You May Know feature. She was hard to miss, with her pretty smile, bright eyes, and thick mane of fuschia hair.

Alicia smirking at camera
I Didn’t Stand a Chance

I wasn’t buying it, tho.

Nope. I was keeping female types at arms length, whether I was interested in them or not.

Then I started seeing her commentary popping up all over on a few of my good friend’s posts and damn it if she didn’t start showing up more frequently. I was beginning to feel Universe led, by this point, so, one day, I ventured over to her profile.

We only had twelve friends in common, which is weird for me. Typically when I’m looking at a potential new friend on Facebook, we usually have fairly deeply overlapping friendships.

However, there’s something to be said about quality over quantity. Every single mutual friend we had was a top shelf friend of mine. People I spend quite a bit of time with socially, out in the physical world.

Then I started reading her posts.

All of her original writing was spiritual in nature. Her communication was clear, intelligent, pointed, and authoritative where appropriate. Her memes were abundant and were generally critical of organized religion. Socially liberal. Very liberal. Pro BLM. Pro LGBTQ+.

How had I not met this woman yet? Salem is not a big city by any stretch of the imagination. Especially when we whittle it down to queers with GenX and Millennial punk circles.

I still wasn’t wanting any kind of a girlfriend.

I was, however, very much open to friend dates with smart, funny, magnetic women and I wanted to see the new MCU Black Widow movie that was coming out, with at least one like-minded friend.

So, on July 8th, at 1:35 pm, I knock knocked her in Messenger.

Pay attention to this magic…

Me: knock knock
She: Who’s there?
Me: Linda!
She: Linda who?
Me: Linda hand would ya? I’m tired of knocking!

And this is how it began.

I swung fast and asked her out on a friend date to dinner and a movie immediately after that brilliant opening line. She had, just that day, experienced another thoughtless guy’s commentary and it was clear she was over men, at least for that day. We had a brief, friendly conversation and then went back and forth for a few days.

Yes, she made me wait several days before committing to time with me.

On July 12th, she finally got back to me about that movie…the one I actually streamed on its debut night…however I still really wanted to see it on the big screen. Some switch was flipped by this point. Once we started talking, it just never stopped.

By July 14th, she filled me in on a little secret. She had seen me, previously, at the memorial service of a friend. In fact, our mutual friend, Snarfy, snapped a photo of her at the memorial, and I was captured in the background, very clearly, and as close as a premonition. She shared the photo with me.

Alicia and Jonah as Andre Donaldson's memorial
Predestination?

At this point, both of us were pretty certain that this was not going to be just a friend date.

When You Know, You Know

Our first date was Friday, July 16th, 2021. This was also the first time we met each other in person. I picked her up at her home and was definitely pleased with what I saw. She was beautiful, full and curvy, dressed stylishly, and had the most incredible, engaging smile I’d ever seen on a human being.

We drove to Gamberetti’s and had delicious Italian food despite the sub-par service. I found it very hard to not get lost in those beautiful, bright green eyes.

I was so happy to discover that her conversational skills were just as good as her writing ones. I could listen to her talk endlessly.

We went to the Willamette Town Center Regal Cinema and saw Black Widow.

She let me hold her hand.

I held it for the entire movie.

I already knew, at this point, that I wasn’t planning on letting it go, if she didn’t want me to.

We made out for 45 minutes while standing in her front lawn. It was a balmy summer night, she was bathed in the soft orange glow of streetlights. My head swam as the oxygen left my body.

The connection was mind boggling.

I know it sounds trite, but I truly have never felt such a connection, so quickly and so fully.

I went home to my little blonde dog in our tiny, quiet apartment that night and felt like a part of me was missing.

Our rhythm was strong and consistent starting immediately on July 15th. My life, which had been relatively quiet, predictable, and sterile for nine months suddenly exploded with activity. Without losing a step, we began to merge our friend groups. We introduced each other to our closest respective family members.

She fell in love with Jack and he reciprocated enthusiastically.

We saw each other every day. Without fail.

What was to come was inevitable.

Jonah Fenn and Taylor Mangan standing in front of a UHaul truck
Jonah and Taylor on Moving Day

Which Brings Us to Today

As I sit here in my new home office, looking out the window at a pleasant, bucolic view of the rusty autumn maple trees that line Madison Street, I realize it’s been a just a few days over a month that I’ve been living here with the woman I am wholeheartedly in love with.

Autumn maple trees through Jonah's office window

I spent so long untethered, looking for the spot I was supposed to fill. I spent years paying heavy emotional tolls, working really hard to satisfy people that I was not meant to satisfy, and ultimately never could.

But here in the warmth of this home and alongside this really special lady, I’m discovering that relationships can actually be easy. The energy that flows between us moves effortlessly. The small bumps we hit are immediately addressed, respectfully and lovingly.

This is as it it should be.

I’ve finally found home.

Jonah and Alicia at Counting Crows
Seeing Counting Crows!

Published by Jonah Sheridan Fenn

Nerd herder, word wrangler, working on the next chapter...

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