Crash and Burn: My Not-Date with the Firefighter
He kept looking at my profile. Not just once or twice, but weekly, at least. So I messaged him: “You know, the real-life version of me is way more fun than the digital one.” Winky face.
This was an Oakland firefighter who had texted with me months before, only to eventually retreat and say, “I don’t think I’m ready to date.”
“Okay, no problem – it’s been fun chatting, good luck.” Kissy face.
That was last fall. And now he was back. Smiley face.
I was excited to see him snooping around because I’d thoroughly enjoyed our previous conversations, he was attractive and he lived in Napa–I mean, it wouldn’t suck to date a man who lives amongst gorgeous vineyards, emerald green hills and delicious reds.
So the fire captain and I ignited our conversations again, and this time major sparks flew. The first night we talked on the phone for 2.5 hours. I got a text immediately after: “Sorry, but I really want to talk some more. Call me.” So I rang back for more. And this continued for several evenings. Red-heart-eyes face.
He had a youthful voice, a sweet spirit and a really sordid story. He’d been married for 26 years until his wife left him for their daughter’s water polo coach – who was a woman 17 years younger. That’s gotta be a mind fuck for a man on several levels.
Two years later, he was still reeling from what he called the “destruction” of his family, feeling completely out of control, and still playing the victim card. I was sympathetic, so I played armchair psychologist and listened for hours upon hours about how crappy his life was. But in the midst of his angst, were little nuggets like:
“I can’t wait to meet you. I mean . . . you could be the one.”
“You’re amazing! You’re so sweet to listen to all this, I can’t believe how kind you are.”
“I still want to feel that jazz. You know when you kiss someone for the first time? That cool jazzy feeling. I want that.”
“We have to have a face-to-face this time – there’s a reason I always come back to you.”
I know, right? That’s some heart-melting shit.
But within a few weeks, it went from “Good night, love,” to “Maybe it’s not the right time for me to have a life.” He was retreating again, damn it. So I decided this was not going to end again without that “face-to-face.” Not this time. Not on my watch.
You guys, this is where it gets a bit stalkery. But in a funny way . . . so keep going.
I live an hour from Oakland where my firefighter worked, and it just so happened that I was heading there for a client meeting right around the time he began to crawl back into his protective shell. My favorite bakery is on the way. Lightbulb moment:
Isn’t taking delicious baked goods to firefighters a thing? I think it is. I’m sure it is. And if it’s not, it’s going to be.
I called Oakland dispatch: “Hi! I’d like to drop off a thank-you gift for one of your firefighters, but I’m not sure which firehouse he’s at. Can you help me with that?”
Oh no you didn’t, Sienna. OH YES, I DID.
Dispatch took my phone number, told me they’d call me back with his location, and I stopped at the bakery to buy a dozen of their most studly cupcakes (I almost went with the pink champagne flavor and then I remember that firefighters are not ballerinas). Baked goods in tow, I got back into my car toward Oakland when my phone rang:
him: “Sienna? What the hell? What are you doing, silly girl?”
me: “Oh! Calvin! (aka: my firefighter). Hey! Oh gosh, umm, I’m just buying some cupcakes. You know, a normal Friday thing. What are you doing?”
him: “Well, huh. I got a call from dispatch saying some woman is looking for me . . . and then they gave me your phone number. Is everything okay? And cupcakes?”
If I have ever in my life felt like a certified stalker, it was at this exact moment. I don’t want to use the term “bunny boiler,” but I felt maybe just one notch down. How in the hell was I going to explain this? And why hadn’t I thought about how this would look prior to plunking down $50 on fancy cupcakes?
Yes! Right! Cupcakes! Because, you know, I could tell you were pulling away again and I really wanted to meet you in person before you did because I think we would have amazing chemistry and we need to see each other to know, so I came up with this lame excuse of delivering cupcakes to you and your guys, but I didn’t know your firehouse, of course, because we’ve never actually met and talked about where you work, so I called dispatch to find out. And now I’m on my way to deliver them to you! That’s not creepy. Right?
He was kind. Gracious. And so polite. Especially when he could have been, “That’s frickin’ weird, please don’t, I’m gluten-free, and by the way. Lose my number.”
I found his firehouse. He loved the cupcakes. I met his guys, who also loved the cupcakes. He showed me the fire engines. And we stood in his firehouse for thirty minutes, talking about life and messy relationships, about kids and their resiliency, and about his ex and how foreign she is to him . . . and about how that still tears him apart. My gorgeous, brave, big-hearted, firefighting stud was indeed a wreck, two years after his marriage began to implode. And it was written all over our face-to-face.
On the upside, he was not only the talk of his firehouse that day, but all of Oakland dispatch: “Ooooohhh, Cal had some hot lady bringing him cupcakes . . . nice job, man!” And I got my own pink champagne cupcake, which came in handy on my way home when I wanted to eat my feelings. He was nowhere near ready to date- I could see that clearly in his sad eyes. That was too bad, because he was a good guy, and I liked him. A lot.
We texted a bit after that, and he was sweet, but my cupcakes and impromptu firehouse visit was not nearly enough to bring him back out of his shell, so I let this budding romance crash and burn. Sad face.
I used to believe that falling in love was simply about two compatible people coming together, generating inexplicable chemistry, sharing their stories and their hearts, unveiling their baggage, and saying “I want you and everything you bring, the good and the bad.” That timing wasn’t an issue because if two people are meant to be together, they will be. No matter what. No matter when.
I still kinda believe that–at least the hopeless romantic in me. But after seeing the anguish in his eyes, the sadness in his smile and the broken heart on his sleeve, I knew that Calvin wasn’t ready for anyone or anything other than grieving the end of what was.
There’s no formula or time table for healing a shattered heart. That’s the unfortunate reality of dating at midlife when people have long histories, complicated relationships and broken dreams that they need to resolve before they can move on. Teary face.
But I know of a bakery that makes magical cupcakes. Hit me up if you need to drown your sorrows in a soft, sweet swirl of creamy delicious therapeutic icing. Huggy face.