Before I can tell you about meeting Clay, I have to explain where I was. In 2001, my marriage ended. Tre was six, Max was three, and Raphael was four months old the day my ex moved out. The death of my marriage was shocking, violent, and embarrassingly dramatic. And, I came to find out, not that unusual.
A friend from church took me out for lunch one day. Her kids were teens, and she told me the story of her divorce, years before. Some of the details were eerily similar, something I'd see over and over again as I obsessively discussed divorce with any woman who could relate (pro tip: if your husband announces out of the blue that he doesn't think he ever loved you, he's already sleeping with someone else).
As we sat over the remnants of our lunch, my friend reached across the table and gripped my hand.
"Women tend to make one of two choices in circumstances like yours. They either run out and try to find another man to make it better, or they choose their kids. I can already tell you're going to choose your kids."
I can't tell you how much I took her words to heart that day. I chose my kids. I wouldn't bring further chaos into their lives with random men. I'd already given them enough pain and loss with the man I chose to be their father. No more.
And so there just weren't any men in my life. I moved in with my parents so I could continue to homeschool, and the boys became my life's work. I don't know - that sounds more selfless than it actually was, I think. It was good for me to be there for the boys. It was right to provide them as much stability as I could while we all put our lives back together. But I'd be lying if I tried to pretend I wasn't also protecting myself, hiding behind a very effective man-repelling shield of three squirrelly little boys.
Three years later, one Sunday I was at church. It was the end of the service, announced with "Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord," and we responded together, "Thanks be to God!" A beat of a pause, then everyone turned to whoever they were with, to discuss lunch plans, find missing shoes, whatever.
I was standing at the back of the room, just casually watching, when I felt it like a fist to the chest: no one was looking for me. The boys swarmed around me in their usual puppy-pile, but I scanned the room, in a completely illogical panic. Where were the eyes looking for mine?
That evening, back at home, Mom asked me if I was okay. I paused, then just said it.
"I'm lonely." There is just never any way to say that with great dignity, you know. But there it was.
"Oh," she said, "well, sure. That makes sense. If you ever want to pray about that, ask God to send you someone, let me know."
"Okay," I said. She started to turn away, but I repeated myself. "No, I mean - OKAY."
And so we did. She took my hands and together we prayed that God would send a man - just the right man. When we were done, I tried to laugh it off, and wandered away.
Two weeks later Clay packed up everything he owned and left Idaho. He was starting his life over and had been thinking about moving to Nevada, but when he called his brother, he offered Clay a futon to crash on. And so instead, Clay headed to Colorado, to Aurora. The day he drove into town it was his birthday, and it was Easter.
Already, it was inevitable.