When I saw Ben across the room of a crowded bar, my heart jumped a little bit. He was more than just a little good looking and he was looking at me, too. I know people say if you don't want to date an alcoholic, don't pick up guys at bars but it didn't seem to matter where I met guys, they usually had a love affair with alcohol. But he had those dark brown eyes and a beautiful shock of black hair and I couldn't look away from him.
I don't know what it was about them, these guys with their deep, dark tortured souls, but it was one of those patterns in my life I would seek therapy a few years later to figure out. But at that moment, he could have been anyone. He could have been that guy who went out once a week and just had a few beers. The night was full of possibility.
After successfully looking at him across the room enough times, he came over to talk to me. And we had this really nice talk that ended up outside in the warm September night. He told me what he did for a living and showed me his pretty car and then asked if I wanted to go out with him some time. He told me repeatedly that I seemed like a nice girl and what was I doing at a bar.
That's the kind of thing I would learn later, after countless hours of therapy, was a red flag. There were lots of little red flags, I would both pay attention to and ignore because he was so good looking and so charming and I just wanted to kiss him.
He asked me for my phone number and I gave it to him, then surprisingly, he confessed "I have a girlfriend, though. Is that a problem?"
My head whipped around quickly. "Of course it's a problem."
"What do you mean?" He asked with lazy confidence.
"It means I don't date guys with girlfriends. I'm not some chick you can have on the side. If you break up with her, call me, otherwise, lose my phone number, I don't want to hear from you."
And I walked away. Frankly, I was super pissed off. Ben had led me on, basically lied to me. I was furious and disappointed. I hadn't liked a guy in a long time and it made me sad and angry. Still, I hadn't even kissed him. I had walked away with my dignity and my pride and kept my standards.
Two weeks later, he called me. I had put him out of my mind so much that I barely remembered who he was but he told me that he hadn't been able to stop thinking about me. He said "I broke up with her, I finally did it. Will you please go out with me now?"
I remember blushing on the phone and being pleased and flattered. He broke up with her for me? Wow. I could barely even process it, and I said yes faster than I should have. I didn't even think about it. Part of me was terrified to get involved with him and part of me exhilarated. It's one of those things that I jumped into. We got intensely involved very fast.
On our first date, I met him downtown, he had rented a fancy hotel room and was throwing money around. At the hotel, I said "So, here's the thing. I just don't sleep with guys on the first date, so if you're expecting that because you have a hotel room, I can just go home now and save you the trouble."
But he assured me that was not it. At that point he confessed, he had just moved back in with his parents and just wanted a night out. I'm sure he wouldn't have turned down sex on the first date but he never even was overly bothered by my refusal. To be honest, he behaved really honorably. He never pressured me for sex or made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. He was pretty awesome. But over the course of the evening, he did get pretty drunk.
He told me to park in the hotel garage and he would pay for my parking at the end of the night. After a whole night of bar hopping, we ended up back at his room and there was some pretty intense making out but no pressure to go any further. He took his gold necklace off and put it around my neck.
"I like you so much, I just want you to have it." He said.
It was sweet and touching.
The night got very late and he passed out. I looked at my watch and knew I had to get home. It was almost five in the morning. I tried to wake him to tell him I was leaving and get the money for the parking garage but he wouldn't wake up.
There was cash all over the room, cash that had fallen out of his pocket, his wallet was bulging. Part of me thought I should just take it, he had promised me the cash for the parking. He probably had no idea how much money he had spent that evening and wouldn't miss a twenty. But I found I couldn't do it. I just couldn't take that money without him handing it to me, it felt wrong. I had about three dollars on me. That was it. I felt pretty stupid, but I had to get home. So, I left. I did the walk of shame out of that hotel in my pretty black dress and sexy boots and went down to the parking garage to get my car.
When I approached the gate, I felt the guy looking at me like I was a prostitute.
I explained to him that I only had $3 and could he please take that and let me out. I told him the guy had said he would pay for parking but passed out. The parking attendant looked me up and down. I felt truly pathetic. He took pity on me and lifted the gate. He must have thought I was the worst prostitute ever, couldn't even get paid.
The next afternoon, Ben called me to tell me he had just gotten home. He was soft spoken and romantic and asked when he could see me again. I was excited about seeing him again.
Then, he asked me "So, this is kind of embarrassing but I have to ask..."
"What is it?" I said "You can ask me anything!"
"Did you... I woke up this morning and my necklace was missing. Did you take it?"
I sat there for a moment, just stunned.
"Did I take your necklace?"
"Yeah...I'm not mad or anything, I just kind of need it back."
I said "So, when you woke up, did you see all that cash lying around your room?"
He said "Yeah, I guess it was pretty messy."
"Yep," I said. "Looked like your whole paycheck was just lying around. Must have been a few hundred dollars, I don't know, I didn't count it. I just left it there. I mean, I could have robbed you blind and you never would have known it, you were passed out cold."
I could not repeat to him the humiliation of the parking garage incident. Could not. It was still burning in my cheeks every time I thought of it.
"You took that necklace off and put it on me and told me I could have it. But you can have it back if you want it."
He hesitated. "I don't remember giving it to you."
I assured him it was fine if he wanted it back. I didn't even like the stupid thing, in fact I really had no desire for it now.
"I would be fine giving it back to you."
"No, it's okay. I'm just glad you didn't steal from me. I guess if I gave it to you, and you want to keep it..."
"Why? It's real gold."
I had no idea how to explain to him that the worth of the necklace had been destroyed by his accusation. That the worth of the necklace had never been about the price he had paid but the way he had felt about us that night.
In the end, I gave it back so that it wouldn't sit between us like a seed of doubt. But I kinda wish I had kept it, just on principle.