Friday, May 19, 2017

This is, by an even wider margin, the least likely thing that has ever happened

Over the years - especially the last few - I've enjoyed cataloging the various strange and unlikely coincidences that have happened to me in my life. The list of these coincidences has grown at an accelerating rate in the time since Cara's diagnosis and death, sometimes even making me tempted to question the nature of reality. Bizarre coincidences that have happened to Cara and me - ranging from Cara correctly predicting her bib number (666) at a cycling tour to me randomly hearing the minor '90s alt-rock hit "Here's Where the Story Ends" on two separate occasions on the day of Cara's calling hours - were the theme of the blog post This is, by a wide margin, the least likely thing that has ever happened that I wrote last year in February. I later described several other remarkable coincidences, all of them related to the timing of significant concerts, in my November 4 blog post.

The latter post was both an account of my first date with Cara and a review of the first show of the first, and last, Temple of the Dog tour that I attended on the tenth anniversary of that first date. I say "and last" because yesterday brought the news that Temple of the Dog's lead singer Chris Cornell, best known for his band Soundgarden, committed suicide the previous night, after a Soundgarden show in Detroit, at the age of 52. I was shocked and deeply saddened at the news, perhaps more so than by any other celebrity death in my lifetime. Cornell was an amazing talent and his music really meant a lot to me. It's so sad when someone with so much to offer the world feels that he no longer wants to be a part of the world and acts on those feelings. I've certainly experienced depression myself, but never suicidal impulses. There's so much about the workings of the human brain that remains such a mystery. But help is out there. When you're depressed, it often makes it harder to seek out that help. That's one of the awful things about depression. I'm not judging Cornell, because I have no idea what he was going through, but I wish deeply that he could have found the help he needed to get out of that dark place, just as I wish that for everyone dealing with similar feelings. Don't give up on getting better. Do everything you can to find that help. It's worth the effort.

(Speaking of the mysterious workings of the human brain, last night I had a dream in which I was going to a therapy session, and in my dream Chris Cornell was my therapist, and I realized he wouldn't be there because he had died. That's one to ponder for a while.)

In happier news...

Something truly amazing has happened to me. Along with it have come several more astonishingly unlikely coincidences, and since I so enjoy doing so, I decided to write about them.

On March 2 I was sitting at my desk at work when a message popped up on Facebook Messenger from someone I did not know. "Hi, I'm EB," read the message. "How long have you been part of the "Young, Widowed and Dating" group? I've just joined the group. I lost my husband Todd to brain cancer in 2014."

(It should be noted, amusingly in retrospect, that the full title of the Facebook group is "SUPPORT GROUP: Young, Widowed & Dating - Not Dating Site" - that is, the purpose of the group is explicitly not for members to solicit dates with other members.)

I enjoy meeting new people, so I responded to EB's message, and we had a very nice chat. Soon, our chats became a regular thing. We became fast friends. As the weeks went by, I began to realize that meeting EB, it just kinda reminded me of, well, meeting Cara. Yet EB lives in Nashville, and I was already dating someone in Cleveland who I liked, so I wasn't intent on pursuing a relationship with EB. It was nice to have someone to discuss the whole "young, widowed, and dating" thing with, though - someone else who really "got it." We both enjoyed sharing some of our dating adventures with each other. We also both enjoyed reading each other's blogs. These glimpses into the inner workings of each other's hearts and minds definitely helped draw us to each other.

Early in April, the woman I was dating and I had a discussion about our future and basically both agreed that, although we really liked each other and enjoyed spending time together, it probably wasn't going to become a serious long-term relationship. We are still friends, for which I'm grateful. It's actually pretty wild to me that, because I had never dated anyone before Cara, this is the first time ever that I've been dating someone for a while, and then ceased to be romantically involved with her, but she's still alive. So I'm definitely glad to still be friends!

Already, even before this conversation, I had been starting to wonder if EB was a better match, but I was reluctant to give up a pretty good thing here in Cleveland for a maybe in Nashville. Now I felt no such reservations - and I had suspected since very early in our friendship that EB might be interested in me - so I went ahead and asked her out. And obviously, as I wouldn't be writing this post otherwise, she said yes! We made plans for me to visit Nashville on the last weekend of April. And it was then that the coincidences began to pile up once more, in shocking fashion.

Shortly after we agreed to try being "more than friends" I was "Facebook stalking" EB and I noticed that she was friends with someone with whom I had three mutual friends - EB, and two other people. Intrigued by this, I looked at this friend's profile. The two other mutual friends were both involved in Cara's lung cancer charity event Breathe Deep Cleveland. I quickly realized that this person who was somehow friends with EB was the niece of one of the lead local organizers of the event and had come from Nashville to the event and led a Zumba warmup before the walk/run. I decided I had to ask EB how she knew her. Imagine my surprise when, on the same day, EB said that she had an amazing story for me!

EB has a four-year-old daughter named [redacted][redacted] has a nanny. EB was talking to her nanny about me, and when the nanny asked to see a picture of me, EB showed her this picture:

"Is... is he wearing an Afternoon Naps shirt?" [redacted]'s nanny asked.

Afternoon Naps were a local Cleveland band that Cara and I loved. We became friends with the two lead members of the band, Tom and Leia, who even attended our wedding. It turned out that [redacted]'s nanny used to live in Cleveland - and had dated Tom - and had helped design the t-shirt I'm wearing in that picture. Oh, and that picture was taken when Cara and I were in Pittsburgh for a Belle and Sebastian concert at which we saw some of our friends including Tom and Leia - and [redacted]'s nanny was also at that concert.

I was completely flabbergasted at this story. And then I asked EB how she knew the other friend of hers with whom I had a personal connection, the one I had discovered.

EB started laughing.

That other friend? [redacted]'s preschool teacher.

So despite the two of us never having lived anywhere near each other, we share not just one, but two astonishingly unlikely personal connections. And we had each, independently, discovered one of the two connections, and had simultaneously been looking forward to sharing them with each other! We have both spent a lot of time just marveling over these connections and at how our lives came to intersect.

Those weren't the only weird coincidences that happened in April.

At one point in one of our conversations EB asked me what my middle name was. "Michael," I replied, to her surprise, for Michael was also her late husband Todd's middle name. I reasoned with her that this wasn't that strange because Michael is an extremely common name. Then I found out that [redacted]'s middle name is [redacted], given to her because it's EB's mother-in-law's middle name. It's also my mother-in-law's middle name. So okay, those two middle name coincidences taken together? Pretty strange.

Another astonishing coincidence happened in the middle of the month when I received a sympathy card from the vet's office for the recent death of Cara's cat Mitters. When I opened the card, I realized that the text on the inside was very familiar. It was the same text on the cards that were handed out at Cara's funeral. I immediately had to go and find one of those cards. I placed them side by side, verifying that the words were identical.

Then I flipped to the fronts of the cards, and it hit me.

Not only did both cards have identical words, they also both had double rainbows - not just rainbows, but double rainbows - on the front. At this realization, I just broke down laughing. I just laughed and laughed for several minutes. It was all just too much.

A little more than a week later, I was in Columbus and went to visit my mother-in-law Joyce. I told her all about the exciting developments in my life. For by this point in time, although I had still not yet met EB in person, the two of us had grown very, very close, adding near nightly Skype sessions to our communications (something, I might add, that considerably reduced the potential awkwardness of meeting for the first time in person - hooray for technology!). We were both extremely excited for my trip to Nashville and impatient for it to arrive. I also told Joyce about all the recent weird coincidences. The personal connections EB and I discovered. The middle names. The cards for Mitters and Cara (which I brought to show Joyce in person). "Hey, you up there, are you trying to tell me something?" she said, perhaps only partly in jest, looking up at the sky.

Upon telling Joyce that I would be going to Nashville the following weekend, she said that she would be worried, just as she had worried about Cara going to Cleveland. "It's like that Megafaun song, 'Worried Mind'," she said, referencing a song by a band Cara and I liked. (Joyce has an old iPod that we filled with music for her to enjoy.) She went on to sing a snippet of the song.

And here was one of the very strangest coincidences of all the strange coincidences I've experienced. For out of all the more than 10,000 songs that are on my iPod, the one that I was in the middle of listening to when I arrived at my in-laws' place? It was "Worried Mind." (And no, there's no way Joyce could have heard it playing, because when I pulled up she was inside with the door closed, and the windows of my car were rolled up.)

Driving away afterwards, listening to the rest of the song from where I had left off when I parked, I broke down laughing again.

As I remarked to EB later, sometimes it feels like the whole universe is some weird practical joke being played on me.

But wait, there's more!

April 29 brought my trip to Nashville. The date of the trip has an odd significance. It's not completely coincidental, because I noticed it ahead of time and sort of did it on purpose (which is perhaps weird), but objectively speaking, that weekend did make the most sense for my trip, and the fact that the opportunity even presented itself for things to work out this way is rather wild. Anyway, April 29, 2017 was two years and five days from the day Cara died. And EB was born two years and five days after Cara was born. Therefore, when I met EB in person, she was exactly the same age, to the day, as Cara was when Cara was last alive.

Pretty strange, but I'd like to think of it as a good sign.

The trip went amazingly well, as did EB's first visit to Cleveland two weeks later. Finding true love again after having had it and lost it is... really something. It's hard to put into words. It's probably hard to understand if you haven't experienced it yourself. And I feel like it would be nigh impossible to form a connection of such depth with someone who hasn't experienced the things I have. I feel very lucky right now.

There was one more funny coincidence in Nashville. On my last day there, EB suggested we pick up [redacted] early from preschool and go have ice cream before I departed. She said there was a really good ice cream place called Jeni's. "Is that the Jeni's that's originally from Columbus, Ohio?" I asked.

"... Oh yeah... it is," EB said, a little embarrassed that she had forgotten, for she knew that I had grown up in Columbus, and she said that the main thing she knew about Columbus was that Jeni's was from there.

It was a real trip to walk into the familiar setting of a Jeni's shop while in a city that was completely new to me. And there in the Jeni's in Nashville I was served ice cream by a woman with a tattoo of the state of Ohio on her forearm. I asked her about it and she explained that she was from Ohio. The tattoo was notable because Cara too had a tattoo of Ohio on her forearm.

In fact, I had just shown a picture of that tattoo to EB earlier that day while telling her the story of my own tattoo, which was done by the same tattoo artist as Cara's Ohio tattoo. Jeni's ice cream was something Cara and I enjoyed many times together, including, most notably, after our wedding, while still decked out in our wedding attire. I'd like to think of that encounter with a woman with an Ohio tattoo in that Nashville Jeni's as a little sign from Cara.

I also love that I can share all these stories with EB without feeling the least bit awkward. Cara and Todd are very much a part of our relationship, and it's a very good thing.

April 2017 was probably, all told, the most amazing month of my life. Life is really weird. Right now, it's really weird in a good way.