I walk toward Darren, the curbside check in man at LaGuardia Airport who's been handing me my boarding pass every other Friday night for a year. "Many bags today!" he says, motioning toward my three suitcases, which are surely over the 50 pound limit. "Long trip to Atlanta?"
"Actually, I'm staying this time," I tell him.
"You moving for work?" he asks.
I hedge. "Yes. For work."
"Sad," he says. "Come back and visit, pretty girl."
I moved from Atlanta to New York in April 2006 to prove that I could make it as an editor in the hub of the publishing industry. I was a Career Woman-at 26 I had never said out loud that I wanted a husband and children. Women who cared too much about those things seemed desperate, weak. I rendered judgment while highlighting passages in my well worn copy of Naomi Wolf's
Fire With Fire. I would be different.
I scored a senior editor job at MC, packed up my life, and flew to New York, leaving behind family and friends, my spacious house, my little Honda, and Fred.
I had picked Fred up at a dive bar in Atlanta seven months earlier. I was cocky and aggressive and thought he would be the perfect man drug to help me recover from an ego deflating breakup. He was that and much more. But he didn't fit into my plan, so I charged ahead with my career, and we decided to be friends.
Once in New York, I kept in touch with Fred through weekly e mails that grew to five, eight, 10 messages a day, which I regarded as innocent long distance flirtation. It wasn't until I was spending the 4th of July on a yacht on the Hudson River with a cute insurance salesman that it hit me: I'd rather be with Fred.
I flew down.
"I'm as loyal as they come," he said. "And you're the only woman I want to be with." In bed that night we tried to stay awake, not willing to let the other one out of our sight. As his eyes finally closed, he pulled me tight and said, "I love you."
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then it makes the lust grow out of control. Every stolen weekend was a mix of tangled limbs as we delivered on promises made in naughty phone conversations. I charged hundreds to Victoria's Secret and spent hours getting manicured, waxed, and highlighted, wanting thoughts of my smooth, Clinique Happy-scented skin to stay with Fred after I left.
This, we knew, was not real life. After months of the buffed and polished versions of each other, we longed for the mundane. I wanted us to make a tuna casserole on a Wednesday night, then maybe I'd watch America's Next Top Model while he fiddled around with his guitar. We'd get in bed, have 10 minutes of unspectacular sex, and go to sleep.
It became clear that I was going to have to move. We wanted a house, a yard, a place to eventually raise kids. New York, to both of us, was not that place. But why did I have to give up all I'd worked for for a man?
I struggled. I cried. I flip flopped more than Giuliani on gun control. Until one day my best friend Jaime said, "You're going to choose Fred." And she was right. Being a feminist didn't mean choosing a career above all else. I could have the man and the job. Sure, there was some sacrifice involved-I'd have to let go of the rung I'd clawed my way up to on that fabled ladder. But I wasn't forced.
Fred meets me at the baggage claim at Hartsfield Jackson Airport and considers how to get my three massive suitcases to the parking lot. I drag the two manageable ones, while Fred bends over and pushes the 80 pounder with such ferocity that sparks fly from the metal wheels as they careen along the pavement. "You'll throw out your back!" I say, laughing.
"A small price to pay," he grins back.