Todd’s family has a hunting cabin in my hometown. He and his family would come up north hunting and stop in at Sportsman’s, the local bar in Twining, where my friend Jessie was a bartender. Todd’s family became not only her customers but her friends. I met Todd for the first time when she had randomly taken me out to his cabin one night. After that we wound up at Sportsman’s.
It’s hard to explain this bar. It feels like home to me. I have so many memories there–some good, some not so good, but all make me look back and smile. Some cringing while I smile, but I smile all the same. The owner Jill is a tough lady. I mean that literally–she could kick my ass in a hot second. If she shot one disappointed look in my direction when I was in my early twenties I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Even though she has that mother hen kind of power over a lot of us, she balances it out well since she also happens to be a complete blast! She is loved and respected by everyone I know. That’s why to this day she manages to stay afloat in a small town that continues to get smaller. People want to give her business. People enjoy her bar, people enjoy her. She has seen my girlfriends and I go through all of our relationships and breakups over the years. When we were in our early twenties, she listened to us talk about our boy problems (problems we thought were the end of the world at the time) as we tried to drown them with apple pucker and Smirnoff Ice. Although she would always laugh as we cried and complained about the latest loser we were dating, she was always there with simple yet not-so-subtle advice. I made it a career to date the wrong guy. Seven years with someone who didn’t appreciate me, cheated on me, and, to top it all off, happened to have a major drinking problem. However, in typical blind first love fashion, I only saw the good. I am what I like to call a “fixer.” I see the good in people and tend to overlook the bad. It took me many years to realize not only was I not going to be able to help him, but in trying to I was inadvertently ruining my life in the process. Something that is very hard to see when you are in the midst of a bad relationship. When we finally broke up Jill said to me, “Thank God, I was waiting for you to smarten up!” I had no idea she didn’t like him. I looked at my girlfriends shocked, and they all kind of yawned and rolled their eyes at me. Apparently this was only news to me. Not only was this bar home to locals but to hunters from down state as well. There are two ways these hunters are sometimes viewed: as a ticket out of the small town or as an intruder from the city that needed to be put in his place. Of course, not all locals feel this way–many welcome them with open arms. They become almost like locals themselves after a while. November would roll around with most looking forward to reuniting with friends not seen since the previous hunting season. I personally was indifferent. I didn’t see them as a ticket out of town–I could get out myself if I wanted, and I didn’t. I think most of my girlfriends felt the same way. We just liked meeting new people and hanging out.
Todd and his family would come into the bar during hunting season and I had grown to adore all of them. You could see just how close they were and that they were just good ol’ salt of the earth people. Todd and I hit it off right away. We became fast friends, both dating other people for years when we met. We would sit at the end of the bar and talk about our relationships, our jobs, our families. We would show each other pictures of our nieces and nephews. I felt like I knew his nieces before I ever met them. Of course we flirted but that’s just both of our personalities–it didn’t occur to us that we should look into it any further. Looking back now I realize we probably had feelings for each other long before we realized. Todd wouldn’t get up north until late Friday night but his family would all arrive earlier in the day. As soon as I saw Todd’s dad, his grandpa and friends I would call Todd from Jessie’s phone and say, “Where are you? When will you be here?” I was giddy to see him and that was years before we even thought of dating. I just loved talking to him. I was always supportive of his relationship although I can’t say he was the same about mine. He would listen to my problems and as a friend I knew he was concerned. It felt good to talk to him. I remember actually breaking down a couple times in front of him when my boyfriend and I would be going through one of our many breakups. Looking back at that now I cringe with embarrassment. He would always give me good advice but at the same time was very blunt that I could do better. After a couple years of our friendship he walked into the bar with his family and…… a girl. I was shocked! He and his girlfriend had broken up and this was someone new. He had never brought his girlfriend of many years up north…I had never met her anyway. I looked at Jessie and said with a scowl, “Who is that with Todd?” I started complaining, “It’s hunting camp – why is he bringing a girl up here? What happened to his girlfriend? He hasn’t been seeing this girl long enough to have already introduced her to family!” I didn’t like her right away. I was jealous and didn’t even recognize that I was. Jessie just laughed. I was overly sweet telling Todd how nice she seemed. I was also very polite to her, but every second I had the chance I would complain to Jessie. The nerve he had to bring a girl here. He went on to date her for a couple years and I stayed with my on-and-off again boyfriend, who soon became my fiancé. I was beyond excited to be engaged. It was what I thought I had always wanted. I remember going back home one weekend to visit friends and family. My friend Jessie had told me Todd was celebrating his birthday at the cabin and she wanted to stop by. I couldn’t wait. I always loved seeing Todd and was excited to tell him about my news. I met a good number of Todd’s family including cousins and, for the first time, the women of his family, including his mother. It’s hard not to fall in love with them. Once you meet them you feel like you have known them forever. As I was talking to a couple of Todd’s friends I heard Todd yell, “Shelly!” I looked his way and saw that big smile of his and he pulled me in for one of our usual hugs. We talked for a bit and then I said with excitement, “I’m engaged!’ and flashed my ring at him. Todd did not do as well hiding his annoyance as I had done at hiding mine. He also had a good amount of liquid courage. He proceeded to yell at me and tell me how completely stupid I was. I felt eyes on me, including those of his girlfriend and his mother. I was mortified and said under my breath, “You are being a real jerk.” He said loudly, “Good luck with that Shelly!” and walked away, shaking his head in disgust. I looked at Jessie and told her I wanted to leave. As we walked away I told her just how upset I was with Todd and that I never wanted to speak to him again.
I finally graduated from college and moved to Houghton Lake for work. Soon after moving my relationship with my fiancé ended. I loved Houghton Lake and was seriously considering buying a house there. I had forgiven Todd although he had never apologized for what he said. I talked with him about my desire to buy a house and again he was frustrated. He said, “Why would you buy a house? That’s a huge commitment. What if you want to move? What if you meet someone?” I thought a lot about what he was saying. I always valued his advice and realized he was right and continued to rent. Unbeknownst to us, our friends and family were whispering behind our backs and wondering if we were ever going to catch on; if we would ever see what was right in front of us. We never talked on the phone or thought about each other when we were apart. Our only discussions were at Sportsman’s during hunting season. I remember the exact day I “woke up,” as I like to call it. It was Jessie’s birthday and we were at Sportsman’s celebrating. Todd’s family walked in and we all started chatting. His dad explained to me that Todd was newly single. Todd walked in minutes later. He looked the same as always, hoodie and jeans and, of course, that big smile. He said my name and pulled me in for a hug. Normally, I would talk to Todd about his relationships and how they are going or why they ended. Instead, as he sat there talking to Jessie, I stared at him and smiled. I thought to myself, “Why have I never dated Todd?” I decided to turn my flirtation up that night and see what happened. I had put on a few pounds and had also been tanning for an upcoming wedding I was in. As I flirted with Todd he said, “You look different, healthier maybe.” I asked, “Is that a nice way of telling me I have gained weight?” He said, “No, I didn’t mean that at all! Maybe it’s because you have a little color–you are usually so pale.” I said, “Wow, so I usually look not healthy and pale?” He started stuttering and trying to correct himself. I just smiled and said, “I’m just giving you a hard time.” This was not off to a good start, but we danced and talked all night. I continued to razz him throughout the night about the “healthy” comment. I still do from time to time actually.
When I went back to Houghton Lake on Monday I was watching the Detroit Tigers game in my operatory between patients. Todd and I had finally exchanged numbers and I was stewing thinking of a reason to call him. I knew he was a big Tigers fan so I texted him, “Do you know the score to the Tigers game? I’m at work and don’t have a TV here.” A total lie but it worked. He started filling me in with every play and run. That was the first of many phone calls and texts before we started officially seeing each other.
At the time he lived in Grand Blanc and I would drive two hours every Thursday night to stay with him for the weekend. He would also make surprise visits to Houghton Lake to visit me. I hated the long distance thing. I don’t know how people do it. After only a couple months I remember sitting on the couch next to him one Sunday night complaining that I didn’t want to leave. He said so casually, “Why don’t you just move down here?” I looked at him shocked. He had dated people for years and never lived with them. Here we had only been dating six months and he was asking if I wanted to move in. I was scared at first. It’s a big deal to quit an amazing job and move without the security of having another one lined up. We went over my bills and he said he could cover them until I found another job. The next couple weekends when I visited he talked about rings and if he were to ever propose what I may like. I’m not one of those girls who wanted to pick out her ring; I wanted it to be from him. I gave him a few ideas of what not to get but, other than that, I gave him very little to go on. It didn’t seem strange at all to talk about engagement rings with him. One Friday morning while Todd was at work and I was visiting I saw a ring box on the bathroom sink. I stared at it forever. I had an idea of what this could possibly be. I wanted to look so bad but I didn’t want to ruin anything. I’m very traditional. If it was an engagement ring I wanted to see it for the first time when Todd asked. I texted him saying I was cleaning the house and saw the box. He texted back, “Crap, I can’t believe I left that out. Please don’t look inside.” I started asking questions, and teasing him about what was in the box. Every time I walked by the bathroom I would glance over at the box. I even cleaned the bathroom just to be in there to stare at it, like if I looked hard enough I was going to have Superman’s X-ray vision. I couldn’t stand it anymore. After seven hours of holding out and just one hour before Todd got home, I opened the box. I can only imagine the huge smile I had on my face followed immediately by a bitter scowl when I realized the box was empty. I texted him, “You shit!” He texted back, “I’m taking that as you opened the box lol.”
I remember the day I decided I was going to move down. It was just too hard to be away from him for that long. I was nervous but I knew this was it. All those cliche stories that people tell you. Stories I used to hate when I was in my previous relationship. Things like, it will happen when you least expect it or you will know when you know….they annoyingly and surprisingly turned out to be true. Once all my stuff was unpacked I laid down next to Todd on the couch and started to fall asleep. As I closed my eyes I felt him slip something onto my finger and I heard him say, “Now don’t take this off for the rest of your life.” I looked down at my hand and saw what that empty box had once held. It was perfect. It’s hard to put into words what you feel in a moment like that. To look at man you feel is perfect for you in every way and know he wants to spend the rest of his life with you. That moment was the first time I pictured Todd as a dad. I had an instant ache in my heart–he knew full well I may be unable to have children and he was still asking me with his whole heart to be his wife. What killed me the most was knowing he would be an amazing dad and I may be taking that away from him. He never thought twice about it and we were married six short months later. Three years of struggle and heartache before we met our world on January 9th, 2014. It felt like fate had led us to that moment. Life before my little family seemed so distant–almost like it had been someone else’s life. After years of friendship that had blossomed into love, we had created this beautiful baby boy together. Nash was everything I imagined he would be. Having a child with your best friend is nothing short of amazing. I know if we didn’t have those years of friendship under our belts we could never have made it through the nightmare we didn’t know lay ahead of us then. I used to ridicule Todd when he was being less then easy to deal with. I would say, “Twining Todd would never say that” and I would smile. To this day I will say I miss Twining Todd if he isn’t being attentive or romantic enough. Almost like it is his good alias. Now, though, when I think of him at his best I no longer think of him as Twining Todd–I think of him as Nash’s daddy.