My Friend, the Parking Spot

As far as parking spots go, it is a damn fine spot.

It’s not just that it’s close to the entrance of the garage which feeds directly into the crosswalk I had to cross to reach my office building. It’s also far enough in that it doesn’t catch any direct sunlight or bird shit, like the cars lined in the row along the garage’s side do.

The best part is you can make a perfect left hand turn directly into the spot after entering the garage.

The spot to its left was too close to the entrance, so you’d have to back up and straighten out to get into it. The spot to its right was adjacent to a concrete pillar, so again, entering that spot had to be perfect. This was ideal because it meant people actually paid attention getting into those spots, which meant you had enough space to get in and out of the car without any problem when it was time to go to lunch or head home for the day.

Yeah, that was a real good parking spot.

I used that spot the other night for the first time since last summer, and man, it felt good, like seeing an old friend and picking up your conversation where you last left it.

. . .

When I first started using that spot, not too long after I moved to Austin, I was still happily married. And I was thrilled at my new job, a job I held for nine and a half years.

There were some days I worked from home. There were some days I traveled. There was a period when I had a fling with another parking spot after I moved desks inside the office and used a different entrance to access the building. But I returned to that spot, despite the inconvenience. It was that good.

George W. Bush was president when I first started using that spot. I watched Obama’s inauguration, and watched W fly away to Texas, from a hospital waiting room in Laredo, where my now ex-wife is from. Her grandmother, who didn’t speak English (I maintain she knew more English than she let on), was ill.

She’d put her hand on my arm and look up at me and smile, and I’d smile back. Those were the only conversations we had, yet they were filled with love, for each other, and the shared love we had for her granddaughter.

I was out of town when she died, years later, long after the divorce. I had thought many times about being at her funeral, about supporting my ex through that. I was in Maine, half a country and a different life away.

When things got rocky between my ex and me, and our long dissolution evolved from separate bedrooms to separated to divorced, just about the only constant in my life was my job.

I loved the work, even though my task and role was feeling repetitive and not as challenging. I had started applying for jobs, haphazardly and then more seriously, right around the time my ex and I entered into counseling.

I think that’s a coincidence but that this point but I can’t say for sure.

As frustrated as I was in that job for awhile, as difficult it had become hauling myself to that office each day, I needed it. That job, in that place, with those people.

Those people, so many of whom became my friends and remain professional colleagues, people to share ideas with and learn from. Those people also included the woman who became the most special person in my life for many years.

That place, which wasn’t a great place, really, just a former warehouse turned into a software company office. It’s in the midst of a sprawling outdoor shopping mall that by now is fully developed and one of the most popular shopping and eating destinations in that part of the city. When I started, it was fields and parking lots. The office itself was nothing more than a cube farm with free, decent coffee and a ping-pong table for the engineers.

That job, which settled me into my career, taught me so much, and positioned me to land my current role in online fundraising for an environmental organization.

The job changed significantly when the company I joined was purchased by and then merged with its largest competitor. We went from working at the headquarters of a company of nearly 500, to being a satellite office of a company of over 3,000. Most people left, especially after a year when their stock options vested.

But I stayed. I still liked the work, I needed the social surroundings, needed something firm beneath me as I recovered from divorce.

. . .

A new vice president came in and one of his first acts on the job was to rearrange everyone’s seating assignments. We literally pulled the location of our new desks out of a hat.

Her desk was right next to mine, and we talked and IM’d constantly. We became very close work friends, but I was stand-offish and reluctant to be social outside of work. We were both married at the time.

Even after our seats got reassigned a few more times, first to downstairs, then back upstairs, then to the other side of the hall, we got closer and closer.

After my divorce I let my guard down and started being more social with people at work. I regret not doing that sooner but am glad I finally came around. We would go to lunch together, walk to the nearest Starbucks together, sometimes just go for a walk.

We went to lunch once, and she took notes on some ideas I had for her on a work project. Later, she told me that was the first time she every really noticed my blue eyes.

She was there for me as I struggled to recover from divorce. Those were some dark times for me, and she helped pull me out of the quicksand of sadness.

She also pushed me to be better at my job. She thought I could be more proactive with my clients and she was right.

I remember her being pregnant, I remember her being out on maternity leave, and I remember missing her during that leave.

I remember sitting with her outside of that Starbucks when she told me she was contemplating her own divorce. I was wary of telling her my opinion and instead just focused on listening, gently telling her how extraordinarily difficult it was.

After Thanksgiving we had lunch together and she was glowing from a great weekend they shared together. A few weeks later she texted me and asked if I could pick her up from her soon to be ex-in laws. It felt good to be there for her, as a friend. To repay her kindness, her sincerity and tenderness, to be a presence for her.

By the next fall we were dating. Thankfully she found a new job in literally the same week we had our first date. We didn’t want the stress of dating in the office, even though I missed her companionship there.

Neither of us expected to fall for each other, neither of us saw it coming. It literally happened in an instant, at her house, during a Friday night dinner party, when I helped her clean and dry the dishes. Something sparked. We talked about it on Monday and agreed it felt…different.

Over wine and dinner on our first date, we talked about the risks of diving in, of what might happen if it didn’t work out. At the risk of our friendship, we chased love.

I don’t regret that choice. I’ll never regret pursuing love, of following love, of taking a chance on love.

But I sure do miss one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

. . .

There were a lot of lunches by myself after she took her new job. By then most of my close friends had gone to other jobs too. I started working from home more, but I still liked the routine of getting out of the house and being in an office setting.

I hit my nine-year-anniversary at that job and something inside me flipped. I didn’t want to be there for 10. So I picked up my job search, got a little lucky and landed at an organization I’m so very grateful to be a part of.

I said goodbye to the parking spot on my last day, thanking it for being such a trustworthy, reliable part of my (mostly) daily existence for so long.

It was weird. I had never had feelings, an attachment, to a parking spot before.

But I had come to rely on it, it wound up providing me comfort. It was consistent. On the rare days it was taken and I could not use it, I was a little sad. I assumed I might not ever see that parking spot again.

. . .

We had a lot of up and downs, she and I. A lot of break-ups that came in various shapes and sizes. A 12-hour break-up, a six-month break-up, a few in between.

During one, which lasted for about a week, I happened to be in that part of town for an event. I was antsy and emotional and couldn’t handle being where I was, no matter where I was.

I got up and left and without thinking about it, I drove up to our old office. It was a bright Saturday afternoon and I felt miserable.

I don’t know what I was thinking doing that to myself.

As painful as it was, I just wanted to feel something associated with her. A memory. Or a batch of memories. If I couldn’t be here with her physically, maybe I could be with her in those memories.

And sure enough the parking spot was free. We had literally broken up just that morning.

I made the circuit of the walk we used to take, picking up from the parking spot. Up to the Starbucks, in front of the fountain where we used to kill time, by the shops then down the stairs through the garage and back. I did that loop a few times, crying all the way.

I’ll never come back here, I told myself then. It’s too painful.

We reunited after that but a few months later started the six-month break-up. That one felt permanent.

Sometime last summer, still in the thralls of heartache, I attended a Meet-up in that shopping area.

I dreaded going there. I told myself there was no need to retrace those steps, that I could avoid the parking spot and former office if I wanted to.

But I couldn’t resist. I was still craving her. I found the parking spot and said hello. It was as if it was waiting for me, to comfort me in the midst of depression. I walked around but only did one loop.

Move on, I told myself. You don’t have to be here.

. . .

We reunited yet again…only to call it quits, for good this time, no really, I think. Three weeks ago as of this writing.

The relief of the roller coaster being over is tangible, but not enough to counterbalance the overwhelming sadness and confusion from the dismantled and untangled love of ours.

Last week I had an event to attend that I was very much committed to going to. I shrunk in my desk chair when I saw where it was. I’ve moved apartments and now that place is even further away, and during rush hour, it can take up to an hour to get there.

It wasn’t the drive I feared. It was the return to that physical and emotional place.

. . .

I felt braver this time. Or maybe more resigned. I had walked these steps before, not just over the years while I happy in love, but also in the sadness of being apart. The entire emotional spectrum was familiar.

After my meeting I retraced those steps yet again, thinking of her, of us, our journey, the twists and turns, our surprising yet predictable destination and landing spot.

I cried.

I said to myself again, I don’t want to be here. Not just here, in that space, but here, in that reality. I walked by the Starbucks. By the fountain. By the restaurant where she noticed my eyes. By the store where I accompanied her in buying a pair of jeans.

And then something unexpected happened.

I smiled.

I thought of her and smiled.

I wanted to linger in the joy her memory brought to me, but it was time to go. It was getting late and I wanted to be home.

So I returned to my car, to the parking spot.

Two apartments, two jobs, two cars, two lovers and over 11 years after first encountering that spot. There was a lot of life lived in that time.

Of course I don’t know when, but I assume, naturally, that I’ll return to that spot someday. Maybe for a meeting or a get-together or perhaps even a date.

I won’t seek it out, I don’t need to go there.

It’s far away now.

But when I do return, I hope I smile again. I hope that simple, perfectly sized parking spot can remind of all I’ve been through here, all I’ve felt, all I’ve tried and failed at, all I’ve tried and succeeded at.

It will still be waiting for me, I’m sure, that parking spot. I’d like to think it will remember me.

But I also like to think it won’t recognize me.

This post was previously published on P.S. I Love You and is republished here with permission from the author.


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