When Bridget asked me to write the “2nd chapter” of our story, I thought, “No way!”; but one full week of cajoling later, here I sit at the computer. It’s 12 degrees out, classes start for me tomorrow, and so, it’s now or never. So here goes.
When the phone rang in August of 2005, little did I know what I was getting myself into by answering. “Hi, this is Bridget Carmody, from the college.” I knew who she was; she didn’t need to add “from the college.” First, I remembered her from the spring of 2004 when I taught a large freshman survey course that she was in. In addition, after Shannon passed away, we had talked several times throughout the spring term of 2005 in my office. She would pop in from time to time to chat. She was funny, beautiful, smart, etc., but not once in that spring term did I ever think that anything would come of those conversations.
Where was I? Oh yes, “the phone call.” “So I heard from my sister that you were looking for a nanny,” she said. I had shared (do non-Christians “share” or is that just a Christian thing?) that detail the night before in my small group. Apparently her sister “shared” it with her later that evening. So to be getting “the call” maybe 12 hours later was quite surprising. But here we are. “Yes, I am,” I said. “Do you have your own car?” I asked. “No, I don’t”, she said. “Well, I could drive you back and forth,” I offered. Again, I thought nothing of this. I did think it would be nice to spend some time with her just chatting in the car though, so the drive back and forth would be kind of nice. And the fact that I was on Sabbatical made it so that I wasn’t driving to work at the time anyway.
Her first day came. I had the kids all spit and polished and ready to be on the their best behavior. When we arrived at the house, the construction crew was working on the third floor. I remember a couple of the young men looking at Bridget. One came down to throw some stuff away in the dumpster. They met on the driveway. Eventually, everyone on the crew got introduced to Bridget (in fact, later that fall, one of the guys asked me about her relationship “status”). The kids and she and I all decided a bike ride would be a good idea. I wanted to hang out with them just to make sure she got off to a good start. That’s all. On the ride, it became clear that Bridget’s gaucho pants (I just asked Bridget for that word “gaucho” as well as the spelling of it–I described them as “black baggy sweats”) were having problems with the chain. I rode up and suggested that she roll them into some kind of knot. She struggled with the idea. I offered a hand. Then it happened. I touched her bare calf. She has a nice calf. Instinctively, I pulled back. Teachers don’t typically handle students’ calves. Or at least they shouldn’t.
The ride went on for a while and I returned to the house. A while later they came back and she took off with Jordan alone while I had the little ones and the oldest. A while later, here came Jordan and Bridget riding up the path from the woods. Their legs were dirty from the trail. Jordan’s jeans were filthy. I thought at the time, “Wow, she’s pretty cool for sticking with that trail. No girly-girl here. I like her even better.” I left then for a counseling session. Returning to the house later that night, the two little ones were in bed and Bridget, Nathaniel and Jordan were watching TV in the living room. Allie, our yellow lab, was snuggled up with Bridget on our chair and a half. I liked her better still. I took her home to the college. We talked the whole way. It was easy, refreshing. I hadn’t talked to a girl (besides my three year old) in a while. When we got there, I dropped her at her dorm. She got out of the car right away when we arrived. Very appropriate. I drove home listening to George Strait.
Another week passed in my mostly miserable life. I picked up Bridget in the early afternoon and returned home. She stayed with the kids, while I was off to counseling. When I returned later in the evening, she had made a salad and spaghetti and meatballs for me to eat. I hadn’t had a home cooked meal in what seemed like forever. She offered to stay while I ate. We talked in the kitchen. Again, I just felt really comfortable with her, totally at ease. She told me that she gave the little ones a bath before they went to bed. At that point, I couldn’t remember their last bath. I was so grateful. I took her back to the college. We talked the whole way about love and marriage and how you know when someone is right for you. It was nice, but completely natural–no big deal at all. She got out of the car right away when we arrived. I drove home listening to Kenny Chesney.
Around that time, I met another girl and asked her out on a date. It had been a while since my last date. I asked Bridget about my outfit when she came to watch the kids. She said, “no, not that jacket, this one”, etc. I liked having the help. Clothes aren’t really my thing. The date was fine–she was a very sweet woman. We went out a few more times after that. But we struggled with conversation. Bridget and I began referring to her as “the mute”. One night “the mute” and I drove Bridget back to the college together. Bridget and I talked the whole way while “the mute” said nothing. After Bridget left, “the mute” and I struggled to talk about weather patterns on the way home. I began to wonder if this fledgling relationship was going to work.
More weeks passed, more babysitting, more counseling. I remember coming home late one night to Bridget and the kids and a waiting meal. And when I saw the meal, and her snuggled up on the couch with the kids and the dog and a fire in the fire place, I began to cry in the kitchen. (I cried a lot back in those days–more than you want to know.) She knew. She came in asking if I was ok. I told her the counseling was rough. But it was more than that. It was everything. It was missing normal life most of all, knowing that I would be going to bed alone…again. I hated nighttime. Sometimes I fell asleep on the bathroom floor rather than in my bedroom. So I drove her home again. We talked about life and death. We talked so effortlessly. I found her very bright, with good insight–every bit my equal. I was really impressed. At her dorm, she got out of the car right away. I listened to Restless Heart on the way home.
At dinner one night (frozen pizza again), I was crying in front of the kids. I was a bad dad. I was having a very bad day. William’s 5 year old eyes sparkled and he said compassionately, “Dad, I know what you should do. You should marry Bridget!” This was sometime in October. In all of his innocence, he thought that would fix everything. I said, “William never say that in front of anyone, especially not in front of Bridget. She would be very embarrassed.” But when I went to pick up Bridget the next day, I told her what he said. In part I wanted to prepare her for William’s inability to keep his mouth shut on sensitive subjects, but I suspect now that I wanted to see her reaction to the ridiculous suggestion. I mean, seriously, she was not yet 21 and I was 38. It’s not like we live in Hollywood. The notion is crazy. But when I brought it up, Bridget’s reaction was perfect. She laughed with me, but she didn’t act at all like she wanted me to pull over and let her out of the car. When I drove her home that night and dropped her off, we lingered in the car finishing a conversation outside her dorm. It was maybe 5 minutes. A little awkward–not the conversation–but the SITTING IN THE CAR IN THE DARK WITH BRIDGET CARMODY WITH THE NICE CALF. She didn’t seem to be in any rush to get out of that car. I drove home listening to Rascal Flatts.
I went on another date with “the mute.” It turned out to be our last. While at dinner, during a rather tortured conversation about Samuel Alito’s confirmation proceedings to the Supreme Court, I remember thinking, “I just wish I was back at home with my babysitter right now”. That entire thought process really scared me. I remember thinking about the ramifications:
I am going to get fired.
I am going to lose the respect of my students and colleagues.
I am going to wreck the relationship I have with Bridget.
I am going to ruin this nice thing that my kids have going with their babysitter.
I am going to go to hell.
Again, she was 20, I was 38–you do the math. I did not sleep through the night again. Not for quite a while.
I went to Philly for a conference, and since that’s near Bridget’s hometown, I made a few phone calls to her from the road to find out where to get a Philly cheesesteak, etc. We were finding more and more opportunities to get on the phone with one another in those days. At one point, I even ended up speaking with her Mom. Yes, that was a little awkward (of course, her Mom will say now that she knew something was up–I’m not so sure).
Once when Bridget was not around, I saw my kids trying to tap dance in the kitchen. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Bridget taught us!”, they replied. I called Bridget later in the day to talk about “babysitting.” We talked about tap-dancing (and about a million other things). I said, a bit tongue-in-cheek, “You must be quite the sight on the dance floor, all long and lean.” I told her also: “you have an elegant neck.” Are you allowed to say that to a student? We laughed about it all. She took my pseudo-compliments in stride and laughed right along with me. I liked her even more. I did not sleep that night. I wondered how hot hell was.
I planned to throw a Christmas party for my colleagues at work. They had carried an inordinate burden for me over the previous year. Extra advising, classes, etc… The College was very kind to me. I hired a caterer. I asked Bridget and some other students to help with the event. Some to wait the tables and Bridget and another to babysit all the kids, including my colleagues’ kids. I told Bridget before the party that we were expecting her to tap dance for our entertainment. We laughed. The night was splendid, a perfect success. The food was fabulous. I didn’t see much of Bridget that night, as she was upstairs. But I knew she was there. I knew she was upstairs with my kids. I liked that. She came downstairs once and poked her head around the corner. Our eyes met. We smiled. I liked that too.
As I was saying, it was near Christmastime and Bridget and I had talked about watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” with the kids–one of our family traditions. We toyed with the possibility of doing it that night after the party (oops, it was too late, the kids would be in bed!). Unfortunately the other students from the college lingered too long after the party and then, on top of it all, offered Bridget a ride home. Darn. She wore white corduroy pants and a black turtleneck sweater. She looked very nice. I didn’t sleep that night either: “Wasn’t Joseph much older than Mary?” “Was there biblical precedent for such a thing?” “Think, Steve, think!” At around 12:30 in the morning, I called Bridget. The reason for the phone call was to apologize for joking about her height in front of the other students (not like she even minded). Naturally, 12:30 was the appropriate time to make this call. It couldn’t wait. I began to notice that she never used my name in these phone calls when she was in the dorm. Her voice seemed muffled too, like she was in a closet or something. I also noticed that she was never in any hurry to get off the phone, no matter when we talked or for how long. That night we talked for quite a while. When we finally hung up, I rolled the conversation around in my mind again and again. What was she thinking? What was I thinking? At this point, I was in big trouble.
The very next day would change everything and show just how much trouble I was in. But this is where Chapter 2 ends. What happens next is another story altogether.