CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week, after writing about the death of our dog Murry, I was overwhelmed with kind emails offering condolences and sharing stories about pets.I've been shored up by readers so often I'm starting to feel like a wobbly deck in a neighborhood of bored carpenters stocked with free lumber. Still, I knew there were lots of animal lovers out there, so I'd anticipated some notes of support. What I hadn't expected were the questions about my boyfriend, Didier, who I mentioned last Sunday for the first time."When are you going to tell more?""Where did you meet?"
And the most frequent, "What kind of name is Didier?"I'll answer the last first. Didier is a French name, as he was born in Belgium, where his American parents were living for a few years while his dad worked for Hyster, a forklift company. While there, his folks met a couple with a son named Didier, and they fell in love with the name. Those who have known him since he was little call him Didier, but his co-workers know him as Mike or Michael.His name is pronounced D-D-A. My daughter likes to call him A-D-D. His last name is Fleener.Celeste likes him, by the way. He has her same odd (and often inappropriate) sense of humor. And she likes that he has three children, though they haven't yet met. My girl has been jonesing for siblings her whole life. The possibility has her enthused.Technically, last Sunday wasn't the first time I wrote about Didier. The first was after my class reunion, where he and I met while I was manning the registration desk. He had come to my table seeking a new nametag. Said he felt like being someone else for the night. Among the names he considered were Buck Fifty, Arlo Prices, Kurt Reply and Hugh Jorgan. In the end, cartoon nostalgia won out and he went with W.E. Coyote.Didier was attending the reunion with one of his co-workers, who was quick to assure me that they were just friends. I was drawn to him, to his intelligence and mischievousness. His sense of humor matched so well with mine, but, at the time, I wasn't yet ready to date, so he and I just texted and emailed, occasionally Skyped. Watched a few Steelers games together.He was quick to make sure I knew he wasn't looking for a relationship. I was equally fast to assure that I wasn't either. I'd declared to all who would listen that I was finished with men, but there was something different about Didier. He slowly stole all my stop signs, dismantled my walls.He says I did the same.It happened in such small steps over so many months that I didn't even realize what was transpiring, although subconsciously, I think maybe I did. For weeks, I had a recurring dream of Didier creating an elaborate display of dominos that went up and down stairs, around in circles, leapt off tables. In the dream, he would talk to me or do something and then set up a few more dominos.The things he would say prior to setting each domino -- they were what writers call a "character tell." They're the kind of details that let a reader figure out the type of person they're reading about without having to be told straight out that the character is good or bad or whatever. I think now that each of those dominos represented a tell, something about him that I recognized and admired. And there were thousands
. Most every inch of the room was covered. He started them going, and it wasn't only the dominos that fell.It's weird living my life in the paper, where for the past 15 years, I've chronicled some of the most personal details. It's a bit like living in a slow-moving soap opera, but I finally feel safe enough to introduce this new character in my cast.
I can be a bit insufferable when talking about Didier. I'm like the person who just quit smoking or lost gobs of weight or just found religion. I can't quite help myself right now, but I'll try to rein it in so I don't annoy.I'm only now starting to understand why it works, why I could let my guard down so completely with him when I couldn't before. There's this level of trust, of feeling safe, of knowing he has my best interest at heart. Last week, when Didier offered to take Murry to the vet that last time, even though he's as big a dog lover as me -- that touched me deeply. While I'm glad now that I was there with Murry at the end, Didier enabled it to be my choice, and that means so much.It's funny how, when you aren't looking, you find. I insisted time and again that I was happy alone. Thought that was what I wanted. God didn't agree. He put this man in my path that I couldn't avoid. Sure, there's a chance I'll get hurt, but I believe there's a better chance that I won't.Failure is not the falling down, but the staying down. And I refuse to stay down.Especially since, like with all those dominos, he'd just stand me back up.Reach Karin Fuller via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.