Tomorrow is my birthday. And as difficult as this is to write, I think it’s a good time to talk about the best first date I’ve ever been on.

I met Sonny on Tagged, which I originally thought was a dating site. I quickly learned that although there are some people who genuinely seemed interested in relationships, most of the people I talked to on Tagged were out for nothing but a hookup.

Sonny messaged me and seemed very sweet. We started chatting, then exhanged numbers and started talking on the phone. He seemed like a big teddy bear. He was in culinary school and had aspirations of becoming a chef, and ultimately wanted to open his own restaurant.

When he asked me to meet for lunch, I reluctantly agreed. Not because I didn’t want to meet him, but because I had a bad cold and was hardly at my best. He didn’t care, still wanted to meet me, so I accepted his invitation.

I got to the restaurant and texted to let him know I was there. He didn’t answer for several minutes, and just when I thought I was about to be stood up, he called me. He said he was running a few minutes late because he’d had to stop at WalMart {which was across the street} for something. I was a little annoyed that he was late, but I let it go. A minute later, he pulled in. He was a big guy — around 6’3 and very stocky. I walked over to him and he gave me a big bear hug.

When we got inside and sat down, he reached into his jacket, pulled out a pink gift bag, and set it on the table. I looked at him quizzically and said, “You didn’t have to get me anything!” He smiled a bit sheepishly and said it was no big deal, just a little something. As I reached for the bag, he said he had gotten a pink one because he figured girls like pink. I smiled, looked inside, and very nearly started crying.

He had bought me a can of chicken broth, a pack of kleenex, cough drops, a little bottle of orange juice, and a Reese’s peanut butter egg, which he knew I really liked. I was speechless. I immediately got up, walked around to his side of the table, and gave him a big hug. He seemed totally taken off guard by my response. This guy, whom I had only just met, showed more thoughtfulness in five minutes than my ex-husband had in much of our marriage. He shrugged when I exclaimed at how sweet it was for him to buy all these things for my cold, and he said it was no big deal. But it meant the world to me.

We had a very nice lunch, and when he walked me out to my car, he lifted me right off my feet and hugged me tight. I was worried he’d hurt himself lifting me but he laughed and said, “Naw, you’re little!” Such a sweetheart.

When I was feeling better, we went out to dinner one night. On the way there, we stopped at a used music and movie store because he wanted to get the movie Friday for us to watch {I had never seen it}. In the store, I spotted something up on a shelf that I thought my daughter would like. I commented that I’d have to come back and get it for her. He immediately went over and got it from the shelf and bought it. I protested, saying he didn’t have to do that, but he insisted. I couldn’t get over how sweet he was.

The night before Easter, my daughter was with her dad and I was on my own. Sonny came over and ended up spending the night. The next morning, I remembered that I was supposed to bring something to my mom’s for Easter dinner. We stood side by side in my kitchen making deviled eggs. He showed me how to quickly chop the chives the way he’d learned in culinary school. He loved texting me pictures of food he had made. He was so proud of his work.

He constantly commented on how little I was. My hand disappeared in his large one. But although I really liked him, the sexual chemistry just wasn’t there. Also, it bothered me that he still regularly talked to girls he had met on Tagged. When I brought it up, he said he wasn’t going to just stop talking to them. I was too insecure to be ok with him talking to these other girls, so I decided to step back and just be friends.

I don’t exactly remember our last conversation, but I do remember that we argued. I ended up hanging up on him and didn’t answer the next few times when he called. A month or two went by, and we hadn’t talked at all. We were still friends on Facebook, and I would peek at his page from time to time to see what he was up to, but otherwise we were not in contact.

When my birthday came, I wondered if I would hear from him. I didn’t. My feelings were a little hurt, but I couldn’t really blame him, since I had been kind of a jerk when we had last spoken.

The day after my birthday, I was on Facebook and something made me look at his page. I was shocked to see message after message saying, “RIP, big guy,” and “I’ll never forget you.” I found out that Sonny had died of a massive heart attack the day before, on my birthday. I was stunned, and felt terrible that our last words had been in anger. I was filled with regret that I had shut him out the way I did.

I kept an eye on his Facebook page to find out when the funeral would be. Even though I barely knew him, I really felt that I needed to go. I knew I would always regret it if I didn’t. I needed to say goodbye to Sonny properly. The day of the funeral, I was very apprehensive. I had never met anyone in his family and had only met one of his friends. I sat in the back with a handful of kleenex and the program someone had handed me, with Sonny’s picture on the back.

The funeral was beautiful and heartfelt and incredibly sad. He was only 38 years old. I couldn’t bring myself to go up to the casket. It was too real. I sat in the back row and cried my way through all my kleenex. I was surrounded by his family, friends, and classmates. Some who had known him since childhood and fondly recalled old memories, some who knew him more recently and shared funny stories. I got a better picture of who Sonny truly was. A gentle giant with a big heart who always tried to take care of everyone around him. Always willing to help people out, always sharing his time and giving of himself. It was a true celebration of his life, which had ended way too soon.

When it was over, I saw his brother walking his mom down the aisle and she just looked broken. I wanted to hug her, or say something comforting. She had been living with Sonny because she’d been in poor health. I wondered who would take care of his mom, and what would become of his cat. A month or two before he died, many of his friends graduated from culinary school. He had gone to the graduation, saying, “Next year, it’ll be my turn!” So many loose ends.

Tomorrow, it will be two years since he died, and not a week goes by that I don’t think of him. I still feel terribly guilty about how things were left between us. I hate feeling that I could have handled things differently. I still can’t quite forgive myself for the way I acted. I actually dreamed about him twice, and it gave me some comfort. He didn’t speak in either dream, but we were surrounded by bright light, and he was looking intently into my eyes. I’d like to think maybe it was his way of telling me it was ok, and not to beat myself up over it.

Whenever I happen to check the time and see 7:04, I smile and think of Sonny {7:04 — 7/4}. I can’t bring myself to remove him from my Facebook friends list or the contact list in my phone, and I still have that pink gift bag. On his birthday, I leave a note on his wall, and tomorrow I will leave one, as I did last year on the anniversary of his passing and probably will continue to do so.

I will always remember Sonny fondly but sadly… the gentle, thoughtful, humble giant. I’m blessed to have known him, even if only for a short time. God bless you, Sonny. I miss you still and I’ll never forget you.