There's a seven year itch, but is there something for nine years? I can say this: it's been a good nine years.
Our first date was in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
No, let me back up a little from that. How We Met. That story is tangled: I was supposed to go away to college, but stayed behind for another relationship, which ended the day after my birthday in November of 1998. I was still living at home, miserable, fighting constantly with my mother, completely distanced from my father, and probably terrorizing my little sister. I was supposed to move in with my dear friend Mandy, but she backed out at the last minute, even after we had found a place, because she wasn't in the right financial place just yet. But! She found a replacement in the form of Bill, who worked in the store across from her in the mall, who did many naughty things that teenagers tend to do, but we were all desperate, so Bill took her place and we took over a lease with six months left. Those six months, my life changed. It was March when we moved in, freedom coursing through our veins. And in the summer, we gained another room mate, Eric, who was returning home for the summer from Milwaukee. The three of us were a strange set, but it was good. We were, after all, nineteen and ridiculously delirious with the potential we had, with the way life changes when you finally move away from home.
Ryan had his own set as well: He was supposed to attend UM-D that summer, was already signed up for courses and going with his college room mate to look at houses. He wasn't supposed to come home at all, not to stay anyway, but to visit. He didn't know why, even before we really fell for each other, he said he just felt compelled to come back, a bit of a panic, and he applied for Milwaukee. (Ah, fate.)
It was through Bill that I began to go to a place we called "Wiggins," after the street the duplex was on. In it, lived Steph and Heather and Kyle and Danno and a myriad of others, drifting in and out, their garage door always unlocked, their ashtrays always overflowing, beer cans always left out from the night before. I don't know what everyday life was like at Wiggins because each visit was different, with a different set of people, a different set of circumstances.
It was through Eric that Ryan began to come over. He was a frequenter of Wiggins as well, but he would never have come to our apartment if it weren't for the draw of Eric's guitar. My husband, you see, is an incredibly talented musician, and I could just be saying this, a devoted wife who admires so much in the man she has married, but I can also say the truth of the matter is, he didn't at first attract me because of his buoyant outgoing nature (he was, at the time, remarkably shy) or his dashing good looks (oh, he is handsome, and I love him, but he is certainly not a fashion plate nor does he care about such things). It was the draw of that guitar, the way he played it, the way I knew there was some connection between his heart, his hands, those strings. Remarkably shy and remarkably talented.
There was one night, some time in June, when I was dating one boy who did ridiculously dangerous things (naughty is one thing, harmfully scary is another, but I was lonely and made bad choices) and still in love with someone else, when Ryan and I sat together on a sofa and drank shots of tequila and he gave me a shoulder massage (so, so bold for a boy who is on the painful side of shy!) and we talked until the sun rose. I would say we fell in love, but who can fall in love when you are holding all that tequila in and you accidentally drank some beer that someone ashed in but it was funny so you weren't upset and all of a sudden you are having a conversation that lasts for hours and you don't know but want to ask: Could it be anybody or is this special?
I think we know the answer to that, years and years later. Special seems too common of a word, anyway. Is there some way to describe it that links it to the motion of the stars?
He took a job which had him working overnight, from ten at night until six in the morning, and you know me, I love to write--the written word sends me places--so I began writing him letters. He wrote me some too. I still have them in a box. I gave him a copy of The Bell Jar (my favorite book then, and he didn't run, which is really saying something) and a mixed tape of Ani Difranco, and he gave me a burned CD of his own music, and I would listen to it at night as I fell asleep, replaying my favorite parts, imaging him as he played, when we first met, that linkage of heart, hands, strings.
I don't know what I wrote to him in one of our letters, but after I gave it to him, after I felt exceptionally shy about it, he called me and asked if I would let him take me to dinner. A date. A date! I'd had things that would be considered dates before. My first was with a boy named Josh who made dinner with his friend Tony for me and another girl, whose mother picked me up in a minivan, who watched a movie with me, who was too shy to hold my hand. But suddenly, in the context of living on my own, of not having to ask permission for a later curfew, it was a date-date.
Our first date was in Green Bay, Wisconsin. We went to Z Harvest Cafe. He had a salad. I had an egg salad sandwich. We walked along the river. I wore a red dress. He wore a white button up shirt and khakis. He drove his father's car (which his sister now has in New Jersey, I believe). He had to look at an apartment in Milwaukee the next morning; he asked if I wanted to go there tonight. I said yes. We both packed jeans and white tshirts, toothpaste, clean underwear. We didn't know we would match the next morning. We watched Othello, and smoked cigarettes on the patio, three or four stories up on a street near the college. The apartment that would be his was across the way. He fell asleep on a fold out chair, drooled when he woke up. I slept (was it only an hour or two?) on the sofa. We were polite, sleeping together for the first time on our first date, on other sides of the room.
That was the first July 16th. The following night was a Stokens concert, which I had to leave early as I was going to Hawai'i with my family the next day. Our first date followed by six days of separation seemed cruel beyond measure. Each night, while I was in this magical land of afternoon rainstorms and pig crossing signs, I would listen to his music, not just to block out the concert of my parents snoring below us in the bunk beds, but to transport myself: heart, hands, strings.
It's funny how these things play out. I meant to go in to this post, talking about our engagement, about sycamore trees and Annie Dillard, but I wound up going back seven years from that. No itch, no. I had an awareness then, though, that feels eerie. We know things sometimes. I fell in love with this house I live in the first time we walked into it; my body literally buzzed. I know my love of the house convinced my husband that this is it too, but did it do the same when we met? Did my awareness that I was meeting the man I would marry propel us to marriage? Obviously not. It took seven years for him to ask. Were there darting bits of uncertainty in those years? Sure, perhaps. We never broke up, and, as far as I know, we never really got close. In those first few months, though, I knew. I don't believe that drove me to fall in love with him, but I did have that feeling that I could step back and observe. Which was beautiful, as there was no urgency to do the right thing. Whatever was natural was right.
That isn't to say relationships aren't work. This one, just like any other, is hard work, but we ebb together nicely, just as we flow too. I'm grateful for that.