Today’s entry is a long one. It’s the story of how I ended up here on Valentine’s Day in a basement in Hermitage, TN. Click on the “more” tag. Not only is there an honest-to-God tale, but there are also pictures.
C.S. Lewis really had it easy in that he fell in love with a woman named Joy, so when he wrote about the whole thing he had a ready-made title. There really aren’t any emotions with my husband’s name in them that aren’t also kind of lame, so I have to just go with something else.
After my intense high school romance ended I swore off the idea of love. Occasionally I’d get panicky and fear dying alone but for the most part I was all “let’s get serious about education and do Law School.” So I killed myself during my Junior and Senior years and pulled my GPA out of the swamp, got into college and worked like a fiend. I watched other people’s kids, scooped ice cream until the chronic tendinitis benched me and pulled a summmer’s worth of 10- and 12-hour days in a warehouse shopping club, all to save up for college. Freshman Year went swimmingly, for the most part. I met one of my favourite people ever–my friend Heather–and we planned on taking Law School by storm.
Just one problem. I met a Guy. At first we didn’t get along; we saw things differently and he was as irritating as a rusty brillo pad. Underneath that irritation I swore there was a real chemistry, and I was intrigued. Maybe I had been too quick to give up on romance. We spent a semester warming up to each other. When the campus graduation day came we were both sitting with our parents but made arrangements to meet after the Commencement ceremony to say good-bye. I had an odd premonition as I sat in the sweltering gymnasium. “The man I’m going to marry is in this room. We’ll talk about this day twenty years from now.” It was strange, and a bit spooky. After all…what about Law School? When the ceremony ended I left the gym by a different door and tracked down my father. I wasn’t ready for any flirtation to go to the next level and I determined that I would spend the summer focusing on earning my Sophomore Year’s money.
I went back to the warehouse and spent the sweltering days just as I had the year before, until one Sunday in early July. A stabbing pain shot through me as I tallied the receipts at our Membership Register and then my boss (her name was Jenny Seaman, I kid you not) actually said “Oh my G–! You’re whiter than that paper! Go home!” Home I went and home I stayed for five days while I wrestled with a mysterious pain. Eventually I got better enough to go back to work but my stamina level dropped sharply. No more double shifts and ten hour days for me; any shift longer than eight hours would exhaust me. My co-workers took bets on whether or not I was pregnant, and no matter how many times I insisted I was a virgin they just cackled.
August finally came and I went back for Sophomore Year, only to find that fewer hours and fewer days at work had earned me just enough money to get my books and make it to the third week of September. Books were more expensive that year, and a car on campus was not a cheap accessory. I had two choices; I could call home and ask for more money or I could get a job. So I did what every teenager does…
I got a job.
The only work open to people not on work-study was in the dishroom, cleaning up after sloppy, self-absorbed college kids. No matter, I needed the money. I had law school to prepare for and I was also trying to avoid the Guy I walked out on the previous May. We had several classes and extra-curricular clubs together, but work gave me a paycheck and an excuse to skip Young Republicans meetings. We had gone from a flirtation into outright antagonism and I really wanted to have something to do that didn’t involve Poli Sci majors other than Heather.
The problem then was that the job, while paying in American Dollars that were accepted all over campus, was bad. No. Scratch that. I was bad at it. I was new so they put me at the front of the line as the First Scraper. I had to pull the plates and glasses from the tray and scrape the leftover food into a trough that ran with a stream of freezing water. I wasn’t squeamish at all, but I was far too methodical and I was also having some problems getting my hands to do what they were supposed to. Between that, the pain that started over the summer and stayed with me like bad haircut and the fact that I had a tendency to be off with the fairies I just really sucked. I kept holding up the entire works and the lead dishwashers hated me. A dozen times in every three hour shift I’d get shunted aside while one of the two at the back of the line who ran the main machines stepped down to get me caught up. My friend Jacki was fairly patient with me and I felt horrible every time I had to pull her down, but the weird Indian-looking dude who loaded all the heavy drinking-glass trays into the industrial washer was an ass. He had mastered this exasperated sound halfway between a sigh and a grunt that said “f— you” without actually using any words.
Every time I entered my dorm room I checked the answering machine, torn between hoping there’d be a message from Guy about something and being relieved when there wasn’t. I at least got my suitemates to laugh when I told self-effacing anecdotes about my job and Chief Disappointment–which was one of my nicknames for Weird Indian-looking dude. (He looked like a Native American, not a person from East India. But back then we called everybody just “Indian”).
It was such a weird time in my life, and it got a whole lot weirder when Guy and I were assigned to Model UN together. I’d spent a good two months avoiding him as much as possible, and suddenly we were thrown together. We had three weeks of prep work that were to be followed by a weekend in Indianapolis at Butler University. Every day as I trudged to the dishroom with Pink Floyd blaring out of my Walkman I pondered the fact that maybe God was indeed trying to tell me something. Guy and I were going to be together and there was no avoiding it. No matter how hard I tried it felt like fate had sealed us. And after three hours of being huffed at by Chief Disappointment it was turning out to be kind of nice to meet my Poli Sci gang at our table in the front of the library.
The week before we were supposed to go to Butler I swung by the Library to talk to my friend Shawn. There’s no hiding the fact that I was sick jealous of his job–he got to work at the circulation desk, surrounded by all that reading material, all that quiet, all that order. HE didn’t have to scrape soggy cake and ham rinds and bits of wilty salad into the freezing trough while mean Missionary Kids glowered at him. Then again, he was working on Saturday night and I was free to roam around Central Indiana. I’d gathered a loose confederation of Poli Sci and theatre geeks to go to the Midnight Movie. I figured I might be able to talk Shawn into it if he got off the desk in time. Of course, who was over in the computer lab but GUY of all people. He and his roommate were doing something for Young Republicans on the lone Mac; at that point in my life I was nicknamed The Vax Queen and had my loyalty firmly planted on Unix. Of course he was a Mac geek. Of course.
“So, Guy, a bunch of us are going to see Rocky Horror. Wanna come with? It might be fun…” I figured it was a group thing, and I may as well invite him. At that point we’d gotten fairly close again and, well, why not? Life is often unexpected.
“I can’t. Tom and I have to get these posters done tonight since we’re doing UN stuff the rest of the week.” The expression looking back at me clearly said I should be doing something worthwhile too. “Something worthwile” being anything other than going to trashy movies in Muncie.
I was disappointed; fate seemed to want to stick me with a stick-in-the-mud. This was not how it should be.
I slunk off to the UNIX machine to check my email and saw Chief Disappointment, of all people, stretched out in front of the computer.
“Hey. How are you?” Doesn’t hurt to be polite, especially to someone whose life you routinely make a living hell.
“Fine.” Yay. Monosyllabic responses really make the politeness seem worthwhile don’t they?
And then I got seized with stubbornness, insanity and a burst of It’s Saturday Night In October and Life Should Be Better Than This….
“A group of us are driving into Muncie to see Rocky Horror at the Midnight Show. You wanna come?”
“Sure. Why not?”
That night we went to Rocky Horror.
The next night he picked me up outside the dining hall after my shift and drove me to his apartment where we listened to the Grateful Dead and talked about everything. For seven hours we talked about the whole world and our places in it. At one point we held hands but mostly we just talked.
The next Saturday I went to Butler with PoliSci guy and came back to see that my car had been filled with balloons.
He was leaving at the end of the Semester because he’d graduated early. They had let him walk in Commencement in May, but he had to take classes until December. We figured we’d hang out together until he left.
He was in Pennsylvania for six weeks and then his Mom told him he had to be where his heart told him to be. So on February 14, 1990, the Weird Indian Looking Dude–Chief Disappointment–drove from East Stroudsburg, PA to
Upland, Indiana, through one of the worst ice storms on record to get back to the place where his heart told him to be.
We’ve been together ever since.