April and Dave

September 20th, 2010

She was the perfect girl for him. The one by which all other girls would be measured.

He didn’t know this at the time. Not consciously, at least. Though he was always drawn to her for being the cutest, nicest, most generous girl he’d ever met, he didn’t know, at 16, that he was already beginning to uncover the basic principles of love.

He didn’t know that all the cartoon characters he would draw of her (including one of her as an angel) meant he was thinking of her enough to memorize her smile. He also didn’t know that when he drew those pictures to cheer her up when she was sad, it meant he’d want to spend the rest of his life keeping her happy.

That’s just not the sort of thing you know when you’re a kid.

You know it later, though, when after years of staying in touch you still can’t shake the memory of her smile. You know it when you all you do is compare her to every girl you meet.

Eleven years and a lot of life experiences between you, and, still, April is on your mind.

That’s how Dave knew.

He was preparing to move from New York to San Francisco when he finally put the pieces together. April, who lived in D.C., had come to visit him for a few days, and the two had a surprisingly wonderful time together. Though they had remained casual friends since high school, and even attended the same college, they never dated or took any steps beyond friendship. They’d see each other during summer vacation or holiday visits back home. Sometimes they’d share hot chocolate. Other times, they would share stories about their lives. They never expected to fall in love.

But something happened on this particular weekend that would change the course of their lives.

April was totally bummed that Dave was moving to the other side of the country. She, too, had felt an undeniable pull toward him, and was hoping Dave would say out loud what she was thinking.

But Dave isn’t that kind of guy. He’s shy and contemplative. When he wants to express his feelings, he writes a song or draws a picture. This time, though, he wrote a letter. A LONG letter. Longer than he expected. Eleven years’ worth of thoughts about the evolution of his feelings for April long. That’s a lot of words.

April thought it was about time! She told Dave she felt the same, and the two officially started their lives together as a couple.

The cool part about their relationship is that they had a long time to cultivate a friendship and really get to know each other. Everyone says couples should be friends first, but that rarely happens. Though it wasn’t exactly intentional, I wanted to know whether or not Dave and April would have started out with a slow friendship, had they known all those years ago they would take the romantic route together.

“I don’t think I’ve ever dated anyone I wasn’t friends with first,” April admits. “You know so much about the person’s core, what their morals are and you get all the major questions answered. I had crushes on people I wasn’t friends with, but I wouldn’t let it turn into more because there wasn’t a base. Having a friendship under your belt gives you a great level of trust. Whether the sparks fly, you have to wait and see.”

Dave agrees. “I got to see April from all different angles, in every stage of life, and that was really helpful,” he adds. “Having already had a relationship for 13 years, it’s not hard to think about the next 13 years and the 13 after that.”

Future tripping is so easy for Dave, in fact, that he wanted to start those next 13 years right away. So he and April got married July 4, 2010.

How do two people decide they want to stay together forever? How, in this day of drive-through divorces and relationships that start and end in the time it takes you to say cheeseburger, do people form their thoughts about commitment?

Having healthy relationships modeled to you is one way – an option most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have had, but something from which Dave and April both benefited.

Shared goals is another. Dave and April both want children, and it was something they discussed up front, so they could be sure they were on the same page. Teamwork is also another big one.

“Having someone you can rely on and always trust as a part of your team is key,” April says. “You need to be able to open up to them about anything and if you get really bogged down with work or have a bad day, they will support you.”

Beyond the basics, though, April thinks a good partner should also inspire you and work to keep things fresh.

That’s why they play piano together. And go on secret trips. Whenever it’s someone’s turn to plan the trip, they send photos and clues to the other person throughout the week. They cook dinner while listening to music, and April has gotten Dave addicted to “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“Dave and I have core commonalities like our beliefs and morals, but on the outside – the way we look at things, our reactions and problem solving skills – we’re different,” April admits. “We wouldn’t pick the same movie on any given night, but I never feel like he’s dragging me to something I don’t want. The part that doesn’t overlap helps us grow and be exposed to something new. A lot of people think your perfect match will be like you in every way and agree with you, but I wouldn’t want it that way. Dave is so exciting, inventive and imaginative.

“If I said one weekend, ‘Let’s go to a park and just draw for the day,’ he’d be up for it. I’m so glad I get to have him for the rest of my life.”

Share

Susie and Capice

September 13th, 2010

They’re inside a brandy snifter. That’s the first thing you probably notice. It was the 80s. Everyone has one of those photos, tucked away in some drawer – probably right next to their parachute pants.

Let’s move on to the real issue at hand: the people in that glass. How many of those love-tipsy couples in aperitif glasses do you think are actually together today? Probably not many.

But Susie and Capice are.

They just celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that they’ve been together 31 years in total. That’s a lot of photos – and a lot of memories.

A lot of ups and downs, too. A lot of youthful indecision and differing viewpoints. But that just leaves room for the part after that – the part where they get to coast on the tail feathers of the very sturdy life they spent all those years quietly building.

But let’s get back to the glass. Those romantically intoxicated people in the picture. That was taken three years after they first met.

They both worked at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. She worked in the kitchen and he worked in radiology. When his sister introduced them one day, she developed a crush immediately. So she and her friend would spend their breaks trolling every floor to see if they might spot him. And when they did, they’d duck behind the wall so he wouldn’t notice.

But he noticed.

Soon, he would come down to the kitchen on his lunch breaks to visit Susie. Eventually, he got her number and, as she puts it, they started dating and never stopped.

They dated a year in high school, then broke up for a few months. They got back together, went to prom, and stuck it out through graduation. They moved in together when Susie was 19 (Capice was 8 months older), and at first it was fun to play house. Then reality set in, and they started having problems.

After about a year, they each moved back to their family homes. That’s when Susie found out she was pregnant.

“We broke up, and I was heartbroken,” Susie recalls. “I wanted to get back together, but he didn’t. When I gave up, he changed his mind.”

They moved back in together, and had their first daughter, Brittani. When she was three, they got married. They had their second daughter five-and-a-half years later. They’ve been together ever since, save for a two-week split just eight years ago.

“I didn’t want my kids growing up without their father,” says Susie. “We went to counseling and I tried to do everything I could to make our marriage work. So did he. We spent a lot of time with the kids. We’d go to movies and for bowling. We learned to appreciate one another. Right now, our relationship is better than it’s ever been. We’ve gone through trials and tribulations, and managed to conquer every downfall that came our way. It was really just a matter of how we chose to handle it.”

Together.

That’s what they chose.

It’s a choice to stay together and weather the storm. It’s also a choice to kiss the same person every day of your life, even when you’re too upset to want to. Susie says she prefers kisses above anger.

“We’ve always done this – for 31 years of our lives,” she giggles. “If a person is leaving, we kiss one another goodbye. When we wake up in the morning. When we go to the store, whenever. Even when he visits me at work, he gives me a kiss.”

It’s also about making sure you don’t give up on things, even when everything is going great. Relationships need lots of watering.

Capice knows about watering. Susie says he’s always surprising her. He buys her gifts. If she’s tired and doesn’t feel like cooking or cleaning, he’ll do it. He even makes her breakfast.

“That’s what love is,” he tells me. “If you care about someone, you do things for them. Not just buying gifts, but doing what you need to do to help them enjoy life.”

Even when things are rough? When you don’t really want to kiss them goodbye?

“Love is developed through trials and tribulations,” he adds. “If everything was rosy, you’d never grow. You have to grow with the love. You have to cultivate it and make it work – take some things sometimes you may not want to take. The reality is, nobody knows how to be in love. That’s something everyone has to work on in their own way. Real love is not about being selfish. It’s about not looking at yourself, but looking at the other person. And if the other person is doing the same thing, that’s when things grow.

“I didn’t know that when I was 16. No way in the world. It’s something I came to understand over the years. I made a lot of mistakes and I had to learn from them. I came to understand that if I do for her, it can come back to me, and that’s what has happened.”

Capice says Susie is very caring. He also thinks she’s thoughtful and funny.

“The longer we’ve been together, the more humorous she’s become,” he says. “She can keep you laughing all the time.”

Would he have ever imagined that the shy 16-year-old peeking from behind a wall would one day be his wife?

Of course not.

But that’s just what happened. Susie certainly didn’t know she was peeking into her future the day she met Capice, but she’s very glad she did.

And she’s glad neither one of them chose to give up when the view got a little obscured from time to time.

“I caught her a few times, peeking at me,” he laughs. “At the time, being young, it made me feel cool. After that, we started talking. That’s when everything started.”

Share

Thomas and Dustin

September 6th, 2010

I met Thomas and Dustin at a trendy restaurant inside the Seattle Art Museum, which Thomas carefully selected. He told me he had a vision for the setting of our interview. He wanted a place with clean design and lots of white. Later, he would reveal that everything was exactly as he imagined, and he was so happy.

Thomas and Dustin Love Story

And though I, too, was happy, I had no idea what to imagine when sitting down with the gregarious, yet surprisingly grounded, couple. We all share a mutual friend, but never spent any real time with each other. From a distance, I took note of how handsome the pair was, and how stylishly they dressed. They went to wine bars and brunch on top of mountains. They lived in a loft. I don’t know what kind of relationships I think cosmopolitan couples have, but I guess I inferred that there is a certain level of superficiality that matches the outer life they enjoy together. I blame Millionaire Matchmaker for that false assumption. Thomas and Dustin are solid gold, for sure, but not the kind you find in a bank. The kind you find under your feet. The foundation.

An illustration of the strength of their foundation comes from the fact that, when they speak, they give each other space to use their own words but manage to stay on the same page, proving they’re actually hearing the other person. Thomas would say something, Dustin would add to the story, and then pass it back to Thomas to complete the thought. It was entirely spontaneous, but almost artfully choreographed. They are clearly individuals, with their own opinions and identities, yet when they come together, they engage in this lovely dance with one another that makes them appear to be a unified whole. And they are. But they’ve got something figured out that most people never come to understand: the importance of balance. They do not lose themselves in each other. Instead, they dance on the same stage, far enough apart to be two dancers, but close enough to feel the same vibration beneath their feet. The vibration that can only come from two people dancing the same dance.

And so, to honor their dance, I’m going to let them tell their own story.

Curtain, stage left…

D: Right before I met Thomas, I created a rule for myself that I was not going to date anyone under 25 because everyone that age was either crazy or needed a parental figure of some sort. He just turned 26 when we met. I didn’t like him at first.

T: I thought he was trouble. I was dating someone at the time, but our friend Dana got us together. He was having an art party.

D: No, that’s not right. I was taking my dog to the dog beach and Dana said Thomas has a dog and would love to go to the beach with me because he didn’t like to get his car dirty. I told her to tell Thomas to meet me at my house and we’d go together. I think he thought I was mentally off when we first met. I was a little socially awkward at the time.

T: He was a different person than the usual people in Tampa. He doesn’t have this very sunshine view of everything. Has a little bit of dark and twisted in him, which interested me. What interested me the most, though, was that he was an artist. I found that fascinating. A lot of his views come from the ideas he fabricates when he does his artwork. He has a different view of everything, and I found that really refreshing.

D: You thought all that when I first opened the door? I started to like Thomas that day at the beach. He came prepared with sandwiches and snacks for both the dog and himself. He also brought extra food and water for me and my dog, Suzy.

T: I also had towels and umbrellas.

D: I thought, “This guy is a real catch.” That’s when Suzy fell in love with you, too. She thought, “Usually, dad makes me drink out of the hose before we leave.” Well, that, and I thought he had nice legs.

T: At that time, things weren’t working well with my ex.

D: I had just turned 30.

T: A month and a half later, when he found out from a mutual friend I had broken up with my ex, I got a call from him.

D: The first thing I told him on our date was, “Let’s just get one thing out of the way. I am not a real estate agent.”

T: I never understood what he meant by that.

D: It was crazy for me to think someone who dated a real estate agent would date a crazy artist like me. His ex was like superman to me. I was going to drum and bass shows. I was successful, but in a different way.

T: That’s just what I needed, though.

D: I didn’t have to live up to being a real estate agent.

T: We were honest from the get go. We put everything out there and said, “This is who I am.”

D: We didn’t have the same circles. We would have these amazing dinners and afterwards, we’d go our separate ways. We took it really slow. Didn’t move in together until 2 years later.

T: We were individuals. We collaborated on a lot of things, but still had our own sets of interests. He did his art, I did my dancing, and we came together in the middle. We didn’t feel obligated to always hang out with each other. You can never lose yourself in a relationship. You always have to have that individuality.

D: Put us into a party and we don’t sit next to each other. We like to travel the room separately, then meet back up.

T: In this relationship we are individuals, but people still know us as a couple. When you go from relationship to relationship and think about what failed or what you wish could’ve been different, you start using that for the next one and don’t repeat the same mistakes.

D: You have to learn to love yourself so you can love others.

T: When we first started dating, he liked the fact that I had opinions. We don’t always have to agree on the same things.

D: Which makes it great. Sometimes.

T: I didn’t fall in love with him because he agrees with me all the time.

D: You like my OCD.

T: I like that if I need a different idea, I can always go to him for a different perspective. I like that it’s not always rosy. I always felt that if you don’t have a little disagreement in the relationship, then there was no more spark. We fight all the time. There are some times I want to throw something at his head.

D: Sometimes I look at him and think, “I’m done with you.” I think I have a mental breakup once a week. But we always have to give each other a kiss every night before we go sleep. You can’t stay mad after that.

T: That’s a rule of mine. Never go to sleep mad. He’ll sometimes give up on the conversation, but I won’t. It’s better to get it out of the way, so in the morning, all the pressure and stress is lifted.

D: I have certain triggers for moods. So if I’m unhappy, I really have to look at what’s making me unhappy and usually it’s something I have to change within myself. The relationship is solid, so if something needs to change, it’s me. I need to be alone and have time to create. Sometimes I’ll get mad at Thomas for stupid things, and usually it’s because I haven’t created in awhile and I’m projecting on him rather than changing my actions.

T: I’ve definitely learned to have more patience. Not everyone is as open as I am. I tell people how I’m feeling at any given moment, and some people need to analyze first. I expect Dustin to tell me everything, but sometimes he doesn’t want to release any information because he processes first, and I don’t understand that. I have to tell myself to back off sometimes when I expect him to tell me what he’s thinking.

D: A lot of times he tells me I’m just hungry. He’s usually right.

T: Sometimes you have to ask someone, “When this comes up again, what would you like me to do?”

D: I like brutal honesty. Sometimes Thomas just tells me to just get over it.

T: Dustin is often blunt, but you have to remind yourself that it’s coming from a good place. Like some of the comments he makes on my cooking. They’re not cherry-flavored comments. Sometimes I get a little mad because I’ve put my heart into it. But he’ll give suggestions, like to put a little less cilantro in it because it overtakes the flavor.

D: We’re foodies. We don’t compliment food just to compliment it.

T: That’s who he is, and it’s what I like about him. He told our friend her corn was cold. And it was.

D: I’m a little bit darker and you’re a little bit lighter. You’re like a living gummy bear.

T: I’m like sunshine.

D: I’m like sunset.

T: That is what makes our relationship so good. We’re not complete opposites, but opposite enough to appreciate each other.

D: We both come from a lot of divorces and failed relationships. I’ve learned some really basic rules from other people’s unhappy relationships: Always be truthful, always communicate and always respect each other. If you don’t want to do any of those, you shouldn’t be in a relationship.

T: A lot of things we’ve noticed with others is that they’re full steam ahead and don’t really take time to evaluate. We took it slowly. I didn’t even let my shoes live at his place for one and a half years.

D: It’s been five years, and we just got a joint checking account.

T: We took our time making decisions.

D: After time, more of a partnership/relationship started to develop. Thomas is great at organizing and I’m not. There are certain roles we’re really good at, and we let each other shine.

T: He’s great at decorating and home projects that I couldn’t even fathom doing. The most unique thing I love about him is he can look at anything and make it into something functional, whereas I’d look at it and just see a paperweight.

D: But we can get 15 of them, string them together, and we’ve got a paperweight chandelier!

T: We’re not on a plan. We don’t have to meet certain checkpoints at a certain time. We’re just letting things flow the way they are.

D: We exchanged rings two years ago. It was just like a promise – a promise for tomorrow. No super formal commitment stuff. Plus, I kind of wanted jewelry.

T: When I look at it, I’m always thinking of him. But today we were eating crawfish. I had to take mine off.

T: When you’re in a relationship, you have to ask yourself, “Is this person worth staying in a relationship for? Is it worth all this heartache for the next day?” Every day I think about it, and the answer is always yes. I’m so glad to be in this relationship with him. He’s been a really big support for me and has helped me go for things I wouldn’t have otherwise gone for. He encourages me.

D: When I first met Thomas, the first thing I liked were his legs.

T: I had perfect teeth, too.

D: But I also liked that he inspires greatness in everybody. It’s effortless. If you’re having a bad day, it’s nice having Rainbow Brite sitting next to you.

T: OMG, he’s got all these nicknames for me. Another important thing is you always have to make the other person feel beautiful and always compliment them, but don’t lie.

D: You can never get too comfortable. You need to keep dating. And wooing.

T: I let him know when he’s wearing something he shouldn’t. Like those pants.

D: You doubted the polyester.

T: He’s gotten really great compliments on those tight, brown polyester pants.

D: They look really good with my boots.

T: Humor’s another thing. If I couldn’t laugh with him at least two or three times a day, I don’t know how we’d survive. Many of my past relationships were so one-sided. I like to talk.

D: About more things than your workout routine.

T: Yeah, or the chicken I ate that day.

Right before we leave the restaurant, Thomas pulls out his phone and there’s a picture of Dustin’s eyes on it.

T: He’s watching me all day.

D: That’s just because you can’t change your wallpaper!

Share

Helgi and Kate

August 30th, 2010

Helgi and Kate Love Story

It was love at first height.

That’s how Helgi tells the story, at least.

He says he spotted her first – mostly because it was hard not to spot her, but that’s the part that drew him to her in the first place. Kate is a tall woman. Model tall, with a movie star smile, porcelain features and skin most women would die to have. Helgi is basketball tall, with rugged good looks and an accent to boot. All of these superficial markers are evident immediately upon meeting the couple. What isn’t evident, however, is how perfectly they fit together when it comes to the fundamental stuff. Like how well their personalities complement each other. How kind they both are. How passionate they are about gardening, travel, animals and the outdoors. How close they both are with their families. How they make each other laugh. How they motivate each other and believe in and support each other’s dreams. That’s the kind of stuff height alone can never reveal.

Of course, all of that would take time to come clear. For now, on this night in November of 2003, when they first met, they would notice each other’s eyes. And, of course, the bad makeup job.

That’s what Kate remembers, at least.

“He was wearing a black leather jacket and bright red stage makeup, pancaked on his face,” she says, shaking her head.

It was a Day of the Dead party, held the day after Halloween, and everyone had to dress up. Kate came as a southern belle, in a shiny green dress with lots of lace.

Helgi tried to come as a demon, but, as he so aptly explains, “Couldn’t find any stupid horns, so I just looked constipated.”

Debutante meets constipated demon. Kate meets Helgi.

Kind of like the southern version of Cinderella, Kate showed up in her shiny blue dress right at the stroke of midnight.

Her take on how they met: “I walked in. He saw me first, and I guess he was following me around. I looked around for someone to dance with, and there’s this tall guy, and I was excited, so I did the head nod to ask him to dance. He says he did the head nod to me. I remember we talked about art. I thought, ‘This guy’s nice, but it isn’t gonna last.’ I remember at one point in the evening, I was in the bathroom, trying to get all his red face paint off my dress from when we were dancing. There were all these strangers in the bathroom, trying to get the red off with Kleenex. Later, while standing in line for beer, I somehow put myself down, because I’m so tall. And Helgi immediately speaks up and says something like, ‘I love tall women. I think you’re beautiful.’ My friend Sarah decided right that second she could go home, and I’d be fine. He would take care of me. The next day, we went to brunch. He’s still wearing this leather jacket from the 80s. And he had on really tight, skinny pants. I thought, ‘What the hell is he wearing? I don’t know if I can go out with him.’ He hated the food, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s that.’”

His take: “I was not having a lot of fun at the party, but enjoying the music. Kate walks in. I noticed her because she’s tall. I told my friend, ‘I want her.’ I walked over to her with the intention of giving her the head nod. I’m shy around women. I’ve always been shy — and retarded. We danced for 3 or 4 hours. And with the red paint, well, I guess I put my mark on her. We had a horrible brunch the next day.”

So, to recap: Red face paint all over her dress and cheeks, a dated leather jacket AND a bad brunch experience. Most people would just go their separate ways, but not the demon and the southern belle. Helgi called the next day, and that was pretty much that.

After an inseparable courtship, it became obvious to both of them that a solid commitment was close on the horizon. But then there was the septic tank.

Kate recounts the “crappy” nature of Helgi’s proposal: “We had both discussed marriage a lot. We had talked about, if you were to propose, what would you want it to look like? Helgi said he thinks it’s hoakey to do it in a restaurant in front of people. I said I didn’t care, but as long as it’s not on a climbing trip. And when it’s a good moment. So we went on this trip in Northeast Oregon in the Blue Mountains. It was an enchanted place filled with wildflowers. But very remote. No toilets. I hadn’t showered for four days. We’re talking about how we want to get land someday and build a house with a toilet, and a septic system, and we can’t live with a latrine. And I’m talking about the specifics of septic systems, and then he says, ‘Do you wanna get married?’ Based on the parameters I’d given him, I can’t think of a worse place to propose. But I said yes. We drove to the supermarket, which was 60 miles away, so I could call my sister and my mom. We sat on the back of his truck, which he called the turkey truck. There was no ring, no knee, and I was smelly.”

Helgi’s retort: “Women were always attracted to the turkey truck because it made sounds like a turkey.”

I suppose humor is key when septic systems are involved. But then there was the matter of the wedding. A big affair was planned, then, one-and-a-half months before the wedding, Helgi was laid off from his job. So in the last minute, everything was moved around and the couple wed at Kate’s parents’ house.

Here’s a clue about what the rest of your life together will look like if you have no money, your wedding crumbles before your eyes and you have to fly by the seat of your pants, but you end up laughing about it: pretty sweet.

Kate says she looked like a flamenco dancer in her dress. She asked her mom’s friend Corky to become a minister just to officiate the wedding. Helgi’s friend played the fiddle. Someone read an Icelandic poem. Kate’s mom’s friends catered the food, which included gluten-free wedding cake and cream puffs. Kate and Helgi giggled all the way through.

“We were so happy and just having fun,” Kate recalls. “I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.”

You might say that’s a personal statement of hers that has remained consistent throughout their lives together. It’s interesting, though, considering the amount of struggles they’ve had. Most people would get really stressed out and fight and maybe even break up. But the hard stuff is what has always kept their relationship strong.

Like when two really tall people lived together in Kate’s 350 square-foot apartment. Or when Helgi went back to school to finish his Bachelor’s degree for two years and they had just one income. And how, because of this, they had to wait THREE years to take their honeymoon. Things were great by this time, though, as Helgi had a job, and they spent a lovely month in Thailand. But when they got back, they quickly discovered that Helgi’s company folded without word to any of its employees. Including Helgi.

What couple could weather such uncertainty?

Guess who?

“Twice now, we’ve gone through rough patches financially,” Helgi notes, “and we now know how to handle things. If something happens, I feel like we can deal with it.”

Kate says she noticed that when things get really bad, she learned that she could be very supportive. She admits that, before, she didn’t think she was the sort of person who would be that way. In fact, she says she would’ve left 50 times in the first two years to get a breather from it all, had it not been for something Helgi said to her long ago.

“Helgi told me he always stayed friends with his ex-girlfriends and his ex-wife,” she recalls. “But he said he loved me so much that if we ever broke up, he could never stay in touch with me because he couldn’t take it. So when things get rough, and I want to leave, I think about how he would never talk to me, and know I’d be a wreck.

“He makes me feel loved. He doesn’t fight. Even with the financial difficulties, I have absolute and complete faith in him. He would never even look at another woman. He tells me I’m beautiful all the time, and I think he means it. That makes me cry, because I always needed that. It makes me feel alive.”

On the day after their wedding, Helgi left Kate a note that read, “Happy first day of marriage. I love you.”

Even if there was no note, it is completely obvious to me that these are two people who definitely want to be together. Not because they’re tall. Or they share similar beliefs about septic systems. Because they’re one of those couples you read about in books or see in movies, but don’t think are real because you secretly believe people just don’t stick it out like this in real life.

But I’ve met Kate and Helgi. They’re as real as can be. In the mornings, Helgi imitates the Cookie Monster while they’re having breakfast, and Kate records him singing, “C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me,” on her Iphone.

For Kate and Helgi, C is for commitment, and it’s pretty darned sweet.

Share

Denise and Ryan

August 23rd, 2010

Denise and Ryan

They were playing ping pong in a bar – he paddling furiously and jumping around the table as if engaged in a serious battle, and she calmly standing in one place, neatly moving her paddle from side to side without much of a fuss.

From a distance, it looked almost as if she was disinterested, and he the clear master of the game. In five minutes, it was all over. They walked back to their seats without a word.

“Who won?” I asked.

“I did,” she said, calmly.

She was neither delighted nor upset, and he didn’t appear terribly dejected, nor did he look surprised. It seemed, almost, that this had happened before. Or, perhaps, it happened all the time.

When I asked her later, she verified that I was correct in my assumption.

“Ryan is very dramatic,” she said, taking a sip of her soda. “But I play the game.”

After knowing Denise for nearly two years, I can see this is true. Only the game she refers to isn’t really a game at all. It’s her life. And she plays it well.

But then, so does he. Together, the two make one amazing team.

They met at summer camp when they were 12. She was the shy bookworm and he was the gregarious charmer every girl pined after. One look and she was hooked. But she was not about to vie for his attention. For the next two years, she’d watch countless girls at camp write, “I love Ryan” on the bathroom walls. One girl even slept with a photo of Ryan next to her bed. “Don’t you think Ryan and I make a great couple?” she cooed, gliding her fingers across the frame. All the while, quiet and steady Denise was secretly fuming inside.

By the time Denise and Ryan were 14, they started spending a lot more time together. In fact, it appeared they might actually be an item. Once, after Bible study, Ryan knocked on Denise’s cabin door. It was late. She was brushing her teeth. He stood at her doorstep, the moon a halo over his head, staring nervously at his feet. And then it happened. He dove forward, planting a tiny kiss on her cheek, then ran off, into the night, without a word. You might say that was the day he kissed his fate.

The next day, he had an important choice to make. Junior high pandemonium had set in, and the girls at camp were descending like vultures.

“He’s so charming and outgoing, so every girl automatically assumes he’s in love with them,” Denise says, noting that it’s an issue even today. “His personality is part of what I love about him, and I don’t blame others for loving those same parts of him. But I had to let him know it was not okay with me to flirt with every girl around. Not if he wanted me.”

And so, at 14, Denise did what most women never learn to do – she refused to compromise her principles just to appease someone of the opposite sex. She respected herself far too much. It was either her all the way, or none of her.

And he chose all of her. From that moment forward, at the age of 14, he chose her. And he never looked back.

Their love was never simple, however.  There were challenges early on. It was difficult enough when they lived two hours apart in Maine, but when he moved to Florida to live with his mom, the relationship was flailing out of control.

Then there was the marriage. They were both in college, and lived off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the first few years.

When they decided to move across the country from Maine to Seattle, they had to fit their entire lives in the back of a Jeep. They stopped along the way. She took pictures. They camped. She wanted to rip his head off at times. They were grumpy and tired. She had no job lined up. They had only a few hundred dollars in their bank account.

They were so young.

But here they are. They are older, but for them, the struggle isn’t close to being over. They are barely into their mid-20s. There is growth yet to be done, and mistakes to be made. But not even that reality fazes them. They will do what they always do – face whatever shows up together.

When most 20-somethings are still learning how to balance a checkbook, they are learning how to balance each other. While their peers are partying and hooking up with random people, they are holding hands in church, and baking cookies, which they hand out to the homeless on cold nights.

There is a quiet confidence to their love. It’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever encountered. I look at them both, and I know, with certainty, that they’re going to make it. And somehow, this makes me really happy. It’s some of the clearest evidence I’ve ever seen that a truly solid relationship can withstand all the bumps in the road, all the growing pains, all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and all the states between Maine and Seattle, so long as the people in it are committed to the same things.

Denise and Ryan certainly are.

When I ask Ryan how he knew, all those years ago, that Denise was it, he admits he didn’t know that. Not in the beginning, at least.

“She was all in at 14,” he remarks, “and I was easily distracted by female attention. I think once I got over the female attention part of it, I realized that Denise loved ME (every bit of me), and I loved Denise (every bit of Denise). After my hiatus of flirtation and cheesy relationships, I chose to commit to the woman I could see building a life with. She makes me a better person and encourages my personal growth as a human. I think I realized this at a certain point and it drove my desire to commit. She woke me up through her honesty (and sassiness!). I think it was instinctual because of how she regards me.”

That honesty (and sassiness!) is perhaps their saving grace. Because they’re vocal about their feelings, and air out their laundry on the spot, they have developed successful coping mechanisms people twice their age have often failed to master.

“It was tricky getting married with no money, while still in college, so we basically had to learn life skills together,” Ryan admits. “I think the fact that we don’t harbor things helped us to learn to be there for each other. The first year we were married was no picnic, but I am thankful it was hard. It gave our relationship character and strength. Do we still want to rip each other’s heads off from time to time? Yes. But that is the beauty of relationship. You take the good and the bad.”

He takes it with great appreciation. How could he not? He knows about evolution. He knows that what happens between the ages of 14 and 24 is only a tiny window into what happens in a lifetime. And he’s so darned excited to watch the story unfold.

Like the part about how he finds himself loving things about Denise he didn’t even realize before. And how she’s so kind and giving, and basically how he doesn’t have enough time to tell me all the things he loves about this woman.

And so I tell him to stop. That I’ve heard just about enough. And I have. Because now my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. And I have a newfound appreciation for love stories. And I want to write more. And so I begin.

Share

Louise and Charlie

August 16th, 2010

Louise and Charlie

He never had much to say. Mostly, he would utter quiet phrases like, “Well, I’ll be,” or, “Is that right?” often while shaking his head.

Those in his company wondered what more there was to him. “He sure doesn’t talk much,” they’d say.

She knew the truth, though. She knew that the way to measure a man is by his actions, not his words. And as far as action goes, Charlie spoke volumes.

To be fair, however, Louise didn’t know all that yet. Not when she met him on a blind date in April of 1946. They went to a movie. It was all rather uneventful. In fact, she wasn’t even sure she liked him. They went out a few more times, and then she went off to St. Louis for a week with a friend.

When she returned to Indiana, and got on a connecting bus to go home, her girlfriend tugged at her shirt. “I think you’d better get off this bus,” she urged. “Looks like there’s someone waiting for you outside.”

And sure enough, there was Charlie. He called her sister to see what time her bus came in, and he showed up. From that moment, until the day he died, he always showed up.

He was a good husband. He wasn’t too pushy. He was clean cut. Her family loved him. And, turns out, so did she.

“You have to know him to know how he was,” she says with a smile. “He was so easy going. Anything I wanted to do, it was all right with him.”

After a year of dating, Charlie popped the question. It was rather unromantic by Hollywood standards, but it was just fine for Louise.

“He had the ring, and gave it to me one evening, before he left,” she said. “He turned around and put the ring on my finger. I accepted it.”

When I asked her if she was in love with him, she looked at me like I was crazy. She said she wouldn’t have accepted the ring if she wasn’t. When I asked her how she knew, she said she was pretty sure anybody would know they’re in love. It’s easy to tell.

“The man was so nice to you,” she says. “He wasn’t pushy. He was easygoing. He’d come and see me. He’d call me. He’d leave my house and drive 27 miles back home.”

Love, for my aunt Louise, is a fairly simple equation. It makes me wonder how most of us got so off track. How we expect so much, and have all these unrealistic fantasies about what he should say or do or how he should make us feel. Maybe it’s enough that he treats us kindly. That he wants to make us happy. He listens. He shows up.

I guess you know you love him back when you want to show up, too. Like when you find out he has cancer.

“He had cancer for 15 years, but he didn’t know it,” she reveals. “When he was in the service, the doctors overseas told him he had hemmorhoids. One day he went to a doctor here, and they found out that’s not what it was. I was waiting outside and the doctor asked if I was his wife. I said yes. He said, ‘I want her to be here to hear what I have to say.’ We didn’t even make it make it across the parking lot after that. We were both crying.”

In 1951, Charlie was told he had just six months to live, but he toughed it out until 1971, even so he would be in the hospital off and on that entire time. The last few years of his life he was bedridden, and Louise took care of him. Charlie would’ve done the same.

It’s easy to do that sort of thing when you love someone. And even if Charlie was a quiet man who nodded a lot instead of expressing his feelings, the truth was pretty evident to Louise.

“One time his mother told me, ‘I miss all my kids, but I miss Charlie the worst,’” Louise remembers. “And I asked her if she wanted him back. She said, ‘Oh no, he’s too happy.’”

I take my aunt’s hand, removing the photo of Charlie when he was still healthy and smiling. I figure she might not want to keep talking about this. I tell her we can stop.

“I’d rather talk about him,” she laughs, as if he were in the next room and she was spilling a secret. “I don’t want to forget about him. You don’t forget about someone you love. Charlie was my true love. He died June 3, and our anniversary would’ve been June 22. He died just before our 23-year anniversary. I would’ve liked to have spent 25 years with him.”

I’m surprised you can love one person for so long, and still miss them after so much time has passed.

“You really miss him, huh?” I ask.

“Absolutely,” she says, giving my hand a tight squeeze. “I do miss him. I do. I do.”

Share