a2 + b2 = c2
The unbroken connection between two lives that intersect, despite the fact that their ways of being human flow at opposing right angles to one another, is love.
I could not be more different from her. Sure, we have a lot in common when you consider our Oklahoma upbringing, the churches we attended, the families we came from, the mid-western college where we were both educated. You get the point. But, good Lord, do we see things differently. I could tell you. But, I’d rather show you.
I am a child of the 80s and I grew up all over the place. I moved fourteen times when I was a kid if you count all the various houses, apartments, and mobile homes I lived in. That included five states and three countries.
My dad drove a to-be-restored-someday 1962 Ford Falcon. It was green and I loved it. It had an enormous engine compartment that I could crawl all the way into to help him change the oil filter. There was nothing better than getting warm oil all over my hands. It made me feel like I was really accomplishing something when I would emerge from the engine covered in black goo. And then I would get to use the orange scented pumice hand cleaner filled with what felt like sandpaper rocks and scrub my epidermis off before coming inside the house smelling like an oily citrus grove.
I was homeschooled. I wouldn’t know a schedule or a deadline if it bit me in the butt like one of those diamondback rattlesnakes that littered the desert we lived in from age nine to twelve. I thoroughly enjoyed my freedom to procrastinate homework. I would roll out of bed at eventually o’clock and take a long shower before making myself some hot Grape Nuts with honey in the microwave. After a few chores around the house, I would finally get started on the day’s lessons and finish after a few hours. Then, I would go shoot hoops in the driveway or shoot aliens from outer space with the laser cannon I had installed in the tree house I built with my best friend in Aunt CC’s backyard, no relation. At some point in my busy schedule, I would practice violin for an hour or so and increase my dork quotient by a factor of ten. In the evenings, I would argue with my physics professor of a father over algebra and watch T.G.I.F. on Friday nights as if I were a “normal” person. While my education was not what I would call well-rounded, I did learn to think for myself and when it came time to perform on the S.A.T. I did alright and got a scholarship to college.
I was so weird. My little sister and I stood on the front porch of our desert home one day and smeared strawberry smoothies all over ourselves. My mom has a picture of it somewhere. I pray it doesn’t end up on Facebook someday. I was interested in telescopes and the universe and Calvin and Hobbes and theology and snakes. I also had convinced my five foot nothing skinny white boy self that I could play basketball and make it to the NBA someday. I just had to be like Rudy, the little guy who played football for Notre Dame, and keep trying. I would play endless imaginary NBA games by myself in the driveway. I always had the ball with three seconds left on the clock. I would miss the shot ninety percent of the time. But by some miracle, a foul would occur before the inbounds pass and give me a fifth chance.
When I got to the eighth grade, I began to realize how weird I was compared to the other kids at church. They were one of my few sources of social interaction with peers. About that time, girls also popped up on my radar. I had to learn to be cool. Enter AOL Instant Messenger on the scene. (Side note- I somehow strangely miss all those electronic dial-up internet sounds that went “oooo-weeee-bah-na-na-na-na-screeeeeee-poooooo-eeeecchhhhhhssshhh”)
“You’ve got mail.”
Music to my ears. The internet opened up a whole world to me that I hadn’t known before. Seriously, I could play Carmen Sandiego online and chase her around the world. I learned so much about lol-ing, j/k-ing and omg-ing. I became a culture aficionado. Although, someone didn’t tell me that knowing meaningless trivia about celebrities doesn’t necessarily translate to becoming popular. Nevertheless, AOL Instant Messenger changed my life.
“Hey, have you decided where you’re going for college?” I typed nervously into the AOL Instant Messenger chat box.
“Yeah I’m going to school in Chicago.”
O crap, no! That’s not what I want to hear. B had finally dumped her blonde, long-haired, loser boyfriend she had picked up after our prom excursion as “just friends,” a title my dumb self had insisted upon since I was a big sophomore in college and she was still in high school. (You know sophomore means wise fool, right?)
“Oh, man,” I typed, my heart pounding, “I was hoping you would go here.”
Dedgummit. She knew why. She just wanted me to say it. Should I say it? Or should I let her go and move on with my life? One thing I should tell you. We had known each other since I was fourteen and she was twelve. B was not someone I could just move on from. Our families knew each other well. We had spent quality time together. I sat there staring at the blue light emanating from my Windows XP desktop screen. I had spent the whole summer on AIM chatting with B every chance I could get. The flirtation level had been at an all-time high. I had spent many hours of my life on AIM. I had been using since 1999 and it was my drug of choice.
We all have those moments in our lives that are pivotal. We often don’t realize it at the time and skip by them unnoticed until we have an epiphany later. Actually, most moments in our lives hold the potential to be life-changing. It’s sad that we rarely pay attention. However, in this moment, I knew it was a continental divide. I felt the weight of a thousand suns bearing down on me, making me sweat like I did back in eighth grade. The blinking cursor on the screen was beckoning me, taunting me, yelling at me to say something in response. I was in Texas, 298 miles away from her in Oklahoma at that moment. But the keyboard and the fate of our future was at my fingertips.
“Your daughter is a redhead!”
“What?!? Are you sure?”
“Oh yeah! It’s bright orange!”
“How in the… no way!”
The doctor held her up for all to see. Sure enough, that was an unmistakable shock of red hair at the top of that bobble head.
Freckle-faced and full of endless energy and enthusiasm for everything she got into, B was a force to be reckoned with from Day One. Her older sister learned how to propel herself on the swing without assistance. B had to learn too. She was two. Her older sister learned to ride a bike one summer, so B had to learn too. She was three. Her older sister obeyed and did anything her parents asked her to. B did too. Just kidding. B broke everything. She was an artist when it came to getting into trouble. Not a finger painter either, a regular Rembrandt. She was and still is tough, smart and disinterested in being told what to do.
One year for Halloween, B’s grandma found some old lace and turned it into a dress for her older sister. For some God-forsaken reason, her parents thought it would be funny to dress B up as a groom to her sister’s bride. They slicked her red hair back, found her a dark suit to wear, and painted a tiny moustache above her lip. B was completely un-thrilled about this “bwessed awwangement,” (thanks Princess Bride). Her anti-excitement showed on her face. She literally looked like a tiny, red-headed… Hitler. To this day, every time we see those pictures we can’t contain ourselves. What were they thinking?!
B is strong, sturdy, and stunning. That red hair is the first thing anyone notices. It makes her easy to remember. All the way through junior high, she was a little taller than her classmates. She played soccer like her dad and took no prisoners. She grew up with a pool table in her house and could emasculate her boyfriends when they tried to play against her. Poor things. They didn’t know what they were up against. She would swim every day in their backyard pool from the early days of April to the late days of September and could have been a competitive diver had she wanted to. She once broke her elementary school’s record for number of jumps jump-roping in one minute on her jump rope team. Yeah, she was on the jump rope team. So cool. She was a mathlete in fifth through eighth grade, debate team captain in high school, and a flute and bassoon playing band nerd who eventually became drum major.
In summary, B is a force of nature and when she invited me to go to her high school prom, even though I was a sophomore in college - I said yes.
B double-majored in mathematics and computer science while teaching piano lessons and playing gigs on the weekends to pay the bills. She graduated from college in three years and became an actuarial scientist. Unbelievably smart, driven, and competitive, she could conquer the world.
So, why was she wasting time with this guy in Texas on AIM? The question he asked seemed innocuous to her. After all, they were “just friends.” He had clearly established that boundary a few months prior. What a moron. She had just gotten rid of one dead weight, she didn’t need another one. She was a free woman ready to jet off to Chicago, the land of wind, snow and shiny giant bean sculptures. Why did he now suddenly care about where she was going to college? I mean, yeah, she had waited until the last minute to make the final decision, but, c’mon, there had been a time and a place for this question and now was not it.
A memory replayed in her head as she waited for what seemed like an eternity for him to respond to her “Why?” question. She and her family had gone to visit cousins in Albany, New York nineteen hours away three summers ago. Some family friends had just moved near there and her parents decided to stop off and see them as well. She remembered meeting him the first time when she was twelve and he was fourteen. They had really started to become friends before he moved across the country. She had lived in the same suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma her whole life. That poor guy had moved at least a dozen times. She would have hated moving that much. Now, she saw him again after a long hiatus. She was fifteen and he was seventeen. Puberty had melted away his elementary pudginess and added nine inches to his height. Plus, he wore his hair spiked straight up with frosted tips. He looked like a Backstreet Boy with acne. And he played the violin like an angel. Her band nerd heart fell hard that day.
But she had made a full recovery. That ship had sailed. They were friends and that was that. She was headed to Chicago. She wasn’t glued to her screen when the response finally came through. She was too busy watching a Dawson’s Creek rerun. When she did finally glance back at the screen, the words didn’t make sense.
“Well, I was hoping that maybe you and I would see each other more. I really like you a lot, like like you like you.”
Wow, she thought, such eloquence. Is this a Cyrano de Bergerac situation? How could a woman not be swept off her feet by such magnificent words? He like likes me likes me? Oh be still my beating heart. Seriously. That’s his line. And he’s asking me to change my life course because he likes me? On AOL Instant Messenger??? AIM??? She had a plan and she was sticking to it.
“Oh I had no idea. I thought you just wanted to be friends,” she quipped.
“Yeah, I know. But I’ve had so much fun talking with you this summer, I’ve realized how awesome you are. I was hoping we could maybe be more than friends.”
“Well, I’m going to Chicago in two weeks.”
“Dangit, I guess I missed my chance.”
“Sorry! I mean, you could always come visit… I’ll be back around Christmas if you want to hang out then.”
“Okay. Take care. I know you’ll have a great time up there. You looking forward to rooming with your best friend?”
“Yeah! I’m really excited about that…”
The conversation continued for another few minutes and then concluded without fanfare. It was sweet of him to at least take a shot, she thought. But it was so out of the blue. So unexpected. She couldn’t altar her whole life for a guy.
It was a twelve hour drive from my campus in Oklahoma City to her campus in Chicago. I could leave after my last class on Friday and make it there by 2 AM. I thought I could surprise her. Maybe B’s older sister would want to go see her too. I mean it’s only been a month, but I’m sure she misses her.
By this time, my confession had made the gossip rounds and people knew, including her sister. So, she read between the lines when I asked her to go to Chicago with me and agreed to come. We would be in Chicago almost as long as we would be in the car. But, we jumped in my stylish Mercury Sable, a real grandma special, and went. The trip took a little longer than we thought and we had to wake her up at 3 AM. B was completely shocked. She made a spot for us on the floor and the couch. I took the floor. Like a man.
The next day we spent roaming around downtown Chicago. It was a typically windy day, but sunny. We explored the docks, ate pizza at Giordano’s and saw the bean. We stayed one more night and went back the next morning. It was fun, but I didn’t seal the deal to become “official” or anything like that. I knew it was a longshot anyway. But I left her a note. I had to make up for that lame AIM ask-out.
I know this was an unexpected surprise for you. Hope it wasn’t too disruptive! Thanks for taking us around Chicago and showing us the sights. It was fun! Listen, you are one of the smartest, prettiest, most amazing humans I’ve ever known. My heart skips a beat every time I see your screen name pop up on AIM. When I look into your brown eyes, my soul softens and I am taken back to that time you visited my house in New York. Remember that? I wanted to impress you so I got my violin out and played the “Thais Meditation.” (I know, my hair looked a little douchey back then, haha!) Any time I see someone with red hair I think of you. Your smile lights up a room and I love to stare at you and make constellations out of your freckles. You are beautiful inside and out and I think you can do anything you want to do. I want you to know that I would do anything to call you mine.
Three weeks later B surprised me by driving 24 hours over a weekend to “come home and see family.” We went to an Evanescence concert that weekend and she kissed me. It was long and sweet and I will never forget that moment. It was a done deal after that.
It’s been seventeen years since I wrote that letter, fifteen since we tied the knot and four boys connecting us in ways we never imagined. Yeah, we got married way too young. We weren’t ready, but who ever really is anyway? I’ve always been a jump in and learn to swim type of person. As I have learned more and more about B, it is amazing to me how many things we don’t see eye-to-eye on even after all this time.
Red sauce on pasta
Loves dumb funny movies
Likes to be alone at home
Fun means going out
Stays up late
Cannot be on time (thanks homeschooling)
Loves words and ideas
Will argue about anything
Hates dumb funny movies
Likes to invite everyone over and cook for them
Fun means staying in
Gets up early
Always on time (thanks public school)
Loves math and facts
Oh, I guess we have that in common actually
But what I’ve learned is that it’s not what we agree or disagree on that makes a marriage work. What makes a marriage work is the willingness of each person to drive all the way to the other person to meet them where they are and stand in their shoes. That really boils down to one word - love.