Sunday, February 9, 2014

Smitten (an essay)

This post is dedicated to the love of my life, in honor of his upcoming 36th birthday.  One piece of a tale that had me madly in love with him at first sight.  Almost 16 years later and I'm still madly in love.  Maybe more so...

Sometimes the most seemingly ordinary acts of fate become the most extraordinary moments.

From 1996 to 1997, I struggled to make that first real step from a high school student to finding my new place in the world.  My family moved from Ohio to South Carolina.  I moved with them.  Then I moved back to Ohio, then back to South Carolina, and, needless to say, I was pretty lost.  I was trying to do the things that I thought were expected of me - college, friends, etc.  It just didn't feel authentic to me. It is funny how the future path I expected to follow, the plan that had been in place since I first entered a school, felt completely wrong in the present.

For half of 1997, I lived with my grandparents and my aunt in Ohio to attend school.  My grandfather passed away in 1997 and it devastated me.  I was already emotionally adrift and then grief truly made my heart feel irrecoverable.  The eating disorder, I had started in high school, reared its ugly head again and I was sinking fast.  I hit my lowest point and started therapy.  Soon after, I decided it was time to finally start fresh and break the tie I had to my hometown.

In early 1998, I moved again to South Carolina to really start my life.  It was not an easy decision and I questioned myself repeatedly.  I felt the finality of this decision; the importance of it even then.  I pulled into my parents' driveway sobbing, much to their dismay.  Then I had to start the process of figuring out what I was going to do.  After a couple of rough weeks, I found a job with a temp agency and I was taking some time off of school to figure out my new path.  I lived with my parents and my high school-aged sister.  Routine and my family's support were what I needed to take the first steps back to normalcy.  Realizing I had the power to change my life plan, despite what I grew up believing, lifted me further out of my depression.

During this time, my dad had mentioned that his friend and colleague had a son, who had just moved from Ohio to nearby North Carolina, and he was my age.  My dad and his dad had worked together in Ohio for years.  I didn't know them in Ohio because they had lived on the opposite side of town from us.  When my dad started his job in the Carolinas, he hired his coworker from Ohio.  Their son was in college in northern Ohio and had recently left to move to the Carolinas and figure out his life too.  A couple of weeks prior, I had met his parents at a basketball game and saw a picture.  It was their son's senior picture from high school.  He had a baby face and wore a golf shirt.  I remember thinking that he parted his short hair like my dad does.

I kept putting off my dad's idea of reaching out to him.  I wasn't ready for a new friend or even an acquaintance.  However, one night, I was feeling a little better about life and asked my dad for his number.  I remember my dad said he was proud of me for taking a next step.  He said it would be good for me.  Little did he know then.

Nervously, I dialed the phone number.  I asked to speak to Jay.  It was the first time I ever spoke his name.  (present day, my heart skipped a beat just remembering that moment).  Jay picked up the phone and, fortunately, knew who I was.  Our fathers must have conspired quite a bit in the office.  The conversation flowed so freely and easily.  There were no awkward pauses despite being complete strangers.  I don't remember what we talked about now; I know it felt like everything and nothing all at the same time.  We made plans to get together for lunch two days later.  I hung up the phone.  I sat still and caught my breath.  I wanted to hear his voice again.

The next day I knew Jay was working and, at the time, he worked in retail.  Despite my personal obsession with remaining in control of my feelings, I felt a strong need to go meet him.  I rationalized, that if I met him briefly, it would make lunch the next day less awkward.  Really, I just had to hear that voice again and see his face.  I pulled up to the store where he worked and I saw him immediately.  He was standing outside cleaning the front door of the store.

He no longer looked like his senior picture, except for that baby face.  That beautiful face.  He had longer hair and it was curly, thick, and tipped with white streaks.  He wore his Cleveland Indians hat backwards and his curls poked out of the back and sides.  He had on dark, baggy jeans, a dark green Sublime t-shirt, and Doc Martens.  Both of his ears were pierced and he was wearing large-gauged hoops.  (Oh, late 90s fashion!)  He took my breath away and, then, I panicked.  What am I doing here?!?!  I did not act impulsively like this and I was a stickler for never appearing too eager to the opposite sex.  Yet, here I was and it scared me.

I got out of the car and went into another store.  A store that sold light bulbs and did lighting installations.  A store that was owned by a South African family.  A store that eventually Jay would work for and would grow close to the family.  This day though, I knew nothing of that future.  I wandered around the store to get my nerve up again.  Then I walked out and over to Jay's store.

Jay was still at the door and I smiled at him.  He smiled and held the door open for me.  He had never seen a photo of me and I did not reveal my identity yet.  I had no real plan in that moment.  I wandered through the store, pretending to browse.  Jay abandoned his outside task and entered the store too.  He acted busy in areas where I was standing.  He walked by me and I said, "Nice hat."  (Seriously - that was my opening line?)  He smiled.  I smiled back and said I was from Ohio.  As we stood there smiling, I saw a realization come over his face.  He asked, "Are you Sara?"

Yep.  I was already smitten.

We chatted for a while and, again, it was so easy to talk to him.  I told him that I wanted to get the awkward greeting out of the way to make lunch easier the next day.  He said he was glad I did.  We smiled a lot.  That brief moment felt frozen in time - not just in my memory now, but in the genuine moment too.  Eventually, my practicality kicked back in and I decided to leave.  I believe I may have floated out of the store.

I smiled the entire forty-five minute drive home.  I knew my plan had changed.  For the first time in two years, I felt hopeful.

"He had been told by his parents and grandparents that he must fall in love and really know a person before becoming committed.  But maybe people who felt that way had never learned the universal language.  Because, when you know that language, it's easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it's in the middle of the desert or in some great city.  And when two such people encounter each other, and their eyes meet, the past and the future become unimportant.  There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only.  It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world.  Without such love, one's dreams would have no meaning."  - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

P.S.  We met in March of 1998 and we married in November of 1998.  I like to tell people it was an arranged marriage.  Thanks, Dad.

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