Some gal wrote a book claiming every girl longs to be swept off her feet, rescued, a bride. Not me.
There’s a picture of me when I was small, at a toy ironing board, in a dress-up wedding gown.
Mom must’ve made me do it, probably tickled me at the last minute to get me to grin. Marriage was never my dream. I was like the dentist elf in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I wanted to be in-de-pen-dent. I didn’t need anyone.
I always told my girlfriends, “You’ll never meet Mr. Right in a bar.”
Like I knew. Heck, I could count the dates I’d been on with five fingers. For some reason, guys seemed scared of me, maybe because I hit hard and burped loud. That’s what happens when you grow up with three brothers.
I wasn’t with my gal-pals that night. I was with my buddy, Dave.
He and I spotted you at the same time, through a Kool and Camel haze, through the Purple Rain.
We declared you a sharp-dressed man. Your skinny leather tie and pleated pants were way better than a t-shirt and Levi’s.
Beneath your pencil-thin mustache, you had a puffy half-smile, lips like Angelina Jolie before anyone knew who she was. When we slow-danced I realized your eyes were the color of Kraft caramels. As I fiddled with the hair brushing your shirt collar, I wondered if maybe you curled it around a Popsicle.
Later that night, per your request, I printed my phone number on a cocktail napkin with my Maybelline eye pencil.
One day and night passed, then another. I recalled your last name and was locating the T’s in the phone book when you called.
My heart forgot to beat, then remembered.
After a few dates, I deemed you some kind of fairy tale prince. I admired the way you opened and closed doors for me and how when you reached across to buckle my seatbelt, the citrusy freshness of your Drakkar Noir cologne came off your warm golden neck in waves.
Your habit of picking up trash and arc’ing it at garbage cans amused me. You chuckled every time I crowed, “He shoots, he scores!” The day you helped that dowager-humped lady across Walnut Street, my insides went all wooshy-gooshy.
It didn’t take me long to figure out you always did what you said you would. Always.
I esteemed that trait every bit as much as your curly hair and puffy mouth.
But then you didn’t kiss me after our first date. Or the second. I started thinking maybe you weren’t a fairy tale prince after all. Maybe you were actually a… And then you did kiss me.
Once again, my heart forgot to beat, then remembered.
The hallway of my third floor, over Rite-Aid on High Street, apartment was cold that night. I was leaning against the doorframe and you said maybe we should go see—
Suddenly the heat of you pressed against the heat of me and it was so very nice I thought my knees would give out then and there. It was like the ketchup commercial said: “Anticipation.”
You could’ve asked me anything and I would’ve said yes, but you didn’t.
That’s what happens when you grow up with four sisters.
Later on you said you wanted to marry me even though I intended to leave West Virginia and never come back. Even though I didn’t want kids. Even though I didn’t need you.
After three years in D.C., we decided to move to a smaller city, a safer one. We closed our eyes, stabbed a map, and that’s where we relocated—Cincinnati. I worked downtown in a fancy brownstone. Your insurance office was up north, outside city limits.
“Oh, all right,” I said one day, “I reckon I can have one baby. For you.” When she arrived, I immediately fell in love with her dark curls and full, cherry mouth.
A couple years later at Forest Fair Mall, you stunned me when you said, “I want to move back—to West Virginia.”
As we stood beside the sand pit where our daughter was filling up and spilling out her pastel pink Stride-Rite shoes, I threw a quiet fit. With sob-squinty eyes I faced you. “Don’t you remember me saying I’m a big city girl?”
You thought hard before you answered. “If you hate it after a year, we’ll go someplace else.” Knowing you always kept your promises, I agreed.
Within a year, I decided our only child needed company. Three years later, I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to give you a son?
Funny, the way having kids can stir up things inside you.
When my childhood caught up with me and you at last learned the details, you cupped the shards of my broken littleness in your hands.
“Everything’ll be all right,” you promised. And it was.
One morning after you left for work, I sat at the kitchen table in our hundred-year-old house and pondered things in my heart. I held my thumb and pointer finger so they almost touched.