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Love Story: An Essay On Love
From the beginning, I couldnt quite put my finger on exactly what attracted me to her so forcefully. Maybe it was her tan, slender, almost perfect body, which she seemed just a little proud of when we ended up swimming together during PE at school. Or maybe it those crazy big brown eyes that seemed to grab me tight every time I caught sight of them; or her curly, golden-brown hair that danced in the wind like autumn leaves. Or perhaps it was just the way she spoke with that ridiculously cute voice that for so long had the power to put butterflies in my tummy. Or perhaps it was the very texture of her skin, at once soft and firm, although it took me what seemed like forever to work up the courage to hold her hand. I must have been already attracted to her by then!
Of course all those incredible but purely physical traits that I once thought were the main force of attraction turned out to be meaningless. I learned how much I was attracted to who she really was on a day that I first thought was one of those days you would rather forget, one of those days when nothing seemed to go right.
It was a sunny summer day in the east bay area, and I was just getting off work when she called me and suggested we have a picnic on the beach and watch the sunset over the ocean. It was late in July and I had been up at 5:30 that morning to get to work. My day at work wasnt my favorite, and I wasnt in the best mood when I finally got off around two o'clock. I went to her house to pick her up and nearly melted when I saw how excited she was to be going to the beach to have a picnic with me. She ran around to gather up the towels, and beach toys, and umbrella, and sunscreen. She was so lost in her excitement about going to the beach that she forgot her swimsuit! And her keys. And her wallet. And her phone. She probably wouldnt have realized it unless I asked her when we were halfway there. I was glad she forgot her phone.
When we were waiting in line to get our sandwiches for the picnic, she grabbed onto me with a big bear hug and wouldnt let go even when I tried half-heartedly to push her away. I pretended to be aloof, but she knew I liked it. Finally we got to order our sandwiches, and she was eager to order for me, knowing exactly what I wanted. Then we headed off on our hour-long drive to our favorite beach on the coast of the San Francisco Peninsula, just off of highway 1.
The weather was warm when we left, but it got colder as we got closer to the beach. The supposedly one-hour drive had already turned into a two-hour drive because of the horrendous traffic jam before the Bay Bridge toll plaza. I was upset because my beaten-up old car was starting to overheat, so I had to keep the heat turned up to avoid blowing the gasket. Driving in traffic like that could be very stressful. It didn't help that I had to repeatedly depress the heavy clutch just to move a few feet. I rarely got out of first gear. Yet her exuberance was completely unaffected by any of this, as if she were completely oblivious to what was going on outside of the car, other than the fact that she was on a way to have a picnic on the beach and watch the sunset over the ocean with her favorite person in the world. While my leg ached from the clutch, and I was hot and tired and angry at all the other cars on the road, she was singing and bouncing around in her seat, poking me and holding my hand and kissing me, and just being wonderfully excited about the day ahead.
By the time we got there it was cold and cloudy and foggy; so foggy, in fact, that you couldnt see 100 feet out across the water. The sun was nowhere to be seen. But she was still excited. As soon as I turned the car off, she jumped out, gathered all her things, grabbed my hand, and raced to the sand pulling me behind her. She set up her umbrella and spread out the towels and started munching on her sandwich before I could even sit down. She finished eating and started playing in the sand, rolling in it and making sand-angels which she insisted looked like angels although they didnt really look like anything at all.
When I finished my food, she insisted that I try to bury her in the sand deep enough that she wouldn't be able to get up. I started slowly piling sand over her until she said she thought she was suffocating. Finally I told her to get up and she couldnt, so I joked around that I was going to leave and started picking up all of the stuff and walking to the car. She started screaming and laughing at the same time as if she were a little kid being tortured by a tickle monster. Finally I turned around and helped her out of her sand trap. When she brushed the last of the sand off, she started pouting and refused to stop pouting unless she could bury me in the sand as revenge. So that's what we did. She buried me and I pretended to be stuck.
Later, having pointed out that the weather was bad, and that we couldnt go in the water because it was too cold, and how we were going to miss the sunset because of the fog, I suggested that we should go back. I felt bad saying all of those negative things, but when we got back to the car all she could talk about is how much fun she had.
On the way back there was more stressful traffic, and again, I had to keep the heater on to make sure my engine didn't fail. I realized it felt awfully quiet, and I looked to my right to see her all bundled up in her towel, sleeping like a baby after a long day of playing at the beach. Just seeing her curled up like that made me realize how great of a time I had had with her after all.
No matter what the situation, no matter what kind of mood came over me, she never failed to put a smile on my face. She was always happen and positive, ready to have fun and forget or ignore the things that made others upset. And her good humor was infectious. She made me feel like the luckiest guy on earth and she made me want to be better.
Submitted by: Tom
[dropcap]In[/dropcap] 1983, I was traveling with a tiny theater company doing vaudeville-type shows in community centers and bars—anywhere we could earn $25 each plus enough gas money to get to the next small town in our ramshackle yellow bus.
As we passed through Bozeman, Montana, in early February, a heavy snow slowed us down. The radio crackled warnings about black ice and poor visibility, so we opted to impose on friends who were doing a production of Fiddler on the Roof at Montana State University. See a show, hit a few bars, sleep on a sofa: This is as close to prudence as it gets when you’re an itinerant 20-something troubadour.
After the show, well-wishers and stagehands milled behind the curtain. I hugged my coat around me, humming that “If I Were a Rich Man” riff from the show, aching for sunrise and sunset, missing my sisters. What a wonderful show that was—and is.
A heavy metal door swung open, allowing in a blast of frigid air, and clanged shut behind two men who stomped snow from their boots. One was big and bearlike in an Irish wool sweater and gaiters; the other was as tall and skinny as a chimney sweep in a peacoat.
“… but I’m just saying, it would be nice to see some serious theater,” one of them said. “Chekhov, Ibsen, anything but this musical comedy shtick.”
“Excuse me?” I huffed, hackles raised. “Anyone who doesn’t think comedy is an art form certainly hasn’t read much Shakespeare, have they?”
I informed them that I was a “professional shticktress” and went on to deliver a tart, pedantic lecture on the French neoclassics, the cultural impact of Punch and Judy as an I Love Lucy prototype, and the importance of Fiddler on the Roof as both artistic and oral history. The shrill diatribe left a puff of frozen breath in the air. I felt my snootiness showing like a stray bra strap as the sweep in the peacoat rolled his eyes and walked away.
The bear stood there for a moment, an easy smile in his brown eyes. Then he put his arms around me and whispered in my ear, “I love you.”
Edwin Fothingham/Matthew Mahon[dropcap]I[/dropcap] took in a deep, startled breath—winter, Irish wool, coffee, and fresh-baked bread—and then pushed away with a jittery half-joke. Something like, “Watch it. I have pepper spray.” “OK,” he said with a broad baritone laugh. “Come for a walk, then. It’ll be nice.” I shook my head. Alarm and skepticism warred with spreading, unsteady warmth behind my collarbone. “Walking around in the freezing dark with a total stranger is not nice,” I said. I tipped a glance to the well-worn gaiters. “Planning to do some cross-country skiing?”
“Riding my bike,” he said, and then added without apology, “I’m between vehicles.”
He held the heavy door open expectantly. I moved the pepper spray from my purse to my coat pocket and followed my heart out under the clear, cold stars.
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“What are you reading?” I asked, because that question always opens doors of its own. I was in the habit of asking the nuns at the bus stop, a barber who paid me to scrub his floor once a week, elderly ladies and children at the park. To this day, I ask people who sit beside me on airplanes, baristas at Starbucks, exchange students standing in line with me. Over the years, “What are you reading?” has introduced me to many of my favorite books and favorite people.
The bear had a good answer: “Chesapeake. Have you read it?”
“No, but I love James Michener,” I said. “When I was 12, I fell in love with Hawaii and vowed that if I ever had a daughter, I’d name her Jerusha after the heroine.”
“Big book for a 12-year-old.”
“We didn’t have a TV. And I was a dork.”
He laughed that broad baritone laugh again. “Literature: last refuge of the tragically uncool.”
“Same could be said of bicycling in your ski gaiters.”
The conversation ranged organically from books and theater to politics and our personal histories.
Having embraced the life of an artsy party girl, I was the black sheep of my conservative Midwestern family, thoroughly enjoying my freedom and a steady diet of wild oats. He’d spent a dysfunctional childhood on the East Coast. A troubled path of drug and alcohol abuse had brought him to one of those legendary moments of clarity at which he made a hard right turn to an almost monkish existence in a tiny mountain cabin. He’d built an ascetic life that was solitary but substantive, baking bread at a local restaurant, splitting wood for his heating stove, staying out of trouble.
“That probably sounds pretty dull to you,” he said.
“Agonizingly dull, but don’t worry,” I said, and then patted his arm. “Maybe someday you’ll remember how to have fun.”
He shrugged. “Maybe someday you’ll forget.”
We talked about the things people tend to avoid when they’re trying to make a good impression: hopes subverted by mistakes, relationships sabotaged by shortcomings. My bus was leaving in the morning, and we would never see each other again, so there was no need to posture.
Fingers and chins numb with cold, we found refuge in a Four B’s Restaurant and sat across from each other in a red vinyl booth. We had enough money between us for a short stack of buckwheat pancakes. A few morning papers were delivered to the front door, and we worked our way through the crossword puzzle, coffee cups between our hands.
Matthew Mahon[dropcap]The[/dropcap] sun came up, and we emerged from Four B’s to discover a warm chinook blowing in. Already the eaves were weeping, icicles thinning on trees and telephone wires. This is what Montana does in midwinter: clears off and gets bitter cold, and then suddenly it’s as warm and exhilarating as Easter morning. Don’t believe it for a minute, you tell yourself as the streets turn into trout streams, but the sheer pleasure of the feeling makes a fool of you. You forget your scarf and mittens on a hook behind the door. You know it’s still winter, but that’s just what you know; the chinook is what you believe in.
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The bear held my hand inside his coat pocket as we walked in silence back to the parking lot to meet my company’s bus. Before he kissed me, he asked me if I was ready. Ready for what I have no idea, but ready is how I felt. I was stricken with readiness. Humbled by it.
“I hope you have a wonderful life,” I told him.
“You too,” he replied before nodding stiffly and walking away.
The bus lumbered through the slush and labored over the mountains to a fading Highline town where we were booked to play a quaintly shabby old opera house. The guy at the box office immediately pegged me as a party girl who’d been up all night and invited me to go to the bar next door for a hair of the dog before the show, but I could not for the life of me remember why that used to sound like fun.
Later that evening, as I did my shtick out on the foot-lit stage, I heard the bear’s distinctive baritone laughter from somewhere in the audience. After the show, he was waiting for me by the door. I didn’t bother asking him how he’d gotten there. He didn’t bother asking me where I wanted to go.
I can’t endorse the idea of love at first sight, but maybe there are moments when God or fate or some cosmic sense of humor rolls its eyes at two stammering human hearts and says, “Oh, for crying out loud.” I married the bear a few months later in a meadow above his tiny cabin in the Bridger Mountains. We weren’t exempted from any of the hard work a long marriage demands, but for better or worse, in sickness and in health, that moment of unguarded, chinook-blown folly has somehow lasted 30 years.
We laugh. We read. I do dishes; he bakes bread. Every morning, we work through the daily crossword puzzle. Our daughter, Jerusha, and son, Malachi Blackstone (named after his great-grandfather and an island in Chesapeake Bay) tell us we are agonizingly dull.
We listen to their 20-something diatribes and smile.
Joni Rodgers is the author of the bestselling memoir Bald in the Land of Big Hair.
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