The first time I noticed her my heart started racing. I was going over the plans for the production design for a show with the director when suddenly my heart started running a million miles a minute. I looked around and could not figure out what was happening, I asked him if my color was OK, that I felt funny and my heart was racing and he replied, that it was probably just the pretty young stage manager who had walked up while we were working. My heart rate slowed to normal and I laughed it off. A few minutes later this young lady who I had never noticed before approached us again and my heart skipped a beat and started racing again, at that point I decided that maybe I ought to take a closer look…
I had been single for a few years and had pretty well settled into a routine that kept me focused on work and not relationships. Which is funny, because I am not a good loner. I dated my high school sweetheart from our sophomore year in high school till our sophomore year in college. We were “that” couple in high school, the ones who were always together who you expected to get married as soon as they graduated. But we were smarter than that and headed off to different colleges on opposite sides of the state, for a while we tried coming home every weekend to be together, but slowly involvement in school and our social lives made us begin to resent having to miss weekends with our new friends and we slowly began to grow apart. We eventually parted as friends, which I promptly and selfishly messed up. We met again years later, as adults, and I am happy to say that she is now one of my and my wife’s dearest friends. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to love this woman twice, in two completely different ways. Most of what I learned about true love I learned from her and it is a debt I cannot repay. After a couple of failed relationships at school I met the woman who would teach me how to love without jealousy, although that was a long and painful road, and it would take me years to recognize the gift she gave me. We were passionate and wild and I was fiercely jealous and possessive of her. We lived together for a couple of years and found ourselves in that place where I felt like we had to either get married or part forever. We were in a rocky patch, but I knew that if we took the plunge that things would work themselves out, so I went and got the ring. We spoke that afternoon and decided to meet for breakfast the next day. I was up half the night worrying, trying to decide if I was really ready to “be an adult”. Early the next morning, I stuck the ring in my pocket and headed over to her place ready to pop the question, only she was not home. As I was leaving she pulled into the drive, so we went in and she told me she had been out with friends from work and had stayed at one of their houses. I jokingly asked if she got lucky and she turned and looked at me and said, “As a matter of fact, I did”. So there I was standing in the kitchen, ring in my pocket and heart on the floor. I said some unkind things, left her place and climbed into a bottle of whiskey and pills, where I stayed for a while. Sometimes blessings are so well-disguised that you curse them.
The thing I feared more than anything had happened and my world came crashing down. Having to deal with infidelity was more than my ego could take and my self-esteem plummeted. I had built it up in my mind as the worst thing that could happen, so it was. I found myself alone for the first time since I was 15 and I was decidedly not good at it. My whole self-worth was tied up in being half of a dashing couple and I was well and truly lost. I spent the next three or four years, emotionally shut-off from the world, hiding from any hint of vulnerability, usually in a bottle or my work. They were good productive years and pouring my soul into creative work was incredibly rewarding and incredibly empty at the same time. Near the end of that time I met an incredible woman whose true friendship showed me a glimpse of the beauty of love without possession, and true to the story our paths crossed, we walked together for a short time and then we parted, forever changed.
So it was with a renewed hope for life and a sense of contentment that I found myself watching that young stage manager walking away. I was actually pretty happy to be single, I was finally enjoying it, but my heart had played a trick on me and made me notice this girl. So I kept my eye on her and tried to make friends as best I could. I had planned to just do the design work and walk away from the show, but then I volunteered to hang around and help with the build and instead of hiring an artist to do the painting and aging, I volunteered to do that for free too. Anything to stay connected with the production and try to get to know this girl better. For the record, she was polite and we had a good working relationship, but that was as far as it went. So as opening night loomed, I talked my buddy, the director, into adding another, totally superfluous, spotlight, which I volunteered to operate for the run of the show on the condition that it be placed in the main lighting booth with her. Naturally, having to work closely with her in the booth warmed up our conversations some until I felt confident enough to make my, oh so suave, move.
One night after the show, I asked if we could talk for a few minutes, you see I had a problem and I hoped she could help me. I was sort of interested in one of the girls working on the show, but I was nervous about asking her out to dinner. I explained that since they were all college age I wasn’t sure if they would be interested in an old guy like me. To clarify, I was a positively ancient 27. Since she knew all the girls, I wanted her to let me know if the object of my desires was single and likely to respond well if I asked them out. We talked about several girls in the cast till I finally cut to the chase and told her that the girl I wanted to ask out was her. That quieted her for a moment, and after some thought she told me that she was indeed single and that she would say yes, if I were to ask her out to dinner. I quickly told her thank you for the information and strolled away, confident that I was being dashing and charming. So I let a week pass before I actually asked her if she would like to join me for dinner that weekend. She replied promptly, with a resounding “No”. I was flabbergasted, but I thanked her and left, quietly recalling Aesop’s Fox and Grapes to myself. That weekend I dreaded having to do the show, since there was nothing to gain, but there I was, sullenly manning my post. During the post show hang-out this young lady strode confidently up to the table and informed me that she would like a word in private. We stepped outside and she apologized for saying no the week before, but she had a couple of questions for me. Since this was outside a theatre let’s recreate this moment as a dramatic dialogue:
Act I, Scene 3
Exterior Street Scene, Night, by the Stage Door
(Brad and Laura enter)
Laura: How old do you think I am?
Brad: I don’t know, your in college, 23, 24?
Laura: I’m a freshman, I’m 18.
(Brad gulps quietly and tries to hide his surprise, poorly)
Laura: I did not think you knew. I understand if you don’t want to go to dinner, but if…(trails off)
Brad: (Recovering, thinks to himself, that he does not want to hurt her feelings and that it is just a dinner, but that she is way too young for him and that he must be some kind of fool for asking her out in the first place, I mean for Christ’s sake when she was born Reagan was already in office, but replies coolly) Of course, I would love to have dinner with you.
Laura: Ok, this Friday?
Brad: Sure, thanks.
(Both exit left)
I was panicking a little, but I figure, what the hell, I’ll take her out for dinner, try to show her a nice, but respectful good time and then never see her again. Our dinner turned into a day of running errands followed by a couple of Subway sandwiches in the theatre green room, not too romantic, but something must have worked, because we have had dinner together nearly every night since then. That is the thing about the heart, sometimes it knows even when your eyes are too blind to see. A racing heart led to a fumble-fingered courtship and a few years later I am on one knee under the statue of Dionysus in the National Cathedral in DC, asking this incredible woman to spend the rest of her life with me. I am happy to report that she was foolish enough to say yes and on October 5th of the following year we had a fairy tale wedding and we are doing one hell of a job of living happily ever after.
From our honeymoon on the wild shores of Western Ireland, we have continued a journey together, always looking for adventure and the beauty along the way. Whether we are backpacking in the mountains, working in our garden, playing silly games with friends, walking the streets of the great cities or just lying quietly on the beach, I know I have a true partner for this life. I love her more than I ever imagined I was capable of and I love her because we do not own each other, we are two independent spirits who have chosen to walk together and to care for each other. I used to pay lipservice to the idea of a soul mate, but I do not know if I really believed it, I wanted it to be true, but now I know that it is. I have found the person I was meant to be with and I am more blessed than I deserve to be.
So this Valentine’s Day this is my gift to you, my love. I give you all of the night’s lying alone in the dark wondering if I would ever find you. I give you the joys and the pains of my life before you, the years of learning to love someone other than myself and to give that love without worrying about what I got in return. I give you the heart that was broken so many times before, knowing that it was only broken to be reassembled as a more perfect vessel to hold my love for you. So never forget, babe,
I don’t regret the rain
Or the nights I felt the pain
Or the tears I had to cry
Some of those times along the way
Every road I had to take
Every time my heart would break
It was just something that I had to get through
To get me to you.