Almost Twenty

I was standing in the dormitory hall, chatting absent-mindedly with my next-door neighbor, a Chem major from a town I’d never heard of in a state I’ll probably never visit. New in town myself and on my own for the very first time, I was always a little nervous, guarded and yet simultaneously fueled by that inexplicable bravado of abject youth. With more tomorrows than yesterdays, life still felt like an adventure in the making. I was a ledger with perilously few entries, ready to be inscribed with the credit-debit ratio cycle of independent adulthood.

As my neighbor described in his customary ad nauseum his latest and mostly imaginary romantic conquest, I saw the expression on his face shift slightly. A furrowed, furtive glance lifted my eyes with his. I straightened and turned slowly, as if pulled to attention by his sudden lack of it. But, I smelled her before I even saw her.

A gliding bouquet of delicate, but verdant perfume, she wore an outsized, black and white pinstriped shirt over impossibly sculpted black stretch leggings. Pulled and piled into something between a samurai’s topknot and a dancer’s bun, her hair cleanly presaged her iron-fist-in-a-lacy-glove personality. Dark doe eyes sparkled aggressively as they damn near bored through me. I inhaled both audibly and involuntarily as the intensity of twin diamond-tipped drills dug deeply into my ever-flimsier façade of cool. “Nice shirt,” was all she said. I had to look down to see what she meant because the velvet chirp of her voice had made me forget I was even wearing any clothes at all.

I focused just enough to remember my favorite, the tattered white tee with the swivel-hipped Mod girl, fully mid-skank to The English Beat’s iconic I Just Can’t Stop It. Purchased three years and as many thousands of miles away on Eighth Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, it was now more of a well-worn symbolic armor against the surfers, preps, and hippies I found myself bobbing amongst and against, awash and alone in that swirling social sea of a UC Berkeley dorm. It reminded me of who I was and where I was from. Little did I realize that it was now also a passport into what I would soon become. “I love that band,” she fairly bubbled, and then just as effervescently, she was gone.

Visibly dazed, I barely heard the mildly misogynistic huzzahs of my well-intentioned but painfully naïve neighbor. To him, and a sad many of my compatriot nerds, merely getting a girl to speak to you called for hearty congratulations. As cool as I thought as was in relative comparison, I was still an intensely introverted Bio dork who had the buffer of continental distance paired with the looming specter of Big City cool to laud however falsely over my pimpled peers. Yet, in that second, I was a raw nerve exposed by the pretty young physician’s probing. Prognosis positive, I spent the next two weeks finding out who she was, with whom she ran, and peering through a patchwork of holes in the myriad fences of culture and context separating us.

It was as if I had just received orders for a secret mission, regiments shipping out immediately. I had to know her. More than post-pubescent obsession, I held in my mind’s bespectacled eye nothing less than a serenely manifest destiny. Sometimes, you just know, you know? Months later, she was “my” girl, even though I had little idea of who had truly gained possession. Today, over two decades of that first day’s future has so quickly passed, catapulting us headlong into the sweetened now of home and family, further emblazoned by the approach of yet another anniversary. There were certainly bumps. Huge ones, indeed.

There are bruises that have hardened into scars, permanent reminders of the entirely ephemeral nature of life itself. We’ve broken up and gotten back together so often I’ve lost count in self-defense. Eventually, we got married and nearly divorced. We have even made another human to eat our food, direct our love, and test our collective strength as individuals and pair. And, I can finally say I wouldn’t trade one tiny bit of it, pain and all.

She is the linchpin of my existence. For better and worse, I can say that I’ve never loved her more than I do right now, almost twenty years from the day we married. Call me tomorrow and I’ll probably feel differently. I might be angry/frustrated/sad, yet only to cycle back eventually to another, ever-changing brand of happy. No emotion of mine ever seems permanent, but I’ve learned the hardest way that they still can’t be ignored. If I am flawed, so too will be my love. And that’s okay. Every day is new and so am I. So are we.