It was as if every wish I had made in childhood for a hole in the ground to open up and rescue me had been answered in reverse …
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I bear a scar from the first Valentine’s Day that I had a reason to celebrate as Valentine’s Day, as a part of a couple.
Until my last relationship, my romantic history was a long walk alone in an empty field, punctuated by moments in which I interrupted someone else’s walk, attempted to try a relationship, and discovered that I try people’s patience instead. (All the women I have dated are brilliant and accomplished and I was lucky to get to know them; I was stuck at age 15 for an astonishingly long time, however.)
My love right now, my soul mate, Jen, is quite brilliant and accomplished, and for the first time in my life, four-plus years now, I am an equal partner and have opened myself up to having an equal partner. Not too bad for a 48-year-old 15-year-old.
One Valentine’s Day, the one that hit with warning on February 14, 1989, I was dressed up for the GQ cover that sat only in my mind. For the first time, I was not the friend without a date, I was dating someone, a fellow college student. She and I had not yet kissed, and yes that means I was 20 and still a virgin, but yes I had a date, and you know, why are you mathing up my life? It was probably more important to me that I was dating at all than who I was dating or the concept that this person might have an inner life that I could have an effect on, too.
Sadly, the only part of a GQ look that I could actually afford was a copy of GQ, so the only thing neatly pressed was whatever was beneath that Bible-thick copy of GQ in my backpack.
My ensemble that day consisted of:
The blazer: the only one I owned. A Herringbone, a three-button gray Herringbone from one of the finer Montgomery Ward lines, with one button elegantly worried loose through years of nervous playing with it. It was at least one size too large. I worked at a Montgomery Ward, so the price tag was what fit just right.
The pants: black, “dress pants,” creased, because that’s how they came and even age and use could not uncrease them.
The tie: I am wearing a tie and isn’t that enough?
The shoes: the only dress shoes I had ever owned, which I had by then outgrown, and which no longer had rubber completely covering their soles.
These shoes proved to be my outfit’s Achilles’ heel.
In my desire to get my debonair look as nervously “right” as anxiously possible, I wound up running late for my classes that February 14. So I drove to school dressed for that night’s Valentine’s date, arrived in my classroom building just in time for class, strode out of the elevator onto the freshly waxed linoleum, and fell hard. Everything on my person landed in a perfect 360 degrees around me. I did not know I had 360 things on me, but I did. I looked like I had been dropped from a very great height and crashed through the building’s roof and continued down to our second floor elevator bank.
It was as if every wish I had made in childhood for a hole in the ground to open up and rescue me had been answered in reverse.
I landed on my mouth. To this day, when I tell this story, I can not demonstrate how it is possible that slipping on my elderly right shoe’s rubber-less heel of all things could pitch me face-forward, but it did. I will spare you the graphic details. “Things” were not right with my “face.” I was not rushed to a hospital or doctor’s office, a cab was called for me instead by campus security (!) and we drove to an ER. The leisurely pace in reaction to my wildly injured face still perplexes me. My face did not pay my cab fare, either.
The cab did not wait for me, so with my lip stitched up—which is a scar that remains to this day on my face—I walked across the highway back to campus, thus adding a layer of dust to my ensemble. I held one single thought in my mind: PLEASE do not let me run into anyone I know, I MUST get to my car, which as a commuter student was my dorm room, and I MUST clean up in my car as best as I can. PLEASE do not let me run into anyone I know, like, oh, I don’t know, say, tonight’s Valentine’s date.
Of course, upon thinking this thought, the first person I saw on campus—an entire college campus!—was my date.
We had a lovely dinner-and-a-movie evening. Our first kiss remained in the future, for face-related reasons.
I will not go into any further romantic details about the intervening decades, but until now I have not come close to what I have now and it takes every damn day and night of dumb work through two-plus decades to accomplish that. It was worth it, though:
I am now one of those lucky many who has experienced love at first sight. And I know it is unique for each person who has experienced this. Just about five years ago, the moment I saw my love, Jen, a thought passed through my mind, just on the other side of being words, just a flicker of a thought: “She is going to be important to me.” That was all. I had no clue what any of it meant—”important” could have been anything; she could have lent me a five and that would have been pretty important to me at that time. But I knew that it was going to be a bigger story than that. “Important” is too small a word for what happened.
Every day since she said yes to me, she redefines “important.” One could insert the words, “Dear Jen,” at the top of everything I write.
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(This is a updated and re-written version of a column from February 14, 2015 which was re-visited in 2016.)
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