Around this time last year, my daughter and I drove around one of my old neighborhoods on our way to my mother's grave. The neighborhood had changed drastically, yet the main structures were still there: the house where I spent my teenage years and the high school which I attended. Both the house and high school still shared the same wrought iron fence. Memories of me being a chronic, tardy student came to mind; it never mattered that I was the student that literally lived closest to the school, I was always late, only getting up when I would hear the school's morning bell go off.
The high school was still the same, a massive building surrounded by hilly, green, lush lawns in the front and a track in the back. This is where I met my husband. I was sixteen at the time and he seventeen. I took my daughter through my memory lane pointing to the side door where her father used to exit waiting for me to pass by so he could say hello; something that made this shy girl a bit uncomfortable. I knew him to be gregarious and a guy all the girls seemed to like. I knew this and so had no interest. We were out of each other's leagues and I was never going to be one of the girls he always seemed to be surrounded by, confident girls whose social graces exceeded mine, girls who conversed easily, appeared comfortable in their own skins, and seemed more interesting, prettier. It didn't matter that my heart fluttered each time I saw him, as far as I was concerned, he was someone who would never be interested in me. I don't know if it was my shyness or my indifference that were the contributing factors, but the more he failed to connect with me, the more he became interested and pursued. We were a challenge to each other for different reasons.
Then one day I accepted his request to walk me home from a mutual friend's house. It was an hour or so away so I was a little hesitant because I didn’t know whether I could pull off an hour’s conversation without awkwardness interfering. Instead, the walk seemed to have ended too quickly for the both of us and our conversation turned out to be effortless and enjoyable. Once at my doorstep when he went to kiss me goodbye, yet the kiss turned out to be more of a non-kiss than anything else. Mortified I rushed inside. The next day with no desire to go to school but unable to pull off a feigned illness mother would buy, I had no choice but to go through the embarrassment of facing him. Yet, he acted as if nothing had ever happened and continued being his usual self until one day I realized I had feelings for him. I now looked forward to seeing him every day but still believed nothing would ever materialize because I was not your typical high school girl. I had an overprotective mother who kept me on a short tether and adding my inherent shyness and bookwormish ways into the mix, I thought I was the last person any guy would want to date. Yet he found me interesting and fun to hang with, as I did him.
Eventually he mustered the courage to ask me out and I got the courage to accept. We became inseparable and talked and laughed each day until the midnight hour learning much of each other, not knowing then that we were laying the groundwork for a long, loving life together. We explored the boroughs, went to the city several times a week to catch movies on the big screens, went on long hikes, had lunches and dinners at diners several times a week, visited museums, went to fairs, the beach, the boardwalk, and to parks to play handball against each other. We cocooned ourselves from others and it was just him and I and we loved it. Several years later - four to be exact - when we were both in college, we finally took the step to the next level. With the foundation of friendship, trust and love solidly in place, we were now adults wanting to feel and express adult love and so this other form of love expression felt very natural and felt very much like home.
Fast forward thirty-seven years and he still holds my heart. His is the last face I want to see each night and the first I like to see each morning when I wake. When he travels and we are not together, we are both out of our element. We still hold hands, kiss and hug every day and enjoy the comfort we find in each other. I still make him laugh until he can't breathe and he still has a hard time letting go. I still tell him he's handsome and has the softest lips that I can never get enough of, and he still calls me his security blanket and tells me I'm the smartest girl he's ever known.
When my daughter drove the car around the school's perimeter that day, my eyes welled. The memory of a young couple besotted, of innocent love living life in these places before me, hit me with such force that I was unprepared for the maelstrom of emotions that followed. I saw his young face again, the ways his eyes lit whenever he saw me, the wink and smile that always followed with his "hey there beautiful" greeting, the way he'd look at me that made me feel as if he was looking right into the depths of my soul. I saw the lawns of our old school where we would lay at night to look up at the stars and talk of dreams, astronomy and anything that came to mind while holding hands and every so often turning towards to each other, looking into each other's eyes and not being able to withstand the feeling of not kissing and so conversations would be interrupted by long, wet kisses that sated emotions held inside. I saw the house where I spent my teenage years, the house where I first introduced him to my parents. We drove by the park with the pond where he and I would spend many of our times as well.
I was overcome by memories of him, the only person who has ever truly known the real me. I saw all of this and my heart welled, my eyes welled with emotions I couldn't contain. My daughter sensing this, squeezed my hand in recognition. The memory of being young and in love. A wish that we could go back in time for one day to experience our young selves again under the blanket of night, under the monstrous moon, looking up at the sky and spending the night talking and laughing like we had done on so many occasions, feeling that innocent love just one more time. And when I got home I saw the young boy now a man in his 50s, the creases of life outlining the kind eyes, his full head of hair now peppered with white strands that make him look even more handsome, his smile still the same, yet the love between us stronger. I hugged and kissed him because at the moment, after all those memories experienced, I had missed him so. And I often wonder how you can be with someone all of your life and still manage to miss them; something he asks of himself the same. I sat down and told him of my detoured excursion. We spoke of our courting years, reminiscing, laughing, all the while him denying ever being besotted, all the while him unable to let go of my hand, all the while tears welling at the edges of my eyes for the love I feel for him and how fortunate and blessed we have been.