Tuesday, September 21, 2010


We are 18 and for the first time in both our lives, hundreds of miles from home. College, possibility, fear and ignorance are in abundance and yet somehow we find one another here; in the cafeteria, fumbling and stumbling through awkward glances, hello, and yet within days we grow a connection rare, magnetic, perfectly innocent, and yet among the most powerful I recall having in 36 years.

Him: six plus feet of olived-toned, chiseled-cut strength; the kind that comes not just from pushing weights for sport but also from moving dirt, working the land.  His eyes alternate between sparkles and dancing and a steady, stalwart stare and for the first time in my life I realize what it means to have someone gaze so intently at me that they peer straight through, taking with my words.  He plays football and he plays it admirably well and yet his personality plays perfectly to the polar opposite of each my well-crafted stereotypes.  He is thoughtful and contemplative, intellectual and intense, yet at the same time has a perfect undercurrent of calm: he is as gentle and refreshing as salt water from ocean waves rolling freely over my feet, pulling the sand free from between curled toes.

We protect our hearts by claiming loves with others hundreds of miles in opposite directions, and it is likely these commitments allow our friendship to blossom more innocently, purely than it would otherwise.  Our bond is not unlike the determined lone Spring tulip, bursting, unbridled, pure beauty through a pile of dirty snow.

We spend as many hours walking around in shared silence as we do chatting one another's ears off, fishing, laying at opposite ends of my dorm bed, legs tangled, listening to mixed cassete tapes, debating bands' finer points, our respective dreams of travel, adventure, escape. His hands are massive, strong and calloused, like they hold secrets of a man much older, and yet they are soft enough to draw a perfect portrait or massage my feet.

A year later, when I leave there, I swear he is all I will miss.  We wrap one another up in a huge hug, say goodbye with one promise now irrevocably broken: stay in touch.


17 years later, we say hello, a second time. We are 35 and for reasons both our own, we live back near our respective homes, 350 some miles apart.  Determination, tattered hearts, death, space, age related realism, and yet shared flashes of an eternal hope are in abundance now and somehow we find one another perfectly imperfect yet again; in the street in front of his house, fumbling through a huge hug that feels like coming home, 20 seconds of heart thumping awkward small talk, and then immediately the sweet calm of the unchanged, familiar, and so Goddamned refreshing.

Her: thousands and thousands of miles of adventure, road trips, stories, books, concerts, athletic pursuits, loves claimed and lost, and an 11 year old boy; and yet living in the dark shadow cast by her greatest failing to date; an inability to retain a day's peace with a man she once laughed with, loved, for the sole benefit of their child.    

Him: a dream realized and then slipped away, a recalibrating and resetting of newfound dreams, a digging in and then out of the land and home he's always had. Adventures dotted with laborious work, a new home, and a business he built with his own determined hands, and then tragedy, tears, and a gaping hole of loss he can never hope to refill or cobble back together despite an unfailing commitment, desire to do so.

We spend hours watching football, sharing beers, plates full of meatballs, crackers and cheese and then we drive around chatting one another's ears off, frantically and hilariously filling in, the in-between.  We stare at one another and then burst out laughing when we realize the time passed is equivalent to our age when we last saw one another and then lament in somewhat surprised seriousness at the ease and familiarity of it still.  We share the highlight reel of triumphs, glimpses of the tragedies and then, the smack-in-your-face reality of knowing we both could have been better off, had we been around to catch one another's falls.

When I leave this time, a few hours later, we don't make promises; instead he smiles, brushes the hair from my forehead and kisses me lightly there and then he wraps me in that huge, strong, familiar embrace.  I allow myself to linger a very long time in that perfectly safe space between his pecks, breathing all of him in, grateful, thankful, relieved, exhausted, and yet giddy and completely calm, and I listen for the sound of his heart.

***words + photo by me.

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