We grew up in the same zip code. Similar suburban, dead-end streets. Went to the same elementary school: an old red brick building with a sunken, dirt-yard playground. He was two years older, already in sixth grade when they moved us to the new school so that the old one could be torn down to make way for a big new movie theater (with six screens, no less). I don’t remember him from those years, but we remember the same places, the same people, similar experiences.
Actually, I don’t remember exactly how I first learned of him. It seems I knew his name long before I ever fixed it with a face. I do, however, remember when I first saw him.
I was in middle school. He was in high school, a freshman. He lived across the street from one of my very best girlfriends, Laura. On this day, I was riding the bus home with Laura after school. The middle school and high school, as they were across the street from one another, shared buses, which meant he was on that bus.
I have no idea what he said to me that day, but I remember he smiled at me. A warm friendly smile, punctuated by the best dimples I have ever seen. He was gorgeous. I think I swooned. I feel certain I giggled and blushed under the light of his glance (I was a middle school girl, after all).
Three years later. I am a sophomore. He is a senior.
We had, of course, crossed paths in those three years. He was a lifeguard briefly at my neighborhood swimming pool. Summer nights I would often walk down to the baseball field to see my brother play, hang out in the stands, see who I could see. He was often there. My brother, one year older than I, even worked with him in the kitchen at IHOP. I would look for his blue car in the parking lot.
My sophomore year, we came close to…well, I don’t know where it would have gone. Maybe a date, maybe not.
I was with my girlfriend, Karen, at a football game. Karen & I weren’t interested in the games, really, but like most high school girls, went anyway for the social life. Looking for a place in the stands, we squeezed through the crowd and found enough room right next to…him. And his friend, Ken. Karen, luckily, wanted to flirt with Ken. I remember my face hurt from smiling so much that night. I laughed. I flirted. I tossed my hair. I probably even batted my eyelashes. At one point, he noticed I was shivering and offered me his letter jacket. I’m not sure if the shivering was from cold or nervousness, but I took the jacket nonetheless, snuggled into the scent of it, the scent of him. Maybe he’d give me a ride home (I was always needing a ride back then, not being quite old enough to drive, and my brother being reluctant to drag his little sister along). Maybe we’d stop at Godfather’s Pizza and hang out first. Maybe this would lead to something.
It wasn’t to be—this time. He left in the last quarter to go to the concession stand and stayed away a while. He was talking to some other girl. I needed to find my brother for a ride, so I left the jacket with Ken and went on.
Of course, we saw each other again, flirted often. He was an announcer with his friend, Tim, at basketball games that year. I sat near them sometimes with my friend Dana and tried my best to get his attention.
That spring, we passed each other daily in the science hall. He started making a point of saying “Hello.” I made a point of being there at just the right time to see him. “Hi Wesley,” he would say, and flash me that dazzling, dimpled smile. Even when I was dating someone else, I looked forward to those brief moments in the hall when he would smile at me.
As the year came to a close, my boyfriend broke up with me (right before prom no less) and I was feeling pretty down. But there were those exchanges in the hall. I looked forward to them. I knew he was just being nice, but I loved the way he singled me out for his warm greeting. One day he stopped me and, in a teasingly hurt tone, said, “Wesley, how come you haven’t let me sign your yearbook?” I was flustered, surprised that he would even want to sign it. I gave it to him, wondering what he could ever write to someone like me.
When he gave it back I couldn’t wait to read it. It was the most amazing thing. He wrote that he felt cheated, having only been left a small corner of a page. He wrote that he had always thought I was a beautiful (!) and unique person. That he had always wanted to get to know me better. That he hoped he would see me over the summer and that we would be able to get together. I couldn’t believe it. I read it over and over. It was the best yearbook autograph ever.
Of course, we didn’t see each other that summer. He went off to college. I stayed behind in high school and eventually, I, too, went to college—just 15 miles down the road from his.
My freshman year in college. I was home for one of my breaks and stopped at a Sub Station II with my friend, Meg, for some lunch. He walked in. With his girlfriend. They looked like brother and sister they were so alike. I was nervous, seeing him. I didn’t know if I should say anything. If I did, would he even know me? As I struggled to get the nerve to speak, I heard him say, “Wesley, do you remember me?” I drew in a breath. Of course I remembered him. I smiled, spoke…something. We parted and I thought about him for days.
Life went on. I struggled at college, and finally, after my third year, dropped out. I dated. I met a man who said he wanted to marry me and went to work at an arts and crafts gallery for the Christmas season to get the money to move to Texas
When he wandered by the counter, I spoke his name. “Do you remember me?” He did. He smiled that way I remembered. His eye danced. We spoke for a while. I told him of my plans to move to Texas
That spring, my friend Laura graduated from college. She went to work at a technology company in South Carolina
I found out my boyfriend was still married. We broke up. I went to work for an eye doctor, who set me up with one of his friends, a salesman twelve years my senior. This one turned out to be an alcoholic jerk, extremely jealous and controlling of my every move. One summer, I finally had enough of him and tried to break it off. He cried and begged. I realized I would need to move away to be free of this guy. As I made plans to move to Raleigh
My friend Jeannette was to be married that fall and, in August, we held a shower in her honor. The jerk I was dating happened to have an event with his golf buddies in the same building as the shower. He, of course, went to the golf event instead of meeting my friends. It didn’t matter, I was sick of him. I was miserable. I spent the afternoon pouring my woes out to Laura and her boyfriend, Mike. Laura casually mentioned…him—her former neighbor and coworker. He had been laid off and moved to Florida
I couldn’t believe it. They had been together for several years. They looked just right for each other. I found myself saying to Laura and Mike, “There’s one person I would jump at the chance to go out with.” I told them how I had always had a crush on him, how I figured he would marry that girl, how I wished for the chance to see him again, just once. Oh well, he was in Florida
The day I left to move to Raleigh
I packed the car and realized I hadn’t told my friends what I was doing. I called Laura. “That’s interesting,” she said. “Guess who else is moving to Raleigh Florida
I moved. My former roommate became my roommate again. I found a job at a gourmet grocery, making gift baskets. I made new friends. I fielded calls from the jerk. I told him it was over.
One day my mom called. “Something interesting just happened.” My mother worked as the administrative assistant to the superintendent of the local school system and on that day she received a faxed request for high school records. It was meant for another person in the same office building, but came out at my mother’s desk. It was from him. My high school crush, Laura’s neighbor. It contained his phone number and address in graduate school. In Raleigh
I held onto the number. Looked at it often. He wouldn’t want to hear from me, I reasoned. But I couldn’t throw it away. One Saturday evening I was off work, my roommate was on a date, and I sat, holding the phone number in my hands. “Why not?” I thought. I considered what I would say, rehearsed the tone. Finally, I dialed the number. It rang. A machine picked up. Of course. It was Saturday night. He was probably on a date. What was I thinking? How desperate was I going to appear, calling him on a Saturday night?
I hung up without leaving a message. I put the number away and tried not to think about him. Maybe we would run into each other out one night.
Fortunately, Laura and Mike took matters in their own hands.
Their old gang was pairing off, for keeps. At the first of several weddings, they started working on him. They told him I was in Raleigh
A week or so later, he called me. We talked for three hours. Three days after that call, he picked me up for dinner. When I answered the door and he smiled at me, my knees shook.
Four years after that, atop a mountain, he asked me to marry him. I said, “Yeah.”
We were married May 16, 1998
May 16, 1998