(This post is for Gene (Hoss) and his sweetie. Because I have just a glimmer of how much he loves her.)
Do you remember that feeling you had when, newly in love, you saw the first chink in the armor, the first petal fell off the rose? Before I met Rich I "fell" in love a couple times, mostly on the basis of that weirdness we refer to as "chemistry" which seems to run the gamut from out and out lust to some kind of google-y eyed infatuation.
I had one brief love affair that consisted of talking on the phone all night long, night after night, to a fellow college student. It was 1968, I was 17 and he was an older man (20); we were attending college in the inner city of Detroit and I had my own apartment in a marginal neighborhood but he lived right there, on the Cass corridor of Detroit and he didn’t have a phone. So he would use the pay phone booth in one of the classroom buildings and many a night he got locked in long after the cleaning folks had finished up and turned off the lights because he was sitting down on the floor of the booth talking softly to me. The funny thing is I have no idea what we talked about. None. We did not talk about sex, I know that. We did not talk about stone flies or Big Weather, two things that interest me now. Whatever, that only lasted about a month before I got tired. Literally. And then he didn’t seem as captivating as the idea of a good night’s sleep.
The father of my children- now that was chemistry. Oh, it was hot, it was exciting, it was funny. So when these little red flags popped up, almost immediately, I just snatched those babies up and stuffed them out of sight. Some things were so amusing they added to the attraction but I wasn’t considering that certain behaviors wouldn’t age well. Like taking the plates off a car and leaving it next to a fire hydrant to be towed and sold at auction rather than pay all those outrageous and unjust parking tickets.
A couple guys I spent a considerable amount of time with because they were nice.
That’s all-nice. And, frankly, that’s a lot. There were a couple times in my life when what I needed was a nice man to be my friend, my companion. One of these, in particular, was the best roommate I ever had. But back then you couldn’t have a roommate of the opposite sex- that was called "living in sin" even if there was NO chemistry. Which there wasn’t. Ah, well.
Ed, my friend who died recently, was one very tall neon sign flashing, "This guy is nuts. NOT PARTNER MATERIAL. STEP AWAY." But I didn’t. I walked into that, knowing full well he was a disaster, already happening, but I loved him anyway and I’m glad I did but leaving him was one of my biggest heartbreaks. I did it because I believed I still might find a healthy, loving, nice, sexy, smart, funny person to spend my life with. I had no idea where, but I thought it might be possible. And, at 50, I realized I better get on it.
That brings me to Rich. When I met him I was both so ready and so cautious that I was hyper-alert to every innuendo, every nuance of our new relationship. Oh, I fell heavy in love alright. The chemistry was there. And so was the kindness, the humor, the intelligence, the values. All there. So a big part of me was saying, "This is it. He is the one." And a small part of me was rooting around for red flags, just waiting for that first little siren of alarm, looking for the chink in his armor.
And I didn’t find it. Weeks went by and nothing. He didn’t belch, he didn’t fart, (at least I didn’t think he did. His primary faults are nighttime flaws- the farting and snoring goes on at night so they weren’t immediately obvious because we were both being careful not to rush headlong into things.) He didn’t drink too much, he didn’t have simmering anger at women in his past and he was very clean and neat. He was mature and thoughtful about his spiritual and moral life.
He was a true gentleman, he held (and still does) doors, took turns choosing restaurants and movies, loved his children and lived it by raising them. He liked mine from the beginning and was more than happy to fall in love with them. He wasn’t in debt and he was successful in his work. All those areas where you often go, "uh-oh, this could be a problem" and then quickly make an excuse or push it away: Rich came up clean. No red flags. Heaven only knows what the love of my life was seeing- and kindly overlooking- in me.
And so, we fell in love. Deeply, solidly, with friendship and laughter, we fell in love. This was in early Spring, the best time. That October I traveled with Rich to Maui where he always gives the keynote speech at the sponsor’s meeting for the Nissan Xterra Triathlon World Championship. And it was my birthday to boot! Talk about heaven on earth! I was there. Ocean and sand and fish and hotel luxury and handsome triathletes and great food and mai-tais and the man I love. Yeow!
For the first two of six days, Rich was focused on business. He takes his work very seriously. How he conveys himself, what he says and communicates is important. For me, this was the heretofore biggest lark of my lifetime.
The first morning we went down to breakfast prior to his heading off to his big meeting. We sat in beautiful open air seating and had fresh pineapple and macadamia nut waffles. I could not open my eyes wide enough or breathe deeply enough to capture the beauty of this place. And, soon, two tiny birds hopped onto our table and added to my delight. I gave them tiny crumbs of waffle and, happily, two more came. And Rich said, "Don’t do that." "Hmm?" "DON’T DO THAT."
A new tone I’d never heard. A new look of stern anger. "What’s wrong?"
"Look at the sign. It says, Please do not feed the birds. DON’T DO IT!"
"But that’s ridiculous!" I protested. And I went on feeding the birds. And enjoying it. Rich got really, really smoldering red-in-the-face (red like a flag) angry. And the madder he got the more I went on feeding the birds. He hissed at me about rules, about disrespect, about not caring that his colleagues might see and so forth. And the more he did the more I thought- and said- you are ridiculous, none of your colleagues care if I feed the birds, no one is noticing, you can’t tell me what to do (always a classic) and I’ll feed the birds if I want to.
This was our first fight. It was also our first encounter with the dregs of each other’s past. His military and stern upbringing and mine. He was his father and I was damn well not going to be intimidated by mine. It was a terrible fight and it ruined two days in paradise. And at one point I thought, "this is the deal breaker."
Over feeding the birds.
Rich is in Hawaii right now on business; it’s a short hard trip with a fast turn around and no time for pleasure. We go again in October, for our fourth time together, to Maui. For the fourth time I will get to snorkel, bask in the sun, eat my birthday dinner at Mama’s Fish House and, if I want, feed the birds. But I won’t do it at the breakfast table.
When Rich travels I always say, "bring me a present." This is code for, "swipe the luxury hotel toiletries so I can give them to the kids and the homeless." I really like hotel soap and he travels enough that we keep the kids AND the shelter in fairly good supply. Yesterday I got this e-mail from him and because it made me feel so good I wanted to share it with you:
To: "Vicki Bennett" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Here is my gift to you…
Date: Tue, 13 Sep 2005 13:12:52 -0400
The flights were hard, but not impossible. I can see the difference in having First Class now though. I survived it well – other than my feet were swollen at the end of the day and that has never happened. maybe it was because I wore sandals.
This morning I was up at 5 local time and went for a nice run. Then I called you. Then I went and showered and went downstairs to the open air cafe for a roll and coffee. It was pretty quiet. I was eating my roll when this truly beautiful bird joined me on the table, walked right up to my plate and just sat there like Sophie until I fed it by hand. I thought the whole time this isn’t fair, it should be you, not me. Then I remembered our first visit to Maui and you feeding the birds. How silly of me. I am so sorry I get that way. I know it is my father’s genes.
Anyway, here is what I saw…
Much much love…