The view from where I’m standing would be impressive if I could open my eyes. ‘Why am I here? I must be crazy,’ I argue with myself. I shiver in the slight breeze even though the temperature is in the high 80s. Sound is muffled like I’m under water, but I’m not there yet.
I squeeze my eyes open; noises rush back to my ears. Kids of various ages are shouting. I hear laughter and a small child wailing. I’d like to wail too, but at 13 that would be hugely embarrassing. My knees are trembling when I hear my friend say something. I turn my head slightly and peer at her out of the corner of my eye.
“Are up going to jump?!” She says with alarm and a bit of junior high mortification in her voice. I shake my head and take a step back.
“You go first,” I say, barely audible.
She rolls her eyes and moves out of the way so a boy can launch himself into the air. I take the opportunity to step back and grab the blazing metal handrail. I try to act cool like I’m just hanging out, taking in the scene and my hand isn’t burning. I can’t imagine anyone believes me.
A couple of kids jump off the mile-high platform together. They’re laughing, screaming and making dying noises as their contorted faces disappear over the edge. I realize with a wave of embarrassment they’re making fun of me.
I’m slowing down the game. The object is to jump off the diving platform into the pool trying to get as close as possible to kids treading water – without hitting them. It’s a dangerous game. Adults would punish us for the stupidity of it; life guards would kick us out if they realized what we were doing. A bit of rebellion on a hot day in our boring small town lives.
Sue suggests we jump together. I sense she wants to get this over with; I’m seriously cramping her style. Since fifth grade, Sue’s been the curvy, popular girl. I think it must be hard to have to act grown-up just because your boobs sprouted faster than any of the rest of us. I’m lucky, I still look like I’m ten and boys mostly haven’t paid attention yet.
Sue needs to get her suit wet so her mom thinks she’s been swimming instead of hanging out behind the pool with the older boys. Jumping off the ten-foot-high platform is the coolest way to do that.
I hear kids treading water chanting, “Jump! Jump! Jump!”
I inch to the lip attempting nonchalance. I see several faces of kids I’ve known since kindergarten and a few I don’t. To stall, I act like I’m choosing my target. Then, I catch the eye of a boy I’ve never seen before. From my vantage, I can see his enormous round eyes and long eye lashes. His eyes are amazingly the same blue as the pool water he’s treading. When our eyes connect, I feel a jolt in my brain. It startles me.
I turn and ask Sue, she knows all the boys, “Who’s that guy over by the ladder?”
“Which one?” she says and scans the pool with her cool Farrah Fawcett hair ruffling in the gentle wind.
I tilt my head, I direct my eyes without pointing. Now, the kids in the water are chanting in unison. She smirks and rolls her eyes, “Him? He’s just my cousin, Greg. He’s weird.” Then she steps off the platform.
In a panic, I fling myself off the safety of the platform after her. Trying to look cool while holding my nose probably isn’t working. I hit the water a few feet from Greg hoping my swimsuit is intact when I pop out of the water in front of him. Trying to act like I’m not drowning as I gasp for air, I’m face-to-face with him as I surface. Our eyes meet and he says, “Took ya long enough!” and splashes water on my face as he swims away.
I’m mortified and thrilled at the same time.
I spend the rest of the afternoon sitting poolside with my feet in the water watching Greg do various tricks. Showing off, he flies off the low and high dives and flips from the dreaded platform with style and ease. I’m in awe at his comfort in the air and the water. I feel a pang of envy as he flirts with the tanned, female lifeguard across the pool.
I often replay that memory of Greg and try to figure out what God had in mind. It’s a silly question because I know God’s plan. Today is our 29th wedding anniversary.
We didn’t start dating that summer or for many summers after. Honestly, I rarely thought about Greg unless I happened to see him. He was a year ahead of me in school and our paths didn’t often cross.
The peculiarity was every time I did see him, in the hall at school, at church, on the baseball field, in the choir room, I got that same jolt in my brain when our eyes met. I dismissed it, tried to ignore it. I puzzled about it.
I lived the five years after our first meeting with the hopes, dreams, crushes and disappointments of a typical high school girl. I dated nice boys but each opportunity was short-lived, none of them were right. I wasn’t looking for a steady boyfriend. I had big plans to go to college, be a writer and have a career. I was getting out of town.
I enjoyed my high school freedom as I helped my friends through boyfriend spats, jealousy, pregnancy scares and general high school drama. I dated a couple of boys who wanted to be serious. They were disappointed at my indifference.
My dad was ecstatic when, as a pompon girl, I began dating the senior football player/state wrestling champion. I was less than ecstatic. We had some fun together and he was very caring, but our relationship didn’t have that jolt.
I was relieved when he had to leave for college football practice shortly after graduation. It was my opportunity to give him his college freedom. I encouraged him to sow his wild oats. He was baffled and hurt.
I partied my way through my senior year. Concerts, parties, my high school classes were mostly a breeze. Still a member of the pompon squad, I marched in the Western Illinois University homecoming parade. The excitement I felt that day was a bit surreal. The chance to experience a college campus made me heady.
Several of us took the opportunity after the parade to meet some cool college guys. We snuck out of the stadium skipping the football game.
I met a boy and to my surprise, there was a slight jolt as we talked. I was just as startled by it as I was on the platform at the pool. I wasn’t expecting it. We didn’t have a lot of time together because the school bus was leaving. We exchanged addresses and telephone numbers. No cell phones, Instagram, Facebook and text messaging to make it easier to stay in touch.
We maintained a brief long-distance relationship. He was two years ahead of me in school. His college life was vastly different than my high school world. Letter writing was sporadic for both of us. The busyness of our schedules made it difficult. I opted out of the pompon squad for a larger role on the school newspaper. I had priorities and pompons wasn’t on the list. I needed to focus on college and my career. My parents were so proud.
He remembered me on my 18th birthday and visited during his semester holiday break. We had fun when were together. We talked often on the phone. He was starting internships and planning his career. I was just beginning my college plans. The direction of our lives was too different. In the spring, we parted as friends, understanding God had other plans.
I resolved to focus on college. I didn’t need a boyfriend. I didn’t need anyone slowing me down. There was someone out there waiting for me and when the time was right I would find him, I reasoned. I turned down a couple of invitations to the senior prom. I just couldn’t see myself going to prom with someone I didn’t care about. I didn’t want to go just for the sake of saying I went. So, I passed.
The last semester of high school was all about fun. Weekend parties were abundant. A group of us had big plans for a spring break trip to Daytona Beach, Florida. My mind reeled with excitement for the possibilities that trip held.
A random party the weekend before spring break proved to be pivotal. The party location was full of kids. My friends and I had gotten an early start on our alcohol consumption. Feeling slightly buzzed, I was being verbally assaulted by a friend of a boy I dated the previous year. I was baffled and feeling guilty as he voiced how I broke his friend’s, heart. I never considered myself a great catch and I was embarrassed I hadn’t realized what I had done.
With the benefit of liquid courage, I spoke briefly to my former boyfriend and apologized for whatever his impression was. It came off as arrogant, but I didn’t care. I turned to leave and felt the awkwardness of the moment. Most of the people in the room were staring at us.
As I reached the hall, I looked up. Greg was walking straight toward me with two friends. We looked at each other and through my alcohol buzz, I again felt the jolt. In a moment of self-preservation and relief, I knew where I needed to be. I greeted his friends, took a step toward Greg. I didn’t say anything, just looked in those eyes. I put my hand on the back of his neck, reached up and kissed him. It was the boldest thing I had ever done.
We spent the rest of the party together communicating, although not talking much. When he dropped me at my house he promised to call. I insisted I couldn’t date him until after my spring break trip to Florida. I don’t know what I thought I would find in Florida, I just knew it wasn’t the time to have a boyfriend.
Spring break was epic and I should probably write a book about what an adventure it was. Shortly after I returned home and headed into the last weeks of high school, Greg called. He asked for a date and I declined. I tried to hold him off. I knew I had big plans to fly the coop in a few short months. I knew I had huge career plans. I knew if I went out with him he would be my last boyfriend and it scared the hell out of me. I knew.
He tried once or twice more to schedule a date, but I found excuses to be busy. He was patient.
I made it through graduation and was feeling melancholy, restless and uncertain of the future. My mom sensed my agitation. One day soon after graduation, Mom arrived home from a trip to the neighborhood grocery store. She said to me, “There’s a gorgeous boy that works at the grocery store. He’s friendly. You should stop by and talk to him.”
I didn’t think anything of it and dismissed her suggestion. An hour later she came to my room and asked me to pick up a gallon of milk. She needed it for a recipe. She insisted I go right then. I grabbed the car keys, a bit annoyed. On my way, out the door, she said, “Be friendly to that nice boy, he might ask you out!”
She had no idea who he was.
As the automatic door swung open at the grocery store, there stood Greg, bagging groceries. We looked at each other and smiled a bit. I felt my face flush as I hurried to the back of the store toward the Dairy section. I paced a bit before I reached for the gallon of milk. I tried to think of something else to buy but I couldn’t think of anything. Mom had just been there an hour before.
As I stood in the checkout line a different boy was bagging groceries. I glanced around to see if Greg was in the vicinity. No site of him. I chalked it up to bad timing.
Once the two customers ahead of me had completed their purchases, Greg appeared out of nowhere. I received my change from the cashier. He stepped in front of his coworker grabbing my gallon of milk. He said to the cashier, “I’m carrying this to her car.”
Feeling my face get hot, we walked to my car on a hot summer day much like the one five years earlier. I don’t remember exactly what we discussed, but I agreed on a date. He called me later that night. We made plans to meet the next evening when he got off work.
He was so quiet on our first date I thought he didn’t like me. It was quite the interesting night. We went to see Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a mildly entertaining Steve Martin flick. We then headed to Pizza Hut and experienced an uncomfortable moment when we ran into a girl he had been dating. Apparently, he forgot to mention to her he was no longer dating her. Awkward!
After we endured the hostile stares from Greg’s former girlfriend and her posse, we left to go for a drive. We then parked on a country road to ‘talk.’ Shortly, a policeman pulled up behind us. He made Greg get out of the car. He asked me if I was OK and if I was there of my own free will. More awkward! He checked the car for alcohol – none. Then he advised Greg of a better spot to park for a make-out session. We still laugh about our crazy first night.
We spent part of every day together for the rest of the summer. We laughed, a lot. His sense of humor blew me away. We had inside jokes. We talked about our dreams, or plans, our children. We grew to be best friends. We fell in love.
I was so caught up in our relationship I contemplated not going to college. Greg thought I was insane. He explained he didn’t want to be the cause of my dreams ending. We discussed the difficulties of a long-distance relationship. We agreed we’d be honest with each other if we found someone else to be with.
College was a blast, not quite exactly as I envisioned but a great experience. Greg and I hung in there through difficulties of being apart. We survived the fear, jealousy, doubt that comes with being separated for long stretches of time. I tried to be independent. I half-heartedly tried to find other boys who could match what I saw in Greg. No one provided the jolt. God must have been blocking all the other prospects.
The university I attended was less than an hour away from home. It was easy for Greg to visit and easy for me to run home when I needed. We supported each other in family difficulties. He once showed up at my apartment near midnight after arguing with his parents. We were each other’s refuge.
At times, we tested each other’s patience. In the crazy partying college days, it was easy to take each other for granted, get insecure, wonder about fidelity. We would argue just to make up.
As I progressed through four years of college, Greg finished community college and entered the work force. He was patient and waited for me. He proposed during my senior year.
He was my sounding board – I could complain about anything to him while he patiently listened. He supported me through my dad’s brain cancer diagnosis. Greg was my rock as we watched my dad turn from strong and vibrant to terminally ill. He held me as I sobbed at the loss of my dad. He helped me to recover and rebound.
We planned our wedding for a snowy night in February. Greg joked he would get married ‘on a cold day’ – that’s what he got. Wind chills on February 5, 1988, reached -50. A cold day undeniably.
We vowed for better or worse, in sickness and health as most married couples do. The sickness vow was used quickly as I became ill on our honeymoon cruise. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes within two weeks of our wedding day.
We tackled diabetes as a team. Those first weeks of building our careers, dealing with a chronic disease, paying bills and living within our means were difficult, but we laughed our way through it. His sense of humor helped in every situation. When my frustration became overwhelming, he was patient, always patient.
Greg and I found our way through life relying on each other. The night of our first wedding anniversary we splurged on a meal costing $48. We were living the high life. I wasn’t feeling well as we ordered escargot. I made it through dinner. I mentioned I felt fat, Greg told me I was beautiful. A few weeks later I discovered I was pregnant.
With Type 1 Diabetes, pregnancy is a special project. Greg didn’t miss a doctor appointment. He was devoted and doting. He would drive for miles to get me specific Taco Bell because we all know Taco bell isn’t a chain restaurant! Then, instead of driving across the street to banish my Dairy Queen craving – we’d have to drive to the ‘good’ Dairy Queen ten miles away. He was patient.
We waited for our first baby with child-like anticipation. Before it was common to know the sex of your baby months ahead of the birth, we marveled at ultrasound technology and the blurry image of our active child invitro.
Type 1 Diabetes placed me in the hospital with a planned C-section. Greg spent every night near me in an uncomfortable hospital chair. Once, he crawled in bed next to me, just to snuggle. A short while later, discovered, the night nurse scolded us. No sleeping together in the hospital!
After she left, Greg joined me in bed again. We talked about the baby deep into the wee hours of the night – still not positive of the sex but confident he was a boy, Greg whispered, “It’s kind of like Christmas, you know you’re getting something awesome, but you’re not sure what it is!”
The next afternoon, Greg did a giant fist pump when our doctor announced we had a baby boy. Then he cried. We both cried. Of the promises, we declared during our courtship and short marriage this by far sealed the deal. Nothing could change the experience of having a baby together and nothing could take that away from us. Our baby, Travis, made us a real family.
Not wanting to leave my baby in daycare I complained and planned ways to leave my job. I quit the corporate world at a time when women just didn’t do that. I trusted God’s nudging to put my family before career. I ran my day care like a corporation. Greg helped when he could. Good natured through all the dirty diapers and chaos of a daycare home, Greg was patient.
A few years later, pregnant with our daughter, we made plans to move back home after the baby was born. This time we knew the sex early in my pregnancy due to a slip up by my doctor. It was strange knowing she was a girl, but it did make planning much easier. Putting a name to her before she was born brought the reality of her to us sooner.
Another high-risk pregnancy proved scary as my water broke eight weeks early. Our beautiful preemie was born by C-section at 9 pm on a rainy February night. Evanne Michele was so beautiful Greg cried as they handed her to him. It was a brief meeting as she needed special attention. I didn’t get to hold her for five hours.
Our family was complete. My doctor cautioned us more children would be dangerous for me. We knew God had blessed us with two wonderful gifts and we didn’t want to force his hand. We were content to raise our family and plan our future.
Ups and downs have plagued us much as any other couple. Buying houses, selling houses, losing jobs, finding new ones – all taken in stride with laughter and hope for the future. Raising Travis and Evanne to be happy contented adults has made our life interesting, challenging. I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.
We’ve relied on God’s wisdom when we hit difficulties and we joyously accepted blessings in our lives.
God guided me in my career decisions. As a girl, I believed my place was in a big city with a big salary. God sent Greg to teach me patience, the love of family, that simple is beautiful and extraordinary.
Our years together have not been any more special than any other love story. We’re probably more typical than unique. It’s our story and it’s not perfect. We hurt each other, we hate each other, we get annoyed, we are crazy about each other, we act and feel like kids again. It’s a never-ending roller coaster but it’s our roller coaster.
Now our life is as exciting as ever. Our family has grown with Travis adding the love of his life, Tameka to our family. She is a beautiful person and we love her like we’ve known her all of our lives. They are giving us a new gift in a grandson coming in the spring. Our love keeps producing more love. That’s how God’s plan works: grow the love.
I go back to a certain tumultuous time in our young relationship when fear of the future got the best of me. Feeling vulnerable while wanting to have the upper hand I suggested we take a break from each other. What Greg said next blew me out of the water.
I had just told him I wasn’t sure I could love him forever. He looked me in the eye and said, “If you wake up one morning and realize you don’t love me, I’m gone. But if you love me one day at a time forever will take care of itself.”
That’s all it took. Greg put a perspective on our relationship we have carried with us through 28 years of marriage. No matter how tough it gets we take it one day at a time.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
Mary, this was so beautiful! I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. You are such a good writer!
Thank you, Sandy! I’m so glad you liked it.