Alright, technically I didn’t lie. But I may as well have.
Do you remember that night? It had been a muggy summer day. But when you pulled up in your car at dusk, it was as if the humidity was sucked from the air, leaving a perfect July night in its wake.
I met you downstairs and we got in your car and drove. And drove. For hours with no destination in mind. I don’t think the destination was as important as the distance we put between your little car and our ‘real’ lives.
Into the city, out to the outlying rural towns. On highways and country roads. As the mixed tapes we made for each hummed in the background, we talked and talked. We always talked like this, soaking up each and every drop of our time together. It was as if we had never spoken before and had to learn everything about each other in one night. And it was like this every time.
We drove into the starry night. The music played on with professions of love and stories about loss and visions of star-crossed lovers escaping into the night together.
That is what we were. Star-crossed lovers, you and I.
We drove through so many little towns that night, asking so many questions of one another. We were playful and serious, thoughtful and direct.
A casual observer would think we held nothing back when we talked. But we held the most important thing back. You knew it. I knew it. We both knew that we both knew it.
But tonight was different. I knew it would be different when we drove through that farm town. We had already made our way through a handful that looked just the same. But this place was different. As we drove down that dark road, your headlights piercing the darkness, raindrops began to fall. We had just been talking about what you would do if you found out I was getting married. Would you show up and tell me not to go through with it and ask me to run away with you? Or would you watch me give my life to another? Or would you stay away?
Though thoughts of marriage were far from my mind, of course I knew the wedding you were talking about was to your former best friend. A guy who didn’t treat me very well. A guy who you no longer seemed to care for. Yet, he was the guy I was seeing. He was away now. Gone for a month on vacation with his parents.
And I had time to think about where my life was headed. I was only 21. I was independent and strong. Bright and educated. I was moving up the ranks at work, making a name for myself. I had just gotten another raise. I could have had a bright future ahead of me, but I was considering a move from the apartment I shared with a roommate to a place with the guy who didn’t treat me so well (we’ll use an acronym for him going forward — GWDTMSW).
And you and I were here, in your car, feeling as though we couldn’t get our timing right. You were seeing someone or I was seeing someone. Or both. But we loved each other and had no trouble expressing our feelings in lengthy letters over the years.
But out of respect for GWDTMSW, we danced around the giant pink elephant in the car. In fact, out of the corner of my eye I could see that pink elephant waving at me from the backseat. But I ignored him.
And we drove. Into a little micro-climate in this small town. A fleeting rainstorm. Heavy drops of fresh rain pelted the car as you told me it would be too much for you to bear. You could never sit back and watch me marry another. You would let me make my decision, but if it wasn’t you standing up there taking my hand, you would not be there. I gulped as I considered the prospect.
The heavy rain gave way to a sprinkle. And just then, this desolate country road was filled with frogs. Little bits of green hopped in front of the car. There were hundreds of them. They extended as far as the reach of your headlights.
I made you stop the car immediately, lest we not squash a single one. It was an incredible sight. Magical, really.
I jumped out of the car to scoop one up, just as I would have when I was 8 years old. I was filled with glee as I held that slimy little friend in my hand. And you were grinning, too. Happy that I was happy.
I forget how long we waited for the frogs to clear. Shooing them to the edge of the road was slow but rewarding work. You inched your way through the thinning crowd and I walked ahead and kept clearing. We lost some of Kermit’s brethren along the way, but the losses were unavoidable.
Afterward, we reluctantly decided to drive back to my apartment in the city. We both knew the night would end when we reached my driveway.
It still took time. These were the days before GPS and we only vaguely knew where we were. And we traveled roads neither of us had traveled before.
But I felt more found than lost.
We found our way together. As we pulled up to that disheveled former mansion turned apartment building, you asked if I wanted to take a walk. The area was divided into two parts. Bad and good. My apartment was a few hundred feet from the invisible divider. On the bad side. So we abandoned the car and made our way to the ‘good’ side.
We walked on the tree-lined streets, each dotted with lovely cottage-likes homes and large historic mansions made of stone or plaster. We walked close enough for our arms to brush against each other occasionally. You made a comment about how the people in their cars were probably wondering why you weren’t holding my hand. And you said that you would if I would let you. But I didn’t. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Because I was loyal to GWDTMSW.
As we came up on East Avenue again, you stopped and turned to me. And this was where you asked me to marry you. You knew I was the one. You had been in love with me for years. And I loved you, too. I knew you were the love of my life.
I remember my response as though it were yesterday. “Yes, barring any unforeseen circumstances.”
What kind of response is that to a marriage proposal? It is the kind of response you give when you know that something or someone will get in the way. It is the kind of response you give when you don’t want to lie, despite how much you’d like to simply say, “Yes.” It is the kind of response you give when the bad things you have experienced in your life have so warped you that you are afraid to just choose happiness.
We continued on our stroll. Dawn would be breaking soon.