Then and Now
I've known Heather for a little over fifteen years. We met at Alma College in 1990, when I was a junior and she was a freshman. We were introduced by our mutual friend, Steve Gibson, who is hands down the smartest man I have ever met. The location is the subject of disputed memory, though I am coming to the conclusion that hers is more accurate on this point, and it was at the college's computer lab (I know computers were in the background).
Steve and I were just back from a semester in Scotland, and if one of our fuzzy memories still serves, she was working on a project in the lab while Steve was supervising it.
She's cute, I recall thinking. Pre-Mary Lou Retton, her bouyant, outgoing personality combined with her red hair and freckles would also have garnered her the descriptor "perky." Alas, the 1984 Summer Olympics and the ad blitz following it officially retired that term as an acceptable adjective. And my initial assessment of "cute" would, er, ... evolve over time.
As time passed, I saw her with some frequency. Even though she was in a sorority, she chose to hang around the fraternity I joined, and we had a brace of mutual friends. I saw her most often at our fraternity's "Bar Night," which, appropriately enough for a musical fraternity(1), was scheduled for Tuesdays. We went to a place called the County Line Bar, named because it straddled the line between Gratiot and Isabella Counties on the original, pre-expressway U.S. 27. As it turned out, Tuesdays were ideal. We had the place pretty much to ourselves, a friendly bartender named Leon (who almost seemed offended by tips) and a jukebox with enough variety to irritate pretty much everyone. For example, Heather's best friend, Diane McCarthy hates Joe Walsh with a passion. So, naturally, I dumped quarters into the machine as fast as I could, ensuring that Diane would hear Ordinary Average Guy at least three times during the next half hour.
Yes, I'm also unpleasant in person. Go figure.
Ah, the days of Michelob Light and roses.
Time passed, and, as I said, contact with Heather did not do anything to dull my budding interest in her. She laughed at my jokes (including the weekly torment of Diane) and generally indicated that my company was quite passable indeed. Gradually my thoughts went through three stages from "cute" to "hmmm..." to "I'm a college age heterosexual male with predictable and not especially creative thoughts about and interest in very attractive college age heterosexual females." I don't think I need to paint you a picture.
However, in the two years at college together, I did precious little to signal any form of interest in her. I had one girlfriend in college, and suffered from a shyness that required available women to walk around with stage direction placards above their heads saying "Ask me out, you fool!" Heather and I did go to one movie at the then-brand spanking new Alma Cinemas: the Val Kilmer "Dances with Visions" vehicle, Thunderheart.
Repeat after me: any film with Graham Greene in a prominent role cannot be awful. So it was with Thunderheart. It's predictable, but not bad. And the company was great. But it was strictly platonic--had a nice time, and all that. Then I graduated in 1991, and went from there straight into a disastrous long-term relationship that went down in flames three years later. Don't ask--I won't tell you about it.
Heather and I didn't see each other again until 1995, when I had moved into a Sterling Heights apartment for my second year of law school. We met again, and she'd heard somewhere I was in the area. As it turned out, about three miles from where she was living.
Hubba, hubba! The first thing we did was see Clerks at the Magic Bag Theatre in Ferndale. Not precisely a date, as a good friend of hers was with her, but close enough. I was invited along, and gave my Jethro Clampett-ish "OK" response. After this point, I started screwing up the courage to ask her out, and did so repeatedly. I think our first "official" date was my brother's first wedding, at which his best man said "Wow--that's Dale's date?!" I only heard about it long after the fact, when I couldn't break a beer bottle over his head. That, and he had a point. Even though neither of us was an undergrad anymore, I was still in Stage 3.
We started dating, and, I think, to both of our surprises became a couple. Even though it was hardly in the pattern of an evangelical romance novel, two and a half years later, we were even more surprisingly engaged, and a year and a half after that, married. I say "surprisingly" because if you'd questioned our friends in college about the likelihood of that happening, you'd have been met with bafflement, and perhaps the admonishment that you picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue. Steve and Diane stood up with us at our wedding. No Joe Walsh was played at the reception.
Oh, and somewhere along the way I became Catholic. More about that later.
Flash forward to the morning of Memorial Day, 2005. I am sitting in an easy chair at my parents' cottage, blearily nursing a cup of freshly-brewed coffee. I have gotten my usual six hours of interrupted sleep, woken by our eldest's unfailing internal clock. Just as blearily, Heather joins me. All three kids are playing on the floor in front of us, for once harmonious about the toy distribution. Each looks up and smiles or offers a variation on "Hi, daddy!"
At that moment, it hit me: with all due regard for the delights of the activity that gave us our children, this was way better than anything I had imagined in college. In that moment of grace, the only word that came to mind at that moment was "Thanks." To Heather, and to God.
(1) As my pledge father, Ted Hutchins memorably put it, "Musicians can't organize an orgy." "Herding ferrets" also is a helpful analogy.