Beer made us do it. We were just friends. I had never thought of him in any other way. We went on long bike rides, and sometimes hung out on weekends. We worked well together. One day the weekly softball game got rained out, and we ended up drinking at a dive bar with sticky floors and dimmed lights. By the time the weather cleared up, going skinny-dipping at Hathaway’s Pond seemed like a great idea. And when the police showed up, it seemed natural to huddle against each other behind a big rock to avoid being spotted. And that’s how we stopped being just friends.
The afterwards was awful. It was wrong, wrong, wrong. It shouldn’t have happened. The friendship was ruined. It could never work. I couldn’t even look at him. But I wore that purple dress, and he says that’s when he knew he would have to make it happen. We met a day later to talk things out. “I just want you to know,” he said, “that if I could fly us someplace, just you and me, and live with you there forever, I would do it.” He asked for one last kiss, and I gave it to him. I told him it was over. But I think I knew then that it wasn’t.
Weeks passed with nothing between us but stolen glances and awkward conversations. I spent hours detailing reasons he and I could never work. He was mild-mannered, and I liked outgoing. He was short and clean-cut; my guys were swarthy, mysterious, with a past. I wanted to be swept off my feet and left breathless; he offered to take my hand and hold it forever. I found myself re-evaluating, revising, rethinking love. One night I worked late; when I got home, his truck was in my driveway. As I walked into my treehouse apartment, the most unexpected smell wafted through the screen door. He had baked me an apple pie. From scratch. Who does this? I thought. What kind of man takes care of a woman like this?
We moved together from Cape Cod to South Florida. “This won’t last forever,” I told him over and over. “You’re not my type. No expectations, okay?” I couldn’t marry someone shorter than me, for one thing. And I couldn’t imagine staying with someone who was so kind in the face of my depression. I needed someone to fight back, to keep me in check, to call me out for the neurotic weakling I felt myself to be. “Okay,” he always said. “I understand.”
He was offered an editing position in Minnesota. I’ll go with him, I thought. I want him to have a good job and feel settled so he’ll be okay when I leave him. Of course I would have to leave him! He wasn’t my type. I wanted a bad boy – the Marlboro-smoking Cajun boy from the cruise ship, or the Lothario surfer-drummer man who called me every Friday. The British sailor with the windswept hair. The boy who picked up on a motorcycle.
Minnesota was awesome and fun and cold. We spent hours sloshing through the snow, sipping coffee in warm cafes and drinking beer in cozy pubs. We fought and loved and made friends, and slowly, imperceptibly, we merged into a couple. We communicated without speaking; I learned that he doesn’t like zucchini; he teased me that I only imagined to not like coconut. One day we were at the mall and he waited with me as I stood in line for the bathroom. There was a jewelry store across the way. “Let’s go there next,” I joked. “You want to?” he said.
Me: “I was kidding.”
Him: “Let’s go look at rings.”
Him: “Let’s go look at rings. Let’s get married.”
And right there in the mall, in front of the women’s bathrooms, we decided to get married.
Twenty years ago today, we stood underneath a gazebo in Folsom, Louisiana and read handwritten vows to each other. My father had installed a ceiling fan in the gazebo to make sure I wouldn’t sweat in my wedding dress. It was fairy tale wedding, with floating flowers and outdoor torches glowing against the setting sun. He worried about whether his hair was the way I liked it; I worried about whether he was my type. We honeymooned in the British Virgin Islands, returned to Minnesota and soon made plans to move to Jacksonville, Florida. When we arrived, we were both journalists with ambitions. My goal, if I’m being honest, was to make an impression, to do something great, to crack open this giant egg of a world.
But wisdom sticks to a person bit by bit, like freckles accumulating on fair skin. I taught creative writing to kids in jail and learned that some gaps need to be filled regardless of whether the accolades follow. I wrote stories for the local paper that helped change people’s lives, and sometimes their gratitude was all I needed. We tried to get pregnant and didn’t, and I realized I didn’t need to follow the beaten path.
He learned, too. We adopted our daughter, and he stopped wanting to be a journalist. He became a firefighter. He told me we had more love to give, so we adopted our son. When our third daughter’s adoption nearly didn’t happen and I wanted to quit, he propped me up and infused me with a strength I didn’t know I had. We began this journey as an accidental, improbable couple. But today – today we are a family. We live in a little house by the sea with three children and two dogs and big fat hearts.
“I know I’m not you’re type,” he told me just last week. “Based on your track record, I’m not your type.” But we have rubbed off on each other in two decades of marriage. The quiet young man with wiry arms and a desk job has turned into my Hot Firefighter Husband who speaks up when I’m wrong. I’ve stopped dreaming of fame and greatness, and focused instead on the awesome beauty in simplicity – the perfect lilt of a single sentence, the taste of homegrown basil, the smell of a clean little neck.
“I think the most extraordinary people lead pretty ordinary lives,” he told me once. Yes, darling, I think you’re right. And I think you are one of those people. And I think you’ve been my type all along. Sorry it took me so long to catch up.