Jon and I met twenty years ago. 20. I think that makes us old.
I was 13, he was 14. I don’t remember the exact circumstances; it was probably summer, and he was probably one of a whole passel of boys hanging out at my house with my big brother that day. I do remember his brown eyes, and how my stomach gave a little flip whenever they met my green ones.
I was shy and awkward then. I suppose most 13 year olds are in one way or another, but I was what my mother would graciously call a “late bloomer.” I wore pleated shorts and had stringy hair that was perpetually in a ponytail. Boys confounded me completely … especially boys like Jon. I said nothing during those early teenage years as other girls – prettier, more outgoing girls – vied for his attention. He was charming and friendly, and there were always two or three who would try to catch his eye.
Oh, we exchanged a few words here and there over the years, as our mutual group of friends brought us together. I even thought he may have been flirting with me once or twice (he was, he tells me now), but I was too clueless to know what to do about it.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I was about to move 500 miles away for a boy. Another boy — the wrong boy, as it would turn out. Days before I was set to leave, my brother had a bunch of people over to swim. Jon was there.
“You can’t move to Michigan for this guy!” he told me emphatically as we stood next to each other, filling our plates with food. I looked up at him, and my sharp retort was lost.
Give me a reason to stay, I thought. But he didn’t, and I went … for six months, anyway. The weather turned bitterly cold, and it nudged me to admit what I’d known for 5 1/2 months. I’d made a mistake. I was going home. Alone.
Weeks after I moved back, my brother got married. I was the maid of honor; Jon was a groomsman. Wedding festivities brought us together, and there seemed to be more flirtation than ever (there was), but I still tried not to read too much into it.
The night after the wedding, the phone rang at my parents’ house. “It’s for you,” my mom said. I took the phone in surprise — who would call me here? It was Jon, inviting me over to watch a movie with some friends. I stayed until 2 a.m., talking and listening to music.
He was nervous. I was the little sister of his good friend. He wasn’t ready for anything serious, and didn’t see how dating me could be anything but. He kept it casual – always hanging out with other people around. No real dates. Until the night, seven years after we met and three months after that phone call, when he kissed me.
After that, it was Zapp and Roger’s “I Wanna Be Your Man” playing in the background while he asked me to be his girlfriend. Five years later, it was waves crashing in the background when he asked me to be his wife.
We’ve been married for seven years now. We’ve lived in three homes, had two kids and slowly morphed from the couple who closed down the bars at 2 a.m. to the couple who unwinds with an episode of West Wing on Netflix at 9 p.m. He knows that just because the cap is on the toothpaste doesn’t mean the cap is really on the toothpaste. I know that the pile of dress shirts that accumulates on the back of the couch over the course of a workweek doesn’t need to be washed.
20 years. Those brown eyes still make my stomach flip, you know. Oh, not every time. Sometimes when our eyes meet, all I feel is relief — my 5:30 p.m. savior has arrived. Sometimes it’s annoyance or even anger. You can’t build a life with someone else without getting a little pissed off every now and then.
When the butterflies come though, they almost always catch me by surprise now. He’s hot, sweaty and tired from working out in the yard, and his gaze briefly meets mine as he steps into the coolness of the air-conditioned house. I watch with a smile on my lips from the doorway as he focuses intently on putting a tiny bow in our daughter’s hair, until he feels my eyes on him and looks up.
It’s no small feat, to make a heart flutter after 20 years. He’s seen me at my worst and champions me always toward my best. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and I’m sure I’ll make many more. But saying “yes” to his “will you?” will always be the best thing I’ve ever done.