As our tenth wedding anniversary neared, I felt that I had to write something special, to look back upon what Mike and I have shared in our life together up until this point. I figured I’d start at the logical place, the beginning. But, as silly as it sounds, I didn’t know what the true beginning was.
Was it the day we met for the first time? I can pin that down to a season, but not a particular day. And our relationship wasn’t one of those “love at first sight” deals where our eyes locked across a crowded room. There wasn’t even a specific moment where we fell in love with each other.
Was it when we started dating? That, too, is fuzzy. We would date for awhile and then, not wanting to limit our options, date other people. It’s just that we explored those options, found them lacking, and regardless of the time that had passed, ended up back together. There was never truly a “first date.”
So I elected to write this post in the manner that our relationship evolved . . .slowly. Looking back, it’s like we were little kids at the beach for the first time, looking out at the vastness of the ocean ahead of us, scared to death of the unknown. We stood at the shoreline and dipped our toes in, hesitating to go further, afraid to commit, waiting for the water to warm up. Inch by inch, we slid our feet into the depths, panicked when we couldn’t see clearly, and then frantically pulled back. Only to have to start over again, although a little less afraid.
Overall, it took months to write this. I would get into it with such intensity, abandon it for awhile, and then find my way back to it. I’m thankful that thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years ago, I had the sense to find my way back to Mike, that we found our way back to each other. Because, truly, my life would never have turned out the way it did without him.
It was 1993, the beginning of the fall semester of my sophomore year. Two friends and I shared a bedroom in a suite in Bruce Hall, with three strangers in the other bedroom. One of those girls, Heather, was a little older than the rest of us, was originally from Pittsburgh, and ended up hanging out a lot with friends from her high school that were also students at Pitt.
One of those friends was a guy named Mike. Not my Mike, so for the purposes of this post, I’ll call Heather’s friend “MikeG” and my Mike “MikeL.” MikeG lived in a house off-campus that he shared with a few other guys, one of whom was MikeL. They were all old enough to drink legally or had fake IDs, and there were many nights when they would all go out to the bars (the cool bars that didn’t serve underage college kids), and stop back at our suite afterwards, telling us of their adventures. And there were random times when a few of us girls and a few of the guys would all grab a bite to eat, or go see a free movie at the auditorium at David Lawrence.
It wasn’t long before Heather and MikeG started dating, and we started to see more of the guys than we did before–we travelled in packs, after all. One weekend, the guys had a party at their house. I’m sure they didn’t want a bunch of underage sophomore girls there, and I’m sure Heather didn’t really want us tagging along, but we talked her into inviting us. I didn’t have much to drink that night, so when MikeL stopped me on the stairway as I headed down to the dungeon of a basement to use the bathroom and said, “You want to kiss me, don’t you?”, I was totally turned off (because, you know, that would have sounded like a great come-on line–and probably would have been much better received–if I had had a few drinks in me at the time). What a pompous jerk.
In some ways, that was the beginning.
We flirted, we hung out together. Sometimes we were part of a bigger group; sometimes we were alone. It was never anything serious. We were friends, brought together by other friends.
At some point during the spring semester of that year, a study partner from one of my business classes offered to sneak me into the Upstage. It was very clever of him, really. He went in, got his hand stamped, left, and we went to an office supply store where he bought a fine tipped black pen. We went into the McDonald’s next door and sat down. He licked his stamp and used it to imprint my hand. Once he had the faint imprint on my hand, he drew the rest of the design using the pen. I then went to the bathroom, ran my hand under the faucet, and used a paper towel to blot at my fake stamp to get the faded stamped look. I sailed right into the Upstage.
Both MikeL and MikeG were there, along with my roommate Heather and a few other friends. I ditched my study partner (who by that point was drunk and just a little bit creepy and gropy) and hung out with all of them the rest of the night. Two o’clock rolled around and MikeL and I left. Mike convinced me that we should go to another bar, one close to his house, so we set off down the street. The bar, Babylon, was closed–after all, it was after 2:00. Mike, gentleman that he was, refused to walk me back to my dorm and asked me to stay at his house. To this day we laugh about how he tricked me and how I insisted over and over that I would sleep on the couch because I wasn’t “that kind of girl.”
In some ways, that was the beginning.
The next school year, I moved into an apartment off-campus, one street away from the house that Mike still shared with friends. Both groups–the guys and the girls–were constantly in each others’ lives, at each others’ parties, in each others’ classes. Mike would come over to borrow notes from classes. He would stop by after he got done with work on Friday nights. He was my “date” for formal events I attended.
One night I even sought refuge at his house when I was hiding from a crazy guy I had been dating for a few months who went berserk on me and got really abusive. I was literally running from him and was afraid to lead him back to my apartment, so I made it to Mike’s house and got inside before he could catch me. Mike distracted him for awhile so that I could sneak out the back door, climb the fence in the back (and tear my favorite sweatshirt), and make my way through various backyards to my apartment building.
In some ways, that was the beginning.
As the months passed, we became really good friends. At points it seemed like we were kind of dating, but not really. It definitely wasn’t serious; I don’t think either of us wanted any form of commitment at that point, afraid to mess up the friendship. The summer after my junior year rolled around and I stayed in Pittsburgh instead of going back home.
Mike and I were on the phone one day, I think it was in late May or early June, and he got off the phone suddenly, saying he’d call me right back. He never called. Not that day, not the next. He had graduated by this point, and had moved back home with his parents. I called his house and left a message with his Dad. When he still didn’t call, I took the next logical step. I had my friends call his house repeatedly. As the weeks passed and I still hadn’t heard from him, I let it go.
That definitely WASN’T the beginning.
The fall semester of my senior year, I was out with my roommates and ran into Mike and some of his friends at CJ’s. I was so angry with him that I could barely meet his eyes. It had been five or six months since we had even talked to each other, after over a year of talking to each other just about every day.
I agreed to go for a walk with him. We walked around the block, in the cold, slowly. And, also slowly, we started to talk to each other. By the time we made it back to the bar, we were friends again. It was almost like no time had passed at all since we had seen each other.
I was dating someone else by this point, a guy I had known and had classes with for a few years. J and I decided to go to New York City after finals were over that December to see Miss Saigon. It was a horrible trip. The hotel lost our reservation, there was a blizzard, and J and I realized that we weren’t really meant to be together. He dropped me off at my parents’ house on the way back to Pittsburgh. The longest car ride of my life.
I ended up back in Pittsburgh the week between Christmas and New Year’s. All of my roommates were gone over the holidays, so I had the apartment to myself. I went out with some friends New Year’s Eve and intended to spend New Year’s Day by myself, reading and watching TV and just being lazy.
Mike knocked on my apartment door unexpectedly that day. He was on his way home from a party at Seven Springs and stopped by to give me a Christmas present. He ended up staying for awhile and we watched Oregon play in whatever bowl game they were in that year.
It was the beginning of a new year, and in some ways, it was the beginning for us.
J and I had broken up, Mike ended the relationship he was in at that point, and we’ve been together ever since. Three years later we were engaged. And on November 13, 1999, we were married.
It wasn’t the beginning, but it was a beginning.
We’ve never really been the kind of couple to take note of or celebrate the anniversary of our first kiss or our first date. And we’ve never really done anything special for our wedding anniversary. Sometimes it was an excuse to go out to dinner, sometimes we just spent a quiet evening at home. And even now, on our tenth anniversary, we’ll probably just go to a casual dinner, if that. Because it’s not THAT DAY that’s important. It’s EVERY day.
And today, 10 years after we were married, over 15 years after we first met, I still feel like we’re at the beginning.
It’s just that now, unlike all of those years ago, we’re a lot more sure of where we’re headed.