Lately I’ve been writing about how things ended and I really feel like it is time I wrote about how it began. Let people understand what I saw then so that they might relate to how I feel now.
It really is the simple, yet classic tale of boy meets girl in a bookstore. It wasn’t one of those singles mixers that everyone jumped on years ago. No wandering isles of a grocery store, glass of wine in hand, seeing who was picking up the same organic granola. This was about seeing someone across the room and being so intrigued that you needed to find out who she was. The spin here is that we were both working in that bookstore, so finding out things was a little simpler.
My approach was simple, a bag of Linder Balls to ply people on staff. Walk around the store, check in on how things were going with people and then hand out a single piece of chocolate. Only in her case she was getting the remainders of the bag. Usually about a dozen pieces! This went on for a couple of weeks, where we could talk for a few minutes and then get back to the running of the store. The added bonus was that I was in a position to be able to walk around and just talk to her whenever the urge struck. Being management had its advantages. Whitney was so innocent, she had no idea what I was up to. I would periodically see her across the second floor of the building, shuffling along like a penguin. A cute little side to side motion because she was always wanting to help those around her. Prep displays for the next day, generally try to help people out. It’s those kind of things that got her notice by me and later noticed enough by others that she was promoted.
As any person who has ever been falling for anyone knows, you eventually have to make some type of bold step forward to announce how you feel. I was 32 at the time and knew how I wanted to go about this. It required a little underhanded maneuver, looking at her personnel file to obtain her address. This might sound a little stalker like, but bear with me for a minute. I went to a local florist and picked up the largest bouquet they had. It took a few minutes for them to get things ready so I steeled myself for the next step by sitting with some chai tea at the Caribou Coffee next door. After that, it was just a matter of looking at the printout from Mapquest [yes, before the car or my cell phone had GPS!]
I drove by the house once just to make sure her car was there. A crazy move on my part since she lived on a narrow road where she would have easily seen my car. A bright red Volvo sedan! Talk about taking your chances. ]Much easier than when I was a kid and helped a friend dropped off a stuffed animal for a girl he liked. Huge driveway you had no choice but to walk up and be noticed!] It was a Saturday afternoon and both of us were working that evening, so I knew this would be little more than a gesture of my affection that could either go really right or horribly wrong. Changing the dynamic in my place of employ should she not be interested.
Whitney answered the door in a pair of baggy sweatpants and a t-shirt, dragging the vacuum cleaner behind her. Her hair messy, her face beautiful. I have always told her that I loved watching her face. The look of absolute horror at being found like that was mixed with this smile when she saw the flowers. Roses, Daisies, the florist friend Baby’s Breath, there might have been some Lilies mixed in. For what I paid, you’d have thought they might include one of every variety of flower they had available.
We stood in the front landing of her house. Not going in, but not being asked to leave. The words balancing on my tongue, waiting to burst out. It was simple and it was perfect. She smiles, a little misty eyed not knowing how to respond to my gesture. I just talk to her for a few minutes and let her know I’ll see her at work later.
The next couple of weeks follow the same pattern. I bring some home-made fudge, now just for her and not being sprayed around the store. Everyone can see what is going on, so there was no longer any need for the subterfuge. With each passing moment I am falling deeper and deeper in love with this woman.
Guys get teased for remembering things like the first time they kissed some girl. But this time was so different from any other I had known in my life, it was worth noting. Whitney had worked late and I had gone home early to play with my dog for a while and grab something to eat. I drove back later because i has become a ritual that everyone who closed the store on a Saturday night would meet up for something to eat at the Applebee’s on the other side of the parking lot. Just stories about crazy customers, followed by talks about people’s lives; all of that camaraderie we all hope for in the workplace. It was a good night.
Since some of those same people would be opening the store the next morning, we all started to head out to our cars. Whitney and I stood in the drizzle just staring at each other. It was July and the rain just added enough glow from the street lamps to make it an almost romantic setting. I remember leaning in to kiss her. My chest pounding so loudly I though that if I held her she wouldn’t be able to help but notice. It was soft, it was wonderful. There was nothing but falling for another person going on. Holding her cheeks while I kissed her. It feels like it lasted hours in my head, but it was likely only moments. Stretched out so that my brain concentrates on the thing that mattered, she kissed me back!
It had been years since I had held someone like that. Years since the simple touch of someone’s hand made me want to be everything I could for that person. Be anything I could for that person. Euphoria mixed with finally finding someone who made me genuinely happy. It had been so long, so many years of not dating so that I could make sure to find “Miss Right”. And somehow there she was standing in front of me.
You can plan out all you like how you are going to tell someone you love them. Romantic dinner, some walk around a park, or you could just blurt it out at some point where your emotions are running so ahead of your brain you can’t help yourself. Obviously it was the last one! And having that kind of loss of emotional control is something rare for me. But the circumstances surrounding it got the better of me, or maybe they just spurred me forward.
Without getting into too many details of her reasons for being in the hospital, Whitney had called me in the morning on my way to work so that I knew before walking into the building what had happened, simple appendectomy. I had once experienced visiting someone I cared about in my youth while she was dying in the hospital and it brought it all back to me. It was a completely irrational reaction to something routine, but it told me something about how I truly felt about this woman. As luck would have it the hospital where she had gone was around the corner from the store and I headed over to Trader Joe’s to get some flowers and make me way there at lunch. Her mom was sitting in the room with her and while I had met her once or twice before in simple situations, this was the first time she and I had spent any time alone. She had to have known why I was there, you don’t see many 6’4″ guys coming running into a room with flowers just hours after surgery.
We all talked for a while, and I headed back to the office with the promise of returning later that evening. Which I did as soon as I could get out of the building. This time it was a little different, no family around, just us and the lovely beeping machine. Whitney was laying on the bed completely wiped out from the experience, painkillers and antibiotics doing their job. I remember every detail of that room. Walking in, the bathroom to the right, a window with two chairs overlooking some nondescript parking lot. A single bed in the center of the room, occupied by the best person I knew.
She might not appreciate this set of details, but what the hell. No hospital gown makes anyone look good, but add in the beige socks, the hint of olive drab panties peeking out when she tried to sit up, and not having showered for two days just makes you think – SEXY!! I as lay on the bed next to her, listening to how it all transpired; I told her how I felt. This time there couldn’t be some big show. But I needed to let her know right then, at that very moment that I was deeply in love with her. That I wanted to help take care of her while she was recovering from this. Just to be there in whatever manner she needed.
She has told me she barely remember most of the conversations from that day. Can anyone really blame her, but from that day forward we always told each other we loved one another. So something must have stuck. Through all of her pain and confusion, insecurity about how to deal with the guy who just professed his love, it just got better.
I look back on those events, 10 years ago and wonder if I will ever have another chance to tell her how much I love her. How much I appreciate all she has done and all she has been in my life. It’s been 5 weeks of nothing from her, 6 weeks since we last spoke. Is it possible to get back to something so strong? I know it would be different, it would have to be.
[the picture is from a wedding we attended a few years ago. Sorry about the blacked out eyes, but even though I am using names and posting a picture; a little bit of privacy for her is still important to me.]