We were sitting on one of those braided rugs like you can easily find in the LL Bean catalog. It was a rust color and covered the hardwood floor nicely. Not the most comfortable thing to sit down on for long periods of time, but that was what the chair or bed where for. Two teenagers sitting in the floor doing something that worries parents, actually studying for a History test. Why the worry? Not the first thing that comes to mind when you are talking about sophomores in high school.
Her family hadn’t lived in the house for very long. But the room was covered in posters and pictures of places and people she wanted to see. It felt like she had grown up in that same room for the past 16 years.
“Hey, grab some colored pencils and that pad of paper for me!” Ever the dutiful puppy-eyed teenager, I grabbed it off the desk and ripped off a few pages for myself before handing it over. What came next was probably the most embarrassing request of my life.
“How about we draw a picture of each other?”
My artistic abilities ended with crayons in first grade. Most of my people look like Jim Henson creations on Fraggle Rock. But Patre was already drawing away. Sometimes looking up and other times smirking at what she must have seen in her own mind. My pencil just kept scratching the paper in some attempt to follow along.
When she was done, I didn’t recognize the person she had created. The hair wasn’t a mess, the teenage pimples didn’t dot the edges of my chin or cheeks. The only way I really knew it was me came from the blue eyes that on that day were hidden behind glasses since I forgot to tell my parents I ran out of contacts.
My picture fell far short of what she had done. I got the eye color right, always a saving grace for any male! The talent I have had always laid in being able to close my eyes and tell someone what I see. Words are easier coming from my mouth than any other art form.
What she saw that day I never understood. It wasn’t just the pimples or glasses, but she envisioned something very different from what I saw in myself. No fears, no doubts, none of the things every teenage boy feels. Less a notion of a person, but a hope for what that person is.
When Patre and I had started dating, someone had once told her that we wouldn’t last 3 months. I was angry when I heard that story told back to me, but knowing the source I let it go at the time. Patre died exactly 3 months after we officially started dating. October 13th 1987 until January 13th, 1988. For the person who made that prediction, she was devastated when later she tried to offer some words of sympathy and I just looked right through her, never speaking to her again.
During those months I learned so much about everything. I learned how to love someone so deeply that at times I didn’t know how to tell her. Every school dance she dragged me to, basketball practices she made fun of me at, band things I made fun of her for stick in my mind like they were yesterday. She made me a better person by telling me to be a better person.
While today isn’t the snowstorm it was years ago, there is a coating on the car and yard. Life will go on as it always has. The picture I carry of her still sits in my wallet and always in my head/heart. Patre has always been one of my great weaknesses and at times a great source of strength. I know how hard she fought to stay when she was sick, how hard it was to let go for everyone. It’s that knowledge that makes me want to fight, always has.
I’ve thought over the years what might have been if I had not walked up to her and asked her out. Those months would have been very different and the ending the same. But then I realize that while some parts haunt me, other parts remain with me throughout the rest of the year that make me smile.
3 months isn’t a long time. It’s a season of weather. As I approach 44 years of age, it accounts for 1% of my life to date. When I close my eyes, she’s still there. So I guess she’s really been with me for 66% of my life. Funny how that works out in math.
Today I celebrate a life.