He popped up and then in and through, being tackled by old college buddies. He tackled back, to the floor, rolling and yelling.
He was loud.
I knew hardly anyone at the party and I was feeling insecure in the not knowing and small talk. There were appetizers and only sodas to drink. No alcohol, my usual defense, the wall I would build between myself and my lacking self worth, to look at ease and confident.
He sat down by the chips and salsa and he asked what I do. I told him that I was a social worker. He stammered a bit, trying to think of the next question. He said, what uh...what um...
Population? I asked, thinking he was asking what population of people I worked with, a social worker term for caseloads, our "population."
He burst out in a confused laugh. Population?
Oh sorry. I thought you were asking...well, anyway, I work with people with mental illnesses.
He smiled and looked interested and asked more.
That's all I remember of that night.
Three months later I called my friend Jenn to ask what she was doing. She said she had plans with Ryan and would I like to come along. Sure, why not? I only vaguely remembered the funny guy from the party.
He was funny again, nervous and laughing. The kind of laugh that only his twin brother could share.
We laughed a lot.
That's all I remember. I liked being with him.
We hung out as the three musketeers for days and days and nights and nights, he and Jenn and me. And what I remember most was the night that we went to hear his brother play at the Cedar. The place was packed and so we had to sit against the wall on a bench, and I remember the way it forced us to the edge of our seats with its smallness. He didn't drink and that was new to me. People were drinking but we weren't and I was surprised that I didn't care.
It was him and then me and then Jenn, sitting in a row and we listened as the jazz filled the place with a vengeance, powerful and moving. I remember feeling a pull, a strange something happening to my arm, wanting to touch his. Electric.
I wanted to lean into him, to find safety. I wanted to stay.
We spent more time then, just the two of us, over coffee and movies and music. Calling all the time, he would leave me voicemails at work that would make my days and fill them with laughter, lightening my caseload.
You can call me back. Or you can send me an email. Or a message via a carrier pigeon...whichever...
And my heart would flutter.
He was in New York to see his brother play at the Village Vanguard on that first Valentine's Day. We still hadn't acted as more than friends, still didn't know what it was we were doing. And as I drove to my friend's house for dinner, my cell phone rang.
Will you be my Valentine?
Why, YES. I will.
And then he was catching a cab, his Dad waiting on the corner and so we said goodbye.
And I was falling for him and I floated.
It's good to remember back. It helps the now while we're trying so hard.
He travels for work and when he comes home I breathe easier and flutter and float.
It's not easy. Never ever even once easy. Marriage is a beautiful struggle. And I am his and he is mine and we will see it through.