My oldest son asked if he could borrow the car on Sunday evening for rehearsal.
I checked the calendar and discovered that it was January 4th, an important day on our calendar. Solomon's birthday. The date Gary graduated from Marine Boot Camp. But more importantly--mine and Gary's 21st dating anniversary.
I told my son I'd have to check with his father about our plans and explained why.
With a grin, he said, "Don't you think you two ought to get married and just get on with things?"
My thirteen year old (who is fascinated by relationship discussions) wandered in and asked why we celebrate this particular "holiday". "Do most people celebrate their first date?" he asked. "I mean for more than twenty years?"
"This wasn't just a first date," I said. "You had be there, I guess."
He raised his eyebrows, looking a little like his father, and I decided he was old enough to get the whole story. What he got was an abbreviated version of what I've posted below.
Gary was just a guy I knew from the small private college I'd transferred out of in favor of the the more relaxed atmosphere of a public university. He was popular on that small Christian campus for being a genuinely nice guy and lots of girls like him. He was known for his quick sense of humor and his unfailing (sometimes uncomfortably direct) honesty and people respected him for it. I had no illusions about being good enough for him and was pleased just to be counted as a friend. Not a close friend in the sense that we confided in one another, but friend enough to get called up for dinner when he happened to be in town with a group of his buddies.
I liked Gary a great deal, but he gave little sign of how he felt about me outside of an occasional polite, chatty letter (I didn't know until years later that he didn't usually write letters--that I was the exception). He'd disappear for months at a time, then reappear, picking up where we'd left off. His voice on the phone never failed to thrill and I was never ready for evenings together to end, but when they did it was with a warm "See ya Mary!" and maybe a quick hug (maybe). Not knowing what to think of this, I kept my feelings for him in check and went on with my life (dating, working, going to school, playing music with my own friends, etc).
On New Years Eve (1987) Gary called me up and asked me to a movie with him. This was the first time he'd asked me to go anywhere with him alone. We went to see Princess Bride(great date movie) and ushered in the New Year at the home of a couple we both knew from college. These two (who were forever trying to set the two of us up), invited us to join them the next day for New Years dinner. When we left I noticed he was unusually quiet, even a little distant. He dropped me off at my apartment, leaving off with his customary departing phrase. I honestly thought I'd done something wrong.
He was even more preoccupied the next day. One of our friends pulled me aside and demanded to know what I'd done to him. I was clueless. Gentle prodding on my part got me nowhere; he simply assured me that he was a little tired. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never understand the complicated, moody individual that was Gary Paddock, and, gosh, I was sure glad I didn't have to deal with him all the time.
On January 3rd, late in the evening, I returned from work to find my answering machine blinking. There were five messages, all from Gary. The first was an upbeat hale and hearty Garyish, "Hey, why don't you give me a call when you get in" with each message after descending deeper and deeper into moroseness and the last one ending with a nearly monotone, "Mary, It's Gary. Call me if you feel like it, but you don't have to if you don't want to."
I stared at the phone and then at the clock. It was after ten. Calling his mother's house seemed rude at that late hour, but not calling Gary wasn't an option.
So I called him back, wishing there was some way to make the phone whisper. He picked it up on the first ring. "Hi," he said sadly.
"Hey there! What's going on?" I said.
"Not much. I just wanted to talk." (Gary never, ever called just to talk)
"How was your day?"
"Long. How was yours?"
"Gary? Are you okay?"
"Yeah" sigh "I'm fine."
At this point, I got a little exasperated. "Look, I don't know you extremely well, but I can tell that you're not fine. What's going on with you?"
A brief silence and a deep sigh. "I don't know. I guess I'm falling for you, Mary,"
I didn't know whether to be relieved, strangle him, or hug him. "Okay. Well, that's good then." I did know I was somehow not surprised, that this was how this was supposed to go, and that I felt exactly the same way.
Another silence and a slightly brighter response, "Yeah. I guess it is."
I also knew that I could not leave this all up to him. "You want to get together and talk about it?"
"Yes. As soon as possible," he said emphatically.
We agreed to meet the next morning at eight o'clock. In the three years I'd known Gary, he was never ever on time for anything, never mind early. That morning he was on my doorstep at seven thirty. Judging from his expression, I suspected that he hadn't slept any more than I had.
So two very tired people sat over coffee at a local restaurant and talked for five hours, through a waitress change, through breakfast and lunch, laying the shaky ground work for a relationship. I found out that I was one of three girls he'd been "considering". I heard how he'd planned to be logical about the entire process of selecting which one of us he wanted to date. That he realized he'd lost some objectivity when he and I crossed paths while he was out with one of them and all he could think about for the rest of the date was how he needed to call me. Then when the only thing he could think about while sitting next to me during Princess Bride was how much he just wanted to hold my hand, he knew he'd failed Logic 101 miserably. I confess, he didn't find out much about me at that point. I wanted some assurance that he was going to come back before I started revealing my feelings to him. If you're thinking I must have substantial trust issues, you'd be right.
At the end of the morning he drove me back to my apartment. For the first time, he reached across the car and closed his hand over mine, linking our fingers together, and we gazed at the intermingling of folding joints, creased knuckles, fair against tan skin, my smaller palm nesting in his. I'd been braced for brief, pleasant contact and little else, but at his touch, an electric current of pleasure-shock shot down my arm and up my spine, across the back of my head right into the center of my being, rocking me to my core. I'd experienced chemistry before, but not like that, not just from just from the simple act of hand holding. I didn't see that coming at all. From the startled look on his face, I guessed he didn't either.
"I'll call," he said hoarsely.
I nodded, still staring at our hands. Afraid to let go and afraid not to.
Then he leaned down and smiled at me, his eyes locking with mine. I guess he saw the questions I'd been holding back. "Soon," he promised. "I'll call soon."
We hung on to one another for a few more seconds, and reluctantly parted.
He did call that night. And he came back the following weekend. And the next. And the next . . . A month later (on February 14th) he told me loved me for the first time. Almost two years later he proposed and we got married. And as nice as it was to stand in front of our minister and saying those all important vows, for us our lifetime together began on that morning in January.