Friday, September 24, 2010

The Story of I Love You

I awoke to a sunny Saturday morning (the last 15 minutes of morning) on September 16, 2006, looking forward to the day ahead of me. We were three weeks into football season, and it was the first football season I had spent with Jonny. I confess that I was less than enthusiastic about watching the game that day, but I was excited about spending time with my beau of two months, getting together with friends, drinking tea, listening to Corman and Jonny's rants, maybe ordering pizza for dinner - everything about watching football except for the actual football. Oh, how far I've come since then.

I brushed my teeth, threw my hair into a ponytail, donned the old standby sweats, and headed out the door. Five minutes later I was at Jonny's house drinking tea, listening to rants, and talking about getting pizza for dinner. Hopes were high going into the game. Notre Dame had demolished Penn State the week before, and now the Irish were ranked #2 in the country. Jonny had been talking about the team's prospects for months.

Then the game started, and it all went to pot.

Michigan intercepted on the second play of the game. David Grimes fumbled a kickoff return. Mario Manningham embarrassed the Irish secondary again and again. The score was 34-7 Michigan at the half, dashing my poor boyfriend's high hopes.

Before that day, I didn't really understand Jonny's relationship with Notre Dame. I had heard stories about Jonny's behavior during important games, how he'd stand up and pace and shake his numb hands, unable to sit down or work the remote. I had seen the memorabilia across his walls and the ND dominance in his wardrobe. I've told you before that even in the first month we dated he stopped mid-kiss, mid-kiss, to talk about ND's recruiting.

My basic thesis here is that I knew my boyfriend was a huge fan, but I had no idea what "huge fan" meant. I also had no idea that one loss can ruin a season. I had grown up watching baseball, for heaven's sake.

When the first half of the ND-Michigan game closed, I perceived the shift in the room. The sun no longer shone. The tea had cooled. The church bells all were broken. My boyfriend's heart had burst. The second half started, and Michigan stuck a few lit BlackCats in Jonny's remaining heart shards until the pieces burst into even smaller pieces. Then they put the coronary debris in a meat grinder and turned the crank. Then they added mayonnaise and a pinch of salt, spread it on bread, and ate it.

Mercifully, the game ended, and my poor, downcast, dejected boyfriend headed out the door to go to work. He didn't usually work on Saturdays, so those weekend hours at the pizza place added extra salt to his wound. ("Mmm, this savory heart sandwich is delicious." -Jonny's boss)

In those days, any entrance or exit of the premises, be it just to check the mail or sit on the porch, merited a hearty bit of necking at the threshold. On that day, Jonny barely managed a wave and a "See you later." I watched him shuffle to his Jeep in the driveway. He opened the Wrangler door, stood for a moment, sounded a barbaric yawp, and hot-footed it back to me in the foyer with a CD in his hand. He had just found his Jeff Buckley album, Grace, trampled on the floor. It had slipped out of its case and was scratched beyond repair. Jonny was done.

He entered the house in bridled fury, I'll give him that, but he couldn't suppress his disappointment. There is no need for me to repeat with precision what happened next. Like Mark Twain, I will close the curtain of charity over the details. The pent up rage in Jonny seeped out, and, friends, it was ugly. He didn't direct it at me, don't misunderstand me, but he let it out near me.

I scolded him.

He gave me an icy goodbye and shut the door.

He left the house seething. I have a terrible day and she tears into me! How could she?
I left the house seething. He can't even handle a stupid game! How could he?

I drove back to my house with clenched lips. I was furious with him at first, and as I always do when I'm too angry, I continued to argue with him in my head. I always triumph in head arguments, by the way. My enemies cannot hope to stand against me in my head. Also, comebacks come to me in droves three or four days after a good argument, so watch your back if you happen to be in my mind the week following a spat.

Anyway, I was furious at first, but inexplicably and against my will, my heart softened within a half hour. The anger dissipated, leaving me with an overwhelming desire to soothe. I just wanted to hold the man. Since he was at work and I had the whole day ahead of me, I took the time to make myself pretty. I put on makeup (gasp!) and picked out clothes that matched (gasp!), and my pants weren't sweatpants (triple gasp!). I bombshelled myself and then set out that evening with purpose in my step. I was going to replace that CD, and I was going to stop at the pizza place at closing time to give it to him. I was going to be the best girlfriend ever.

I stopped at one store; they didn't have it. I asked them to call their other store; they didn't have it either. Fine. I'll go somewhere else.

I left the store knowing that the nearest place that might have it would be closing in twenty minutes, and it would take me fifteen minutes to get there. As I sped down Nicholasville Rd. praying that I would make the lights, I held yet another head conversation, this time me vs. myself.

"Emily, why are you so giddy?"
"I don't know."
"Really? You don't know?"
"Well, I it's stupid. It's just that he was being so unreasonable today that now I find it a delight to lift his spirits."
"Yeah, but why are you smiling from ear to ear in this car by yourself?"
"Because I love him."
"Holy crap, did you just say that?"
"Not really, no, this is all in your head."

While waiting for the light to change at the intersection of Nicholasville Rd. and N. Main St., I realized with clarity and finality that I loved the man. It was a lightning bolt decision, and I don't make lightning bolt decisions. I make rub-a-few-sticks-together-and-gather-small-bits-of-tinder-till-you-see-a-little-smoke-then-add-more-tinder decisions. Also, I call love a decision because it is one, even though there's a great bit of revelation in there with it. I loved Jonny, and I knew it was true because I loved him in an ugly moment. I loved him in his petulance. I found that my strongest desire was to show him grace; what little there was to forgive I longed to reconcile and forget.

I made it to the store in time to hear "Goodnight, Sweetheart" on the loud speakers, and I snatched up that CD. It was a race again on Nicholasville Rd., this time to get to the pizza place before Jonny left it. I caught him just in time, and the first thing he said was, "I'm sorry." We hugged a sweet, tight, all-is-well hug.

I gave Jonny the CD with glee.

"I can't believe it," he said. "Why did you do this?"

I knew exactly why I did it, and he had miraculously lobbed me an easy question with a now easy answer.

"Because...because..." I shrugged my shoulders.

I have never been more ashamed of my cowardice. He had given me the perfect moment to tell him that I loved him, but I lost my nerve. I cursed my yeller innards.

He closed the place up, and we drove our separate cars back to his house. We took our usual places on the couch, and we embraced and talked. How was the rest of your day? What should we do tomorrow? Aren't we fun? We talked for awhile, and then the conversation grew thin. We looked at each other; we kissed occasionally. The lightning bolt that had struck me a few hours before seemed to have left a charge in the air, and we both knew that our conversation had now become about what we weren't saying. Then the silence hit. We lay on that couch and stared at each other for minutes on end. Minutes of silent staring, I say. People, that gets intense. I knew instinctively that he was thinking about saying it, so I tried to pysche myself into saying it first, thereby winning. Except I was a fraidy-cat. Then he started to shake, and I knew it was imminent. Jonny cannot keep himself from trembling during important moments. I have told you before that his hands shook so much during our wedding that he had trouble putting the ring on my finger. I love this about him. It's as though he feels too much to contain his emotion; hiding it is impossible.

On September 16, 2006, he shook for one solid minute, took a sharp, quick breath, held it for a second, and exhaled, "I love you."

"I love you too."

It was my turn that day to give Jonny grace, and he has given it to me thousands of times both before and since then. I have been selfish, childish, rude, and lazy, yet he has forgiven me again and again and again and again. He is sweet and gentle, kind and honest. When he has something to say, he sits me down and says it quickly. Then it's done, and it's done forever. Grace has defined our love, so it's only natural that our love began with grace, even Jeff Buckley's Grace.

We've said I love you thousands of times since then, but we've also said a few I like yous, some I was wrongs, a couple of you're driving me crazies, hundreds of I'm sorrys, and an every other day I think you're hot. Most of all, we've said Lord help us. Help us treat each other with respect, dignity, kindness, and gentleness. Help us stay faithful to one another. Help us love each other as you love us.

By grace and grace alone, we'll repeat "I love you" for the rest of our lives.


Charlene said...

Love is the only thing. All other things are superfluous, even football.

Six in the Mix said...

That's beautiful, Em.

I'm amazed that you remember book lines like you remember movie lines. Movie lines I can do. Book lines, not so much.

Harrell Hijinks said...

beautifully said! real love is transforming, God is love.... my words don't flow like yours so i'll stop on that point....

gotta laugh at the football thing. :D i married an alabama man.... raised by a 'bama man too so i KNEW what i was getting! didn't bat an eyelash when he said, "can't pick a wedding date 'till they announce the season schedule." ?! seriously sick! he's better now (it helps that we're defending champions though today nearly did us both in) but when we first got married, i actually would stand BEHIND him and catch what was in his hands as he threw it willy-nilly! ...prevented many holes in walls.... good times. lol

ahhhh, love an football... and tailgating!

Jerry said...

And this, ladies and gentleman, is just one of the reasons I love my daughter-in-law, he said with tears streaming down his face.

Anonymous said...

Emily, this was beautiful. you are such a gifted writer! It was so cute to see how much Jonny missed you while he was in town the last week and a half. Wish you could have come with him. Miss you and think of you often xo,