My wife’s and my appearances don’t match. That is the best way I can describe it. She is beautiful and has a professional adult look. She has her act together. I almost always look like I’ve just awoken from a nap. Our personalities are very different as well. She is guarded and makes every conversation about the other person, careful not to reveal too much about herself. I, on the other hand, will spout my opinions as if everyone around me is an old friend. As a result, people are interested in how we ended up together.
When people ask, Heather and I freeze and look at each other. We did not meet in some romantic story-book way. Our story kills lighthearted conversation. It makes people uncomfortable and makes them search for adages that can be related to our relationship.
The short, polite version goes something like this: We met at my best friend’s funeral. Heather was sort of an on-again, off-again girlfriend of his. When he died, Heather and I became friends. The friendship blossomed into love.
Sometimes that’s enough to get people to move onto the next couple who hopefully have a romantic or funny first encounter story, or maybe change the subject altogether. Most times, people want to know more. We’ve developed several versions, containing varying amounts of detail depending on the group we are entertaining. What follows is the more detailed version.
Wade was living with another friend of mine when he shot himself. In the hours leading up to his death, he was on the phone with Heather. I got the call that he was threatening suicide when I was moving into the upper half of a run-down house where my older brother was living. Another friend was helping me move some stuff from my old place. We immediately dropped what we were doing and drove over to the apartment complex where Wade was living. The place was surrounded by police. All of our close friends were there. His family was there, crying. After hours of waiting, the police pulled the family aside and gave them the news. I honestly can’t remember much of what happened. I know I sort of lost it. Somehow, everybody ended up at my and my brother’s place.
As the news spread, more and more people showed up. We spent the next week drinking and crying and drinking and wondering and drinking. It was like a week-long wake, with a revolving cast of friends, family and acquaintances. People brought food, alcohol, condolences and stories.
During this time, I noticed a frail, shocked dark-eyed young lady. She sat in disbelief and sorrow. Sometimes she listened. Sometimes she spoke. Sometimes she shut down. Sometimes she went nuts. Most nights she went home. But she always came back the next day. I couldn’t tell exactly what made me think this, but I knew she was in trouble. I knew the sorrow was too much for her. I knew that she might contemplate walking the same path as Wade. So I made a point of spending time with her. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was much more for my sake than hers. I needed someone to take care of. It was and still is my favorite way of dealing with pain and loss. I need to help so I don’t lose myself in sorrow.
Because the rest of the world doesn’t wait for you to be ready, we eventually all had to return to life. We went back to work. The never-ending wake began to slow down. Heather came by less frequently. I made it a point to call her a couple times a week. This was before everyone had cell phones. So many times I’d have to leave a message with her mom. Thankfully, she always called back. Sometimes we’d talk for an extended period of time. Most of the time she would just reassure me that she was OK.
After a while, we started hanging out more frequently. We had developed a friendship. I still needed to take care of her and she still needed someone who wasn’t just waiting for her to get over it and move on. As is always the case, people began to notice our mutual attraction way before we admitted it. Eventually, we fell in love. Then we stopped denying it and we started dating.
It is not a romantic and fun way to fall in love. Love that blossoms from sorrow will always carry some of that sorrow with it. But it is a quick way to meet the true bare bones person. You meet them without any bravado or airs. You meet them at their lowest and get to share in overcoming adversity.