By Sean Dietrich
Do you remember when we met? I do. It was a Barnes and Noble bookstore. I was reading; you were with friends. You waltzed through the door with that determined walk you have. That I-can-take-care-of-myself walk. There are some things a man never forgets. You wore a baby-blue sweater. Your hair was chin-length. We must’ve talked for an hour. Two strangers. A chance meeting. No. I take that back. I don’t believe in chances. How about the long drives we took just for fun? We’d ride two-lane highways through the night for an excuse to talk. We’ve always been able to carry our weight in words.
I asked you to marry me. You said yes. I gave you a jeweler’s box containing the world’s tiniest diamond. It cost me every dollar I had. You wore red that night. Red. We got married in a small chapel. We honeymooned in Charleston. We had no money for that trip, but we went anyway.
We were dumber back then. I miss being dumb. How about our ugly apartment. Remember that place? I drove by it yesterday, for old time’s sake. The grounds were overgrown. Mold on the siding. What a dump. Our old neighbors were still there. The same ones who had fleas that infested the whole building. God, I loved that place.
Then there was the time I wrecked the truck. The man behind us fell asleep at the wheel. You were listening to the radio when it happened. “Shameless,” was the song playing. I thought we were dead. It was a miracle we survived. But then, our whole lives have been one big miracle, you know? You got me through college. You tutored me through math class. Those are miracles in themselves.
We used to argue hard sometimes. When our spats ended, we didn’t get lovey dovey like adolescents. That’s not who we are. Instead, we’d go to Pizza Hut, or Kentucky Fried Chicken, or anywhere with a buffet. And there was the time at UAB Hospital. After your biopsy. My chest felt cold. I’ve never been so scared. When the doctor called us into his office I thought I would vomit. I stared at his mouth when he spoke. I didn’t want to miss a sentence. You were squeezing my hand. He said the word “benign” and we both cried. He left the office to give us privacy.
We cried a lot that day. And here we are.
After this many years, I know our lives aren’t glamourous. I’m sorry. You could’ve married a man with money. A gentleman. Instead, you married me—whatever I am. We live in a home with brake lights on the back. Our queen bed has a foul-smelling coonhound in it. Our vehicles are old. My truck needs new tires; your transmission ain’t what it used to be.
But we’ve survived life together. We’ve watched good dogs die. We dug their holes. I stood beside you during your father’s funeral. You stand beside me every day. You made me who I am. It makes me feel rich to think I might make you who you are. Life isn’t forever. I know that. Sometimes I think about this, and I’m too scared to imagine the day one of us wakes up in an empty bed. But that day isn’t today. And so I thank the moon, the stars, the sun, and their maker.
I am thankful for life. For love. For us. And for people you meet by chance in bookstores.