I met my fiancée while we were both in college. Actually, come to think of it, met is probably not the right word. The word met implies an event, a discrete moment prior to which one does not know the person in question and after which one does. There was no such moment, none that remains in my memory anyway. A better way to describe my coming to know her would be to say that she gradually became visible.
She and I had circulated in the same loose group of friends; neither of us central, hangers on both. But we were often in the same places at the same time, usually parties in dark unfinished basements in old dilapidated houses or squalid dive bars with sticky floors. I knew her by sight and recognized her as familiar. I never spoke to her though, nor she to me, and I didn’t know her name.
The earliest specific memory I have of her was from one of those house parties. I already recognized her then, I know that from the memory, but all details of how I had come to do so are lost. In the memory she is walking up a flight of stairs in a pair of black jeans, tight. I am at the bottom of those stairs and I watch her walk up them. For no particular reason, perhaps it was just that it was the first time I was at the bottom of a flight of stairs when she walked up them, I thought to myself that she had an interesting shape. I decided I wanted to get to know her.
I was standing next to one of my friends at the bottom of those stairs, both of us drinking beer from red plastic cups. I turned to him and asked him her name. He told me.
That was the entire extent of my effort that night. I didn’t do anything else, didn’t approach her, nothing. It wasn’t my way. I was timid, always waiting to be approached rather than doing it myself. It was not a lucrative strategy, I was well aware of that. But it was easy and less daunting.
I know, you don’t need to say it, I was -- am -- a coward.
My timidity didn’t do me any favors that night, unless perhaps you were to take the long view. A roommate of mine, a close friend, who did not suffer from my infirmity, started talking to her later at that party. I didn’t know it then, only finding out later, too late.
What could I say to him? That I had claimed her first by deciding before he started talking to her that I wanted to get to know her? No, I had missed my chance; assuming I’d had any chance with her to begin with.
The next time I saw her she was in his room, laying on his bed. He introduced her as his girlfriend.
Their relationship didn’t last long, but it did last just long enough for her to recede once again from visibility.
I graduated from school soon after and started working full time. I continued to live with my college roommates in the same house having decided to stay there for another year and keep up my old interests and friendships. It didn’t work out as I had hoped. I did live in the house and maintained my friendships with my roommates, but my circumstances had changed and everything else was different. Regular long hours all week plus at least two hours commuting on the bus took its toll. I was tired in the evenings and late nights out were not as appealing as they had been. I no longer frequented those house parties or those bars.
Several months went by before I had any further contact with her. It was just happenstance that I ran into her again at all.
It turned out that both of us worked in the City. I ran into her one evening waiting in line for the bus. We sat together that evening and talked the entire ride home. She had graduated as well and also only infrequently visited any of the old haunts.
The following week we got together for lunch. Soon we were riding the bus together quite often, at least a few times each week.
Those days kind of run together in my mind. My memories of them are quite sketchy, just a few snapshots here and there without much background to give them context. Among those snapshots is an after work dinner hosted by her company one Friday night. She invited me to attend as her date. I guess you could call it our first date. I don't remember any earlier one, if you don't call lunch or riding the bus together a date.
At that dinner, she felt quite free to eat a pasta side entre from my plate. The moment that makes the evening stand out in my memory, that elevates its beyond the background noise, is what one of her coworkers said. He said, “You two share food like you were meant to spend your lives together.”
Frankly, I didn’t find anything telling in her removal of my food from my plate. I found it slightly irritating. I didn’t like anyone eating my food, not even on a date, not even when we hadn't even slept together yet. It would have been different if I had offered, but she hadn’t given me the chance. She had just assumed ownership rights as to my plate and my food. I found myself thinking that she could have ordered the pasta dish herself if she had wanted it. I didn’t say anything to her, not even in jest, and tried to be good natured about the whole thing. I feared I might look like a jerk to her co-workers if I did, and, worse, that I might reduce my chances with her later that evening.
A prophesy of sorts had been made by that co-worker though. That is the way she saw it. She delighted in telling and retelling the story many times over the years as our relationship continued.
Afterward there were more dates, a trip to the shore, an Easter basket sandwiched within a little stuffed animal in the shape of a dog complete with large floppy ears. It all happened in a blur and before I knew it she was my girlfriend, my official girlfriend. It was fairly momentous to me to have someone with that title. She was only the second to bear it.