Last week in the middle of a life that sent me down to the scary basement of this old house to search for things to throw away, I found something I didn’t know I had.
And that something might have turned into one of the most important pieces of my life.
See, among our snowshoes, highschool yearbooks, that old radio noone can throw away, games of Cranium and Catch Phrase, college text books and papers, canning jars and countless pairs of boots was a box I didn’t recognize.
And in this box filled with odds and ends that echoed the man who was outside trying to start our lawnmower– an old rope, a tarnished belt-buckle, a necklace made from deer antlers, a tupperwear dish full of shot-gun shells and two-dollar bills– were little pieces of paper, neatly folded and tucked away in a shiny cardboard package…
My 16-year-old handwriting telling our love story.
I would have missed it, the memories of a love that blossomed when we were much too young for things like love, if one of those neatly folded letters didn’t find its way out of the box and onto the dusty floor as I moved that box into the hallway in an effort to consolidate the neglected pieces of our lives. I tossed the box aside to retrieve the piece of paper that looked so familiarly intriguing. I squatted down on the floor and unfolded the page.
I recognized that handwriting.
I recognized the feelings.
But I didn’t recognize the words.
Up and down notebook pages, on typing paper and inside homemade cards were professions of my adoration toward a boy who used to meet me at my locker and walk with me to class. A boy who played football and had a yellow dog, whose hair was never right and neither were his parents. A boy who gave me my first kiss and drove a Thunderbird too fast on the highway to my house every Sunday to ride horses and teach my little sister to play chess…
A boy who received those notes, folded them back up, put them in his pocket only to tuck them away in a box to be saved and moved from place to place as he went off to college with the girl, drove her to Yellowstone National Park in the middle of July with no air conditioning, proposed to her under her favorite oak tree, married her there and proceeded to work on the happily ever after.
I didn’t know the boy kept the notes.
I didn’t know the man still had them.
I didn’t remember the girl who wrote them.
A quirky girl who made up stories about turtles stuck on fence posts in an attempt to make the boy laugh. A girl who unabashedly poured her feelings out on pages she hand delivered to the boy who would write her notes back with no notion that any other eyes would ever see…
I took those notes out one by one and on the floor of the grimy basement I was reminded of that girl with frizzy hair and a Ford LTD that guzzled oil and needed a jump start after school.
I was reminded of the boy who always had jumper cables waiting when the bell rang.
And as each page unfolded so did the memories of what it was like to be 16 and so in love.
We were all there once weren’t we? You can remember it can’t you? Your first car ride together. Your first kiss. Fight. Breakup.
Most people have gone through the process and then started it all over again with another first kiss, another first car ride, another first fight…a series of excitement and emotions that cycle through in different ways with different people until you find the one you choose to hang on tight to. And you may or may not have written love letters. And they may or may not be in someone’s basement, someone who is a stranger now, someone who remembers you with a scent of perfume or an old favorite song on the radio as they are driving down familiar roads.
If there is one thing in my life that makes me wonder about fate and choices and understanding the human connection, it is this relationship I have had with this boy who is now my husband. The familiar road? I never strayed. That favorite song? It has not stopped playing.
That first car ride together? We’re still driving.
And sometimes I’ll admit that I wonder if I knew anything back then. That hair? Are you kidding? Those high-water pants? Kill me. The decision to buy two baby turtles and raise them under a heat lamp in an aquarium in my dorm room? Not the most logical.
I admit there have been times I have wondered if I missed out on something, if I shouldn’t have gotten so comfortable, if I should have had my heart broken a few more times…kissed more boys…
But I read those letters last week, the ones I scrawled during study hall and math class when I should have been paying attention. My words were never chosen carefully and mostly I said nothing at all except something about a test that and a note to him about luck at a football game or singing on the weekend.
Then I came across a note with a drawing of a house with a chimney in the crook of a hill. Beside it I drew a barn and below it a creek that wound through a fenced in pasture. In the pasture I drew two horses, one for him and one for me. I also drew a pig and a goat, a cow and boat in the dam I built with the creek on the edge of the paper. There were two vehicles in the driveway: A pickup for him. A car for me.
Now, I had been looking for love stories lately, hunting them down and reading them, watching them on television, asking people how they met, opening my eyes to see one walking down the street, at a table next to me in a restaurant or in the line at the grocery store.
Lately I’d been feeling like maybe our story wasn’t enough.
Then I opened another letter and read: “If we can say we loved each other for a lifetime I will have lived my dreams.”
Now I didn’t know anything then about life and how hard it can be to live out dreams and make things like this work.
I still don’t.
But I have to give that 16 year old credit. She may not have known what she wanted to be, how far she wanted to travel or how to properly boil an egg.
But she knew what she was doing.
She knew what love was.