Twenty years ago, September 19th was a Saturday. The night I walked into the Lone Tree in downtown Minneapolis. And met the man who would one day be my husband.
I remember it as being packed because when I got in the door I could only stand near the entrance and look around for a moment. That’s when I saw him. Jeff was on the dance floor, surrounded by people bouncing and gyrating, but he was standing stock-still. And looking right at me.
A feeling of profound knowing, soul-deep and sizzling, blazed across my heart. As if we’d been best friends in another life and were bound to meet in this one. Here finally we were.
We wormed slowly but steadily through the crowd, our eyes occasionally flitting to each other to check the other was still coming.
When finally we met, there was some poor, random guy between us. It was so packed we couldn’t manage to get past him. I reached around him, put my hand on Jeff’s shoulder, and said, “You’re incredible.”
Understand, I was stone sober and had never done anything like that before. In fact, I had very strict rules about how I met guys. Chiefly,he should make the first move.
Jeff’s mouth fell open. Then he promptly asked me to dance. Which was something he’d never done before either. Because he hates to dance. I ditched my friend and he ditched the bachelor party he was with and we spent the next few hours talking like old friends.
“Your firefighter’s here,” my friend said in a taunting voice when Jeff arrived to the governor’s office for our first date. “And he’s wearing jeans.”
In panic, I scrambled to closeout my computer. “Is there a dress code for the lobby?”
I was writing speeches for the governor at that time and he had a very strict policy of impeccable dress for every single person on his staff. One time he came bounding into our offices, irate over the man who had the nerve to dress so casually in the mail room. After he blustered by, we all went for the mail room…and found the water delivery guy.
I was extra nervous because the governor liked to do “drive bys,” as we called them. Strolling through the lobby and stopping to chat with any and everyone who happened to be standing there. Lobbyists, in particular, knew this. So there was always a gaggle of them milling around.
This day was no different. My friends and I peeked out to see a murder of crows in their slick, dark suits. And Jeff, in jeans and a t-shirt, his arm slung over the back of a leather chesterfield and an ankle propped on a knee. As if he lived there.
It would take six years for us to finally marry. Dating and breaking up. On paper we should never have worked. Different families, tastes, hobbies, religions, politics.
“Who takes a limo to go bowling?” Jeff asked one night when we were supposed to “go out and have fun” with the governor. “I’ve gotta sit there and make small-talk with the guy? I didn’t even vote for him.”
“You didn’t?” I asked. “Well, don’t say that.”
And on another night, I was reapplying my lipstick with sick dread.
“Do we have to go to that concession party?” I asked. “I don’t think I can stand it.”
“Up to you,” Jeff said, rocking smugly on his heels.
“You voted me out of a job, ya know.”
“Nope. If he won by one vote, you’d have a point.”
Moving away and dating other people. Losing jobs and losing health. Fights alongside the interstate between the East Coast and the Midwest. Nights he spent fighting a back-breaking cot to sleep beside me in my hospital room.
He insisted on reading me Harry Potter and I just as strenuously refused. But I couldn’t move and he knew this very well.
“Chapter one,” he said with great dramatic effect as he smoothed open the book. “The Boy Who Lived.”
“No, no, no!”
As the nurse adjusted my pain drip, Jeff urged, “More. Yeah. She doesn’t take nearly enough.”
And that’s how I grudgingly read Harry Potter.
“Your chariot awaits,” he said, rolling a wheelchair into my hospital room. “I’m breaking you out of this joint, baby. It’s a gorgeous night and I’ve got a surprise.”
“Outside?” I asked. “I can’t go outside.” I was so fragile then. And afraid.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” he said, “but these nurses, they love me. They sneak me ice cream and snacks. Let me stay in the waiting room long after it’s supposed to be closed. I told ‘em my surprise and they said yes.”
He rolled me out to a back garden just as the sun was setting on a warm late May day.
“Fenway Park, baby.”
He spread his arms wide to show me the glowing ballpark just below. And I burst into tears.
“What could possibly be wrong?” he asked, kneeling in front of me. “It’s a beautiful night and the Red Sox game is about to start.”
“I needed help,” I said through tears. It was an awful confession. “I called for the nurse and nobody came. It was terrifying. I never want to feel that vulnerable ever again.”
“Kate,” he said so earnestly it hurt, “you just had major surgery. You lost so much blood you needed to have a blood transfusion. And yet you were on your feet the next day. Why must you insist on doing everything for yourself? It’s okay to need help sometimes.
“I’m here now. And I’m not going anywhere. Will you let me help you?”
That night began the work of weaving together a true partnership. One where we could be each other’s help mate in this life. And I’m so grateful. It hasn’t always been easy. But it’s the truest thing I know. Building this life. With him.