By Tim Hayes
On a warm late August evening, while standing in front of the main auditorium building of my brand-new college campus, mere steps away – unbeknownst to me – approached the source of my first and only heart attack. Figuratively, that is.
A magician or hypnotist or something would be performing inside shortly as part of a week’s worth of Freshman Orientation activities, to get newbies like me acclimated to college and make some early friends among dorm mates. One of the only other fellow freshmen I knew was a friend from high school, so she and I agreed to go to this show.
I saw her come walking over the crest of a nearby hill and quickly realized that she had brought her entire floor too. About 25 girls moving as a pack toward me. But after scanning the group, it happened.
One face made me gasp. I forgot to breathe for a moment. My center of gravity shifted. I felt sure my heart would thump right out of my chest onto the flagstone terrace in front of that auditorium. That face, that gorgeous face, knocked me for a loop.
We dated all through the next four years. Naturally, some semester schedules kept us moving from building to building apart all day. But when we could meet for lunch or dinner or evenings together, after dealing with professors and classmates and reading and papers and exams – each time I would look up and see that face again, the breathing got shallow, the legs wobbled, the heart pounded.
After graduation, we started our married life together. Two 21-year-olds with no money, a bucket of bolts for a car, and all the optimism and mutual support in the world. I was able to start a job in my field, but she worked a series of jobs so far beneath her intellectually, just to keep our heads above water. We’d both come home in the evening, tired, ready to have some dinner and watch a little TV. And even though I knew she deserved so much better than the jobs she had, she never – ever – complained or lived with anything less than her usual joyful, caring, loving self.
And that face. That beautiful face, which grew more treasured every day.
In time, the kids began to show up. With each delivery, I saw that face in pain, exhausted, and ultimately set aglow when each of our three children was placed in her arms for the first time. The images of that face, at those moments, may be the most incredible of them all.
I had to have emergency surgery a number of years ago. Coming out of the anesthetic in the recovery room, I saw my Mom and Dad standing beside the bed, and that made me happy and very thankful for their love and support. Then, a few seconds later, she came into the room and held my hand. The best medicine of all, that sunny, lovely, face of my forever partner.
We’ve been together 40 years since that warm August evening as college freshmen. A few more lines around the eyes, a couple new pounds around the waist, perhaps, but also a rhythm that only she and I can hear. A way of communicating, anticipating each other, caring for one another.
That nonsense about familiarity breeding contempt? Don’t you believe it. There’s no one else in the world I’d rather spend this familiar life with. She makes it so easy to love her fully, every moment, every day.
It’s the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see before closing my eyes at night. It’s in my mind’s eye all day, every day, whether we’re physically together or not. And when she comes through the front door after work – from a job that truly honors her intellect, at last – the same feeling hits me all over again.
I forget to breathe for a moment. My center of gravity shifts. It feels like my heart is going to thump right out of my chest onto the floor. That face, that gorgeous, kind, funny, loving, patient, courageous, giving, beautiful face, still knocks me for a loop. And I couldn’t be more grateful.
Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes