He was handsome, with round blue eyes and dark thick lashes, his ready smile showing off his straight teeth. Time after time I saw him in the cafeteria line, and I was curious about his presence with college-aged students, his age outside the norm. He was dressed too casually to be faculty or staff, but my limited imagination didn’t help me answer the question: who is that guy?
All of 19, I was still a kid that summer. I was unmotivated and adrift, in college with no purpose, not in danger of going under, but riding the surface, swept by currents I couldn’t master. Summer school and the university job I held were just a means to bide my time, until what, I didn’t know.
The cafeteria was a broad expanse, pale linoleum floor underneath, long rows of tables end to end. Finding friends and acquaintances in the room was easier than one might think, as there was little to impede the view from one side of the big room to the other.
At lunch one early July day I found and sat with my friend Dan, one of the resident assistants in the dorm attached to the dining hall. “Who is that guy?” I asked, gesturing to the man 20 feet away from me. Dan looked that way.
“Don’t you know Jim?”
I shook my head. “Who is he?” I repeated.
“He’s on my floor,” he said to me, before hollering down the table, “Hey Jim!” Jim turned our way. “Hey Jim, have you met Melanie?”
Jim shook his head and smiled at me, waving hello.
A high school science teacher, Jim was in the first summer of a three-year masters program and was living on campus, the cheapest and most convenient housing for students like him. His real home was an apartment more than three hours away.
We got acquainted quickly after that, falling in love faster than good sense dictated. We ate pizza and drank beer and necked in the garden next to the biology building. We watched the Perseids meteor shower and walked around the pond, camped in the state park, rolled hedge apples. We listened to Bob Seger and James Taylor and dreamed of the day we could be together every day, not just five days a week for another five weeks.
I told my mother I’d fallen in love, something I expect she’d heard before. I told her about the two pretty little girls, ten and eight years old, and she told me it was foolish to get involved. It wasn’t the only bad advice she ever gave me.
Today we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Earlier this year someone asked how much of that had been happy. The question dumbfounded me. “Almost all of it,” I said.
I’ve heard other people answer that question other ways. Despite our age difference, despite the fact we weren’t an obvious couple, despite our differing interests, we have the important things in common. Our values are similar, our sense of humor is similar, we appreciate the same activities, the same aesthetics. He could always make me laugh. So yes, almost all of it has been happy.
We still eat pizza and drink beer and neck in the garden, walk around the pond, watch for meteors, and roll hedge apples. We listen to more jazz and blues now than pop and rock. We still love his pretty little girls, and their husbands and children, and our own son and his fiancee.
Today we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. What would have happened if I hadn’t asked Dan, “Who is that guy?” What would have happened if we hadn’t been so foolish, he to get involved with a 19-year-old girl, me to get involved with a man who already had two children?
Today we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. I love you, Jim. I'm ready for 30 more.