Howdy, folks! This year, I’ve started something new: creating a life plan, or as my husband likes to say, “A Life on Purpose.” (Ahhh, the play on words and double entendres that zip around like gnats in our household. Love it.) Anyway, this included a lot of reflection on my part, and prompted the writing of this short story detailing my life far before Mandalf and I were together, or before I ever dreamed my life would one day be turned upside-down by Lyme. Call this chapter one in our story. I hope you enjoy! Sincerely, The Foda.
It was a hat that made me fall in love with my husband.
It wasn’t even a particularly nice hat. The colors were chocolate and clementine, the emblem affixed to the front the only real talking point it had. “Life is Good”, it said. I didn’t know it was a brand. I just thought it was a hat for hope-mavens like me who wanted to wear their smiles like a flag on their foreheads, a third evil eye to ward off negative spirits and their human counterparts. I spied it from across the quad between my ten minute walk from “why did I sign up for an eight AM class” to “thank goodness this professor allows open-notebook tests.” It waved at me; an old friend, reminding me of fall and leaves and the clove-studded orange my sister would put into holiday Wassail at Christmas time.
But it wasn’t just the hat, you see, that made me fall face first into love. It was the fact that I owned the very same one, just slightly smaller, although considering the size of his head, it could be they were once quite the same, as it was a knitted hat, which are known to stretch. But it was neither here nor there, this qualifying of the hat, because the moment I saw it, I was in very, very real trouble. This is when that fluttery bird in my stomach dislodged itself from its previous post on my rib cage, and flew straight into my heart. And the realization I was screwed was as physical a thing as if it wrapped its tiny proverbial talons around my pulmonary artery and squeezed.
And I thought, all Ralphie in A Christmas Story style… “Oh fuuuuddddggge.”
Not because I didn’t love the idea of love. But because I’d been studiously, carefully, avoiding the wearer of this hat for two years. You heard me. Two. Years.
And as I saw that bobbing slice of orange and brown blinking at me from across the quad, I knew, I just knew it wasn’t going to work. There was no way I’d be able to pull the proverbial wool over my eyes anymore. Not even if I– quite literally– pulled the wooly hat currently on my head down past the bridge of my nose. That’s right. I was wearing my own matching hat right now, tugged snugly around my ears like a talisman against the cold. The very same one. All matchy-matchy; like friendship bracelets for your face. Which meant there was absolutely no way I was going to get out of talking with him.
Like I said. Fuuuddddggge.
I probably should have turned away, should have waved at a random stranger and left the frosted pavement bisecting the grass like a granite river. Hell, I even considered running directly into the path of a flying frisbee. People were always playing frisbee, even on frigid fall days like today when your fingers turned so numb from the wind, the smack of a disc upon them felt very nearly like a nun striking your knuckles with a ruler. Or so I thought, having never actually experienced such a thing. So imagine, if you can, how desperate I must have been to deliberately put myself between such a flying fiend and the tall man coming my way. But I didn’t fancy a broken nose– although it would have given me an excuse to fix the deviated septum I have– and my depth perception is so atrocious, I would have more likely leapt into the air and have it by-pass me altogether. And this humiliation could not happen– not in front of the man I’d secretly been lusting after for more than 730 days.
So instead I kept on walking, thinking, what do I normally do with my hands? Do they swing with my legs or opposite them? Should I hold onto my messenger bag cooly, or flip my hair back? No, no, don’t do that, that looks… flirtatious. And you are not flirting.
Why was I not flirting, do you ask? Oh, did I forget to mention? Because I had a boyfriend. A very large, protective, no-one-will-love-you-like-I-can boyfriend. And because someone had told me that only five percent of high school sweethearts made it past college, and dammit if I wasn’t going to be in that five percent. Never mind that he was at another university, more than four hours drive from mine. Never mind that he asked me to choose between my lifelong dream and him.
But that’s a whole other story.
Although while we’re on the subject, what a cheeky genius, tempting me with my insatiable competitive drive to be the five percent. Genius, I tell you! I’ve always been competitive, even for things I have no business being competitive for in the first place. Like frisbee. Or golf. And later, frisbee golf. (Which, apparently, is a thing.) I wanted to be the chic, sporty damsel who could sink that damn plastic plate into the caged basket-thingy and still look fabulous doing it. I convinced myself I might like it; that I might actually be good at it. Although the fact that I separately despised both frisbee and golf should have been a rather hefty clue to the contrary. But always hold out hope, that’s my motto.
Which was how I got myself into all these ungainly positions in the first place.
He approached me then and I lost my breath. It ran out on me, traitorous thing that it was, leaving me feeling quite squeezed and tingly, like a tourniquet had been wrapped around my entire lower body. It wasn’t slow motion, not like it would be in the movies when you first see the love interest, but it might as well have been, my eyes rocked wide from air deprivation and all. There was no sexy music or anything, but my heart was beating so loud in my ears it was quite like a bass drum, riffing a steady, soulful beat that resounded through my numb fingers and toes.
He was about ten feet away, and I could see everything about him, the way his light brown hair curled ever so slightly around the clementine brim of his hat, the ocean blue eyes that sparkled from under sooty lashes, and the wide, charismatic grin displaying rows of large white teeth.
Because his mouth was large, you see, there was no way around it. But it wasn’t off-putting, it was inviting, like some sort of wondrous new land you’d like a visa to enter. I found myself staring at it, the way it curved upwards on both ends like a hammock, and how I wanted to curl up there, in the bow of his lips, and then I froze because oh my God he’s right in front of me and I’m daydreaming about his mouth.
“Nice hat,” I said before he could speak, doffing my head slightly, as if he hadn’t made the connection between our similar choice of chapeau.
“TJ Maxx,” he shrugged, running his long fingers over the nubby wool. His fingernails were short and rounded, like I like them, clean but not fussy. Like a man’s should be.
“Me too,” I said, flipping my hair over my shoulder nonchalantly. Damn! Wasn’t supposed to do that. “Better go, don’t wanna be late,” I offered brightly, telling myself to immediately walk past him, but he was still smiling at me, and the bird on my heart started flapping so hard, it seemed to create a vacuum, rooting me in place.
“Still on campus this year?” he asked, and I nodded, wrapping my coat tighter about my waist because it’s already cold and I shiver when I’m nervous, and this man makes me very, very nervous.
“Eisenhower hall,” I said, turning and pointing at the slate grey building at the far end of the campus.
He laughed and pointed to the similar, slightly more oblong building right next to it. “Hemingway,” he brought his hand to his chest. Which, if I’m not being too indelicate, I must say was rather impressive. His chest, that is. Mainly from the fact it was so wide it made him look vaguely cartoonish, like an inverted triangle. Which, to be frank, I rather liked. Disney fetish and all. It made me vaguely wish he would extend his hand and start singing soulfully: “I can show you the world…”
He went on. “Looks like we’re neighbors.”
“So I’ll be seeing a lot of you,” I said slowly. It came out oddly pinched, like the dichotomous mix between an exclamation and a threat.
“You will,” he said. It was a promise; flat and sure.
The massive clock tower began to chime, nine o’clock. Several small finches exploded into the air at the sound, their tiny wings fluttering like thumbs shuffling through a deck of cards.
“See ya,” I hurried off past him, noting him watch me go, as if I’d left the vacuum behind as a placeholder.
I told you. I was in such big trouble.
….To Be Continued….