Three years ago today, around 8 pm, The Boy and I went on our first date. It was Father’s Day, so I had to be home for dinner. He picked me up afterwards for ice cream, and one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs was playing when I got in the car. This struck me as incredibly important somehow, like it meant everything would work out. It was very hot out so I ordered lemon sorbet. We ate our frozen snacks by the water. I don’t think we said very much. Afterward we raced back to his house to listen to our favorite radio show. Except… a friend of ours from high school was living with The Boy that summer, and he had invited about ten people over to hang out that night. Have you ever been on a first date with all of your friends from high school standing about 30 feet away? It’s incredibly strange. But we went upstairs to his balcony, and turned on the radio, and looked at the stars, and forgot all about everything going on below us. After that he drove me home, I gave him a small first-date kiss, and I went inside. The whole thing was a little weird, a little awkward, and totally wonderful.
That first date came after a full year of will-they-won’t-they shenanigans. The Boy and I fell in love on the day before the 4th of July, 2008. We’d been spending a lot of time together for a couple months at that point, but it was strictly friends business. Then one day—one of those magical summer days when the raspberries are ripe for picking and the beetles are droning in the tall grass—he walked me down the street to show me his secret spot.
It was just someone’s driveway, but it was strangely enchanted. A long, winding road where the trees crowded close on both sides, creating an arched canopy overhead. A tunnel of green. I didn’t feel like wearing my shoes, so he carried them for me in one hand, just in case. For some reason we felt like it was totally acceptable to lay down in the middle of his neighbor’s driveway, but no one bothered us. It was still and quiet, cool and green. We lay there for awhile, talking of this and that, chattering idly. And then I turned and looked at him, and he turned and looked at me. And that was it for me. Maybe it was actually a gradual thing, something that had been building for awhile, but it didn’t feel like it. One minute I was lying on the side of the road with my best friend, staring up at the light filtering through the leaves, and the next minute I was in love.
Neither one of us said anything about it until years later, after we’d been dating for some time, and I asked him when exactly he knew. He told me about a day when we had nothing to worry about, when he carried my shoes, when he laid his head down on the side of the road, when he looked at me and fell in love.
The picture up top was his birthday present to me that year, the year before we dated. It was the most special thing anyone had ever given me. And for his birthday, I gave him this:
The little girl held a leaf in her cupped hands and thought it was the greenest thing she’d ever seen. The boy’s footprints in the grass made her sad and happy at the same time, for a reason she did not know and had no reason to wonder about. She looked up at the sun and found it so beautiful she forgot about the pain, forgot to look away.
The little boy with the earnest face watched her out of the corner of his eye. She was so small he sometimes worried she might break. Not today though, she wandered some distance away with her fingertips outstretched, grazing the tops of the flowers as she passed, trying to touch the whole world. He leaned over to examine a blade of grass; it curled neatly around the tip of his finger, soft like the touch of a best friend. He’d spent his entire life engulfed in a torrent of noise so loud he’d lost his own voice, so seldom was it heard above the din. But he’d retained his easy smile, and today it held the secret knowledge of the green, and the sun, and that everything was ok. He carried the little girl’s shoes in one hand. She walked ahead barefoot, fearless with the knowledge that if rougher terrain lay ahead, the boy had her covered.
The little girl bent over to whisper something to a daffodil, and it crooned and sighed in reply. She smiled. It was a different smile than the boy’s; it trembled and wavered. She looked as though she’d been born heartbroken. The sadness was self-evident in her face, from the bow curve of her lips to the way her eyelashes brushed against the apples of her cheeks when she blinked. Every so often she’d look at him strangely, silently thanking him for something she couldn’t name. It was for the simple act of carrying her shoes, of tying her feet to the earth.
The backyard lay in the morning heat, quiet and understanding. They came here everyday, the two children, to explore the known and the unknown. The boy’s house was comforting, always just a few feet away if they ever got too hot, or thirsty, or if they had to pee. They expected this to last forever, as if they lived in a neverwhen, an absence of time that did not require them to grow up. They were wrong. They did not know it.
But they were happy in their ignorance. They would clamber through the woods, and he would hold her hand to steady her over the slippery fallen logs. They would explore the road and sometimes, when she wandered too far away, he’d call her away from the dizzying beckoning sunlight and back to the safety of his cool, dry hand.
Years later (or was it hours? Who could tell, and who cared?) the boy and the girl sat on the lawn and watched the grass grow. There were a thousand things to say but the sun was getting low, and the grass was so nice, and all those words could wait for another day.
“I like the color green,” the girl said.
“I’m glad it’s green,” the boy replied.
She laughed; it seemed like such a silly thing to say. Then she stopped, and smiled at him knowingly, because she realized that it was just right. And she was glad that it was green.
It’s been almost four years since then, three since our first date. We’ve both changed so much, and in some ways not at all. We’ve lived together, traveled together, been adults together, we’ve said goodbye to that house and moved on, and I’m not that fragile, breakable thing anymore. But I still get a little nervous, a little excited whenever I see him, even if it’s only been a few hours. He still holds my hand while I scramble over rocks, and sometimes he holds my shoes. We’ve grown up together over the last few years, but sometimes he’s still the little boy and I’m still the little girl. And I hope it stays that way, even when we’re old and wizened. It’s been the best three years of my life, so far.
And hey, exactly three years from today we’ll be celebrating our first wedding anniversary. I can’t wait.