About a month ago a new friend asked me how I met Bryan, and I was caught up in telling our story. It’s a fun story, and I love to tell it, so please ask me to whenever you see me next. It makes me smile.
Today is our 7th wedding anniversary. And in writing a portion of our beginnings here in song, I see I am even more fortunate than I first believed. Woven through our story is the purposeful intention of a very patient man. Not a word wasted, not a move meandered. Just a wildly intentional, poetic, man who knows how to woo a woman.
You can listen to the mix here (open in a new browser or window).
Barry Louis Polisar – All I Want Is You
Miss Li – Oh Boy
Florence and the Machine – Kiss With a Fist
Beck – Think I’m In Love
The Weepies – Gotta Have You
Tom Baxter – Better
Bruce Cockburn – Isn’t That What Friends Are For
The Waterboys – Strange Boat
Over the Rhine – I Want You to Be My Love
Belle & Sebastian – If You Find Yourself Caught in Love
She & Him – Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
Landon Pigg – Falling In Love At A Coffee Shop
“I want you to be my love.”
It seems our relationship always had a soundtrack attached to it, even from the very first eyebrow-raising interaction. In 2001 Bryan did a substantial amount of pro bono web development for a non-profit I was working for, so he was in and out of the office quite a bit. One day in February he sat down in the empty chair of my office and we chatted about nothing in particular that I remember. When he got up to leave, my friend says to me, You should see if he wants to go with us to the show….
She was referring to Over the Rhine, whose tickets for an upcoming show at the now defunct Crocodile Cafe were about to go on sale. If you’ve never heard of Over the Rhine, it’s because they are a somewhat obscure band from Ohio with a huge cult following. So when I called after him as he left and asked if he’d like to go with us to the show, I saw his eyebrows flicker up just a little as he paused, then said yes, he would love to go.
The next morning when I came into work I read the following email from Bryan:
I just wanted to thank you for making my day yesterday.
Going to see OTR is good. Going to see them with a beautiful woman who really appreciates them — well, that’s better — much better.
As it turns out, he was also a huge Over the Rhine fan and was quite smitten with the idea I knew and apparently loved them as well. His email swooped in and clearly communicated this would not be a group outing, and that he was, in fact, asking me out on a date. Though before this reality sunk in, I found myself shouting at my computer in a cavernous office with no rugs or curtains to mute my cries, “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!”
The Boss Man came in, read the email, smirked, and nodded his head as if to say, “Well played, Bryan. Well played.”
“I think I’m in love but it makes me kind of nervous to say so.”
For our second date Bryan took me to see O Brother Where Art Thou at the Harvard Exit, then we had drinks and dinner somewhere on Capital Hill. I swooned at all this attention, all the chivalry. I had just come off a two year crush on a boy who didn’t reciprocate my feelings, and wasn’t used to someone actually being into me. But this also unsettled me. I felt I was being swooped into this relationship emotionally before I completely understood what I really wanted – a pattern my friend had graciously pointed out in the past.
So I clarified.
“I just need you to know I’m not sure how I feel about where all this is going,” I said over dinner. “I like you, but I don’t know much beyond that.”
“How about this,” he said, leaning in. “I’ll just keep asking until you say No.”
Which of course meant I would NEVER EVER IN A MILLION YEARS say no, because at these words I was hooked.
“Isn’t that what friends are for?”
Several weeks after our first date Bryan had to leave town for a job out of the country. The trip was three weeks long, and was situated right at the point in our relationship when you either part with pleasantries or go all-in. Bryan had been married before, and I was approaching 30 – young by most standards these days, but I was tired of being in The Game. Neither of us wanted to nurture another broken heart, so there was an unspoken urgency – at least on my part – to Figure It All Out before he left.
I don’t remember what solidified my decision, but suddenly I was feeling fairly certain I would marry Bryan. So I leaned in for a kiss, and in my mind that was the beginning of our covenant. Having participated in all kinds of dysfunctional relationships from the time I was in middle school, I knew this one was different. I don’t know how I knew, especially since we hardly knew each other, but I just knew.
I asked to borrow some CD’s from his music collection. If he couldn’t be with me for the next three weeks, I wanted to know more about him through his music. Bruce Cockburn’s Breakfast In New Orleans was one of the CD’s he gave me, and I listened to it the night before he left. The next morning on the way to the airport, I gave him a card with these lyrics in it from the song:
I’ve been scraping little shavings off my ration of light
And I’ve formed it into a ball
And each time I pack a bit more onto it
And I make a bowl of my hands
And I scoop it from its secret cache under a loose board in the floor
And I blow across it
And I send it to you against those moments when the darkness blows under your door
I swear that I’m not embellishing the story when I tell you he said he thought of me, too, when he heard these lyrics again, which is why he gave me the CD. We each had a Complicated Past prior to our collision (and who doesn’t?), so we had a deep personal knowledge of Things Not Working Out. Some of that healing had to take place before we met, but the rest? We needed each other for that.
“I think that possibly maybe I’m falling for you.” -Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop
The morning Bryan left the country we had breakfast together at the Blue Star Cafe and Pub in Wallingford (which is what I kept calling Dottie’s True Blue Cafe in San Francisco). I had another moment of panic, somehow thinking I was just the poor schlep who happened to say Yes to this guy. I knew he’d asked other women out recently before he asked me, and I wondered, Should I have said no? They said no. Should I have said no, too? How did I know I wasn’t just going along with this because he was asking me to?
Questions swirling (which is just a euphemism for holy shit, am I really thinking about making a commitment?!).
I don’t remember much of our conversation after that, but obviously I was talked down off the ledge (It’s funny to me how I manage to clearly remember the moments of panic, but not the words that brought peace). Later, when Bryan proposed marriage, he gave me the first poem he ever wrote for me. The entire thing is here, but in these verses he references that Blue Star Cafe conversation:
she has just asked me
how i know
that she is the one
and there is so much to say about the past and the future and the moment unfolding before us — sitting across a table eating Saturday morning eggs at the breakfast pub on 45th and Stone
she wants to know
the method of my surety –
how I have discerned
its measure is not madness
and my answer is simply this –
i know because i have chosen.
chosen to dive for these pearls
chosen to dig for this treasure
chosen to love her first
all that lies in this middle
and make no mistake
there is much that lies in this middle –
split tongue undertones
and happily ever afters?
i will push these half-truths into full light
and say plainly –
we are not compatible –
we are wicked
and only by Grace made able
we are not going to live “happily” ever after –
we will be nourished by Joy,
through famine into laughter
we will be blessed in restful wrest –
a marriage bed of ordered mess
“Were sailing on a strange boat; Heading for a strange shore…” -The Waterboys
We were engaged the first weekend of April, just a month and a half after our first conversation about Over the Rhine’s upcoming show. Like many young women, I had grand ideas of what I wanted my wedding to be like. I had the songs picked out, the dance music picked out, I had the flowers picked out – all I needed was to insert a groom.
One day on a drive out to the country – I think we were going to a friend’s wedding – Bryan put on a CD by The Waterboys, and Strange Boat came on. A hush came over me as I listened. I made him play it several more times.
“I think this is the song we need to have in our wedding. We have to get rid of all the other songs and use just THIS one.”
And that bastard? He smirked. And he said, “I was hoping you would come to that conclusion.”
He’s been subtly planting ideas in my head ever since.
“a kick in the teeth is good for some” – Kiss With a Fist.
We were married July 27, 2001 in a hidden garden on Queen Anne. We stood under a canopy of tree branches. The caterers forgot the forks. I walked through the grass with my herb bouquet and my green dress, and I got hitched.
We have an obscene amount of fun in our marriage. No two people should be allowed to have this much fun without first getting high, but we somehow manage. When we fight, we fight hard, and I fight dirty. And there was that one year, the one after Thomas was born, that I wondered if we would make it.
But we did.
And now I hear this song, and it makes me laugh because it is so true, a kiss with a fist is better than none.