Andy asked me to marry him fifteen years ago today (if you need a giggle today, remember the funny engagement stories you told me from a couple of years ago? I love those so much). Occasionally, I have a moment where I stop and can't even BELIEVE we are married. It's the miracle of my life. Considering we knew each other for years without ever even giving each other the time of day, it is sort of a miracle. We met in college, when he was a freshman and I was a junior. I still remember where he was sitting (in the middle of the cafeteria, with a guitar) when I met him. He was always in the center of things, even then. We went to a small school. I'd look out the window of the Denkmann (Augustana people, you have to click on that link — it's so cool; in fact, check all of these really old Augie pictures out) library and there he'd be, on the quad, in the middle of the hacky-sack circle. I sucked at hacky-sack [me: kicks sack, falls down]. His circles always included a lot of different people. He knew the burn-outs, the frat guys, the skaters, the smarties, the nouveau-hippies, the geologists, the metalheads, the Deadheads, the preps. We were in the same small circle of good friends, maybe a dozen people in all (and those were about the only people that I really knew). Our group was tight, but out of everyone in it, he and I weren't close at all: We were around each other every day and were each quite close to some of the same people, but I wouldn't say that we had a memorable, let alone remarkable, connection to each other. Except of course for the fact that I was probably secretly in love with him, but even I didn't know that.
After I graduated, I moved away. The next summer, my dad called me one day and told me I'd gotten a letter at my parents' house. It was from Andy Paulson. My heart suddenly went zing! I was very surprised. A letter? From Andy Paulson? To me??? My dad sent it on to me. In the days it took to arrive, I imagined all sorts of things, the most hopeful of which was that Andy was writing to admit that he'd always had a secret crush on me. Squeeeeeeee!!! Yes, that must be it! It couldn't be anything else! Oh, hurry, hurry mailman!
Letter arrived: "Dear Alicia, Hi. I am a camp counselor at Camp Hastings this summer. My campers, etc. We went swimming, etc. The cabin smells bad, etc. Campfires, etc. I have mosquito bites, etc."
I turned it over. Upside down. Read it again. Between the lines. Not quite the love letter I'd imagined. Later, when I asked him, "So, why did you write to me, anyway?" he said, "I don't know, I think I was just writing to everyone I knew."
Oh! Still, I was determined to take it as a sign. When I moved home at the end of that summer, he had just gotten back from camp and was about to leave the next week to start his senior year at school. Our parents lived about fifteen minutes from each other. I stopped by his house one day. No one was home (except for a cat with no hair on the porch). I left a note saying I had stopped by. He called and asked me if I wanted to go on a road trip to visit another mutual friend. I said okay. We drove to Peoria in his mom's white Geo Metro. When we got out of the car, two hours later, we were in love. No kidding. It took two years [of barely speaking] and two hours.
I was 24, he was 22. We had a long-distance relationship, then, for two years (until we moved to Montana together in 1994). We broke up about a hundred times the first year. In retrospect, it was pretty hilarious. Once [now famously, since I've told this story many times] when we were broken up, he came to visit. He was driving me to work (I was waitressing) after we'd gone out to lunch. I remember hoping that the traffic lights would turn red so we would get to be in the car together for longer. I was really hoping he wanted to get back together. A couple of blocks from the restaurant, at a red light he said, "Alicia, I have to ask you a question." And I got really excited and thought to myself, "Oh joy oh joy! Here it comes! 'Alicia, do you still like me?' or 'Alicia, do you want to be my girlfriend?' or 'Alicia, can we get back together again?' "
He says, "Alicia, who do you think would win in a grudge match — the Hamburglar, or Mayor McCheese?"
Light turns green, car turns corner, I get out, slam door. Him sitting there with a very confused look on his face.
I would "break up" with him (which was really more him "breaking up" with me — I don't know, it was very confusing), but then I'd see him and I would think:
I may be slow but I'm not insane, people!!! You don't really think I would let him out of my sight, do you?
If you asked him, he would tell you that he doesn't even remember ever breaking up. As far as he is concerned, we've been together since the minute we got out of the Geo Metro, maybe even since the minute we met. And I love him for that. And a hundred million other reasons, including the fact that he is the kindest, most gentle, and most generous person I've ever met in my entire life.
The rock-solid pipes are just an added bonus, y' know?