The summer before I started middle school my family bought a farm house outside of a small Kansas town. I’ve always loved meeting new people so starting a new school wasn’t too scary for me. Within a couple of weeks I had new friends and was settling into my routine. That’s when I noticed him.
He was tall and lanky. His skin was smooth and tanned. He wore his blond hair in a flat top that wouldn’t have been out of place in the ’50s. His eyeteeth were crooked and when he talked, which wasn’t often because he was shy, he spoke with a slight lisp. I thought he was the cutest boy I’d ever seen.
My crush was intense, as first crushes often are. We became friends and my girlfriends took turns dating his guy friends over the years, but neither of us dated anybody. He wasn’t interested in girls at that point and I was too socially awkward to hope to have a boyfriend.
I changed schools in high school and he took a job in the restaurant my aunt managed. I already ate there often, but I started to go more frequently just to talk to him for a few minutes. He always smiled when I came in, but I never knew how to read that response. Did he smile because we were friends or did he smile because he laid in bed at night thinking about me the way I thought about him?
When I was 16 boys finally started to notice me and I started dating. I had a few serious boyfriends. One of those relationships resulted in me getting pregnant at 18. I spent months doing the things that new mothers do, but I still went to the restaurant as often as I could manage.
I started junior college a year after all my friends. I was only a year older than the other freshman, but inside I felt disconnected and jaded.
He went to the same school, but he, like the rest of my friends, was in his second year of school. We played ping pong in the student union.
There was a moment when we were sitting side by side and he smiled at me that I almost blurted out that I thought he was wonderful. Instead I smiled back and asked him if he wanted to play another game.
When an Army recruiter approached me, I jumped at the chance to find some direction in my life. I dropped out of college and for a brief time the military was my world. I was good at what I did and I was popular with my peers and the drill sergeants. I forgot what it was like to feel awkward.
I met a man in the Army who I would later marry. I thought everything would work out. He wasn’t my first love, but I knew he was as attracted to me as I was to him. I ignored all the red flags that should have warned me away and we spent the next 10 years making each other miserable.
I kept in touch with my crush. He joined the Army a couple of years after I got out. We exchanged emails every few months. We talked about safe topics. I never mentioned my husband, although we would talk about my kids. I believed that if I acknowledged the fact that I was married, I would scare him away and his friendship was a highlight during dark times.
Eventually my husband and I admitted that our marriage was doomed and we separated. I was shocked and delighted to find out that my crush had developed his own crush on me at some point over the years. We started dating and I was as happy as I’ve ever been. Except for when I wasn’t.
Periodically I’d find my thoughts turning to seemingly innocent memories and I’d feel crushing self doubt weighing down on me. I asked him countless times, “What was so wrong with me that it took you almost 20 years to love me back?”.
He was amazing at dealing with me. I know it must have been hard to handle those sudden dramatic mood shifts. Anything could trigger me. For years men told me how attractive they found me and I’d come to believe that. I had a healthy self esteem and a clear sense of my place in the world. I never expected that starting a relationship with the one man I had always wanted to be with would undo that.
This went on for months. Sometimes he reassured me and other times he just held me while I cried. I don’t know how he could stand it. He could have found another woman who didn’t come with so much baggage. He was a lifelong bachelor. He is a good lover, smart, and hilarious. I was just a woman who had four kids and apparent emotional instability issues.
One day it finally dawned on me that it truly didn’t matter. It didn’t matter when he realized I was someone he could love. It didn’t matter how different my life would have been if we’d started dating back in high school. What mattered was that this amazing man wanted me now. He was willing to overlook things that would have turned other men away.
We’ve been together for five years now, married for the last three. My self esteem took a serious hit, but these days I feel more confident than ever before. He tells me often how sexy I am and laughs at all my jokes. I feel incredibly loved.
And I still think he’s the cutest boy I know.