My first glances were shyly offered under blonde bangs, teased and permed. I sat in the front row, in the aisle second from the left wall. What I knew of you, in that spring when I was 20 and you must have been 46 was that you carefully poised a gold pocket watch on the edge of the desk before you spoke. I knew of that pocket watch, for I had purchased one for my college boyfriend only a few months before, when he had admiringly told me of yours. Throughout that semester I became a voyeur. I carefully watched your hands, your left hand mysteriously missing a wedding band until later in the semester, when one miraculously appeared. I wrote cryptic details about you in the margins of my college-ruled notebook, details gleaned from hints you dropped of your own personal life…”grew up in Texas?”…”Baylor?”…”graduate school in the 70s?” I wondered about the mystery that was Robert Pettit, Ph.D. You had no idea who I was. My college roommate cut out a picture of you from the Oak Leaves and hung it, as a joke (or as portent) above my desk. Out of your mouth hung these words, once affixed to a $10 bill from my father, “I want to live with you.”
It was before my senior year of college, that you became my friend. No longer could I jokingly call you “Robert Pettit, the love of my life,” as in, while talking to my roommates, “Sorry, I can’t stay for tea this morning, I’m off to Sociology of Religion class with Robert Pettit, the love of my life” or as with an exasperated sigh I would grouse “Why is it that I have to write this essay on the McDonalidazation of society? Stupid, stupid, Robert Pettit, the love of my life, assigned it for tomorrow!”
You became my friend over cooked chicken and pineapple. You became my friend over conversations about breast feeding and day care. You became my friend and as I learned to know Robert Pettit the father, and husband to T., my silly jokes no longer fit. I learned that you were gentle, and genuine, and unfailingly faithful to your family. You became my friend.
When I learned of your separation from T. I ached for you. My attempts at support felt clumsy and inadequate. My sadness at the pain in your face, at the craggy furrows in your brow and the gaping chasms under your eyes left me aching. Your grief was so palpable, it was its own entity in every meal we shared. I came home from lunch at the College Union with you one afternoon and sat on the loveseat in my pastor’s study with my head in my hands, knowing I was helpless. I was helpless for there was nothing I could do to ease your pain, and I was helpless, for even, even in the depths of that still barren spring, I knew that I had found a kindred spirit. And I knew that this could be very dangerous.
I still marvel at the story that brought us from there to here. The route from point A to B is circuitous and messy. I look back over my shoulder and shudder at what was, and then soften as I recall small wonders…Monday morning tea in front of God and the world in The Oaks…your offerings to me of chai and sour lemon drops and granola bars…tears spilled in tea cups.
You became my husband in a rite of passage in my parents back yard before 60 or so of our friends and family. But this was merely ceremonial, for you had become my husband long before.
I don’t fully understand the depth of love I have for you. It is a mighty and, at times, for this woman who held a piece of her heart away from so many for so long, frightening thing. John O’Donohue in his book on Celtic wisdom, on the whole mystery which we have come to know as our anam-cara connection wrote once, “human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of an invisible grace. Nowhere is there such intimate and frightening access to the mysterium.”
Thank you for renewing the mystery within me, as turbulent as it has been. Thank you for seeing me, and in so seeing, recalling the Christen that has been reborn and recreated in her own image, and in Her image. Thank you for being my resurrection place, and my home, and my delight. On this, your birthday, may you know the depths of my love, and my endless commitment as your partner, as your lover, and as your anam cara.