Nine Years Ago, Today

I stand beneath blistering lights at VanDyke Photography studio.

My dress brushes the floor when I turn, sweeps behind me when I take a step. Vintage 1960 ivory lace and satin, which I’d found at a Lansing antique store for $99. A dress that is perfectly me, entirely unique. The secret blessing of a tight budget. And I bought it (rather, my parents did) two months before engagement.

I knew. I had only known this man, the one I am waiting for at the photography studio, six months when I bought the dress, had only been dating him four. But I knew.

I like to say we met Goofing Off.

We were at work, in the upstairs hallway of Sunshine Community Church, sitting on the floor outside empty classrooms. The walls glowed with fresh paint and our job that day was to take a chemical solvent to the baseboards, to remove the slopped smears and drips of paint. The name of the product was Goof Off.

Maybe the fumes went to our heads, but our conversation turned to the future. What were our hopes? What did we want most out of life?

“We’re done with the girls, with the bride’s parents,” the photographer says. “Shall we bring in the groom?”

I was too young for him. Only nineteen, nine years his junior. He had fears, he will tell me later, that I was too young to know my own mind, too young to be trusted.

That day after Goofing Off, I knew. I wrote in my journal, “I think I met someone. I won’t say more because I always do that. I always say, ‘I know! This is the one! This is IT!’ and I have always been wrong. This time, hear me, journal. I will say nothing.” Several months later I sat beside my friend Lucy, visiting from the then Czech Republic, in the church narthex, and I pointed to the man in the maintenance uniform. “That’s him, that’s the man I’m going to marry.”

The photographers send everyone off the studio floor and out the doors. I look at them, confused. The assistant smiles at me. “He hasn’t seen you in your dress, has he?” I shake my head. She nods and follows the photographer out of the room.

One of my work responsibilities was to make up the schedule. Who would work concerts? Who would open Saturday morning, or close after services Sunday night? Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings were our days. No one else worked with us, and only rarely did a call on the radio interrupt our conversations. Soon those conversations continued over late night cups of coffee and slices of pie, and soon those late nights became bleary drives back to my apartment in the predawn hours, exhausted, exhilarated, certain.

I will tell him later of the hours spent manipulating the schedule, accommodating fifteen or more employees’ preferences, their requested days off, and still holding on to Tuesdays and Saturdays. He will laugh. “I wondered why we were always working together.”

I wait in the empty studio. Of all the moments of that day, this I will remember. Black cloth drapes the walls, wires snake across the floor, the lights obscure my view of the door. I pace as time stretches on. I am not sure why I am alone, and I am beginning to worry—is there a problem? Was I supposed to have left with the rest?

I do not see him until he is standing at the edge of the circle of light. His eyes glisten. And again, I know.

Nine years later, three children, and conflicts and struggles that were not in our plan, I still know. I have changed and so has he, but my promise that day has not.

August 9, 1997

August 9, 2006

August 9 for the rest of my life.

Our Hearts, Our Souls, Our Love Forever.