Friday night meant sliding into my hip hugger bellbottoms and a top that flattered my curves, as I prepared to cruise local bars with friends. It was the way to meet guys in the 1980s. Now in my late 20’s, the desire to have a child had migrated from a small nook, unnoticed while I crafted a career, to a front row seat in the feature film of my future. If I didn’t meet someone soon to share the responsibility of creating a family, I was considering having a child on my own. It was not a situation that was looked down upon anymore. I knew life would be difficult as a single parent, but (naively) thought it wouldn’t be harder than other things I had done.
The second stop of the evening was a popular downtown dive. My eyes met those gazing at me from across the room. He was tall, bearded, and – in my eyes – utterly handsome. I looked away, looked back, and felt the blood rush to my cheeks as our eyes met again. He made his way to my end of the bar. We talked and I soon realized he possessed the secret weapon – he made me laugh. Laughter had been a missing element in the home I grew up in, and had become the barometer of attraction since my first crush on the class clown in the sixth grade. That boy of twelve teased me in a way that did not feel like teasing at all, and often looked my way when he cracked a joke. I eagerly obliged his attention with my giggle and smile. The appeal of a man that could make me laugh persisted. And now, it was pulling me in again.
We dated seriously very quickly. Early on I made it clear that other women on the side were not part of the arrangement. He agreed. His story emerged as we made our way into a party of two. He was in the middle of a divorce, waiting out the year for an uncontested agreement. He was spending nights on a friends couch when we first met, but soon moved into an apartment with another friend. He did not have children, but had a strong desire to have a family. A ship had carried him from Sweden to this country when he was two. His sister was born here when he was five. Their mother returned to Sweden a few years later – alone. They had been raised by their father. The family of three had progressed from relative wealth into relative poverty by way of his father’s gambling. Eventually he and his sister had needed to enter foster care. It was not a pretty story. He had moved to Washington DC on his own at seventeen. Scars on his body spoke of the rough times he had witnessed there. Then, despite multiple attempts at evasion, the Viet Nam draft swept him into the highly unpopular conflict. A quick marriage to his girlfriend left someone at home, waiting for his return. That return was accompanied by the nightmare of addiction. Ultimately the marriage had fallen apart and now here he was. Another broken man waiting for repair. And here I was, the fixer.
My heart opened for the first time since it had been sealed shut over three years ago. The growing relationship lured me to leap in, yet propelled me to run away at the same time. We seemed as different as moon and sun. But the attraction was undeniable. Our endowments were from opposite ends of the spectrum. Mine included early years of stability like that of a mighty oak, rooted in one place, unable to move, waiting for a wind with sufficient ferocity to rip it from the ground and carry it away. His included constant motion, across the ocean, across wealth and poverty, across homes and families, and across threats to his existence that led him to seek comfort from anything that offered it. He tugged my feet from the mud, pulled me towards the freedom of the ethers. I hauled his head from the clouds, pulled him towards the support of the earth. Yet something more than the attraction of opposites connected us. We had both struggled to get where we were, knew what hard work felt like, had been supported by little from outside of ourselves. We both looked at life with our cup half full, saw hope through the haze. And our mutual desire for a family interlaced our hearts.