The other day I realized that I am at an odd place in my life. Our son Devin is 18 years old now. He is in the second semester of his freshman year at USC.
When I was precisely at his age and stage I met Heidi. My whole life turned then. It wasn’t long after we met that we fell in love, and while we have had some ups and downs, we committed our lives to each other and got married 4 ½ years later. Now we have been married for over 30 years. 30 years.
I remember so clearly being exactly his age. I remember being in class with Heidi and wanting to talk to her but being a little too shy.
Southern Indiana, 1976. The Bicentennial. Gerald Ford. Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Elton John, Stevie Wonder. Saturday Night Live, M*A*S*H, Charlie’s Angels, The Muppet Show. Rocky, A Star Is Born, All the President's Men.
Her hair was long and straight and shiny auburn. She was tiny and tanned and freckled and her smile was so pretty that it made my heart hurt.
We lived in the same dorm, Wright Quad, and ate in the same cafeteria. We played Frisbee in the same courtyard, listened to the same hits on the radio.
That spring semester at Indiana University, we ended up in the same art class – Crafts and Design. The classroom building was a Quonset hut in the center of campus. The teacher was nice. She was simple, fun, cool. A hippie chick. The work in her class was creative. It was a completely relaxed atmosphere. We could sit where we wanted in that room. I was afraid to sit too close to Heidi. She was too pretty.
I found myself gazing at her when she wasn’t looking and sneaking peeks from the corner of my eye. While we walked back to the same dormitory after class, I didn’t have the nerve at first to walk with her.
In about mid-March, one of the first warm days of early spring, we had an assignment to go to the small art museum on campus and sketch a favorite piece. The class met on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I hadn’t done my sketch earlier, of course, and was just going to stop by the museum on my way to class. When I got there I found that the museum was locked for lunch and there was no way it would be opened before it was time to go to class.
I was a little disgusted with myself for putting off the assignment to the last minute. I was trying to look through the narrow glass window in the door to see what I could sketch when Heidi came in. She was in the same situation it seemed. So, that’s how we met. Both of us procrastinators, both of us peering through the small glass windows to get a peek at part of some barely visible piece of art so we could sketch it just in time for class.
I don’t remember the sketch, but I remember exactly what Heidi was wearing, a yellow halter-top and blue jeans shorts. Her long hair was in a ponytail, her skin impossibly brown for the time of year. She was beautiful. I was shy, but not too shy to hold up my end of the conversation.
From that day on we walked back from class together. We laughed, and joked, talked about music and class, our roommates, our families and our new friends. Simply, we shared our stories. I was in love so fast that it was ridiculous. But before Heidi fell for me, we were friends, then best friends, then we left for our respective homes during the summer. We wrote letters nearly every day. They were silly and light and full of good cheer. I wrote as much as I could between those lines.
It wasn’t until the next Christmas that we first kissed, but that time we spent as best friends? Those meals we shared, those walks we took, the ideas and laughs and evenings spent looking at the night sky? I wouldn’t change that for anything. All of that time becoming friends has translated into a lifetime of friendship beyond our love.
I remember high school and my junior high days. I even have lots of memories of elementary days. But that time when I first met and fell for Heidi Mills – that time is crystal for me. For that is the beginning who I really am now. The man, husband, father, teacher, friend, musician I am right now started when I was just the age that Devin is at this moment.
He might not meet his one true love very soon. It might take him a long time. It seems to happen later these days for many people. But I am excited for him and can only hope that he remembers the days he is living right now as I remember mine – the beginning of a brilliant time of change and hope and becoming.