My favourite story is the one I force my parents to tell me, again and again, about the night they met, and the short succession of months that passed before that night could be called with certainty the beginning.
My mom had moved to London from Montreal, and my dad was a recent implant from New Orleans, by way of England, Israel, and his first home in South Africa. She was a teacher, and one of her student’s parents had met my dad at the local Squash club. They asked my mom if she wanted to be introduced to him, and she said yes. It was November.
The night he called her, she had been in a car accident. She told him that no, a date was not possible, but it would be once she had recovered. He thought this sounded like a convenient excuse for declining a blind date, and asked that she call him when she did want to meet. He had a stronger accent then, and I like to think that the minute she heard his voice for the first time she sensed that this stranger would become something else entirely.
In February of the next year, she did call him, and they went on their first date. The last first date for them both.
Before I tell you what happened next I have to emphasize that my mom’s recollection of that night is more precious to me than any other part of the past that I’ve inherited from my family. More precious even than the name given to me to honour the grandfathers I never knew.
She came home, called her mother, and told her, “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.” Time and again she tells me: when you know, you know.
Marry him she did, in December, barely a year after that first phone call. I understand it was made bittersweet by the absence of their fathers. She had lost hers only a year and a half before. She had a terrible migraine that day, and hated her dress, but she loved him, and he her, and I imagine that the bright spark between them was undeniably felt by all who attended. I feel it now, whenever one of them joins the other in a room, regardless of the length of time spent apart. If you are lucky enough to meet them, watch her eyes find his as she calls to him. Listen to the tenor and warmth of his laugh when he teases her.
That my dad’s recollection of the same first date was slightly different than hers, that he remembers meeting a woman who possessed several qualities he had sworn off in potential mates, does not lessen the story’s magic. It only serves to remind me that our stories are never wholly ours. We can write the first few lines before they take on lives of their own, bending and opening up space for the characters we could never have given shape to ourselves.
He tells us that she was a nail-biter, who smoked and had terrible taste in fashion, as evidenced by the ugly brown pants she was wearing (his assessment, not hers). He also had a girlfriend in New York that he had not quite broken up with yet. He did not call her after that night; he had other chapters to close. Had it not been her – had it not been them – this might have been the story’s conclusion. If you are lucky enough to meet them, you will understand why it was not.
She called him, and he answered, and almost all at once their lives became this life. It is one that I do not give thanks for often enough – one that has become so much more than its beginning. The beauty of falling in love pales next to the beauty of accepting and continuing to love another person through all that comes next.
He supported her while she earned her PhD and they raised two young children. She welcomed his mother into our home as she neared the end of her life. He helped her pack up her mother’s apartment after she died. My dad’s nomadic tendencies have not lessened with age. He tells her he plans on scaling mountains, and I know that she wishes she could walk next to him. I also know that theirs is a relationship of deep respect for the other’s independence and wholeness of spirit. She will let him go, when he needs to go. He will never begrudge her the hesitation.
Careers expanded. Adventure called them to far corners of the earth, both together and apart. Children grew up (mostly), and left for new homes. Sickness brought darkness, and recovery even greater resilience. The spark remained. My chest swells contemplating the ways they have loved each other in those moments. Such is the weight of their story.
So when she tells me that she knew, the night she met him, that this life would be theirs, her words are precious.
There were times that those same words made me uneasy, because I had never come close to uttering them. Then I shared this story with someone for the first time, hoping to pass on at least a tiny sliver of the magic it contained. To tell it, I thought, and still be as stirred by the words as I was; to believe this deeply that such a meeting of souls was possible, was enough.
I don’t know if ours is the story I will be asked to retell, but I know that it will find its place on a blank page soon.
I don’t know how this ends, but I know that I am grateful for its beginning.
I don’t know if this is the story, but I know it’s a good one.