Note: This post is part of the Donna G Project. This is written to and for my boys.
When I met your mother, I was fresh off the road. I had literally lived in my car for the past year. I hiked National Parks, stayed on friends’ couches, got thrown out of bars. Then at the end, I landed in New York City.
When it came to women, I figured the only way I would get into a real relationship was to find a girl who could keep up with me – and that seemed impossible. In my head I pictured Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark. In her first scene of the film, we find her in Nepal winning a drinking contest against some giant man. THAT was the girl I wanted. I had to have a madwoman. A lunatic. A bar-room brawling, hard-drinking, Nepal-visiting gal. Other than that? Forget it.
I met your mother doing volunteer work. We both signed up to work on a year-long project where we helped a group of junior high students in East Harlem create and publish a magazine. Your mother was leading the project. I noticed her likeable, jittery way of running the team meeting. And of course I noticed that hair. I thought she was really pretty and exotic-looking.
She called me the next day. I had offered to do some task and she was calling to confirm. We ended up talking about all sorts of stuff and staying on the phone for half an hour. When we finally hung up, I found myself staring down at the phone. “That was a good conversation,” I thought. Then I snatched up my safety goggles, picked up the phone, and dialed her number right back.
“Hello?” she answered. We hadn’t hung up more than a minute earlier.
“Hey, would you want to grab a drink or go do something?”
“Tonight. We can go tonight.”
I can distinctly remember her voice when she answered. I can remember it like it was yesterday. She said: “I have plans tonight, so I can’t. But I’d totally like to another time.” I could tell she was smiling and I could tell she was flustered. I could also tell that she was full of shit. She didn’t have plans – she was playing some girl game.
We arranged to grab a drink after our next volunteer meeting the following week. That one was quick, but then we decided to go out that next Saturday. We were scheduled to work with the kids on the project until noon. So we’d grab lunch and see a movie after working with the kids.
That day is in the top 10 of all time for me.
It was magical; I remember it in flashes. I remember eating Peruvian chicken, which was so succulent and salty and you gobbled it right off the bone. I remember gasping that the movie ticket cost $10 and your mother saying: “Welcome to New York!” I remember sitting on benches in Washington Square Park and getting into a long conversation about religion. I remember your mother wore thin, purple socks and finding her ankles attractive. And at the same time I remember thinking how weird it was that I was noticing her ankles. I remember drinking Red Stripes in a dive bar and picking out songs together on the beat-up old jukebox.
We hadn’t set an end to the date and we both kept finding excuses to keep going. We spent all day and most of the night together. It wasn’t until 2 AM that we finally ran out of reasons to keep going. Your mother grabbed a taxi and we said good night. It had been a 14-hour date.
Now she went home. I didn’t. Not by a long shot. In most cities you wouldn’t have a choice, but this was New York. I high-tailed it to South Street Seaport where my friend, Paul, was getting off work soon. I waited for him at the bar with that incredible glow that can only come from meeting a girl. I was walking on air.
Over the next month or so, Shani and I saw each other a lot. I took her to see my neighbor’s god-awful speed metal band and we were in hysterics afterwards as we compared it to the sound of power tools. She had me over and made me Pasta Putanesca. She spent the night at my place in Brooklyn where she stepped on a roach while she was brushing her teeth. We were seeing each other two, sometimes three, times a week and we were talking on the phone every day. It was going so fast.
See, it wasn’t right. She wasn’t right. This wasn’t the girl I pictured. Sure she was fun and smart and beautiful, but she was also modest and quiet. She was a rule-follower. She cared about her clothes and read Glamour magazine. She watched The Today Show every morning and she hated roller coasters. She couldn’t drink for shit.
But then I had my “moment.”
The night before my moment we had a disasterous phone conversation. The subject of our relationship came up and I expressed my position that we were not exclusive. I told her I wanted to be completely up front and clear with her. Shani said she appreciated me being up front, but what did that mean? She didn’t say so, but she was certainly upset. We hung up without resolution and agreed we’d talk more that weekend when we planned to get together.
I barely slept that night and was a zombie the next day. I was tutoring writing at a learning center in Brooklyn that night, but I couldn’t focus on my lesson. A swirl of Shani and exhaustion fogged up my brain. After the lesson I went out and walked the streets aimlessly. Soon I found myself sitting on a stoop in Park Slope, confused and physically dizzy. That was when my moment came. And when I say my “moment”, what I mean is “the moment I pulled my head out of my ass.” It’s the moment I saw my bullshit for the bullshit it was. Because this girl was fantastic – and that wasn’t bullshit at all. I found the nearest pay phone and dialed Shani’s number.
“I’m coming over,” I told her, and hung up.
My legs wouldn’t stop bouncing on the subway to the Upper East Side. I practically ran to her building, flew up the stairs and into her apartment. I told her there hadn’t been any other girls and more importantly, I didn’t want there to be other girls. I told her I was being stupid. I wanted to be “exclusive.” I told her I thought she was terrific and gorgeous and that she was one of the most fun people I’d ever met.
And really, from that moment on, I knew I was going to marry her.
We moved in together. We met each other’s parents. We got to know each other’s friends. We spent holidays together. We took all those steps that couples take. But my head was out of my ass and not going back in. I proposed on the floodwall near the house where I grew up. We got married in Kansas and had a glorious, epic party. We bought a house. We had you two.
Like most people, I’ve made a bunch of life decisions. And like most people, I’ve hit some and missed some. But when it came to the biggest decision of my life, when it came to picking a partner, I came up to the plate and NAILED that f@%#er. I Mickey Mantled that pitch and I got your mother.
And everything…career, house, kids, life…everything has stemmed from that. Everything from there has been built on a foundation of joy and love and honesty and respect. It’s part bedrock, part sunshine, part music. In truth, it’s made everything else bliss. It is on this foundation that the two of you are built. It is the center of our home and the core of what we are as a family.
So with all that, my advice to you boys is this: if you decide to get married, pick someone who is fun. That’s basically the key. There are a million things I like about your mother. I love her stack of 25 books by her bed. I love when she puts on 80s music and starts dancing around the kitchen. I love what an adventurous eater she is. I love her hair. I love how she nurtures you two chuckleheads. But mostly I love how much fun we have together. I think that’s our secret. I think that may be the secret.
I will end by telling you that 6 months after we got married, your quiet, rule-follower mother and I quit our jobs to spend a year travelling the world. We visited Fiji, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Greece, Turkey, and…NEPAL. We spent 3 weeks in Kathmandu and did a 14-day trek in the Annapurnas.
On Christmas morning, at 5:30 AM, we climbed to the top of Poon Hill (9600 feet) to watch the sun rise. It had a 360-degree view where you could see 9 different mountains. We watched the sun strike the peaks and light them up, blazing gold and red, then slowly creep down them. It was 15 minutes between when the sun hit the first peak and when it hit us. It was our first Christmas married.
So while there may have been no drinking contests with giant Nepalese men, I’ll take drinking hot chocolate out of aluminum mugs and watching the sunrise on those peaks with your mother any day of the week.