Monday, September 7, 2009

My High School Sweetheart

I told my husband this morning that I was going to write about him, and asked if he was hurt that I wrote about our dog Trixie before I told his story. He said no, but that he'd really appreciate it if I mentioned in my writing today how intensely buff he is. I told him I could absolutely do that. Here goes...

Whenever anyone asks me how my stupendously muscular husband Alan and I met, I tell them we were high school sweethearts. "Wow," they respond, "how long have you been married?" "Fifteen glorious years!" I reply. Then I watch with delight as my inquisitor tries without luck to do the mental math. "Yeah, it doesn't add up, does it?" I usually say, then add, "It's a really great story, wanna hear it?"

Alan's family moved from Birmingham,
Alabama to Macedonia, Ohio the summer before his junior year in high school. We met in August of 1979, one month before school started, because we were both in Nordonia High School's seriously awesome marching band. He played the flugabone, I was on the drill team. Alan remembers much more about our first meeting than I do. I remember being introduced to him and being told that he was from Alabama. I had never met anyone from the South. I asked him if my Northern accent sounded funny to him (smooth!). I don't remember his response, I was too busy drowning in embarrassment to hear. Alan remembers that I was wearing yellow satin disco shorts, saddle shoes (drill team required), and was sporting a hairstyle attempting to mimic Farrah Fawcett's. Yikes.

We didn't start dating right away. I was in love with another boy who was unaware of my existence (he apparently never saw me in my awesome yellow satin disco shorts), and Alan was busy becoming very popular even though he was "The New Kid." But somewhere along the way Alan decided he wanted me, and he set-out to win me over. It's important to note here that Alan was going through some pretty intense rebelling at this time. His family had just moved him from a place he loved to dreaded "Yankee Country," in the middle of his high school years. He was understandably angry. He grew his hair longer, wore nothing but black concert t-shirts and carried around an enormous chip on his shoulder. I never saw this side of him, however, because Alan treated me like a princess. He held doors for me and would meet me outside of one class to walk me to the next. He passed notes to me down the row in concert band that read, "You're such a FOX!!" Ladies, I ask you, how could I resist this boy?

Then came the icing on the cake: Everyone knew how much Alan loved (and STILL loves) Rush, the amazing progressive rock band that performs loud, intense songs containing poetically intricate lyrics. I'm using the word LOVE here. Alan LOVED this band. I was more of a Barry Manilow girl. Actually, I was a HUGE Barry Manilow fan. I had all of his albums and could sing all of his music by heart (I know. Sooo cool.). So, Barry was coming to town. Alan skipped school (he later had to serve detention for his truancy), walked several miles to Blossom Music Center's box office and bought tickets to see BARRY MANILOW. They were tremendous seats, too: Ninth row, center. This amazing boy took me to dinner, bought me a concert t-shirt (white with black 3/4 length sleeves, classic!), and sat next to me as I squeezed his hand and completely IGNORED him the entire concert. Hey, I was swooning over Barry's awesomeness!! But when the concert fog lifted and we were driving home, I remember thinking to myself that this was the single, most unselfish, thoughtful thing that anyone had ever done for me. He had officially won me over.

I'd love to tell you that the rest is history and here we are, all these years later, married and blissfully happy. But we were very young, and we loved and fought like teenagers do. We broke-up and reunited so many times that our mothers, who were co-workers at the local bank, would ask each other periodically, "Are our kids together this week, or did they have another fight?" We have very few pictures from that time, because we were constantly tearing them up in enraged moments of drama, tossing the remaining pieces into the air like confetti!

We did end on a good note, though. Alan joined the Marine Corps and was headed off to Camp Lejeune, I was accepted at Syracuse University and was going to begin my Broadway Stardom Pursuit. We wished each other luck and went our separate ways. He even came to visit me once after completing boot camp. All the girls in my dorm swooned over his buzz-cut and crisp military dress uniform. They told me I was crazy to let him go. I assured them we were both moving on. And move on we did.

I met my future husband in the drama department at SU. We fell madly in love and married just months after graduation. I had heard through the grapevine that Alan, too, had married and was happily living the post-marine life, going to school and working hard. One day, nearly four years later, my husband arrived home and announced that he didn't think he loved me anymore and that he was very sure he didn't want to be married. He quietly packed a bag and left, while I stood in the middle of our apartment, still too much in shock to properly react. I'll devote another day to telling the story about the months that followed. For now suffice it to say that I was completely flattened. Divorce is a horrible, nasty thing. It rocks you to your core and leaves nothing but emotional rubble in it's wake. It's been several years since that time and my wounds have healed, but the remaining scar tissue runs thick and deep. It sucked.

So skip ahead a few years later when I arrived home from work and saw my message light blinking. "Um, Hi. My name is Alan Emery. I'm looking for a girl named Joan Donnelly, we went to Nordonia High School together. If this is you, give me a call back. I'd love to get caught up." It had been ten years! Turns out Alan had been through his own divorce. He asked his mom, now living in Nashville, TN, if she knew how to get in touch with me. She told him all she knew was that I was living in Syracuse, NY. This was before the internet, so this sweet man called Syracuse Information and asked for the listings for every version of my name; maiden, married, first initials, etc., and called them ALL. One girl actually phoned back saying, "I'm not the girl you're looking for, but if it doesn't work out, give me a ring!"

It did work out. I called Alan back and we talked for hours. The years melted away as we reminisced about times during high school, but there was also this new understanding and compassion for the divorces we had both just endured. We talked and talked, every night, for hours. Looking back, I can honestly say that I knew before we met again in person that I was already deeply in love and wanted to marry him.

We were married four years later in an outdoor garden gazebo at Disney's Yacht Club Resort. We actually were able to find ONE wallet sized, 1980 Christmas Dance photo that was spared from becoming "break up confetti" (owned by his MOM!). We had it enlarged and placed on an easel near the entrance table. We both stood looking at it that morning, shaking our heads in disbelief.

Recently, while attending the closing of our home here in York, we sat across the table from the previous owners. They had built the house themselves just a few years prior, but now they needed to sell it. They were getting a divorce. I couldn't help staring at their tired, pain-filled faces as we signed paper after paper. I wanted to reach across the table, grab both of their hands and tell them them that it was all going to be OK. I wanted to tell them that they'd survive this and move on and find someone glorious and wonderful and perfect.

Because it happened to me. I met the man of my dreams when I was sixteen. He was wearing a black Van Halen t-shirt and had hair that closely resembled Jimmy from Puff-n-Stuff. I married him when I was thirty. He makes me happier than I know I deserve. I look at Alan now as we sit together and watch the evening news. I'm still shocked by the intensity with which I love this man. I love the nostalgic history we share, and I love thinking about how much fun growing old with him will be. I'm so grateful that he left a message on my machine that day. I'm so glad I chose to wear those yellow satin disco shorts to band practice back in '79. But more than anything, I'm so happy that he has such an amazingly buff body with rippling muscles and zero-percent body fat. I'm such a lucky girl!!

Thanks for reading!!


Kathy B said...

It has brought joy to all of us that know you two, to see the beautiful happiness of your courtship and marriage. So fun to read your recap. :D

Anonymous said...

Mark had a similar pair of shorts on when I met him and we roller skated for hours!

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