2002 (A Prelude)
October 2002. Summoning memory, the month returns in blurs.
Scenes no more distinct than the ones I try to conjure from childhood. Moments with her like a passing series of pines beyond bracingly cold window glass as my father navigated northern Arizona highways. Angular, never-beginning, never-ending.
Like Augustine, I wanted to be selfless—but not yet.
Our every conversation rendered in doppler effect, words traveling in waves, surrendering their true timbre. What I remember is how the month felt and where it led.
Like Augustine, I wanted to be selfless—but not yet. After months spent trying to be alone for the first time in forever, I know her friendship exceeds her absence. So, in my conviction, I learn to silence more words than I speak; I hide my true image of her in a lightless chamber, where all it does is burn me from the inside out. Until she speaks first.
We met in what passed for a coffeehouse on our Christian college campus: high-top tables, reinforced paper cups, coffee that would sweat a blind taste test with gas-station fare and a day-old diner pour.
She let her pride buckle, confessing the stirrings of love in words I wish I memorized. My desires spilled out in ideas recycled from pop songs. We kicked the angels of our better judgment in the shins, committing to something. Something with no name but contours implying conditions.
Twenty years later, I lay me down to sleep, the bed already warmed by her presence. I do the math one more time. Twenty years hand in hand; 17 years sharing a home and a name; by next year, half a life spent together.
How does one person measure 20 years with another? So many days as filmy as our first communion, so many painstakingly clear.
We keep time with songs we still love and songs we left behind. Hello to the high, arcing drums and sha-la-la-la chorus of The Juliana Theory. Goodbye to Dave Matthews and vows murmured over hand percussion.
We turn seasons over from inside our small Midwestern homestead, changing the colors we see. Gray to green, green to gold, gold to gray.
We watch the best TV shows, only a season or two behind everyone we know.
We strip verbs and nouns from our secret language. Only words enough to craft inside jokes, gesture toward plans, pronounce shared desires.
We make love as an act of resistance, a salve for self-inflicted wounds, a place to place our faith in fire.
We tell a boy the truth dozens of times a day, then wake up the next morning mouthing mercy to do it again.
Twenty years of prayers, protracted silences between prayers, choked questions, and four-letter words that take the shape of prayers.
Twenty years memorizing every minor bone and bend in her face, then falling in love with them for the thousandth first time.
Too much of a good thing sounds unlike—and exactly like—the God I know.
Twenty years living out movie scenes, but only the tragic ones; our best moments arrive quietly, in still lifes, like the middle stanzas of poems.
Time measured in the new: forehead creases, anxiety medicines, obsessions with clouds; time measured in the same old: sins against one another, steady footfall tempos, slow, stolen breaths before a kiss.
I don’t know why some relationships last 20 years and some don’t. Once, maybe twice a week, someone offers their best thousand-word proposal on how love should feel. Rolling rhythms make room enough for scornful weather. Or sustained magic without a cloud in the sky.
Every thinkpiece dissolves in the light of 20 years; I don’t see us at the sentence level, can’t squint my eyes enough to discern our life in the architecture of paragraphs. To love this closely is to break each other’s hearts—and to realize the electric current of a creative God in brushing fingertips. Anyone who says it’s one thing or the other wants to sell you something.
Covenant plays its song on a loop, in a theme and variations.
When theologians offer their vision of heaven as a ceaseless worship service, I roll my eyes. Too much of a good thing sounds unlike—and exactly like—the God I know. While I still believe eternity is deeper and wider than we imagine, I soften as I sift hazy memories of October 2002 and everything after.
Covenant plays its song on a loop, in a theme and variations. The song never forfeits its shine—bending its notes in novel directions, moving between major keys and their relative minors, somehow always sounding like itself. The blurry and the brilliant, as long as love allows.