Tuesday, June 9th, is the 20th anniversary of the day I met Jeff. (It is also my Dad's birthday--Happy Birthday, Dad! And you're welcome, Terri, Jim, and John, for the gentle reminder! Ha!).
Jeff and I had both been selected by our respective high schools to attend an exclusive 4-day long leadership conference at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. It was called the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership Foundation and was originated by actor, Hugh O'Brien, who most famously played Wyatt Earp. There was a dance on the last night of the conference and I remember going up to a group of three guys who were standing near the pop (remember, this is Nebraska--there is no "soda") machines and saying indiscriminately, "do any of you want to dance?"
Jeff was standing in the middle of the three and stepped forward and said, "sure." I still have a mental picture of his name tag etched in my memory. It read "Jeff Dodd" and underneath his name, "Lincoln Pius X." I had never heard of Lincoln Pius X high school, so I asked him about it. As we danced and talked, the clouds broke apart, the sun appeared and the angels sang. We danced the rest of the night together and spent the entire evening comparing our uncanny similarities (which, in hindsight seem very superficial, but at the time seemed to be clear and convincing indicators we were meant to be together): We both liked U2; we were both the oldest child in our families; we both had two (minor) car accidents on the same day-neither of which were our fault.
So, we liked each other right away and remained constant pen pals (we lived 280 miles apart) for the next 3 years--despite my incessant scheming to become his girlfriend--and never officially dated until we were in college.
It's interesting to think about the ways in which people influence each other and the roles they play (sometimes unwittingly) in others' lives. Early on, I revered Hugh O'Brien for his role as accidental matchmaker. I thought often and with gratitude about how I would have never met Jeff if Hugh O'Brien hadn't found success as an actor and if he hadn't been inspired to create his foundation, etc. etc. I even wrote Hugh a letter early in our marriage to tell him our story and to let him know the role he played in bringing Aubrey Kate into the world.
Ironically, I later became friends with Hugh as I was part of a movement to resurrect his leadership organization here in Wisconsin. He would call me at home or at work and would usually try to trick the receptionist into announcing that "Wyatt Earp" or "Gene Autry" was on the phone. She fell for it every time. And each time, I knew it was Hugh being funny. I felt such a debt to Hugh for the impact he had had on my life and I attributed having my husband and children to him--at least a little bit. I have pictures of Jeff and I and the kids with Hugh on a trip he made to Wisconsin. I used to think, "Wow. If it weren't for Hugh O'Brien none of this would have ever happened to me." However, it cuts both ways, because I can now say "If it weren't for Hugh O'Brien none of this would have ever happened to me."
Of course, I would never wish to go back in time or to take it all back. I would never wish for an alternate universe of no Jeff and no kids. But, sometimes I can't help but think of things like that. And speaking of universes: Confidential to the Universe/Fate/Karma/Whateveryoucallit: Making my car-stereo play "At Last" as I was pulling into the cemetery to visit my dead husband was very uncool. You owe me. Big Time!
For those of you who haven't heard the song "At Last" by Etta James, it is one of the most romantic love songs of all time. Here are the lyrics, which you will agree are singularly inappropriate for setting the mood as you stand over your dead husband:
At last, my love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song
Oh, yeah, at last
The skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clovers
The night I looked at you
I found a dream that I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I found a thrill to rest my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known
Oh, yeah when you smile, you smile
Oh, and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine
So that really topped off my week. As you know, I have been nursing general feelings of discouragement and ennui. Earlier this week, when I was lamenting my loneliness, a well-meaning friend recommended that I take a more aggressive approach to dating. So, I got all dressed up and went to the two tried-and-true places I can really be myself and shine, but, alas there were no attractive single men in my dishwasher or laundry basket. Ha!
In other news this week, Jack came down with the flu (again). This time, the poor guy had it bad. He missed three days of school, baseball practice, and a baseball game. I did my best to catch it, but came up empty handed. So, I'm getting dangerously low on my excuses for avoiding the laundry, housecleaning, grocery shopping, bill-paying, and any number of lesser chores I uncomfortably feel staring at me out of the corner of my eye.
Meanwhile, Finn has decided that, for now, his penchant for cleanliness can take a backseat to his new obsession: opulent comfort. Diaper changes used to be all-business around here. I was the sole arbiter of the time and location and he was merely along for the ride. Now, HE tells ME when he wants his diaper changed and sets the stage for a spa-like/entertainment experience. Princess Finn must now lay his head on a fuzzy pillow (that says "Cutie" on it, by the way). He places it strategically on the floor where he has an unobstructed view of our woods ("TREES!!!") and then while I "do the honors" he requires my participation in a game of Peek-a-Boo. When we are done, we ceremoniously use the anti-bacterial gel and return to our labors refreshed and reawakened. And when I say "refreshed and reawakened" what I actually mean is "slightly annoyed by the fact diaper-changes now take twice as long because of all the preparation and repositioning Finn practices in order to make things "just right" before he will surrender to the task at hand."
Also this week--the kids will finally get out of school on June 12th. On that same day, Aubrey will graduate from 8th grade. I really can't believe that I am old enough to have a child in high school. That is, until I look in the mirror.
Thank you, Scott, for calling this week. Hearing from you made my day.
Thank you, Mike, for your lunch-hour therapy.
Thanks for checking in, Garth--I have nearly completed my Magnum Opus for you, now I just need to craft a nifty cover circa 1989!
Thank you, Tracy in CA, for befriending me. You will live to regret it. That is my solemn vow. And I will pit my kid against your kid any day when it comes to embarrassing their mother with their impressive Sir Mix A lot repertoire. I am not proud of this (publicly). (Secretly, I'm a little bit proud).
And last but not least: Anne--Thank you for filling my window boxes and for planting around Jeff's grave. I will do my best to nurture the flowers so that all your hard work doesn't go to waste. This last statement should in no way reassure you. The last time I did my "best" at gardening, a bunch of Special Olympians gave me a hug. Just sayin' . . .
Love to you all,
P.S. (June 8, 2009): This just in . . . Finn is officially working toward becoming a first-rate Front Man. We had a Dance Party last night and for the first time, he pretended to sing into an imaginary microphone. Even better--he did it while standing on a living room chair as his makeshift "stage." (I was so proud!) Then he closed the show with the usual grand finale: breakdancing to "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira. I wish I had a video camera--it was quite a spectacle.
Oh, and I forgot a very important "Thank You" to Annie and Dave for bringing Tristan over to play with Finn. It was great having you around for the evening and I look forward to next time!