I took a Valentine's Day cruise on the Betsy Ann Riverboat with Gerald.
We'd been together for just over a year. In the fall of 1991, we "met" on a FidoNet echo on, of all things, "New Age Spirtuality." If you know either one of us, you'll understand just how improbable that sounds. (When I asked him, months later, why on earth he'd been on that echo, he responded simply "I was waiting for you.") I was living D.C., in the middle of separating from my husband of three years, and applying for doctoral programs in Library & Information Science. He was in Montgomery, Alabama, doing computer and accounting work for a truck stop.
When I first read his posts, he was holding forth on the word "baraka". I was taken with his style of writing, and his obvious intelligence and humor, and we quickly moved from echo-based banter to private e-mail to hours and hours and hours on the phone. (I fall quickly and easily for men who write well; I met my first husband on a DC-area Macintosh BBS called TMMABBS.)
As my interactions with Gerald intensified, I wavered between believing that I'd finally met my soulmate, and thinking that I was suffering from temporary insanity brought on by the stress of the separation/divorce and indecision about my future. So to get the whole thing out of my system, and burst the bubble of virtual impressions, I hopped into my car on New Year's Day of 1992, and drove the 800 miles to Montgomery to meet him in person.
When I tell this story, this is usually where I jump right to "and the next thing I knew, I was barefoot and pregnant and living in Alabama." :-) But that leaves out a lot. And today I feel like telling the longer version.
I think we both knew, within hours of my arrival, that our instincts had been right on. We were intoxicated with each other, and there was no doubt in my mind that I had to rethink my plans for the future.
I clearly remember calling my father from a payphone in the truck stop (they generally have one at each table, given their clientele), and telling him "Dad, I'm calling from a truck stop in Alabama, and I've got something to tell you..." As you might imagine, the news that I'd fallen in love with truck stop employee in Alabama, and was changing my grad school plans to the University of Alabama (rather than Michigan, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and the other A-list schools I'd been considering), went over like a rock. I'd always been the golden girl of the family--perfect GRE scores, respectable profession, etc. This was a fall from grace that took some time for us all to recover from.
But I knew it was the right thing to do (backed up by the professional opinion of the psychiatrist my mother had paid for me to see, in hopes that I'd realize how insane it all sounded), and U of A snapped me up in a heartbeat. In June I quit my job in DC, emptied out my meager savings to get me through the summer, and headed down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the temperature was well over 100 degrees the week I arrived.
Following my heart turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. Gerald and his family made me feel at home in Alabama--a tough thing to accomplish for someone as Northern born-and-bred as I am. (Although I still remember meeting his infamous aunt at one of my first big Lawley family gatherings, and having her say "You're from Buffalo, aren't you? We know some people from there. Bless your heart, I hope you're not as rude as they are." Delivered with a drawl and a smile, of course.)
It didn't take me long to feel like part of the family--or to realize that UA was an excellent place for me to study. It was a new doctoral program, and I had the flexibility to define my program in a very interdisciplinary way, taking courses in feminist theory, computer science, and communication theory as well as more traditional LIS offerings. They gave me a full-ride fellowship for two years, so I could focus on school and not live the life of an indentured servant GA. It was a grad student's dream--weekdays to immerse myself in books, classes, and writing, and weekends with Gerald in Montgomery or at the farm in Lawley.
In January of 1993, Gerald told me that he wanted to move to Tuscaloosa. I knew that wasn't something he'd do unless he was ready to make a commitment, so I wasn't shocked by his Valentine's Day proposal. But I was delighted. He was friends with the riverboat captain, and made sure that they'd have the song I wanted to dance to, and that there'd be a dish of Valentine's candy hearts (don't know why I like them, but I do) on the table. The ring was in that dish. I was a starving grad student, and he was quitting his job to finally (at age 41) go back to school and finish his college degree, so the ring's not fancy, or ostentatious. But it was simple, and beautiful, and just what I wanted.
We got married four months later, barefoot on the beach in Jamaica. His daughters--ages 14 and 16--were in the ceremony, but the rest of our families were at home. It was a second wedding for both of us, so we wanted it to really be for us. And it was perfect. In September, I was pregnant. And in May, our son Lane was born, followed by Alex in 1996.
In 1997, we packed up our belongings and our children and moved north to Rochester, where I found the perfect academic department, and the kids (and I) could be near grandma (and her incomparable chicken soup and brisket).
So here we are now...ten years after that proposal...still in love, still together. There have been plenty of moments over the past ten years when one or both of us has wondered if we did the right thing, and if we'd make it. But we've weathered those storms, and come out of them stronger. I look around today at the life that I have, and the political storms of work and world take on far less significance. At the macro level, the world around me often seems in disarray. But at the micro level, it's better than anyone has a right to hope for.
I love you, Gerald. Thank you for this wonderful life. And Happy Valentine's Day.
note: minor editing changes/corrections made at 11:30pm 2/14.
broken links updated 1/16/11