In many ways, I was your typical teenager. I adored boys, loved music (The Police were at the top of that list until 1987, when U2's The Joshua Tree would fully and forever leave any other bands contending for cassette time on my Sony Walkman in the dust, battered and bleeding and pleading for ear space), envied the pony-tailed cheerleaders, and worshiped my best friend. It was Marla who introduced me to Nordstrom's and L'Oreal and Dooney & Burke, who relieved me of my propensity for tube-socks-and-Famolare footwear, who let me know in no uncertain terms that this look? (the hair, not the latex) — yeah, it was fashioned for super villain Ursa (Superman II) BECAUSE SHE WAS NASTY. I was a smart ass, a francophile, a hard worker, and a good writer. With Marla's help, by senior year, I was also marginally cool, cuter than when I started high school, and finally hip to what fashion was and how it could be used.
(Going back to the cute thing, I want to share a memory that I HAVE TREASURED for 22 years. Acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with my bio photo, and you will understand why. Back in the 80s, we called someone who was hot, "fine." Senior year, Marin Catholic High School, in the senior hallway, I was called "fine" by — check it — Varsity jocks. You know, the kind that wore Polo cologne (yummy) and white Levi's (...) and worked out in the weight room every day after school. "She's so fine now," one Mike said as I passed (they were all named Mike). "I know," a second Mike added, as other Mikes flexed and scratched and tossed their hair in agreement. VERBATIM, Internet, and OMYGOD what a rush. It only happened once (that I am aware of), and it didn't lead to anything more (like, say, a prom date, kiss, or invitation to wear one of their varsity jackets/jerseys/senior rings), but whatever. IT HAPPENED. If ever you cringe when you recall what you were like in high school, you will understand the significance of this memory, will know why I still cherish it all these years on, why I would even consider it for my epitaph, except for the fact that once I'm six feet under, She's so fine now will no longer be considered praise. I hope.)
I passed my after-school hours waiting for my carpool, sitting in the bleachers, watching football practice in the fall and winter, baseball in the spring. Friday nights were spent in the grandstands or on the sidelines keeping stats, loving the way the boys preened under adoring eyes, scrambling through their play book all the way to the Oakland Coliseum, where they would face off against the best team in the state.
But really, I came to watch Miller. From Sophomore year on, when once he sat next to me in the cafeteria after school and gave me his photo (be still, my heart), I carried a torch for Miller like an Olympic champ. He was blond and cute and athletic, a boy full of himself, of his potential, of the promises our privileged Marin lives threw at him without discretion, and I couldn't get enough of him. Long after he had passed the last of his photos out to the other girls, after he was nominated to the Homecoming court and took another girl to prom, after we went to Washington D.C. on a government studies program and he fell in love with still another a girl from back east, I kept that torch burning.
He must have known.
Game nights, after yet another victory, he'd take off his helmet, pass a hand through his sweaty hair, and toss me the biggest, most boyish grin: He was hot, he was fine, he was on top, and he knew it. I was there to witness him in all his glory and promise, to worship at the altar of his potential, to remind him of his perfection. I was faithful to my vocation, the most reliable of admirers who was at once tortured by unrequited love and exquisitely in love with my predicament.
I stumbled upon images of Miller recently on the Internet. I wasn't looking for him, not really, (though I had Googled him in the past), and so it was with not a little bit of trepidation that I scrolled down the page that he was referenced on, holding my breath as I waited for his picture. He was easy to spot in the group shot. His features had thickened, and his blond hair had darkened and receded a bit with the years, but it was him. Same athletic build, same sense of style (though no white jeans in sight, thank God), same boyish grin. It was all there. He was all there.
Except, he wasn't.
Looking through the photos of him with his friends, I found myself missing his voice, and realizing that for all of his good looks and blustering charm, this is what I remember most about him. The sound of my name on his lips (however infrequently he spoke it — you never forget how your name sounds coming from another's mouth), his laugh, the way the telephone condensed his voice on the rare occasion when I would pluck up enough nerve to call him (oh, yes, I did). And it's no wonder. Language is my currency, after all, how I pay my way to memory, experience the present, fashion a future. So to see Miller was one thing, but it wasn't everything. Without his voice, he was represented in the images, but he wasn't there. Not like he used to be.
Sitting in the bleachers last Friday with my husband of sixteen years, I watched the team on the field, the cheerleaders, the color guard and band, the kids around us (texting, always texting), thinking about Miller and the Mikes, about my years at Marin Catholic (which was more Marin than Catholic, but there it is), asking myself for the millionth time how was it possible that I have a high schooler now.
But mostly, I wallowed.
I wallowed in the fact that, sixteen years on, and I was still with this wonderful and complicated and frustrating and beautiful person. Sixteen years on, and he's just as blond and funny and charming as the day I met him. Sixteen years on, and — most amazing of all — he's as into me as I am into him. And sixteen years on, and the sound of my name on his lips is still the sweetest thing.
We made it past the one year bliss, the seven year itch, past the decade and decade-and-a-half markers, and twenty years married is within sight. Thinking back on the Millers and Mikes and mistakes of my past, for once I am unable to articulate what it is like to sit next to this man on a warm Friday night in September at a high school football game.
Happy Anniversary, Jeremy.
* This is the way the relish happened:
At the condiments stand.
Julia: Daddy likes relish, Mom. Don't forget.
Me: Yeah. I know. We've been married for 16 years, remember? I got the condiments thing down. Leave it to me, kid.
Him: There was relish on my cheeseburger.
Me: I know! I got it for you.
Him: Who puts relish on a cheeseburger?
Me: You do! You put relish on a cheeseburger! You love relish.
Him: On hotdogs.
Him: I can't say I've ever had relish on a cheeseburger.
Me: You ate it all, though, right?
Me: Happy Anniversary!