Personal Journey

A (True) Love Story

photo credit: Israel Palacio

Once upon 1982, I stood on a stage with a few girls who actually had talent and choked out the Christmas carol, “Silver Bells.” I did not know this would be one of the defining moments of my life.

Weeks before, I crashed the hand-picked ensemble simply by showing up to the practice. Our music teacher, a Mr. Komenski, had exactly zero penchant for conflict, even with the eleven-year-old tuneless neophyte who lived a few rows down from his own trailer and when bored, would shut off his electric at the main. (All the boxes were together in a central location behind the trailers, easily reachable. Duh.) My friend said singing in the little group was fun and I should come. So I did. It never occurred to either of us that Mr. Komenski had a say in it.

This is how (true) love stories begin. WIth a girl who can’t sing, a friend who can’t discern, and a music teacher who can’t say no.

Besides my unlikely moment in the spotlight, another rare incident played a part in this (true) love story: a teacher strike. I can thank a savvy administrator, who funneled two elementary schools into one, for dodging a district-wide shutdown and guiding me to my date with destiny.

I didn’t get bussed to a different elementary school, but my friend Tony did. He lived in the trailer behind mine, and together we often cut off Mr. Komenski’s electricity. Tony was in the audience on the day of the concert. Because of the teacher strike, he’d made many new friends. One of them was the intensely blue-eyed, exquisitely chiseled Bob—Bobby. BOBBY Griffiths. No one calls him that now, but this was 1982.

Bob’ll tell the story that he and Tony sat on crowded benches in the darkened auditorium, that Bob’s breath caught, that he was completely enchanted. He’ll allege there was a beautiful creature on the stage with a few other girls singing “Silver Bells.” Bobby thought perhaps his new friend Tony would know the girl, so he leaned in and asked.

“Oh that’s just Kelly Seyer,” Tony dismissed me with a wave. To Tony, I was a guy in a girl’s body before it was fashionable, before gender dysphoria. I was a tomboy when tomboys still existed. And Tony was unimpressed. But Bob would not be swayed by Tony’s (at best) 3-star rating of Kelly Seyer. Something happened to Bob that day, the soul-quickening poets try to capture in verse. To hear Bob tell it, he loved me at first sight.

I sang my Christmas song, unaware.

When shutting off Mr. Komenski’s electric became blasé, Tony and I moved on to other pursuits, one of which was finding “dates” for each other. I found the lovely Janet for him, and Tony remembered I’d somehow hypnotized Bobby at the Christmas concert. Tony’s mom drove the four of us to the mall for the afternoon. This is how I met my husband: all nerves and angst and…and we were crushed in the backseat of a wee little car. I remember that.

I remember his blond, curly hair and the red bandana around his wrist. And his veins in relief against his skin. We shared a banana split at Friendly’s. We fell into a wormhole and for three years were Bobby&Kelly. Just before tenth grade, I moved to Ohio. We wrote and called, and when I could make the seven-hour drive to Allentown, I’d visit him, even if it was just a quick lunch. When we were together, it was as if no time had passed. We talked about everything. I told him I had no friends at my new school. He couldn’t believe it. He told me his mom had cancer. I will never forget hearing that news.

Bobby became Robert. I became Mrs. Somebody Else. No fortune teller worth her salt would prophesy the us we are today. But (true) love stories are prickly mazes. Love is patient, says the Bible. The Bible means that a would-be lover ought to be patient with his beloved, but I mean that for us, Love was patient. To us, Love has been kind. Not perfect, but kind. After I moved to Ohio, we did life as best friends, worlds apart. For eight years, actually.

January 2020 is our 25th wedding anniversary, and I still think of Bob as my very best friend, my fun friend, the friend who-WILL-dance-with-me, the strong arms I fall into, the smile I crave. How did I get so blessed, you ask? How did we go from childhood sweethearts to far-away friends to Mr. & Mrs. Griffiths? That is a long story, a post for another day…

Decorating Easter eggs together 1985
Bob ran my first 5K with me 1985
Days before my craniotomy 2018
My favorite chef – Thanksgiving 2018
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Personal Journey

I Still Do.

usI still do. More than twenty years have passed, and I love my husband as fiercely as the day I said the words. For that, I thank God. Twice. First, because God shows me how to love, and second, because when we follow God, we’re easier to love. Bob is awfully easy to love, I tell you.

I tell students, words are their gift to the world and to themselves. Words, once set down, are a snapshot of the mind. They capture the way we think on a subject, at that moment. I was thinking about Bob and realized I’ve never set down how I feel about him. Tragedy, that. I sometimes take him for granted the way we take air for granted. Air is an apt comparison for his presence in my life because when he’s gone or things aren’t good between us, I feel asphyxiated and I flail around like a desperate tornado until we are good again. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often.

Every act of reconciliation begins with humility.

He said that to me as we walked together.  That gem has been rolling around in my mind ever since. I should probably have it tattooed to the inside of my eyeballs.

Bob wakes at 4 AM on work days. His first act of selflessness happens before he opens his eyes, as he struggles to shut down the alarm before it wakes his wife who sleeps so lightly, she can hear- with ear plugs- the sounds of breathing, snoring, lightly padding feet, the sound of the toothbrush against teeth or the towel rubbing on a wet body, etc. She even hears imaginary sounds that wake her. Hibernating bears are nicer when they are woken… so he shuts down the sound as fast as his sleep-deprived body will allow, slips out from between the sheets and steals out of the room like a navy seal.

Then, work. I’ve been at the plant where he works as a manufacturing supervisor. It sounds like the inside of a watch, if you could shrink yourself down to the size of an electron. It sounds busy and productive; an alarm constantly blares in the background and multiple smashing and banging car accidents seem to be occurring at regular intervals all over the place. Don’t mistake me; it’s a great job he has, working for a company that espouses Christian values and treats their employees with respect and dignity. But make no mistake: being in that building is taxing for everyone. The people who actually make things in America work very hard.

When he comes home thirteen hours later, he’s often greeted with multiple requests to be judge or principal or taxi driver, to appreciate some Minecraft art or some feat or some dinner or some hairdo… the list goes on and on. The point is, there is no transition. Our boys are extreme athletes: they practice their respective crafts 5+ days a week, which means a ton of sacrifice. On the altar of greatness, sleep is the first sacrifice. There are others. It is worth it. And it’s worth noting that my husband works so very hard to give his family the gift of opportunity. He fixes everything everyone breaks, holds everything that anyone else drops, holds back his tears when everyone else is crying, is the end of the line for strength and godliness, for decisions and their consequences; his is the life that is sacrificed first and foremost for any and every endeavor.

It often goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Except for this moment. In the moment you read this, know I know it. Words are a gift we give to those we love. They are a snapshot of the mind. This picture is me, plumbing what it’s like to be you. Not understanding, but trying.

This moment is one of many times I think of my husband and think how blessed I am. This time I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget.

Personal Journey

Carpe Diem. They’ll Never Notice the Pillow Cases.

San Juan, 20 years ago. I wore a white sundress with yellow daisies and felt like Ponce de Leon. We posed for pictures on the crumbling ramparts of stone castles and swaggered along narrow cobblestone streets watching artists birth exotic paintings using only coffee cans and spray paint. My hair was half braided into cornrows because that’s all we could afford, and that was cool. Both the poverty and the half-head of tight braids– kind of like having one ear double pierced. It said, I cannot be tamed. At least, in January, 1995 it said that. Today if I want my appearance to hint bohemian, I need to wear a pound of metal on my face and sport enough tattoos to identify my dead body from a space satellite.

St. ThomasWe were married on a cruise ship, docked in the port of Saint Thomas. In the sea glass morning hours before we got married, we snorkeled. Carpe diem was never spoken truer of a couple. Getting married? The best snorkeling ever? We can do it all.  Such incredible hordes of fish and eels and neon dust riots we saw under the water that day.

Our vows were beautiful. Bob was dashing in his black tuxedo, this gentle man who’d been my best friend since 5th grade. After the ceremony, we paraded the streets of Saint Thomas, spectacles in our white and black wedding attire. Then we ate slices of the best pizza ever. I remember feeling like an island princess.

We always seized the day. And wrung every bit of adventure out of it– especially on our wedding cruise.

One of our ports of call had sea doos available for hourly rent. We’d passed them on our way to the phone booth, and I noticed the wistful look in Bob’s eyes. After calling home, we found there was “just” enough time to ride a sea motorcycle and ensure some vacation whiplash before the ship left. It was too tempting a rush for Bob to pass up.

The cliché is that time flies when you’re having fun. Well, it grew thrusters in those moments, and the ship waits for no one. Not even ridiculous newlyweds trying to squash too much thrill into too little time.

Panic: we stood on the sidewalk, little puddles of sea water gathering around our bare feet, all testifying to our romp on the waves. Taxi after taxi went by without stopping, the drivers shaking their heads at the two messes who would not be wrecking their cabs.

Finally, a taxi stopped, and we were directed onto the tarp in the way back seat. Smart guy. A fare’s a fare. Except, we weren’t. Fares, that is. We had no cash. More panic. Furtive whispering. Also the realization that Bob had left his shoes in the phone booth. No shoes, no cash. Hurtling toward the moment we’d have to deal with those unfortunate facts.

Ahh, life. And the kindness of strangers. Two such kind ones were sitting in front of us and happened to be on our ship. We knew that they had to trust us for the money. They paid our fare, and we paid them back once on board. A life lesson, and we came away richer in wisdom, poorer one pair of shoes, and carpe diem!, again.

The shoes we lost were Bob’s casual pair. Unfortunately, we lost them at our last port, so there was no opportunity to buy new ones. His shiny black dress shoes were all he had left. For dinner, he wore his shoes; the rest of the time, he went barefoot.

The last night of any cruise is different. All luggage, except toiletries and the next day’s outfit, is placed outside the room by midnight. While we sleep, our stuff gets sniffed and searched by the customs department. Then we, after disembarkation and a customs turn of our own, are reunited with our luggage.

It’s a process that works swimmingly.

So long as one doesn’t pack one’s jeans in the luggage.

If one were to pack his jeans in the luggage, that would be very unlucky, as the ship’s stores cannot be opened while the ship is at port. The luggage is long gone into America, and one is left with whatever is in the cabin.

If one were to walk through customs wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes on his lower half, shod in his black dress loafers and white tube socks, it would be a long walk, indeed.

psycho

Critical fact #1: We shared a waist size in those early days of our marriage.

Critical fact #2: Ship cabins have everything one needs to survive the walk through customs.

Critical fact #3: We are a resourceful couple.

Picture this: Half my hair in cornrows, with a sunburn on my face and a sleep deprivation hangover, with dainty sneakers on my feet, I walked off our cruise ship and through customs– wearing pillow cases tied around my waist. Like a skirt. Like, I meant to do that. Bob wore my jeans. Carpe diem.

It was a most comedic moment.

It was the perfect union of ridiculous and sagacious.

Us, holding hands on our first walk into America as husband and wife. Carpe diem. Seize the day. Or seize whatever’s available. And walk with a swagger. No one will notice the pillow cases.

 

Personal Journey

Low Budget Cards: A Valentine Tradition

 

Every year as long as I can remember, Bob has made Valentine’s cards. Using only crayons and a pen, he creates these hilarious, memorable, unique expressions of his love. His cards are one-of-a-kind works of art that make us laugh or cry or both. He calls them “Low Budget Cards,” and he even has a trademark.

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Poetry

Nothing’s More Fun Than Doing The Assignments I Give My Students

The Assignment: A 10 line iambic pentameter conceit poem.

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His Favorite Pair of Jeans

He once compared me to a pair of jeans,

Velveteen-threadbare, torn, and faded jeans.

We were as close as clothing then, denim

Dressed and pressed against each other. Thirteen

Years my best friend. So best he could forget

The holes, the stains, the fraying edges, warm

As skin, smoothed by tears and friction. When I’m

Washed out, blue, thin and barely held together.

When seams give out and fabric tears completely,

I’ll still be his favorite pair of jeans.