There are two kinds of people in the world: those who see a yellow light and see it as an invitation to accelerate (looking both ways first, of course) and those who see it as a command to slam on the brakes so hard that the contents of your body need time to resettle.##M:[more]## I am the first kind of driver; my husband the second. He can drive me absolutely nuts with this habit of his. Of course, I irritate him on the matter as well.
We are the living incarnation of the theory that opposites attract. He’s tall; I’m short. He’s fair; I’m dark. He worships the sun. Summers, I turn vampire-like and shun heat and light as much as possible. When it comes to exercise, he’s a disciple. I’m a slacker. I’m the type of person who sits in the front row so I can raise my hand and be called on quickly for questions. He’d rather sit in the back where he can keep a low profile and sneak out if necessary. I’m the first person out on the dance floor; he likes to wait “until the crowd gets going.” If we were dogs, his temperament would make him a golden retriever. I’d be a terrier, one of those small dogs with the “don’t mess with me” attitude. My kids put it more simply: Dad’s nice. Mom can be mean. He is their shelter in my storm. All children deserve at least one parent like that.
Everyone loves hearing stories about how couples met. It was Bill’s first night in town. He had flown out to San Francisco that day to start a new job the next. It was a cold and rainy Monday night, too nasty for a run, but I forced myself out of my warm Russian Hill apartment, down to the Marina and out toward the bridge. I often wonder how fate would have turned had I given into temptation and stayed home. Was it pre-ordained that we should meet that night? Had we missed each other then, would we have caught up later, perhaps on the same running path on a different day, or somewhere else in the City by the Bay? Are we destined for one person, or is matrimony simply an outcome of happenstance, a chance encounter based on a whim, to run or not to run?
As a corollary to these questions: were our three children meant to be created? Is this the life we’re supposed to be living? We all wonder about the road not taken. Multiply that one momentous decision with the thousands of other momentous and not so momentous decisions that we make everyday that determine our paths through life.
Enough philosophizing. Continuing the story: I was bopping along to Madonna on my walkman. It was the ’80s. The Material Girl reigned as empress of music and fashion and the I-Pod had not yet been invented. The urge to get out and run came upon me as often then as the urge to eat crunchy and salty snacks descends upon me now.
The Marina running path meanders out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Back then and even today, it is still the mecca for the Young Urban Professional, Yuppies, as we were defined, to answer the siren call to stay in shape and share sweat with birds of a similar feather. But I wasn’t looking for anyone, not at all. I was in the full swing of my “I am career woman, hear me roar and get the heck out of my way” phase of life.
I was caught up in my own material world when someone broke in, trying to flag my attention. Annoying. Which way to the bridge, the figure wanted to know. When anyone hears this story, they give Bill a merciless ribbing. Come on, you could have come up with a much better line than that, they laugh. But in truth, at the point where we met, adjacent to the St. Francis Yacht Club overlooking the bay, the running path diverged into two distinct trails, one into the Presidio, the other winding around the water and out to Fort Point. It was covered in fog, but a tangle of cypress trees also hid the Golden Gate Bridge.
His legs were twice as long as mine and he should have been running at double the speed, but it soon became apparent that his loping steps were pacing my little ones. With a sigh, I deigned to remove my headphones and chat as our feet hummed along. Shadows obscured my view. I couldn’t see his face very well. But he had a nice voice. And we had a lot in common. He had moved from Washington, D.C., where I had just visited a college roommate. He had grown up in Connecticut, next to New Haven, where I had gone to school. His parents lived in Pennsylvania, mine in New Jersey. He had come west to make a new life, so had I.
Julie, who would later be our maid of honor, was intrigued. “So what about this new blond,”she prodded. “Not my type. Just running buddies,” I answered. How wrong I would turn out to be. The irony of life is that many of the best things, romance included, find you when you’re not looking.
Right from the start, there was no pretense between us. My hair slapped back into a raggedy ponytail, no makeup, scraggly sweats, I was not a sight to behold. Our first meeting had none of that artifice you have on so many dates when you’re dressed to kill and out to impress. After the dazzle of most first dates, what follows often can’t match, and so it is doomed to disappoint. With this spontaneous running buddy, there were no expectations and consequently, no letdowns. We talked to each other and liked what we heard. It was a good way to begin.
Almost 17 years later, our kids relish hearing this story. As our daughters get closer to the age where they’re thinking about boys and eventually dating (after age 30, says dad) I find myself telling them this: “Never settle for anyone less than your father.” They know that their father is the standard to which they should hold and he’ll be a hard act to match. So what if he slams on the brakes for yellow? As a husband, father, and human being, he takes the gold. A little corny? Yeah, maybe. But I’m sure glad I went running that day.
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