This is how a love story began.
I have no advice to give or insight to impart. I have no illusion that writing this will help me, let alone anyone else, understand how people fall in love and stay in love. There is no redemption or even self-improvement to be garnered from reading this. And I certainly do not believe it will heal me, relieve my pain, or, God forbid, provide closure.
I have to write this simply because there is no one else who can.
It is how a love story began, and that is all it is. And that is enough.
Good stories often require a coincidence or two, and the reader would do well to grant authors a measured allotment of unchallenged happenstance. Julie and I found each other through such a coincidence; although we each began college at other, better schools and although Julie was four years older than me, we both ended up as upperclassmen pursuing English majors at the same small commuter college.
And, because it was a small school with limited offerings within the prescribed English curriculum, most of the English majors ended up together in the same courses each semester. In each of these classes, the default seating pattern, a perverse variant of a bell curve, prevailed. A dozen or so students would be huddled in the middle of the room, not unlike wagons circled against the threat of marauding savages, a couple (always women) would be seated in the front row, and one guy would be slouched in his desk at the farthest rear corner.
Julie, alert and perky as all get-out, was invariably in the front, thrusting her arm skyward with every question – and damned if she didn’t know every answer. More accurately, she knew beyond every answer; she understood the point of the question, how that point related to the literature, and what it meant in the context of the literary movement and era.
I was, of course, the guy in the back corner with my desk twisted toward the wall, wearing ratty jeans, a t-shirt, and cheap Kmart running shoes. My participation in class was limited to eye-rolling, sighs, and under the breath muttering. Volunteering to answer a question or involving myself in a class discussion would, apparently, have been a violation of some fundamental principle to which I then tenaciously subscribed.
I wish I could paint an evocative word picture of that night at the shabby tavern favored by undergrads and the younger faculty members when I drunkenly, passionately recited from Blake’s most obscure and powerfully sexual poems and Julie’s eyes met mine, our hearts melded, and we foolishly, impetuously ran away together to Santa Fe for no other reason than our mutual admiration of Georgia O’Keeffe.
But that’s impossible – because our first person-to-person interaction was instead the result of nothing more memorable than the grade distribution of an English Lit exam. In a class of 15, we were told, there were two 100% scores and one 82% with the other twelve results ranging from 50-70%. Although no names were given, everybody knew, correctly, that Julie accounted for one of those perfect grades. It has been my observation from the back of the room that students of the front-row, answer-volunteering, arm-thrusting sort, whether in Mrs. Ely’s first grade reading circle or at Grand Rounds in medical school, are intensely curious about perceived competition. And so it was with Julie, who made it her business to discover who had the temerity to disturb the equilibrium she had benignly established throughout her scholastic career by setting the top end of the grading curve with a grind taking a distant second and everybody else safely out of sight, statistically. It took her a while. I was not her first guess. Or her second. Or third.
I was, however, the one.
She tracked me down, I still believe, to determine if I had earned my perfect score legitimately. In any case, she confronted me, I confessed, and we talked. The entire episode lasted a few minutes.
I never had a chance. I was – and this is the only word that fits – smitten. She was overwhelmingly intelligent and quick-witted, although it took three more years for me to recognize that she was, in fact, much smarter than me, and then another two years to forgive her for that. And, she was surpassingly fetching, with an unmistakable innuendo of sexiness.
But what I remember most vividly is that her attention was magnetic and thrilling and so intensely gratifying that, from that point on, nothing was more important to me than winning her admiration. That day, my criterion of success became, and has ever since remained, whether what I did pleased, amused, or somehow impressed Julie.
And, starting then, we spent time together, at first studying together, sharing lunch, and, most often, just talking. It was all quite innocent, because, as I would glibly but accurately note when retelling our story to friends — at that point, Julie was still married, and I was still Christian.
But all that was to change.
Note: Originally posted Mar 29, 2006 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com
Julie Showalter was the fiercely intelligent, sexy, and loving woman with whom I had a outrageously wonderful marriage that ended with her death in late 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a brilliant scholar, the mother of our two sons, and a prize-winning author. Many posts on this blog are about her and still others consist of her writings. Julie’s Story is the account of our unlikely romance, Information can be found at Julie Showalter FAQ.