I have been in love with the same woman for 27 years.
I often say this is one of my greatest accomplishments, but I don't know that you could actually classify it as an accomplishment.
"Accomplishment," to me, signifies conscious effort. And I didn't make a conscious effort to fall in love with Terry. It just sort of happened when I was 16 years old. And it has lasted ever since. So I'm not sure you can say that being in love with someone is an "accomplishment."
Now, staying together with them? Nurturing that relationship? Strengthening your bond? Those take effort. Those are accomplishments. But actually being in love? I don't think I had much to do with that. That was God's work, and He did a very nice job of it, if I may say so.
Terry and I met when I was a sophomore in high school. She was stunningly pretty. I was passable in the looks department. To the point that you could take me out in public and not be overly embarrassed to be seen with me.
After less than a year of dating, I knew I loved her.
And looking back, I was right about that.
You don't often know what love really is when you're 16 or 17 years old, but for whatever reason, I did. What I felt for her then was as genuine as what I feel for her now.
But it almost fell apart. Twice, actually.
Terry dumped me two times during high school. Once was between my junior and senior year in the summer of 1987. I don't remember much about that particular break-up, other than that it mercifully didn't last very long.
But the second time was the following summer after I had graduated. I think it only lasted three weeks or so, but I'm not kidding you when I say they were the worst three weeks of my life.
I was such a lost soul. I honestly couldn't fathom how I was supposed to go on without her. So I just kind of existed. I hadn't yet started college, nor did I have a job at the time. So I existed. Miserably.
My mom remembers. She remembers me staying up late at night listening to sad music and just laying in my bed. Occasionally I would call Terry. And most of the time she would tell me I had to stop calling her.
At one point she told me I needed to find someone else to be with, that it would be good for me. So I gave it a try. I went out a few times with a very pretty and smart girl.
But Terry (this is my favorite part of the story) didn't like that. I had started my job at The News-Herald during our break-up period, and one night I came out of work to find a rose and a nice card from her tucked under the windshield wipers of my 1979 Chevy Chevette.
I drove straight to Terry's house.
We got back together for good that night.
A few months later, when we were both 19, we got engaged. Less than four years after that, we were married. To the extent that I had anything to do with making this beautiful relationship last, I guess that is one of my greatest accomplishments.
But I realized the other night that there's also a potential dark side to all of this. Well, not a "dark" side, really, but there is a risk.
I have put everything into being with this woman. Everything I am is wrapped up in her. If something were to happen to her, I would be a lost soul again.
And knowing that is scary. I don't want to go back to that horrible feeling again. But the fact is, I just might have to. One day, anyway.
The reality of our collective situation as humans is that we have an expiration date. Whatever we build in this life simply ain't going to last forever, and that includes romantic bonds cemented by red roses left on Chevy Chevettes.
An extremely selfish part of me hopes that I'm the one to die first, if only so I don't have to go through that dark time again. And I have biology on my side, what with woman living longer on average than men.
But there's nothing to be gained by having these morbid thoughts, so I try to shut them out.
Sometimes at night just before I fall asleep, I turn my head toward her side of the bed and try to make out her face in the darkness. Often I can. Sometimes I can't.
No matter, though. I can always see her in my mind.
Sometimes when I picture her it's the current mom-of-five Terry. Other times it's when-we-just-got-married Terry. And occasionally it's 16-year-old Terry.
Every one of them is beautiful. And every one of them is mine.
Then, and only then, do I drift off to sleep, content in the knowledge that whatever else may eventually happen, the girl I loved in 1986 is still laying next to me.
Twenty-seven years of that is worth just about any price, to tell you the truth.