Ian and I met on Halloween in 1989. I can’t believe that was twenty years ago. I have now known him half my life. Halloween is one of the harder days to be without Ian. The only other time we’ve been apart on Halloween was his last deployment in 2006.
We met at a party where everyone was asked to wear black and bring something grotesque sounding to eat. String musicians own a lot of black clothes, so that part was easy for me, and I brought a box of vanilla pudding I figured we could call phlegm.
The party was loud, and I ended up wedged between my stand partner from orchestra and what looked like a young republican in a suit. My stand partner was annoying and I really didn’t want to have to chat with her outside of orchestra, so I was stuck turning to suit guy. On closer inspection I realized the suit was an ROTC uniform. I come from a family of artists. I thought ‘Hair’ was a very patriotic movie when I saw it at age nine. I didn’t think I’d have anything in common with an Army guy. I remember having the very conscious thought, “Well, not fair to judge a book by its cover….” and I said hello.
I find it impossible to picture my life today if I hadn’t gone to that party.
No Ian in his ROTC uniform means no Aden, no Mona, no Quinn. I might not even be in violin making because Ian supported me and gave me encouragement all through my apprenticeship. I don’t know who I would be right now. I don’t know where I would be living or what I would be doing. I’m sure I would have picked a different path that would appeal to me and I would be happy and fine, but the mere idea of a world where my kids never existed is unsettling. They are supposed to be here somehow, I just know it. Which brings me back to Ian in his ROTC uniform.
He told me later he specifically wore it just to be counter-counter-cultural. He wanted to see if anyone in the all black wearing dancer/musician crowd would talk to him. We had one of the best conversations of my life. I had just finished reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” and really wanted to discuss it with someone, but no one else had even heard of it–except Ian. We laughed together over the safe cracking chapter, and talked on and on as if we’d known each other a long time. As if he weren’t in a uniform. As if I didn’t come from a family that would be baffled about what to do with an engineering major when I brought him home.
Eventually, I had to go. I had a paper to write and it was getting late. I said goodbye and walked home alone, rerunning parts of the enjoyable conversation over and over in my head. I’d sworn off dating for a bit because I was having a rough time at that point in college, but after a few days I realized I wanted to talk to the guy in the Army suit again. I told the person who had invited him to the Halloween party to give him my number. I thought that was very clever because he could call me, but he knew ahead of time I wanted him to. A fabulous plan, except that at the time Ian was not good at calling people. I ended up calling him myself, and left messages twice. I should have figured it was a sign he wasn’t interested, but that conversation on Halloween had been so nice…. It just couldn’t have been my imagination. The person I talked to would want me to try again, I just knew it, despite whatever signals I seemed to be getting.
When I tried the third (and in my mind, final) time, I actually caught Ian on the phone. I asked him to a movie that night, and he said, “No, I can’t. But don’t hang up!” I hadn’t imagined it. We had another great conversation. We met the next night for a movie. We’ve now had twenty years of great conversations, and mundane conversations, laughter and comfortable silence, and the occasional movie. I still have the box of unopened phlegm pudding in the cupboard. One day it will be a fun anniversary treat to make. (Or at least an interesting experiment about the shelf life of instant pudding.)
I never imagined I’d fall in love with an Army guy. It’s not always easy, but the proof that it’s right is in the form of three remarkable people who I get to tuck into bed each night. I miss my husband. There is no one else I’d rather talk to right now.
(Happy Anniversary, Ian, if you can read this. I hope next Halloween we’re together.)