I remember the first time I wanted to hold his hand. It shocked and mortified me.
You see, I was dating somebody else.
My childhood sweetheart was at college in another state while I was in Virginia. It was October of my freshman year.
And this guy, this nice guy, this guy who also drove me nuts with his mysterious confidence, his infuriating arrogance, his dark hair and dark eyes and Buddy Holly glasses, came into the laundry room at 8pm and I uttered three words that set my future into motion:
“Man! I’m starving!”
As soon as I said it I wanted to eat those words, especially since this guy had already paid for my lunch earlier that day.
In my mad scramble to make it to breakfast on time that morning, so I could make it to the first session of a campus-wide conference (strangely required that year, and never again after that), I forgot my ID.
I managed to sneak into the cafeteria at breakfast but for lunch, no ID meant no bagged lunch provided by the school.
When he offered, of course, I protested—no, I can’t let you do that. Yes, I’m serious. No really… you sure?—but he bought me lunch at Hardees anyway.
We ended up sitting together all afternoon at the conference, talking in whispered tones between bouts of listening to the speakers. I can’t remember what we talked about but I know that this guy, this guy named Aaron, filled my thoughts as I dashed away to a special choir practice that caused me to miss dinner that night.
I don’t know how he knew I was doing laundry. I do know that I got a ridiculous grin on my face as soon as I saw him.
We chatted about our evenings, about the choir practice, about some friends who had come in from his hometown to go to the conference.
And that’s when I let it slip that I was hungry.
“You didn’t eat dinner? Well, let’s go!” He jumped off the folding table sandwiched between the humming washers and dryers.
“Let’s go get some food. You said you were hungry!”
“I—” (He knew I didn’t have any money. That’s why he bought me lunch earlier that day).
“You already bought me lunch today! I cannot let you buy me dinner too!”
“Yes, you can.”
“No, I can’t.”
“You’re hungry. I’m offering. I’m hungry too. Let’s go!”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” He smiled.
I hesitated, a hot blush blooming in my cheeks…but I was really, really hungry. (And can I be really, really honest? I wanted to spend more time with him).
So I climbed cautiously into the passenger side of his white 1990 Ford Bronco II and we roared away from campus towards Wendy’s.
And that’s when it happened—a lull in our conversation, where I watched him drive. My eyes traveled from his face, down his arm, to his hand cupped around the gear shift and I wondered what it would be like to have his fingers laced through mine.
He broke the silence: “What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing,” I said, quickly looking out the window, both to hide my blush and to swallow down the mortified bubble of laughter that was threatening to burst out at any moment. Does he know? What in the world is happening here?
I was in complete denial then, but looking back, I was deep “in like” with this guy, teetering on the brink of falling in love.
Aaron and I didn’t hold hands for a few more months, not until after a tearful breakup with my boyfriend.
But when we did first hold hands, sitting on a couch watching the extended version of Lord of the Rings on DVD, it was pure magic. It was warmth and electricity through my entire body, and a thrill of longing and satisfaction as those fingers that I had long stared at finally intertwined with mine.
I couldn’t stop smiling, even if I tried.
The Bronco, the one that we drove to Wendy’s and that we later brought our newborn twin boys home in, is long gone. But last week, we held hands in our SUV as we drove to Richmond.
“What are you thinking about?” Aaron, my husband, asked.
I looked at him, the face I have loved for more than 13 years, those dark eyes, and that dark hair (now with a few strands of silver) and those Buddy Holly glasses, and said:
“I’m thinking that you’re here and I’m here. And I’m holding your hand and I’m enjoying this moment because, on the way home, you won’t be here.”
And he smiled, a sad, knowing smile, and squeezed my hand tighter.
Right now, we’re apart, and I’m missing him something fierce, but we’re both staying strong, learning in our own ways what it means to live the military life, and soon, we’ll be together again.
I can’t wait to hold your hand again, my love.
Want to read the story of how it took him 10 years to convince me to go into the military?
Start here: The Day I stopped crushing my husband’s dreams.