It's rare that you get the chance to really, truly hear how a relationship began, unless you happen to be a witness to it. Usually people sum up their beginnings in a sentence or two.
Colin and I were both twenty when we met. I had been working as a doorgirl at a bar in Flagstaff for a few months my junior year of college, running the cash register for the cover charges. I had been there a few months before Colin came in, part of a wave of brand-new bouncers. I remember not being terribly impressed with any of them except Colin, because he was the only one who seemed to know what he was doing.
I don't remember how we first began talking, although we worked pretty closely together - he was good at spotting the fake IDs, and the owner, a black belt himself, liked having a black belt covering the door - so we had plenty of time to get to know each other. I don't know how long it took for me to start checking the schedules to see if Colin was working the same shifts that I did, if he was assigned to work the station right next to mine, but it wasn't long. He intimidated me then, because he was intelligent, because he was more aloof than most people, though I knew he liked me because I could get him to smile. I got his particular, off-color humor from the start, could answer back with enough wit that he was impressed.
The bar would have an 18 and over dance party from 2-4 am on Fridays and Saturdays, and I used to hang around after my shift - partly because I didn't want to walk home alone at 3 am, partly because once the bouncers had cleaned up, a group of us often got breakfast. Colin was one of the rotation of people nice enough to drive me home, but he was by far my favorite; there were several times that he and I got breakfast alone, sitting at the Place in the pre-dawn, talking over tropical green tea, hashbrowns, eggs. It is entirely his fault that I like my eggs runny, that I cut them up over the hashbrowns and have one large mess of egg and potato.
I remember particularly the tension of those drives home, how I desperately wanted an indication that he liked me in some way other than friendship. But we were both in other relationships, then, relationships that hadn't ended yet, and even if that hadn't been the case, I could barely muster up the courage to give him a hug good night before rushing up the stairs to my dorm.
After I left for the summer, and quit the bar, we didn't see each other much for a time. We swirled through other relationships, other people and romances, until the spring of my senior year, when I started regularly attending Tuesday night karaoke at the bar. I don't remember much how we progressed from there, except in bits and pieces - him grinning at me from across the room while I sang Boy Named Sue, meeting for a burger across town and finally realizing how blue his eyes are, a thousand cigarettes smoked outside into the frosty night. One memorable night that I spent in horrible anticipation, until I finally - finally - called him back to my dorm on some pretense, and when we hugged good bye I told him to kiss me.
But we were both still attached, in some ways, to the relationships that we had quit - he was still living with his ex-girlfriend; I refused, after my previous relationship, to be tied down to anyone - and we moved apart again. I got pregnant with another man, kept my child, graduated. Moved away.
We talked on the phone and texted in that year and a half, saw each other occasionally. He came to Tucson once, in the spring, and we drove up to the Pima Canyon trailhead and sat on the brick wall while my infant daughter slept in the car, watched the sun move orange-red across the mountains. He faced south, his legs dangling, and I sat lengthwise on the wall, legs triangled over his, put my head on his shoulder and breathed in the sudden familiar comfort of his scent. So strong, that memory, the smell of him.
I fell in love with him slowly, over those months, despite the distance, despite everything between us. When I finally drove up to Phoenix in early December to see him, I was terrified that so much had happened that it couldn't be overcome. We sat in a Starbucks and walked a very thin emotional line, talked over everything. Decided that we at least had to try.
I had to have surgery, that month, a preventative procedure on my malrotated intestines. I had it in LA, with a surgeon who could do the procedure laproscopically, and Colin took as much time as he could to come see me.
I have always been terrified of hospitals, always felt that they were places of death and dying, avoided them if at all possible. But I was so elated at the thought of getting to spend time with him - two whole days and nights - that I scarcely worried about the surgery. I remember waking up from anesthesia in the recovery room, anticipating nothing but the fact that he was driving out to see me right then.
When he arrived, we told the nurses he was my fiancé, thinking that would make them more likely to let him stay with me. I was covered with wires and tubes, but he climbed into the narrow hospital bed with me, held me for what in retrospect feels like two days straight, talking and laughing and barely sleeping for enjoying each other.
There comes a time where they force you to start walking around, to resume the functions of your body. I could not fully support my own weight yet, but out of pride kept as much of it to myself as possible, barely leaning on the arm Colin put through mine. He stopped me, I think, stood me in the hall and told me that I could trust him to support me. And I, who had never relied on anyone in that way, gave in and put all the weight I needed on him, and he held me up without difficulty. The metaphor was so obvious to me, even then. Our faces shone the whole way, walking around the hospital floor. I could feel us shining, and it was confirmed by the comments and glances of the people we passed.
He told me he loved me that night, in the dark blue-grey of the early hours, his face just visible above mine. I felt the emotion like a physical pull in my chest, felt the weight of it like a warm stone, and answered him without hesitation, the first time in my life that I ever fully believed what I was saying.
It's been four and a half years since then. He has seen the brightest and darkest parts of me, loved them all, as I have seen and loved his. Those four and a half years have seen us grow into full-fledged adults, have seen my daughter start school, have seen us move in together, publish two books, perform three plays, share countless moments of happiness.
An old coworker of his once told him that the key to love is the find someone who grows with you. And though I cannot see the future, I know that it is with him that I have grown, and with him I want to keep growing.