Summer 1997

8/8/97

I almost said no.

That night Merry called and invited me over, for popcorn and “Star Trek.” I already had one foot out the door of my apartment, headed towards the elevated and another night of drinking with my graduate school buddies. Curious I still call them buddies, seeing as I haven’t seen any of them since the wedding seven years ago.

Merry and I had been dating for a few weeks, and I wrote in my journal how much I enjoyed being with her. But I also wrote that I didn’t think I could ever be anything more than a good friend to her. There was Ginny, as well; I was attracted to her in a way I didn’t think I could ever feel about Merry, and Ginny was going to be at the bar that evening.

It wasn’t a voice a heard, a call from the clouds, but more of a feeling that came to me when I heard your offer to watch the adventures of Jean-Luc Picard and Lieutenant Commander Data. Ginny will never be interested in me. The other graduate students think I’m an intellectual light-weight. Why do I want to waste another evening with people who don’t care about me?

And that’s when I heard myself saying that I’d be right over.

***

I waited until we were engaged before telling you how much I wanted to kiss you that night. And I’m really glad you waited just as long to admit how you wanted me to force my lips onto yours.

We were so awkward. Neither of us had been in a relationship before, so we had no idea what to do. I’m glad now that we were patient, letting each other grow accustomed to these new feelings.

Sometimes I wonder if I should have remained in graduate school long enough to get my doctorate, but the decision seemed right at the time. I didn’t need your insight to realize the toxicity of that environment, but your support made it easy for me to turn down my assistantship after completing my masters. And how long would I have been on that acne medication if you hadn’t convinced me how belligerent and despondent I’d become since starting the prescription? I was a wreck, financially and emotionally, when we started dating; how long would my misery have continued, if I had listened to my darker instincts and pushed you away?

I was driving home drunk, hoping to get pulled over and have a DUI put an end to the sham of a life I was leading. I can only thank God for sending you into my life, Merry.

***

Three kids, a home in Naperville, and major career changes for both of us. You were just as wise to end your divinity studies (you’re wonderful Merry, but you are not a minister) as I was to give up on the world of trade journals for the more challenging, and lucrative, field of information technology. Now that we’re done churning out offspring — yes, we’re done, Merry — I’m excited for you to find your new passion.

Ten years ago, before the night of that call, I couldn’t imagine being where I am today. There are times I feel I couldn’t possibly be happier.

And yet… it’s not that I’m dissatisfied, or want any more out of life. The only way I can express how I feel, is to say that I have a compulsion to be different.

Too often I feel like a face in the crowd, a robot, a clone. Just another middle-class WASP from the suburbs. And yes, that feeling is most powerful when we’re at church.

That’s why I’ve been writing fiction lately, to express that side of me. I focus on outcasts and outsiders, characters who see things differently. Who want to believe, but struggle with faith in the face of reality. I know you keep asking me why I keep with this theme — what am I trying to prove? And all I can say is, please believe me when I say I don’t know. I’m not trying to make a point in an intellectual sense; I’m trying instead to express, to evoke, an emotion. How I feel about faith in this day and age.

I know you think I’m a pessimist, that I look for reasons to doubt. And yes, maybe I think too much, make things worse for myself. I’ve always been my own worst enemy.

But this is me. I am the skeptic, the devil’s advocate. I cannot accept without first scrutinizing. There is room in God’s kingdom for questioning as well as belief.

So I will continue to write, continue to question.

But Merry, my love for you is as strong as it was when I proposed to you that night at the lakefront. I will never turn my back on you, or our children. You are my rocks. And I can’t imagine being happier anywhere else.

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