In early January (the 2nd, I think) of 2004, there was a huge ice storm. Mr. K was living on 5 acres of property and upwards of 50 trees came down in the storm. His yard was covered in branches and whole trees that had been uprooted. His shop had been hit by a tree and thousands of dollars worth of damage had been done. The place was all but buried in various lengths of sticks and logs. On Jan. 3, he called me to say reluctantly that he enjoyed my company very much but, regrettably, would not be able to see me much for a time, until he got the mess all cleaned up. I bristled at this, and I pointed out that whatever else happened in our budding relationship, I already liked him and wanted him to be my friend. Friends help each other, right? I would come help.
Let me give you some perspective on the size of the mess: we worked side by side every day of every weekend for the next 6 - 8 weeks. During that time, our "dates" were over the bonfire in the yard or the slimy pile of logs that got rained on after we piled them up. We ate on the fly most of the time, not over candlelight unless the power went out. Sometimes we worked for hours without even talking because we were on opposite sides of a huge yard. Every one of those days I had my hair scraped back into a ponytail and I wore old jeans and dairy boots and generous helping of slime and dirt. Good times. In fact, it was the best courtship I've ever had.
The dairy boots were a gift from him during that time (I think it was Valentine's Day, actually) and I squealed with as much joy as if they were diamonds. (Wet feet are not a small thing over a period of hours and days. Believe me.) I remember sometimes watching him while we worked. I loved his attitude and his ethic. I loved that he didn't whine but just kept picking stuff up. I loved that he always found a way to solve whatever problem we encountered. I loved that he didn't baby me or try to shoulder most of the load--he pretty much assumed I could do anything unless I told him different. I loved that he could laugh at himself when he screwed something up. Truth be told, I loved HIM. And I'll put in here really quickly: my longheld (and somewhat unpopular this time of year) opinion is that love at first sight is an insult to love. Love is something you work for and earn together.
I learned a great deal during those months.
1. When faced with an insurmountable pile of sticks on the ground, the best thing to do is to go out there together, bend over, and start picking them up.
2. Beauty means a whole lot of things...and most of them wouldn't cut it on the pages of the fashion magazines.
3. Earning love is hard, dirty work. And also infinitely wonderful, worthwhile work.
4. If you can eat dinner at a French restaurant together in your finest clothes and enjoy each other, so what? If you can eat lukewarm canned soup together when you're filthy and so physically exhausted that chewing seems out of the question and enjoy each other....now that's something of value.
5. Love is a verb.
6. Whatever you build, builds you. This is also true for relationships.
Mr. K is my heart. He is also my rock and my friend and my intellectual stimulus and my branch-burning partner and the person I can't wait to tell things to. My teenage self would have said that love was romance and a handsome man holding you tenderly and running in the sand while the music swells. My older self says this: love is what keeps you picking up the sticks when your back aches and your hair and feet are wet and you don't smell all that great and you remember your last hot bath warmly but vaguely and you've picked up a million of them and there are at least a million more. Love is what you build and earn and do.
Happy Valentine's Day, Mr. K. I love you more today than I ever have. I still treasure those dairy boots...and every single minute we've built together. You are still my heart....and my yard full of sticks...and everything in between.