I met you on the airport curb.
It’s strange now to remember the makeshift sign I’d created, hot gluing pipe cleaners and foam to white paper in Jen’s art classroom, giggling about my own clever joke that it was an arrival sign that actually didn’t say anybody’s name. I’d thought it was hilarious, scrambling around with buttons and glitter and a hundred thousand thoughts of what you might smell like.
I recall exactly what I was wearing, the dark skinny jeans and aztec shirt, and i straightened my hair. I put on eyeliner. Mascara. Blush. All three kinds of makeup I owned, I put them on. And I ruined it all with a Cubs bear hat I found on the streets of Chicago, wandering through Wicker Park years back with an old boyfriend.
I brought a bottle of bourbon with me, stowing it in the backseat of the car like a child, practically locking it into a seatbelt, thinking it could hold our up-close love together if words couldn’t. i was working on acquiring a taste for your beloved liquor at the time and i would take the the tiniest tugs from the bottle like it was baby’s juice, but gin is my oldest and truest love, and there’s no flinching there. You know that now.
You were shorter than I’d imagined, and your left leg was always a little out of sync with your right, and it was funny because these were the only things i couldn’t know about you from videos and emails and calls. And I have no idea what you were wearing, which I suppose says more about me than it does about you.
We drove through the main streets, the back streets, the dark streets of my city and we listened to the mix CD that had Conor Oberst and Jack White and —oh shit—Taylor Swift. You laughed and swigged whiskey out of the bottle while we drove and I told you, it’s okay, it’s legal in Tennessee and everyone always says that and nobody knows if it’s true.
I was 25 years old, the age I think is practically perfect, scientifically engineered to mesmerize us all with its fleeting hold. The flawless year of flat stomachs and tight jeans and biceps and boobs and beatable hangovers: oh, and wild abandon. The kind that allows you to exchange emails with a stranger a thousand miles away only to find that maybe, just maybe through words and whiskey and wit, just maybe.
you’re the best I’ve known, and you know me.
i knew when i dropped you off on the airport curb. haggard hair and sleepy eyes, i knew.
that first year, i didn’t spend your birthday with you. you were far away, sweating in a swampy florida winter, and i sent a cake to you. it had Oreos and your friend delivered it. i got you a journal customized with an anchor and a quote from East of Eden.
Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.
we got anchor tattoos mere months later, ink on skin and needles to bone and we didn’t tell anyone that we both had them, but i remember the look in your eyes and the last minute decision to make the anchor smaller, tilt it to the side, right? i remember.
I don’t remember almost anything about our wedding. I think about that often, because I know that it was the best day, the most love I’ve ever had in one room, the walls a giant bursting heart bleeding with every face and hug and touch, and the whole night screaming—a blur of sounds that are colors, synesthesia pouring from the balcony.
but you were there, and so was i.
that first year, i was so envious of everyone that got to spend your birthday with you. i told you that, i used the word envy so much as if to prove i knew the synonym for jealousy. and i was frustrated and sad and flailing in the possibility that maybe just maybe i couldn’t be there for every important moment of your life. that sometimes you would spend important moments in places I couldn’t be. with people who were not me. and that is not perfect, but it is good.
and i told you i promised to love you more than any of them ever would, and i do.
happy birthday, tyler huckabee. to many many more.
Disclaimer: Tyler wrote a beautiful piece for our anniversary and I got him a silly little wallet that day, so it is worth acknowledging that he had the idea to write as a gift well before I did. His piece is also much better and makes me look like a toddler trying to write an essay on Tolstoy in cursive. But, it’s still a story worth telling, at least for me.