A sure-fire way to test your relationship is to spend the summer together in a room the size of a shoe box. We didn’t have to, we just chose to. Or I should say, I chose to and he just went along with it. The summer after my sophomore year I decided to stay in Rhode Island to be near him.

To pay for my room — a small white space in the IEP (International Engineering Program) House — I worked at the local beach by day. By night, the last thing I wanted to do was stay in my room while languages I couldn’t understand permeated the thin walls. So I crashed with Michael. First twice a week, then three times…and before I knew it I had essentially moved in, my bras drying over the side of his lofted bed, my shoes scattered across the limited floor space. In theory, the time together made sense.

In reality, it wasn’t a great move. Love can move mountains, but it can’t stop you from getting under each other’s skin while crammed into a twin bed. It was amazing to spend the summer together, but when I moved into my beach house in the fall, I don’t think either of us were disappointed.

***

That Christmas we planned a trip to the Midwest to visit his father. With his health failing, it was important for Michael to take the opportunity to spend time with him and I desperately wanted to chance to meet the father of the man I loved so much. The plan was simple — get in the car and drive. First to Chicago to visit his sister, then down to Kansas to meet his father and brothers.

People warned us. They laughed and said we’d be ready to kill each other by the time the trip was over. How many days in the car together? Yeah right.

Those people were wrong.

***

On my 20th birthday he handed me a big, light box. I opened it to find a smaller box in the middle.

“I wanted to throw you off,” he said smiling.

I opened it to find a perfect band of diamonds and sapphires. I wore it every single day for the next four years.

***

I stood in the blazing sun and felt the pain in my cheeks. I couldn’t stop smiling. Michael accepted his diploma and scanned the crowd. Even behind his dark sunglasses I knew he saw me beaming. Later that night he rubbed aloe on my burnt shoulders.

***

His father passed in October. I wasn’t sure exactly how to comfort him so I gave him the only thing I knew — my arms. We lay in my bed for hours, alternating between sleeping and weeping, reminiscing and silence. I didn’t go to the funeral. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I desperately wanted to. But with school and finances I couldn’t swing it. I felt awful. Still feel awful.

I should have been there.

***

Michael got a job and began a 16-week training period that monopolized every free second of his life. He tried his best to balance work with friends with family with life. I struggled to remain smiling as he dragged his tired body to my house only to fall asleep in minutes. By week ten my smile failed and I worried.

We made it. Of course we made it.

***

I stood in the snow and watched him — so serious — as he accepted his title. The struggles of the past four months melted away like the snowflake on my cheeks — hiding the tears of pride that ran down them.

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