I met my wife in a library, introduced to her by an English Teacher. That’s oddly poetic to me, for a wannabe writer to meet the love of his life in such a way.
If the me of today were to hop into a time machine and go back and visit the 16-year-old me of yesterday, and as myself, I told myself, “Today we will meet that woman, that you will marry.” I probably would not have believed me. That is, right up until I stepped into that library and heard her laugh, at that moment I would have believed everything I had taken the time to tell myself. There would not have been a single doubt.
In truth, it begins with the English Teacher. I was in high school, in my eleventh-grade year, when we got a new English teacher, Mrs. Poore. Throughout my high school career, I was a bit of a bastard. I was a “C” student who, if he would only just “properly apply himself” could have been a “B,” maybe even an “A” student. But to apply oneself was a bore, to crack jokes and make the entire class, or at least a respectable section, burst out into spontaneous laughter felt like a much more rewarding use of my time. That in addition to the fact that I played football, ran track and ran with a street crowd, I imagine I was a bit more arrogant than the average student. When the school year started Mrs. Poore, and I had quite the adversarial relationship. I was being kicked out of class daily, for making jokes and other random outbursts. But over time she warmed up to me and soon became my favorite teacher and in some ways like a second mother.
In the spring of my junior year, my new favorite teacher decides to take on a number of tasks that she feels are necessary for the betterment of my well being. The first being that I join the Forensics team and the second was that I find a girlfriend, someone that would provide a counterbalance to my wild and outrageous ways and encourage me to grow and mature. She decided that she would be the official matchmaker.
For Mrs. Poore, Forensics was an easy sell, it was an afterschool activity that was a combination of debate club and competitive drama, and for most, it would have been a reputation killer, but I had it in my head that I was beyond reproach and that there was little to nothing that could hurt my rep. It’s not that I was necessarily popular but more so arrogant. The matchmaking, on the other hand, was a different story. Mrs. Poore would list off respectable female students that I would then proceed to shoot down left and right for no reason other than she suggested them. And then one day we were headed to a meeting for the forensics team, I had been dodging the meetings up until that point, but Mrs. Poore had finally cornered me and forced me to keep my word about joining the team. I reluctantly followed her to the library kicking myself for making the commitment in the first place.
“I’m going to have to introduce you to Marsha, I would say you two would make a good match, but you may be too silly for her. She is very mature for her age, and you are not.”
I shrugged off this comment. “Works for me .” I thought to myself, happy to have the understanding that everyone’s expectations had been properly set. “I am both immature and childish and will, therefore, be doing the minimal amount of work and putting forth the most minimal amount of effort.”
We entered the library which was for the most part empty as it was after school hours and the only students that remained would have been the basketball team, and none of them were in the library. Mrs. Poore and I made our way across the library to a table in the corner, sitting there waiting for us to arrive a girl. Dark brown skin, long hair and round full lips that pulled back into a bright and honest smile as we approached. She looked up at us with these ancient Nubian eyes. Immediately I knew that I had seen her around school before, but we had never really spoken to one another. We had kind of been in two different worlds, and there had never been a need. She was all Advanced Placement and Honors Classes, Marching Band, and Girl’s Track. I was barely a “C” student in general population, all football and rap notebooks, a drug dealer’s cousin and resident class clown. Mrs. Poore was right we might have made a good match, but we were too different, we must have passed each other in the halls a hundred times over the past two and a half years, and neither of us gave the other a second look.
I sat down, grinning happily to know that if I was going to be stuck on the forensics team at least, it was with someone pretty, though the chances of us getting along were low according to what Mrs. Poore had said about our maturity levels. Our teacher and Forensics coach made introductions and commented on how we would be working together on a scene that she had in mind. She made another jab at me, the specifics of what she said I couldn’t remember, probably something to feel embarrassed. I responded with a quick and witty retort, a random joke in response to the teacher’s teasing, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you exactly what I said, but I know it must have been funny because Marsha burst out laughing. Genuine and joy-filled laughter as if she had been surprised not only by what I said but by how much she enjoyed it. Her laugh echoed through the small section of the library we were sitting in, and I smiled, and I stared at her and in that moment, in that singular defining moment, so much of my future had been solidified.
I’d like to think within that library, some time-traveling future version of myself was peeking out from around a bookshelf; observing that moment, hearing the joke and hearing her laugh. Then looking down to a crumpled picture of an empty landscape, the future me would see images of my teenage and young adult children appear in crisp and startling clarity as if they had been apart of the picture all along.
I am attempting to convey to you the gravity of this moment, but I know I cannot truly do it justice. The discovery of a dead body, the soul gratifying punch landed on the jaw of a bully, dodging gunfire, diving head first into a puddle of rainwater with your best friend. These are all moments in my life that have helped shape and define who and what I am. As this young brown girl’s laughter echoed through the half-empty library of my high school, the clockwork gears of time and space paused for one elongated moment, freezing the universe in its place just long enough for it to be written in some unseen ledger by some unseen force, that I had just met the love of my life. A man’s life is nothing, if not a series of moments; moments that begin and end in an instant, and other moments that echo into forever.
I shook myself out of my momentary daze, both taken aback and pleasantly surprised by her reaction to whatever it was that I had said. The meeting continued; lead by Mrs. Poore, with a few more jokes thrown in by me and a few more laughs thrown in by Marsha. A week or so passed and we begin to study and practice the scene that Mrs. Poore had in mind for us. It was a scene from the play Fences by August Wilson. We practiced and practiced for weeks, and after a time we were set to have our first Forensic meet.
A forensic meet is very different from athletic competitions, it’s inside the school for one, and there are no fans or supporters present, everything is done solely amongst the competitors and their judges. Marsha and I walked into a classroom full of students. They were fraternizing and talking to one another, being social. While me and Marsha strolled in with our noses in the air, speaking to or acknowledging no one. We were called up to perform our scene first. We went up to the front of the class and proceeded to completely and horrifyingly bomb. We stood in the front reciting our memorized line smiling at each other and holding back laughs the entire time. We barely made it through the scene. I can only imagine the awkwardness that we put the rest of the room through as we stood there making goo-goo eyes at each other the entire scene. The group that went second wiped the floor with us, it wasn’t even close.
After that first meet, we vowed to do better, and while flipping through one of our school textbooks, I found a scene from the play “Barefoot in the Park” by Neil Simon. The characters reminded me of the sitcom “Mad About You” a show about a married couple that both Marsha and I watched and loved. We practiced the new scene on our own, determined to execute to perfection in our next Forensics Meet. We never had another Forensics Meet, but we continued to practice our “Mad About You” inspired scene until the end of our junior year.
The summer came, and without the excuse of school or forensics to put us together, Marsha and I were separated. That summer I was working in a sneaker store in Rivergate Mall. While I’m standing there counting down the hours until my shift was over, in walks my scene partner. She had come to the mall with her older brother.
“Hey,” I said, as she moseyed up to me with a grin.
“Hey,” she responded.
I stared at her for a moment simply smiling and not speaking then quickly broke the silence before it became too awkward.
“Are you ready for school to start back?” I asked.
“Yeah I am, are you going to do Forensics again this year.”
“Yeah probably, ” I said rubbing the back of my head, “Otherwise I’m sure Mrs. Poore won’t leave me alone about it.”
Her smile widened. “Well I need to get some new shoes for school, can you help me?” she asked.
We talked for another fifteen minutes, about plans for senior year and about sneakers in the store she liked and didn’t like. She ended up choosing a pair of blue and silver Nike Air Max Specter, size seven and a half.
School started back in the fall, and the two of us began right where we had left off at the end of last year, and before long we were wrapped up in the throes of the Teenage Black Love Process. We began having long drawn out phone conversations that would last from late in the evening until the sun was breaking on the horizon the next day. More than once I fell asleep with the phone to my ear, reluctant and at time blatantly refusing to hang up, even though we would see each other in school the next day. Even with all that technically we were just friends. Until a late night in November near the end of the first semester of our Senior year.
Marsha and I were on the phone as it drifted later and later into the evening. We used to play this game that we aptly named the Scenario Game, in which one of us would throw out some type of scenario and we would then have a conversation as if the scenario was our reality. I can’t recall what the particular scenario was on that night, but I do remember when it went off the rails.
The scenario game leads us to a point of disagreement and Marsha made her move.
“So tell me how you really feel about me?”
“Excuse me,” I said almost choking on my own words.
“How do you really feel?” she repeated. Firm and without hesitation.
I cursed under my breath, the Scenario Game had been an emotional safety zone that allowed us to freely express feelings of affection and intimacy toward one another without the fear of rejection or embarrassment. Anything said within the realm of the game that one might take as to bold or to forward could easily be recanted or dismissed merely as playing a role within the confines of the Scenario Game. Marsha had just ripped back the emotional insulation. I was an exposed nerve, raw and in the open.
“Seriously?” I responded.
“Seriously,” she replied.
Saying the word “seriously” before or after a statement was our code for complete and total honesty. It means “What I have said is the absolute truth, no joke, no sarcasm, no exaggeration.”
I cursed under my breath once again. I was in a desperate situation, I was about to share hones and vulnerable feelings with a girl that I had loved since I first heard her laugh, she could crush me with a single response.
In retrospect, my fears and apprehension were completely unfounded and made little to no sense. We were talking on the phone daily. Smiling at one another all day at school and I had even rearranged my senior year schedule. I changed one of my electives and forced the front office to move to me into Mrs. Poore’s Drama Class, just so that Marsha and I could have a class together. Of which, up until it was finalized and I was officially moved to the class, Marsha asked me about the status of daily. So the chances of her rejecting my advances were little to none, but in my 17-year-old mind, the emotional risk that this moment posed was all too real.
“Well I know for me, I like you. Like, ‘like you’ like you.”
“Oh, Well I ‘like you’ like you too.”
“Really?” I said in feigned ignorance.
“Why haven’t you said anything before now?” she asked not letting me off the hook.
“I don’t know” remember I’m seventeen and dumb.
“Well, now what?”
“Well maybe now we should become a couple,” I said.
“Seriously,” I replied.
Nine years later, exactly to the date, I married the girl that I met in the library. Mainly because she laughed at my jokes.