Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Mike met Mariska

I realized as I chatted with an old high school buddy the other night about our marriages - both of us lucky enough to be happily married for a long period of time to our best friends - that I always blog about the kids, but never about Mike and I.  I've never told "Our Story."

When I first get to know a couple, my favorite question is, how did you two get together?  I love origin stories.  Mike and I often equate ours to When Harry Met Sally.  Our first meeting wasn't smooth, we didn't hit it off, but something happened there, and it grew to friendship and finally to love.  We even danced to the song "I Could Write A Book" from that movie at our wedding because of the chorus which says:
" ...the world discovers as my book ends
How to make two lovers of friends"

So here's how these two friends became so much more.

It was the first week of college and classes hadn't even begun yet.  All the freshmen arrived early to learn our way around the school, check out organizations to join, try new activites, etc.  But let's be honest... we were a bunch of 18 year olds checking each other out.  Those first days were marked by everyone walking around everyone else's dorm buildings.  Everyone left their doors open so you could see who was inside. And who was walking by. Where were the cute guys/girls, where was the party hall?

So I'm standing in my friend Kristin's dorm room.  She and I had met at a "Southern California Ducks" mixer a few weeks before designed to give us someone to know on campus before moving 900 miles away.  A kind of safety net, if you will.  She had her door open and this guy goes be-bopping by (he rose up on his toes as he walked, creating kind of a bouncy walk) and then backed up slowly and walked in.  He talked to her, but kept his eyes on me.

"Hey Kristen, who's you're friend?"

He was NOT the kind of guy I was usually with.  He smoked, had long hair, wore trench coats and Doc Martens and listened to strange industrial music I'd never paid attention to.  He was WAY too comfortable with who he was and I, being shy, was immediately uncomfortable.  This brings out my "I'm gonna give you some shit" side.

"I'm Mariska and I have a boyfriend," I replied, "is it Halloween or do you always dress like that?"

"You look like some kind of blonde, California, bippy, (insert bad word here) cheerleader" he shot back with a mischievous smile.  He was unrattled. I wanted to hate him, but I loved anyone who could flick back the shit I gave out.  

"I was," I said as I turned away from him.

THAT was our start.  I called my mom later and told her I'd met the biggest a@#hole, to which she said, "You'll marry him someday."  Freakin' moms always know.

I tried to ignore him, but our paths crossed often.  He would make googly noises and say funny stuff when my boyfriend would send me ridiculously over-sized care packages from Notre Dame.  He called the pictures I had of my boyfriend and I in my dorm a "shrine."  He was totally uninhibited, unflappable, silly, crazy and always saying something funny.  And I came to find he was a good listener. 

When I told him I would never date him and we could only be friends, he took me at my word.  Unlike some of the other guys I knew, he never brought up dating again.  He would listen when I cried about my roller-coaster ride of a relationship with the guy at Notre Dame and give HONEST feedback - sometimes taking my side, sometimes taking my boyfriend's.  He recorded the messages for my roommate's and my voicemail because he could come up with the most creative stuff.  He would poke at me about my belonging to a campus Christian organization that I never seemed to fit quite right into, calling me his "cute, Christian friend" and challenging me to really think about my doubts, yet he would encourage me to follow my faith. We could debate religion for HOURS over a cup of coffee, but it never got heated and always ended in a hug.  He said he would write over the summers... and did.  He was easy to be around because he accepted me for me.  He didn't tell me (as the guys I dated did) to change my clothes, my faith, my hair, my fiesty demeanor, my long shoreman potty mouth, or my taste in music.  He took my constant ribbing about his smoking habit without offense.  He became my very best friend.

Our friends and roommates began to ask what was between us and he and I were truly baffled.  We were friends.  That's it.  Nothing more.  He had girlfriends, I had boyfriends and we told each other all our sordid crap and flirted harmlessly because we were safe together.  We would never be more.

Senior year rolled around and my long standing, on again-off again, long distance relationship ended in an ugly way.  I was bitter, angry and depressed.  Mike, my stalwart friend, was also going through some garbage with a girl.  So we decided to band together.  F#@! it we said, we wouldn't date anyone.  We would just hang out together and enjoy the rest of our final year with a friend we could trust, with no worries about relationships and baggage.

We were flicking each other crap one night about grades and I said, "Let's bet on grades."

"You're ON," he snorted.  I couldn't believe he would bet.  I was a WAY better student.  But he was closing the gap.

"Loser buys winner dinner." 


I won.  And as we talked about dinner as I asked him (still not quite sure why), "how come you never asked me out on a date?"

He laughed, "Ooooh, I don't know, maybe because you said you'd punch me if I ever tried anything."

So I proposed that we make our dinner a date since he and I were pathetic singletons with no dating prospects.  I told him we should dress up, look nice and go out.  He agreed.

My roommate noticed it first.

"Uhhhh, Mariska," she laughed as I got ready, "You know you've changed outfits 3 times.  For MIKE PLAVIN."

I blew her off, but the whole night I was a nervous wreck.  Apparently, so was he.  It was weird, feeling like this for my friend.  We danced around kissing all night, but never did.  I went home baffled and unable to sleep.  Two nights later, while we were on the phone because he had been up for 36 hours taking care of two messed up girls he was worried about when he worked security at a Rave, I went for broke:

"I find you frustrating," I told him, "because I'm finding myself attracted to you." 

SILENCE.  And then,

"JEEEEEEZUS Ris, are you serious?  I've been up for 36 hours, just took an Actifed and am too sleepy to drive and you tell me NOW?" 

I thought I blew it.  But, to my relief, he was willing to jump the gap from friendship to more with me.  And call it cheesy, call it bullshit, but I knew.  From the very first kiss (finally), I knew.  It may sound weird or negative, but it was a kind of "ooooh shit" dizzying, feeling - just knowing.  It's the end of the line.  Game over.  No more first dates or stomach butterflies meeting someone new.  This was it and I knew it.

I even tried to break it off for one brief week.  I was scared.  That end-of-the-line feeling was over powering.  And I was being criticized and shunned by my so-called "friends" in the Christian group because he was not a Christian.  Never mind that he (as some of them later admitted) often acted more "Christian" that the guys I dated from that group.  But I talked to my Dad about it (since he was my Christian influence) and he talked me down.

"Do you love him?" my dad asked, "Does he make you happy?  I already know he always supports your faith.  Do you think God wants you to turn away your one best friend and perhaps your best chance for that once-in-a-lifetime kind of love?"

Dad was right in the end, like my mom was right in the beginning.  I called Mom and told her I would not be moving back to California.  But she already knew.  She knew it from the first time I called her about my first "real date" with Mike.  Mike was my best buddy and the one, she said, who let the "real Mariska" come out.

We married October 20, 1996.  It's been 16 years now.  Has it been perfect?  Nope.  Have we hit our bumps, gone through times of distance? Yep.  Have we even thrown around the idea of divorce?  Yep.  Once.  But in the end, it keeps coming back to our friendship.  He's the one who knows all my stories, and loves me anyway.  He's the one I want to tell about my worst days... and my best.  He's the one who can really, REALLY make me laugh.  Even when I'm crying.  We can agree on or debate about religion, politics, books, movies and music... and it never gets heated.  Never turns ugly.

So, like Sally, that weird guy I met who disgusted me, intrigued me, intimidated me and flustered me, became the best thing that has ever happened to me.  That's our story.  What's yours?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Late Night Voices

San Pedro, CA circa 1979:

"Hey asleep?"

Mom has separated us.  Again.  It's well past bedtime and our tired mother just wants us to go to sleep.  NOT because she doesn't appreciate how much we love laughing together, not because she doesn't want us to have fun, but because of the aftermath.  She's a single, working mother whose job is a 1/2 hour from where we live and, thanks to the babysitting permit, has to take two children to school 1/2 hour away.  We have to get up super early to get us to school and her to work.  By the time she gets us from the sitter, drives the 1/2 hour home and gets us dinner and into bed, she (and we) are exhausted.  She knows overtired, young twins in the morning will NOT be a pretty picture.  So she's put me in her room and left Lori in ours because we were talking and giggling instead of going to sleep.

"SHHHHHHHH," my sister finally replies.  "We'll WAKE Mom!" 

At last, Lori appears in the doorway.  Mom's separation trick would work... if we would stay in bed.  The two bedrooms in our tiny rental are grouped together at the end of a hallway with the doorways nearly touching.

"GIRLS..." my mom's groggy warning rings through the house.  But she sounds slightly amused too.  I can imagine she's holding back irritation at our disobedience along with a laugh that we thought she could not hear our exaggerated stage whispers and our getting in and out of the beds.  But we have a schedule to keep and she knows sleepy 6 year olds are grumpy, uncooperative 6 year olds in the morning.

Flash forward 33 years to Eugene, Or and I'm the mom listening to talking and giggling, but on a monitor while the kids are upstairs.  At the moment, they're in the same room, but I'm pondering separating them.  At the same time, I remember those nights with my twin, Lori.  The giddiness.  The feeling that you never want to end because it feels so good to bond with your sibling.  The joy of breaking a rule, even a minor one like your bedtime.  The feeling that you've pulled one over on mom.  It's thrilling.

I love children's minds.  Impractical, short memories and the inability to apply more complex cause-and-effect logic.  This is the kind of thinking that makes my children jump off the bed when I've told them not to because they haven't thought through the fact that I KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING even when I'm downstairs.  This is not because I have magic powers, but because it sounds like someone is heaving 40 and 60 pound boulders around my playroom.  This is what makes them say, "Let's play Wipeout!" even AFTER I've warned them that I will have the monitor with me downstairs while I take a quick shower.  This is what enables them to "sneak" out of their rooms early in the morning, turn on the TV and pound their way downstairs and around the kitchen even when I've told them that they can't have screen time while they have their "breakfast snack" on the weekends.  And this is what makes them think, when they are speaking in the same, ridiculously loud stage whispers Lori and I used to use, that I won't hear them say to one another, "We just won't tell mom!"

Tonight I've already played what a friend refers to as "bedtime whack-a-mole" twice.  I went upstairs once to tell Elizabeth to stop getting out of bed to drink gallons of water by filling and refilling a tiny Dixie Cup.  Then I had to go upstairs to talk down my melodramatic son who was convinced a Muppet Band-Aid would magically stop the (one would think from his drama) apparently excessive bleeding caused by the invisible paper cut on his thumb.  But now... the giggling has started.

"You are the cheese to my macaroni," William says to Elizabeth.
"No! You are the cheese to MY macaroni!" is her reply.  Uproarious laughter ensues.
"Dizzy, dizzy, " he's breathless with laughter now, "EYE ball!"
"Bubba," she's laughs right back, "I see your EYE ball!"

They have their own jokes now.  They make each other giggle.  I find them with their heads bent together over the comic books, library books and magazines they have strewn around William's queen-size bed (they never sleep in Dizzy's room) while William reads to her.  I hear stuffed animal battles. I hear them sharing dreams they've had.  I hear them laughing just to laugh and stay awake a bit longer.

There's school tomorrow and I'm thinking I should go up there and separate them.  I think of the aftermath.  The grumpy, slow moving kids I'll have tomorrow.  I'm about to threaten separation when a thought stops me.  I don't have to drive far tomorrow... it's a 7 minute walk to William's school.  Elizabeth can stay in pajamas. I'm an incredibly fortunate wife of 16 years to my best friend.  We live in a large, beautiful house, the likes of which I could not have fathomed when I was six.  I stay at home with my children.  Heck, after getting William to school, I could just stay in PJ's and hang out with my daughter until it's time to get Bubba.  I'm SO lucky.  Mom, didn't have that opportunity and when the times DID come where we could relax a little bit... mom was ALL about having fun.  Schedules and bedtimes and clean-up could wait.  Fun was to be had when we could have it.  In fact now, when she visits, Mom and I stay up way too late.  Giggling.

So I don't go upstairs.  I grab my drink, turn up the monitor and enjoy my entertainment.  Elizabeth and William are the late night voices now and I want to enjoy the giggles while they still last...