It was in college, the first time she laid eyes on him.
She walked into a staff meeting for her new on-campus job at the college gym, and there he was. Tall, black hair, blue eyes. And he had on those Wranglers. Country boy, she thought. I like it.
But lots of girls had their eye on him, as was bound to happen. Tall guys with black hair and blue eyes caught the eyes of lots of admiring college girls, and some of them were awfully attentive and aggressive. She worked one or two shifts a week with him at their campus job, and there they were, always… so giggly, chasing him down, wanting him, throwing themselves at him. Margaret knew there would be lots of competition, and she wasn’t a fan of competition… but still, that shift every week, washing sweaty gym clothes together, handing out basketballs together, was her favorite…
And then John asked her out.
Oh, Margaret knew better than to get attached. All those other girls, and all, and besides, he had been the most popular guy in his high school, and she had been a shy, quiet nobody. But they went to several movies, a dance in the student center, and lots and lots of games back at his apartment with his best friend and his best friend’s fiancee. So much fun… so much laughing. They won at Pictionary; of course, they cheated, but they won, and there was lots of laughing. There was church together, and talking, and seeing each other at work every week. They talked about their shared goal of attending Texas A&M University, their Christian beliefs, his high school girlfriend, Jamie, who had married his coach, and laughed a lot… lots and lots of laughing. And Margaret knew, the way you just know things in your gut for which there’s no logical explanation nor any sign nor evidence, that John was The One, and that she’d marry him.
And no other boy would ever appeal to her again.
And then, in the way that insecure girls tend to do, Margaret convinced herself that she wasn’t really in John’s league, that John wasn’t really interested… he had never kissed her, not after all of these dozens of dates and movies and dances, though she’d given him ample opportunity… and all of these other girls were paying attention to him, and he was BOUND to want one of them more than her (she being convinced she was ordinary, and not as pretty as these other girls who threw themselves at John) and insecurity and self-doubt won out, too long passed between movie dates, and she went out with another guy.
She didn’t want to date this other guy, who didn’t impress her at all, but John surely was out of her league, he wasn’t really pursing her in the Lifetime Movie Network love story way of pursing a girl, and so she settled for filling up her weekends with shallow entertainment, thinking, When John is ready he’ll pursue me. But she was bored and lonely and all of her friends had boyfriends and one date turned into two years, and she watched John go out with one girl then another, and never pursue her the way she was convinced from all these years of fairy tales that he would have done, had he truly been enamored.
He hasn’t pursued me, she told herself. He hasn’t made a grand gesture, or begged me to stop dating this other guy. He’s never once stood outside my bedroom window playing ‘In Your Eyes’ on a jam box. And if he wanted me, he’d show up at my house with the jam box and beg me to stop seeing this other guy (because this is how it happens in the movies, after all, and Margaret was young and immature and had no idea this wasn’t the way the world actually worked), Therefore he doesn’t want me, her logic told her.
And it seemed true, so she told herself so she hung around with Plan B, biding her time until the Grand Gesture, for lack of anything better to do.
Their last day at junior college, Margaret saw him in the parking lot, and stopped her car and rolled down the window. Where to? She asked. University of Arkansas, he said. What about you? Baylor, she answered. And neither of them ended up at Texas A&M, which is sometimes the way life goes, in spite of all of your lifelong dreams and ambitions. And still, Margaret knew, the way you just know things in your gut for which there’s no logical explanation nor any sign nor evidence, that John was still The One, and that she’d marry him, even as they went their separate ways there in the junior college parking lot.
In spite of her insecurity and self-doubt, the thing she never doubted was God’s plan and God’s sovereignty, and trusted fully that if this was God’s plan (and she knew that it was), that she need not fear that John would find someone else, though many miles separate them, and their plans take many diverging paths. God would work it out, she knew.
Margaret went on to her college, and John went on to his, and miraculously, they crossed paths again in Canton, Texas. John was there with his family and buying western decor, and Margaret was buying clothes, and they hugged each other, not in the polite Christian “side hug” kind of way, but a full, so-thrilled-to-see-you, both-arms-wrapped-around-each-other way. Of COURSE she was happy to see him; she had never let go of the belief that he was meant to be hers. And he seemed happy to see her, too.
And somehow, call it foolish immaturity, or insecurity, or something… she let him walk away, and he let her walk away, but she knew it wasn’t over.
And somehow, it wasn’t over.
Months passed, and … she doesn’t remember now how, but somehow, they talked on the phone, and he made plans to come see her down at Baylor.
And she didn’t sleep the entire week beforehand, because she still knew, the way you just know things in your gut for which there’s no logical explanation nor any sign nor evidence, that John was The One, it could only ever be John. And she was ready, the way all college juniors think they’re ready.
They went to Applebee’s, or was it Chili’s?, on their second first date, and sitting there waiting for their table, he asked her, Why didn’t you kiss me, years ago, when we went on all those dates?
It wasn’t because I didn’t try, Margaret answered, smiling so big on the inside, turning red on the outside, knowing that he knew what she had always known, that they were meant to be, and she was his One, just like she always knew that he was hers. I just didn’t want to lead you on, if there wasn’t something really there, he said. And then he kissed her for the first time, that night in the parking lot.
The next few months flew by in a whirlwind, him driving to Texas to see her, her driving to Arkansas to see him. He took her to his church, introduced her to his mother, introduced her to everyone important to him, because This Was It: this was their future. This was meant to be. She knew it, and she knew that he knew it.
And then once, on one of her visits to Arkansas, they went to dinner and a movie and then to a park, and there on the top of the slide, they sat and talked for hours under the moonlight, the crickets chirping, the lightening bugs lighting, the night getting darker, Margaret dreading the long drive back to her college town.
So what about that Reba McIntyre song, she joked. ‘Broad shoulders and blue eyes, his hair was so black’…. and ‘she thinks his name was John’… Reba wrote that about you, didn’t she?
Well, I don’t have AIDS, he answered, laughing. Of course he didn’t; they had already talked about True Love Waits and purity rings and he was all gentleman, but it was funny to ask. And they talked about her sister and her boyfriend, and his mom and her second divorce. They talked about his height, and it was an ongoing joke between them: Margaret was 6′ tall, and loved wearing heels. This ruled out all the short boys, because it doesn’t feel very feminine to tower over your date. My husband has to be 6’3″ or taller so I can wear heels, she’d say. Too bad you’re only 6’2″, she’d tell him.
He was actually 6’3″, but she pretended not to know that, an when he’d call her he’d say, Hey, guess what? I grew another inch…
They talked about all the things, that last night on the playground. And they he asked her, What about us? Do you think we’ll get married?
Yes, absolutely, we’ll get married. You’ve been my goal ever since the first moment I laid eyes on you back at junior college, was what she wanted to say. We’ll get married, and I’ll move to Arkansas with you, and we’ll have babies, five of them, with blue eyes, and we’ll live on your grandpa’s ranch and have cows and go to church and live happily ever after, was what she wanted to say.
It was what she should have said.
It was what she’s regretted not saying every single day, at least once a day, for the last twenty-three years.
But the insecurity won out, and instead of answering him the way she wanted to, the way her heart and gut told her to answer him, she gasped loudly instead, on account of the panic and fear that always accompany insecurity and self-doubt because this could hurt…. this could really hurt…if I get my hopes up and believe that I might have this 6’3″ cowboy with black hair and blue eyes who works hard and loves Jesus and is everything that’s been my goal for the last few years, this has the potential to REALLY HURT when it doesn’t happen the way I really want it to… and instead of answering him the right way, the truthful way, she feigned shock, gasped, and said, flippantly, Oh, I’m NEVER getting married.
And he drove her back to her car in silence.
He broke up with her after that. . I just don’t think it’s gonna work out, he said. Of course not, she thought; I’m glad I didn’t say yes, only to have him break my heart like this now.
And just like that, four years after they’d first met, it was over.
It’s not real, she told herself. I’ve known he was mine since I first laid eyes on him. I’ve known he was The One. This is temporary. And she went on about her life, and dated other people, lots and lots of other people, never getting serious, never dating anyone else longer than two weeks, because he was hers, and she knew all the while that he’d come back when it was time, so there was no point in leading anyone else on, really. No point in letting anyone else spend money on her, no point in meeting anyone’s mother, no point in pretending she didn’t want anything less than a 6’3″ cowboy with black hair and blue eyes who loved Jesus and made her belly laugh .
And then she heard that someone saw him, and he was wearing a wedding ring. NO, she thought. Can’t be. God told me he was mine. All this time, I’ve broken up with 100 guys, and told everyone of them that I’m not sure I’ll get married, and if I do, I know who I’m marrying.
She actually told them that.
It had saved her, in lots of ways, this stubborn commitment to John, who didn’t remember that she existed, and a future with him that had existed only in her imagination.
She hadn’t done much she’d later regret.
She hadn’t let anyone else in.
She’d never gotten attached.
She’d dated, but never given anyone else a chance. She made at least three of them cry actual tears over her, grown men standing on her mama’s porch crying actual tears over her, because they wanted her and she hadn’t wanted them back. And she didn’t even feel bad about that.
No one else had ever made her laugh like John, been tall enough, loved Jesus enough. None of them had black hair and blue eyes and Wranglers. None of them.
And when other girls bemoaned their life choices, and cried over their broken hearts, and gave away too much they couldn’t get back, and floundered through their brutal and heart-rending dating relationships, Margaret hadn’t. Why would she? Nobody else would ever be John.
She thought about him at least once a day, and when Google became a thing, she Googled him. He had been pictured and quoted in their tiny local newspaper a time or two, and Margaret saved the grainy newspaper picture in a secret folder in her computer.
She had marriage proposals, and finally accepted one. Why not, she thought. It doesn’t matter who I marry if it isn’t John. I’ll never be truly happy, so I might as well pick one who looks good on paper…
And the wedding consumed her, the wedding to a guy who was only 6′ tall and never once made her laugh, but he had a good job and went to church, and then the house which wasn’t a ranch and didn’t have cows, and then the babies, because if it wasn’t John, it didn’t really matter who she married. And year after year, she’d Google John.
He’d had babies too, one, two, three, four of them. He had a cute wife who looked quite happy. And HE looked happy, through internet binoculars. Margaret would search his eyes, hoping to see some trace of regret sadness, some hint that he wasn’t absolutely in love with his wife and four kids.
There never was one.
There were job promotions that made his little local paper, there were job changes, there were all the marks of a happy and successful life. And life went on.
Margaret even drove through his town once, hoping to catch a glimpse of him at that gas station, or the Subway where they’d had lunch once, or at the one blinking red light. Or Canton, Texas…. maybe she’d see him at Canton again. It had happened once before… In all the hundreds of trips to Canton she made in the years to follow, she never made one trip that she didn’t scan the crowd constantly, hoping to run into John.
And then somehow twenty years passed.
Twenty years of thinking of him whenever she heard Reba on the radio, or Aaron Tippin, or Clay Walker.
Thinking of him whenever she saw a paisley shirt or an Arkansas license plate or a cowboy hat.
So many songs brought memories flooding back to that night in the park, when he had basically told her he wanted to marry her, and she had led him to believe she didn’t feel the same way.
To Be Continued…