Heidi (a friend who was with me) and I stepped inside and went to stand in the kitchen. Chinua and I started to talk about Canadian politics, a subject that I knew nothing about, but I'm sure I made a few things up. We had come to see another person, someone we wanted to talk to about maybe doing a little volunteering around the Christian house, the house that was in the Haight and existed for the purpose of loving kids on the street, being Jesus love for them, having them over for showers and tea. She wasn't there. So we left.
A few days later, Heidi and I helped out with some people who were serving a meal for people in need in a church. Chinua was there, with his guitar, playing worship songs while everyone ate. I was serving salad, and the older lady beside me had two things going on. 1. A bit of a control issue about the size of the scoop of salad I was giving people, ("That's too big," and "No, not so small!") and 2. Quite the crush on Chinua. She went on and on about how he came all the time to play at that meal, and that she just loooooved his voice, had I heard his voice? And there was just something about him. Since Ms. Perfect Salad Scoop beside me was talking about him so much I did watch Chinua a bit, and I did listen to what she said about him and I know this is going to sound like the silliest thing in the world, but what I really thought was, "I know him." Except that I didn't. I had just met him.
That was all, we left town and went back to Canada. And then I traveled to San Diego on a little journey with a bunch of friends and we lived there for about ten months. At one point, we ended up volunteering at that same house in San Francisco for a week.
I was a shy and gawky girl, growing up. In social situations I was completely self-conscious. I had a few rules for myself, like, never let your true feelings be known, when in doubt: be silly, and above all, never, no never let a boy know that you are interested in him. I also had some pretty good force fields. On that trip to San Diego I had come to the conclusion that there really was no one out there who was interested in a girl like me. I was traveling with five other girls, and we met a lot of guys, guys whose eyes glassed over when I started talking about books or art and God.
A few things happened during that week. The first was that I came running up the stairs in the upper part of the house one day and Chinua was walking out of his room and said, "I like it because you're tall, like me." My height had been such a thing of consternation for much of my life, and this was the best moment of height that I had ever had. Aaaahhh, I thought, this is what it was all for. The Social Dance class in the ninth grade, when I was already 5'9" or 5'10", I don't remember, and it really doesn't matter, because my dance partner was a boy from Hong Kong named Helmut who was prematurely gray and hilarious, a great friend, but still half a foot shorter than me. Or all the boys I knew who were my friends and always stood on tip toes around me to make themselves the same height or taller. It all suddenly seemed insignificant when I was standing beside Chinua, who was 6'2" and liked it that I was tall.
The second thing was that somehow it came up that I really liked poetry, and Chinua gave me one of his books, a compilation of e. e. cummings poems. Note to boys who like girls who love poetry: ALWAYS give her a book of poems, preferably by someone like cummings or Rilke or well, anyone at all. It will make her feel like a queen.
The third thing was that he asked to see my poems and then we sat on the stairs and he read them, while I read some of his. I will remember the way those stairs smelled for the rest of my life, it was a good smell, and after that I could never walk inside that house and smell its housey smell without smiling. I had no idea at the time, but it is a testament to how smitten we both were that 1. he told me that my poems were epic, that they were better than everything he had ever read, better than cummings or any great poet and 2. that I believed him.
The fourth thing was that he took my friends and I out on a tour of the city and we went hunting in North Beach for this little jazz club he had been to, only we never found it. And the beauty was this. We were silly. We were silly and we had so much fun that at one point Chinua fell down on the street laughing. On the corner of like, Columbus and Broadway or something. And of course nobody even so much as glanced at us. And then we played at the playground in Washington Square and spoke in silly British accents and I swear that I have never had so much fun in my life. And then we left, the next day. The whole time it had been dawning on me, that if we were standing in a group, Chinua would stand next to me. He seemed to like to talk to me, he seemed to favor my company. It was shocking to this awkward, gawky girl.
Looking back, all the signs point to smitten, but Chinua and I had what I like to think of as the perfect romance, because it was a year and a half later, after many letters and many phone calls, with him traveling around India and Nepal, and me traveling around the States and Canada, and then at the very end of that time traveling in India, Nepal, and Thailand together, a whole year and a half later that we ever talked about how we felt about each other. It was always there, right from the beginning, but we just didn't open up that can of worms. And built an amazing friendship first. Eventually we had all that, we had the romance, we had the proposal, we had the amazing wedding.
Which was good, because we need that now, as we are celebrating our fifth anniversary with three kids, the youngest a whopping seven and a half months old. We had three kids in four years, and took on some serious responsibility within our community. We've gone through money stuff, kid stuff, my postpartum depression three times (which we are in the throes of right now), we've traveled together, lived in tents and an RV, lived in two towns and a big city since we were married, been lied to numerous times by people that we've cared for, had things stolen from us. We've written songs like "Everything's gonna be all right, everything's gonna be okay, everything's gonna be alright, no matter what they say" that we sing to ourselves to feel better, we've lived in small spaces, we now live in a beautiful big space. We've swum in rivers, lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and a few oceans (warm and cold) together. We've been through flooding, storms, and mudslides, we've sat in several broken down vehicles together. We've danced, we've sung at many weddings, we've tag-teamed as photographers, as parents, as community directors. We've tried to juggle together, we've eaten many different foods, been guests at many different homes, driven down countless roads. We've filled our tank with gas many, many times. We've spoken words that shouldn't be said, we've cried (mostly me), we've been immature and petty. We've made up. We are solid and we are in love and we've been through a whole lot and I can honestly say I've never known anyone I esteem and respect as much as my superstar husband.
Happy fifth anniversary Chinua. I'm glad that unlike last year, this time we didn't forget.