Today I want to tell the story of how Byrd and I met, twelve years ago. This is the first question we find ourselves answering when meeting a new acquaintance, perhaps because we're such an odd couple.
The fact is, I hated him from the start.
There I was, the straight-laced, straight-A university freshman from a nice upper-middle class family, living in the "nerd" dorm, and working part-time at a pet store.
And there he was, eight years older than me, also working at the pet store--not as an employee, but as contract labor, doing something construction-y to the office door. He towered above me (6' 5"), had shoulder-length hair and plenty of piercings, and looked pretty rough. I didn't know his name, only that he and his companion (his brother, it turned out) had their tools and gear scattered in the hall, and he was personally blocking my path in the narrow hallway that led to the stockroom.
Same interaction, same long look from him as I squeezed past on my return trip from the stockroom. At the counter, I asked my boss who that creepy guy was. "That's Byrd," said my boss. "Doing a little side job for store credit."
I'd heard the name Byrd plenty of times before. Everyone at the pet store said Byrd was the most honest, forthright person they knew. Byrd's word was his bond. And he went miles to help his friends. No one had anything bad to say about Byrd. So, naturally, I had constructed this very romantic vision of Byrd as a dashing, handsome, well-groomed young fellow.
The authentic, dirty, scruffy Byrd finished the job in the back room and made for the counter where I was standing. I pointedly ignored him, but he missed the hint and spewed out the most ridiculous pickup line on the planet: "Will you marry me?"
All these exclamation points and alarm bells exploded inside my head. What?? Who was this guy!? Finally, I managed to sputter, "NO!"
To my dismay, he didn't laugh and walk off--he persisted. "Why not?"
This was a situation I'd never been put in before in my life. I'd never seen such an absurd advance strategy and had no idea how to respond. I knew he was teasing me, but I didn't want to give him the pleasure of seeing me flustered. So I seriously thought about why not, and finally concluded, "We haven't even been on a date!" There, that was surely the end of it.
Or not. He nodded. "Okay, if I take you on a date, then would you marry me?"
So he'd played my game and won. Before I knew it, I had agreed to a date--ONE date, mind you!--with a grungy redneck pervert who just wanted to get into my... well, you get it.
But to my surprise, Byrd arrived dressed up for date night. He was clearly nervous. He was courteous, and respectful, and quiet. He followed all those rules of chivalry that seem old-fashioned nowadays, from opening the car door to paying for the meal. During conversation, he didn't flirt, but spoke earnestly.
But one thing about that first date stands out to this day. Quick flashback to when I was a kid--my mom used to relentlessly inform me that I would never, ever, ever find a boyfriend if I kept picking those freaky purple things (cabbage?) out of my salad. "Are you honestly going to pick at your food in front of a boy you like?" she'd ask.
So there I was, on a date (with an enigma who I thought was a freaky pervert but was turning out to be quite sweet), pawing over the salad, petrified about having to eat the purple things for the first time ever... I glanced over at Byrd, and there he was picking the purple things out of his salad! I couldn't help but laugh.
After that, the ice was broken, and we talked for a long time and discovered that we had a lot of similar likes and dislikes, and similar dreams for the future. One date turned into many dates; I eventually moved in with him, and we lived together for seven years before he repeated his very first words to me. This time, I said "yes."
To this day, I tease Byrd about that corny pickup line: "'Only an idiot would fall for a line like that!" He always teases back, "What does that make you?"