The Beginning, Fall Semester- 1999
One sunny day in September, after I had been familiar enough with the campus for the summer, I recognized a fellow senior coming towards me. He held his head high. He was clearly a football player (grey shirt that said “Drake Football.” He didn’t hold a trace of fear or doubt on his face.)
I noticed his dirty blond hair in contrast to his very ruddy and tanned face. His knuckles and hands were covered in red and purple bruises and cuts. His stroll was purposeful, confident. In the few seconds it took to get to me, I noticed and then realized he was strutting to speak to me. I thought he looked strangely like a man-child. A beautiful face of a boy.
A tiny nose perfectly symmetrical, placed between his eyes. They were kind, soft and brown. Almond shaped and surrounded by long eyelashes. His face spoke purity. The bedrock of Midwestern boys that I had noticed in my short stay so far.
His body however was huge. Standing at six foot three, and a chest so much bigger than my own, he confirmed the corn-fed generalization. Legs are what I remember, thighs that would crush a person, quadriceps not meant to push through denim, but they did.
The first thing I thought when he slowly came to a stop facing me at the lone table was: “There is no way in hell this level of confidence is founded in something real. No way.” and that thought came only from my deep knowledge of how to produce the same projection. And, also, how thin and fragile the contents of it’s under surface can be.
He sniffed, in this strange alpha-male animalistic way that announced he was about to speak.
“Hi. You’re new here, right?”
Not a soft landing.
“That would be true.” I said unamused.
I was not acting. At a young age I had lost the excitement or novelty of a man approaching or engaging in a conversation.
“I’m “Josh Andrews,”
A massive and crusty hand reached out and I met it. Shaking harder than he expected I would, I saw the surprise flash past his eyes than quickly recover.
I said in a monotone voice, putting a fry into the ranch dressing before biting off an end of it.
“Is that Italian? Are you from Italy? You aren’t from around here, that’s for sure.”
He said with a small but unintentional smile breaking through.
“Nope. Not Italian.”
I was playing now, because he asked a ridiculous question in my opinion and then made a statement. I suffer no fools, so he would be no exception.
He chuckled and sniffed again, accepting the challenge.
“So where are you from Lulu Salavegsen?”
He was pleasant then. The confidence and boldness was melted more into conversation and genuine interest. That I respond to.
“Well, Josh, I just moved here from Sydney, but before that I lived in Boston, Houston and I was born in Saudi Arabia to a Danish mother, so I can’t really nail down from where I come.”
I was smiling back, a little inflection used to punctuate and confirm my participation in the banter.
“Wow. That’s quite a story.”
He was a little awkward for a flashing moment when he realized he may be out of his league and in foreign territory.
“I didn’t even tell you the story.”
I laughed waving the partial fry in my hand.
“Well, I came over because I’d like to ask for your number because I’d really enjoy having a drink or dinner with you, if you would be OK with that.”
He was fully attentive, bold with no trace of feared rejection.
I answered almost too quickly as I tore off a piece of napkin to write down my number. His face was getting red, more red than before, but I found it rather cute to see his face betraying his somewhat pompous attitude.
He grabbed my number on the napkin and smiled, for a second I saw his eyes dart over to something further in the distance behind me, only to pull his look back just as fast.
“It was nice to meet you Lulu Salavegsen. I look forward to learning about you later.”
“And I, with you.”
I answered in return.
And there we were, two people from the most unlikely of back stories in a small college town full of mostly Midwestern, (bland, not bad not worse, just very myopic) American young adults. One of the leaders of a perceived pack having just left my table.
Later I find out that he had a “gentlemen’s bet” about who could get the “new girl’s number.” Those same guys put me through the ringer, because of their love for him. True “Spanish Inquisition Style” all while Josh, asleep in a drunken stupor, was none the wiser.
Also memorable in the early days was one weekend he and the team were in Florida for a game. I stayed up through the night and wrote a song for him. A song I then performed for him in front of at least eight of his football-team friends and fraternity brothers. (Me barefoot, cross-legged with an acoustic guitar.) The song, below, is fifteen years old.
To listen to the song click here: “Sign Me Up.” is a mortifying, but sweet display of love and affection. Next time I'll tune the guitar.
We had (no surprise, here) volatile discussions about our doomed future, and my plans to move to NYC and his plans to go with the first banking job he could get. (and he got one before graduation.) We, none the less, ended up moving to Chicago together, but in different places. We were engaged for the first time, at twenty-one, that summer of 2000.
Upon reflection of what we saw in each other it is not any different than what we still see. We dually acknowledged the others sordid childhood experiences, and we saw in the other’s eyes that we were survivors. We were striving for the exceptional. Egos as big as ours would not become a victim of how our lives started. We were in control now, and we were going to show everyone how “grown up” we were. That was cute, in hindsight, a far cry from most of the youth we see now, living at home lingering in dependency. Not us, we ran to autonomy, together.
We were best friends first. We held each other up and in our arms in the storms and trials of learning real life together. We made promises to learn. Always to learn and never yell, and always, always be as gentle and understanding as possible. We succeeded, there.
There is no way, and under no circumstance in which I would have ever thought for a second, that he, the sniffing alpha male, would be my best friend for fifteen years, and my betrothed for over twelve. I could not have dreamed he would be the amazing father of my three children. They are the best and most beautiful thing we have ever created together.
There is even slimmer a chance I’d have thought I would not only marry him, but find myself on the wrong side of marital success, about to become a single parent. But here we are.
More specifically, here I am in shock and fear. I write with three realities right now, his spitting image-son climbing on my lap and swatting at my hands, sullen tears welling in my eyes and constricting my throat...and the deepest of respect to commend him and us for all we have achieved in this beautiful life we built together.
We have grown up, gone through hell, bunkered in together and brought new life into this world. We have been blessed.