The year was 1985. It was the start of a new school year at Mary Irene Day Elementary School in Minerva, OH. And this was no ordinary year. At M.I. Day, the start of the 5th grade not only ushered in a new school year but a whole new brood of students from the tri-county area as well.
This was the year that all of the other kids from the smaller, more rural, K-4 schools joined the “townies” at the larger, local elementary. And let’s face it… Who likes outsiders anyway, right? This concept was particularly difficult for a bunch of bratty, pre-pubescent, middle-schoolers-in-training to deal with in a graceful manner.
But there I was, a little blonde girl who probably thought she was “all that” sporting a sassy new 80s get-up while unpacking my sharp #2 pencils, fresh notebooks and admiring the front of my new Trapper-Keeper. And there he was—reeking of new-kid-ness—a sheepish, chestnut-haired boy with kind brown eyes, turned backwards in his chair and staring right at me.
“Why don’t you take a picture. It will last longer!” I snapped at him in the nastiest pre-teen tone I could muster, trying to make my friends laugh and ease the heat that I felt rapidly spreading toward my face. He quickly ducked his head and turned away. I had obviously hurt his feelings by acting like such a little bitch.
Little did I know that 26 years later that same sheepish boy with the kind brown eyes—now a grown man with an even kinder spirit—would escort me to that same spot, kneel down in front of me and say: “A picture would have been nice, but I want something that lasts forever.”
It wasn’t easy for him to pin-point the exact spot where I’d hurled those hurtful words at him so many years before… but somehow he’d managed to pull it off. You see, our school had recently been torn down and a new one built in it’s place. But with an uncanny sense of direction and the assistance of Google Earth, Bing and Yahoo Maps… he found it. THE very spot where our 5th-grade classroom used to be was now the new playground.
The school as it looked in 1985.
A clever story about his role on the Building Leadership Team at the school where he teaches convinced me to go with him to the playground to do a little “research” for his district. Feeling like a kid again, I teased him about the brat I’d been back then and took a trip down the slide. He was waiting for me at the bottom poised to ask this life-altering question.
After a lot of tears and shouting “Yes, a million times yes!” we couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer amazement of how life works sometimes.
By the time we were in high school we had become great friends. Kindred spirits some might say. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I liked him. He was one of the good ones and we could talk about anything. We shared a taste in music, books, movies and deep conversation. We tried “dating” for awhile but I did not yet understand the importance of dating someone who was also a friend… so we parted as friends.
Off to college and separate adventures that would take us in completely opposite directions… To him, I was “the one that got away” when he read of my wedding announcement 4 years after graduation. And to me, years into a destructive and abusive marriage… he was “the good friend that I desperately wished I hadn’t taken for granted.”
By the time we met again at the age of 34, you could say that our lives—much like that old school building—had, over time, been completely torn down and reconstructed. We were different, and yet somehow exactly the same. And we realized that we’d been given the very rare gift of a second chance.
Since we first laid eyes on one another two years ago—after half our current lifetime had passed by—we have not looked back. Perhaps 26 years ago he saw something in that bratty little blonde, and thankfully he didn’t give up on me right then. Thankfully he stuck around and waited. Waited for something that would last longer than a picture. Something that would ultimately last forever.