Today I shared the story of my storybook romance. They listened kindly as I told how my eyes met his across a grand piano during our first rehearsal as singing waiters. How it was my 20th birthday, and I spent the next few days thinking about the boy from Waterloo with the brilliant smile – the one whose last name I could not remember. I just knew he was Mark, the kind, smiley guy who – unlike the other seven of us – attended a different college.
Who made the first move, they asked?
I’m not really sure, I answered.
They didn’t believe me, so I continue to tell our tale. They could decide.
Sometime that fall he began bussing my tables. Then he asked if I would take the drink orders for his tables because he found it morally reprehensible. I agreed, but not without challenging him.
“Isn’t that hypocritical?” I asked. “You agreed to take a job that you are not actually doing. I am doing it for you at your request. How does that make it better?”
He was a singing waiter, I reminded him. A job that was 50 percent music and 50 percent customer service. Our octet shared gratuities, and we wanted the income from his bar tabs too. I didn't drink alcohol either, but I kept taking the drink orders. It was my job. He kept bussing my tables. He thought I flirted with all the male singers but him. I thought I was joking around, and that he didn’t joke.
Soon he began driving me home after work, and we began discussing issues important to us. I wanted to know why he believed women couldn’t be pastors, and he wanted to know why I thought I could claim to be a child of God.
I wondered if he would attend a dance with me.
He wondered if I would attend church with him.
During a break at one of our special Christmas shows, we sat at a table drinking coffee. I told him I was in love with his voice (it’s all I yet dared to love). He wondered privately if I had considered loving the rest of him too.
After our New Year’s Eve dinner show, he drove me to his home to spend the night, waiting for a snowstorm to pass. We talked by his fireplace until 4 a.m., his little brother a tired chaperone on the couch. I watched him carry his sleeping brother upstairs, helping him into bed. Then I watched him ready his own bedroom for me. Later, unaware only three hours had passed, I wandered downstairs to keep his father company as he mopped their kitchen floor. It was 7 a.m.; no one else was awake.
“Good morning.” I announced myself to his father, the owner of the house.
“Well, hello. Have a seat in our dining room while I finish in here. Can I get you a cup of coffee and some toast?”
We shared the smallest of small talk. But then I wanted to know: “If you don’t mind my asking, why are you mopping the floor at 7 a.m. on New Year’s Day?”
“Well,” he started slowly, pensively. “I promised Carolyn Ann I would mop the kitchen floor, and I thought it would be good to start my year off right.”
Ah, I thought. This Mark, this 6-foot boy with the beautiful smile, comes from very good stock.
The next week I was attending classes at my college again, but he was waiting for classes to begin at his. On Thursday of that first week of the year, I stood beside my Lutheran campus pastor, fulfilling my duties as the chapel cantor. The first time I looked into the congregation from behind the altar I saw him – a Southern Baptist boy – sitting in a row near the front. His hymnal was open, and he was following the service as best he could. Afterward he met me in the hallway with two questions: Do you have time before your next class? (Yes) What is this thing about the holy uterus, does it have something to do with Mary? (Laughter.)
"Holy Eucharist, you mean?" His embarrassment. Our commitment to continue figuring each other out.
There had been no kissing. There still wouldn’t be. Just more talks – debates really – about God, life, salvation, churches, families. We lacked agreement on many things, but we shared something more that surpassed all else. We laughed together. Joyfully. Had fun together. Willingly. We cared about things together. Deeply. We questioned things. Sincerely.
And then Valentine’s Day. A dozen roses delivered with a card that read: “Friends are friends forever.” I knew how the phrase should end. He sang it every night that we worked at the restaurant. This time it was for me.
We walked off the floor together, closer than hand-in-hand. Later his lips found mine – finally – and we said good night in the stairwell of my dormitory, only hours away from morning.
What had we done? What had begun?
I could not have known then but I certainly know now – 27 years later. That night I began to share my days more fully with my soul’s partner. Someone I could trust with my life. My love.
He is my Valentine.
I am forever his.
He is forever mine.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Mark. I love you.