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And Then There Was Joe
Joe was, a blue-collar kind of guy that I couldn’t keep my manicured nails away from. He and I were kind of polar opposites; the kind of opposites therapists would never in a million years recommend ending up together.
I didn’t grow up behind an iron gate, but there was a certain aspect of white picket fences and happily ever after playing out throughout my childhood. My parents were wealthier than they let on to, and there was always a certain notion dancing around in my head that I was the one with the money in my circle of friends. I was used to nice things, a good family, a sparkling 4.0, and a future at any college my little heart desired. I grew up among a guarded, but loving, wall, and I had become accustomed to that.
Joe. Tall and strong in nature, I could tell at first sight he wasn’t the winner of his class spelling bee. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes covers can give you a much needed hint about the book. My judgment was later confirmed when I discovered that Joe had graduated nearly dead last in high school, and hadn’t even bothered applying to any colleges. I guess he knew it wasn’t even worth it; and he was probably right. I’m not saying he was stupid, he was probably the smartest person I knew, he just had no ambition…
I met him at church, an odd place to meet the bad boy crush of my life, I know. I was an awkward sixteen year old, and Joe was an eighteen year old with nowhere to go on a Sunday morning. Somehow or another his grandmother drug him to church, and then by another string of small miracles he ended up volunteering in the infant nursery with me.
So there we were.
The goody two shoes picket fence church girl, and the rebel boy who was flipping burgers as a lifetime career. The only trait we had in common was the fact that we wanted the twelve babies who were our responsibility to shut up. It was a match made in heaven?
I remember watching him shuffle through the nursery doorway, with baggy jeans, and a blond buzz cut. He towered over my petite five foot two frame, and I suddenly felt awkward standing in a room with him. I swear I could tell that standing in that room with me was the last place he wanted place he wanted to be, and that I was the last person he wanted to be with. He had a look of utter disgust, boredom, and anger, squeezed into one long face.
“Hi,” I finally said in a high squeaky voice that came out more preppy and innocent then I had hoped, “I’m Natalie.”
I tried to offer him a hand to shake, all though balancing the young baby wouldn’t allow it to happen. Instead I ended up switching the baby from one hip to another, causing him to start crying even more than he already was.
“I’m Joe,” he responded over the baby’s yelps.
He nodded his head in my direction, which is apparently how cool people shake hands. An awkward silence fell dead across the room. Instantly the two of us could tell we were from opposite sides of the track, which was completely true.
“Do you want me to hold him?” Joe finally asked, breaking the silence.
“Um, yea, sure.”
I carefully handed Joe over the crying baby. He began bouncing the angry six month old on his hip, and for some reason I could instantly imagine him being a great father. His face lit up the second the baby reached his arms.
“What’s his name?” Joe asked.
“Um I don’t exactly know…” I said trailing off.
“How do you not know?” Joe asked letting out a small snicker.
“He ate his name tag,” I said, my cheeks turning a bright shade of red.
Joe’s lighthearted snicker turned into full-scale laughter, and I began allowing myself to bust a gut as well. Even baby name tag chewer stopped crying and began clapping his hands along with us.
We started talking; I mean what else were we supposed to do? We were surrounded by a bunch of drooling babies that don’t say a word. It was always a complicated matter when the two of us began carrying on conversation. I was an intellectual type who kept up on world news, and Joe preferred discussing farts and burgers to anything I had to say. And yet, we never ran out of anything to say. From that second forward we always had something or another to say to each other. Starting that day I learned that I could tell Joe anything in the world, even if I didn’t think he cared at all, and he knew he could do the same.
It became an odd occurrence how well we got along. I found myself constantly rearranging the nursery volunteer schedule just so that I could spend an hour and fifteen minutes in the same room as Joe.
He made me laugh and smile, and never made me feel bad about myself. I had always said that I would never date a guy with no goals or ambition, but somehow or another I had talked myself into Joe. Sure he could be rude, he flipped burgers, and he drove a motorcycle, but when we were together… The important traits all lined up, is all I’m saying. He treated me well, and sometimes that’s all a girl can hope for.
The one problem, actually the hugely large and overwhelming problem, was that I knew he didn’t feel anything for me. I was sixteen and still guarded by the careful walls of high school. Joe was eighteen. He was out in the world, doing his own thing. Though a crappy pit, he had an apartment. I was still living in a pink bedroom, with stuffed animals, in my parents’ cookie cutter suburban home. I was young and innocent, and he was a man of the world. I could never expect that he would crush on the girl at his grandmother’s church he sometimes worked nursery with. There wasn’t a chance.
Then he got into a motorcycle accident. The accident isn’t the climax of the story, it wasn’t a severe crash, but it was bad enough that his bike would be out of commission for a week or so. That Sunday he had taken the bus to get to church, even though the closest bus stop was almost a mile away, and he had to walk all the way to church.
Purely out of being polite I offered him a ride home. We were (as always) both leaving at the same time, and I had a car. It would have been rude had I not offered him a ride, to be perfectly frank. We both had honest intentions, actually. He needed a ride home, and I was willing to give one.
But then somehow it turned into more, quickly, and with little notice. He offered to buy me lunch as a thank you for driving him home. I was slow to deny free food, or a private meal with Joe. I let him purchase me a sandwich and soft drink from a local deli, and didn’t argue when he suggested we eat at a park to get outside on the beautiful day. In my eyes the meal rapidly began turning into less of a thank-you lunch and more into our first date.
We laughed and joked like we always had in the nursery, only now I could clearly see that our feeling were mutual. I noticed the way he looked at me with a warm smile, and the way he listened closely to what I was saying, even when I was jabbering on about nothing.
Yes, it was clear as day, sitting in the midst of a grassy park, with families throwing Frisbees, and having picnics all around us, that he saw something in me. My hunches were confirmed when I pulled my car in front of his musty apartment complex later that afternoon, and he kissed me. Before I even put the car into park, he brushed a piece of hair behind my ear, looked me dead in the eyes, and then laid his lips upon mine. He smiled wide, as did I, and I knew instantly that there was always something between us, it just took awhile for us both to discover it.
A lot has happened since those fuzzy days of high school. I graduated top of my class, left my picket fence and pink walls, and ventured myself to college; just like I was supposed to. I earned a degree, and then another degree, and then completed a killer residency. Humbly, I became Dr. Natalie Jacobs, M.D. I became a terrible success, just as everyone had predicted I would be.
But all through that, somewhere in the background was always Joe. At company dinners he was never the life of the party, and he never went on to do what some people might call great things. In the phone book we’re listed under Mr. and Dr., and he has continued flipping burgers to support our family.
And yet, he has always been there for me; he is my backbone. I can’t imagine a day without him. My friends and family don’t understand it, and I don’t think they ever will. Joe and I have had our fights along the way about money and status, and where we’ve come from and where we’re going; don’t get me wrong. We’re very different people, and always will be. But when it boils down to the raw bones of it love is far deeper then how much money somebody makes, and where their family came from. I’m in love with my bad boy crush of my high school years, and for reasons far beyond my knowledge, he to is madly in love with me.