For my English-Speaking readers...here's a copy of the "True Love" essay that will appear in the September 2009 issue of Germany's Love Letter Magazine - Das Liebesromanmagazin ( www.loveletter-magazin.de) It's about how I met and fell in love with my own true life hero, John McCall...
Finding True Love
Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, Crime and Punishment, The Awakening, Twelfth Night…all classic works showing various shades of one subject: Grand Passion.
When I was a 19 year-old freshman at the University of Rochester studying toward my degrees in English Literature and Russian, these works were among my favorites. They brimmed with deeply-felt emotions – and at least in those that ended happily, they embodied the kind of romantic, passionate love I hoped to find myself someday, if I was fortunate enough to find true love.
My adolescent dream man was supposed to be tall, lean, and fair-haired, possessed of many of the same wonderful personal traits that had made my own father my very first “hero”: Qualities like intelligence, kindness, a sense of honor, humor, compassion, and integrity. Of course, at 19 years old, my focus tended to center on the external aspect of my dream man, and to that end I went on a few casual dates during that first semester at the university with young men that outwardly fit these preconceived notions of “my type”.
And so it was that when I met fellow freshman John V. McCall for the first time, I wasn’t expecting anything romantic to come of it. He was tall like his father, who was of Irish heritage, but unlike most of the men I’d dated, he was broad and strong, built like an American football player (which he happened to be at the time – an Offensive Lineman on our university’s team). He was also very dark-haired and leaned toward an olive complexion thanks to his mother, who is of Italian heritage.
He had already acquired several nicknames from his friends, but the one I and my girlfriends called him was “Pookie Bear”, because he really was like a big, strong, cuddly teddy bear. Of course I discovered this only after I got to know him. Based upon looks alone, he was intimidating as he stalked down the corridor of our dormitory building. His broad shoulders seemed to fill the hallway, and more often than not he had a serious expression on his face. In fact, he reminded me of a bigger and more imposing version of Sylvester Stallone, and before I met him I used to duck into another room or even the lavatory if I saw him coming my way.
That all changed on February 14, 1985.
Yes, it was St. Valentine’s Day. However, as auspicious as that day ended up being for us, on this occasion the holiday had nothing to do with a romantic connection between John and me. I hadn’t even been introduced to him, yet, but my good friend was dating John’s roommate, and she asked me to go along with her when she delivered a Valentine’s balloon to his room. Her boyfriend wasn’t there when we arrived – but John was. He was a little startled by the two of us showing up, I think, though he motioned us in and indicated he’d be right with us. He was finishing up a phone call, and as he ducked behind the door to say goodbye to the person on the other end of the line, I heard him say very quietly, “I love you, too, Mama. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
At that moment I knew that this was a man with a good heart, thoughtful enough to call his mother and wish her a Happy St. Valentine’s Day from college. My guard lowered a bit, and I decided that perhaps John wasn’t really the scary “tough-guy” I’d thought he was. I also noticed him looking at me throughout the short time my friend and I were in the room, as we all made small talk. He was easygoing and every bit the gracious gentleman, something that again contradicted my first impression of him as intimidating.
Over the course of the next few months our friendship developed and flourished, and a small group of six or seven of us, guys and gals alike, began to meet regularly for lunch, studying, campus movies, and fraternity parties, or just to hang out and enjoy each other’s company. John cemented my new opinion of him as a man of kindness and integrity on more than one occasion, choosing to do the right thing even when it might have been easier to look the other way or go along with the crowd. I still thought of him only as a friend – he wasn’t my type, after all – but I remember clearly at least one incident that set my heart fluttering, even though I tried to deny my reaction.
The incident involved a male acquaintance on campus. He wasn’t someone we spent much time with, because he had a mean streak and was in the habit of making sarcastic comments about people that he would try to pass off as “funny”. One afternoon I was in the dining hall having lunch with a good friend, when this guy said something very hurtful to her. She started crying, and we quickly left the dining hall to make our way back to our dorm room. John saw us in the corridor of the dormitory. Seeing how upset we were, he naturally asked what was wrong. When we explained, his jaw tightened, he got one of those serious looks on his face, and he said he’d be right back.
We later learned that he’d marched into the dining hall, on a mission to find the guy who’d been so cruel to my friend. Gripping the jerk by the front of his shirt, John lifted him up and pressed him up against the wall, warning him in a quiet but lethal voice that if he ever talked to a woman like that again, he’d be answering for it– but in a far more painful way. Then he let the guy go and walked out...a romance novel hero in the making!
However, even as gallant as he was proving himself to be, it still took me a while to catch on to the fact that John was destined to be my hero. By April of 1985, it was apparent that he liked me and was interested in taking things further between us. But I kept resisting, afraid to lose the warm, comfortable relationship we’d developed as friends. However, another of John’s personal qualities is persistence. He kept pressing me to go on just one date. Even if it didn’t work out, he said, we’d know more about each other and become even better friends.
Needless to say, he convinced me. And on that first date I fell head over heels in love with him. We shared our first kiss and spent hours and hours that night just talking – about everything, big and small, important and trivial. John was everything I’d been seeking in a man and more…I just needed to look past my own preconceived notions of “my type” to see it.
We dated all through college and married five years and four months after that first date. Nineteen years of marriage and two children later, it’s more wonderful than ever...and I feel blessed to have found the true love of my life!
Until Next time....